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The Disease of Being Busy

I saw a dear friend a few days ago. I stopped by to ask her how she was doing, how her family was. She looked up, voice lowered, and just whimpered: “I’m so busy… I am so busy… have so much going on.”

Almost immediately after, I ran into another friend and asked him how he was. Again, same tone, same response: “I’m just so busy… got so much to do.”

The tone was exacerbated, tired, even overwhelmed.

And it’s not just adults. When we moved to North Carolina about ten years ago, we were thrilled to be moving to a city with a great school system. We found a diverse neighborhood, filled with families. Everything felt good, felt right.

After we settled in, we went to one of the friendly neighbors, asking if their daughter and our daughter could get together and play. The mother, a really lovely person, reached for her phone and pulled out the calendar function. She scrolled… and scrolled… and scrolled. She finally said: “She has a 45-minute opening two and half weeks from now. The rest of the time it’s gymnastics, piano, and voice lessons. She’s just…. so busy.”

Horribly destructive habits start early, really early.

How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?

Whatever happened to a world in which kids get muddy, get dirty, get messy, and heavens, get bored? Do we have to love our children so much that we overschedule them, making them stressed and busy — just like us?

What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill?

How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just… be?

Somewhere we read, “The unexamined life is not worth living… for a human.” How are we supposed to live, to examine, to be, to become, to be fully human when we are so busy?

This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

Since the 1950s, we have had so many new technological innovations that we thought (or were promised) would make our lives easier, faster, simpler. Yet, we have no more “free” or leisurely time today than we did decades ago.

For some of us, the “privileged” ones, the lines between work and home have become blurred. We are on our devices. All. The. Freaking. Time.

Smart phones and laptops mean that there is no division between the office and home. When the kids are in bed, we are back online.

One of my own daily struggles is the avalanche of email. I often refer to it as my jihad against email. I am constantly buried under hundreds and hundreds of emails, and I have absolutely no idea how to make it stop. I’ve tried different techniques: only responding in the evenings, not responding over weekends, asking people to schedule more face-to-face time. They keep on coming, in volumes that are unfathomable: personal emails, business emails, hybrid emails. And people expect a response — right now. I, too, it turns out… am so busy.

The reality looks very different for others. For many, working two jobs in low-paying sectors is the only way to keep the family afloat. Twenty percent of our children are living in poverty, and too many of our parents are working minimum wage jobs just to put a roof over their head and something resembling food on the table. We are so busy.

The old models, including that of a nuclear family with one parent working outside the home (if it ever existed), have passed away for most of us. We now have a majority of families being single families, or where both parents are working outside the home. It is not working.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik?or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?

What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.

I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.

Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.

Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch.

I teach at a university where many students pride themselves on the “study hard, party hard” lifestyle. This might be a reflection of many of our lifestyles and our busy-ness — that even our means of relaxation is itself a reflection of that same world of overstimulation. Our relaxation often takes the form of action-filled (yet mindless) films, or violent and fast-paced sports.

I don’t have any magical solutions. All I know is that we are losing the ability to live a truly human life.

We need a different relationship to work, to technology. We know what we want: a meaningful life, a sense of community, a balanced existence. It’s not just about “leaning in” or faster iPhones. We want to be truly human.

W. B. Yeats once wrote:

“It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.”

How exactly are we supposed to examine the dark corners of our soul when we are so busy? How are we supposed to live the examined life?

I am always a prisoner of hope, but I wonder if we are willing to have the structural conversation necessary about how to do that, how to live like that. Somehow we need a different model of organizing our lives, our societies, our families, our communities.

I want my kids to be dirty, messy, even bored — learning to become human. I want us to have a kind of existence where we can pause, look each other in the eye, touch one another, and inquire together: Here is how my heart is doing? I am taking the time to reflect on my own existence; I am in touch enough with my own heart and soul to know how I fare, and I know how to express the state of my heart.

How is the state of your heart today?

Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, “I am just so busy,” we can follow up by saying, “I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.”

By Omid Safi, published in On Being, and can be seen here.

 

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Distributism and Capitalism: Some contrasting features

This article is part of my posts on the economic system of distributism.  This is from practicaldistributism.blogspot.com which you can find here:

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G. K. Chesterton’s younger brother, Cecil, gave what is probably the most succinct definition of distributism, or rather of a distributist in an article he wrote in 1917.

A Distributist is a man who desires that the means of production should, generally speaking, remain private property, but that their ownership should be so distributed that the determining mass of families – ideally every family – should have an efficient share therein. That is Distributism, and nothing else is Distributism. … Distributism is quite as possible in an industrial or commercial as in an agrarian community. …[1]

This is an excellent definition of the formal economic arrangements of distributism, and moreover it points out the fact that distributism does not require that everyone become a farmer and that it will not hinder the progress of technology, as our critics sometimes assert. But while this definition highlights the structural aspect of well- distributed property ownership, which is the heart of distributism, there is more to distributism than that. For if distributism were simply a rearrangement of who owns what, but to be carried on in the same spirit with which capitalism is carried on, then eventually it would lead to the same economic and social ills that capitalism has produced. Rather, distributism requires a very different approach to mankind’s economic activity, an approach that is focused on providing for our legitimate needs but not on inflaming our fallen appetites for more and more consumer goods.

Capitalism, as Pope Pius XI characterized it in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, #100, is the separation of ownership from work. In other words, in a capitalist economy some people own the means of production and hire others to work for them. Now, strictly speaking, as Pius XI points out, there need not be anything unjust about such an arrangement, provided that a just wage is paid and the other stipulations of justice are observed. But in actual practice capitalism has rarely if ever observed the demands of justice. And it is not hard to understand why. An owner of capital has at least three strong temptations to exploit the economic process by turning it away from service to the common good toward merely his own enrichment.

First, since he is not directly the producer of a product, not himself a maker, he tends not to be focused on quality products out of pride of workmanship, but rather on producing by means of his workforce something that will sell. Attention to quality is governed by considerations of expenses versus profits, and even by consideration of possible product liability costs versus profits. In the most extreme form of capitalism, the corporation, most shareholders, although legally owners of the firm, have absolutely nothing to do with what it makes or sells, and hence are interested merely in their dividends or in rising share prices. And in one step even further removed, mutual funds, owners often do not even know what companies their funds invest in, and such investments are often short-term and change rapidly. It is true that in some old-fashioned capitalist enterprises the owner is involved in the business and may have some pride of craftsmanship. But as long as the owner is actively involved in the business, then there is still a distributist element in the firm, however small.

Secondly, because he is chiefly and directly interested in sales, not production of a quality product, if something will sell, that is pretty much the only question he considers. By means of advertising capitalists engage in persuasion to convince people to buy their products. In cases of authentic need, people know they need something and will go to seek it. If they are hungry, they will buy food, if they want something to read, they will buy a book. But advertising attempts to convince people that they need things they had no previous idea they needed. It directly stimulates people’s acquisitive appetites, and thus helps create a society preoccupied with consumer goods.

The third temptation which capitalist enterprise puts before an owner is to withhold justice from his workers. Workers are always a negative item in a capitalist balance sheet, and hence a strong temptation to reduce labor costs by holding down wages, laying off workers, moving jobs overseas, or even replacing the workforce with robots, if that is possible. For a capitalist all these choices can seem entirely rational. And they are all rational according to the logic of capitalism. But they all miss the point with regard to the logic of man’s economic activity, which is not about making unlimited profits for those who happen to hold economic power. If all workers could be replaced by robots, the workers might legitimately ask, Hey what about us? How are we supposed to obtain what’s necessary for us and our families if we are replaced by robots? How are we even supposed to buy what you yourself produce in your factories? But the actual trajectory of capitalism has too often seen workers replaced by machines, laid off, or underpaid, so that they cannot procure what they and their families need.

With distributism, however, while certainly social and economic difficulties would exist, the pathologies fostered by capitalism would be eliminated or at least reduced. A small business owner generally takes pride in his work and his customer service, and sees his craft or trade as more than merely a means of moneymaking. He usually derives from his work more than merely an economic return, for, as John Paul II pointed out in his first social encyclical, Laborem Exercens, the “various actions belonging to the work process…must all serve to realize [the worker’s] humanity, to fulfill the calling to be a person that is his by reason of his very humanity” (#6).

In addition, a distributist economy would not be complete without guilds or occupational groups, whose purpose is to orient economic activity toward fulfilling human needs rather than toward selling products of dubious quality or usefulness. And lastly, the employer\employee divide would be largely done away with under distributism. Larger enterprises would be run as worker cooperatives, and so decisions about automation or new equipment which could potentially replace workers would be made with more than an eye on profits alone. Certainly technological development would continue, but we should note that technology can take more than one direction. When capitalists make the decisions and directly or indirectly determine what kinds of technological research is done, then new inventions will often be of the kind which increase profits by making workers unnecessary. But in a distributist society research will focus on other ways to reduce costs or increase efficiency without necessarily reducing the need for workers – who, after all, will now themselves be the owners.

Because of this altered focus of the economic system, and of the society as a whole, many things that are taken for granted in a capitalist system would hardly exist under distributism. A short time ago I pointed out here why this would be the case with unemployment, certainly one of the perennial scourges of capitalism. In the next part of this article I will take up the subject of business cycles, and show how in a distributist economy their presence and importance would be considerably lessened.

There are many supposed facts of economic life that any student of economics, or even any observer of political and economic news, is familiar with, matters such as unemployment, corporate mergers and acquisitions, labor relations, business cycles, and so on. I call these supposed facts, not because they do not exist, but because their existence is contingent upon man-made economic arrangements, such as laws and tax structures or even cultural norms. Contrary to the impression one takes from writings both of professional economists as well as from journalists, these things and events are not natural and necessary facts like the changing of the seasons or the daily rising of the sun. They need not exist, certainly at least not to the extent that they do in a capitalist economy. Let us take one of the items from the above list, business cycles, and consider it more carefully.

What are business cycles? “A business cycle is a swing in total national output, income, and employment, usually lasting for a period of 2 to 10 years, marked by widespread expansion or contraction in most sectors of the economy,” is how the economist Paul Samuelson defines business cycles in his macroeconomics textbook.[2] Although everyone living in a capitalist economy is familiar with such cycles, or their effects, one might wonder why, apart from the special and external factors I will note below, such cycles exist. Consumer demand for necessary and reasonable goods normally will not fluctuate much – demand for food, clothing, housing, books and the like. Nor will the size of the workforce, and hence of the economy’s ability to provide consumer goods, usually experience short-term major decreases or increases. Thus there is no reason to expect the two most important factors in moving an economy, demand and the ability to supply that demand, to change significantly in a short period of time. Of course, external factors, such as famines, natural disasters, wars, migrations, and so on can cause a sudden and large increase or decrease in either demand or the capacity to supply that demand. As such, a distributist economy will be as subject to such external dislocations as is a capitalist economy. They are simply an inescapable part of life on this earth. But there are other factors which are peculiar to capitalism which have caused probably the majority of business cycles, at least the majority of those which have occurred in recent decades.

Capitalism is fueled by an imperative of production for the sake of sales, regardless of consumers’ needs or of their spontaneous desires for the goods or services in question. As such, it always rests upon foundations which are liable to be shaken. Distributism, on the other hand, rests upon the solid foundation of human nature and its natural needs and reasonable desires. But capitalist demand, which is usually artificially stimulated by advertising, is necessarily fickle or fragile. The artificial desire for larger and larger houses or cars, for example, tends to drive up prices of those goods, and can lead to so-called bubbles in which prices rise exponentially. Eventually these bubbles will burst. Such extreme up and down movements of prices can cause numerous related economic dislocations, such as panics or depressions, which are simply instances of severe business cycles.

