Rep Democ.

Representative Democracy:

The people have spoken. Now get to work.


Kindness to Others:

Douglas, in the comments to the post on Beauty and Desecration, remarked:

"Bring back true chivalry, bring back the idea that love is more than hormones and lust, bring back the idea that one can take time to stop and contemplate something beautiful, to sit in silence and dream."

I still think it was a big mistake to start translating charity as love[i.e., translating "caritas" -Grim]. It moved from something involving action and possible cost, and instead became about feelings- just too self-centered for my tastes.

It's easier to feel love than to live charitably.
Ms. Jessica Crispin reviews a book that argues we are wired to be kind, as proven by all the unkindness in the world.
Even believing that humans are hardwired for kindness — and not that competition rules all — could affect everything from simple interactions to national policy on eldercare and the health system.

They write in On Kindness that while it’s always been a philosophical quandary as to whether man’s nature was genuinely kind or selfish, the cynics won out and convinced us that kindness is the clothing civilization forces us to wear, and that deep down we are all wild beasts. Instead of being the cooperative generous beings that primatologists and anthropologists have suggested we are, the argument goes, we need religion and laws to keep us from slicing each other open on a regular basis. Kindness, then, was relegated to your Christian duty, to be done as an item on a checklist....

It can be unpleasant, and there is a prevailing notion that vulnerability and kindness are signs of weakness — for a long time kindness was seen as the territory of weak-minded women, while competition, brutality, and selfishness were the powers of the superior man. Today independence and self-sufficiency are the true virtues, and the interdependence that comes with a kind nature is looked down upon.

And yet when have humans ever craved kindness quite so much? Phillips and Taylor write, “The modern Western adult’s fear about himself is that, to put it crudely as possible, his hatred is stronger than his love; that there is, in the British psychoanalyst Ernest Jones’s words, ‘much less love in the world than there appears to be.’”
I'm not sure how this turned into an anti-Christian rant, since Christianity was the main voice in Western culture that continued to insist on kindness. More, it did so in a way that claimed the virtue equally for men and for women, which seems to be the other complaint here.

(It's because Christianity made it into a 'duty,' instead of suggesting that it's something fun and natural. How oppressive. -ed. Well, when it is fun and natural we don't need to be led to it; the important thing is to be kind and charitable when it's hard, not when it's easy.)

The surviving point, though, is that kindness is an active virtue. It's not enough to have feelings of love for people, but do nothing. It's also not enough to feel a sense of charity, and therefore to vote for someone to do something about it -- but do nothing yourself. To realize the good of the virtue, you actually have to do something.

"Interdependence" isn't the thing that causes us to shy from being more open to showing kindness, though. It's dependence -- not ours, but others'. We all love to take in lost kittens and stray dogs; but if you make a policy of doing it, you very soon find yourself so awash in cats and dogs that every dime of your income is going to their upkeep, while they have long since shredded your curtains and ruined your floors.

The same applies to people. St. Francis of Assisi was able to spend his life in service to the poor because he was able to give up everything and live in a mud-and-branch hut. If you also are willing to adopt a lifestyle that is poorer than that the poor covet for themselves, there is no problem about this. Such a decision must surely be made individually: no one has the right to decide for us that we shall give up everything and live in mud huts, so that the poor may be given whatever we might have.

There are people who are unfit for the pressures of American capitalism, lacking either the ability or the will to do the work to support themselves. They desire protection or support instead of freedom. Many we imprison. Others we support via welfare programs, or by the kind of government job-as-sinecure that we find in every major bureaucracy, the kind where you are entitled to a paycheck and essentially cannot be fired regardless of performance.

I used to believe that these bureaucracies were purely wicked institutions for that reason. The job they do may need to be done ("may," I say, because many of them I think we could dispense with entirely); but it could surely be done more efficiently with private employees who were under threat of firing and other economic pressures. Forcing people to rise to those higher standards would mean that they did rise to them, and society would be better than it is.

