"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, May 28, 2007

My Memorial Day rant

Amid the cookouts, the car races, and other distractions, some of us pause to remember and pray for those who have given their lives so that we might live in such freedom as we retain. I am grateful to our war dead and to those who actually do something in public to honor them. I pray for them today. That is why I am more disgusted than ever about what's become of what they died for. I think everybody should be.

I am disgusted by the fact that the stock market hovers around record highs as the poor get poorer and the world grows ever more dangerous. Quite frankly, the haves are celebrating being haves while saying to hell with everything and everybody else. Now I'm no socialist; on what are called "social issues" in American politics, I'm about as conservative as they come. And nobody outdoes me in wanting to see Islamism fought on every level. That is why I have come to believe that, whatever the weakness of the initial case for war, whatever the irrationality and ingratitude of the factions in Iraq, we must not now cut and run, leaving that tortured country to the tender mercies of the two Psychos-in-Chief, a.k.a. bin Laden and Ahmadinejad. But on economic matters, I don't believe that the status and the attitude of the haves throughout the world, including our own country, are any more practically sustainable than morally acceptable. Most of them are smart enough to know that, deep-down. But they don't care. They're just getting all the gusto while they can. The only thing that might justify such callous selfishness is despair that behaving differently would make any difference. But despair is only justified when the behavior it motivates makes it self-fulfilling. Such a justification is not itself justified.

I am disgusted by the fact that the Republican Party cannot seem to field a pro-life presidential candidate who has a realistic chance of winning the nomination. Like many Catholics, I gave up on the Democrats a long time ago; today, the closest thing to a pro-lifer they have in the presidential field is Hillary Clinton. Not only is she not very close; she's one of the few living, breathing human beings I've ever had a nightmare about. (Just hearing her voice sets my teeth on edge, and I haven't even heard her swear like a stevedore the way a few people I know have.) I like Sam Brownback, a pro-life Catholic from an evangelical background who would appeal to both groups in the general election without being a knee-jerk right-winger. But he has no chance of beating Giuliani, who's about as pro-life as Planned Parenthood, or McCain, who would rather talk about almost any other topic. I also like Fred Thompson, who is running a brilliant non-campaign campaign. But neither he nor Brownback could raise enough dough to impress the kinds of people who carry the most weight in the Party. Once again, the bulk of the money and publicity won't go to the best of the lot. That's just how it is these days. The GOP is corrupt through-and-through and will deserve to lose, if it does lose.

Above all, I am disgusted by the fact that the majority of Americans, including the majority of American Catholics, don't understand what freedom is anymore. It is not what Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the SCOTUS majority in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey (1992), said:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.

The sort of liberty ostensibly being defined above is not just the individual's religious liberty relative to the state. If that were all that is at stake, it would not be especially controversial. No, what's being propounded is an increasingly common philosophical opinion about the role and scope of freedom in defining "the attributes of personhood." O'Connor—and, worse, Justice Anthony Kennedy, an ostensible Catholic who quoted that passage approvingly a decade later in Lawrence v Texas sodomy case—is saying that one is a person only if one enjoys "the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and the mystery of human life." But if ethical monotheism in any historically recognizable form is true, we persons enjoy no such right. We are of course free to make the attempt to do what it's said we have a right to do; and we've learned that it's unwise for the state to prosecute people who attempt the thing badly. But to the extent that the result deviates from what God has ordained to be the case, it is illusory. That is why Pope Pius IX was right to say that "error has no rights." Hence the state can be under no moral obligation to foreswear premising its policies on anything God is believed to have ordained; even Thomas Jefferson referred to "the laws of nature and of nature's God;" and as persons, our most fundamental choice in this life is whether or not to conform to precisely that. The choice to conform to what God has ordained is the choice to conform to reality, which is a precondition for freedom in life in much the same way that learning how to swim is a precondition for freedom in a deep pool or lake. The choice to reject what God has ordained is a choice of slavery to an idol—ostensibly to the Imperial Self, but in the final analysis to somebody's raw desires, which will not consistently be our own, and wouldn't allow for any more real freedom even if they were consistently our own.

And yet we Americans continue consuming, fornicating, aborting, divorcing, defrauding, bullshitting, and being entertained as though freedom were what Anthony Kennedy says it is. We're out of control. So of course we're always having to pass more laws, and harsher penalties for breaking them, in order to protect ourselves from each other. We have the world's largest prison population in both absolute terms and relative to our population. Meanwhile most of us who are not in jail are fat, or overstressed, or dissatisfied, or some combination thereof. And we're lucky to get 50% turnout in any given general election. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave?

To the extent it's still free, it's because of the brave. I wonder how many of them turn in their graves.
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