History is marked by bubbles in which speculative prices were driven up far beyond their intrinsic value…. Speculative bubbles always produce crashes and sometimes lead to economic panics.[3]

In addition, although criminal greed is a characteristic of postlapsarian mankind in general, it is capitalism that has institutionalized such greed, and even praised and rewarded it. So, for example, exploitative or risky financial practices by banks are not always illegal, and even when illegal, those engaging in such practices often go unpunished or lightly punished because of the overall climate of opinion in a capitalist society, which tends to take a benign view of economic misdeeds. In the Middle Ages in Europe usurers were popularly regarded as among the most heinous of sinners, and this popular judgment was based on the teachings of society’s intellectual elite, theologians, canon lawyers, philosophers and so on. The popular climate of opinion in contemporary America, on the other hand, reserves whatever moral animus it still has for other types of misdeeds, and too often among Christians believers it is only sins against the 6th or 9th commandments which are seen as really worthy of condemnation. All this is the result of the pervasive commercial mentality which affects most Americans.

The point of all this is that the natural end of mankind’s economic activity is to supply our necessary and reasonable need for external goods and services. This is why God has given us the capacity to engage in economic activity. Given the fallen state of mankind, however, it is usually necessary to erect laws and institutions to guide our conduct toward its intended end. This distributism seeks to do in the economic realm. Capitalism, on the other hand, not only has done away with the safeguards against economic misdeeds which the Catholic civilization of an earlier age set up, but suffers from an inherent tendency toward economic exploitation and dislocation. And the commercial cultural climate which capitalism has produced fails to understand that any other way of carrying on economic activity is possible or feasible. But this is not the case. Catholics, in particular, who have a developed critique of economic conduct available in the Church’s social teaching, have an especially grave responsibility to form their thinking according to this teaching. Capitalism is not inevitable. There are other real possibilities. It is chiefly a matter of our having the will to bring about the changes that are necessary in our economic activity. But it can be done.

Notes:
1: Shaw and My Neighbour’s Chimney,” The New Witness, May 3, 1917, p. 13.

2: Macroeconomics, 16th ed., 1998, p. 125.

3: Ibid., p. 177.

You can find the original publications here and here.

Why Unemployment is a Pseudoproblem

This article is part of my posts on the economic system of distributism.  This is from practicaldistributism.blogspot.com which you can find here:

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Unemployment a pseudoproblem? By calling it that, I do not mean that unemployment does not exist, or that it is not a very serious concern for the unemployed, their families and for society as a whole. What I mean and will argue here is that unemployment is not something natural to economic life, but is a problem created almost entirely by the capitalist arrangement of our economy, one that would largely disappear under a distributist economy, and that is taken for granted by the academic discipline of economics only because that discipline has long been captive to the ideology of capitalism.

The study of economics, especially in its neoclassical and Austrian forms, developed as a theoretical elaboration of capitalism and industrialism as they came to maturity in Europe in the 18th century and afterwards. Most often economic thought has not only assumed capitalism, but has been a mouthpiece for capitalism, in fact, a sophisticated attempt to provide a justification for the disparity in incomes and for the social dislocations that are such notable characteristics of the capitalist world. In face of this complex structure of thought, it can be helpful to return to the basics of human behavior upon which economic life is based in order to discover a different and more accurate way of conceptualizing mankind’s economic activity.

Let us first look at the three different types of economic unemployment as these are enumerated and acknowledged by economists.[1] First, and of little importance for our discussion, there is voluntary or otherwise short-term unemployment of people between jobs, between school and a job, and so on. This is sometimes referred to by economists as frictional unemployment. If the other two types of unemployment are eliminated or reduced, this type will be of little concern.

Then there is what economists call structural unemployment, which Paul Samuelson describes as

a mismatch between the supply of and the demand for workers. Mismatches can occur because the demand for one kind of labor is rising while the demand for another kind is falling, and supplies do not quickly adjust…. [For example], the demand for coal miners has been depressed for decades because of the lack of geographical mobility of labor and capital: unemployment rates in coal-mining communities remain high today.

Thirdly, there is cyclical unemployment, which Samuelson explains as occurring “when the overall demand for labor is low. As total spending and output fall, unemployment rises virtually everywhere.”[2]

These latter two types of unemployment require separate discussion. First let us look at the question of structural unemployment. It arises chiefly because of new technology or on account of some external cause, such as, in the case of coal miners, heightened concern about air pollution. The former cause, new technology, is the more common occurrence. In an economy dominated by capitalists, people who own the means of production, new technology presents an opportunity for higher profits achieved via lower costs. A new or improved device makes a certain number of workers unnecessary. Since labor is a cost item in a capitalist’s balance sheet, there is rarely any conflict in the capitalist’s mind about what to do: if he can save money by eliminating workers and buying machines he will do so. But in a distributist economy this would not be such an open and shut decision. When workers themselves control the enterprises in which they work, either individually or cooperatively, there are other considerations besides merely increased profits. New technology can and will be adopted, but its adoption will be balanced against other equally important economic and social needs, job and family security, social stability, and the like.

Moreover, we should recognize that technology can develop in many ways, and that replacing men by machines is not the only way to secure improved production. In any case, if we remember that the economy is an important but subordinate part of human social life, we will not regard technological improvements as the summum bonum. Right now, with capitalists mostly calling the shots in the economy, their view usually prevails, and what we like to call economic efficiency wins against any of the human concerns and needs that an economy is supposedly subservient to. If an economy could do without workers altogether and produce more cheaply and quickly solely by means of robots, would this really be a benefit to mankind? Would not the fact that the now unemployed workers could no longer afford to buy any of the robot-produced goods signify that such an economy had entirely inverted means and ends?

What if technological advances across the board make it possible for our consumption needs to be supplied by merely a portion of the labor force? The obvious answer to that is, if it is no longer necessary for everyone to work eight hours to supply mankind’s needs, let everyone work a little or a lot less, enough so that mankind’s needs are taken care of. If this can be done with everyone working six hours instead of eight, well and good. Here, though, we run into one of the shibboleths of neoclassical economics, the so-called “lump of labor fallacy.” Samuelson explains this notion as follows:

Whenever unemployment is high, people often think that the solution lies in spreading existing work more evenly among the labor force. For example, Europe in the 1990s suffered extremely high unemployment, and many labor leaders and politicians suggested that the solution was to reduce the workweek so that the same number of hours would be worked by all the workers. This view – that the amount of work to be done is fixed – is called the lump of labor fallacy.

What is wrong with this idea, according to Samuelson?

[T]he lump of labor argument implies that there is only so much remunerative work to be done…. A careful examination of economic history…shows that an increase in labor supply can be accommodated by higher employment, although that increase may require lower real wages.[3]

What is one to make of this argument? If we examine it, Samuelson appears to mean that if workers are willing to work for lower wages, some capitalist will employ them to produce something that he thinks he can sell, and thus absorb the unemployed workers. This is no doubt often true, but this says nothing about the relationship between the total amount of goods being produced at a certain point in time, the total number of workers existing at that time, and how that work is to be apportioned among them. At the point when the unemployment in question arose, why was it not a reasonable policy to distribute the work more evenly? If the economy hitherto has been producing a sufficient amount of goods to supply consumption needs, and then unemployment increases due to technological changes and a reduced need for human labor, clearly the total quantity of potential workforce effort is now greater than is needed. Thus reducing everyone’s hours seems like an entirely reasonable response. Society possesses the productive capacity to satisfy consumer needs but no longer requires the same amount of labor. Thus both the amount of work, as well as the product of work, can be distributed among the total labor force, taking into account the new technology.

The fact that Samuelson thinks that only by employing workers at lowered wages can this problem be addressed, shows that he is assuming as a fact of nature the position of dominance by capitalists and the corresponding subordinate position of workers. Of course, capitalists are not likely to pay workers the same wage they previously received if they now work fewer hours. But both the productive capacities of the workers remain the same, society’s need for goods and services remains the same (in the short run), and the economy’s capacity to produce has increased. Any mismatch is in the connection between the worker and the means of production. A response that has regard both for the purpose of an economy and its connection with the social fabric as a whole would see reduced work hours as a logical response to the situation.

Next let us look at the question of cyclical unemployment, that type which comes about “when the overall demand for labor is low” because of a business cycle downturn. I am afraid my argument will seem hopelessly naive to most economists. But that does not mean that it is wrong, only that the elaborate superstructure that economists have erected over the past couple centuries tends to obscure some obvious economic facts.
God created human beings with both the capacity for work and the need to consume. In fact, these two characteristics balance one another in that anywhere there are people, there are both producers and consumers. Thus it would seem that everywhere people can do the work which supplies them with the goods they need. The human capacity for work corresponds roughly with our need for the products of that work. The more people, the more workers, the fewer people, the fewer workers. What does this have to do with the question of unemployment? If in general each person is able to perform productive work sufficient to supply at least his own needs, then why should anyone be idled, unable to work? Does not each person create his own demand and at the same time provide the means for supplying that demand?
The reason that any particular person’s capacity for work cannot be the means of his supplying his needs is usually because he is denied access to the means for production, to land or tools, for example. On occasion a harsh environment makes it difficult to take advantage of mankind’s capacity to produce, but in general this is rare. This is not a problem, then, that arises from the nature of human economic activity, it is an organizational problem, one ultimately occasioned by the question of who owns or controls land or tools. The more complicated the relationship between individuals and the means of production, the more likely is some sort of organizational or structural difficulty which impedes people’s ability to work and produce. Capitalism heightens this tendency not only by the complexity of its structure, but by creating a class of owners whose primary and direct interest is not in producing for the needs of mankind, but in convincing people to buy their product, whether needed or not, whether well-made or not.
Hence in capitalism there exist business cycles, those alternating periods of boom and bust which are the causes for the cyclical decrease in the demand for labor, and which come about because of capitalism’s propensity toward overproduction and speculation. Since the tendency in capitalism is simply production for the sake of sales, not production for the sake of reasonable use, the tendency to overproduce is always present because the capitalist class, people one step or more removed from actual production, have little or no interest in production as such. But under a well-functioning distributism, with a healthy structure of intermediate occupational groups (guilds), part of whose aim is to match economic activity with society’s needs, business cycles would either not exist or would be milder and less disruptive.
We can see how the complexity of a capitalist structuring of the economy contributes to the imbalances that create cyclical unemployment if we contrast that with a very simple distributist economy. In such an economy, one in which all workers owned their land and tools and produced whatever was needed for themselves and their families, the immediate connection between work and consumption would be obvious, since each person would be the primary producer of most or all of what he and his family needed, and the one-to-one correspondence between a worker’s need to consume and his ability to produce would be obvious. Of course such an economy is hardly possible outside of a primitive level of culture, and in any case is not desirable. The division of labor, though it can be extended too far, has obvious benefits to humanity, and I know of no distributist who opposes it. Indeed, the medieval urban distributist economy assumed and fostered the division of labor up to a point. But what we should note here is that the more complex the connection or relationship between workers and the means of production, the more possibility that a worker will be hindered in the exercise of his ability to produce. Distributism tries to keep that connection as simple as the division of labor and other necessary factors will allow, while capitalism needlessly elaborates that by shifting emphasis from production for fulfillment of human needs, to production oriented toward sales, toward new products that often have little utility, together with a constant preoccupation with higher profit margins, so that capital seeks not merely a sufficient return, but an ever higher one.
Any society and economy that is structured toward man’s genuine welfare ought to seek to make use of the obvious connection between the human need to consume and the human ability to work and produce.
This must be kept front and center in our economic thinking, and any needless elaborations and complexities which are introduced into the economy must be eliminated or at least watched carefully lest they create conditions, such as unemployment, which are socially or economically harmful. In a distributist economy the natural relationship between production and consumption would be one of the fundamental principles of its economic organization.
But in addition to the three types of economic unemployment that economists note, there is another type which they are reluctant to acknowledge, or at least to regard as a significant problem. This is unemployment caused by trade agreements. Although the trade facilitated by agreements such as NAFTA can be called free only with numerous qualifications, still it is usually in the direction of freer trade that such agreements lead. Such trade pacts are based on the neoclassical doctrine of comparative advantage, which Paul Samuelson calls “one of the deepest truths in all of economics.”[4]
Comparative advantage is based upon a fact, to be sure, that countries excel better at some products than others, and from this it is argued that it is in the interests of all countries to specialize in the products that they can produce most efficiently in order to increase the overall living standard of all countries. While superficially plausible, in fact there are major objections against the theory. In the first place, it treats each country as if it were merely a site for production, ignoring cultural or legal factors. For example, the unique cultural and legal situation of Mexico included Indian villages which held land in common and which in consequence were able to be self-supporting in food. Trade agreements which require land to be freely bought and sold destroy such communities, despite any elegant graphs that economists concoct purporting to prove that everyone will be better off under these agreements. More fundamentally, the theory of comparative advantage assumes that more and more stuff, what is called economic growth, is the summum bonum of human life. Consider Samuelson’s discussion of objections to international trade agreements.

