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?

A Prayer For Our Unborn Baby

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I haven’t met you yet but already you are known. You are 27 weeks old and you have been designed with eyebrows, eyelashes and fingerprints. You weigh almost 2 pounds but your chance for survival if you were born this early would be at least 85%. At this point you curl your fingers into a tiny fist. 7 weeks ago by ultrasound we saw your face, your form, and you were crossing your ankles and cupping a hand around your butt cheek. I feel you flutter and kick and I’m amazed how much strength you have at barely 2 pounds. So far you have been easy on me, as I have not struggled. Have I been taking care of you?

 

Soon, the knitting together of your soul and your body will transform from God’s hand only and be our responsibility. What is in store for you? You will come to know sunshine and moonlight. You will feel small confronting the scope of the universe. You will soon understand how far away the stars are. You will see cat paws for the first time. You will see human faces as abstractions and be too young to interpret identities but you will come to know me as mother. What is in store for me?

 

I will grasp for wisdom, revelation and patience as I nurture you. I will fail to understand why you’re so upset. I will be desperate to meet your needs. I will see dandelion seeds blown off a stem for the first time through your eyes. I will hold your fingerprint in my hand and marvel at your creation. Things I take for granted will be big again when you discover a tickle. The simplest trick of peek-a-boo will show me that laughter is beckoning and abundant.

 

But

 

You will know desire and heartbreak as you endeavor your life. You will feel fear and trepidation as a sovereign person who is a part of the world but on your own. You will feel loneliness and alien being trapped with your own thoughts. You will be hurt and sometimes for no apparent reason. You will struggle to remain optimistic and steadfast. You will make terrible decisions that could have tragic consequences. You will see evil. You will feel the void of space between you and your creator. You will feel the void of space between your capacity and your purpose. You will feel despair. During a season you will feel like you cannot climb out of your existential desolation. Your body will fail you and you will yearn to be free from it. You will feel sorry and you will make pleas. You will be selfish and you will make a fool of yourself.

 

But you will never be forgotten. You will have us, your mother and father, for a season but you’ll have your Father for eternity. We have hopes for you. You have great potential. Our hope is not for a rocket scientist or the next President. We don’t hope you’ll have all A’s or get into a prestigious college. We don’t hope for you to be successful and wealthy. We don’t hope for you to be popular or well liked. We don’t hope for a hundred friends or even simply happiness for you.

 

We hope for goodness.

 

May you have courage, justice, gentleness, selflessness, forgiveness, humility, integrity, dignity, morality, decency, loyalty, clarity, patience, kindness, temperance and self-control. We hope for you to have a good heart and a discerning mind. Your battle will not be for hierarchy or status. It will not be for gain of possessions or loved ones. It will not be for a secular activist cause. These worldly pursuits are not bad in and of themselves, framed right they are noble things, but your primary battle will be against evil. To hate evil and love good! That is our hope for you. We don’t expect perfection, for it does not exist. We expect your best effort. It will be hard, gruesome and exhausting but it will be right. And while doing so, endeavor to enjoy yourself. Marvel at the cosmos, marvel at the quantum molecules, marvel at your created fingerprint, marvel at your place in existence.

 

By God’s grace, know your worth. Every hair on your head known and loved by Him before we even knew and loved you. And I pray that we savor the moments and don’t let them go to waste.

 

“This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there’s a rumor going around that some of us are someday going to come to life.” –C.S. Lewis

A Prayer For Our Unborn Baby

Donald Trump isn’t your guy, now what?

 

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This campaign cycle has been incredibly easy for some people- those who are anti-establishment. For the anti-establishment folk, there is Bernie Sanders of the Democratic Socialist realm and Donald Trump of the Authoritarian Populist realm. However, if your vote isn’t dictated by being ‘other’ but rather by your Conservative values of limited government this campaign cycle has been a meltdown of the Presidency and America as you know it. It has created a fracture in the Republican Party so baffling that one is reminded how after the 1960’s the Democratic Party abandoned classical Liberals and became more left.

By June 7th one of the candidates will have secured the nomination for their party and let’s face it, it will be Clinton and Trump so let’s examine what we do now.

