Two weeks ago I attended a lecture at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) by Jonathan Haidt, author, among many other books and articles, of the book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Haidt is a social psychologist whose research focuses on the emotive and anthropological bases of morality. His talk at GVSU for their Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies and Business Ethics Center, focused mostly on the question of the roots of our political divides in the United States and how to move our public discourse in a more civil direction. (more…)
Whenever there is a mass shooting, inevitably there is a rush by public officials, celebrities, and media talking heads to demand further restrictions on gun ownership. Truthfully, both sides of the firearm debate are guilty of politicizing these tragedies, as people race to media outlets to declare that their side played no role or responsibility for the action of the assailant. Many gun owners and their supporters reflexively react to the accusations. Despite the media’s relentless focus on violent shootings, Second Amendment support is surging. Americans are purchasing more guns than ever before. Concealed permit holders and applicants across the country are on the rise too. Most states outside of the Northeast are relaxing their restrictions on firearms not tightening them. When it comes to self-government, no issue is succeeding in America like firearm ownership and the right to carry.
Why is the argument to restrict firearms so ineffective? With each tragedy many pundits and politicians try to link the millions of law abiding gun owners to the violence and tragedy. If citizens didn’t have access to firearms, there would be no tragedy, so the argument goes. But they are not linked at all. They are unrelated. The moral deficiency in the argument is glaring. Most Americans realize it’s too far of a leap to connect the millions and millions of lawful and safe firearm owners to people with severe mental illnesses and psychological problems. The attempt by so many to link these two groups of people together is ineffective, rings hollow, and comes off as offensive. They are not and never will be morally equivalent agents in our society.
It’s actually the morality of millions of law abiding citizens who choose to exercise their Constitutional gun rights that are undoing and crippling the arguments of those calling for restrictions and gun bans. That’s why morality is so effective and essential for self-government. And when it comes to morality and exercising rights, those who want to limit government intrusion and promote self-government can learn learn a lot from gun owners.
Anthony Weiner did not win the Democratic Party primary for New York City last night. Leading in the polls at one time, he ended up with 5 percent of the vote. His defiant and circus like campaign appropriately ended with more bizarre theatrics. In a scolding interview, Weiner was called out for his political power addiction recently by Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC. Though O’Donnell sees no need to call him out for his moral behavior and personally he doesn’t feel it is a hindrance for supporting Weiner, it’s the prime reason for Weiner’s collapse in support.
That Weiner really had no shame or misgivings about the extent to which he was willing to embarrass himself and his family says something about his lust for political power and relevance. If you take away the platform for his power, his entourage, the attention he receives, strip him of those things, he is just another common man laid low by sin and addiction. That’s really the correct answer to O’Donnell’s question that is never answered truthfully.
In another recent video clip, where an outraged Jewish voter confronts Weiner about his moral bankruptcy, we again see the depth of his inability to be shamed and get a deeper look at his defense of that behavior. It’s the false notion that pervades much of our society today, that Americans are not allowed to make moral judgements about people and their behavior.
While there are many good and morally straight citizens in public service, I suspect Weiner is more towards the norm than many of us might like to believe. As the culture rots, and accountability wanes, society will reflect the corrupting nature of the world. But we notice it less because spiritual blindness intensifies society’s moral blindness.
We are bombarded by a lot of articles and blogs today, many times from the political right, demanding moral outrage for one issue or the other, but there is so little moral outrage left in our society to give. There was enough in New York City to end Anthony Weiner’s quest for more power and more attention and political relevance. But we can easily point to hundreds of examples that reflect the opposite. Weiner’s sad and bizarre campaign is his own doing, but it also says something profound about the corrupting and addicting nature of power and the people entrusted as the watchmen over that power.
That’s the conclusion Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, has come to. The surrogacy business in India is booming. While statistics are hard to come by, according to one estimate, surrogacy brings in more than $2 billion a year to India. That does not translate to much money for the surrogate mothers, however. Women are paid about $8,000 for their medical expenses and having a baby. However, since it is typically poor women, many of whom are illiterate, that are targeted for surrogacy, many sign contracts they do not understand. India has few laws governing surrogacy, so the women have little or no rights. It is a situation ripe for abuse. (more…)
Lord Acton once said of the American revolution: “No people was so free as the insurgents, no government less oppressive than the government which they overthrew.” It was America’s high view of liberty and its ideas that cultivated this unprecedented freedom ripe for flourishing. Colonists railed over 1 and 2 percent tax rates and were willing to take up arms in a protracted and bloody conflict to secure independence and self-government.
In a chapter on Lord Acton in The Moral Imagination: From Adam Smith to Lionel Trilling, Gertrude Himmelfarb explains how Acton was a historian who saw moral absolutes, and these were the same absolutes Lord Acton found in America’s Framers.
