Copied from Pew Reseach and offered here for what it is worth.
January 27, 2016
The demographic trends shaping American politics in 2016 and beyond
By Paul Taylor
“The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown,” by Paul Taylor and Pew Research Center, is being released this week in a paperback edition that includes nearly 100 pages of new text, charts and updates to the original 2014 hardcover edition. Here, Paul Taylor shares eight takeaways from the book’s all-new opening chapter, “Political Tribes.”
1. In an era of head-snapping racial, social, cultural, economic, religious, gender, generational and technological change, Americans are increasingly sorted into think-alike communities that reflect not only their politics but their demographics. The result has been a rise in identity-based animus of one party toward the other that extends far beyond the issues. These days Democrats and Republicans no longer stop at disagreeing with each other’s ideas. Many in each party now deny the other’s facts, disapprove of each other’s lifestyles, avoid each other’s neighborhoods, impugn each other’s motives, doubt each other’s patriotism, can’t stomach each other’s news sources, and bring different value systems to such core social institutions as religion, marriage and parenthood. It’s as if they belong not to rival parties but alien tribes.
And their candidates in 2016 might seem to be running for president of different countries. As the chart above illustrates, the partisan gap in how Americans evaluate their presidents is wider now than at any time in the modern era.
2. This political sorting has roots in two simultaneous demographic transformations that America is undergoing. The U.S. is on its way to becoming a majority nonwhite nation, and at the same time, a record share of Americans are going gray. Together these overhauls have led to stark demographic, ideological and cultural differences between the parties’ bases.
We now have one party that skews older, whiter, more religious and more conservative, with a base that’s struggling to come to grips with the new racial tapestries, gender norms and family constellations that make up the beating heart of the next America. The other party skews younger, more nonwhite, more liberal, more secular, and more immigrant- and LGBT-friendly, and its base increasingly views America’s new diversity as a prized asset.
3. At the turn of the century, there was no partisan difference in the votes of young and old. But in recent elections, there has been a huge generation gap at the polls. And Democrats and Republicans have become much more ideologically polarized.
Today 92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat in their core social, economic and political views, while 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican, up from 64% and 70% respectively in 1994. The same 2014 Pew Research Center study also found a doubling in the past two decades in the share of Americans with a highly negative view of the opposing party.
4. The cleavages between the political tribes spill beyond politics into everyday life. Two-thirds of consistent conservatives and half of consistent liberals say most of their close friends share their political views. And liberals say they would prefer to live in cities while conservatives are partial to small towns and rural areas. In their child-rearing norms, conservatives place more emphasis on religious values and obedience, while liberals are more inclined to stress tolerance and empathy. And in their news consumption habits, each group gravitates to different sources.
To be clear, not all of America is divided into these hostile camps. Even as partisan polarization has deepened, more Americans are choosing to eschew party labels. This group is heavily populated by the young, many of whom are turned off by the cage match of modern politics. They are America’s most liberal generation by far, but when asked to name their party, nearly half say they are independents. No generation in history has ever been so allergic to a party label.
5. Identity-based hyperpartisanship is thriving at a time when a majority of Americans tell pollsters they’d like to see Washington rediscover the lost art of political compromise. As ever, many Americans are pragmatists, ready to meet in the middle.
Yet nowadays these Americans are the new silent majority. They don’t have the temperament, inclination or vocal cords to attract much attention in a media culture in which shrill pundits and 140-character screeds set the tone. Those most averse to political compromise are ideologically consistent conservatives and liberals, majorities of whom want their side to prevail.
Congress’ members are more polarized by party than at any time since the Reconstruction Era. And recent elections have produced something else unprecedented in American political history – one party winning the popular vote in five of the past six presidential contests even as the other party has recently run up its biggest congressional and statehouse majorities in a century.
6. The Democratic base, dubbed the “coalition of the ascendant” by journalist Ronald Brownstein, is often the coalition of the unengaged, especially during non-presidential elections. In 2014, for example, just 19.9% of 18- to 29-year-old citizens voted, a record low. The old turning out in force more than the young is nothing new – that seems hard wired into the human life cycle. This matters little when the generations vote alike, but it makes a huge difference when, as now, they don’t.
Thus we have the alternating red and blue election outcomes of the recent past, with President Obama’s victories in the big turnout years of 2008 and 2012 playing hopscotch with the GOP romps in the low turnout midterms of 2010 and 2014. This in turn has contributed to a Washington that’s paralyzed by gridlock and a hothouse for the sort of rancor that can fire up the hyperpartisans but can also send nonpartisans farther off to the political sidelines. And so the cycle of mean-spirited, broken politics perpetuates itself.
7. Might 2016 be the year we break the fever? So far it’s not looking that way. The public remains in a foul mood, frustrated by stagnant incomes, a shrinking middle class and gruesome global terrorism. Just 19% say they trust the government to do what’s right. Moreover, most Republicans and many Democrats say they believe that, on the issues that matter most to them, the other side is winning. And not since the early 2000s has a majority of the public said the nation is on the right track, making these past dozen years the longest sustained stretch of national pessimism since the onset of polling.
8. Politics is never static, which means today’s state of affairs isn’t necessarily a template for the future. This campaign has already illuminated deep fissures not just between both parties but within them. A lot of political business will get transacted between now and November. No matter what the outcome, the political firmament is likely to look different next year.
The most hopeful take on this long season of political discontent comes from our nation’s most astute early observer, Alexis de Tocqueville, who noted nearly two centuries ago that American democracy isn’t as fragile as it looks; confusion on the surface masks underlying strengths.
From The Transom, 1 February, 2016. This is the kind of input we need to think about the reality of our lives. Following it will be my attempt to do just that.
Ross Douthat. “The state of the union isn’t all that one might hope, but it could clearly be a whole lot worse. So what are Trumpistas and Bern-feelers rebelling against? One answer might be that they’re fed up with exactly this — the politics of “it could be worse,” of stagnation and muddling through. They aren’t revolting against abject failure, or deep and swift decline. They’re rebelling against decadence.
“Now it may sound absurd to cast a figure like Donald Trump, the much-married prince of tinsel and pasteboard, as a scourge of decadence rather than its embodiment. But don’t just think about the word in moral or aesthetic terms. Think of it as a useful way of describing a society that’s wealthy, powerful, technologically proficient — and yet seemingly unable to advance in the way that its citizens once took for granted. A society where people have fewer children and hold diminished expectations for the future, where institutions don’t work particularly well but can’t seem to be effectively reformed, where growth is slow and technological progress disappoints. A society that fights to a stalemate in its foreign wars, even as domestic debates repeat themselves without any resolution. A society disillusioned with existing religions and ideologies, but lacking new sources of meaning to take their place.
“This is how many Americans, many Westerners, experience their civilization in the early years of the 21st century. And both Trump and Bernie Sanders, in their very different ways, are telling us that we don’t have to settle for it anymore. With Trump, the message is crude, explicit, deliberately over the top. Make America Great Again. “We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with the winning.”
“But it resonates because the diagnosis resonates — especially with older Americans, who grew up amid the post-World War II boom, the vaulting optimism of the space age, the years when big government and big business were seen as effective and patriotic rather than sclerotic and corrupt. Trump is offering nostalgia, but it’s not a true reactionary’s lament. He wants to take us back to a time when the future seemed great, amazing, fantastic.”
They are rebelling against decadence. Decadence; Oxford (1996): Moral or cultural deterioration, especially after peak or culmination of achievement. Definitions are continually changing – evolving – but Mr. Douthat suggests what he is referring to is: the politics of stagnation of muddling through? How about frustration? Yes, but…………..the frustration is not consistent, because people are not consistent. We sense there is a problem, but we sense it differently – and then want to argue about it. So the problem is disagreement over what is wrong? but we don’t understand that the same way? Sure, nothing new there; and since we have so many opinions, and so much opportunity to express them, it has exploded.
In a sense that is good, and many are pointing out that Mr. Trump is making a contribution by forcing conversations having to do with those differences, and frustrations. Conversations? Well, what passes for conversations these days. Maybe decadence is as good a word at any; but that brings another word to mind: deterioration; we perceive that things have gotten bad, and are likely to get worse. But we don’t know why; or at least can’t agree why. Probably a little of both. Understanding is part of it, but so is agreement as to what to do about it. Ah, mankind being what it is, we need leadership; and what kind of leadership? Because we do not really understand, we don’t know what kind, and therefore disagree. There is a pattern there; an ancient pattern.
So how can we disagree when we don’t even understand? Ah, human nature again; people don’t have to understand, they just have to believe, and be convinced. And how can one believe and be convinced about something they don’t understand? Now we are getting to the crux of the problem: the arrogance of thinking they understand. So the problem is arrogance? yes, and ignorance, and complexity, and……..Well, you get the point. We want to zero in on A cause, and there are always many, all of which are complexly related; some of which we think we understand, but many of which we are not even aware.
This, I believe, is what Douthat is dancing around. And since so many of us are frustrated, and tend to listen to whomever says what we want to hear, and have the capability to propagate it effectively, even going to the mat to do so, we do. Activism? Isn’t that part of what drives activism? And throw it all together on top of ignorance, and may I suggest that is where we are? It resonates because the diagnosis resonates, and decadence is a convenient term that fits.
So where is it taking us? We really don’t know. Is it bad or good? Possibly either, but more likely both. So will it turn out bad or good? That is up to us, individually and collectively to determine. We have been there before, and good has prevailed over the long run; but things are much more complex today, not only domestically but internationally, and short runs can be brutal – and have been, and will probably be again – and likely soon. End of the world? Could be, but it doesn’t need to be. So what is needed? Reasoned, motivated, knowledgeable and dedicated leadership; dedicated to what is best for the country, not what is best for the power seekers. Who are the power seekers? All of us; each of us, each in our own way. Complicated? Not really, when seen from 10,000 feet; but very complicated when immersed in the personal of short visioned selfishness.
Ah, one might say, more philosophy; what good is that? Philosophy is what is needed to proceed from the unknown to the known, embracing scientific method. But in this case it is dealing with human nature, which is anything but scientific. Big challenge; are we up to it? Many are stepping up to it and offering rather impressive wisdom, similar to that which has carried us through in the past. Are we listening? many are; enough? Stay tuned. But in the end it will be up to US.
This is a brilliant essay, written by John D. Gartner, and published in the op ed sections (Points) of the Dallas Morning News, Sunday, 31 January. I make no attempt to comment or add.
Inside the Mind of the President:
The toughest job in the world just got tougher.
The United States president today faces increasing pressure and compounding complexity at every turn. Domestic policy demands ever-expanding expertise on topics from the economy to airport security. Proliferating crises around the globe, embroiling state and nonstate entities, require sudden attention and, often, quick response. All in a hyperpartisan atmosphere.
At the same time, historians agree, respect for the office has declined drastically, bringing unprecedented scrutiny. Hard to believe the press once ignored FDR’s wheelchair and JFK’s affairs. “No past president could function effectively in today’s environment,” contends at least one presidential historian. Maybe, another suggests, you need to be slightly deranged to run for the office today.
We need a president to be dominant but not bullying, to be deliberative without appearing indecisive, to inspire without overpromising, says political scientist Michael Genovese.
“It is rocket science.”
Exactly what psychological traits will the winner of the 2016 presidential election need to guide America successfully today? I put that question to seven eminent presidential historians, biographers and political scientists. All agreed that the trait most integral to governing is judgment.
At the base of the brain, sitting atop the brain stem, is the limbic lobe, the source of our most basic drives and instincts, as well as of our emotions. It hasn’t changed much in the last few million years. Responsive to cues that helped our prehuman ancestors survive, it very much influences what appeals to us on a gut level. That is in distinct contrast to the big, new cortex. Sprawling on top of the limbic system, it sets us apart from other creatures, making us rational and human. It enables analysis and judgment.
The old brain is engaged by things that stimulate our passions and fears, the new brain by our need to adapt to reality, ever-changing as it now is. The problem is that appealing to the limbic lobe is how you win elections, while governing the country relies almost unremittingly on resources of the cortex.
We are increasingly of two minds when it comes to politics, one the sum of our past, one the architect of our future. What we want in a president and what we need in a president may be two different things. A president who can “work both sides of the coin is rare,” says Genovese, head of the World Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University.
Candidates differ in the appeals they make to the more rational or the more primitive sides of our psyche, contends psychologist Drew Westen of Emory University, author of The Political Brain. “Feelings are millions of years older than the conscious thought processes we call reason.” Or as Freud might have put it, the id is more powerful than the ego.
Our old brain looks much like a chimpanzee’s. The rapid rise of Donald Trump is not too difficult to understand if you think of the 10 candidates on the stage for the first Republican debate as chimpanzees struggling for alpha male status. The day after the debate, newspaper columnists almost unanimously declared Trump dead, unsuited for office — a blowhard bully with no grasp of the issues. Viewers, however, saw the proceedings through the limbic lobe; there was Trump, hooting, beating his chest, throwing dirt at his opponents — bigger, louder, prouder, more aggressive and energized. They thought he won. Even the way Trump styles his hair, making him look taller than his 6-foot-3, resembles the behavior of alpha chimps who, as primatologist Frans de Waal reports in Chimpanzee Politics, make their hair stand on end to make their bodies look large.
De Waal observes that among both chimps and humans, a more submissive male regulates his vocal tones to match a more dominant male at a pitch that is almost imperceptible to the human ear. In all but one election since the first televised debate, between JFK and Richard Nixon, the man who adjusted his vocal tone lost. The winner was almost always the man who was visibly and audibly more aggressive, confident and energetic.
So is that how we pick our presidents, Planet of the Apes style?
Along with energy and aggressiveness, many of the traits that underlie presidential success are linked to hypomanic temperament — unsinkable optimism, charisma, confidence, expansive vision and extroversion. In my study of this temperament among American leaders, The Hypomanic Edge, I show that hypomania, which is genetically based and encourages risk-taking, is what has made America rich and powerful. People with hypomanic temperament are not mentally ill but have mildly manic features. All their motivating forces are in overdrive, including the competitive push for dominance.
Judgment, the trait most essential to success in governing, is distinctly not associated with hypomania. Quite the opposite. Poor judgment is one of the most distinctive features of hypomania. Impulsivity, arrogance, a tendency to move and think too fast — all work against the measured, sober, thoughtful and patient study that good judgment requires. Brain imaging studies show that among people in a manic state, the limbic system is on fire, while the prefrontal cortex, the part of the new brain tasked with inhibiting and modulating it, is hardly working at all. Hypomania doesn’t just turn on our drives. It also turns off our judgment, which is why the really bad decisions hypomanics are prone to can seem like a good idea at the time.
Every person alive struggles with balancing the two sides of our nature. How heads of state manage the task is called history. From journalistic accounts and historical records, it is possible to see how each of our three most recent presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — balanced the psychological traits needed to get into and then be in the Oval Office. They provide a dynamic portrait of what the successful candidate needs in 2016.
Bill Clinton: A hypomanic with a great cortex and a zipper problem
No president has ever embodied the id in the public’s imagination more than Bill Clinton, thanks to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In a psychobiographic study I wrote, In Search of Bill Clinton, I attributed his hypersexuality to the hypomanic temperament he inherited from his mother (who was also quite promiscuous). All of Clinton’s drives are writ large. He spent years battling overeating and can’t stop talking. His turbocharged libido propels him to compulsively connect with people in every way, not just sexually, making him an extreme extrovert. His “driving need for contact with people, people and more people,” wrote political journalist Joe Klein in The Natural, had a “physical” and “carnal quality.”
Clinton’s extroversion combined with his hypomanic energy made him a naturally great campaigner. When Clinton first ran for Congress, he regularly stumped for 36 hours without sleeping, wearing out his drivers, who had to work in rotating shifts, and the soles of three pairs of shoes. Though perpetually running late, Clinton would impulsively leap out of the car every time he saw a handful of people on the street: “That’s 10 votes!”
High on the list of traits voters value is the feeling that the candidate “cares about people like me.” Empathy, augmented by gregariousness, was one of Clinton’s greatest political assets. “He’s more able to walk a mile in your shoes than anyone I’ve ever known,” says political consultant Paul Begala. When, at a town hall debate, an African-American woman asked, “How has the national debt affected your life?” George Bush senior stumbled for an answer. Clinton left his stool, took three steps toward her, and asked sympathetically, “Tell me how it’s affected you again?” Bush was caught staring at his wristwatch and, according to Klein, “the presidential campaign was, in effect, over.”
Behind most successful hypomanics, I’ve found, is a nonmanic partner who disciplines them, manages them and grounds them in reality. After Clinton’s disastrously chaotic first term as governor of Arkansas — he became the youngest ex-governor in history — “Hillary realized she was going to have to step in and develop discipline,” Leon Panetta, later Clinton’s White House chief of staff, told me. When Clinton ran to regain the governorship, in 1981, “Hillary became the manager of their joint political career,” wrote political consultant Dick Morris. One of the governor’s paramours, Marla Crider, told me she asked Clinton why he loved Hillary. “She challenges me every moment of the day. She makes me a better person. She gets me started, kicks my butt and makes me do the things I’ve got to do.”