    But this does not mean that every individual, firm, sector, or factor of production will benefit from trade…. Recent studies indicate that unskilled workers in high-income countries have suffered reductions in real wages in the last three decades because of the increased imports of goods from low-wage developing countries….

    The theory of comparative advantage shows that other sectors will gain more than the injured sectors will lose. Moreover, over long periods of time, those displaced from low-wage sectors eventually gravitate to higher-wage jobs…. Nations that disregard comparative advantage pay a heavy price in terms of their living standards and economic growth.[5]

Unfortunately, “over long periods of time” most of those unskilled workers will be dead long before they manage to “gravitate to higher-wage jobs,” and in the meantime the towns and cities in which they live will be devastated, their families often hurt, social problems will develop, and in general the real standard of living – which is not measured in terms of how much stuff we possess – will decline. The overall amount of available commodities might increase, at least for some people, such as economics professors, but at the cost of buying goods produced by poorly-treated workers in “low-wage developing countries.” International trade can be beneficial to all parties, but only if many more factors besides the total quantity of goods produced and sold are considered. Distributism, since it is more than an economic system, would tend to create a society which did not give material goods a greater value than they deserve. As St. John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Centesimus Annus,

It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed toward “having” rather than “being,” which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself. (no. 36)

Mainstream economic thought is based on the idea that human life is not about “being,” but about “having,” about, as Samuelson avers, producing enough stuff so that “the average American could live at the level of the average doctor or big-league baseball player.”[6] This is nothing other than the philosophy of Hell, a point of view opposed to any Christian conception of life. International trade need not create unemployment, but it will do so if it is based on the notion that any increase in the amount of commodities produced, sold or traded, is a good thing, regardless of any effect it has on human life, individual or social.
Unemployment need not exist, or at least, need not be the problem that it so often is in a capitalist economy. If we are willing to rethink economic principles in the light of fundamentals, then we will see that distributism offers a way out of the capitalist orientation of economic activity which diverts it from its natural end of providing for the genuine consumption needs of mankind.
Notes: 
1: Note that I am dealing with unemployment as an economic question only. It is arguable that there exists what might be called cultural unemployment, but this is outside of the scope of this article.

2: Quotations from Paul Samuelson, Macroeconomics, 16th ed., 1998, p. 259.

3: Paul Samuelson, Microeconomics, 17th ed., 2001, pp. 257-58.

4:  Paul Samuelson, Macroeconomics, 16th ed. 1998, p. 388.
5:  Paul Samuelson, Microeconomics, 17th ed. 2001, p. 306.
6:  Ibid., p. 4.
You can find the original publications here and here.

DIVERSITY AND MERITOCRACY, TOGETHER

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in First Things which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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Do our elite universities prize academic merit? Or are they more concerned to achieve diversity? Most of us assume that these values are incompatible. But in my lifetime, elite universities have intensified their concerns about academic merit and diversity—simultaneously. The logic lies in the changing social conditions of our country. By my reading of our history, most of our elite universities have been rigorous about merit from their inceptions. What’s changed is what counts as merit.

Take Yale circa 1900. It sought the right sort of man. Good family (WASP). Athletic. Intelligent, perhaps, but not bookish. Church-going, but not too pious. “A leader,” as someone might say. The industrial revolution had made technical knowledge more important, and so the criteria for the “right sort of man” had shifted a bit. The ruling class needed some members who had aptitudes for the sciences and not just football. WASP elites saw the need to cast the net more widely (but not too widely). Soon, Jews (not too many). Always, they prioritized “merit.” The “best” men were those most likely to stand astride society in their maturity.

Then came World War II. It turned out to be impossible to send millions of men from Irish, Italian, and Slovak backgrounds into battle and then expect them to return to the old regime of WASP-dominated elites. So the net was cast more widely still. Harvard president James Bryant Conant (a non-elite striver himself) invented the SAT. The “best” men needed to be supplemented with smart kids from Kokomo.

The Cold War intensified the emphasis on academic merit. Conant, who had overseen the Manhattan Project, saw our competition with the Soviets as a technical challenge, not just in the development of weapons but in the scientific management of a free society. To win this global conflict, America needed “the best and the brightest,” not just the pedigreed. The country would still be run by white men, but not uniformly by scions of the old-stock families. We needed high IQs.

This phase, which ran from the GI Bill through the 1960s, is often remembered as a golden age of meritocracy. The universities grew rapidly. The sons of working-class fathers went to college. A rapidly growing economy (and government bureaucracy) absorbed the growing cohort of new meritocrats.

Then came the explosions of the 1960s. Yale’s Brahmin president, Kingman Brewster, and other grandees recognized that the legitimacy of America’s ruling class was in peril. Dramatic steps were needed to shore up the system. The elite consensus: Our ruling class needed to look more like the people it ruled. Elite colleges first tried a crude, mostly covert quota system, designed to recruit talented students from minority backgrounds. The Supreme Court’s 1978 Bakke decision forced a more indirect approach to racial preferences in college admissions. “Diversity” was born.

That takes us up to today.

These were dramatic and important changes. Yet Harvard, Yale, and other elite universities have maintained a continuous mission. They have always sought to educate those with the most merit, where “merit” means “ability to occupy the top positions in society.” Since 1970, “merit” is no longer defined by a WASP system—rather, it is defined by a diversity system oriented to renewal of the ruling class by ensuring its demographic legitimacy in a democratic culture.

I’m quite sure that the vast majority of students admitted to Harvard today merit admission, where “merit” is defined in this way. Harvard has an incentive to admit only those who will sustain its super-eminence by graduating to the ranks of the super-eminent—a feat that depends on all sorts of cultural factors, not just intelligence. No ruling class can live on good test-takers alone. These days, identity politics strongly correlates your “diversity” to your social status. Harvard attends to that kind of merit, not the older metrics of WASP pedigree.

LGBT issues have been a boon in this regard. No ruling class signs its death warrant, at least not knowingly. Diversity was always meant to shore up the legitimacy of our elites, not to overthrow them. Sexual “minorities” bring diversity in ways much less disruptive to our still largely white (and, of course, well off) ruling class. This is a not inconsiderable advantage, and it goes a long way toward explaining why these issues have achieved such prominence within elite institutions.

Many of my friends believe that the push for diversity in higher education has led to a decline in emphasis on academic achievement. They are mistaken. The last fifty years have seen a trend toward greater emphasis on both diversity and IQ. I went to a fancy-pants college in the late 1970s. It was far less preoccupied then with the fine distinctions of academic merit than it is now. At the same time, it has become far more preoccupied with diversity. As most professors will tell you, today’s student culture is fixated on identity politics and is terrified of anything less than an “A.” In sum: diversity and academic achievement, with “merit” defined as the maximization of both.

These days we seem to be entering another crisis of legitimacy, one very different from that of the 1960s but felt acutely by those at the top of society. Perhaps diversity is losing its power to legitimate, just as three generations ago WASP patrimony lost its power to legitimate. Diversity’s group-identity approach does not suit our individualistic culture, so there’s been a lot of cover-up and double-talk. Or maybe the academic-achievement side is in crisis. It’s become a terrible burden for young people (and their ambitious parents).

My intuition is that our problem runs deeper still. There can never be an entirely rational justification for the super-eminence of a ruling class. It always needs an element of aristocratic charisma, which is to say a quasi-sacred and mysterious source of legitimacy. The old WASP elite reflected the glow of our glorious past—Plymouth Rock, the ride of Paul Revere, Bunker Hill. That’s why overcoming the old system of legitimacy has required the active promotion of historical illiteracy, with the exception of instruction in America’s sins.

Some quasi-sacred sources of legitimacy remain. Warfare mints new elites. Some survive. Some triumph. In the dark mysteries of warfare, we sense the hand of providence. Diversity also trafficks in charisma. The cult of victimhood anoints some with special public roles. The very announcement of “diversity” has the capacity to inspire, a quality any ruling class needs if it wishes to rule. Even the grind of academic achievement participates in the aristocratic charisma of genius.

Our culture is modern, individualistic, and democratic. But we are human, and our desires, however much we analyze them with the tools of reason, are timeless. We want to be ruled by something higher. We half-believe in the anointing power of diversity and academic achievement. But only half-believe.

By R.R. Reno and published in First Things on April 5, 2018 and can be found here.

 

VA Updates Guidelines On Religious Exercise At Its Facilities

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

On Aug. 19, the Veterans Administration issued an internal memorandum (full text) updating its Policy Guidance on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression In VA Facilities.  The memo revises a 2014 Guidance.  A press releaseyesterday from the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty welcomes the revision, saying in part:

This should make clear that churches may sing Christmas carols and distribute Christmas cards at VA hospitals. Further, veteran organizations may set up MIA/POW tables that include a sacred text.

You can learn more about this issue here.

THE PROPHETIC POWER OF HUMANAE VITAE

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in First Things which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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One recurring theme in Pope Francis’s teaching is that human realities trump scholarly abstractions: “La realidad es superior a la idea.” His signature phrase about pastors who have the “smell of the sheep” is the folk version of this maxim. Cautions about “rigidity,” “empty rhetoric,” and getting “stuck in pure ideas” appear often in his work, and in that of his inner circle, too. What matters most are “the realities people face in their daily lives,” as Blase Cardinal Cupich put it in a speech at Cambridge recently.

