iSoul In the beginning is reality

Tag Archives: Society

Character and politics

It is perhaps good that societies go through occasional paroxysms of outrage over abuses and vices among the high and mighty. That’s one way to reiterate the boundaries of acceptable conduct. It would be better if boundaries were supported far and wide on a daily basis, but societies have their ways.

In a representative system of government, it is often felt that representatives should represent all that is best in society, that they should reflect the self-image of people as good and wholesome. That may be asking more than elections can deliver, but it’s a noble sentiment.

The foremost task of a political representative is to represent the political views of the people in the district or state they represent. Alas, that includes the selfish side of the people. This is shown annually in budget battles for shares of the public purse.

A candidate whose words reflects the positions of the people is normally the best candidate without further ado. But if there are questions about character defects in the candidate, then the electorate has to take that into consideration, mainly to discern whether or not the candidate would act and vote consistent with their statements and promises.

If a candidate’s consistency is not an issue, they may still be questioned for their suitability if their character does not reflect the self-image of the people. What if the electorate has to choose between a candidate who does reflect their views but not their self-image and a candidate who reflects their self-image but not their views?

The choice is clear if unpalatable: elect the candidate who reflects the political views of the people because that is the purpose of an election. The integrity of the political process is what is the most important.

Remember that democracies are not mannerly affairs. For example, promoting candidates with rum was an old trick in the early days of the republic (see here). If representatives reflect the political views of the people, that is sufficient. To insist on more is to push for some form of aristocracy.

Centrists and extremists

There are a variety of centrists, as there are a variety of means (e.g., arithmetic, geometric, harmonic, etc.). But all centrists share certain characteristics, which differ markedly from all extremists.

Centrists reside in the center, the middle, from a long-term perspective. Unlike moderates, who go with the flow of current politics and culture, centrists resist change away from the center. As I’ve noted before, that often makes centrists contrarians, trying to turn society away from movement toward any extreme.

Read more →

Conservatives and liberals

The terms “conservative” and “liberal” are used in a variety of contexts but what is the distinction? They have come down to us through 19th century politics, but that turns out not to help much since many conservatives today would consider themselves as “classical liberals”. One can use alternate terms such as traditionalist and progressive, but they have various associations of their own.

I would say that the basic distinction is this: conservatives are most concerned with saving something – souls or money or traditions – and liberals are most concerned with spending something – lives or money or resources. That is, conservatives focus on what is worth keeping and liberals focus on what is worth spending.

Religious conservatives want to save souls, to promote what it is that brings salvation, to keep people from being or becoming infidels or unbelievers. Religious liberals want to spend their lives helping people, making the world a better place, doing something that needs to be done.

Economic conservatives want to save money, to buy only necessities, to keep money safe for future needs. Economic liberals want to spend money, to give to the poor, to use money to improve the world now. In the past, this has meant that conservatives had more money than liberals but that is not necessarily true today. Contemporary culture is a spendthrift culture, where most people do not save money either because they have more than enough already or because they live for the present.

Environmental conservatives are “preservationists,” those who value nature for its own sake and want to save it from development. Environmental liberals are “conservationists,” those who want to spend natural resources optimally for the sake of humanity. This is the inverse of what political conservatives and liberals want to do regarding the environment.

Political conservatives want to keep traditions that have worked for generations, to maintain the solvency of governing institutions, to preserve culture and society. Political liberals want to spend resources on improving society, to change what is wrong with society, to remake everything in light of their vision for the world.

In short, conservatives see the glass as half-full, and liberals see it as half-empty. Liberals see what the have-nots need, and conservatives see what the haves could lose. In the past conservatives were considered more pessimistic – seeing what could go wrong – whereas liberals were more optimistic – seeing what could work for the better. But today liberals are almost paranoid about the future – warning of disaster if society doesn’t change radically – whereas many conservatives are content to stay the course with only modest changes.

I have written before, here, about an inversion that can take place between conservatives and liberals. If liberals succeed at changing society enough, then conservatives may long to change things back to where they were before, whereas liberals want to keep their gains. Then liberals will resist change and conservatives will promote a return to what was lost. So conservatives become liberals and liberals become conservatives.