Clinton also has a powerful cortex of his own. His intelligence stuns everyone who knows him and, as Hillary has said, “he is insatiably curious about everything,” a trait that can turn him into a tireless policy wonk. Wonkism, however, doesn’t always play well on the national stage. In his book The Agenda, journalist Bob Woodward described the 1999 budget battle as “chaos, absolute chaos.”
But Clinton did something that no president has ever done before and none may ever do again. He read every line of the 2,000-page budget and sought open — and, it seemed, endless — debate on every item. “The staff did their best to move Clinton along,” wrote Woodward, “but the president resisted, hungering always for more detail.” Alice Rivlin, then vice chair of the Federal Reserve, laughed when remembering how faint from hunger and exhaustion she was. It was, however, “the best decision-making process I’ve ever seen in government, and I’ve been there for a long time,” she told me. Clinton was trying to split the economic atom by satisfying both the deficit hawks and the social liberals on his team, whose debate he warmly encouraged. It was a kind of “economic Manhattan project,” Rivlin said.
He not only balanced the budget but also produced a surplus while giving a massive tax cut to the working poor and expanding social programs. Under his watch the economy had its greatest peacetime expansion in history. That Clinton got so much bad press for a singular achievement says something about the immaturity of the electorate. Splitting the economic atom is not easy. We seem to have little tolerance for a process of uncertainty and study, so much messier than glib slogans.
With the notable exception of the Lewinsky debacle, Clinton might have been among the most successful presidents at balancing old-brain and new-brain traits, according to Genovese. Like Woodrow Wilson, he says, Clinton had “the force of conviction that people can see as strength, and yet also the ability to step back, pause, think and re-examine. You need someone like Bill Clinton without the zipper problem.”
George W. Bush: He could lead, but wouldn’t read
Republican candidate George W. Bush trounced his Democratic opponent Al Gore during the presidential debates in the fall of 2000. He attacked Gore as a liar, “a classic display of aggression aimed at establishing dominance,” observes Westen, the Emory psychologist. Gore high-mindedly proclaimed, “we should attack the country’s problems, not each other.” In the chimpanzee world, failing to respond to an attack with an aggressive response is a de facto act of submission.
In forced-choice studies, when respondents have to weigh one presidential characteristic over another, “strong leader” beats out “shares my values,” “has compassion” and “cares about people like me.” It’s why Americans often elect victorious generals, observes University of Texas historian H.W. Brands. “George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower were the alpha males of their time. Though they had no political qualifications to speak of, they kept us safe.” There are evolutionary reasons to rally behind displays of primal strength. It might help us survive.
America got its alpha male president in 2000 and, at first, the bet seemed to pay off. When, months after taking office, Bush stood on the rubble of the World Trade Center with a bullhorn, it was his finest hour, just what the nation needed. Overnight, Bush’s approval rating almost doubled, to 90 percent.
Presidents must be visionaries, scholars agree. They must “see over the horizon,” says Jay Winik, author of 1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History. But they also must “take the American people and pull them along, to do things that they may not otherwise want to do,” he notes, pointing to the president who pulled America into the New Deal and World War II.
Bush, too, had a vision, about America’s need to confront the “Axis of Evil” — and pulled the country into Iraq. Bush had some of the essential ingredients of a great president at a moment of crisis. But the problem with being a visionary is this: What if your vision is wrong? “You can be absolutely certain and absolutely wrong,” argued John Kerry, in his 2004 presidential debate with Bush.
What does it take to be a visionary president? Traits that sit on the hypomanic spectrum. You have to have a touch of grandiosity to believe you are the Moses who will lead America to the Promised Land. FDR was “all ego, all vanity,” says Winik, and considered himself the “indispensable man.” You also have to be irrationally confident. “Unsinkable optimism” has to be “built into their DNA,” adds Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley. “Roosevelt kept waving, smiling and just being always in a genial, good mood,” despite 12 years of existential threat. No matter what catastrophes happen, no matter how unpopular you might be, “you have to be the Macy’s Parade balloon floating above it all.” Bush was unfazed by the unpopularity of the Iraq war, says Winik, who became friends with Bush. “He knew history would be the judge, not the papers at the time.”
Bush’s Achilles’ heel was his cortex. His overabundance of aggressive energy, combined with deficits in ego-based executive functioning, was probably congenital. In grade school, he was nicknamed “Bushtail” because of his high energy level, an inability to sit still at school and a tendency toward impulsive actions, which today would “arouse suspicions of hyperactivity,” Washington, D.C., psychiatrist Justin Frank wrote in Bush on the Couch. That, he says, would explain his short attention span, snap decisions, “lack of interest in abstractions” and “fondness for impulsive action and risk-taking.”
Bush actively devalues the higher-order, rational processes of decision-making. He evinces a disdain for contemplation or deliberation, a retreat from empiricism, and a “bullying impatience with doubters and even friendly questions,” journalist Ron Suskind reported in a New York Times Magazine profile. Bruce Bartlett, who worked as an adviser for presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said that Dubya “truly believes he’s on a mission from God” and such “absolute faith overwhelms a need for analysis” or evidence. He “dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts.”
Clinton pored over economic data and led marathon budget meetings; Bush had trouble just sitting through an hourlong discussion of the economy. Bush didn’t ask a single question and later proclaimed, “I was bored as hell,” according to his former Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill. “He’s plenty smart enough,” Carl Levin, a former senator, told me. “It’s his lack of curiosity about complex issues that troubles me.” Once, when asked why Bush showed little intellectual curiosity, Woodward replied, “He doesn’t like homework. Homework means reading or getting briefed or having a debate.” Bush could lead, but he wouldn’t read, thereby compromising his judgment.
Barack Obama: A neocortex man who won’t drag us over the rainbow
If Bush is more alpha chimp than philosopher king, Obama may be his opposite. Measured and thoughtful, he is a neocortex man to the hilt, Hamlet to Bush’s Tarzan. He doesn’t beat his chest like Bush, even after the killing of Osama bin Laden, a moment for chest thumping if ever there was one.
Nor is he hypomanically extroverted like Clinton. In fact, just the opposite. “More than any president since Jimmy Carter, Obama comes across as an introvert,” wrote White House correspondent Peter Baker in a New York Times Magazine profile. Introverts are highly thoughtful and work more slowly, deliberatively and cautiously than extroverts, according to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
But having good judgment is not the same as selling your judgment to the American people. Obama was an inspiring campaigner. Indeed, introverts can be charismatic public performers in small doses. Obama finds extended contact with people outside his inner circle to be “draining.” When it came time to govern, he withdrew into his work. “The figure of inspiration from the 2008 campaign neglected inspiration after his election” and “didn’t stay connected to the people who put him in office in the first place,” Baker wrote. After Obamacare passed, in the run-up to the congressional elections, he should have been touring the country hugging grateful, newly insured citizens and chanting, “Yes, we did!” Instead, he let the Republicans frame the issue, turning a political asset into a liability that resulted in a midterm election disaster.
Obama acknowledged as much when he told Baker, “We probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right.” The Obama fallacy seems to be the belief that good work speaks for itself. In that sense Obama operates “very much the way Jimmy Carter used to try to govern: ‘I’m going to do the right thing, and the American people and Congress will follow.’ They won’t,” says Genovese. Part of the job of president is to bring the country along with you, perpetually pitching your vision to the public, the press, even your opponents.
Obama has vision. It was palpable in his campaign. But he didn’t drag us over the rainbow with him. “Being led by Barack Obama is like being trumpeted into battle by Miles Davis. He makes you want to sit down and discern,” wrote New York Times columnist David Brooks. “Obama is very thoughtful, which is a virtue,” says Genovese. “But the problem is that it doesn’t always play well with the public. If you have the academic or the intellectual desire to look at both sides of an issue, that formulation doesn’t work to move the country.”
Joseph Ellis, historian of the Founding Fathers, gives Obama high marks on judgment, an essential trait he believes is in dwindling supply today. “There was a more inherent, deliberative process in the late 18th century,” but aiming for wisdom today is “like trying to slow dance to rock ’n’ roll.” Obama, America’s first black president, is identified with the progressive future, but in many respects Obama the constitutional scholar is more of an 18th-century man. That sits just fine with Ellis, who believes his “legacy is going to end up being better than a lot of people now believe.”
One question Americans face today is whether our primate programming will countenance a female as the alpha male. Clearly, any woman will have to dominate her opponent, as much as any man would, maybe more so. Hillary Clinton will likely be the test case.
The most reliable indicator of true toughness, historians agree, is toughness under pressure. “Resilience” was the first trait that John Harris, founding editor of Politico and author of The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House, proffered. Others used terms like “indomitable.” In late October, when the congressional Select Committee on Benghazi engaged Hillary in hearings about the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission there, the clearest outcome, political observers almost unanimously agreed, was a showcase of her resilience through 11 hours of interrogation.
What launched her political career in the first place was the mother of all hearings: impeachment. In 1998, Hillary Clinton was the most humiliated woman in America. But she didn’t hide in shame. The Republicans resolved to make the midterm election a referendum on impeachment. Thrusting herself into the congressional campaigns, she crisscrossed 27 states, made hundreds of appearances and refused to stop despite a potentially life-threatening blood clot. Her first-lady approval rating of 42 percent, the lowest in history, jumped to 72 percent. And for the first time since the administration of Founding Father James Monroe, the president’s party gained seats in his sixth year. Impeachment was dead. Hillary’s solo political career was born.
In 2016, with political and economic difficulties afflicting populations worldwide and America’s well-being inextricably linked to global forces in all their unpredictability, whoever has the strength to win needs, more than ever, the wisdom to govern as well. Much as that makes demands on the candidates, it requires something of voters as well.
The electorate has an obligation to muster its share of wisdom, too. It’s our task to choose the president we need, not just the one we want, one who can harness the dynamism of lower-order attributes to the acumen of higher-order skills. We need the maturity to choose a competent adult.
John Gartner, Ph.D., is a psychologist and author in Baltimore and New York who specializes in treating people with bipolar disorder. A version of his essay was initially published in Psychology Today .
I have developed strong feelings about activism, negative feelings; so what action does one take if one feels passionate about something, if not activism?
First, what is my problem with activism? It is the same that I have with what we are now calling Progressivism, Elite progressivism, if you prefer (spell check doesn’t accept that there is such a word as progressivism, but I’ll employ it until something better presents itself). Activism is pushing one’s views on others, and this is exactly what modern elite Progressives seem to insist on doing; we see it everywhere: diversity, transgenderism, same sex marriage……………..etc. And what do I have against such? Nothing, actually; I believe in freedom of choice, as long as no one else is injured by it. Diversity is a good thing; but forcing diversity? Why? Particularly when such forcing takes the form of statistics. I have no problems with two women, or men for that matter, living together in a monogamous relationship. If a man wants to pretend he is a woman and visa versa, what difference could that make to me? If a Muslim woman wants to wear a burka, same thing. What I DO object to is someone demanding that I observe THEIR definitions of how I must accept it.
I am strong believer in individuality and personal rights; but rights to do what I want to do and think what I want to think, and not conform to how others feel I should adhere to their demands. I don’t care for homosexual relationships; in fact I feel that sexual relationships pushed in other people’s faces are irritating, even repugnant; If others want to pursue them in the privacy of their own lives, so be it; but they don’t have the RIGHT to demand that I embrace it enthusiastically. And that is precisely what the current progressive push for political correctness is doing: you cannot criticize me! why not, if it does no harm? But criticism harms! oh, give me a break. One must learn to deal with criticism, in fact, with many things with which they might not agree. That’s how we learn in life. But that’s not fair! uh huh, precisely what I am referring to: life is not fair, and to live realistically within it, takes constant adjustment – to reality, however that might present itself.
Activists INSIST on telling others what do do, and even how to live: even insist on how each should live theirs. Why? because they know! and think they have the right to dictate to the rest of us. I disagree, and the arrogance irritates me. So I have the right to activate back? Of course not; we should try just ignoring, and letting others do what they will, AS LONG AS THEY DON”T ENDANGER OTHERS in the process; that’s why we have to have laws. We have even progressed with our regulations so that they go beyond reasonable protection; many of our regulations have become progressive: elites want to tell us what to do, and how to do it. What should they be doing?
How about suggesting how ways we should live: that is, principles by which we should conduct our lives? Is that not the realm of religion? some religious leaders succumb to the same temptation; telling us not only what is best to believe and how we SHOULD pursue it; but to threaten us with perdition if we don’t, but then if that is the basis of their faith, it is their right to do it. We don’t have to listen; but neither do we have the right to tell them they cannot preach it.
At his point we come to the crux of it: we, each of us, needs to think for ourselves, reason for ourselves, and do what we feel we need to do; without pushing it on others to do the same. That is very difficult for many people to accept, and a basic problem we have with the wielding of power: them that’s got it want to wield it. Human nature; and many of us let them, which is also human nature. And why do they do that? self interest, usually; they think by yielding to the power of those that have it, they can benefit from it. That does not suggest that we should not attempt to influence, but how they do so it makes a difference. But then we have to move into the realm of governing, and see the problem with one-person one-vote democracy; it too easily becomes despotism, when the majority has too much power. It happens all the time; power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But WE do not have a democracy; we have a carefully balanced. checked and separated republic of relatively independent states (Federalism). But it has not always been so.
And those same elite Progressives have been trying to return us to the power despotism they would prefer we had. It is not a simple matter, for there is need for a certain amount of central government power to ensure security; but how much? Early on we learned that under the Articles of Confederation our separation was excessive, and didn’t work when it came to national security. Kingdoms in the Middle East, through the efforts of what we referred to as the Barbary Pirates, took advantage of the fact that our voters resisted creation of a standing navy to provide such security. From that, through discussion that was far more virulent than most of us can remember, eventually evolved our Constitution, based on Judaeo/Christian principles that incorporated necessary checks, and balances between central and state powers adequate to support what we have become. How many of our citizens even appreciate that today?
And so I come to the meat of it all, to my way of thinking. We have forgotten much of the past – the Barbary Pirates, for example, but much else as well; and many of the elite progressive thinkers are quite content with that, having forgotten it as well, or pushed it aside for their own purposes. Why are these elites doing what they do? The same reason many of us are letting them get away with what they are trying to do: we have all forgotten too much of our history and make too little effort these days to regain it; we are complacent, and don’t make the effort we need to make to be able to retain what we have achieved with such difficulty. And because of that we are faced with losing it all, and don’t even realize it.
Same old argument: we have to make the effort, or at least enough of us need to; obviously all will not. But to do so we have to rely upon those same elite thinkers, do we not? Learning, understanding, thinking, keeping an open mind; That means sharing, gaining from the thinkers, but we always return to the same point: we can not leave it to the power seekers that benefit from dominating it: that is where government of the people comes in to ensure preserving our hard-won legacy. Too many today do not even realize we could lose it; lost, as they have become, in selfish pleasure. But be careful with open minds: being too open results in allowing anyone to fill them as they will, and progressive elites are to ready to stand by to do it, all over the world, and have been doing so. Balance; but balance can only come from understanding and being involved, and understanding comes from educating ourselves through use of reason and argument in seeking truth and knowledge of reality; “read, think (listen, experience) disagree with (question) everything, if you like – but force the mind outward.” That is what America is all about, and it depends upon all of us working together to achieve it – and preserve it.
We always come back to the same thing, and it has to come from within US. At the national level US is collective but at the individual level it is personal. Collectively or individually it is up to us, and we have to work out how to do that together – before we lose it.
In my last essay I discussed how my Jewish friend and I came to that same agreement. Yes, we have our differences; we think differently and have different influences, and from that comes faith, which is how we live; but when we get away from dogma and concentrate on principles, it all comes together – IF we have open minds and are making the effort.
Sermon over; I do get wound up about it.
An article published in today’s City Journal by Myron Magnet. Why not share?
It’s Not Your Founding Fathers’ Republic Any More
Presidents, Congresses, and courts are creating an elective despotism.
How far have we distorted the Constitution that the Founders gave us, and how much does it matter? A phalanx of recent books warns that we have undermined our fundamental law so recklessly that Americans should worry that government of the people, by the people, and for the people really could perish from the earth. The tomes—Adam Freedman’s engaging The Naked Constitution, Mark R. Levin’s impassioned The Liberty Amendments, Richard A. Epstein’s masterful The Classical Liberal Constitution, and Philip K. Howard’s eloquent and levelheaded The Rule of Nobody (in order of publication)—look at the question from different angles and offer different fixes to it, but all agree that Americans need to take action right now.
THE GRANGER COLLECTION, NYC
Several benighted Supreme Court rulings subverted the Fourteenth Amendment and crushed President Lincoln’s dream of binding up the nation’s Civil War wounds with malice toward none and charity for all.
Before we scramble, though, we had better understand just what happened. There’s no single villain. As these books show, all branches of government conspired over more than a century to turn the Constitution that the Framers wrote in 1787, plus the Bill of Rights that James Madison shepherded through the first Congress in 1789 and the Fourteenth Amendment ratified in 1868, into something their authors would neither recognize nor endorse.
