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Thursday, August 27, 2015

25 Years Ago Today...

...we lost a master. Thank goodness the music survives.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Saturday Night Live Music: "Life's Been Good"

A hot, tired, but happy end to the summer here, folks. As another school year begins on Monday, I have to say, this overweight old white guy right here agrees with the other one: life's been pretty good, so far.

Monday, August 17, 2015

From the Distant Liberal Consensus, a Defiant Conservative Yelp

[Cross-posted to Front Porch Republic]

As I write this review, I keep hearing about Jeb Bush, campaigning for president, talking about how the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein was a "pretty good deal" and castigating the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for failing to maintain (much less expand) America's involvement in Iraq and Syria. The ghosts of neoconservatism remain, I suppose--perhaps in part because their roots in a certain type of conservative thinking go so far back. This summer, I learned a little bit more about that.

Back in late May, a large group of local readers here in Wichita, KS--nearly all of whom very likely would identify themselves as "conservatives," though of a great variety of hues; only a couple of us were generally outsides to that identification, looking in--gathered (under the aegis of the Eighth Day Institute; many thanks!) to read and discuss James Burnham's last major writing, the rambling, revealing, often fascinating, sometimes frightening, and (I think, anyway) fundamentally mixed-up Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism. Published in 1964 (the same year that Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" came out, a coincidence which at least one of our members thought almost too good to be true), it is a frustrated and worried manifesto which insists on presenting itself as a clinical diagnosis of the liberal ideology, which Burnham believed not only dominated the Western world but would, unless reversed, result in its destruction. It is, in short, the sort of book which I suppose could only have been written in a world where the postwar liberal consensus seemed both utterly monolithic and utterly oblivious to the cultural and socio-economic and global consequences of its own beliefs (and who is to say that it really didn't seem so to an East Coast Trostkyist-turned-conservative academic in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s?). Unless you've never read anything except, perhaps, Chronicles magazine (and only the back issues at that), then you probably can't honestly see liberalism as such an intellectually elite and self-inclosed ideological position any longer--that accusation is made against it, of course, but anyone who has honestly considered the ideas of such liberal suspects as Lyndon Johnson, William Sloane Coffin, Martin Luther King, and Betty Friedan (just to pick some names which Burnham never mentions, despite all of them regularly making news as this book was published) can't believe that "liberalism" is a seamless, relentless unity. So reading the book was, among other things, an entrance for me into an old, mostly lost, and perhaps never really entirely real, slightly paranoid world.

A word about James Burnham. I've never made a study of the man's writings, but reading this book made clear to me the truth of the commentary on the man--both complimentary and critical--which points out that the common theme throughout all his writings over the decades was the place of "power" in any given system of thought. The man was more than a "realist" as they are commonly labeled in discussions of foreign policy and international relations; for him, it seems as though power--the wielding of it, the psychological comfort or discomfort with it, the moral appraisal of it--is utterly inseparable from any kind of political understanding, or perhaps any conception of social life whatsoever. Liberalism is a great many things for Burnham, nearly all of them bad, but the common denominator among all these bad things is that liberalism is weak. It lacks firmness. It fails to do and say and believe the hard and practical and disciplined and necessary things for civilization's survival. The fact that this kind of relentless focus on strength occasionally makes it difficult for Burnham to account for liberal successes, or makes a little disconcerting the way he deals with aspects of individuality which are not reducible to a Darwinian struggle, doesn't slow him down. Towards the very end of the book he lays it out flat: the most important thing is "military bases, strategic posts, and soldiers"; beyond or without them, "there can be no civilization, there is nothing" (pg. 344). I can only assume that John Derbyshire, Victor Davis Hanson, and other traditionalist conservatives of a particularly martial stripe are fans.

