Saturday, June 29, 2013

Greater Tragedies Than This

Here's a link to an article about the death of cursive writing in America...

It caught my attention because cursive writing reminds me of my grandfather. My biological maternal grandfather, that is -- a man who was born sometime around 1890, and about whom little was known but the name he claimed was his -- Joseph Doyle. I never met him; he died several years before I was born. I grew up knowing my step-grandfather, Jack Haskins -- who, for all intents and purposes, was my "real" grandfather, a patriot who served his country in the Pacific fighting against the Japanese, and who later turned me on to history and science-fiction.

Mom always suspected Joe Doyle wound up here in Virginia because he was "on the lam", guilty of a crime in another state that motivated him to change his name and hit the road. He had claimed to have been born in Baton Rouge, LA, but Mom never could locate his birth certificate. He simply appeared one day in Hopewell, VA, where my grandmother Sarah lived as a young, working-class woman. They met. They married. They had my mom. They divorced. All in the space of four years. Joe Doyle was alcoholic and abusive, but Sarah was not your stereotypical "victim." She wasn't afraid to get into a fistfight with him, and finally she just tossed him out on his keister.

For a while, Joe Doyle lingered in the Hopewell area, where he organized the labor force of one of the largest chemical companies in Hopewell. The corporation, which had maintained employment throughout the Great Depression, threatened to shut down if the workers voted for a union. The union was voted in, and the corporation fulfilled its threat. Among his other contributions, Joe Doyle once beat my great-grandfather nearly to death.

Having caused enough trouble in Hopewell, Joe Doyle then moved on to Washington, D.C. where he became a barber and married a Russian woman named Anna. He and Sarah split custody of my mom, so Mom lived in Hopewell and Washington in alternating school years. Joe Doyle would get back at Sarah by abusing my mom. He did things to her that would earn him a lengthy prison sentence today -- but in those days, teachers would see the bruises on her face and the striped-red-raw flesh of her beaten arms and legs (he would use a razor strop, a tool of the barber's trade), and not say a word to anyone. Finally, at the age of twelve, she begged Sarah not to send her back to the Doyle house. Mom never saw him again after that. He died of cirrhosis when she was in nurse's training in the late Forties. She heard from someone that, when the priest approached him on his deathbed, Joe Doyle snarled, "I'll die as I've lived." I trust that he did.

All that, to say, this... Whenever I read articles about cursive writing, Joe Doyle comes to my mind. He was a literate man, and possessed an IQ measured at 160. He wrote poetry, and was blessed with the best penmanship I've ever seen. That was all that was left of him -- that, and one grainy photograph from about 1926, standing alongside Sarah. His handwriting was stunningly beautiful. I don't know how good his poetry is, but visually, each written word is a work of art.

How far the apple has fallen from the grand-tree! I never had the dexterity or patience to learn how to write legibly, let alone beautifully. My second-grade teacher, Miss Smith, announced one day to the whole class that I'd never amount to anything because of my poor penmanship. My cursive writing skills eventually deteriorated to the point where I gave up on them altogether in high school, writing all of my assignments in standard print. Sometime during my college years, even my printing became illegible. Fortunately, the Lord in His mercy invented keyboards, and I was no longer doomed to a life of written incoherence.

There are those who will rage at the dying of the cursive write. For me, it's like watching the book close on Joe Doyle, one last time. The world has known greater tragedies.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Works

"I have seen the future and it works." That's the famous wide-eyed observation of the Soviet Union by journalist Lincoln Steffens, who like most journalists never saw a left-wing totalitarian scheme that he didn't like.

Where the Soviets commandeered an entire economy, however, Western progressives have had to piecemeal it, taking over a sector at a time. That's where the term (maybe it's obsolete today) "creeping socialism" came from. It's been wildly successful because in government there's no shortage of creeps.

Well, we can see the future too. And depending on the goal, it can even be said to work. If the goal is to kill off the people entrusted to its care, the socialized British medical system is a morbid success story rivaling Stalin's Ukrainian genocide, in indifference if not in scope.

Cure patients of their ills? Conquer disease? Mend the wounded? Apparently, the British medical system can't even keep their patients fed and hydrated.

The good news for liberals, progressives, and socialists is that, with today's technology, they will be able to determine beforehand who deserves quality health care and who doesn't. Why, no sense wasting government benefits on their bitter and outspoken critics. Need a new kidney? They'll fix you right up. But first they might want to call the NSA. Wouldn't want to waste a kidney, so to speak, on a conservative troglodyte. Good thing Obamacare will be administered by the IRS. They have experience in meting out fair, impartial, objective, and unbiased punishment on those who stand in the way of progress.

