Is Democracy Really Dying After All?

To some, it looks that way:

Winston Churchill may have been right about democracy’s being the worst form of government except for all the others, but he probably wouldn’t have guessed that the bar would fall so low. In his sweeping review of contemporary moral and political life, Kenneth Minogue contends that, as currently practised, democracy may not be compatible with the moral life as it has been traditionally understood in the West. Minogue, an emeritus professor at the London School of Economics and a pre-eminent political thinker, acknowledges an ambivalence about democracy. It has been the cause of many improvements, he observes, but its flaws are increasingly evident. Democracy is prone to corruption: the immense amount of regulation and bureaucracy it requires to function opens limitless opportunities for abuse. Further, democracy’s inner workings compel it, paradoxically, to undemocratic results. The push for equality and ever more rights—two of its basic principles—requires a ruling class to govern competing claims; thus the rise of the undemocratic judiciary as the arbiter of many aspects of public life, and of bureaucracies that issue rules far removed from the democratic process. Should this trend continue, Minogue foresees widespread servility replacing the tradition of free government.

A long time ago (before 2005, when this blog began its transition from a static website to a blog) I made a statement in the introductory page that democracy was dying in the places where became viable in modern times.  Evidently I’m not the only one to think so.

The core problem with a system with occasional recourse to the electoral process is that those in power spend as much if not more time manipulating (and coercing when the occasion calls for it) the public and its idea than actually governing.  That turns the whole process into a self-defeating cycle.  That’s where we’re headed.

And, as the quote above implies, we should take a more jaded opinion about all of these “rights” and “equality” campaigns we see in our society.

Wake Up, South Florida Boomers: We Are the People We Made Fun Of

That is, we are becoming elderly drivers:

Remember “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena”? Baby boomers who first danced to that 1964 pop hit about a granny burning up the road in her hot rod will begin turning 65 in January. Experts say keeping those drivers safe and mobile is a challenge with profound implications….

Older drivers who are healthy aren’t necessarily any less safe than younger drivers. But many older drivers are likely to have age-related medical conditions that can affect their driving.

A 40-year-old needs 20 times more light to see at night to see than a 20-year-old, Coughlin said. Older drivers generally are less able to judge speed and distances, their reflexes are slower, they may be more easily confused and they’re less flexible, which affects their ability to turn so that they can look to the side or behind them…

Many older drivers compensate for the erosion of their driving abilities by changing their driving habits.

“I’m never in a rush,” said Grace M. Sanders, 87, a retired secretary in Atlanta. She takes care to map out a route in her mind before she leaves the house. She avoids driving near construction sites. If it’s raining, she stays home.

Those of us who grew up “where the animals are tame and the people run wild” need to confess: we made fun of the way “old people” drove.  We hated getting behind one, watching them straining to see over the steering wheel as they progressed down the road at 20 MPH.  When the opportunity arose, we’d pop the clutch, burn rubber and (if we were in an uncharitable mood) flip the bird as we passed.

It’s our turn now.  And it isn’t funny any more.

We’ve been warned over the years.  One of John Stossel’s most memorable moments on 20/20 was his piece on this subject many years ago.  He used his father (who lived in the Palm Beaches) as an example.  He showed him driving the streets of Palm Beach, and taking a driver’s test at the same place on Military Trail where I had passed my road test and got my full license.  It was great nostalgia for me, but Stossel’s father actually did better on the test than the son did.

I’m inclined to think that the generations coming up will be more charitable to us when we creep down the road at 20 MPH, but if they aren’t, we deserve it.

And we’ll make adjustments too.  As they say in Texas, old coots never take the interstate.  My father used to take A1A to get from the West Palm Beach airport back to Boynton Beach, and I’m sure there will be those who will follow in his tire tracks.

It's "Mea Culpa" Time on the BBC for the Environmental Movement

As the Telegraph reports, it’s a surprise it got on the Beeb at all, but there it is:

This was no such programme. Instead, it was a platform for every sinner that repenteth. Former hippy Greens, directors of Greenpeace, the chairmen of the Copenhagen Climate Council and the like, queued up to admit error. Their reasons for doing so were interesting. None of them repudiated all their previous ideas. All continue to believe that there are serious environmental threats to the welfare of life on earth and most seem to be devoting their lives to addressing them. But, as one put it, environmentalists over the past 40 years have “failed to achieve Job One, which was to protect the planet”.

