Trump: Unplanned Pregnancy of Postmodernism

In his article, “Trump: Something New Under the Political Sun,” Victor Davis Hanson makes some good points. The primary one is this: while academics may enjoy shocking undergrads with the notion that there is no truth and competing narratives are all we’ve got, when that particular philosophy is truly believed and put into practice – like some 21st century political replay of Hitchcock’s ROPE — you get the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.
From the article:
“For years postmodernists have lectured us that there is no truth, no absolutes, no timeless protocols worthy of reverence; Trump is their Nemesis, who reifies their theories that truth is simply a narrative whose veracity is established by the degree of power and persuasion behind it.
“A reality-TV star, Trump appeals to those who despise reality-TV celebs like the Kardashians. A billionaire, he is the hero of those who hate billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, or Warren Buffett… A man who dyes and does his hair, tans his skin, and stretches his face, he appeals to those who have neither the money nor the desire to do the same.
“A self-described Republican, he attacks Republicans more than Democrats. An elite insider, he blasts elite insiders. He is both to the right and to the left of Cruz, Kasich, and Rubio. Trump rails against dirty campaign fundraising — and he assures us that no one knows such corruption better than he himself, since as a donor he used to spread cash around precisely to influence. Why else should anyone give?
“If the rules of politics do not apply to Trump, how then can Trump break them? For Donald Trump, there is only one third rail: conventionality. If he, as advised, were to stop calling his rivals liars and crooks; if he, as urged, were to read sober and judicious speeches off teleprompters; if he, as counseled, were to talk in politically correct platitudes, Trump would turn doctrinaire and conformist — and be undone by reviving the very orthodox rules he once strangled, but that otherwise strangle outsider-insiders like himself. If Trump were to listen to a politico and lose 30 pounds, shorten his tie, cut off his comb-over, and wear earth-tone clothes, he would be finished.
“His supporters want a reckoning with a system that has not so much failed as infuriated them. What drives their loyalty to Trump — if not the person, at least the idea of Trump — is a sort of nihilism. As a close friend put it to me this week, “I don’t care whether Trump wins or not, I just want him to f— things up as long as he can.

“…Trump is a postmodern creation, for whom traditional and time-tested rules do not apply. He is neither brilliant nor unhinged, neither ecumenical nor just a polarizer, not a wrecker and not a savior of the Republican party, but something else altogether. He does not defy conventional wisdom. There simply is no convention and no wisdom applicable to Donald J. Trump.”

In other words, if competing narratives – rather than truth to which we may all appeal – are all you’ve got, the loudest guy in the room wins.


Experiments On My Children

In this blog, as week by week I have actually attempted to think through my conclusions, I kept coming down to the necessity of “critical thinking.” By this, of course, I meant a grasp of very basic logical principles and errors, but at the very front of one’s mind — tools for wading through a constant barrage of propaganda. After all, these tools have no particular religions or political affiliation. They are just tools for getting at reality, sorting through competing narratives, etc.
It was inevitable, then, that I should realize how little I possess in the way of up-front knowledge of these tools and how absolutely zero critical thinking is taught to my children – not in Catholic school (back when we could afford that), nor in public school.
With this in mind, I have invested in a video series, Logic 101, by Scott M. Sullivan. It’s my plan / hope that we can all watch Logic 101 as a family. 😉
Yes, I am well aware of how silly and improbable that sounds.
But here’s the thing: I am convinced Jacques Ellul is right when he states that in a technological society (which he would, no doubt, call an “information society” were he alive today) propaganda is not merely easily disseminated. It is actually ••necessary•• as individuals attempt to make sense of the enormous flow of information which comes at them each and every day. People reach for the specific propaganda that will maintain their equilibrium – a sound bite’s worth of information (regarding a topic to which entire academic departments are dedicated) from a designated “expert” (accepted as such because she or he merely has the approval of one’s cultural bubble) that goes down easy because it further shores up the plausibility structures one already has in place.
It should go without saying that this can occur on the Left, the Right, among those with religious convictions or atheists. It doesn’t really matter, because the means of production that exist in the “information industry” are designed to produce quite purposefully what used to be called “skimming” when people read newspapers.
That’s just no way to live. It lends itself to the creation of a cultural and political elite which herds the populace this way or that through consumer compulsions and by picking which inequities to spotlight in the media — which to turn into a cause célèbre, because public outrage in that particular direction will serve some ulterior purpose. A kind of “entertainment fascism” with its own ratings system, sweeps week, etc.
It **seems** at first glance that the sheer deluge of information is impossible to sift through. And so, it is impossible to rise above it all and get some sort of genuine perspective. But information and principles of truth are two very different things.
For example, my son, Nicholas, occasionally encounters an Evangelical Christian on his college campus. This guy throws out a few Bible verses as Nicholas passes by. Nicholas is a nice guy, so he stops to chat. After a few minutes of conversation, the Evangelical knows Nicholas is Catholic and Nicholas knows intuitively that he disagrees with certain points the Evangelical has chosen (strategically) to lob in his direction. But Nicholas doesn’t quite know why. It’s like he’s stuck in mud. So what can Nicholas do?
First and foremost, he should realize that the Evangelical has, without Nicholas realizing it, set the terms of the debate.
That is, he has placed a kind of chess board in front of Nicholas and the pieces consist **only** of Scripture quotations. If Nicholas chooses to play the game, he accepts – without realizing it — that the game **can** only and **should** only be played using Scripture. If Nicholas knows Scripture well this may not be a problem. If he doesn’t know Scripture well and if this young man has learned merely a handful of quotes that support his position contra Catholicism, Nicholas is in trouble. What’s more, however, Nicholas has tacitly accepted the validity of the chess board itself — which asserts that Scripture alone is the measure of truth, leaving out the role of a teaching Church down through the centuries. Any reference to “but the Church teaches” is rendered invalid as Nicholas listens to the Evangelical’s personal, twenty-first century, American interpretation of Scripture.
The only way out is the use of reason — a common ground in which both Nicholas and the Evangelical can participate.
For instance, Nicholas might say, “Let’s back up a bit. Your arguments are entirely based upon Scripture. Who wrote the Contents Page of your Bible?” Then, further down the line, “Is that Contents Page as reliable as John 3:16? If that is the case, did the bishops at the church council which nailed down that Contents Page four hundred years after the birth of Christ enjoy the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Or is the Contents Page debatable, a mere ‘tradition of men’ and so on?”
In a similar way, the manner in which we receive information sets up a chess board of sorts — one which, if we accept it, involves tacitly accepting certain givens, limiting the range of argument and therefore the evidence which may be presented.
There are Blue States and Red States. There are Progressives and Conservatives. There are “haters” and “right-minded individuals” (I suppose). There is Fox and there is CNBC. There is National Review and there is Slate. There is pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II. There is black culture, white culture, Islamic culture, gay culture, straight culture, pop culture, high culture, low culture. We end up aligning ourselves with views, cultures, before we have even begun to think them through. And basically because we are overwhelmed, because we are not trained in how to think these things through, we assume only experts have a handle on it all, and so we end up trusting our feelings.
But if we have ever changed our mind about something – or have seen a friend (or opponent) change his mind about something – we know feelings are not altogether trustworthy. Or, to quote a rather dark Scripture, it is possible that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but it only leads to death.”
So, unless a person believes logic is itself a patriarchal construct (and how did they reach that conclusion without logic?), we have to back waaaaaaay up and learn how to think — rather than let branding be our guide.