The signal feature of the 1787 Constitution was its prudent restraint. The Framers learned from hard Revolutionary War experience that their new nation needed a more powerful central government than the Articles of Confederation authorized. But they bestowed the requisite powers with a trembling hand, knowing that the men who would exercise them were not angels but humans, as fallible as all other men—and usually more so, since overweening ambition and self-interest, not patriotism, are the standard spurs to seeking office. Recognizing that electing your officials doesn’t ensure that they won’t become as tyrannical as the hereditary monarchs the colonists had fled, the Framers’ hemmed in and divided government authority, giving Congress only 19 specific powers that mostly concerned raising taxes, coining money, spending it on “the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States” (meaning keeping the country safe), building post offices and post roads (but not turnpikes and canals), regulating the armed forces, and making laws necessary and proper to carry out these limited functions. Constitution architect James Madison, always at the vortex of the fierce disputes over what measures these enumerated powers implied as necessary and proper, concluded—after serving for a quarter-century as a congressman, secretary of state, and president—that the bedrock constitutional principle was simply to ensure that America does not “convert a limited into an unlimited Govt.”
But before the nation started making just that transformation, it took a wrong turn in the opposite direction. Everyone knows that, for all its virtues, the Constitution—which George Washington thought “approached nearer to perfection than any government hitherto instituted among Men”—was nevertheless not perfect. It was born with the congenital flaw of slavery. As was almost inevitable in a nation that believed that all men are created equal but nevertheless allowed some men to hold others in perpetual bondage, it took a war to resolve the irreconcilable conflict, despite the increasingly desperate search for a peaceful compromise that consumed American politics from 1820 to 1850. After that stunningly costly war, the American people also fine-tuned their Constitution between 1865 and 1870 to undo its original sin, ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment to free the slaves, the Fourteenth to assure black Americans citizenship and civil rights, and the Fifteenth to prohibit any state from denying black citizens the right to vote.
But as early as 1873, the Supreme Court began to subvert the Fourteenth Amendment in the Slaughter-House Cases, in the process shredding the amendment’s key protections of the civil rights of Southern blacks. Going way beyond the particular grievances of the Louisiana butchers before it, the court declared that, while the amendment had indeed extended the Constitution’s protection of the privileges and immunities of citizens from federal infringement to protection against infringement by state governments as well, that new protection did not include all the rights that the amendment’s Framers had meant it to include: to own property; to have access to the courts; to pay taxes at the same rate as everyone else; to vote (subject to the qualifications of your particular state); to live, work, and travel where you want; and, above all, to have the protection of the Bill of Rights against state as well as federal violation. All the additional protection the amendment granted to freed slaves, as well as to other citizens, the court held, according to Epstein’s constitutional-law history (which could have been titled Constitutional Law Versus the Constitution), was the right to travel on interstate waterways and to petition the federal government for redress of grievances.
It’s worth noting, as Epstein observes, that when Chief Justice John Marshall declared in 1803 in Marbury v. Madison that “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is,” he didn’t mean that it is the business of the Supreme Court, or a bare majority of it, to make the laws—and to the extent he implied that it might be, Epstein notes, he was wrong. But while the Court made that incorrect implication about its own omnipotence explicit in 1955 in Cooper v. Aaron, it had been moving in that direction for a very long time.
In 1876, United States v. Cruikshank made starkly clear just how unprotected the Supreme Court’s misrepresentation of the Fourteenth Amendment in the Slaughter-House Cases had left Southern blacks. After a Louisiana mob killed more than 100 freedmen and state authorities wouldn’t prosecute white murderers of blacks, the Supreme Court threw out the federal indictment of some of the murderers for conspiracy to deprive their victims of their constitutional rights, since the killers had violated no federal rights that extended to the states, the court held, with numerous citations of the Slaughter-House Cases. The decision helped embolden Southern Democrats to enact Jim Crow laws. From Cruikshank, it took but a short step to Plessy v. Ferguson, the infamous 1896 decision in which the Supreme Court obliterated still more of the rights that the Fourteenth Amendment had given blacks, by allowing the Southern states to legislate segregated transportation and schools and to outlaw interracial marriage. So much for Abraham Lincoln’s dream of finishing the work the Civil War had begun and binding up the nation’s wounds with malice toward none and charity for all.
As Madison was forging the Constitution into shape, its democratic character gave him his greatest worry, which he voiced in Number 10 of The Federalist Papers, only to assure Americans that the Constitution’s structure made that fear moot. According to the old, well-known tradition of political philosophy that lay behind the Constitution, the purpose of any government is to protect the citizens’ God-given rights to life, liberty, and property. But in a democratic government—even though the people would directly elect only congressmen, while the supposedly more prudent state legislatures would elect presumably wise and propertied senators and an electoral college the president—couldn’t the unpropertied majority vote to tax away the property of the small minority of rich citizens and give it to themselves? But that would never happen, Madison argued, because in the extensive republic that the Constitution would govern, so many different factions and interests would flourish that no single-minded majority could form that could tyrannize a minority by expropriating its wealth. Redistributive taxation, therefore, was a chimera.
Moreover, as Madison and Hamilton took for granted in The Federalist Papers, which they wrote (with five by John Jay) to urge ratification of the Constitution, taxes would chiefly take the form of import duties or excises on such commodities as whiskey—and these taxes, Hamilton asserted, were naturally self-limiting because if they grew excessive, people would stop buying the overtaxed article, and overall tax revenues would fall. In the unlikely event of an imposition of any direct tax on everybody, or on citizens’ land or wealth, as opposed to these indirect levies, Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution required that it be levied equally or proportionally, though scholars debate the meaning of that clause. But one thing the Framers never dreamed of was a tax on incomes. And for generations, they were right.
But in 1913, after 20 years of Progressive-era agitation, the Sixteenth Amendment, passed by Congress in 1909, won ratification. It imposed a graduated income tax—a direct tax that did not fall proportionally on all. Indirect taxes such as import duties and excise taxes, the argument went, fell disproportionately on the poor and provided too unpredictable a revenue stream to a federal government that Americans increasingly thought needed strengthening. Though the income-tax rates were but 1 percent for incomes up to $483,826, rising to a modest 7 percent on incomes over $11.6 million, the now-constitutional machinery for the tyranny of the majority that Madison had feared was fired up and ready to confiscate wealth as surely as the Stamp Act confiscated property. And since in 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment—instituting direct popular election of senators—also won ratification, the upper house no longer served, even theoretically, as a brake on the passions of the people.
Today, Madison’s nightmare has become America’s everyday reality. By 2010, according to the latest Congressional Budget Office data, the top-earning 40 percent of households paid 106.2 percent of federal income taxes, while the bottom 40 percent of taxpaying households paid minus 9.1 percent, thanks to such refundable tax credits as payments to those with low earned incomes. In addition, those 40 percent of households received such additional transfer payments from the wealth of their more prosperous neighbors as food stamps and Medicaid, plus Social Security and Medicare payments at a much higher proportion to what they paid in than do richer households. In 2011, according to Tax Foundation data, the top 5 percent of taxpayers paid 58.5 percent of total U.S. income taxes, while the bottom 50 percent paid 2.9 percent. And that’s just taxpayers. Transfers to non-income-tax-paying households on welfare can amount to twice what a minimum-wage job pays.
Much of what the Progressive Era had only hoped for, the New Deal brought into being, transforming America’s constitutional structure in ways that such Progressives as Woodrow Wilson, with his belief that the Founders were antique, bewigged figures with views unsuited to modernity’s more informed and effective age of science, statistics, and professionalism, had urged. Wilson, argues author Freedman, saw “the Founders’ checks and balances as an unnecessary drag on the efficiency of government,” which should be a vast mechanism in which expert bureaucrats with advanced degrees—working altruistically in nonpolitical agencies like the Interstate Commerce Commission, formed in 1887, or the Federal Trade Commission, founded during Wilson’s presidency—would smoothly institute what advances in economics and social science would reveal as the common good. In 1908, Wilson swept the Founders and their cobweb-covered Constitution into the dustbin of history. “No doubt a great deal of nonsense has been talked about the inalienable rights of the individual, and a great deal that was mere vague sentiment and pleasing speculation has been put forward as fundamental principle,” he wrote. By contrast with the Founders’ musty parchment, he continued, “Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and practice.” Can’t get much more up-to-date and scientific than evolution.
And so arose the doctrine of the Living Constitution, which has now infringed nearly every guarantee of the Bill of Rights, from free speech to federalism. “The chief instrumentality by which the law of the Constitution has been extended to cover the facts of national development has of course been judicial interpretations—the decisions of courts,” Wilson wrote. “The process of formal amendment of the Constitution was made so difficult by the . . . Constitution itself that it has seldom been feasible to use it.” So the doughty courts have stepped in and taken over the “whole business of adaptation . . . with open minds, sometimes even with boldness and a touch of audacity,” becoming “more liberal, not to say more lax, in their interpretation than they otherwise would have been.” As Wilson saw it, writes Levin, “the federal judiciary was to behave as a permanent constitutional convention,” making up the laws as it went along. Of course, at that point, as Lincoln had warned almost half a century earlier, “the people will have ceased to be their own rulers.”
And indeed, it was this magic elixir of judicial constitution-making and rule by administrative agencies that Franklin D. Roosevelt employed to transmute the American political system into one that resembled George III’s system of rulers and subjects as much as it did George Washington’s government. The magnitude of the Depression, Roosevelt thought, required the federal government to seize control of the entire U.S. economy: only national rather than state or free-market solutions, he believed, could shake it back to health. The Supreme Court batted down his first attempts to use the Commerce Clause—the power that Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress to regulate interstate commerce—to regulate all commerce, including commerce that never crosses a state line. In 1935, for example, the Court struck down a law mandating retirement plans for railway workers, noting that, even though railways participate in interstate transportation, their workers’ pension plans do not. That same year, the Court declared that Congress had no power, via the National Industrial Recovery Act, to set the wages and hours of Brooklyn poultry workers or to regulate how they sell chickens, since neither the workers nor the chickens leave New York State. Nor, said the Court the following year, could Congress set up commissions to decree coal prices or miners’ working conditions. Yes, strikes interrupt production, influence prices nationwide, and thus affect interstate commerce, but they and the conditions that cause them “are local evils over which the federal government has no legislative control.”
But once Roosevelt’s plan for a constitutional amendment to curb the Court’s power scared Justice Owen Roberts into changing his judicial spots, the Nine began to toe the New Deal line. Just as FDR’s Progressive cousin Theodore Roosevelt had blamed the global financial instability preceding the Panic of 1907 on giant corporations—often led, said TR, by “malefactors of great wealth”—Franklin Roosevelt also saw big business as a threat to ordinary individuals, whom only big government could protect. “We have earned the hatred of entrenched greed,” the president accusingly said of corporate America in his 1936 State of the Union speech. “Give them their way and they will take the course of every autocracy of the past—power for themselves, enslavement for the public.”
On cue, in its 1937 Jones & Laughlin decision, the Court upheld the National Labor Relations Act, whose “major function,” according to Epstein, “was to prop up union monopolies in labor relations.” To reach its decision, the Court noted that the big steel company had “far-flung activities” across the nation, so that “industrial strife” in any one of them “would have a most serious effect upon interstate commerce. . . . [I]t is idle to say that the effect would be indirect or remote. It is obvious that it would be immediate, and might be catastrophic.” Hence J&L’s intrastate activities “have such a close and intimate relation to interstate commerce as to make the presence of industrial strife a matter of the most urgent national concern. When industries organize themselves on a national scale, making their relation to interstate commerce the dominant factor in their activities, how can it be maintained that their industrial labor relations constitute a forbidden field into which Congress may not enter when it is necessary to protect interstate commerce from the paralyzing consequences of industrial war?” Further federalizing local economic activity, the Court declared in its 1941 Darby decision—with all the audacity Woodrow Wilson could have wanted—that of course the Fair Labor Standards Act could force firms not engaged in interstate commerce to observe national wage and hour standards, even though they were following the standards of their home states; and of course the FLSA could bar from interstate commerce any product it defined as “produced under substandard labor conditions.”
The logical but lunatic capstone to this line of reasoning was the Court’s 1942 Wickard v. Filburn decision. In accordance with FDR and his brain trust’s belief that the Depression stemmed from a crisis of deflationary overproduction, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, purportedly based on Congress’s Commerce Clause power, directed the Department of Agriculture to establish a crop-quota system, allocating so much production to each state, which would, in turn, prescribe the permitted output for each farm. For exceeding his wheat allotment, Ohio farmer Roscoe Filburn was fined $117.11, or 49 cents per each bushel of excess production. But here’s the rub: agriculture isn’t commerce, as the Founders understood it, and not only did Filburn’s grain not enter into interstate commerce; it didn’t even enter into in-state commerce, since he fed it to his own cows. But even if the grain is “never marketed,” the Court wrote, in true Alice in Wonderland style, “it supplied the need of the man who grew it which would otherwise be reflected by purchases in the open market. Home-grown wheat in this sense competes with wheat in commerce. The stimulation of commerce is a use of the regulatory function quite as definitely as prohibitions or restrictions thereon.” Even if Filburn’s “activity be local and though it may not be regarded as commerce,” the Court ruled, “it may still, whatever its nature, be reached by Congress if it exerts a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce.” The lengths to which free people will go to evade central planners’ price controls!
The New Deal didn’t transform the Constitution only by institutionalizing nine unelected judges with lifetime tenure as a permanent constitutional convention. It also allowed Congress to create, at the president’s request and with the blessing of the Supreme Court, an unprecedented regulatory state, made up of a constellation of administrative agencies, from the Federal Housing Administration and the Federal Communications Commission to the National Labor Relations Board and the Securities and Exchange Commission, which make rules, enforce them, and adjudicate transgressions of them. “The practice of creating independent regulatory commissions, who perform administrative work in addition to judicial work,” Roosevelt himself admitted, “threatens to develop a ‘fourth branch’ of Government for which there is no sanction in the Constitution.”
That is an understatement. It’s hard to count the ways in which the administrative or regulatory state overturns, abolishes, and replaces the Constitution. As the American Revolution’s tutelary philosopher, John Locke, had pronounced, “The legislative cannot transfer the power of making laws to any other hands: for it being but a delegated power from the people, they who have it cannot pass it over to others.” The legislative branch has the authority “only to make laws, and not to make legislators”—but that’s just what Congress’s establishment and expansion of the administrative state has made its rule makers.
In addition, these are legislators who execute the rules they decree and adjudicate and punish infringements of them, an egregious violation of the “separation-of-powers doctrine under the Constitution” that “dispens[es] with our principal safeguard against autocracy in government,” the American Bar Association warned in 1936, as the administrative state was taking shape. “We should not have some 73 midget courts in Washington, most of them exercising legislative and executive powers. A man should not be judge in his own case and the combination of prosecutor and judge in these tribunals must be relentlessly exposed and combatted.” Making matters worse, as even New Deal congressman Emanuel Celler ruefully noted, many of the “experts” staffing these agencies are “mere ‘whipper-snappers’—young students just out of law school—who apparently are given undue authority in originating, if not effectuating, final decisions.”
Worse still, the regulatory agencies may presume anyone they charge to be guilty unless he proves his innocence, and he has but limited standing and scope to appeal the agency’s decision to a real court, effectively “making the commission’s decisions on fact final and conclusive,” the ABA objected. “This sets the wheels of government moving in reverse gear; the servant becomes the master, and the right to earn a living becomes subject to the servant’s whim and caprice as he professes to apply some vague and variable statutory standard.” Little wonder that one congressman warned that “government by committees, boards, bureaus, and commissions will, if unchecked and uncontrolled, destroy the republican conception of government”—or that a senator deemed one of the agencies a “Star Chamber,” the arbitrary, juryless court of Stuart despotism. (These quotations come from a Northwestern University Law Review article by George B. Shepherd, cited in Howard’s book, on the evolution of the 1946 Administrative Procedures Act, “the bill of rights for the new regulatory state,” Shepherd says.)
Freedman sets forth an instructive example of how all this works in practice in a story with an unexpectedly and illuminatingly happy ending. In 2004, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB, or “Peekaboo”) dispatched seven investigators to inspect a tiny Nevada accounting firm, combing over its files for two weeks and asking follow-up questions that took the three-man outfit 500 man-hours to answer. A year later, the board charged the firm with eight accounting deficiencies, demanding a response within 30 days. When the firm’s managing director, Brad Beckstead, tartly replied that such compliance costs and standards would kill small CPA firms, Peekaboo summoned him for three days of questioning, demanded more files plus correspondence and e-mails, and ultimately found nothing to charge the firm with—but not before its profits were down 60 percent.
With the help of the nonprofit Free Enterprise Fund, Beckstead found grounds to sue. The Constitution, he argued, calls for a “unitary executive,” meaning that all executive-branch officials must be responsible to the president, who is, in turn, responsible for their and his performance to the voters. The members of the board—who in 2003 received salaries of $400,000 each, with $556,000 for the chief, and who never have to ask for public funding, since they impose a tax on public companies and can levy fines of up to $15 million—can only be hired or fired by the SEC, and then only for serious cause. The same civil-service rules protect the SEC commissioners from dismissal at the president’s displeasure. So this executive-branch agency enjoys double protection from control by the nation’s chief executive, something that would have horrified Madison, who successfully argued in the first session of Congress that if the president didn’t have the power to fire executive-branch officials at will, that would “abolish at once that great principle of unity and responsibility in the Executive department, which was intended for the security of liberty and the public good.” All such officials, from the lowest to the highest, said Madison, “will depend, as they ought, on the President, and the President on the community.” No more, however, thanks to a then-conservative Supreme Court’s 1933 decision that FDR lacked the power to fire an FTC commissioner at will.
