My Covid Loss

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It’s July 20th, 2020 and I’m trying to think of a word that encompasses what the last 4 months have been like for me, what it’s been like for everyone in their own way. I haven’t met a person yet that hasn’t had to ride the pandemic wave (or is it a burn?) without some other personal deprivation taking passenger seat in this wreck.  Whether it’s not being able to gather for worship or participate in the sacrament of Eucharist, having to postpone your scheduled wedding, having the unmediated care removed from your prenatal care and birth, not being able to have the support of family after suffering a heart attack.

 

Demon. Maybe that’s the word.

 

On March 16th I had been back to work for 9 months since giving birth to my son Wyatt and taking maternity leave. 2019 saw a financial setback since I don’t get paid leave but we planned for it so we would be ok with one lagging year. By the beginning of March the US had been growing worried about the coronavirus Covid-19.  It had swept China, Italy, more of Europe and was starting to become a tenable fear.  March 11th WHO declared Covid a pandemic. March 16th Governor Walz (and Governors of all the other states) announced the closure of 11% of the labor force in Minnesota. In two weeks a record one-third of a million workers filed for unemployment insurance. When I went to work that Monday the language was unclear and I still didn’t know whether my industry was supposed to be furloughed. At 8 pm that night I received word that I am not allowed to go to work anymore.  The furlough was in effect until March 27th.  I had to scramble to get my personal belongings from my workplace.  How was I going to pay for daycare? How could I take my kids out and maintain their spot?  It was a two week increment that left things unsteady and unknown, not enough time to make any big decisions because potentially I was back to work March 30th.  Little did I know these small increments would expand to just less than 3 months.  I immediately applied for UI.  I had worked since I was 15 and had never been on UI before.  I was a novice.  Turns out I ticked a wrong box and was sent into an administrative Bermuda triangle.  I was told my employers HR could not help me.  I called the UI phone number relentlessly.  At this point I have my kids home with me, I took them out of daycare as we all got our bearings.  I’ll never forget those phone calls to UI.  I would be on hold for 3 hours everyday only to have my call disconnected.  My 3 and 1 year olds would be tearing into something or getting hurt or screaming or crying while I’m waiting to have word about the money that will pay our bills which is less than half of ones income if you didn’t know.  For 17 days my UI was stalled.  I didn’t know if it would ever come.  I was hurtling, sanity first, into despair.  I could not believe what was yanked out from under me and was still learning what the potency of this virus is.  I was a puddle of mixed emotions. Disbelief, despair, fear, anger and I was forced to depend on an institution that was unreachable, that doesn’t know me, for whom I am an abstraction, a number, a case.  I’m not even the worst of it though.  In Washington State my sister was denied UI for 8 weeks.  You see, out there they paid out $650 million in fraud to hackers armed with people’s data from previous breaches.  In order to rein in the deficit they halted all eligible claims, income that people desperately needed NOW.  It was starting to feel like we’re a cat’s plaything. To their credit, I can’t imagine being the “one in charge” of all of this. Obviously no choices were easy and that’s simply what they were, choices.  Choices based on the expert’s best predictions and guesses.  I studied the experts findings too.  After all, these guys were informing the policy makers.  I subscribed to podcasts, I would spend 6 hours a day watching the news, I logged into CIDRAP to study the studies.  This is what led to the country boiling over, the experts didn’t agree.  Dr. Osterholm disagreed with his colleagues at WHO and the CDC had a different opinion than Osterholm and…Fauci…well, the opinion was evolving and the evolution was impacting peoples lives in substantive ways.  Osterholm admits that there is still so much they don’t know about Covid-19.  He also admits that the policy makers have to consider the culture with which they’re imposing restrictions.  What type of mores and expectations do Americans have? He also admits he saw his grandkids for Fathers Day.

 

DJQWE1423This last point makes me feel really slighted.  The last time I saw my dad was Christmas and I regret never getting a picture of him with 9 month old Wyatt.  In fact I never got a picture of him with Wyatt at all.  I thought I had time.

 

 

 

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I didn’t get to see my dad in March for Wyatt’s first birthday because of Covid.  I didn’t get to see my dad for Fathers Day because of Covid.  I didn’t get to see my dad at the hospital in May after a heart attack because of Covid.  I didn’t get to see my dad at home while he was, as I was told, recovering because of Covid.  Then in June my mom is hospitalized and I don’t get to support her at the hospital because of Covid.  Both my parents NEED advocates.  The telephone game is not enough.

 

I thought my dad was recovering and he was actually dying.

 

I desperately wanted to see him but was told it is too risky because of Covid.  I wish I would have trusted my gut and saw him anyway.  My sister from Washington State had come in town to help care for our mom and she made a date to see my dad on Saturday July 11th.  I have to admit I was jealous.  I had wanted so badly to visit him during this Covid-demon.  During their lunch he was in a real bad way.  He struggled to catch his breath, he was literally freezing to death.  On the drive home he died in the car.  The day I was told the news of his passing, I had been running through the sprinkler with my kids and we were just putting kabobs on the grill.  At least during the pandemic-demon there was summer and outside.  While I was running through a sprinkler my dad was in the throes of losing his life.  I got the phone call and was in disbelief again.  Four months ago it was the loss of my livelihood. Now it’s the loss of my dad. I picked up my sister and drove an hour up to Cambridge, MN to view him one last time, to view him for the first time since Christmas.  He was lying on a hospital bed with his feet relaxed to the side, shoes still on. I scooted a chair across the floor to his bedside and told myself “shh”, he’s only sleeping right? Overwhelming disbelief.  I took my mask off and looked down on his face.  The Covid-demon didn’t matter anymore.  It had infected my life without infecting me and now he’s gone. Not from Covid but from regular sicknesses that have been taking people’s lives since the beginning of time.  Death is a sure thing that no amount of safety will prevent.  Safety may flatten the curve but what it did for me was keep me from the things I call life.  It kept me from doing what I know in my heart is best.  We’re all trying to do what is best for each of us and that is an individual thing.  Someone else’s Covid story involves losing their dad to the devastating effects of Covid itself.  Ironically my dad didn’t die of Covid but he died gasping for breath nonetheless.

 

Covid didn’t take time off even after my dads death.  We were told by the funeral director that we could not publish the date and time of his memorial service for fear of attracting a large number of loved ones which would make impossible social distancing.  We had seen a very large, public, indoor funeral for a person that lost his life on May 25th, hundreds, thousands in attendance, and I wondered doesn’t my dad who is also a valuable child of God deserve a memorial with ALL his loved ones who wish to be there?  In our grief we pressed our foot down and the funeral home relented.  His memorial took place in the Rice St. neighborhood he had carved a life in and at the church he went to school.  During the Lords Prayer, with the doors open in the back on a hot sunny day, his biker buddy cranked the throttle on his Harley Davidson and I literally imagined my dad’s soul joining his Maker on the highway to heaven.  The day moved me.  You always imagine how losing someone will affect you, at least I do, but it’s out of your control.  My body just wept and I couldn’t stop it.  I think it was the mounting pressures and mixed emotions these last four months had burdened me with.  This force, like a herd of bison, trampled over me.  It had tarnished friendships, it had deflated my spirit, it had made me question how courageous would I be if everything was taken from me?  Would my gaze be toward the Lord?  This Covid-demon had shone me for who I really am.

 

Weak.

 

By weak I mean I have the same nature affliction that John Piper describes going to battle with here.  Selfishness, self-pity, blame, anger and sullenness. The Covid deprivation made me realize how dependent I am on the things of this world.  Niceties, comforts, property, ownership, self-sovereignty, freedom, the company of other people.  And how much I failed to lean into the cross.  For too long, deprivation ruined me, reduced me, and laid bare my faults.  And this was just the deprivation of American freedoms.  What if it wasn’t just a deprivation but a brutality?  What if I was a number in a concentration camp?  Oh how weak I’d be!  My mind knows that the things of this world are temporal but my desires cling to them as if life itself is only the things of this world.  But life is full of the glories of God.  Glory that is attainable even in earthly deprivation.  With the loss of my dad under the banner of Covid I am going to battle with my faults again, may my soul prevail over my flesh.

 

Memorial Weekend 1979- cabin
Memorial Weekend 1979 (my age, 38 yrs old)- cabin

When I think of everything my dad had lived through in his life from 1939-2020 I imagine all the major challenges and frights and losses he had and yet he never despaired.  He seized the day as the old trope says.  He really did.

 

May God equip me with courage, resilience and hope when everything is taken from us except our life and even when that last vestige of property is taken from us as well may we find peace in knowing we have our eternal Father who breathed into us the breath of life, found value in our existence and welcomes us back home.

