Thursday, January 30, 2003

CONTINUITY OF IDENTITY. Final point about tradition: Continuity is key. Once a tradition has been disrupted, it's very hard to revive it without falling into the "catch the past in amber" mentality I dissed below. It can definitely be done--renaissances are possible. But it's hard.

And continuity is one way in which tradition makes an institution mimic a person. This point is especially close to my heart because I've changed so many of my habits and beliefs over time. When I was first preparing to be baptized, it was really frightening to think that I was heading for such a decisive break with the past. Who would "I" be? Would I be rejecting my past self, starting over, like an amnesiac? It was perversely comforting to remember that baptism doesn't remove the ingrained habits of sin; oh good, something I can keep! And since then I've very much struggled with the question of how to unite elements of my past with who I am now. How to reject old ways without disrupting one's own identity? What can be salvaged from the past--what is the old Adam that must be put off, and what can be reborn through baptism into Christ's death and resurrection? I think being part of a living tradition has really helped me understand how to view my own life, how to shape my own sense of self.
SO DOES "TRADITION MUST BE ADAPTIVE" MEAN "ANYTHING GOES"? Uh, no. I reserve the right to consider any particular adaptation LAME. And, of course, there's a big difference between a living tradition and a series of reversals, rejections, and capitulations to fleeting cultural fads, even if the series maintains some superficial elements of similarity.
TRADITION VS. THE PAST: When people talk about tradition and "traditionalism," they're often thinking of something that I would consider to be closer to nostalgia than to love of tradition. Jaroslav Pelikan has the sharp one-liner, "Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living," and I think there's a lot of truth there. I had never entered into an explicitly traditional institution until college, and so figuring out what tradition is, how it operates, its development and its beauties and its characteristic drawbacks and tensions, has interested me for years.

The first and most basic point is that tradition is not about restoring some real or imagined past era. Tradition gives an institution (a nation, a debating society, a university) a persona; it makes the institution more like a person. And this is necessary in order to make the institution a possible object of human loyalties, since all our loyalties are to persons. (This was what I found the most interesting insight of Reflections on the Revolution in France.) But like a personality, a tradition-based persona must be adaptive and constantly renewed. Traditions need to link the present to the future as well as to the past. A society with a living tradition is instantly distinguishable from a Miss Havisham society desperately trying to capture the past in amber (or a Miniver Cheevy society seeking to revive some imaginary version of the past).

A member of the debating society that prompted these thoughts once said that he believed conservatism should be felt, as a wound. I think that's eloquent, compelling, and true; but the temptation for so many conservatives is to localize the source of that wound. It's the Industrial Revolution's fault, or it's the 1960s' fault, or it's Constantine's fault, or Ockham's, etc. When the source of the wound is identified as certain historical events, rather than the Fall, there's a strong tendency to either seek a utopian restoration (which shares all the problems common to utopian projects) or nurture one's nostalgia, cultivating and taking pride in one's useless alienation from the present times. (And, of course, denying how decisively one has been shaped by those times!) A living tradition works against this tendency, by showing how a society can adapt and respond even to radical changes without losing its distinctive character. (My debating society has weathered--and more than weathered, has gained immensely from its responses to--the rise of the drug culture; Yale College's first class of women; the election of Ronald Reagan and the rise of the campus right; and many, many intra-Yale and intra-POR upheavals. A debate caucus today looks very different from one in 1953, and yet the accumulated traditions have only made the organization more aesthetically rich and philosophically and personally intense.)

I've also found that tradition's roots are often very odd--and that isn't a point against tradition! Tradition often develops and accumulates in a Hayekish spontaneous-order kind of way, but along the way traditions also result from jokes, accidents, and misreadings. The misunderstanding, or intentional redirection, of a tradition can actually be much richer than the initial tradition. Learning the history of these traditions need not become an exercise in debunking; it can instead prompt self-consciousness, a sense of humor and humility, and a desire to engage in similar re-understandings or re-envisionings oneself. There's a contemporary tendency to think that something's genesis is its explanation, but if you experience a living tradition and study its history you find that how other people receive and reshape a tradition is usually at least as important as what the initial intent behind it was. You can even see this in the root of the word, which, if I'm remembering this right, is the same as the root for "translate" and "traitor"--"to pass on." [Does this mean you're a "living Constitution" type now?--Ed. No, because there are significant differences between how a tradition and a law work in society; for only one example, there's a huge difference between a misreading or re-interpretation that's embraced in a bottom-up fashion by the people it affects, and a misreading or re-interpretation that's imposed from the top down by judicial oligarchs. But that is probably a topic for another day... next week.]
EMPTY NICHES. One day--I think it was during the year I spent in New Haven after graduation--a Catholic friend and I were walking through campus when he pointed to one of the many pseudo-Gothic buildings. "Look there," he said; I looked there and came up blank. What was to see that I hadn't seen a thousand times before?

"Look at the niches."

Oh. As soon as he said that, I realized what those strange recesses were--the large, lozenge-shaped nooks, with crownlike roofs, that had been carved into the building's walls at its corners and high points. They were familiar because I saw them every Sunday at church--except there, they had statues in them. Yale's were empty. Add Chesterton's essay "The Architect of Spears," stir, and you have the recipe for great intellectual restlessness, the dissatisfaction that prompts philosophy. What's supposed to go in those niches? What should I honor? What should Yale honor? Where do my projects, questions, and desires hook onto this educational institution and its confused, tarnished sense of itself? That is just the beginning of the quest.
LATE THIS AFTERNOON, I'm heading up to Fair New Haven for the 50th Anniversary Banquet of my college debating society. I will of course not be blogging a) during the hectic weekend, nor b) about the activities of the POR. (Although I will probably file a report from the conference on Roe v. Wade that will take place tomorrow at Yale Law.) But the group has been much on my mind lately, and so today's blogging will be devoted to POR-related things of extra-Yalien interest.
Bright college years with pleasure rife,
The shortest, gladdest years of life;
How swiftly are ye gliding by!
Oh, why does time so quickly fly!
The seasons come, the seasons go,
The earth is green or white with snow,
But time and change shall naught avail
To break the friendships formed at Yale.

In afteryears, should troubles rise
To cloud the blue of sunny skies,
How bright will seem through mem'ry's haze,
Those happy, golden, by-gone days!
Oh, let us strive that ever we
May let these words out watchcry be,
Where'er upon life's seas we sail:
"For God, for Country, and for Yale!"

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

JEREMY LOTT, who has an interesting blog, has a surprisingly sympathetic take on the "Christian culture industry" here. I think he's too willing to settle for "people are using this kitsch to build their identities, so hey, not my problem"--surely it's possible to challenge people, without condescending or being an elitist jerk, to build a better identity that is less reliant on schlock. "Every building is an icon"; our things shape our identities as well as expressing them; insert further ramble/rant about "Testamints" etc. here.

Nonetheless, it's a good article and includes a funny anecdote about an inflatable shark. (Oh no, am I going to get disturbing search requests [click at your own risk] involving inflatable sharks now??)
Shouting out loud,
A blogwatch, alone...

Ted Barlow: Good roundup post on the wealth/income/race stuff.

The Rat: The Age Gauge (interesting diversion); and she reminds us of this classic Yale Daily News correction. Truly, a winner.

Will Wilkinson: SOTU.
THE WAR: Jim Henley posts his basic case against (escalating the) war on Iraq; and Regions of Mind links to this piece arguing that war on Iraq will make Al Qaeda stressed, less-armed, and more-catchable. I note that both arguments predict that if the US continues to press toward war (uber-likely), Al Qaeda's attacks on the US will speed up in the months to come.

What fun.

Off to ride the D.C. Metro....
"THE VIRTUE OF HATE": That's the title of an excellent article in the current First Things, by Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik. The article is by far the best thing in the issue, and highly recommended; it's about the difference between Christian and Jewish beliefs about forgiveness and the attitude toward unrepentant sinners. There are a couple things in the article with which I take issue--I think Rabbi Soloveichik is glossing over some relevant similarities between the two religions, sometimes by missing aspects of Christianity and sometimes by neglecting aspects of Judaism (and at one point he does both at once! It's the bit about how the Jews freely accepted the Covenant, which IMO wrongly neglects to discuss either the Mary/Israel parallel or the fact that Jews born after that initial acceptance are born into the Covenant)--but the article is an illuminating, sharp challenge to Christians and a punchy statement of an aspect of the Jewish worldview. I may blog more about this article, the nature of the Covenant, and the differences between Jewish and Christian varieties of alienation next week.
IN MY CURRENT QUEST to blog only about stuff no one is talking about (well, it's not so much a quest, more a series of accidents...), I missed the SOTU speech.
POETRY WEDNESDAY: From Spenser. "Nicer" means basically "too fastidious."

Which when that Champion heard, with percing point
Of pitty deare his hart was thrilled sore,
And trembling horrour ran through every joynt,
For ruth of gentle knight so fowle forlore:
Which shaking off, he rent that yron dore,
With furious force, and indignation fell;
Where entred in, his foot could find no flore,
But all a deepe descent, as darke as hell,
That breathed ever forth a filthie banefull smell.

