Tag Archives: advocate

What About the CHILDREN?

The Obama administration’s latest use of children as political props has, as usual, called forth much praise and very little outrage. We have become accustomed to such things. We hardly notice. And this latest is by no means the worst.

The irony is that while children are moved to the fore when useful as window dressing on issues to which they are peripheral, they are so often shoved off the stage when they are central to the issue.

EXAMPLE ONE: DIVORCE, also called dissolution of marriage. Marriage is an act of union between two adults, and so is its dissolution. As things now stand in America, children, if any, are collateral issues, like joint property. Their interests are to be addressed in working out the details, not in the basic decision to permit the dissolution.

Divorce involving only two married adults, at least one of whom is unhappy with the marriage, is one thing. It is hard to think of any reason why law or society should stand in their way.

But what about the other kind of divorce? What if it means the breakup of a family with children, often because one of the adult partners (usually the husband) is tired of the responsibilities and limitations imposed upon him by his role in the family.

The results of such “divorce” is all around us. Poverty in the US is largely caused by fathers abandoning (or being thrust from) families and leaving behind single mothers with children.  It is the result of easy divorce.

Of course, it is also the result of easy breakups of unwed cohabitation “families”, where no formal divorce is required because no formal marriage was thought necessary. And it is increasingly the result of single women making a choice to bear children without a resident father at all. But all these phenomena may be regarded as facets of a generalized downgrading of the importance of the “traditional family”, and especially of the role of the father, as a general concern of society.

We have taken the sexual and libertarian mantra that society should not interfere in the “private affairs of consenting adults,” put the children out of our minds, and gotten to our present state of affairs.

Yet no legislature, as far as I know, has ever seriously debated treating adult divorce as one thing (tolerable as being of no concern to society), and family destruction/abandonment as the terrible destructive act that it is.
Such is the confusion caused when our language is used to facilitate this child vanishing act.

EXAMPLE TWO: GAY MARRRIAGE.

In the cause of ending the cruel persecution of gay people, “civil union” laws were proposed. While they were being adopted or considered in many states, it was proclaimed that only full “marriage rights” were acceptable.

The debate proceeded like this:

“Children are the real point of marriage,” the traditionalists said.

“What about childless couples? Aren’t they married?” the advocates countered. “Marriage, like sex, is about consenting adults. Besides, science shows that children only need caring adult parents, not mothers and fathers.”

And so, a few shoddy social-science “studies” supporting their position are cited. Contrary studies (and common sense) are ignored or brushed aside.

The courts have led the way in airbrushing children out of the picture of marriage. In a typical example, when the Iowa Supreme Court decided that marriage is not an institution between man and woman and that society has no interest in the traditional family, it cited:

 “an abundance of evidence and research, confirmed by our independent research, supporting the proposition that the interests of children are served equally by same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents. On the other hand, we acknowledge the existence of reasoned opinions that dual-gender parenting is the optimal environment for children. These opinions, while thoughtful and sincere, were largely unsupported by reliable scientific studies. The research appears to strongly support the conclusion that same-sex couples foster the same wholesome environment as opposite-sex couples and suggests that the traditional notion that children need a mother and a father to be raised into healthy, well-adjusted adults is based more on stereotype than anything else.” (April 3, 2009, p.54; my emphasis. No information regarding the court’s “independent research” is provided.)

And, by a remarkable bit of circular sophistry, each debate victory reinforces the other. Because marriage isn’t about children, gay couples can marry. And because gay couples can marry, they must be free to adopt children (like any other married couple). Gay adoption is OK because children don’t need mothers and fathers. And because gay adoption is OK, gay marriage must be OK too, so that the children will have families. Not that there is anything wrong with single parents…

And so on.

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Burke, PABGoo-ism, and Sophistry

Front Porch Republic has an excellent essay by Mark A. Signorelli entitled “A Burke For Our Times.”   It is worth a read.   Edmund Burke’s politics were based on an unblinking understanding of the reality of human nature, an understanding now sadly in decline.

It is generally assumed that a recognition of the dark side of human nature gives to conservatives a sour, gloomy, negative view of human society.   Even the briefest reading of Burke makes it clear that the truth is the opposite.  As Reinhold Niebuhr put it,   “Both the majesty and the tragedy of human life exceed the dimensions within which modern culture seeks to comprehend human existence.”  Rawls is certainly a case in point.

In contrasting the Rawlsian concept of human nature as unimportant on the one hand, and multiculturalism on the other, Signorelli fails to note the shallowly-thought but deeply-ingrained underpinning of multiculti thought.

This is, of course, the cheery world view which believes that “People Are Basically Good” (hence “PABGoo”; see below). PABGoos believe that all our problems are caused by bad political or economic systems, or not enough social science grants or psychotherapy or public education or whatever. The fact that it is publicly refuted countless times a day in every city on the globe has not stopped PABGoo-ism from becoming the default feel-good philosophy of our age.

Niebuhr:  “No accumulation of contrary evidence seems to disturb modern man’s good opinion of himself...The question therefore arises how modern man arrived at, and by what means he maintains, an estimate of his virtue in such pathetic contradiction with the obvious facts of his history.  One possible and plausible answer is that the great achievement of modern culture, the understanding of nature, is also the cause of the great confusion of modern man: the misunderstanding of human nature.”

