Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Awfulness of Ayn Rand...and Malick's Sublime Film on Nature and Grace, 'The Tree of Life'

At the conclusion of his essay on "The Trouble with Ayn Rand," David Bentley Hart recommends skipping the new film version of Atlas Shrugged, the novel of a writer who, like Nietzsche, despised Christian morality and exalted selfishness, who thought Mickey Spillane a greater artist than Shakespeare, and of whose own novels Hart says that what puts them in a class of their own is how sublimely awful they are.
Even so, the cardboard characters, the ludicrous dialogue, the bloated perorations, the predictable plotting, the lunatic repetitiousness and banality, the shockingly syrupy romance—it all goes to create a uniquely nauseating effect: at once mephitic and cloying, at once sulfur and cotton candy.
Instead, Hart recommends spending our money on the latest work of a real artist with a deeply religious sensibility, Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life.  You can see the trailer of Malick's movie here:

and here is Fr. Barron's review of the Malick movie:

Friday, November 25, 2011

How Brussels Stifles Democracy in Europe | Standpoint

Daniel Hannan has a persuasive analysis of Europe's euro disaster. An interesting aspect of it is the way sensible critiques have been dismissed, as they still are, out of dislike of those making the critique. It is a similar form of laziness to that of substituting conspiracy theories for analysis. I remember a student in one of my classes at the University of Texas with a concern about a book I had assigned. Her roommate had told her that the author just said what he said because he was a 'liberal' - and she wanted me to assure her that this malicious slander, as she saw it, was unfounded. Since I too considered "liberal' a derogatory term, but from the security of my marxist position, I thought her concern amusing.

But much more common in academic and elite circles is the no less easy or lazy dismissal of serious arguments because they come or come mostly from the right. Busing for racial balance in American schools was to be supported at all costs because of dislike of those who opposed it, working-class parents included. Religious freedom and conscience exemptions in health care are denounced by the 'new intolerance' out of hatred of orthodox Christians who take their faith, and indeed the very idea of conscience, seriously. Moral wrongs are turned into new 'rights,' which then require a soft totalitarianism. If basic shared understandings of a prepolitical institution like marriage are to give way to a definition based entirely on what the state says it is, a tyrant state that brooks no dissent is required to enforce it. Hence Canada's Star Chambers with names like human rights commissions and human rights tribunals that fine pastors for teaching their faith. Hence the drive to push faithful Catholics and Catholic health and social service organizations out of business unless they buckle to the state's definition of morality.

Hannan here points out how intense the hatred is on the part of Brussels bureaucrats and their euro-enthusiast supporters in governments throughout Europe, how much they loathe democratic processes, and as Greece and Italy have just shown, how ready they are to overthrow democratically elected politicians and replace them with unelected eurocrats, how completely the bureaucrats have subordinated the will of the people of every nation under their control to their own 'enlightened' wisdom. Hannan has made these points eloquently for years (check his Youtube clips.) What is sobering is how blindly and persistently both bureaucrats and politicians are pursuing a course that has proved ruinous and is opposed by electorates throughout the EU. And the main argument in favor of their policies is their contempt for their critics.

Mediocrity’s Tribute | First Things

The inimitable David Bentley Hart on the film Anonymous, which peddles the preposterous conspiracy theory that Shakespeare was really written by a minor and mediocre aristocrat, the Earl of Oxford. As Hart puts it, "It [the conspiracy theory] was born in 1920, in a book by a demented English Comtean whom Fate, with her unerring sense of poetic justice, had given the name J. Thomas Looney—a man whose ignorance was so profound it verged on a kind of genius." The interesting thing to me is how willing people are to believe any conspiracy theory, no matter how ludicrous and lacking in logic or evidence. Is it because it enables us to feel that we - unlike these other clods - are in the know and so smarter than everyone else?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Orthodox nuns, Mennonite singers

Beauty awakens the soul to act.
Dante Alighieri

Fr. Barron on the new translation of the Roman Missal

Lost in Translation

A trend in translation took off in the wake of Vatican II that, in retrospect, was as devastating in its way as the iconoclasm that included stripping the altars (even in Europe the destruction of beautiful, centuries-old high altars), liturgical desacralization, discouragement or abolition of almost every kind of distinctively Catholic devotion, ascetic practice, and celebration.

The aim - evident in the New American Bible (see the piece on Nabbish below), the Roman Missal, and the lectionary - was to strip these texts in their English translations of everything metaphorical, poetic, lyrical, beautiful, noble, and numinous, and replace it with the plain, unadorned, stripped down language of an instruction manual.

What were the perpetrators of this horror and hubris thinking?  Esolen here and in his other essays explains the theory as "dynamic equivalence," something that did unique damage to the English texts.  The new translation of the Missal, introduced this Sunday at the beginning of Advent, restores a faithfulness to the Latin texts that had never been lost from translations into other languages.

It is sobering to reflect on the sheer energy and determination over years that went into this destruction of the Church's patrimony - and on how deeply some of the worst aspects of 20th century modernism were absorbed like a virus into the Church, all in the name of opening the Church to the world.  The effect, of course, was not to build a bridge that millions would cross into the Church, but to make one that millions, stripped of their cultural and religious heritage, crossed in the opposite direction.

Don’t miss Esolen's outstanding articles in First Things: Nov 2011, Restoring the Wordsand June/July 2011, A Bumping Boxcar Language. My post for July 4, 2011, Nabbishing the Bible, summarizes and discusses the latter essay.

