Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
March 6, 2013 - February 27, 2013

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

A Godfather Antidote

. It's my wife's fault. Another dark miniseries created by dark talents from Dublin. It's called The Take, four parts and 180 minutes worth of organized crime, London style. Don't even know how you'll find it. We got it via Comcast On-demand as part of our bundled Encore subscription. Doesn't seem to be on Netflix at the moment either.

Why bother looking for it? After the first two episodes, I'd have said don't bother. But my wife was intrigued because the acting is terrific, the story is dark dark dark the way she likes it, and there was one element of suspense she -- to be honest, WE -- had to see resolved. So we returned over my grumbling, disingenuous objections to see the last two episodes too. Now I can report.

I've written at length about my detestation of my generation's unbecoming fascination with The Godfather. I've even called it the male counterpart of women's idiotic obsession with Gone With the Wind. That's how much I hate the cultural phenomenon of American movie makers and TV producers who glamorize mafia mores and personalities. It took me a while, because I can be slow on the uptake, to realize that The Take is a nightmare mirror of the grand poobah of mafia sagas.

The Take is its own original version of essentially the same archetypes in a somewhat different story arc. There's an aging Godfather (Brando stand-in), his hot-headed protege (Sonny stand-in), his more talented but reluctant heir (Michael stand-in), and assorted peripheral women who hint at the roles played by Diane Keaton and Talia Shire. Even Fredo is represented, as the disturbing weakness that prevents the Michael character from acting boldly enough until way late in the day. Unless the Godfather's kid sister is an even closer match.

But from first to last there is no glamor of any kind. The Godfather, played by Brian Cox, is a convict living in a penitentiary. The setting of the action is East London. No one is living palatially. It's all grubby, grungy, and low class in a way only the worst of Brits can sink to. The central character isn't Michael at all, but Sonny. Sonny the way he would have been if Mario Puzo hadn't secretly admired his fire, violence, and ruthlessness. His name here is Freddie, played by Tom Hardy of Lawless and Dark Knight Rising fame, and he is an animal. I take that back. Never met an animal as despicable as Freddie. He's a murderer, a sexual satyr and rapist, a coke head, a treacherous, choleric liar, and someone you desperately want to see dead no more than halfway through Episode 1. By the end of Episode 2, you feel this feeling so intensely that you're willing to put up with 90 more minutes of pure ugliness just to achieve that objective.

Ugliness. That's the key. In The Godfather trilogy and the Sopranos TV series, there is the conceit that something like normal life can coexist with the criminal "business" of mafia malefactors, glossed by a patina of Italian charm and comfort foods. Not here. Everything, all relationships, family members (including children), and private character propensities are infected, fatally, by what is expressly denoted in the script as the "cancer" of evil.

There are murders aplenty but they are not picturesque or grandly cinematic.  They are just ugly and nearly impossible to watch.  There are many one-liners, but they're not quotable so much as horrifying in their brutality and presentiments of violence. The false bonhomie of mobsters who are setting up their peers for impending mayhem is not cool or stylized here; it is so uniform and transparent, so repetitiously predictable, that every time someone flashes a friendly smile, you get ready for the savagery to follow. The only surprise is when it doesn't. That's the job of the next scene. One of these 'nexts' is almost endlessly postponed, but...

I won't spill the ending. I won't pretend that it's actually fun to watch, though Tom Hardy and Brian Cox are mesmerizing. You can't take your eyes off them when they are onscreen, and they are such powerful presences that they're always in every scene, whether they're on camera or not. All four episodes are exceptionally powerful in this way -- and consequently exhausting. But I will recommend viewing this miniseries if you have ever been even momentarily seduced by the false romance of mafia movies. The Take is an exposé of the black heart of pure viciousness and the pain it spreads in every direction when it is unleashed on the world.

There IS some catharsis in the ending. That's what drama is supposed to provide. In that respect, mission accomplished.

I forgave my wife for inducing me to watch. Now she just has to forgive herself. I feel she can manage it.

P. S. I know some commenter will reference Scarface, but that's a dead end too. Tom Hardy embodies some of Pacino's swagger, but he plays much closer to the bone. He may be larger than life, but he's not self-consciously larger than the movie. No mountain of cocaine, no loud lapels and even louder movie star last stand on a balcony against the glittering backdrop of Miami. Enough said.

To Whom It May Concern...

I'm not laughing.

I UNDERSTAND. If you've never seen this movie, see it. There are heroes in our midst all the time. It's up to us to learn how to recognize them.

Monday, March 04, 2013


Let's Talk Dark Ages

Yup. Those Christians are the biggest problem. I know this 'cause, you know.
Without them, us smart people could whip it all into shape pronto. You know.

CHRISTIANITY WAS A SOURCE OF PROFOUND HUMAN MISERY FOR ITS FIRST THOUSAND YEARS OR SO. So saith the savant. I'm not going to argue theology or gay marriage here. I'm going to talk about another favorite subject of mine, why attention to history is intensely relevant even for the brilliantly intuitive who are sure the world began the day they first remember.

Yes, we were ALL taught that there was a Dark Age after the fall of Rome, that a combination of feudalism and the Catholic church plunged our European forebears into a squalid, inert, and actually laughable blank of accomplishment for at least five hundred years. Brizoni has done this one better by postulating, without proofs or a single reference, that Christianity resulted in a thousand years of misery. Let's see. Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire in c. 350 A.D. Which means, by his math, there's nothing new worthwhile until sometime after 1350 A.D.

