The Decline and Fall of the Person

Dr. Jeff Mirus over at Catholic Culture did some musing the other day on his stack of unread books. I tend to be sympathetic because I have one of those plus a bunch of half-read ones on my Kindle. That tends top be life in the Information Age. His musing is a lot more informative and useful than my whining though. Here’s some of what he had to say:

The grand synthesis between Christian revelation and classical reason which formed Western culture placed the person at center stage. As a direct result, the universe was perceived as pregnant with meaning, created by and for persons, and capable of generating a kind of wonder that leads back to the Creator. But under various internal and external pressures, this intensely human synthesis tended to break down. People began to relativize ideas—the human grasp of meaning which is so often subject to disagreement, debate and conflict. And they began to absolutize facts—descriptions of material reality which are amenable to physical measurement and empirical proof.

There are so many ways to trace this shift in perception that it is difficult to know where to start. However it is traced, what we now call “science” gradually took the first place in human studies. Deeply dependent on earlier Western ideas about order in the universe as a whole, the rapid advance of the physical sciences won them deep respect. They offered largely non-controversial benefits to mankind while appearing to reduce the need for moral improvement.

The attraction is not hard to understand. Nobody has to grow in love or overcome habitual vices to appreciate the benefits of science and its resulting technology. In fact, whether good or evil, the achievements of science readily appeal to personal selfishness. They can make us healthier and more comfortable; they can reduce sweat equity; they can maximize pleasure.

I can’t really say I disagree with any of that nor, in some ways, do I think it bad.

Unfortunately, this relativization of what we might also call the moral or the spiritual, and this absolutization of what we must call the material, led the West as a whole to commit a fundamental error. We might call it a philosophical or a logical error, but it is just as much an error of common sense. A whole culture began by choosing to focus overwhelmingly on the material world. For obvious reasons, it then lost awareness of what it chose not to focus on. Finally, it proclaimed—completely without warrant—that what it was focused on is all there is. In other words, the West slipped progressively into a deeper and deeper materialism.

This has created gargantuan problems. If everything is material, how can we account for meaning and purpose? The answer is that we cannot, and the long-term result of this reticence concerning meaning is an insistence that everything must be random. In its evolutionary form, this randomness is thought to tend toward continuous improvement, at a huge but justifiable cost to whatever is left behind.

Nothing to disagree with here either but like the author, let’s think about this a bit. If there is nothing but the material world, then there is no cause for any morality at all, might is right is the way they phrased it in Camelot, if for some reason you are not the one with the power, you simply do not matter, get out of my way. Sounds a lot like a stone age tribal society, doesn’t it? Or maybe the twenty-first century industrialized world. Because in large measure we have devolved to a society in which if you can’t buy enough influence from the corrupt court, you’re gonna lose.

Another way modern Western culture has dealt with the absence of meaning is through the reduction of happiness to pleasure. It is an ever-present human tendency to prefer easily-gained and primarily physical pleasures over hard-won but more deeply satisfying growth in perfection (which presumes purposes and ends). Technology excels at producing pleasures for our consumption. Unlike ideology, pleasure does not provide an alternative form of “meaning”. Instead, it makes it easier to forget meaninglessness. In this sense it is also an escape from moral responsibility. But this is really a flight from despair, a flight from the frightening emptiness of a valueless existence, of a life without meaning.

Sound familiar? Yeah, it does to me as well, and I suspect it is true for a large part of our populations. There just aren’t many things our society thinks worthy of belief, are there?

There is quite a bit more at this link, The decline and fall of the Person: Musings on my stack of unread books – Catholic Culture. all of it worth reading, including Benedict’s  Caritas in Veritate. But let’s finish as Dr. Mirus does, because I don’t think it can be improved on.

[…] But when I looked at the clutter on my desk today, I realized that there was a very definite pattern to the clutter. A pattern, yes, and therefore purposes and ends and meanings which can only be discerned by persons.

To put the case in a nutshell, there really is a theology of the body. The end of our modern insanity is to learn again who we really are. I have chosen my words carefully: I do not mean what, but who.

Red Cross Demands Corrections to ‘Misleading’ Coverage

Flag of the Red Cross Suomi: Punaisen Ristin l...

Flag of the Red Cross Suomi: Punaisen Ristin lippu Français : Drapeau de la Croix-Rouge Italiano: Bandiera della Croce Rossa Македонски: Знаме на Црвениот Крст Rumantsch: Bandiera de la Crusch cotschna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So it seems that Propublica struck a nerve with the Red Cross, especially with its response to Sandy and Isaac , and with misleading fundraising as well.