So this summer we are going to experiment on our kids. And ourselves.

Somebody pop some popcorn.

Follow the Money

One of the strangest permutations of modern politics is the “highly paid social activist” – that is, the individual who postures as a person who is “out there taking risks” and is a selfless, dedicated “force for change” while making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. This is especially peculiar on the Left which deplores (and rightly so) the excesses and inequities of capitalism.

But it gets really bizarre when Planned Parenthood’s corporate execs and local managers set higher “abortion quotas” for clinics that aren’t bringing in enough cash and cry “war against women” when federal funding is threatened — while these self-same execs’ salaries range from $590,928 to $247,606 and the salaries of those who run the top ten clinics in the nation range from $372,375 to $272,470.

This, to my mind, is no different than the ugly revelation of a TV evangelist who begs for “love offerings” from his viewers so that more souls may be saved through his ministry — when, in fact, he lives in a mansion and collects rare cars. If the money is oh so necessary so that people may gain access to reproductive healthcare options, why are the twelve execs at PP listed in the article linked below each making well over $250,000 annually? Plainly, “social awareness” can be turned to making big money just as much as “religious fervor.”




Do It Again…

I DON’T TOTALLY AGREE with the essay linked below, but perhaps only because my acquaintance with Neal deGrasse Tyson is primarily his short, enthusiastic discussions with Stephen Colbert. But wow. Sam Kriss is a heckuva writer. I’m not sure he fully communicated “reductionism” to people who don’t already know what “reductionism” is, but he’s a heckuva writer.

The problem is that understanding how a thing works in scientific terms SEEMS to push the meaning of the thing out the window – as though the moment when a scientific grasp of a certain phenomenon occurs any previous meaning attached to the thing is vaporized. Imagine a person saying, “I no longer consider the beauty of a sunset, because I now know the sun does not ‘set’. Rather, it is the earth that is moving and it only appears to ‘set’ in the minds of humans who are woefully uninformed. This whole ‘beauty’ thing seems inappropriate now.” That is very unlikely. Nevertheless, the mental reflex that generates the FEELING, “The more we understand how things work in scientific terms the more a religious projection of purpose is disproven” is essentially the *same* statement.

Repetition is taken to mean mindless mechanics. Done and done. And the assumption is that religious people think in terms of zero mechanics — that if a pagan did not “understand gravity” and thought some divine Person in a chariot was moving the sun across the sky, the moment scientists say the earth goes round the sun, the moment they call that movement “orbit,” the moment they ascribe “orbit” to a universal tendency or law called “gravity,” the pagan is undone. There can be no personal agency ascribed to these things, because in seeing better how they FUNCTION we have arrived at a knowledge of what they ARE. But we don’t know what gravity IS, we simply know what it DOES. As even Bertrand Russel said, “‘Electricity is not a thing like St. Paul’s Cathedral; it is a way in which things behave.” It is a predictable behavior or relationship we have noticed in nature. Ditto “gravity.” The discovery of a predictable, measurable relationship between matter and energy does not eliminate the possibility of personal agency.

