In the second night of the Democratic debates, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said, "Hey guys, you know what, America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we're going to put food on the table." Isn't that a curious statement? Let's think about this statement, which by the way got a lot of applause and cheers from the audience.
So these politicians, these representatives of our government, are going to put food on our tables? What the heck? Well I don't know how you feel about this, but as for me, I don't want Kamala Harris or Donald Trump or any other politician to put food on my table. I can do that all by myself, thank you very much. OK, so it is true that public policy can impact the price of foods - that's one of many critiques, for example, of President Trump's current tariffs on places like China and Mexico. And that is definitely a valid critique. But I don't know that Harris meant just that. Considering how radical she is on so many other issues, I think she meant a little more.
In some circles these days, there is a huge push toward increased social welfare programs to help out those in our society who struggle with their everyday needs. Now don't get it twisted - there is nothing wrong with helping people out, and in fact, we have a moral imperative to lift each other up and to be of assistance to others. Christ Himself mandates that. In Matthew 19:24, Jesus says, "And again I say to you: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven." So of course, we must be generous with others and have a very light grip on our possessions.
There's a tremendous popularity for politicians like Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both of whom identify as socialists. Their advocacy of social welfare programs such as free public college, Medicare for all, and guaranteed federal jobs are notorious, and their supporters love them for their advocacy. These politicians are articulate and well-spoken, and they have a tremendous ability to touch the emotions of those who admire them. They promise a socialist utopia that will eradicate human suffering and put us all on an even playing field. Sounds good, right?
OK, maybe not.
But what's the appeal? Why are these ideas so popular?
The first thing we need to do is to consider what it means to have "free" stuff, such as health care or college tuition. As is often said, "freedom isn't free," so we need to think about who is doing the paying for these tremendously expensive welfare programs. Sanders' 2017 bill for free college would cost over $40 billion a year, though he said that Wall Street would pay for it. According to the Heritage Foundation, however, this tax on Wall Street, "It would increase rather than decrease market volatility; it would hurt digital traders, who benefit the market; it would not raise as much revenue as projected; and the tax would ultimately be paid by American savers through lower investment returns and fewer economic opportunities."
Furthermore, the idea of Medicare for all would damage not only our health care system, but the lives and health of many Americans. What Sanders is proposing would outlaw:
Furthermore, considering the inefficiency of government-run programs such as the VA and even the DMV, the government taking over the entire health care system for everyone in the U.S. (including illegal immigrants) would spell disaster. Programs such as the UK's National Health Service (NHS) should be a warning to us here in the States. Under the NHS, health care is rationed - that's the reality because if they didn't ration it, the country simply couldn't afford the cost. According to Moffit, "In December 2017, almost one third of NHS regional directors reported that they were unable to deliver 'comprehensive care.' And in January 2018, the NHS cancelled more than 50,000 'non-urgent' surgeries, as British doctors charged that their patients were being subjected to 'third world' conditions."
And let us not forget the tragedies of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans. Charlie Gard's parents had arranged for him to be treated for his condition in the United States, and Alfie Evans' parents had arranged for him to be treated in Rome. In both cases, the authorities took custody of these children and denied them treatment that might have let them live, at least a little longer. And both boys are dead.
And we want to try Medicare for all here?
One could argue that socialist policies are well-intended. It is true that there are many inequities in society - some get paid more than others, some have more access to opportunity than others, and some are bullied for who they are or how they look. But this notion of using public policy to level the playing field isn't a solution that will help people in the long run. You might have a little more money in your pocket, but it was given to you by a government entity. You might have a roof over your head, but you were directed to live there - there was no real choice or effort. And that has internal consequences, both emotionally and spiritually.
The challenge of living in a capitalist society is that you really are called to make it on your own. It's easy to say that the rich have all the advantages, and many do. Then again, think of how many fortunes have been lost or squandered away. Think of the stereotypical "spoiled rich kids" who drink and party their parents hard-earned money away. On the other side, I love the story of the fashion designer Ellie Tahari. He came from Israel with hardly any money, and for a short while he was sleeping on a park bench. Then he began working in a department store, and was subsequently inspired to start designing a clothing line of his own. Now, he is among the most successful fashion designers right now, all by his own merits and drive.
What if the government had given him a handout? Would he have been in a position to find the same inspiration? It's hard to know, but what is clear is that Tahari is the perfect example of someone who took full advantage of the capitalist system, even when he didn't have a cent. Socialist policies keep you dependent, whereas the absence of those policies forces you to be strong, resourceful, and capable. Socialism breaks down the individual, where capitalism gives the opportunity to build the individual through industry, healthy ambition, and responsibility. Tahari's story illustrates this.
We do need charity - as Catholics, we are called to show charity to everyone we encounter. As beneficial as the capitalist society is, the reality is that it's also a difficult system to navigate. People do fall through the cracks, for a lot of legitimate reasons. Some people suffer from illness or other conditions which make it nearly impossible to find employment, or even just a place to sleep, so they do need help. That's real.
The question is who is best qualified to offer help. The social programs we have in the U.S. came out of a hard time in our history, when the economy crashed and many people were out of work. The government went to work getting them jobs and providing social welfare benefits to get them back on their feet. Unfortunately, Roosevelt's New Deal did more harm than good, including the displacement of African-American sharecroppers under the TVA. It was only when we entered into World War II that the economy began to rebound, for the sake of the war effort, which brought about other industries and businesses with it.
