Burgess Owens, W.E.B. Dubois, and the Arrogant Do-Gooder

Burgess Owens is an American of African descent who distinguished himself as a professional football player in his youth and, more lately, has achieved prominence for resisting the statist plantation where black people are supposed to spend their lives. He’s an extraordinary man from an extraordinary family. I’ve often wondered how a people who suffered so much from the institution of slavery could deliver themselves so willingly to the patronizing clutches of a Big Government machine promising to do every little thing for them. Believe it or not, several of the old folks who had been born into slavery and were interviewed by WPA social workers in the Thirties recited the mantra, “Things were better in slavery days.” That is, if their owners were reasonably humane, they had housing, clothing, food, medicine… all the essentials provided for them by Master. (A lot of these interviews are available now as free Kindle downloads.)

Owens doesn’t want any magnanimous patron making “life decisions” on his behalf. He feels the way I do about the government rushing in to look after me in my old age: bug off! I would give my life a thousand times to save my son… and my government expects me to rob him of his future because I was too stupid and shiftless to save for my last days?

I do wish Owens might have hooked up with a competent editor in writing Liberalism, or How to a Turn Good Men into Whiners, Weenies, and Wimps… but the editorial “corrections” made by publishing houses nowadays are worse than no editing at all. (I discovered that the hard way.) If you’ll pardon all the brackets and ellipsis points, however, here’s an extremely interesting passage from the end of ch. 9:

It is easy to conclude that for young DuBois, due to his liberal teaching and indoctrination at Harvard and [the] University of Berlin, … both evolution and eugenics had become core tenets of his belief system.  These tenets he would later apply to the “lesser evolved” masses of his race and the “crème de la crème” intellectuals, the Talented Tenth.  As documented by Broderick, DuBois, at 25 years old, would take stock in [sic] his future.  In his diary he would speculate [about] his place in the modern world.  His comments seem to allude to a perception of self as a potential Savior of his race.

“I am glad I am living, I rejoice as a strong man to run a race, and I am strong—is it egotism, … [this] assurance—or is it the silent call of the world spirit that makes me feel that I am royal and that beneath my scepter a world of kings shall bow?  The hot dark blood of that black forefather born king of men—is beating at my heart and I know that I am either a genius or a fool….  This I do know: be the truth what it may I will seek it on [the] pure assumption that it is worth seeking—and Heaven nor Hell, God not Devil shall turn me from my purpose till I die.”

The quoted phrases in the first paragraph were actually used by W.E.B. DuBois, founder of the NAACP. What this passage reveals with shocking clarity is the immense hubris of the man who was the self-appointed Moses (or Jesus) of his race, and who esteemed nine-tenths of his “tribe” too stupid to be capable of finding their own way. The same arrogant attitude is shared by every progressive “do-gooder” on the current scene. If only you could see what’s really in their hearts, the contempt in which they hold you and me… to them, we are mere children. And since we’re not children at all, we are “as if” children—which is to say, idiots.

The Unending Christian Dispute Over Islam

Over the past few days, I’ve had several sustained exchanges with friends and acquaintances about Islam. The most ardent and influential of these correspondents insisted that my effort to distinguish between Islam and Islamism is a waste of time. He made the following points:

1) Islam itself is the problem. Its objective is not to disseminate a religious vision, but to enforce a body of law upon the rest of the world.

2) Its scriptures are replete not with descriptions of historical violence, but with “how to” varieties of “instructional violence”.

3) Its exhortation to follow Mohammed’s example (even before Koranic teaching, so my friend argues), drives such behaviors as the merciless execution of enemies and the marrying of child-brides.

4) ISIS, Al Qaeda, et al. are merely following Islam to the letter; civil, peaceful, amiable Muslims (of which my friend concedes there are many) are in fact far less true to their faith than the terrorist is.

5) Islam continues to spread unrest of the most sanguinary sort around the world, and has done so without respite throughout its history: e.g., Boko Haram’s predations in Nigeria, which doesn’t “take their oil or support Israel or any of that crap.”

I can’t maintain that I have ever found reading the Koran particularly uplifting—or, I should say, that the uplifting parts seem to me sufficient motive to brush away the disturbing parts. And I will quickly add that parts of the Old Testament have always deeply troubled me, from Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son to the programs of genocide in the books of Samuel. But I rarely hear those sections of the Bible recommended in Christian culture as paradigms for how we should conduct ourselves in daily life or how our nation should construct a foreign policy. Another friend made the oft-repeated point to me that this resistance to ignoring certain bellicose sections of the Koran—or this acquiescence to the decisions of leaders not to ignore them—is a major stumbling block to those of us who would reach across the barriers of traditional practice.