This isn't Front Porch-style localist and community-focused conservatism, that's for sure. The Cold War was a bad time for ideologies (thought really, are there ever good times?), particularly one that includes within it strands of thought dealing such humble topics and virtues as local knowledge and affection, community attachment, and so forth. Burnham saw liberalism as a world-historical force, and attempting to understand it obliged him, on my reading, to constantly reach for the civilizational, the global. He--and surely he wasn't alone--looked for some kind of systematized resistance to what he considered the essential weakness and irresponsibility of liberalism, and as a result turned (despite his protestation in the book that such was not his aim) varied particular elements of conservative thought into universal, logical necessities, the rejection of which can only be attributed to Western liberals "who hate their own civilization" (pg. 14). The result certainly included elements of traditional conservatism--Burnham unapologetically defends aristocracy and natural hierarchies, and is dismissive of broad academic freedoms and democracy, particularly when "uneducated or propertyless persons" are allowed to vote (pgs. 112, 137-140)--but while Burnham occasionally name-drops various Aristotelian or Hegelian or Christian philosophies that might ground and give contrasting meaning to those traditions, overall the feeling of the book is very programmatic, and intentionally so: there is the way things are, and then there are liberals, and figuring what why they believe the irrational things they do is a problem for him.

Who are these Western liberals? Burnham employs only a little sociology and less philosophy in constructing what he refers to as the "liberal syndrome," instead choosing to carefully build a constellation of liberal positions by examining people and institutions that "plain common-sense" tells you are liberal: Elanor Roosevelt, Eugene McCarthy, John Kenneth Galbraith, The New Republic, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the League of Women Voters, etc., etc. (pgs. 19-20). From this array of liberals and liberal doings, Burnham artfully constructs his case. I won't deny that his analysis often results in correct observations about liberalism generally: "liberalism rejects the essentially tragic view of man's fate," "most liberals...do not feel....that considerations of experience, habit, custom and traditions have any appreciable weight," "liberalism is logically committed to the doctrine...of epistemological relativism, " etc. (see pgs. 44, 57, 72). But because he does not really look seriously at liberalism as a philosophy with its own history (Locke appears only to have Burnham surprisingly express doubt in his liberal bona-fides, and the authors of the U.S. Constitution show up to be complimented for having apparently kept them mostly uninfluenced by liberal Europe's Englightenment--pgs. 41-42, 148), all these observations become reductive. Even when he recognizes the individualistic ontology that all varieties of liberal thought share, he cannot take those varieties seriously, instead insisting that shared assumptions about human nature automatically bring all liberals to much the same point on practically every possible question. He makes, in other words, the whole range of liberal ideas (incorporating all sorts of perspectives probably better described as socialism or progressivism or populism or egalitarianism) into a support structure for the mainstream Democratic party's postwar apotheosis. You can't fault Burnham for not knowing his own thesis, that's for certain.

Some chapters are better than others. When Burnham attempts to organize liberalism's "order of values" he gets, I presume unknowingly, all mixed up on the matter of "positive liberty," on the one hand denying that "improving the security and mobility" of persons can ever involve any benefit to "genuine individual freedom," while at the same time admitting his belief that becoming "more complexly and intimately related" to (and thus constricted by) bodies larger than oneself actually is an increase in one's individuality (pgs. 185, 198). Then again, his chapter on "The Guilt of the Liberal," though including a rather cheap swipe at "the abusive writings of a disoriented Negro homosexual" (clearly James Baldwin), includes some first-rate psychological investigation, very aptly pointing out how liberalism's "atomistic and quantitative" approach logically shouldn't be capable of attributing obligations to successful or rich individuals on behalf of poorer or suffering ones, thus suggesting that, when it comes to matters of racial justice or economic equality, liberals--secular ones anyway--are motivated essentially by a contorted and parasitic feelings of guilt, and not much else, so much so that they find themselves "morally disarmed before those whom the liberal regards as less well off than himself" (pgs. 218-221, 224-227). It's a strong enough piece of argument that I wonder if John Rawls, who famously attempted to create an entirely rational (and thus self-interested) scheme of liberal justice, ever read it and perhaps was influenced by it. So, while his effort overall is filled with missteps and a kind of defiantly unexamined obliviousness to the actual genealogy of belief of those liberals which so disturb him, there are plenty of sharp insights to be found throughout the book all the same.