Lost in Translation
By Anthony Esolen
Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Now that we finally have the Novus Ordo translated into English, it’s time to look at the other mistranslations that plague us Anglophones in the Church. I’d like to begin with the lectionary.
Apologists for the cardboard-twinkie texts we gnash down every week argue for something called “dynamic equivalence,” by which is meant the translation of the general idea of an original text into something that conveys that idea in the receiving language. But the premises here are corrupt at the roots.
To see why, consider the Bauhaus modernist architecture of the twentieth century. Architects like Le Corbusier proclaimed that they were going to create “machines for living,” utterly rational – it was supposed – boxes designed for maximum efficiency for our daily needs. But who wants to live in a box? The hideous Pruitt-Igoe apartment complex in Saint Louis, inspired by modernist theories of urban renewal, quickly became a pool of social disintegration and crime. 
Human beings are embodied souls. They crave beauty. They like music. They invent poetry. The Italian housewife in the second story of a medieval stone house festoons her balcony with geraniums and eggplants. She keeps pictures of her nieces and nephews in a glass hutch with fancy knobs, next to a statue of Jesus of the Sacred Heart.
Such things are not “extra,” no more than food, for a human being, is simply fuel. Animals gobble; human beings celebrate meals. Our very aspirations to the sacred are expressed in earthy, bodily ways, and our humblest bodily needs, like eating and drinking, or caring for the sick, or taking our rest, are most humanly fulfilled when they point to what transcends the human – as when a child kneels down to pray for his sisters and brothers before he goes to sleep. 
This is true of our language also. When we speak, we do not simply convey information, as data might be fed into a computer. We express surprise, gratitude, humor, sadness, love. We revel in the physicality of our words. We bring whole scenes of life to mind. We combine and recombine images that we may never have combined before. 

              The Fruit Harvest by Natalia Goncharova (1909)   

So Jesus doesn’t say, “The kingdom of God has inauspicious beginnings,” but “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.”  He doesn’t say, “One should try to cultivate inattention to acts of charity,” but “Let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” It is not simply that his phrasing is better suited for simple people who need to see things to understand them. It is that both his thoughts and his words are essentially poetic, delving into the heart of things by a means inaccessible to the bald abstraction. 
We’re meant not just to compare the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed and then to toss the seed away once we have “understood” the motive behind the metaphor. We are indeed invited really to see the Kingdom of God in that seed, and that is why Christians came up with the charming and deeply human custom of enclosing a mustard seed in a brooch, for girls to wear, as testimony and remembrance.
The reason why we don’t always translate word-for-word is not, then, that the particularities of the words are unimportant, but that a mechanical substitution of words in one language for words in another may do violence to the words themselves, or may fail to convey the fullness of the human expression. So the good translator seeks to penetrate more deeply into the beauty and the richness of the words and the expressions in the original language. Poetry should be translated as poetry, prayer as prayer, oratory as oratory. 
It’s nonsense to suppose that some “common language” of the street corner exists, into which the common Greek of the New Testament should be translated:  nonsense, because in both contexts we are dealing with human beings, not data processors, and human beings, especially in the time of Jesus, speak one way when they are ordering their groceries, and another way when they are praying. 
They launch into flights of fancy; they rhyme, they alliterate, they build to a climax; they repeat themselves, they reverse direction; they shed light upon a vista of meanings as various as the flowers in a garden, then they shroud all in darkness. Thus it may be rightly said that the problem with a mechanically literal translation is that it is notliteral enough, that is fails to capture the fullness of meaning suggested by the fascinating bodiliness and spirituality of the speaking human person.
Here is an example. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a landowner who left tenants in charge of his farm. Then he sent servants to collect – what? The Greek reads tous karpous, literally, the fruits, what you pluck from the tree. By that simple word “fruit,” a vast field of Scriptural imagery is brought before our eyes. Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit.  Abel sacrificed to God the first fruits of his labor. Jesus tells us that a good tree is known by its good fruit. Saint Paul says that Christ is the first fruit of the resurrection. 
So what do the lectionary translators do? They build the Bauhaus. They forget the echoes. They muffle the poetry. They disdain the body. Therefore they disdain also the soul. The landowner sends his servants to gather “the produce.” 

And we lovers of Scripture cry out, like the martyred souls in Revelation, “When, O Lord, when?”

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest book is Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your ChildHe teaches at Providence College.

© 2011 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info@frinstitute.org

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.
Retrieved November 23, 2011 from http://www.thecatholicthing.org/?task=viewRestoring the Words

Friday, November 18, 2011

Good Intentions, Eurocatastrophe

Here the articulate eurosceptic MEP Daniel Hannan argues that good intentions, not any desire to dominate Europe by other means, motivated Germany's role in promoting European integration and giving so generously to other countries.  As with other charitable efforts, however (see my review of Lupton's Toxic Charity below), the result was to impoverish and maintain in a resented state of dependency those who were supposed to benefit from integration and centralization.

The contrary view, that the EU is a German plot, offers a further example of how conspiracy theories and attributions of malign intent get in the way of serious analysis, discussion, and debate.