Traditionally, local and religious charities have done great work among the poor, the disabled, and the marginalized. A government entity will know you only as a number, a vague name on a long list. In San Francisco, for example, you have to get on this list to get a blanket or that list to get into a shelter, and the people trying to get service so they can get off the street end up feeling frustrated and dejected. Is that any way to feel, especially when they have enough problems?
But a local charitable organization will know them by name, listen to their stories, really work to help them in their needs in a way that is personal and dignified. Charities might not be able to solve all their problems, but that one-on-one contact can bring an intimacy and friendship that can be life-changing. A government-run social program can't bring that.
Charity is something that benefits everyone - both the recipient and the giver. The recipient gets the help he/she/xe needs, and the giver also benefits. In both cases, the act of charity builds the individual from within. On the part of the giver, they have a chance to step outside their lives and immediate needs and to reach out to someone in crisis. That is humbling and generous and comes from a place of love. On the part of the recipient, accepting charity (at least ideally) means having to step back from ones ego, to say "I need help" and to allow another person to intervene. This is very different from asking for a government handout, because while charity is personal, social welfare programs are impersonal and dehumanizing.
So as you listen to these candidates for President in 2020, with all their big government programs and welfare and college for all and guaranteed jobs and so on, think about the character of those proposals. Think about whether we want to base a society on a massive amount of the population being dependent on the powers-that-be for just about everything, or if perhaps we're better off making it on our own, by our own powers, helping each other out when we fall.
The prevailing wisdom these days is that in order to have a successful, lucrative career, you really need a college degree. Of course, in many cases that is true, and there are many wonderful benefits of going to college, even if you end up not really "using" your degree professionally. That certainly applies to me - if I hadn't gotten my specific degree, I would not have the profession that I do.
Then again, think of all the people who have found tremendous success without a college degree, and I don't just mean Bill Gates. Years ago, I knew a man who started in the mail room at his company and worked his way to executive vice president over a series of years, all without any college at all. Then there are those who are electricians or contractors or air conditioner repairmen, all of whom tend to draw a very good salary and who are often business owners and entrepreneurs. You have to admire that.
College has also changed drastically, and not always for the better. College should open you to new ideas and experiences. You should be able to go to college to read different voices and to encounter concepts and points of view that you might not share, which might even be offensive or challenging to you. College should be a place to push boundaries and make discoveries, and while you still can at many colleges, there are now more and more colleges where this simply is not an option. Whether it's speech codes or campus protests against conservative voices, or students calling homework racist, the world of college simply isn't the same as it was when I went in the 1980s.
And it's too bad, because people work so hard just to get into college, and to get scholarships. Most of us, AOC included, end up having to take out loans to pay for college because it's so expensive these days. It was bad enough back in the 80s, and it's far worse now.
Paying off those loans takes a long time, as we know, and with college so expensive now, paying them off takes even longer because you have to take out a lot more money. So it's understandable that the whole issue of college debt is a big deal. I've been there, and when I finally paid off my student loans a couple of years ago, I really felt like I had accomplished something.
According to THIS article from Business Insider, college tuition has more than doubled since 1985 for many reasons. One reason they point out is that because so many kids take out loans or get scholarships, schools jack up their fees and tuition, to take advantage of so much money coming in. State schools also raise their tuition because many are getting less public money - the school makes up the difference and more by hiking tuition. A UCLA student who is not a California resident can pay up to $65,000 total, whereas in the 1980s, a non-resident paid just under $6000. Interest rates on paying back student loans is anywhere from 3% to almost 10%, and
The reality students these face is a grim one, especially if they want to be a homeowner eventually or start a business or whatever else. For me, most of my loans actually came from grad school. Considering the declining quality of a college education, the polarized atmosphere on many campuses, and the huge price one must pay after it's all over, kids these days really have to think carefully about whether college is worth it. Enrollment is way up now, so it's not like college makes you stand out any more.
That being said, if a person does decide to go to college and take out a loan, they are also taking on a responsibility that must be seen through. Granted, when most of us enter into this agreement, we're eighteen years old and not necessarily in the best mindset to take on such a huge price. Plus, when you're just out of high school, you're so excited to go to college and take on that new experience, all money aside. And then reality hits right after graduation, and if you don't get a high-paying job right out of the gate, you're going to have a problem. And of course, most people in their early to mid twenties don't qualify for high-paying jobs.
Many of the 2020 Democratic candidates for President this year have embraced the idea either of free state college for all or forgiving all student debt for people making under a certain income. On the one hand, that sounds like a great idea, and it would certainly bring much relief to many people who are so heavily burdened by so much debt at such a young age. So I get it.
At the same time, I'm not so sure that's really a great idea, for a lot of reasons. Economically, this would be a total disaster - states would have to raise taxes across the board, as the majority of students attend state colleges. According to THIS article in USA Today, Bernie Sanders' 2017 program would have cost the federal government upwards of $47 billion, and the states would cover the rest. "Free" college, just like "free" health care, isn't really free. Someone has to pay for it, and that's going to be you and me.
Free college or forgiving student debt tells people that they don't have to take that responsibility, that someone else can take up that responsibility for you, despite having entered into a contract. This is where it becomes a character issue. Now, I'm not saying that students whose loans are forgiven have a low character. Rather, politicians who pander to young voters by promising loan forgiveness reinforce the idea that if you can't handle a responsibility, the government will take it on for you. It encourages dependency on government, which can become crippling over a lifetime.