I mentioned Zuhdi Jasser to my most vocal contact. He revealed that he had actually worked with Jasser and found him completely sincere… but that the good doctor’s humane secularism was doomed to failure in the broader Islamic world.

Honesty compels me to say that I can’t disagree with most of the points made in these exchanges. I suppose one of my reservations would qualify as pragmatic. It’s this: I don’t know where moderate Muslims like Jasser and Qanta Ahmed are to turn if we say, “You’re lovely people… but your diabolical faith must either devour you or transform you. Your one chance is to cross entirely over to our side.” Isn’t that an ideal strategy for pushing all of the moderates over to the other side?

I have one more objection, which is not at all pragmatic but has a much stronger grip upon me. As a Christian, I am fully persuaded that God is not morally inscrutable to us, but rather that He speaks very comprehensibly of basic right and wrong to every ear that listens. Nevertheless, I cannot tell a Muslim, “Your god is too distant, too arbitrary and morally unmoored from humanity”—not when it is we who practice wholesale abortion and insist that mainstream culture admit one deviant sexual practice after another. I am ashamed of Christendom, on the whole. Perhaps so many Muslims are convinced that Christianity is not the answer because they see how self-styled Christian populations behave on TV, at the movies, through the medium of pop music, and even in legislative decisions.

Marrying a child-bride is pretty awful. Slipping off on weekend junkets from Frisco or Seattle to Thailand so you can wallow through fields of child-prostitutes… well, I think I’m okay with beheading in those instances.

Real Faith and Fake Faith

I lately ran across an Arthur C. Clarke short story titled “The Star”. I suppose if you can accept space travel to the far reaches of the universe as plausible, you can also accept that a Jesuit priest would participate in the mission—though the latter seems the more challenging proposition. Clarke had to put the narration in the priest’s mouth, no doubt, in order to make his indictment of religion flow from someone who once numbered among the most faithful. Our narrator has just discovered the pitiful remnants of a once thriving culture, parallel to Earth’s highest human civilizations in its art, social order, and sophistication. Its leaders had apparently deposited the essential works and creations of a long history—or some commemorative record of them—on a Pluto-like planet shortly before their solar system’s central star vaporized all traces of life. Now the Jesuit, no longer a believer, cannot imagine how any god worthy of the name would allow an entire higher life form to vanish into nothingness, and to no end whatever.

I’ve heard objections to faith like this all my life. What disturbs me most is that a person might harbor them who really is a priest or minister—for I can’t in good conscience accuse Clarke of manufacturing this character just to deliver his atheistic message more powerfully. There are truly “believers” of this caliber who refuse to accept that God would ever allow the U.S. to be irradiated by a hail of nuclear missiles—or even (let’s keep it all natural) that God would ever allow the Yellowstone caldera to revive and become a super-volcano, its next eruption exterminating much of central North America’s population. The same people are deeply challenged when someone they love happens to die of natural causes, leaving them no one to blame but God himself… whom, in “punishment”, they may declare not to exist.

We might as well have no faith at all if we believe that having it is somehow an assurance against material tragedy or disaster. An entire planet’s being wiped out in a supernova is really no different from an individual’s being suddenly snuffed out in his sleep by a stroke. Even though his life’s “great work”—a novel written, a bridge built, a new water-filtration system invented—is not wiped out along with him in the latter case, everything we do will eventually vanish from these present dimensions. The purpose is all in the trying: somehow or other, in my opinion, that’s the measure of our souls. We’re all on a desert island, if you will, where we will never be found. We can turn wild and rape and kill… or we can build houses and carve instruments and domesticate birds, though no trace of our activity will remain within a century.

Not on the island, at any rate: but if you have faith, then you view the island merely as a small portal to an infinitely vaster reality. It is through that entry, and not on this side of it, that things will make ultimate sense. And if you do not have faith… then see if you can swing the heaviest club and get everyone to kneel to you. Your bones will be bleached just as white as theirs in a few short years.

The really pitiful ones, I repeat, are those who think they have faith, yet make it completely dependent upon a ship’s arriving at the island tomorrow… or the next day.

