Those Infernal Internal Passports

At the left is a passport cover, one of those things designed to protect your passport, especially if your home is really a pied à terre and you travel a great deal.  But look carefully: it’s from the old Soviet Union, complete with their national seal embossed on the cover, and “Pasport” at the bottom.

The Soviet Union had not only external passports (for those few who got to leave the country) but internal ones as well.  It was necessary to produce this passport for inspection upon request of the police.  As noted in Pipko and Pucciarelli (1985):

“The passport is a biographical capsulization of its bearer in booklet form. It contains a recent photograph of the bearer. It states, inter alia, his name, place and date of birth, nationality (based upon the nationality parents), information concerning his marital status and the id of his children, a record of his military service, his place of work, notations concerning his failure to make court-ordered alimony payments, if applicable, and, most importantly, a propiska.”

The last is the most important: this stamp and its annotations showed permission to the bearer to live in their specific dwelling place.  The internal passport’s most important function was not to limit the journey or the destination but to define (and control) the starting place!  I should note that the Soviets were obsessed with the passport concept: even pieces of equipment had their own passports, I have a few of these myself.

Today we’re debating the use of “vaccine passports” to restrict people from going certain places and doing certain things based upon whether they have been vaccinated or not.  The biggest problem with this is that, once we start with a passport based on vaccination status, we then proceed to something more comprehensive like the Soviets had.  Our problem is that we have a political and bureaucratic class which is no longer content to regulate and facilitate the society’s prosperity but to control it.

I’m not sure I really have the sword to cut this Gordian knot, but it will be interesting to see if whatever universal ID they eventually come up with will be useful when it is time to vote.

Reference:

Pipko, S., & Pucciarelli, A. (1985). The Soviet Internal Passport System. The International Lawyer, 19(3), 915-919. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40705651

Why Did They Cancel Charles and Mary Beard?

I recently completed reading Charles and Mary Beard’s The Rise of American Civilization, which at one time was one of the most influential texts on the subject.  The Beards, as is typical with textbooks in general, frequently revised the text, mostly adding to the end to keep that up to date.  The version I read ended with the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt, which is an interesting point for me because this narrative started around that time.  Before I get into the subject of “cancellation” (which is somewhat but not entirely anachronistic) I’ll start with a few general impressions.

The first is that the general impression one gets is that the Beards consider the American nation as above all an economic arrangement, with different propertied groups (and later groups without property) competing for primacy in the system.  They’re a little too close to the events to apply this analysis to the Progressive Era (they could have if they had really wanted to) but overall that’s the impression one gets from the way they handle the facts.

The second is that much of the way I was taught American history (at least up to my high school days) followed the Beard idea in many ways.  That makes sense, because having grown up at the top of the society, an economic interpretation of the history of the Republic is a congenial one to the winners.

The third is that this interpretation gives a cynical tone to the narrative.  It was their idea that this Republic has never had true originalism in Constitutional interpretation, even when the Founding Fathers were alive.  They also note that we were good at waiving the rules when it suited us.  An example of this was the way the Federal government forced Latin American countries to make good on the debts of failed revolutionaries to American banks even when we wrote the repudiation of Confederate debt into the Constitution!

Today the Beards are out of fashion, or cancelled as we would say these days.  Cancellation isn’t anything new, as anyone familiar with damnatio memoriae in Roman history knows.  The difference now is in the speed and method of the cancellation.  But their idea is definitely isn’t what is being presented to Americans–academic or otherwise–on either side of the political spectrum.  The reason for this reflects both the nature of academia and the desires of Americans in how we would like to see ourselves.

As the Beards note, American universities adopted the German model towards the end of the nineteenth century.  That model was driven by research: graduate students conducted research in original topics, defended their idea, and by that process human knowledge is advanced.  The system was developed for the hard sciences, where such advancement, be it in large or small increments, takes place.  That system displaced the classics based system that the British set up in Colonial times.

That system doesn’t always translate to disciplines outside of the hard sciences very well.  It is subject to being driven more by revisionist desires rather than the advance of knowledge.  In the case of history–and it has been this way since Herodotus–the narrative of history is frequently based on the ideas of the historians–and the times they lived in–as much if not more than the facts in the period under study.

I said that the whole economic bent of the Beards’ viewpoint–one which they shared with their classical Marxist counterparts (as opposed to the cultural kind we have these days)–got to the point where it didn’t sit well with Americans, so they rejected it.  The “point” was World War II.  It’s hard to convince a generation to go, fight and in some cases die for a country that is primarily an “economic arrangement.”  The Beards themselves saw this kind of backlash during World War I and the push towards teaching “Americanism” in schools, and the wake of World War II, especially with the Cold War, this went on steroids.  Americans came to prefer a more “America as an ideal construct,” which went in a number of directions that we now know are seriously at cross-purposes with each other.

