Saturday, July 11, 2020

I Love Politics. Not That Much.

No, I don't think I will join that political debate group, even if it is filled with Catholics. Maybe I should say, "especially". I know what right-wing Catholics are like right now, and I don't like it. If I'm frank about it all, I don't trust myself to be kind. I'm liable to say something outrageous just to make a point, and then have to correct myself later, and probably apologize.

If I'm completely honest, I didn't have better luck with left-wing Catholics, either, when I was in one of those groups. Just to be specific, there is no universe where I will be attacking Raymond Cardinal Leo Burke, even if I disagree with him. And if it is the left-wing fashion now to attack everyone personally who does not agree with you 100%, I don't have time for that.

I don't need to spend my time "discussing" things with people who are not actually open to changing their minds. I'm not necessarily open to changing mine; so what are we talking about?

I don't believe in abortion, or in the false anthropology that allows us allegedly to define our sexual selves. I don't believe in socialism--at least that the Church condemns--and you can safely assume that I embrace the entire Catechism.

But I suppose it is a fashion of our partisan politics to identify those leaders and clergy that would talk about things other than our favored pet issues, and then pretend or fabricate the idea that such a leader is less than enthusiastic about the most crucial teachings of our faith. I charitably assume, by contrast, that most are trying to instruct us in the way of Jesus, and not in the way of being a partisan or ideological crazy person. Are there fights among the clergy? Of course there are. I'm not in denial. At the moment, I am more cognizant about the fact that our social and economic organization is itself disordered, with respect to the common good, and by consequence, the good of all people. That's going to cut across the partisan and ideological lines, and because we have been playing a cheap unsophisticated game of cops and robbers, building a better society is going to take help from people that we have exiled or dismissed.

I wouldn't give Holy Communion to Nancy Pelosi either, but you know, she's right sometimes. She's almost completely right about "the wall". And when most of the country--at least its thinkers and leaders--realizes that family breakdown has an economic component, you're gonna need liberals to design a system of some kind of redistribution, to foster the formation of permanent bonds. Most right-wing people today are still stuck on the Soviets, or maybe the Chinese now, filling in as the bogeyman. But we can get away with a lot more transfers of wealth than many people are comfortable with, in their present ideological prison.

All that is to say, I don't have any interest in whatever the short-term conversation is on the right. I don't believe in FBI conspiracies, and I don't sympathize with Donald Trump, and I don't fear Joe Biden. I would say that I don't care about the upcoming election, but the truth is, I do. I hope Trump and all he represents loses resoundingly. Which is not to say that his loss will be total gain for America, because the social and sexual left really is on their own planet, and no matter how centrist Joe Biden wants to be, he'll be pushed in that direction.

I am Catholic first; everything else is up in the air. Your problem is, you might well think that Church teaching supports more of your political ideology than it actually does. I hope you disagree with that sentence; I hope it causes you to research it. I commonly have that reaction, anyway.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Suffering, And The Roots Of Anger

I'm just going to speak from my own experience here; if it doesn't fit yours, that's fine. As the old saying says, "Take what you want, and leave the rest."

I think what is interesting about having a more or less permanent stable disability is that I take steps to transcend the particular challenges that I face, and once I do that, to me, my experience is "normal". I don't deny my disability, but I've gotten used to it. I've also talked to several friends in a similar situation, and when we lose the ability to do things, we react very much like an able-bodied person would. Anger, denial, and all the other stages of grief. It's a human tendency to have expectations for how life is going to go, and then when we face a major disruption to that plan--at least as we visualize it in our minds--it's a challenge.

In a certain sense, being a Christian at the same time as all of this is taking place is the worst, because we have these notions about how a Christian should act, and how a Christian should feel, especially in regard to suffering.

The first thing I want to say in response to this is that a feeling is just a feeling. I am not an expert in the bright lines between temptation and sin, but we do have such distinctions for a reason. A loss of hope in the experience of suffering is far more serious than a momentary frustration, or an outpouring of emotion.

My own experience with a serious health crisis in the form of a car accident was not as serious as some other things that friends have faced, but I was able to discern a distinction between my experience of suffering, and my basic outlook toward my life and its meaning. It is almost the same distinction between faith, and lament. If my suffering causes me to lose faith or hope--and I mean in human terms, and not necessarily limited to the theological virtues--then it has become something that threatens my fundamental identity, and therefore, my destiny.

My encouragement to all of you is this: learn to say and feel that you want the suffering to end. Learn to say out loud that you are not enjoying whatever is taking place. It is not your job to manufacture the image and likeness of God which others will see in you. It is your job to endure, and to not lose hope. The temptation against hope will come, and probably no one else will know it, or see it. You may think that you are doing a terrible job enduring suffering, and being a terrible witness for the goodness of God, but the truth is, most people that will meet you are wondering how they could endure if they were in your place.