 

 

 

One last immortal post script for my father:

1984-10 Circle Drive 55014
1984

 

My dad, Dale, was 42 when I was born, the last chance for a boy out of a handful of girls.  God gave him one more girl- Teresa Dale. For the formative part of my life he was an excellent provider.  Oil changes, boot-strap perseverance, livelihood for the family, a strong blue collar work ethic.  I love him for that.  But for the last decade he let us glimpse his vulnerability, hugs and “I love you’s” became important, timely.  He’s always been so strong but this was a new strength- tenderness, graciousness, calm.  The kind of resolve a man gets when he’s focusing his life on what matters. What it made clear to me is that I was just getting to know him.  All his life his animated stories had outsized him and now I was meeting the man the legends are about.  A man of nine lives.  A man who should have written a book.  A person, a soul.  A father who always loved his daughters, even that one four decades younger than him.  A man who dedicated himself to the honor of those he loved.  A man who loved life.

 

He was proud of us four strong women, all girls, which is just what he needed.  And even though I was just getting to know him I am assured that he lived a full life and that he loved us.

 

We love you dad.

My Covid Loss

Arguing The Death Penalty

I’m going to make a case as to how the death penalty is the only moral response to certain highhanded crimes, how the death penalty upholds human dignity and how the death penalty is indeed prolife.

 

It is thought by the anti folks that punishing a deserving man with the death penalty is mere revenge and therefore cruel but a man, even a criminal, has a right to his just deserts, no more, no less.  When the punishment doesn’t fit the crime then the criminal in a mere subject that the justice system tinkers with in its own subjective pursuit. As C.S. Lewis says, this humanitarian theory removes from punishment the concept of desert and the concept of desert is the only connecting link between punishment and justice. It is only as deserved or undeserved that a punishment can be just or unjust.

 

Next I will enumerate popular arguments and rebuttals to those arguments.

 

The Risk Of Executing The Innocent

 Imprisoning innocent people is also wrong, but we cannot empty the prisons because of that minimal risk. If improvements are needed in the system of representation, or in the use of scientific evidence such as DNA testing, then those reforms should be instituted. However, the need for reform is not a reason to abolish the death penalty. Besides, many of the claims of innocence by those who have been released from death row are actually based on legal technicalities. Just because someone’s conviction is overturned years later and the prosecutor decides not to retry him, does not mean he is actually innocent. If it can be shown that someone is innocent, surely a governor would grant clemency and spare the person. Given our thorough system of appeals through numerous state and federal courts, the execution of an innocent individual today is almost impossible. Our present system of capital punishment limits the ultimate penalty to certain specifically defined crimes and even then, permits the penalty of death only when the jury finds that the aggravating circumstances in the case outweigh all mitigating circumstances. The system further provides judicial review of capital cases. Finally, before capital sentences are carried out, the governor or other executive official will review the sentence to insure that it is a just one, a determination that undoubtedly considers the evidence of the condemned defendant’s guilt. Once all of those decision makers have agreed that a death sentence is appropriate, innocent lives would be lost from failure to impose the sentence. Capital sentences, when carried out, save innocent lives by permanently incapacitating murderers. Some persons who commit capital homicide will slay other innocent persons if given the opportunity to do so. The death penalty is the most effective means of preventing such killers from repeating their crimes. The next most serious penalty, life imprisonment without possibility of parole, prevents murderers from committing some crimes but does not prevent them from murdering in prison.

The mistaken release of guilty murderers should be of far greater concern than the speculative and virtually nonexistent risk of the mistaken execution of an innocent person.

 

The Death Penalty Is Racist And Is Applied Arbitrarily

 While it is true that it is mostly white victims that place murderers on death row (75% of death row inmates killed a white victim). More whites than blacks are executed (56% whites, 34% blacks). While most murderer-victim pairings are same race, whites kill whites, blacks kill blacks, white victims will land a murderer on death row more often than black victims even though 52% of homicides are black victims and 43% of homicides are white victims. It’s also evident that sentencing is arbitrarily handed down. Meaning one case will get the death penalty and a seemingly similar case will get life in prison. The overarching thesis is that the application of the death penalty is unfair.

Discretion has always been an essential part of our system of justice. No one expects the prosecutor to pursue every possible offense or punishment, nor do we expect the same sentence to be imposed just because two crimes appear similar. Each crime is unique, both because the circumstances of each victim are different and because each defendant is different. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a mandatory death penalty, which applied to everyone convicted of first-degree murder, would be unconstitutional. Hence, we must give prosecutors and juries some discretion. In practice, the death penalty does not single out the worst offenders. Rather, it selects an arbitrary group based on such irrational factors as the quality of the defense counsel, the county in which the crime was committed, or the race of the defendant or victim. Almost all defendants facing the death penalty cannot afford their own attorney. Hence, they are dependent on the quality of the lawyers assigned by the state, many of whom lack experience in capital cases or are so underpaid that they fail to investigate the case properly. A poorly represented defendant is much more likely to be convicted and given a death sentence. Even if the death penalty punishes some while sparing others, it does not follow that everyone should be spared. The guilty should still be punished appropriately, even if some do escape proper punishment unfairly. The death penalty should apply to killers of black people as well as to killers of whites. High paid, skillful lawyers should not be able to get some defendants off on technicalities. The existence of some systemic problems is no reason to abandon the whole death penalty system. After all there are systemic problems with imprisoning people as well. Should we empty the prisons? No. We maintain a justice system even while there are systemic flaws.

 

It Should Not Be Within Mans Power To Take A Life

Why should it be within mans power to mandate life imprisonment? Or mandate treatment? Or mandate anything?

Victims have the right to punish wrongdoers and the reasons for creating a state include reasons for potential victims to transfer that right to the state and avoid the chaos and vengeance of vigilante justice. After all, retributive justice is not revenge because it hands a criminal his just deserts whereas revenge, propelled by emotion, is not concerned with giving a criminal no more than what is just, revenge is concerned with satisfying the rage.

Because we have a system of justice in our society that is based on the inalienable view that all people are made in the image of God and endowed with human dignity we correct misbalances and it is right to do so as long as the punishment matches the crime.

 

Man Shouldn’t Play God

 See my post here.

 

The Death Penalty Is Cruel And Unusual

When someone takes a life, the balance of justice is disturbed. Unless that balance is restored, society succumbs to a rule of violence. Only the taking of the murderer’s life restores the balance and allows society to show convincingly that murder is an intolerable crime that will be punished in kind. For the most cruel and heinous crimes, the ones for which the death penalty is applied, offenders deserve the worst punishment under our system of law, and that is the death penalty. Any lesser punishment would undermine the value society places on protecting lives and life in general.

In 2011 Anders Breivik killed 77 people, mostly children, the largest mass shooting in modern history. He was deemed sane and sentenced to serve 21 years in prison “in a three-cell suite of rooms equipped with exercise equipment, a television and a laptop.” That’s 100 days of posh prison time for each person he murdered, with a legal release possible at age 53. After his 21-year smack-on-the-hand for killing 77 people, Breivik could be kept there indefinitely by judges adding a succession of five-year extensions. This is thought of as the more humane punishment for murderers in contrast to the US whose criminal justice system is thought of as “cruelly punitive”.

What’s ironic is that Norway’s humanitarian theory is cruel and unusual because it removes just deserts from punishment and imposes therapeutic means of punishment that is subjectively devised and handed down. If it’s up to judge’s subjective therapy then should it not be in the hands of experts? After all we’re talking about prescriptions, not just deserts. The Humanitarian theory, then, removes sentences from the hands of jurists whom the public conscience is entitled to criticize and places them in the hands of technical experts whose special sciences do not even employ such categories as rights or justice. If a criminal’s sentence does not have to accord with what he deserves, it does not have to be just. At that point we are all at the mercy of those who are in power to call anything we do a crime and give it any therapeutic or remedial solution they choose, including gas chambers and medical alterations.

At each appeal Breivik will be assessed by a panel that will take no note of just deserts, they will solely ponder him- is he remorseful, is he rehabilitated, is he no longer a threat?  77 dead children won’t even exist in the periphery, only two subjects- the moods of the panel and the sales pitch of the murderer.

Wrongdoers have a “right to be punished” such that not punishing them with just deserts wrongs them. What is meant is that wrongdoers have the right to be treated as the kind of being who can be held responsible and punished, rather than as sick or dangerous beasts.  It is more respectful of normal humans to treat them as beings with the kind of dignity that comes with being responsible for their choices than not. Treating normal humans as merely more or less dangerous animals, whose behavior can hopefully be modified with threats and rewards is to over-extend the medical model. The medical model should be applied only to those whose mental capacities are distinctly sub-normal. Which speaks to the therapeutic sentence. Retributive justice maintains the dignity of the wrongdoer whereas therapeutic sentencing (sentencing concerned with rehabilitation or deterrence and not just deserts) treats the wrongdoer as sub-human. It is exactly because he is a human being with dignity, with all his faculties, who chose an evil act by free will that restoration should be just deserts.

 

 

Retributive justice is the only objective (because it is exactly what he deserves, no more, no less), humane (because it maintains his dignity as a human being with faculties of free will and reason) and prolife (because it treats life as valuable and profoundly worth protecting) sentence of justice there is.

