Archive for the ‘Neighborhoods, Boroughs, Cities, States’ Category.

Our Pornified Culture of Death

Philosopher Hannah Arendt once wrote that, if left unchecked, modern society would annihilate itself if given the chance. It feels like we are there. Our collective hypocrisy is clear, as we (rightly) condemn Trump while we pick up 50 Shades of Grey at Red Box. We are all of us consumers of self-gratification.

In other words, our pornified culture exposes us as a people of enfeebled desires. We’d rather fantasize with images than do the work required for deep and meaningful relationships. In our hyper-connected society, we’ve become distracted from one another, ransoming real relationships for cheap gratification. The word “distraction” comes from a Latin term that means “torn apart.” We are not only disconnected from one another, we exploit each other, and tear ourselves apart.

In his famous Oxford address “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis said that we allow lesser objects to satisfy our desires, unaware that ultimate gratification is offered to us. “We are half-hearted creatures,” writes Lewis, “fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Trump is the Logical Conclusion of Our Pornified Culture

That grabbing and ripping is the the method that remained legal after the “partial-birth” abortion ban. (Gunter eventually describes this procedure: “The fetus is essentially taken apart with a D and E to fit through the dilated cervix.” But, she says, this is not “ripping,” but “simply surgical technique.”)

Who — Trump or Hillary — was confused or dishonest about abortion at the last debate?

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Politics Is Idolatry for Many

Supreme Court nominees will not save you. National security advisers will not save you. An Ivy League education will not save you. A quarterback who’s cool under pressure will not save you. Tax breaks will not save you. The love of Mr. Right will not save you. A traditional priest will not save you. A progressive priest will not save you. This pope will not save you. A different pope will not save you.

If there’s any heresy the internet encourages, it’s the passionate conviction that “all we need is….” All we need is a Republican president or a more compassionate bishop or a baby who sleeps through the night or a diet that actually works or a higher minimum wage or better paternity leave or free reign to go after ISIS or a new iPhone or a good harvest and then we’ll be happy.

No. All you need is Jesus.

We all seem to know, Christian or not, that we’re in desperate need of a savior. Every four years, we find that savior in a political candidate, appalling as he or she may be. In between, our savior might be an ecclesial movement or a dear friend or a cup of coffee. They’re not bad things until they’re everything and then they’re idols just as much as any golden calf or statue of Bel.

. . .

It’s not just politics, of course. We look to money and love and fame and comfort to save us just as much as we do to our political leaders—more. We make them our gods, confident that what we need is a raise or a faithful spouse or a vacation or more reliable internet provider and then we’ll be okay.

Those things might be nice. Or they might be bricks building up into a wall of self-sufficiency, good things that blind us to our need for a savior. And without making a single deal with the devil or even skipping a single Mass we suffer the loss of our souls because we have installed created things in the place set aside for the creator.

Looking for our savior in all the wrong places

Statolatry, Idolatry

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Politics Is Poison to the Human Spirit

[A]ny visit to an awesome commercial center, teeming with life and full of human diversity, would be palliative. Or maybe it is a visit to a superstore to observe the products, the service, energy, the benevolence, of the commercial space. We can meet people, encounter their humanity, revel in the beauty and bounty of human life. Or it could be your local watering hole with its diverse cast of characters and complicated lives that elude political characterization.

. . .

In this extremely strange election year, escaping the roiling antagonism and duplicity of politics, and finding instead the evidence all around us that we can get along, however imperfectly, might actually be essential for a healthy outlook on life.

. . .

The message that politics beats into our heads hourly is that your neighbor might be your enemy, and that the realization of your values requires the crushing of someone else’s.

That’s a terrible model of human engagement to accept as the only reality.

. . .

What if the whole of life worked like the political sector? It would be unrelenting misery, with no escape, ever. As it is, this is not the case. We should be thankful for it, and remember that the thing that makes life wonderful, beautiful, and loving is not crushing your enemy with a political weapon but rather the gains that come from turning would-be enemies into friends in an environment of freedom.

. . .

A slogan passed around some years ago in academic circles was that “the personal is the political.” That sounds like hell on earth. The slogan should be flipped and serve as a warning to all of us: whatever you politicize will eventually invade your personal life. We should not allow this to happen. The less that life is mediated by political institutions, the more the spontaneous and value-creating impulses in our nature come to the fore.

