Friday, May 31, 2013

Like a true Nature's child, we were born, born to be ..., well, apparently it was a mistake

The 60s campus radicals who now run our universities (the ones who did the sit-ins in the administration offices but who now officially occupy them), having apparently given up on improving their students minds, are now engaged in helping them change their gender.

The new idea hatched by the Cult of Diversity: subsidize sex-change operations:
A number of elite private institutions, such as Duke and Yale, have recently added sex-change operations to the list of covered health-care procedures, raising student fees in order to pay for it. The operations and treatments can run higher than $50,000 for a single student.
To Timothy Leary's "Turn on, Tune in, Drop out" we can now add: Transmutate.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

In Defense of Classical Education

Several years ago, a prominent homeschool personality, let’s call him “Mr. Jones” (The names have been changed to protect the mistaken), wrote a broadside in a popular magazine against classical education, leveling a number of charges against it. These arguments were representative of the criticisms you sometimes hear from those who have a misapprehension of what classical education is and how it is practiced. So I wrote a response. The following article is an abridged version of that response that appears in the new edition of The Classical Teacher

As classical education has become more popular among Christian educators, it has acquired not only friends, but a few enemies. Mr. Jones is one of these latter individuals, and he articulates a number of arguments against classical education. Let’s take each one of these arguments in turn.

Is classical education pagan? 
Jones’ first argument is that classical education has pagan origins. It “traces its roots to the pagan Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle around 500-400 B.C.” This charge is absolutely correct. Classical education was the original invention of the Greeks and Romans. Only later was it taken by Christians and fashioned into the system of classical education that has lasted, in a few places, even to today.

The problem with this argument, however, is that these same charges could be leveled individually against mathematics, geography, music, astronomy, and history as a separate and distinct method of study. In fact, education as we know it—education itself—was an invention of the Greeks.

There are many things that originated with the pagans that we should reject. But we should not reject them because they are pagan: We should reject them because they are false. There are many truths the pagans discovered. Should we reject them just because a pagan discovered them?

Is classical education only for the upper class? 
Jones says, “It promised to make members of the upper class witty and interesting among their peers in any setting.” Maybe there are some people who educate classically because they are interested in becoming witty and interesting. I’m not sure I wouldn’t like to be witty and interesting myself (and there have been a few occasions when I would have liked to have been upper class as well).

“I have heard a number of parents boast about the highly intellectual books their children are reading,” adds Jones. Parents, of course, boast about a lot of things when it comes to their children, and it certainly doesn’t require the provocation of classical education to prompt them to do so.

Jones says that “knowledge without virtue produces arrogance.” Yes, but that is because anything without virtue can produce arrogance. That is no argument against knowledge per se: It is simply to say that anything can be used badly. When Jesus admonished the Pharisees for thinking that their strict adherence to the Law made them better than others, He didn’t argue against the Law; rather, He argued against the use they made of it. There is an old Latin saying: Abusus non tollit usum (The abuse of something does not nullify its proper use.)

It’s a saying thought up by a pagan, but it is true nonetheless.

Arrogance does not require a great deal of knowledge. Arrogance, in fact, works just fine with only a little of it. Any educational philosophy that decides to limit the amount of knowledge it imparts in order to solve this problem will do little to solve it. As G. K. Chesterton pointed out, you could solve the problem of pick-pocketing by eliminating pockets, but that’s probably not the best solution. Such a solution won’t necessarily create humble people, just ignorant ones. In fact, ignorance can produce its own sort of arrogance. And if that sounds far-fetched, then you’ve never seen today’s youth culture up close and personal.

Jones assails classical education because “it was never intended to prepare someone to make a living or support a family.” There is an element of truth here. Classical education does not share in the modern assumption that the purpose of education is to get a job. As former U.S. Department of Education Secretary Bill Bennett has pointed out, education is the “architecture of the soul.” The idea behind classical education (otherwise known as a “liberal arts” education) is that a person should be educated in such a way that he is fitted, not for a job, but for life.

A liberal arts education, in fact, does a better job preparing students for jobs because it fits a student for any occupation he might choose as an adult, not by teaching him job skills, which schools are singularly ill-fitted to do, but by teaching him how to think.