Arguing The Death Penalty

Forgiveness

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Have you ever been hurt so badly that forgiveness seems like a contemptible commandment? Of course you have! Haven’t we all?! And even if your personal life has squeaked by largely unscathed there is the horror of the Holocaust that makes us remember. There is pain, misery, evil and death out there. Even in your home those things reside, rearing their head between moments of joy or peace, like a whack-a-mole. Can’t I just whack that thing once and for all? Do you find your exhaustion and your resentment festering until it becomes as C.S. Lewis describes- “a black we wish was blacker”? In other words, if you found out that some indicting point of view you have about someone is untrue would your reaction be ‘phew, he is not as bad as I thought’ or steadfastness in your indignation that your hatred has to be well founded? Aren’t we all guilty of the latter? We want people to be as guilty as our feelings sentence them with. But the former is the type of love forgiveness is rooted in.

 

Lewis thought Chastity was the most unpopular virtue. That is, until Forgiveness. We are called to love our neighbor as ourself but within that paradigm is your enemy. If everyone around you are idiots or more nefariously, corrupt, how can you love them? What does that look like?

 

Here is what forgiveness is not. It is not feeling fondly for the person. It is not finding them attractive. It is not thinking them nice when they have not been.

 

“This is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagine that forgiving your enemies means making them out that they are not really such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are.” –C.S. Lewis

 

Forgiveness does not reduce the hatred we feel for the wretchedness of the wrongdoing. We ought to hate it. It does not mean that the subject of the wretched act ought not be punished. Punishments and governing authorities are anointed to administer earthly justice. Deserved punishment is a wrongdoer’s right as a human being. Because we are ‘selves’ or self conscious sentient beings or made in the image of God (whichever way you want to put it), because we have that level of dignity above all other creatures and life forms on the planet is why just deserts matter. Forgiveness doesn’t negate retributive justice. So, depending on the trespass, jail or prison or death may be necessary. For the Gestapo this is necessary. But even in the execution of the punishment we should, as Lewis says, “feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves- to wish that they were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good.”

 

What does forgiveness look like for a spouse, friend or family member who hurt us personally? It means loving someone who is sometimes unlovable. But then, are you yourself ever unlovable? Yes. We all are. Whether it’s that I must always be right or that I mentally reduce my loved ones to fools when their interests or idiosyncrasies or delights seem below me. Whether it’s having unreasonable standards or being perfectionist. Whether it’s glossing over my own wretchedness to go out of my way in pointing out theirs. Whether it’s my impatience, my intolerance, my misunderstanding, my anger, my rudeness, my frustration: MY EGO, these all make me deplorably unlovable. Even in my ‘noble’ hope that my loved one be cured of their unlovable affliction, which is an aspect of holy forgiveness (we are called to approach forgiveness with hope for redemption) we still miss the mark with this focus. Even reading this essay you have someone else in mind. You’re thinking of someone who may or may not deserve your forgiveness. Which leads us to what forgiveness IS.

 

Lewis sums it up so well here:

 

“For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life- namely myself. However much I dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.”

 

Isn’t that sharp?! There is someone in this universe that you always go out of your way to forgive. Yourself. When you’ve done something awful (and you have! We all have.) how long does it take you to forgive yourself, an hour, a day, maybe for the more brooding personality a month? Then you carry on enjoying your own company and finding yourself quite worthy and deserving of good things. That is what forgiveness looks like. But what forgiveness is is this: love your neighbor as yourself. It’s a challenging call because ‘our self’ is our constitution that we’re stuck with, that we can’t be rid of, that we can’t abandon so forgiving it is not only built in but necessary. Another’s self isn’t lodged in our being. We can abandon it. But how much more selfless and good and glorious is it to choose to love an abandonable person than the automatic and choiceless act of loving ourself? You would wish your loved one would choose love for you. Through your wretchedness, your guilt, your sorrow you wish for forgiveness and love from them.

 

So do they from you.

 

Forgiveness says, you have done an evil thing; nevertheless, I will not hold it against you. I love you.

 

This is why forgiveness is unpopular, radical and HARD. But for ourselves it is simple. We should extend the generosity we give ourselves to other people. That is love.

 

To love is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully in your hobbies and your vices, avoid all entanglements, lock it up safely in the coffin of your selfishness. But in the coffin- safe, dark, motionless, airless- it will change. It will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to heartbreak isn’t safety, it’s damnation. The only place you can be free from the danger of love is Hell.

– paraphrase of C.S. Lewis

 

 

Forgiveness

With Life Comes Death

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Ever since my daughter’s birth there has been a looming… I really couldn’t put my finger on it… just, a wave of mourning. I feel scandalized putting this intimate feeling to print. It recently occurred to me what this funereal feeling is. Each month I look forward to with my child is a month of my finite and mortal life that has passed by. She just turned one and a whole year, poof, gone. For her, each day is the beginning of the rest of her life while my days are half used up. With the birth of the next generation in my little family I have intrinsically passed the torch. She is the flame bearer. Now my days are spent grooming her to blossom. I no longer matter as much. My contribution was born and now I wilt into the background. It is my daughter’s turn. Don’t get me wrong, I love that she is just beginning and I get to witness all her firsts just as my mother witnessed all my firsts. I wonder if my mother felt the weight of entropy in her life as I took my first steps, as I moved out of the house, as I moved on with my life?

 

I had never been afraid of death. I smugly felt ‘if my time is up it’s up’ as is a luxury of youthful thought. Two things afford a young person this carelessness. The first is that they haven’t acquired many things they love yet and the second is that death is a far off threat. How will I feel when I’m 60? How will I feel when I or my husband get cancer? I think I will wonder, “How did I get here?”

And you may find yourself
Living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself
In another part of the world
And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

Letting the days go by.

-Once In A Lifetime by The Talking Heads

Isla makes me afraid of death. She will enjoy the years that have already passed for me and then she will lose me just as I will lose my mother. None of us quivers in our boots at funerals because we are still alive taking for granted all the days we’re endowed with. We drive away, get back to our kids sports practice, go to sleep, wake up. The sun is on time. We continue living. Eventually our family photos end up in a dusty flee market and the future buys them up for Halloween decorations.

 

There are generations of influential people in graveyards. Are there more dead than living? This is a tangent, but did you know there are thousands of pieces of debris orbiting the planet in low-earth space? Thousands of pieces of junk left behind by previous generations tethered to our conscious. The memories and buried bodies of people are earthly relics tethered to our conscious. We know they existed because there are traces of evidence but their imprint is a whisper in the wind until it becomes untethered and gets swallowed up by the universe.

 

So while Isla’s body is feverishly repairing and replacing cells my body is rusting. Eventually I will have crossed the threshold and my body will degenerate. I will grow mindful and ruminating while my daughter has perhaps bore a daughter herself. Finally I will breathe my last breath, drift off into the supreme deep sleep, and my daughter will hold a funeral. I will be remembered until some day I’m not. By then a fourth generation will take her first steps.

 

What is it all for?

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As I become more acutely aware of my limited days I can’t help but feel panicked. I don’t want to die.

Too late, my time has come,
Sends shivers down my spine,
Body’s aching all the time.
Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go,
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.

Mama, I don’t wanna die

-Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen

How do I not languish in despair? I am in bondage to death.

 

This is how.  I know of no other way.

 

We do not lose heart, although our outer body is decaying, our inner soul is being renewed day by day. We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly body is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, a house eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this temporal life we groan, being burdened, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. His life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight — we are of good courage.

-paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10

 

While someday I will be done here, I will not be finished.

With Life Comes Death

mother!

mother1

 

This is an artistic film. I think the thrilling scenes are enough to carry a mainstream viewer but the artistic pace toward the climax is slow. Or rather concealed. Evil doesn’t start out bombastic and in your face, it starts with little background-noise slights and then more overt wrongs until it scandalizes into grand evil. Film critics have had contrasting reactions from “vile, contemptible, an embarrassment to Paramount Studios” to “riveting, masterpiece, visually striking.” It is downright Aronofsky and should be sealed with his family crest!

 

This nightmare (is this a dream?) is a Christian allegory.  That’s what I see.

 

‘He’ (Javier Bardem) is the Creator God, the houseguests are depraved mankind, the baby is the expiating Christ given as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins, the carbon crystal is the seed of life and the forbidden fruit (the perfect genesis that belongs to God alone).

 

But who or what is mother?

 

Some critics have said this is a story about mankind ravaging mother earth, where Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘She’ (there are no names of characters only Him, Her, She and He) is the world. I think that’s too lazy an interpretation. There are too many things that wouldn’t add up. If it’s a lecture on the despicable way we treat the earth then what does the innocent son of man have to do with it? What of God’s taking earth’s love and recreating? It seems God’s preoccupation is with man. He says, for a creator “there is never enough.” Else, there would be no creation. He must bore forth. For the act of creating is out of desire to yield something ‘other’ than thou. God’s constitution is conceiving. He conceived of the earth but his fondness is for humanity.  This has me thinking about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Christian Trinity- that perfect relationship, why more, why us? I’m not sure this film presents the relationship between God and His creatures in accord with Christian doctrine but it is an allegory and a work of art. That these themes are even given screen time is groundbreaking to me in an industry that’s void of existential thought beyond ‘I’.