But neither darkenesse fowle, nor filthy bands,
Nor noyous smell his purpose could withhold,
(Entire affection hateth nicer hands)
But that with constant zeale, and courage bold,
After long paines and labours manifold,
He found the meanes that Prisoner up to reare;
Whose feeble thighes, unhable to uphold
His pined corse, him scarse to light could beare,
A ruefull spectacle of death and ghastly drere.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

AMY WELBORN is doing a series on Catholic education--the good, the bad, the ugly. Very much worth your time.
IN THE MIRROR OF MAYA DEREN: It was cool to see "In the Mirror of Maya Deren" reviewed on NRO. Deren was an avant-garde filmmaker; I've seen some of her work (can't remember if it was "Meshes of the Afternoon" or just the excerpts of it in the documentary "ITMOMD") and wasn't much of a fan, but her book Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti is really excellent. It lays out the basic structure of Vodoun (voodoo), describing the loa (gods, basically), rituals, and overarching worldview. The loa are pretty amazing--I find them more evocative and insight-provoking than the Greek pantheon. That may be in part because of the elements of Catholicism that Vodoun borrowed/misread; or maybe not. Here are descriptions of some loa written several years ago by a friend:

Erzulie is the Loa of Love, the "Lady of Luxury." But she is not corrupt wealth but a rejection of the limits of poverty. She gives her love as freely as the gifts she gives those she favors. It is as limitless as her wealth. There is no end to her kissing and caressing handsome and charming men. Her endless love links her to the virgin Mary although Erzulie is hardly chaste. She wears three wedding bands. One for Damballah, the serpent. One for Agwe, who rules the sea. One for Ogoun, the warrior. She is also wedded to countless serviteurs. Despite this and the attention lavished on her she feels as though she is not loved enough. ...Her rage and despair are as fierce as her love.

Ghede is the embodiment of the inevitable. He is beyond death. After God, we are in the hands of Ghede. He is erotic in the undeniable way everyone is but he differs in that he flaunts it. He is clownish about everything as he is about sex always showing people what they know is true but wanted not to see. Sometimes he is wildly flamboyant, sometimes sly and coy. He can be a tease or he can be unabashedly bawdy. Inhibitions do not stand a chance when faced with this trickster. Once, under the regime of president Borno, a crowd of houngans (priests, sort of) possessed by Ghede marched through the streets dancing and singing. Having attracted a crowd, they all danced up to the presidential palace and, dressed in Ghede's top hat and coattails, demanded money of the president. The president soon surrendered the cash as no one can refuse Ghede; he will not bow to them. They sing this song for him:
Papa Ghede bel garcon
Ghede Nimbo bel garcon
He is dressed all in black
He is going to the palace

Ghede protects children and they are the primary celebrants on his "feast day" which falls on Halloween. He wears tinted glasses with only one lens so he may watch the physical world with one eye and watch the universe with the other.

Damballah is the head loa, the source of power. He is not really father to the other loa but they call him papa. He must be reverently approached even by the loa because he alone can permit them to answer the prayers and sacrifices of servitors. ...The snake is his servant and has a special place on his altar. He is a creator and worship of him is worship of natural beauty. Sacrifice to him is rich and lush.

Ayida Wedo is Damballah's wife. The arch they form over the world is half his snake half her rainbow. They together are creation, sexual totality. The egg is their symbol and an offering to Damballah....

back to Eve: The last chapter of DH:TLGOH is the most striking. It's called "The White Darkness," and it describes Deren's own experience of possession by a loa. Deren entered into the worldview of Vodoun so completely--& to her own surprise and dismay--that I was startled to read Potemra's statement, "Some of the most remarkable material covers her visits — totaling about 21 months — to Haiti, where she studied the practice and theology of voodoo; as part of her investigations, she was ordained a priestess herself.

"Lest this suggest that she was reaching the further end of crankery, the film points out that she named her cat after one of the gods of the voodoo pantheon; and — as one of the film's commentators notes — this would have been an unthinkable act of impiety for any literalistic voodoo believer. Deren's was a sophisticated effort at transcendence, of the kind that mythologist Joseph Campbell would later popularize. (Indeed, Campbell was an adviser to Deren on the book she wrote summarizing her Haitian research.)"

Not sure what the deal is there. DH certainly didn't seem to be presenting this distinction between the cool, sophisticated, all-cultures-converge type and the "literalistic voodoo believer"; I thought its point was more an affirmation of both the convergence-of-cultures thing (which I don't buy) and the reality of Vodoun loa and the worth of Vodoun practices (with which I also disagree!).

How do I approach Vodoun as a Christian? Well, I don't "believe in" it, for one thing. I find the loa evocative but I do not think that they are in fact gods; it is wrong to sacrifice to them or entreat them. Vodoun is a striking work of art, but it doesn't really explain the world well. It is like the Greek pantheon (or, for that matter, the Platonic theory of forms), in that philosophical questing would, I think, lead you up and out of it toward the One God. As far as I know there is no real account of wrongdoing, the human tendency toward evil, or how to mediate conflicts between values (like justice/mercy, custom/questioning, pride/love). This is in no way unique to Vodoun; it seems to me to be an inherent tendency or lack in pantheon-based, syncretistic religions. The response to conflict is to borrow, compartmentalize (we conflict because you follow Ogoun and I follow Erzulie), and value multiplicity, rather than seeking reconciliation and harmony. One of the central Christian metaphors is marriage, the kiss that unites two spouses--"righteousness and peace shall kiss each other." The Vodoun metaphor is more like the multiple wedding rings Erzulie wears. And this leads to a deeply anti-philosophical tendency to shrug and say, "You have your way, I have mine." (Good grief, that's an incredibly compressed paragraph.)

What, then, are the loa? I think I have to say that they are some combination of fictional characters/mythic archetypes, and real aspects of the world (personifying and allegorizing beauty, power, and other attributes of God). And possession? I would suggest as one possibility that most cases of Vodoun possession are what you might call a culturally-inflected, self-induced trance. Some cases may also be the work of demons, especially in the areas of Vodoun that exalt cruelty, despair, and pride. (As with many pantheon-based religions, followers/serviteurs of different loa exalt different things, some much closer to God than others.) (Oh, and if you wig out when I talk demons, would you wig when I talk about angels? Why are the nice angels so much more acceptable in our public discourse than the wicked ones? I do not think Catholics can deny that there are indeed "evil spirits that roam through the world seeking the ruin of souls." But I don't think they [demons, not Catholics!] need the romanticized, exoticized trappings of Vodoun to work their ill.)
"Faire Lady," then said that victorious knight,
"The things, that grievous were to do, ore beare,
Them to renew, I wote, breeds no delight..."

Monday, January 27, 2003

BUCK VS. BALKIN: Buck, Buck, Balkin, Buck, Balkin, Buck. (I feel like I'm playing Duck Duck Goose here.) It's about how Roe v. Wade has affected US party politics and whether or how that matters. Interesting stuff, though I have to agree with Buck that it isn't quite as interesting as Balkin tries to make it...!
THE GOBLIN QUEEN also has a post about child care, responding to me. She points out that excellent day care can be better than parenting under stress (surely), adds that stay-at-home motherhood is not economically feasible for lots of families (yes, and I should have been clearer that my points were directed at people who are in a position to choose to take a do-able if sacrificial financial hit in order for Mom to mother full-time or more-time), and cites studies that found that government regulation greatly improves non-parental child care (which may be right, but I'd need to know what the standards for safety, personal connection and so on were, what factors were controlled for, and all that fun jazz). There's quite a bit there, all well laid out (OK OK, I'll add you to the blogroll!), so please do click and read if you're interested in this topic.

I have to say that although I may well have misestimated the differences between (say) decent day care and leaving the kids with Grandma, GQ's post (and her comments, in which she noted that parents were likely to think their kids were getting better care than was in fact the case, since the parents weren't there to watch) did not leave me thrilled about non-parental care in general.

The stuff about learning how to mother--for example, "She [GQ's mother] would work with a lot of illiterate parents who were convinced that since they couldn’t help their children read they couldn’t do anything for their education, and when my mom would show them the kinds of learning activities they could do with their kids that didn’t involve any reading, they’d get so excited. It wasn’t that they didn’t care; they just didn’t know."--was totally moving, and in line with what we see at the pregnancy center. As Eloise Anderson said, "This is what families used to do for each other, but now you've got to pay someone to do it."
GETTING IN: A while back, the Goblin Queen posted, amid a longer rambly post (not that there's anything wrong with that!) this take on affirmative action in college admissions: "I was thinking that maybe one way for colleges might foster diversity without a strict numerical preference (and which would allow for them to solicit applicants that offered non-racial diversity) would be to have a series of essay questions: 'What challenges have you faced in your educational career? Feel free to discuss social or economic challenges.' (I think UC did use some version of this in the post Regents ban, pre Proposition 209 days.) 'How has some aspect of your identity shaped the way you see the world and your future work [if it were medical school, the practice of medicine]? Feel free to discuss your racial, sexual or socioeconomic identity.' 'How do you think you will contribute to the diversity of identities and views on this campus?' I think this would have several advantages: it would avoid the numerical preference that makes people like me queasy; it would be non-superficial, that is, it would not just use race as a heuristic for identifying people of varying experience, but it would actually seek out those people who could intelligently express their experience; it would allow the colleges all the latitude they wanted in interpretation of the essays and in the kind of diversity they sought; and it would take a lot of the rhetorical ammunition away from AA’s detractors—Bush couldn’t argue that a race isn’t an experience because it would be the experience that was being sought, not the race."

