April 5, 2003
No era is immune to silliness. We moderns laugh at the silliness of other ages but are mostly blind to our own. The point of this short essay is to mention some of our own silliness---the errors of our age---without going much into the errors of others. That would take some time and more beer than I have in the fridge.
Many of these errors are part of what we call conventional wisdom; that is, they seem to be believed without question in some form or other 'by everybody.' Those who challenge these wisdoms are viewed as fools or demons or idiots, beneath contempt and beyond the pale---and often suffer professionally or personally for their views. (This is especially true for those who criticize Environmentalism and Evolution.) These wisdoms are taught in schools, paraded in public and receive government funding. They are part of the established dogma of our time. Most are logically inconsistent and philosophically incoherent.
Here they are in no particular order of importance:
Environmentalism: This is actually a religion of sorts, rather a cheap rehash of Babylonian nature worship mixed in with a poor understanding of both the laws of physics and economics. The believers certainly act as if it is a religion, and respond accordingly if their dogmas are questioned. They have been remarkably successful in getting their programs instituted in public schools and their ideas in the media. Hapless middle schoolers around the US engage in recycling, separating trash and cleaning vacant lots, all under the approving eye of their teacher, himself an addled product of such indoctrination. (Meanwhile the Korean kids destroy their US counterparts in math skills. But at least the US kids smoke the Koreans in trash collection.) Just for fun, ask one of these educators for evidence, say, that recycling actually does what it is supposed to do---save energy, for example---and he will look at you as if you had asked for proof that the world is round. Continue asking for evidence and---I assure you---he will get angry. It would be as if you had questioned his religion, which of course you had.
Just for more fun, check out the claims made by all these eco-types over the past 30 years, everything from population bombs to mass famines to shortages of resources to the disappearing rain forest. None have come true, alas! But this does not stop them. True believers, they carry on in the face of logic and economics. (Please look up the word 'fanatic'.)
Global Warming: This is a subset of environmentalism. Practitioners of this silliness weave scary stories of melting ice caps and flooded islands so as to frighten children. It is spoken of as if it is a real and present danger to the world. It is presented in schools as if all scientists believe it to be true. This is hardly the case, as any research will show. The most substantial data ever gathered---Harvard University looked at 1000 years of temperature readings and 240 scientific journals over the past 40 years---points out that Europe was much warmer between 800 AD and 1300 than it is today. Not too many cars and SUVs around then I would guess. The global warming types claim to believe that they can predict the world's climate one hundred years down the road, yet real meteorologists who deal with the real world find it hard to predict the weather from one day to the other. (Please look up the word 'gullible.')
Population Explosion: Another subset. This is just dusted-off Malthus. The theory is beguiling in its simplicity: population growth will outgrow available resources, thus leading to poverty and wars and famines. This theory is true for deer---except for the war part (I saw Bambi)---but hardly for humans. The believers in this intellectual mess have a rather dim view of their fellow man, who to them is only one more mouth to feed. (They ignore that man also has a brain and two hands.) This is why these types support population control through condom distributions, abortions and sterilizations. Of course, they would never consent to the sterilization of their own, only to Indians and Chinese. (Please look up the word 'racism.')
If their doctrines were true, that too many people leads to poverty, then the most crowded places on the planet would also be the most poor. Sadly for them, the most crowded places are also the wealthiest: Hong Kong, Manhattan, Tokyo-Osaka. More sadness for them, the areas of the world near bereft of humanity are the poorest: Angola, the Congo (or whatever name it goes by this week), Brazil. It is thus logically coherent to conclude that the more people there are, the more wealth creation there is, as long as there is also capitalism---which is why Mexico City is both packed and poor.
There are many other subsets of environmentalism, and even subsets of subsets, but I do not have all day. And so on to
Evolution: This is another religion, and is recognized as such by its more intelligent proselytizers. (Please see The Humanist Manifesto for complete details.) It has been even more successful than environmentalism in gaining acceptance as conventional wisdom. Like environmentalism, it is hammered into the heads of students from elementary to college. No dissenting views are allowed, for any one who speaks against evolution must be---incredible as it sounds in this day and age!---a Christian, or worse, a Fundamentalist version of the same. The only thing wrong with evolution is that there is little evidence for it. Before you faint, please recall that the late Stephen Jay Gould, the worlds' pre-eminent evolutionist, recognized this problem. He said that it was 'evolution's little secret.' (After all, he should know.) Simply stated, the evidence in the fossil layers does not bear out the extravagant claims made by the avatars of evolution. Rather than showing one species becoming another, the record shows the opposite: legions of animals that exist no more, a fantastic zoo of trilobites and mastodons and archaeopteryxes. The fossil record shows extinction, not creation.