As Hannan explains on his blog,

The most unattractive strain of Euroscepticism is the kind that sees the EU as some sort of German plot. You hear it all over Europe: from Frenchmen, from Dutchmen, from Danes, Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Greeks – even, occasionally, from Britons.
Quite apart from being terrifically rude, it couldn't be more mistaken. Far from bidding for mastery of the Continent, Germans suffer from a lack of patriotism that borders on self-abnegation. One of this blog's constant themes is that it is in everyone's interest for German national pride to be normalised.
Teuto-sceptics are having a field day with the speech which the CDU's parliamentary leader gave to his party conference. Volker Kauder demanded that Britain pay a share of the cost of bailing out the euro – specifically by accepting the financial transactions tax, 80 per cent of whose revenues would be drawn from the City of London. 'Just looking for… Read More
Retrieved November 18, 2011 from http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/author/danielhannan/

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why doctrine matters - to being a good person

Why Kant was wrong to drive a wedge between religious doctrine and ethics/practice/being a good person. Love - willing the good of the other as other - as participation in God's way of being. Rights, freedom, dignity and inherent worth of every person rest on the Christian doctrine of God as love - they did not exist in the classical world of antiquity nor in the atheist anti-Christian societies of the 20th century. (On the revolutionary nature of Christianity in this respect and its profound historical implications, see David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions.)

Fr. Barron talks about how our very notions of what being good entails for individuals and society are related to religious teachings that we hold or have absorbed culturally even if we are unaware of their religious foundations.  An interesting indicator of how our beliefs affect our behavior is found in the research on charitable giving.  A key behavioral difference between the earliest Christians and the pagans around them was the extent and selflessness of the Christians' caring for each other and their neighbors, even nursing them during plagues as well as feeding the hungry and other works of mercy (Stark, Rise of Christianity; Triumph of Christianity).  This difference persists today, where all the research (Brooks) shows that by every measure religious believers are more charitable, in terms of giving their time, treasure, and talent not only to religiously sponsored but also secular charities.  (As Lupton shows - see my review below - not all this effort is wisely deployed, but that is another matter.)

Of particular relevance to the question of whether what you believe matters, is the finding that even among church attendees, those who believe that it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are a good person are in practice less generous with their time, treasure, and talent than those who believe doctrine matters (Brooks).

Culture of Death Update: Dutch Doctors Draw Line in the Sand

Michael Cook | Thursday, 17 November 2011
At long last, Dutch doctors draw a line in the sand

Euthanasia is OK, but circumcising male babies is a bridge too far.

There seems to be no end to the creative energy of the right-to-die movement in the Netherlands. The latest innovation is a proposal for a euthanasia flying squad. The lobby group Right To Die wants mobile vans to buzz around the streets so that patients can die at home, not in hospital.
At the moment this is no more than a proposal, but proposals have a way of becoming policy in the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia.

Unlike most other countries, where euthanasia is still taboo, in the Netherlands doctors are constantly expanding the circle of eligibility for a lethal injection. Arecent position paper from the Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) reminded its members that they are obliged to take seriously all requests for euthanasia, even if patients are demented, mentally ill, suicidal, or merely tired of living.

Perhaps in response to this encouragement, registered euthanasia deaths rose by 12 percent in 2010 to 3,136 -- and this figure does not include the numerous deaths for which harried doctors did not do the paperwork or deaths by terminal sedation -- slow euthanasia by withdrawing food and water from heavily sedated patients.

It is commonly thought that euthanasia is just for the elderly. Not so. If Dutch babies are seriously ill doctors are permitted to euthanase them. This has even been codified in an agreement between paediatricians and the government called the Groningen Protocol. Since the baby cannot consent to his own death, his parents are allowed to consent for him. Involuntary euthanasia is regarded as a caring response to severe disabilities.

Dutch doctors have been accused of abandoning all ethics. The falsity of this was displayed earlier this month in another position paper. There is a line beyond which no Dutch doctor is supposed to go, a medical procedure so barbarous and morally repugnant that the KNMG has condemned it as completely unethical. This is the ancient practice of circumcising male babies.

The KNMG takes a highly principled stand. It says that “minors may only be exposed to medical treatments if illness or abnormalities are present, or if it can be convincingly demonstrated that the medical intervention is in the interest of the child, as in the case of vaccinations. Non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors conflicts with the child’s right to autonomy and physical integrity.”

The KNMG says that there is even a good case for outlawing circumcision despite its “deep religious, symbolic and cultural feelings”, but that a ban would drive the practice underground and might do more harm than good. About 15,000 boys are circumcised in the Netherlands every year. Most of them are Muslims and Jews.

A KNMG medical ethicist, Gert van Dijk, explains: “We feel circumcision is a medically unnecessary form of surgery. The patient has to give consent, but children can't give consent and we feel that is wrong and a violation of the child's rights. In our code of medical ethics, it states that you must not do harm to the patient, but with this procedure this is exactly what you're doing."
Does anyone else detect something dark, dangerous and loopy about these explanations?
Male circumcision is the world’s most common surgical procedure. There is a low incidence of gruesome complications -- but death is not one of them. How can it be unethical to circumcise babies but ethical to kill them? How can parents offer surrogate consent to euthanase their children but not to circumcise them? Aren’t Dutch medical ethicists straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel?

The inconsistency of this position is a demonstration of the deadly absurdities that doctors fall into once their ethics are no longer anchored in the preservation of life as a sacred trust. If life is no longer the ultimate value, what is? In the Netherlands, the answer is “choice” or “whatever I want”. But it is becoming increasingly apparent that ultimately it is not what the patient wants which is sacred, but what his doctors and carers want.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. 

