Revolution Sweeps Your Life Like a Caribbean Hurricane, By Ismael Hernandez Freedom & Virtue Institute
Posted on May 16, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
Looking inward was not an option. My socialist sensibilities and early training in ideological conformity were nurtured for too long to let them plunder under any momentary curiosity. My character was by then formed by a complex stew of emotional, psychological, and intellectual ingredients akin to a religious experience preparing me for a holy crusade. There was no room for doubt because the rooms were already filled with socialist truth. Thus, when my college acquaintance presented his ‘socialist-lite’ alternative for Puerto Rican independence, I laughed at him. Any perceived aperture to the possibility of compromise away from socialist orthodoxy had no space in my universe. I considered it the stuff from where heresies grow. Consequently, as I waited for the taxicab at the city of Aguadilla, I delighted in making him look like a fool:
— ‘I cannot accept your ideas. You do not understand! The only alternative is to destroy this society, bring it down to the ground and, from its ashes, build the just socialist society,’
— ‘I am not sure of that, Ismael, what about…’ He replied with kindness.
— ‘You are not a socialist, ‘friend’!’
Later on, during my hot mid-day cab ride, I felt terrible at the way I mocked the guy. I struggled in vain to erase the emotional discomfort arising from my behavior but I could not apologize. To apologize would be to show weakness in my effort to bring about heaven on earth. Expressing regret meant threading the path of surrendering the dream. After all, the heart of the socialist is sowed with the thread of utopia. I managed to shift from my emotional discomfort by focusing on the scenic majesty of the land. As my eyes followed the natural magnificence, I found some relief from the guilt that oppressed me.
Recently, I took same Aguadilla turn in route to the city of Mayagüez and, as back then, I was caught by its attractiveness once more. This time, the picturesque contour offered an opportunity for pure admiration rather than emotional avoidance. Engulfed by astonishing beauty, I descended toward the Guajataca turn where the green mountaintops are followed by the indigo splendor of the ocean. The rain forest mountains are everywhere to the left and still today seem impregnated with color and life. In their outline, I am convinced, we can get a glimpse at what God had in mind when making paradise. At times, if you listen carefully with your soul, you may hear the Arawakan cries of the Taíno people cooling on the sea breeze of the evening while admiring the landscape filled with typical Puerto Rican plants like the yagrumos, alelís, and giant ferns. Then, to your right, you can delight on the majestic plain yonder, and, a little further, on the crystal blue of the Atlantic hovering around in an eternal affair with the sparkling foam.
Do not allow it to fool you however, as the expansive realm of the ocean splendor hides beneath raging tidal currents of untold turmoil, as if they have witnessed the spilled blood of the Taínopeople wounded by the brutal blade of Spaniard conquistadores. With that in mind, and as if out of nowhere, the far-gone incident with my friend came back to haunt me. Emotion caught me as I asked God to erase time and place me again before my friend so that I could ask for forgiveness, so that I could ask him to look within me and see the infinite leap in understanding I have been blessed with. A leap I had not yet encountered on that long-gone day. Silently, I prayed for my friend and for forgiveness.
While descending through one of those notorious island curves on that route, I always feel as if the car will inevitably tumble down into the nothingness beneath. The long ride and the fear are symbolic, I think, of the perilous leap away from the idea of socialism; emblematic of the ecstasy and turmoil experienced when a socialist has second thoughts. Measuring the distance from one ideological pole to its opposite gives me a sense of falling into that depth, of losing myself. Such is the grip that revolution has on true believers. To abandon the idea of revolution is death, and worse, it is betrayal.
The turmoil brewing in the Deep materialized itself on a parcel of humanity infecting the marvelous scenery in days before my birth but in ways nearing closer. On the early morning hours of November 7, 1944, a train packed with electors going back home to vote in their districts was travelling from San Juan to Ponce. Train number three of the American Railroad Company headed west. At each stop on its way new passengers boarded as the train approached the city of Aguadilla. Without a doubt, the beauty recently engulfing me was not naked before them. I can only imagine that the breeze coming from the north occasionally interrupted the dull sounds of the powerful iron monster with a tidal wave of life carrying with it the harmonious singing of the Coquí.
The machine deviated at the Jimenez Station to switch conductors. Although the new one had no experience with passenger trains, Mr. José Antonio Román was supposed to finish the trip all the way to the southern city of Ponce. It must have been around 2 a.m. as the train sped down the hill section known as Cuesta Vieja hauling six passenger cars with hundreds of commuters when it suddenly happened. Derailing, the train exploded.