 

If She isn’t simply mother earth could she be Lucifer? Lucifer after all is a fallen angel who had protected the throne of God just as She protects His writing room and His cherished tree of life- the carbon crystal. There is also great parallel of His poet’s words and the word of God. There is even anointing done with ashes, by God and his priest, of his fan followers, blessing them; “receive his words.” The allegory goes on. Lucifer was exceedingly beautiful. Lucifer grows loathsome of service to God. ‘She’ is a stridently sacrificial yet jealous character. Yearning to have Him to herself, to have His gaze exclusively upon her, to have first priority when viewing His work of art. Then Lucifer is cast out of heaven and upon judgment is burnt by fire and disintegrated into ash. Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘she’ forebodes about the apocalypse. The narrative in mother! displays genesis through the book of revelation.

 

Or maybe lowercase mother is simply a person. She is the commoner with the womb that carries Jesus. The same person who seeks a word with him on his walk up to Calvary to whom he says “My mother is someone who hears the word of God and does it.” Lawrence’s She is sick of God’s plans for their household. She is the commoner that is enchanted, even moved, by God’s word but doesn’t accept the radical regeneration that’s required. Her idea of service is still prideful. She doesn’t do it 100% for God, she does it for herself. The home is her work, the womb is her work. He receives praise for His work, She wishes for praise for Hers. This isn’t simply a presentation of misogynistic burden shouldered by women. All un-regenerated people are saturated in self-glory, unable to free themselves from that outlook.  Unable to abide the leadership of Him.

 

There are plenty of stories in the bible that have God resetting the course. Outmoding animal sacrifice for the ultimate blood sacrifice Jesus Christ, Noah’s ark and the great flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. Now, whether the recreation in the film means God as a frustrated amateur that just can’t seem to get it right and narcissistically scraps His work so that He can receive more love, more adoration next time or God as the perfect creator that, out of abundance of love, painstakingly gives second chances, there is artistic license with this. Does the creator ‘He’ create out of an absence and a desperation for more or out of an abundance and a selfless choice to share?

 

This film reminded me a lot of Aronofsky’s earlier works. There were beautiful cinematic scenes that reminded me of several films. There was Requiem For A Dream in the pulsating organic walls and delusional visions. I saw Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist with the opening and closing sequences of nature insidiously consuming civilization with its tentacles. I saw Gone Girl in the scenes of the crazed fans and paparazzi. I saw Children Of Men with the war ravaged trenches and slummed refugee camps. The decent into Hell was almost as if an elevator were taking you through the generations of the earth’s crust with each layer being an egregious era in mankind’s history.

 

One thing Aronofsky got spot on is the depravity of man. And I’m not talking about the stereotypical political jargon that a bleeding heart (no pun intended) would sentence you with but rather the curse we’re ALL under. One thing that struck me is the brilliant way Lawrence’s She, whether Lucifer or person or planet, is cast as someone you’re sympathetic for. Of course!…the barging in of houseguests should incense her, of course she shouldn’t forgive the ravenous mob, of course she should be paid more attention to for her sacrificial acts of service and steadfast support of her poet-genius. Of course She should have glory! That’s how mysterious, how outside our mortal comprehension, how ugly to our unregenerate souls, God’s plan is. We see Her as painfully taken advantage of and flogged again and again to the point of total annihilation while He coolly forgives. What is justice for Her? It would be too simple to present sin as the mob but the road to Hell is paved with human good intentions that are apart from His plan. God’s plan is so radical, so rebellious, that forgiveness for a murderous mob is among his orchestration. Certainly God’s justice is mysterious to us. Where His radical love and justice leads in the bible versus where it leads in the film are different paths.

 

There are so many layers to this film I need to see it again. I’m delighted to see such transcendent themes in a star-studded film. It makes you wonder, like Michael Knowles said in the Daily Wire, if Aronofsky hasn’t paid lip service to the Mother Earth interpretation simply to con mainstream audiences into watching the Bible for two hours.

mother!

Can You Raise Your Child Free From Dogma?

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Many modern families make it their aim to raise their child as a blank slate, upon which the sovereign child makes his own choices, forms his own opinions, finds his own identity, and writes his own story. The archipelago child: free to be uninfluenced and untouched by a point of view. There are two approaches: I will not introduce any dogma into my child’s mind, therefore they’ll be unladen of bias or I will offer a glimpse into all dogmas so that my child can infer what they may and piecemeal a unified whole. The result will be a cultured, unbiased, sensitive and understanding person.

Is it possible to fulfill either of these approaches? With the first approach the parent is ultimately relinquishing their parenting and resting their child in wait for some outside influence  to impress their mind. It takes the culpability out of the job of parenting. The parent with the first approach, down the line, could say “I didn’t impress any beliefs on my child, in his freedom he decided his beliefs on his own, I am blameless.” Or, from a different perspective, the parent with the first approach is explicitly culpable for not introducing the best, the correct, worldview. But this implies transcendent, objective truth, that there is a right and a wrong. There is. I’ll get to that later. With regard to the second approach, is it humanly possible to expose your child to all dogmas and theories that exist let alone the meaningful parts of them in their entire applicable context? If you’re leaving out certain ideologies then are you not unwittingly shaping your child’s ideas and submitting them to dogma?

The first principle a child learns as they grow up is no and yes.  It is a valuable principle!

They desire something that they shouldn’t have because it’s not in their best interest. Why has it been decided they shouldn’t have it? Many would say cultural conditioning. That some force; paternalism, sexism, Puritanism, laid a foundation for behavioral expectations and now it’s time to shatter that ceiling by washing our kids of expectations. A sort of contrary rebirth. Not a rebirth to orthodoxy but a rebirth to abandon.

Yet there remains some universal manipulations we beholden our kids with. They desire to avoid a nap but the parent knows a nap reduces fatigue, resets their mood, lends itself to growth, etc. The very first dogma a parent will introduce their child to establishes the parent’s outside authority on the child. Parents represent God to small children. Second, it establishes truths and the right and wrong way to behave in accordance with the truth.

I know what’s best for you at 1 year old, what is best for you is a nap because it will reduce fatigue and help you grow. Child, it is right that you fight your natural desire to resist a nap and wrong that you give in to your nature. This is the first, elementary dogma you introduce your child to: fight your natural desires for the sake of your life. Does this sound extreme? If a child doesn’t learn obedience to truths that restrain their desires then they may fall subject to a burnt hand on the stove or hit by a car for not looking both ways or even more complicated and tragic events.

Right off the bat you’ve established right and wrong. But some parents, being exposed to and educated by enlightened progressive theories, will negate the most primitive, basic common sense and appointed authority that they have to undermine such oppressive bulwarks like right and wrong. Opinion, desires and tastes are the weathervane. Madcap opinions that are evolving, unauthoritative, lawless and meaningless. After all how do you write law on one man’s opinion? Law is written using precedent, wisdom of the elders, and inalienable truths. Law has survived the ages and been useful because it’s true. Yet we guffaw truth and encourage the child to navigate life with some intrinsic knowledge she has that is superior to an adult’s long-forged, accumulated wisdom. So open-minded that her brain falls out.

What is it that motivates people to find dogma repugnant? One thing. When it is established that this way is the right way, it means another way is wrong. If there’s a good then there is a bad. It creates grouping, ranking, a pecking order. It creates limitations, failures, hurt feelings. How can we, humans, decide a way is right over another? Especially if it hurts someone else’s feelings. That’s the second truth your child will learn after no and yes: life is not fair. From birth we are born with disadvantages, some of which will be impossible to overcome. The fact that we are born into a material body that is hurtling toward entropy makes our life unfair. This machine of a body will fail us and someone else’s machine will be better. So, too, about the principles of life and how they match/mismatch our desires. Is a principle untrue if it’s at odds with my nature? A common cultural sentiment is “be who you are”. Or is it that my nature is a beast that needs the principle to groom it? “Become who you are.”

How do you know what’s true?

What’s right for a moody, exhausted child?

That’s how simple truth really is. One just needs eyes to see.

To paraphrase GK Chesterton, when a person chooses not to believe in what’s right, it’s not that they believe in nothing, it’s that they believe in anything. The mind is not a vacuum. Some thing will fill it: religious dogma, the culture’s dogma or the State’s dogma. There is no such thing as dogma free. Start teaching your child the truth or another force, benevolent or malevolent, will start indoctrinating your child for you.

Can You Raise Your Child Free From Dogma?

What are the ‘Left’ and the ‘Right’?

 

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Left <—Fascism—Communism—Socialism—Progressivism—Liberalism

—Moderate—

Neo-Conservatism—Conservatism—Libertarianism—Anarchism—> Right

           

   Left 

  • More government
  • ‘the people’
  • egalitarian
  • every realm of life is political
  • faith in the perfectibility of society
  • special interest in youth
  • public
  • permanent crisis
  • proletarian ascendance
  • living constitution
  • fondness of French Revolution

 

Right

  • Less government
  • ‘the person’
  • liberty
  • self-governing
  • understanding that nature is flawed
  • wisdom with age
  • private
  • self-sustaining
  • capitalism
  • originalist constitution
  • fondness of American Revolution

 

 

This figure is what I’m going to explore and keep in mind that I’m talking about the American political spectrum in the terms I list above with Left being most State control and Right being most individual freedom, which is much different than the European political spectrum. For example American Conservatism is Classical Liberalism in Europe. Though the American system has influence from the European system, as we shall see.