Classical education was, in fact, the education of the aristocracy. But that is largely because the aristocracy was the only class that received a formal education. The aristocracy was, historically and for the most part, also the only class that had any meaningful political freedom (or enough to eat). Classical education was the education required of political leaders. But in a democratic republic, we are now the political leaders, which is why we now need this kind of education.

Does a knowledge of Latin and Greek have practical value? 
Jones says of Latin and Greek: “Today there is very little practical reason to study either language.” While their study will certainly do little to help you to work on an assembly line, flip hamburgers, or sweep floors, Latin and Greek were and still are the languages of learning. Latin is the root of the vocabulary of the sciences, law, and theology. It is the origin of over 60 percent of our academic English vocabulary and was the very language of Christendom for over a thousand years. It is the mother tongue of Western civilization. It was the language of the Christian Middle Ages—and of the Reformation. It was also, along with Greek, the language of the Church fathers.

And let’s not forget that the New Testament itself was written in Greek. In fact, all of the Bible verses Jones quotes were originally written in the language he condemns as being of little practical use. With all the debate that goes on over which translation of the Bible is better, the one who knows how to read it in the original language is in the best position. Is it not a practical advantage to be able to read the Bible in the language in which it was written?

The benefits of studying Latin in particular are manifold and well established. A study of Latin is quite simply the best way to learn English; it is also the best thinking skills course that a young student can engage in because of the grammatical manipulations it requires. Because of its systematic and regular nature, it is an excellent study skills course, since it requires disciplined attention, an ability that must be cultivated and that has tangible benefits for other subjects the student might attempt.

Is classical education humanistic? 
Jones also argues that the content of classical education is humanistic. “Humanism,” he says, is its “central premise.” But what does it mean to say that a belief is “humanistic”? Does it mean something anti-Christian, as in “secular humanism”? Or does it mean something quite different, such as the “Christian humanism” of Church fathers such as Basil of Caesarea, John Chrysostom, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzen, or later Christian humanists of the Renaissance such as Erasmus, Thomas More, as well as the great 19th century Christian educational thinker John Henry Newman?

Man, though not the “measure of all things” as the Greek Protagoras is reputed to have said, is nonetheless God’s highest creation. The kind of humanism that rejects God is certainly itself to be rejected. But the Christian humanism that sees man as the one creature created in God’s image and having the dignity consonant with that distinction is another story altogether.

Is logic merely the “reason of man”?
We have already discussed Jones’ arguments against Latin. He also assails logic.
[T]his phase [the dialectic stage] emphasizes the reason of man. According to the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the wisdom of God is neither sought nor applied. ... Among other things, this concept teaches that we cannot believe what we cannot see and prove. Everything is to be questioned, and nothing is assumed to be true. How is this ‘scientific’ approach reconciled with God’s requirement that we have faith and believe what we cannot see or prove?
Ironically, the argument that logic excludes faith is one commonly made by atheist rationalists. But it’s no more true when it comes from the pen (or the keyboard) of a Christian. But even more ironic is this: If Jones’ argument is sound, then it must be rejected, since it is not (according to his own assertion) the wisdom of God. He is clearly attempting to set forth an argument (presumably a logical one). But can you use logic to argue against logic? This, of course, is completely self-defeating.

It is very hard to assess the reasons of those who profess to be opposed to reason.

If as Christians we are to avoid argument, then why does Jones argue against classical education? If reason is not the wisdom of God, then why should we accept Jones’ reasons?

But the problem does not end with the inconsistent nature of his reasoning. Jones makes a number of assertions that are either unsupported or unsupportable. It is simply false to say that, in logic, everything is questioned and nothing is assumed. In fact, this is precisely what premises in an argument are: assumptions. And the truth of the premises is a matter for either faith or science. You can reason just the same way about a truth known by revelation as you can about truth known by science. In fact, it has been done for over two thousand years.