Retrieved November 17, 2011 from http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/at_long_last_dutch_doctors_draw_a_line_in_the_sand

The Dying Bear: Russia's Demographic Decline

As fertility rates fall far below replacement level throughout the developed world (except the U.S.) and in many less developed countries, world population continues to grow.  Why?  Clearly not because women are having more babies than 50 or 100 years ago, they are having fewer.  But people are living longer, so that there are fewer deaths than births - for now - creating major imbalances between the old and the young who support them.  The demographic imbalance also takes the form of a declining ratio of females to males, due to sex-selective abortion and infanticide.  Both kinds of imbalance will result in a dramatic decline in the number of young women in the main childbearing years of the 20s.  The result will be, not only a declining population in absolute terms but also a declining proportion of working-age men and women to support those in their later years.

But Russia is an exception.  Its population has already entered a long-term decline that will be very hard to stop or reverse without 'heroic' and improbable increases in fertility rates in coming decades.  Why?  Because Russia, like most countries, is not only going through a sharp decline in fertility but unlike others, it is not experiencing declining mortality rates.  Quite the reverse. Life expectancy, especially for males, is shockingly low even by the standards of the poorest countries in the world ravaged by disease, famine, and war.  It has been a 'net mortality' society for almost 20 years already, with no sign that this trend will be reversed any time soon, even with net immigration.

In what follows, Marcus Roberts summarizes, for the Demography unit of the excellent MercatorNet website, the recent analysis by leading demographer Nicholas Eberstadt in Foreign Affairs magazine (subscription required, hence the summary).

Eberstadt on Russia’s Demographic Decline
Marcus Roberts | 18 Nov 2011 | comment

Over the course of 2011, this blog has from time to time drawn attention to the demographic malaise affecting Russia.  Shannon blogged back in April on the lack of men in that country and how alcohol addiction has played a large part in that problem.  Indeed, the decline in Russian population since the fall of the Iron Curtain has been simply remarkable and unprecedented – it was not without reason that the first international demographic summit was held in Moscow in June this year.  The Russian political leaders have tried to reverse their declining population, including turning to the Virgin Mary for help.

Now, in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, a world renowned demographer, Nicholas Eberstadt, has published a very informative article about Russia, entitled “The Dying Bear” (as you can imagine from the title, he does not envisage a very rosy future for Russia…) Unfortunately, the article is not available free online, so I can only link you to the opening few paragraphs and urge you to try and get hold of the article from somewhere.  In essence, Eberstadt argues that Russia is in trouble demographically due to its very high mortality rates. 

The trouble is that Russia is a “net mortality society” – since 1992, about 12.5 million more Russians have been buried than have been born.  Thus, since 1992 Russia’s population has fallen every year (except 1993 and 2010) and this decline has only been softened by immigration, mainly from former Soviet states.  Although Russia is not alone in the World in suffering population decline (Eberstadt points to Germany, Italy and Japan as countries that are about to enter into or are already in sustained population decline) the difference for Russia is that its health conditions are deteriorating, adding to already high death rates. 

According to the Human Mortality Database, a research consortium, overall life expectancy at birth in Russia was slightly lower in 2009 than it was in Russia in 1961!  More shockingly, in 2009:

“…overall life expectancy at age 15 was estimated to be lower in Russia than in Bangladesh, East Timor, Eritrea, Madagascar, Niger and Yemen; even worse, Russia’s adult male life expectancy was estimated to be lower than Sudan’s, Rwanda’s, and even AIDS-ravaged Botswana’s.”

What is the cause of this terrible situation?  Apparently, it is due to:

“…an explosion in deaths from cardio-vascular disease and what epidemiologists call ‘external causes’, such as poisoning, injury, suicide, homicide, traffic fatalities, and other violent accidents.”
Why Russia’s health is quite so bad though and why death rates are quite so high in an urbanized and literate, peacetime society is anyone’s guess.  “The brute fact is that no one understands why Russians are as unhealthy as they are.” 

The Kremlin is not unaware of these facts and is trying to reverse this trend by introducing new public policies, including subsidies for mothers who have a second or third child.  Although these measures seem to have had some effect – birth rates have recently risen while death rates have decreased – there are some unavoidable features of Russia’s demographic future that will have to be overcome.  The first is that the recent birth slump has meant that there will be fewer potential mothers in the next few years:

“Women between 20 and 29 years of age bear nearly two-thirds of Russia’s babies.  In 2025, Russia is projected to have just 6.4 million women in their 20s, 45 percent fewer than today…[u]nder such circumstance, simply maintaining current national birth totals would require heroic upsurges in maternity.”

Added to this, Russia is getting older. By 2025, the proportion of the Russian population aged 65 years and older will have grown from 13 percent to almost 19 percent.  Thus, “[a]s a result of ageing alone, per capita mortality in Russia would rise by more than 20 per cent if nothing else changed.”

Taking all of this into account, “Russia is likely to remain a net mortality society for the foreseeable future”.  Russia’s federal statistics agency, Rosstat, envisions a cumulative total of deaths over births of between 4.7 and 9.5 million between 2011 and 2030.  The only way to forestall further depopulation is through massive immigration from abroad.  However, even this answer is not as complete as it once was.  Changes to education policies in former Soviet Union states means that immigrants from these countries are speaking less Russian than their parents did while Russian attitudes to immigrants has also grown less welcoming. 
This is an excellent analysis by Eberstadt, but the one glaring omission in his piece is Russia’s obscenely high abortion rate.  Over a million abortions a year is surely a massive factor in Russia’s demographic decline!  Reducing this number would be one way to reduce the surfeit of deaths over births in Russia in the coming years.