In America, there is certainly a great dearth of moral clarity in today’s political culture and really most of society. I think a large segment of our population certainly feels aimless and fatigued over the trajectory of not just the political debate, but where our nation is headed. As a country that is losing its history, many thirst for a return to first principles and away from the kind of relativistic rot which has become the status quo. Below is an excerpt from Himmelfarb’s book which discusses Lord Acton’s view on the American Revolution:
Although the first tentative overtures toward freedom came in ancient and medieval times, only in modernity, Acton claimed, did it emerge in its true nature. English Protestant sects in the seventeenth-century discovered that “religious liberty is the generating principle of civil, and that civil liberty is the necessary condition of religious.” But not until the American Revolution had “men sought liberty knowing what they sought.” Unlike earlier experiments in liberty, which had been tainted by expediency, compromise, and interest, the Americans demanded liberty simply and purely as a right. The three-pence tax that provoked the revolution was three-pence worth of pure principle. “I will freely spend nineteen shillings in the pound, Acton quoted Benjamin Franklin, “to defend my right of giving or refusing one other shilling.” Acton himself went further. The true liberal, like the American revolutionists, “stakes his life, his fortune, the existence of his family, not to resist the intolerable reality of oppression, but the remote possibility of wrong, of diminished freedom.” The American Constitution was unique in being both democratic and liberal. “It was democracy in its highest perfection, armed and vigilant, less against aristocracy and monarchy than against its own weakness and excess. . . . It resembled no other known democracy, for it respected freedom, authority, and law.”
Douglas Wilson has an interesting take on Detroit’s bankruptcy: “like a drunk trying to make it to the next lamp post.” Why this analogy? Wilson says we first have to understand that Detroit is inevitably in a defaulting situation; the question now is what kind of default.
The only thing we don’t know is what kind of default it will be. The only thing we don’t know is who the unlucky victim of our defaulting will be.
Government does not make wealth. If government has wealth, then this means it was taken. The only way that the government can acquire the means to pay its obligations and debts is by taking it. The only question left before the house is “who will they take it from?”
In a sermon to the class of 1864, Williams College President Mark Hopkins addressed the intimate and inevitable relationship between character and destiny, “Settle it therefore, I pray you, my hearers, once and forever, that as your character is, so will your destiny be.”
Within the academy, this basic prescription for earthly happiness, says Lewis M. Andrews, reigned supreme for almost three centuries, from Harvard’s founding in 1636 until the early twentieth century.
The typical centerpiece of the moral curriculum was a seminar, taught by the college president, that took up most of the senior year for undergraduate students and was designed to show them how to apply their newly acquired knowledge within a Christian context. University presidents of all denominations focused on the importance of good character and the dangers of vice and immorality.
Problems that are now thought of, at least to some extent, as mental health conditions — depression, discouragement, fear, loneliness, self-doubt, addiction, anxiety — were viewed in large part as consequences of the moral character of the students. Pursuing vengeance will depress us; a willingness to tell white lies leaves us anxious; manipulating others makes us lonely; and guilt can only be assuaged through some form of amends or atonement. Conversely, the college presidents taught their students that the proper application of moral and spiritual principles would enable them to build character and lead emotionally fulfilled and happy lives. While these principles were consistent with Christian theology, and their teaching often drew from the Books of Psalms and Proverbs, or the parables of Jesus, they were reinforced with similar observations by classical philosophers, such as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Plotinus.
But students learned also that even though adherence to moral principles leads to real happiness, the immediate pleasures or advantages that come from compromising one’s values can blind us to how such actions often leave us miserable and unhappy in the end. Everybody is tempted to believe that some things are so worth having that unethical choices are justified to achieve them. By an act of great self-deception, the perceived gains overshadow the real losses.
Andrews explains how these university presidents were pioneers of what we would now call mental health care, and why the history of spiritually based therapy is largely unknown:
Senator Chris McDaniel represents Mississppi’s 42nd District (Jones County) in the state legislature. McDaniel has a bachelors degree from William Carey College in Hattiesburg and in 1997 received his Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the Ole Miss School of Law. You can find a full biography at his website. I’ve been following McDaniel’s commentaries, which are an impressive defense of the free society rooted in virtue and a moral framework. He’s a serious thinker and I’ve highlighted his work on the PowerBlog a couple of times. I felt it would be beneficial for our readers to publish an interview with Senator McDaniel. He is worth getting to know and is somebody who echoes so many of the ideas of the Acton Institute.
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I recently wrote on the implications of “pathological altruism,” a term coined by Oakland University’s Barbara Oakley to categorize altruism in which “attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.”
Oakley’s paradigm depends on whether such harm can be “reasonably anticipated,” and as Greer’s story indicates, far too often the church isn’t anticipating much at all. Ship the stuff, check the box, and sing our merry songs. (more…)
In a new paper, “Concepts and Implications of Altruism Bias and Pathological Altruism,” Barbara Oakley of Oakland University argues that scientists and social observers have mostly ignored the harm that can come from altruism. Though “the profound benefits of altruism in modern society are self-evident,” Oakley observes, the “potential hurtful aspects of altruism have gone largely unrecognized in scientific inquiry.”
Aiming to lay the groundwork for such inquiry, Oakley focuses on what she calls “pathological altruism” — “altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.” As for whether such behavior is “intended,” Oakley believes it can emerge from “a mix of accidental, subconscious, or deliberate causes,” though it can be more clearly identified by whether an external observer would conclude that the harm was “reasonably foreseeable.”
In other words, the pathologically altruistic have a sort of tunnel vision, a way of looking at the world around them that lends toward destructive self-sacrifice. Some already know it, others simply should. (more…)