Cassandra said recently, in another context, that it is a great fault of conservatives that they like to write rules with the best-equipped in mind. "The government that governs best, governs least" applies well to people who -- left alone - will strive unceasingly for the betterment of their families and beloved ones. Not everyone is like that, though, and leaving them without guidance may create problems. Telling them they must compete at the highest levels when they cannot may be equally wrong.

The problem of dependence remains. The government is currently in the hands of people who want to vote themselves, and their constituents, a living at the expense of others. That's no more sustainable than having the policy of always taking in stray cats and dogs when you meet them.

Even so, there is a duty to charity. We must find a way to support the weak with jobs and care, without the concern that we will thereby find ourselves voted into their forced servitude. We must reclaim the right to decide how much charity we can afford. Some will be generous, and some less, and a few will follow St. Francis into the forest.

The charity, though, will be freely given rather than stolen at sword's point. That's the other point missing from On Kindness' idea that our debates on public policy will be altered by a recognition of a human impulse to kindness. In order to get the benefits of the virtue, it has to be active: which means it has to be chosen. The effect on one's mind of choosing to be kind to the weak is just as they describe. The effect on the mind of having your taxes raised, or your property seized to pay for those taxes, is quite opposite.

If you want to raise the amount of love in the world, you can't do it by force. Not even with the government and its mechanisms as your handmaidens.

Defending Ms. Clinton

A Word, Or Rather Not, In Defense of Mrs. Clinton:

I would rise to the defense of our Secretary of State against baseless slander, but frankly, North Korean diplomats are hardly fit to speak to her. You can receive insult only from an equal; no free woman should bother even to snap her fingers at the insults of the slave diplomats of a regime of liars.

From the subjects of North Korea, perhaps: for in suffering, we are exalted. Those who suffer as these do have a claim beyond equality, even on our service. If we have a policy toward North Korea, it should be aimed at their service. Never, though, should we speak of equality for those who receive preference from such a regime as the DPRK.

I do hope the lady might speak to the women of Iran, sometime soon. There are cries that ought to pierce her, when the last lie of the last diplomat has failed.

Medieval Music:

There is a line in the Cantiga 119 video, below, that states that "The use of fifths, coupled with unique phrasing, gives Medieval music its distinctive sound."

I had never thought of it before, but it is true that Medieval music has a distinctive sound. It's not just that it's "early" -- it's distinctive even among other traditional music (for example, Chinese or Japanese early music), and not just because of the use of different instruments.

The performers who recorded that version of Cantiga 119 kindly wrote back to my inquiry: "A fifth would be from C to G, that is an interval of a fifth. CDEFG,
see? or D to A DEFGA.... After medieval times, they weren't used much. And
Bach almost never used parallel fifths, which would be like D & A to
E & B."

Perhaps our resident music theorist, or others who are learned, might explain how the "fifth" works with the human brain. I'd like to know more about this than I do.

Sex and Necessity

Sex, Necessity, and the Tale:

I've been following this series of posts, and even made a sketch at a response. But today's entries have clarified what bother me about venturing into the matter with a whole heart.

What’s interesting about these public confessions—and, I suspect, what makes them so satisfying to women—is that they are utterly humiliating to husbands. Granted, Bialosky has protected her husband’s privacy by referring to him as “D.” throughout the essay—but perhaps, if her heart had really been in it, she would have written under a pseudonym. Clearly, sticking it to D. was part of her intention when she wrote and published the piece.
Yes, that's it.

The only part of the wedding vow that the courts ever attempt to enforce is the one about 'forsaking all others' who are outside of the marriage contract -- i.e., adultery. That is not less binding than the promise to 'love, honor and cherish,' which is normally included as well; yet failure to cherish is not normally punished, though it is surely at the heart of many of the problems people have.

Now, it's good that people who have fears or concerns can voice them and try to seek an answer. It is probably impossible to discuss your marriage's internal workings without embarrassing your spouse, unless you are perfectly happy. Discussing a spouse's marital failures certainly violates some part of the obligation to 'love, honor and cherish' their feelings by shaming the spouse in public.