Eberstadt argues that these demographic figures aren’t just intellectually interesting.  They will have a large impact in the military-political sphere, where Russia will have to face future problems with a population base that is declining.  This means fewer people to join the army – between 2008 and 2017, the pool of prospective recruits into the conscript army is set to fall by almost 40%! Added to this, Russia’s higher education and technical training is also in disarray – Russia is “a society characterized by high levels of schooling but low levels of health, knowledge and education”.  This means that “Russia’s conventional military is on track to become the Polish cavalry of coming generations”.  However, as Eberstadt points out, Russia also has a very large non-conventional arsenal, and in a neighbourhood which includes North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics, will a worried Kremlin be more ready to reach for the threat of nuclear weapons?  All this means that “a healthy, robust Russia is not just in the interest of the Russian people; it is in the interest of the rest of the World, too”.  Let us hope that the Russian leaders and the Russian people can somehow reverse the current trend.  For everyone’s sake.

Retrieved November 17, 2011 from http://www.mercatornet.com/demography/view/9963

Class Divisions at OWS - Daily Show version

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Commodities with voices - Sperm donor children grow up

Good intentions, toxic charity

Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It)
Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It)
by Robert D. Lupton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.84
Availability: In Stock
41 used & new from $13.04

5.0 out of 5 stars Good intentions, toxic resultsNovember 16, 2011
This review is from: Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) 
Its title notwithstanding, this book is not a case for stinginess. Its author has four decades' experience of faith-based charitable work to his credit and draws on this experience as well as a host of anecdotes and research (which, however, he does not cite - the book is one of advocacy, not scholarship). His is also not an argument against voluntary or faith-based giving in favor of public welfare or rights-based claims on the state. Rather, with multiple and compelling examples, from weeklong `missions' of church youth groups to poor countries through inner-city charitable initiatives to the enormous Kroc grant to the Salvation Army, Lupton argues that this work needs to be rethought and reoriented. 

As Brooks (Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism) has shown, giving by religious Americans, both to church-based charities and secular agencies like the Red Cross, is extraordinarily generous by any measure, in time, treasure, and talent, compared with that of secular Americans and citizens of other affluent countries. Lupton does not disparage these efforts or their (mostly) good intentions, but argues that most of this activity does more harm than good. Given the author's own commitment and credentials in the field, anyone engaged in this work will want to pay attention to his critique.

In some ways, Lupton echoes those 19th-century critics of "sentimental charity," who sought to replace random handouts with organized charity based on a relationship between giver and recipient that offered "not alms, but a friend" (the motto of the Charity organization Societies). Those charity reform efforts, which gave rise to the profession of social work, are widely disparaged today, not least by professional social workers. But the problem of how to help those who need help, whether through government programs or private charity, in ways that do not shame, demoralize, sap initiative, and create dependency remains, as Lupton shows, as big a challenge today as ever.

Lupton's approach, that of asset-based community development, aims to empower and partner with those helped, recognizing and engaging their capacity to contribute to their community with their own resources, knowledge, and wisdom. Instead of flying in with a team of eager young missioners to build a well for a poor village whose women have to carry water long distances on their heads - and coming back every year to fix `their' well - Lupton argues for an approach that facilitates engaging the skills and energy of the local people to fund, build, and manage their own well. 

It is not a matter of being stingy rather than generous, but of helping in ways that truly help, without the enervating, dependency-creating disempowerment of much current charity in practice. Lupton's argument is not against charity as such, but for charity in its true sense of willing the good of the other. This implies, Lupton shows, a consistent focus on results rather than intentions, on the good of those helped rather than the supposed benefits to the giver (e.g., the 'life-changing experience' of young participants in expensive mission junkets or the warm feelings of congregations that want to help.) The virtue of charity in this view cannot stand alone. It requires the exercise of other virtues like justice and prudence, and full engagement of the head as well as the heart. 

Paul Adams

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Love and nationality

Australian-born Crown Princess Mary, and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark - and twins.
There can be few extended families today where someone has not married a spouse of a different nationality. In a globalised world, where people go abroad to study, find work, take holidays or to settle, international marriages are increasingly common and are drawing countries closer together. There may be as many as 15 million marriages between people of different nationalities among 25 to 39-year-olds -- the majority of them in the richer countries.

The Economist at the weekend ran an interesting feature article on the phenomenon, which some demographers have been beavering away at to discover its scale and precise features. The paper begins with some examples from the political class:
To confine examples to politicians only: the French president Nicolas Sarkozy is married to the Italian-born Carla Bruni and his prime minister François Fillon has a Welsh wife, Penelope Clarke. Nelson Mandela is married to Graça Machel (from Mozambique). Denmark’s new prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is married to a Briton, Stephen Kinnock. And two leading ladies of Asian countries, Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar and India’s Sonia Gandhi, are both widows from international marriages. In rich countries alone such unions number at least 10m.
And let’s not forget royalty -- like Princess Mary of Denmark, the Australian girl who married Crown Prince Frederik.