Politics Is Poison to the Human Spirit

Many of us seem to have made an idol of politics.

Ozymandias and Statolatry

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Eliminating Community Service

Community service is a noble concept that obscures and confuses more than it helps. The idea implies that those in need are encountered mainly beyond the ordinary circumstances of every day life. It creates a false dichotomy between ordinary and charitable activity. It excludes all but altruistic motivations and devalues genuine engagement with others.

Catholics don’t believe that community is distinct from ordinary living. Community is primarily the family. This natural truth is supported by the supernatural reality that the original community of persons is the Holy Trinity. Through the family we encounter the every day needs of love which require us to serve one another.

Our tradition provides us with a rich lexicon for this service: the Corporal Works of Mercy and the Spiritual Works of Mercy. Catholics do not serve; we work. Catholics do not merely give; we show mercy. The acts themselves occur ordinarily in family life: feeding, clothing, comforting, instructing, visiting, et al. In other words, the habits of merciful work and engagement occur as a normal part of daily activity, not as an add-on to normal life.

Catholics would do well to stop referring to “community service” altogether, and instead adopt the language of public spiritedness or public life. The only practical distinction between our works of mercy is where they occur and not when. This language also has an added benefit: it expands our political engagement beyond that of sound-bite politics.

Eliminating Community Service

To mandate “community service” at a public school is moral preening and a manifestation of statolatry.

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Tim Kaine’s Abortion Stance

On the subject of abortion, Tim Kaine is a mess intellectually and a coward morally. That some people find his argument persuasive is only another sign of how attenuated we have become, nationally, in our facility for reasoned argument. The facts of abortion are the facts of abortion, irrespective of what any pope, president, governor, senator, or mere justice of the Supreme Court says.

Being a Catholic is one reason to oppose abortion. Being a human being is another. Tim Kaine, a cheap and shallow sophist, isn’t a particularly inspiring example of either.

Kaine’s Abortion Dodge

Kaine has also made an idol of government.


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Hoarding, Scrupulosity, and Detachment

To hoarders, belongings are physical anchors in a stormy world. Hoarders might otherwise lead functional lives, but according to experts who spoke at the conference, many derive security from having their keepsakes always in view.

“People who hoard tend to live their lives visually and spatially, instead of categorically like the rest of us do,” said Randy Frost, a psychologist and co-author of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, in an interview with Fresh Air. They sort things by location, rather than importance. When he asked one hoarder where her electric bill was, she responded “on the left side of the pile, about a foot down.”

Far from being dirty or disgusting, hoarders might actually be too careful. A common manifestation of OCD is scrupulosity, or an extreme fear of wrongdoing. For example, a highly religious person with OCD might have a fleeting, blasphemous thought one day—”What if God is actually terrible?”—and obsess for days about what thinking it means.

Hoarding in the Time of Marie Kondo

[M]y moderately smug disdain is directed at the writers and “experts” who breathlessly report and analyze these trends—especially when, as is the case in the New York magazine piece, consumerism is highlighted as a contributing vice. “Ours is a spendy culture,” one subheading announces with vague judgmentalism while surrounded by ads for Tiffany and Burberry. “It’s expected that as you earn more, your lifestyle should swell accordingly . . . . If you can’t Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat your material progress, it might as well not exist.”

My question is: Why on earth would we expect anything different? Our culture gives us no compelling reason to resist the allure of conspicuous consumption. We have gutted society of any institutional recognition of, let alone support for, traditional virtues, and yet we vainly expect people to live virtuously. It may be impossible to improve on C.S. Lewis’s concision: “We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

Now, the virtue I’m thinking of here is not the old-timey Puritan concept of thrift. Thrift can certainly be virtuous, but it can also emerge just as much from a preoccupation with wealth as conspicuous consumption does—a preoccupation with economic status in the future rather than the present. It’s an idea that is easily co-opted by a secular culture where class is considered a reasonable proxy for moral worthiness.

I’m thinking instead of the relatively unknown and little understood virtue of detachment. We shouldn’t be too surprised that detachment has been largely forgotten; more than almost any other virtue, it relies for its coherence on the public recognition of the divine that secularism has systematically purged from our society. Detachment from worldly goods and concerns only makes sense if there’s another world to which we owe our loyalty.