Why Does Language Only Degenerate?

Among other things I’m doing to wear myself out and drive myself crazy during summer “vacation” is the complete overhaul of an introductory textbook that presents Latin and classical Greek together. Every time I muck about in an ancient language, I’m struck by how much of the system has already been lost when things start being recorded. It’s very odd. We all picture to ourselves, in our arrogantly progressive mindset, a bunch of cavemen slowly stringing words together and discovering the fine points of grammar. “Me see mammoth,” works its way at a glacial pace to, “I see mammoth”… and then to, “I saw a mammoth,” and so on.

But that’s not what the written record shows. Rather, by the time things are committed to stone or clay or parchment, case endings are already in full collapse. Latin must have had a distinct vocative (for calling out a person’s name) and a distinct locative (for identifying where something happens) among its other noun endings; for we see relics of both cases, and Sanskrit has in fact preserved both in much better repair. A lot of other endings, however, probably disappeared entirely. Accompaniment and manner are both expressed in the ablative (“with great praise” and “with a friend”), though they likely had separate spellings at some point in the distant past. Prepositions were born, in fact, as case endings were misremembered to the point that many started to sound alike. Most Latin endings, indeed, are almost identical with dative endings, and in Greek the ablative and dative had fused seamlessly. These languages were in full meltdown already as the first millennium before Christ began.

I’m just throwing this out there: something was going on about four or five thousand years ago whose magnitude we haven’t begun to suspect–something on the order of a cultural awakening, a global burst of inspiration and genius. The wild-eyed types who chatter away on Ancient Aliens will point to the Pyramids, Stonehenge, complex structures newly unearthed in southeastern Turkey, Mayan and Incan construction… and the question is always, “Could this intricate creation be the work of extraterrestrial visitors? Ancient alien theorists say ‘yes’!”

Well, in a way, that’s just playing the same progressive game: i.e., primitive humans were so stupid that they couldn’t have devised such wonders on their own. I’m not dismissing the ET explanation out of hand, because these matters are so mysterious that any sufficient answer has to be mind-blowing. But did a benign ET also give us the elaborate linguistic structures which proceeded to decay in our inept and lazy custody over the next few millennia? Or were we ourselves brilliant at one time, perhaps when we lived for the better part of two centuries like biblical patriarchs… and then we began to fall apart?

At the very least, there’s plenty enough mystery in human history to teach us more respect for pre-history than we commonly display–and to alert us, as well, that we’re very capable of great leaps backward as well as forward.

The Lessons of Working Up an Honest Sweat

Lately, I have been struggling to put up any new posts or to spend much time polishing what does get up. The reason is that the revision of a book I finished a year ago has sucked me in. Once I begin a project like this one, I can’t juggle very much else at the same time. I acquire a kind of vision of where the work should be going, and I need for my mind to cling closely to that vision as I wade through all the chapters that stray hither and yon from it. I can’t simply give the thing an hour’s attention one day and half an hour’s two days later: I have to maintain focus.

Before I start making myself sound like Michel de Montaigne, I should confess that the work in question is about baseball swings as taken a century ago with very different bats. Most people would find that admission a big let-down… “Oh! I thought maybe you were writing about the possibility of preserving our humanity as Artificial Intelligence absorbs more and more of our mental function.” I would scarcely redeem myself before such a commentator if I added that no book whatever exists on the subject, that casual references to yesteryear’s hitting techniques are ludicrously imprecise and inept, and that my crazy dream is eventually to teach some of what I’ve learned through research and experimentation to young people who’ve been told that they’re too small to play the game.

For, yes, there’s a kind of mission involved in this project. I watched my son get nudged aside and passed over for the better part of two decades as he tried to advance and improve in the game he so loved, all because of his size. It ticked me off. It still does, in retrospect. And so I started learning about hitting, and learning more… all of it too late to do him any good, of course; but one of the morals of my study is indeed that much of this sport depends on technique rather than size, and that it seems otherwise only because the professional gurus no longer know the old techniques.

I will add in this forum, though, that yet further and broader lessons might be gleaned from my work. One is that life generally is a terrain occupied by mutually supporting groups of “specialists” who understand nothing beyond their microscopic sphere of expertise—and who often don’t understand that, either, but unite to conceal their ignorance before a dazed public of “uninitiated outsiders”. I can say this confidently, because I have made myself an expert on the subject of yesteryear’s hitting in the game of baseball—and yet much of what I wrote about year ago in the book’s first version is utter crap. My satisfaction in how much I’ve learned lately is more or less neutralized by my chagrin at how wrong I got it all just a few months ago. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we should always remember that we don’t know what we don’t know.

