30 November 2016

Why Trump Won: The Candidates

In this most usual and divisive of presidential elections, the observation that probably garnered the largest plurality of agreement about from voters concerned the aversion to both candidates. Both provoked strong feelings of disapproval from Americans. Maybe that helped ensure a close election. But why Trump instead of Clinton?

As an experienced career politician, Clinton on the campaign trail and in the debates, displayed more knowledge about the issues important to progressive voters. In the debates especially, she appeared to be well prepared for whatever questions came her way--even the ones not leaked to her in advance by Donna Brazile.

But as an experienced career politician, she carried  a lot of baggage. Older voters no doubt remember the controversies over Whitewater, the Rose Law Firm, Cattlegate, Travelgate, and those, shall we say, seminal scandals surrounding her husband. It all came back with the investigations of her private server and her foundations. Newer voters seemed uninspired by her knowledge and methodical preparation. She always came across as stiff, cold, and humorless. Even Clinton's nomination speech, which reads so well on paper, she delivered with precision and organization--but no passion. The whole Clinton campaign appeared to run on the premise that her nomination and election were inevitable.

Nothing is inevitable, however, until it happens.

The passionless Clinton campaign resulted in passionless voters. In the popular vote Clinton came up short of President Obama's numbers for both 2008 and 2012. Clinton exceeded the number of votes garnered by Kerry, but the United States contains 30 million more people in 2016 than it in 2004.

And in spite of her campaign theme of "Stronger Together," its sub-theme was identity politics. Although identity politics was not the primary context of her policy prescriptions or her obligatory nods in her nomination speech, they came to the forefront in one of her attacks on Donald Trump. It is customary for backers of political candidates to not only attack the opponent, but also attack the opponent's backers. Progressive pundits impugned the motives of Trump supporters repeatedly, appealing to the various minority groups that make up the base of the Democrats these days.  The candidates themselves, however,  rarely resort to such tactics. Unfortunately for Clinton, she did just that. And the way she did it conveyed the message that she just does not care much for white, Christian, working class folks--at least in comparison to those other groups that make up the Democratic base;

Donald Trump, not a politician, carried his own sort of baggage--much of which voters learned about only in the middle of the campaign. And his rhetorical style left much to be desired. He spoke, however, in a direct, even crude style, that appealed to voters weary of politicians dancing their usually waffling waltzes around the issues. In place of "working together with Democrats for comprehensive immigration reform" he promised to "build a wall."  Trump's campaign theme of "Make America Great Again" energized voters far in excess of Clinton's "Stronger Together" message accompanying her promise of the same as the last eight years only more so.

Trump's excesses, of course, troubled many voters, including Republicans. The personal attacks, name calling, and pejorative comments about rivals wives lowered the political discourse in the primary to the level of a high school contest about who will be freshman class president. Trump's style served him well, however, once the primaries ended and he directed his invective against the Democrats and their fluffers in the mainstream media.

Trump's outsider status and his blunt rhetoric convinced many voters to overlook the lack of experience and the questionable temperament and to cast their votes for change--any change. Trump's victory on the surface appears as, and has been described as, a populist surge. It is difficult to say. He did not spark a huge turnout. Fewer voters participated in 2016 than in 2008. Moreover, Clinton actually won more votes. Trump, however, tapped into those voters who have been neglected by both parties and openly disdained by progressives. Rural voters and working-class Democrats, who voted for Obama twice in the last two presidential elections and others who may not have been voting at all, turned out for Trump.

Hillary Clinton's "blue wall" of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan came tumbling down.

And with that, Donald Trump, in the most unusual election in my lifetime, became president-elect.

28 November 2016

Genesis: From Science Text to Literary Framework

Those Christians who desire to establish the compatibility of the bible with science and yet find that the  "gap theory" and the "day-age theory" fail to maintain the integrity of the scriptures turn to the "framework hypothesis." (Interesting how these interpretive schemes for reconciling the bible to science have such scientific sounding names). The framework hypothesis changes the temporal sequence of the creation narrative into one of forming environments and filling them with living things. For example:

Day One: light
                                           Day Four: sun, moon, and stars

Davy Two: sky and water

                                           Day Five: fish and fowl

Day Three: land

                                           Day Six: land animals and man

By turning from a temporal sequence into a literary framework, this interpretive scheme better than any other achieves the goal of reconciling the bible to science. The cost, however, is the traditional understanding of the opening chapters of Genesis. For this reason, the "framework hypothesis" does not command much support from the majority of Christians.