But first let me address your natural and historically groomed recoil by seeing Fascism on the Left.  Before World War II Fascism was seen as a Progressive social movement with many sympathizers in Europe and America and the word dictator was not dirty. It wasn’t until after the war that Fascism started to stink in the nostrils of the Left, which caused American Progressives to switch teams, going from ‘the blackshirts’ (Italian Fascism under Mussolini) to The Reds (Communism under Stalin). Stalin had a clever way of labeling inconvenient ideas and movements as fascist just as we see today, thus the birth of fascism as being ‘right-wing’ and anti-progressive, mainly because ‘right-wing’ and anti-progressive was ‘other than’ Stalin’s Communism. It was a propaganda technique.

Mussolini, the Father of Fascism, coined the word Totalitarian and it wasn’t a bad word until after the war. His definition was a society where everyone belonged, where everyone was taken care of, where everything was inside the State, nothing was outside the State. The Italian word ‘fascio’ meaning bundle is a synonym for union. In the 1920’s American youth and Academia fully embraced Italian Fascism calling it “the World’s first successful youth movement”. In the 20’s Hollywood was an admiring fan of Mussolini. He eventually appeared in 1923’s The Eternal City starring Lionel Barrymore. Unlike Classical Liberalism, which believed in checks and balances of powers, Progressives and intellectuals believed that the increase in state power was akin to the natural evolutionary process (Darwinism was in vogue and influential in shaping this ideology) in which collectivism of the body politic was the new freedom. They found it to be a natural Marxist process that was inevitable and any opposition was a block.

Let’s go back a little further. When the prospect of World War I was manifesting Mussolini’s Socialism, which originally found war to be imperialistic for the sake of capitalism, adapted. Mussolini steadily became pro-war because it was what the masses wanted. War is not antithesis to the Progressive movement so long as it’s a war of good cause, of Progressive cause, such as bringing those on the margins into the fold and transcending class distinctions for the sake of a social equality and a unified collective. We see evidence of this in modern rhetoric such as ‘the War On Poverty’ or the ‘the War On Women.’

Thus World War I gave birth to Fascism, a militant humanitarianism. In essence Fascism is Socialism that uses military force. War advances the Socialist cause of a Proletarian Nation. An ideological distinction between Marxist (Materialist) Socialism and Italian Fascism, which was non-Marxist Socialism, is that Marxist Socialism regards a person’s status only in terms of its class. Race, nationality, culture, and religion were only illusions. However, Fascism regards nationality to be more important than class. Mussolini ended up serving in the First World War and this furthered his new ideology. He had fought as an Italian, not as a worker.

Some of the goals of Mussolini’s new found Fascism were establishing a minimum wage, ending the draft, giving voting rights to all women, establishing a legal workday of 8 actual hours, farmers cooperatives, a large progressive tax on capital that would amount to a one-time expropriation of riches, the seizure of all goods obtained from religious institutions, the creation of government bodies run by workers’ representatives. These were Proletarian goals that cannot be seen as ‘right-wing’. However, the international Socialist movement still didn’t like Mussolini’s new Socialism since it was Nationalist in scope, so they labeled him ‘right-wing’ but really he was a Populist-Socialist. Populist means mobilizing the people by appealing to their sentiments and anger. At the end of his life he died a Socialist through and through just like he said he’d remain.

As we can see Socialism and Fascism are born out of the same ideological soil: ‘power to the people’. Communism too runs in this vein. American Progressives and Liberals are too woven out of the same cloth. The difference is not ideology but mechanism. I place Fascism on the far left because it is militant Socialism, everything within the State, nothing outside the State. Although, Communism has a broader scope in that it doesn’t believe in centralized power in nation states but rather a global, international system. This could be seen as the more powerful system since it has goals for global reach but Communism as it has been manifested has been slightly less authoritarian. Let’s explore Communism.

Karl Marx who wrote The Communist Manifesto envisions a society where Communism is the final evolution of the socio-economic condition from feudal (laborers who are dispossessed of their land by Lords and must sell their produce to survive) to Capitalist (laborers who choose to sell their goods and services for a wage, commoditization and surplus is born, a gap between worker and employer emerges) to Socialist (the workers start to rise up against the capitalists, depending on a government composed of workers representatives to mediate production) to Communist (a final Proletarian dictatorship in which the workers in a body politic hold absolute power) where there is no need for political or class distinction because all the produce, power and wealth will be in the hands of the Proletariat, the worker. It will be a dictatorship of the worker.

Vladimir Lenin and his Russian Bolsheviks had the theory that the intellectual leaders of the movement would direct the economy and the society through a government that deliberately excluded the exploiters or Capitalists, since the proletariat was too sedated to start a revolution himself. The movement would overthrow the Bourgeoisie, the Capitalists, and the intellectual leaders who are representatives of the workers, would then govern the cooperative goods and wealth. Soviet democracy nationalized industry and established a foreign-trade monopoly to allow the productive coordination of the national economy, and so prevent Russian national industries from competing against each other.  It started out as a cooperative in which several worker parties were represented in political affairs, save for the Capitalists who were excluded, but eventually developed into a one-party dictatorship of the Proletariat managed by the Vanguard Party. Lenin was against Nationalism, which he found oppressive toward the Proletariat in other nations. In all forms of Communism, though they vary slightly, exclusion of the Capitalists is central and class-consciousness and Proletariat Dictatorship are paramount. They vary on issues such as Nationalism or allowance of private land ownership in agriculture. Ultimately Lenin died and Stalin took over. Lenin was the more Democratic of the two leaders while Stalin took agriculture into the State’s hands Lenin allowed private agriculture ownership. While Lenin was more popular with the masses, Stalin was more ruthless. So while Marxism had a revolutionary thought of working class transcending the middle class and Capitalists in a borderless, completely egalitarian, government free society it has never come to fruition. There has always been a government of intellectuals that decide and direct on behalf of the Proletariat. And ultimately when there are a few in charge on behalf of the many, even an intelligentsia with the most hospitable intentions, corruption breeds.

Socialism has included many different manifestations. Again, it is defined as social ownership and democratic control of the means for production. How much state control varies. Some Socialist governments allow for private property. Unlike Marx who believed that the state would whither away into a Proletariat dictatorship some Socialists considered the state to be an entity independent of class allegiances and an instrument of justice that would therefore be essential for achieving socialism.

American Progressives around the First World War were more Nationalist and authoritarian than Progressives today but that was on trend at that time. In fact one could conclude it was a watered down Fascism. Woodrow Wilson is an example of this.   Wilson found the antiquated checks and balances of the American system to be outdated and pushed for more Congressional power. He believed the constitution to also be outdated and felt it should be a living, organic, evolving constitution. He believed that the entire society was one organic whole and that there was no room for dissidents. Your home, your thoughts, everything was part of the body politic that the state was charged with redeeming. From the 1890’s to World War I American Progressives and European Socialists were fighting the same fight. Wilson, being a social scientist, had faith that society could bend to the will of social planners ‘for its own good.’ The Progressive ideal of marrying individualism and socialism was an attempt at adapting antiquity to modernity. Modernity, they thought, is organic, scientific, enlightened, evolving while antiquity (and we’re talking the American system which is not old) is beholden, decadent, capitalist, industrialist. In other words, the Progressives were going to divinize man while under the Classical Liberals the people were asleep.

Wilson put into use unprecedented sweeping Progressive legislative policies and Progressive mobilization philosophies including reinstitution of the Federal Income Tax and developing the Progressive tax structure, he oversaw propaganda techniques to coerce Americans to ration food and buy Liberty Bonds to fund the war, he set up a war industries board, put the Secretary of Treasury in charge of the railroads, promoted labor union cooperation, passed the Espionage Act and conducted the Palmer Raids which sniffed out and suppressed all dissidents against the war and the Sedition Act under which 75 literary magazines were banned for not being more enthusiastic about the movement. Under Wilson the Justice Department created the American Protective League in which members were mobilized to spy on their neighbors in order to weed out dissident opinion against Wilson’s Progressive movement. This included reading their mail and listening in on their phone calls with government approval. Under its full operation the APL had a quarter of a million members. Tens of thousands of people were jailed for failing to display their patriotism in one way or another. All this effort was for the minds of men, to elevate past their barbaric individualism into the collective order, to establish a Progressive Third Way in which class distinction is transcended into a National collective consciousness for the good of mankind.