It may feel this way to us, because we can now depend on certain things happening and make plans – even visit the moon – based on the certitude that these “laws” or “constants” will not change. But the same can be said about, for example, the human heart. If I were to give my wife a Valentine’s Card and she were to see a little red heart on it, it is unlikely she will declare, “I’m sorry, dear, but we now know the heart is merely a muscle the size of a fist that sends blood through your body. It has nothing to do with love.”

Is this because my wife is hopelessly unscientific? No. It’s because we all are in the habit of **acknowledging mysteries** as we relate to one another. The relationship between soul and body is a mystery. So the heart can be a symbol — or more than a symbol — of love. The relationship between God and the predictable behavior of the universe is a mystery. The rising sun can be a symbol — or more than a symbol — of hope and benevolent love.

Back to my Valentine’s card. We know that the heart does DO things — even repetitiously — but we also know that as thinking and feeling creatures we associate our deepest emotions with our heart. (I am not aware of a tribe in New Guinea which ascribes them to the left butt cheek.) Whether this is in some sense true – whether there is some actual relationship between the soul and the heart, so that sad thoughts cause physical pain to gather round the heart just as physical heart trouble causes sad thoughts to gather round our hospital bed — that’s a mystery. Because just how our soul and our body relate to one another is still a mystery.

To put it another way, here is G. K. Chesterton commenting on the same false notion — that repetition always equals mindless mechanics and is, therefore, a proof against personal agency — in his book, “Orthodoxy” (paragraph breaks added):

“All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption.

“It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire.

“A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstasy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction.

“Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.

“For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE. Heaven may ENCORE the bird who laid an egg. If the human being conceives and brings forth a human child instead of bringing forth a fish, or a bat, or a griffin, the reason may not be that we are fixed in an animal fate without life or purpose. It may be that our little tragedy has touched the gods, that they admire it from their starry galleries, and that at the end of every human drama man is called again and again before the curtain.

“Repetition may go on for millions of years, by mere choice, and at any instant it may stop. Man may stand on the earth generation after generation, and yet each birth be his positively last appearance.”

Why Fanatics Can’t Laugh at Themselves

So I’m scanning the radio stations for someone talking about the nitty gritty of the election and I end up on something called American Family Radio at 88.9 FM. I don’t usually listen to Conservative talk radio, but in the next fifteen minutes or so I am treated to discussion of Neil Postman’s seminal book “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” comparison of Huxley’s dystopian future to Orwell’s, a promo for cheap copies of C. S. Lewis’ “The Abolition of Man,” and an extended critique of Senator Barbara Boxer’s use of a common philosophical error. Not homophobia, not “kick out the immigrants,” but boots to the ground critical thinking. I almost ran off the road.

Granted, these were followed by assertions that “bathroom laws” passed in Mississippi and North Carolina are a matter of “common sense.” But at least the appeal was to something called “common sense” — something to which opposing parties could point and argue their case — rather than to a zeitgeist driven “feeling” for Whatever All Thinking People Currently Believe.

In case you’ve missed the furor, Mississippi and North Carolina have passed bills which require a person identified as, for example, “male” on their birth certificate to use the Men’s Room in public — even if that person is transgender and self-identifies as female. People, say, 50 years old and above, who did not grow up with a gender politics mindset regard it as a rather bizarre turn of events that such a bill should turn out to be needed at all. Meanwhile, those who believe transgender individuals have the right to use whatever bathroom matches their self-identified gender regard the latter as hopelessly phobic, mob mentality types. Maybe even “fascist,” since that once rather specific term seems to mean “the wrong sort of intolerance” these days.

For all I know, there are transgender people out there who perfectly understand the qualms of those in favor of “bathroom bills” even while ultimately disagreeing. Or, at least, they can understand the situations that might result. Recently, in Seattle, a group of women in the women’s locker room of a public swimming pool were treated to the spectacle of a man – or, at least, a person sporting a male physique – disrobing in front of them. When the women quite naturally freaked out and informed the pool staff, this person informed the staff that “the law has changed and I have a right to be here.” The person left. Then, however, he came back and proceeded to disrobe while a group of young girls changed into their swim suits. The person never point-blank said, “I am transgender,” but perhaps did not feel this was necessary.

Imagine a person who, while displaying rather obvious male genitalia, sternly informs a group of dismayed 13 year old girls, “Don’t be on the wrong side of history.” The absurd, incongruous, lived reality of the thing cannot be dismissed simply by loudly declaring The New Norm. Surely, even the most ardent ideologue can understand why people are having to work this thing out.