We save in order to have something to spend, and we spend in order to have something to save. The wise counselor advocates balance between these two movements. That is the centrist approach.

Cherchez les hommes

Cherchez la femme is a French expression from the 1854 novel The Mohicans of Paris by Alexandre Dumas, which means “no matter what the problem may be, a woman is often the cause. Look for the mistress, the jealous wife, the angry lover… there is a woman at the root of each problem.” The alternative cherchez de l’argent (look for the money) is something detectives, journalists, and Marxists are prone to do.

A different approach is better when trying to find or explain social and political change: cherchez les hommes, look for the men. The power, prestige, and influence is where the men are because men much more than women seek power, prestige, and influence. And that also leads to power, prestige, and influence following men.

Steven Goldberg wrote two books, The Inevitability of Patriarchy (1973) and Why Men Rule (1993) with the central argument that:

Specifiable hereditary psychophysiological differences between males and females engender in males a more-easily-released tendency for dominance behavior. This is observed by a society’s population and is incorporated in all aspects of socialization that mediate the psychophysiological and the institutional. As a result all societies, without exception, exhibit patriarchy, male status attainment, and male dominance.

The fact that men rule is not popular today, but it is a fact whether anyone likes it or not. Why it should be true is another matter. The point I’m making here is that this fact enables us to find and explain some social and political changes.

Cherchez les hommes means look where men are leaving and where they are going because power, prestige, and influence are headed away from where they are leaving and toward where they are going. Where are men leaving? Men are leaving universities.

Women accounted for 55 percent of undergraduates enrolled at four-year colleges in the United States as of fall 2014, according to the most recent data available from the federal education department.

It’s not a new phenomenon. Women have outnumbered men on college campuses in the US by a widening margin since the late 1970s, and the gap will continue to grow in coming years, according to some projections. Boston Globe, March 28, 2016.

“Women in the UK are now 35% more likely than men to go to university and the gap is widening every year.” BBC News, May 12, 2016.

Men are leaving universities so we conclude that universities are losing power, prestige, and influence in contemporary society. Men are less welcome and less interested in today’s egalitarian universities. Egalitarianism may have served men well in the past, but no longer.

Where are men going? In the U.S. there are more men than women in the Western U.S. The cities with the largest gender gap are high tech centers such as Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Austin, and Seattle. In the 2016 presidential election, the gender gap helped the winning candidate (see here and here).

This shows that high tech is gaining and universities are losing power, prestige, and influence. Politics continues to be dominated by men, though a different kind of man than before, younger, more western, and less tied to tradition.

Separation of society and state

On the face of it, the separation of society and state makes no sense. Society provides the framework for the state, whether a hierarchical society leading to a kingdom or an egalitarian society leading to a democracy. And there would be no state without a society, whether it is the people who assemble to establish the state or the people who the state rules over.

But there can and should be an institutional separation of society and state. For example, Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution includes this paragraph:

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

Nobility is an aspect of some societies. The Constitution excludes the national government from the granting and acceptance of nobility – i.e., it separates nobility and state. The First Amendment begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” which separates the state from religious institutions.

Societies have their own dynamic of who is most honored, most respected, most influential, and so on. The state should not interfere and attempt to pick who will fill these roles. Societies have their own ways of making marriages, of raising children, of connecting the generations. This is not the business of the state.

The state should be concerned with defense against foreign adversaries and domestic malefactors, with taxation and commerce, with political rights and responsibilities. Some people want the state to change society, but that uses the coercive power of the state for ends that are not proper to the state. Let society change in its own way.

The political sphere is different from the social sphere. The two should be kept apart. The separation of society and state should be a bedrock principle of every nation.

The Right tries to make society rule over the state and the Left tries to make the state rule over society. This principle ensures that society and state will be on equal footing. It is a principle of the Center.

Constitutional authority undermined

I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but those who are have been sounding the alarm over the actions of a Supreme Court and President that are extra-constitutional. I write to point out that an official under a constitution who officially acts outside that constitution has undermined their legitimacy. The constitution remains but the official who sets it aside lacks legitimate authority.