El Mundo Newspaper described the incident: ‘The machine suffered a terrible explosion as it derailed and the impact was so great that three wagons were converted into fantastic wreckage. Sixteen people died and almost fifty were injured.’Although attributed to the machinist’s error of driving at high speed, some thought it to be an act of terrorism. Among many Nationalists, there was the belief that it was an election day revolutionary act against American imperialism and what we considered the farce of elections. My father seemed to have some knowledge about the involvement of his brother ‘Guango’ in the incident. He acted as if hiding some secret reserved only for the friendly ears of true revolutionaries. Was this only Nationalist and Communist propaganda to foster their cause and affirm their strength or was there some truth to their involvement? After all, Nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos, by then in prison, called the ballot the coffin of the Puerto Rican nation.
The possibility of my uncle’s involvement, even if faint, strengthened my commitment to a cause that seemed to be in the very fabric of my identity. It made me proud of knowing that our enlightened vanguard was active and committed to revolution. Nothing could interfere with a revolutionary’s commitment to the cause, nothing. This explains why my father grew so detached, as if coming too close to us was adulterous. I can see him standing with pumped chest and eyes wide open while mother sat at the table and contended with him.
—‘Revolution is my life. You see these children, [pointing toward us] if I could offer their lives right now for independence and revolution, I would do it without hesitation!’ he yelled.
I can remember mom crying while we tried to console her. Deep inside, however, I was in proud agreement with dad. How my metamorphosis must have pained him! My passion for socialism fading, I had become a stranger to him and he could not take it. No rejection from past comrades could compare with the sadness of my father’s disappointment. Close to the end, we ceased to discuss politics and dreaded to bring up anything touching on ideology. In a way, such absence ripened the reward of a few deep conversations on other matters, especially related to faith. The diaspora of my new convictions, however, never allowed for an encounter at the level I hoped for.
My father was the product of his generation and of deep convictions. Not prone to openly express much emotion or accept an intellectual challenge from one of his sons, I realize that my chances for a deeper encounter were slim. The closest I felt to him was while reading his only letter to me, where he expressed his love and admiration for what I had accomplished and thanked me for a previous letter to him. Not that I had not known of his love, I always knew of his love for me although he never verbalized it. After all, I was the most radical of his children, the one who could always understand. The great fear of totally losing him by losing the dream of revolution never materialized, and his letter was enveloped in that truth. I am thankful for that.Just a few years ago, I buried my father with his beloved Puerto Rican flag embracing his casket as he had embraced it with his life. He died a communist. At that time, I again silently sang the revolutionary songs to pay homage to the fallen warrior. And I cried his death and still honor his life.
His closing days were met by a measure of God’s love. By the end, the communist ‘official’ rosary prayer leader prayed it daily and with devotion and received communion often. He never achieved absolute coalescence between his politics and faith, but I know that God likes fighters on his side. Although my father’s revolutionary utopian plan remained unrealized, he fought the good fight. Where there is no passion for truth, there can be no yielding before God’s throne. I have no doubt that in the heavenly abode, the full truth now discovered, he is still gathering the angels around to do more than just singing. Looking back to his journey, I feel a sense of contented thankfulness for the mercy of God upon me in revealing through my father that if truth, as the key to open the mysteries of existence, is not passionately pursued, life is nothing but meaningless eventual vanishing. The air of freedom now filling the lungs of my soul killed the fantasies of socialism within me, but dad’s committed life taught me how to retrieve and wave a new flag, the flag of freedom. And now, I am convinced, he still looks on in approval.
My stance with other radicals was another matter. It ran a tumultuous course others before me have experienced. A Puerto Rican socialist reading this account will still despise me today. Although with the fall of the Berlin Wall the Socialist Party faded and many others went into hibernation or hiding under the mantle of nationalist causes, they still see a rejection of the dream as a great offense. For black American leftists, consternation at my position easily shifts toward dismissal. My blackness fades away fast once they find out that I do not share their views. From being “one with us, a son of the same Mother Africa, I become something else, an islander, not really black. I am simply someone who cannot understand their reality, as I am not one of them. For a few who believe in freedom, I will remain forever suspect; forever one who might still be a wolf in sheep clothing. That is a price I am ready to pay for my embrace of freedom but it is not easy to find yourself at times in a kind of intellectual limbo.
It has been a great journey to discover the truth about man, the truth about social processes and the beauty of liberty. What I have learned about collectivism is that it is a vision more than an ideology. It is a way of looking at the world, a worldview that paints reality in a certain color, one that becomes so comforting and so difficult to surrender. Having been a “red diaper baby” and having my whole world wrap on a set of assumptions, I can say that to detach from that vision is the most difficult exercise.