Rather than admit error, evolutionists came up with an idea that washes away this lack of evidence. It is called 'punctuated equilibrium.' Simply put, they imagine that new species evolved from old ones too suddenly to leave any sign in fossils. That is, the lack of evidence is the evidence. Clever boys!
The total amount of fossil 'evidence' as presented by evolutionists would scarcely take up the space on a pool table. Evolutionists (and their scholarly brethren, anthropologists) go wild with glee when they find a tooth in some God-forsaken African valley. They will spin fanciful tales about the creature whose mouth was once adorned by this tooth. They conjure up lifestyles, settlement patterns, food preferences, mating habits, use of artifacts and on and on. They will hire an artist to design a mouth, then a cranium, then an entire skeletal system for our creature. His picture will be fleshed out with imaginary flesh and the artist will show our creature shambling about amid a background complete with smoking volcanoes and ambling mammoths. Both this and his 'biography' will now be published in academic journals. Shazaam!---another Australopithecus is born! (Please look up the word 'gullible.')
Would you believe it if I told you that both high school and college biology textbooks are loaded with so-called proofs for evolution---tales of peppered moths, Trees of Life, Haeckel's Embryos---that are false and known to be false even by the evolutionists? No you would not, but look it up yourself. (After all, I cannot do all of your heavy lifting.) And on to
Socialism: This is really just sloppy thinking and gooey sentimentalism. It professes a charming faith in the benevolence of government and human nature. Its basic premise is that citizens are too stupid to spend their wages intelligently, and so the government will have to seize most of it to provide things such as housing, food, education, health care, clothing and retirement. Thus, high taxes to the rescue of an ignorant citizenry!
Alas, the evidence of a wise and all-knowing government is sorely lacking in the annals of history. Governments do not create wealth, they either redistribute it or waste it. High taxes destroy taxpayers' incentive to work. Thus such regimes always exhibit low levels of productivity. Less productivity means fewer taxes to gather. Fewer taxes to gather means less income for government. Less income for government means taxes must be raised to support government programs. Higher taxes means less productivity...and so on.
Such governments always sacrifice military spending to save their beloved social spending. Thus Sweden and Canada and Belgium and France and Germany and their acolytes have no real defenses to speak of. This does not stop their silly preening on the world stage as if someone is actually listening to their empty diplomacy. Frederick the Great said diplomacy without an army is like an orchestra without instruments---and he knew a thing or two about both armies and orchestras. Socialist nations thus have abandoned any real influence they might have otherwise had in the world. An Iraq with nuclear missiles could make any demands upon the aforementioned socialist nations, and they would have to obey. (Witness the obsequious gyrations performed by Mr. Chirac as he tried to do something---anything---to save his master Saddam Hussein.) Socialist governments rail mightily against nations that actually have a powerful military---witness their recent ravings at the UN----because such a nation shows them to be what they are: weak, ineffective and impotent against tyranny---like France---and ready to be enslaved. Witness the outcry in Belgium after it was revealed that the Belgian army practices and maneuvers using toy guns. The Belgian government was not incensed that its mighty legions used toys, but that this fact was revealed to the world. (No word if the Belgian army would get its own sand box and Lego set.)
Which brings me to my final point about this goofiness: all the promises made by socialists to their citizens have been supplied for countless millennia to both prisoners and slaves.
Communism: This is a true religion. It has an eschatology (look the word up yourself), saints, relics, holy days, holy texts, sacred ceremonies and a variety of cult practices. It is really what Marx called "scientific socialism" to distinguish it from its watery cousin. Scientific, because Marx claimed to have discovered the engine behind all of History, economics. Marx used Hegel's dialectic, mixed it with his journalistic writings, tossed in some Ricardo and added his complete misunderstanding of wealth creation to come up with "The Communist Manifesto" and Das Kapital. Never mind that every prediction Marx ever made has been false, his theory had an incredible run of success from 1917 until the death of the USSR. It exists now in its lasts redoubts of Cuba and North Korea and China, and in the addled minds of American academics.
Communism absolutely hates private property and competing religions, which is why the first things communists do when they gain control of a state is to seize all ownership of production and to imprison priests, pastors, rabbis and mullahs. It moves on to regarding its citizens as chattel to be used by the government at its discretion. If its subjects do not wish to be treated as such, well there are prisons and gulags to be built and then filled with the recalcitrant.
No one would ever vote for such stupidity, so communists take control and keep it through political violence and terror. Freedoms are lost, all media are seized and walls and fences are constructed to keep the citizens inside and at the mercy of the regime. Thus are the essentials of a police state created.