A person who loses hope doesn't look like what you think she does. And a person who has a ton of hope may grieve like a three-year-old, in the middle of a meltdown at her birthday party. There is something about sorrow that is a cousin to hope. Despair is the opposite of hope; grief is not, nor is anger. Anger is dangerous, of course, but we make a distinction between anger, and rage or bitterness. Bitterness becomes a permanent feature of our psyche, by its very nature. Bitterness threatens hope and love, because it does not believe in better things; God is the Better. Joy is the active fruit of hope. I'm not exactly sure why I know the things I know, but I have touched or seen all of these things. Maybe you can take something from this, and think about it, and perhaps apply it somewhere in the present or the past.

The root of anger is thwarted plans or designs, in the midst of suffering. It becomes harmful if it becomes bitterness, or we openly question God's goodness. That is different than being bewildered at a situation, or unable to see its goodness in the present. Of course; your most immediate experience will be the experience of your suffering. If you can see goodness in that itself, you're greater than me.

Jesus wept and suffered. Jesus is the man of sorrows. If I'm the man of sorrows too, I'm closer to Jesus than I thought. I return again and again to the image of Jesus on the crucifix. This is something I understand: suffering and love. Not separate things that follow each other, but two things that happen at one and the same time. That's the mystery, and that's the glory. It might be hidden in our pain, but it's there.

Either David Brooks Is Getting Better...

Or, I don't know. Is he Catholic? [It seems like it. Maybe we can have one fully Catholic person in the Op./Ed. section of the New York Times.--ed.] Oof.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Election Update: Summer Edition

Biden is winning. Although I think that Real Clear Politics is trying to hide the magnitude of the trouble that the president is in, it is becoming clear that the turf upon which the election will be fought is the wrong turf for an incumbent president. All the swing states are right-leaning states, and Biden is winning them. This is not exactly damaging my "Hillary Sucks" theory of the 2016 election. Trump is going to have to win back some actual moderates, in order to prevail.

There are two problems with this: firstly, the electorate does not generally like President Trump. Secondly, they do generally like Joe Biden. He had a lot of goodwill before he was Obama's vice president, and a good deal of that remains, or has even increased. The middle of the electorate does not believe that Joe Biden is a radical. The only way that Trump prevails is to convince the electorate that only he stands between the country's certain destruction. I wish him more than a bit of sarcastic good luck on this point. His two saving graces would have been the economy, and the power of incumbency. Without these things, he is in real trouble. The power of incumbency is somewhat of a tiebreaker in a tight race. The country was not overly fond of George W. Bush in 2004. In the end, however, the election became a question of the wisdom of switching horses in the middle of a war. John Kerry did not demonstrate the sort of competence and confidence that a challenger needs to override the power of incumbency.

Joe Biden was always going to be the biggest threat to Trump, because his fundamental likability and collegial nature is the antithesis of Trump, and the Age of Trump. In this way, Trump furnishes Biden with a natural message: restoring the civility and decency of America. This is why the president must try to tie Biden to the most radical elements of the Black Lives Matter movement. I would also expect a lot more mentions of Antifa, and other radical groups. It probably won't work, but he can't run on himself. All of this would be much easier to pull off, if the candidate had any semblance of discipline, or impulse control. Biden is known for saying silly things; a more disciplined candidate would stay quiet, letting others do his dirty work, and wait for Biden to mess up. The problem is that the president believes in his own cult of personality. It does not appear that he can sit on the sidelines and stay quiet, even in his own interest, for very long.

I would expect Biden to keep his sentences and speeches short, and I would recommend this as well. I would also expect the younger Democrats to be out front carrying the message of Joe Biden to the electorate. The implied message will be that although the symbol of the Democratic Party right now is an old white guy, the future of the party belongs to others. I don't expect that Biden has to do too much more in the way of placating the progressives who supported Bernie Sanders, because their willingness to show up and vote for the Democratic nominee was always an open question. When nearly 1/5 of Sanders supporters would defect to Trump anyway, it's a fool's errand to pursue their support, at the expense of moderates, which Biden still needs. A victory in the state of Arizona for example, would be a stunning repudiation of the GOP, since Mitt Romney won that state by over 9% in a losing effort. It's a Republican state; the postmortem after this crushing loss will be brutal, and not at all collegial or friendly.