I’ve documented the mea culpa of Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore re nuclear power (and the pushback from his fellow environmentalists).  At the root of the problem is the fact that the environmental movement has its roots in the Luddite counter-attack against technological civilisation of the 1960’s, and this mentality continues to dominate the movement today, it’s recent attempts to be “scientific” notwithstanding.  Until that changes the “endless panic” mentality will continue with the endless unsatisfactory results to go with them.  (And, to be complete, their understanding of economics is nearly as absent as their understanding of science).

But I’d like to throw out another, unrelated challenge: since leaders of the environmental movement are doing their mea culpa and admitting their MO didn’t work, when are we going to see a similar parade of leaders of the Religious Right about why their programme didn’t take America back for God?

Health Care: If It's a Tax, It Should be Called One

That’s the core issue of challenges to the health care law:

When 21 states and several private groups initiated lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Obama health care law earlier this year, critics denounced the suits as frivolous political grandstanding. But it is increasingly clear that the plaintiffs have a serious case with a real chance of victory.

The suits focus primarily on challenges to the new law’s “individual mandate,” which requires most American citizens to purchase a government-approved health insurance plan by 2014 or pay a fine. One of the cases was filed by 20 state governments and the National Federation of Independent Business in a federal court in Florida. Another was initiated by the Commonwealth of Virginia in a federal court in this state, and a third by the Thomas More Law Center in Michigan…

The federal government claims that Congress has the power to impose the mandate under the Commerce Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause, and the Tax Clause of the Constitution. On the first two claims, Judge Vinson ruled that Supreme Court precedent doesn’t clearly support the government, thereby enabling the plaintiffs’ lawsuit to go forward. He outright rejected the government’s claim that the mandate is constitutional because it is a “tax.” It is instead a financial penalty for refusing to comply with a federal regulation. As Judge Vinson pointed out, congressional leaders consistently emphasized before the law’s enactment that it was not a tax.

In September 2009, President Obama himself noted that “for us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase.” He was right. If the mandate qualifies as a tax merely because it punishes violators with a fine, then Congress could require Americans to do almost anything on pain of having to pay a fine if they refuse. It could, for example, force citizens to buy virtually any product, such as purchasing General Motors cars for the purpose of helping the struggling auto industry.

This is the end result of a political system where transparency is out the window.

It may seem like a semantic difference.  But that semantic difference is what got the health care bill passed.  Had its proponents–Obama and the Democrats in Congress–done the obvious and proposed a tax to pay for those who couldn’t afford health care, not even Nancy Pelosi could have gotten it through.  (We’re already doing that with Medicaid, so that precedent is established).  But instead they went the route of requiring people to purchase a product from a non-governmental source that they may or may not want.  All the while they characterised the requirement as a “non-tax”.  Now they have no right to complain when the courts call their bluff.

I’m not sure that the courts will, in the end, toss this thing out.  Our judiciary has a strange way these days of not discerning where their values end and where the law starts.  For people with substantial incomes, making others pay for anything might not seem much of a requirement.  But how you see that depends upon what end of the economic spectrum you’re at.

The LGBT Community Shifts toward the GOP

Hard to believe, but…

More self-identified gay voters chose the GOP in the midterm elections than in previously recorded totals, according to a CNN exit poll.

Thirty-one percent of self-identified gay voters cast their ballots for Republicans on Tuesday, 4 percentage points more than in 2008, according to a similar CNN exit poll…

“The gay left would have you believe that gay conservatives don’t exist,” said GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia. “Now we see that almost a third of self-identified gay voters cast ballots for Republican candidates for Congress in this year’s midterm.”

In Europe, the trend of LGBT people voting with the right is driven by the Islamicists.  In this country, I suspect the economy is causing this.  The Tea Party, for all of the catcalls from the left, has put economic issues at the centre of the agenda as opposed to social ones, and that in turn reflects the state of the country.  It’s hard to maintain any kind of lifestyle when the economy is in the tank.

Now if we could just get civil marriage abolished…

The Old British Tactic of Playing Off Minority Races Against Majority Ones

This interesting tidbit, buried in an Asia Times Online piece about why Myanmar (Burma) has been a string of dictatorships and conflicts since independence:

During Myanmar’s period of colonial rule, from 1886 to 1948, Great Britain preferred hiring ethnic minorities to work in its colonial administration, for fear of putting the majority Burman in positions of power. As a result, ethnic nationals were often better educated and developed strong ethnic identities.