I’m not overly surprised, in recent times it seems to have become more of a fund-raising organization for the enhancement of the lifestyle of its executives than anything else. That’s sad but hardly unprecedented. I have heard stories going back to Vietnam regarding the uncooperativeness of the red Cross regarding provide authorization of emergency leave for soldiers. Personally I have for many years refused to donate to the Red Cross, preferring such organizations as the Salvation Army.

In any case, here’s the main heads of the controversy.

1. Emergency response vehicles diverted for PR purposes

Red Cross complaint (pg. 1):

The charity takes issue with our reporting that executives diverted vehicles for public relations purposes. In particular, the Red Cross asserts that NPR’s version of the story erroneously refers to multiple “incidents” where 40 percent of available emergency response vehicles were used for press conferences. The Red Cross also says our reporting relied on a “lone source.” It both denies that any emergency vehicles were diverted away from providing relief and says that the 40 percent figure is wrong.

Our response:

The Red Cross’ claim that we referred to multiple “incidents” where 40 percent of vehicles were diverted is based on its use of a misleading, truncated quotation.

NPR’s transcript makes clear the word “incidents” refers to a variety of episodes, not just the diversion of trucks:

Our reporting found incidents where the charity sent as many as 40 percent of its emergency vehicles to press conferences instead of into the field, where it failed to show up as promised to open shelters, allowed sex offenders to hang out in a shelter’s play area. […]

2. Hurricane Isaac volunteers sent where they weren’t needed

Red Cross complaint (pg. 3):

The charity disputes our reporting that the vast majority of Red Cross responders deployed in advance of Hurricane Isaac in 2012 were stationed in Tampa, Florida – site of the Republican National Convention — even after it became clear the storm would not hit there.

“Again, this is the opinion of one Red Cross worker, unsubstantiated by the facts,” the Red Cross writes.

Our response:

While the Red Cross insists Tampa was under threat, the National Hurricane Center disagrees. As of Friday, Aug. 24, 2012, which was five days before landfall, Tampa was not under a hurricane threat or warning.

Five days out “it was clear the center of the storm would pass well to the west of Tampa,” Dennis Feltgen of the National Hurricane Center told us.

During the period that the Red Cross was stationing around 500 people in Tampa, a hurricane watch was under way for Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. Multiple people, including Red Cross volunteers and staffers, told ProPublica and NPR that the organization had difficulty moving people out of Tampa. […]

3. Failures in Bergen County, New Jersey

Red Cross complaint (pg. 4):

The charity takes issue with our reporting that the Red Cross’ response to Sandy was particularly inadequate in Bergen County, New Jersey. The Red Cross says we ignored “positive comments about the Red Cross while pretending only negative comments exist.”

Our response:

The Red Cross is not disputing the fact at the center of our reference to Bergen County: That the charity did not show up at the county’s Emergency Operations Center. “They were the only major player not there,” police lieutenant and Bergen County Emergency Management Coordinator Matthew Tiedemann told us. […]

4. Questioning the standing of a key source

Red Cross complaint (pg. 5):

The charity says “much of the criticism” in our stories came from one source, whose role we inflated.

Our response:

Again, the central conclusions of our coverage were drawn from the American Red Cross’ own internal high-level assessments, including minutes of a meeting with Red Cross executives in Washington. […]

5. The Red Cross wasted large amounts of food

Red Cross complaint (pg. 6):

The charity says our reference to the Red Cross wasting food was based on a single Red Cross responder, specifically Richard Rieckenberg.

Our response:

Our story noted that Rieckenberg estimated that the Red Cross wasted 30 percent of its food in the early days after Sandy — and we also noted the Red Cross disputed the figure. [..]

Red Cross complaint (pg. 6):

The charity disputes our reporting that the Red Cross sent around empty trucks after Hurricane Isaac just to be seen. In particular, the Red Cross writes, “There is no evidence to support this other than the recollection, again, of Rick Rieckenberg.”

Our response:

The Red Cross is wrong. […]

8. Refusing to work with Occupy Sandy

Red Cross complaint (pg. 8):

The charity denies our reporting that after Sandy Red Cross executives told staffers not to work with the well-regarded group Occupy Sandy out of concern over the connections to the Occupy Wall Street protest movement.