Beyond that, an economic view won’t sit well with those who are left behind.  One of the major lacunae of the Beard saga is the South after the Civil War, which just about falls off of the radar screen.  Southerners had to face the hard question, “How did we get left behind?” Instead of focusing on the weaknesses of their own cultures–planter and Scots-Irish together–they changed the subject to things such as states rights, or their problems with the black people, or whatever.  Needless to say those who were on the wrong end of their way liked it even less, which is why we had the civil rights movement sixty years ago and Black Lives Matter today.

It’s interesting to note that one of the Beards’ main detractors was Forrest McDonald, who with Grady McWhiney came up with the “Celtic South” hypothesis, which I have discussed at length on this blog.  While that explains many things that the Beards don’t, it doesn’t change the simple fact that those who do not properly apply themselves to economic advancement are eventually going to be left behind, something that bears repeating in these days of uninformed ideology.

Today our discourse is dominated by people who are driven by their own moral vision, which they think is what this country is all about.  Sooner or later we’re going to have a reality check which will put a stop to this.  The Beards’ economic vision of the United States isn’t one that sits well with many people, but it’s an improvement over what’s being presented now.

The Problem With Social Justice is That It Always Involves Changing Someone Else

Anne Kennedy makes an interesting observation in her piece “What is Really the Problem?”:

Second, human people are wicked. All people. ALL have sinned and fallen well and catastrophically short of the glory of God. All of the cries about white supremacy, white evangelicalism, patriarchy, and racism all illumine the very false and foolish idea that if you or I were able to fix “other” people, and the systems they inhabit, that all the bad things would not any longer happen.

I recently illustrated the social justice thread in the 1928 and 2019 Books of Common Prayer.  But the whole idea of “social justice” has bugged me since the 1960’s for various reasons.  I think that Anne has put her finger on the problem: social justice involves changing someone else rather than yourself.  For someone who came to a religion where the change was personal first, that’s never set well.

One of the things that evangelicals have always said about everyone else who claims the name of Christ is that they are basically cultural Christians who have never made a personal commitment to the Lord Jesus.  Although these churches are good at producing people like that, it’s not universally true.  Growing up as an Episcopalian, I internalised many things from the New Testament, especially the Sermon on the Mount, and found that others had done the same.  Evangelicals in this country tend to ignore the Sermon on the Mount and concentrate on things like the Great Commission and the moral requirements of the faith.  The two trade insults along these lines; both are right and wrong at the same time.

With social justice warriors, it’s always the same: someone else is doing wrong, or is just inherently wrong.  Someone else is bigoted, homophobic, transphobic, the wrong race, the wrong religion, whatever, and must be beaten into submission, cancelled, or thrust into the outer void at the first opportunity.  There’s no real requirement for the warriors to be paragons of virtue at all: as long as they shove their righteousness down everyone else’s throat, they’re fine in their own eyes.

Some of the problem is that we have democratic process.  To get anything done, for better or worse, we must create a bandwagon effect, coupled with bribery at the right places, to achieve our purpose.  If our self-righteous elites would be honest with themselves and the rest of us, stop touting democracy as the ideal and rule in their self-righteous confidence by decree, the dynamic would be different.  But things like that are why our society is fundamentally duplicitous.

Evidently we have conveniently forgotten the following:

And why do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, while you pay no attention at all to the beam in your own? How can you say to your brother ‘Brother, let me take out the straw in your eye,’ while you yourself do not see the beam in your own? Hypocrite! Take out the beam from your own eye first, and then you will see clearly how to take out the straw in your brother’s. (Luke 6:41-42 TCNT)

But in our post-Christian society, self-righteousness is no longer a sin, but a virtue.  Why Christians of all types blindly go along with this is beyond me.

ACNA, TEC and Those Social Justice Prayers

It’s worth noting that the following appears in the (relatively) new 2019 ACNA Book of Common Prayer:

For those of you who think this has its origins in that dreadful 1979 BCP, this also appears in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

Other than the modernisation of the language and the expanded doxology at the end (one reason why the 2019 BCP is so much longer) the two prayers are the same in content.  (This prayer was not in the 1892 BCP, FWIW.)  What this means is that the impulse towards social justice goes back a long way in American Anglicanism and is even perpetuated in the group that split off from the Episcopal Church.  I think some comments are in order because, the way the ACNA is going these days, there are elements in same that want to take it in the same direction as TEC went, which is silly because a) TEC is still there for those who want to go that way and b) it begs the question as to why the ACNA was started in the first place.