There are some real solutions to the student debt crisis, and that starts with the universities themselves. The tuition at my own alma mater has gone up at least 100% since I graduated. In the 80s, I think the tuition was in the low $20K, whereas now, it's over $50K per year, though the student population has remained the same. What has changed is the facilities, which are much larger and which offer a lot more services to students. More research facilities have also sprung up, and all of that costs money.
According to THIS article, 27% of your money goes toward actual instruction, and 12% goes toward research. 11% go toward health care, and so on for the rest. According to the same article, "between 2000 and 2010, tuition on average increased $3,142 while spending per full-time student increased $3,917." All of these services cost a lot of money, as you can see, so it has to beg the question whether this is money well-spent. It's nice to have luxurious facilities in college - at my alma mater we had housekeeping services, which was nice, but not necessary. Colleges build fancy buildings and recreation centers because it's a great marketing tool, but it also means that the kids have to pay for that. Is that fair?
By the way, this is going on in other countries as well. THIS article from the Guardian discusses a similar situation in the UK, where these wonderful buildings are going up at different colleges, but the bill is then passed on to the kids. Not so wonderful when your tuition gets jacked up for a building you'll never use.
What it comes down to is that as long as colleges keep increasing their spending, just like the government, they're going to pass on the expense to the kids, and that will mean more loans and more debt overall. In fact, according to Susan Dynarski and Forbes, "Of those borrowing under $5,000 for college, 34% end up in default. Those who have $5,000 or less in student loans likely did not complete their degree and are struggling to find employment, while borrowers with graduate degrees and $100,000-plus in debt are desirable job candidates." Thus, when colleges continue to spend more and more money, they are burdening the most vulnerable members of their own population. And free college won't fix that.
I'd also like to see more education about everyday finances when kids are in high school so that when it's time for them to consider student loans and interest rates and where their money actually goes, they can, with their parents, make better decisions that will protect them from being burdened with so much debt at the start of their postgraduate lives. High school kids complain about this a lot, that they're great at Algebra and Calculus, but don't have a clue about taxes or interest or practical financial issues. Advocates of free college might be coming from a good place, but ultimately, the effects would be extraordinarily negative, even destructive.
I titled this article using the word "injustice," and I mean it. Free college, like most welfare programs, do nothing but damage the individual character by disincentivizing responsibility. Just as the War on Poverty created more poverty, despite spending $22 trillion supposedly to end poverty, free college will create dependence on government, along with increased levels of stress and anxiety. We hear a lot about the "safety net" for people who fall through the cracks - the chronically unemployed, the undereducated, the otherwise marginalized people in our society. And while those problems are real and serious, government dependency keeps them down rather than raises them up. Doing that to young people does them a terrible disservice - it is unjust.
Kids deserve a chance in life. Here they are, just starting out, and suddenly they're $50,ooo in debt by age 22 or 23. Maybe they'll pay all of that off and maybe they'll default, thus jeopardizing their credit and their ability to buy a house one day. Kids need knowledge and they need to know the reality of what they're getting into as they choose whether to take on student debt. Many kids choose community college for the first two years, which is a great idea. Yes, these are government-funded schools, but they're much cheaper and more cost-effective, and they give kids a chance to start their college career and maybe work to earn the money they'll need to finish college.
Kids need real choice, not government. That is justice because it affirms their character and it allows them to make smart decisions about their own future, rather than just taking a handout. After all, "free" college, just like "free" healthcare, isn't really free. Someone will end up paying for it, and in fact, once these kids do get jobs, they'll end up paying for all of this free college through their taxes and investments. Why not hold colleges accountable for their spending so that the students only have to pay once for college rather than a lifetime? Rather than spending millions on impressive buildings, colleges could lower their spending so that the kids are getting their money's worth.
Sounds pretty just to me.
I“It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.”
In Ray Bradbury's classic Fahrenheit 451, Captain Beatty explains to Guy Montag how the society in the novel devolved into a mindless swamp dominated by mass conformity and groupthink. He explains to Montag:
"People want to be happy, isn’t that right? Haven’t you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren’t they? Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give them fun? ...Coloured people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Bum the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Take your fight outside. Better yet, into the incinerator."
And of course, in the novel, it's not really about making people happy. It's about shutting people up so that the powers-that-be can assert total control over everyone's lives. It's about the elites maintaining their power without complaints from the humble masses. It's about placating the people, as the Roman emperors did when they gave out wine and grain in order to prevent people from rebelling. It's pandering at its most dangerous.
That could never happen here, right? Isn't that just for sci-fi novels and conspiracy theorists? Just ask conservative pundit Steven Crowder that question. Crowder was recently demonetized by YouTube after complaints by Vox journalist Carlos Maza. Maza, who is gay, complained that Crowder was bullying him - Crowder's defenders say otherwise, that while he did lampoon Maza, it was in the spirit of satire and parody, not homophobia. (you can decide for yourself)
“When you tear out a man's tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you're only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”
There's an ugly trend going on right now on social media, not surprisingly as we're heading into the 2020 presidential elections. Here's a growing list of conservative voices either demonetized or banned from various platforms:
Many of the Prager University videos were placed on the restricted list by YouTube, so even though they are still on the platform, many of their videos are not accessible to anyone doing a restricted search - furthermore, many of them have been demonetized. Live Action, a popular pro-life site, was recently listed on Pinterest as porn, and then banned from the platform altogether. “By secretly applying the label of ‘pornography’ to Live Action’s pro-life content, Pinterest demonstrates a concerted effort to sideline a leading pro-life organization the only way they knew how,” according to Lila Rose, Live Action's founder. She asserted that they were targeted by Pinterest, "because our message is so effective at educating millions about the humanity of the preborn child and the injustice of abortion.” ++ To be fair, you can access information about Lila Rose and Live Action on the site, but they can't post themselves.