While I shudder to think of the poor admissions officer who has to read high school seniors' meditations on their "sexual identities" (sigh...), I think that's on the right track. It avoids most of the problems with affirmative action that I outlined here. (Except one, of which more in a moment.) Interestingly, Body and Soul and The Agitator (scroll down to point #6) converge on this point as well--both posts are much worth reading, and I think they end up agreeing with one another. Yay! I am irenic!

So let me lay out my areas of agreement and disagreement with the Goblin Queen Plan.

Agreement: As the Agitator says, it really does take character to overcome adversity. Smart college admissions people should recognize that fact and take adversity into account--without assuming too much. A C student at a bad high school might be a Jeanne D'Arc in the making... or she might be just a slacker. But admissions departments should make the extra effort to look for signs of character traits, like persistence, imagination, and training in the school of hard knocks, that might be hidden in the numbers.

And diversity of experience is often beneficial, as this post from IsThatLegal? obliquely points out. I do think that I learned a degree of humility, flexibility, and imaginativeness (is that a word?) from getting to know people from very different backgrounds. (I'll note, though, that by "different backgrounds" I mean not just race, ethnicity, and income level but stuff like whether they were raised by conservative parents, whether they were raised outside the East Coast, and so on. And there's a very specific kind of humility you learn by getting to know people whose backgrounds are somewhat similar to your own--I had to give up some assumptions, for example, about people raised secular-Jewish, stop thinking that I knew that whole story because that was how I had been raised.)

But I'm not convinced that diversity of background in any specific area is something that every college should strive for. Easy, easy examples: Spelman? Howard? I don't know that they suffer from a terrible deficit of diversity of experience because they're mostly black.

No one can get to know people from every background--that would mean, of course, getting to know everybody. So we generally rely on our ability to transfer habits of mind and lessons learned through one kind of encounter to another kind. For example, as I said in one of those vast race posts, "I would guess that it's not at all hard to intuit good responses to (say) your town's only Hispanic family from [kids' books like] Dogsbody or Witch Week." And without some basic degree of imagination and charity, diversity of background will work against learning rather than in its favor: When IsThatLegal's point is taken in the wrong direction, the black students in "a class on the Court's affirmative action cases" are left feeling like they have to Speak For The Race. People are being used as sociopolitical counters in a game designed to be won by the privileged (who are thereby able to attain the privilege of meeting people from Different Perspectives and Disadvantaged Backgrounds). So diversity is neither necessary nor sufficient for cultivating a habit of mind that seeks challenge and refuses to stick with the safely known.

Other disagreements: First, one might ask also about what an applicant gained from her background.

Second, the GQ's questions seem to me to fall into one of the biggest affirmative-action traps: encouraging people to view themselves as the sum total of the oppressions that have been visited upon them (or, at best, the socially-designated identity labels with which they've been tagged). This relates to my problem with "The Pianist"; I think it's something that a literarily-minded person would be more likely to notice, since I'm used to focusing on the ways in which people defy the impressions you'd get from knowing their demographic statistics. Back in college, I wrote, "The great writer is great as an individual, whose merit lies precisely in his break with the collective voice of tradition and his transcendence of that tradition; or he is great because his voice is thoroughly universal; but he cannot be a thoroughly tribal voice and still gain entry into the ranks of the masters. He can speak as Everyman, or he can speak as Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (and he is almost invariably speaking as both), but he cannot speak as The Danes. Thus any attempt to value some collective over the individual will militate against the canonical authors. Within this individual and universal voice, the issue of a man’s relation to his tribe may be addressed...." The "I am my oppressions" view is damaging in a lot of ways, which I tried to discuss in that previous aff. action post; when linked to the "you must speak for your people" view, it's really deadening to individuality and one's ability to "become what one is."

I think this problem with the GQ Plan can be at least in part avoided, though, by tailoring the questions more carefully to match the particular schools. This would also allow schools to give applicants--and thereby themselves--a better sense of a unique mission and focus. This is a really good article decrying Yale's decision to go on the Common Application, and calling for much more diversity (hey, there's that word again!) in schools' sense of their own missions. Here are some of the questions that Lukas suggests Yale might ask:

•Write about a Yale alumnus and explain how this person stands for or against your idea of an educated person.
•Explain what you hope to gain from attending college.
•Write about a book that made you do something, rather than simply think something.
•Name and describe five classes that you would like to see offered at Yale.

So questions like, "When have you overcome an obstacle to achieve [insert school's focus here--academic excellence, leadership, etc.]?" or, "What do you bring to [school] that's unusual? What distinguishes you that we wouldn't know from your transcript?" or, "Tell us about a teacher who inspired you. What made this person different from your other teachers? How has this person's example shaped your goals?" or, "How did you learn the value of an education? What does it mean to be educated? How do you plan to use your education to serve or enrich those around you?" could be used, perhaps (depending on the school's level of difficulty, etc.) in conjunction with some of the really fun, hardcore questions listed in this OpinionJournal column. (I bet Jeanne would have aced those!)

Schools could use the application process to build a stronger sense of their own focus; they should also, meanwhile, explain what they are doing, letting applicants know that they are looking for people who have demonstrated strength of character, not just people who have been trained to recite What I Learned From My Victimization narratives. In that context, I have no problem with the Goblin Queen's suggestion that schools remind applicants, "Feel free to discuss social or economic challenges," since after all those are likely to be relevant and some applicants (probably the better ones...) may feel reticent about bringing them up.

This approach gets away from the false anti-aff. action notion that grades and SAT scores form the sum of "merit." It rightly treats people as individuals-with-histories, neither social statistics nor atomistic individuals. I don't know that every school should adopt some variant of this, but I think it's a much better approach to the real problem of discerning merit in a world of widely varied opportunities than points-system or race-based affirmative action is.
IRAQ, FATALISM, LIBERTY: QUESTIONS, NO ANSWERS: Today Fareed Zakaria has a typically sharp piece, basically just a list of potential (likely to somewhat likely) positive outcomes of war in Iraq. It's a counterweight to cautionary pieces like this much-linked-by-me Gene Healy essay. Zakaria closes with, "There are always risks involved when things change. But for the past 40 years the fear of these risks has paralyzed Western policy toward the Middle East. And what has come of this caution? Repression, radical Islam and terror. I’ll take my chances with change."

There's a lot to be said for this attitude. I started to write a post about prospects for liberalization in Iraq, but--violating every tenet of the Blogger Code of Ethics--I decided not to because I don't know enough about it. So instead, I'll offer some Iraq-specific links, some general comments on liberalization, and some questions that attempt to connect the two.

One of the biggest enemies of liberalization in dictatorships is fatalism. A sense that the future has shut down, that anything that will happen will be bad (even if it's better than worst). There are all kinds of fatalism--"there's no point in doing anything, we can't affect events" is different from "there's no need to do anything, the rising tide of history will do all the work for us"--but none of the varieties are conducive to liberalization. They're conducive, instead, to lassitude, resentment, and political irresponsibility. (Re the latter, I'm really not sure what the deal with the Iraqi National Congress is. This is a takedown; I'd be interested in other views, as well as more about the Group of Four participants mentioned in the second-to-last paragraph of that piece.)

Fatalism is based, though, on resignation to the status quo. When the status quo is seriously changed, there's a chance that a critical mass of people will reject fatalism and throw their energies into strengthening the kind of social and political institutions that spur liberalization--opposition parties, rights groups, newspapers, small-business organizations and civic clubs, mutual aid networks, and so on. When you view your life as a pawn in a larger game, you may well react with an admixture of hope and terror when someone threatens to kick over the chessboard.

And when it comes to Iraq, I don't have a big-picture, splashy, inspiring (because splashy) chessboard-kicking maneuver to suggest. I do think free trade is almost always preferable to sanctions, and perhaps lifting the sanctions on Iraq would disrupt the chess game enough to provide the necessary minimum of hope that spurs people to work to improve their lives. (Especially since, as Zakaria notes, "the oil-for-food program has become the oil-for-palaces program" and Saddam's isolation has led to "starving millions of Iraqis.") But mostly what I have instead of suggestions are suspicions--I suspect that you can almost never liberalize from above, rather than from below, for example. I suspect that it's extraordinarily hard to impose sustainable civil society by force. (This is in large part because civil society just is the middle layer between people and government, thus it can't really be produced by or enfolded in government. It's the area of life governed by persuasion and the habits that persuasion fosters, the area of loyalty rather than fear, and responsibility rather than dependence. --If you're hearing major similarities between my domestic and foreign policy views, that's intentional. The constraining circumstances are much different, but the actors are only humans, and thus intelligible to us, I think.)