Fall into the Gap

One of the earliest of the modern attempts by Christians to reconcile the biblical account of the cosmos with science is known as the "gap theory." The gap theory was as a small part of a larger complex view of history and eschatology known as dispensationalism that emerged in the last quarter of the 19th century.

Traditionally,  Christians optimistically (or faithfully) believed that the majority of the world's people would embrace the Christian religion. They believed that once the church established the millennial kingdom, Christ would return. This belief became known as postmillennialism, because Christ would return after the millennium. As conservative evangelicals recognized the true scope of unreached peoples around the globe, witnessed the increased secularization of Europe, and experienced the rise of liberalism within mainline denominations, they began to draw the conclusion that the church could not establish the millennial kingdom.  In fact, the world seemed to be growing worse. This led to the increasing popularity of premillennialism. According to this view, the world would grow increasingly more decadent and ungodly. Only the return of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom  promised to stem the tide of evil.

Most premillennialist theologians extended their pessimistic analysis to the past. They reinterpreted the scriptures in such a way to discern different eras in which God dealt with mankind in different ways. Each era constituted a test of the faithfulness of mankind. And each era ended in judgment for mankind, because he always failed the test.  Theologions called these eras dispensations. Their theology became known as dispensational premillennialism.

With the rise of Darwinianism, some of these theologians extended their dispensations back to prehistory.  According to this scheme, a gap existed in the biblical narrative betweeen Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. In Genesis 1:1, God created the heavens and the earth. This earth was the prehistoric world of dinosaurs. After an unspecified time, God destroyed this world with a flood alluded to in 2 Peter 3:5-7. Then God began the six day creation of the world as we know it in Genesis 1:2. Throught the use of the "gap theory," early twentieth century Christians accounted for the fossil record and the apparent immense age of the earth while remaining faithful to the six day creation acccount of Genesis.

A chart from Clarence Larkin's modestly titled, Greatest Book on Dispensational Truth in the World

Below are a couple of video trailers that resemble those old science films we suffered through in school in the 1960s. One supports the gap theory while the other opposes it. Interestingly, the "scientist" in the latter video claims that Christian liberals crafted the "gap theory." It shows how far young earth creationism has come when it denounces as liberals fellow fundamentalist Christians who hold different views. It also shows that he knows as little about Christian history as he knows about science.

27 November 2016

A Sunday School Lesson: . . . Created the Heavens and the Earth

That first and most familiar verse in the Bible continues:

  “ . . . created the heavens and the earth.”

Biblical scholars differ over the nature of this creative act.

Most biblical commentators interpret this as God creating the heavens and the earth ex nihilo, or out of nothing. He simply called things into existence with his words.

In contrast, some commentators maintain that “out of nothing, nothing comes.” They suggest that perhaps God created the universe out of some portion of himself. According to this view, the universe originated from the energy (or whatever kind of substance which makes up God as an entity) but is now existentially separate from him. This maintains the distinction between the creator and the creation, avoiding any confusion with pantheism.

And then others suggest that the the opening verse should actually be translated, “When God began to create the heavens and the earth. . . .” This offers a contrasting view to creation ex nihilo in which God works with pre-existing material, either eternally co-existing with God or, as in the view above, material produced by God's transmogrification of some portion of his being into the particles which constitute the material universe.

Biblical scholars also disagree also over the temporal reference of this verse. Some deny any temporal reference and claim it is simply an introductory statement to the creation account that follows. That account has been understood historically to refer to six literal twenty four hour days.

Not surprisingly, biblical commentators have attempted to interpret that account within the framework of whatever scientific understanding of the cosmos prevailed at that time. Today, some commentators propose that the opening verse describes the “big bang” that brought forth the universe. Often interpreters add to this a “gap” between that opening verse and the remaining passages describing the creation. They concede that the forces and material particles that constitute the universe are billions of years old. According to this view,  God subsequently created the earth out of that material in six literal twenty four hour days. And finally, others attempt to maintain the historical and scientific veracity of the scriptures by interpreting the six days in a figurative way, meaning either eons of time or simply as a literary framework.

One thing should be obvious. ALL modern interpretations of the account of creation in some way accommodate the text to modern scientific understanding of the cosmos. This includes creationists who insist that both the earth and the rest of the universe resulted from six days of creative work by God. For when even creationists interpret that phrase, “the heavens and the earth,” they maintain that it refers to the planets, stars, solar systems, and galaxies of the immensely large and expanding universe as understood in modern cosmology.

The state of earth creates its own special problem:

"And the earth was without form an void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."

 The Biblical author begins his account with water existing before the stars. This is the first of several chronological errors in this account.