A Rock and a Hard Place

Both Clinton and Trump, to the limited-government voter, are unsavory candidates. Hillary Clinton is a woman who rose to power with the advantage of her husband Bill, “two-for-the-price-of-one” as Bill said during his Presidential campaign in 1992 and now her time has come to step out as the first in command of the Clinton machine, a machine that has dominated Democratic politics for a quarter of a Century. In her corner she has feminism, her years in the White House as First Lady, years of experience in the Senate and years of experience as Secretary of State.

Her feminism has historically been revealed as opportunistic. On November 22nd 2015 she tweeted that “Every survivor of sexual assault has a right to be heard, believed, and supported.” However, she consistently protected and stood with the oppressors, not the victims, during Bill Clinton’s sexual assault scandal. According to Carl Bernstein, an investigative journalist for such publications as The Washington Post, Time Magazine, Vanity Fair and the network ABC, in his biography of Hillary Clinton: A Woman In Charge, Hillary pushed to get sworn statements from women Bill had been rumored to have been involved with, statements in which they were supposed to say they’d had no relationship with him. She even interviewed one of these women herself, at her law firm. She also led efforts to undermine Gennifer Flowers, whom she referred to as “trailer trash.”

Her record and values as First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State has overwhelmingly been an exercise in government intervention into private life and enterprise. Of children’s rights she was quoted saying “Even among persons in the children’s rights movement, there is a concern that extending rights to children against their parents is too difficult to control, and in all but the most extreme cases such questions should be resolved by the families, not the courts. I prefer that [government] intervention into an ongoing family dispute be limited to decisions that could have long-term and possibly irreparable effects if they were not resolved. Decisions [children could make] about motherhood and abortion, schooling, cosmetic surgery, treatment of venereal disease or employment, and others where the decision or lack of one will significantly affect the child’s future should not be made unilaterally by the parents. Children should have a right to be permitted to decide their own future if they are competent.” State intervention, via the courts, into the family is a position Clinton takes which leads to my final point about the courts I’ll get to later. Such views and policies ignore the broad cultural debate over government assuming the roles of parents. This ideology also has creepy connections to other Leftist regimes in which, written in the protocol, there was the deliberate intent of driving a wedge between parents and children, breaking up the family and cultivating ‘regime youth’ for ‘their own good.’

In business and the economy Hillary Clinton has proposed “raising the median income.” Never mind that government does not produce income but rather redistributes wealth. She called for new “public investments,” and establishing an “infrastructure bank” to “ channel public and private funds.” Those were her words; government to channel funds. The government steers and the market only rows, in her view. Does government have a better record handling finances? Current US debt is $19 Trillion.

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton embraced intervention as her foreign policy, pressing for intervention in Libya against Barack Obama’s initial wariness of intervention, leaving Libya a failed State and a terrorist haven, not to mention the tragic September 11th, 2012 Benghazi attack that left 4 US diplomats dead including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens who was the first Ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979. In Iraq, the United States had intervened and occupied — and things had gone to hell. In Libya, the United States had intervened but not occupied — and things had gone to hell. And in Syria, the United States had neither intervened nor occupied — and things had still gone to hell. Obviously there is a broad debate about whether intervention is appropriate and how to strategize intervention in a tribal region that has trouble maintaining democracy. However, now in the embarrassing aftermath she has taken a position of categorical unaccountability stating “At the end of the day, this was the President’s decision.”

So if Hillary Clinton is a champion of government intervention and you believe in limited government what about Donald Trump?

Donald Trump passionately defends eminent domain, which is the right of the government to confiscate private property for government use. In an interview with Bret Baier on October 6th, 2015 he insisted that the compensated, involuntary transfer of private property by the government was in the public’s best interests. He first used the example of a government seizing land for a road or highway — generally the least controversial and most broadly supported use of eminent domain. But he quickly broadened his argument, insisting that government should always be allowed to take private land for development projects if the promised public benefits are big enough. “If you have a factory, where you have thousands of jobs, you need eminent domain, it’s called economic development,” Trump said. “Now you’re employing thousands of people and you’re able to build a factory, you’re able to build an Apple computer center, where thousands of people can work. You can do that, or you can say, ‘Let the man have his house.’”