Beckstead lost at trial and on appeal but won in a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in 2010, with Chief Justice John Roberts making the Madisonian observation that “the Executive Branch . . . wields vast power and touches almost every aspect of daily life,” so it mustn’t “slip away from the Executive’s control and thus from that of the People.” But it was a close call.
For a more up-to-date and less happy example, one need only look at a May 19 Wall Street Journal editorial on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and an accompanying op-ed by William S. Scherman, a lawyer representing subjects—“victims” might be a better word—of FERC investigations. According to Scherman and the paper’s editors, here is an agency that has turned into something like a shakedown racket. It charges participants in the energy market with “impairing, obstructing, or defeating a well-functioning market,” after carrying on secret and ill-documented investigations, the results of which it refuses to share with the subjects, demanding millions of documents, asking thousands of questions in as many as half a dozen interrogations (while refusing to let subjects review their previous testimony), and—worst of all—failing “to adopt a coherent or meaningful definition of market manipulation,” claims Scherman, so that “someone who follows rules created by FERC is somehow committing fraud at the same time.” Little wonder that those whom FERC charges prefer to settle rather than “fight with one hand tied behind their back,” as Scherman puts it. In five years, FERC has collected $1.23 billion in penalties, driven major players from the market, shrunk the market’s liquidity, and made energy more expensive and prices more volatile. The Obama administration now wants to make the commission’s chief investigator the new chairman of this modern-day Star Chamber. Thus are we transforming entrepreneurial into corporatist capitalism.
This same administration has made the regulatory state more unconstitutional than even FDR would have dared, Levin explains. Among the 150 new agencies and commissions that the Obamacare law has created, there is one, the Independent Payment Advisory Board—the notorious “death panel”—that no future Congress can abolish unless it does so within a seven-month period in 2017 by a three-fifths vote in both houses. After that, the people’s elected representatives lack authority so much as to alter a board proposal. In the same spirit, the Dodd-Frank Act sets up a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with a budget that Congress is forbidden to review, and a Financial Stability Oversight Council, whose decisions no affected business may challenge in court, period. And now, while another such agency, the IRS, stonewalls the people’s representatives, the SEC has the gall to sue them.
“The current system is a form of tyranny,” concludes Howard. Like “a giant legal mudslide, [it] has buried both the framework of law and our freedoms.” By no means “is it a government by the people.”
THE GRANGER COLLECTION, NYC
Though born in the Progressive Era, the administrative state didn’t reach its full power to hobble American enterprise until the reign of FDR, who called its agencies a “ ‘fourth branch’ of Government for which there is no sanction in the Constitution.”
What, then, should we do? Start with Epstein’s solution, slightly different from the others because he is a lawyer trying to mold the thinking of judges and law professors about judging constitutionally. Not only liberal exponents of the Living Constitution but also conservative jurists, says Epstein, tend to think of the American Constitution as analogous to the British: “a kind of Burkean evolution whereby the text itself becomes modified through repeated usage—usually towards big government.” But for a Constitution with a built-in mechanism for change by amendment, such an analogy is mistaken. The accumulated rulings of Supreme Court justices are not part and parcel of the Constitution but often the piling of error upon error, “and the layers of interpretive confusion are so great” that such an approach does “much harm.” But because even erroneous interpretations—and thus modifications—of the law acquire a certain Burkean prescriptive authority, the question that Epstein proposes to answer is: “How should judges respond to perceived mistakes in the prior decisional law?”
My instinct, along with Freedman’s, is to follow law professor Raoul Berger’s definition of constitutional law as “the Constitution itself, stripped of judicial encrustations.” But Epstein is more moderate. To maintain the mystique of “a sound constitutional order” on which governmental legitimacy rests, you can’t just junk generations of rulings with originalist abandon. But you also don’t have to follow blindly the principle of stare decisis (deference to prior rulings) that made the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education so mischievous for subsequent jurisprudence—because it reached the right result through fanciful reasoning, since the Court lacked courage to overrule explicitly Plessy v. Ferguson’s assertion of the constitutionality of “separate but equal” treatment of the races and to declare that the Fourteenth Amendment doesn’t permit governmental or public-accommodation discrimination by race, period (thus also forestalling affirmative action). Epstein would advise judges to pick and choose what they overrule not by strict originalism but always working to uphold the Constitution’s underlying Lockean, classical liberal “tradition of strong property rights, voluntary association, and limited government,” along with the “protections of the separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism and the individual rights guarantees built into the basic constitutional structure.”
All fine—but only as long as the Court has enough justices able to think in such terms. I’d add that, as long as the Court is willing to consider originalist constitutionalism, the more conservative lawyers, legal foundations, and philanthropists willing to bring and support cases like NFIB v. Sebelius against Obamacare or Citizens United v. FEC, the better.
Rejecting such incrementalism as too little, too late, especially since we could easily end up with another New Deal- or Warren-style Court, the other three authors opt for amending the Constitution to restore its original integrity, using Article V’s provision to allow two-thirds of the state legislatures to call a constitutional-amending convention, since a hidebound Congress, with its emanations and penumbras of lobbyists and activists, would never act to limit its powers and perks. Three-fourths of the states would then have to ratify the resulting amendments in the usual way—though one of Levin’s amendments creates a streamlined process that requires only two-thirds of the states to ratify. The three authors’ 13 very reasonable suggested amendments overlap, so without getting lost in the details, let me set forth the essentials of what they want to accomplish.
All three seek to let two-thirds of the state legislatures repeal the tangle of outdated or unconstitutional laws and absurd regulations by which, as Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, men are “constantly restrained from acting” and that “enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which government is the shepherd.” Some writers suggest a committee, whether of government officials or outsiders, to do the same thing, or at least to recommend action (and a philanthropy-backed, Howard-led group should start the job now, since bland regulatory language often needs careful scrutiny to find power-mad regulatory intent). A sunset law on all legislation and regulation, unless expressly renewed every 15 years, might be another way of cutting through the tangle.
The Environmental Protection Agency—yes, we never stop spewing out New Deal–style agencies—and the Endangered Species Act are prime targets here. These writers can’t see why environmental reviews by the Coast Guard or the Army Corps of Engineers, along with Indian tribes from Nebraska and Oklahoma, should have held up for three years (and still counting) the modernization of a New Jersey bridge that would save $3 billion over the cost of building a new one. They don’t see why the EPA and the Army Engineers can tell a developer not to move sand from one place on his property to another without a permit, because of its potential impact on a navigable waterway 20 miles away—and to seek to jail him for five years before he settled, a shakedown by the federal government’s intrusion into a purely intrastate land-use issue that the Tenth Amendment should have protected him from. Howard says, “I am sometimes asked after speaking, ‘Are you in favor of pollution?’ ” The right answer is no—but if my choice is pollution or tyranny, I’ll take pollution.
To prevent a perpetual caste of rulers, these writers want a term-limit amendment for congressmen, senators, and even (says Levin) for Supreme Court justices, whose rulings in the meantime he’d let a three-fifths majority of both houses of Congress overturn. As another way to stop courts from being a tool of oppression, harassment, and delay, Howard would like an amendment forbidding lawsuits without a judge’s prior determination of their reasonableness. To stop the governmental orgy of taxing and spending, these authors favor a federal balanced-budget amendment, a line-item veto for the president, and perhaps even a constitutional upper limit on the allowable income-tax rate. To get control of the unelected, unaccountable bureaucracy, they recommend restoring the president’s authority to hold apparatchiks to account by firing them—or else face the ire of the voters whom he hasn’t protected from their insolent and often unconstitutional meddling.
To restore federalism and keep the federal government from usurping powers reserved to the states and the people, Freedman and Levin want to return to election of senators by state legislatures—ensuring, they believe, that the senate would safeguard state interests. I can’t help recalling those Gilded Age senators who bought their offices from venal state legislators, but perhaps, given the Founders’ views of human motivation, such senators would nevertheless serve the original purpose of protecting property against the tyranny of the majority. Levin would like to reinforce such protection by amendments explicitly underscoring what Article I’s Commerce Clause and the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment already say—a sad commentary on how thoroughly the Living Constitution has murdered the Founders’ Constitution.
You have to define a problem before you can solve it. We owe each of these four authors a debt for starting a conversation that could forestall a crisis of legitimacy.
Myron Magnet, City Journal’s editor-at-large and its editor from 1994 through 2006, is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal. His latest book is The Founders at Home
Reading back in an earlier version of these efforts, from maybe six years ago, brought the following. I can still access it, and do occasionally. Actually not much has changed – at least not in the long term of it. So I thought I would copy it and paste it here; what the hell. Sun is over the yard arm and another winter night is upon us out here on the prairie. And life is good. I am somewhat over the 800 number of essays already on this site. It has been very useful for me, intellectually and creativity wise; keeps me occupied in a way I consider useful, at least for me.
What Has Changed?
Shift in Defense of the Middle Ground
When I began this exercise I was honestly trying to find a middle position between the
extremes of Conservatism and Liberalism, as liberalism is practiced today. I still reject the
extremes. But, it seems to me supposed moderation, as it is being practiced by the
administration elected in 2009 – has moved so far to the left that a new defense is called for.
That defense is to bring the middle back to a realistic balance between individualism and
liberalism as it was originally conceived and pursued. To put it bluntly, we need to resist
going so far to the left that we approach Socialism. This administration is not socialist in
terms of the classic definition, ownership of the means of production by the state. Instead
we should call it STATISM, or uncontrolled growth of central government, and control of the
means of production (and much else) by that central government. In historical terms that
can be translated as central planning.
The standard distribution has been so quickly and so completely skewed that middle
ground is suddenly no longer anywhere near what I have always viewed as the middle.
Admittedly much of what has already been built into this website remains applicable, in
terms of my arguments, since central governments, over a long period of time have proven
incapable of managing a complex economy, much less its integration into a world economy.
Middle ground used to be the search for balance between the good for the many and the
good of the individual, accepting regulation by government through law, but not direct control
through coercion. Central planning by the government is not middle ground. Middle ground
in American parlance is based on the Constitution, separation of powers, rule of law,
federalism and rights of individuals, including property rights. Take this away and there is
no longer a middle to find without changing the culture completely.
There are several reasons why central planning doesn’t work. First, what has to be
planned is too big for the committee that is government to handle. Second, politicians’
priorities and the priorities of a nation are seldom congruent. Third, politicians are neither
trained nor capable of the task. Finally human nature; that is, greed, envy, power, emotion,
moral weakness and ignorance; make it impossible since instead of being controlled by
competing self-interest, it leaves it to the selfish whims of political favoritism. On top of that
it is becoming increasingly apparent that, as our founders were concerned it would, our
leadership is not up to it, partly due to the human nature problems above, and partly
because our American Idol approach to selecting leaders is totally inadequate to the task.
I shall list here many of the same links I have listed elsewhere because they are what led
me to this position, and they continue to apply. But I needed a new page – a blank canvas
on which to project. I continue to be for middle ground, but balanced middle ground,
balanced between public (government) and private (individual) interests and needs. It is my
growing opinion that we are rapidly losing that balance, and will suffer for it. But that needs
to be explored; why? And why not?
I attended a birthday party last night next door and had interesting discussions. Some of it had to do with thinking about what really matters; it got me involved in several discussions about religion, that I usually try to avoid. One was with a Christian immigrant from Hungary; Another was with a Jewish couple. My first challenge was to steer by the doctrinal rhetoric: God this or that……how? Silence or argument; what do you mean?
The most interesting aspect was discussing with the Jewish gentleman, whom I had known in the past but hadn’t seen in a long time. The discussion was long, and varied widely, but ended in almost complete agreement; not about the doctrinal details, but in the meaning of life and how to find it. We immediately agreed upon doing for self, and having to make it come from within ourselves. Then there was contribution and helping each other – to help themselves. We even worked through the great strength of our American system, and why: mostly because of the requirement for each taking care of self and avoiding dependence.
I tend to get into the long time frame of development of religious philosophy and the inevitable assumptions that had to be made in order to get buy-in. The human mind has trouble with understanding such evolution over such a long period; and having reached a position of faith, prefer to cling to it, and refuse to listen to else. As an example, my Jewish friend suggested that we were approaching end times; I questioned end, and he agreed that that could be years, much longer or even sooner. I agreed that trends were in that direction; we both agreed that we needed to be positive and resist the trend – essentially by helping each other and reaching out.
Thinking about it this morning I began to realize, partially from talking with another, how easy it is for us to slip into our bubbles and not force ourselves to think outside of them. An example of that: I started talking about immigration among states and was challenged; that’s not immigration! Isn’t it? Not when one has decided it is not; that’s NOT what the word means. But the concept of immigration is not restricted the the way it is currently used.
And immigration: the Koran has changed how we view it; despite that people view the Bible differently; even though all Muslims are not the same, it is difficult for many to accept that exhortations of the Koran are not accepted by all. Clearly, the excesses of Islam have had a very negative impact upon us, which is difficult to get by, despite how many “Middle Easterners” have successfully integrated into our culture. When I brought up Kotkin’s argument that the situation in the late 1800s was similar, push back was quick, despite the fact that during that time as much of 70% of some city residents were immigrants, poor and ignorant of what was required to succeed in their new country, those with whom I was discussing could not accept the connection. Yes, but………..but what?
The but, what is significant; much has changed. Things are infinitely more complex these days, and too many Middle Eastern immigrants are sunk in the ignorance, not which is to be expected of today, but what reaches back thousands of years. But Middle Eastern cities are growing too, and some have come out of it. Yes, but. I understand; and when the presumptions of Koran dominance are super-imposed, what impact? We shall see; it is going to be even more challenging than it ever has been.
So we have to reach out and help; yes, but there are limits, and many can’t bring themselves to move beyond them. It will take time, but it has always taken time; and the way things evolve over that time will depend how difficult things are. Kotkin is optimistic; my Jewish friend insists that we must be, but is wary of the excesses of Islam that have been made so evident. Again, we have a challenge; but we have proven better in dealing with it than anyone has ever before. Why?
Because we believe we have to do it for ourselves with all the accouterments of liberty and freedom that have been ingrained. But what of the entitlement and dependency that have only grown since 1776, and the post-liberal need to not only help people help themselves, but to help them unconditionally, to make themselves feel better? Help themselves? what of children without families, living in poverty, with bad influences? Yes, them too; it’s tough, but that is what has to happen. Yes, yes, many, many challenges – and very few simple.
On this, once we got by the locks of doctrinal rhetoric and understood each other, my Jewish friend and I, and even I and my Hungarian friend for the most part found basic agreement was not difficult. What a wonderful experience. But it can only happen if one (nay BOTH) keeps an open mind, tries to learn from others, and thinks – with enough background knowledge and experience to be able to make sense from it.
Again, again, that is what really matters – and wanting to do it.
I think about this a lot: what really matters?
To many it is power, wealth and fame. I kind of reject that, maybe because all that has already passed me by; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to contribute to our own self-interest. Self-interest is basic to self confidence, and that is necessary for whatever else comes down the pike; we do need to care care of ourselves. But after that, what really matters?
I generalize that with principles: responsibility, honesty, reliability, integrity and everything related. I believe in contributing; helping others, but not just handing it out: helping them to help themselves. So maybe that is what I believe really matters: helping others to help themselves; contributing? It can get complicated, and each must address it in his/her own way, within personal capabilities and interests. What does that mean? There is no way I can tell anyone what that means; it must be gained for self, and that takes effort, a great deal of effort, and wanting to expend it, preferably not for ourselves but in the interest of contributing to a greater good. Greater good? another tricky wicket.
In that interest I think one must have to make a very great effort to build a base from which it can be accomplished. Since that for me has ruled out fame, fortune and power; I have had to pursue other venues. This is it. But to pursue such venues takes more effort than might be evident. To start with, there has to be background knowledge that has to be gained, relentlessly. Fortunately (for me) I have the time to do that, and have had the opportunity. Knowledge? Education is part of that, but only if backed by good solid experience. And none of that ever exists in isolation; it takes much help: nurturing, reading, thinking, asking questions, discussing – and maintaining friendships.
And that is what really matters? No, it is what comes next that really matters: how effectively we share that with others. So all prior is merely what one has to assimilate before on can even begin to address what really matters; but then comes the challenge of trying to share it.
Sounds pretty straight forward, doesn’t it? But we don’t exist in isolation, so it is not.
Gaining knowledge and assimilating it takes a lot of time, as well as effort, as well as a great deal of discrimination: knowing what to pursue, and then finding the time to pursue it; too many books, not enough time. But not only books; there is a great deal else out there as well, more and more every day, and that leads in yet another direction; one that I attempted to address in my last post: clutter.
But even then, still more: clutter goes beyond the personal aspect I addressed in that offering, since so many others are involved; always and continually. Try as we might, it seldom goes smoothly because others are necessarily involved; that’s another aspect of clutter. Even when WE do everything right, it doesn’t mean that it is just going to happen the way we planned it. Whenever others are involved there are always complications: ALWAYS, because it is very normal to be on slightly different wave lengths, if not on completely different tangents. That adds listening and paying attention to not only what others are saying, but where they are coming from when they are trying to say it- or even when they are trying to avoid saying it.