He uses the word "profound." Can't help thinking it's a perfect descriptor of his state of ignorance. He's a libertarian, right? But it's never occurred to him that our so-called understanding of the period after the fall of the Roman Empire has been compromised for a thousand years (or so) by the celebrity status of the longest-lived, most statist and brutal dictatorship in the history of Europe. Napoleon and Hitler and even the Brits aspired to emulate their example, but none of them could rival the Romans in the PR game. Because there is no Tacitus, Ovid, or Suetonius to chronicle life immediately after Rome, there obviously was no life after Rome. Imagine that today's imperial Washington, DC, were suddenly to go out of business and there was no presidential press secretary, Washington Post, or inside-the-beltway pundit corps to explain the meaning of everything. Stories might still exist in the 50 states, but without that solipsistic capital voice, how would we know that any of it actually matters?

Suddenly, no senatorial sex tapes, no electoral scandals, no tableaus of glamorous administration insiders behaving horribly, no massive fiscal implosions. History itself would more or less cease to exist.

Next, imagine that Hitler had won and the Nazis ruled for the thousand year reich he had in mind. What would remain of European history, Russian history, American history? Only the Hitlerian version. And even while the world recovered slowly from the devastation he had wrought, we might regard the period after as a dark age in which little or nothing happened, and whatever did happen was probably backward, vicious, and yet uninteresting because, well, stinky. Rats, you know. Which were invented in The Dark Age. Ring a bell with your elementary school education about the time period Brizoni knows so well?

This is not a merely academic set of questions. The whole idea that the Christian era of Europe and the west began with a dark age is the foundation stone of historical opposition to the Roman Catholic church. Wonder where it comes from. How about the Brits? Who amputated Christianity from its founding institution in the 16th century and have warred against the Pope and Roman Catholicism ever since. Obviously, Brit historians have had no dog in this hunt. (After all, Oxford University dates only as far back as 1096 A.D., safely after the Dark Age proper, though well within Brizoni's window of nothingness. Cambridge is even younger.) Christianity didn't begin to make a positive impact on the world (excepting the Oxford-Cambridge boat race, of course) until Shakespeare rediscovered and reinvented Roman comedy and Sir Francis Drake defeated the evil fucking Spanish Armada and all its Satanic Catholic Inquisitor henchmen. Sir Isaac Newton and the Age of Enlightenment followed and, abracadabra, modern rational though modestly Christian civilization is born. Although the Americans were an unexpected development we got over because look at our special relationship. Win-win. Got it?

Still happy with your generalization, Brizoni?

A different perspective. Julius Caesar was a kind of Hitler. The "barbarian" Celts he conquered and slaughtered were not at all uncivilized. In fact, they controlled more of the western world in terms of territory than Rome did. They also had outstanding engineering, including a network of roads that facilitated trade from Scotland to Turkey. They had science, they had art, they had poetry, they had laws which protected children, women, the infirm, and the mentally deficient. They had Boudica, who was not an anomaly but a testament to the fact of female power, exemplified by women who could own property and divorce their husbands for reasons of impotence, infertility, and homosexuality without losing their right to reclaim their dowries or marry again. And, uh, no, the Romans had none of that. The Romans disposed of unwanted babies under their bath houses. The Celts didn't dispose of babies deliberately at all. They had a sense of something that's been called the right to life.

Sorry. This one you should watch all of.

They also had gold. Lots of it. Hundreds of mines interspersed among their prosperous towns. Why Caesar invaded and obliterated Celtic civilization. Rome had run out of gold. Caesar needed money to fuel his political ambitions. Of course, he got to write the history of what happened in his campaign. His military advantage was that Celtic government was federal rather than centralized. There was no Celtic emperor or dictator or commanding general. Gaul had a population of 10 million men, women, and children. Caesar killed a million of them. After his conquest, the Roman Empire resumed minting gold coins, bearing Caesar's likeness.

Let's skip ahead, shall we? Rome finally falls in 476 A.D. Except in Brizoni's math, the next 500 years are considered the Dark Age. Questions nobody asks. Why is continental Europe suddenly so Christian that Brizoni and company feel they are a deadening totalitarian influence? Perhaps because their pre-existing cultural philosophy was already amenable to a religion of compassion and humility. Perhaps because Rome had already become far more involved with the Celts as trading partners than they subsequently admitted, and the Celts were so much more literate than history tells us that the gospels worked their way through the culture with great rapidity. Another profound question. Where does the Roman Catholic elevation of the Virgin Mary to near co-equal status with Christ himself come from? It's nowhere hinted at in the gospels or epistles, and the Church of England has done everything possible to return her to her scriptural place. Could it be that the spread of Christianity throughout a Celtic culture that valued women more than Rome ever could or would was accompanied by a theological adjustment that accords more with our own contemporary ideas of civilization? Nah. Probably not. Hell. The Romans were hot! They'd have loved Lady Gaga. Except maybe not so much the meat dress. But they were definitely into depilatories. When you think of Romans, think shaved pussy. What else do we need for a trans-epoch hookup?

On to the filth, feudalism, illiteracy, and churchy totalitarian part of the Dark Age argument. This is all, literally, Madison Avenue invention. Marble columns and shapely women in togas versus shapeless blobs in burlap smelling strongly of dung. That's pretty much what you've been told or sold, isn't it? But forget the marble and the see-through silk of Hollywood concubines for a moment. After waves of Roman invasion had destroyed most towns and settlements larger than your own suburban cul de sac, the European population was primarily rural for a long time. Rural folk don't need exotic sewage systems. Think outhouses. They also didn't have bad teeth. The worst thing that ever happened to human teeth was corn, which originated in the New World, hundreds of years in the future. They probably didn't even smell bad. Or at least no worse than Romans. It's just that all the Romans got to read in the Roman Times how bad the barbarians smelled.

