Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

next step?

January 22, 2011

The Washington Post has been advocating gay marriage for some time now.  To the Post’s editors and writers the subject is not debatable– actually never has been (unless I’ve somehow missed the debate on their pages).

A Jan. 7th op-ed by one Stephanie Coontz was in line with this.    As she sees it, same-sex marriage “is not only inevitable,  as Vice-President Biden described it in an interview late last year, but also quite logical.”  So I will try to follow her logic in just a few excerpts:

We are near the end of a two-stage revolution in the social understanding and legal definition of marriage. This revolution has overturned the most traditional functions of the institution: to reinforce differences in wealth and power and to establish distinct and unequal roles for men and women under the law.”

So, marriage (before her revolution) had two functions:  to keep men in power (over women), and to keep the rich in power (over the poor).  I have three comments on this:

1. The old system did keep women in an inferior position– it’s certainly good that  has changed.

2. Of course marriage has always been concerned with property– for some reason.   Could that reason be that marriage between a man and a woman normally generates children?  Children who are their heirs?  Children who will continue the family into the next generation?

3. So I must point out that marriage had,  and still has,  a third  “traditional function” which Stephanie Coontz  does not address– namely, having children.  Oh, she does touch on it in her quasi-Marxist way:   “For millennia, marriage was about property and power rather than love. Parents arranged their children’s unions to expand the family labor force, gain well-connected in-laws and seal business deals.” (Well, yes– though maybe they wanted the kids they raised to keep some of the parents’ ill-gotten gains?  As even some of us moderns still do?)

From all that we should see that in addition to the sentimental argument (let’s redefine marriage so these poor gay people can marry), there is still operating the logic which led Marx in his Communist Manifesto to call for the abolition of marriage– as bourgeois oppression.  The old revolutionary program continues, on a new front!

Why the complete omission of marriage as an institution  concerned with conceiving and raising children?  Most pro-gay marriage people seem to do this– for after all, having children does require a “Parent 1” and a “Parent 2” (to use the Passport Office’s new terminology) who make a long-time commitment to doing that.  But more and more it doesn’t work out that way.  Perhaps that’s why same-sex marriage does seem (almost) inevitable.

Is gay marriage “an idea whose time has come”?  But ideas go as well as come.

A link to Stephanie Coontz’s op-ed article is here.


Hatred of Sarah Palin: why?

January 20, 2011

James Taranto (of has some thoughts on this.  And on why it is especially intense among some women.  I think he– and his friend “Jessica Faller, a New Yorker in her 30s of generally liberal politics”– have some interesting thoughts on the subject– here.


Becoming pro-life

August 23, 2010

I think that in the past I have been insufficiently pro-life.  This post helps.

Our leaders should not lie to us

August 20, 2010

We are often lied to by our leaders and would-be leaders.   Not referring to any particular case (there are many!), here is a little verse from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe — his Venetian Epigram #55 — which deals with that problem:

Sage, tun wir nicht recht?
wir müssen den Pöbel betrügen.
Sieh nur, wie ungeschickt wird,
sieh nur, wie dumm er sich zeigt.

Ungeschicht scheint er und dumm—
weil ihr ihn eben betrüget!
Seid nur redlich, und er,
glaubt nur, ist menschlich und klug.

You’ll surely agree that we’re right?
we just have to lie to the rabble.
For look at how stupid they are—
their backwardness shows all the time!

Well yes, they seem stupid and slow—
because you keep lying to them.
If you’d be honest,  believe me,
you’d see them be human and wise.

Is this great rhetoric or what? (what??)

June 20, 2010

From President Obama’s long-awaited speech a few days ago on the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico– as he passed on from the mundane facts of the spill itself to great plans to get beyond such things:

What has defined us as a nation since our founding is the capacity to shape our destiny—our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet know precisely how we’re going to get there. We know we’ll get there.

Very down to earth, right?  He makes it all very clear.  “We know we’ll get there.”  Wherever “there” is…

Right in the same spirit  as “we are the future we’ve been waiting for”– or something like that– a gnomic utterance of his during the campaign.  Of course now he’s supposed to be governing the country.

O brave new world, that hath such people in it

June 11, 2010

I knew euthanasia was big in Holland– and possible not entirely voluntary in all cases– but it appears neighboring Belgium is keeping up with them.  This from the Vancouver Sun, as linked to by blogger Patterico:

Almost half of deaths by euthanasia in Belgium have involved patients who have not explicitly requested their lives to be ended by a doctor, a study has suggested.

A fifth of nurses interviewed by researchers admitted that they had been involved in the euthanasia of a patient based on the “assumption” they would want to die. Nearly half of the nurses – 120 of 248 – admitted they had taken part in “terminations without request or consent”.

Euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since 2002. It accounts for two per cent of all deaths annually. The law states that patient consent must be given and that doctors must carry out the procedure. But the study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows that the rules are routinely flouted and shows how doctors often delegate the administering of fatal drugs to nurses.

Symbols don’t just happen

May 5, 2010

Symbols don’t just develop.  Every word that we use in our language, that is now part of our language, was not lying around somewhere but was created by somebody—even terms like”quantity” and “quality.”   We ask: who invented quantity and quality?   Cicero.  There wasn’t any quantity or quality before him.  Every such instrument of thought—even such elementary things—has been created, as far as the intellectual and spiritual origin is concerned, by certain people on certain occasions of experiences;  and we usually are in possession of the early document.

As I said, the term “theology” begins in the Republic of Plato—that is an early example.

In an earlier post I referred to Eric Voegelin.  The above is from a website excerpting “pungent observations” from his voluminous writings– see “On the Origin of Symbols” here.

Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies

April 2, 2010

My title is from a piece by Stefan McDaniel, reviewing a book by Marilyn Chandler McIntyre on the website of the Witherspoon Institute.

Even one who might not agree with the author on “what is truth?” (to quote a certain Roman official) should agree that there is a problem in the misuse of language and the prevalence of lies:

McEntrye forthrightly identifies the villains: biased journalists and cynical advertisers, entertainers, and politicians. These usual suspects, she says, are the titans of the word industry who have inundated us with cheap language designed not to tell the truth, but to manipulate, evade, or sell. Public language is thus (to adopt McEntyre’s preferred, ecological metaphor) polluted and depleted by “thoughtless hyperbole, unexamined metaphors, slogans and sound bites, grammatical confusion, ungrounded abstractions, overstatement, and blather” which seep malignantly into ordinary speech and thought.

Polluted and depleted language is obviously an inadequate medium for proper public debate. McEntyre agrees with George Orwell that last use of language leads to foolish thoughts, including foolish thoughts about urgent questions of the common good. When we lose the “subtlety, clarity, and reliability of language, we become more vulnerable to crude exercises of power.”

I’m tempted to go on quoting, but I’ll end with just one more excerpt:

It is, of course, a worthy therapeutic exercise to identify and analyze vague terms in our own vocabularies, but in urging us not to tolerate lies, McEntyre tells us to demand precision from others, especially when they speak in public. She outlines our civic duty of “clarifying where there is confusion; naming where there is evasion; correcting where there is error; fine-tuning where there is imprecision; satirizing where there is folly; changing the terms when the terms falsify.”

In ancient China, wasn’t the “rectification of language” one of the aims of each new dynasty?  (But how did that work out in practice?)

Follow this link for the entire article.

A Temple in Eden?

March 3, 2010

In the (London) Daily Mail, this story about  Gobekli Tepe, a site in Turkey containing stone slabs with mysterious carvings, which is very old indeed.   “Carbon-dating shows that the complex is at least 12,000 years old, maybe even 13,000 years old.”

It was discovered in 1994.  12 or 13 thousand years ago:  that’s well before what we were always told was the “dawn of civilization”.    But something drove our very remote ancestors to create this.  What that something was doesn’t fit the usual account we have learned.  The site was discovered by a Kurdish shepherd:  “Following his flock over the arid hillsides, he passed the single mulberry tree, which the locals regarded as ‘sacred’.”  A long folk memory indeed.  And it was sacred to those people, still in the stone age, who created it.

(Not related, but from early childhood  I recall a riddle which went:  “Adam and Eve and Pinch-Me / Went to the ocean to bathe; / Adam and Eve got drownded / So which of them all was saved?”  And this would soon be followed by the cry “Mammy, he pinched me!”)

This story of Eden has a very dark ending though, if you read on to the end.

Eric Voegelin On Terrorism

February 13, 2010

Another “Pungent Observation” of Eric Voegelin, this one “On the Pathology of Terrorism”:

A further reason for my hatred of . . . ideologies is quite a primitive one. I have an aversion to killing people for the fun of it. What the fun is, I did not quite understand at the time, but in the intervening years the ample exploration of revolutionary consciousness has cast some light on this matter.
The fun consists in gaining a pseudo-identity through asserting one’s power, optimally by killing somebody—a pseudo-identity that serves as a substitute for the human self that has been lost. . . . A good example of the type of self that has to kill other people in order to regain in an Ersatzform what it has lost is the famous Saint-Juste, who says that Brutus either has to kill other people or kill himself.
. . . . I have no sympathy whatsoever with such characters and have never hesitated to characterize them as “murderous swine.”