The nauseating evil of criminalized addiction

The state where giving birth can be criminal.” The stories in this investigative report by The Nation should fill us with rage. Sponsored by four idle and felonious state senators—Reginald Tate (D), Janice Bowling (R), Todd Gardenhire (R), and Charlotte Burks (D)—a new law imposed criminal penalties on mothers who give birth to babies considered to be “drug-addicted” due to the mother’s illegal narcotic use during pregnancy. All of the Democratic state senators voted for the legislation, and only seven Republican senators voted against it.

This is the very definition of immoral legislation. First, in an attempt to criminalize the harm to an infant resulting from drug use, it actually criminalizes giving birth. Tennessee is a state in which abortion is legal before fetal viability. This law encourages drug-addicted mothers, especially those for whom pregnancy may be an unexpected hardship, to abort their unborn children rather than seek the compassionate care they need. Continue reading

Brief thoughts on negative criticism

Today’s essay by Sordello brought back a couple of thoughts I had regarding the kerfuffle over Marilynne Robinson’s dismissive comments about Flannery O’Connor and the ensuing negative reviews of Robinson’s own recent novel, Lila. I have not yet read Lila so I can’t comment on that. But Robinson is one of my treasured influences, along with O’Connor, Roger Scruton, and others. (I reviewed Scruton’s Beauty a couple of years back. Along with Robinson’s The Death of Adam, it’s in my personal “top 10.”)

Every reader shares, to some degree, the tendency to look for what we want in a book, and to be disappointed if we find something else. I had a disappointing experience recently when I read Michael Chabon’s 2000 novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. The first half of the novel was thrilling and evocative, I thought a real triumph in postmodern literature. I didn’t like the ending. Set in the prosperous postwar 1950s, the latter half of the book expressed a kind of spiritual malaise and depression which was quite a contrast to the hope and magic of the beginning. Continue reading

Otiose criticism

A drawback of the Internet is that it provides an easy platform for the uninformed and malformed to broadcast their opinions to the world-at-large. Such writers forget that they have a duty both to their subject and to their readers: the duty to be informed and to understand. Lacking a coherent understanding of tradition or western civilization, these authors tend merely to emote their subjective responses rather than artfully critique shortfallings. For criticism to be of any benefit to the reader, the critic must demonstrate both an understanding of the tradition in which a particular work stands as well as an understanding of the work itself. Anything less becomes a mere expression of the critic’s preferences at best, but more likely a misleading attack on a straw man of another writer’s work. T.S. Eliot makes this point in his essay “The Perfect Critic”:

The vast accumulations of knowledge—or at least of information . . . have been responsible for an equally vast ignorance. When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when every one knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.

To illustrate this point, I turn to a lecture presented by Dr. Roger Scruton Continue reading

The best hipster baby names

A major principle of being a hipster is that you want to be the trend-setter. You want to be ahead of whatever will be popular in the future. Once the bandwagon starts rolling, it’s too late to jump on.

After all “hipster” is mostly used as a term of derision for poseurs who are late to the cultural party. This is the hipster double bind: if you are a real hipster, you don’t want to be called a hipster. Your image must be new or ironically out of place. This eventually becomes impossible, which is why all hipsters tend to look alike.

From “My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter”

With that in mind, naming one’s child is among the most difficult of hipster decisions. Continue reading

Fear and loathing at Fox News

Keith Ablow is in many ways an easy target. The psychiatrist and Fox News contributor published a column a little over a month ago demanding an “American jihad” that would “spread around the world our love of individual freedom and insist on its reflection in every government.” It’s not the first time Ablow, who gained notoriety for suggesting that the president mismanaged the debt ceiling crisis because of daddy issues, has sounded vaguely unhinged. Nor is he the only regular Fox correspondent to voice absurd views on foreign policy.

Conservative critics of Fox tend to argue that it gives the right a bad name. There’s something to that, as anyone who has ever had to talk about Ablow, Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly with a liberal friend knows all too well. I think, however, that these figures and their cheerleaders represent a much deeper problem with Fox: its brand of conservatism is not in the least conservative. Continue reading

Are we proving Marx right?

This commonplace is dedicated to our comrades at Jacobin.

Karl Marx supposed that industrialized capitalism would eventually result in the elimination of labor, Brian Domitrovic explains. “Thanks to capitalism, machines could soon do all useful work.” Without the need to labor, the working class would overthrow the corrupt capitalist class and establish an economy where everyone’s modest needs would be met by technology.