Brett Palmer, over at the YouTube channel The Bible Skeptic, has uploaded some well produced video essays on Genesis and other religious topics. His series entitled What Genesis Got Wrong explores many of the scientific problems that confront Genesis. In Episode 2 Palmer looks at this Bible verse quoted above.

26 November 2016

Family, Community, and State

Modern conservatives and liberals both naturally focus on the individual when considering the questions of the purpose of life, happiness, virtue, rights, and equality. And both usually move from rights and equality to analysis of the state--the political community to which individuals belong and the authority structure established by the people in order to protect those rights and to secure equal protection of the laws. Usually some kind of contractual scheme describes this process.  Insecure in their rights within a pre-political state of nature, individuals contract together to establish a government to protect those rights.

Again, using Aristotle as a conservative touchstone, a different perspective emerges of the origins of the state. Contrary to modern conservatism and liberalism, the state is not made up of autonomous rights-bearing individuals who compact to form a state.  In Aristotle's words, "the state is made up of households."

Aristotle's analysis of the state begins with family formation:

"In the first place, there must be a union of those who cannot exist without each other, namely, of male and female, that the race may continue (and this is a union formed, not of deliberate purpose, but because, in common with other animals and with plants, mankind  have a natural desire to leave behind them an image of themselves), and of natural ruler and subject, that both my be preserved."

In his Politics, Aristotle devotes extensive treatment to the household. He conceives of the household as the fundamental economic agent in the production and management of wealth to meet the bare needs of its members. In fact,  the Greek word for household means economy.

As children mature, they form their own households. By the multiplication of households, the village emerges.

"But when several families are united, and the association aims at more than the supply of daily needs, the first society to be formed is the village."

The village is the first cooperative society. It members work together to secure a greater abundance of goods than mere daily needs.

Finally, as villages multiply, the state arises.

"When several villages are united in a a single complete community, large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state comes into existence, originating in the bares need of life, and continuing in existence for the sake of a good life."

In Aristotle's world, this means the Greek city-state. The emergence of the city-state provides the conditions by which the members of the community can acquire the external goods necessary for "the good life."

Aristotle's account is, of course, historically more accurate than the contractual model. Moreover, it lays out a conservative hierarchical scheme for society and how its members secure their natural needs. Family first, local community next, and the state last.

24 November 2016

The Pilgrims and Proclamations

Cultures throughout the world have held and continue to hold feasts at the close of the growing seasons after the final harvest. Usually these feasts involve giving thanks to whatever divine being(s) the particular cultures acknowledge. In the United States, the tradition loosely relates to the first “Thanksgiving" feast held by the English settlers at Plymouth, Massachusetts

The original one hundred or so settlers consisted of members of a separatist church who refused to worship in the England’s established Anglican Church. They arrived on the Mayflower in November 1620, just in time for the onset of winter. After an exploratory party located an advantageous site, the settlers came ashore that December. The site selected had been a Patuxet village that the natives abandoned after its decimation by small pox. By March 1621, however, about half of the English settlers themselves had perished from diseases contracted spread during the voyage or the harsh winter living conditions.

The new settlement took root that year with assistance from the local Wampanoag tribe. Their help had been secured through the efforts of Squanto, a Patuxet native. Years before he had been captured and brought to England as a “specimen” by an English explorer. While living in England he learned the language. Later he was sold to a Spanish merchant who eventually returned him to the North America. He served as a translator. That fall, after a successful harvest and hunting, a feast was held with some of the Wampanoag neighbors.

One settler preserved an account in a journal:

"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."

And so a local tradition, although inconsistently practiced, began. Other parts of the English colonies celebrated their own traditions on different fall days. These gradually became unified through proclamations of the government.

Here are a couple:

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation (3 October 1789):

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789

And below is Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving proclamation (3 October 1863):

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the everwatchful providence of almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.

Subsequent Presidents followed Lincoln in declaring the last month of November a day of Thanksgiving. Several years passed before the holiday took root here in the South. Christmas, complete with seafood, fowl, and firearms, was the traditional holiday for gluttony and drunkenness. And none of the traditional Thanksgiving fare was eaten in the South. 

Gradually Southerners, too, embraced the New England culinary customs. And Thanksgiving finally became a federal holiday after President Franklin Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress 26 December, 1941.

Meanwhile, on a lighter but political note . . . 

23 November 2016

Electoral College Follies

With Hillary Clinton's shocking defeat, many of her supporters blame the "archaic" electoral college system. Progressive organizations like Move On have begun petitions to abolish it. The usual mainstream media fluffers of the Democratic Party like writers at New York Times, Huff Post, MSNBC, and the Daily KOS have argued for it. And outgoing Senator Barbara Boxer has introduced a bill to replace it with a popular vote. You can read some of the arguments hereherehere, and here.