Our response:

Our story about the Red Cross and Occupy Sandy is clear: In the early period after the storm multiple Red Cross workers were told by superiors not to work with Occupy Sandy. […]

9. Senator probes Red Cross finances

Red Cross complaint (pg. 9):

The charity objects to various characterizations of Sen. Charles Grassley’s inquiries into its finances. They call our headline “hyper-extended.”

Our response:

The Red Cross is not alleging a factual error. Following our story on CEO Gail McGovern misstating how donor dollars are spent on services and overhead, Grassley announced: “The public’s expectation for an important, well-known organization like the Red Cross is complete, accurate fundraising and spending information  […]

10. Difficulty of finding sources who praised the Red Cross

Red Cross complaint (pg. 10):

The charity disputes a comment by one of us on a Reddit chat that it was difficult to find sources who had positive things to say about the Red Cross’ response to Isaac and Sandy. The charity also complains that we did not include a survey it provided of those who received Red Cross help after Sandy.

Our response:

Our answer on our Reddit chat was: We “interviewed dozens of people, including many Red Cross officials and volunteers, storm victims, and government officials. It was very difficult to find sources with positive things to say about the Red Cross’ responses to Sandy and Isaac. More importantly, multiple sources confirmed and fleshed out the Red Cross’ own conclusions from its internal assessments.”[…]

There is quite a lot more detail at the sourcelink, here: Red Cross Demands Corrections to Our ‘Misleading’ Coverage. Here’s Our Response – ProPublica.

I’ll simply note that I have always found Pro Publica to be a reliable investigatory organization.

The Telegraph and Peter Oborne

OK, I heard that, “What’s this still another British story? I thought this was a Nebraska blog.”

Well, yeah it is but, this has meaning for us too. In his statement here from Guido Fawkes, Peter Oborne tells us why he quit The Telegraph

Five years ago I was invited to become the chief political commentator of the Telegraph. It was a job I was very proud to accept. The Telegraph has long been the most important conservative-leaning newspaper in Britain, admired as much for its integrity as for its superb news coverage. When I joined the Telegraph had just broken the MPs’ expenses scandal, the most important political scoop of the 21st century.

I was very conscious that I was joining a formidable tradition of political commentary. I spent my summer holiday before taking up my duties as columnist reading the essays of the great Peter Utley, edited by Charles Moore and Simon Heffer, two other masters of the art.

No one has ever expressed quite as well as Utley the quiet decency and pragmatism of British conservatism. The Mail is raucous and populist, while the Times is proud to swing with the wind as the voice of the official class. The Telegraph stood in a different tradition. It is read by the nation as a whole, not just by the City and Westminster. It is confident of its own values. It has long been famous for the accuracy of its news reporting. I imagine its readers to be country solicitors, struggling small businessmen, harassed second secretaries in foreign embassies, schoolteachers, military folk, farmers—decent people with a stake in the country.

My grandfather, Lt Col Tom Oborne DSO, had been a Telegraph reader. He was also a churchwarden and played a role in the Petersfield Conservative Association. He had a special rack on the breakfast table and would read the paper carefully over his bacon and eggs, devoting special attention to the leaders. I often thought about my grandfather when I wrote my Telegraph columns.

That is, I think, pretty close to ground truth. I also have found as I suspect many of you have that the Telegraph has (or maybe had) the best and most objective coverage available of US politics. I started reading it online when it became obvious that the US media had become the propaganda wing of the Obama campaign back in 2007. It was a good, decent, reasonably objective newspaper, although a bit too left-wing by American standards. I suspect it’s something I share with most of my British friends. I too have noticed that it has been changing.

For the last 12 months matters have got much, much worse. The foreign desk—magnificent under the leadership of David Munk and David Wastell—has been decimated. As all reporters are aware, no newspaper can operate without skilled sub-editors. Half of these have been sacked, and the chief sub, Richard Oliver, has left.

Solecisms, unthinkable until very recently, are now commonplace. Recently readers were introduced to someone called the Duke of Wessex. Prince Edward is the Earl of Wessex. There was a front page story about deer-hunting. It was actually about deer-stalking, a completely different activity. Obviously the management don’t care about nice distinctions like this. But the readers do, and the Telegraph took great care to get these things right until very recently.

The arrival of Mr Seiken coincided with the arrival of the click culture. Stories seemed no longer judged by their importance, accuracy or appeal to those who actually bought the paper. The more important measure appeared to be the number of online visits. On 22 September Telegraph online ran a story about a woman with three breasts. One despairing executive told me that it was known this was false even before the story was published. I have no doubt it was published in order to generate online traffic, at which it may have succeeded. I am not saying that online traffic is unimportant, but over the long term, however, such episodes inflict incalculable damage on the reputation of the paper.