Another lesson is that we forget our culture’s past at our own considerable risk. The assumption has been made in hitting instruction that the oldtimers were comical amateurs who practiced their art about the same way that the Wright brothers practiced flying. You don’t really think that Wilbur and Orville could teach you anything about your Cessna, do you? Probably not, in terms of handling the controls… but maybe they could tell you something about the fear of the unknown or about how to keep a cool head in a crisis.

Finally (just because I need to get on with it today), I have learned that a boy needs to try his hand at something physical, and that a man needs to retain that interest in the active. As politically incorrect as it is to say, boys are in more trouble than girls today because the insulated, safety-net society is more damaging to them. They need to undertake, to initiate… and that means that they must come to know failure well and learn to attack a resistant problem from a different angle. Baseball offers all sorts of opportunity to earn an advanced degree in failure: it breaks you heart. But it can also, for that very reason, teach you how to put a heart back together again.

As for grown men, they—we—need to get out from behind our keyboards once in a while and swing a bat, throw a ball, bail some hay, drive some nails (not with a pneumatic nail-gun, please)… they need to do something other than vegetate with their “ideas”. I’m convinced that quality of thought actually deteriorates as physical contact with the world of hard labor is lost. Indeed, almost all of our political and existential dilemmas in the West are owed somewhat to our losing touch with basic reality. When I was still trying to be a “scholar”, many moons ago, I wrote a little piece about a 2,500-year-old fragment of Sappho’s where she compares a woman getting married rather late in life to an apple that has grown high on the tree, out of reach of the pickers. I pointed out that these are the best fruit because they get so much sun: they grow the largest and taste the sweetest. Any ancient Greek hearing Sappho’s poem would have known that… but the great “scholar” who reviewed my piece could only sniff and turn up his nose because I hadn’t indicated another poet from whom Sappho might have borrowed the image. She borrowed it from life, stupid!

Thank God—and baseball—that my son hasn’t grown up to be a “scholar”!

On the Absurdity of “Gender Multiplicity”

Cogar leat, as the Irish used to say: “a whisper with you.” If gender is now to be considered mere cultural conditioning (like the preference for trousers or a kilt) rather than biological hardwiring, then why are we as a culture expected to tolerate all genders? I can put on a tie if it offends the group into which I seek acceptance for me to have an open collar. Why, then, should we not expect people to desist from, say, transgender behavior if it isn’t part of our broader culture? People eat stray cats and dogs in some parts of the world, but we don’t. If your puppy wanders off and ends up on my table, do you have a right to be upset with me? I should think so, in the context of the culture that we’re supposed to share! Do you have a right to sit in a restaurant without having to listen to people all around you slurp, burp, and smack their lips? Inasmuch as our cultural context disapproves of such behavior, I should say, “Yes, absolutely!”

So why should I be expected to tolerate without a whimper the teaching to my children of promiscuous sexual practices or a complete comfort with homosexual marriage? To the extent that the educational establishment has ever been able to construct a rational case for imposing such a curriculum upon us, it has done so on the assumption that sexual behaviors are dictates of nature rather than free choices—and that persecuting someone for being attracted to the same gender is as unfair as persecution of redheads or people of short stature. (Personally, I would strongly contest that restricting the definition of marriage constitutes persecution, any more than the limited opportunities for employment as jockeys indicate a persecution of six-footers… but let that pass for now.)

If the new doctrine of the educational elite has now abandoned that moral premise (i.e., that our sexual habits are in fact forced upon us by an irresistible genetic program), then why should we any longer be required to be lectured and schooled in matters of taste and preference? If you as a teacher insist that my child not only be allowed to belch, but that he accept that behavior in others and even wag his finger at me if I show disapproval, then you’re not teaching “diversity” or “tolerance”: you’re imposing one set of cultural values—your own—upon another culture that rejects them. You are manifesting an intolerance of my culture and demanding that my divergent ways fall into lockstep behind yours. You’re not just a dictator: you’re a pious hypocrite.