Attention to “reality” is especially fitting as we mark this fiftieth anniversary year of one of the most famous, and infamous, encyclicals in church history. Ten years ago, on its fortieth anniversary, First Things published an essay of mine called “The Vindication of Humanae Vitae.” Citing contemporary evidence from many sources, including sociology, psychology, history, and contemporary women’s literature, I argued:

Four decades later, not only have the document’s signature predictions been ratified in empirical force, but they have been ratified as few predictions ever are: in ways its authors could not possibly have foreseen, including by information that did not exist when the document was written, by scholars and others with no interest whatever in its teaching, and indeed even inadvertently, and in more ways than one, by many proud public adversaries of the Church.

Of course, to say that proof abounds is not to say that a valid argument falls always and everywhere on happy ears—not fifty years ago, not ten years ago, and not today. The promise of sex on demand, unencumbered by constraint, may be the strongest collective temptation humanity has ever encountered. That’s why, since the invention of the birth control pill, resistance to the traditional Christian code has been unremittingly ferocious, and why so many in the laity and clergy wish that this rule—among others—were less taxing. As the disciples of Jesus Christ complained upon hearing his teaching about marriage, these lessons are “hard.”

But to confuse “hard” with “wrong” is a fundamental error. If we are truly to lean into realidades, there is only one conclusion to be drawn from the mass of empirical evidence now out there. It’s the same conclusion that was visible ten years ago, and that will remain visible ten, or one hundred, or two hundred years from now. It’s simply this: The most globally reviled and widely misunderstood document of the last half century is also the most prophetic and explanatory of our time.

Let us set aside theology, philosophy, ideology, and other abstractions and count up the new realities vindicating Humanae Vitae, one by one.

The first empirical reality is this: If we leave out individual intentions and assess nothing but uncontroversial facts, it is transparently clear that the increased use of contraception has also increased abortion. Fifty years ago, when contraception became commonplace, many people of good will defended it precisely for the reason that they thought it would render abortion obsolete. Reliable birth control, they reasoned, would prevent abortion. But the statistical record since the 1960s shows this commonly held logic to be wrong. Many studies have emanated from the social sciences during the past decades trying to explain what secular wisdom regards as a puzzling fact. Far from preventing abortion and unplanned pregnancies, contraception’s effects after the invention of the pill ran quite the other way: Rates of contraception usage, abortion, and out-of-wedlock births all exploded simultaneously.

Writing in the Quarterly Journal of Economics twenty-two years ago, economists George A. Akerlof, Janet L. Yellen, and Michael L. Katz summarized these unexpected connections:

Before the sexual revolution, women had less freedom, but men were expected to assume responsibility for their welfare. Today women are more free to choose, but men have afforded themselves the comparable option. “If she is not willing to have an abortion or use contraception,” the man can reason, “why should I sacrifice myself to get married?” By making the birth of the child the physical choice of the mother, the sexual revolution has made marriage and child support a social choice of the father.

In other words, contraception has led to more pregnancy and more abortion because it eroded the idea that men had equal responsibility in case of an unplanned pregnancy. Contraception, as these economists explain, sharply reduced the incentive for men to marry—including to marry their pregnant girlfriends. In the new, post-pill order, pregnancy became the woman’s responsibility—and if birth control “failed,” that was not the man’s problem.

Then there is the fact that contraception and abortion are bound together juridically. As Michael Pakaluk, among other scholars, has recently pointed out:

As regards jurisprudence, the fruit of contraception is abortion. Until the 1960s, Comstock Act laws were on the books in many states, making the sale of contraceptives illegal even to married couples. These laws were overturned in 1965 by the Supreme Court’s muddled Griswold decision. But by 1973—only eight years later—the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade had inferred from the right to contraception a right to abortion.

Putting that point differently: Legal reasoning justifying freedom to contracept has been used to justify freedom to abort—a linkage that undermines the claim that a hard-and-fast line can be drawn between the two. Or, we might say, freedom to contracept was not enough. People needed the added freedom to terminate a product of failed contraception. History connects the same causal dots. The push to liberalize abortion laws in countries around the world did not begin until the first third of the twentieth century, as birth control devices came into wider circulation, and American states did not start liberalizing abortion laws until after the federal approval of the birth control pill in 1960. Roe v. Wade comes after the pill, not before. As a matter of historical fact, the mass use of contraception called forth the demand for more abortion.

Writing in the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly in 2015, researcher Scott Lloyd likewise concluded that contraception leads to abortion—not inevitably in individual cases, of course, but repeatedly and reliably as twinned social phenomena: “Because the lower risk perceived with contraceptives enables sexual encounters and relationships that would not occur otherwise, it invites pregnancies that occur in situations where women do not feel ready to become pregnant.”

As we review the record, mercy and forgiveness are patently in order—toward the postwar generation that championed contraception, that is. Who, back then, could have anticipated that contraception would lead to abortion on a scale never before seen? Would the uproar over Humanae Vitae have been much diminished had all critics known then what the ledger shows now? Might not some of those dissenting Catholics—and others—who publicly rebuked the Church have acted differently if they’d realized that embracing contraception would open the way to vastly more abortion? It is plain in hindsight that the “lowering of moral standards” foreseen by Humanae Vitae would come to include disrespect not only for women, but for the human fetus, too.

Reality since 1968 has made it impossible to pretend that contraception has not played a decisive role in the scourge of abortion. Pope Francis himself has called abortion “a very grave sin” and a “horrendous crime.” The old defense of birth control as the alternative to abortion has been overruled by facts. The reality that it is an accelerant to abortion has been confirmed by time.

In part because fifty years of experience have established reality number one, a second reality has become evident. People outside the Catholic Church—most notably, though not only, some leading Protestants—have come to see Humanae Vitae in a new and more favorable light.

One of the least reported religious stories of our time, this potent trend may reconfigure Christianity, replacing disunity over birth control with a new unity. Observing what the sexual revolution has wrought, more and more Protestant voices now question yesterday’s nonchalance about contraception. This reconsideration is far from a majority view—yet, anyway. But it manifests what any minority view must have in order to win over others: evidence and moral energy. Consider the following examples from the last ten years.

Protestants have done themselves a disservice by ignoring Humanae Vitae’s substantial statement on human anthropology and sexuality. . . . Protestants would be well-served to study Paul VI’s encyclical and take heed of its warnings.
–Evan Lenow, professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Many evangelicals are joining the discussion about birth control and its meaning. Evangelicals arrived late to the issue of abortion, and we have arrived late to the issue of birth control, but we are here now.
–R. Albert Mohler Jr., president, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

For evangelicals, an anti-contraception position is not seen as exclusively Roman Catholic, as it would have been in the past.
–Jenell Paris, anthropologist, Messiah College

Whenever current events touch on life issues, evangelicals like me become increasingly uncomfortable with the contraception culture. We realize we have much more in common with Catholics, who revere life, than the radical feminists who revere the rights of women above all else.
–Julie Roys, evangelical author and blogger

“More Protestants Oppose Birth Control,” New York Times headline, 2012

These second thoughts among Protestants and other non-Catholics are less a radical break from Christian tradition than a return to it. Church teaching on contraception, including Protestant teaching, has followed an unbroken line through the centuries. Not until the Anglican Communion made the first exception to the prohibition at the Lambeth Conference of 1930 did Catholics and Protestants divide on this moral teaching. The famous Resolution 15 was intended for married couples only, and in carefully delineated circumstances; but it ushered in contraception for convenience. Its language matches the terminology deployed by would-be Catholic “reformers” today:

In those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles.

Then as now, Protestants who were not at ease with abandoning traditional teaching turned to Rome for authority. Charles Gore, the bishop of Oxford, objected to Resolution 15. He had “manifold reason to believe that in the case of Birth Prevention the ‘very strong tradition in the Catholic Church’ has been in the right, and has divine sanction.” The move by some Protestants toward Humanae Vitae today is in part a tacit declaration that, in retrospect, the bishop of Oxford’s side might have been the right one.

In Africa, both Protestants and Catholics lean toward traditionalism in Christian moral teaching. Here as elsewhere in history, the maxim delivered by sociologist Laurence R. Iannaccone holds: “Strict churches are strong”—and concomitantly, lax churches are weak. It is in tradition-minded Africa that Christianity has grown explosively in the years since Humanae Vitae—as opposed to those nations whose Christian leaders have struggled, and struggle still, to change the rulebook.

As the Pew Research Center put it in a report a few years ago, “Africans [are] among the most morally opposed to contraception.” Substantial numbers of people in Kenya, Uganda, and other sub-Saharan countries—Catholic and otherwise—agree with the proposition that contraception use is “morally unacceptable”; in Ghana and Nigeria, it is more than half the population. Despite decades of secular proselytizing, many in Africa have resisted the attempts of reformers to bring them into line with the secular Western sexual program—which includes, of course, diminishing the number of Africans.

Nigerian-born Obianuju Ekeocha, author of the new book Target Africa: Ideological Neo-Colonialism of the Twenty-first Century, wrote an open letter to Melinda Gates, whose foundation dedicates impressive resources to spreading birth control among Africans: “I see this $4.6 billion buying us misery. I see it buying us unfaithful husbands. I see it buying us streets devoid of the innocent chatter of children. . . . I see it buying us a retirement without the tender loving care of our children.”

Africans are not the only intended beneficiaries of campaigns to expand the contraceptive Weltanschauung. Nor are they alone in abjuring the idea that the world would be better off with fewer of them in it. As one notable Indian targeted with the same message some years back put it, “It is futile to hope that the use of contraceptives will be restricted to the mere regulation of progeny. There is hope for a decent life only so long as the sexual act is definitely related to the conception of precious life.” The author of these sentences is not Elizabeth Anscombe, whose famous 1972 essay “Contraception and Chastity” defended Humanae Vitae with this same logic. It is instead Mahatma Gandhi—one more non-Catholic to affirm the reasoning behind Christian moral teaching. “I urge the advocates of artificial methods to consider the consequences,” he explained elsewhere. “Any large use of the methods is likely to result in the dissolution of the marriage bond and in free love.”

There is also sound reason for the enduring fear that “public authorities” might “impose” these technologies on the citizenry—as Humanae Vitaealso warned. This has happened, of course, in China, via its long-standing, barbaric “one child” policy, replete with forced abortions and involuntary sterilizations. A softer kind of coercion has appeared in the United States and other Western nations where efforts have been made to link desired outcomes with mandatory birth control. In the 1990s and beyond, for example, some U.S. judges backed state-imposed implantation of long-term contraceptives on women convicted of crimes. Such implied force has provoked criticism by (among others) the American Civil Liberties Union. “The recent attempts to coerce women to use Norplant represent a reversion to an era of overt racism and eugenics,” the ACLU explained.

Reality number three concerns the state of modern women. Contraception, it was and is perennially asserted, will make them happier and freer than ever before. Has it? Evidence points to the contrary—from social science suggesting that female happiness across the United States and Europe has been declining over time, to the dolorous notes so often struck in academic and popular feminism, to the growing worry among secular women that marriage has become impossible and it is time to go it alone. A decade after I documented those trends, there is much more that could be added to the ledger suggesting that Humanae Vitae was right to spy an impending increase in divisiveness between the sexes. Consider in passing just two evocative snapshots.

In 2012, Amazon U.K. announced that E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Greyhad replaced J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books as the bestselling volume in its history. This signals an extraordinary commercial demand by women for the tale of a rich and powerful man who humiliates, bullies, and commits violence against a woman, over and over.