After independence was declared in 1948, the tables were turned and Burman politicians dominated the government, with long memories of their time in exile. “Many ethnic leaders viewed the Burman leaders as hegemons whom they could not trust,” writes Myanmar observer Kyaw Yin Hlaing. “They agreed to join the union only out of respect for General Aung San.”

Convening a meeting at the town of Panglong, Aung San promised an equal power-sharing agreement, pledging to ethnic minority leaders that they could opt out of the union 10 years after independence if the benefits of cooperation failed to materialize.

The “Panglong Agreement” gave rise to a spirit of equal representation that would be short lived. After Aung San was killed, Burman leaders tried but failed to work the agreement into the new constitution. Ethnic minority groups rebelled, with a handful launching civil wars against the Burman majority.

Does this sound familiar?

It’s interesting to note that Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize winner, is Aung San’s daughter.

Getting Past Panic in the Climate Change Debate

Without including engineers, who are charged with coming up with solutions to the problem, things get pretty irrational, as the September-October 2010 edition of Geo-Strata notes:

Evolution has been at work on the climate situation recently. Let’s overlook the late 1970s forecast of an impending ice age and focus on the early- to mid-2000s ‘global warming’ discussion. Cooler temperatures and climate science research concerns notwithstanding, the term became ‘climate change’ even as governments sought to establish policies to restrict Man-generated green house gasses that were considered to be the cause of global warming. The transportation industry concluded in 2008 that the impacts of climate change could be handled best by adaptation strategies. The global warming evolution thus became ‘environmental change’ which permits consideration of non- climate processes, such as coastal subsidence, in a holistic way.

Global warming policies were created without significant input from engineers. Sensational sound bites and photos of pathetic polar bears played on a scientifically illiterate society to pit the environment against development. Skeptics of (Milutin) Milankovitch’s theory (the wobbling of the earth’s axis as it rotate around the Sun) found items to support their objections to it; Milankovitch was reported to have been untroubled by the criticisms, commenting that it was not his duty to educate the ignorant. Geo-engineers today should be aware of opportunities to ‘educate the ignorant,’ but society seems to be filled with well-meaning, but misinformed, people who are unduly influenced by Hollywood science and environmental activism, making the education task more challenging. It seems that the transportation industry’s adaptation strategy for dealing with climate change also may be the best approach for dealing with climate-change policies.

Emphasis mine.

The article is “Commentary: Is Uniformitarianism Sustainable in an Age of Environmental Change?” by Jeffrey R. Keaton.

NPR News and Fox Not News? You've Got to be Kidding!

But that’s still NPR’s line re the firing of Juan Williams, as elucidated at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches:

When asked about the firing of Juan Williams by NPR for comments he made on Fox News, (NPR Political Editor Ken) Rudin said he regretted the way it happened, but it was almost inevitable. Rudin said he doesn’t think commentators should appear on both NPR and FOX because Fox is opinion and NPR is news.

It’s not a liberal versus conservative issue,  Rudin said, because he would feel the same way about an NPR commentator going on Olbermann’s or Maddow’s show.

“Juan was a time bomb waiting to happen because he was saying a lot of incendiary things, and that’s what you do when you go on Fox,” Rudin said.

“You can’t serve two masters, especially Fox, which doesn’t believe in the same journalistic principles that we do.”

That has to rate one of the most sanctimonious things I’ve ever heard a liberal say, and that’s saying a lot…

Juan Williams is probably one of the least incendiary people who regularly appear on cable news, period.  I don’t always agree with him but he makes sense and I admire him.

Dragging MSNBC into this is a red herring (literally), although I suspect that NPR sees MSNBC as sharing/competing for the same audience.  And no one is going on Olbermann’s show in the near future, because Bathtub Boy has been suspended for contributing to Democrats (surprise)!

It just gets crazier and crazier…

Some Closing Thoughts on Cyril of Jerusalem's Catechetical Lectures

This is the twelfth and last in a sporadic series on the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem.  The previous post was Mystagogy, Sacramental Theology and the Poker Playing Dog.

It’s time, I suppose, to “put a wrap” on this long series on the Cathechetical Lectures of Cyril of Jerusalem. For me at least, it has been a rewarding journey. Whether it has been so for the readers of this blog is something only time will tell.