Socialized medicine, coming to an America near you.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Absolutely Relative

I saw this quote, from an article by Rick Moran at PJMedia...
"Morality based on “outcomes”? Isn’t that a classic definition of moral relativism? Obviously, Raw Story believes that this is some kind of triumph for the left, that it’s good to judge moral actions based on how things turn out. Abortion may be an evil but if it results in a woman living a better life, then it is a positive good"
It seems to me that this skirts the issue. Liberals and conservatives, as well as moral absolutists and relativists, all have some stake in outcomes. We need some standard by which to measure the success or failure of the outcome. It is the standard itself that stands as either absolute or relative.

Is it okay to tell a lie? That sounds like an easy one; in fact, it is not. Scenario: you know for a fact, having just discovered it yourself, that the family across the street is hiding Jews in the attic from the Gestapo. Later in the week, you are approached by a Nazi official. He asks you, do you know anyone who is harboring Jews?

Obviously, the correct moral answer is, no sir. Congratulations, you have justified telling a moral lie.

So how can a moral absolutist, like myself, believe that telling a lie can be a good thing?

As Gen. Curtis Lemay used to say, there's a reason for the rules: the reasons are important; the rules are not. The rule against telling lies is less important than the reason behind them.

And that reason is: building and maintaining loving relationships -- the essence of moral law. It does no good to talk about morality without talking about relationships. That's the reason moral law exists. The rules themselves, or at least many of them, can change. However, the standard by which we judge the rules is absolute, as are some of the rules: e.g., love the Lord with all your heart; love your neighbor as yourself. Even when the rules do change, there's still nothing arbitrary going on . Only in service to the absolute love that ought to accompany all of our acts can the rules be viewed as relative. That is our standard: absolute love.

The standard can only be absolute if it is eternal. The existence of the Holy Trinity is the only theology that really supports this -- One God, but in Three Persons, the same yesterday, today and forever. They have had to get along with each other forever; from personal experience, they know everything about maintaining loving relationships.

If our Lord were a monadic God -- one God, one Person -- then, presumably, eons would have passed before He created another soul. During that intervening time, there would have been no relationships, but only a universe of one. Relationships would not be permanent. Moral law would have to wait to be born.

Conservatives believe in an absolute standard because they believe (or tend to, anyway) in the absolute and permanent love of our Creator. Liberals, who tend not to believe very strongly in the Christian narrative, believe in a situational standard. And why not? The liberals' world is a situational world. Evolution put man here one day long ago and some day long from now a supernova will take him away, if our own evil doesn't do us in first. This means moral law is not absolute; it arrived some time after man became self-aware and will vanish when he does. And since everything else is situational, so too is morality.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Things Biology Just Can't Explain

It seems to me that any moral code based on materialism is missing an 'ought'. It could possibly explain why animals, including humans, behave a certain way. It could possibly explain why behaving a certain way better equips the species for survival.

What materialism can't explain, at least to my philosophically and biologically untrained mind, is why any such behavior is good, or bad, from a moral perspective. All it can do is to show the norm, and that individual creature A behaves different from that norm; it can't explain whether the behavior is right or wrong.

Materialism might postulate that an aberrant behavior hurts the species' chances of survival (though such an argument might more easily be made in hindsight). But it can't tell us why extinction is bad.

It can't even tell us why death is bad, since when one thing dies, many other living things get to nourish themselves on the carcass. As the outlaw Josie Wales said, worms gotta eat too, same as people. Modern biology, as materialism's water carrier in the natural sciences, should be pleased either way with the outcome.

Humans detachedly observe in other species behaviors that they would condemn as immoral in other humans. When lions kill each other in territorial disputes, the behavior isn't called evil, it's just what lions do. When chimps eat a female from another clan, it may seem repulsive, but again, they're just doing what chimps do -- I've yet to hear a biologist refer to this behavior as "evil". In fact, letting her live might raise the biologist's eyebrow, were that actually the aberrant behavior.

So it seems to me that, if we're discussing any morality derived from biology, we need simply to understand:

1. When humans act in certain ways, they're just doing what humans do.

2. Since they're just doing what humans do, there's no right or wrong, it just is.

3. If a behavior renders us extinct, that's okay, worms and buzzards have to eat too.

4. Nonetheless, there are behaviors that we like and don't like.

What this leaves us with is preferences -- morality minus authority.  E.g., if gay men like being with other men, that's natural. But that's a two-edged sword: if straight men don't like gay men's behavior, that's natural too.  It all boils down to what we like and what we don't like.

But to get others to take our likes and dislikes seriously, we have to dress them up in more dignified clothing. Thus, if I'm trying to convince someone to like what I like, I'm going introduce a new concept: morality. I don't like what you're doing: that's immoral. Do as I say do: that's moral.  Calling it 'morality' helps me get what I like.  Why are appeals to morality so persuasive?  Beats me.  But they are, and I can use them to my advantage, perhaps.

If morality is biological, I'm afraid this is the world we live in: morality is but an illusion, alive so long as humans are here to uphold it, dead and gone when the last human is.

Paul said that faith is belief in things unseen.  When atheists speak in moral terms, they are either exhibiting the last vestiges of faith, or exploiting them.