Sadomasochism is a prominent theme elsewhere in popular culture—including, again, popular women’s culture. Concerning the fashion industry, John Leo observed, “I first noticed the porn-fashion connection in 1975, when Vogue magazine ran a seven-photo fashion spread featuring a man in a bathrobe battering a screaming model in a lovely pink jumpsuit ($140 from Saks, picture by Avedon).” Harper’s Bazaar has seconded the point: “Long before Fifty Shades fever hit, designers have been mining BDSM for sartorial inspiration. From literal crops to all forms of waist, wrist, and ankle ties—not to mention the sheer volume of leather—it’s clear Christian Grey would be proud.”

Implied and even overt violence against women saturates video games and, of course, pornography. The sadomasochistic look has become widespread in popular music, too; the number of globally recognized female singers who have not paid homage to pornography and sadomasochism is vanishingly small. Why are so many women subsidizing a self-image of subjugation and dejection at a time when their freedom is greater than ever before? Does the success of Fifty Shadestell us that men have become so hard to get that any means of finding one will do, no matter how degrading?

Joy does not abound in another post-pill reality: the continuing secular sex scandals of 2017 and 2018, and the #MeToo movement. It appears that the sexual revolution licensed predation. That is not a theological judgment, but an empirical one—foreseen in part by social scientist Francis Fukuyama. His 1999 book The Great Disruption made a point that echoes in Humanae Vitae, though based on a thoroughly secular analysis:

One of the greatest frauds perpetrated during the Great Disruption was the notion that the sexual revolution was gender-neutral, benefiting women and men equally. . . . In fact the sexual revolution served the interests of men, and in the end put sharp limits on the gains that women might otherwise have expected from their liberation from traditional roles.

Almost twenty years later, that point is irrefutable. The abuse scandals show that the revolution democratized sexual harassment. No longer does a man have to be a king or a master of the universe to abuse or prey upon women in unrelenting, serial fashion, and for a long time, with no punishment. One needs only a world in which women are assumed to use contraception—the world we’ve had since the 1960s, the world that Humanae Vitae foresaw.

This brings us to still another reality: Fifty years into the sexual revolution, one of the most pressing, and growing, issues for researchers is not overpopulation, but its opposite: under-population. Ten years ago, I reviewed evidence for the claim that the overpopulation scares of the late 1960s were just that: scares. They happened not so coincidentally to be ideologically useful to partisans who wanted the Church to change its moral teaching. As I noted in 2008:

So discredited has the overpopulation science become that this year Columbia University historian Matthew Connelly could publish Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population and garner a starred review in Publishers Weekly—all in service of what is probably the single best demolition of the population arguments that some hoped would undermine church teaching. This is all the more satisfying a ratification because Connelly is so conscientious in establishing his own personal antagonism toward the Catholic Church. . . . Fatal Misconception is decisive [secular] proof that the spectacle of overpopulation, which was used to browbeat the Vatican in the name of science, was a grotesque error all along.

The past decade has made reality plain. Not only is “overpopulation” a shifting ideological chimera, but the reverse obtains. A great many people, especially in the increasingly barren and graying West, are suffering instead from what experts in those stricken societies call an “epidemic” of loneliness.

This finding would not surprise Pope Francis, who in an interview with La Repubblica in 2013 called the “loneliness of the old” one of the worst “evils” in today’s world. Fifty years after the embrace of the pill—undeniably, because of the embrace of the pill—loneliness is spreading across the materially better-off countries of the planet.

Toward the end of last year, the New York Times published a harrowing story about the birth dearth.

4,000 lonely deaths a week. . . . Each year, some of [Japan’s elderly] died without anyone knowing, only to be discovered after their neighbors caught the smell.

The first time it happened, or at least the first time it drew national attention, the corpse of a 69-year-old man living near Mrs. Ito had been lying on the floor for three years, without anyone noticing his absence. His monthly rent and utilities had been withdrawn automatically from his bank account. Finally, after his savings were depleted in 2000, the authorities came to the apartment and found his skeleton near the kitchen, its flesh picked clean by maggots and beetles, just a few feet away from his next-door neighbors.

The story goes on to note, “The extreme isolation of elderly Japanese is so common that an entire industry has emerged around it, specializing in cleaning out apartments where decomposing remains are found.” According to another recent report in The Independent, cleanup firms are burgeoning and insurance companies offer policies to protect landlords in case a “lonely” happens on their property.

Japan is just one country facing post-pill demographic change. “Loneliness is becoming a common phenomenon in France,” Le Figaro reported several years ago. Citing a study on the “new solitudes” by the Fondation de France, the article names the prime driver of this loneliness: “family rupture,” especially divorce. In a similar vein, a 2014 study on “Socio-Demographic Predictors of Loneliness Across the Adult Life Span in Portugal” agreed that divorce increases the likelihood of loneliness—though it did not ask whether having children in the picture might ameliorate the problem. Oddly, one can read through many “loneliness studies” without seeing reference to children, a striking omission that says a good deal about our era.

The secular culture is taking note. In Sweden, a 2015 documentary on The Swedish Theory of Love questioned the dominance of “independence” in that country as an ideal. It seems more a curse than a blessing when one-half of Swedes now live in households of one. As a report put it,

A man is alone in his flat. He has been lying there dead for three weeks—people only noticing his demise when an awful smell appeared in the communal hallways. As the Swedish authorities scrutinise the case, they discover that the man has no close relatives or friends. It is highly likely that he lived lonely and alone for years, sitting solitary in front of his TV or computer. After a while, they discover that he has a daughter, but she proves impossible to locate. . . . It becomes apparent that he actually had quite a lot of money tucked away in the bank. But what does that help when he had no one to share with.

And then there’s Germany. In an article in Der Spiegel titled “Alone by the Millions: Isolation Crisis Threatens German Seniors,” the German Centre of Gerontology reports:

Over 20 percent of Germans over the age of 70 are in regular contact with only one person—or nobody. One in four receives a visit less than once a month from friends and acquaintances, and nearly one in 10 is not visited by anyone anymore. Many old people have no one who still addresses them by their first name or asks them how they are doing.

Such human poverty abounds in societies awash in material wealth. This, too, was not foreseen by those who argued for and against Humanae Vitae in 1968. Yet without doubt, what unites these tragic portraits is the sexual revolution, which by the 1970s was operating at full throttle in Western nations, driving up divorce rates, driving down marriage rates, and emptying cradles. It does not take a demographer to connect the dots; the evidence of our senses will do. As one victim poignantly summarized in Der Spiegel:

Aside from the birds, hardly anyone visits the elderly woman anymore. Erna J. has white hair and black leg braces and, like many people her age, is suffering from extreme loneliness. She was born shortly after World War I and moved into this apartment 50 years ago. Ten years later, her husband died. She has outlived all of her siblings and girlfriends. Her husband didn’t want any children. “I should have insisted on it,” says the former cook, “and then I perhaps wouldn’t be so lonely today.”

A further reality to ponder is historical, and worth reiterating at a time when hope burns eternal in some precincts that the Catholic Church will cease its intransigent insistence on supposedly retrograde points of doctrine. The churches that have accommodated themselves to the sexual revolution have imploded from within. As a headline in The Guardian put it simply in 2016, on the eve of a contentious conference at Lambeth where African representatives of the Anglican Communion dissented once more from changing moral teaching, “The Anglican schism over sexuality marks the end of a global church.”

In 1930, people would have been shocked if told that the doctrinal war over sex would shatter the Anglican Communion; that parts of the Communion would go to legal war over churches and jurisdictions as well as doctrine; that the separation of North and South, Episcopal and Anglican, Africa and Europe, would yield divisions and subdivisions, sorrow and acrimony, on a global scale.

In 1998, Bishop John Shelby Spong of Newark, New Jersey, a leader of the Episcopalian Church who urged an embrace of the sexual revolution, published a book called Why Christianity Must Change or Die, agitating for still more dismantling of the tradition. The Christianity of which he spoke did change, exactly as he and others hoped. And now the retooled version they fought for is dying. According to David Goodhew, editor of the 2016 volume Growth and Decline in the Anglican Communion: 1980 to the Present, research by Jeremy Bonner on the Episcopal Church shows that:

Around 2000 serious decline set in. . . . Average Sunday attendance dropped by nearly one third between 2000 and 2015. . . . The rate of baptism has been cut almost in half over a thirty-year period. . . . The most dramatic data is for marriages. . . . In 2015 the Episcopal Church married less than a quarter of the number it married in 1980.

The sad facts of religious history in favor of Paul VI’s prophetic stance make their own case. Disaster descended on the Anglican Communion for doing exactly what dissenters from Humanae Vitae want the Catholic Church to do: make exceptions to rules that people find difficult. Surely anyone urging Rome to follow Lambeth’s lead today must first explain how Catholicism’s fate will be different. As David Goodhew also noted in his online piece “Facing Episcopal Church Decline”: “If we believe Christian faith is good news, we should be seeking its proliferation, and be worried when it shrinks.”

Manuscripts don’t burn.” In Mikhail Bulgakov’s twentieth-century masterpiece The Master and Margarita, a despairing author trapped under oppressive Soviet rule tries to destroy his own unpublished book in a fire—only to learn, in the redemptive denouement, that it’s impossible. Bulgakov could see with his soul what he would never witness with his eyes. Too dangerous to publish under Communism, The Master and Margarita itself would not appear until almost thirty years after the novelist’s death in 1940—whereupon it became, and remains, a literary sensation around the world.

“Manuscripts don’t burn” became an immortal rallying cry on behalf of the indomitable nature of truth. Truth, artistic or otherwise, may be unwanted, inconvenient, resented, mocked in all the best places—even harassed, suppressed, and forced underground. But that does not make it anything other than truth.

In this moment of watchfulness inside and outside the Church, a global fellowship knows the truths of Humanae Vitae and related teachings astruths, however unwanted or hard. They are among the latest pilgrims in a line stretching two thousand years back. They have sacrificed to stand where they do, and they sacrifice still—including by relinquishing the good opinion of a mocking world.

These cradle Catholics and converts and reverts, fellow-traveling non-Catholics, clergy and laity alike have the consolation of one final realidad, which may be the most important reality of all. Whatever the anxieties of the moment, however prominent or widespread the disgruntlement, the ever-growing empirical record continues to vindicate Paul VI’s encyclical. Humanae Vitae doesn’t burn.

Mary Eberstadt is a senior research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute and author of several books, including How the West Really Lost God and Adam and Eve After the Pill.

By Mary Eberstadt and published in First Things in April 2018 and can be found here.

Parties in Dependency: Proper Notice and Participation Is Essential

The stakes in a dependency matter are extremely high.  Indeed, one’s parental rights over his child could be forever terminated in such a matter, so it is imperative that the parties involved receive sufficient notification of the hearings which take place and are given a full opportunity to participate.  The trial court, in In the Interest of K.S., a Minor, Appeal of: A.L.W., 2017 WL 1162449, has made it clear that proper notice and participation of the parties is absolutely essential in a dependency case.

In K.S., the child-at-issue (“Child”) was placed into a series of homes due to mistreatment and/or an inability of the Child’s parents to care for the Child.  Due to the instability of the Child’s housing, Children and Youth Services (“CYS”) eventually filed a Shelter Care Application requesting temporary placement of the Child into the custody of CYS.  A hearing was scheduled for the Shelter Care Application, however the Child’s mother (hereinafter “Mother”) and father were both incarcerated at the time of that hearing.