There are difficulties in tracking this trend. Some countries don’t keep good statistics, and there are problems of definition -- such as the marriage of two foreigners in a third country. However, some answers are coming.
Economist graphDistorted marriage markets tend to drive the trend in Asia: Taiwan and South Korea are leaders, but Japan has also seen a steep trend. This is partly due to women in those countries not marrying and the men looking elsewhere. In Europe, gaps in labour markets tend to drive migration and then marriage. In Europe, too, cross-border marriages are more common between people with the same language (German-speaking Swiss will marry Germans, French-speaking Belgians will marry French).
Language remains a persistent barrier to international marriage in Europe and the spread of English as a second language does not seem to have changed that.

The scope for victimisation and trafficking of women, especially in Asia where older men from richer countries take young and poor brides from countries such as Vietnam and China, is an important issue. And yet, this is not the dominant pattern, The Economist reports:
Though the gap in background, age and education between spouses in international marriages is greater than in those between compatriots, it does not seem to affect these unions’ durability. Doo-Sub Kim plotted the time that cross-border marriages have lasted in South Korea against the couples’ ages and educational backgrounds. Amazingly, the bigger the difference, the longer the marriage. It is hard to know why this should be. Maybe those who marry foreigners invest more in their marriages. Or maybe younger, poorer wives find it harder to leave.

Trade links often make a foreign bride invaluable. And it’s not always poor girls who marry rich foreigners:
Not all international marriages in Asia are those of poor brides in rich lands. In a “reverse migration” Japanese women from rich Tokyo have married into poor peasant families in South-East Asia—especially in Bali and Thailand—and settled down to live a more “authentic” rural life, perhaps as a way of escaping the strictness of Japanese family life. That same impulse may well be behind the surprising growth in the numbers of Japanese women married to Africans in Japan (probably as many as 3,300 in all). As one wife told Djamila Schans of Maastricht University, “I had doubts marrying a foreigner but he waited for me at the station every day. Sometimes even with flowers! A Japanese man would never do such a thing.”

Governments are wary of rapid increases in such marriages, but they seem, by and large, for good:
Marriage remains, for the most part, an institution that promotes economic improvement and personal happiness. It also tends to boost social assimilation—the main exception being when a second-generation immigrant weds a girl from a village his parents had left long before. Over the next few years, international marriage is likely to continue its quiet upward crawl. Governments should protect its victims—but not prevent the process.

There is no word in this report about cohabiting couples. Probably the picture is complicated enough already. And, anyway, such unions are much more likely to break up than marriages are. In which case they might help to mix populations up more but they would hardly strengthen international bonds in the way that lasting marriages could.

Graph: The Economist

Retrieved November 15, 2011 from http://www.mercatornet.com/family_edge/view/9953

Monday, November 14, 2011

Manliness - a reviving art

A positive alternative to the child-man described so well by Kay Hymowitz and depicted in the media by the likes of Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell.  It seems that many younger women who come across this site do what this author did - send the link or a sub to all their male relatives.  Between the 'sensitive man,' forever (and despite his best efforts) associated with Alan Alda, and the child-man who is self-absorbed, irresponsible and crude (Sandler, Ferrell, and in a less offensive way, the characters of Seinfeld), we seem to have lost something.

Manliness - a reviving art
About a year ago I was picking up an older family member from the airport. As she made her way to the car with her large suitcase in tow, I jumped out of the driver’s seat with the intention of heaving her suitcase into the trunk. I’m no weakling in that sense and take a certain pride in being able to lift my own heavy loads, but I stood by flabbergasted when a twenty-something guy walked over and without a word picked up her suitcase and deposited it into the trunk. He then opened the passenger side door for her. I’m sure my mouth was agape.

That occurrence got me thinking… There is a problem that manliness of this sort shocked me.
These days, chivalry is not a commonly found virtue among men. And it’s a shame. To me, and to every one of my girlfriends who I’ve discussed this with, a guy is so much more attractive when there is a true sense of manliness and chivalry about him.

I had forgotten all about that event until I accidentally stumbled across The Art of Manliness – a website dedicated to reviving the lost art of manliness. When I first landed on the page I flipped through with cautiousness, expecting to suddenly be bombarded by male dominance articles. But this site is the exact opposite!

The site is run by a husband/wife team and some male freelancers. According to the about section, “My idea for the Art of Manliness came about as I was standing in Borders bookstore looking at the men’s magazines. It seemed to me that the content in these magazines were continually going downhill, with more and more articles about sex and how to get six pack abs. Was this all there was to being a man?” Isn’t that great?

Oh and it gets better… “And as I looked around at the men my age, it seemed to me that many were shirking responsibility and refusing to grow up. They had lost the confidence, focus, skills, and virtues that men of the past had embodied and were a little lost. The feminism movement did some great things, but it also made men confused about their role and no longer proud of the virtues of manliness. This, coupled with the fact that many men were raised without the influence of a good father, has left a generation adrift as to what it means to be an honorable, well-rounded man.”

I read that and immediately began posting the link to this site to every Facebook page of the guys I knew. My brothers, friends, cousins… they all needed this positive reinforcement. And with more than 115,000 subscribers apparently they are not alone.

Retrieved November 14, 2011 from http://www.mercatornet.com/tiger_print/view/9949

Friday, November 11, 2011

Good Intentions - Paving the Road to Hell, Pt.2

Paul Adams
Good Intentions
There are two aspects of this subject.  The first is the tendency of those variously described as having an unconstrained vision of reality (Sowell), as unscrupulous optimists (Scruton), or socialists-from-above (Draper), to think their own good intentions cover a multitude of sins and to discount the human costs of achieving their goals. I discussed this aspect yesterday in Part 1 of this consideration of intentions.

