Archived Posts May 2005 - Page 2 of 12 | Acton PowerBlog

Very often in political discourse, the labels liberal/progressive are juxtaposed with conservative/traditional (or variants thereof). But there are numerous instances where these terms become misleading, not only due to various connotations associated with them, but because the denotation of each word may not adequately describe the position on either side.

Take the educational choice movement, for example. To the extent that this multifaceted phenomenon can be called a unified “movement,” its defining characteristic migth well be identified as the upsetting of the current status quo. That is, homeschool, private school, and parochial school advocates alike are dissatisfied with the American public education system, and to varying degrees and in varying ways care calling for reform.

And yet those in the school choice movement are typically identified as “conservatives” or “traditionalists” while those opposing the privatization of education are said to be “liberals” or “progressives.” If we view the institutions of public education as the object of criticism and praise in this discussion, we quickly see that these labels are misleading.

The school choice initiative is essentially a progressive movement with respect to the instantiated structures of public education. Whether through vouchers, tax credits, or other policy means, the aim is to radically change the way in which education is delivered to American children.

Contrariwise, those opposed to these projects are conservative with respect to the education establishment. Any threat or hint of change is vociferously engaged. The current state of affairs must continue.

Now of course many in the school choice movement have reforming or progressive views on education precisely because they tend to be more “conservative” on issues of prior logical or ethical importance. And it is this tension present in the name “conservative” that is illustrated well by Russell Kirk when he writes, “The thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.”

In his essay on “Ten Conservative Principles,” Kirk writes that this tenth principle balances traditional and progressive tendencies:

The conservative knows that any healthy society is influenced by two forces, which Samuel Taylor Coleridge called its Permanence and its Progression. The Permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions that gives us stability and continuity; without that Permanence, the fountains of the great deep are broken up, society slipping into anarchy. The Progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement; without that Progression, a people stagnate.

We see that the labels “conservative” and “liberal” can be misleading on their face, and so that without a deeper understanding of the principles of each mindset, these labels can be inadequate. The public discussion of these issues must be informed by a more comprehensive analysis, both explaining and moving beyond this conservative/liberal dualism.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, May 26, 2005

Here’s a different, deeply flawed, and downright chilling take on the creation of genetic chimeras: David P. Barash, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, welcomes them as a sign of the "continuity" between humans and other creatures. Barash attacks "religious fundamentalists" who draw "the line at the emergence of human beings from other ‘lower’ life forms. It is a line that exists only in the minds of those who proclaim that the human species, unlike all others, possesses a spark of the divine and must have been specially created by god. It is a thin and, indeed, indefensible line, but one that generates a consequential conclusion: that we stand outside nature."

Let’s ignore for the sake of brevity Barash’s caricatures and misunderstanding of the historic Judeo-Christian tradition. Barash’s own views about the soul and immaterial things like the mind remain free from examination in this piece, insulated from their incoherence (see Alvin Plantinga on the fundamental contradiction between naturalism and science). Even worse, I suppose, that such nonsense is coming from a psychologist, who it seems ought to know better, given that his profession is at least nominally concerned with mind and thought. In any case, Barash’s piece is a stark reminder of what kinds of support the creation of genetic chimeras will continue to receive among our "scholarly" class.

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Following up on my post yesterday about the controversial Japanese history textbook that glosses over Japan’s past wartime aggressions, a new textbook is almost complete which will act as a supplement to current Japanese history textbooks with a much more complete picture of what happened around the time of World War II. The new textbook is a joint project by scholars and historians from Japan, China, and Korea. While the first controversial textbook was published by a nationalistic organization and tended to overlook any crimes that Japan commited in modern history, the new textbook (which will be published in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean in mid-June) is written from a human rights standpoint, and will contain several pages dedicate to the history of "comfort women" and the Japanese use of sex slaves during the Sino-Japanese War and World War II. The new text will also elaborate, presenting the evidence that does exist, on the Nanking Massacre including excerpts from the journal of Kesago Nakajima, the Japanese officer who led the operation.

Jordan Ballor writes about the ethical and moral implications of creating genetic chimeras. Ballor comments on a recent New York Times editorial promoting chimera research, calling their thinking "scientific pragmatism" and criticizing the general lack of understanding of both human nature and athropology. "The creation of new kinds of chimeras, using manipulation at the cellular and sub-cellular level, raises the stakes considerably," writes Ballor about the level of public controversy involved with chimera research thus far. Pursuing further research without adhering to an objective set of moral and ethical guidelines could have a devastating effect on our humanity.

Ballor has written about chimeras on this blog before.