In fact, the sort of PC grandstanding that can declare “It’s OBVIOUS that man should be allowed in a women’s locker room!” with no sense of how this might register with the general public sounds a bit like the Humorless Ideologue or Prancing Authority Figure so often parodied by Monty Python — an individual so caught up in exaggerated self-importance that they have lost all sense of proportion.

By now, some readers perhaps are beginning to feel a slight discomfort — because the author isn’t supposed to “think through” that situation in Seattle. He is supposed to affirm immediately that person’s right to use the women’s locker room. Done and done. Otherwise, he cannot be counted among the Enlightened. Otherwise, the author plainly suffers from zeitgeist dysphasia. Or perhaps he is phobic in some way not yet labeled.

Yet, this very discomfort is the problem. The fear of saying the wrong thing and so appearing in some sense “phobic” or “on the wrong side of history” is what is really inappropriate — in the context of critical thinking. If we are in the very midst of social change, we must be about the work of thinking these things through. This means we must feel free to articulate what is on our mind. What’s more, we need the social breathing room to screw up a bit in our attempts to articulate our thoughts. Merely acquiescing to superficial “status quo signals” because we fear rejection is like allowing product placement in our lives. It is nothing more or less than a generally agreed upon censorship — squelching discussion much as a “Red Scare” might have affected the social “dos and don’ts” of past generations. It silences the necessary public conversation that is part of critical thinking.

But, hey, don’t listen to me. Listen to John Cleese.

According to a Daily Mail article’s rather lengthy title, Political correctness is killing comedy, says John Cleese: Monty Python star believes fear of offending certain groups could lead to 1984-style society where free expression is not allowed

“John Cleese says that political correctness and fear of offending could lead to a 1984-style society.

John Cleese (pictured) says that political correctness and fear of offending could lead to a 1984-style society

John Cleese

“‘If you start to think “ooh, we mustn’t criticize or offend them,” [Cleese states,] “humor is gone, with humor goes a sense of proportion, and then as far as I’m concerned we’re living in 1984.’

“Cleese…said that ‘all comedy is critical,’ in a video for The Big Think.

“…People do not have the right to be ‘protected from any kind of uncomfortable emotion.'”

“He then quotes psychologist Robin Skynner, saying: ‘If people can’t control their own emotions then they [feel a] need to start controlling other people’s behavior,’ as he continues the profound tirade.’

“Cleese adds: ‘When you’re around people who are hyper-sensitive, you can’t relax, be spontaneous as you have no idea what is going to upset them next.

Cleese regularly poked fun at various nationalities in Fawlty Towers (pictured, with Spanish waiter Manuel, right) but many of the jokes would today be considered offensive

The cast of Fawlty Towers

Cleese in the famous The Germans episode of Fawlty Towers, in which he pokes fun at the British paranoia of mentioning 'the war'

Cleese in the famous “The Germans” episode of Fawlty Towers, in which he pokes fun at the British paranoia of mentioning “The War”

“‘I’ve been warned recently not to go to university campuses because political correctness has been taken from being a good idea, from “let’s not be mean particularly to people who are not able to look after themselves very well,”to the point where any kind of criticism of any kind of individual or group can be labelled cruel…”

“Cleese and the other comedians in Monty Python pushed the boundaries of comedy in the 60s and 70s, and movie Life of Brian – a spoof version of the story of Jesus – offended numerous groups.”

In his essay, The Politics of Humor, A. A. Berger writes, ““It is humor that enables us to see politicians for what they are – human beings, with the same problems we all face. […] Humor strips away illusion and awe.”

Political correctness, I’m afraid, also operates via illusion and awe. What’s left but status quo scare tactics if there is no such thing as a truly objective reality to which we all may appeal in making our case? Minus truly objective standards of right and wrong — objective in the sense that all are beholden to them — illusion and awe are all we have left. Refer to the Tao or to Judeo-Christian revelation. Just refer to something greater than the limited and changeable perspective that exists between your two ears.

This is what Cleese is pointing to when he uses the word “proportion.” A taboo can be lampooned only if a comedian appeals to a higher sanity, so to speak. A much needed tonic of absurdity helps us only when it reveals how far the norm has gone off the tracks. Cleese’s complaint is that this is altogether socially impossible if no one is willing to laugh at themselves. What he doesn’t pursue is WHY this is the case.

I would suggest if we are all entirely self-defined now and no longer beholden to some higher standard, there is no possibility of proportion, no credulity by which we recognize the ridiculous.

Even Kathy Griffin runs into Cleese’s dilemma. On My Life on the D List, Season 4, Episode 7: “Busted in Bora Bora,” Griffin, much beloved by the gay community, performs at a special gay retreat held at an all-inclusive luxury resort. Nevertheless, she runs afoul of her audience when she jokes about gay men who having made their way through fifty lovers in the past year suddenly decide to become a parent. She doesn’t say this as a conservative pointing to a recent study in gay male lifestyle patterns from the CDC, but as the Gay Rights Advocate Par Excellence. So why does she make the joke? She’s seen what goes on and she’s a comedian: her sense of proportion kicks in and points to the irony. Why did she bomb? “You can’t say that.” Not even if you’re Kathy Griffen.