In other words, our respect for the accomplishments of science has led us into the false worship of the sophistry that goes by the name of “social science”.

Signorelli skillfully posits the difference between a “principle-based” philosopher like Rawls and a reality-based philosopical citizen like Burke.  Rawls’ belief in the eventual promise of science explaining man to himself is an unacknowledged act of charming, childlike faith.  But the effects on society are not so charming.

“Social science” is in fact a uniquely modern form of sophistry.  It takes the forms, language, and prestige of science, and puts it to use in the service of any political, economic, or social movement willing to pay the “research” bill.  Plato’s Republic describes the Athenian sophists in terms that make clear their kinship with the modern social-scientific advocate.

The role of “social science” in overthrowing all the accumulated understanding of human nature is clearest in our modern judicial lawmaking.   When a social element wishes to overthrow an institution firmly established throughout human history, it does so on the basis of “social science.”  When the Iowa Supreme Court decided that marriage is not an institution between man and woman and that society has no interest in the traditional family, it cited

“”an abundance of evidence and research, confirmed by our independent research, supporting the proposition that the interests of children are served equally by same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents.  On the other hand, we acknowledge the existence of reasoned opinions that dual-gender parenting is the optimal environment for children.  These opinions, while thoughtful and sincere, were largely unsupported by reliable scientific studies.  The research appears to strongly support the conclusion that same-sex couples foster the same wholesome environment as opposite-sex couples and suggests that the traditional notion that children need a mother and a father to be raised into healthy, well-adjusted adults is based more on stereotype than anything else.”   (April 3, 2009, p.54; my emphasis)

Burke would have known what to say about such social-scientific nonsense put forth by sophistic advocates whose major goal is the destruction of all natural law and inherited wisdom.  In fact, he did say it.  Reflections on the Revolution in France is a truly great work.

UPDATE:

As if to drive home the point about the convenience of “social science” and its ability to prove whatever you need it to prove, read this from yesterday’s Science Daily.

College professors and students are in an arms race over cheating. Students find new sources for pre-written term papers; professors find new ways to check the texts they get for plagiarized material. But why are all these young people cheating? A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests one reason: income inequality, which decreases the general trust people have toward each other.

Got it?  Schoolkids cheat because of rich people!  Thanks, social scientists.

The Great Sophist

Eric Voegelin’s Plato and Aristotle (the third volume of his Order and History) studies Plato’s exposes of the Sophists, especially in The Republic.

It has become clear to me that these clever men, whose inherent corruption so troubled Socrates/Plato, were the true models of much of modern Western society.

“Plato described the Athenian society in which he lived as the Sophist written large, explaining the peculiarities of Athenian order by referring them to the socially predominant sophistic type,” says EV, and it seems to be true again in our own day.  The inter-connectedness of the Advocate, the Social Scientist, and the Community Organizer seem to me to be most meaningfully placed under the umbrella of the Sophists, all in more or less open, contemptuous rejection of the search for truth of the philosopher and the religious believer.

In EV’s words, “In Plato’s immediate environment the sophist is the enemy and the philosopher rises in opposition to him; in the wider range of Hellenic history, the philosopher comes first and the sophist follows him as the destroyer of his work through immanentization of the symbols of transcendence.”

These “symbols of transcendence” seem to me the rhetorical use of reason, the existence of truth and right order, and the concept of justice.  These are the classic tools of the Advocate, taught in law schools and embodied in politics.  But they have also become the tools of the mass media and higher education, among others homes of the elite.

Again EV paraphrasing Plato: “The general social environment in courts, assemblies, and theaters is the principal formative influence on young men, not the teaching of this or that individual sophist.  The many who exert the continuous pressure are ‘the Great Sophist’.

Plato/Socrates, The Republic:  “The individual sophists who teach for money have no doctrine of their own but echo the opinion of the multitude; and that is what they call their wisdom.  The professional sophist is rather comparable to a man in charge of a ‘great beast’;  he will study the habits of the animal and find out how to manage it.  Good will be what the beast likes, and bad will be what arouses its temper.”

Another “type” which seems to characterize modern society is the Therapist, as ably articulated by Philip Rieff (The Triumph of the Therapeutic).  But I begin to suspect that the Therapist is yet another variation on the Sophist.  He is an Advocate for the person paying the bills, spinning arguments to demonstrate that the subject is not responsible for his own problems.   (Consider the modern role of defense psychiatrists in courtrooms, invariably arguing for a frame of mind that renders the accused person less than fully responsible for his crimes.)  As EV put it, “The sophist proclaims his disease as the measure of human and social order.”

Flannery O’Connor wrote that “Plato’s enemies were the Sophists, and Socrates’ arguments against them are still today the classical arguments against that sophistic philosophy of existence which characterizes positivism and the age of enlightenment.”

Plato puts the contrast between philosopher and the sophist in the starkest possible light when he writes in The Laws: “God is for us (philosophers) the measure of all things, of a truth;  more truly so than, as they (sophists) say, man.”

Or, as EV put it, “The validity of the standards adapted by Plato and Aristotle depends on the conception of a man who can be the measure of society because God is the measure of his soul.”