Saturday, November 20, 2004

Civilization and Savagery

If you haven't read the stories or seen the TV news coverage of last night's brawl in Detroit, in which courtside fans at an NBA game attacked several Indiana Pacers' players, who then charged into the stands and engaged in fistfights with the rioting customers, by all means please do so. It was an ugly scene that says a good deal about what we are becoming as a society. This sort of thing happens elsewhere around the world, of course, and has happened here as well on occasion, but this was a new height of mayhem and madness within a public sports arena at the highest level.

We have become all too accustomed to the sight of people running rampant in our society, as in the massively destructive "celebrations" that commonly pop up in cities whose major team has just won a championship of some sort or other. But this was a regular-season game, and not a very close one, though hard-fought. People seem to find it all too easy to slip out of control today, and we are not going to be able to wish this problem away.

The only real solution is going to be to reconstitute a society that insists that people be at the very least civilized.

But that will not happen, of course, until we openly value civilization.

This is not mainly a law-enforcement problem, it is a philosophical problem.

These people are just acting on what they have been taught. For the past half-century, our schools, laws, and pop and elite culture have all, to an increasing degree, heaped scorn on the very notion of civilization, the belief that some ways of life are better than others—and then we are somehow alarmed when people act like savages.

Simple law-enforcement tactics will help somewhat, but they cannot do it all; they are in fact only a final line of defense. Events like last night's riot should remind us of what a thin line separates civilization from savagery, and that it is not all blue but in fact mostly black and white, and that the ideas we hold, and the ideas we teach, have enormous consequences.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Friday Afternoon DVD Recommendation

I strongly recommend our faithful readers see Gattaca, which stars Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, and Uma Thurman. I've never understood why this movie wasn't a huge hit. The film presents a brilliant dystopian future (perhaps only a decade away) where the genetically engineered constitute a privileged class. Your DNA is your resume' in this world. Hawke plays a young man who dreams of space, but is not the product of laboratory enhancement and will likely only get into a space ship "if he's cleaning it," as his father says. Gattaca explores Hawke's character's plight and the implications for the society at the same time. Check it out.

Getting the Christian Right, Right.

Part of my life as a doctoral student in religion and politics is that I have endure presentations like the one I attended yesterday. A German professor came to one of my seminars and explained the Christian Right's position on Israel and Palestine. In the course of her remarks, she claimed the Christian Coalition is the largest and most effective Christian political organization in America. If you read this blog, you probably follow politics enough to know that the Christian Coalition has not been a significant factor in about 5-7 years. The weight of Christian influence, particularly among evangelicals, is exerted by James Dobson and Chuck Colson, not Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Nevertheless, liberals continue to get it wrong. Listening to this professor speak, I couldn't help but wonder if my feelings were similar to those a black student might have while listening to a white person inform him about his culture.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

TV Networks, Boohoo

The media have had a field day with ABC's ignorant teaser for last Monday night's NFL football game, which was only to be expected. The brief promo piece combined policy and prurience, and it doesn't get better for TV controveries than that.

The first thing I thought about this situation was that there would have been little or no trouble if the player involved had been caucasian and not a jackass. Having the odious self-promoter Terrell Owens and the formerly gorgeous but now ghastly Nicolette Sheridan in an embrace while the latter is presumably naked was definitely a damfool thing to do.

Several prominent African-Americans such as Tony Dungy, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, have pointed out that the use of a black NFL player--rather than, say, a white owner or coach--plays into some decidedly revolting stereotypes about both athletes and black American males. And I could not agree more: immorality is not the exclusive province of any racial or professional group.

Moreover and more importantly, irresponsible behavior--such as a player skipping part of a game (in a sport where he is paid literally millions of dollars per year) so as to indulge in a momentary dalliance with a female fan, is not the slightest bit amusing, nor is it something most young males (a good part of the Monday Night Football audience) will understand as clever satire. Especially because it was neither clever nor satire.

Leftists in the press, for their part, have been boohooing over the fact that several TV stations refused to show Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg's gory and boring WWII epic, supposedly in fear of having the FCC question their licenses. The specter of Censorship has thus descended on the nation.

Pardon me, however, if I do not panic. The TV networks, after all, do use the public airwaves to purvey their product. And if you use public land to graze your cattle, you have to abide by the rules for use of that land. Nobody objects to that. But put a little fake journalism on the airwaves--as the networks do for approximately a half-hour a day--and suddenly everything you do on the public airwaves is seen as sacred and beyond criticism, let alone censorship.

The very same people on the networks, and their phony civil-libertarian flacks (who have no such enthusiasm for, say, protecting the free expression of religion in the public square), who complain so vociferously about this immiment danger of censorship (which never seems to arrive, as it happens), are the same ones who are so intensely critical of what, say, oil companies, lumber firms, and airlines are allowed to do on public lands. Yet the latter at least produce something that is real and cannot be obtained in any other way. What the TV networks do is entirely redundant: other media deliver entertainment and information just as well.