Most arguments note that it is undemocratic. The distribution of electoral votes among the states does not accurately reflect the population of those states. This is because the number of members of Congress has been limited to 435. Electoral votes get shifted around with the population growth after every census, but the total number remains the same. For example, Wyoming has one electoral vote per 177,556 persons while Texas has one elector for per 715,499 persons. From the perspective of Clinton supporters, the electoral college does not reflect the population of Democratic Party bastions like California and New York.

Other arguments actually look at the original intent of the Founders--noting that their intent was to prevent a Donald Trump from becoming President. Aside from a section containing yet another post-election rant about Trump, an article over at the Atlantic provides an accurate assessment.

Meanwhile, over at CNN, Akhil Reed Amar makes the preposterous claim that slavery is responsible for the electoral college and, ergo, the election of Donald Trump. In his screed, he paraphrases James Madison to that effect, without identifying his source. Meanwhile, he ignores some basic history.

First, the original plan of government drafted by James Madison and introduced at the Constitutional Convention called the election of the President by the Congress. And in that plan,  representation in the Congress was based upon free inhabitants--not slaves. Second, the idea of an electoral college was introduced by James Wilson from Pennsylvania. In 1780, that state passed a law establishing the gradual emancipation of slaves. It therefore hardly could have been designed to enhance the political clout of slave states in the election of a president. Although set aside, the plan eventually found acceptance as a compromise between those who desired the Congress to elect the president and those who preferred a popular vote. Contrary to the claims of Mr. Amar, the electoral college means of electing the president was explicitly adopted out of a skepticism about democracy, especially the doubts about the ability of voters to acquire enough knowledge about the candidates to make an informed decision.

Unfortunately, because we have no access to the contents of Dr. Amar's consciousness, we cannot know if he is ignorant or is a liar.

22 November 2016

The Comey Factor

Meanwhile, many Democrats, particularly Hillary Clinton, blamed F.B.I. Director James Comey for the election loss. In post-election conference call with supporters, Clinton asserted that "Comey’s letter raising doubts that were groundless, baseless, proven to be, stopped our momentum.”

The New York Times reports here.

When Comey made his announcement, Hillary spun it effectively, at least in the minds of her supporters, turning the attention off of herself and on to Donald Trump.

Comey and the F.B.I. would not even be an issue in this campaign if it was not for Clinton's poor judgement and penchant for secrecy. Four months earlier, Comey announced that no charges were forthcoming after the F.B.I. investigation into whether or not Clinton mishandled classified documents on her personal server. This announcement stunned Republicans. At the very least, Paul Combetta, the technician who ran the BleachBit program that erased the server, should have been charged. Instead, the F.B.I. incomprehensibly granted him immunity . . .  and got nothing to show for it.

Is Clinton just "Too Big to Jail?"


She is not too big, however, to be called a shameless liar.

21 November 2016

Democratic Soul Searching

After this most unusual presidential campaign and  most unexpected ending, the Democrats began their soul searching--at least those who have souls.

Among those who don't, they make a futile effort to explain what is, from their presuppositions, unexplainable.

Before the election, Democratic pundits on television and in social media accused Donald Trump of blatant racism, sexism, and Islamophobia. In addition, they slandered his supporters with the same vices, throwing in homophobia for good measure. Disregarding the idea that Trump's supporters may have planned to vote for him on issues like the economy and jobs, progressive pundits insisted that just by voting for Trump they endorsed everything he said. No doubt they felt free to level such charges because Trump had no chance to win. What repercussions could possibly follow?

After the stunning election, these Democrats doubled down. Instead of asking themselves if such pre-election tactics fueled the turnout of not only Trump supporters but also the many undecideds that felt the sting of the slanders, many Democrats attributed the election results to, well, the fact that Trump supporters are racist, sexist, Islamophobic, and homophobic. In a reaction closely resembling confirmation bias, the Democrats witnessed their cynical and jaded images of American  come to life.

Over at the Daily Kos, we learn that those who want to keep blacks in their place, to pat their secretaries on the ass, and to call others "fag" voted for Trump.

Over at ThinkProgress, we learn that it was not just Hillary that failed. It was not the Democrats that failed. It was AMERICA that failed. Why? Because America is sexist and racist.

And of course Van Jones put it all in the progressive perspective election night:

20 November 2016

God . . .

The Bible at this point attributes the origin of the material universe to a supreme non-material being that the Hebrews call Elohim, Yahweh, and several other names.

The Bible offers no explicit argument for the existence of God. Genesis takes the existence of “the heavens and the earth” as evidence for God. In this respect the Hebrews did not think any differently from other primitive peoples. Arguments for the existence of a supreme being came much later.