If anyone wants to see logic used in the service of faith, he need only open up the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas to the first page. Or, for that matter, the Pauline epistles, which are filled with arguments on matters of faith. In fact, a simple perusal of Paul’s Mars Hill discourse would seem to indicate that the best way to deal with unbelievers is not to abandon logic, but to use it better than they do.

Jones says that logic is the “reason of man.” Does he mean that men invented the laws of logic? Is the law of non-contradiction, for example (that a statement cannot be true and false at the same time under the same circumstances), a human invention? In truth, the laws of logic are no different in this sense than the rules of multiplication, which, as Plato points out in the Republic, were discovered, not invented. They were already there, the products of an ordered universe created by a rational God.

In fact, I know of no pagan philosopher who would say what Jones says pagans believed about logic.

Jones also seems to suggest that Jesus avoided the use of logic. “On many occasions,” he says, “Jesus was silent when he could have argued persuasively.” Yes, and on many occasions Jesus argued persuasively when he could have been silent.

When asked about the woman caught in adultery, for example, the woman was brought to Him, and He was asked what should be done with her. If He followed the law and ordered her to be stoned, the crowd would have thought Him harsh; if He said to set her free, He would be seen as being in violation of the law. Instead, Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” This is a logical technique called “slipping between the horns of a dilemma,” and is one the three ways of responding to dilemmas.

Any good logician knows it.

When Jesus says, “Thou canst not serve both God and mammon,” he is articulating what, in traditional logic, is called a “conjunctive hypothetical” syllogism:

Either P or Q
Not Q
Therefore, P

When Jesus heals the paralytic, he is questioned by the scribes and Pharisees: “Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus responds by saying, “Which is easier: to say ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee,’ or ‘Arise and walk’?” This is called an a fortiori argument: which means, in Latin, “from the stronger.” If you can do the harder thing, then you must be able to do the easier thing. Therefore, the easier thing must be possible. In other words, "You think my saying 'your sins are forgiven' is hard? Watch this.”

I’m not saying that Jesus was trained in logic, of course. When you are the Logos Itmself, there is very little need for formal training.

If, as Christians, we are not to engage in argument, then why does Jesus do it?

In fact, Jones seems to want to ignore I Peter 3:15 entirely: “But sanctify the Lord in your hearts and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”

Is the practice of rhetoric immoral? 
Finally, Jones discusses rhetoric, the art of persuasion, the last leg of the classical trivium. Like logic, Jones assails rhetoric for being fundamentally amoral: “Like the grammar and dialectic stage,” he says, “it holds to no moral considerations.”

He quotes, as he does several times in his article, the Encyclopedia Britannica. He would have done better to consult the primary sources on this issue. If he had done this, he would know that the views he quotes as characterizing the discipline of rhetoric were the Sophists’ views of rhetoric, not those of its greatest classical exponents.

Quintilian, the greatest of the ancient teachers of rhetoric, considers virtue essential to the rhetor:
Proceeding to moral philosophy or ethics, we may note that it at any rate is entirely suited to the orator. For vast as is the variety of cases, ... there is scarcely a single one which does not at some point or another involve the discussion of equity and virtue, ... Again, in deliberative assemblies how can we advise a policy without raising the question of what is honorable? Nay, even the third department of oratory, which is concerned with the tasks of praise and denunciation, must without a doubt deal with questions of right and wrong. — Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory, Bk I, Chs. 1-3, 12 
Quintilian makes a point later to say that the very purpose of rhetoric was to produce the “good man, speaking well.” Hardly an indictment of morality. But he could as easily have found the same belief expressed by Aristotle, the greatest theoretician of rhetoric, or Cicero, its greatest practitioner. He could also have found the ethical implications of rhetoric discussed by Augustine, whose book On Christian Doctrine applied the rhetorical teachings of classical thinkers to the teaching of Christianity.

Besides, if the art of persuasion is inherently anti-Christian, then why should we be persuaded by Jones? How, other than by persuasion, does he purport to persuade us that we should not teach rhetoric to our children?

For all of Jones’ criticisms of classical education for its tendency to create a questioning mind, he asks a surprising number of questions for which he provides no answer.