For the record, I believe that a very few people probably have, indeed, been dealt a bad hand by Mother Nature and cannot relate to the opposite sex in a manner that will give them access to the joys and comforts of family life. I regard them with commiseration, for Mother Nature has shortchanged most of us in one way or another. As old Seneca says, Nulli attigit impune nasci: “No one has entered this life without some shortcoming.”

I’m just as convinced, however, that the vast majority of people who are wrestling with their sexuality today are refugees from the sexual revolution that has raged since I was young. Heterosexual dating has grown so carnivorous that many flee the opposite sex; and as for family, our “Where’s mine?” culture of egocentrism as so undermined the ethic of self-sacrifice that only bad examples of conjugal life and bad experiences with it seem to surround us.

From some elevated perch in the high towers crowning the impenetrable citadels of politics and education, a few perverted and corrupt minds are smiling at all this and devising new ways to promote it. The fragmentation of gender into a million pieces, as a mere “cultural construct”, is one of those ways. The more we are uprooted from the significant relationships natural to human beings, the more we become putty in their squalid, ambitious hands.


Postscript: Questions About Catholicism

I don’t need to say that I have had many Catholic friends, and I won’t say that I’ve had more (of the few good friends I’ve ever known) than a random sampling of the American public could possibly account for. I also understand that, while my Catholic friends share many of my own reservations about “the Church”, they don’t necessarily like to hear me review them item by item. That’s human nature. As a Texan by birth and a Southerner by lineage, I’m painfully aware of the foibles and limitations of both groups… but I can get a little irked when I have to listen to an outsider mock a drawl or reduce the Civil War’s causes to racism.

Just let me add this, then, to my previous comments. A professor of physics at Tulane named Frank Tipler wrote a book titled The Physics of Christianity that I lately read… well, kind of read. The degree of physics in the early going seemed rather ostentatious to me and was way over my head; but the point where I actually couldn’t make myself continue (for pride kept me trudging through the formulas that I pretended to half-understand) was somewhere later, where suggestions about the Christian faith—these from a devout man who’s obviously more intelligent than I’ll ever dream of being—began to depress me deeply.

Professor Tipler, you can’t seriously believe that God’s plan for the salvation of the soul is being accomplished by digital technology—that our minds and personalities will be overwritten to chips that can be transferred to an indefinite series of corporeal residences—no, you don’t truly believe that such is the eternity promised in the Gospels, do you? Is that really… it? No higher revelation of the ends of goodness? No reunion with spirits from centuries ago whose creations have awakened us? No admission to such beauty and order as even the Milky Way can only imply in the dullest manner?

I had heard before that parthenogenesis can naturally occur and, apparently, does in an almost infinitesimal number of cases. If the Holy Spirit’s fertilizing a human egg turns out to be a metaphor for a freakish but entirely explicable reproductive anomaly, then… then there’s really no role for the supernatural to play, is there?

And indeed, Professor Tipler, you argue repeatedly that miracles are merely rare occurrences rather than physically impossible ones. But the universe’s very birth from nothing is a physical impossibility, from the standpoint of human reason (I didn’t understand your case to the contrary). If our faith cannot assert that ultimate reality contains events and powers inconceivable to our temporal intelligence, then for what do we need faith?

To me personally, this one is especially obnoxious: that Jesus retained his purity because, thanks to biological parthenogenesis, he was born as sterile as a mule. Do you not grasp, Professor—you whose mind encloses so many mathematical truths that leave me at the starting gate—that a eunuch can incur no moral credit for having mastered sexual impulses? If a sage or spiritual guru never feels anger because he has undergone a lobotomy or never knows fear because he has destroyed his sight and hearing, then he’s no teacher at all and has mastered nothing.

In a Catholic context, I’ve noticed that certain behaviors tend to receive more attention than the state of mind in which they are performed. Frank Tipler, a very devout Catholic, represents some of my greatest apprehensions on this score. He has explained (at least to his own satisfaction) a universe whose physical laws permit the fulfillment of every biblical promise in terms we can understand (or might understand if we were gifted physicists). In his zeal to defend God’s realm, the Professor seems to me to have exiled God from that realm and redefined its parameters to suit the human hand and footstep.

Just as excusing the utopian crusade to create permanent peace all over the earth could well lead to a dystopian, Orwellian hell, so the project of envisioning the life of the soul through computer chips and the abstemious discipline of moral guide through hormonal privation is… well, horribly depressing. It’s cultic. It makes me want to weep for so much intelligence so abused.