A sense of proportion is impossible (and so satire is impossible) if there’s no true-truth out there somewhere — if, as in Orwell’s 1984, O’Brien, a representative of Ingsoc, can hold four fingers before Winston Smith and instruct him that it is five, because the Cause SAYS it is five. As O’Brien instructs Winston:

“Look at my hand, Winston. Right now, you see indeed four fingers held up to you. But as you can see (O’Brien uncovers his thumb, showing all five fingers), I have in fact five fingers. That is the essence of the Party, Winston: you think you know the truth by seeing things with your senses, but as you can see, your senses can disappoint you. The Party knows everything, is everything: the Party knows that there are five fingers here, even if you only see four of them. The Party knows the truth that you cannot see from the place you are standing at, because you are weak alone. The Party is strong and omniscient, and therefore if the Party says that two and two equals three, or five, it will always be right: you, by yourself, cannot know the truth.”

The result of this approach is unfettered, unrecognized absurdity — outrage over trivialities. Everyone is liable to be offended by any criticism. Why? Because they make matters of truth trivial, as changeable as the wind, yet associate their very identity with the same unhinged trivialities.

Take “gender fluidity” for example. Actress Ruby Rose (“Orange Is the New Black”) describes her own gender fluidity in this way:

“Gender fluidity is not really feeling like you’re at one end of the spectrum or the other. For the most part, I definitely don’t identify as any gender. I’m not a guy; I don’t really feel like a woman, but obviously I was born one. So, I’m somewhere in the middle, which — in my perfect imagination — is like having the best of both sexes. I have a lot of characteristics that would normally be present in a guy and then less that would be present in a woman. But then sometimes I’ll put on a skirt — like today.”

Likewise, a post on the site reads as follows:

“I’m not an expert on genders, and am rather new to the whole gender thing itself, but this is very much the same sort of thing I feel and I myself identify as genderfluid.  I’m predominantly male, but sometimes have relapses into femininity, especially around that time of the month, and some days I’m simply nothing.  I still like ‘feminine’ and cute things such as skirts, but I’m uncomfortable being called a she.

“It’s important to know that you don’t have to come out as any gender, or put a label on it, since you are you no matter what!

“I feel that, from the description you’ve given me, genderfluidity would be good for you, as it doesn’t tie you to one gender.  Since you identify predominantly as female, you can easily still go by female pronouns, but sometimes mix it up, y’know?

“Either way, I hope you find something you’re comfortable with!”

Gender may be something that adults discuss with some seriousness and with the hope there is genuine scientific / psychological study involved in the conclusions we reach, but this is not the case with the next generation. For people, say, under twenty-four years old, gender is something you try on like acid-washed jeans versus a leather skirt. A person “finds” their gender the same way people used to “find” their major. They change their gender with the same ease with which a person might try a college class in archeology over a class in canoeing.

The argument being made here is not so much that people who have discovered they are transgender through a difficult process of self-discovery should be able to use the bathroom corresponding with their self-identification, but whether Sovereign Selves utterly disconnected from any criteria whatsoever other than whether they feel like wearing a skirt today should be able to choose whatever bathroom suits them at any given time. And whether anyone who cannot see this is standing in the way of the Sovereign Self’s right to happiness. “Why would anyone but a hater stand in the way of a person’s happiness?” cries the Sovereign Self while ignoring the looks of blank unbelief on the majority of the population.

If you don’t believe things have gotten that bad, you don’t have kids in high school.

There are real people out there who are searching these things out in their lives with real seriousness — not the giddy, self-imposed voodoo of a gender-based mood ring. The quotes above seem unreal, like people are skipping stones across the thin surface of some pop superficiality. But that very carefree, anchorless, pretty-soon-genetics-will-allow-us to-be-one-part-human-one-part-hedgehog quality is the appeal of the thing. “I am not beholden to anything Judeo-Christian thought once defined as reality.” “A feeling came upon me this week after reading a trans teen’s post on Tumblr and that feeling is now charting my fourteen year old course in life.” “And, by the way, I am part of a grand struggle for equality, facing off against legions of Trump supporters who will never understand me.”

Sounds kind of juvenile. Kind of perpetually adolescent.

The questions before us are:

1) Was everyone experiencing this changeable gender fluidity all this time, right there in the middle of the Fifties, and were squelched in pursuing their true selves until these hyper categories became part of the high school lexicon?

2) Or did a small percentage of the population experience gender confusion for reasons we still do not entirely understand? And did the efforts of that group — to put violent protest behind them and “make gay okay” — succeed? And did something beyond acceptance of homosexuality come to pass? Did a kind of end logic enter the culture and – as so often happens – the youth saw that end logic far more clearly than the previous generation? And so did the youth actually put it into practice an end logic which even gay activists might have shrunk from?

Gay activists in Seattle, regarding the fellow who disrobed in front of preteens because it was his “right,” ARE saying, “This doesn’t actually help us. We wish he hadn’t done that.” Teenagers, meanwhile, ARE saying without hesitation and with that adolescent air of defiant unreality, “Of course, he should be free to do that! I mean, anyone who abuses this freedom and molests someone will certainly be arrested. So what’s the big deal?” Meanwhile, fathers around the nation are wondering, “How do I let my little girl just waltz into the Women’s Room at Target now? I can’t go in there to make sure she’s okay. And we don’t own a Baby’s First Taser.”