Oops. Maybe not. I tried to track down Roman literacy rates, which people like to assume were high, for some reason. Probably because they were so civilized, except for their habit of killing absolutely everybody who opposed their rule, down to the last man, woman, and child. Turns out there's not much evidence that plebeians were literate. I found a site (not this one, but they're all similar) where people who purported to know claimed the hoi polloi were fairly literate, but their evidence was slim. Greek house slaves were frequently well educated. That takes in the Roman power elite households, but who else? I mean, who else do we know anything about in Rome but the power elite households? It's like trying to generalize about the looks of poolboys nationwide via a sample from Beverly Hills. The only tangible evidence has to do with some misspelled graffiti found in Pompeii. But Pompeii was the Malibu of its day, a seaside enclave of the rich and famous and their no doubt clever personal assistants, er, slaves.

So, yeah, the Dark Age peasants were probably illiterate. So was most of Europe as late as the First World War. But illiterate doesn't mean stupid or uneducated. A lot of what we know about ancient cultures comes from the remains of their buildings (unless the Romans already leveled all your buildings, cough, cough, CAR-thage, Gesundheit), where they write things down to boast through the centuries about their greatness. So it was with the Egyptians, the Mayans, and, yes, the Romans too. But Greek poetry begins with Homer, who is today believed to be the man who finally wrote down an ancient oral tradition based on faultless remembrance of ancient lines. The same is true of Beowulf, the oldest poem in English, believed to be as old possibly as 800 A.D., well within Brizoni's thousand year window of misery. Well, I've studied more Latin than anyone but a formal Classics major, and I can report honestly to you as a writer and a sometime (however indifferent) poet that Beowulf is a better poem than anything surviving from the Roman Empire. For that matter, even Viking art is better than Roman art:

Where does that leave us? Oh. With churchy totalitarianism. I dunno. You're a rural people recovering from total annihilation. Think zombie movie. How do you keep any learning alive? By establishing free public schools realm-wide, funded by the gubbamint?

Oh, that's right. Forgot about feudalism. Stupid me. Awful awful system, right? Especially when compared to a single elite city that subjugates the entire known world to keep the supply of exotic wines and whores flowing. Feudalism was the original precursor of federalism, autonomous communities with a kingdom asterisk. Most everybody gets to live his life without interference as long as he pays his taxes. What are the taxes for? To arm the nobles who ride off to war when other allegiances are invoked. The rest of the time, of course, the nobles get to behave badly and despoil local maidens and other unsavoury things. I'm not condoning it. But I would love to see Chuck Schumer ride off to war on a charger when Pennsylvania disputes a New York interstate tax scheme. Just saying. Main point is, the Dark Ages did not involve the kind of huge armies and ethnic cleansing that were typical of Rome. Merovingians and Cathars aside, of course (because I knew Brizoni would bring them up right away, given his encyclopedic knowledge of Christian history). btw, if the Dark Age was so dark and dumb, why do we have these and these at all? Shouldn't they all just be squatting in cowpies, hiding from the priests, in their customary utter darkness?

Back to monks. Protected communities who remembered Latin and read it and wrote it and did other stuff. How theocratic of them. It's just a shame they couldn't be bothered to save civilization while they were at it.

There's more, but I'm tired. I won't explain that after the muslim conquests in the Mediterranean, the Crusades became necessary to restore contact with the Old World and launch the Enlightenment. Something Christianity did not just for God but for all of us who have lived ever since.  I won't reference the rise of the guilds and consequent creation of an educated middle class. I won't talk about the brand new social mobility created by, gasp, capitalism. I won't elaborate on the significance of art and architecture that far surpassed anything Rome ever produced (most of which Albert Speer could have knocked off in one afternoon). All of which happened inside Brizoni's thousand year immoral Christian misery.

Because there's no way he'll ever listen. He still thinks the Inquisition is infinitely worse than Stalin's pogroms. Which I've already disproved to no avail. Long ago. But we are all prisoners of our earliest unrecognized assumptions. Which he'll read in my case, and yours, as Christianity. What he doesn't understand is that our faith and his renunciation of faith are not equivalent. Unlike atheism, faith is not a checkbox. It is challenged constantly. Those who have it rethink it, rebuild it, recommit to it all the time. How we know we're alive and not just going through the motions of someone else's set of neat notions.

P. S. More things we know that just ain't so.

Elaborate Medieval Torture Devices

The Insanity:

Quick: What pops into your mind when we say "medieval"? We bet most of you pictured some kind of torture device ("I'm gonna get medieval on your ass!").

You can just picture a man back then, led by church officials into a sinister underground chamber. He looks around, really wishing now that he hadn't written that hilarious caption about the Pope's new hat. In front of him stands the famous Iron Maiden, a hideous vertical chamber with an interior lined with iron spikes...

As if that weren't bad enough, there was also the Pear of Anguish, which would spread open and violently tear apart whatever human orifice it was pushed into...

... and the Spanish Chair, an iron seat covered in spikes which a victim was strapped into while his feet were roasted...

But in Reality...

Despite being one of the most famous torture devices ever (and having a heavy metal band named after them), Iron Maidens didn't exist back then, and there's no record they were ever used on anyone. If you're saying, "But I've seen them in museums!" well, that's why they exist. These kind of "horrors of the medieval times" exhibits were hugely popular in the 19th century and it appears the Iron Maidens they showed off were cobbled together for the exhibit.

That terrible pear thing that they used to punish sodomy and adultery by ripping the offending organs to shreds from the inside? Also a myth. Nobody can find any reference to the device before the 17th century, and no record at all of it being used to destroy somebody's asshole.