The first comment is that the existence of meaningful social justice movements depends upon the people’s freedom to express their opinion either individually or collectively in a meaningful way.  This is something that gets lost between those who see social justice as a Christian imperative and those who think it is profoundly unBiblical.  The New Testament was written in the Roman Imperial period, where there was really no way to petition the government to act on things like slavery, infanticide and the like.  (The Republic supposedly had mechanisms like that but, as the Gracchi found out the hard way, they didn’t deliver as one would like.)  Both of the prayers recognise that fact.

The second comment is that the quest for social justice is no substitute for personal regeneration in Jesus Christ.  Since we are not Southern Baptists, that regeneration doesn’t end at salvation; it continues, as I note in this comment re the comfortable words.  Liturgical churches’ greatest occupational hazard is in thinking that, just because we go through the liturgy and experience the sacraments, we’re okay with God and can move on to other things.

That leads to the third point: the social position of North Americans in the Anglican-Episcopal world is a two-edged sword.  It makes their quest for social justice potentially more effective but at the same time makes them part of the problem.  Evangelicals constantly prattle about being “influencers,” but Episcopalians (and now non-Episcopal Anglicans) are disproportionately that from the get-go.  Some reflection on that before you go off and try to “change the world” is certainly in order, especially since life has probably rendered you unable to grasp the lot of those you’re trying to help.

Finally, you need to understand that you don’t need to simply ape non-Christian social justice movements just because they’re trendy amongst your peers.  That’s especially important now since our moneyed interests are “woke,” and that many so-called social justice movements simply shill for those moneyed interests.  Put another way, it’s hard to speak “truth to power” when you’re really just part of power.

Social justice is a noble goal; the road to it, however, has many potholes.  Or, to put it in a more mathematical way, the arc of history may bend towards justice, but it may not be smooth, differentiable or even continuous.

When the People’s Liberation Army Marches Down Pennsylvania Avenue

If there’s one thing the Trump years and their aftermath did for everyone, it’s to disabuse people of the very American slogan of “it can’t happen here.”  There are many “its” that are now in the realm of possibility.  Although Americans aren’t reacting particularly well to that realisation, at least some plans for “black swan events” are on the stove, even though black swan sightings are already becoming more frequent.

One of these events is the possibility that the Chinese, whom we now recognise to varying degrees as adversaries/competitors, just might do what the Soviets could not: beat us and rule the world.  Some thought they would transition to democracy: they haven’t.  Some thought they’d let Hong Kong go on as it has: they didn’t.  (Some of the rest of us thought neither of these would happen, and we were right, except that Hong Kong took longer than we thought.)  “It didn’t happen there” has led some to think at last that “it really can happen here.”

So what if it does?  What if, instead of inaugural parades, the People’s Liberation Army marches down Pennsylvania Avenue and hoists the same red banner over the White House we see over the Great Hall of the People?

I don’t know all of the ramifications of such an event, but I’m pretty sure of one of them, and it goes back to a low moment in Chinese history.  One thing I found out while doing business with the Chinese is that they don’t forget slights, and this slight is a big one.

In 1900 the Chinese experienced the last major rebellion before the end of the Qing Dynasty, that of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists, or the Boxers.  After that was put down, the European powers (along with the U.S. and Japan) extracted many concessions.  One of those was to build in a way that would overlook the Forbidden City, the central residence of the Emperor, the Son of Heaven.  Until that time it was “buxing” (forbidden) to build anything that overlooked this palace.

The French took advantage of this and began building the Beijing Hotel.  By the time the French completed their part in 1915, the Son of Heaven was gone and China entered it’s period of “democrazy” that lasted until Chairman Mao mounted the Gave of Heavenly Peace and announced that the Chinese people had “stood up” on 1 October 1949.

Standing up was one thing: moving forward was another, and for that China sought the help of Soviet experts.  One result of that expertise was the building of two additional wings on the Beijing Hotel, one on each side of the old French structure, as shown below.

It was the tallest wing from which I took this photo of the Forbidden City, which clearly shows what overlooking is all about.

It also provided a platform for this photo of Tian an Men Square, and also one for a more famous photograph several years later.

Today Beijing is a city of many tall buildings.  But the Chinese themselves got them there; they were not imposed by “foreign devils.”  Knowing the long memory of the Chinese (the Japanese know it too) I have a feeling that one of the things they would do would be to pay back for this humiliation.