Now, having gone through the hurricane, I see things through a different shade. I see now how moralistic and all-encompassing socialism is; admitting no real compromise or partial commitment. Being so comprehensive, a failure in one of its parts cannot be admitted without risking total demolition. Revolution sweeps your life like a Caribbean hurricane tearing apart all in its path. It offers a posture of moral justification and, as a reward, it confirms your humanity and anoints your superiority. Such posture comes at the expense of reality. The revolutionary dream denies the reality of a fallen and imperfect world where self-alienation, division, error, sin, and inequality do exist. We do not possess the radical capacity to overcome our nature and the fate such imperfection imposes on the human race. It is only in accepting reality that an ocean of authentic possibilities opens before us.
The coquí is a very small frog about one inch long. Its genre is found throughout the Caribbean islands but only the Puerto Rican type makes the “co-qui” sound. In Puerto Rico, it has become symbolic of national identity. During the time of the Taíno Indians, they must have been of amazing numbers and were central to their myths and art.
 See Haydee E. Reichard de Cancio, La Tragedia del 7 de Noviembre de 1944 (The Tragedy of November 7, 1944), El Nuevo Dia, Seccion Por Dentro, Pg. 116, Diciembre 7, 1996.
 Ibid, p. 116.
Hear speech here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3oszOEBt5s&feature=related.
Posted on May 7, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
Listening to people discuss abortion is often interesting and revealing. A case in point is a podcast discussion by anarchist commentator Stefan Molyneux. The thrust of his argument can be summarized in this particular quote from his talk:
“It is fairly indisputable that a woman owns her own body, of course, there is no question of that. If a woman owns her own body then she owns all the cells within it. One of the things that we know is the case is that a fetus is a potential human being in the way that a child is a potential adult and an adult is, I guess, a potential corpse. But the actuality of humanity has not come to be for a fetus, it is a potential, therefore I do not equate it as equal with a human life.”
I find so much imprecision and undue assumptions here that it is impossible to cover all of them in detail in a short commentary but I will attempt to focus on one particular statement I find important. However, let me digress a little here on account of context.
First, it is not indisputable at all that persons own their bodies. Such is a rather controversial philosophical proposition along the lines of metaphysical or ontological dualism. If a person owns her body we are establishing that a person (a conscious and desiring self) is different from her body; her body being property, possessing instrumental value. The instrumentalization of the body is at the heart of the proclamation that we own our bodies. Property cannot own property, only persons can; therefore, consciousness (or the soul or a mind or what have you…) must be identified with a kind of non-physical reality whose locus is difficult to ascertain. This tells us that a person is a sort of ethereal entity, a consciousness that might be related to the body but is different from it. This separation of the body from consciousness is a difficult proposition, in no way indisputable, but that discussion is for another day.
Second, if the woman owns her body it does not follow that she owns all the cells within it. After all, babies are within a pregnant body and mothers do not own their babies. Even if you see the body as property and the property of the child (his body) is within the mother, this does not entail the mother with ownership of the child. That your property happens to be within my domain does not offer you automatic ownership of it. Unless one asserts that a baby is a part of the body of the mother, a sort of tumor, as some used to say in the pro-abortion camp. I refuse to believe that Mr. Molyneux has such crass ignorance of the facts of biology. Another alternative is along the lines of metaphysical dualism which, again, denies personhood to a child in the womb. Yet, even under the “body is property” idea, we do know that such being in the womb is not biologically a part of the woman’s body, it is, so to speak, “stuff” belonging to someone else. But, again, that is for another day…
Third, do we really know that a pre-born baby is a “potential human being”? Mr. Molyneux’ seems to ignore the avalanche of scientific evidence that contradicts such assertion. It is in no way true that “we know it to be the case.” Is he referring to personhood? If he is, he ought to be more clear and try not to confuse terms as introducing personhood muddies the discussion instead of revealing with exactness what is he trying to say. There is no reason to establish his rather metaphysical theory of personhood as a fact about human beings when science clearly tells us what constitutes a human being. Interestingly, he thinks that humanity is something that “comes to be” for the being in the womb; in other words, an accidental characteristic instead of an intrinsic one. In effect, he is mixing terms and assuming meaning of conflated terms in a very mystifying fashion. But, again, this is a discussion for another time. Yes, yes, I am getting to it…
Finally, to my point. Molyneux states:
One of the things that we know is the case that a fetus is a potential human being in the way that a child is a potential adult and an adult is, I guess, is a potential corpse.