The attorney for Mother appeared at the hearing and requested a continuance of the same because, while Mother wanted to attend the hearing, she was unable to do so due to her incarceration and, perhaps more importantly, the prison in which she was incarcerated refused to allow her to participate at the hearing by telephone.  CYS opposed the continuance request on the basis that Mother, regardless of whether she could participate at the hearing, could not receive custody of the Child due to her incarceration.  In other words, as placement was the subject of the hearing, and Mother could not receive placement, her participation would not result in her receiving placement regardless of whether she appears and/or participates.

The trial court agreed with CYS and denied the continuance.  CYS then proceeded to request an Adjudicatory Hearing, with Mother’s attorney objecting again due to her unavailability.  The trial court overruled Mother’s attorney’s objection and granted CYS’s request to adjudicate the Child dependent.

The trial court, at the conclusion of the hearing, adopted CYS’s recommendations, issued a Shelter Care Order, granted CYS custody of the Child, and issued a Dependency Order.  Mother subsequently filed a timely notice of appeal of the above-described court orders.  Mother raised two issues on appeal: (1) she believed the trial court erred in denying her ability to participate in the above-described hearing; and (2) she believed the trial court erred in determining that the best interests of the Child would be served by denying her due process.  Mother pointed out that there were no exigent circumstances which required an immediate adjudication of the case before affording her opportunity to participate.

On appeal, Mother argued that the clear operation of the relevant procedural rules regarding notice and service were violated which justifies vacating the trial court’s adoption of CYS’s recommendation.  In making her argument, pointed out three procedural rules.  First, Mother argued that there was a lack of compliance with Pennsylvania Rules of Juvenile Court Procedure Rule 1331.  Rule 1331(A) states that “[u]pon the filing of a petition, a copy of the petition shall be served promptly upon the child, the child’s guardian, the child’s attorney, the guardian’s attorney, the attorney for the county agency, and the county agency.”  Furthermore, even if the parent is not a child’s guardian, she still must receive service of a Dependency Petition.  Second, Mother points to a failure to abide by Pa.R.J.C.P. 1361 which requires the following: “[t]he court shall give notice of the adjudicatory hearing to…(4) the parents….”  Third, Mother also argues that the requirement of the terms of Pa.R.J.C.P. 1360(A), namely, “[t]he court shall issue a summons compelling all parties to appear for the adjudicatory hearing” was not complied with by the trial court.  Rule 1360 goes on to say: “[t]he summons shall: (1) be in writing; (2) set forth the date, time, and place of the adjudicatory hearing; (3) instruct the child and the guardian about their rights to counsel, and if the child’s guardian is without financial resources or otherwise unable to employ counsel, the right to assigned counsel; (4) give a warning stating that the failure to appear for the hearing may result in arrest; and (5) include a copy of the petition unless the petition has been previously served.”  Fourth, pursuant to Pa.R.J.C.P. 1406(A)(1)(a), the trial court was to specifically ascertain whether the notice requirements of Pa.R.J.C.P. 1360 and 1361 were met (the Rule specifically states “(1) Notification. Prior to commencing the proceedings, the court shall ascertain: (a) whether notice requirements pursuant to Rules 1360 and 1361 have been met….”

Upon the Superior Court’s review of the underlying matter, it observed that the trial court failed to comply with the Rules noted above.  First, the Dependency Petition in this case was filed the same day as the Shelter Hearing and appears in the record after the entry of the Shelter Care Order.  Obviously Mother could not have received service of the Petition per Rule 1331.  Second, due to the timing of the Petition, as compared to the applicable Shelter Care Order, Mother simply could not have received service per Rule 1331.  Third, the notice of the Adjudicatory Hearing was, strangely, entered on the same day as the hearing itself, and therefore obviously could not have provided Mother notice per Rule 1361.  Fourth, while there appears to have been a summons issued per Rule 1360, no affidavit of service was filed for the same pursuant to Pa.R.J.C.P. 1363.  As a result, there is nothing in the record suggesting Mother was properly served with the summons.  Furthermore, nothing in the record reflects any reasonable efforts to notify Mother of the above were made (see Rule 1363(E)).  To that end, Superior Court observed that due to the prison’s inability to provide Mother with the opportunity to telephonically appear at the hearing, she could not have been provided notice during the hearing itself.  Finally, the trial court never even took the opportunity to ascertain if the service requirements of Rules 1360 and 1361 were met before moving forward with the Adjudicatory Hearing.

Based on the above, the Superior Court held that the trial court abused its discretion by holding an Adjudicatory Hearing without ensuring strict compliance with the service rules noted above.  Consequently, the Superior Court vacated the trial court’s order and remanded the case for a new hearing ensuring Mother can participate.  Ultimately, for practitioners, this decision makes it abundantly clear that the service requirements noted above will be strictly enforced requiring that ensuring compliance is paramount.

Originally published in The Legal Intelligencer on July 11, 2017 and can be found here and republished in the Pennsylvania Family Lawyer in its October 2017 issue and can be found here.

Inmate Has Broader Damage Remedy Under RFRA Than Under RLUIPA

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Crowder v. Lariva2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 122966 (SD IN, Sept. 12, 2016), an Indiana federal district court permitted a Hebrew Israelite inmate to move ahead against one of the prison chaplains on his complaint that he was denied a kosher diet. Because plaintiff was a federal inmate, he sued (in addition to his 1st Amendment claim) under RFRA instead of RLUIPA, and the court held that he had broader remedies as a result:

Jones [the chaplain] also argues that because the Seventh Circuit in Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 887 (7th Cir. 2009), held that the similarly-worded RLUIPA does not allow for the collection of money damages against individuals, the same reasoning should apply to RFRA. But there are at least two important differences between RLUIPA and RFRA that compel a different conclusion. First, … the statutory language of RFRA defines “government” as, among other things, an “official (or other person acting under color of law).” …Congress thus envisioned at least some individual-capacity suits under RFRA…. Second, RFRA, which applies to federal action, and RLUIPA, which is applicable to state action, arise from different principles.,,, [T]he portion of RFRA that authorizes lawsuits against the states was held unconstitutional because such an application exceeded Congress’s power under the Enforcement Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in City of Boerne v. Flores…. RLUIPA was enacted in response to City of Boerne … as an exercise of Congress’s spending power[.] …[I]nterpreting that statute to allow damages actions against state officials in their individual capacities would ‘raise serious questions regarding whether Congress had exceeded its [constitutional] authority.'” … [S]uch considerations are not at issue when applying RFRA because RFRA’s application to federal action is not based on the Spending Clause…. For these reasons, the Court concludes that RFRA does allow for the recovery of monetary damages against officers in their individual capacities

You can learn more about this issue here.

WHERE IS GOD? THE PROBLEM OF DIVINE HIDDENNESS

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in Word on Fire which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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If God exists, where is he?

Moreover if God is all-loving and all-powerful, why hasn’t he shown himself to the world? He’s all loving: why would he leave any room for doubt? He’s all-powerful: why not reveal himself in the most spectacular of ways that would make unbelief impossible?

I’ll start by admitting that the argument from the hiddenness of God is a reasonable objection; and I’ll also admit that there are days when I wonder to myself in exasperation, “God where are you?” I think it’s a fair question; but just because a question is fair does not mean it’s irrefutable. Good questions often have good answers; and I think this particular question of God’s hiddenness has, in return, some reasonable answers.

This is really an objection regarding an absence of evidence for God. Surely you’ve heard it said that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence; but this isn’t always true. Absence of evidence can be good evidence of absence if:

1. We should expect more evidence than we find. (Should there be more evidence?)

2. We exhaust all possible ways of investigation for evidence. (Have we done enough looking around?)

But my contention is that (1) God has provided sufficient evidence for reasonable belief (2) thorough investigation reveals good evidence for God’s existence. In other words, the obscurity of God’s presence in the world is not sufficient evidence to prove that God does not exist.

Here are a few points to consider:

First, God is not entirely hidden. He just doesn’t appear today in a way directly accessible to the physical senses, as your friends, spouse, or boss do. But discovery by bodily experience is only one way to learn truths. We can also learn things by logic and reason.

At the end of the day, something is convincing people today of God’s existence, and has for the last twenty centuries. Growth in education and scientific advancement has not put a damper on the life of the Church. (On the contrary, growth in education and science can historically be attributed largely to the Church.) Christians, by and large, don’t just put blind trust in the notion that God exists; they are convinced. This conviction is what drives evangelization (inviting nonbelievers into the fold), debate, radical life changes at times of conversion, and most impressively, martyrdom. The religious conviction of Christians does not happen coincidentally; reasons drive conversion and belief.

Second, God is all-knowing and we are not. We can think like God, but not as God. Consider the following argument:

1. If God exists, then he would do X, Y, and Z.

2. But he doesn’t do X, Y, and Z.

3. Therefore God does not exist.

The problem with the major premise is that it assumes we can know exactly what it’s like to be God; and more specifically what it’s like to reason as God. But to think with omniscience and act with omnipotence as the eternal Creator is outside of our limited human experience. (Imagine an ant trying to understand quantum mechanics.) We cannot fill God’s shoes, nor can his “brain” fill our heads. As G.K. Chesterton remarks in Orthodoxy:

The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.

God may have good reasons for his “hiddenness” that we just don’t see. But this doesn’t mean we can’t make logical inferences and get partway to a good explanation. We just can’t arrive at a full explanation apart from God’s direct revelation.

Third, God desires man to seek him. We know this because he said it:

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt 7:7-8)

This is not a direct promise from God that he will grant everything at our immediate request, like a genie in a bottle. But God promises providence to all who acknowledge him with trust—like a father to his child—that he will give us what we ask for (provided that we ask for what is good for us).

A twelve-year-old atheist might pray a desperate prayer to God in hopes that God will reveal himself—but in the end may not “find” God until he is eighty-six years old and minutes away from physical death. Another twelve-year-old atheist may pray the same prayer and be knocked onto his knees at the moment he says “Amen.” Why God seems to answer some prayers immediately, and not others, is a mystery. Likely it is often ourselves—and not God—who stand in the way of God’s immediate “delivery of the goods.” Or it may be that God desires for us to struggle for a while—perhaps for a long while—that we might grow or be improved in some way.

God is not interested in numbing us from all pain and suffering in this life. Christianity is not a get-out-of-suffering-free card. God is interested in granting us eternity, free of all suffering and pain and illuminated by unimaginable joy, in the next life: in life after death in heaven, and life after life after death at our bodily resurrection.

The more we seek God, the more he’s likely to reveal himself. The more he reveals himself, the more we’ll come to know him. Remember Aslan’s words to Lucy in Prince Caspian,

“Every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

Fourth, it may be that God desires only those who seek him to see him. This was Blaise Pascal’s best guess. God has revealed himself in such a way, posits Pascal, that those who seek him sincerely will indeed find him, but those who do not seek him will not. He writes:

It was not, then, right that He should appear in a manner manifestly divine, and completely capable of convincing all men; but it was also not right that He should come in so hidden a manner that He could not be known by those who should sincerely seek Him.

He has willed to make himself….appear openly to those who seek Him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from Him with all their heart. He so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not. (Pensee 430)

Fifth, there are sufficient reasons to believe in God despite his “hiddenness.” There are good reasons to believe in God and these reasons drive our hope. God is hidden now; but not forever, provided we persevere in faith and love to the end (see Mat 10:22, Matt 15:4-7; Rom 11:22).