Then there is the finesse needed to share without insulting, without putting others down, through arrogance. Sharing needs to be done on a level of mutual respect and that entails sharing, and not preaching. Sometimes the distinction is difficult to discern, at least to the receiver of the sharing – and the responsibility to ensure that it is not misunderstood lies with the sharer.
All that, I would argue, is what adds up to what really matters. In short, it is a full time job; an effort too few are willing to invest in. So that makes me a hero? hardly; I am constantly finding myself lacking in doing what I tell myself I need to do. Which goes back to our differences, and recognizing we are all flawed – and accepting it, and trying to do something about it. And then it will all be all right; sure, just like that.
What else can I write? Plenty, I am sure, but most would likely be repetitious. What it comes down to is (again) it must come from within; and even then it is unlikely to be as consistent as we would like it to be. Being consistent is a real challenge, especially over time; sincerely consistent.
And that throws in the maturing process; and what is that? As we age we gain knowledge, IF we make the effort to do so; but it is also not likely to be consistent; that takes listening to others, and seeking to absorb the knowledge they have to impart, if they have it to impart; and to reject that which is not the reality of wisdom. Another vast challenge; and that must come prior to trying to share it, in the in that way others can comfortably accept sharing; and that takes effort on their part as well, but an effort that can be eased and encouraged by how WE go making the effort to share with THEM. More complication; more challenge. That’s why it is important – if it is to be successful.
Need I go on? Maybe it is time to stop and think about that. That is what I do here. Stop and let it sit for awhile. Next comes a first edit, then as many others as it takes. That is the process I use to educate myself. But, as I say, it takes much more that that, as I have to have input, a great deal of input, to make it possible; even in the imperfect way I accomplish it. And where does that input come from? others, selectively. And particularly from the treasure that is our national institutes; but I have addressed that often with others.
It is what I try to do, and enjoy doing, but it surely is not for everyone; and it takes the luxury of having the time and resources to do it, something that has taken me many years to be able to support. Nor do I suggest that all even try to attempt it.
What I would suggest is that everyone take that first step: decide what is important, for themselves. It opens up a vast new world; one that is infinitely more satisfying – at least I have found it so, and that is why I am addressing it here. And that is where the next step comes in; for those of us so fortunate it includes being a parent; but lacking that it can just mean being a friend: what really matters requires one to understand just what all that entails; enough; I can edit it to death – and maybe already have.
I have a friend who is trying to deal with the clutter in her home through the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui (or Fung Shue; different pronunciation from the Chinese characters?). I am sympathetic, and trying to do the same; but clutter is everywhere: in our homes, in our cities, on the highways, in the stores that we frequent – but also in our minds; too much information; worse, too much data, there is a difference. Actually it might be more accurate to say that there is too much weighing in on the data or information – opinion? Opinion is not bad, but all opinion is not of the same quality, which means we are being challenged to choose more carefully, and it takes a great deal of effort, not only research, but thinking about it. What do we really believe? What should we believe? How can we know?
That’s part of what education is all about, but all kinds of education, including experience. And there are too many today that are trying to influence education. So education is corrupt! Actually everything is corruptible; and that is for each of us to deal with.
Part of the purpose of this piece is to laud what I consider to be a national treasure: our institutions. Brookings comes to mind, as does Cato, Hoover and Heritage. I would throw in Ben Domenich’s efforts with The Transom and The Federalist too, and perhaps National Review. All the same? No, not even all the same on any one given day. And that’s where education comes in: it helps to have background information to which to compare, such as history – or even philosophy. We tend to be losing that in the clutter of information and the urgency of today’s here and now. The recent trend at deprecation of the American system is part of that. So our system is perfect? Hardly; no system can be perfect with the differences in human nature. So we have to deal with what we have, with the tools we have each personally developed, IF we have developed them – and attempt to use them. Big challenge there.
So the institutes? and the kinds of writers that Domenech and the Jewish World Review link to? There are many out there, and increasingly they are making themselves heard, offering the wisdom that they have gained. I am often reminded about getting wise; but getting wise is less something we do internally, and more about assimilation of that which others, from over long periods of time, provide, carefully selecting what we consider is valuable. And that is? Each must make that determination for self, and we are all different, explaining why it doesn’t just coalesce. BUT, if we make the effort, keep open minds, work to assimilate different interpretations – and discuss, again with open minds, the chance of approaching some kind of broad consensus is more possible.
How well are we doing that? Not well. Why? Too much clutter to work through; too little inclination to do so intellectually; too much tendency to listen to what we want to hear and believe what we want to believe; and criticize all else, and generalize that criticism: all this is bad; all that is good, etc. It takes discrimination. Ah, interesting word; current pop culture screams that discrimination is a terrible thing. It is a necessary thing. It is when it is done without adequate thought and consideration that it becomes a terrible thing. How to explain that to the ignorant?
Another interesting word – concept, if you will; we are all ignorant, no one can know everything, even though some seem to think they do, or act like it. I have even been guilty of lumping them into a category I use as “elite” or “intellectual”. But where does one get wisdom if not from those that have taken the time to assimilate it and propagate it? See where this leads? Differences again, and the need to discriminate; to read, to study and discuss; the need to share views and listen to those of others; and compromise after having done so. Knowing where other is coming from is important too; self-interest? inevitable; bad? not necessarily, but it can be. Much to think about; and MUCH reason to do so. Most will not because it takes effort; which is why we must listen to those who DO make it – but carefully, because they are like all the rest of us, and develop THEIR OWN opinions, which they insist on pushing on the rest of is.
This is as it always has been – and always will be. So what to do? Our history suggests a good approach, because it has worked. Perfectly? my, no. But the process was carefully honed with lots of checks, balances, separation of responsibilities (Federalism); even though it remains flawed, as it must be because of the differences that dominate us, and with which we need to learn to deal. We, at least in the United States, have made progress, however imperfectly; progress that many are decrying and trying to turn back.
Clutter: everywhere, and getting worse as the amount of everything increases at a rapid rate and our ability to deal with it is inadequate to keep up. There is the challenge. Can we deal with it? We have been trying; again, imperfectly, but better than most; and that most is beginning to encroach upon us, inexorably, and we aren’t dealing so well with that either. Hopeless? It is not hopeless; we have been there before in history, many times, and knowing something about history helps us to understand that, if we understand it correctly, and deal with it reasonably, which, again, is the challenge. We will meet it – imperfectly, as always; but we will meet it; but will it be enough? To do so we will have to seize upon the accumulated knowledge that is continuing to grow; but which is just information and which is wisdom?
That is for each of us to determine, and each of us to help others to determine, and understand for themselves. Our future, after all, is up to us, individually and collectively, and how much effort each is able and willing to make. Good luck, us; but don’t despair. History shows that it CAN be done; the only question is whether it can STILL be done with all the clutter. Good luck, us.
After completing the first draft of this effort I read an article by Dr. Fuelner of Heritage that I thought was related. It is indicative of the philosophy that I consider so important from Institutions like Heritage. Its web address is: www.heritage.org/commentary/2016/1/assimilation-nation-no-more. It was linked through The Transom.
I am a great believer in moderation; another of those words that post-modernism has corrupted. To me, moderation is avoiding the extremes, not only avoiding them, but rejecting them, even fighting them.
And what are these extremes? Arrogance at the one end and stubborn ignorance at the other. And thus moderation? Blending the conceit of elite intellectualism with the folk wisdom of the less educated. Say, what? I am advocating the conceit of elites? Only when blended with the folk wisdom of the less educated. That takes some discussion.
Let me approach it from another direction: notes from several days previous. I have been searching for the right words to describe my current state of mind; content, satisfied, even happy did not work. Recently it came to me: at ease. What does that mean?
First it is free from the need for fame, fortune and power.
Then it means free from the need to be appreciated.
So then free to what? Free to just contribute to helping others make it through. That’s incomprehensible! Well, how about just needing to do what we should do doing – and be satisfied with that?
Still confusing; what is it that we SHOULD be doing? That is for each to decide for self based on the principles he/she has chosen for themselves. And then what we SHOULD be doing is what we have decided we need to do, and be satisfied with that. So I discarded satisfied and now return to it? Not satisfied with the result; we can never allow ourselves to be satisfied with the result; satisfied with the process of trying to contribute to achieving a result that we can never hope to achieve: thus at ease with living with the challenge and realization that it has been accepted. Works for me. Now let’s go back and see what that means to me, based on the title of this piece: moderation.
I listened to a lecture by a professor from Hillsdale college this morning on line that fed right in. It was linked from The Transom and was about Common Core curriculum; I will not attempt to elaborate in detail here, as it merely fit into what I was attempting to explain. The professor was discussing what is wrong with Common Core and the concept that led to its establishment as criteria for the education of our modern students. In a nutshell what is wrong with it is that it attempts to define ideology rather than motivate students to learn to think for themselves – and set standards that supports that post-modern concept rather than what came prior. From my point of view that means departing from what I think should matter and moving toward what elite intellectuals have decided matters.
That takes me back to moderation as it was intended by the founders of our nation; but perhaps also by those that developed what led to the Christian principles to which they adhered; but also the vast spectrum of philosophy that influenced those principles so strongly. Principles? Basically principles to live by, determined by philosophical teachings tempered by centuries of thought and experimentation, evolution of Christian thought (yes, evolution of), and the experience of living under the Constitution of the United States of America – AS IT WAS ORIGINALLY CONCEIVED, and not as is being influenced by attempts to modernize it. I cannot begin to cover all that here, which comes back to the importance of learning and giving independent thought to it, which is precisely what the Hillsdale professor and the writer of the article in The Transom were describing had been overlooked in developing Common Core criteria. It is also what Hillsdale is all about.
I refer to it, probably rather simplistically, as helping people help themselves; to do what? That is what Common Core seems to miss, and perhaps what post modern culture has lost track of. Again, simplistically, it is our responsibility to teach people to think for themselves based on established principles that have proven to be successful over time – very successful, as they have made our republic what it has become. To think? yes, but that means to learn how to motivate themselves to think. How? it begins with education. And wasn’t that what Common Core was attempting to define? how that should occur and be guided? That is the point: Common Core does not do that; nor does our post-modern educational system.
Moderation? To be moderate one must understand the extremes but also to learn how not to reject them out of hand, but to blend them to achieve what matters in life and be at ease with the process; blending the arrogance of intellectualism with folk wisdom. Is that not what our republic has managed to achieve?
Ah, any reader might ask; but what does that mean? Pursuing education is part of it, but much more than formal education, such as is defined narrowly and in a biased manner through Common Core: education for the purpose of LEARNING and UNDERSTANDING, not just accumulating information. Experience? as I have stated over and over again, experience is an important part of the process; but so is self-actualization; it is not enough just to absorb concepts from various types of formal presentations, although that is also part of it; but using that base, through motivating to take it further is a necessary next step; and we need to that ourselves. We have to WANT to learn; and to try to expand that into thinking on our own, with the help of others with greater knowledge, not only formally and through reading, but based on experience – our own and that of others, which is folk wisdom – and to help others to do the same.
Let’s not try to take that further; it is enough to think about, if one will. In the end, that is what moderation is all about; but as anyone who thinks about it, it is much more – must be much more – than just taking a position in between extremes.
Keeping an open mind is more challenging than it might seem. This came to me as I thought about adding repeated coats of oil paint on canvas, one over the other before the under coat has dried sufficiently; instead of covering they tend to blend – even blur. Knowledge is like that; particularly cultural knowledge, particularly ideological cultural knowledge.
Essentially, the old has to dry before the new can take – that is, replace; otherwise there will likely be a blending.
How long does it take “old knowledge” to dry before the new can begin to take hold? Or maybe a better way to ask that, particularly when it applies to cultural knowledge, is how much of the old must be unlearned before the new can be learned? My reference at this point is to immigrants; immigrants enter their new country having learned their home culture from birth; are they expected to just suddenly begin rejecting that and learning the new? It is not likely to happen like that. So how long does it take to replace old culture with new? At best it takes a generation or more; how many?
It doesn’t happen like that either; nor can such a question be simply answered. A first generation immigrant, if he/she has begun to learn who they are do not forget their culture any more than they forget their language. Second generation and beyond, if born in the new country, and immersed in the culture of that country are the first ones to start out anew – IF they are completely immersed in the new culture and not excessively exposed to that of their parents. Does that happen? Perhaps sometimes, but not often; culture is too ingrained. And that is bad? It is not bad; the great benefit for the new county, and its existing culture, is that it is blended with the new, bringing, hopefully, more vibrant colors – and a richer cultural environment. If we were suddenly to obliterate the old of the immigrant population, are we not likely to lose that benefit?
How long does it take to convert an immigrant from old culture to new? Cultivate? Of course it depends on lots of things, but let’s talk about it.
First let’s expand the conversation. Is this not true of any knowledge? I encounter it every day when discussing life, in whatever form it may be discussed, with others. That brings us to open minds; is it not the same thing? What then is an open mind? Something like a sponge, that absorbs whatever comes into contact with it? That is the way it is with babies that have no previous knowledge. Perhaps in the context with which we are addressing it, it would be more appropriate to talk of maintaining an open mind. Before going any further it might be useful to discuss what happens when new knowledge is introduced; does that entail a process of unlearning the old before learning the new? Yes and no.
I am processing this as I go, from notes made overnight. The initial rush of information seems clear when it comes, but introspection almost always shows that there is more to it than there initially appears to be. That is why I enjoy pursuing this means of thinking; by beginning with an idea, a concept, and expanding it, much more detail comes to mind – and more complexity evolves. That, I contend, is life (or should be what we consider in life) and that is how we expand the mind. But to expand the mind requires that it be open to accept the new. So what of the old? It seems that this goes back to the oil paint example; if the new coat does not obliterate the old, must it not in some way blend with the old? So open mind is not enough; there must also be a blending process. Oh my, it does become complex doesn’t it? Of course; life is complex, and trying to simplify it, as we are wont to do, is likely to not be successful. Ask the painter in oils and he/she will tell you just how complex it is.
Having an open mind is not like having a blank canvas, except perhaps in the beginning; but even then, do babies have completely blank minds or is there some residual from the birthing process? We need not go there, but thinking about that seems appropriate. However, having a closed mind is not like having a locked box either. This is where I always tend to end up: things are almost never this or that, yes or no; they are almost always a combination of much. So let’s discuss some of that in the context of what we are addressing: essentially gaining knowledge; cultural, yes; but much more. The process of gaining knowledge is an intriguing – and important – one; having and maintaining an open mind is only a part of that process, but an critical part.
If it is not already apparent, the process begins with an open mind (meaning a mind open to accepting new information), then deals with the more taxing task of determining what should be added and what should be rejected: among each, what is already there and what is new; that bring up thinking about what to forget; but that doesn’t happen either; the brain is not like that: it retains all kinds of information; some useful, some not so; some to be identified as flat-out wrong, but even then not likely forgotten. The process of identifying what is useful and what is not might be referred to as the learning process; at least that works for now. Learning can be either positive or negative – or inconclusive, for that matter. We are not only all different in what we know, but we are also often confused within our own minds as to what we know – or even don’t know.
Let me get back to my notes before I completely lose track of where I think I am heading.
Learning requires a comparison of what is known (in the memory) and what is being introduced new; that entails thinking. Not so much what to forget, but what to reject as wrong, and then what to accept as right. Sound simple? Too simple. Often there is value to both old and new – and that has to be processed. Right and wrong often is not the question, what we are addressing is usually the oil paint blending process; although sometimes that process entails painting over and sometimes it is blending; that is so in adding information, or thinking, if you prefer, because that’s what it really is. And that’s what learning is all about: not what to keep and what to discard, but how to keep them in proper balance; and again, it’s not either or, but more like grading the knowledge – from mostly true, to mostly false, with all that is in between, including don’t know; don’t know includes unknowable (at least at this time) or unknown, need to find out. Then last: need to find out is incentive for learning.
Back to motivation? I always have to come back to motivation: we have to want to, and then take it from there, which entails the discipline to take it from there. Let’s apply that to immigrants, many whom have accumulated cultural information spanning generations. They need to go through the process to decide what category in which to put the cultural information: freedom or subjugation of women? Liberty to define social mores in terms of dogma or free will? And ability to accept the rules of the game as defined within the culture, our culture. That process should be undertaken before even immigrating; I know, easy to say. But ultimately it has to be: accept, don’t come or leave. The beauty of our way of life is that even that is not that cut and dried; we accept change, if it adheres to our process. But to think that they can just come and then change it to what they want, is unacceptable. I know, another tangent, but they have to learn what to “keep” and what to “leave behind”. But similar process accompanies almost all accumulation of knowledge.
The process is a demanding one that takes a great deal of effort, if there is to be even a modicum of success. With differences aplenty, many don’t want to make the effort; many oppose the compromise entailed in blending and grading what they want to empathize with what they want to DE-emphasize; and there are even some that are incapable of that, most often because they have not made the effort earlier to gain enough knowledge to work the process. Then there are those that don’t want to bother. We have all kinds; that is why there are so many differences among us – and always will be. To have an open mind includes wanting to let new information in, as well as the desire to want to understand what the differences are between that and what is already there, and then to be able to be willing to try to sort them out.