What about the spiked chair? It's supposedly a device of the Spanish Inquisition, but once again there's no record of them using it, or anybody else.

If there's anything here you liked, thank Brizoni. I wouldn't have written it without his harpoon. Does that make him my muse? No. But if he'd like to think so, I have no objection. Nor should you. He's done wonderful things aplenty. To my mind, the real Dark Age is now, when so many of our best young minds are crippled by crap teachers and curricula. Worse, they're sure that what they don't know about the past doesn't matter. They're just plain smarter than the march of time. Which makes them dumber than shit. Why I never even had to get to theology to prove my fair haired boy a fool.

Sad. He's a fiery and brilliant voice of freedom. And a useful idiot of Rachel Maddow's leftist crusade against any human power that resists the new and future religion of the enlightened, government omnipotence unchallenged by the Old Ghost of God. The New Rome, rational ruler of soulless units. Forget sad. Tragic.

Thursday, February 28, 2013


A DECADE OF CONFESSION. This site is approaching a milestone. Sometime in the next month we'll hit 3,000 posts. Ten years worth at a clip of about five per week. If the average is 1,000 words per post, which seems about right, that's 3 million words, the length equivalent of three Bibles or sixty novels. Not all mine, but mostly. That doesn't guarantee anything, of course. It could all be crap. But it does mean that I've talked about everything under the sun, exposed myself in every way possible, through posts personal, political. intellectual, emotional, humorous, and spiritual.

It's been said that I'm mean and condescending. True. But I also don't ban commenters. They get their say. Few blogs of this longevity can make the same claim. They ban or ignore the trolls in their midst, sometimes even the smart dissenters. I don't. I simply reserve the right to sail into combat against those who take aim with complete anonymity against the easy target of someone who is continuously on the record.

None of you can claim that you don't know everything about my preferences in every aspect of life, from music to movies to poetry to cars to dogs to history to science to, well, everything. If you can't claim that, it's because you don't know how to search this site. Which is what this post is about.

Before you tell me I haven't discussed something you regard as vital, you have three options available to prevent you from looking ridiculous. Archives. Search. And Advanced Search.

Archives is a link in the left hand column. It takes you to a list of weeks of Instapunk posts. When you click on a week, you see all the posts of that week. If you click on an individual post by hitting the bead between Comments and the date, you get a version that will also give you access to the Comments for that post. Did you know that? Nothing at Instapunk is lost.

The Search function, also located in the lefthand column, is good for one word and one word only. Worthwhile if, for example, you want to see how many times I've written about Obama (e.g., far more than the book's worth of posts included in the current Amazon book). [Yeah. I'm too lazy or arrogant even to link my own book. What a jerk, right?] Again, you can access the Comments associated with any post listed.

Any screen created by the Search function will also offer you the option of the Advanced Search function, which enables you to look for specific phrases, combinations of words or phrases, etc. Perhaps most useful for finding a post you remember or seem to, an event you think I must have written about, or a wild hare obsession of your own.

In all honesty, not foolproof. Even I on occasion can't find posts I know I've written. But good enough to show you that whatever you're most steamed about, I've probably written quite a bit about it.

No, I'm not trying to deter your comments. I'm simply indicating how you can reach me at my least mean and condescending. When you know what I've said, you might be less provocative and denunciatory. Or not. Up to you.

Alternatively, you can read for hours and hours on subjects that appeal to you more than the pros and cons of mindless sequester debates.

Your choice. Just offering a different perspective.

Fag Marriage and
The Naked Theocrat

WEARING A FIG LEAF STILL COUNTS AS NUDITY. Evening. We have a lot of ground to cover. Read for comprehension, if you don't mind.

Willful Stupidity

I first learned to hate the left from their intractable, deliberate blindness on the abortion question. The right's argument against abortion is clear: Embryos and fetuses count as human beings so are therefore entitled to the same protection of life as everyone else. Debatable, but still a sensible position to take. But the left persists in pretending that Life Begins at Conception is somehow an impossible thing to believe. When they do address it, they insist it has to be some sort of racist old guy code for "keep women in the kitchen." Their preferred tack is to act as though any opposition to abortion— including to George Tiller-style flat-out murder— is an elaborate conspiracy to subjugate women. (Or keep them subjugated, or re-subjugate them, or whatever the narrative du jour.) They pretend the argument hasn't been made. The self-styled "reality-based community" ignores large swaths of reality.

Time to explode a popular false dilemma: Conservatism is better than progressivism, but that doesn't mean it's good enough. The right can be just as obtuse about their particular bugaboos as the left is about theirs. Monday's daily reminder of this tragic state came from social conservative Mollie Z. Hemingway. Her long excoriation of journalism's bias against "religious traditionalists" (her euphemism) is worth the read because it so clearly lays out... (deep breath)... the opposition to the opposition to the opposition to gay marriage. In it, she looks at a particularly revealing article from the Washington Post's outgoing ombudsman. The key pull quote:

The reader wrote that Post stories too often minimize the conservative argument: “The overlooked ‘other side’ on the gay issue is quite legitimate, and includes the Pope, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, evangelist Billy Graham, scholars such as Robert George of Princeton, and the millions of Americans who believe in traditional marriage and oppose redefining marriage into nothingness. … Is there no room in The Post for those who support the male-female, procreative model of marriage?”

Replied the reporter: “The reason that legitimate media outlets routinely cover gays is because it is the civil rights issue of our time. Journalism, at its core, is about justice and fairness, and that’s the ‘view of the world’ that we espouse; therefore, journalists are going to cover the segment of society that is still not treated equally under the law.”

The reader: “Contrary to what you say, the mission of journalism is not justice. Defining justice is a political matter, not journalistic. Journalism should be about accuracy and fairness.