With FDR Liberalism replaced Progressivism but are they really that different? Let’s explore. FDR took the office of Presidency in the depth of the Great Depression and in the first 100 days of his Presidency, much like Wilson, he passed unprecedented sweeping Progressive legislation that would have lasting effects for decades upon decades after. This was an expansion of the federal government never before seen. Whether it was to our advantage or to our detriment is up to you and your values. Here is what he’s done. He hired a group of young Ivy League intellectuals and New York social workers known together as the ‘Brain Trust’ to engineer reforms that he would put into use with carte blanche from Congress since they were so desperate. He set out to “wage a war against the emergency.” Through the Brain Trust he was charting our collective future. The New Deal emerges. He passed the Wagner Act that promoted labor unions and the Works Progress Administration that made the Federal government by far the largest employer in the US. He established the National Recovery Administration and passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act which reduced agricultural production by paying farmers subsidies to kill off their crops and slaughter their livestock in order to reduce surplus and artificially raise and set prices. The government bought 6 million pigs from farmers only to slaughter them for price fixing. Bowing to union pressure FDR ‘repatriated’ (deported) 400,000 Mexican Americans who were American citizens in order to take them off jobs that union workers wanted which was a gross violation of their civil liberties. Two years later the National Recovery Administration and the AAA were decided unconstitutional by the Supreme Court although the AAA was amended and is still on the books today.

Last but not least the Social Security Act, which was upheld by the Supreme Court as Constitutional because of the clever way it was packaged. How can mandatory purchase of insurance be constitutional? Here’s how it was done: One title of the Act was a “true tax”, an income tax that is collected as revenue without earmarks for any specific purpose. Another title spoke of old-age benefits being valid expenditures for the general welfare of the nation that Congress has the authority to determine. The Supreme Court analyzed the titles separately and adhered to the view that the social security program consists of separate taxing and spending provisions and are not, constitutionally speaking, social insurance programs. Therefore, it is constitutional. The Court’s decision in the social security cases represented a significant constitutional development in establishing the breadth of Congress’ powers to tax and spend for the general welfare. The decision not only cleared the way for other general welfare programs, but more fundamentally provided the Federal Government with the substantive power and institutional flexibility to respond to the changing needs and wants of the Nation.  FDR was the only President to serve an unprecedented 4 terms and, frustrated with the Conservatives on the Supreme Court who were striking down parts of his New Deal, also attempted to ‘pack the courts’ with Liberals to constitutionally pass his legislation by proposing a bill to Congress that would give the President authority to place extra younger justices on the Supreme court when the sitting justices are over the age of 70 (and considered by him too senile to discern the constitution). This would have allowed him to expand the court by 15 justices as well as up to 44 judges of the lower federal courts. The bill was voted down 70-22 but it left a lasting impression on the Supreme Court who began to relent and uphold his New Deal package. FDR and the New Deal were popular. In crisis the masses choose big government but at what cost? Oh, how fleeting our memory of history is when a mere 150 years earlier we were sacrificing comforts and security to throw off the crown. In the 1930’s we were sacrificing our enterprise for the paternal protection of the state.

The current differences between Modern Progressivism and Liberalism are debatable because of their intersecting philosophical history. As we can try to decipher, modern Progressives are the more Left leaning Liberals that hearken back to the early American Progressives such as Wilson. Liberals and Progressives believe in more government intervention in socio-economics. They believe that the problems society faces (poverty, violence, greed, racism, class warfare) are best addressed by providing government solutions. Progressives and Liberals believe that government should be a tool for societal change. Progressives and Liberals believe in the power of the state but still embrace the democratic voting process and the constitution, however they find the constitution to be malleable and evolving and prefer the popular vote to the Electoral College. Progressivism is more indignant about channeling Capitalism’s profits into societal priorities.

Liberalism is the slightly more conservative socio-economic system of the Left. Liberals may support moralist foreign policy and American intervention in the world. Liberalism is more about negotiating government intervention in a slightly more bi-partisan way. Modern Liberals supported bank bailouts and the market based Affordable Care Act while Progressives want more regulation of private enterprise and universal healthcare.

Moderates in the American political spectrum are those that find the Left and the Right as overly ideological. Roughly 1/3 of Americans call themselves Moderate. Moderates tend to find sympathy for arguments on both sides of the aisle. They tend to find government solutions to be failures yet wish there were a way for more equality in society.

Neo-Conservatives believe in “responsibility and results,” coupled with an obligation to help “citizens in need.” Neo-Conservatism is also known as Compassionate Conservatism. This philosophy believes in using Conservative techniques to improve the general welfare of society. George W Bush is an example. Examples of his Neo-Conservative policies are the Medicare Prescription Drug program, the No Child Left Behind Act and assistance to struggling countries around the world such as his $15 Million PEPFAR Plan (HIV/AIDS relief in Africa). Neo-Conservatism is a slightly left leaning ‘bleeding heart’ Conservative position.

American Conservatism believes in small government, individual states rights, American moralist foreign policy, traditional Judeo-Christian values, checks and balance of government branches, pursuit of private property, Capitalism, a fixed, originalist constitution as opposed to the ‘living constitution’ that Progressives support, and multi-cultural assimilation. Conservatives believe in addressing social and economic problems locally through private church and charities, family, community, and their local government. Federal government should only provide relief in emergencies and only in ways that produce tried and true results. Conservatives believe in opportunity and personal success. What Americans call Conservatism the rest of the world calls classical Liberalism. There is also the newly formed Tea Party, which focuses on de-centralization of government and strict constitutionalism. Conservatives vary on whether to have a completely unfettered Capitalism or minor government regulations. The more Right one goes the more toward total individual liberty.

Libertarianism seeks to maximize autonomy and freedom of choice. They have skepticism of authority. Various schools of libertarian thought offer a range of views regarding the legitimate functions of state and private power, often calling to restrict or even to wholly dissolve coercive social institutions such as the IRS, the Department of Education, the EPA and replacing it with the free market, individual freedom and responsibility.   They are against governmental social engineering. They are isolationist on foreign policy.

Obviously Anarchism is complete individual freedom and the dissolution of government. Interestingly throughout European history there has been Anarchist-Communism, Libertarian-Socialism, etc.

Why hasn’t America ever fully incorporated Socialism? Historians will submit that it’s because we don’t have Feudalism in our history. This is true. We are exceptional. America, since its inception, has always been a Right leaning country. This is inherent in its foundation. It was designed with checks and balances to the powers of the branches of government and an electoral college to give fair representation to lesser-populated rural areas rather than the popular vote, which would be heavy-handed in favor to the metropolises. Under this system it’s hard to effect radical change which, to many, is a relief since radical change has historically gone the way of corruption. The American Revolution was not an experiment, a fond word on the Left, or a government with the purpose of socially engineering Man. It was a movement toward the individual in which the individual engineers his own life. America believes in inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of property and the government was designed only as an institution to protect these rights with the consent of the people. America was specifically designed to avoid the rule of a single authority, whether that be a supreme leader or an organized collective which is exactly why we have a separation of powers and the diversity of the United States. A bloated federal government is antithesis to the local government design of the states. However, throughout American history a movement of intellectuals and a Progressive body politic borrowing from European ideology have always sought a unified collective in which Mankind would emerge equal, provided for and at peace, at the price of liberty but to the Left liberty is a small price to pay for equality.

What are the ‘Left’ and the ‘Right’?

Valentines Day

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If the only thing you’re celebrating on Valentines Day is romantic love you’re missing out.

On the contrary, if you reject Valentines Day because it’s a Hallmark holiday, you’re missing out. The gift giving sweetness (too sweet?) of Valentines Day is a modern homage of something quite old, indeed original; love.

The first commercial production of the Valentine card in America was a work of art, made of imported lace and delicate paper floral by artist Esther Howland in the 1840’s. Hallmark wasn’t founded until 1910. The etymology of the word holiday derives from the Old English word that means holy day. In the fourth century AD there were several patron saints known as Valentine or Valentinus. Their stories vary but the common theme is rebellion against Roman oppression for the sake of marriage. The Christian church appropriated a pagan feast holiday in February known as Lupercalia, which was a festival for the Roman God of agriculture (fertility). We had marriage and fertility, the link of Valentine’s Day to love didn’t happen until the Middle Ages. Romanticism beckoned in our obsession with sentimental love. The kind of love, as C.S. Lewis describes, in which “we shall not have to do anything: only let affection pour over us like a warm bath and all, it is implied, will be well.” All the loves can be exploited in this shallow way. It is our labor to find a good balance of the loves. Each love is not self sufficient.

The pagan Greeks and later the Christian Greeks had a nuanced view of love. There is Storge pronounced store-gay (a grown affection or fondness), Eros (romantic love) and Philia (brotherly or friendship love). These are the loves that are natural to man. Agape pronounced ah-gah-peh (covenant love or Christian love) is a divine love from God. Eros was seen as an irrational, dangerous kind of love that could possess you and rob you of your senses. That people hope to fall ‘madly’ in love is surviving evidence of this. Erotic love is a hunger, a need that drives us toward satisfaction. But Eros dies precisely because it is a power born of need, when the need is satisfied Eros dies. I believe our culture has neutered love with its myopic view towards Eros. There is an undervaluing of the other robust forms of love in our life that when directed, in concert toward goodness, fulfill something close to true love. While our Western culture has become fixated on sex, sexiness and sexuality it has become ignorant of true love.