If any reader is overwhelmed, don’t worry; I often overwhelm myself trying to think about it. And when I try to discuss it with others I am often viewed almost as a pariah by some: yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look, he thinks too much; such men are dangerous. Hopefully in this effort I have made some progress.
But before leaving this, I must throw in that some are too willing to unlearn too easily and replace knowledge too readily; and too superficially; that is dangerous too; such is what leads to what we call brain washing or becoming too easily indoctrinated; that happens too often; and one might even suggest that too many who derive all their information from the sound bites of media too often succumb to it. But there is so much more: forgetting? I could go on forever, dropping back into family disintegration and student motivation, the selfishness of wanting to be taken care of – but I’ve been through all that; probably too many times; although I am likely to visit them once again. It all comes together and is the challenge of life, particularly the life in an open society such as our nation is; and our responsibility to our fellow man is to help them deal with it so that can become functional citizens.
That is more than enough for this session. Now I have to back and see what I have written, and try to edit it. That’s what keeps me busy. Ok, last edit finished – for now.
Congressman Paul Ryan
1233 Longworth HOB
Washington, D.C. 20515
15 January 2016
Dear Mr. Speaker:
I recently read an article by Tim Alberita in National Review that discussed how the Republican party is about to begin focusing on poverty, compassion and empathy. I understand that motivation; and also understand the pressure that is on the Republican Party with respect to prospective voters. Politics, after all, is a competitive occupation, and voters set their own expectations. Clearly for those in our nation – far too many – those expectations have become unrealistic. I understand the pressure.
The article said little about how that focus on poverty, compassion and empathy might be applied; I also understand the power of the Democratic backed media to expose what they claim is lack of it. In some ways it is a no-win situation; the Democrats will make sure that it appears to voters to be the way they want voters to see it, and will take full advantage of the ignorance of too many of them.
It is my belief that the objective is positive and necessary. It is also very tricky in that it can easily get out of hand. Competition with Democrats to see who can give away the most will destroy our country even more than the current administration and its running dogs have done. I sympathize with the challenge that is being presented, but worry about where it could lead. In short, I am desperately concerned with any effort that would contribute to our already out-of-control debt and its effect on our economy and future. I know you are too, and am not suggesting that competing on their terms is the projected motive; but I fear the power of greed and dependence that the Democratic Party has generated, with the assistance of lap-dog MSM.
I write not to attempt to tell how you how to do your job; I have as much confidence in you as I do any politician, and far more than I have in most. But I had to weigh in; it’s the way I am. I have made a big philosophical deal on my website (mostly ignored; it’s for me to develop my philosophical beliefs) of my take on what it requires, and so I have to write it into a letter to you (if your handlers don’t get in the way; I know how they can; politics is a very competitive occupation).
The only way we can truly be compassionate is to help people to help themselves; that used to be the American way, until the party of Franklin Roosevelt offered the alternative that began to tear us apart. I would rather lose to Hilary and her gang of thugs; and let her hang with the consequences as she inevitably will, if elected, than be complicit in such a national catastrophy.
The principle involved MUST be helping people help themselves; and making them aware that that is in their best interests. I know, tough sell; too many don’t want to hear it. And the fact that they will ultimately be the losers is not the point, since wouldn’t want to accept that either, and the Democrats and their running dogs will certainly encourage them to see it that way. Encouragingly there are many who are trying to make this point today, particularly through our institutional think tanks; but too few voters avail themselves of that wisdom, as we all have to be painfully aware.
Thanks for listening; I feel better for being able to do it; that is what we are able to do in this great nation.
Fund raisers: I know you are looking for donations but I am tapped out; I have done what I can do and have had to pull back. This is the result of too many folks who think they can win and are soliciting funding; there is only so much one can do, and probably not enough to go around. Hopefully that will begin to turn around, and hopefully there will be some effort among candidates to pull together and see if a winning team, such as Paul Ryan is trying to build, can evolve. But ego and lust for power is difficult to suppress for many. Everyone is not willing to do it as did Paul Ryan and the governor of Wisconsin, the two that should be topping the slate to defeat Hilary Clinton and her band of thugs.
Enough. Our great nation will survive; it only remains to see how much damage is done in the process.
This is a subject about which I spend a lot of time thinking; what is it? Let’s begin with Oxford. It was not as long an explanation as I expected; but that doesn’t mean it is a simple concept. “Nurture: process of bringing up or training (especially children); nourishment; socialization factors as an influence on or determinant of personality.” That is a good place to begin. Sounds simple enough; it is anything but simple.
As with everything today, the way we used to conceive of it has changed; things have become so much more complex. In earlier times there was probably more emphasis among parents in influencing children to be what the parent expected. That is also a beginning: parental expectations. But that has to be blended through the basic material that is the child: genes and how they have been blended and are manifested; personality, interests, proclivities, innate abilities, even physical qualities. Let’s call these the basic building blocks; how is it taken from there? That is where the nurturing comes in: putting it all together and molding it; into what? That is the challenging part, and it is a monumental one – or should be.
The first challenge is to be able to balance parental expectations with the basic material that is the child. Neither is cut and dried; that is, it is not a simple matter to even determine what they are and can become. Parental expectations? Do parents today even know or are THEY influenced by outside factors? And how much effort goes into even understanding what they are and what is reasonable? and they change as life changes. And the basic material that is the child; how can one know of that, as it is also changing continually as they develop? At this point is where influences come in. In the past, influences mainly derived from, if were not dominated by, family; that has been changing dramatically too, for reasons known to us all; the nature of family has been changing with modern times, as we are all aware. So have the nature of influences; there are so many today, beginning with entertainment of all kinds, and the ubiquitous nature in which it is pressed upon us: friends, of course; education, including experience; but more. Once it was one-on-one and personal; now it is ubiquitous, and anything but personal: television, the Internet, social media – in addition to tons of written material of all kinds, and of greatly variable value. All this descends upon the young continually and with much less parental control than once could be applied, and has become a major factor of influence. How can it be controlled? Or stated differently, how can that be incorporated into nurturing? Incorporated? Let’s call a spade a spade: how can parents deal with it? even IF the parents are making the effort they should be making to pursue that most important function they have undertaken?
The second challenge is how to accept reality. That’s a deep one. But to simplify, let’s accept that selfishness and self interest are part of human nature, have not changed over time and are unlikely to. But they are also part of survival; to survive one must take control of one’s own life; no, let’s change that to read to be successful in surviving one must take control of one’s own life. Successful; another word loaded with nuances; success, of course, is relative.
So let’s return to expectations: those of parents and those of children; subjective? Oh, yes, and fraught with influences – at both ends. Here, of course, is yet another example of the differences that make us and our culture what it is. And at this point I could drift off into how our American culture, its freedoms and liberty came to be; but I’ll resist that, and attempt to concentrate on the expectations of family, parents and the children, and the how they have been changed over time; they have changed a great deal, at every level, as our culture changes – and changed so rapidly. How to keep up? THERE is the real challenge.
So how does one address nurturing these days? Carefully and with an open mind; the challenge, because of the competing interests of our culture – again, at all levels – is staggering.
First parents have to want to – with the extended family supporting them for that matter; nurturing, after all, is a family matter IF there is extended family there, even family at all; again, the challenge of our changing culture. We may be beginning with a decided disadvantage; but that just makes it that much more worthwhile – and necessary. And, of course, that could take us on another tangent, that of the advantages of nurturing to future success, and the feeling of many today that it is unfair. But we have covered that and need not revisit it at this point.
Second, and this also is nothing new, the children have to be receptive to it. That, also is a big challenge in these modern times; what would make them want to be receptive to it, with all the competing influences, many of which are powerful?
That takes us back to the dual nature of nurturing: the partnership between offering and accepting. And doesn’t this sound so much like all the rest of the purpose of life that I have been pushing for so long? Working together, each motivated to doing something to help other? Yes, easy to throw out there, but very, very difficult to accept and convert to a philosophy of life There are so many competing demands on us; families, parents and children; that seem to be more important. They are not, but it is difficult to convince many of that; and even more difficult to help them learn how to deal it themselves.
That is what has has come to dominate my thinking: helping people to help selves; another challenge that has two components: he/she who wants to help, and they who are targets of the attempt to do so. Motivation on both sides is critical; so is understanding and open minds. On the side of the family it should be obvious, although it might not be so to some. On the other side it should be also, but unfortunately not enough emphasis is placed on that, in my opinion, which is perhaps even more critical, because the need to accept it has to be embraced by those involved. It is that with which I want to spend the brief remainder of the space I have left in this essay to address.
The meaning of life REALLY has to do with reaching out, and helping each other; that is not giving to others when they make no effort on their own; neither is it giving to others to make us feel good. It is making a contribution to their ultimate development in life; THAT is what nurturing should be. Sometimes it is; often it is, that’s why we are the great nation that we are; there are enough that understand that. But how do others, unused to our Christian and republican principles come to understand that? With difficulty; which is another partnership we must attempt to pursue.
See the connection? That is what life needs to be about: partnerships of people reaching out to help people help themselves. Were we successful, life would be much fuller for all. Is that a reasonable expectation? No, it is not; but that doesn’t mean we can’t pursue is, individually and collectively as best we can. And at least that is how we can make life better for ourselves, MUCH better. REALLY!
And why is philosophy the capstone of learning? I have addressed it before; before one can attempt to philosophize one must have knowledge with which to attempt it; so, one must pursue knowledge first, and take it from there. But how does one take it from there? Thinking about what one has learned and trying to put it all together, particularly trying to see how it fits, and trying to fill in the gaps. And it’s the filling in of the gaps that is so challenging, because there may not be too much to go on. So what has to be done? wing it. Not acceptable? what is the option, if we are to try to make any sense of it all?
So why is what I have been doing so uncoordinated? Maybe because I am not much of a philosopher; maybe because I don’t have enough knowledge, or don’t make enough effort to do the research necessary to get it. But maybe, just maybe, because it is not there. In that sense philosophy has been akin to scientific method: hypothesis is necessary. And when the hypothesis does not prove out, a new one must be generated, and IT has to be tested until it is proven true, or proven to be wrong. But that’s what I said several essays ago about religion; religion IS philosophy, but much of religion is unknowable. We keep thinking we can work out the science, but of course some of that proves to be unknowable too, at least for the present. And history? that is just recording the observation, albeit culturally biased as it inevitably is. It really all does fit together, and philosophy is the attempt in one’s mind to try, as best one can, to make sense of it all – at least as much as one can with what is known; but also hypothesized, until it is proven wrong. And forecasting? Ah, forecasting; forecasting is trying to make a guess of what will happen in the future based on what is known. And the difference between that and philosophy? Philosophy is filling in gaps between knowns; forecasting is trying to extrapolate from what is known, or at least what is thought to be known, to what can not YET be known, with philosophy thrown in to fill in the gaps between the two. Capiche?
But mine is so uncoordinated; why? because instead of working through it as a scientist would or even a good forecaster might, I just take it as it comes to mind, and run with it, to see what comes out the other end; that’s why I refer to it as stream of consciousness: whatever comes to mind, messaged through accumulated knowledge. And that is why I keep coming back to similar thoughts or challenges, because they all come together, eventually. Philosophy is how I refer to my attempt to discern the coming together, or at least that which evolves from the stream of consciousness exercises. It is not scientific and I don’t recommend it for everyone; but it helps me to think through related complicated knowledge that is within my sphere of assumed understanding; flavored, of course, by my assumptions or suppositions – and maybe even predictions. Complicated? I said it was.
Flawed? oh yes; I am flawed, and my “reasoning” is not only open to challenge, but I suggest it even cries out for it. One might argue it is only opinion, and that is true to a point; but mine has a basis of knowledge, however incomplete, and it is that with which I work to see what I can make of it. Thus I call it philosophy, my own, as it is developing. I cannot say that is how philosophy developed throughout history, but it must have been something like that. But I have more knowledge than those of the past did! Be careful with that. I might have picked up more facts to throw into the mix; but I can assure you I don’t have the minds of those that made the profound analyses that have inspired us over time. So why do I pursue it? Because it exercises my mind and keeps leading me to new insights, or at least further opinions, that are open to challenge both from others and myself. And even with repeated editing there are many mistakes of syntax, spelling and grammar, often through carelessness or clumsiness; my keying fingers frequently do not do what my mind tells them to do; and even more frequently the communication between mind and fingers is not what it should be, or even what it used to be. Nonetheless (na ja in German; perhaps now in the future I shall use that). Clearly the light is beginning to go out, but it will take a while for that to happen and in the meantime I wish to make of it what I can. I have a while to go and it does me good to try to do what I can do. Thus for me the exercise of philosophizing is worth the effort – FOR me.
Value of it? Now there is the big question: what is the value of it? I know what it is for me; any readers must decide what it is for themselves, and if there is none, I can understand that and accept it. But as I have said repeatedly, this is for me, and I only record it here in order to develop it, but at least in the hope that some might wish to share it, even if that leads to disagreement – but maybe, just maybe, to also pick up a thread and pursue it further, and make something more of it – for themselves. That may not be scientific method, but it sort of approaches it, in that it at least can inspire further efforts, and therefore a potential for continued intellectual progress, if there is anything here with which to work
Na ja; I have to keep trying. Wish me luck if you will; that helps too. And feel free; it is public access. I welcome both criticism and any further efforts that anyone might wish to pursue.
It all begins with discussion, understanding and an open mind.
Cultural differences dominate us, as they must; and cultural differences derive from differences in influence, of which there are many; and more than there have ever been in the past. Why? complexity for one; and changes in our culture that have altered from whence we get our influences: change begets change. The complexity thereof is challenging. We need understand that complexity, and how if affects us, individually and collectively.
This is obvious when considering cultural difference across the many cultures that exist throughout the world, and most of us are quiet aware of, if not what the differences actually are, that they are there and can be profound, beginning with language, but that is only the beginning. However, differences also exist within our own culture, particularly as our is one that has developed as ours has, with inputs of and integration with many others. So is that integration continuing today as it did in the past? Yes and no. It is still continuing, with people who come to our republic because they WANT to be part of our culture; it is less evident among those that come here because they want the benefits of our culture, but do not want to give up their own – to integrate. To explore that we have to understand what culture is. Oxford (1996): “the customs, civilization and achievements of a particular time or people”. Broad enough? So how does culture develop? how does it come to be? In a word (my opinion): from influence. And where do we get our influences? I have discussed this recently in a related offering: from everywhere; obviously from the cultures of others who come here to be part of ours. But traditional influences came primarily from family; that seems to no longer be the case, at least not exclusively, or perhaps even primarily. Part of that has to do with the changes that have occurred in our traditional families, that are due primarily to economic pressures: the old format of working fathers and stay-at-home mothers is more a rarity today than an expectation. I don’t think I need to go into why – again. But the expansion of communication through technology has contributed, particularly as a result of that technology: young people have access to a much wider set of influences than they have ever had in the past: television, the Internet and Social Media are only the most obvious. Parents, once able to dominate cultural influence of their families, now have a great deal of competition.
From all that, and perhaps to a great extent caused by it, has come the obvious contentiousness that tends to characterize our culture today. There are just too many influences, spread across too many inputs by too many people with opinions, to whom others listen – and are readily able to access; and the young are particularly vulnerable to that because they are in that part of their lives that they learn through such influences. That is certainly not all bad; in fact it is to be expected. But then, what is young any more? at what point do people begin to mature and think for themselves? Answer: it varies; it always has. But perhaps with all these powerful new influences, and their ubiquity, and the changing nature of education, some of which is due to complexity and other due to the nature of liberal influence; we seem to be seeing a resulting lengthening of the process of entering and moving through levels of maturing. The time to mature seems to be increasing, partly because of competing priorities; particularly entertainment, but also of the amount of information that has to be assimilated to mature.
Add to that the precepts of human nature that stipulate that people tend to resist change; believe what they want to believe and resist changing their opinions, their cultures, for many reasons; what’s more, many make little effort to change, because they do not feel pressure to do so. Perhaps some of that is our fault; now that is a provocative comment; how so? Back to discussion; communication, if you like; but that includes motivation. They, those entering, must want to make the effort, but those of us on the other end must want to help them, and that is not always easy for us to to because, well, it takes effort. And that takes us back to the cultural divide that exists in the first place: the differences, that can be difficult to address, without actively WANTING to. Resentment is part of that; those of us who have always lived here have a tendency to resent interlopers, something that is quite natural. And that is unfair? sometimes; we should have an open mind and want to help. But what if our wanting to is not shared by them? Clearly both sides need to make the effort. But isn’t that what has been happening to our family structure? too few willing to make the effort to understand and help each other? What exists at the cultural interface also exists at interfaces within families. And all that comes down to making an effort to understand others and where they are coming from, and why; and helping them understand us – and our differences.
That’s simple enough; NOT! And that’s where tolerance, respect and arrogance come in. It’s so easy to place blame on others, and so difficult to see ourselves, particularly when our lives are so full of other interests, and strong influences that are often negative, and come from everywhere. We are a nation of immigrants, and have benefited from that, but the immigrants were more homogeneous then that they are now, so the differences are greater, or seem to be. There is a difference in levels of education too, or perhaps intellectuality would be a better term to use. But in saying that it would be useful to understand that the reason for it is as much that earlier populations, those already here as well as those coming here, were all less educated, less intellectual. But all were also more independent, and the goal of integration within our culture was freedom and opportunity, whereas today much of it has become more dependence and a system that provides unquestioningly. Whose fault is that?