Of course, the righteous response is, “If you haven’t experienced these feelings, you have no business commenting on them.” But, as I said before, are these the genuine struggles of individuals experiencing persistent identification with the other gender? Or is it a gender fluid game of spin-the-bottle? How many teenagers would be toying with these concepts of self if the drama of it all was not in the air? I mean, imagine yourself as a teenager. Then imagine yourself as a teenager dealing not merely with the usual questions regarding identity, but with a kind of perpetual gender masquerade ball powerfully influenced by the usual nonsense: peer perception, popularity, branding, celebrity, etc. Teenagers aren’t making judgements based on scientific studies regarding gender. They’re getting a buzz off today’s dose of righteous indignation on Tumblr.

The fact is, despite cultural momentum toward greater equality and multiculturalism, people still desire to be special. One of a kind. The chosen one. How is this possible if in today’s kid games everybody wins, if every single member of the softball team gets a trophy, and if observation of the adults in your world has shown you the best you can hope for out of life is to pursue pleasure and avoid pain — so there is no virtue, no heroism, no true greatness, because there is no truth worth dying for? The only option left – aside from “joining the Peace Corps” or “becoming a marine biologist” — is to assert one’s uniqueness and moral superiority by identifying with a despised minority. While it is still possible. If homophobes didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent them. The inane loyalties teenagers once applied to brand identification simply have shifted to gender politics. There’s just so much more grand drama to breathe in.

In the above view of life, once you have chosen “the right side of history,” there is merely the bald, unabashed assertion of self-identity — an existential flexing of self in an otherwise meaningless universe. And if that’s ALL YOU HAVE in the way of self worth, anyone who challenges “your truth” — even in jest — becomes the Enemy. Just as Winston Smith, if he persists in saying he sees four fingers, becomes the Enemy. Just as there are no comedians in Orwell’s 1984.

The result: John Cleese can’t do stand-up on college campuses and the genuine struggles of individuals who experience same sex attraction or gender identity issues are trivialized.

Why Faith?

If those who view human history as progress — out of the irrational childhood of faith and into the reasoning, responsible adulthood of science — are correct, why does Jesus emphasize time after time after time the absolute necessity of faith?

It you read the accounts of Jesus’ life, you don’t get the impression Jesus is “fomenting” the irrational. To the contrary, he displays a wonderful clarity of thought. Not only is he rational in his own thinking, he often points out the irrational in his opponents’ arguments.


So why does he go around saying faith is not optional, but necessary? Why does he use the term “faith” not as a buzz word for some radical new concept, but as something that should be as common as breathing? Faith, in Jesus’ view, is not escape from reality, but part of reality.

Likewise, he does not speak of faith as though it is a concept which only philosophers might adequately understand. He behaves, instead, as though it is as common and as accessible as dirt or rain or sunshine.

People are surrounded by “evidence for faith” and Jesus is asking them merely to recognize enough of that evidence to produce “faith the size of a mustard seed.”

It seems that everyone, then, has one essential challenge in life:  a choice regarding what we really believe about life based on however many years we are given to wrestle with the evidence.

One possible choice is that we rather pathetically project meaning onto a cruel and empty universe.


The other possible choice is that this tendency is actually noble and courageous. Perceiving meaning or purpose is ultimately – if not always immediately or easily – an accurate reading of reality.

Faith involves persisting in the latter. It is a dogged, determined trust in the goodness of God which refuses to dismiss the good in life as an unfortunate illusion.

Both choices involve a degree of trust. There is, after all, the question of one’s ability to read the evidence. No one is omniscient. No one can form an ironclad conclusion based on the totality of all evidence. So even the choice to reject meaning involves an element of trust — that “I’ve seen enough” to form a conclusion. Jesus characterizes this is “stiff necked” and “stubborn” as though it is a choice made in defiance of the evidence and actually driven by personal motives:  pride, concealment of private sins. Faith, then, often belongs to those who already freely admit their flaws: the marginalized, the poor, the hated. In this sense, Heidegger was right. We don’t examine the evidence with perfect objectivity. The presence of the individual does affect the outcome of this experiment, because the individual has a personal stake in its outcome.

This is why John the Baptist came first. He paved the way for greater clarity in people’s perception by offering a baptism of repentance in which people publicly confessed their sins. The more transparent you are, the more receptive.

Jesus seems almost painfully aware of the raw materials of life, the evidence, which  insist that God is good. The mere fact that rain falls upon the just and the unjust is evidence of his Father’s generosity. Most of his listeners did not see things that way. In our own day, we tend to view rainfall as a mechanical function of mindless nature; there is no sense whatsoever that rain and the generosity of a benevolent God are linked. In fact, it strikes us as absurd.