And that is important, it is quite easy to lose the trust of people like me, and I suspect like the normal British Telegraph reader as well, because we are in essence, the same clientele. Conservative, yes, but owing a lot to our Whig ancestry. And almost all of us believe that” “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.’ It’s going to be difficult to regain our trust, I suspect.

A lot of electrons have been disturbed in relation to the HSBC mess in the UK, and Mr. Oborne speaks of it at some length, you’ll have to figure it out for yourself, I haven’t been paying much attention to it. But I will say this, the combination of international banking and government (either UK or US) is about as close as you can come to a legal (not moral) criminal conspiracy. if we don’t get some serious curbs put on these guys, and I’m not talking about regulations written with the ‘help’ of the banksters, I’m talking about serious criminal indictments, we may come to think of the 1930s as the good old days.

 

She has a point, although there are some mostly conservative libertarians, and acolytes of the Austrian school of economics. More, many more are needed.

This turned up in my twitter feed on Wednesday afternoon, while I have no corroboration, I have few doubts either.

Now do understand I have no more information than anyone else, it could be just a squabble between a columnist and his employer. But I don’t think so, and if I did I still would be very cautious about what I believe.

In a related matter, also having to do with press honesty, have you seen Sharyl Attkisson’s TEDx talk? Do watch, you need to know this stuff.

 

Number One with a Bullet

Well, we haven’t done Bill Whittle for a while, so let’s have a look at his latest shall we.

He here brings us the numbers to back up what any rational man knows, Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. It’s like I always say, the safest place in America is a honky-tonk bar out here in the west, where everyone (and I do mean everyone) is carrying at least one gun, plus assorted cutlery. Here’s Bill.

It’s so simple even a Librul should be able to figure it out, although since they consistently add apples and oranges and get lemonade, that might be wishful thinking.

 

Robert A. Heinlein said it long ago

An armed society is a polite society

Wolf’s Hall: A Morality Play?

This showed up in my Twitter feed yesterday:

I can’t vouch for that 97% number but the destruction as widespread and severe.

For my American readers Wolf’s Hall is a historical costume drama set in the reign of Henry the VIII. I’ve seen the first two episodes, and it’s very good TV, although I doubt it’s overly accurate history. Here’s a bit of the article referenced in the Tweet.

The UK’s current primetime TV fantasy blockbuster du jour is Wolf Hall. Everyone loves a costume drama, but there is a world of difference between fictional history and historical fiction. One dramatizes real people and events. The other is an entirely made-up story set in the past. The current tendency is to blur the two, which Wolf Hall does spectacularly.

Thomas Cromwell, whose life it chronicles, comes across as a plucky, self-made Englishman, whose quiet reserve suggests inner strength and personal nobility. Back in the real world, Cromwell was a “ruffian” (in his own words) turned sectarian extremist, whose religious vandalism bears striking comparison with the iconoclasm of Islamic State or the Afghani Taliban.

Thanks to Wolf Hall, more people have now heard of Thomas Cromwell, and this is a good thing. But underneath its fictionalized portrayal of Henry VIII’s chief enforcer, there is a historical man, and he is one whose record for murder, looting, and destruction ought to have us apoplectic with rage, not reaching for the popcorn.

Historians rarely agree on details, so a lot about Cromwell’s inner life is still up for debate. But it is a truly tough job finding anything heroic in the man’s legacy of brutality and naked ambition.

Against a backdrop of Henry VIII’s marital strife, the pathologically ambitious Cromwell single-handedly masterminded the break with Rome in order to hand Henry the Church, with its all-important control of divorce and marriage. There were, to be sure, small pockets of Protestantism in England at the time, but any attempt to cast Cromwell’s despotic actions as sincere theological reform are hopeless. Cromwell himself had minimal truck with religious belief. He loved politics, money, and power, and the reformers could give them to him.

Continue reading Thomas Cromwell was the Islamic State of his day.

whitby_abbeyWell, OK. But I don’t think that is any more accurate than the program. So far the program does seem to be downplaying Cromwell’s [shall we say] ambition a bit but he hasn’t consolidated his position yet, so we’ll see

This in particular “[…]the pathologically ambitious Cromwell single-handedly masterminded the break with Rome in order to hand Henry the Church, with its all-important control of divorce and marriage.” Strikes me as a description of any number of bureaucrats and politicians in Westminster as well as Washington. And many in history as well.