Much has changed; more is changing continually and too much of all of it is not given the attention it should be given. Again, whose fault? A great deal to think about, and we should be thinking about it, seriously. Are we?
Part of this is that we are too full of self; instead we need open minds, while not attempting to push our views on others, but also resisting them pushing their views on us. We are all different, and need to understand and respect those differences, UNLESS they become unreasonable. Too often if someone is not just like us, think like us, react as we do, and like what we like, we want to write them off – even to aggressively oppose them; some of that today is the basis of activism; all of it is arrogance. Unreasonable, of course, is relative and often in the minds of beholders
Open mind; we must relax and tolerate differences – but not indiscriminately; we can have an open mind only if we do the thinking for which broad background knowledge is required, as well as careful discrimination and consideration. That includes respect and tolerance, but only as far as it can be justified by an understanding of reality. Might I add that this is what we should be seeking in our elected as well as appointed leaders?
Much has happened since the end of World War II; as it has occurred so rapidly it has become cluttered, and our collective (particularly among the young) understanding of much has become so limited (at least in terms that they don’t bother thinking much about) that many haven’t really noticed. Oh, WE have noticed or some of us of us have (but each in our own way), but likely most others have not even tried, in the broad sense of putting it all together and trying to make some sense of it. And it has happened pretty much throughout the world. We might not have noticed that either, at least not broadly, because our perspective is narrow: in a word, selfish; we really tend to think about what is happening to us, individually, and often not much beyond that. While we in the west have been busily trying to keep up with our lives, the rest of the world has made much progress. Of course progress is relative, and perhaps since ours has been so explosive, we don’t appreciated how others have expanded theirs at the same time, although more modestly, even if left in our dust. Taken in the aggregate, progress has been amazing, if not always consistent or positive; and it has changed our world; but then the world is always changing – only this time much more dramatically than in the past. Not that this in really anything new; it’s been going on for a long time, the velocity of change? wow.
It began, this latest wave, with all the dynamic creativeness that came from the war years: weapons, both mechanical and electronic; transportation; finance, including in the area of investment and banking; entertainment; modes of living, look at housing and the incredible advance in high rise buildings, and then think of all kinds of infrastructure development. How many have stood back and taken it all in? some have, and many have attempted to write about it, some with perspective and wisdom; but how much of that has registered with the generations that have grown up and prospered during that era? Probably more than we know, but it takes time. I would argue little has gelled – yet – because it has all come so fast. And that is the problem: everything has happened so rapidly (in historical time), and piled up on top of each other, that most of us have not been able to keep up, either mentally or intellectually. And many have not been able to keep up economically either, for the same reason: it has occurred too rapidly for most of us to assimilate, to keep up with the changes with which we might have been expected to keep up with; doing so ls extremely challenging. Learning the new takes time, but unlearning the old takes time too, and recent history has not provided us enough time, particularly for those whose launching pad was not accommodating. So much has changed, and we are just beginning to see the results, at least the long range cumulative results that are beginning to eat at us so profoundly today.
Changes? Exploding technology; rising costs for almost everything; rapidly growing urbanization; vastly expanded expectations; mechanization, much of which has eliminated low skill jobs; expanding health care and resulting extension of life; increasing cost of, and liberalization of education, with goals changing from gaining experience to making more money, as quickly as possible; increased complexity which has led in particular to experiencing problems at all the interfaces. All this accompanied by an apparent falling off of individual initiative. As we get more and more into it, we seem to be becoming less and less able to deal with it.
Oh, and our government is having increasing difficulty in dealing with it all effectively as well. This for many reasons: The influence of money; the expectations of constituencies; the domination of power bases, including PACs that are heavily funded in association with that power, and its influence. And even the nature of politics itself, and the politicians and the differences of influence that they have had in contrast to those who came before them, because of all the above changes.
Oh woe; there is a crunch point coming. Perhaps, and Media milks that sensation because audiences lap it up, even though we really don’t understand it all – or even want to; but it surely gets our attention, and generates our concern. An article I just read dealt with housing in San Francisco, and how San Francisco needs to change to accommodate the expected increase in population a midst rapidly growing costs; and the pressure, both economically and aesthetically (rapid expansion of high rise architecture required to deal with it, that it will bring; while traditionalist push back). Perhaps, but change is nothing new; more rapid perhaps, but not new; we have been there before and dealt with it – somehow. So what of now, the present, that does not seem to be inclined to slow down?
Before departing from that let’s also remember that as life changes human nature does not as much; and human nature is part of why we are having trouble accommodating all the changes. Heavy? oh yes; but enough of that – for now.
I have a young friend who is about to enter high school; I am impressed with his thinking, and wish to contribute to his continuing pursuing it, and all that goes with it. He has shown interest and application for STEM, but also attends Catholic schools. I thought of him as I read through Origins (Cosmos, Earth and Mankind) , a book written by four Frenchmen – together.
In the prologue they got my attention immediately:
“Until recently, only religion, faith, belief have offered answers, provided meaning. Today, science, too, has come up with an opinion.”
“Where does God fit into this?…to be sure, we make every effort in the following pages, not to mix science and religion, each of which reigns over separate domains. Science learns; religion teaches.”
“The latest discoveries, far from ending once and for all the debates between science and religion, bring them up to date, lend them new life and meaning. One can choose and conclude whatever one will.”
“Contrary to popular opinion, science does not set itself up in opposition to God. Science can neither prove nor disprove His existence. That subject transcends the limits of science.”
This is exactly what I want my young friend to understand: contrary to the ways our culture is currently leaning, things or not either/or, yes/no, this/that; they are a very complex blending of many, many things that one must learn to understand, and think about, each in his or her own way. This book tries to do that in a relatively simple straight forward way. Simple? the authors are Huber Reeves, astophysicist and and professor at the University of Montreal; Joel De Rosnay, the former director of the famed Pasteur Institute, currently director of the City Of Science in Paris; Yves Coppens, professor at the College de France, and discoverer of Lucy; and Dominique Simonnet, genetic questioner, and deputy editor in chief of the weekly magazine L’Express. It cannot help but get into some detail that goes beyond what a beginning high school student might want to contemplate; I am recommending, not reading cover to cover, but grazing through it, picking and choosing that which is appropriate and skipping in between, perhaps to return at some later date. The importance, to my way of thinking, is to open the mind as to science and religion, and to gain from both, while deciding for self what makes sense.
I have attempted to discuss in past essays how religion has progressed from traditional ignorance to valuable principles in a manner that people during earlier periods could understand. These authors don’t attempt to do that, but what they discuss, in my opinion, is supportive of my beliefs on that subject. No matter; each must develop his/her own understanding, and I think this book supports doing that, which is why I am sending it to my friend. with this essay, and a personal letter. So why am I doing this here? because it is what I do, and I wish to make it available to others to share, if they care to. That. after all, is how learning takes place: a little at a time, with open minds willing to assimilate new information, with appropriate influence to guide. Too much today is dictation of fixed positions, too little of opening the mind and thinking for self. Plato, Aristotle, Aristophanes and the rest; even Einstein and so many others, both scientists and other kinds of thinker; not always right, but always thinking and contributing; and encouraging others to do the same. That is what has made our nation, but not only our nation; not even only the western world what they have become: wisdom is everywhere, for those willing to pursue it, with careful discrimination.
And so is the challenge; I offer that, and assume the responsibility to do what I can to encourage that it be accepted, by those willing to accept it; and the more the better.
‘Tis the Season. I attended an informal Christmas service on Christmas Eve with a friend; she had played the organ for a group of nuns in a retirement home for a number of years (as well as teaching with them within the Ft. Worth Catholic Diocese) and this open house was for them. It was family. I enjoyed being there – and watching her, my friend, returning for the Christmas celebration with her church family – but also in their response, being part of that family. It got me thinking about the broader meaning of family in our culture – and life in general, for that matter.
Let us not move too far from the meaning of our immediate individual families; I have touched on that before, and will return to it here before I finish; but the concept of family goes beyond immediate, and this is where Christmas comes in. For anyone who might be reading this, and has not read Jonah Goldberg’s essay about the war against Christmas from The National Review, you might want to do it now (prior essay), and see how they fit together, church and family, that is, and reaching out. Goldberg even extends it to where I have been playing with it, and that is in the basic strengths of our republic: church, nation, and family; but extended family and reaching out. This Christmas season has been bringing this together for me, and giving it meaning; making it real.
But then it fits with all the rest that I have been trying to do here, because it really does all come together. For example, I recently read a book entitled Origins, written by four Frenchmen – working together – and thought about a young friend of mine, who is about to begin high school. He is learning to be a thinker, and has partaken in some of my ruminations. I like to encourage him, and there are relatively few that are open to that, but that’s neither here nor there. I will send this book to him, and will encourage him to read from it; much is a bit too technical, and probably too much; but that will be the subject of yet another essay (next one), so I need take it no further here.
The point is that all of this: Christmas, family, relationships and life – and reaching out; requires knowledge, and knowledge must be acquired. How? Experience, of course, must come first; but it must be enhanced by wisdom, and where does that comes from? My ruminations? hardly; wisdom is accumulated – over time, and with effort, efforts actually, both personal and collective; we, who have experienced some maturity can contribute; but they have to want to participate as well, and my young friend does, which makes it so worthwhile. Sound familiar? a bit like motivation? And where does motivation come from? I’ll not even attempt to go into that; but it must come from within, and that doesn’t just happen; it is generated from all kinds of influences, which I need not go into again. But there are so many and some are profound; the number of thoughtful thinkers who write about it in our culture are legion; which is why our culture is so powerful; but there I go again. Let’s stay focused.
In short, focusing is about thinking about it – and that means everything, as it begins to come together – and attempting to accumulate wisdom by sampling what has been provided for us; there is so much useful out there, and each has to choose for themselves; there is too much to try and consume it all. Not for everyone perhaps, but who knows? it grows on you. And then what happens next? That is for each of us to determine individually – for self.
For me it has developed into reaching out, and trying harder to make a contribution – not to make me rich, famous or powerful, but to have influence in ways that I consider important, and limited though that necessarily is, it is most satisfying, and has made a major contribution to me an my life, and the satisfaction I am able to derive from it.
I write this to introduce the book to any who might be interested, but also to encourage to do was has to be done to begin to bring us back to what we have always been – and we be again. And that takes us back to Christmas and family; it should all fit together. It does all fit together, we, each of us, just has to learn to understand that – and how it works.
Having watched a version of Dickens Christmas Carol I could not let this pass, and had to capture it here, for my own posterity.
Written by Jonah Goldberg
The War on Christmas fullscreen The Night the Reindeer Died Share article on Facebook share Tweet article tweet Plus one article on Google Plus +1 Print Article Email article Adjust font size AA by Jonah Goldberg December 24, 2015 4:00 AM @JonahNRO In the opening sequence of Scrooged — which Sonny Bunch correctly identifies as one of the great Christmas movies of the modern age — we’re teased with the trailer for a movie called The Night the Reindeer Died. In this fictional made-for-TV movie, Santa’s workshop is attacked by machine-gun-wielding terrorists. Amid heavy artillery fire, Mrs. Claus races to the gun locker to hand out heavy weapons to the elves. Suddenly, Lee Majors, the Six Million Dollar Man (that’s $32 million in today’s dollars), rides up on a snowmobile. As the bullets fly, Majors asks Santa, “Is there a back way out of this place?” Kris Kringle responds, “Of course there is, Lee, but this is one Santa who’s going out the front door.” Majors nods silently in admiration of Santa’s grit. But he warns St. Nick, “Look, it don’t matter a hill of beans what happens to me, but the world couldn’t afford it if anything happened to you. Now you stay put.” “Aw, that’s very nice of you, Lee,” Santa says gratefully. He then adds, “And, Lee, you’re being a real good boy this year.” Majors then sets off on his death-dealing way to vanquish the enemies of Yuletide. “Eat this,” he grunts as he mows down the Santa-sacking psychos with his modernized hand-held Gatling gun. Now that’s my kind of war on Christmas. Alas, today’s “war on Christmas,” which has become for cable news an annual ritual, is merely another one of those metaphorical wars, like the wars on women, poverty, cancer, global warming, history, energy, religion, and science. (I’m sure I’m leaving a few dozen out.) Of course “metaphorical” doesn’t mean “fictional.” The “war” on poverty is — or was — a real thing; it just wasn’t a war. And yet the metaphorical wars have the capacity to elicit as much outrage as actual wars. For instance, in the Middle East and ever-growing swaths of Africa, there are nonmetaphorical wars on women, Christians, Jews, science, history, and gays. These wars have all the hallmarks of actual war, what with the killing, rape, and slavery. But in the United States the “war” on women that arouses so much passion from politicians and liberal activists should really be put in air quotes. Ditto the “war” on Christmas. The war on Christmas represents a special kind of passive-aggressive jackassery. Of course, the Left has always loved its metaphorical wars, ever since William James announced the pressing need for the “moral equivalent” of war. President Obama has kept that tradition alive, routinely calling for warlike unity in his effort to pour money down any number of rat holes. But the moment when the tail-chasing dog ate himself came when Obama declared a lexicological war on war, changing the “war on terror” to “overseas contingency operations.” Terrorist attacks became “man-caused disasters,” and American reprisals were euphemized as “kinetic military operations.” It was, to borrow a phrase, a metaphorical war to end all literal wars. We’ll know that battle has been won when we start talking about the Domestic Contingency Operation against Christmas. RELATED: ’Merry Christmas’ to All The merits of these metaphorical wars vary widely. War on cancer? Worth fighting. War on science? Mostly a bogus PR campaign to bully conservatives into silence. But the war on Christmas represents a special kind of passive-aggressive jackassery because the aggressors deny they have declared a war. They simply take offense at Christmas cheer. They cancel Christmas pageants. They leave baby Jesus in a cardboard box in the church basement, but see nothing wrong with celebrating the Winter Solstice as if that’s a more rational thing to do. And then, when people complain about this undeclared war on Christmas, the aggressors mock and ridicule them for paranoia and hyperbole. Since we’re comparing things to actual wars, it’s a bit like Vladimir Putin’s mischief in the Ukraine. He sends troops across the border, then denies they’re Russian soldiers. The soldiers kill Ukrainians, but Russian TV floats the idea it’s all a hoax trumped up by the West. Then, after the Russians create facts on the ground, they whine when anyone makes a fuss. So it is with the war on Christmas. Share article on Facebook share Tweet article tweet Before I continue, I should get some disclaimers out of the way. The war on Christmas is a fraught issue for a right-wing guy named Goldberg. So with some prodding from the spirit of Full Disclosures Past, let me disclose fully. I am Jewish, albeit with some considerable emphasis on the ish. My father insisted my brother and I be raised Jewish. I went to a Jewish day school and was duly bar mitzvahed, so please spare me long lectures on the matrilineal nature of Judaism. In any event, my Episcopalian mother insisted we celebrate Christmas. So while many of my friends at school had “Hanukkah bushes” instead of Christmas trees, we had a Christmas tree with a single modification. My parents cut out a jokey headline from a local newspaper and taped it to a flat cardboard Christmas tree ornament. It read, “Santa Knows We’re Jewish.” RELATED: Washington Irving’s Christmas: What the Holiday Should Be We have a similar policy in my own home. Every year we light the Hanukkah candles. And their glow has not once scared off Santa, who dutifully eats his cookies and leaves his presents. So there’s that. But the disclosures go on. I’m also a Fox News contributor (and happily so). Some of my colleagues — a generous term I use for people far more important and famous than yours truly — are generals in the War to Save Christmas. More on that in a bit. The conflict has never really been about Christmas. It’s been about how a society tolerates conflicting visions of what kind of society people want. Lastly, let me just say that I love Christmastime and I take no offense whatsoever when someone says to me, “Merry Christmas.” Indeed, I think it is written somewhere in the Talmud that if you make someone feel bad for sincerely wishing you a “Merry Christmas!” it means you’re a miserable, joyless ass (it sounds more high-minded in the original Hebrew). Of course, there’s a flip side to that. If you know someone is not Christian or hates Christmas for some reason, and you say “Merry Christmas” out of spite or vindictiveness, rather than with joy and good cheer, then you are the one putting the “ass” in Christmass. And that is part of the genius of the Left’s passive-aggressive war on Christmas. By forcing Christmas-lovers — Christian and non-Christian alike — to take time out of their day to marshal a metaphorically martial defense of Christmas, they further undermine the whole point of the holiday, and the Holy Day. Turning Christmas into a battleground in the culture war compounds the damage they’re already doing. Which brings me to the story of Hanukkah, in a really forced and contrived kind of way. Alexander the Great (in Yiddish, “Alexander He Could Be Worse”) conquered Palestine. But in the grand tradition of the “good czar,” he left the Jews alone. A century later, Antiochus IV, the Greek king of the Seleucid Empire — and one of the great putzes of antiquity — reigned. RELATED: The Death of Gratitude Except for the fact that Hanukkah didn’t exist yet, you might say he declared a war on Hanukkah, by which I mean he set out to actually destroy the Jews who hadn’t assimilated to Hellenistic culture. He appointed Greek priests to the High Temple, ordered the sacrifice of pigs on its altar, and killed Jews who wouldn’t go along. The Jews revolted and threw