Otherwise reasonable people find themselves saying silly things about communism, such as: "Well, communism is a fine theory, it just has not been applied in the right way." It other words, it fails every time it is tried. There is a word to describe such a theory: false.
No one outside of the Spartans and members of Plato's Republic would ever live in such a nightmare, so the subjects have a nasty habit of getting the Hell out if they can.
Pacifism: Here is another fantasy that like its socialist brothers believes well of mankind---and indeed most pacifists are also socialists. It is no accident that the greatest pacifist nations are also the most socialist---another reason they despise nations with real militaries. The pacifist believes that all the evils of the world---although they do not actually use the word 'evil'---are caused by aggression. So their response to all challenges personal or otherwise is 'passive resistance,' sort of Gandhi writ large. Their response to Iraqi was typical and revealing: pacifists went to that nation to serve as 'human shields' against US aggression. Alas, they were ignored---always the proper response to such silliness. Some of these imbeciles came back from Iraq as fire-breathing war mongers. Their charming insouciance had been turned by the reality of Iraq and its stupefying tyranny. Their fantasy land could not survive such a collision with the truth.
Pacifists with a religious bent (there are not many) become Quakers; those in Europe take over governments; those in communist or terrorist regimes are sent to jail or made into lamp stands; those in the US join the Democratic Party or become vegetarians.
Short takes (I am getting tired):
Collective Security: This does not and cannot work. And forget the Congress of Vienna: This was only maintained by the British Empire---the superpower of the day---and her fleet. The League of Nations made another attempt at it, but as there was no superpower around to enforce its dicta, the League was vanquished by Italian militarism. (Say, does not the phrase 'Italian militarism' sound strange?) The UN has only survived as long as it has because of the US military. It needs to be said that the longest period of peace Europe ever had was when it was dominated by Rome---the Pax Romana. The EU is nothing more (actually, it is far less) than a scrawny attempt to rebuild part of the Roman Empire---without its legions, of course---and with France in charge. (Say, does not the phrase 'France in charge' sound strange?)
Democracy: In 5600 years of history democracy has been around for only about 300 of them, give or take the odd Swiss canton or Hanseatic League. Democracy as we know it arose from 1000 years of English Common Law. It is really only suitable for England's ex-colonies---those in which real Englishmen actually settled---and nations that have been thoroughly thrashed by the US military---like Germany and Japan. In Africa democracy has been a complete sham, resulting in "one man, one vote, one time," and has brought to power those most talented in murder and rapine. Most Latin American democracies are really oligarchic kleptocracies run through and through by mercantilist fantasies---Argentina for example---and ruled by prancing buffoons and medal-festooned felons---Argentina for example. Churchill said that "democracy was the worst form of government---except for all the others." As such democracy is the best that fallen man can hope for in this world, alas! Recall that Jesus calls us to enter His Kingdom, not His parliament.
The Democratic Party: Just kidding.
April 17, 2003
We are all sadly acquainted with sins of the flesh. These are the usual suspects---fornication, adultery, sexual perversion, drink, lust, pornography and all the rest of that troubling multitude. Left unrepented, rest assured that a continual fall into such things will get you into Hell---or perhaps into Purgatory if the Catholics are right. But the center of sin is not in fleshy things, it is in spiritual things. The center of spiritual things is in the intellect: Pride. This was the sin of Lucifer ("light bearer"). Simply put, intellectual sin has happened when one puts his own mind in place of the mind of Christ.
Think of sin as infection. Like bacteria entering a body, its first appearance will not be noticed. But there has been a weakening, and unless this is recognized and treated the infection will get worse. As the body sickens other bacteria---or viruses, fungi, protozoa and rickettsiae---find a weakened host and join in the fun. This is why someone with a cold---caused by a virus---sometimes comes down with pneumonia---usually caused by bacteria. At its most virulent, a man with AIDS does not die because HIV is present in his system, but because his immune system has been shattered by the onslaught of a whole host of other things---fungi and sarcoma for example. A man just infected with HIV would look healthy; years later he would appear as one dead: the disease has had its way upon his body.
Sin is the same. To speak of the fleshy variety, a man's first acquaintance with, say, pornography, seems innocent enough: a fold-out calendar, a picture seen on the internet, and so on. The man does not know he has been infected; but the disease has entered him and left alone will have its way with him. Other factors can intervene and slow or stop the disease---religion, peers, family, shame. But if these factors are weak or non-existent then the illness continues, often with terrifying results. It is no accident that the most heinous murderers in our day---the Ted Bundys, the Jeffery Dahmers---once they are imprisoned, trace the origin of their disease to their first contact with pornography.