I wrote here about small ways people can carve out areas of their lives that they control, even under dictatorships, and how such experiences of control are the best preparation for liberty. I don't, though, have a lot of ideas for how to foster those spaces of control in Iraq. I haven't even seen much commentary that focused on this issue. (Feel free to send links and such, people.)

Those areas of personal control are a huge motivating force in rejecting tyranny. This is one of the motors driving "revolutions of rising expectations"--the deal is, many revolutions occur not at the times of greatest oppression, but precisely when the regime has loosened its hold a bit on the reins. Rising expectations both disrupt fatalism and make it easier for people to experience a degree of responsibility and freedom. These revolutions are by no means always a good thing--the Bolshevik Revolution is often cited as a revolution of rising expectations. But in this case, it's hard to make any kind of case against revolution (depending, of course, on who is doing the revolting)....

It seems like the U.S.'s talk of war may have started to shake the chessboard a little. Go here and here for more. (Links via InstaPundit.)

So I want to know what makes Iraqis' expectations rise, and what does not. Are some aspects of our pre- and pro-war rhetoric and strategy working against others? It certainly seems like it from here. (For example, it's hard, I think, to welcome an invasion by a country that says it will do this. Not to mention this.) Are there actions we can take short of war that will foster rising expectations, and how can we respect and meet those expectations rather than betraying them? (We do not have the world's greatest track record on the latter, to put it mildly.) I haven't seen any proposals that look realistic here--I don't count an international criminal trial as especially realistic or even helpful.

So, as Jello Biafra says, "I'm not telling you--I'm asking you."
WHAT IS CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER? Seriously. I know this is a bizarre question, but I don't feel like I have a good handle on it. I do a lot of petitionary prayer, thanksgiving, and praise, but I don't even really know what contemplative prayer is like. Surely it's more than thinking lovingly about God, no? There have definitely been times when I felt really sharply focused on one aspect of God, for example God the Creator, or the Crucifixion--almost always this was in the presence of the Eucharist, often right after receiving Communion. Basically it was like I snapped into a visceral awareness of God, an intense "noticing" of an aspect of God and a sense of how this aspect is directly relevant to my own life. Seeing what is always there, in other words, underneath the inattention and pride and other accumulated grime of the Fall--as if a curtain had moved away from a window, or the sun come out from clouds.

But this was not something that I planned. I always try to be open to this, but I don't think of it as a type of prayer--it's more like something that arrows down at me, sometimes. If contemplative prayer involves practices that can sustain this kind of awareness, and make it more frequent, that would be awesome.

So, thoughts? Reading or practice recommendations?
They all ran after the farmer's wife,
She blogwatched their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a thing in your life?

The Agitator: Good post on affirmative action in college admissions. Of which more later today.

Amy Welborn: Bowling alleys in churches; monkey love (with implications for the "office mom" stuff below).

Natalie Solent: "Once the regime of rules becomes sufficiently complicated it collapses under its own weight and becomes a regime of the personal jugement of officials." And: "I am reminded that it was not so many years ago that we did not even have 'Wanted' posters in Britain, for fear that the presumption of innocence might be violated. And now the police ape the tabloids by asking, in effect, for any dirt readers can supply on a named individual. Funny how they don't do this for burglary, isn't it? It's almost as if the political offender has fewer rights than the old sort of criminal we used to bother about."

Noli Irritare Leones went to Mexico. Scroll around.

Regions of Mind: Drought. No, let me rephrase: DROUGHT.

Telford Work: Joseph and his brothers.

State of the Union Address Drinking Game. Via Instapundit of course. And I'm sure you've already seen this.

Cronaca, a history blog, looks supercool. Via Regions of Mind.
SURSUM CORDA has a worthwhile series on abortion. His stance is not the same as mine, but he provides a lot of food for thought:

"On a random Saturday morning in the Spring of 1989, you could often find me in front of an abortion clinic. My colleagues and I would get up before sunrise, gather in a parking lot, and wait to receive a call telling us where we would be heading. The word would come, we would load up, drive to the clinic, and fan out to begin our work.

"But I was not there to stop abortions. I was there to prevent others from stopping them....

"Those of you who have been reading along for the past week might be a little surprised by this history. ...

"It was the birth of my son in 1998 that probably pushed me over the edge. It wasn’t the ultrasound, although that was a piece of the puzzle. It was seeing how completely helpless and dependent he was after birth. In many important ways, he was still as much “potential life” as when he was in the womb. If you could justify abortion then, could you justify infanticide now?"...

And much more.
And there beside of marble stone was built
An Altare, carved with cunning imagery,
On which true Christians bloud was often spilt,
And holy Martyrs often doen to dye,
With cruell malice and strong tyranny:
Whose blessed sprites from underneath the stone
To God for vengeance cryde continually,
And with great griefe were often heard to grone,
That hardest heart would bleede, to heare their piteous mone.


Saturday, January 25, 2003

LOTS of very interesting snippets at the Marriage Movement blog about a new Swedish study: "Children growing up in single-parent families are twice as likely as their counterparts in two-parent families to develop serious psychiatric illnesses and addictions later in life, a Swedish study has found."

Scroll around for brief analyses and links, including these bits: "[T]heir findings stood even when they adjusted for socioeconomic status and other confounding factors such as parental addiction or mental illness."

"Some may say that because this research was done in Sweden, it may not apply to families in the United States. Actually, it is almost more striking because it comes from Sweden. Opponents of marriage advocates often argue that the problem is not single-parent families, but the lack of government supports for single mothers. These people inevitably point to Sweden as a country whose policies the U.S. should emulate. While greater supports for single mothers may well improve child well-being, this research indicates that even generous government support can't replace the benefit of having two, married parents."

"[Dr. Stephen Scott] said that in previous studies, once researchers have adjusted their results to eliminate the influence of bad parenting, any increased risk of emotional problems shrinks markedly. This, he said, indicates it is not so much single parenthood but the quality of parenting that is at issue.

'''The kind of people who end up as single parents might not have done well by their kids, even if they hadn't ended up alone. They tend to be more critical in their relationships, more derogatory toward other people,' Scott said, adding that it is also harder to be a warm, non-critical parent when you're bringing up a child alone.

"Who’s stigmatizing single parents now? But look at this logic: It is not so much single parenthood but the quality of parenting that is at issue. But it is also harder to be a warm, non-critical parent when you're bringing up a child alone.

"If being a single parent makes it harder to be warm and supportive, how can single parenthood not be an issue?"

And more.
Frankly, Mr. Shankly, I'm a blogwatching wreck--
I've got the 21st century breathing down my neck,
I must move fast,
You understand me,
I want to go down in celluloid history...

Gen X Revert: "South Park" and abortion. There's a lot to say there, and maybe I'll say it soon.

Julian Sanchez: What he hopes will be his last word on Lott.

Light of Reason: Response to me and Julian on free will.

Ted Barlow: Lots of questions for John Lott--go to the main site and scroll around; plus a really interesting post on wealth (not income) differentials between black and white families.

ZPlus: Really cool-looking blog about globalization. Wow. Via Virginia Postrel Magazine.
Young knight, what ever that dost armes professe,
And through long labours huntest after fame,
Beware of fraud, beware of ficklenesse,
In choice, and change of thy deare loved Dame,
Least thou of her beleeve too lightly blame,
And rash misweening doe thy hart remove:
For unto knight there is no greater shame,
Then lightnesse and inconstancie in love;
That doth this Redcrosse knights ensample plainly prove.


Thursday, January 23, 2003

OFFICE MOMS: Last night Shamed, Russo and I went to a roundtable sponsored by the America's Future Foundation, on the topic, "Can women have it all?" (Apparently not, since one of the things I'd like to have is a world without cliched debate topics!) It was basically three women proselytizing for stay-at-home motherhood. I'm very sympathetic to this, as you might expect, but I think the discussion of mothering options tends to get bogged down in myths and stereotypes--on the one side you have figures like the Woman Who's Just Like a Man/the Daddy Who's Just Like a Mommy; on the other, there's the Child Who Spent One Day in Day Care And Is Now Tonight's Episode of "America's Most Wanted." So here are some scattered thoughts that are meant to point out that the range of good options is a lot wider than the somewhat calcified public debate would suggest:

You can work outside the home without putting your kids in day care. I tend to think day care is a pretty bad idea--it's like school without the schooling, and what on earth is the point of that? Better options might include having Grandma or Auntie or Lisa Down the Block (not to be confused with Jenny From Ditto) look after your kid for part of the day. Very young children need much more care; by the time they reach pre-K age, they're generally just not as fragile.