(by the way, you can also find tons of quotes by the anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan on Pinterest, and despite his outrageous and hateful statements, he still has an active Twitter account. Double standard anyone?)
Not only has Facebook banned conservative British pundit Paul Joseph Watson, but Alex Jones' infamous InfoWars has been removed from all social media platforms. At the same time, not only is the left-wing terror group ANTIFA not banned from Twitter, they use the platform to recruit others to start their own chapters so they can continue their destructive and sometimes violent campaign.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
You don't have to be a fan of anyone, right, left, or in the middle, but banning people just for speaking? For saying something you don't like or that's even rude? In my mind, ANTIFA is doing much worse because they are deliberately using Twitter to recruit, and considering what the group does in their "protests," one could argue that they are promoting violence on social media.
So should we ban them? Who decides this? That's the problem, at least in part. YouTube, for example, has taken it on themselves to define hate, but that begs the question, should we ban hate speech at all? Here are some examples of what can get you punished on YouTube:
In the episode, anyone who didn't look a certain way, use certain kinds of words, or think the "right" way immediately lost their social standing, thus being barred from discounts on rent, better car rentals, admittance to certain venues, etc. None of this self-discrimination came from the government, which takes us back to Beatty's quote. There is no constitutional issue when we're dealing with private companies, rather than the government. In a way, fighting against government censorship is in some respects easier to identify because we can measure it against the Constitution. With YouTube or Facebook or Instagram, they don't have to follow those rules. They can in reality make up their own rules, which is exactly what they're doing, and at least for now, conservatives seem to be on the losing end.
In the wake of the 2016 elections, where social media had such influence and where foreign entities tried to sway voters one way or another, big tech has been put on blast, particularly by the Democratic Party. Now you could say that this argument borders on conspiracy theories, but at the same time, it needs to be considered. People like Sargon of Akkad or Joe Rogan or Dave Rubin have been on YouTube for years, but it's only now that they find their channels being demonetized or their videos taken down? Executives at Twitter and YouTube are both on record for their disdain of conservative voices such as Ben Shapiro - in fact, even Vox reports that conservative Twitter employees feel unsafe to voice their opinions in the workplace. ++
If these people are the ones running the show, then conservatives will have to make some big choices. These companies insist that their services are not biased, but of course, the evidence says otherwise, as we see from who is banned and who is not. There are social media alternatives, such as Gab and Bitchute, both of which welcome free speech. But these forums are relatively small. Many have taken to the courts for a resolution, and in fact, a judge in California said last year that Twitter can't just ban people for any reason, arguing that this policy misleads consumers.
For now, conservatives have hunkered down in preparation for the fight ahead, wondering at the same time just how worse the assault against free speech will get before it gets better, and for how long.
There is plenty to dislike about the Kardashian family, from their hyper-sexualized appearance to their numerous plastic surgeries to so many other things. To be sure, Kim K got her start because of a sex tape, and her mother, Kris Jenner, saw fit to take advantage of that, in a sense "turning her out" for profit.
As a Catholic, I also object to Kim's use of IVF and a surrogate for her last two children. Understandably, she had struggled with preclampsia in both her pregnancies, so one could see why she felt reluctant to go through another one. But she wanted more kids, so she saw a surrogate as the best solution. I wish she had used adoption, which other celebrities have done, to their credit. I also object to their celebration of unwed motherhood, which we saw with Kylie (who had her daughter last year) and even with oldest sister Kourtney, who has never married the father of her three kids.
You might think I'm some sort of Kardashian super-fan, but you'd be wrong. I've seen the show a bit, mainly for hair and makeup ideas, and some pretty travel scenes, but that's about it. I'm not one of those folks who is constantly posting about them on social media, and I don't follow any of them on Instagram.
So what are they doing right? A few things, as it happens.
First, they are each other's "ride or die" when it comes to family. While they bicker and argue a lot, and even disrespect each other and say nasty things to each other, they will also back each other up when it comes to family. They will support each other even when they don't necessarily like what their relative is doing, but they do so for the sake of family. You have to admire that.
Second, they have their babies. With all this talk about abortion as such a great, liberating thing for women, the Kardashian girls have their kids, even if they're not in ideal circumstances. Take Khloe for example. During her pregnancy, she learned that her boyfriend had been cheating on her quite a lot - many women would use that as an excuse to abort the pregnancy, or at least to think about it. But Khloe, thankfully, had her daughter (she still didn't marry the father...). Kim and her husband are on their fourth child, and Kourtney has three. Their mother, Kris, had a total of six children, so having lots of kids seems to be part of the family culture.
OK, they also have millions of dollars and tons of people working for them, unlike most of us, so it's a lot easier for them to have plenty of children. Still, their public persona in this regard is incredibly healthy, and it should stand as an inspiration for other families, that it's OK and even beneficial to have a lot of kids.