Pride works upon us the same way. It is usually impossible to discover its first appearance, but left alone it has awful results. In almost every case untreated Pride leads a man to trust his own intellectual prowess above all other things---such as Faith and Revelation. It also leads (and how can it not?) to self-love, as in Richard III's boast, "Richard loves Richard." Such a man deems himself a modern Nimrod ("let us rebel"), "a mighty hunter before the Lord."
The theologian will argue that Reason---the intellect---should always be subject to Faith. He will tell you that reason by itself is no clearer guide in this world than is emotion. Now, there is nothing wrong with either reason or emotion, but that either by itself will lead you astray. Voltaire and Rousseau are examples of being led astray, the former by reason, the latter by emotion. The writings of the reason-besotted Voltaire led right to the excesses of he French Revolution. (The guillotine-addicted Robespierre even paraded a statue of the goddess Reason down the streets of Paris.) The writings of the emotion-besotted Rousseau led right to justifying of the grossly immoral lives of Shelly and Byron, and their modern varieties who inhabit Hollywood and Greenwich Village.
(Both Voltaire and Rousseau, I should add, had little use for Faith. Voltaire even wrote a manifesto called Erase the Infamy!, the 'infamy' in question being the Catholic Church.)
We see the work of untreated Pride throughout history. A man at the helm of a great nation---or a petty one---can work immense damage. What happens is that this man believes his own intellect to be superior to the intellect of anyone else---citizens, advisors, everyone with whom he has contact. He sees first his nation and then the world as not conforming to what his intellect tells him must be true. If he can he will impose his own reason upon those in his power. The dreadful results are all around us: cultural revolutions, five-year plans, gulags, secret police. All these are nothing more than the man making his world into a reflection of his own intellect. Left alone in his own nation, he might draw international opprobrium but little more. But he is just as likely to draw support: a man of this type finds natural allies among others like him. Which is why western academics---the Noam Chomskys, the Howard Zinns, the Ramsey Clarks--- always excuse the gross excesses of a Castro and a Mao. They well understand and admire leaders who use their intellect to impose their will upon others. These intellectuals do the same thing at their academic conferences and in their tenure committees: Richard loves Richard.
It is when the intellect of such men collides with the real world that wars begin. Simply put, the man now tries to enforce his will upon other nations. Any martial success merely encourages him; any failure merely leads him to murder his advisors and soldiers who failed to implement his will. A catastrophic failure leads to the destruction of his own nation as his intellect implodes against the real world. Often such a man is so far gone in the worship of his own intellect that he sees his country as unworthy of himself, and so desires its death along with his own. Hitler and Hussein were of this type. Like Satan, they desired immolation in Hell rather than subject their wills to anyone else's.
But we must not be relieved at the fate of these poster boys of intellectual sin because we are smaller than they. No, their disease infects us as well. Think of all the petty disagreements we have at work; think of all the arguments between husband and wife; think of all the times when thought of others as being stupid: these are all signs of intellectual sin. We must recognize them and cure them, else we and up in bitterness and solitude.
Reader, I am not talking about you, I am talking about myself. Whenever I look into the mirror I see the "itching ears" of the Corinthians about whom Paul wrote.
April 19, 2003
Communists believe that history is moved along by impersonal forces. A man---any man---is just part of this movement. Nothing he does or does not do can possible change the force of history. He may as well believe that he can alter the laws of gravity. (They of course make exceptions for their Lenins and Stalins and Maos---their very own 'vanguards of the proletariat'---but that is another subject for another time.) A Bonaparte or a Caesar or a Henry V is just an unconscious tool of this force. He is thrown up by an indifferent dialectic and then just as indifferently swept aside. Man exists only to serve this impersonal force, this history as god---as Hegel would say. This belief leads right to the gulag, for what value man when history is 'on a roll'? Any man who runs counter to this progress will be crushed.
Thus communism puts itself smack dab in opposition to Christianity, a faith for which man is the center of Creation. It also opposes much of the philosophy of the classical Greek city-state. There, man was worthy of notice, and many competed for public acclaim: in the games, in the agora, in the assembly, in the theater, on the battlefield. One could in fact write an entire history of ancient Greece by concentrating on the biographies of its great men---and there were many. Men mattered, not impersonal forces. Even in collectivized Sparta this was true. Soldiers and kings competed with each other for notice and praise.