My own situation: My mother has worked outside the home for as long as I can remember, but between school, babysitting, and knowing Mom was on call if I needed her, it never even crossed my mind that she was somehow "choosing her job over me." It was so obvious that I was loved and protected that this thought just didn't arise. So I'm skeptical of overly rigid stances that assume that children are super fragile beings who will be permanently damaged if Mommy works. Piecemeal, patchwork arrangements can be the best thing for an individual family--even if they are hard to justify to strangers since they don't play into the Supermom or Superhomemaker imagery.

Couples should investigate full-time homemaking and patchwork options. A lot of couples just assume that they can't get by on one income, rather than going through it realistically and saying, "OK, if you work full-time we'll need to pay for child care, transportation, work clothes; if you stay home, we lose your salary but save those expenses, plus you get full-time motherhood and the kid gets lots more time with mom. Ultimately this means we [fill in the blank--have to spend longer paying off your student loans, have to seriously slash our entertainment budget, have to save less for the kids' college funds, have to accept greater financial uncertainty if there's an emergency]." The financial sacrifices are often smaller and more worthwhile than we might think.

Also, how about working from home? Is that a way to minimize the financial hit while still maximizing time with the children? Jobs from caring for other families' kids to journalism to Web design can be done at least partially from home; all it takes is initiative and creativity. (Also, saving money requires time. Convenience foods are a great example--it's often cheaper and healthier to cook from scratch but it takes more time. Bargain-hunting, repairing rather than replacing, etc. similarly take time. Domestic economy is a real skill, a real way to "work from home" not by earning money but by saving it.) I get the impression that, because there are "sides" in the "mommy wars," too many people overlook possible ways of combining work and home.

What about the extended family? I don't know, what about it? All I know is that this subject is rarely even touched on when people talk about mothering.

Motherhood focuses the attention homeward. As far as I can tell (never having experienced it), this is just true, and all three of the panelists talked about the way in which their interest in the outside world and their desire to pour their energies into improving that world diminished after their children were born. This sometimes makes it sound like mothers callously turn away from the rest of the world and selfishly say, "You all can go hang--everything for my little Precious!"

Instead, I think it's a matter of emphasis. Easy example: One of the women who volunteer at my pregnancy center herself became pregnant. She stopped volunteering. Score one for Baby, zero for World, right? Well, her baby got older, she worked out a schedule with her husband, and she was able to fit volunteering back into her life without neglecting her own kid.

However, it's true that the world does rely on those who do not have pressing family responsibilities of their own. The center relies on single women like me, and on older women whose children are grown. This is one of the material reasons the world needs nuns outside the contemplative orders--teaching sisters, hospital sisters, Missionaries of Charity and the rest. A society that strongly values motherhood needs to strongly value single and religious men and women as well, since these people provide so much service. Singles vs. Mommies is just another false either/or.

Childrearing is a creative act. We often picture young mothers giving up the life of the mind, their thoughts filled with dity diapers rather than Shakespearean sonnets. There's an element of truth there, of course!--especially when the children are in infancy--but teaching and raising a child well also require great mental flexibility, and kids' antics, oddities, questions and unexpected insights provide fodder for an active mind. Frederica Mathewes-Green has made the excellent point that we always think of women giving up "careers" for their children--we picture (and the questions at the AFF event definitely played on this image) scientists who could have cured cancer if they weren't at home cleaning up baby's messes, or poets who would have given the world the next great epic, and so on--but most women don't have careers. What they have are jobs. And raising kids well both requires and provokes a lot more mental liveliness than most jobs.
IRAQ: Here's where my thinking is at now. Unqualified Offerings recently said that he felt like pretty much all the arguments had been hashed and re-hashed, and that probably applies to this post too; I'm posting it as much for myself as for you all, so I can get this all worked out in a relatively coherent sequence. Apologies in advance for the length and lack of certainty.

We've been urged to go to war against Iraq (...more so than we are already) for a number of shifting reasons. There was the claim that Saddam Hussein played a Taliban-like role in maintaining and supporting Al Qaeda, and that he might have aided in the 9/11 attacks. As far as I know, this connection has not been shown in any remotely conclusive way. The closest tie is the alleged meeting in Czechoslovakia between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence. The most recent reports I've found, though, are the ones from May in which both Czech and US intelligence said that the meeting probably didn't happen. Certainly not enough of a clue to go to war against Iraq. (More promising Al Qaeda leads seem to exist in Liberia and Burkina Faso.)

The next explanation is that Saddam Hussein is an evil dictator who has violated UN decrees. This is absolutely, 100% true, and doesn't tell us anything about whether we should go to war.

A related claim is that we have an obligation to bring liberal democracy to Iraq (perhaps in the hopes of spurring liberalization throughout the Middle East). I sympathize with this stance, but I just don't think we're likely to attain this goal via war. Stanley Kurtz makes a good case that liberalization would be extraordinarily difficult in a postwar Iraq. He points out some of the flaws in the often-made comparison between postwar Iraq and post-WWII Japan; I would add that in order to get Japan to knuckle under, we used two atomic bombs--are we prepared to do the same to Baghdad?

The final and most persuasive claim is that Saddam Hussein is seeking to build weapons of mass destruction (this generally means nuclear weapons; people throw in chemical and sometimes germ weaponry, but nukes are the big catch) and we have to stop him. So let's look at that case.

First: I take it as a given that Saddam Hussein is actively seeking to build nuclear bombs. I mean, for Pete's sake, why wouldn't he? So what does he want them for?

a) attack on US soil, pure revenge.
b) threaten us or
c) Israel--he'll nuke one or the other unless he gets various concessions (like the ones Eugene Volokh sketched here, or less Islamist ones)--control of Kuwaiti oil, ending no-fly enforcement, ending sanctions, etc.
d) give nukes to other enemies, e.g. Al Qaeda

Let's deal with d) first. Unqualified Offerings points out how thoroughly the nuclear genie has already escaped from the bottle; he's also hammered on the fact that pressing danger from a common enemy (that's us) is more likely to drive the otherwise quite distinct Saddam and Al Qaeda breeds of hideousness into alliance.

I think it's a given that Saddam would have to be crazy to actually nuke us or Israel. Forget about turning the desert to glass--we'd turn him to glass. He'd be a shadow burnt onto a palace wall. This is why a lot of the pro-war arguments rest on the belief that Saddam Hussein is deranged and/or he is seeking a glorious death. As far as I can tell, there are four kinds of dictator, although the distinctions between these categories are anything but sharp: a) the strongman who uses terror for certain limited political ends, a la Duvalier or Aristide.
b) crazy as a moonbat, behaves self-destructively due to personal derangement--it's not easy to get examples of these guys because they don't tend to last long, but I'll throw out Hitler as one possibility.
c) suppurating font of evil, but not self-destructive and deranged only in a moral sense--Stalin, Mao, Kim Jong Il. In a lot of ways Kim eats crazy for breakfast, he's a freak and a half, but I don't think anyone's suggested that he would do something as fluorescently self-destructive as attacking the US or Israel.
d) evil enough to have intimidated everyone around him into becoming complete yes-men, thus even though he attempts to act in a self-interested manner he can't get good advice.
As far as I can tell from my cordoned-off civilian press box, Saddam Hussein is either c) or d), not b). I mean, you have to be really, really out there to hit b).

Evidence that he'll act in self-destructive ways: 1) invading Kuwait. There are conflicting claims about why Saddam took this risk: Some cite the near-decade of warming relations and uneasy alliances between Washington and Baghdad, which lasted almost until the eve of the Gulf War, thus possibly making Saddam think that Washington would look the other way; Hussein's Deputy Prime Minister now argues that Saddam was convinced that he'd be attacked no matter what, so he hit Kuwait first.
2) the alleged assassination attempt against Bush Sr. If this was him, this is a huge deal. It's a really dumb thing to try, and it constitutes a direct attack against the US. I have to admit that I don't know enough about this to say whether this was Saddam--and yes, that would seriously affect my view of war with Iraq.

Evidence that Saddam Hussein isn't self-destructively crazy: the body doubles; the shift in Iraqi propaganda. Plus I do think there should be a benefit-of-the-doubt thing here--Saddam really would have to be insane in the membrane to somehow miss the fact that bombing the US is a sucker's game. It's a lot more obviously stupid than invading Kuwait was.

So: If Saddam Hussein gets nuclear weapons, we're back to MAD, same as with North Korea. (Although like North Korea, Iraq already had various lesser deterrent capabilities; North Korea, for example, could destroy Seoul with purely conventional weapons, and since no one is ready to see that happen Kim had a pre-nuclear means of deterrence.) He waves a nuke menacingly, we reply with, "Whatchu talkin' 'bout Willis? Do you think you'll like being dead?", he backs off, he lurks, he waves a nuke menacingly, etc. This sucks (and it's a most-likely-case scenario, not a worst-case scenario, in which either Saddam doesn't care or he fails to blink in time and gets somehow caught in events, precipitating nuclear war; I imagine this whole process will provoke tons of fun childhood memories for my parents' generation. "In the event of a nuclear attack, children, hide under your desks and fold your hands over your head. It's important to vaporize the hands first...").