Towards the end of the book, Burnham's near apocalyptic Cold War focus become pretty relentless. There is hardly a single postwar retreat from Western colonialism which he doesn't decry as a failure of liberal nerve in the face of communist expansion, and hardly a single example of the U.S. employing its power to shape political outcomes beyond its borders which he does not applaud. (The Spanish-American War in particular comes in for praise--pg. 293.) America's unwillingness to initiate some roll-back of international communism during the Hungarian uprising against Soviet domination especially troubles him, given that, in his view, "no better circumstances for some sort of move along the perspective could be imagined than those existing in November 1956" (pg. 306). (To Burnham, Eisenhower's weakness was clearly the fault of liberalism and not at all the fact that the Soviet Union was by then a nuclear power, since "changes in military, technical and other material factors are never able of themselves to account, causally, for policy"--pg. 313.) Ultimately, Burnham is convinced: those who subscribe to liberal ideas will spell the defeat of Western civilization because of their weakness in the face of multiple challenges, either "the drive of the communist enterprise for a monopoly of world power," or by "the explosive population growth and political activization within...equatorial and sub-equatorial latitudes occupied by non-white masses," or simply by "the jungle now spreading within our own society, in particular in our cities" (pg. 325). He gestures at the possibility of avoiding these fates by the West separating itself from liberal ideas, but doesn't seem to have much hope.

His arrival at this rather determined prognosis as a conclusion, after spending so much time attempting to develop an entirely clinical account of the liberal mindset in his book, gets me thinking: if those end points he comes to did not, in fact, occur, what does that mean? Complete aside from all the philosophically unsubstantiated and the many overly broad claims about liberalism in the book, can we say that, technically, he got liberals wrong? It would be interesting to consider the range of possible answers. Perhaps liberalism was overcome in time to bring about the Soviet Union (but then, would that mean liberalism made a comeback in America, and if so when)? Or perhaps liberalism got lucky and the USSR and international communism imploded, but Burnham's other two predictions continue to unfold? It is an interesting exercise in the sort of perennially improvable ideological debates we are all familiar with, only from the other direction: maybe liberalism can never exhibit sufficient strength to defeat its challengers, and we know this because challenges to the liberal way of life are still there. Fifty years ago is was the USSR, and today it is ISIS; the endurance of such challenges is, perhaps, all a Burnhamite conservative needs.

In the end, I think the mature Burnham, while certainly no liberal (much less a socialist of any stripe), was a poor conservative. His analytical but also anecdotal approach to ideology was fixated on broad categories of state, civilization, and race, leading him into seeing connections that simply aren't there, and by so doing moving his own often correct observations into a global framework that take conservative virtues and twist them--as the neoconservatives of the last 20 years have also done, flailing about to find some way to make sense of their diagnosis of liberalism after the Soviet Union's collapsed, and fixating on the "War on Terror." But conservatism, whatever it has to offer our pluralistic and secular world, loses its virtues (left-leaning ones included!) when it is turned into martial struggle against an ideological foe. Burham quotes Michael Oakeshott repeatedly on the epistemological dangers of "rationalism"; he and his descendants ought to be cognizant of how in attempting to undermine what they see as a comprehensive threat to the way things ought to be, they make the same thing out of themselves.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Saturday Night Live Music: "Look Away"

Big Country's best song? Quite possibly.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Does Repugnance Matter, or Not?

I haven't written about abortion for years, and I've resisted writing anything about the controversy which the Planned Parenthood videos has generated across the blogosphere (no one calls it that anymore, do they?). However, a series of columns and posts from some folks I know and respect have forced my hand. Let me take this step by step:

1) My friend Damon Linker writes a column (with an unfortunately provocative headline) that, while sketching out his own moderate moral discomfort with abortion, takes to task strong abortion opponents as actually not caring so much about the fetal life which abortion extinguishes as about pushing an anti-contraception sexual traditionalism--the evidence being the success which various birth control initiatives have apparently had in lowering the abortion rate, initiatives which social conservative pro-lifers have decided refused to support.