Many philosophers—Christian and non-Christian have constructed different arguments for the existence of God based upon the presence of the material universe. The most common and enduring are different versions of what are called cosmological arguments. They rest on the concept of causation. Everyone recognizes the law of cause and effect within our universe. Is the universe itself subject to that law? Below are two versions of cosmological arguments reduced to their most simple forms without sub-arguments.

The first is the Kalaam cosmological argument based upon causation:

(1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence.

(2) The universe began to exist.

(3) Therefore The universe has a cause of its existence.

(4)The universe cannot cause its own existence.

(5) If the universe has a cause of its existence, then that cause is God.

(6) God exists.

The second more esoteric cosmological argument is based upon the contingency of existence and the assumption of an eternally existing universe. But once the existence of a preserver of the universe is established, then one can supplement this argument to establish the existence of a creator.

(1) The existence of an effect requires an efficient cause implies the existence of that cause

(2) The cosmos exists. But it exists contingently. That is, it is one of many possible universes. It could exist differently that it is. And anything that can exist differently can also not exist.

(3) Because the cosmos exists eternally, it requires an efficient cause to preserve it and prevent it from being replaced by nothingness.

(4) If the cosmos exists contingently and requires an efficient cause of its preservation, that cause must be supernatural rather than natural.

(5) That supernatural cause must itself be uncaused, that is, a supreme being.

So far so good. Philosophers have challenged these arguments and evoked revisions to accommodate objections. This to-and-fro no doubt will continue indefinitely. Both of these arguments seem reasonable to me and actually make me open to the idea of the existence of some kind of creator. That is why I call myself an agnostic rather than an atheist. They do not go very far to establish, however,  the existence of a personal deity that has any interest in me and anyone else. The more religious philosophers refine their arguments down to prove the divinity of Yahweh, Jesus, or Mohammed specifically, the less certitude they possess. This is especially true when the argument must ultimately rely of the sacred scriptures of these religious traditions. The truth claims of these writings have fallen one by one to the conclusions of modern science.

19 November 2016

Equality as a Conservative Principle

A couple of weeks back a contrast was drawn between two key ethical concepts embraced by conservatism and liberalism.

Conservatism prioritizes the good over the right. People should seek those things that are really good for them, i.e. that meet their natural human needs. Because all human beings possess the same human nature, the needs are the same for every human being. It is these basic needs that serve as the basis for natural rights.

Liberalism prioritizes the right over the good. Although liberalism, too, acknowledges the good, it holds that people have the right to choose whatever version of "the good life" they want. Moreover, society and especially the government should be non-judgmental and neutral on this question. Liberalism rests these conclusions on rights and equality.

Last week's post contrasted the conservative and liberal perspective on rights.

Now a turn to the concept of equality.

Liberalism holds that all human beings are equal. It follows that all human beings are worthy of equal respect. And for many, if not most, liberals  this includes respect every other person's choices on what constitutes "the good life." Society needs to be non-judgmental and tolerant of the diverse lifestyles that people choose. And the government should be neutral regarding "the good life" as well. It should not discriminate between different lifestyle choices.

In addition, many modern liberals seem to believe that these lifestyle choices do not impact the extent to which people thrive. Liberals do not say so explicitly; it flies in the face of common sense to make such an argument. Too often, however, modern liberals attempt to explain the different degrees to which people thrive on reason other than the relative merits of persons. They blame the capitalist economic structure, the wealthy, overt racism, institutional racism, or most or some ill-defined “forces of history.” Rather than apply some standard of justice to individuals and their accumulated decisions, liberals find injustice in external circumstances beyond the control of individuals.

Consequently, artificial enhancements such as seniority, affirmative action, quotas, minimum wage hikes are erected by liberals against virtue or merit--all designed to burden those who  thrive for the benefit of those who languish.

So what about the conservative perspective of equality?

As in other posts, I use Aristotle as the best starting point.

In contrast to my assertions in previous posts, Aristotle on this question made a bit of a false start.

As Greeks looked about at other peoples around the Mediterranean, they developed a sense of their own superiority. (This should not be surprising. Almost all groups believe they are superior to others.) One particular contrast they noted, however, was the apparent docility of the peoples of the near east living under tyrannies. The situation was so widespread that it seemed natural, i.e., as part of their nature to be slaves. This led Aristotle to reach false conclusions regarding human equality. In the opening chapter of The Politics, when addressing the question if slavery violated nature, Aristotle writes “from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.”

Aristotle's ancient error persisted until modern times.