The second is about how the attribution of good intentions only to your party or side and of evil intent to your opponents is an expression of intellectual laziness. It is said that when a conservative disagrees with you, say about social policy, poverty, government, or economic policy, he concludes that you are wrong.  When a liberal disagrees with you, he concludes that you are intellectually or morally defective.

Now I have no statistical evidence of that, though it does conform to my impressions of the liberal-academic and social work worlds in which I have spent most of my life.  I do not listen to conservative rant radio, but I am struck by how the much more reputable New York Times will print what can only be described as liberal rants, full of personal venom, sneering, and scorn, on its op-ed pages (Dowd is perhaps the worst but certainly not the only perpetrator), whereas the more conservative commentators (Brooks, Douthat) there are thoughtful and make reasoned arguments (usually followed by hundreds of contemptuous posts from readers in their comboxes). 

In any case, my point is not to determine who is most prone to this kind of intellectual laziness and degradation of public discourse, but to identify the problem and its consequences for social policy debate.

Take the case of the Catholic, and now more general, concept of social justice.  The liberal, secular political scientist, Brian Barry, wrote a substantial book on Why Social Justice Matters that simply assumes that social justice means the social-democratic welfare state.  Anyone who opposes that approach to poverty, inequality or other social problems, is simply an enemy of social justice.

Michael Novak, by contrast, has argued carefully and at length for a different conception of social justice, one similar to that of the Center for Social Justice in the U.K.  It is not a statist conception – it emphasizes the importance of the caring and helping energy and institutions that mediate between individual and state, that is the “mediating structures” (Berger & Neuhaus) and civil society.  It emphasizes the need to empower individuals and families, rather than to substitute state provision (see Gilbert, Transformation of the Welfare State).  The U.K.’s Centre for Social Justice seeks to address the same problems of poverty as concern Barry, but it “highlights the work of profoundly differing and unique small voluntary organisations and charities”  and takes the view that “The war on poverty can be won if government gets off the back of the armies of compassion and helps them to succeed.”  In line with the principle of subsidiarity in Catholic social teaching, this approach emphasizes the need to find solutions as close as possible to the people involved.

Debate between these viewpoints is simply pre-empted by making the assumption that your opponents do not support justice at all.  If they did, they would agree with you.  If you want to relieve poverty, you must support expanded government programs. A preference for the poor, which the Catholic Church calls for, is taken to mean a preference for government programs. Can we just assume that those who oppose or criticize liberal nostrums in social policy are ipso facto against social justice or the poor?  But who supports injustice?  Or poverty?

The intellectual laziness in this move is evident.  It saves you the trouble of engaging your opponents and it has the advantage of portraying them as morally defective and heartless.  It is how social policy is taught, in my experience, in schools of social work.

The Occupy Wall Street movement highlights this tendency, in that it has no coherent analysis of the object of its anger and no trace that I have found even of a coherent demand.   It appeals to hatred of “fat cats,” bankers, and not so subliminally, Jews.  That bankers have caused the economic crisis by their greed and predatory lending is simply assumed.  This despite the more than 30 books and numerous studies since 2008 that have “established the flow of events, activities, policies, behavior and characters that led to the debacle” (Kramer, 2011).  They tell a different story. As financial columnist Gerald Kramer puts it,

The irrefutable conclusion from these resources: while banks facilitated the bubble with mortgage proliferation, they would not and could not have flooded the market with the $7.8 trillion in subprime loans outstanding in 2008 without the overt incentives of government guaranteed agencies….
I have not read the 30 books and do not want to adjudicate between the different analyses, except to say that the OWS assumption rests on no serious analysis at all.  It substitutes emoting for reason and evidence, while assuming the evil intentions or motivations of those it holds responsible (its scapegoats). 

The other point, easily missed by conservative critics too, is that discussion of the issues in the public square is more likely to be productive if it begins from the assumption of good intentions on the part of those who are blamed or with whom you disagree.  That is, government policies under Clinton and Bush may have led to a sudden climb in U.S. home ownership from 65% (holding steady for 30 years) to 69% in 2007 – much of that increase accounted for by subprime loans to people no bank (without government guarantees) would ever consider for a loan, let alone a large mortgage with no downpayment.  But the bubble, we should assume at the beginning of a serious discussion, did not result from greedy bankers or power-hungry government agencies and bureaucrats, but from a well-meaning effort to expand home ownership to more Americans.

Much the same seems to be under way with the next big bubble, that of higher education loans.  Higher education becomes more expensive by the day, and with less prospect of offering much education to most of its “consumers.”  Yet the loans to pay for it are given in vast quantities to people who either have no prospect of ever repaying them or at best will be burdened for life with enormous debt. Again, the impending bubble results not from evil intent on the part of lenders or government, but from the well-meaning effort to expand access to higher education.

To raise these questions is the responsibility of anyone seriously engaged with such policy issues.  It does no good to say they are simply the expression of nasty rightwingers who are against home ownership or education.

Policy makers may or may not have good intentions in any particular case.  But the assumption that they do not – or that they do and that is enough – is usually a lazy substitute for analysis and an obstacle to serious public discussion and debate.

