Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Are We Willing to be Hated?

For those who don't know, a 'millennial' is someone who is about my age (30) on down to the teenage range. This article deals with the issue of millennials and historic Christianity.
A key question that millennials must wrestle with is whether they have the nerve, character, conviction, or content of belief sufficient to make enemies. As Stanley Hauerwas has remarked, ‘Christianity is unintelligible without enemies.’ In a society that values tolerance above almost everything else, do millennial Christians have the nerve to voice truths that alienate, polarize, and antagonize our society, or to behave and speak in ways that might lead to them being hated? The sort of Christianity that spends much of its time criticizing benighted evangelicals for their unprogressive views may receive a friendly platform in places such as the Huffington Post religion section and may be looked upon more indulgently by secular society, but is hardly living up to its calling."
-Alastair Roberts, "Talking About My Generation: Millenials and the Church"
Read the whole thing here: http://alastairadversaria.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/talking-about-my-generation-millennials-and-the-church/

Monday, July 22, 2013

Are Your Children Wise Enough to be Given Options?

Relevant implications for child-rearing. Interestingly, on this point, the agnostic Dalrymple's advice coincides with that of Christian Ted Tripp's.
"If one is morally obliged to clear one's mind of the detritus of the past, in order to become a fully autonomous moral agent, it would seem to follow that we have an obligation not to fill the minds of the young with any detritus of our own manufacture. It is hardly surprising, then, that we increasingly invest children with authority over their own lives, and at ever earlier ages. Who are we to tell them what to do?...
The word "pupil" has almost been eliminated from usage in the English language, and has been replaced with "student." The two words have very different connotations. A pupil is under the tutelage or direction of someone who knows what the pupil, for his own good, ought to know and to learn; a student has matured to the point at which his own curiosity or ambition permit him to follow his own inclinations, at least to some extent, where his studies are concerned...
Perhaps some children are so naturally curious, and with such an instinct for the important and useful, that they can be left unguided almost from the first. But unflattering as it may be for our conception of human nature, this cannot be true of most children, who are not self-propelling along the paths of knowledge and wisdom.
Not all attempts to guide children on to these paths are successful, needless to say, as the disorder that prevails in so many of our schools amply testifies. But this in turn is evidence of a failure by parents to inculcate self-control in their offspring. And this is the result of investing their children with an authority to make choices and exercise vetoes as soon as they are able to express, or even to indicate them...
It is difficult to know in advance what practical effect a ban on advertising junk food to children might have (I suspect it would be slight), but [a certain] editorial was very revealing of what, for lack of a better term, I shall call the Zeitgeist. For the editorial stated that the advertisements gave children the impression that the junk foods in question were made just for them, and that they as children knew best what was good for them, and should therefore be the arbiters of what they ate. And this, said the editorial, made it more difficult for parents to control their children's diet.
Not a word was said about parents' proper authority over their own children. (We are speaking here of children of a very young age. According to the evidence, the obesity of children begins very early in their lives, well before anything that could possibly be construed as the age of reason. The pattern of overindulgence, principally in what is bad for them, is established before they go to school.) The author of the editorial regarded the television on which advertisements for junk food currently appear as a natural phenomenon, like the atmosphere, over the watching and influence of which parents could be expected to exercise no control. But what kind of parents, one might ask, is incapable of saying No when children want something they should not have?
Lazy or sentimental parents, no doubt. They use junk food in much the same way as (though with far less excuse than) Victorian parents used Godfrey's Cordial, that is to say opium in syrup, to stop the crying and screaming. But there is more to it than that. Anyone who has observed a mother in a shop or supermarket solicitously and even anxiously bending over a three- or four year-old child to ask him what he would like for his next meal will understand the sovereignty over choice that is now granted to those who have neither experience nor powers of discrimination enough to exercise it on the basis of anything other than the merest whim, without regard to the consequences. By abdicating their responsibility in this fashion, in the name of not passing on their own prejudices or preconceptions to their children, and not imposing their own view of what is right upon them, they enclose their children within the circle of their childish tastes. In the name of the struggle against prejudice and illegitimate authority, they instill a culinary prejudice that, though self-evidently harmful, is far more restrictive in the long run than any they might have instilled by the firm exercise of their authority; for, in the absence of experience, children will always choose the same thing, the thing that is most immediately attractive or gratifying to them.
The precocity encouraged by too-early an assumption of the responsibility for making a choice, as if children were the customers of their parents rather their offspring, is soon followed by arrested development. A young child, constantly consulted over his likes and dislikes, learns that life is, and ought to be, ruled by his likes and dislikes. He is not free of prejudices just because he is free of his parents' prejudices. On the contrary, he is a slave to his own prejudices. Unfortunately, they are harmful both to him as an individual, and to the society of which he is a member."
-Theodore Dalrymple, In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Against All Forms of Authority (Well, Almost All)