The reader is right about the purpose of journalism (conservatism is better than progressivism), but not about the legitimacy of "traditional marriage" craziness (but it still isn't good enough). There is currently no legitimate opposition to gay marriage. Period. Legitimate opposition is possible. But conservatives aren't doing it. All their arguments under the umbrella of "traditional marriage" are bullshit. Bullshit bullshit bullshit bullshit bullshit. And they all know it, on some level. A few of them know it consciously.

The Burden of Material Significance

All opposition to gay marriage is a symptom of general religious antipathy to homosexuality. The idea of dude-on-dude action squiks them out (as it does most of us), and God said "no homo," so for them the thinking is done: Homosexuality must be kept out of both society and reality. Consider the fuming and hand-wringing over the Boy Scouts of America's mere consideration of letting in gay kids after all. A blogger named Michael Quinn Sulivan articulates social conservatism's foot-stomping well:

As an Eagle Scout and current Cub Master, I am disappointed to learn that the Boy Scouts of America is considering a change of policy that would allow homosexuals to serve as adult leaders. This is a radical shift in policy after fighting— and winning!— years of legal challenges mounted by the cultural left.

The BSA has long stood on bedrock principles— Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent— and asked young men to commit themselves to being “mentally awake [um, sic?] and morally straight.”

Capitulating on foundational values and principles for cultural convenience is a violation of all we have spent generations teaching young men through scouting.

The BSA’s moral trustworthiness is being undermined by capitulation and cowardice. Our obedience to timeless values is being undermined by an attitude of religious irreverence pervasive in the America’s cultural elite.

The BSA adult leadership seems ready to cash in our organizational honor so they can be socially accepted by those who despise them. Attempting to appease the cultural left is a fool’s errand. For some quick-cash and invitations to cocktail parties with the cool kids, the BSA leadership is betraying everything we are and they claimed to be. Unfortunately, you will find the admiration you gain from the left to be short-lived. [emphasis added]

Give me a moment to pinch the bridge of my nose.

Let's take this from the top. The very top.

In a free country, that enjoys religious freedom, no law can rightly derive exclusively from religion. For any civic law to have a legitimate claim on the conduct of a free man, roots in the realm of faith won't do. (A free man can choose faith, of course, but that's the point— his faith is a commitment he chooses, not an ineluctable duty he's born under.) A law might overlap or coincide with faith-based views, but it must have its ultimate justification in objective reality. It must be of practical, demonstrable concern to liberty and individual rights.

But there's more! That standard goes for all moral prohibitions. Reality is the source of real morality. Not any hypothetical maybe-it-sorta-exists-ish divinity. I call this The Burden of Material Significance, and if you can think of a better term for it I'd like to hear it.

I'll let a gay former scout elaborate. One who doesn't simply want to destroy the institution, but promote and ensure the continuation of its authentic value.

...really, that’s the question—a question of reverence, of what is sacred—that’s being considered when we talk about “letting gays into the Boy Scouts.” ....What people such as Zach Wahls, Rick Perry, and President Obama, and the BSA itself and the rest are debating is what scouting means in our cultural lexicon—what, at its core, does scouting deem reverential and what should we revere about it.

On this point, it’s helpful to... turn to boy scouting’s pledge of allegiance, the Scout Oath. Here are the parts that, in practice, matter: “I will do my best.” “[I will] help other people at all times.” “[I will] keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” It’s true that I’ve left out the “God” part in my highlights, even though much of the current dustup is swirling around it. That’s because I disagree that Boy Scouts is inextricably religious, even though atheists, like gays, are officially banned from scouting. Religion played a very minor role in the day-to-day life of my troop, really extending only so far as the Presbyterian roof over our meeting space and the performance of an occasional prayer.... Regardless of the organizational fine print, it was a pretty secular experience.

If faith is not the most reverential concept in real-world scouting, what is? Based on the oath, the answer is easy: care for others and care of the self. These simple twin ideas are, of course, worthy of the utmost respect, and more to the point, salutary to all young men regardless of their sexual orientation. This much will be clear to anyone who is not trying to use scouting as a pawn in the culture-war chess game. The fact that many troop leaders have already expressed that openly gay scouts and volunteers will not affect those core values reveals just how much of the anxiety is coming from the outside. If scouting means being an ethical agent in the world—being “morally straight,” as the oath ironically puts it—a scout’s sexuality is irrelevant.

Sexuality is irrelevant to morality. I'll anticipate the obvious nitpicking: Sexuality is relevant if it leads to destructive, rights-violating behavior. If you get off on car crashes or kiddie diddling, that's an issue. But it's the car crashing or kiddie diddling itself that's the problem. (Maybe car crashes could be enjoyed in a controlled, consensual environment, but that's one expensive nut.) The object of a compulsion, and its context, make it moral or immoral. A carpenter is right to swing a sledgehammer at the walls of a home; a five-year-old child is probably not. Lack of discipline is the problem, not surplus of excitement.

To repeat: Morality means respecting the rights of others. Morality does not, cannot mean obeying the maybe-commands of a maybe-God no matter how unrelated those commands might be to life on earth. Traditional morality— i.e. Theistic Essentialism— was only ever moral insofar as it happened to meet the standards of individual rights. Judaism was immoral when it slaughtered the Hittites and the Whoeverites on the sole provocation of Yahweh's say-so. Christianity was an immoral source of profound human misery for its first thousand years or so. Islam briefly flirted with morality and intellectual progress, but that was only a phase. I hate that this needs to be said: Theism is no guarantee of morality.