There is an important equivocation here. When one tries to create a comparison using a continuum one needs to observe carefully the possible breaks within that continuum and what they might mean. In this case he equates a supposed continuum between a fetus and a human being with a continuum from a child becoming an adult and later, to use his term, a corpse. As they say, a chain is as strong as its weakest link and the same happens to your argument about the chain!
The problem I observe is that he is comparing apples and oranges to establish an equation. In the first continuum of potentiality there is more than a developmental change that converts a fetus into a human being. To use Michael Sandel’s failed analogy, just as acorns are not trees, fetuses are not human beings. Here we are before a substantial change in the nature of a being into another and that is what it seems Molyneux, and Sandel, fail to realize. Although there is a continuum here, the leap between one step and the other is radical, the change from one sort of being into another. Thus, it is false to affirm that a fetus is a potential human being “in the way” that a child is a potential adult.
Here we have a clear inordinate mixing of categories. The term fetus, in my view, simply means a human being at that stage of development; a unified and continuous organism that proceeds from one stage of development into another. My point here needs to be elaborated, of course, but the comparison on continuum that Molyneux presents is certainly not self-evident ( and definitely not something that “we know”). As it is not self-evident, I am curious of what is the non-arbitrary substantial change that occurs to a fetus that instantiates humanity. He will not find such trigger anywhere in science, lending to the belief that his viewpoint is a metaphysical theory of personhood. It is ironic that the so-called “pro-choice” position has been reduced to rather inefficient dualistic metaphysical theories about personhood after years of telling us not to introduce religion (a kind of metaphysics) into a strictly scientific discussion!
There is a clear and objective continuum from embryo to fetus to child to adult; these being stages in the development of the same kind of being. That is not the case in the supposed continuum between a fetus as a potential human being and a human being. Here we refer to a clear change in the substance, the nature, the kind of being in discussion.
Finally, Molyneux adds another perplexing conflation of terms when he ends the continuum at a corpse. Calling it an obvious point, he first states that humans own their bodies. Later he adds that a fetus is not a human being but a pre-human entity with the potential of becoming one. This seems to posit humanity in some sort of trigger of consciousness. As stated previously, his is a body-consciousness dualism where there is a separation between the body as property and consciousness as true self. If that is the case, why is an adult a “potential corpse”? A corpse is merely a body, a substance lacking the same actualized consciousness he previously associates with being a human being. Therefore, under the logic of his construct, an adult is not a potential corpse, the corpse would be only discarded property left by the ethereal consciousness that once existed.
Anyhow, when people talk about abortion it is often interesting and revealing…
 See Michael Sandel, “Embryo Ethics – The Moral Logic of Stem Cell Research,” New England Journal of Ethics 351 (July 15, 2004) p. 208.
Posted on April 5, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
Is there any meaningful debate going on regarding the so-called “gay marriage”? No. Those invested in making it happen have the cultural and political upper hand and a serious debate harms their good prospects. One after the other Republican and Democrat politicians who until days ago were supposedly staunch defenders of traditional marriage are now “seeing the light.” That is, the light of political expediency.
The issue of “gay marriage” has been reduced to an issue of “liberty”, “rights”, and “equality”, when in truth it is not about that at all. Even some Evangelical pastors are buying into the narrative of political or civil rights. Again, the debate is now a purely political exchange where you vie for your position, claim certain rights, and call the other side names such as “intolerant” or “anti-gay.” We should not be surprised at the absence of substantive discussion when it might deviate from the prize. It might be asked what the marriage controversy is then all about if it is not about rights and freedom? This is an intelligent question, one that sends us in the right and meaningful direction.
The answer is that the controversy is about the meaning of marriage itself. If there is an intrinsic reality to what marriage is, it ceases to be a human construct, hence possibly limiting certain rights-claims. If a given act or condition has determinate contours, can the law by fiat, or magic, change them? Let us take a historical example. Our Declaration of Independence speaks of three inalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These are called inalienable because they are intrinsic, preventing any human power from rightfully depriving people of them. Some of us think that in great measure (although not exclusively) the Founders meant property when they referred to the pursuit of happiness. How else can it be understood as if one is deprived of the goods coming from one’s brow well-being might be endangered? Can happiness be attained under that kind of serfdom?
Now, for a portion of our history, we ought to regret admitting, certain human beings were considered property. The law gave “owners” of persons property rights over them. What a conundrum! One inalienable right is affirmed at the expense of the claim of other human beings to the same right. Moreover, the latter claimants could point to the fact that if they are property they are deprived of all their rights.