What may be the best thing to do is to talk about the matter at angles -- for example, through literature. My favorite literature on a troubled marriage is the tale of Geraint and Enid, which is recorded in several forms. Ideally, you might read them all (with the exception of my own version, which is too modern to provide any useful insight; and in any event, was written chiefly as a lens for understanding the 9/11 attacks, and what must be done because of them).

Each of the forms offers a different view of the problem and the solution, just as a tale written by the wife may display the problem in a different light than the same tale written by the husband.

They all point to a basic problem, though: a man who begins to fail at being a man, as success and peace render him less than he was in the days of strife and war; and a wife who begins to be disappointed. In some versions she is perfectly faithful, and he scornful when reproached; in other versions, she truly does begin to be disappointed, and he is fair but determined to prove her worries unfounded.

It's worth trying to see it from all the angles, and in each light. Our ancestors knew much, and said much, though it is not always easy to hear them over the roar of what we wish to believe is true.

Cry Wolf

Crying Wolf and Modern Politics:

Some of you may have missed Elise's comment on the post below re: the New York Post report that ObamaCare would require end-of-life counseling sessions. If I may be so bold as to summarize, she read through several comparable sections, and believes that instead the language intends to limit the number of such sessions that Medicare will pay for, i.e., not more than once every five years unless you are in hospice or other serious care.

We all know Elise for a careful thinker with close attention to detail, so I'm willing to assume that her reading of the bill is better than the Post's.

Today she has a post expanding on that comment, and elaborating a fear she has that the Right -- meaning the professional Right, I think, its think-tanks and journalists and advocates -- is intentionally making overly strong claims about the bill. She worries that the claims will undermine the Right's credibility, making it harder to convince people of the less-strong-but-still-very-serious problems.

Personally, I think it is more likely that the Post author is simply less careful and thorough than Elise. Elise is a former computer programmer and quantitative analyst, after all, both of which require a mind much more well-suited for this kind of work than is normal. What seems more likely to me is that the Post author brought some expectations to the text of the bill, and so thought she had found what she was expecting to see.

For the sake of argument, however, let's say that Elise is correct. I said in an email exchange to her, which she asked me to reproduce, that I thought she was probably right about the text of the bill, but wrong about the effect of the rhetoric:

The rhetorical position is this:

A) There is already a perception that the Left is willing to endorse euthanasia and semi-forced living wills as a cost-cutting measure, etc., and

B) The public is suspicious of that.

Therefore, C) It is strongly beneficial to tee up an endless series of things that appear to endorse euthanasia, etc., and require the Left to deny it. Every claim will reinforce the perception, and every denial will require time that could have been spent defending the plan.

In addition, consider that the denial has to take the form: 'No, no, if you read Paragraph 45 of Subsection 23 of Section EE, and compare it to Pargraph 54 of Subsection 32 of Section DD, you can see that...'

Do you see what I mean? "The Right" has nothing to lose here in terms of credibility, because very few are going that far down the road. Rather, the people will see a claim that echoes with their existing perception (and which they are therefore inclined to believe); and then they will hear for an answer a bureaucratic mish-mash that sounds like gibberish if it isn't read thoroughly and digested. 99% of humanity will simply assume from that the claim is true, and the counterclaim is an attempt to hide the truth behind layers of lawyer-speak.

That's not to say that you're wrong about the facts. I mean, purely from the perspective of rhetoric, this is a powerful and likely to be a successful tactic. The one thing that could undermine the Right's position would be to admit they were wrong, which would indeed undercut their credibility. The most successful rhetoric will, instead, answer every such defense with a new charge: 'So you claim that mish-mash is a defense? Well, then explain how in section 12, you call for taxpayers to pay for lawyers to write living wills for the elderly.'

The endgame position leaves the Right having checkmated the Left. The Right has made a series of simple, clear, broad claims that the public was already inclined to accept; the Left has become so lost in the minutae of multiple defenses that it is unable to make a clear reply.

I don't write that to endorse the tactics, but simply to explain them, since you seem to feel the Right is making an error. They may be making a moral error; but not a rhetorical one. There they are doing the very thing most likely to lead to success. This is how debate is conducted in a large democracy, where it must persuade the hundred-millions instead of the few.