In Washington there are height restrictions for the buildings surrounding the Washington Mall, to prevent the open glory of the place from being obscured.  In fact, it’s fair to say that Washington, unlike New York, is a very “horizontal” place in general.  (London used to be the same way.)  However, in the 1980’s, when I was active in the family business, our DC area distributor told me that many of the “short” buildings around the mall were built with very high capacity foundations–and stouter structures than the edifice being built would call for–in the event that the height restrictions were lifted, taller buildings–with greater capacity for both occupancy and rent–would be built on top of what was there.

I have no doubt that, in the event that the Chinese take command, one of the first things they would do to avenge the humiliation of the Boxer Rebellion’s suppression would be to build tall buildings around the Washington Mall and house their own interests and institutions.  As we have prepared the way, for many of these buildings it wouldn’t even require demolition of what’s there.

But why wait until “the day?”  After his phone call with Yi Jin Ping, Joe Biden said that we needed to get with our competition with China, lest they “eat our lunch.”  That ignores the fact that, after forty years of “cooperation” (to use the Chinese term) they’ve put enough money into the hands of people in Washington and elsewhere so that they’ve paid for their lunch, they have the right to eat it!  At the head of this parade is none other than Hunter Biden, Joe’s son, thus the active suppression of this inconvenient fact.

But it takes more than buying off one person whose main goal in life is to get laid, high or drunk: it takes buying off many of them.  The Chinese have embedded themselves in our power structure in a way that the Soviets could only dream.  A few well placed lobbying efforts, and the upward construction can begin.  With that the Zhong Nan Hai can empty a few cases of mao tai and another humiliation can be righted.

How this competition comes out depends upon many things.  But in this case and many others, I think the distillers of mao tai better get busy.

The Party of “Healing” Needs to Start With Itself

We’re being told that the “healing” of our country will begin with the triumph of the Democrat party, but that hasn’t happened where they have a monopoly, as evidenced by this, from 2017:

One of the pipe dreams the left tells us that, “if we could get rid of these conservatives, we’d have harmony and comity.”  No where is that disproven more consistently than in California.  We’ve seen the slugfest over single-payer healthcare and this is yet another example.

The thing the left forgot which engenders debacles such as this is the class struggle.  For all of their talk about being the champions of the oppressed, liberals have forgotten about the importance of class differences.  Gentrification, for all the improvement it can develop, runs up already high housing and other living costs, dispossessing people of limited means.  It’s little wonder the current residents fight back.

This is what happens when the party of “the people” becomes the party of the elites.  Perhaps this is why the Republicans made the inroads they did in California during the last election.

The Tough Lesson of Augustine’s “Dear Marcellinus”

At the beginning of Augustine’s City of God we have this opening:

My dear Marcellinus: This work which I have begun makes good my promise to you.  In it I am undertaking nothing less than the task of defending the glorious City of God against those who prefer their own gods to its Founder.

Flavius Marcellinus was a high official of the Western Roman Emperor Honorius.  In 410–the year Alaric sacked Rome–he was given orders to suppress the Donatist churches in North Africa, which he proceeded to do.  But the Donatists resorted to the old Late Roman trick of laying a charge of treason against Marcellinus and his brother, accusing them of supporting a separate rebellion.  The Roman general Marinus, who had just put down the rebellion, put them on trial, secured a conviction, and had them executed just two short years after Augustine began the City of God.  Honorius exonerated Marcellinus the following year, but by that time it was too late.

Jean-Paul Laurens’ portrait of the Roman Emperor Honorius

When it came to “what happens when careerism goes south,” Rome was never a walk in the park, but after Marcus Aurelius things really got bad.  Careers of the great and incompetent alike ended in execution; Honorius, the weakest emperor at the most critical time, had his capable general Stilicho executed a few years earlier because he saw him as a rival.  The informant system–with information true and false–was destructive or deadly for many Romans, carried out by such masters of the art as Paul the Chain.  The river of blood continued after Rome fell apart, with Boethius writing his classic The Consolation of Philosophy while waiting execution, which came, after his fall.  Gregory of Tours’ account of Gaul beginning its transition to France was likewise a river of blood of those who ended up on the wrong side of ruthless power-holders such as Fredegund.