But even that blatant expression of hypocrisy is not the full measure of the networks' chutzpah. No, remember that just a half-dozen years ago the Clinton administration gave the networks a huge amount of the electromagnetic spectrum--the very scarce "land" in which the entire U.S. public sends and receives electronic messages--for free.

And yet these people invariably complain and shout censorship! when other citizens ask, not force, them to act like decent human beings every once in a while. Sorry, but I cannot call up much sympathy for them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Easterbrook on the Politics of American Christians

Gregg Easterbrook's analysis of the political leanings of American Christians (cited by Hunter Baker below) is indeed a good one, providing a sensible conclusion that the nation's Christians are about as politically diverse as any other major group.

J. Bottum wrote a similar piece on American Catholics before the election, "The Myth of the Catholic Voter," in the Weekly Standard, available here.

Easterbrook, however, is quite deceived when he writes the following: "Surely it has been bad for American political debate that, on September 11, the nation was attacked by an enemy issuing religious threats; this now seems to cause us to see the world in terms of religious threats. God-fearing conservative Christians are no threat, though some of them can, I'll admit, be pretty exasperating."

As I noted in yesterday's American Spectator, available here, the Left made its choice to jettison all but the most tame, Leftist Christians a long time ago, having in fact moved very far down that path by the early 1960s. To pretend that a confusion over the meaning of the September 11 attacks caused the Left to begin to view Christians with suspicion in recent years is just plain silly. As exemplified by the hysterical response to the brief rise of the Moral Majority, the terror instilled by Pat Robertson's presidential campaign, and the like, the American Left has viewed God-fearing conservative Christians as a threat for quite some time. This is not a momentary confusion, and it is a very big problem for the Democratic Party.

Easterbrook Helps Secular Lefties Take a Breath

Gregg Easterbrook is my favorite lefty. Though he usually goes along with the left-wing program for America, he is also a devout Christian who seems to “get it” when it comes to people of faith. Here’s a paragraph from his excellent column on the popular misperceptions of religious activism in America:

“Many John Kerry supporters or George W. Bush opponents are angry about the results of the election and want to pin the blame on some sinister force. Politically conservative Christianity seems a good scapegoat because most of the media doesn't understand it. But politically conservative Christianity is not some unstoppable force--my guess would be that in today's United States, there are two politically moderate or liberal Christians for every one politically conservative Christian. Surely it has been bad for American political debate that, on September 11, the nation was attacked by an enemy issuing religious threats; this now seems to cause us to see the world in terms of religious threats. God-fearing conservative Christians are no threat, though some of them can, I'll admit, be pretty exasperating.”

People Learn What They're Taught

One of the maxims by which I understand and judge the world around me is a simple one:

People learn what they're taught.

It explains rather a lot, actually.

A correspondent named Gus, on the spunky Chapin Nation site managed by our friend Bern Chapin, had the following thought which I think illustrates this maxim admirably:

"Thought For The Day

"I was having a conversation with a friend about breast cancer recently when I said that in the past year I had lost two women I had cared about very deeply, even loved, to that disease. Later it struck me that I haven't heard a woman talk about men they cared deeply about or, My God!, loved in a long, long, long time.

"Fire's post today explains part of the reason: the feminist delusion that the safe-guarding of women is the prime responsibility of society (and of course to make that really stick, you have to portray men as monsters) and that women have no responsibility when it comes to sexual harassment (walking around with your boobs hanging out, girls, is a form of sexual harassment) or domestic violence (verbally assaulting a man when you know he cannot hit you without incurring social punishment comes under domestic violence but of a more subtle kind. And there is that rapidly fading belief that all boys are bombarded with that boys should respect girls. I wonder if girls are taught the same thing about boys.)

"The legacy of the feminists like Betty Frieden and Gloria Steinem not to mention the real fruit-cakes like Germaine Greer and Mary Daly will be the same as Yassar Arafat's.
Hatred and the brutalization of people."

Teach one group of people to feel morally superior to and afraid of another group of people, and this is exactly what happens.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Wyatt Earp Was a Republican

And the bad guys were Democrats. What else is new?!!! Read about it here. Okay, it's somewhat tangential, but read anyway!

Self-Congratulation in Political Defeat

If I could ban one type of writing or speechmaking, I think my choice would be simple. I would do away with the "why I lost" message. Brad Carson, who lost his Senate race to Republican Tom Coburn has a column on that topic up at New Republic (subscription required). Former Georgia governor Roy Barnes still glories in the reason for his loss back in 2002. The "official" reason for his defeat was that he took the Confederate-style state flag off the capitol dome and replaced it with something less offensive. Better reasons would be that he governed dictatorially, presided over some really bitter redistricting (not covered by the national press because Republicans were getting nailed), pissed off the teacher's unions (which I liked), and was running in the same party as Max Cleland. He won a Profiles in Courage Award for giving up his seat as a consequence of changing the flag.