Donald Trump has an affinity for using the courts. Donald Trump is named in at least 169 Federal lawsuits.  In the bulk of them he is a defendant but in more than 50 lawsuits he is a plaintiff and these lawsuits were waged because things haven’t gone his way, he didn’t get what he wanted, or brand and image were compromised. Trump threatened to sue Ted Cruz over a TV ad. He also promises, “One of the things I’m going to do if I win… I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” No Federal law currently exists that handles libel suits because they’re handled at the state level. Donald Trump has a deep-seated problem with free speech and his policies could seriously undermine our first constitutional right. Most limited-government supporters want to reform our legal system to cut down on frivolous lawsuits but Donald Trump wants to expand them and put in place Federal controls on free speech.

In regard to healthcare Donald Trump is quoted saying in an interview on 60 Minutes “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes. Everybody is going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.” A mantra that perpetuates the paternalism and expansiveness of the government. He goes on to say, “…the government’s gonna pay for it. But we’re going to save so much money on the other side. But for the most it’s going to be a private plan and people are going to be able to go out and negotiate great plans with lots of different competition with lots of competitors with great companies and they can have their doctors, they can have plans, they can have everything.” We can have everything with the governments help. That is Donald Trump’s message. He is also quoted in the 2016 CNN GOP debate saying, “I like the mandate,” meaning the government mandate to purchase a product (health insurance). Another quote from 2000 in The America We Deserve by Donald Trump he is quoted saying, “I’m a conservative on most issues but a liberal on this one. We should not hear so many stories of families ruined by health care expenses. We must not allow citizens with medical problems to go untreated because of financial problems or red tape. The Canadian plan also helps Canadians live longer and healthier than America. We need, as a nation, to reexamine the single-payer plan, as many individual states are doing.”

It is increasingly clear that Donald Trump is paternalistic in his view of the role of government. Much like his opponent he has the view that because we cannot help ourselves we need help from the government.

These are just a few examples of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s paternalistic philosophies and their big government approach. So, limited-government voter where does that leave you?

You will have four options for the General Election in November. A) vote for Donald Trump, B) vote for Hillary Clinton, C) write in a candidate/vote 3rd party, or D) don’t vote.

I am personally as disappointed as any voter who values limited government and individual liberty. I am forced to vote for a rock or a hard place and it’s unfortunate, it’s maddening. The culture of this country is changing and therefore the politics of this country are changing and let’s be honest it’s going more Left. Rather than pursuing a life for themselves more and more people want their living validated and provided for them. I fear that now, just as after the 60’s the Democratic Party left Liberalism and went to Leftism, the Republican Party is leaving Conservatism and embracing Populism. Sure, Donald Trump is a loyalist. He wants to secure the borders and protect the country, he supports your 2nd amendment right, he has business experience but our country isn’t only capitalist with a CEO dictating the dealings, it is also a Republic that is confined to its constitution. A constitution that has been revolutionary in its fundamental re-scripting of assumptions about government. Chief among them was the invention of popular sovereignty, a conception of the people as both rulers and ruled, who had none to govern but themselves. This concept was necessary to accommodate another innovation, federalism- the separation of the powers of government into national, state, county, city. Over two centuries, these solutions, radical for their time (and for ours), have been instrumental in the development of a more democratic and egalitarian nation. The Constitution also established a new but untested and controversial theory about the relationship between power and liberty.

So, this is my final argument to give credence and perhaps comfort to your vote this fall. The outcome of this election will be critical in determining the court’s future composition and the Supreme Court is paramount to interpreting our hallowed constitution.  The current Supreme Court consists of these members with the ones in bold nearing old age:

Liberal Appointees

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 83, a Bill Clinton appointee

Stephen Breyer, 78, a Bill Clinton appointee

Sonja Sotomeyer, 61, Barack Obama appointee

Elena Kagan, 56, Barack Obama appointee

 

Swing vote

Anthony Kennedy, 80, a Ronald Reagan appointee (he has been a notable swing vote, conceding to the left on several cases)

 

Conservative Appointees

Clarence Thomas, 67, George H.W. Bush appointee

Samuel Alito, 66, George W Bush appointee

John Roberts, 61, George W Bush appointee.

 

As you can see, 3 seats on the Supreme Court will be vacated in the next few years and one is currently available because Conservative Justice Scalia died this year. Four of the current SC Justices have a liberal voting record and three have a conservative voting record with one swing vote that tends to go more liberal. In essence, the court is currently 5-3 a liberal court.