Mutually Assured Destruction sucks for a lot of reasons. Both sides have to convince each other that they are willing to use nuclear weapons. It's in Saddam Hussein's rational self-interest, once he has nukes, to convince us that he is orbiting-Pluto crazy and bent on dying gloriously. Otherwise we won't make any concessions. Thus it's pretty hard to assess his state of mind accurately, and it becomes harder to figure his game as he moves closer and closer to nuclear capability and his incentives for looking like a madman/wannabe-martyr rise.

MAD is also really weird from a just-war perspective. It relies on constant talk of how willing we are to use nuclear weapons (a.k.a. targeting civilians), precisely in order to avoid nuclear war. It relies on doubletalk, uncertainty, lies, and keeping your opponent unsure of just how crazy you are.

So, the total World Level of Hellaciousness goes up when Saddam Hussein gets nuclear weapons, just as it went up when North Korea got ditto. But as Gene Healy admirably lays out, the WLH is highly likely to go way, way up in the event of a US invasion of Iraq, as well. Which of these hellacious alternatives is less hellacious?--that seems to me to be one of the central questions here.

(Brief section on pre-emption. I note that even Kenneth Pollack, author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for War Against Iraq, disavowed pre-emption, although I didn't really understand Pollack's explanation of how his position was non-pre-emptive. I can see why he'd shy away from the term, though, since pre-emption is a hugely risky doctrine to throw on the table. It provides a major incentive to speed nuclear production, to be Kim and not Saddam. This incentive is almost certainly not offset by pressure not to seek WMDs at all, since very few dictators who would want nukes will settle for no WMDs at all. [I.e. I'm sure Aristide will settle for machetes, but then, he wasn't seeking nuclear technology anyway. By the time you're even considering WMDs, I doubt pre-emption will spur you to ditch your ambitions rather than simply try to get WMDs fast and secretly.] The CalPundit acknowledges the dangers and hopes to avert them by relying on the UN; this seems like a really bad idea to me, as the UN is just a bunch of governments, liable to pressure from all sides, equally liable to suck up to the US or to reflexively attack it. I'm not sure why relying on the UN diminishes the problems with pre-emption at all.

(There are non-pre-emptive ways of presenting war against Iraq: as punishment for the Bush assassination attempt, as merely a heightening of a war that started 12 years ago. These reasons aren't the reasons most often or most persuasively cited as the actual reasons for war, though.)

So. I'm still tentatively anti-war, because I think MAD works, and the World Hideousness Level calculation favors Saddam with nukes over US invasion. (You can assume that my reasons there are largely Healy's.) But I'm not certain of my position enough to, for example, go to last weekend's anti-war rally. I don't like this half-stance at all but it seems to be where I'm stuck right now.

As a postscript, tomorrow I'll post some questions and thoughts about liberalization in Iraq. I think those will be more original and thus perhaps more helpful than this admittedly scattershot and repetitive post. Sigh.
"THEY THINK HUMAN RIGHTS BEGIN AT CONCEPTION AND END AT BIRTH": Ampersand has a cartoon and post making basically that claim about pro-lifers. It's based on a study that found that "states with strong antiabortion laws provide less funding per child for foster care, stipends for parents who adopt children with special needs, and payments for poor women with dependent children than do states with strong abortion rights laws." I have a hard time taking this seriously as more than an attempt to score cheap points, for three main reasons:

1) Why is "caring for people" equated with state action? To take a huge, obvious example, there are between three and four thousand crisis pregnancy centers in this country. They generally receive zero government funding. As far as I can tell, the vast majority offer significant services for women raising children. My own center offers: parenting classes, maternity clothes, kids' clothes, childbirth classes, diapers, toys, kids' books, car seats, bassinets, cribs, "shop for free days" (basically like a thrift store where everything's free), formula, and referrals for practically any social service you can think of--employment aid, health care, ex-offender ministries, housing, etc. etc. And that's just the standard-issue stuff; if a client has more intense needs we'll make calls on her behalf (uh, after asking her, of course, in case you're working with stereotypes of the Evil Pregnancy Center) and try to make sure she gets the help she needs. We have contacts who are willing to do all kinds of stuff for women in desperate situations. We also do follow-up counseling and really try to make sure that people don't get left out in the cold once they make the decision for life. I mean, honestly, think about it: Our center gets a lot of its clients through friends' recommendations, and we see a lot of clients more than once. If we jerked people around, they'd stop coming.

Similarly, if you look through any guide to local services for the poor--here's one for DC--you'll find that a big chunk of them are religious groups. Many, many of these groups are staffed by pro-life people. Pro-life people work at homeless shelters, they work with abused children, they work with church soup kitchens, the whole megillah.

**Highly speculative: To look at things from a different angle, this study doesn't even seem to address the question (I could be wrong about this--am going on the excerpt on Ampersand's blog) of whether more funding = better services. For example, New York's abortion laws are very permissive, and I would guess that its foster care system is, at least, not among the lowest-funded; but that system is also somewhat notorious, no? I really don't know enough about the foster systems in different states to make this point especially strong, but I thought I'd throw it out there.**

It is, of course, still possible to argue that more pro-life people should vote to increase state funding for services for the poor. In other words, you might argue that pro-lifers who work in private charities but don't vote for increased state funding are missing out on a good strategy for helping poor children. But to say or imply that pro-lifers don't care about children after they're born is a totally different claim, and one that I really don't see supported by the facts.

2) This is a kind of boring point, but statewide comparisons of this sort are wildly broad. Do we even know what proportion of people who call themselves "pro-life" support increased state poverty programs? Do we know what proportion of people vote based on abortion as vs. on welfare (or foster-care funding)? Do we know how many of the people who vote based on abortion would rather vote for a candidate who supports both abortion and increased state poverty programs, but, in the absence of such a candidate, vote for the pro-life candidate because abortion is objectively a more important issue? (It shouldn't be hard to see why someone would make that choice if she believes that abortion is a mother's decision to take her own child's life.) I've run across people who consider themselves "Democrats for Life" who voted for Bush in 2000--holding their noses--because of his and Gore's positions on abortion. Similarly, I've run across people who argue that the "net gain" in child welfare is greater if you vote Democrat (or Green), so they vote for the abortion-rights candidate--again, holding their noses. So I'm not sure what the heck these numbers are supposed to tell us. Why not ask pro-life people a) what they do for poor women raising children, and b) whether they support increased state poverty programs, and, if so, what they do about it, e.g. do they write to their representatives, do they rally, etc.?

3) Our old friends, correlation and causation. As I understand it--I could be wrong here, I'm working from memory--poorer states spend less on poverty programs and are more pro-life. There are all kinds of possible correlations and interlocking causes here--tradition-minded rural culture, lesser degrees of cosmopolitanism, stronger religious beliefs, states have less cash to spend, you can probably come up with your own. Again, you need a much more targeted investigation in order to answer the question, How much do pro-lifers care about children?, or, Are people pro-life because they hate women?, or whatever.
THE MARCH FOR LIFE: I went with the Oligarch and Russo. (I carried a sign with the URL of Pregnancy Centers Online, and later a different sign with the dates of the Dred Scott, Korematsu, and Roe v. Wade decisions and the words, "History Will Remember.") I'd never been to one before. Random impressions: Several hours after we dragged our frozen carcasses to the WARM confines of an Armand's pizzeria, I was still wondering if I'd ever stop shivering. It was amazingly cold. I was bundled up like a little polar bear, but still, oooeeeehhhh. ...I guess that's not the most important observation, but it was certainly the most memorable thing about the march!

There were some fringe characters and assorted weirdnesses, but frankly, there was a lot less of that stuff than at more or less any comparably large march I've attended. That was something of a surprise, just because protesting and marching tend to attract weird. There were lots of contingents of nuns, priests, and brothers, very awesome. Big Capuchins with big beards and big cloaks with big hoods. Lots of flags identifying different regions and churches (e.g. the St. Louis Archdiocese had a big banner). Banners definitely work better than signs on a windy day. Fun with Protestants: We ran into a group from the Oligarch's area of Virginia, and one of the marchers asked us, "And where do you fellowship at?" Slight pause, Oligarch correctly translates this as "What church do you belong to?" and answers, but later notes wryly, "Yeah, I 'fellowship at' [St. X], except I go there alone, and I don't talk to anyone!" Oh well. We also ran into Harvard Students for Life (and saw Princeton's banner), so hey, Yale Pro-Life League, if you're reading this, get off your rears! Do it for Yale!

The atmosphere of the march was quite strange. I mean, it had the camaraderie and enthusiasm you'd find at any vast rally--enhanced by the high spirits and half-giddiness brought on by the freezing weather, a sort of "snow day" atmosphere--but there was also deep sadness of a kind I don't even remember from AIDS marches (which tended to be angrier--vigils are another story of course). You'd be alternately joyful to see so many people standing up for the unborn, and then saddened and depressed when you remembered what it was all about. So if you go next year--and you should, since, unfortunately, I'm sure it will be needed--be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster.