2) Ross Douthat writes an uncharacteristically angry column in response to Damon and others, disputing--I think somewhat persuasively--the evidence which is presented in support of the thesis that more contraception services (such as provided by Planned Parenthood) always correlates with fewer abortions, asking hypothetically why such initiatives and institutions, if they really are "pro-life," always seem to tightly associate the providing of contraception services with the whole bloody economy of abortion, and ending with a strong challenge to moderates like Damon: please just unapologetically defend abortion rights, and stop making like you're troubled by abortion when you aren't actually interesting in limiting its practice.

3) Damon hits back, wondering how it is that the usually milquetoast Douthat has turned into an absolutist on this issue, rehearsing all the well-understood biological details about fertilization, implantation, and development which cut (again, to my mind persuasively) against any kind of simplistic, non-philosophical claims about "life beginning at conception," and strongly defending a series of laws and norms which puts its trust in intuitions--"An abortion at six weeks is worse than one at four weeks. Eight weeks is worse than six. Twelve is worse than 10. And so forth, as we approach fetal viability"--rather than any kind of "rational systematization."

4) Fellow Potterholic and Rod-Dreher-fan Alan Jacobs gives Damon's protestations no credit whatsoever, pointing out that Damon is fundamentally unwilling to dispute the "package deal" (contraception services and abortion) which Planned Parenthood depends upon, and concluding that "if in the face of the horrors revealed by these recent videos of Planned Parenthood’s callous and mercenary attitude towards the organs of killed fetal humans your response is to attack Ross Douthat, then maybe, just maybe, you’re not as 'deeply troubled by abortion' as you’d like to think you are."

5) In a series of Tweets, Damon defends himself to Alan, enough to lead Alan to restate his thoughts about Damon's substantive claims, in which he makes a couple of observations that I can't resist commenting on. First:

While Linker’s view is often described as a “gradualist” one, and while morally that may be true, in legal terms it’s not gradualist at all: it’s totally binary, all or nothing. In this account, before viability the taking of a fetal life is legally nugatory; after viability it’s murder. This is a big jump in any circumstances, but especially worrisome given the success of prenatal medicine in pushing viability earlier and earlier.

And second:

I appreciate, and even value, the general point that underlies Linker’s argument: that sometimes our laws have to be based on fallible and not especially consistent moral intuitions; that ad hoc reasoning is sometimes the best that we have; that the attempt to impose absolute consistency on our laws and jurisprudence is almost necessarily quixotic and prone to the generation of unintended consequences, because, as the adage rightly goes, hard cases make bad law. But I think our track record as a species--and more particularly as Americans--suggests that rough-and-ready moral intuitions do very little to protect the weak, the powerless, the despised. We need stronger and (yes) more consistent legal and moral stuff to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Now unless I am reading this wrong--and Alan, please correct me if I am not--it seems to me that he is pretty plainly endorsing Douthat's implicit claim that abortion must necessarily oblige one to take a "binary" approach: legally nugatory, or murder. It's a position which it seems to me many strong defenders of abortion rights already, in structure if not in substance, agree with. The upshot is that talking about the supposedly "pro-life" upsides of contraception or the value of Western European-style compromises (something like universally accessible and free abortion services through the second trimester, and very strict restrictions thereafter) all comes off as weak: it doesn't give you the "stronger and (yes) more consistent legal and moral stuff" which a topic as serious as abortion requires. Mere intuitions ain't enough.