It's just how the Left defeated the Right on Social Security, a few years ago -- and you can see that the final position was just as I describe. The Left convinced the public that the Right was ready to throw senior citizens to the wolves; the Right was so lost in explaining the details of its defenses that it lost the ability to communicate. All it could do was babble on about subsections and rates of growth.

As for me, that's why I asked, "Seriously?" It sounded incredible (though not impossible, given the clear displays of arrogance by the government these last few years).
She pointed out to me that we've certainly seen the approach more recently than that. She cites this post from a blog called "Reclusive Leftist" (whom, should she follow this link back here and be horrified, I would like to refer to this recent post as an introduction to company probably more right-wing than she's accustomed to having):

But even weirder is what happens when you try to replace the myths with the truth. If you explain, “no, she didn’t charge rape victims,” your feminist interlocutor will come back with something else: “she’s abstinence-only!” No, you say, she’s not; and then the person comes back with, “she’s a creationist!” and so on. “She’s an uneducated moron!” Actually, Sarah Palin is not dumb at all, and based on her interviews and comments, I’d say she has a greater knowledge of evolution, global warming, and the Wisconsin glaciation in Alaska than the average citizen.

But after you’ve had a few of these myth-dispelling conversations, you start to realize that it doesn’t matter. These people don’t hate Palin because of the lies; the lies exist to justify the hate.
The lies don't exist to justify the hate, exactly. The lies and the hate are both means to the end of destroying the ability of the thing to exist in American politics. Sarah Palin was very dangerous, and had to be destroyed. The hate and the lies were tools.

I still think it is less likely that the Post is attempting to leverage lies in this way, than that they aren't as careful and methodical as Elise. It's very easy for someone with a precise and clever mind not to understand how other people can be so slow and careless.

Still, the method does exist, and it has been employed on occasion. It's necessary to be aware of it, so you don't fall prey to it -- from either side.

Duty to Die

Duty to Die:

Well, you've probably seen this interview:

The President appears to be saying not that the 105 year old lady should have chosen to die, but that others who did not have her... what?... should choose to take pain pills instead of having lifesaving surgery.

The actual question is not answered. The actual question was very much tied to the issue of the lady's "what?": spirit, joy of life, strength, it's hard to say. The actual question was: Would that be taken into account?

The answer is: No, it won't. How can any bureaucracy develop standards to judge it, when we can't define exactly what it is?

Protein Wisdom is writing about this as well. They look at the experience of others who have gone down this road.

Many old people now fear Dutch hospitals. More than 10% of senior citizens who responded to a recent survey, which did not mention euthanasia, volunteered that they feared being killed by their doctors without their consent....

As the cost of socialized medicine in the Netherlands grew, doctors were lectured about the importance of keeping expenses down. In many hospitals, signs were posted indicating how much old-age treatments cost taxpayers. The result was a growing “social pressure” from doctors and others, says Arno Heltzel, a spokesman for the Catholic Union of the Elderly, the largest Dutch senior-citizen group, which favors voluntary euthanasia. “Old people have to excuse themselves for living. When they say that all of their friends are dead, people say, ‘Maybe it is time for you to go too,’ rather than, ‘You need to find new friends.’"
This is the picture of a society that has no respect for the concept of a Right to Life, but a very clear picture of a Duty to Die. We must break this magic.

Cassidy Music

Music from Cassandra:

Cassandra has a post today that I'm tempted to steal reproduce in full. Instead, I'm going to pull my favorite of the examples.

This is a very good rendition of Cantiga 119, of the famous Cantigas de Santa Maria.

Beauty and Desecration

"Beauty and Desecration"

Roger Scruton has an important piece City Journal by that title. Readers of the Hall will be familiar with the thrust, as we have often discussed the topic, but Dr. Scruton's approach is worthy of reading on its own.