With the addition of 4 Justices under a Clinton Presidency (with either she or Obama appointing the Scalia replacement) it would be 6-3 in favor of a national power view of the Constitution. Under a Trump Presidency it would either be 6-3 (if Obama appoints the Scalia successor) or 7-2 in favor of a local power view of the Constitution. Now, this assumes that Trump would appoint true Conservatives to the bench and not faux Conservatives like himself but he would feel the pressure from Republicans in Congress. Supreme Court Justices, depending on their age, can serve for 30 or 40 years on the bench. Think of how a one term President can influence the decades to come (hello FDR). How much more a 30-year Justice with a nationalist bent will undermine the revolutionary aspects of our constitution? It sounds relaxing to have a Leftist culture, country and court but at what cost? $19 Trillion plus and your sovereign life.

 

 

 

Donald Trump isn’t your guy, now what?

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

The-Fountain

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, hurdling 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 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 then 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 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 rather 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

Something needs to happen

-homicide, gun control and the American, or more directly, human experience

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In 2012 Chicago had 450 deaths by shooting, Detroit 350, LA over 500, New York City 400, Philly 300, D.C., where our legislators meet on capitol hill, 100.

Chicago’s murder rate matches all of Japan and is higher than Spain, Poland and pre-war Syria. But Chicago isn’t even the worst. New Orleans and Detroit are in competition year to year for the number 1 spot of most murders by firearm per 100,000 people.

Of course where there is a higher population there will be more murders. Let’s break it down by gun murders per 100,000 people. Chicago had 18 murders per 100,000, New Orleans 54, LA 7, Philly 21, NYC 5, D.C. 13, Detroit 57.

Interestingly, New York, California, Illinois and Pennsylvania have the strictest gun control laws yet house these cities with high murder rates by firearm.

Firearm related deaths in the US are 3 per 100,000. This paints a better picture but cannot be considered a relief.

65% of the time males are murdering other males. 22% of the time males are murdering females. 90% of black men kill other black men. 84% of white men kill other white men. Which busts the myth that racial tensions are leading to murder. An FBI statistic says while black Americans constitute less than 14 percent of the population, in more than one out of two homicides, the fatality is a black person.

Murder rates are falling but it could be due to the skill of medical professionals or the lack of proficiency of gunmen than decreased violence. Or could it be more?

Does being an NRA member predispose one to homicide? The NRA has 3 million members, which is a large number but is relatively small compared to the 70 million Americans who own a firearm. Lets say all firearm-related homicides were done with legally licensed firearms. Out of at least 70 million guns owned legally in the US 11,000 would be used to murder someone. This means most people who own a firearm don’t murder and even less people who own a firearm belong to the NRA. About half the NRA members have their firearm for protection and the other half for sport (hunting and target shooting). 74% of those that do belong to the NRA support expanded background checks at stores and gun shows.

What about gang-related homicides? Classification of a crime as gang-related is somewhat elusive much like a hate crime. The LAPD classifies a homicide as gang-related if the victim or the assailant is known to be a gang member but in some cases, a crime can be classified as gang-related if it occurs in a neighborhood where there’s an ongoing rivalry. In LA and Chicago 60% of homicides are gang related. NYC is much lower with 9% gang related homicides, which many accredit to the expansion of the ‘stop and frisk’ program under Rudy Guilliani.

Many homicides by firearm are committed by people with a criminal history. This speaks to recidivism. Recidivism is one of the most fundamental concepts in criminal justice. It refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime. Recidivism is measured by criminal acts that resulted in rearrest, reconviction or return to prison with or without a new sentence during a three-year period following the prisoner’s release. Within 3 years of release 2/3 were rearrested. Within 5 years of release 3/4 were rearrested.   71% of those that relapse are violent offenders. Why do offenders recidivate? Many offenders had an extensive criminal history before prison which means they were quite used to a lifestyle of crime. They had developed bad habits, criminal habits, and probably collaborated in these bad habits within their community making it quite easy to reacclimatize to their criminal lifestyle once immersed in their familiar environment again. Also, while in prison they’re exposed to inmates that have a higher propensity to crime and may increase criminal behavior and reinforce anti-social attitudes. In short, prison hardens many of them emotionally and gives them connections to even more criminal conditioning.

There is also the ‘broken windows theory’. Here are some examples of the theory:

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a pavement. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of refuse from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars because they’re inconspicuous from litter accumulation.