Well, maybe they're not--as anyone who as ever read my blog (or hell, this blog post!) can tell, I'm an intellectual who wants to get all the arguments in proper order so as to figure out what I think. But for Alan (and implicitly Douthat too) to apparently presume that we just can't trust moral intuitions about abortion to properly parse out the circumstances--that we need to develop moral arguments that are clearly all or nothing--strikes me as a rather surprising rejection of the long-standing conservative principle of "the wisdom of repugnance." I'm not sure how anyone could pretend that the whole reason the Planned Parenthood videos are generating so many accusations and so much discussion (and changing some minds) is exactly because, while none of the biological realities of abortion were unknown to anyone who took the time to think about it, those realities are now being displayed (however strategically) in a clinical, economic, utilitarian way which quite a few people--myself included--find kind of revolting. Is that disgust--which obviously will activated, as Damon suggested, less at conception than at four weeks, less at four weeks than at eight, less at eight than at twelve, etc.--really not something opponents of abortion should make use of? Are Alan and Ross, when it comes to what they plainly understand to be the enormity of abortion, really a variety of Nussbaumian liberal, who want our discourse on this matter to be clear and absolute, on one side or the other, without any ambiguous or ambivalent feelings of shame? I suppose that if you believe, to use the old pro-life stand-by, that the argument over abortion is a straight-up discussion about the teleological moral status of an unborn baby and nothing else--that this, in other words, can only be a replay of the argument over slavery--then I'd agree: it's all or nothing, folks. But until and unless medical technology enables us to vouchsafe complete independent personhood to the fetal embryo as soon as, say, its heart starts beating, then I'm going to continue to believe--to have the intuition!--that the woman in whom that baby is developing isn't the same as a slave-owner, and her preferences and needs have a balancing moral worth as well.

I'm a believer in repugnance. Not all of it, not all the time--anyone who lives in a pluralistic society, as opposed to a completely sexually traditional Christian one, if they are honest, can't deny that it isn't just sin, but also differing perceptions and differing experiences, which can lead some people to find certain things gross and while others don't. Which means you can argue about such feelings--argue that they're wrong-headed, or that they are insufficiently complete. But I don't see why the fact that feelings of repugnance get attached to various actions or conditions non-systematically, giving rise to differences and arguments, is an argument against their legitimacy as a tool of social discourse. (Jason Brennan and Peter Jaworski have recently written a thoughtful--though I also think somewhat repetitive--article challenging the notion that anyone ought to ever give any ethical place to what they call "symbolic" or "semiotic" limits, which in their view are always mere social interpretations, and therefore ought to fall before real practical consequences. The first and most obvious problem with that claim, of course, is that economic and utilitarian "consequences" themselves are cultural and social constructions as well.) Damon's position regarding abortion is pretty much my own--in part exactly because it is neither a philosophical prioritization of bodily autonomy in all cases, nor a theological mandate about the moral inviolability of the natural processes of biological reproduction either. It's squishy. Let's hear it for squishy, at least sometimes, okay? I thought that was one of the better conservative principles, after all.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Bernie Sanders: Front Porch Socialist?

[Cross-posted to Front Porch Republic]

This October, Front Porch Republic--the motley gang of reactionary radicals that I've been hanging out with, arguing with, and learning from for years--will host its annual conference in Geneseo, NY, just a short day's drive from Burlington, Vermont, the home current presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders. Senator Sanders will not, I am confident, make an appearance. But if he did (and who knows? this is a self-identifying democratic socialist who has accepted an invitation to speak at the conservative evangelical school Liberty University, after all) I wonder if both he and those attending the conference wouldn't be surprised to recognize all the small yet important convictions they have in common.

Obviously, there are some pretty large obstacles in the way of any FPR-Bernie Sanders rapprochement, the fact that Sanders in an aggressive and unapologetic defender of abortion rights being just one of them. But if you can look beyond those hot-burning cultural issues, one can see (as I've pointed out before) that Sanders's almost-certainly-quixotic-but-nonetheless-still-valuable crusade to force the Democratic party to wrestle more seriously with economic and political inequality in this country potentially has important localist, small-d democratic, and even conservative (properly understood) aspects to it. His opposition to America's military-industrial complex, his defense of unions, his suspicion of fast-track trade agreements, his firm support for environmental sustainability, his displeasure with a theory of capitalism premised upon every-expanding consumerism, his push for maternity leave policies, even his advocacy of single-payer health insurance system: all can be understood as approaches that can aid in keeping families, neighborhoods, communities, and our physical environments intact and strong. Many might reject that particular kind of populist, Jeffersonian democratic localism--and, of course, a lot of folks will quite reasonably ask why it even matters, since fighting over our nation's top political prize will do little to affect real, local cultural change. On that final point, I pretty much completely agree: what happens in our school districts and city councils and state legislatures is almost certainly far more important than who happens to occupy the top slot in our dysfunctional national government. But at the same time, one of the great things about having an actual democratic socialist--or at least someone who isn't afraid to make use of the label--on the national stage is because it can help clarify things--particularly, just where one's priorities are, and that's the sort of thing which really can matter locally.