Third, these are successful women in business, and they work hard for that. If you look carefully at them, you'll see that they are not just "famous for being famous" or "famous for nothing." Despite their shady start (see the part about the sex tape), they moved past that and ultimately have worked incredibly hard to develop a complex business. Granted, some of their business ventures have been epic fails, but at least they tried. Most of us are fine with working for someone else, so it's great to see a group of women taking control of their own financial life and succeeding at it.
Finally, I like the fact that as women, they have defined their own future and made their own choices. I am especially impressed by Kim's current decision to become an attorney. That shows me that, while her start came from a pretty negative situation, she has evolved as a person and sees that she can be more than a pretty face. As a businesswoman and entrepreneur, she has developed the ability to make a bold move with confidence in her own powers, and so far, she seems to be succeeding. She found a way, as a mother of four with a lot of business efforts going at the same time, to find a path toward her goal. Heck, most of us just struggle to get up on time in the morning, so seeing Kim's efforts to improve her life and make a difference for other people is a great thing.
Again, there's plenty to criticize about the Kardashians, but I think that where it counts - family, business, goals, discipline - they have plenty to teach us and to give us some hope that with increased efforts and a healthy dose of ambition, we can find our own purpose and live our own dreams.
MY body, MY choice!
How many times do we hear this from pro-aborts? How many times do they insist that abortion liberates women, gives them power over their reproductive lives? To be pro-woman is to be pro-choice, right?
Maybe not so much.
In fact, I'll go as far as saying that abortion, that is, the pro-abortion movement, HATES women. HATES. Yes. Hates. I don't mean that individual pro-abortion folks actually hate women. Many of them ARE women, so obviously, that's not the case here. In fact, I would even argue that these people actually come from a good place. I don't think they hate babies or children or anything like that. Many pro-abortion people have children.
I'm talking about the movement as a whole, from a basic standpoint, almost an unconscious place. Abortion hates women.
Think of what abortion does, first of all. Not only does it end the life of an innocent human person, but in a violent, brutal manner that would seem out of step in our modern society. When you think about something as horrible as partial-birth abortion, for example, you might think you were hearing about some sort prehistoric barbaric society, not the United States of America, the so-called "civilized" West.
So an innocent child is slaughtered, causing a woman's body to become an execution chamber. Does that sound very pro-woman? Do you really think any woman wants her body to become a place of violence and death? Even if she is pro-abortion? Is that what any woman wants? Yet that is precisely what happens when a doctor (often a man) invades her body with sharp instruments or deadly chemicals, all to snuff the life out of the child within. Does that sound liberating?
Furthermore, abortion supports what the Left might term "heteronormative, cisgender patriarchy." I am 1000% sure that is not remotely the intention - rather, I feel pretty sure that the vast majority (99.99999999% at least) believe that a woman's ability to get an abortion if she wants affirms her power and independence, removing the influence of toxic masculinity from her life, especially in that things which matter the most.
The rhetoric these days is that women "need" abortion, and that making abortion illegal or at least hard to get puts women's lives in danger. Celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Lena Dunham celebrate abortion as a victory for women, almost a sacrament. How can she manage to survive without abortion? She could die! She could experience trauma without abortion. I don't mean to minimize anything that women facing an unexpected pregnancy experience, and I'm sure that finding oneself in that kind of situation would be extremely difficult. That's when these women need support and compassion, not violence and neglect. Convincing women that they can rely on aborting their pregnancy in order to survive, in reality, weakens her.
I always love the image of Rosie the Riveter, who proudly proclaims "We can do it!" And it's true! Women are strong. We are capable and resilient and resourceful - as difficult as a pregnancy can be for some women, The current mentality regarding abortion, therefore, undermines women's strength and in the long term threatens to make women weak, dependent, and permanently scarred. It encourages women to deny their very femininity, to cause women to be alienated from themselves, from their true power as women.
So what is this power? Is it acting like a badass? Acting like a man? The culture is fighting against the feminine these days, allowing it to be appropriated by men who want to dress like women. And while that's going in one direction, we have a woman playing Captain Marvel and Dr. Who, and a new version of Ghostbusters with a female cast. Yay! Now we've done it! Achieved equality! And all we had to do was act like men! But is that really what female power is about? Again, doesn't that just reinforce heteronormative patriarchy? Can't women assert their power AS WOMEN and not as male stand-ins?
This is where the celebration of abortion falls into the whole anti-woman picture. While not every woman will have a child or even get pregnant, every woman has that potential. Our identity as women revolves around that, which is why a man who feels like a woman can never really be a woman, even if he wants to wear heels and makeup. We are wedded, body and soul, as a whole person, and for women, that union creates a woman's heart that is nurturing, generous, inviting. I think of how a queen is defined in the classic epic Beowulf as one who "weaves peace."
Telling women they need abortion, and then brainwashing women to believe they need abortion is abusive toward women because it violates a woman's nature, to its core. It's important for our society to hold up the individual, regardless of gender, and to ensure that their rights are upheld and that they have equal opportunities for success. Certainly, an unexpected pregnancy can get in the way of that, but there are ways to handle it that respect a woman's body and allow the child to live. Once we can all start to see that, we can push back against the abortion dragon and find a new, better way to live that ensures life, dignity, and self-acceptance for all.