Still the dissolution of the monasteries did happen, and if we believe that England’s (and America’s) ascent to world power is an overall good, we should thank God that it did. At the time nearly half of the land area of England was owned by the church, and thus tax exempt, and if you consider the amount of art in England older than this period, just how much wealth was tied up in the church?

In my article today at All along the Watchtower (linked in the sidebar), I speak in passing of the utter destruction of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, which was one of the foremost pilgrimage shrines in Europe, and included the carrying off of a famous (and historic) statue of Our Lady to London to be burned in the streets.

So yes, there was a perhaps frenzied overreaction involved in the suppression, there nearly always is. Kristallnacht was no picnic for the relics of the Jewish population of Germany either. That poorly disciplined soldiers, irregulars or just people get out of hand is just a fact of life.

That said, comparing Cromwell to ISIS is just silly, Cromwell’s goal wasn’t to kill the population of England, it was to get rich. Henry’s illegal use of Prerogative power was a bad thing, as was recognized, even at the time. But is today’s Parliament (or our own bureaucracy) any better?  Only if we force them to be, and we’re not doing a very effective job ourselves.

So perhaps, after all, Wolf’s Hall is a morality tale for our times.

Concealed Carry and the Right of Self-Defense

Feb25We haven’t been talking a lot about this lately mostly because other than a few loonies like NYC’s mayor, few are pushing it. But as always, we need to pay attention.

One thing that struck me as we all watched the events in Paris, is how helpless Europeans have become, simply passive sheep awaiting slaughter. Nor was it the first time these thoughts were in my mind.

Most of you know that I have many friends in Britain, and a while back when Drummer Rigby was butchered in Woolwich, we talked about it both on the Watchtower and I expanded on those comments here. It was very interesting to see the differences in  the American viewpoint contrasted with the British, and I suspect continental Europeans are even more passive.

In fact, the passivity contained in the comment by a distinguished British educator chilled my blood.

We are entirely dependent upon the Police”

My response was as follows:

It’s true of course, most of us have read of British subjects sentenced to life in prison for defending themselves in their home from an armed assailant. And I’m certain I speak for most American when I say, with that system, you are not free. To me and most likely to my compatriots it brings to mind a phrase that Thomas Jefferson used.

Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.”

Which translates as,

“I prefer the tumult of liberty to the quiet of servitude.”

This was brought to mind this morning as I read from Dave “the Sage”, in his usual, calm rational style the case for the armed citizen, which is as true today as it was when the right was written into Magna Charta 800 years ago., thereby codifying an existing right. Here’s a piece  of it:

“A fear of weapons is a sign of retarded sexual and emotional maturity.” 

–  Sigmund Freud

[…]

The truth is often very simple. The law-abiding, gun-owning citizen is not the problem but for some reason is often the target of those who seek to disarm the populace.

When I received my concealed handgun permit it required little more than having the right sheriff, taking a hunters safety course, filling out a questionnaire, not having a criminal record, and writing a check. They have since tightened the restrictions a bit, but not by much if you know the right NRA instructor. Seventy-five dollars can get you an afternoon of target practice, training, and your ticket to the coveted concealed-carry permit if you are willing to do your homework.

Think of the growing number of concealed handgun permit holders as thousands of walking safety bubbles moving throughout society and undoubtedly crossing your path while potentially protecting you and your family without you even knowing it. You can live as a victim subject to the whim of criminals and crazies or you can live as a free man and have the potential to protect yourself, your family, and your community. I choose the latter.

[…]

No one should insist on leaving entire sections of the community open and helpless to the predations of murderous psychopaths. It is important to attempt to help change a culture that has wandered hopelessly off the path of logic and common sense, and help to rectify the pathetically failed policies that cost some people their lives. I can think of nothing more important to address than that. People are dead because of others stupidity and continual striving for a utopian nanny state. That cannot be excused or allowed to continue anymore.

Free Americans should have the right to defend themselves from the more unsavory elements of society that attempt to prey upon or outright kill them.

Laws that forbid the carrying of arms… disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes… Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.

— Jefferson’s “Commonplace Book,” 1774-1776, quoting from On Crimes and Punishment, by criminologist Cesare Beccaria, 1764

Concealed Carry and the Right of Self-Defense ⋆ Dc Gazette.

It strikes me that the main problem with the Europeans, and with some segments in America as well, is that they have abdicated the right to be a free person, along with (or perhaps because of) the concomitant obligation to act in their own interest. And so they sold their freedom for a little temporary safety, and as always, they soon shall have neither.

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