off their oppressor. The Hanukkah candles we light every year do not commemorate that victory — Jews aren’t supposed to glorify war — but rather the miracle of the untainted lantern oil lasting for eight nights in the temple, when there was only enough for one. I bring this up because Jews have a lot of experience dealing with the challenges of living in societies where they are religious bystanders and nonconformists. From the dawn of the diaspora until 1948 (when Israel was founded), that was really their — our — only experience. And, to borrow a phrase from Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets, it wasn’t all “pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad.” But it wasn’t all bad either. One of the lessons Jews learned is that respect is a two-way street. In decent societies the majority shows respect to the minority. But part of the bargain is that minorities also show respect to the majority. This is supposed to be a fun book about a joyful time of year, so I will skip past more recent historical examples of what happens when this grand bargain goes ass-over-teakettle. Just take my word for it. But the lesson is worth taking to heart when thinking about the war on Christmas. The conflict has never really been about Christmas. It’s been about how a society tolerates conflicting visions of what kind of society people want. Share article on Facebook share Tweet article tweet The war on Christmas can best be understood as the point at which several tectonic plates of the culture grind together. When they grind together really hard, we get earthquakes. The plates have been grinding together for generations, and they go by many names: secular humanism, nihilism, relativism, progressivism, Cthulhu, and others. The opposing forces have a lot of monikers as well: traditionalism, Christianity, conservatism, and, my favorite, the Good Guys. Christmas just happens to be one of the places where the Good Guys and Cthulhu fight on ground really favorable to the Good Guys. That’s because, properly speaking, Christmas should be about as controversial as puppies, kittens, motherhood, and Scotch: Just one of those things everyone agrees is a good thing. Indeed, that’s the underlying assumption among Christmas’s cable-show champions: Christmas used to be something that united us — but not anymore, thanks to the secular humanists, multiculturalists, and other killjoys. And that’s absolutely true. Christmas was uncontroversial for a while. Then it was controversial. Then it was uncontroversial. And so on. That’s because Christmas is in fact older than cable TV. Christmas should be about as controversial as puppies, kittens, motherhood, and Scotch: Just one of those things everyone agrees is a good thing. There’s no mention of Jesus’s birthday in the Bible. Indeed, for Christianity’s first few centuries it was a nonissue (perhaps because when the Romans are feeding you to lions, figuring out Jesus’s birthday is a relatively low priority). Death, specifically Jesus’s death, was a much bigger deal theologically. In fact, early Christian writers mocked the Romans for their pagan habit of celebrating birth anniversaries. Jesus’s birthday only became a priority for the Church when people started to believe he wasn’t a real person but a spirit or some such, according to the aforementioned Christmas scholar, Stephen Nissenbaum. Real humans are born, not invented (Al Gore notwithstanding). The Church reckoned that celebrating Jesus’s birth would be a good way to underline the fact that he was born flesh and blood. “If you want to show that Jesus was a real human being just like every other human being,” Nissenbaum explained, “not just somebody who appeared like a hologram, then what better way to think of him being born in a normal, humble human way than to celebrate his birth?” The iconic crèche and manger scenes so associated with Christmas didn’t become commonplace until the 13th century. RELATED: Growing in Christmas Virtue As for December 25, the Internet, among other sources, tells me in a fairly unified voice that the date was picked because it aligned with numerous pagan holidays associated with the Winter Solstice. We’ve all heard these theories before, and while scholars can debate around the edges, it doesn’t seem like anyone truly disputes the notion that Christmas co-opted a whole lot of Germanic and Nordic traditions. The iconic Santa is more inspired by Odin than the Turkish St. Nicholas, and the Christmas tree has its historical roots in the Saturnalian practice of bringing holly into the home. Still, long after Christianity had routed the pagans, Christmas remained controversial. The Puritans had huge problems with it. Because the holiday takes place in winter, when there’s not much for farmers to do, it became a kind of spring break in the 16th and 17th centuries. In England, a country with a long and honorable tradition of looking for reasons to get drunk, the twelve days of Christmas became the kind of bacchanalia that would have made a great backdrop for a Damsels Gone Wild video series. Philip Stubbes, a 16th-century Jerry Falwell, decried this hedonism in his pamphlet The Anatomie of Abuses: That more mischief is that time committed than in all the year besides, what masking and mumming, whereby robbery, whoredom, murder and what not is committed? What dicing and carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used, more than in all the year besides, to the great dishonour of God and impoverishing of the realm. That wasn’t the only problem with Christmas. Protestants didn’t like the way Catholics observed the holiday, and vice versa. In England, the extravagant Christmas parties thrown by Catholics were seen, as P. J. mentioned, as uncouth, the “trappings of popery” and “rags of the beast” (two fantastic names for an ultramontane punk-rock band). The Catholic Church tried to counteract the problem by emphasizing that Christmastime was a holy celebration, not an excuse to let your freak flag fly. But it ultimately didn’t work. When Cromwell took over, he banned the holiday entirely, something the ACLU only dreams of doing today. Cromwell’s ban was lifted, but for a long time the popularity of Christmas dwindled in the New World and Britain. By 1820 the English poet and essayist Leigh Hunt wrote that it was a holiday “scarcely worth mention.” It wasn’t quite as forgettable as Arbor Day or the WNBA championships, but it wasn’t the big deal we think of today, either. And the person most responsible for reviving it wasn’t a religious figure at all, but a literary one: Charles Dickens. RELATED: Christmas in a Time of Existential Crisis Published in 1843, Dickens’s A Christmas Carol was a staggering literary success — bigger than Fifty Shades of Grey and The Dadly Virtues combined. By Christmas of 1844, there were no fewer than nine stage productions of it in London. It was a huge sensation that year in New York as well. It popularized the salutation “Merry Christmas.” One critic proclaimed, “If Christmas, with its ancient and hospitable customs, its social and charitable observances, were ever in danger of decay, this is the book that would give them a new lease. The very name of the author predisposes one to the kindlier feelings; and a peep at the Frontispiece sets the animal spirits capering.” There’s a fascinating debate about how religious A Christmas Carol really is. There are a great many subtle scriptural allusions in the book that are lost on most people, including me; I wouldn’t have caught many of them were it not for Stephen Skelton’s annotated version of the story. On the other hand, while Dickens was a faithful Christian, the story is deeply ecumenical, even secular. The key to the novella’s appeal was its overpowering sense of nostalgia. “In fighting for Christmas,” G. K. Chesterton observed, Dickens “was fighting for the old European festival, Pagan and Christian, for that trinity of eating, drinking, and praying which to moderns appears irreverent, for the holy day which is really a holiday.” But it went deeper than that. Dickens had a famously rough childhood, and his stories were often child-centric. And so was his idea of Christmas. Until A Christmas Carol, Christmas was more of a community celebration, a time for revelry. But Dickens carved out Christmas as a special time for children. Until A Christmas Carol, Christmas was more of a community celebration, a time for revelry. It was a lot like what New Year’s Eve is today. But Dickens carved out Christmas as a special time for children. In the tale, the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to his own childhood, where he sees himself abandoned as all the other kids have gone home to be with their families. “The school is not quite deserted,” the Ghost observes. “A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still.” Scrooge sobs at the sight. The Ghost then takes poor Ebenezer to see children playing and making merry with their family. Scrooge exclaims, “What would I not have given to be one of them!” (As Rob Long — someone well acquainted with social ostracism and undesired solitude — points out, it would have been nice if someone, somewhere, had given him a giant turkey.) Thanks to Charles Dickens, Christmas became a time when parents thought about the Christmas they wished they had had when they were kids. And so they set out to deliver it to their own children. That’s one of the keys to Christmas’s enduring popularity. As Bill Murray says in Scrooged (you knew I’d come back to that), at Christmastime, however briefly, “We are the people we always hoped we would be.” I am not Christian, but some of my favorite people are (including, among others, my wife, my mother, most of my coworkers and friends, and nearly all of my favorite presidents). I have no objection to Christians seeking to keep the “Christ in Christmas.” But it seems to me that the war on Christmas has less to do with a desire to keep the holiday somberly sacred and more to do with maintaining an idea of “America, the Way It Used to Be.” The best offense against humorless prigs isn’t counterveiling humorless priggery. It’s good cheer. As a conservative, I get that. And it is absolutely true that the people who bang their hemp spoons on their high chairs at “Merry Christmas,” get their dresses over their heads about Nativity scenes, or who think Santa is scarier than Satan — or even the Koch brothers — tend to be humorless prigs. I’m not normally in the habit of giving advice to Christians about how to observe their faith. But as a tactical matter, if you want to put the Christ back in Christmas, my advice would be to follow Jesus’s exhortation to turn the other cheek. The best offense against humorless prigs isn’t counterveiling humorless priggery. It’s good cheer. If someone gets angry when you say, “Merry Christmas!” chuckle and tell them, “For your sake, I won’t tell Santa about this.” More Christmas War, Refugees, and the Christian Imagination Christmas in Space Christmas 2015: History within ‘History’ And take comfort in the knowledge that the Christmas haters are not merely losers, they are losing. Most Americans — who spend almost a trillion dollars a year at Christmastime by the way — understand those people are idiots. If anything, Christmas keeps winning in the war on Christmas because Christmas is so much Odin-damn fun! So enjoy the holiday on Dickensian grounds — faith, family, fun all mixed into one. Say “Merry Christmas” with joy in your heart and have a good time — if for no other reason than the fact that nothing pisses off the people who hate Christmas more than people actually enjoying Christmas. And by all means, let us redouble our efforts in our defensive war against relativism or the relentless erosion of our culture by political correctness. But there are other days of the year to have those arguments. The whole point of Christmas is not to have arguments. That’s what Thanksgiving dinner is for. – Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor at National Review. This article was adapted from an essay in the new book The Christmas Virtues: A Treasury of Conservative Tales for the Holidays, edited by Jonathan V. Last, a version of which appeared in the December 31, 2015, issue of National
Prejudice? Racism? An example of how over time we corrupt our language. Discrimination is determining the difference between one thing and another from which we can make decisions, whether choice or action; discrimination is not only healthy, it is necessary, to survive. But activists have corrupted the meaning to serve their own evil/weird purposes: to discriminate is a bad thing! What is bad is prejudicial discrimination, or even arbitrary discrimination: all blacks are………all foreigners are………….my way or the highway.
With this in mind, in order to generate a degree of comfort within those that come to live in our land we must make them feel welcome. BUT, we can only make them feel welcome if they demonstrate that they WANT to be welcome in the culture that they are entering. Too many today do not seem to be interested in doing that; that is, they want to come and share in our beneficial way of life, but they don’t want to give up their old way of living in the process. But be careful; too much can not be expected all at once; many immigrants think they WANT TO BECOME American, but have to go through a learning process, an adjustment process to get there, to even find what it really means. Some habits, including language and accent, can be difficult to change. But that’s all right; they don’t have to change their habits completely as long as they accept that there are rules in our culture, our nation, that must be observed if our culture is to remain viable, and not vulnerable to eradication. In other words they cannot assume that they can immediately begin changing us to become what THEY are, have come from and might think they want to be – without really understanding what they are doing.
That poses a fairly difficult transition process, and it progresses at different velocities depending upon the individuals undergoing it. It depends heavily on how motivated those who think they want it are, to pursue it. Beginning at the beginning, many like what we have achieved and want to have the same, but do not understand HOW it has been achieved, and what has to be done to make sure that it maintains on that trajectory. Simply stated, many immigrants don’t really understand what it takes, or even why they have to think all that much about it. So we have to be a little patient, and help as much as we can – but only to a point. And where is that point? Again, it is based on motivation: they have to WANT to become part of our culture; which doesn’t mean they have to give up what is important in their own. That is not always simple, and they have to learn that, and to assimilate; that doesn’t mean completely change to something they don’t really understand, but it does mean they have to adapt to that which they have accepted, or think they have accepted. After all, what we have become is partly due to the mixing of the good from many cultures, as well as the exclusion of that which we have determined over time is unacceptable. That is positive; would it were all as simple as that. Open minds comes to mind – as it always does.
We can see problems there? Oh yes, the eyes of the beholders. Who determines what is good and what is bad; what can be held onto and what must be left behind? Well, that’s why we have laws, but cultural mores are similar; and there will always be questions of what is acceptable and what is not, and likely disagreement at some level, many levels. That might not be good, but it is also not necessarily bad; it requires effort on both sides to adjust to inevitable differences and accommodate them, or identify what cannot be accommodated; which takes discrimination. And there it becomes even more challenging. Who, ultimately, decides? Ultimately WE (Americans) must decide; it is our culture, and immigrants have chosen to join it, and must understand the challenges that entails. We can help, and should, but there is a limit; another gray area, and ultimately that one comes down to laws and rules – but also the principles of the culture.
Even then it is not that simple. A recent study attempted to establish the tipping point for cultural change, especially in cultures that are designed for and accept continual change – change that CAN be good, but is not necessarily so. Examples? Pushing sharia law is one. So, how about wearing the burka or hijab? Nothing wrong with that, if it is their choice; but to push it upon others who do not so choose? No. But sharia law is perhaps an extreme example; there are many more, more every day, and most are somehow connected with activism, which is certainly not restricted to immigrants. That is why a tipping point is important in a nation that allows democratic voting for change. Our founders understood that, hundreds of years ago, and built institutions that went far beyond mere democracy. Federalism is one; our constitution is another; and the bill of rights yet a third, as well as the balances among our branches of government; and there are more, perhaps more subtle. Unfortunately many who do not understand why these developed as they did are trying to change them, arguing that they are out of date. They are not, as they form principles to live by. Another sticking point: the purpose of Islamic dress is to support religious modesty, and western mores flaunt such modesty. I personally would prefer a bit more modesty, but, believing in free choice; within the constraints of our laws, which are continually modified; I will always opt for free choice, and I believe most Americans would as well, as long as that free choice is not injurious to others. Now, having said that, I recognize that we are undergoing major cultural tensions that do not tend toward agreement with such a clear delineation. And I have my own thoughts about that as well, based on faith in the decisions that our founders made. Even that has to be moderated, and it is done so by laws that are debated and passed every day; to which we must continually attend. But we must also have liberty and freedom if we are to maintain the culture that has made us what we are.
How many understand that? How many even WANT to understand it? So we come back to motivation – and the potential cultural tipping point, at which our entire culture can suddenly change. My position on that is clear; some entering our national culture might disagree, but some within our culture might too. To me it is simple enough: if they do not like that with which they are faced with they should go elsewhere; but apparently there are those that believe there are higher laws that support them; I reject that, pure and simple. Unfortunately there seem to be many that stand somewhere in between. I contend there cannot be an in between in two positions so widely divergent; such a position is ultimately untenable.
So, back to discrimination: essentially differences of opinion, which we accept in our culture; many others do not see it that way. I say then that if we and they are so incompatible and they can not reconcile it, they should find some other alternative. Our culture will no longer be OUR culture if we do not share the belief that differences are inevitable, and must be dealt with as amicably as possible. Are we near a point where we must address giving up that belief? Already we, some of us, are disparaging the concept of compromising; but compromising is nothing more than discriminating, and accepting that discrimination, and the differences in opinion it generates, is necessary and must be supported – AND DEFENDED. That, after all, is our culture, the culture I say one must take or leave. Is that unreasonable?
Beyond that it is incumbent upon us to help those who come to live in our land to understand it, and why it is necessary. We must make them understand (and of course accept it ourselves) that we do not oppose them based on generalities such as race or ethnic origin, but are judging them on an individual basis – and really believe that. If we reject them it needs to be because of THEIR ATTITUDES, and unwillingness to adjust to the principles of our culture. And that takes us back again to the meaning of discrimination; we have every right to discriminate on attitude – and indeed MUST; if they want to live with us they must assume an attitude that indicates that they really want to be part of what we are, and if they do we should take it into consideration and appreciate it. Basically what it comes down to is what being an American is: an attitude, that is predicated on our culture, meaning Christian principles. We have freedom of religion and can choose what we will; but that does not include rejecting Christian principles. Some of our own native population need to understand that as well.
Before we stagger further down our current road of glorified contention and creation of insurmountable barriers in our thinking about dealing with each other, I suggest we, collectively, give this a great deal of thought; more, perhaps, than most of us have done. We have much to lose, and too many do not seem to realize that. It is time to think about what we have, why we have it, and how we have achieved it – and worry just a bit about what could happen if it goes away. Immigration is part of the secret to the development of our culture, new blood, new thinking; we need it to continue, but we must set the standards for what is acceptable. Those standards need to have some flexibility; they did in the beginning. But there must be standards. And we cannot forget that we have made mistakes, and need not blindly repeat them. Thomas Jefferson once said that when attitude changes from independence and self reliance to the sheltered and cluttered dependence of Europe, we will begin to become like Europeans. I think we would agree that is not desirable, but even the Europeans are beginning to question what THEY have become. There is much to think about, and to do it WE MUST HAVE MINDS OPEN TO THINKING ABOUT IT in those terms.