At best, one could make a real moral case for a temporary, situational prohibition against homosexuality— and not in modern circumstances. Three thousand years ago, a desert community of refugees facing dwindling numbers and especially susceptible to the dangers of vice could have justified constraining homosexual behavior. As a package deal that also constrained pretty much all other types of sexual conduct, excepting the coitus required for reproduction. And that's assuming all members of the community were there voluntarily. Outside those conditions, faggotry isn't even in the top ten thousand things worth worrying about. The declared personal preference of a perhaps-real-perhaps-not-God notwithstanding.

A temporary rule is not a principle— If microbes enter the water supply, "don't drink the water" might be a life-saving rule, but it's a terrible principle carry through your life and apply to any and all water, regardless of its source. If gay-exclusion is a "foundational value" in your post-Bronze Age culture, you may as well have picked your foundational values at random. How about we ban the color turquoise? There's gotta be a line or two in Deuteronomy that'll work for that. And if someone digs up a verse explicitly mandating turquoise jewelry? Well, that won't be the first passage of scripture that our mood dictates we ignore in favor of a competing passage.

Here's a very simplified way to tell if an action is moral or not. A two-question test. First ask Question One: "Does this action further my happiness in the short or long term?" It does? Great. Now ask Question Two: "But does this action violate anyone's rights?" No? Have at it. Genital parity qua genital parity passes Question One for a few and Question Two for everyone. Gay sex as such is not a real moral issue.

Is the BSA "trying to appease the cultural left"? Or are they asking themselves if this silly "principle" is worth breaking any more sweat over? And would it kill the Mikey Sullivans of America to ask the same question? Would it literally kill them to find a better yardstick for morality than inflamed theological provincialism? Would they physically drop dead if they tried to do better? How "morally straight" are they if they can't tell the good from the bad in their beloved ethos? How "mentally awake" are they if they can't discern between the germane and the parochial?

tra·di·tion·al /trəˈdɪʃənl/ adjective: comfortably nostalgic

An august body of thinkers, including Thomas Sowell and many of my favorite pundits, have attacked gay marriage under the pretext of defending "traditional marriage." Traditional marriage, they claim, is by definition the union of a man and a woman. (They used to say "one man, one woman" more often, but when people started finding polygamy in the Bible, the more astute theocrat intellectuals veered away from this formulation.) Further, this arrangement is the bedrock of civilization, and therefore must be protected from any and all threats, including even the symbolic or voodoo undermining of the institution that formal acceptance of gay marriage would represent. They way they lay these arguments out seems sensible; they're very good at adopting a pose of reasonableness.

But history belies their narrative. Their constant framing of the issue as traditional marriage vs. same-sex marriage is a sophisticated rhetorical trick, designed to imply that marrigae has remained essentially the same since before mankind started keeping records. But that's obviously, undeniably not true. A quick look in the chart in my previous post proves how alien marriage norms were in ancient Israel— the Judeo in our avowed Judeo-Christian culture. Marriage has undergone a long and winding evolution to become what it is today. Marriage norms have changed time and again, with increasingly little regard for tradition. Imagine if a 21st century man insisted his brother's widow marry him. Better yet: imagine two families in a western country attempted an arranged marriage today. Really imagine how that would go over. And imagine if their defense was "but... it's traditional!" Society, which supposedly crumbles into Mad Max anarchy without traditional marriage, wouldn't tolerate that for a second. And rightly so.

For almost the last hundred years, marriage has primarily been the union of two people in love who commit to spend their lives together. This, more than anything else, has been what marriage has meant in our culture for decades. Look at any cinematic love story made after, say, Sunrise. What is the point of marriage in those films­? To start a societally-mandated family? Or to affirm committed love? And if the former and not the latter, why? Could the last eighty or ninety of cinema be a fairly reliable cultural barometer? If not, then what society has ever attempted to ban marriages where childbirth wasn't possible? Oh, you say childless man-woman marriages are OK because they're symbolic of starting a family? Are you sure that's not just... you know... plain ol' bullshit?

People used to think gender complementarity was essential for sexuality. Now we know better. It shouldn't break anyone's brain to make a similar conceptual hop for marriage. Especially since such an expansion will have no material impact on the institution. Outside of being the only positive PR push it's received since the 50s.

Here's how else we can tell the "traditional marriage" tack is bullshit. If traditional marriage is as vital as they now claim, then explain why: 1) they only bring up single motherhood in the context of sex education, 2) they only EVER bring up high divorce rates and lax divorce laws as a quick parenthetical to their anti-gay marriage agitation, and 3) they never utter the "children have a right to be with their biological parents" line, or anything like it, in the context of adoption by heterosexual couples. Where was such a robust defense of traditional marriage before gay marriage looked like a real possibility? Only the crickets answer.

The civil union argument bears consideration on its own. If gays want the legal protection of marriage, why not just get civil unions, which were designed expressly for this purpose? I can tell you why in two words: Scott Walker. His otherwise excellent administration attempted a de facto abolition of civil union protection, including denial of hospital visitation to gay partners. All in the name of defending traditional marriage. Conservative apologists would paint this as a fluke. Gays are right to take it as a warning shot. Who can blame them for wanting the same real protection of their relationships that straight people have? What's to stop religionists from trying worse down the road? Not any moral prohibition— at least none that any theocrat knows of.