But for Jesus the good things in life are indicators of  what is permanent, while the evil things is ephemeral, transient. Faith is an act of loyalty to the good in the face of innumerable, yet ultimately empty challenges.Acts of kindness, then, are an affirmation of ultimate reality — that God is Love — while the pursuit of power affirms emptiness and hedonism obsesses over trivialities.

Jesus’ sense of progress in human history prompts him to wonder aloud, “When the Son of Man returns will he find faith on the earth?” It causes him to say to the women of Jerusalem, who wept for him as he carried his cross to Golgotha, “If men do this when the tree is yet green, what will they do when it is dry?”

Faith is rare. It is made even more rare when every good thing in life which in previous times might have been ascribed to the agency of a benevolent God is now ascribed to the non-agency, the mindless action/reaction of a universe defined entirely according to scientific principles.

Fortunately for us, however, we are inconsistent. We may assert there is no God and we may tacitly accept the notion that everything, including ourselves, is the product of processes as mindless as the tides, but we still react to the sound of the birds waking up in the morning as though it were an unexpected gift. We may start the day by composing an essay on why cloning human beings for organ harvesting turns out to be just fine, but we still experience the aroma of coffee brewing as though it were an immense blessing. We may drive a car that sports a bumper sticker reading, “Keep Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries,” but we marvel at our children as though they were miracles.

In other words, we experience life as a gift crammed with gratuitous pleasures, as a sky filled with exploding fireworks of meaning, even if, simultaneously, we hold to the official line that there is no God and meaning is artificial.

Grace pushes us to make a definitive choice between these incompatible positions.

Some people actually pursue truth. But for most of us, eventually, a test comes. We are asked to commit an act so terrible that we realize — at the very front of our minds — this will mean trampling upon the honest-to-God meaning we secretly attach to life.

If we say “No” to this act, we finally affirm that God is love, that our loyalty is with love. This becomes an act of rational trust, of faith.

If we say “Yes” to that terrible act, then in the weeks, months, and perhaps years that follow we feel a strange poison work its way through our system. But all is not necessarily lost. Even this bitter consequence can become a strong argument. Some afternoon, our resistance snaps. We admit our fault. We stop in our tracks, turn round, and find our way back.

Our loyalty — somehow, we always knew — should have been elsewhere.


White Male Deviance

I was in our downtown Macon bookstore, The Golden Bough, shooting the breeze with the owner, Eric, when I noticed an inky black volume on the shelf. The spine said in plain white lettering, Black Male Deviance.

“I would feel a little weird purchasing a book called Black Male Deviance,” I said.

“There’s actually lots of textbooks like that. Whole academic departments devoted to studying that sort of thing,” Eric replied.

In a recent post, we discussed how humanity runs afoul of natural systems, clogging the works or shutting them down outright with plastics pollution, oil spills, and the like. The feeling is that we are out of sync with nature.

It seems logical that there should be natural systems in place regarding human beings as well – interpersonal systems, if you will. Such systems might be equally vulnerable. And when everything goes koyaanisqatsi – a Hopi word meaning “life out of balance” – we get to sit back and watch as deviancy does its thing. In horror rather than celebration, one hopes.

I realize the term “black male deviance” often refers to crime and “oppositional culture” (“Woven into the fabric of African American culture is a vital oppositional element. This element, spoken of in many circles as ‘oppositional culture’ constitutes a bold and calculated rejection of destructive mainstream values that have perpetuated social inequalities and power imbalances.” – The Political Delinquent: Crime, Deviance, and Resistance in Black America, Trevor Gardner II). Nevertheless, I imagine the study of black male deviance also deals in statistics regarding children born out of wedlock — that is, the number of black men who show no responsibility toward children and family. As reported in Marriage and Poverty in the U.S.: By the Numbers, “In 1963, 3.1 percent of white children were born out of wedlock. By 2008, the number had risen to 28.6 percent. In 1963, 24.2 percent of blacks were born out of wedlock. By 2008 the number had risen to 72.3 percent.”

Is this an example of “life out of balance,” a broken natural system? Or is this the deliberate, oppositional flaunting of middle-class, white hegemony?

Well, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wasn’t black (last time I checked). And it wasn’t that long ago that Rousseau composed his Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality. Here, Rousseau offers his own version of Genesis — one in which Adam satisfies his desire for Eve as often as he likes and enjoys an indolent, pleasure-driven existence utterly without regard for his offspring. The pangs of conscience are an alien thing, because man is simply an animal who happens to be “the most advantageously organized of all.” Any “state of reflection” necessary to forming a good conscience “is a state contrary to nature.” Therefore, “the man who meditates is a depraved animal.” He is, instead, a feeling animal, savoring “the sentiment” of the moment “without any idea of the future.”

While the original Genesis account proposes a natural system which fosters both self-giving love and a safe haven in which children can develop, Rousseau describes an oppositional Eden in which “males and females united fortuitously, depending on encounter, occasion, and desire…and they left each other with the same ease.”

Sounds like another Saturday night at Whiskey River.