Looking at this blog, people probably ask themselves, “Why does this guy stick with an Evangelical—and specifically Pentecostal—church?” That’s a legitimate question, and the answer to that isn’t easy or straightforward. But let me set forth the most important reason, and what is, in my opinion, the greatest lesson of Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures.

As I observed in my critique of Jim Wallis’ book, Christianity isn’t primarily a moral system. To say that it is or act as if it is is a grave mistake. It is the restoration of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, his removal of our sin and his transformation of our very being. It’s true that this transformation results in us doing things we didn’t do before and not doing things we did before, but putting “doing things” before the transformation is putting the cart before the horse. Those who have experienced this transformation gather into what we conventionally call the church, the “called out” ones.

That puts me on the wrong side of many people. It certainly puts me on the wrong side of both liberals like Wallis and others who believe that Christianity is a moral system. It also puts me on the wrong side of these who think the church comes before the people, that Christians exist to serve the institution—and receive salvation therefrom—and not the church serving the “called out ones”.

Evangelical churches have distinguished themselves by emphasising the primacy of a real relationship between Jesus Christ and people. I would be the first to admit that they’ve not been perfect: there’s a lot of “churchianity” out there and these days Evangelicals—especially in the West—have been attracting the “poker playing dog” rather than recruiting leaders. But Evangelical Christianity has not survived centuries of marginalisation and legal obstacles to thrive and expand the way it has by simply offering a milquetoast gospel.  That emphasis is the main reason why I’ve stuck with one over the years.

That, unfortunately, has been the response of the “Apostolic” churches. Rather than really challenge their people on a consistent basis, these churches have contented themselves with making Christianity a cultural statement. Baptising infants and running people through ritual and sacrament has given a false sense of security to many in these churches. In the past, when we had “Christendom”, that made for institutional perpetuation, but whether by force of arms or cultural changes that won’t cut it for the propagation of the faith.

The big lesson that Cyril has in these lectures—for me at least—is that it doesn’t have to be that way, that Christianity isn’t the either/or proposition it has become.

Cyril is a product of a church that, within living memory, survived three centuries of persecution, the last sixty years of which were especially arduous. One of the advantages of venerating martyrs is that you remember them, and the fact that they gave their lives for Jesus Christ. Some of that persecution persisted via Arianising emperors, a process ongoing when the lectures were given.

Cyril is also a product of a church which had no problem making demands of its adherents, both current and prospective. Jesus set out a demanding gospel, and that had been handed down to Cyril’s day. The fourth century is portrayed as the time when the church sold out to the state and the culture, but it didn’t do so without a fight. Part of that fight was monasticism, but not all. Cyril makes it abundantly clear that those who choose Christ and are baptised in his name need to reflect that commitment in their lives in a real way, a view unchanged by his real sacramentalism.

Cyril also from time to time brings up another issue: the issue of the Christian sexual ethic. Today we have two unappetising choices set before us. The first is what David Virtue refers to as the “pansexual” ethic, where anything goes and, as long as it’s a committed relationship, it’s okay, and everyone who doesn’t like it are bigots and homophobes. The second is what I call “beauty pageant Christianity,” where, as long as it’s heterosexual and we state that sex is to be kept in the bounds of marriage, then just about anything goes. That’s one reason why we have the divorce rate we have in Evangelical churches and fiascos like Carrie Prejean. Cyril comes from a church where the renunciation of sex, although not universal, is a real option for Christians, and that’s something that has been shoved under the rug these days. Jesus’ demands for sexual purity are higher than just about anything being taught these days, and Cyril was as aware of this fact as we are not.

It has been my view for a long time that the “Apostolic” churches were God’s “Plan A”, and that the gaggle of groups we have today the result of human failure. If same churches really want to get the momentum back and move things towards real unity, they should ditch infant baptism (or at least make it optional) and catechise those who come into the church in a similar manner to Cyril. Doing this would put Evangelicals in a corner, but the goal is the unity of the church and the propagation of the gospel.

In Patristic studies, Cyril is generally regarded as a thinker of “second rank”. He is neither a theologian like Athanasius and Gregory Nazianzus nor a preacher on the order of John Chrysostom. But his basic theology is sound, and the lectures give us a priceless picture of basic discipleship in the Patristic church, which brings many issues of the day into a more comprehensible perspective.

But he also brings some issues of our own day in a new light, and that is where Cyril can take his place amongst the greatest.