You'll forgive me, if I fail to shed tears at Trump's incompetence. I have spoken consistently and vociferously since the summer of 2015. At no point did I intend to make my peace with Donald Trump. Many others have, presumably in response to what they fear in the platform and personalities of the Democratic Party. I have lodged every reasonable objection to the social policies of the Democratic Party; there is no longer anything I fear to lose, which would cause me to run into the arms of an incompetent bumbler, not even well-regarded in his area of hotels and casinos. Sooner or later, the luck runs out.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Immigration Follow-Up

This is a fair warning that you may be the victims of a tortured analogy or two, drawn from geeky pop culture. One objection to a fairly open, porous border as I laid it out was that terrorists and sex traffickers could easily take advantage of an easier system to harm the people that they intend to harm. The problem with this argument as it is made in defense of the current restrictionism is that it is unfair to assume that many or most people that border agents would encounter are actually sex traffickers, or terrorists. I think a reasonable person could take steps to apprehend those engaged in such illegal activities, if they have probable cause to believe such a thing is taking place. It is not however appropriate to make the United States nearly impenetrable for legal immigration, simply for the sake of catching a few sex traffickers or terrorists in disguise. It is not difficult to make a superficially plausible argument for a flagrantly unjust policy position. No one would deny--for example--that Iraq could possibly have harmed the United States with chemical or biological weapons. Nevertheless, the immediacy of that concern is actually what determines whether the action taken in response--preemptive war--was just. In a similar way, no one would deny that police officers face unique threats, such that the use of lethal force is sometimes necessary. What we face today is a necessary debate concerning the real threat level to the lives and safety of police officers, and whether it is proportionate in general to the force that they have used against citizens.

In the season 3 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called, "The Offspring," the android Data creates an artificial life form from his brain. He calls it his "daughter," and for obvious reasons of Data's skill and potential, Starfleet command takes great interest in the new android's development, the daughter Data has named, "Lal". An Admiral comes aboard the Enterprise, ostensibly to oversee her development. Yet it becomes quickly apparent that the admiral actually wants to take Lal away from Data. The admiral claims that Data will make irreversible mistakes in training his daughter in the ways of living. Quite aside from the superficially fascinating arguments about parental rights that may or may not be held by an artificial life form, the admiral makes the claim that one lucky shot by an enemy could cause the loss of both androids. To me, the claim that family separations, or a mostly closed border are justifiable is comparable to the admiral's claim that the small chance of attack by an enemy justifies the separation of Lal and Data. Most people watching this story would agree with Picard and Data that the likelihood (or lack thereof) of an attack is not high enough to justify the denial of individual rights. It is possible that a terrorist or a sex trafficker could be posing as a vulnerable immigrant with a child. What we must decide is whether the remote possibility of this justifies the denial of a relatively easy entry into the United States for most people who wish to do so, via some orderly process.

The security apparatus of a free state is by definition reactive. If we actually believe this, we cannot make the United States impenetrable to any and every threat, without sacrificing a certain liberty which by definition we claim to possess and cherish. No warrant shall issue except on probable cause, and we have claimed to uphold that for nearly 3 centuries. I would hate to see that we carved out a special exception for those who come from elsewhere, and have brown or black skin.

I Still Don't Care About Illegal Immigration

And I'll tell you why. This immigration system is still a brutally unfair racial quota system, that basically doesn't allow very many people in general to come to the United States legally. If that weren't enough, I have to somehow take Donald Trump morally seriously, when he wants to make it even harder to legally immigrate to the United States. If I were running from drug gangs in Mexico or Central America, or trying to escape crushing poverty, yeah, I might sneak across the border. If we had any sort of sensible immigration policy that was generous, just, and fair, I might be more inclined to take a more hard-line position. Also, to treat asylum-seekers the same as those who illegally cross the border, is unconscionable and indefensible. I know it's a right-wing party game to make fun of "international" anything, but if I were in charge, the United States would not even be contemplating breaking international law. I don't think we should act like pariahs, even if we are big enough that no one else in the world could punish us.

I notice also an absurd tendency in the reactionary right-wing rhetoric to play Hispanics and African-Americans against one another, to defend this indefensible immigration restrictionism. I'm sure Prager "University" is planning a video to this effect right now.

I believe in borders, by the way. I just think ours should be much more porous than they are right now. Personally, I don't get anxious by studies that purportedly show that Americans will be majority non-white in the near future. I've always believed that we were a nation founded on principles, not on ethnic identity. I do think that immigrants and potential immigrants should respect this country and its traditions, provided that they are good. We have a tradition of racism and bigotry, however, and a few too many people think that is the tradition we ought to hold onto as Americans. "Sad!," as a certain highly placed person might say.