And where is the one legitimate objection gay marriage opponents could raise: That legal enshrinement might lead to gay marriage being forced upon private religious organizations? Gee whiz, they must keep forgetting to bring it up. Sure, sometimes it comes to mind. Except as an occasional afterthought, like an optional spice or garnish on the main course of "traditional marriage." Or when gay marriage advocates include exemptions for religious organizations in their legislation. Then conservatives remember that there's an actual threat to religious liberty somewhere in all this noise (and claim the exemptions are just a ruse). But it's promptly forgotten. Then it's right back to the idiot chorus that letting gays marry will cause straight husbands and wives en masse to throw up their hands and abandon the whole marriage enterprise. What a load. Men and women get married because they want to join with each other for the rest of their lives. Not because they're entering into some neato secret exclusive club that makes them special because they have biologically compatible pelvises. What devoted wife will turn to her husband and say "Hell, Mort, I love you and I want to stay with you, but now that homos can tie the knot, it's like... what's the point? Pack your bags. I'm keeping the house. Are the kids too old to abandon at the fire station?"

The Naked Theocrat

Gay marriage opposition is the early stirrings of the theocratic urge. Our modern theocrats are people fed up with the animating contest of differing opinion who just want everyone to shut up and accept God's law as the law of the land. All of conservatism's arguments against gay marriage are fig leaves for theocracy.

And they know it. In 1990, before much of the cultural heat was on, author Orson Scott Card wrote frankly about his desire to enforce God's law at the point of a gun.

What we do with small children is to establish clear boundaries and offer swift but mild punishment for crossing them. As their capacity to understand and obey increases, the boundaries broaden but the consequences of crossing them become more severe.

Within the Church, the young person who experiments with homosexual behavior should be counseled with, not excommunicated. But as the adolescent moves into adulthood and continues to engage in sinful practices far beyond the level of experimentation, then the consequences within the Church must grow more severe and more long-lasting; unfortunately, they may also be more public as well.

This applies also to the polity, the citizens at large. Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.

The goal of the polity is not to put homosexuals in jail. The goal is to discourage people from engaging in homosexual practices in the first place, and, when they nevertheless proceed in their homosexual behavior, to encourage them to do so discreetly, so as not to shake the confidence of the community in the polity's ability to provide rules for safe, stable, dependable marriage and family relationships.

...if we allow ourselves to be intimidated by our fear of the world's censure into silence in the face of attempts by homosexuals to make their sin acceptable under the laws of the polity, then we have abandoned our role as teachers of righteousness. [emphases added]

This is the Naked Theocrat. God's law is righteousness is morality is ethics is civic virtue. "Liberty" is a word to love because it has traditional sentimental value and occasional sanction in holy writ. But in practical terms, liberty is to be heavily constrained, because it mostly only leads to deviations from The Lord's Way. Sin against the afterlife is crime in this life, and ought to be policed accordingly. When you think morality only comes from your God, you must think your God is mandatory for everyone else. The two notions necessarily correlate. To value liberty— which includes religious liberty— your ethics must meet a standard that is outside, beyond, above religion. Your moral compass is broken if it only points to God.

What's worst of all is this: Card knew his religiously-motivated policy demand would need a temporal justification. So, despite having whipped out his theocratic urge and wiggled it around for everyone to see, he contributed a meme that was then still in its early days. That a public presence of gayness would somehow destabilize marriage itself. (As though the world of concepts just isn't big enough for the both of them. And as though, even in 1990, the genie of gay discretion could go back in the bottle. Pshaw.) Any honest reader can see this is pure non sequitur. "People I'll never meet in another state are having a homosexual encounter! Is no marriage safe?" Come on.

In a reprint of his essay more than a decade later, he attempted an ass-covering disclaimer:

This essay was published in February of 1990, in the following context: The Supreme Court had declared in 1986 (Bowers v. Hardwick) that a Georgia law prohibiting sodomy even in the privacy of one's own home was constitutional. I was also writing this essay to a conservative Mormon audience that at the time would have felt no interest in decriminalizing homosexual acts. In that context, my call to "leave the laws on the books" was simply recognizing the law at that time, and my call to not enforce it except in flagrant cases was actually, within that context, a liberal and tolerant view -- for which I was roundly criticized in conservative Mormon circles as being "pro-gay." Those who now use this essay to attack me as a "homophobe" deceptively ignore the context and treat the essay as if I had written it yesterday afternoon. That is absurd -- now that the law has changed (the decision was overturned in 2003) I have no interest in criminalizing homosexual acts and would never call for such a thing, any more than I wanted such laws enforced back when they were still on the books. [e/a]

So when you say a law "should remain on the books," that means you're glad when the law gets taken off the books? There really isn't a "context" that can make that work. That fig leaf isn't big enough to cover your massive balls, Orson.


Meanwhile, the welfare state is unsustainable. It was unsustainable before Obama, but now that we've inflicted him on ourselves, the crash is coming all that much sooner. Here in the real world, we've got a major short term and two major long term challenges. In the short term, we've got to figure out how to make it through the next four years (maybe even the next eight?) with as much of our personal autonomy and standard of living intact as possible. The long term challenges are a) figuring out how to reform and reinforce the national character so an Obama never happens again, and b) figuring out how to transmit that character down through the coming generations. We the good guys have a lot on our plate.

I'll make an appeal to any theocrats who might be reading this, though I despair of it doing any good. It's time we put the old Ghost to rest. Or at least on the shelf for a bit, while we deal our real problems. We don't have to agree to hate God— we just need to prioritize. Confine the idle speculation on the supernatural— and it's all speculation, don't lie— to idle moments. Get on with the business of tending to the real world. Save the uptightness for real things, instead of phantom-maybe things. Don't hold up a broken compass as true north. And pretty please with a cherry on top, don't try to make your God anyone else's problem.

In the name of all that merits reverence.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The God Phase

WEARYING. I honestly hate it when Brizoni is completely wrong. Which he is whenever he gets near the question of God and religion. It reminds me of how successful the propagandists have been in distorting human history for a generation of youngsters who want to oppose the propagandists but don't have the tools to succeed. They fall into every trap set for them and think they've won something when they're most determined to lose everything.