Read the full text here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, May 25, 2005

This Tech Central Station article, “Saving Africa,” puts some figures in perspective, citing the reason for the poverty of African nations: “Africa is poor because most countries in the region lack the fundamental elements of a capitalist system: property rights, free markets, free trade and the rule of law.”

The TCS piece quotes a 1998 Religion & Liberty article by Gary Becker, “Human Capital and Poverty,”

It is not the culture that has prevented Africa from growing but the policies governments have inflicted on their people. With good policies, there is nothing in African culture to prevent these nations from joining in increasing numbers the economically advanced nations of the world.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Emerging signs of renewed democratic action in Cuba prompted this Wall Street Journal editorial today (subscription required), which calls for the Organization of American States to "do far more to support Cuban democrats." Bringing external political pressure to bear on Cuba only represents part of the solution to human rights violations in Cuba.

As Rev. Robert Sirico wrote previously, "Everyone, except perhaps the National Council of Churches, knows it is true that Cuba has a terrible human-rights record." We might add to that list two Congressman from New York, who said the following:

"[American politicians] refuse to give the [Cuban] government the respect that it deserves."
–Rep. Charlie Rangel, NY.

"Castro is harmful to no one."
–Rep. Maurice Hinchey, NY.

Hinchey does go on to make a somewhat more valid point, however, in that the continuation of the US embargo of Cuba undermines the situation of oppressed Cubans. "To the extent that any harm is being done, it’s the continuation of this policy over the last five decades now," he said, referring to the American embargo. While its completely incredible to claim that Castro is innocent of human rights violations, this does not entail that an embargo is the best policy to pursue.

The answer, of course, is to neither gloss over the crimes of Casto’s government, nor to ignore the possibilities that lifting the embargo might have for improving the condition of Cuba’s poorest. As Rev. Sirico wrote nearly five years ago, "Opening trade relations–or, at the very least, permitting an inflow of food and medicine–actually holds out the prospect of breaking a long-running impasse. There are many issues to be worked out, of course. However, the fact remains that in Cuba, as in China, free trade gives hope to the people who suffer the most from governments that violate human rights."

Blog author: jspalink
Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visits Yasukuni Shrine.

Japan’s wartime atrocities have long been a source of tension and anger among various east Asian nations. Failure to admit guilt and continued veneration of wartime "heroes," many of whom are convicted war-criminals, cause diplomatic stress between nations even today.

In fact there is speculation that Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi abruptly left Japan before meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi yesterday because of Koizumi’s stated intent to visit Yasukuni Shrine again this year. An article in The Japan Times today states:

Speculation immediately grew that China may have canceled the meeting because of Koizumi’s remark last week that he may go ahead with another contentious visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines the nation’s war dead as well as 14 class-A war criminals.

The New History Textbook published by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform.

Koizumi’s intended visit to Yasukuni comes at an already tense time as anti-Japanese protests have been occuring in China due to the approval of the New History Textbook (新しい歴史教科書) published by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform. (An English version of controversial chapters is available from their website as a PDF file).

Chinese outrage is caused primarily by the textbook’s lack of attention directed to various events which occurred during wartime occupation of China. In particular the textbook provides one paragraph about the “Rape of Nanking,” an event which has been described as “the single worst atrocity during the World War II era in either the European or Pacific theaters of war” by the United Human Rights Council and “one of the worst massacres in modern times” by the BBC.

The New History Textbook has this to say about the Nanking Massacre, and NOTHING more:

Japanese military officials thought Chiang Kai-shek would surrender if they captured Nanking, the Nationalist capital; they occupied that city in December.* But Chiang Kai-shek had moved his capital to the remote city of Chongqing. The conflict continued.

A footnote reads as follows:

Note*: At this time, many Chinese soldiers and civilians were killed or wounded by Japanese troops (the Nanking Incident). Documentary evidence has raised doubts about the actual number of victims claimed by the incident. The debate continues even today.

The lack of any kind of detail provided is competely offensive, especially to the countries which suffered during the war. A BBC story which details some of the more gruesome accounts from the massacre states:

Based on estimates made by historians and charity organizations in the city at the time, between 250,000 and 300,000 people were killed, many of them women and children.

The number of women raped was said by Westerners who were there to be 20,000, and there were widespread accounts of civilians being hacked to death.

Yet many Japanese officials and historians deny there was a massacre on such a scale.

While the end of World War II is now almost 60 years in the past, perhaps there is still time to acknowledge the atrocities that occurred. We cannot learn from history if we deny that it ever happened, or that we ever participated. What occurred in China should be mourned by the Japanese, remembered as an example of what not to do, and forgiven.