As suggested already in an earlier post, human beings are equal in their humanity. They possess the same human nature and have the same human needs. We know this from modern biological science.

And this is really the only meaningful sense that human beings are equal.

One aspect of human nature—a free will, or the ability to deliberate over different desires and to choose different courses of action-- accounts for the distinctiveness of individual personalities and differences in cultural practices. Although humans have the same needs, they have diverse wants. More importantly, when humans exercise their wills in pursuit of the desires and courses of action, all kinds of inequalities emerge.

So although all humans possess natural equality, over the course of their lives people come to have acquired inequalities. We see people manifest different degrees of achievement in education, business, politics, and sports-- just to name a few. When these inequalities emerge from circumstances free from artificial enhancements that benefit some person's thriving and obstructs that of others, conservatives see those inequalities as just. Under such circumstances, everyone's varying degrees of honor received for  their educational, economic, and athletic achievements are their due—what is owed them. This is where Aristotle is correct: justice is rewarding people according to their due.

In Aristotle's words,

“It is thought that justice is equality, and so it is. But not for all persons; only for those who are equal. Inequality also is thought be be just. And so it is. But not for all; only for the unequal.”

Aristotle—and most conservatives today—see reward as something that should be explicitly tied to virtue or merit. A just society will manifest all kinds of inequalities.

13 November 2016

A Sunday School Lesson: In the Beginning God . . .

So how does the Bible begin its story?

Genesis is the book of beginnings. The Hebrew title for the book is "in the beginning." The Greek title, from which English translations derive the title Genesis, means "beginnings" or "generations." In fact, the book is organized by its account of "beginnings" or "generations, " eleven in all. Each sequence is introduced by the expression, "These are the generations of . . . " or something similar.The first appearance does not occur, however, until Genesis 2:4, after the first creation account with which the Bible opens its pages.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

The word beginning in this instance means the first in time, order, or rank. Most ancient readers or listeners of this scripture understood this passage in that simple, understandable way. And I believe that most of us misunderstand scripture because we do not read them this way--the way of ancient peoples.

The consensus of modern science about the age and origins of the universe posed some challenges for Christians. Consequently, most modern interpreters of the scriptures incorporate modern scientific ideas into their commentaries on this and other passages. Some of them suggest that this passage describes the creation of the material particles, the physical forces, and time itself that constitute the concept of space-time. And because God created all things out of nothing, he might be described as the “exnihilator” of the universe. This is quite an elaboration on a brief text penned by some iron age Bedouin.

Because God is conceived as an infinite and eternally existing entity, how his existence relates to the created universe is perplexing question. Even the attempts by modern scientists and philosophers to describe the concept of time itself are incredibly complex. It is beyond my competence to even attempt to explain. I do find appealing, however, the following brief passage by Isaac Newton:

“Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external, and by another name is called duration: relative, apparent, and common time, is some sensible and external (whether accurate or unequable) measure of duration by the means of motion, which is commonly used instead of true time; such as an hour, a day, a month, a year.”

Newton conceives of time in two ways. Absolute time exists eternally. It is unrelated to the material universe and its motions. Consequently, absolute time is immeasurable time. God exists within this time. Relative time began with creation. It is measurable by motion within the material universe.

To modern readers, then, "In the Beginning" means the start of  relative measurable time and space.

How to Be Right on Rights

Traditional conservatives deny the liberal claim that government cannot enforce any particular notions of virtue because that would violate the rights of the citizens. Every citizen, so the argument goes, has the right to choose his own vision of the good life. For a government to deny a citizen's right to choose how he will live violates this fundamental right. Conservatives generally disagree.

Does this mean conservatives reject the idea of natural or human rights?


The Right, however, demands a little more thorough thinking about rights.

Liberals over the last several decades have inflated rights claim faster than the federal reserve has inflated the currency. Sometimes the rights claims resemble those television evangelists exhortation about praying the promises of God—just “name it and claim it.” And rights claims also serve as the purported end of many political discussions. “It's my right!” somehow trumps any and all other considerations in political debate. Little efforts is made to establish any philosophical or political grounds for such rights claims.

A conservative view of natural rights considers the following:

All human beings possess the same basic human nature. We also have the same basic species-specific needs. Some examples include food, clothing, shelter, knowledge, and friendship. Because these goods are basic to meeting our natural needs—physical and psychological, we claim the right to secure them for ourselves. Natural needs serve as the basis for natural rights. Conservatives maintain that human beings possess the natural right to seek and secure what they need. Conservatives deny that which liberals claim for human beings—the natural right to whatever they want. 