As background let’s look at a few excerpts from the dissenting opinions in the Court’s Obergefell same-sex marriage decision: from Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissent:

[T]his Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be. The people who ratified the Constitution authorized courts to exercise “neither force nor will but merely judgment.”

The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent.

From Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent:

“Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.”`

“[W]hat really astounds is the hubris reflected in today’s judicial Putsch.”

Here are some excerpts from a report on extra-constitutional actions of the President:

President Obama has said repeatedly that he would take unilateral executive action whenever necessary to achieve his political ends if Congress and the courts did not acquiesce to his demands. He declared openly and repeatedly that America “cannot afford to wait” on Congress or the courts to act on his agenda, and he made good on his threat to bypass the Congress and ignore the courts numerous times in his first term, as we documented in this report. After he was re-elected to a second term, Mr. Obama became even more brazen.

With his kitchen cabinet of czars in place a broader strategy to expand presidential power by executive fiat is unfolding. Obama’s “new normal” promises rule by executive fiat, plain and simple. On the issues of gun control, illegal immigration and fiscal policy, Obama has sneered at Congress and the judiciary.

Those who are called President and Supreme Court justices hold their offices by virtue of the Constitution they have sworn or affirmed to uphold. If they act extra-constitutionally, to that extent they undermine their claim to such an office. In short, their acts are not official acts, despite any outward appearance.

Time and memory

Is it possible to reverse time? Yes, in a sense. It is possible to reverse thermodynamic time by a local decrease in entropy. Cooling down, metabolism, and memory are examples of decreases in entropy.

Memory may be described as an information model: it compresses experience for storage. The information in memory is not all that happened; something was lost or not perceived.

As memory grows, it is necessary to do maintenance like that done with computer systems, such as defragmenting isolated memories and consolidating them into coherent storage. This, too, may decrease entropy. It is also necessary to review memory, to restore weak memories. This remembering, this return to the past, is a form of reversing time.

Time for us is memory. Without memory, there is no time–we are like children focused on the here and now.

Weekly and annual cycles of remembrance renew our memories and help integrate them into an existing framework. The cycle of the week is the cycle of creation and rest. The cycle of the year is the cycle of reviewing the history of God’s people. Other cycles give us a rhythm for life–cycles of the tides, of the school year, of national holidays.

The Greek word chronos describes these regular cycles, whereas the word kairos describes a progression. Chronos is measurable, predictable, cyclic time. Kairos is experienced time, which flows and grows in unpredictable ways. The experiences of kairos are turned into the cycles of chronos by memory.

Political liberty still lacking

We in the United States like to consider our nation “free” and even the leader of the “free world”. Compared with totalitarian and authoritarian regimes of the past and present, yes, we are free. But that should not be the standard of comparison. The standard should be full political liberty, and there we are still lacking.

What are we missing? Let me list some:

(1) We lack a full vote. In an election for public office with more than two candidates, we can only vote for one candidate. After we have voted for one candidate, we cannot vote for any other candidate. So we have a partial vote, and this can lead to candidates with the largest plurality but without a majority being elected. This can lead to the least-preferred candidate in a three-way election being elected. All because people are only allowed to vote for one candidate.

Voting is an up-or-down decision but that decision is about each candidate for public office. People have a full vote only if they can vote for every candidate of their choice. This is called approval voting because voters can vote for every candidate they approve. Essentially, they are putting candidates into two groups: those they approve and those they don’t. That is a full vote and it is missing today.

(2) We lack the right to freely form political parties. Instead, the two major parties have rigged the system to make it difficult to establish a political party and get on the ballot. And political parties are regulated by the State instead of having freedom to conduct their affairs as they wish. For example, political parties do not have the right to determine membership in their party. We have primary elections in which voters can choose any ballot, so members of one party can vote in the primary for another party and determine their candidate.

While basic accountability for political parties should be enacted, political parties should be free to conduct their affairs as they wish. Let the voters decide whether they like them or not.

(3) We lack the right to freely contribute to political candidates. There are limits on what individuals can give, what parties can give, what campaigns can give, and what unaffiliated organizations can give. This gives an advantage to incumbents and those who can get free media attention. It undermines a free and open political process — contrary to the claims of those who promote these limits.