I had this thought today at Mass. We were singing the Gloria from the very popular "Heritage Mass." It suddenly occurred to me that the words and the actual tune didn't seem to match up - the words are spiritually profound, inspiring one to pray deeply and to ponder the greater realities of existence, but the music itself just wasn't giving me that. It's not terrible music or anything - one could argue that the tune is quite nice. But is it the right tune for those specific words? It could be that I just prefer chant and sacred polyphany when it comes to liturgical music. I'll own that. But hear me out.
Not so long ago, I was part of a choir that sang at traditional Latin Masses, and it was an amazing education for me. One of the things the choirmaster talked about frequently was that the music itself - the tune - should match the meaning of the words at any given moment of the song. That's what chant and sacred polyphany do so beautifully, and what much of contemporary liturgical music seems to lack. I know I'm not alone on that one.
Think of the words of the Gloria:
Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son,
These words are so sublime, and thus, they deserve music that matches that. Jesus, the Lamb of God, Jesus, Who takes away the sins of the world - how can any of that be expressed musically? These words deserve music that lifts you out of this world, out of your body, and into the heavens. These words should go beyond emotion and touch the core of the spirit. I'm not so sure the Heritage Mass meets that standard.
Here's a nice version of the Heritage Mass:
Now, here's the Gloria from Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (16th century choirmaster and composer):
The Church has done a lot in recent years, certainly throughout my lifetime, to make the Mass more "relatable," starting with the use of the vernacular - which I favor - and adopting contemporary musical styles to the liturgy. I'm not opposed to that, and in fact, there are many contemporary songs that I like a lot. At the same time, I think that if the music for the standard prayers such as the Gloria and the Credo strove to match the profundity of the words they express, we might actually have better luck with people connecting to the Mass as a whole.
Admittedly, it's a huge issue and a big problem these days. We want everyone to have that deep connection to the Mass, yet many people struggle, and for many reasons. The challenge of the Mass is that it is primarily a spiritual act, but we live in these very physical, very distractable bodies that get in our way. I understand the push toward more contemporary styles - I really do - and a lot of people do get more involved through that music, so it's not totally bad. At the same time, however, we also have the problem of Catholics who get caught up in popular culture, and popular (not always Catholic) values. The Mass, the whole Church, in fact, should take us beyond what is popular and trendy and cool because of the nature of the Mass itself. Bringing popular culture into the Mass, therefore, is problematic on many levels. I don't want to say it cheapens things, but it sort of does. And the dwindling Mass attendance numbers are evidence that these efforts aren't even working - interestingly, the traditional Latin Mass is gaining popularity, particularly among young people.
Now you might argue that Jesus Himself walked among us, preached sublime truths through simple parables, ate with sinners and died a violent death. All true. But He came to lift us up, out of the mire, not to stay in it. That's why the music we hear and sing at Mass should be grand, beautiful, intensely spiritual, so that it carries us toward the heavens. It should inspire great thoughts and humble prayers as we hear and participate in it, regardless of the style. And in the end of it all, it should match the words, which are eternal.
Here's a little of Bishop Robert Barron on the topic of the Mass:
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. (John Keats - "Ode on a Grecian Urn, 1819)
We ache for true beauty. We are naturally, profoundly drawn to true beauty. That connection and desire is wired into our psyche, our DNA, our soul. After all, we are created in God's image and likeness, so it makes perfect sense to conclude that this need for beauty is a part of our very nature.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, beauty includes three parts: integrity, proportion, and clarity. These together mean that something that is beautiful is honest, orderly, and true to its own nature. High Culture celebrates that in many ways - through artistic expression, through intellectual rigor and depth, and through education that encourages students of all ages to pursue ideas that are pure and which reach to the core of being and essence. This means that the wider culture should celebrate these pursuits, to encourage them, and to reward them.
Now let's look at our current culture - not just what is celebrated, but how high culture is regarded. First of all, in this age of YouTube, where gluttons like Trisha Paytas (pictured here) or Nikocado Avocado get tons of subscribers, or where the most popular topics include rap music, violent video games, or WWE, you have to wonder at the state of our culture. Taking a quick spin around YouTube, I find plenty of classical music and opera, but with relatively few subscribers - unless it's a "classical music for relaxation" channel - then, there's a lot!
I'm sure that Mozart's goal in writing music was not to give people a chance to chill out. Same for Bach, Beethoven, and others. OK, so do I sound like a snob? The fact that I might even have this question should tell you a lot about how high culture is regarded. Frankly, this is nothing new. WWE and violent video games have been popular for ages, and the Beatles are always going to be more popular than Puccini or Palestrina. People have always been drawn to pop culture, to the loud and obnoxious, the pink and sparkly. And that's OK. As much as I love classical music and lectures by Dr. Jordan Peterson and books by Jonah Goldberg, I need a break sometimes. After all, high culture gives so much to ponder, pushes the mind to such intense levels, so the occasional escape into Elvis the Alien or Alux.com is totally fine.
Naturally, there will always be some college-educated SJW crank coming along, just in time to ruin everything, so let's keep it real for a moment. Again, pop culture has always been a thing, for years and years, so that's nothing new - and there are a lot of great things about pop culture, so don't get me wrong. The change, however, is in some attitudes toward high culture, and specifically Western culture, with new accusations of it being branded as racist and white supremacist and sexist, along with heteronormative and cis-centric. Opera is racist and Shakespeare is a closeted homosexual and Milton is sexist and so on. No longer is it OK to listen to Wagner or Beethoven or anyone else who might somehow offend super sensitive modern sensibilities. Never mind that a lot of people love Wagner's Ring - Hitler liked him, and yeah, Wagner had some dodgy political views back in the day, but does that take away from his music? Should a non-Catholic reject Dante because of his devotion to the Church? Should we toss John Milton out of the literary canon because of his Puritan politics?