So, consider the one of the latest in a series of reasons why Bernie Sanders--supposedly the most left-leaning serious presidential candidate to be found anywhere in the land--sometimes seems oddly (and, for some progressive liberals, off-puttingly) "conservative." No, not the complicated case advanced by some activists that Sanders's focus on social and economic justice implicitly makes him dismissive of racial issues (an accusation that more than a few Republicans have picked up and ran with). Rather, consider a recent interview in which Sanders was pressed to embrace the "international" perspective presumably baked into his own quasi-socialist views, and instead shocked his interview by making it clear that he believes the whole idea of an "open border" world, wherein immigration and global movement of persons could take place without much (or perhaps even any) regard to citizenship and sovereignty, is basically an idea that only those on the side of powerful corporations who benefit from cheap labor could love.

It was hard for his liberal interviewer to wrap his head around the idea that someone who supported the equal treatment of persons would structure that support in terms of defined community: in this case, in terms of the American nation-state. Sanders's own words make it clear he's no xenophobe ("I think what we need to be doing as a global economy is making sure that people in poor countries have decent-paying jobs, have education, have health care, have nutrition for their people...that is a moral responsibility"), but in failing to properly burnish his globalist bona fides, it wasn't long before libertarians and the business-capital-friendly factions of the Republican party figured they had Sanders's number. Turns out he's a "tribalist," a "nationalist" (and quite possibly a Nazi to boot), a "fascist," and a "plutocrat who hates the [global] poor." Even allowing for the hysterical and often at least partly tongue-in-cheek accusations which social media today invariably encourages, it is genuinely striking just how much disbelief and invective can be generated when someone on the national stage unapologetically argues that allowing the economic benefits of international capital to tumble forth upon all individuals in the aggregate might not, actually, be the best possible recipe for either a just society or a healthy democratic community.

I will happily grant that it is no more obviously an economic good to focus on the jobs and wages of a defined community than it is to explode those definitions so as to enabled goods and persons to travel everywhere that global capital calls them. The economics of immigration are complicated--and they aren't done any favors when defenders of Sanders trot out statements like this one by Richard Eskow which include multiple easily disputable claims. Eskow's piece isn't nearly as bad as some online commentators suggest, but it does make some pretty egregious groaners, such as comparing the open borders concept to exploitative guest worker programs, which isn't so much a case of comparing apples and oranges as one of comparing apples and barbed wire. Still, it's not as though the attacks on Sanders's priorities always make that much sense either; in this piece by Daniel Bier, the strict economic prioritarianism is so blinding that the man doesn't need any cultural filters; he obviously can't see the cultural variables and consequences at work in his open borders thought experiment even though they directly involve some of the most broadly and hotly discussed sociological realities in the world today.

(I'm thinking here specifically of Bier's dismissal of the protectionist claim made on behalf of Sanders's caution regarding the consequences of flooding a specific market with workers; Bier simply asserts that, since "the economy is a dynamic, organic system that creates jobs in response to supply and demand," the market will always effectively handle any changes: after all, he snarks, "the dramatic increase in women’s participation in the labor force over the last 60 years did not drive men out of the job market." Now, that's technically true...if, that is, one looks at raw numbers and basically nothing else. However, even briefly perusing this or this or this or a hundred other studies which chart the gender-specific consequences of America's movement towards a more egalitarian, post-industrial economy over the past two generations, makes it clear that, far from seamless adaptation, there have been huge externalities to this change. Please note: I am absolutely not suggesting a general reversal of those changes--there are far too many social benefits and historical factors involved for anyone who isn't a far more determined reactionary than anyone at FPR to even pretend to such a posture, I think. By the same token, Bernie Sanders, even if he isn't a complete enthusiast for unlimited immigration, absolutely recognizes the moral as well as economic need to be conscious of the global changes and pressures always ongoing around us. It's just that he clearly feels a need to be responsible to other, cultural and communal priorities as well, and strives to strike balances accordingly.)