This becomes more obvious when we understand what really goes on when someone asserts a right. They are making a rights claim. But it is more than just an assertion of the possession of a right.  It is a claim against others that imposes  duty or obligation upon them. What is this duty? It is the duty not to deprive another person of the means to secure his needs. For example, a claim for the natural right to food creates a duty on the part of others not to take another's food or deprive him of the means by which he acquires food. 

It follows that rights claims are negative in the sense that they impose a duty on others not to interfere with the exercise of the right to secure one's natural needs. They are not positive in the sense that they impose a duty on others to provide for the natural needs of another.

Moreover, only rights claims in this negative sense can be called universal. One can make a universal negative rights claims that obligates every other human being to refrain from frustrating another human being in pursuit of natural needs. One cannot make a universal positive rights claim that obligates every other human being to provide for another's natural needs. To assert that other human beings, who may live half way around the world and who may be worse off materially, have some obligation to provide for one's natural needs is plainly unintelligible.

Because rights derive from human nature and natural needs, conservatives deny the historical validity or philosophical need for John Locke's “state of nature” to explain natural rights and the origins of the state. That idea probably originated from a wrong turn taken by Christians in the disputes within the medieval Catholic Church over vows of poverty and the right to property. Theological discussions about property rights both in Eden and after the fall take on a life of their own. Hobbes and Locke sound like a faint and distance echo of those theological arguments. Although they say little or nothing about Eden, they both explore rights within the context of a post-Eden "state of nature" prior to the formation of a "social contract."

Conservatives also deny the contemporary liberal replacement of John Locke's man living in a “state of nature” with John Rawls'  imaginary "original position" as a prelude to the social contract. 

There is no social contract. 

09 November 2016

The Morning After . . .

Like much of America, I watched with astonishment Tuesday night as the "must win" states fell one by one into the Donald Trump column.

I left work about 7:00 PM. Some of my younger co-workers, Trump fans excited about participating in their first election, shared the earliest returns via their smart phones. I warned them that I had seen this before. Wait a while for the avalanche to begin--"with 1% of precincts reporting, we call New York of Clinton. With 1% of precincts reporting, we call Pennsylvania for Clinton."

Yet when I got home, the avalanche began to rumble down the other side of the mountain. I listened to music with the television volume down, occasionally looking up to witness the unfolding of the most extraordinary and improbable election in my lifetime. I never (or even now) felt draw to Trump. Most of his life he expressed views more in comport with the Democratic Party. Why did he not challenge Hillary Clinton in the other primary? He operated as an interloper who ruined the chances to elect a more philosophically consistent conservative candidate like Ted Cruz to office. The only aspect about this election that promised any satisfaction was that at least he was not Hillary. And I did not believe he could beat her. Yet I sat watching with amazement as his supporters (or anti-Hillary voters) made state after state competitive.

I gave up at 2:00 AM tired and still recovering from the flu.

When I awoke the next morning, I still expected that Hillary's "blue wall" had held.

I turned on the news while by coffee brewed and heard for the first time "President-elect Trump."

Trump's victory speech--from ABC News.

07 November 2016

On the Eve of the Election

Over at The American Conservative, a symposium on the American Presidency.

Like many of the contributors, I find myself divided over Trump.

On the one hand, I am furious that he barged his way into our political process at such a crucial election. For several years, we conservatives in the Republican Party have worked to elect representatives who committed themselves to reigning in the government and its reckless spending. My local tea party here in Atlanta proved instrumental in securing the election of several conservatives both at the state and the national level. By capturing control of the Congress, conservative Republicans  the stage was set for real change. All we needed was a like-minded president. Instead of Cruz, Paul, or even Rubio, we got Trump. With the never dissipating cloud of controversy that always seems to follow the Clintons, any of these other candidates would be coasting to victory. It appears that Clinton, Inc. will again be disgracing the White House.

On the other hand, Trump's no holds barred campaign style laid bare all the political purulence seeping from our body politic. With the timely revelations of Wikileaks, the Trump campaign made explicit what most conservatives already knew: the extraordinary depth of corruption involving the Clintons, their sycophants, their foundation, the Democratic Party, the State Department, the U. S. Attorney General's Office, and, of course, the mainstream media. Any emotional satisfaction from this, however, can never make up for the enormity of this lost opportunity. Even an unlikely Trump victory will only leave a feeling of uncertainty about what lies ahead.

Anyway, the views of some conservatives over here.

06 November 2016

A Sunday School Lesson: An Old Testment Outline

Previous Sunday morning posts explored was Christians would call part of their epistemology--that a supreme being who dwells in a spiritual dimension has communicated with human beings through sundry kinds of revelation. Some of these accounts were written down and organized into a collection of sacred writings that the Christians call the Bible--from byblos or books.