Peter Lawler suggests that Marx’s vision is coming all too true—in a way. Technology—the robots—are taking over more and more of our jobs. The value of labor is in steep decline. More and more, the industrious working class is left with nothing to do. It is not even controversial now to observe that industrial capitalism is overripe and getting rotten. This is the point at which the proletariat was supposed to seize control of the means of production.

Unfortunately for Marx, they show no likelihood of doing so. Continue reading

What’s red and blue and all screwed up?

Every election season, I am newly confounded by those garish bi-colored maps that saturate every media outlet’s coverage of events. You know them well —those “red state, blue state” maps that so neatly divide our country’s political differences into digestible, candy-like nuggets. My confusion lies in the fact that these colors, red for Republican and blue for Democrat, are so obviously wrong. They defy the long-standing tradition, found among numerous modern countries, of red’s association with political leftism and blue’s with conservatism.

Image of a crowd of people holding tall red flags in a supposedly spontaneous demonstration after a Societ military parade in Moscow

‘Spontaneous’ demonstration after a military May Day parade (LIFE)

Red is, of course, the official color of Communist states—Soviet Russia, Red China, and the Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge, to name a few examples—and it is the color for labor and social democracy. It is also the impassioned, incendiary color of revolutionary violence, seen in the likes of the Bolsheviks, or Garibaldi’s redshirts. Is it surprising that it was also Marx’s favorite color? Continue reading

Not a Cold Eye

The works of Flannery O’Connor are not for everyone. A fair number of fellow readers that I’ve encountered have been repulsed by her violent style, her grotesque images, and her gothic setting. This is fair enough, I suppose. Some of these readers, though, are discerning enough to recognize her virtues even while not preferring them for themselves. This latter group tend to be religious and literary.

Marilynne Robinson (AP)

Marilynne Robinson (AP)

It was especially disappointing to me, though, to read Marilynne Robinson’s rather cutting remarks towards St. Flannery in her New York Times interview. Frankly, I was shocked that a writer like her—who very much occupies the categories of “religious” and “literary”—should so flatly misunderstand O’Connor. Continue reading

“The church ought to be doing [x] instead of obsessing over sex.”

Part 3 of Will Barrett’s series on “The Intra-Evangelical Culture War.”

The X could be any number of good and important things the church ought to be doing. Most likely, it means feeding the poor, healing the sick, promoting racial reconciliation, or agitating against economic injustice. It it is possible that some churches neglect their part in these activities, but to point this out in a dialogue about sexual morality serves no purpose but to divert attention away from the question at hand with an irrelevant attack on the credibility of the opponent.

Imagine a formal debate in which one speaker declares that both sides would be better served by calling off the debate in favor of doing something more constructive. Then, after his opponent leaves the room, he proceeds to stump for his own point of view on the issue. This is precisely the tactic some progressive Christians use when faced with conservative arguments about the morality and theology of sex. Although they may complain that conservatives are taking too much time away from works of justice and mercy to preach about sex, I have yet to hear of any sexually progressive Christian commentator hold his own advocacy to the same standard. Continue reading

“The church is unhealthily obsessed with sex.”

Part 2 of Will Barrett’s series on the intra-evangelical culture war. Part 1 is here.

To have a decent argument that ends with a bow and a handshake, or maybe even a beer after the crowds have cleared, the parties involved must assume that both sides have come to the debate earnestly and with the best of intentions, even if they haven’t. In other words, both sides need to refrain from blaming the others’ motives for having the discussion in order to focus on the terms of the discussion itself. This limitation is even more important when one or both sides has reason to suspect that the other’s motives are rascally or base. To keep  the conversation from devolving  into tiresome defenses of honor, the arguers must agree to bracket out questions of motives.

New Atheist debaters like Lawrence Krauss and Sam Harris regularly betray either their blissful ignorance of this guideline, or else an amusingly wilful disregard for it, when they regularly open debates over cosmology and first causes with charges that their theistic interlocutors just want to convert the audience to their chosen religion instead of helping them think for themselves. They probably do, but that is beside the point.

In the intra-evangelical culture wars, the liberal camp has lately displayed a wanton disregard for this first principle of debate whenever sex is the topic of discussion. Continue reading