Insisting that cultural goods both should be and frankly are inseparably entwined with economic calculations is--for presumably pretty basic philosophical reasons--often simply infuriating to many liberal individualists. Poor people are starving, less-poor people are willing to pay them to mow their lawns, the poor people can get food money from those transactions, after which they won't starve: QED! Therefore, allowing one's culture to create obstacles to poor people getting to where the life-saving contracts can be found can only be labeled a tyrannical horror. And if human beings really did live at 35,000 feet, surveying the patterns which emerge below ("look, cultural disruption here, followed by a new local synthesis over there!"), I suppose I might agree that making policy judgments solely a matter of calculating aggregates is all that would be necessary.

But this is where the Front Porch comes in--we humans (most of us, most of the time, anyway) aren't actually moral surveyors, but rather embedded creatures, whose affections and attachments and identities put limits upon our priorities and valuations: limits that need to be acknowledged for the meaningful phenomena they are. Cultures aren't something that only "natives" have; we all contribute to and are shaped by such social patterns, and to treat such embeddedness as always and easily trumped by the suffering which exists in the world (especially given that our understanding of suffering is itself a culturally formed understanding!) is, I think, highly simplistic. Does that mean I agree it is always defensible to express cultural limits in terms of, say, national borders that have less than an absolute openness to all others who wish to immigrate to their country? Not in the least, because to refuse to acknowledge the ways that nationalism can become unjustly exclusionary is both stupid and immoral. Which is something Senator Sanders knows, a knowledge that is reflected in both his support for the DREAM Act but also his opposition to many de facto guest worker programs pushed, in his view, primarily by large corporations. You can dispute the effectiveness or morality of that particular balancing act, but at least its an acknowledgement of the necessary--even, in some way, the enriching--limitations on what it takes to build democratically expressed principles into the structures of society. Harold Meyerson defends this conservative insight from a social democratic perspective; the fact that it finds very little historical or theoretical defense from those who speak from a strongly neoliberal/capitalist or libertarian perspective (which are, of course, pretty influential strands amongst the mainstream of both the Republican and Democratic parties) is exactly the reason why Porchers, and others, may appreciate the clarity that Bernie Sanders's crusade is forcing into our political discourse.

Not that I, or anyone who pays attention to such things, ought to expect Sanders's campaign to actually change much about American political discourse (no more than we ought to expect that Sanders might actually, you know, win). Such radical changes in the direction of left conservative insights can only emerge from long, hard, patient, everyday work amongst ones neighbors and communities and friends. But for now, this particular localist-populist-egalitarian is happy we have a democratic socialist generating conversations--and not just about immigration. The more all this news coverage even just accidentally induces sproductive rethinking about both the social importance and the moral limits of communities (include national ones), the better. If nothing else, it may make the local and cultural arguments which need to happen that much easier to start.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Saturday Night Live Music: "Feeling That Way"

Summer's pretty much over. Can you feel it? Me too.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Sobering Numbers on a Sobering Day

I'm not quite willing, I think, to go along with multiple friends of mine who look at the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, as a "war crime." Not because I don't think the term has any meaning, but rather because the event in question in many ways preceded our contemporary understanding of the term, as well as provided the whole moral and strategic international framework for even thinking about what we consider "war crimes," to be.

But, separate from all matters of law and international relations, there is the simple fact that it was a horror, and an evil. Like all wars are, really.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Saturday Night Live Music: "Breezin'"

And, we're back.