In his discussion of logic, Jones argues against it on the grounds that it produces a questioning mind that leaves things unsettled. “The premise is to question everything and accept nothing as certain.” Yet at the end of his article, what does he recommend? “There are many questions to answer, but the important thing is to ask them and then find peace with the answer.” The classical writers Jones criticizes for their lack of concern for the truth would never have left an issue with such an indefinite conclusion. And they never would have said that the goal of asking questions was “peace.”

The goal of asking questions, they would have said, was to find an answer. A true one.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Kalb Speaks: How to escape the Matrix

Technology, says James Kalb, "leaves out what concerns us most." And yet technology and the education that now exalts it is what we're all supposed to focus on in our educational institutions.

In order to combat this tendency, says Kalb, we must restoring "an understanding of the world that has a place for intelligence and meaning." We must "accept that the world is ordered by reason and meaning":
Academic study itself is less a matter of pure critical thinking oriented toward radically autonomous decision than the transmission of a tradition of inquiry and understanding directed on the one hand toward the good, beautiful, and true, and on the other toward leadership and wisdom. Education is always education into a community based on an understanding of man and the world, so it should always have a religious component and emphasize substantive cultural content. For that reason, liberal education should see itself as fundamentally religious, and emphasize something very much like study of the classics. A religious setting makes it possible to make sense of all else, while classical studies provide the discipline of close attention to extremely high-quality texts that present the viewpoint of free and active men capable of handling whatever comes their way. It is hard to imagine a better school for leadership and wisdom, or for the search for truth.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Herald-Leader agrees with Family Foundation on Instant Racing case. Really

I never thought I'd see the day.

The Lexington Herald-Leader actually editorialized in favor of The Family Foundation's argument that it didn't get the opportunity to take discovery in the Instant Racing case:
... When the foundation sought to learn more about this type of wagering, the court turned it down, ultimately giving the other parties the green light. The Kentucky Court of Appeals agreed with the foundation. 
Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Lambert, writing for the majority, noted that the issues involved "are complex," including how the wagers are pooled and the odds determined, and whether a video of an historical race is actually a horse race under Kentucky law. But the trouble is those questions can't be answered without information.
As Lambert wrote, "the role of discovery in the litigation process can hardly be overstated." 
Read more here.

Is Biology Natural? Now we believe biology produces morality, now we don't

I have long wondered what the connection was between the New Atheist ideology and their almost universal support for same-sex marriage in particular and, in general, their impatience with any position that views heterosexuality as normative.

There is a clear symmetry in biology between male and female. If anything goes together biologically, they do. And biology points to this in the strongest way it possibly could.

Now I don't believe that normativity has any necessary connection to biology or any other science. But the interesting thing is that they do. Or at least most of them.

You have a minority of New Atheists who take their materialist determinism to its logical conclusion, who claim that there is no free will and that consequently deny human responsibility (e.g., Alex Rosenberg, Sam Harris, etc.), but most of the New Atheists don't take their own scientistic beliefs to their logical conclusion and claim instead that morality somehow comes out of biological states.

Let's state that more strongly (because they do): Biology produces morality.

They don't have any good reason for believing this, mind you. When you ask them, they just produce some dreamy science mythology on the order of: "Well you see man in his early development began his development thus, and then he continued to develop this way and that, and then he became a moral creature--the "then" here being a conjunction masquerading as a logical therefore. They believe that somehow putting the arrival of the moral sense in a temporal sequence had some logically explanatory force, which, of course, it does not.

But for these latter atheists biology is the very thing that produced the normative. They believe this on every normative issue. Biology produces morality on ever issue ...

Except one: human sexuality.

When it comes to human sexuality, where the normatively-charged biology clearly points to the male and the female as being complementary, all of a sudden they mysteriously abandon the belief in the normative nature of biology.

Biology determines morality on every issue but this one. Morality arises from biology for everything but the reproductive organs which, as I have pointed out before, are no longer for reproduction because (and here they have a massive memory lapse about everything they have said about morality before this point) nothing is for anything.

Biology produces morality. Remember that. Except when we talk about sex. Then we need to completely forget it and pretend we never said it.