More from Theodore Dalrymple. Note: "Bazarov" is a nihilistic character from Ivan Turgenev's book Fathers and Sons.
"Bazarov's attitude of repudiation-what I suppose would once have been called spiritual pride-is now, if not a mass phenomenon, a very widespread one. I experienced a striking instance of it on a flight to Dublin from England. Next to me sat a young Irish social worker, who noticed that I was reading a famous book, Obedience to Authority by Stanley Milgram, the famous American social psychologist who died young, in part from refusal to alter his living habits. In his book, Milgram describes the experiments he conducted to demonstrate that ordinary people would, without any compulsion except the presence of a figure supposedly in authority, electrocute a complete stranger. The social worker said to me that, having grown up in Ireland under the iron tutelage of the Catholic Church, she was against all forms of authority.
"All forms?" I asked.
"All forms," she replied. She had precisely the "indescribable composure" that Turgenev says is possessed by Bazarov.
"So you don't mind," I asked, "if I now go to the cockpit of this aircraft and take over the controls?"
This, it turned out (I think because it was a matter of her life and death), was a completely different matter. The authority of the pilot was based upon knowledge, experience, and proper certification.
"And who," I asked, "certifies his knowledge and experience?" The answer was obvious: people with even greater knowledge and experience. But surely, I asked, this must lead to an infinite regress that, in this imperfect world of ours, would have to stop somewhere? Of course, but the state had looked into all that, and decided who constituted the competent authority. But from where did the state gain its authority? We, the people, of course. But who gave us, the people, authority? Well, it is so inscribed in the Book of Nature. This being the case, how is it that it was discovered so late in the history of humanity? How come it was not evident to Shakespeare, Newton, and Bach, who were at least as gifted as we?  
These were deep questions for a short flight. But it was clear to me that the person who was against all authority was against only some authority, the authority she disliked. The one authority she really respected, of course, was her own."  
-Theodore Dalrymple, In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Selective Doubt, or 'Why Get Married? It's Just a Piece of Paper!'

Rene Descarte, you will remember, employed methodological doubt. He doubted everything--his sense experience, his memory, human authority--until he found something which he believed he could not doubt, namely, his own thought. Cogito, ergo sum. 'I think, therefore I am.' 'That's how I know I exist,' Descartes concluded.

Whatever you may think of Descarte's method, Theodore Dalrymple, a British physician and social critic, describes how human beings often use Descarte's doubting method selectively in order to justify their own whims and desires.
WE MAY I N Q U I R E why it is that there are now so many Descartes in the world, when in the seventeenth century there was only one. Descartes, be it remembered, who so urgently desired an indubitable first philosophical principle, was a genius: a mathematician, physicist, and philosopher who wrote in prose of such clarity, that it is still the standard by which the writing of French intellectuals is, or ought to be, judged. Have we, then, bred up a race of philosophical giants, whose passion is to examine the metaphysics of human existence? I hope I will not be accused of being an Enemy of the People when I beg leave to doubt it.
The popularity of the Cartesian method is not the consequence of a desire to remove metaphysical doubt, and find certainty, but precisely the opposite: to cast doubt on everything, and thereby increase the scope of personal license, by destroying in advance any philosophical basis for the limitation of our own appetites. The radical skeptic, nowadays at least, is in search not so much of truth, as of liberty-that is to say, of liberty conceived of the largest field imaginable for the satisfaction of his whims. He is in the realm of moral conceptions what the man who refuses to marry is in the realm of relationships: he is reluctant to foreclose on any possibilities by imposing limits on himself, even ones that are taken to be purely symbolic. I once had a patient who attempted suicide because her long-time lover refused to propose to her. I asked him the reason for his refusal, and he replied that it (marriage) was only a piece of paper and meant nothing. "If it is only a piece of paper and means nothing," I asked him, "why do you not sign it? According to you, it would change nothing, but it would give her a lot of pleasure." Suddenly, becoming a man of the deepest principle, he said that he did not want to live a charade. I could almost hear the argument that persuaded the man that he was right: that true love and real commitment are affairs of the heart, and need no sanction of the church or state to seal them.
The skepticism of radical skeptics who demand a Cartesian point from which to examine any question, at least any question that has some bearing on the way they ought to conduct themselves, varies according to subject matter. Very few are so skeptical that they doubt that the sun will rise tomorrow, even though they might have difficulty offering evidence for the heliocentric (or any other) theory of the solar system. These skeptics believe that when they turn the light switch, the light will come on, even though their grasp of the theory of electricity might not be strong. A ferocious and insatiable spirit of inquiry overtakes them, however, the moment they perceive that their interests are at stake-their interests here being their freedom, or license, to act upon their whims. Then all the resources of philosophy are available to them in a flash, and are used to undermine the moral authority of custom, law, and the wisdom of ages.
-Theodore Dalrymple, In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas

Saturday, July 6, 2013

How to Justify Clone Murder

To appreciate the following excerpt you need a little background about the novel’s plot. So if you ever had any intention of reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, exit now, or forever have the ending spoiled.