The other thing making the march both fun and weird was the enormous swarms of teens, preteens, and assorted young folk. Honestly, I'd put the average age somewhere in the late twenties--even if you don't count the little 'uns whose parents popped 'em in the koala-bear-shaped Snuggli for the day. Tons and tons and tons of high school girls working out pro-life cheers (to the tune of "We Will Rock You"--could I make that up?) and flirting with high school boys. Lots of Catholic schools let kids off for the day and bus them into DC, and the kids were extremely enthusiastic; at least some of them seemed pretty well-informed about the issues, and all of them had that sweet, optimistic, evangelizing American openness, which can definitely be too much of a muchness but in small doses is a real tonic. There were also big Rock for Life and LifeMatters contingents. I imagine this was a big dating event.

At the end of the march, the Oligarch and I said a quick prayer at the Supreme Court building, and then hightailed it toward warmth.
...And in his falsed fancy he her takes
To be the fairest wight, that lived yit;
Which to expresse, he bends his gentle wit
And thinking of those braunches greene to frame
A girlond for her dainty forehead fit,
He pluckt a bough; out of whose rift there came
Small drops of gory bloud, that trickled downe the same.


Tuesday, January 21, 2003

TOMORROW I have lots of work to do, and I'm going to at least stop by the March for Life (why is their web site so LAME???), but I will try very hard to post a long thing on Iraq for which I already have a detailed outline, and I also hope to post very scattered thoughts on affirmative action and Constitutional interpretation (these are separate posts), springing off of some stuff said by The Goblin Queen and Jack Balkin respectively.
"ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL": Now that I've finally read that play, I don't think I'll ever be able to use the phrase again. Almost as creepy as "Measure for Measure," a play Harold Bloom rightly labeled "rancid." Oh look! let's do hideously stupid, self-mutilating things for no reason, then get treated horribly by our beloved, then laugh and smile and dance when he takes us back in the final five minutes! [insert Sideshow Bob stepping on a rake noise...]

If you want to sample this putrescent variety of Shakespeare, go for "Measure," which is clearer, better written, and more ferocious.
THE GAMBLER: Short, sharp little story from Dostoyevsky. It made me think about the attraction of gambling--the narrator describes the way his heart would start pounding and his thoughts racing when he was still rooms away from the roulette wheels, as soon as he could first hear their clatter. I don't really know what the fun is, since I've never gambled (I've bet on various events, but it's not the same thing). The Gambler made it seem like a big part of the thrill is the knowledge that you're committing an irrevocable act. The very fact that we can commit irrevocable acts is fascinating--it's incredibly frightening, and is one reason Nietzsche hammered so hard on the idea that forgetting is necessary for happiness. To commit an irrevocable and possibly insanely stupid or evil act for no reason is thrilling because of our desires for self-destruction, and because it's an ambiguous act that can be either an attempt to lose the self or an assertion of the self (because you're not risking all this money for anything outside the self, you're risking it just because you "want to"). All of this is rank speculation on my part, and only applicable to the narrator of The Gambler rather than to gamblers in regular reality; I'm trying to tease out the reasons that I identified so strongly with his thrills and compulsions even though, like I said, I don't gamble at all.

For the really committed gambler in Dostoyevsky's book, the risk has to be big--so big that it might change your life--and it has to be undertaken almost at random, at whim. There's an attraction to fatalism, a desire to believe that one is out of control of one's own life, a flight from responsibility and into the realm of destiny and moira.
"THE PIANIST": Saw this movie with Russo on Saturday. It's based on the autobiography of a Jewish pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman, who spent WWII in Warsaw. There's a lot to recommend this movie, and if you were considering it, I do think you should go. It is truly affecting, and not just because all Holocaust movies are powerful. There are three things, I think, that differentiated "The Pianist" from other Holocaust movies (and yes, I am treating that as a genre, for a reason I'll talk about in a moment): Roman Polanski's direction; thus, the music and sets (especially the ruins); and the constant emphasis on Szpilman's identity as a pianist. Some of the most powerful scenes show Szpilman either playing the piano, or playing a kind of ghost-piano, his fingers dancing on empty air. That aspect of the movie got at the ways people try to build a sense of self (there's a very subtly handled clash between Szpilman's self-identification as essentially a pianist and the Nazis' identification of him as essentially a Jew); it also underlined how cultured, how soaked in art and music and literature, both the German and Polish people were.

I was somewhat disappointed only because I wanted a deeper sense of Szpilman's character--the movie tries so hard to make "pianist" the center of his identity that when he goes into hiding it's as if he stops being an individual, he stops having an identity, which would be more powerful if we had a sense of what's being erased here--what was he, before the war, underneath his musical talent? The movie is too much about what happens to him and too little about how those events change him or reveal him to himself. I think it is trying to be a movie about Szpilman but ends up being a Holocaust movie, if you see what I mean.
CREATED EQUAL: A pro-life blog, just getting started.
GOOD, IF FLAWED, book review in the Weekly Standard, looking at three books on abortion. The author, David Tell, has a keen eye for the interesting nuggets that complicate the oversimplified stories preferred by both supporters and opponents of abortion. Flaws: His tone is way too strident for my taste, and in my opinion veers into condescension; and in emphasizing the sharp difference between contraception and abortion (a difference in kind, not in degree*), he glosses over the causal (contraception enables promiscuity which then spurs demand for abortion) and philosophical (pleasure vs. family-making as the goal of sex**) connections between the two. But these flaws should in no way keep you from checking out his piece.

* although some contraceptives can also cause early abortions under some circumstances.
**EDITED TO ADD: By this I mean, "contraception opposes pleasure and family-making," "family-making is thought of as a detriment to pleasure." I don't mean, "contraception is bad because sex shouldn't be pleasurable," or whatever. Sorry if that was unclear.

One of the books reviewed is Back to the Drawing Board, a book of assessments and critiques of the pro-life movement by its participants. Tell is absolutely right that the mere presence of this book is a good sign--a movement needs internal criticism and self-judgment. I only leafed through the book last Sunday at the National Shrine bookshop, but even from a cursory reading I can recommend Nat Hentoff's essay. Hentoff's reasons for becoming pro-life were very similar to my own, and he includes a moving quotation about the Left as defender of the powerless that gets at some of the less philosophical, more emotional reasons I changed my mind.
OH WOW. Gaudi at Ground Zero? Via The Corner. I don't really know whether this is the absolute best thing to go on the WTC site, but Gaudi is truly amazing, and this is clearly among the best proposals.
MUST-READ POST from Lynxx Pherrett on sex trafficking around the world. Via Unqualified Offerings.
JOHN LOTT GETS A BREAK: A respondent to his 1997 defensive gun use survey speaks up.
THE RAT'S Desert Island books (and desert island authors!).
MEMENTO MORI: Very awesome page with photos of Italian "memento mori" sculptures ("remember that you will die"). Via Dappled Things.
Why do you build me up (build me up) Blogwatcher, baby
Just to let me down (let me down) and mess me around...

Body and Soul: Does executing murderers comfort victims' families? I don't know. But I do know that a "therapeutic" understanding of capital punishment is exactly the sort of thing that Avery Cardinal Dulles warned (scroll down to Cardinal Dulles's response) would happen as democratic societies maintained execution without an overarching belief that state justice is ordained by God. Cardinal Dulles argued that democratic societies are liable to make punishment about us, about our needs for comfort and vengeance, and not about restoring justice. I don't find his argument entirely convincing as a case for eliminating the death penalty (here's what I think is my biggest post on the death penalty), nor do I think what you might call the "subjectivist" understanding of the death penalty is peculiar to democratic societies, but I do think his argument may help explain the belief that execution provides "closure."

Kesher Talk: Jewish tribute to Martin Luther King.

The Poor Man: Give a poor man nonfiction reading recommendations! (Link via Barlow.)

Regions of Mind: What could be wrong with an emergency drought relief bill? Honey, never underestimate Congress....
THE FAERIE QUEENE: Last night I started re-reading Book One of The Faerie Queene. This time I'm going to try to read more than just the first book! Not sure if I'll tackle the whole thing though--your advice is much requested. Scattered thoughts:

1) Wow, I'd forgotten how much I love the Spenserian stanza. It's very simple, English almost naturally falls into that rhythm anyway, but the extra foot (?) in the last line really adds a kick. Freshman year, I'd sit in the back of Astronomy class sketching out Spenserian stanzas giving my impressions of whatever was going on in my life; I almost failed Astro, but it was worth it. I've gotta start doing them again. They're good warm-up writing exercises: The rhythm is easy, and so your main challenges are making precise word choices (the stanzas are very short, so you need to squeeze maximum impact from minimum length) and seeing if you can milk the poetic form just a little. (You can't get a huge amount of form-follows-function-type joy out of the stanzas, I think--they're too simple.)

2) Yes, Elizabeth I as Gloriana is still creepy, oh well....