For those who experience exasperation about where to begin reading the bible or how its editors structured it, here is my very unoriginal take on it. Of course, this conforms to conventional Christian beliefs about authorship and dating.

The Law: Genesis through Deuteronomy

Pre-Exile History: Joshua through 2 Chronicles   (Exile refers to Babylonian captivity)

Post-Exile History: Ezra through Esther

Wisdom Books: Job through Song of Songs

Major Prophets: Isaiah through Daniel

Pre-Exile Minor Prophets: Hosea through Zephaniah

Post-Exile Minor Prophets: Haggai through Malachi

Over the next few weeks or months, the The Rational Right will take a cursory look at particular accounts in the Biblical narrative and assess the veracity of its claims. Does the Bible have much to say to people living today in a 21st century commercial republic?

05 November 2016

The Good and The Right

The last few Saturday posts at The Rational Right were devoted to a conservative view of the "good life." Aristotle, the original conservative, served as the touchstone.

Aristotle argued that happiness is the ultimate goal or purpose in life, for it is the only thing we seek for itself and not for the sake of something else. Aristotle's conception of happiness, however, is better understood as thriving or excellence, or--as he put it-- "a live well-lived, " rather than mere emotional contentment. Today, perhaps we call it "the good life."

In contrast, everything else that we seek, we seek for the sake of happiness. So it makes all the difference in the world what kind of things we seek.

Aristotle offered, but neglected to develop, a guideline to help us think about our desires. He wrote that everyone desires what appears to be good for them, but only some of those things are really good for them. Every person ought to use their reason to discern the difference between apparent goods, and real goods--more commonly distinguished today as wants and needs.

Real goods meet real human needs--those species specific needs shared by all members of the human race. In contrast, apparent goods or wants are innocuous or even harmful. Prudence dictates that we should only desire those things that satisfy our real human needs or those wants that are clearly innocuous. We ought to avoid those things that are harmful. A life well-lived is not a matter of "to each his own" and is more than just exercising one's "right" to live one's own version of the "good life."

This brings us to the first conceptual contrast between traditional conservatism and modern liberalism:

Traditionally,  conservatism  give primacy to the good; modern liberalism gives primacy to the right.

Conservatism holds to the idea that every individual has the duty to pursue the good life--a life of excellence. This means developing human potentialities to their fullest so that they become moral virtues. It also means developing and using our intellectual virtues so that we seek those things that are good for us, in the right way, to the right degree.

Conservatism also reserves respect only for those individuals who pursue the good life as understood above. For conservatives, respect characterizes relationships between individuals--especially friendships. And that respect is earned. Conservatives do not promiscuously offer offer respect to anyone. "To each his own" is not a cliche owned by conservatives, or at least one that should be.

Conservatism maintains that the political and economic arrangements of  society should reward those who life a live of excellence. Just as individuals give respect those who earn it, social, economic, and governmental arrangements provide wealth and public honors on the basis of merit.

Modern liberalism does not diametrically oppose excellence or virtue. Excellence knows no political ideology or party. People with liberal political views make excellence a goal both for themselves and their children. They reject, however, that excellence--or the good--or virtue should be universalized. Instead, they argue that everyone has the right to live whatever version of "the good life" that they choose. They prioritize the right over the good.

Consequently, they generally remain non-judgmental about "alternative lifestyles." Modern liberals usually express it as something like  "while I personally would never [ . . . . .] I cannot force my views on someone else." Moreover, progressives assert everyone should be  non-judgmental about such matters. Because all human beings are equal, they say, all persons and their versions of "the good life" should be accepted or even affirmed. Tolerance, or even empathy, should be the guiding principle in all relations.

Of course, some of our libertarian liberals have abandoned all pretense of morality. They keep asking from justifications for moral precepts on some grounds other than "the harm principle." What's wrong with drug use? What's wrong with prostitution? As long as nobody else is harmed . . . . Sitting around smoking a blunt and listening to the Grateful Dead while the wife brings home big bucks as a sex worker may be an attractive lifestyle for some people. Just don't call them conservatives.

Finally, for liberals the idea that the government should favor one view of "the good life" over another is anathema. Just as individuals should be tolerant of "alternative lifestyles," the government should be neutral. Instead it should maintain the conditions that allow all persons to pursue their own version of "the good life," however they may conceive it.

This conflict between the good and the right is a complex one. Careful readers that these concepts overlap with others such as liberty, equality, rights, etc. These issue will be examined in future posts.

The fundamental issue at stake seems to be whether or not individual citizens or their government should care about the moral character of their fellow citizens.