Then again, maybe those "why I lost" speeches and columns aren't so bad. I'd certainly rather have Roy Barnes and Brad Carson justifying themselves in courageous defeat than standing in the well at the state or federal capitol justifying legislation.

Who Polarized Congress? Reagan the Liberal!

A little blatant self-promotion if you don't greatly mind: my article on the polarization of Congress and indeed America's two major political parties appears in today's American Spectator online.

The article points out that this polarization is a result of the two parties having changed and solidified their fundamental ideas, which has worked greatly to the Republicans' advantage: "Reagan actually never shook off his core ideas of true (a.k.a. classical, Whig) liberalism. He never left the Democratic Party, Reagan always said, but instead the party left him; and just so, he never left liberalism, but instead modern liberalism left him. As a result, when Reagan ran for the presidency, he emphasized how much social disorder, economic stagnation, and social stratification harmed society's underdogs, taking up a traditionally Democratic theme and offering a highly plausible political alternative. As president, he acted on those premises, and was reelected overwhelmingly."

The Democrats reacted by digging in their heels, but they "would have been smarter to try to woo the evangelicals back into the fold by acknowledging them as underdogs, which would have been an easy, logical move to make. But this would have involved jettisoning the antireligious, ACLU wing of the party, along with the rest of the intellectual class, which they were by no means prepared to do.

"That decision, however, meant that the Democrats would openly become increasingly the party of the privileged classes, which would finally confirm the very role reversal the Republican had been trying to establish: the Republicans as the party of the search for ordered liberty, and the Democrats as the party of privilege, atheism, pacifism, and social and economic sclerosis."

That is where we are today, and it is largely a salutary change, as it brings a certain amount of clarity to the political situation. But there is a problem: the current divide "appears, however, to be an unmitigated disaster for the Democratic Party. The Republicans have their side staked out and seem fairly comfortable with it, despite some internal divisions—but the Democrats seem increasingly uncomfortable with theirs. African-Americans, suburban mothers, and union members, for example, do not share most of the values of the farther-Left side of their party. The three former groups adhere to the Democrat Party mainly for its traditional championing of the underdog, and they are by no means in it for a radical transformation of the American mind and society.

"That tension seems likely to remain until these persons either leave the party or take it over."

In addition, the Republican's current strength may tempt them toward policies that are politically unwise. Hence, "The presence of two strongly plausible political parties, each with a serious respect for the pursuit of both liberty and order both within the United States and in the international environment, would surely be much better than the current situation."

It will be up to the Democrats to change, however, given that the Republicans are benefitting greatly from the current situation.

You can read the full article at The American Spectator, here.

Continuing the Specter Meme

For those who don't know, I'm a law school grad who immediately went to work in public policy and then on to academia. Never wanted to sue anybody, don't you know? Perhaps unsurprisingly, I am an avid court watcher.

In the controversy over what to do about Arlen Specter, I have to side with Hugh Hewitt. Specter is not a conservative's conservative, but he has been willing to support conservative appointees to the court. Having him as the judiciary chairman will make it easier to avoid protracted battles over Supreme Court nominees. To some extent, Senators in the middle will feel that nominees okay with Specter are okay with them. Conversely, if Specter is removed, prepare to hear about how the process is now illegitimate. That's the last thing we want to hear, especially when shaping an institution like the court.

The way to go is to leave Specter in and nominate conservative legal giants like Michael McConnell and Alex Kosinzki. They are too prominent to fail the process and have avoided any excessive rhetoric.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Great Line from Walker Percy

Writing in The Thanatos Syndrome, the unmatchable (in my view) Percy delivered this pithy statement that perfectly sums up the problem with the cultural left:

"There's Hawkeye and Trapper John back in Korea. I never did like those guys. They fancied themselves super-decent and super-tolerant, but actually had no use for anyone who was not exactly like them. What they were was super-pleased with themselves. In truth, they were the real bigots, and phony at that."

The Vacuity of the Fundamentalist Label

Click here to read an excellent article that provides much needed perspective on the issue of religious fundamentalism and its adherents. We need to see about fifty articles like this one to correct the sea of misperceptions that exist among our religiously illiterate opinion journalists of the left.

Speaking of film and religion . . .

Those of you interested in the intersection of faith and film should hurry to Barbara Nicolosi's weblog Church of the Masses. Ms. Nicolosi knows an awful lot about Hollywood, screenwriting, and developing professionalism while pursuing a vocation in the arts. Her project has a lot to do with the notion that it's time for Christians to break out of their segregated markets and address the mainstream culture with their work. Check it out.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Religion in Films

A very interesting article about a very interesting phenomenon—Hollywood's burgeoning interest in religious ideas as expressed in various films—in Friday's Opinion Journal, here. The most important observation in the piece, to my mind, is the author's recognition that motion pictures (like other works of art) often present quite serious ideas under seemingly unrelated or even trivial surfaces. That, of course, is the premise behind this author's own writings about the arts, and it is pleasing to see this understanding gaining some adherents.