The first wisdom in social policy is that policies are prone to unintended (and too often unforeseen) consequences.  The worst consequences often flow not from the worst, but the best intentions.  In policy it is often the broad road to hell. At the same time, the assumption of bad intentions blocks policy analysis and debate in the first place.

Obama's attack on conscience

Carolyn Moynihan | Friday, 11 November 2011
Contraceptives mandate would make cowards of us all
A White House edict tells us to ignore our conscience when we go to work. Bernie Madoff should ask for a retrial.
If there is one thing that disaffection with “Wall Street” has achieved it is the ramping up of moral discourse. Not since the Great Depression, probably, have we heard so much about greed, corruption and injustice. But if you want people to be temperate, honest and just, they have to have two things: firm principles and a functioning conscience. How surprising, then, that the New York Times thinks we need neither.
In an editorial last weekend the Times argued that private insurers and employers who object to contraception as a matter of moral principle should be forced to provide coverage for it in their employees health insurance plans. Their conscientious objection to a White House edict mandating such coverage should be dismissed; it simply doesn’t rate on an ethical scale with birth control at the top and sexual morality at the bottom.

The Obama “contraceptives mandate” is due to take effect next year. All new plans will have to provide full cover for all FDA-approved birth control, surgical sterilisation and counselling for such services. A number of states have similar mandates but, according to Catholic authorities, the federal move is more radical than any of them.

An exemption for “religious employers” is so narrow it is laughable. It is available only for those that have teaching religious values as their purpose and primarily employ and serve people who share their religious tenets. The Catholic bishops have pointed out that, under this definition, “even the ministry of Jesus and the early Christian Church would not qualify as ‘religious’ because they did not confine their ministry to co-religionists or engage only in a preaching ministry.” The Good Samaritan would not be exempt. The federal move is “an unprecedented attack on religious liberty” say the bishops.

Last week representatives of Catholic institutions testified before a House subcommittee about the disproportionate impact which the contraceptives mandate would have on them. They would be forced, said the CEO of the Alliance of Catholic Healthcare, which represents 54 hospitals and 40 other care facilities in California, to choose between violating their consciences or no longer providing or paying for healthcare and other services -- leading to reduced care, especially for some of the weakest in society.

Too bad, says the Times, in effect. Perhaps the paper thinks the Church is bluffing about closing down services, although conflict with same-sex adoption laws saw the Boston Archdiocese give up its adoption work in 2006 and the same may happen in Illinois. Perhaps the editorialiser doesn’t care. Clearly, they think the moral predicament of millions of Catholics responsible for, working in or even using these services a matter of no importance compared to “access” to birth control. Their consciences are offended? Tough, says the Times. Let them hang their moral scruples on the coat-stand before they reach the office -- just as Bernie Madoff and Rupert Murdoch did when they went to work in the morning.

Is that a fair comparison? After all, Madoff and Murdoch offended against widely accepted ethical norms: thou shalt not deceive and defraud investors; thou shalt not condone, let alone encourage, invasions of privacy. And the harm they wrought was very real.

But the Catholic Church and its ban on contraception? Why, most of its own members appear not to understand it, let alone take it as a practical guide. Someone representing Catholics for Choice claimed at the hearings last week that “98 per cent of sexually active Catholic women had used a form of contraception banned by the Vatican”, as the Times editorial solemnly noted. The fact that Catholics for Choice is a stooge for the Ford Foundation, Planned Parenthood and other population control freaks makes the statistic rather suspect, of course, but widespread dissent from, or at least ignorance of the church’s teaching is an undeniable fact.

And yet, that does not make the Catholic authorities’ case against the Obama mandate one whit less valid. The bishops remain bound in conscience to uphold the Church’s teaching, make sure Catholics know it, and see that it is given practical effect in every enterprise under their jurisdiction. And all Catholics are bound by the teaching too, even if 100 per cent of them don’t acknowledge it.

As a matter of fact, many do accept the teaching and live by it. Up until now it has been respected as an ethical norm -- of long standing -- of a significant community within American society. What has also been respected up until now is that not only Catholics but all Americans ought to be free to follow their conscience in such matters. Women who want contraception coverage in their plans can choose the appropriate employer; those who run the institutions ought to be able to offer plan consistent with their moral principles.

Now, those affected by the contraceptives mandate face coercion -- basically, a choice between their conscience and their job. It does not matter that the number of those who actually experience this dilemma may be relatively few; it is the principle that is dangerous, the idea that one’s conscience can be parked in the lobby when we leave our homes and churches to participate in public life. That you can ignore it and no harm will come.

The Obama administration and the New York Times, along with the Ford Foundation, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, may think the landmark 1968 encyclical on birth control, Humanae Vitae, is poppycock, but they cannot afford to think that conscience is poppycock. If they do, on what grounds could they disapprove of Madoff, or Murdoch or any fraudster or hacker -- any kind of criminal at all?

The whole justice system, the whole of society, rests on the assumption that people can know right from wrong and choose between them. To relativise conscience in the way that the Times does is to take a very dangerous path. The world’s current financial troubles and scandals have made it very clear that we need to take more notice of conscience, not less; that consciences need to be formed by consistent moral principles and kept alert to their demands.
If that is not the case, what on earth is Bernie Madoff doing in prison?
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.

Retrieved November 11, 2011 from http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/contraceptives_mandate_would_make_cowards_of_us_all