Where is the fault in reasoning with the legal claim? The legal fallacy resides in pretending that a human being can be property; that we can be decreed to be objects instead of subjects. The very character of human beings prevents us from agreeing with such law as it is a fiction, as it cannot magically change human nature. A piece of paper stamped with a seal or even a vote by overwhelming majorities cannot change what human beings intrinsically are. When laws attempt to do so, they immediately lose their character as law and must be rejected and disobeyed. They lose power to bind the conscience of any law-abiding citizen. Positive law cannot per se grant moral right.
There lies the issue at hand before us today: what is that institution we call marriage? Some of us affirm that, as with the humanity of slaves, marriage has an intrinsic and determinate feature which can be discovered by reason, without appeals to religious sentiment. As marriage is inherently heterosexual, laws changing that traditional understanding lose their character as law. They might pretend to use power to force conformity, a dictatorship of the will, but they cannot change the nature of things. They can change what marriage is as much as the state can make it happen if it were to declare that from now on men can get pregnant. Would the law suddenly and, again, magically, effect the sorcery? Would we begin to hear men then say, “Hey, my water just broke?”
Posted on March 30, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
If you want to silence someone in today’s society become offended and demand an apology. The tactic works by changing the discussion from one where an idea is engaged to one where the one with the idea is shamed into silence.
Dr. Ben Carson is learning that truth rather quickly. Let us take his comments on so-called gay marriage as a prime example.
“Marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality — it doesn’t matter what they are, they don’t get to change the definition.”
Did Dr. Carson say that all these types of action are the same? He did not. The only similarity he established is that they are all alternative arrangements to the traditional understanding of sex and marriage. That is essentially true. If marriage is understood in any other way than the traditional, each alternative understanding offers a different basis to constitute marriage. Secondly, if what marriage is can be changed, as the institution is not inherently heterosexual, it becomes a social construct and any other understanding supported by various pressure groups may be equally valid. Dr. Carson says that is not the case. That is what he said and that is correct.
Dr. Carson’s way of looking at the problem opens the door for rational debate on whether or not marriage is what he says. Those attacking Dr. Carson, however, believe that there is no need for a debate on the issue of what constitutes marriage. They see the problem as strictly political, one of exclusionary policies infringing on people’s rights. Bypassing the essential question facilitates the use of power to meet their goals. We must resist the tactic of focusing exclusively on politics, because that cheapens the discussion.
What is exactly the traditional way of looking at marriage? It is quite simple. Marriage is that unique kind of friendship characterized by an organic, biological unity between sexually complementary beings; an actual unity that creates a single reproductive principle. You see, human beings are complete principles when they actualize other human goods such as digestion, locomotion, respiration, vision, audition and the like. But when it comes to reproduction, we are only half of a complete being. It is the unity of spouses that unites them organically as one what constitutes a marriage.
What about romantic love? Is romantic love what makes two people fit for marriage? No. Why not? First, romantic love is based on the emotions and emotions are very fleeting things that remain outside of the control of our reason. You cannot base a relationship with another on what is outside of your control. That is simply lying to the other. What are you promising? To care as long as you feel?
Caring? You see, there are other kinds of friendship that no one believes marry people to each other and are based on caring deeply for others. All of us have multiple acquaintances, some friends, and a few intimate friends. The closer the relationship is, the less number of people we can relate to because intimacy requires a degree of effort and time that we cannot offer to the many. I can have friends with whom I share thoughts, time, emotional attachments, commitments, caring thoughts, a household, and even common goals for the future and still I am not married to them. Caring is so important but it is not the basis for marriage. These activities, attitudes, and decisions do not offer unique characteristics that define a marriage, as they are common to the general concept of “intimate friends.” In other words, emotion cannot become the basis of marriage as it is fleeting and caring is an important and essential aspect of friendship in general, thus lacking any unique and constitutive feature.
Traditionally, we have distinguished only one kind of friendship that is so intimate that it allows only a pair, and that is heterosexual marriage. That relationship is so unique that it blends organically two beings into one in actualizing an important human good that is naturally possible only in that relationship: the good of reproduction. Organic, biological unity becomes the matrix distinguishing this relationship from any other. That is what marriage is.
What some moderns tell us now is that we can call any other relationship marriage even when nothing particular and unique characterizes those relationships. It is as if I send you to the kitchen with a given task and something like the following ensues.
─“Bring me the coffee maker,” I say.
─“Here, take it.” You actually brought back a spatula and I look at you, amazed.
─ “No worries, we are now calling this a coffee maker” you retort.
─ “But this does not brew coffee,” I insist.
─ “Do not be so narrow minded, we can call the spatula whatever we decide to call it.”