To say, as traditional peoples--including homosexuals themselves up until recent times--that homosexuality is "not natural" is now a laughable thing to say. It is as if biology were, oh, I don't know, natural.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Decline of Western Civilization: A User's Guide

Last year was the 25th anniversary of the publication of The Closing of The American Mind, by Allan Bloom. A new edition of the book was issued, and numerous retrospectives were published. I resolved to go back and read it.

I remember it being good, but I don't remember it being quite as good as it really is. The Closing of the American Mind may just be the best book every written on the cultural catastrophe in the midst of which we find ourselves. The only thing mitigating the book's prophetic status is that it was written in medias res, unlike, for example, Richard Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences, which founded its prophecy of the decline of the West on observations of the crisis when it was in its embryonic form.

Bloom's observations came after the thing had been born, when its depraved behavior had already manifested itself, and after its depradations had already begun to tell. Still his foresight is astounding.

There is this comment about the ultimate conflict between the two sole values of the cultural left: freedom and equality, as it has manifested itself in the issue of pornography:
The sexual revolution marched under the banner of freedom, feminism under that of equality. Although they went arm in arm for a while, their differences eventually put them at odds with one each other, as Tocqueville said freedom and equality would always be. This is manifest in the squabble over pornography, which pits liberated sexual desire against feminist resentment about stereotyping. We are presented with the amusing spectacle of pornography clad in armor borrowed from the heroic struggles for freedom of speech, and using Miltonic rhetoric, doing battle with feminism, newly draped in the robes of community morality, using arguments associated with conservatives who defend traditional sex roles, and also defying an authoritative tradition in which it was taboo to suggest any relation between what a person reads and sees and his sexual practices. In the background stand the liberals, wringing their hands in confusion because they wish to favor both sides and cannot. 
After all, we don't want to be too terribly consistent in our left-wing values. A little reflection, with the help of an ancient playwright, will show just what that would mean:
But some of the harshness of nature asserted itself beneath the shattered conventions: the young were more apt to profit from the revolution than the old, the beautiful more than the ugly. The old veil of discretion had had the effect of making these raw and ill-distributed natural advantages less important in life and marriage. But now there was little attempt to apply egalitarian just in these matters, as did Aristophanes' older Athenian women who [in his play The Assembly of Women], because of their very repulsiveness, had a right to enjoy handsome young men before beautiful young women did. The undemocratic aspects of free sex were compensated for in our harmless and mildly ridiculous way: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" was preached more vigorously than formerly; the cosmetics industry had a big boom; and education and therapy in the style of Masters and Johnson, promising great orgasms to every subscriber, became common. My favorite was a course in sex for the elderly given at a local YMCA and advertised over the radio with the slogan "Use It or Lose It."
And dare we mention the disparate effects of the sexual revolution on the rich and the poor? Angelina Jolie can have a preemptive double mastectomy, announce it to the world as if other women should do the same thing, and not bother to mention the fact that very few of the women she apparently thinks should follow her example have anything close to the means to afford either the procedure itself (which health insurance would not cover) or the pricey reparative surgery she utilized to hide the fact that she unhid to the world.

Get a copy and weep—either because you agree with it and lament what is happening to your culture—or because you disagree with it and can't deny what he has to say.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Are science and religion incompatible? More stupid atheist tricks

It's so hard to be an atheist. It involves so terribly much faith that you have to believe with so awfully much fervor.

In his recent post being touted over at Project Reason, Sean Carroll, an atheist physicist, reiterates the fact that he does not take money from the Templeton Foundation because Templeton believes that science and religion can be reconciled. Why science and religion need to be "reconciled" (I'm not sure if this is Templeton's term or Carroll's) is a little mysterious.

Things only need be reconciled when they are at odds. But since science and religion are not at odds, they have no need to be reconciled.

What would we think if someone asked whether history and economics could be "reconciled?" Or mathematics and sociology? Or literature and physics?

Carroll asks questions like this because he is an atheist and he sees his scientific work through the lens of his scientific materialism. In fact, much of what you hear from the New Athiests (of which Carroll is one) is the product of this central equivocation between science and scientism. Atheists like Carroll think they are one and the same despite the fact that, well, they aren't.