It's a similar conflict we see today - some artists and writers get criticized and boycotted for reasons other than the content they produce, so that instead of evaluating the quality of their work, we play this game of "I don't like you so I don't like your stuff." Frankly, if I did that, I would never be able to see a movie or watch a TV show or listen to most kinds of music, and that would include many classical composers. And I'd be missing out! If I gave a litmus test to every artist so that they had to align with my religion and my personal politics, I would have to boycott the poetry of Ezra Pound and the plays of Eugene O'Neill and the films of Dalton Trumbo.
There's a not so silent bullying campaign taking place in our wider culture these days, silencing those who might have an opinion that differs from what is "accepted" and what is politically correct. It must pass the Twitter Test, which basically means that no one would brand you as a hater or force you into an apology - if you can get through that, you're good to go! But is that any way to conduct a culture? It's no wonder that thinkers such as Jordan Peterson are ridiculed as woman-haters, "proved" by the fact that many in his audiences are male. Of course, Peterson has many defenders of both genders, but his defenders sometimes find themselves having to justify or apologize for their interest in him. This is anti-intellectual at its worst because it attempts to tell you what you can think and what ideas you can entertain.
This phenomenon has afflicted both conservatives and liberals alike. Everyone from Ben Shapiro and Heather MacDonald on the right, to Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying on the left, along with other people such as Ayan Hirsi Ali and Brigitte Gabriel and Sam Harris and Nicholas Christakis and so on, have been banned, silenced, insulted, fired, stalked, just for the crime of speaking their mind and introducing ideas into the culture that some find "harmful."
What does this have to do with beauty? A lot, actually. If Keats is right that "beauty is truth," then what many of these social commentators say is moral and just when they speak truth. In addition, if what is beautiful invites us to do a deep dive into ideas that resonate with our core being, then to silence these people does a disservice to the culture and to humanity. You might not agree with everything these people say - for example, I would obviously disagree with Sam Harris on religion (he's an atheist), and with Bret Weinstein on politics (he's a progressive), but if they speak truths in other areas, and more importantly if they support the idea that all people should be free to explore what they like, then they are a part of what is objectively beautiful.
Beauty is not just visual or auditory. Beauty is also intellectual. It can be abstract, too, but whatever form it takes should lead the viewer or the consumer to a deeper place. It should cause you to find order and structure, and thus to develop your mind and your understanding of your own nature, of God, and the world around us all. That's a truth I can believe in.
The political climate has been a toxic cesspool for a very long time, and right after Thanksgiving, I'd had enough. All the news all the time was Trump as a racist, Trump as a liar, Trump as a sexist, Trump as a traitor, Trump as a victim, Trump as a saint, Trump as the Sacrificial Lamb, Trump as a dictator, Trump as a Nazi, and so on, ad nauseam.
I was done.
There are better things in this world to think about, better things to fill my mind than the constant barrage against the President. And I don't really blame Trump for this, or at least, not as much as the rest of the media. You'd think they would have figured out by now that Trump is a Class-A troll, but no. They take the bait and run with the smallest thing and fill the airwaves with their reactionary garbage. And then the Twitterverse piles on, and then it all just goes to hell.
Take the whole business regarding CNN's Jim Acosta. Now I'm sure there was a time when he was a legit reporter offering good analysis of the news, but these days, he's turned into a grandstanding narcissist who seems intent on #1: making himself the story, and #2: then using that story to bash the President further and characterize himself as a victim. The fact the the majority of the media ran with that story tells me that any hope of getting objectivity is nil at this point.
The fast, therefore, was long overdue, and in truth, these last couple of weeks have been amazing. I've learned about so many things, listened to podcasts by everyone from Joe Rogan to Fr. Robert Spitzer, I've learned about Cardinal Newman, the historicity of Jesus, the Intellectual Dark Web, the psychology of tribalism, and so on. I've listened to Jordan Peterson, Dan Bongino, to so many interesting people and ideas, and I've been able to refocus myself and my spirituality in a more intellectual foundation.
I also know that striking a balance is important. After all, there are plenty of really important things going on in the world right now, and that there's no excuse for ignorance. The other day, I turned on the news, just out of curiosity, and I quickly learned that nothing changed. Same bickering, same ad hominem attacks, same finger-pointing and baseless accusations on all sides, same same same.
But is that enough to stay away entirely? Of course, like anything else in history and culture, this too shall pass. What seems so critical now will soon diminish into the vague memory of history - I don't mean the critical issues such as abortion, the persecution of the Church, or other human rights abuses - I mean the other, day-to-day fighting over who said what to whom. The gossip. It actually does matter that the country is stable and it does matter that Congress is friendly to all human life and that means that we do need to pay attention, at least to what matters.
My solution is to find a balance so that I'm not so saturated with news and politics that I forget about the real, eternal things of importance. So my podcast-listening schedule will look something like this, at least for the present:
What it comes down to is that our minds need expansion and new knowledge, and that we thrive when we're challenged by different experiences and ideas. I'll see how I do with this, and I hope to update soon!
There's been something wonderful going on these days, even within the current toxic political atmosphere. Well, two things.
The #walkaway movement was the first thing, and then along came #blexit.