Perhaps the most well-known description of detachment comes from Jesus himself in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Secularism solves this dilemma elegantly by erasing God. Only mammon remains.

. . .

We’ve gutted all the social and spiritual foundations of a healthy relationship with worldly goods, and there’s nothing our hordes of life coaches and inspiration mongers and financial therapists can do to replace them. It’s foolish and even a little cruel to expect a society of slaves to mammon to resist their master.

Why the Rich Can’t Save Money

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We are not going to solve our fiscal problems by closing some military bases, eliminating foreign aid, or cutting redundant federal jobs-training programs. Eventually, we will have to cut where the spending is.

William Weld’s Wishful Thinking: Even the Libertarians aren’t serious about fiscal reform.

“We’ve reached a moment when our political thinking and vocabulary as a nation seem exhausted,” he said. “The real effect that we as individuals have on the government and political class that claim to represent us – the big mechanical Golem we call Washington – is so slight that it breeds indifference and anger.”

Christians’ response must be more than merely wringing hands or making a search for better candidates, policies, and public relations. Renewing a society “demands that we be different people.”

Archbishop Chaput noted the “huge spike” during his priesthood of hearing penitents confess sins of promiscuity, infidelity, sexual violence, sexual confusion, and pornography use.

“Listening to people’s sexual sins in the Sacrament of Penance is hardly new news. But the scope, the novelty, the violence and the compulsiveness of the sins are,” he said.

“The truth about our sexuality is that infidelity, promiscuity, sexual confusion and mass pornography create human wreckage,” he continued. This wreckage has been compounded by tens of millions of people over five decades, and “media nonsense” about the effects of sexual immorality and divorce.

“What you get is what we have now: a dysfunctional culture of frustrated and wounded people increasingly incapable of permanent commitments, self-sacrifice and sustained intimacy, and unwilling to face the reality of their own problems,” the archbishop lamented.

“This has political consequences. People unwilling to rule their appetites will inevitably be ruled by them – and eventually, they’ll be ruled by someone else,” he said. “People too weak to sustain faithful relationships are also too weak to be free. Sooner or later they surrender themselves to a state that compensates for their narcissism and immaturity with its own forms of social control.”

People who are unwilling to have children and raise them with love, virtue, and moral character are “writing themselves out of the human story,” he added.

Government has a role to play in easing problems like unemployment, low pay, crime, poor housing, chronic illness and bad schools, but not if government works “from a crippled idea of who man is, what marriage is, and what a family is.”

He warned against a government that “deliberately shapes its policies to interfere with and control the mediating institutions in civil society that already serve the public well.”

According to the archbishop, the decline of marriage, family, and traditional religion also have consequences for the country. Fewer than 30 percent of U.S. millennials think that it’s vital to live in a democracy, while undemocratic feelings have especially risen among the wealthy.

This didn’t happen by accident.

“We behaved ourselves into this mess by living a collection of lies,” Archbishop Chaput charged.

Given that the truth makes us free, “no issue has made us more dishonest and less free as believers and as a nation than abortion.”

“Abortion poisons everything. There can never be anything ‘progressive’ in killing an unborn child, or standing aside tolerantly while others do it.”

“In every abortion, an innocent life always dies,” the archbishop said. Trying to imply other important issues have the same moral weight is “a debasement of Christian thought.”

Why Archbishop Chaput thinks the US presidential candidates are ‘very bad news’

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Crony Capitalism in DC. Again.

Five years ago, a new quirky-sounding consumer-rights group set up shop in a sleepy corner of Capitol Hill. “Consumers for Paper Options is a group of individuals and organizations who believe paper-based communications are critically important for millions of Americans,” the group explained in a press release, “especially those who are not yet part of the online community.”

This week, Consumers for Paper Options scored a big win, according to the Wall Street Journal. Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Mary Jo White has abandoned her plan to loosen rules about the need to mail paper documents to investors in mutual funds.

Mutual funds were lobbying for more freedom when it came to mailing prospectuses — those exhaustive, bulky, trash-can-bound explanations of the contents of your fund. In short, the funds wanted to be free to make electronic delivery the default, while allowing investors to insist on paper delivery. This is an obvious common-sense reform which would save whole forests of trees.

Consumers for Paper Options fought back. The group warned that changing the default from paper to electronic delivery would “Confuse potentially millions of investors who suddenly stop seeing important printed fund performance material from investment firms.”