The reality is that when we make marriage a social construct we are rationalizing our way into absurdity. When you go to the kitchen you can identify a coffee maker as the kind of thing that can actualize the brewing of a cup of coffee. You do not need to plug it first to see if it is a coffee maker to know what to bring to me, it is the kind of thing made for making coffee, even if, due to some defect, it might be unable at the moment (or permanently) to perform the task. The same with marriage, it can be readily recognized as such only in heterosexual unions. What some do is to beg the question:
“People love someone, therefore they should be allowed to marry.”
For many people this seems sound when in effect is a logical error! If that were the case, I could marry my sister or my mother or my pet or multiple other persons. I love many people in my life, thus, love (however people choose to define it) is not a unique characteristic constitutive of marriage.
As marriage is intrinsically heterosexual, the state can call other relationships marriage with as much good reason as it were to pass a law saying that from now on all males are allowed to get pregnant. This is mere legal positivism where the existence and coherence of a law does not depend on any intrinsic reality behind the decree. If the law exist, then that is what is important, independently of any merits in the case or whether there is any moral, ethical, or even rational content to it. That is exactly what we are seeing in our country today, we are told that there is a right to marry apart from the traditional understanding and we better simply get used to it. When one tries to discuss further, the discussion ends with appeals to the fact of the existence of such right. The attempt now is to posit a law and close the case, as afterwards any attempt to change the law can be portrayed as an attempt to eliminate “rights.”
Posted on March 29, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
“Do you really care for the poor”, that is a question I have been asked many times even after almost two decades of working among the poor. For some, only specific policy preferences favoring material transfers are a sign of commitment to the downtrodden.
The question reveals a deeper reality, one that denotes a key deficiency in many poverty alleviation efforts. For some, it all start with the intentions, with an emotional attachment to the idea of helping others. Here, the inclination becomes foundational, at the very root of attending the problem. By placing an emotion as prior, we make reason instrumental, secondary. As the whole effort starts in the heart, the move to the mind might be a way to move quickly into action, not a foundational exercise of analysis. Rationalization is just at the door waiting whenever we have a powerful emotional need to do something.
A good example is the so-called “was on poverty.” A situation existed: poverty. However, when we examine carefully, poverty rates have been going down for decades before the 60s, and with the government never spending more than fifty billion dollars in poverty-alleviation programs. But there rose this emotional desire to end poverty. The emotion set a goal that is impossible, utopian and it called for action on a problem that was being addressed in the right direction systemically, instead of through interventions. It is often the case that such rational examination is deemed uncaring and a “do nothing attitude.” We see here at play the instrumentalization of reason that demands the anathematizing of contrary opinions, from then on deemed benighted and the creation of “a crisis.”
Interestingly, in the case of the war on poverty, the reasons given to act had the appearance of rational judgments and a desire to help people help themselves. President Kennedy told the nation that the effort was motivated by a desire to “help our less fortunate citizens to help themselves.” President Johnson followed with the theme of “making taxpayers out of taxeaters.” The slogan used was “give a hand, not a hand-out.” Sounds reasonable.
However, at the heart of the effort there was not a prior commitment to reason, just a desire to act to eliminate a problem we did not like. Although human conditions will always be attended by failure and even tragedy, the poverty warriors would have none of that and will crush anyone saying the opposite. After all, as President Johnson stated then referring to the violence and turmoil of inner city life, “All of us know what those conditions are: ignorance, discrimination, slums, poverty, disease, not enough jobs.”
Some opposed the effort by a clear minded appeal to the power of incentives. You do not make taxpayers out of taxeaters by creating more taxeaters! If you say you will take care of me and plug every hole of need in my life, I’ll let you. Encouraging dependence does not lead to independence. And that analysis was correct. Poverty, as said, going down exponentially for decades, receded the downward trend while government expenditures skyrocketed. All because we had to do something, following an emotional need that instrumentalized reason to such a point that failure to find positive outcomes could be excused, and is still excused in many ways. Just think of the reported and researched failures of Headstart.
When reason is made to be the slave of our passions, a consuming fire of appetite is seldom successfully restrained.
Posted on March 17, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
Posted on February 18, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
The concept of self-interest makes some religious people uncomfortable; it smacks of selfishness to them. Virtue lies elsewhere, in selflessness, where there is no license to acquisitiveness. From the pulpit social justice is equated with renouncing personal advantage and surrendering to the deep moral purpose found in detachment from gain. Capitalism, with its insistence on the suspect concept of enterprise, is morally empty even if it might be efficient. Accused of reducing all human transactions to the vulgar equations of profit, capitalists are seen as the kind Jesus threw out of the temple.