One man stands out, one man among a throng of heroes. His name was Leonidas, and he was a king of Sparta. He lived, as the Chinese would say, in interesting times. His city-state (ironically now idealized by communists) had dominated and enslaved the Peloponnese for 300 years. Its army of 10,000 hoplites had seldom been defeated. And now both it and its fellow Greek states faced their greatest challenge. For in far off Persia king Darius I was on the march. Already he had taken his swarms of soldiers to the Indus Valley, to Scythia, to Thrace, to the Caspian Sea. And now Darius turned his sights toward those Ionian islands where Greeks had settled hundreds of years before. Since 547 BC much of Greek civilization in Asia Minor had been under Persian control, and it was a logical extension of this control out into the Aegean that brought what Herodotus called "the beginning of troubles" for Greece.
A great revolt in Ionia against the rule of Persia began in 499. The Ionian Greeks sought aid from Greece proper. Many Greek states sent aid, the largest contingent being from Athens, herself an Ionian city. The revolt started well but came to grief. By 492 Darius was in full control of the situation, and he sent an expeditionary force to Athens to punish her for her aid to Ionia. We all know the story of the heroic stand at Marathon which sent the defeated Persians fleeing back home. But this was only a tactical victory for the Greeks, for Darius had used only a fraction of Persian power. Now he vowed to unleash the full might of his nation, but he died even as his troops were beginning to gather. His son Xerxes continued preparations for assembling the largest army ever seen in the classical world. Herodotus mentions 2,000,000 Persian soldiers and 1200 ships, but modern historians say that 250,000 soldiers is more likely though they agree with Herodotus on the number of ships.
Anyway, this unwieldy host began moving toward Greece in 481. After crossing the Hellespont all nations in the path of the Persians and their king paid homage and gave allegiance. Even some Greek states went over to the Persians, for who could resist such an army? Athens and Sparta, squabbling as ever, managed to patch together some sort of tactical plan to buy time. Sparta agreed to send a reconnaissance-in-force of 300 hoplites under king Leonidas. It moved north out of the Peloponnese while picking up on the way 7000 other soldiers from other Greek states. Its destination was the 4 mile long pass at Thermopylae. Here Xerxes must pass to invade Attica, and here Leonidas would be waiting.
Leonidas arrived at Thermopylae some days before the Persians. The pass---at one place only wide enough for a single ox cart--- was too narrow to allow Xerxes to place more than a few hundred of his soldiers at a time, so that a wall of Greek hoplites could hold them (it was hoped) more or less indefinitely. Xerxes arrived and marveled at the small number arrayed against him. After some inconsequential negotiations with the Spartans Xerxes launched the first wave of Persians against the shields and spears of the Greeks. The fighting was ferocious with no quarter given or asked. But the Persians were unable to break through even after six days and 10,000 Persian dead. Xerxes was almost driven to distraction until a Greek traitor---and Greece produced as many traitors as heroes---revealed a path above Thermopylae through the mountains. If Xerxes could send a large force through there he would be able to appear behind the Greeks and so out-flank Leonidas and annihilate him and his army.
Leonidas became aware of what had happened when he heard on the seventh morning the sound of thousands of Persian soldiers moving in the hills high above the pass. He immediately knew that he and his army were doomed if they remained where they were. His tactical position being hopeless, he sent back any Greek soldier who wished to leave. He himself stayed along with his 300 Spartans. His decision was a momentous one. By staying at Thermopylae he would force Xerxes to spend time destroying the Spartan forces. This would delay the Persian advance to Athens and give the Athenians under Themistocles---almost as great a Greek as Leonidas---time to evacuate Attica. A few hours after the flight of most of the Greeks from Thermopylae, Leonidas could see the glint of Persian armor both ahead and behind him. Advising his fellow Spartans to breakfast well as they would "take their dinner in Hell" he and his fellows fought and perished to a man.
What did Leonidas' seemingly useless heroism purchase? It allowed the Greeks he had dismissed from Thermopylae to live and be able to fight and kill Persians on another day. It allowed the Athenian fleet to escape to Salamis, and there to inflict upon Xerxes such a crushing defeat that his plans for the conquest of Greece were ended for all time. After some land and sea operations the next year, Persia could never again launch an invasion of Greece. Free from the Persian threat, Greece embarked upon that 'golden age' which every schoolboy knows: Art, Philosophy, Literature, the Scientific Method, Geometry, the expansion of Democracy, History, Playwriting: in fact, almost everything we call 'Western Civilization' was set in place after the victory over Persia.
It was Leonidas who made all this possible, Leonidas and those who died with him at Thermopylae. What we owe this man is incalculable. Rather than submit---and the Persians seemed an invincible colossus, rendering any resistance futile and suicidal---he took a stand. He stood against the march of history and simply told it no.
Leonidas, requiescat in pace.