At any time between 1750 and 1930, if you had asked an educated person to describe the goal of poetry, art, or music, “beauty” would have been the answer. And if you had asked what the point of that was, you would have learned that beauty is a value, as important in its way as truth and goodness, and indeed hardly distinguishable from them.
As Scruton points out, the Modern period replaced beauty with originality. We've discussed the subsequent crash in the quality of art, as students of the arts ceased to care about method so much as the 'statement' they wished to make. Picasso was a master of method who chose to play with new things; those who followed him decided they didn't need to master the methods at all.

As the Japanese swordsmen say, though, one who is a master shows it in all things. It was the discipline that shaped a man with interesting things to say.

Dr. Scruton continues:
An example that particularly struck me was a 2004 production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Komische Oper Berlin (see “The Abduction of Opera,” Summer 2007). Die Entführung tells the story of Konstanze—shipwrecked, separated from her fiancé Belmonte, and taken to serve in the harem of the Pasha Selim. After various intrigues, Belmonte rescues her, helped by the clemency of the Pasha—who, respecting Konstanze’s chastity and the couple’s faithful love, declines to take her by force. This implausible plot permits Mozart to express his Enlightenment conviction that charity is a universal virtue, as real in the Muslim empire of the Turks as in the Christian empire of the enlightened Joseph II. Even if Mozart’s innocent vision is without much historical basis, his belief in the reality of disinterested love is everywhere expressed and endorsed by the music. Die Entführung advances a moral idea, and its melodies share the beauty of that idea and persuasively present it to the listener.

In his production of Die Entführung, the Catalan stage director Calixto Bieito set the opera in a Berlin brothel, with Selim as pimp and Konstanze one of the prostitutes. Even during the most tender music, copulating couples littered the stage, and every opportunity for violence, with or without a sexual climax, was taken. At one point, a prostitute is gratuitously tortured, and her nipples bloodily and realistically severed before she is killed. The words and the music speak of love and compassion, but their message is drowned out by the scenes of desecration, murder, and narcissistic sex.

That is an example of something familiar in every aspect of our contemporary culture. It is not merely that artists, directors, musicians, and others connected with the arts are in flight from beauty. Wherever beauty lies in wait for us, there arises a desire to preempt its appeal, to smother it with scenes of destruction.
One of the things I have written about most often is how a vision of beauty defines the life of the best of men, who give themselves to their vision though it leads them where it will. Do you remember this speech?
Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast, and I have a message for them: If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you.

As our coalition takes away their power, we will deliver the food and medicine you need. We will tear down the apparatus of terror and we will help you to build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free.

In free Iraq there will be no more wars of aggression against your neighbors, no more poison factories, no more executions of dissidents, no more torture chambers and rape rooms.

The tyrant will soon be gone. The day of your liberation is near.
I once argued that those rape rooms were at the essence of why Iraq was a Just War. It held that a nation that might free such a people had "the right, at least, to try." The right, at least: perhaps the duty.

I still think so. Did you see this interview? Shall I say, to answer conspirators, "Perhaps it is only Israeli propaganda?" Even so, read it.
In the Islamic Republic it is illegal to execute a young woman, regardless of her crime, if she is a virgin, he explained. Therefore a "wedding" ceremony is conducted the night before the execution: The young girl is forced to have sexual intercourse with a prison guard - essentially raped by her "husband."

"I regret that, even though the marriages were legal," he said.

Why the regret, if the marriages were "legal?"

"Because," he went on, "I could tell that the girls were more afraid of their 'wedding' night than of the execution that awaited them in the morning. And they would always fight back, so we would have to put sleeping pills in their food. By morning the girls would have an empty expression; it seemed like they were ready or wanted to die.
Well, propaganda it may be: but surely it merits investigaton. If it is false, a stain on Israel to forward such lies for their interests.

And if it proves true? These are girls who fear what they perceive as dishonor more than they fear death; and welcome death to end what they have been taught to see as dishonor. That is the finest human spirit, and it calls out to us.

I would bear my part in the cause of their liberation, as I did in Iraq. My beloved, I know, is glad to have me home after so long abroad: but surely she would excuse me one last time, though with pain, in the defense of women of such spirit and such sorrow.