3) In some sense, Spenser can share the blame for my entrance into the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. I very much shared TFQ Bk I's obsession with "seeming," hypocrisy, deception and doubletalk when I read it as a freshman, back when I was first coming into contact with these bizarre beasties who called themselves conservatives. I really, really wanted to know whether these people, who seemed honorable and deeply personally invested in the search for and love of truth, were as duplicitous as my teen cynicism, relativism, and left-wingery led me to suspect. Of course, a couple of them were less honest than I'd hoped (though still generally more honest than I'd feared). But most turned out to be what they seemed. Which was pretty amazing. Still is, really.
A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine...
--The Faerie Queene, bk I, canto I

Monday, January 20, 2003

Hey folks. Sorry for hiatus--unusually poor time-management on my part, plus, uh, laziness re blogging--I have a lot of fun stuff for you though. Tonight I want to finish Dostoyevsky's Gambler; tomorrow I'll return to blogdom. Likely topics: review of "The Pianist"; All's Well That Ends Well; Iraqmania; more on affirmative action; Constitutional interpretation; and whatever else sails across the plate.

Friday, January 17, 2003

HOW TO GET OFF A DESERT ISLAND: The Rat is revisiting an old question of ours--which ten books you'd take to a desert island--and asked me if I had any thoughts on my own list. Here's my gut reaction. (We'd already set the rules of the game such that they allowed the Riverside Shakespeare and any translation of the Bible to count as one book each.) I'm only allowing myself to list books I've actually read, thus no listing Flannery O'Connor because on a desert island I'd finally get a chance to read her.

1) New Revised Standard Version Catholic Bible. Uh, feel free to yell at me about the NRSV, but it's what I've got.

2) The Riverside Shakespeare. (If I had to pick three plays: Hamlet, Lear, Love's Labour's Lost.)

3) The Brothers Karamazov.

4) Emily Dickinson's complete poems.

5) Paradise Lost.

6) Any edition of Plato that included The Symposium and Parmenides.

7) You know, it's been forever since I read it, but I'm tempted to list Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand here. I need to reread that.

8) Ulysses. Or Thus Spake Zarathustra--they're kind of about the same things, what does it mean to say "Yes" to life, is the love or the beloved more important to the lover, that sort of thing. Right now I lean toward TSZ over Ulysses, but that tends to change more or less at random.

9) Any edition of Eliot that had the standard poems plus "Sweeney Agonistes." Or maybe The Liar, because even on a desert island you've gotta laugh at something.

10) Philip Larkin, Collected Poems. To teach me how to write.

I wouldn't take The Last Unicorn because I practically have it memorized.
A blogwatch hand on my shoulder
And then it's over
Alabaster crashes down, six months is a long time
To try to live in the blogwatch
Instead of a jail...

Yeah, a lot of watching lately, not so much blogging. I know. You'll thank me, though, because these links are good stuff.

Dear Raed: Watching Iraqi propaganda: "At one point 'the doubter' asks 'the wise one' about war, the answer is evasive. He says it doesn't matter whether matters 'get hotter or cool down' we should not listen to hostile reporting and believe it. Well, I guess this means I am removing the NY Times from my bookmarks then. I am a good citizen you know.
"You can't believe how excited I am about these five or six minutes. They have acknowledged a crisis situation, they have never done that before. And it is not done with speeches directed to politicians abroad but to the people, in a simple story-like way. It's a first."

And: "The party's name in Arabic is Hizb al-Baa[here you make a sound as if you were choking]th al-Arabi..."

E-Pression: Excellent point, originally by Mark Shea. "Thus an occasional will to stupidity."

The Old Oligarch: A good, basic letter calling us to penance on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.

Unqualified Offerings: March with the anti-socialist contingent at this Saturday's antiwar demo.

...but before I began--I was bored before I even began...

Thursday, January 16, 2003

AHA: I didn't realize that the Sanchez post I talk about below is responding to this post from Gene Healy and thus ultimately this one from Will Wilkinson. I strongly encourage you to read both those extra links. Wilkinson offers a confessional view from inside the meat-machine, somewhere between irony and pure existential need I think, a materialist atheist in church. Healy (who is not the Gene I talked about in my post) and Sanchez hit more the argument and reasoning side than the personal experience side, but all are worth your time, and be sure to check the comments at Healy's site.
TWELFTH-NIGHT OR, WHAT YOU WILL: Sanchez also blogs about free will. This is one of those subjects I don't feel especially confident discussing, but here are a couple thoughts tentatively advanced. Pardon the egregious ramblyness. I fully admit that I'm coming at these questions from a decidedly slant angle which may not address what Julian had in mind.

First, a recent conversation with my friend Gene underlined for me the ways in which the question of freedom of the will is linked to the question of personal identity. Free will requires that there be a "me" who chooses, rather than simply a pushing and pulling jostle of neural impulses and affects.

You can see this by investigating your own decision-making experiences, as Sanchez is (sort of) doing, or you can see it by investigating the ways you might seek to influence others' decisions: That's what A Clockwork Orange is about. (Burgess called it "a kind of allegory of Christian free will.") What makes it right to talk at someone in order to cause his neurons to fire in ways leading him to act peaceably or kindly, but wrong to cause the same results by brainwashing him or rejiggering his chemical balance to medicate away his criminal desires? What makes persuasion superior to brainwashing, propaganda, or medically routing someone toward proper actions and thoughts?

There are a lot of components to the answer--we can look at the effect of medicating away bad choices on the doctors who dole out the drugs, we can look at the dangers of medicating away thoughts that ultimately would be really helpful to us--but I think one other necessary component is the belief that there is value in Alex choosing freely, which means choosing for himself. "Freely" doesn't mean "unaffected by others," "unshaped by his peers, his impulses, and the state of his stomach"; such "free" choosing is impossible for us and it's not clear that it would be desirable. But it does mean that underneath or despite all those influences and attractions and impulses, there is nonetheless an "Alex" who can choose; there is a self that is greater than the bundle of impulses and affects. We either have to say, "What happens to Alex is only wrong because of its possible misapplications and its presumed ill effects on the enforcers and the larger society," or we have to say that there is something great or worth preserving about Alex that is damaged by removing his ability to decide what he will do. I'm not sure what that "something great or worth preserving" could be except the self which can make its own choices--choices which are neither determined nor random, but rather, directed.

And the second thought is that it's not a coincidence that I've relied on a novel here to get my point across. (To the extent that it did get across--like I said, I find this a very difficult and tangled subject.) I tend to believe that free will is one of the philosophical questions that is far better handled in poetry and fiction than in philosophy, in part because it is such a bedrock, foundational issue. (This is one of the things I loved about Thomas Harris's Red Dragon--it depicted so sharply both "There, but for the grace of God, go I" and the belief that the subjunctive tense exists--it was possible for us to choose something other than what we do choose, we're not determinalistically forced into our actions.)

This is one reason I disagree with Sanchez that "There's no non-circular way to justify our most ground-level epistemic principles, but neither do we have any coherent way of rejecting them." Actually, I understand what he means and agree with the point he's making--there's no non-circular way to justify our most ground-level epistemic principles within philosophy, since philosophy relies on those principles to get started. The principles tell us what philosophy is, how and why to do it, and so on.

But I do think it's possible to justify ground-level principles non-philosophically, via art and introspection. In many ways ground-level principles are like definitions: If I want to tell you what a cat is, I can bubbitz about its genus and species and whatnot, but really I should just grab a cat off the street and show it to you, and then you'll know. If I want to know what love is (and let's assume I don't want you to show me...), it's probably best to read poetry or some such until I find something that makes me say, Yes--that's what I've felt--that's it. Nietzsche used the image of "philosophizing with a hammer"--a tuning hammer. You strike against the heart with the tuning hammer until you find the right place and angle, and the heart resonates and understands. Similarly if I want to justify a ground-level principle, my approach will differ depending on what the question is (e.g. is it "what is logic?" or "why should I use logic?"), but I will generally engage in showing rather than in ratiocination. For yet another image, I'll try to hold your hands under the spigot until you realize that this is what water is.

And art is good at "philosophizing with a hammer." I don't think it's circular, really, to rely on showing rather than on ratiocination as a bedrock for philosophy. To say that the bedrock questions are circular implies that we're trapped in our own little logical hamster wheels, unable to convince one another because our premises can never communicate. I think that would be true if philosophy were all we had, and if philosophy could never colonize slabs of poetry and music and such. But through pointing at works of art, and saying, "If you want to understand [what free will is, say], look there," I think we can communicate and convince.

For my final little squib here, I'll enlist David Lodge, whom Charles Murtaugh has finally convinced me (there's that word again) to add to my reading list. In the title essay of his newest essay collection, Consciousness and the Novel, Lodge argues, "Lyric poetry is arguably man's most successful effort to describe qualia." I think that's absolutely right, and I wonder if Julian will find that (or any of this) illuminating or helpful.

If not, I suppose I will have to strike the hammer somewhere else...