In his post, he reiterates the same assertion he has made before:
Think of it this way. The kinds of questions I think about—origin of the universe, fundamental laws of physics, that kind of thing—for the most part have no direct impact on how ordinary people live their lives. No jet packs are forthcoming, as the saying goes. But there is one exception to this, so obvious that it goes unnoticed: belief in God. Due to the efforts of many smart people over the course of many years, scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality have by a wide majority concluded that God does not exist. We have better explanations for how things work. The shift in perspective from theism to atheism is arguably the single most important bit of progress in fundamental ontology over the last 500 years. And it matters to people … a lot.
Did you get the argument here? A "wide majority" of "scholars" have "concluded" that "God does not exist." Seriously. This is what New Atheists consider a competent argument.

Do we really determine the answers to important questions like this by taking a head count? A question is settled by majority vote? A majority of whom? Contemporary scholars? 21st century scholars? Scholars over the last 100 years? The total number of scholars who have ever existed?

Who is he talking about? How does he know this? Is there a study that has shown this? Who did it include? When was it done? Who conducted it?

Carroll clearly doesn't know the first thing about how science and religion relate to one another. A link from this post takes us to one of his previous posts where he argues that because religions make miracle claims: "And science says: none of that is true. So there you go, incompatibility."

Huh? Where has "science" shown that, say, the Resurrection (one of the miracles he mentions) is not true? What study has shown this? Who conducted it and when was it conducted? What piece of evidence is there that militates against it?

The only reason atheists like Carroll aren't laughed out of civilized discourse is because so many people are philosophically naive--that and the mere utterance of the word "science" has an incantational effect.

If I were Templeton, I wouldn't worry about Carroll not taking my money for scholarship on this question. If this is the level of discourse at which he operates, it would be embarrassing to be associated with him at all.

Family Foundation files brief in Instant Racing Case

I was quoted in yesterday's Lexington Herald-Leader story on Instant Racing, an issue now before the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

If Thy Breasts Offend Thee ...

At a time when it is no longer controversial for the media to publicly display body parts, it takes a public display of the absence of body parts to get our attention.

The big news today is that Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy in order to avoid the 87 percent chance of contracting breast cancer. Now I would normally have no public comment on the body parts of a famous actress. In fact, I’m trying to think of what my reaction would have been if someone had told me when I started this blog eight years ago that I would one day be writing about the cultural consequences of the loss of Angelina Jolie’s breasts.

But, since we have now all been made aware of this fact about Jolie—by Jolie herself, magnified past all measure by the media—it’s kind of hard not to say something about it.

In fact, I’m sure Angelina Jolie’s body parts will be the chief topic tonight on all the talk shows. Anderson Cooper, Piers Morgan and Erin Burnett will all be asking people how they feel about their removal. Sanjay Gupta will give us his medical opinion about whether it was wise, and perhaps even Gloria Borger will be brought in to wax eloquent on its political ramifications.

So I guess the first question to ask is why were we made aware of this? Is there some particular reason we all needed to know about it?

Jolie made her announcement in the New York Times (And let’s admit it: How many of us have found ourselves announcing our own sensitive medical information in a major newspaper?). And there's nothing like major news about a famous actresses breasts to push the media into action (But not for the reasons you might think).

One woman interviewed on NPR this morning went on and on about how glad she was that Jolie announced this to the world because it let other people know that they too could lop off body parts to avoid disease.

Of course, that’s not exactly how she put it.

But clearly there is the sense that Jolie’s announcement was in some sense salutary. Jolie clearly thinks so: “… I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience,” she says in her Times article.

Of all the things about which we formerly thought our consciousnesses needed to be raised, Angelina Jolie’s breasts probably would not have made the list. Just yesterday, when she still possessed them (or so we thought, if we were thinking about it, which we weren't), it would not have been self-evident to most of us that we needed to know a terrible lot about them. But apparently now that she has had them removed, it is not only necessary, but imperative.