Gay marriage is a phony issue. It's being used to pillory and marginalize Christians, but the opposition is deeper than religion. I saw a stand-up comic who talked both sense and nonsense on the issue. The sense came from his observations, which were accurate and telling. The nonsense came from his inferences, which were, just like Brizoni's, focused on the Bible in flat contradiction to his own observations. He introduced the subject by suggesting that opponents of gay marriage might make the argument that the mere idea of butt sex between men makes straight men impotent and that scissor sex between women makes the vaginas of straight women dry. He said that might be a viable argument. People would have to listen. Who are we to say it's not true? Then he jumped to the fact that this isn't the argument proffered. People cite the Bible and say it's wrong because God says so. And those people are assholes because the Bible is full of crap.

Sound familiar? Like all the other anti-Christians, he proceeded to beat up on the archaisms of the Old Testament. How clever. I remember how stale and stupid it was when Jed Bartlett ridiculed Leviticus on The West Wing pilot in the 1990s. I was unimpressed when Brizoni recycled it through his hip/now/libertarian atheist enlightenment.

I don't really care that much about gay marriage. What I care about is the moronic fraud of using gay issues to assault, demean, demonize, and sideline both Christianity and a belief in God. All these brave new atheists are marching off to war hiding behind the skirts of fantasy queens. Fantasy? The same comic I cited above was eloquent on that point too. He auditioned for a role as the "gay best friend" of a female romcom lead and said he was tired of the cliche that gay men are all brilliantly talented quip machines. They're not. He said he had gay friends, and they were mostly just as dumb as his straight friends. He told the producers he would play the part if he could be the gay guy who didn't have any worthwhile insights to offer.

The gay thing is a judas goat, meant to inflame, and it's basically not a religious but a sex thing. People are uncomfortable with it, which is far more a function of nature than ideology. That's all. Religions have codified the discomfort because one of the prime purposes of organized religion is to promulgate a social contract that works, meaning it results in the lowest possible number of ill consequences in the community at large. Why religions, in general, also make a moral case against greed, murder, adultery, theft, lying, slander, envy, and jealousy.

Yet Brizoni falls for the scam hook, line, and sinker. He declares an end to the "God Phase," confident that rational atheism will ultimately result in a better society.

On this, the evidence is so massively and manifestly against him that his daring to assert such malarkey is prima facia evidence of idiocy. But he's a product of our public schools. He comes by his idiocy, well, innocently. He has a wonderful brain, but it has been abused in what is laughingly called the educational process.

Some uncomfortable facts. Christianity is not the only religion that has looked askance at homosexuality. They mostly all do. Which makes sense even if you regard religions as a useful trick of Darwin's natural selection. Which, I'm thinking, is much more up Brizoni's alley. Since the advent of the gay rights movement, scientists have been trying to find proof that homosexuality is a genetic not a social or cultural phenomenon. Problem is, in the baldest sense, natural selection rules out genetics. Gay people cannot reproduce, and natural selection will serve to weed them out. Why their numbers are not nearly so robust as their advocates claim. The search continues nonetheless for "meta-genetic" dispositions that might yet remove responsibility from pathological family situations in assigning cause to gayness.

God, if he exists, might yet be the problem, but Christianity really isn't. Which is why the following is completely irrelevant, unless you're on board with blaming Christians for everything you find unacceptable in human nature. The Old Testament is not a representation of the Christian faith, even if some evangelical sects misunderstand the Bible. The word testament actually means covenant, or contract. The old contract was all about sin, the punishment of sinners, and the specification of what sin was. The new contract (i.e., the New Testament) was a literal tearing up the old contract. Sins could be forgiven, in fact guaranteed to be forgiven, by the sacrifice of the son of God, who could actually reside in each one of us. The Old Testament is in the Bible because it's impossible to understand the advances of the new contract without context. How else to understand the significance of reducing the old ten commandments to two? How else to understand the absolutely unbelievable leap in human accomplishment, freedom, and, yes, prosperity that occurred as a direct result of the new covenant with God. Most of what we call western civilization and the United States of America are direct products of that new contract.

Mere happenstance? After all, God is still on the block, subject to decapitation by Brizoni and his band of brothers, the atheists who are smarter than the whole history of civilization. Well, given findings at Gobekli Tepe, it looks as if the "God Phase" of civilization has endured for 10,000 years now. During which time, man has moved from scattered hunter-gatherer communities to today's arrogant microchip pups. Evidence also suggests that belief in divinity was not a function of the invention of agriculture that fueled the rise of civilization but the cause of the invention of agriculture. Ideas of God have evolved since then, just as human culture has evolved. The atheists would have you believe that we have now outgrown the conception and meaning of God because we invented him in the first place.

Or at least they have outgrown him.

I'd suggest that it's equally likely God has played the role he needed to in order to promote human development. What's clear is that we've had a hundred years to see what the end of the "God Phase" offers. Which is, let's face it, oh-so-smart men playing the God role themselves in a purely rational social contract. How many Soviet dead, gay or straight? How many ChiCom dead, of any and all possible sexual persuasions?

If the God Phase is really done, God help us. The atheists are Atlas standing on nothing, proclaiming their superior understanding of a morality they stole from the religions they despise. What they think of as common sense right and wrong is not common sense. It's the result of thousands of years of an evolving consensus that they'd junk overnight when it conflicts with their whims. Halleluiah.

btw, I actually do root for gay marriage in one respect. The idea of unpleasant Lesbians who can think and talk of nothing but being Lesbians permanently YOKED to one another is just, well, funny. Sorry.

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