Ishiguro’s novel is set in an alternate version of modern England. In this alternate reality, due to scientific discoveries made in the 1950’s, the UK has been pursuing something called the “donation” program for the past fifty years. In this program, an entire class of human beings has been cloned for the sole purpose of harvesting their vital organs when they reach peak adulthood. These children, having no natural parents, are reared in orphanages until they reach eighteen, and then sent to live in communes until they begin their “donations.” Some of them become “carers”—clones who care for other clones during the convalescent period of their multiple donations. When a clone finally dies, he or she is said to “complete.” (Note the language games that this society has to play to justify such a system.) All of these facts are revealed gradually during the first 80 or so pages of the book.

The novel centers on Kathy H. and Tommy D. (note the lack of last names), who grow up in a “school” called Hailsham. Kathy and Tommy fall in love, and although as clones they are neither allowed to marry nor physically able to beget or bear children, they eventually seek out a way to be together. This excerpt occurs near the book’s end. In it, Kathy and Tommy are talking with Miss Lucy, and elderly woman who served as a “guardian” at Hailsham when they were children. They have come to her asking for a “deferral” on their donations (translated: 'Please don't kill us yet. We'd like a chance at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'). They have heard rumors that some students, especially Hailsham students, can receive deferrals if they can prove that they’re truly in love. Tommy believes that this is why Hailsham was always taking away examples of their artwork when they children—because the artwork would show what they were like inside, and serve as criteria for which students could merit deferrals.

In this tragic ending, Kathy and Tommy learn that the rumors were false. There are no deferrals. But they, along with the readers, also finally learn the cryptic history behind the entire donation system. As Miss Lucy’s explanation unfolds, Ishiguro paints a frighteningly realistic picture of the lengths to which selfish human beings will go in order to make their lives more comfortable, and the rationalizations they will use in order to silence the voice of conscience.

The excerpt begins with Miss Lucy explaining to Kathy and Tommy the real reason Hailsham took their childhood artwork. Kathy is the narrator, so all first-person references are hers.

"‘We took away your art because we thought it would reveal your souls. Or to put it more finely, we did it to prove that you had souls at all.'

She paused, and Tommy and I exchanged glances for the first time in ages. Then I asked, “Why did you have to prove a thing like that, Miss Emily? Did you someone think that we didn’t have souls?”

A thin smile appeared on her face. ‘It’s touching, Kathy, to see you so taken aback. It demonstrates, in a way, that we did our job well. As you say, why would anyone doubt you had a soul? But I have to tell you, my dear, it wasn’t something commonly held when we first set out all those years ago. And though we’ve come a long way since then, it’s still not a notion universally held, even today. You Hailsham students, even after you’ve been out in the world like this, you still don’t know the half of it. All around the country, at this very moment, there are students being reared in deplorable conditions, conditions you Hailsham students could hardly imagine…’

'But what I don’t understand,’ I said, is why people would want students treated so badly in the first place?’

“From your perspective today, Kathy, your bemusement is perfectly reasonable. But you must try and see it historically. After the great war, in the early fifties, when the great breakthroughs in science followed one after the other so rapidly, there wasn't time to take stock, to ask sensible questions. Suddenly there were all these new possibilities laid before us, all these ways to cure so many previously incurable conditions. This is what the world noticed the most, wanted the most. And for a long time, people preferred to believe these organs appeared from nowhere, or at most that they grew in a kind of vacuum. Yes, there were arguments. But by the time people became concerned...about students, by the time they came to consider just how you were reared, whether you should have been brought into existence at all, well by then it was too late. There was no way to reverse the process. How can you ask a world that has come to regard cancer as curable, how can you ask such a world to put away that cure, to go back to the dark days? There was no going back. However uncomfortable people were about your existence, their overwhelming concern was that their own children, their spouses, their parents, their friends, did not die from cancer, motor neuron disease, heart disease. So for a long time you were kept in the shadows, and people did their best not to think about you. And if they did, they tried to convince themselves you weren't really like us. That you weren't really human, so it didn't matter.”

-Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go,