Since health is now our culture’s religion (the other, real religions having been relegated to a sideline status), acts such as these take on a sacramental status. Smoking bans constituted the First Crusade, eliminating trans fats the Second. Banning soft drinks was the chief aim of the Third Crusade, and now the removal of glands takes its place in the litany of salvific acts. What’s next? Actual bodily organs?

They can pry my kidneys from my cold, dead hands.

In fact, Jolie says her doctor told her she also had a 50 percent chance of contracting ovarian cancer. I guess those have to go too—and surely their removal will be accompanied by a high profile public announcement.

There are a lot of trends that can be traced to Tinseltown, but so far they have been limited to things like what you wear and how you do your hair. But now gland removal has joined Botox on the list of celebrity fashions. Christina Applegate and Sharon Osbourne had the same preventative procedure as Jolie.

Breast removal. It’s all the rage.

St. Angelina is now the subject of hagiographic treatment for her double mastectomy. “Angelina Jolie’s brave message,” read a CNN headline. “Angelina Jolie,” blared Wonkette, “got her ****s chopped off. Yay Angelina!” It was “absolutely heroic,” said parnter Brad Pitt (an expedient thing to say for someone vying for higher marital office).

But even if removing body parts was really necessary and health inducing in this case, in what sense is having surgery to avoid potential harm for yourself “heroic”? Last time I checked, heroism was what we called acts that saved other people’s lives, not our own. But this is Hollywood, where playing a heroic role counts as heroism.

What was I thinking?

Since the traditional version of heroism—which involved doing things for the benefit of others—has no more attraction for our individualistic culture, heroism now consists of doing things for your own benefit and then telling other people you did them so they can better do things for their own benefit so that you can feel better about doing it for your own benefit.

Angelina did it for us. Sort of.

Jolie also makes a point to tell us that she is no less a woman because she had a double mastectomy: “On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.”

Again, is this something we have a burning need to know? We live in a country in which in many places you can get married to someone of the same sex or be “transgender” and be applauded for it. I mean, heck, we live in a culture that tells us that we don’t have to be female to be feminine.

On a personal note, I don’t feel any less of a woman. Having XY chromosomes in no way diminishes my femininity.

Not everyone is so adulatory about Jolie’s surgery. In fact, medical professionals are coming out of the woodwork pointing out that that new medical technology most likely makes a decision like Jolie’s unnecessary—if it was, in fact, necessary without the new medical technology.

But let’s not dwell on that. It might mean that Jolie’s action—and her high profile public revelation of it—might actually drive other women to remove their body parts for no good reason.

And what would be heroic about that?

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Anthony Esolen: The modern lack of philosophical common sense

Anthony Esolen, writing in the new issue of Touchstone Magazine:
The wise men of our day have been busy inverting our commonsense perception of things. They tell us, with the hair-tossing flippancy of a sophomore, that a thing is nothing but the aggregate of matter that composes it. I illustrate for my students the madness of that instance of the compositional fallacy by scratching my arm. There go fifty thousand cells. "I'm not the man I used to be," I say. So determined are the wise men to deny God, they will gladly deny also the existence of perduring things, and even of real personal identity.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Another reason for libertarians to care about the marriage debate

John Milbank's article on same-sex "marriage" has an interesting implication for the libertarians who profess to stand for individualism but don't think traditional marriage is important enough to defend. One of the central ramifications of Milbankian thesis is that marriage is an essential buffer between the individual and the state--a buffer, in other words, necessary to protect the individual against the state.

 Libertarians (who often pose as conservatives) have been among the first to flee the fight for marriage. They think that all they need to adequately defend individualism is, well, a defense of individualism. What they don't realize is that by abandoning mediating institutions like the family, they are unwittingly countenancing the deterioration of institutions as mediating institutions. And insofar as the mediating role of institutions like marriage is compromised, the less of a buffer exists between the individual and the state. And, since in any brute confrontation between the individual and the state the individual ultimately loses, the libertarian social agenda (or lack of it) ultimately endangers the very individualism they purport to stand for.

