Tag: Transcendence

What’s Your Basis for ‘Reason’ and ‘Morality?’

 

A Catholic cathedral in France taken by my nephew Luke Renoe. This visual art hangs in our home, a marker of transcendence.

I was transported back to the 1980s and ’90s on my drive to university this morning listening to a podcast. I could hear myself making the same arguments to my high school students then. Kate Cohen in a Washington Post article was pushing back on “religious exemptions” used by some to exclude themselves from the mandate of law. Ms. Cohen then suggested as someone who is “not a believer” she would like exemptions from “religious laws.” Cohen’s basis for her belief? It is “in contravention of reason and morality.”

Now those who follow me on social media, my websites, and teaching videos know that I have deep respect for other points of view. But everyone who knows me also realizes that my first response will always be to ask straightforward questions. So here are the questions I would ask Kate Cohen.

Lonesome Purple Hearts and Angry Red Ones: Love and Contempt in a Divided Red Tribe

 

Red America, blue America. It’s a crude categorization, but useful. According to Rachel Lu, the red tribe is the tribe of traditional, transcendent bourgeois values, while the blue tribe is the tribe of neo-Epicureanism, which by its nature is shallow and tepid. According to Charles Murray, the red tribe professes traditional values while struggling to practice them, while the blue tribe, for the most part, lives out these values while failing to profess them. According to Mark Regnerus, when it comes to the specific traditional values of chastity and stable family formation, while both tribes are far from paragons, on average the red tribe fails a lot harder than the blue tribe does, even though it’s the red tribe, not the blue, which promulgates language like “chastity” and “family values”. If you stop looking at averages though, something interesting happens: the red tribe splits. Red-tribe children who inherit exceptional amounts of social capital (which arises from networks of shared social norms, including trust and reciprocity) are more sexually virtuous than their blue peers, while red-tribe children with low social capital are so much less sexually virtuous than their blue peers that it drags the whole red average down below that of the blue.

This sexual split points to a more general split among conservatives: the red tribe can be crudely divided into two tribes, both of whom profess a zeal for cultural capital, but only one of which has secure access to cultural capital. (There’s not complete agreement on what social and cultural capital are, but for this essay, cultural capital includes social capital, along with other accumulated cultural riches.) As much as blue-tribe language tends to denigrate the value of the West’s cultural capital, blue-tribe children enjoy better access to that capital than many red-tribe children do. However, there’s a class of purple children – typically red-tribe children raised in blue milieus – who achieve cultural-capital royalty: whatever struggles they face, access to cultural goods, whether moral, intellectual, or aesthetic, isn’t really one of them. They inherit not just the red-tribe zeal for cultural capital, but blue-tribe access to it, an access which differs not only in quantity (more of it) from average red access, but also in kind (probably less NASCAR and more Shakespeare – brows a little higher rather than lower).

Blue-tribe access to it. How does the blue tribe maintain good access to something it publicly professes not to value much? Evidently, it must be by doing rather than saying. Culture isn’t just something you have worthy or unworthy opinions about, it’s also something you do. And a lot of blues still do it, even if their opinions about why it’s worth doing are unworthy. To be too much in enmity with the blues is to put yourself at odds with many of the vehicles still left for passing on the great achievements of our culture. Reds routinely decry the corruption of academic and arts organizations, for example, but so far have had scanty success forming organizations of their own to pass down the treasure of Western knowledge and beauty. For all the nonsense on college campuses, for all the schlock modern arts organizations promote, colleges still harbor teachers with genuine love for whatever little corner of Western heritage is their expertise and arts organizations still exhibit works of transcendent beauty. These dreaded blue, “elitists” milieus might make piss-poor advocates of the traditions they enjoy, but many in these milieus still enjoy aspects of those traditions, and in enjoying them, keep them going, at least for another generation.

The Desire to be Disabled and the Loss of Meaning

 

AcediaFor the life of me I cannot figure out why anyone would want to be disabled. I am among the accursed numbers of those unable to work, having been felled seven years ago after a nearly fifty-year fight with rheumatoid arthritis. (Thankfully, my law firm provided disability insurance, which keeps me off the government dole.) At the risk of singing my own praises, I have willingly submitted to being a guinea pig for a host of treatments, some of which have potentially deadly side effects (a duel at dawn with anyone who pities me). I did this because I needed not merely to feed my family, but because work, properly understood, offers a sense of purpose which keeps the Eternal Footman at bay. But the disease finally won the day. I am a lawyer by trade, and one little-known reality is that practicing law is highly demanding, not only mentally, but physically. I never really enjoyed my chosen occupation. Fighting for a living, especially trivial battles like petty arguments and personally insulting rhetoric, will tax the most patient of men. But the intellectual work was rewarding. I miss that.

These past few years, then, have not always been a joy. Yes, I have a wonderful life with my loving wife, devoted children (even though they call me “Old Guy”), and two fantastic granddaughters. But work is an essential need of man: Not only as a means of material production, but as a spiritual and psychological route towards acquiring virtue. Plus, while I don’t know whether there are statistics to back this up, from personal experience with others forced into early retirement, life expectancy drops when work comes to an end.

Why, then, are the Social Security Disability rolls growing at incomprehensible rates? We live in an extraordinarily safe world. Modern medicine does much more than keep us alive. It allows us to stay productive through illnesses that, just a few short years ago, would have quickly knocked us out of the game. As for the risks in life, my new car has eleven airbags and enough safety technology to ward offer nearly every danger. I’m safer in my car than nearly anywhere else. So what is it about work that has so many seeking an excuse to run away? Why would anyone want to be disabled?