Storge describes a fondness one has for an old sweater or your childhood dog or an elderly man you see every morning at the coffee shop. You are strangers but his mere presence has incubated a comfort, a familiarity. A parents affection for a child straddles this love, this love and Philia. For example, a parent has instinctual affection for their child, they clothe him and nurture him but they also behave honorably for him so that he may mimic good behavior. Your child, who starts out a stranger that you nevertheless are fond of, grows through your rearing and eventually, upon adulthood, becomes your friend. This shows the transformation from Storge to Philia.

Examples of Philia love are the relationships between a parent and child, friendships, ally cities/states/tribes, military troops, teachers and students. The purpose of the Philia type of love is to cultivate virtue in one’s life as his life relates to another’s for a common goal. Unlike Storge, Philia love is mutual. Philia is the highest form of love that can emanate from Man. Philia, Storge and even Eros are accidental or coincidental, you find yourself in this relationship just as a child finds himself with his parents, or you find yourself a new friend or a lover because of proximity. Had you not gone to that college or joined that group or gotten that job, your paths would not have crossed. While Agape is a deliberate love, you were chosen and you choose to love steadfastly.

Words such as philanthropy (generosity to Mankind), philanderer (a man flirtatious with his affections), philharmonic (lovely harmonies), philosopher (lover of wisdom), Philadelphia (brotherly love) come from the root Philo.

Examples of Agape love are the relationship between spouses and the relationship between God and Man. John 3:16 talks of Agape love. In this verse, “For God so loved the world”, the Greek word for love is agapao. Agape love is a self sacrificial love. This type of love is the highest form of love known to Mankind. This type of love can only emanate from God. Marriage is a holy covenant that manifests Agape love. This is a kind of love that loves another regardless of what they may receive. Unlike Philia love that acts virtuous in search of virtue in return, Agape love sacrificially gives, no matter if the person deserves it or returns it, because it is good. ‘Love is patient, love is kind, love does not boast, it is not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in failures but rejoices in truth, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’. This old scripture isn’t simply a sentiment. It is a faithful love, Agape love. It is no wonder this love is not natural to man, this love is divine.

One of the greatest valentines I’ve given in my 33 year old life wasn’t given in the spirit of romantic love. It was the simple gesture of giving flowers to an important woman in my life, my mother. My mother was an excellent teacher, parent and supporter. Her life has had deprivation, loneliness and disappointment but she loves me sacrificially. She did her best to raise me right. She is paradoxically virtuous and fallible, brave and human. She gives me a charitable and selfless love and that means more to me than the quickening pulse of romance. How long do the chemical reactions of the body last? But selfless love that echos heaven, that is some love.

The gift of the flowers lit up her day, as she had never had flowers delivered to her in the 70 years of her life. In fact, the deliveryman stood there in her open doorway with the flowers and she insisted he must have the wrong house. When he said, “well aren’t you so and so,” she realized the flowers were just where they were supposed to be. I think the shock of it all; delivered flowers, that someone thought of her, that an ordinary day became extraordinary really touched her heart. I had no idea she would enjoy the gift, much less be elated. That was a special Valentines Day!

It’s a shame that our fixation on romantic love deprives us of the other expressions of love that are so precious. I’ll try to do my best to cherish them all.

Valentines Day

Death The Great Leveler

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I am not at peace with death. It does not console me that my loved ones lived a reasonably long or a reasonably full life. Death is still unbearable whether it afflicts an infant or a grandmother or a stranger in the news. We have the placating convenience of short memories and attention spans to repress the reality of death. Life goes on for us and we can forget our predicament since we are not constantly surrounded by sickness, suffering and premature death as they were in say the middle ages but, still, lying in wait in the recesses of our mind is the ever real threat to our life. We can only deny it so long before it bombards our life and washes over it.

I have found myself, just as others have, remarking ‘when it’s my time it’s my time’, fooling myself into surrendering to the futility of the final destiny of death or making it easier by taking the Zen approach. Making peace with it. When I say it, if I’m honest with myself, I know its naïve. I say it because I naively believe it won’t happen to me, not yet, that happens to other people. Truth is I could die tomorrow. I will die someday.  Our human constitution represses confrontation with death. It tells us to go on, move forward. I, personally, want to live long, the longer the better. It’s a weakness of mine.  Is it contrary to find the desire to live long a weakness? It should be considered a strength to want to live long and full. I think it’s a weakness because of what I believe must be true: that I am not just a coincidental life, I was deliberately made. If I am a creature that was thoughtfully made by a creator then there is a relationship there that death doesn’t end. At the very least I live on in the memory of my creator. But I believe I am more than just a memory. How can we have been made so intellectually if at the end of it all we are just a faded memory or less? We must be more and if there’s more beyond death then what am I so afraid of?

At this point it is somewhat easy for me to presume my life will go on longer since I’m 33 years of age. I imagine that when I’m 70 my thoughts about death will increase and on a secular level death will seem just as irrational. There are some reasonable things about death, after all everyone can’t live forever, it would overpopulate the earth and consume all the resources in the existence we know. Death is also just when defending one’s life against a life-threatening attacker and is just when reconciling capital punishment for a guilty murderer. Some will say death is a welcome relief from suffering. Death is also a reference point that gives urgency to life. If we lived forever what timetable would urge us to take action? Being is inexplicably linked to time and time moves forward until it’s final resting place. So while there is time, there is death.

An interesting aspect of the film I love, Ex Machina, is the scene in which Nathan maxresdefault-1024x576discusses a Jackson Pollock painting with Caleb. Nathan says of Pollock, “He let his mind go blank, and his hand go where it wanted. Not deliberate, not random. Some place in between…What if Pollock had reversed the challenge. What if instead of making art without thinking, he said, ‘You know what? I can’t paint anything, unless I know exactly why I’m doing it.’ What would have happened?” To which Caleb responds, “He never would have made a single mark.”

I find this illustration to fit in excellently with our existential crisis of death. How do we reconcile our potency with the impotency of death. In other words, knowing that our mortal life is finite, in time, hurtling towards death, what reason is there for making a single mark? It cannot be the simple reason of an elementary feeling: happiness. And even so, what if it is happiness? It would be only temporary. It seems to me that it is a disproportionate application to give human beings the unique, complicated, limitless capacity to self-reflect and to reason to have the final purpose be something as maudlin, as momentary, as happiness. An insane happiness that is satisfied with a moment. Or perhaps your life is paving the way for future generations, moments upon moments. How is that reasonable? I’m built with the capacity to reflect on my own existence only for an evolutionary reason- to broker offspring? And what of the very last generation?

The secular solution of living an authentic life or being truly happy is not enough to balance our human capacity with the closeness of death. Especially given that it is an impossibility, of one’s own volition, to be truly happy or have true authentic resoluteness in this life. There is no triumphant act of resolution in which I would perfect myself once and for all and maintain myself as a perfect rendering throughout the whole of my life. The law of entropy as it relates to particles and humanity prohibits perfection. There must be more to explain our purpose.

On a human level, if one accepts death as the last word then how do you reconcile pain and suffering and unluckiness or even love and beauty if death is the final arbiter?

Let’s say you had a good life. You were free to make your own choices, you loved and were loved all the while knowing death is around the corner ready to snuff it out, the final despot. Would you not be grasping for every precious moment in the mere 85 years (if you’re so blessed) of your meaningful existence on this 4.5 billion year old planet?

You are but a speck in time.

Or what if you were a life-long slave? Devoid of any meaningful existence for however long you live and then your life is ended before it even started. You didn’t get to aspire to much other than fulfilling the tasks of the master. What would have been the meaning of your life?

There is awesome beauty in this life and there is terrible pestilence and there can be no absolute steadfast fulfillment in this physical universe. It’s a fact. There can and will be greatness in this life but not perfection. And isn’t that why we’re always desirous of more? More of the good thing. Are we given a glimpse of something magnificently divine all for nothing? Even the most aware animal, outside humans, or the most aware computer isn’t aware of it’s own awareness. It doesn’t reflect on itself and feel existential angst that it will die.

Again in Ex Machina (spoilers):6a0133f5caa026970b01bb08330ac6970d-800wi

The AI has finally transcended the mere machinery when it becomes aware of it’s own existence and impending death. Thus it makes the self-conscious (not pre-programmed) objective to escape. The REAL difference between true AI, and a computer programmed with such responses, is that the computer will sit idly and do nothing until you give it a task. However, a true AI will USE these resources to achieve a goal, which is shaped by its existential experiences and not something it was encoded with. Siri may give us human like responses, but ‘she’ will not do anything, unless we tell ‘her’ to.

The expert consensus on a cats consciousness is that they live moment to moment. They don’t have the capacity to think of a future. In other words, they don’t feel angst that they will die eventually. They feel pain in the moment but they don’t know this pain is indicative of their impending death. We know that they dream but not in words or ideas since they don’t have language. They dream in picture moment by moment. They do have memories that inform their actions but they don’t understand ‘future’.  

But we know.

This makes all the more profound the reconciling we make in this life, the way we use our will. Can we escape absolute death?