. . .

This is almost laughable: A D.C. lobbyist forming a sham “consumer” protection to fight for federal rules requiring more paper and envelopes be wasted, while getting paid by the envelope lobby.

But the envelope CEOs and the paper lobbyists aren’t the only ones who care about keeping this junkmail flowing. Those paper mills that exist in the U.S. are deeply threatened by digitization. Among the shrinking list of things that go on paper these days are things the government forces people to put on paper. Allow mutual funds to mail fewer prospectuses, and those paper mills will lose a significant amount of work.

The employees at these mills will see their hours reduced, if they’re not simply laid off. The added costs of mailing me unwanted paper nibbles away the value of my retirement account, but is a tiny uptick in my 401(k) really worth laying off paper mill worker in East Millinocket, Maine?

. . .

Here’s the thing about the federal rule requiring the mailing of the prospectus: It’s absurd and wasteful, and it differs only in degree from most subsidies whose defenders use the same “save the jobs” rhetoric.

In a federal mandate for waste, envelope lobby reveals Washington

Ozymandias and statolatry

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Workers have choices, too, though some have more choices than others. But if you think that paying the CEO a lot drives down workers’ wages, wouldn’t you also think that other expenses would put downward pressure on wages, too? And which would produce the heavier pressure: $376 million for the CEO or $8.3 billion for the IRS?

. . .

Hillary Rodham Clinton, embracing the Left’s current fervor for Hugo Chávez–style economic populism and nationalism (weirdly, “the Left” includes the Republican presidential nominee, for purposes of this discussion — bang-up job, Republicans!), complains about inequality, and offers as a partial solution higher corporate taxes. Businesses respond to changes in their expenses in different ways. But who do you think is likely to take it in the shorts if you jack up Apple’s tax bill? The designers and programmers who are being offered new six-figure jobs eight times a week at companies all over the country and all over the world, or the parking-garage attendant?

. . .

Sometimes businesses go so far as to relocate their headquarters in response to taxes and other burdens; one way of doing that is the dreaded “corporate inversion,” in which a U.S. company uses a merger to relocate its legal domicile to some sweaty, exploitive, relatively low-tax Third World crap-hole . . . like Canada, the United Kingdom, or Ireland. Mrs. Clinton proposes to put a stop to that by enacting an “exit tax,” which is a really nice way of saying “ransom.” That might cause some trouble for existing businesses considering relocation, but what effect might it have ten or 20 years down the road? Do we really think the people who are smart, creative, and energetic enough to build the powerhouse corporations of tomorrow are going to be too stupid to figure out how to incorporate in Switzerland instead of Delaware?

Mrs. Clinton’s Blame Game

Ozymandias and Statolatry

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No Regulation Without Representation

When law in America can be made by executive “pen and phone” alone — indeed, by a White House press release — we’re faced starkly with a fundamental constitutional question: Is administrative law unlawful? Answering in the affirmative in this far-reaching, erudite new treatise, Philip Hamburger traces resistance to rule by administrative edict from the Middle Ages to the present. Far from a novel response to modern society and its complexities, executive prerogative has deep roots. It was beaten back by English constitutional ideas in the 17th century and even more decisively by American constitutions in the 18th century, but it reemerged during the Progressive Era and has grown ever since, regardless of the party in power.

Is Administrative Law Unlawful?

In this nation, we have a problem where Congress no longer represents the people. Because our representatives are more concerned about re-election, they have abrogated their authority to an unelected bureaucracy that passes rules We the People have no say over but that have a real effect on our daily lives. When we complain to Congress about these regulations, our representatives can play the good cop and claim they agree with us but there is nothing they can do because regulations are passed by the bad cop, bureaucracy.

. . .

It is time for We the People to stand up and let our voices be heard. No longer can our elected representatives allow an unelected bureaucracy do the job they were elected to do. We live in a republic, which means We the People are entitled to have our representatives vote on the laws that affect our lives.

The new slogan for this movement should be “No regulation without representation.” While some are pushing for a constitutional amendment that requires Congress to have a say in the regulation process, this effort should be extended to all 50 states. Each state should not allow its bureaucracy to pass rules absent the consent of the state legislature.

No Regulation Without Representation

Farewell to the Administrative State?

Is Administrative Law Unlawful?” by Philip Hamburger


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