This describes the deterioration of neighborhoods into the downward spiral of crime.   Serious crime such as rape and murder are the final result of a lengthier chain of events. Mild disorder turns into major chaos if left unaddressed. The disorder also strikes fear into the minds of citizens who are convinced the area is unsafe. So the citizens withdraw from the community and it further falls into disrepair. There is physical disorder and social disorder. Physical disorder is run down buildings, abandoned vehicles, vacant lots filled with trash. Social disorder is panhandlers, noisy neighbors, groups of youth congregating on corners. While the broken windows theory may describe that a normally ‘good’ person may be persuaded into bad behavior and then act on it, it doesn’t explain what would tempt a person to see a broken window in an abandoned building and thus smash another one. Why one person would and another person wouldn’t smash the window is a crucial question.

A University of Texas study found that 84% of women and 91% of men have had at least one clear fantasy about committing murder. The idea of murder is not a monstrous deviation that only crazy killers think of. As the stats show many people fantasize about killing and nearly all people express a willingness to kill in some circumstances—to prevent being killed or to defend their children from killers. Interestingly, men indicated an increased willingness to kill when their status or reputation was threatened which are important qualities in attracting a mate. They also expressed a willingness to kill when their mating prospects become dire. Husbands that kill their wives often do so when they’ve discovered their spouse was cheating or after the couple has separated. 85% of these murders happen in the first year of the separation when it becomes clear that she won’t go back to him.

If a desire for a mate is not the impetus, it could be a desire for a drug or a desire for a piece of property or desire for a status.

The leading manifestations of homicide are ‘competition killing’ and ‘revenge killing’. Of course, there’s also random killing and disturbed mental health killings. But most homicides have motive. Most people don’t act on it but why not?

The why has to do with human nature and its conflict between right and wrong or good and evil. This manifests mentally as values and physically as the skill of restraint people have over their actions. This, in my opinion, is the most foundational point that needs to be addressed when confronting gun violence.

Something indeed needs to happen and that something is cultural. Change the values of the culture, equip people with better conflict managing skills, and everything else will fall in place the most it can. Of course, in this life because of our fallen nature there will never be utopia but reduction can happen.

Let’s start with the history of American culture, it sure has been rich hasn’t it? In the frontier days you had order but few laws, now you have laws but little order in many metropolises. We had the first pious Puritans, then the survival of the fittest vagabonds of the wild west, then the tragic era of enslavement, the turbulent toughness of new life experienced by the early tide of immigrants (mine were fleeing the potato famine in Ireland), the early gangs of New York, later the mafias, the depression of the 1920’s, women’s suffrage, the civil rights era, a revolution of ideas from the 1960’s, the rise of recreational drug use, several major wars, the ‘death of God’, the rise of popular culture and technology making our experiences and exposure ever so instant and global. America became a unique mosaic of different cultures and attitudes. Where does this leave us? Now. How does it leave us? Right where we started. With the problem of good, evil, brain chemistry, and social skills. It is a problem inherent in our nature.

As John Locke stated, self-defense is the first law of nature. Each human being owns his or her own life and no other person has a right to take that life. Those who would attempt to stop you from defending yourself, are attacking the very right from which all other rights are derived, protection of one’s own life.

Life is our only inalienable right and all other rights emanate from this. It’s no surprise then that our 2nd constitutional right is a right to bear arms. Defense of one’s life from death and tyranny is the substance of this right. It’s not mandatory for anyone else to save your life, though one does have a moral obligation to act on behalf of life, you are responsible for your life. A society that doesn’t value, or undervalues human life is one that breeds corruption.

Of course, you value your own life. A will to live is inherent to our nature. But what would compel us to value another’s life? If it’s your own opinion of right and wrong then what if you change your mind? Your opinion would be subject to the waxing and waning of your own heart or mind, right? Why would your definition have any more legitimacy or authority than another person’s definition? In other words, where does the all encompassing, inalienable right to life for human beings come from? It is no surprise that the value of life has deteriorated since the deterioration of an objective authority. Luckily, the value of the inalienable right to life still impresses on our laws and society even though many of us have discredited the authority from which this value comes. Most of us just accept that my neighbor’s life is valuable and that he has a right to live regardless of where this right comes from. Most, but not all. To many this right to live means little or worse yet, nothing.

Just like the broken window example. You start with their property and end up taking their life. If you don’t value the ownership someone has of their property then why would you value their person?