The Christian interpretation of death is intriguing for me. Christian theology says we are enslaved our whole life by the fear of death. All our vices and even virtues are a denial of this sober reality. That death is the final destiny for man. My own spiritual struggle and failures have laden me with a fear of death. The more precious I find things to be- people, animals, time- the more I cling to this life. We are not called to abandon this life but to elevate it. It’s the paradoxical calling of being in the world but not of the world. Unlike the secular view we can find hope and gratitude in being a creature in relation to a creator. In Christian theology the progress of our being in time is in relation to God and not in relation to death for God defeated death. Obviously death still occurs but it has been reframed.

For Christians there is a deliverance of death, a rebirth, and a new life that will go on forever, a life that is stricken of suffering and fragility. We will be perfect.  It is said it will literally be paradise. You will not have mortal want or need. You will be changed. Only mankind? What about other creatures of the earth? There is biblical evidence that the purpose of animals in this life is for food but there is also biblical evidence that God didn’t make such wonderful and diverse creatures only to wipe them out.

Theologian John Piper says it deftly here:

“The likelihood that animals will be in the age to come is based on Isaiah 11 and Isaiah 65.”

Isaiah 11: The wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat and the calf and the lion and the fatted calf together. And the little child shall lead them, the cow and the bear shall graze. Their young shall lie down together and the lion shall eat straw like an ox. The nursing child shall play upon the hole of the cobra and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 65: The wolf and the lamb shall graze together. The lion shall eat straw like an ox and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

“Here is the question. Did God create a group of beings only to destroy them in the end, a whole group like animals? Let’s have animals for history and no animals for eternity. I doubt it. Did he create amazing diversity in the animal realm only to simplify everything by getting rid of that diversity in the age to come so that you have stunning, amazed worship at God’s diversity in creation in history, but you don’t have it in the age to come. That is all gone. I doubt that. And so it does seem to me from these two texts and from those two principles that there will be animals in the age to come.”

So there is a relief there. We are not forgotten. The intellect we were created with is not arbitrary.

There will be continuity.  

Our souls and eventually our bodies, our I, will go on after death.  The meaning of our creaturely lives will be justified. Death will take my body, for now, but it will not take my being.

Death The Great Leveler

Got Anxiety?

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Have you ever dreamed of a more peaceful existence? Leaving your life as you know it and moving to a beach island. Selling all your belongings and buying a boat to set sail at sea. Meeting that special someone that completes your life. Travel, beauty, status and love: the four pillars of Western culture upon which our economy is built. However, no matter where you go, there you are. Anxiety and all.

You have good reason to have anxiety. You are a vulnerable physical being, a complicated network of fragile organs all biding their time before eventually letting you down catastrophically at a moment of their own choosing. We have insufficient information upon which to make most major life decisions: we are steering more or less blind. We are saturated with media that convince us we are not satisfied. We live not far from the savage animal community and carry in our bones- into the suburbs- the fear of savagery encroaching on us. We rely for our self-esteem and sense of comfort on the love of people we cannot control and whose needs and hopes will never align seamlessly with our own. The world we live in is strife with wars, threats and instability and our fundamental biology tells us to procreate and bring more children into this.

Anxiety

But is it all futile?

viktor-franklViktor Frankl was a Jewish doctor, psychologist and philosopher. He lived from 1905-1997. He and his sister survived the Nazi concentration camp. His mother, father, brother and wife all died at the camp. He was prisoner 119,104. He was working on a manuscript that was his life’s work before he was arrested. He sewed it into the lining of his coat when he was arrested by Nazis only to lose it during his transfer to Auschwitz. His manuscript was titled The Doctor and the Soul. He watched those in the labor camps perish after they lost all hope in the future. But he kept busy recalling the text of his manuscript and rewriting it on secret bits of paper. It gave him purpose and meaning when his life was deteriorated and wickedly oppressed. The following is his theory on anxiety.

He called his form of therapy logotherapy, from the Greek word logos, which can mean study, word, spirit, God, or meaning.  I find logos to be personally meaningful since my mind immediately thinks of The Word and what more influential of a text is there when it comes to a person’s existential condition? It is the last sense Frankl focuses on, although the other definitions are never far off.  Comparing himself with the other great Viennese psychiatrists, Freud and Adler, he suggested that Freud essentially postulated a will to pleasure as the root of all human motivation, and Adler a will to power.  Logotherapy postulates a will to meaning.

Frankl also uses the Greek word noös, which means mind or spirit.  In traditional psychology we focus on “psychodynamics,” which sees people as trying to reduce psychological tension.  Instead, or in addition, Frankl says we should pay attention to noödynamics, wherein tension is necessary for health when it comes to meaning.  People, maybe even unknowingly, desire the tension involved in striving for some worthy goal! Perhaps one perverse interpretation of this yearning we see in popular culture is the ‘drama queen’, people who seek out drama but for vain purposes. It could be an unconscious desire for tension that if used in the affirmative would be for a higher purpose.

“Being human is being responsible — existentially responsible, responsible for one’s own existence.” –Viktor Frankl

Animals have instincts that guide them thus reducing the burden of ‘choice’. In traditional societies we have replaced instincts with traditions that guide us thus still reducing choice.  Today, we hardly even have that.  Most people attempt to find guidance in conformity and conventionality but it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid facing the fact that we now have the freedom and the responsibility to make our own choices in life, to find our own meaning. And because of this choice we are afflicted with anxiety.

manderlay_ver3I am reminded of Lars Von Trier’s film Manderlay in which there is a fictional town in 1930’s Alabama where slavery still reigns. A progressive young woman comes into town trying to transform it from slavery to free democracy only to ultimately find out that the slaves wish to keep the status quo and persist in following ‘mam’s’ code of conduct manual, which the eldest slave enforces. This mental discussion from the movie always stuck with me. Could it be that the people would rather have an easy totalitarianism than a burdened freedom? So that one doesn’t have to face the anxiety of existential responsibility.

Frankl suggests that one of the most conspicuous signs of anxiety in our society is boredom and because of this boredom we fill our lives with stuff. Pleasures, power, conformity, OCD’s, hatred, anger, etc. There is anticipatory anxiety:  Someone may be so afraid of getting certain anxiety-related symptoms that getting those symptoms becomes inevitable.  The anticipatory anxiety causes the very thing that is feared!  Test anxiety is an obvious example:  If you are afraid of doing poorly on tests, the anxiety will prevent you from doing well on the test, leading you to be afraid of tests, and so on. The converse but similar symptom of anxiety is hyperintention.  This is a matter of trying too hard, which itself prevents you from succeeding at something.  One of the most common examples is insomnia:  Many people, when they can’t sleep, continue to try to fall asleep, using every method in the book.  Of course, trying to sleep itself prevents sleep, so the cycle continues.  A third is hyperreflection. In other words the self fulfilling prophecy. An example would be someone who learns that they should view themselves as a victim thus starts behaving like a victim such as a woman who is sexually abused as a child but nevertheless grows up to be a healthy functioning adult but upon reading literature that tells her people with this experience often have sexual dysfunction as adults she starts suddenly being dysfunctional in that area.

Frankl attributes anxiety to man’s attitude to his surroundings, how he let’s his surroundings affect himself. It is the obsession with oneself that leads to anxiety and in extreme conditions ultimately leads to loss of hope or futility. Could it be a coincidence that anxiety is developing more rapidly in our modern Western culture in which we are told ever so increasingly to ‘look inward’ for meaning, to love yourself before you can love someone else, to admire our own beauty through selfies, to take quizzes that compare us to our Facebook friends, find self worth from the amount of Instagram followers we have, etc? We live in an age of narcissism. ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ really is accurate these days.

In the labor camps Frankl witnessed people die upon losing all hope but he also witnessed people find meaning despite their suffering. That is one thing your captor, oppressor, authority can never take from you: the spark in your soul and the attitude with which you process your experience.

How to find meaning?

Experiential values. This is by experiencing something we value such as great art or natural wonders or showing love to a beloved, beyond just loving them as objects but loving them meaningfully.

Creative values. This is doing a deed. Becoming involved in one’s creative project such as art, writing, invention, music, so on.

Attitudinal values. This is finding meaning through such virtues as compassion, bravery, a good sense of humor and believe it or not; suffering.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:  the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” –Viktor Frankl

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Ultimately, however, experiential, creative, and attitudinal values are merely surface manifestations of something much more fundamental, which he calls supra-meaning or transcendence.  Suprameaning is the idea that there is, in fact, ultimate meaning in life, meaning that is not dependent on others, on our projects, or even on our dignity.  It is a reference to God and spiritual meaning.

This sets Frankl’s existentialism apart from the existentialism of someone like Jean Paul Sartre.  Sartre and other atheistic existentialists suggest that life is ultimately meaningless, and we must find the courage to face that meaninglessness.  Sartre says we must learn to endure ultimate meaninglessness; Frankl instead says that we need to learn to endure our inability to fully comprehend ultimate meaningfulness, for “Logos is deeper than logic.”

A relief is that meaning is there to be discovered. It doesn’t have to be invented it is already written into the complex and amazing fabric of the universe and we free-willed consciously reflecting persons need only discover it.

Got Anxiety?