All that is needed is that the public is informed in a timely manner as to where each candidate’s finances are coming from. Publishing contributions over a specified amount can easily be done today. Then we can let the public decide if they like what they see or not.

There are other ways in which our liberty is unjustly restricted. The Institute for Justice among others is working on them: economic liberty, educational liberty (school choice), First Amendment defense (freedom of religion and speech), and private property defense.

In some ways the United States is free, but in other ways we still need to fight for freedom. The struggle goes on!

 

Alcoholism and homosexuality

Some people are born with alcoholism, that is, they are inclined toward alcohol dependence. Others acquire it over time or a combination of both is the cause. Alcoholism is a disease, also called alcohol dependence syndrome. It can cause people to behave in unhealthy ways such as engaging in risky behavior. Whether alcoholism can be cured or only controlled is controversial. In any case alcoholics deserve our compassion.

Something very similar can be said about homosexuality, the desire and practice of sexual relations between members of the same sex. Some people are apparently born with such desire whereas others seem to acquire it. Homosexuality can cause people to behave in unhealthy ways such as engaging in risky behavior. Whether homosexuality can be changed or controlled is controversial. In any case homosexuals deserve our compassion.

Whereas alcoholism is classed as a disease, it has become controversial to categorize homosexuality as a disease, much less a sin. Those who promote extreme egalitarianism disparage any significant social distinction between the sexes or any ontological difference between the sexes. And yet many homosexuals today are proud of their condition, as if sexuality were a significant characteristic of one’s ontology.

We can’t have it both ways: either human sexuality is ontologically significant or is not. If it is not, then there is no need for approving of it or according it special status. If it is, then we need to ask what is the ontological status of sexuality.

The place to start is with language. Every human language has different references for male and female: he/she, him/her, his/hers, etc. This shows the deep-seated character of sexuality: our very personhood is bound up with our maleness or femaleness. No one is suggesting that we call people “it” so this gendered speech will continue.

Sex is ontologically significant and the roles for men and women that societies develop are something to defend rather than tear down. Changes, if any, should be incremental and carefully considered. Unfortunately, the global West is rushing headlong into a social experiment in sexual equality without due consideration of the consequences.

The necessity of philosophy

The contemporary world is characterized, among other things, by the cult of the expert.  It is widely and officially accepted that the expert and only the expert can speak authoritatively on a given subject.  So extensive is this cult that once someone has become a certified expert in one field, they are often assumed to be experts in other fields, whether or not they actually have the qualifications.

How do we know who is an expert on what subject?  The experts tell us!  As long as the experts support one another’s claims to expertise, they constitute a closed system and everyone else is supposed to accept them all.  But if some experts disagree with other experts, no end of problems can result.  This is such a disastrous possibility that it is often suppressed.  If an expert disagrees with the predominant expert option, their expert status must be taken away.

So the cult of the expert becomes an all-or-nothing proposition.  Either one accepts all the certified experts or one rejects the whole idea.  And this basic proposition must be decided by people who are not experts.  That is the irony of the cult of the expert.

But it was not always this way, nor must the cult of the expert necessarily continue.  Let us briefly consider what life would be like without the cult of the expert.  That is, what if people were encouraged to think for themselves?  Would civilization crumble?  Or would it flourish in ways that no-one can predict?

The starting-point for this project must be something that is available to anyone that is close at hand, that is within the grasp of anyone who wants to think for themselves.  There must be no expertise required!  Sometimes it is called “common sense” although that is an ambiguous term.  I prefer to all it high-level thinking in contrast to the detail-level thinking that requires special education or experience.

One of the problems that experts are prone to is seeing the trees but not the forest – missing the larger picture because they are focused on details.  Of course, they can retort that the amateur sees the forest but not the trees, meaning they make mistakes by overlooking important details.  Agreed; there are potential problems either way.  In taking a high-level approach, we shall have to take care to avoid hasty generalizations and mistaken identifications.

This is the task of philosophy.  With nothing more than a love of wisdom and a curious mind, we launch out to gain sufficient understanding to live wisely – that is, to gain wisdom.

One method to approach a question is to look at extreme answers in order to frame the issue.  In common experience, extremes are rare so we make expect to find answers somewhere in between.

2009