For Rousseau, a state of amoral, unreflective, primitive bliss was itself the Good which religion came along and ruined. Rousseau regarded the family as an obscene anomaly, the root of all inequality. In his version of “the beginning,” sexual pleasure has no connection with love, love has no connection with responsibility, and so Adam and Eve are equal precisely because they are amoral. It is when a sense of responsibility enters the picture that humanity falls from grace.

As Benjamin Wiker puts it:

“With this fall from equality arose the notion that one man should be linked with just one woman — a notion that came about, Rousseau imagined, because a man and a woman happened to stay together long enough in a thrown-together shelter to understand that their sexuality was connected with the effort of producing a child. The man thus spent his time out hunting for food for all of them, taking the role of provider, and the woman stayed in the hut taking on the role of wife, a role that made her softer than the man. Her physical degeneration brought dependence on his strength, and so the sexes became complimentary, related to each other in a family where male and female have become physically and functionally distinct.”

Wiker continues:

“…This all led to notions of mine and thine — not only to possessive (rather than free and spontaneous) sexuality, but also to private property born of the desire to care for my wife and my children. Family and property meant the loss of our original goodness, and even more, of our original spontaneous freedom to satisfy our desires with no obligations, no moral duties, and no labor. The inequality of the sexes, the family, the home, the man as provider, private property, the necessity of work — all these are signs of our loss of original goodness and equality.”

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Because what I’m thinking is, “How is it that Rousseau’s picture of ‘how life ought to be’ sounds so familiar and yet so absurd?”

I would suggest it feels familiar, because we are doing our damnedest to live as Rousseau described, pursuing a primitive, “unburdened” state of pleasure minus love.

And it is absurd, because we know love without responsibility is simply a joke.

Rousseau’s rather reptilian worldview aside, the natural mammalian system in place (inarguably) is that sexual pleasure and new life are intertwined. Simply put, ape families care for ape children. Only with human beings is this interdependence treated as a troublesome Gordian Knot — so that the sword of technology (contraception, abortion) divides sex from life and life from family. Only we indulge in “pleasure out of balance.”

If this is the case, is it not possible that “pleasure greed” is destructive to natural human systems — just as destructive, in fact, as the “material greed” that gives a nod to strip mining or animal experimentation? In both cases, we see the abuse of natural systems for the sake of a disjointed human desire. In both cases, statistics can be produced that are in essence an outline of unforeseen domino effects on fragile systems.

When the Marquis de Sade writes in Justine,“Women… are nothing but machines designed for voluptuousness,” THAT is the distilled essence of male deviance regardless of male pigmentation, male indigenous culture, male what-have-you. The problem is that desire for what may be harmed by our desire results in objectification — the lessening of guild by the lessening of the target’s value — whether women become sex objects or nature itself is defined down as mere raw material. Then, once objectification is in place, we may apply technology to the problem. That is, a man-devised system may be turned against a natural system — because “there’s nothing sacred.”

But it’s not only that. We also objectify when we deny the end, the purpose, the “telos” of a thing.

Recall the telos which de Sade proposes for women: “a machine designed for voluptuousness.” A woman’s “purpose” or “fulfillment” is not merely “being voluptuous” so that someone like de Sade may have his way with her and leave the poor woman staring at the ceiling. Contra-de Sade, we balk at this.

But we sometimes run into a telos that gets in our way.

Our generation rejects – even is revolted by – any sense that our actions should conform to what philosophers call Natural Law. Of course, “Food is for the stomach” is not usually a problem. But what if I were to point out that all human organs are systems complete within themselves — except for the reproductive organs? What if I proposed that the male and female reproductive organs (uniquely) need each other to find their purpose or telos? And what if I proposed that downgrading reproductive organs to mere instruments of pleasure radically subverts their telos — sending waves of distortion through society and producing exactly the statistical devastation previously described?

Part of us balks at this, asserting we can do anything we darned well please with our bodies. But if the Sovereign Self reigns over the body — and all bodily potentialities — without regard to nature, without regard to how social systems may be affected in some unforeseen manner, is this not very similar to our rapacious use of the Earth and her resources without regard for fragile natural systems?

After all, the Sovereign Human Race that regards the Earth merely as fuel for the fire of Progress is simply a collection of Sovereign Selves.

How do we so readily ignore this possibility? Or, perhaps, how is it that we reject it so passionately?

Simply put, we have come to feel that in this life pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain is all that’s left to us. Complicating this is the fact that all manner of pleasures turn out to be desirable for people. So, with a shrug, we decide whatever IS is right. The desires of each Sovereign Self exist in a kind of No Consequence Zone distinct from any possible impact on nature and from any negative social consequences which are not immediately apparent. It goes without saying the possibility of divine judgement is almost an absurdity — to the point that I must propose the possibility of “sin” merely in terms of deviance from a fragile natural system if “sin” is to be authentically understood.

There are inner conflicts, of course. “Am I using him?” “Is this wrong after all?” But a continuing influx of technology – all shiny and new – distracts us from these worries, whispering that the deconstruction of the sacred was bound to happen anyhow and the “I feel dead inside” thing won’t last. Doctors are working miracles in antidepressants these days.

And besides — Rousseau’s Brave New Eden is well underway.