 Patrick Deneen at Front Porch Republic comments on some of the reasons for this:
But taking gay marriage as one of a number of general devotions of a progressive class, we see an overarching commitment to weakening and ultimately rendering wholly “voluntarist” any intermediary bonds that exist between individuals, of equalizing, rationalizing, and “liberating” the individual from chance, contingency, and unchosen obligations. Liberal theory has long struggled with the brute natural basis of families and child-bearing, the human association most closely grounded in nature, and hence, not easily subject to the liberal logic of individualistic voluntarism, on the one hand, and primary membership in the State, on the other. Milbank points out that gay marriage is a deepening of an already pervasive technological remaking of these elemental relationships.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

John Milbank on why same-sex marriage will change marriage

John Milbank is a theologian at the University of Nottingham, and is one of the founders of the "Radical Orthodoxy" movement. Here is Milbank on the impossibility of gay marriage:
There was no demand for "gay marriage" and this has nothing to do with gay rights. Instead, it is a strategic move in the modern state's drive to assume direct control over the reproduction of the population, bypassing our interpersonal encounters. This is not about natural justice, but the desire on the part of biopolitical tyranny to destroy marriage and the family as the most fundamental mediating social institution.
Heterosexual exchange and reproduction has always been the very "grammar" of social relating as such. The abandonment of this grammar would thus imply a society no longer primarily constituted by extended kinship, but rather by state control and merely monetary exchange and reproduction.
Read the rest here.

Monday, May 06, 2013

So, what is Kermit Gosnell doing that all abortionists don't already do?

Robert P. George asks, in regard to the Kermit Gosnell trial: "How can it be that killing a baby inside the womb is perfectly acceptable while killing the very same baby (or even a baby that is a few days or even weeks younger) outside the womb is first degree murder?"

It's a good question. Read the rest of his comment here.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Did the gambling industry have undue influence in the original Instant Racing decision?

Jake over at Page One, Kentucky has discovered that the clerk for the trial court judge in the Instant Racing case was tied in to the horse racing industry, which is pushing for the installation of the machines despite the fact that Kentucky law prohibits them. The horse racing industry won that case, partly as a result of the fact that The Family Foundation, which had argued that Instant Racing violates Kentucky law, was not allowed to take discovery.

The case was on its way back from the Appeals Court to the trial court when the Kentucky Supreme Court intervened.

Maybe now we know the reason why The Family Foundation was never allowed to ask questions or present evidence.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Unhappy Atheist Alert: Jerry Coyne doesn't like the results of the recent poll of philosophers

Jerry Coyne is one of those New Atheist scientists whose lack of philosophical competence tends to manifest itself in a penchant for lashing out at the discipline of philosophy. It's one of those Gomer Pyle at the Sorbonne kind of situations, except Gomer isn't the type to blame other people for his ignorance.

Coyne, about whom we've had frequent occasion to comment, is probably still smarting from the intellectual beating he took at the hands of Christian philosopher Ed Feser a year or so back.

His most recent excuse for criticizing philosophy is a recent survey of philosophers that found a number of interesting things about philosophers opinions on major philosophical topics, and Coyne doesn't like many of the results.

Turns out most philosophers don't buy the idea that there is no free will. Coyne's response? "That doesn’t make me happy." Hmmm. Apparently Coyne didn't get the memo about the fact that philosophical rectitude is not determined by whether it makes atheists happy.

He is also displeased that 27 percent of philosophers believe the mind is non-physical. "That goes against everything that neurobiology has told us," he tells us, "and shows that not all philosophers are on board with science." Of course, neurobiology studies the brain, which is physical, and one wonders how, by studying the physical, one can say anything about the non-physical.

Whether the mind is physical or non-physical would necessarily involve you in philosophy, an art at which Coyne has shown, through repeated demonstration, in which he is incapable of engagint. And besides: There really aren't any scientists who believe the mind is non-physical?

The there's the matter of ethics. Coyne grumbles that the plurality of philosophers are deontologists (believers in a rule-based ethics) rather than consequentialists (a belief in which the consequences of actions determines whether they are right or wrong. He's not, he says, "wildly happy" with this result.

That's right. The result can't be right because the consequence is that it makes Jerry unhappy.

Paragons of rigorous logical thought, these New Atheists.