St. Paul writes that “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom 1:20). Vatican I confirmed that we can know God exists through reason alone. And the point is this: we cannot see God directly in nature—but we can see his footprints, as it were. St. Thomas Aquinas developed this idea and demonstrated the truth of St. Paul’s claim in the thirteenth century, particularly in his Summa theologiae and Summa contra gentiles building upon the intellectual foundation of pagan philosophers like Aristotle and Plato.

If the universe had a beginning (as many scientists, both atheist and believer, are willing to grant), there are good explanations for it. The kalam cosmological argument and Leibniz’s argument from contingency give air-tight philosophical explanations (using science to support their premises) for how the universe must have a cause that is eternal, spiritual, all-powerful, and intentional. Furthermore, logical incoherencies of an actual infinity of past events make an eternal universe improbable. But even if the world was eternal, according to Aquinas’ arguments the world still needs and explanation outside of itself—an explanation that points to a being who looks very much like God.

Thus, the origin of the universe (and the vastly improbable life-permitting universe we find ourselves in) give us good reasons to believe in an all-powerful Creator; and the argument from objective morality suggest that God is, in fact, all-good and the standard of all goodness.

God has given us good reasons to believe in an intelligent Creator; and indeed these reasons have convinced most through the ages. We might thus ask the atheist: On what basis should we expect more evidence from him?

Sixth, God may not want to “scare” us into belief. Perhaps God has given us just enough evidence of himself to keep us interested in him, that we might continually seek him. A direct revelation of God that cannot be denied may just scare people into obedience. But God wants obedience from his children out of love, not out of fear. Seeing God is not to have faith in him.

Remember the words of St. James: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (Jas 2:19)

Seventh, God’s hiddenness allows us to help one another to believe. This explanation has been proposed by philosopher Richard Swinburne. God has revealed himself enough so that many people have come to believe—the Church has not tired. But many people are tired because they do not have hope.

God’s hiddenness gives believers an opportunity to have compassion, and to grow in virtue, particularly towards unbelievers. It provides an opportunity to evangelize, to grow in patience, gentleness, and reverence, and to grow in faith ourselves by responding to tough skeptical objections. If God’s existence was obvious to the whole world, apologetics and evangelization might look a lot different than it does.

Eighth, the testimony of miracles are temporary events where God does in fact reveal himself in a more accessible way. There are many miracles described in the Bible. But miracles—events in nature that require a supernatural explanation—are not a thing of the past.

David Hume believed that miracles were not part of human experience; but scholar Craig Keener begs to differ. Keener has assembled a massive two-volume work demonstrating that, in fact, millions of people even today claim to have experienced a miracle through belief in God (perhaps through prayer or some other religious means).

Of course, testimony itself doesn’t prove the validity of the claim, but based on the numbers it very well could be that at least one of these is a true miracle. (Indeed, there are many accounts of atheist investigators, medical specialists for example, who are hired to investigate and become believers as a result of their findings.)

It only takes one miracle to show God’s existence. And as long as God’s existence remains possible, miracles remain possible. I think there are good reason to believe God has revealed himself, time and time again through the ages, by miraculous intervention.

Ninth, an apparently supreme and undeniable manifestation of God’s existence may not guarantee “God did it.” A “sign in the sky,” for example, could be aliens playing a prank on us. Sounds silly. How would you know for certain it wasn’t?

A much more convincing manifestation of divine existence would be God actually dwelling among us in the flesh; but would this guarantee faith in those who encounter him?

Tenth, God has revealed himself to us directly. He did so in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was born of a virgin, possessed inexplicable wisdom (even as a child) that shocked the “educated,” turned water into wine, multiplied loaves and fishes, prophecied and fulfilled prophecies, calmed storms, performed exorcisms, restored the dead to life, triggered radical conversions, performed countless physical healings, loved like only God could love, died a terrible death on the cross after being scourged half to death—and finally, rose from the dead in a glorified body that could pass through walls yet still eat broiled fish.

Jesus claimed to be the one God of the Israel—the one God of the universe—and gave the people he encountered every reason to believe it. Yet people still disbelieved firmly; even firmly enough to execute him in the end.

Maybe God knows that a more obvious—even blatant—presence in the world right now wouldn’t be the “Ah ha!” moment many skeptics believe it would be.

Maybe God’s hiddenness is an act of mercy.

Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail,
Lo! oe’r ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.

By Matt Nelson in Word on Fire and published on October 24, 2018 and can be found here.

 

 

THE IGNOBLE LIE

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in First Things which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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During one of the more infamous moments in Plato’s Republic, Socrates suggests that the ideal city needs a founding myth—what he calls “a noble lie”—to ensure its success. The myth has two parts. The first relates that every person in the city comes from the same mother, and thus encourages belief in a common origin and kinship of all the citizens who live in the city. The second relates that every person belongs by birth to a particular class based upon his or her talents and abilities, indicated by a metal gilded upon each soul at birth: gold for the ruling class; silver for ministers, soldiers, and high-ranking servants; bronze and iron for the workers.

Socrates argues that both parts of the myth must be believed by all citizens for the city to succeed. The myth at once seeks to unite and to differentiate, to explain what is common and distinct, to foster civic patriotism amid significant difference. The first part encourages civic commitment, shared sacrifice, and belief in a common good. The second justifies the existence of inequality as a permanent feature of ­human society.

Socrates is reluctant even to speak the myth aloud, recognizing how repulsive it is likely to sound to his hearers. More, he admits that it will require great acts of persuasion—likely over generations—before it is accepted by denizens of the city, and even then, it is likely not to be persuasive to the ruling class. If anyone is likely to accept the myth, he suggests, it is the uneducated working class.

When I present the noble lie to students in my classes, it rankles—as Socrates predicted it would. They dislike the idea that the just polity must be based upon a deception. But what irritates them even more is the suggestion that the just city must be based upon inequality. As good liberal democratic citizens, they intensely dislike the suggestion that inequality might be perpetuated as a matter of birthright, and they identify with the injustice done to the underclass. Over twenty years teaching at Princeton, Georgetown, and Notre Dame, I can’t recall a single student who regards the myth as anything but troubling. Most find it repugnant.

When pressed on the question of why it will prove more difficult to persuade the ruling class of the truth of the noble lie, most students believe that the ruling class’s superior education and intelligence make them more resistant to propaganda, while the simple working people are likely to succumb to deception because they don’t adequately understand their own interests. My students implicitly side with Marx in believing that the less educated are likely to adopt “false consciousness.”

Plato intends us to understand the myth ­differently. Unlike Marx, he did not believe that the members of the lower class would be unlikely to know their own interests. The underclass is likely to accept the myth because they realize it works to their advantage. Its members are keenly aware of the fact of inequality. That part of the “lie” hardly seems false to them. What is novel, and what works to their advantage, is the idea that inequalities exist for the benefit of the underclass as well as the rulers. That is, members with noble metals in their souls are to undertake their work for the benefit of everyone, including those whose souls are marked by base metals. By contrast, members of the ruling class are likely to disbelieve the myth out of self-interest. They balk at the claim that every person, regardless of rank, belongs to the same family. They do not want the advantages that might solely benefit their class to be employed for the benefit of the whole.

Only if each group accepts each part of the “lie,” as Socrates explains, is a kind of social contract achieved. Elites and commoners both accept the part of the myth that does not appeal to them for the sake of the part that does. Elites are distinguished in a society that justifies inequality; commoners are best off in a society that compels service of elites for the whole. Instead of acting as warring parties, both sides work for the good of all.

Such a compact is difficult to achieve. Much of the rest of The Republic is taken up with the question of how the ruling class can be persuaded, or even compelled, to throw in their lot with the rest of the city, rather than simply dominating or neglecting the others. Given the brute fact of inequality, Plato sees the great challenge of politics to be the task of persuading the advantaged to see themselves as part of the whole.

Compare Socrates’s expected response of the ruling class to this “noble lie” to the typical reaction of students at elite universities. Today’s elite students tend to focus on the myth’s claims about perpetual and generational inequality as the most objectionable part of the myth. The claim of common kinship seems unproblematic and even uninteresting. What explains the apparent reversal of scandal and resistance among the ruling class in our age?

Elite college campuses are hotbeds of activism against inequality, especially as it touches on race, gender, disability, and sexual orientation. In recent years, students and faculty from UC Berkeley to Yale to Reed College have protested instances of perceived bias, but few incidents have been quite so remarkable as the protests that greeted the social scientist Charles Murray at Middlebury College on March 2, 2017. Before speaking a word, Murray was greeted with twenty minutes of unbroken denunciatory chants by hundreds of students in the audience. In order to hold the planned discussion, he and his host, professor Allison Stanger, had to leave the lecture hall for a private studio. Students followed them and beat on the walls and windows of the room. As they left that secure space, the crowd buffeted and grabbed at Murray and Stanger, leaving Stanger with a neck injury and a concussion.

Murray had been invited to discuss his book Coming Apart, a study of the growing inequality between rich and poor white Americans between 1960 and 2010. Murray’s book focuses on two phenom­ena. First, he points to the way Americans have been sorted into separate geographic enclaves according to wealth, class, and education. Second, he points to the way poor and uneducated Americans suffer unprecedentedly high rates of social pathology, including divorce, out-of-wedlock childbirth, crime, drug addiction, ­unemployment, bankruptcy, isolation, and anomie.

The students who prevented Murray from speaking mostly come from, and will settle in, what Murray calls the “HPY” (Harvard, Princeton, Yale) bubble, a place of remarkable ideological, economic, and social homogeneity. Admission and graduation from an institution like Middlebury is the passport into the HPY bubble. This is no mean feat. According to U.S. News and World Report, Middlebury College is tied for sixth with Pomona College, behind Williams, Amherst, Bowdoin, Swarthmore, and Wellesley, in the rankings for best liberal arts colleges in America. It is among the most selective schools in America, accepting only 17 percent of applicants in 2017. Students have an average SAT score of 1450 out of 1600, along with a 3.95 high school GPA. Its cost for tuition plus room and board tops $64,000.

One might have thought that students at such a school would be keenly interested in hearing a lecture by someone who would discuss the evidence, basis, and implications of economic and class divergences in America today. Indeed, one might suspect that if the students were upset about inequality, they would have been inspired by Murray to direct the onus of their discontent against Middlebury College itself as a perpetrator of class division or even against themselves as willing participants in that perpetuation. At the very least, one might have thought that they would be interested in listening to an analysis of the role educational institutions play in creating and maintaining inequality. Instead, they shouted down the man who was going to speak with them about the role they play in perpetuating inequality—in the name of equality itself.

Of course, it wasn’t the subject of Murray’s lecture that was being protested, but the fact that he had discussed statistical differences in IQ among different races in his 1994 book, The Bell Curve. The main point of that book, however, was concern that social sorting would exacerbate class differentiation in America—just the kind of sorting that elite schools like Middlebury help to advance. The violent protests against Murray had the convenient effect of preventing any exploration of the pervasive class divide in America today, and leaving the elite students and ­faculty of Middlebury self-satisfied in their demonstrative support for equality.