It could start very subtly. On the micro scale: eliminate the influence of the father, the absence of the father creates a poverty and dependency on the state, it creates a pressure on the mother to solely provide morals and care of basic needs and often the state shapes the child’s idea of right and wrong. On the macro scale: eliminate an objective authority, beef up state authority to take its place, undermine inalienable rights on behalf of popular opinion, undermine objective ideas of right and wrong. Over time, this perpetual cycle creates a hostile culture that is missing the influence of good morals and restraint on acts of evil. If accountability to fixed truths outside yourself are missing, then a domino effect takes place in which the citizen isn’t accountable to the family, to the community, to the human race. People that fantasize about murder but don’t become criminals have a respect for the value of life or at least a fear of the embarrassment or consequences if they were to commit crime. Interestingly, in the study I mentioned above most people who had a fantasy about murder but never acted on it said the reason was that they were afraid they would get caught. But I have an optimism that many also don’t act on it because they know it’s wrong.

If the values are missing then any object will do to get what one wants. A fist, a knife, a gun. These are all just instruments. While there is evil, an apathy for authority, a breakdown of family and community, disrespect for people’s lives, there is crime. Take away the guns. They’ll be replaced by some other instrument. Instill values, instill (dare I say) a fear of authority, cultivate social skills and you will see a reduction in the use of a gun, or any instrument, to take another’s life. How is this done? Familially, locally, spiritually, culturally. Capitol Hill is an abstraction. Capitol Hill won’t change one’s mind and it won’t prevent the act. It will only define the consequences.

*I believe there’s room for revelation too and I thank God for that

Something needs to happen

Play me that Mountain Music: out of many, one

mountain-music

“You’ve got to have smelt a lot of manure before you can sing like a hillbilly.” –Hank Williams Sr.

Country music has become the subject of the quintessential ‘eyeroll’ of the 21st Century. It, as well as the South in general has become the pariah of the intellectual hipster and the urban Progressive. Those that have hung onto a respect or even downright like of country music are thought to be one of the following: either an unintelligent clueless mainstream suburbanite or an unintelligent inbreeding red neck yokel. Either way they have extremely bad taste and are not sophisticated!

They are not as cool as we.

What’s a travesty about all this is that Country music is a deeply American creation, E Pluribus Unum, that has influence from the Calvinist morals of the Puritans, the folk songs and ballads of the emigrating English, Scot and Irish settlers to the Appalachians, the Jazz, Gospel and Blues from the Black community, and Ranchera from the Mexican community. Country music always had history and heritage entrenched in its bones while navigating the rootlessness of the new frontier. It was one of the first genres of music to speak plain about death and suffering, especially around the Civil War, while music at that time was often too syrupy in its sentimentality. Country music embraced the rugged, drawing on the reverent. It was born out of a time of perseverance and fortitude. Life was not cozy and affluent as it is now. You worked hard and you barely got by but by the grace of God. Mourning was a very acute emotion. Death and suffering was a cloak over the rural working South.

My pocketbook is empty

And my heart is filled with pain

I’m a thousand miles away from home

Just waiting for a train.

-Jimmie Rodgers

As I said, Country music is one of the clearest examples of Southern working-class attitudes toward life and death. Evangelical hymns and sermons in the rural South fostered Country Music. The Protestants that founded America brought a deeply devout way of thinking that included Reformed Theology (Calvinism) advocating greater purity of worship and doctrine, as well as personal and group piety. They were archaic survivalists coming from State control in England, Lowland Scotland and Ulster Northern Ireland. They are familiar with being ostracized and believe in the strength of the family as a survivalist method but also as a deeply religious value. Southerners mourn in their songs. They mourn their wife, their lover, and their children, even their dog. In modern times this is heckled and laughed at but unlike the Northeast in the 19th Century who established institutions to avoid suffering and death, the South digested tragedy, mourned suffering, always looking to the afterlife, the eternal. To the struggling Southerner who was deeply poor with low mortality rates and a laborers stoicism death, if God wills it, was often a relief, for the Lord is on the other side. Interestingly, suicide rates in the South were strikingly low. There was an understanding of our status as human beings, fallen, in need of regeneration, of the love for community to shoulder the suffering together and to live with Godly dignity, not suppressing suffering but accepting it.