Yet, careful reflection on what self-interest is offers a different picture, one where a deep well of higher purpose is not difficult to find. In fact, those who engage in free economic activity in pursuit of gain are not more selfish than those pompously proclaiming socialized decision-making. The evils capitalism permits to flourish are alive and well elsewhere, even in places one might not imagine. Ironically, in comprehensive systems that proclaim moral purpose, selfishness still shows its destructive head while in capitalism, that claims no such exhaustive reach, moral purpose often obtains. Any system fails by using false standards, yet capitalism beats other systems while claiming no special efficiency in every area of human action.
The crux of the matter resides in who is in a better position to judge what is in ones’ best interest, not on whether or not self-regard is important. After all, even Jesus himself grounded a knowledge of what is best for others on what is best for self, “Do unto others as you will want them do unto you.” As human nature and the goods that instantiate authentic human fulfillment are directly accessible to a person primarily in light of ones’ own experience, only by pursuing what benefits the self might one have an idea of what is good for others. Societies where self-interest is tamed do not have less self-interest; they only have a lid placed on meeting human needs.
How do we best know that our perception of the needs of others is real? How do we know what we claim to know if not in reference to our own needs? The primary properties of human nature, what constitute the essence of such nature, are faced by us more fully by what we internally undergo, by the needs that flow from our experience. What we see in others is only a secondary property, copies of a reality mediated or “filtered” to us, as Kant pointed out, through our senses. This is not to say that our experience of the needs of others is unreliable but that it needs a direct point of contact that is available to us only by looking at self. In a world of phenomenological experience filtered through sensory images we have eyes and often cannot see.
The real difference between a system that rejects self-interest and one that encourages it is that the latter has a better grasp on authentic human needs because it allows people to go after what truly interest them, what motivates them fully, what moves them to wake up in the morning and engage the world. In the former, needs are assessed by third parties only through secondary experience or ideological presumption. The power to decide is rescinded, making the exercise an amoral transfer instead of a moral exchange.
Selfishness exists in the human heart and will show its ugly head under any social system. The crux is whether or not we accept this reality and allow good and evil to be or deny it and pretend that we can extinguish it from existence. In the end, those who understand self-interest know that it is seldom atomistic, it is seldom concerned only with ones’ needs. Human beings are by nature social and what is important to them is rarely detached from the good of their families, friends, associates, clients, and communities. As Michael Novak tells us,
Thus the “self” in self-interest is complex, at once familial and communitarian as well as individual, other-regarding as well as self-regarding, cooperative as well as independent, and self-judging as well as self-loving.”
The utopian is so enamored with the goal of rescuing others that he confuses his ideal with reality and thinks that he can have a better grasp on the need of others than they have of their own needs. In the process, we obtain paternalistic meddling, not selflessness. In the end, pulpit pounding utopians are positing an expansive capacity for reason in the hands of those intent on becoming busybodies, ruling others because they supposedly know better and care more. Self-interest is seen with scorn out of an intellectual pride coated with out of context bible verses.
Yet, there are better ways, moral ways that respects the individual capacity to pursue what is best for self, which, as stated, is never in isolation. These systems respect the human capacity to think and choose, to discover what is true and do what is good. They understand that motives are not as powerful as incentives and that self-interest properly understood is the most efficient instrument to create communities of cooperation. In self-interest properly understood the human person is more than the homo economicus pursuing selfish immediate gratification but also the bearer of the capacity for virtuous behavior even as he pursues what is dear to his heart. A truly free society informed by virtue encourages self-interest as the best way to advance communal well-being; a self-interest programed with an understanding of freedom that tames the selfish impulse.
Posted on January 15, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
If naturalism and materialism are true, all of existence is contained within the material universe and all of what passes as consciousness or even spirituality is simply a matter of chemical interactions in our brain. They are an epiphenomenon of neural interaction.
What always baffles me is that atheists go on to proclaim themselves the heroes of both human strength (“We do not need religious hooks”) and rationality (“We are the brights.”). If you think about it, these proclamations are laughable in view of the prior commitment to naturalism and materialism. If all that passes as valor or as intelligence refers back to chemical interactions and material processes, there is nothing to boast about. Valor is simply a kind of chemical endorphin and intelligence is a mirage, an electrical spark somewhere within the intricate connections in a brain.
It really does not matter if a robot moved by forces thinks he is so smart…
Posted on January 14, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
I opened my local newspaper today only to find several letters commenting on a recent article. The author, Richard Metz, had given the facts concerning American poverty. It is a joke if you compare it with the poverty experienced around the world. It also challenged government spending “for the poor.”
Now, most letters went along the lines of expected leftist ad hominem attacks, “You are only a rich guy who do not care for the poor.” We can surely dismiss the attacks without comment; they do not deserve further attention.