Like so many similar demonstrations against inequality at elite college campuses, the protest against Murray was an echo of resistance of the ruling class to the noble lie. The ruling class denies that they really are a self-perpetuating elite that has not only inherited certain advantages but also seeks to pass them on. To mask this fact, they describe themselves as the vanguard of equality, in effect denying the very fact of their elevated status and the deleterious consequences of their perpetuation of a class divide that has left their less fortunate countrymen in a dire and perilous condition. Indeed, one is tempted to conclude that their insistent defense of equality is a way of freeing themselves from any real duties to the lower classes that are increasingly out of geographical sight and mind. Because they repudiate inequality, they need not consciously consider themselves to be a ruling class. Denying that they are deeply self-interested in maintaining their elite position, they easily assume that they believe in common kinship—so long as their position is unthreatened. The part of the “noble lie” that once would have horrified the elites—the claim of common kinship—is irrelevant; instead, they resist the inegalitarian part of the myth that would then, as now, have seemed self-evident to the elites as well as the underclass. Today’s underclass is as likely to recognize its unequal position as Plato’s. It is elites that seem most prone to the condition of “false consciousness.”

The dominion of this new elite has been long anticipated, discussed most cogently by social critics such as Michael Young, C. Wright Mills, and Christopher Lasch. Among the ablest chroniclers of the new elite has been New York Times columnist David Brooks, who in April of 2001 published “The Organization Kid,” an essay describing the replacement of America’s WASP aristocracy by a “­meritocracy.” After spending several weeks with students on Princeton’s campus, Brooks concluded that there had been certain gains and decided losses resulting from this regime change. One loss he bemoaned was abandonment of “noblesse oblige,” or an encouragement of concern among the ruling class for those less fortunate as a consequence of the mere luck of birth and genealogy. Brooks contrasted this with the older WASP ideal based on civic, military, and Protestant values: “The Princeton of that day aimed to take privileged men from their prominent families and toughen them up, teach them a sense of social obligation, based on the code of the gentleman and noblesse oblige. In short, it aimed to instill in them a sense of chivalry.”

Noblesse oblige—“obligations of the nobility”—provided some measure of legitimacy to the older aristocratic order. It allowed the ruling class to claim that their actions weren’t merely self-serving, but instead supported the whole community, especially the poor and powerless. The image of the knight-errant coming to the rescue of the damsel in distress was a romantic and dramatic representation of a much broader ethic, that of the strong protecting and standing for the weak. The ancien régime—premised upon the rule of a hereditary aristocracy that ruled for the good of the whole polity—was overthrown because most people ceased to believe its conceit. Its flattering self-portrait of a paternalistic and caring overclass was increasingly viewed as a self-serving rationalization and a form of societal self-deception in the service of status maintenance. Barbara ­Tuchman described the crisis of legitimacy of the chivalric code in her book A Distant Mirror:

The ideal was a vision of order maintained by the warrior class and formulated in the image of the Round Table, nature’s perfect shape. King Arthur’s knights adventured for the right against dragons, enchanters, and wicked men, establishing order in a wild world. So their living counterparts were supposed, in theory, to serve as defenders of the Faith, upholders of justice, champions of the oppressed. In practice, they were themselves the oppressors, and by the 14th century the violence and lawlessness of men of the sword had become a major agency of disorder. When the gap between ideal and real becomes too wide, the system breaks down. Legend and story have always reflected this; in the Arthurian romances the Round Table is shattered from within.

We may be quick to agree that there was a gap between the stated ethic of noblesse oblige and the ­actual actions of the nobility of the ancien régimeBut, much like those who took for granted the naturalness of political arrangements during the medieval ages, today’s elites seldom subject their meritocratic justifications of their status and position to the same skepticism.

While elites may suffer self-inflicted blindness to the nature of their position, the rest of society clearly sees what they are doing. The uprising among the working classes across the developed West arises from a perception of illegitimacy—of a gap between claims of the ruling class and reality as experienced by those who are ruled. It is no coincidence that these rebellions come from the socialist left and authoritarian right, two positions that now share opposition to state capitalism, a managerial ruling class, the financialization of the economy, and globalization. These populist rebellions are a challenge to the liberal order itself.

Our ruling class is more blinkered than that of the ancien régime. Unlike the aristocrats of old, they insist that there are only egalitarians at their exclusive institutions. They loudly proclaim their virtue and redouble their commitment to diversity and inclusion. They cast bigoted rednecks as the great impediment to perfect equality—not the elite institutions from which they benefit. The institutions responsible for winnowing the social and economic winners from the losers are largely immune from questioning, and busy themselves with extensive public displays of their unceasing commitment to equality. Meritocratic ideology disguises the ruling class’s own role in perpetuating inequality from itself, and even fosters a broader social ecology in which those who are not among the ruling class suffer an array of social and economic pathologies that are increasingly the defining feature of ­America’s underclass. Facing up to reality would require hard questions about the agenda underlying commitments to “diversity and inclusion.” Our ­stated commitment to “critical thinking” demands no less, but such questions are likely to be put down—at times violently—on contemporary campuses.

Campaigns for equality that focus on the inclusion of identity groups rather than examinations of the class divide permit an extraordinary lack of curiosity about complicity in a system that secures elite status across generations. Concern for diversity and inclusion on the basis of “ascriptive” features—race, gender, disability, or sexual orientation—allows the ruling class to overlook class while focusing on unchosen forms of identity. Diversity and inclusion fit neatly into the meritocratic structure, leaving the structure of the new aristocratic order firmly in place.

This helps explain the strange and often hysterical insistence upon equality emanating from our nation’s most elite and exclusive institutions. The most absurd recent instance was Harvard University’s official effort to eliminate social clubs due to their role in “enacting forms of privilege and exclusion at odds with our deepest values,” in the words of its president. Harvard’s opposition to exclusion sits comfortably with its admissions rate of 5 percent (2,056 out of 40,000 applicants in 2017). The denial of privilege and exclusion seems to increase in proportion to an institution’s exclusivity.

Highly touted commitments to equity, inclusion, and diversity do not only cloak institutional elitism. They also imply that anyone who is not included deserves his lower status. If elites largely regard their social status, wealth, and position as the result of their own efforts and work (and certainly not of birth or inheritance), then those who remain in the lower classes have, by the same logic, chosen to remain in such a condition. This scornful view is shared by prominent voices on the right and left. For instance, James Stimson—the Raymond Dawson Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina—recently told the New York Times:

When we observe the behavior of those who live in distressed areas, we are not observing the effect of economic decline on the working class, we are observing a highly selected group of people who faced economic adversity and choose to stay at home and accept it when others sought and found opportunity elsewhere. . . . Those who are fearful, conservative, in the social sense, and lack ambition stay and accept decline.

In other words, it’s their own fault. They deserve to lose, just as Harvard’s meritocrats deserve to win.

That the ruling class today is more prone to denounce inequality from its manicured campuses than promote among its own denizens belief in a common civic life is not a sign of its greater enlightenment and progress, but a sign of a new aristocracy that is unconscious of its own position and its concomitant responsibilities. They are deluded by an updated “noble” lie.

From the vantage of nearly 2,500 years, Plato’s noble lie doesn’t appear to be a falsehood after all. For a society to function, two seemingly contradictory beliefs must be simultaneously held: We are radically different and radically alike. We are extensively differentiated yet bound together. We are called to sometimes radically unequal tasks, but those tasks are part of an effort to benefit the whole. Plato thought the “fact of difference” would be easy for people to acknowledge, since it is so evident to our senses, if not always easy for those in a position of lower status to accept. The challenge was how to achieve belief in a common origin and shared kinship. The Republic of Plato was one effort to answer that challenge, if a fairly absurd and implausible one (as Socrates readily admitted). We have two main answers on the table today.

For as long as our nation has been in existence, confused and diverging streams have fed into the American creed. The first of these was political liberalism. It puts a stress upon individual rights and liberty, promising that if we commit to a common project of building a liberal society, our distinct and often irreconcilable differences will be protected. Liberalism affirms political unity as a means to ­securing our private differences.

Christianity has been the other stream. It approaches the question from the opposite perspective, understanding our differences to serve a deeper unity. This is the resounding message of St. Paul in chapters 12–13 of 1 Corinthians. There, Paul calls upon the squabbling Christians of Corinth to understand that their gifts are not for the glory of any particular person or class of people, but for the body as a whole. John Winthrop echoed this teaching in his seldom-read, oft-misquoted sermon aboard the Arbella, “A Model of Christian Charity.” Winthrop begins his speech with the observation that people have in all times and places been born or placed into low and high stations; the poor are always with us, as Christ observed. But this differentiation was not permitted and ordained for the purpose of the degradation of the former and glory of the latter, but for the greater glory of God, that all might know that they have need of each other and a responsibility to share particular gifts for the sake of the common. Differences of talent and circumstance exist to promote a deeper unity.

So long as liberalism was not fully itself—so long as liberalism was corrected and even governed by Christianity—a working social contract was possible. For Christianity, difference is ordered toward unity. For liberalism, unity is valued insofar as it promotes difference. The American experiment blended and confused these two understandings, but just enough to make it a going concern. The balance was always imperfect, leaving out too many, always ­unstably oscillating between quasi-theological evocation of unity and deracinated individualism. But it seemed viable for nearly 250 years. The recent steep decline of religious faith and Christian moral norms is regarded by many as marking the triumph of liberalism, and so, in a sense, it is. Today our unity is understood almost entirely in the light of our differences. We come together—to celebrate diversity. And today, the celebration of diversity ends up serving as a mask for power and inequality.

In this settlement, the language of rights prevails. But as Simone Weil noted decades ago, the language of rights ultimately cannot build, or even sustain, a common life:

If you say to someone who has ears to hear: ‘What you are doing to me is not just’, you touch and awaken at its source the spirit of attention and love. But it is not the same with words like ‘I have the right . . .’ or ‘you have no right to . . .’ They invoke a latent war and awaken the spirit of contention. To place the notion of rights at the centre of social conflicts is to inhibit any possible impulse of charity of both sides.

Weil predicted what we now experience. After more than two centuries, we can no longer assert the compatibility of Christianity and liberalism. Liberalism is ascendant, but its victory will be pyrrhic. A ­society solely premised upon a shared belief in individual differentiation will end in a war of all against all. The state of nature lies not in an imagined past; it is plainly visible in a near and all too real future.

The new aristocrats believe we have transcended the need for Christianity, which they regard as a myth no less mendacious than Plato’s noble lie. They believe that by dispelling the old myths, they can become the vanguard of an ever more equal society. They blind themselves to the fact that this claim is a form of status maintenance, allowing denial of a deeper commonality with those they regard as benighted and backward. Elites denounce the “populists” while denying that they have fomented a class war. They deplore the obnoxiousness of Donald Trump, perfectly obtuse of their complicity in his ascent.

We are in uncharted territory. Liberalism coexisted with Christianity for its entire history, with Christianity moderating the harder edges of the regnant political philosophy, supporting forms and practices that demanded from elites the recognition of their elevated status, and hence, corresponding responsibilities and duties to those less fortunate. The thoroughgoing disdain and dismissiveness of today’s elites toward the working class is a reflection of our newfound “enlightenment,” just as is the belief among the lower class that only a strong and equally disdainful leader can constrain the elites. Liberalism has achieved its goal of emptying the public square of the old gods, leaving it a harsh space of contestation among unequals who no longer see any commonality. Whether that square can be filled again with newly rendered stories of old telling us of a common origin and destination, or whether it must simply be dominated by whoever proves the strongest, is the test of our age.

By Patrick J. Deneen and published in First Things in April 2018 and can be found here.

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