“Of emotions, of love, of breakup, of love and hate and death and dying, mama, apple pie, and the whole thing. It covers a lot of territory, country music does.”  -Johnny Cash

Blues music, though that term was not coined yet, was born out of the black laborer slave community. The earliest blues-like music was a functional expression, rendered in a call-and-response style without accompaniment or harmony and unbounded by the formality of any particular musical structure that was rooted in the African American spirituals. It was later when the southern, black, ex-slave population was acculturated to a considerable degree by and among their Scots-Irish “redneck” neighbors. A common trait among Blues in the Black community and Country in the rural White community is both were generally regarded as poor people music, separate from the upper- and middle-classes. Which speaks to the bourgeoisie attitude, in fact prejudice, that still infects the intellectual and Progressive minds of today.

By the 1920’s broadcast radio made exposure for country music more available and the first country ‘hit’ was in 1923; Fiddlin’ John Carson’s album. By the late 20’s the fiddle and guitar began replacing the traditional banjo. The Appalachian dulcimer, mandolin, and harmonica also turned up on the scene. The Great Depression forced many rural whites into industrial areas where the genre was influenced by modern Blues and Gospel music with the sub-genre Boogie Woogie which was Blues with a dance beat focus.

In the 1930’s Texas-Oklahoma region Country started developing an influence from Swing-Jazz and came to feature the steel guitar. In the 1940’s Honky-Tonk music developed including a steel guitar-fiddle combination with its roots in Western Swing and the Ranchera music of Mexico. Also during the 1940’s Bluegrass emerged out of a nostalgic yearning to bring Country music back to its roots. Nashville was established as Country music’s studio city with the help of Hank Williams. The term “Country and Western music” (later shortened to “Country music”) was adopted by the recording industry in 1949 to replace the derogatory label “Hillbilly music” that was coined in 1925.

By the 50’s and 60’s Country music was a full blown commercial success with the advancement of Rockabilly that some describe as a combination of Country and Rhythm and Blues as others describe it as a blend of Bluegrass and Rock-n-roll of which Elvis Presley is the most notorious example.

The 1970’s saw Outlaw music rise up with music recorded outside the corporate Nashville sound from such artists as Willy Nelson. Southern Rock also established during this period blending Bluegrass and Boogie with Rock producing such artists as Lynyrd Skynyrd.  The gap between Country music and Pop narrowed during this time as the electric guitar took prominence. By the 80’s and 90’s country went pop. Today there is a multi-genre diversity in Country music with inclusion of Pop, Rock, Hip hop, even Techno.

One can say Country music as it is today bares no resemblance to the Americana it evolved from but he would have to be intellectually honest about all genres of music as they stand today. Popular culture and commercial sales changed music. All music. Nothing is what it was but one could argue that the soul of the music still lingers in the unconscious backdrop of the Country song. What music more clearly shows its soul than Country in which you will still catch its artists singing of God, family, community, suffering, death and mourning, reverence and humility, and perseverance? And heck, modernity introduced into the music the luxury of fun, aint nothin’ wrong with that.

Play me that Mountain Music: out of many, one

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?

The metamorphosis of Shia LaBeouf

'Nymphomaniac Volume I (long version)' Premiere - 64th Berlinale International Film Festival

“When seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”   -Eric Cantona (French soccer player and actor, following a media frenzy over an assault on a fan) and later repeated by Shia LaBeouf as he walked out of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac press conference

There is an antagonizing duality that comes with celebrity. Being innovative, creative and heroic like the first celebrities, the ancient Greek athletes, and being a mere human being with all its fallibility. There are two curiosities about Shia LaBeouf. Who does he hope to be and who is he? Does he even know himself? Should anyone care? One thing that’s clear… he’s oscillating.

Shia was inducted into Hollywood when he was 14 years old in the tv show Even Stevens on the Disney Channel. At 21 he starred in the film Disturbia that is a moderately well done run-of-the-mill teenage thriller and the widely circulated big budget film Transformers. If one is keeping track they’re coming to the conclusion at this point that Shia is not interested in anything more than becoming famous and making lots of money. For years I discounted him as another manufactured star churned out by the Disney machine. Certainly he’s not interested in quality let alone anything avante garde.

He had a seemingly predictable Hollywood upbringing of partying and alcohol consumption. In 2007 he had a DUI arrest and was kicked out of Walgreens for misdemeanor criminal trespassing while heavily intoxicated. In 2011 he had an altercation while drunk at a bar in which he threatened to assault a guy who called him a name and instead he himself got punched in the face. There was another bar fight in Vancouver in 2011 and one more in London in 2014. This all reads very ordinary and very predictable of a well financed 20 something maturing in front of the paparazzi camera.