Earlier this year, a gay hairstylist, Brandon Straka, started the #walkaway movement in response to what perhaps some of us have called "Trump Derangement Sydrome," characterized, among many traits, by the strong tendency to shout down and shut down any speech that might be favorable of the President or of conservative points of view. Straka pinpoints his move toward conservatism after an incident in 2016 - he was assaulted by a homeless Hispanic man, and after venting about the incident on social media, he was criticized for his "white privilege" rather than getting the sympathy and support he sought.
Similarly, David Harris Jr., another former liberal, started the #blexit movement with the mission of encouraging other African-Americans to embrace freedom of thought rather than continue to feel as though they were obligated to vote and think in a certain way. Other notable former liberals have started to speak up more and more: Candace Owens, Stacey Dash, Brandon Tatum, among others, and all with the same message - no one should be able to tell you how to think, what words to use, or how to vote. Those belong to the individual, regardless of anything else.
As far as I'm concerned, a person should be able to think what they want, and if they want to disagree with me, that's fine. If they want to think terrible things, that's none of my business. If they want to say awful things, well, I wish they wouldn't, but that's also a part of freedom. There was a time when that sentiment was fairly mainstream - think what you want and leave me alone. These days, when many equate speech with actual violence, this sentiment has become radical, controversial, even dangerous...at least in popular culture.
In truth, though, I think that privately, most people would still agree with that, which is likely why #walkaway and #blexit are so popular. #walkaway even had a march this year, which was great because it gave people a public forum to emphasize that ones ability to think and speak as they wish is extremely important for the survival of our culture. If we allow the thought police to come down on free speech and start to limit that via legislation, that's when fascism arises. After all, who would the arbiter of what's acceptable speech? Who determines what's "bad" and what's "good"? In this post-Christian society, I wouldn't trust those judges as far as I could throw them, and even if I could, I wouldn't want the law to be able to make that determination for me.
We live in great peril right now. In the past we had wars and huge battles that killed many, but this war is different and more dangerous. This is the war for the mind, for the soul, for what we believe. If belief turns into what we're allowed to believe, then we're lost. Therefore, I hope that more free-thought movements continue to rise up - that is the true Resistance.
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. Ben Shapiro. Stephen Pinker. Bret Weinstein. Eric Weinstein. Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Dave Rubin. Some of these names (or maybe none of them) may sound familiar to you. All of them are part of a movement called the "Intellectual Dark Web."
This term, coined by mathematician Eric Weinstein, describes a group of individuals of all political stripes who have come together to have the conversations that the rest of the culture is afraid to have, or which is too angry to have. These folks often disagree: you couldn't get any more diametrically opposed than Ben Shapiro, a die-hard Republican, and Bret Weinstein, a lifelong far-left liberal. The key is, that these guys can talk to each other and even disagree with each other and not resort to calling each other Nazis or HItler or evil. They just disagree. That's it! No one is called a racist, sexist, transphobe. No one is sent to the naughty stair. No one is pilloried or mocked. They just talk.
In recent weeks, I've become a huge fan of the Rubin Report, as seen on YouTube - Dave Rubin, formally of the very liberal show The Young Turks, has since handed in his Progressive Card in exchange for the self-imposed label, a "classical liberal." For the record, he is also married to his husband, yet he is able to have an extremely civilized and productive conversation with Bishop Robert Barron - they even talked about homosexuality, but in a way that was interesting, challenging, and enlightening. Rubin's show has been an incredibly important vehicle for the IDW to gather and talk - really talk things through.
Another huge figure in this movement is Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, a Canadian professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Peterson found himself in trouble with his university and with the wider culture when he refused to comply with Canada's C-16 Bill, which criminalized the act of "misgendering" a trans person. His objection was based, not on transphobia, but on the basis of freedom of speech. Peterson said that he didn't want to be compelled by law to use specific words. For this, he found himself targeted by LGBT allies, and subjected to extremely harsh public scrutiny.
Here's a moment from his interview with British TV presenter, Cathy Newman. Take note of how often she says, "So you're saying..."
What is really shocking about the interview wasn't necessarily Newman's own point of view about political or cultural issues, but rather, her incessant drive to try to prove him to be what she thinks he is, rather than to let him be himself.
In fact, if you get a chance to watch the full interview, it should be plain as to why we need this Intellectual Dark Web. We've devolved into an increasingly shrill society driven by social media pathos to the extreme. Things have gotten so toxic that even a leftist can no longer express him/herself freely, for fear of accidentally saying something remotely positive about President Trump. Take the leftist backlash against Kanye West, for example. Kanye isn't exactly a paragon of wisdom by any stretch, and nor does he have a record of being conservative. But one nice thing to say about conservative activist Candace Owens, and suddenly he's Trump's lap dog and an Uncle Tom.
The only way we can expect to progress as a society and as a culture is for us to listen to each other, with our agendas left at the door. It's not about giving up what you think or believe, but rather, opening your mind to the other person's opinion. It's not even about agreement - it's about listening and building ideas together, or at least exploring them together, even if we come to different conclusions. But as long as we continue in these schoolyard, Mean Girls tactics where we say, "You can't sit with us," then nothing will happen. Dave Rubin recently commented to one of his guests that he was taking a risk with his career even for appearing on the Rubin Report - and he's right about that. The Intellectual Dark Web is the secular antidote to this toxic mindset.
Link to the Rubin Report on YouTube
Witty; cunning; crafty
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