But it is interesting to read some of the views expressed, only if to marvel at them. For starters, one letter decries Mr. Metz for being worried about the redistribution of wealth because Mr. Metz might have considerable wealth himself. Oh, my, is it wrong for one to want to keep his property? Of course one who has something has a moral claim to preserve it and one who wants to take it away from others has no moral claim. These facts hold true regardless of amount possessed!
The same letter mentions a “safety net” created for the poor. No one has a problem with having a safety net as long as it does not become a hammock. The problem is not the goal of helping others but the means and the ends. Redistribution of wealth is not possible because most wealth is earned and government confiscation and bureaucratic meddling, hurts the very people it attempts to help.
The fact remains that the incredible waste in government bureaucratic compassion through programs is ineffective and it incentivizes permanence in the condition of poverty. The poor who are entrapped there are victims of systems that simply do not understand poverty and use the poor for power. Many of us simply think that a better economic understanding serves the poor better and that de-centralized economic decisions empower people and communities. As the causes for poverty are complex it is not a matter of lacking in compassion if one thinks that government re-distribution and welfare spending serve the poor better.
Another letter says, “There is no argument that our poor are probably better off than those in say, Cuba or Guatemala, but it’s all relative: We are not a Third World country.” “Probably”? But of course it is relative! In other words, absolute deprivation is not the kind of poverty we see in this country. It is only poverty relative to a society with the best standard of living in human history. That is why the average poor person has a standard of living that would be the envy of most middle class Europeans. It is precisely because poverty is measured differently here that we have lost a sensible appreciation of real poverty.
We could go on with other statements but let me finish with a letter mentioning Christianity and Judaism being for redistribution of wealth. False. One might say that leftists who are Jewish or Christian may see an alignment but that is based on their leftist presuppositions and the world view they affirm and through which they interpret the Bible or Christian history.
The writer cites Leviticus 25 as supporting redistribution of wealth. People are often prone to muddying the water when arguing. They conflate and confuse terms and avoid context to defend a position. Even a cursory reading of Leviticus 25 helps us see that the Jubilee was not a matter of government redistribution of wealth.
The Jubilee did not entail debt forgiveness or redistribution of wealth. Instead, ownership of land remained with the family who had inherited it from God. In verses 29 to 34 we see that some land did exchange hands and only in the country side, not in the cities do we see some exchange of land but by far, Jubilee kept all land in the hands of their rightful owners, the families that owned them.
Finally, the author mentions Matthew 19:16-26 where Jesus tells the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. It is here that we see an equivocation on the meaning of redistribution. If by redistribution you mean that I can take my own property and voluntarily give it to others, well, hail to redistribution! After all, I can do with what is mine as I please. But Jesus did not say to the young man that a government structure was going to force him to give his property to others. In fact, Jesus indirectly spoke of a market economy here. Look, Jesus asks the young man to take his things (private property) and sell it (market activity). As a result, he would get money (profit). Only now he should give it to others out of internal conviction, not external imposition. If anything, Jesus is telling us to engage in capitalist transactions!
Posted on December 14, 2012 | Filed Under The Latest News
Rob Parker of ESPN says RGIII is not “one of us.” He is not black enough. Why? Well, he has a white fiancee, he graduated with honors and early, he is “suspected” of being a Republican.
He is right, racialist Parker is right. That is the way the left defines blackness. Blackness means ideological conformity and the losing of one’s individual identity into a sea of meaningless racial categorization. If you think of it, these racialialists and their intellectual leaders are the new gnostics. They preach a dualism where true self is identified with consciousness. A true black person refers to a consciousness that identifies with a very specific ideological position. That consciousness happens to inhabit a non-personal body that may or may not be black.
Dualism inflicts a wound in the heart of blacks by victimizing them as much as racism did in the past. In the past, masters pretended to control the mental, emotional and physical life of slaves by force. They saw a black body and imposed on it an oppressive punishment. It was indeed due to our physicality that oppression was offered. Now, racialists forget about that body and concentrate on the ideas held by a person. This new boundary, as in the past, fails to recognize the wholeness that is there, body and soul united in one being.
Now the imposition is as injurious, as it deprives the individual person, made in God’s very image, of the right to be oneself, to think as his conscience dictates. The new masters think that group-think is necessary to be a member of the group, that isolated category is used to oppress as much as the isolated category of a black skin was used in the past. It comes to be that the black left has long forgotten cousins, white racists and slave owners!
However, thank God that the buffoonery that dualism is is just that, nonsense. And thank God many of us could care less about what these self-proclaimed gatekeepers say!
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