He was in an Indiana Jones and two more Transformers before it seems that something sparked in his brain.

In 2012 he started to disembark from the Hollywood studio hinges.

He became meta.

He started pursuing more creative endeavors. He released 3 graphic novels, was cast in the cerebral and eclectic band Sigur Ros’ controversial music video about desire and addiction in which he is in the nude. He was cast in a Broadway play in Feb. 2013 but was fired for feuding with Alec Baldwin.

By the end of 2013 his semi-divorce from Hollywood seems to have reached an apex. Two of the graphic novels he wrote were revealed in 2013 to have been plagiarized. Then his short film HowardCantour.com was revealed to have been plagiarized and his apology for plagiarizing was plagiarized. What follows is either a conciliatory attempt at humility, a rebranding for the sake of hubris or a frenetic effort to become the artist he always wanted to be but was restricted from by his ascent towards A-list status.

A spiral of what to some seems downward is to Shia the beginning of a meta-modernist art installation.

  • Jan 2014 Shia takes to Twitter and says it’s his outlet for ‘meta-modernist   performance art’
  • 2014, Shia walked out of the Berlin Film Festival press conference for the provocateur Director Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac quoting “When seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”   Later at the red carpet showing of Nymphomaniac he showed up wearing a paper bag over his head that read ‘I am not famous anymore’
  • 2014, two days after the red carpet showing Shia performs an art installation called #IAMSORRY in which he sat in a room with a paper bag on his head wearing a tuxedo. Attendees were invited to select an object (symbolic of moments from Shia’s past) and enter the room one at a time to do as they wish. Some of the implements were a Transformers toy, an Indiana Jones whip, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, a pair of pliers, a ukulele, a bowl full of hateful tweets directed at LaBeouf, and a copy of Clowes‘s book (that Shia plagiarized) The Death-Ray
  • 2014 Following the art installation Shia had skywriting done that said #startcreating that was the converse of his skywriting a month earlier (in response to Crowe’s cease and desist letter) that said #stopcreating
  • May 2014 he took part in a performance called “meditations for narcissists” in which he and attendees jumped rope for an hour
  • June 2014, Shia is kicked out of a Caberet performance on Broadway for drunken disorderly conduct and arrested. He stood up and screamed out at the actors and was later seen crying outside the venue and had spat at arresting officers
  • In 2014 he gave a lecture on ‘metamodernism’. He and a collaborator define metamodernism as “the mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt, in pursuit of a plurality of disparate and elusive horizons,” and concluding with a call to “go forth and oscillate!

Check out the manifesto. Does it make sense to you?  http://www.metamodernism.org 

  • 2014 it was revealed that a woman “raped” Shia during his #IAMSORRY art installation

When the old gods withdraw, the empty thrones cry out for a successor, and with good management, or even without management, almost any perishable bag of bones may be hoisted into the vacant seat.   -E.R. Dodds, “The Greeks and the Irrational”

This art installation is sounding eerily familiar to Joaquin Phoenix’s stunt five years earlier in Casey Affleck’s mockumentary I’m Still Here. Is this the new Millennial quarter life crisis for celebrities or is this a rebirth? Are these the artistic ideas of someone shattering boundaries, expanding horizons, and embracing chaos in an effort to reach truth? Or is this someone that has been weaned from a very American, very affluent idea of what ‘soul searching’ is? Is meta soul searching a bunch of nonsense that allows belligerence and excuses immaturity? What does it mean to be both naïve and knowing, ironic and sincere? I have a feeling that his adaptation of the paradox is not the kind Mother Teresa was talking about when she spoke of love and loss. It must be a strange thing to try to be a famous artist yet a human being in the ‘meta-modern’ world of American pop culture.

I, for one, found Shia’s performance art in Sigur Ros’ and Sia’s videos to be a breath of fresh air for an actor I discounted as a clone. I hope he keeps questioning for the sake of truth and doesn’t get lost in the meaningless gibberish that is the pop culture idea of art. Eventually the journey should lead to something productive, objective and timeless otherwise it’s a lot of time wasted on ones vanity. And God, keep him from his transgressions that are broadcast to the world. Or at the very least grant him privacy in this digital age.

The metamorphosis of Shia LaBeouf