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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Further Thoughts On "Natural"

Professor Bryan Cross comments in regard to the previous post:

"The phrase "what comes naturally to a person" is perhaps an unfortunate phrase, because it is ambiguous between (a) human nature, (b) acquired second nature, either virtues or vices, and (c) particular congenital temperaments/dispositions (e.g. disposition to alcoholism, anger). What is 'natural' in those second two senses is not always good or right. But what is in accord with nature in the first sense is good and right; that's just what defines the natural law."

Points taken. I should have been more careful. [Philosophers! Oy!--ed.] Now, now. If we didn't have philosophers, we'd not only be arguing about the color of a dress on the internet, but we'd think it was important. [IT IS.--ed.] Oh, dear.

What's "Natural" Isn't Always Good Or Right

The assumption that what comes naturally to a person is good is a dangerous one. Let's be real: it's usually in the area of sex that people make this assumption. We don't accept it for anything else, but when sexuality is involved, all bets are off.

I do believe that people will destroy anyone who won't tell them what they want to hear.

If I were a psychologist, and someone came to me with unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction, I'd try to help them change those feelings. It may not work, but it may. It doesn't matter in that instance what "society" says about it.

Even so, which is more likely: that society prior to the last few years disdained same-sex activity because nearly everyone is very selectively bigoted (in the traditional meaning of the word: holding an opinion based upon no reason whatsoever) or, because most people know in conscience that same-sex activity is wrong, and that even feelings toward that end are disordered?

My money's on the latter.

Let me say it more strongly: I think we see all these "allies" in the cause because people feel guilty about their own sexual sins. Sometimes we seek people to tell us we are right, even when we know we're wrong.

The bigger problem is that people think "I am a sinner" (or more basically, "I am wrong") equates to, "There is nothing good about me, and no one should, or does, love me." God often does reveal the first statement to all of us. But here's the key: the second statement does not follow from the first. And the best news of all is that God never stops loving us, even when--or especially when--we are sinners.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Conserving America? Essays On Present Discontents, Patrick J. Deneen (V)

Dr. Deneen begins his essay, "Awaking From The American Dream..." by referring again to the "restlessness" of American man, and the wonderment of observers at the time, at the conceit that family and ethnic ties could and should be uprooted in order to forge a new identity. We recall Deneen's contention that the individual in the liberal conception is completely fabricated, at least in terms of the individual being the foundational starting point of society.

Deneen intends to trace the implications of liberal individualism through 3 films, dating from the 1940s through 1990s. The three films are It's A Wonderful Life, Avalon, and American Beauty.

It's A Wonderful Life is perhaps the most beloved movie in American history. There is no need to recount it here. Deneen, however, wants us to re-examine a few things. George Bailey himself displays a marked disdain for his hometown of Bedford Falls. Deneen well documents Bailey's restlessness. His character is an obvious contrast for Potter, but he aims to build his own subdivision, Bailey Park. Deneen asserts that although the film presents his motives and ends positively, it's not likely that the solidarity that rescues George at the climax would persist in the new suburbs. He argues that the smaller, less individualistic arrangement of Bedford Falls creates what we might call a culture of solidarity. Indeed, what exactly is George trying to escape from? More ominously, the viewer eventually realizes that Bailey Park has been built atop the old cemetery. It's doubtful that a stronger denial of tradition and memory could be articulated.

Avalon tells the story of two generations of the Polish Krchinsky family in Baltimore. The younger generation grows restless of city life and tight quarters, and also throws off family traditions, casting aside their name and customs to be good Americans. Even as the older generations learn to drive, get more stuff, and move to the suburbs, it's hard to argue that the situation has improved.

American Beauty is a dark tale of 1990s suburban life. It has the feel of a midlife crisis film, also, since the main character Lester Burnham is around that age. Lester has an awful job, his family despises him, and he has no reason to live. Illicit sex (or the hope of it) is the fulcrum of Lester's "awakening," and even as Lester realizes his folly in the moment of his death, Deneen points out that the resolution is just a different form of the same individualist escapism Lester allegedly hates and rebels against.

Avalon is the film that closely tracks with what Deneen is arguing, but the elements in each film he highlights show us the basic outline of both our American philosophy, as well as its problematic aspects, with respect to our anthropology. We must consider the end or ends we are trying to achieve. Any "progress," whether economic or technical, that contravenes this anthropology ought not to be held up as praiseworthy.

Monday, March 13, 2017

It's The Family Breakdown, Stupid

The winning formula of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign was encapsulated in an offhand strategy comment, by now legendary: "It's the economy, stupid." Well, I interrupt this regularly scheduled programming to say a different thing.

The size and scope of the federal government is of far less concern at the moment than the fraying of natural social bonds that function as support systems for people in great difficulty. These social support systems also transmit morals and mores, and a sense of purpose.

The number of children born out of wedlock and/or raised by a single parent is somewhere north of 40 percent. Drug addiction is exploding, even among the wealthy, and comfortably middle class. Surviving in this economy without an education is questionable.

In my view, some citizens have mistaken a natural solidarity or communitarianism for communism, or other coercive ideologies. Inspired leadership will mean committing money to help people re-connect with each other. There is no true profit in being sound macroeconomically, but unsound socially.