Christians tend to consider the fall of Rome as a result of a decline in their sexual morality, but there’s no evidence that Rome’s sexual morals were worse in the late period than the earlier one.  What was worse was what the French historian Ferdinand Lot referred to as the “corruption of the public spirit,” the decline of civic life and the communal idea that goes with it.  The Roman system was patronage driven from top to bottom, but when it was working properly it meant that those who aspired created a clientele which benefited from them while they moved up.  When the system broke down it was replace by an autocratic system where money and resources were forcibly pushed to the top to be dispensed to a bureaucracy which kept the power holders in place.  This led to the onerous taxation system of which Lactantius was the most famous chronicler.  Lactantius also noted that those who lived off of the tax system were more numerous than those who paid the taxes, and although that may have been an exaggeration there was definitely a retreat of the productive portion of the society, which in the end led to the system’s bankruptcy.

Christianity was unprepared for its legalization under Constantine, but its response to the deteriorating situation–and the corrupt morals of the political system–was to call at least some of its flock to a higher, if withdrawn, calling.  How this played out depended upon the end of the Empire in question.  In the East it led both to the growth of monasticism (withdrawal from the evils of the world) and to the Caesero-papism that complicated the doctrinal disputes that raged in the fourth and fifth centuries.  In the West monasticism took longer to get started but when it did the result was the same: the withdrawal from a system in breakdown which Christianity couldn’t quite get the upper hand with.  (It’s worth noting that Pope Siricius wouldn’t let people who had been in the civil service become priests.)

Protestants generally put down monasticism, but it represented an attempt to live in a more Christlike fashion in a world which made that very difficult.  Is ours any better?  To some extent it never has been, but in a world where laid, high or drunk is the battle cry of those at the top, and which is prepared to ignore blatant influence peddling and employ cancel culture (and also vindictive prosecution, as Marcellinus experienced) to enforce their idea, it’s time for American Christians to re-examine their naive belief in the lack of moral and personal hazard in moving up.  That may seem like blowing retreat, but in blowing retreat Late Roman Christians laid the groundwork for the advance which transformed European civilization, and ultimately ours.

Today our left is making “little lists” of people to destroy.  Our current game is to intimidate law firms from representing clients we don’t like; that’s a quick way to skew our justice system, and not in good ways.  Most of those lists are those who might achieve high position; they don’t want the competition.  Is it worth it to find yourself on one of those?  There are times when we have to endure persecution for bearing the name of Christ, but if it’s for our careerist ambition, that puts things in a new light.  It’s time for American Christians to stop being so reflexive about moving up, and to look at their eternal objectives more than their temporal ones.  This empire, like Rome, will pass, and we need to take some lessons from those who responded to its decay.

Maybe They’ve Figured Out the American Left’s Core Problem

Alex Pareene at the New Republic wonders, in view of Florida voters going for Trump and approving a $15/hr minimum wage:

The Democratic Party, unlike most of its left-of-center brethren in the developed world, has never been a true labor party, but it seems plausible that many voters view it as a party representing a state that never helps them, even as they, personally, practically beg for a large and powerful state that would step in to improve their lives.

The question Democrats now face is whether saying they will empower the state to improve people’s lives will actually work on anyone.

By background, I should be a leftie.  I’m not.  One major reason is that the American Left has always struck me as a group of people who are really good at starting movements, taking moralistic positions, and passing rules when they get into power.  But they’re not builders.  And, of course, they’re good at getting themselves good bureaucratic positions (from whence the rules come) but poor at really solving problems and moving things forward.

Need to reduce carbon in the atmosphere?  Can’t bring themselves to embrace nuclear power even as a transitional phase because they’re afraid they’ll grow the suburbs, those bastions of phoniness.  We’ve wasted at least twenty years of progress on this because their tush is in a wad on the subject.  Need to address income inequality?  So why has every President since Richard Nixon, Democrat and Republican, presided over growing income inequality and wealth distribution?  And why do Democrats gleefully take the money of the plutocrats and then expect greater “social justice?”  (They expected to win a few Senate races, and that didn’t happen either…)

But the biggest drain to the left’s claim to fame on “social justice” is their obsession with identity politics.  How can they claim to be “Marxists” when they, in classic suburbanite fashion, hide in shame class differences and obsess over every identity difference they can amplify?

So are people finally figuring out the disconnect between rhetoric and action?  Perhaps in a visceral way, but that visceral way may explain why the left cannot quite finish the job in the way they’ve always hoped to do.

Sitting Ducks on Social Media

I’ve been debating with myself about what to write before our momentous general election next week.  (Debating with oneself is dangerous; one always loses.)  There’s a lot going on, and much of it has been squelched by the media, especially the Hunter Biden influence-peddling story.  My fellow South Floridian Glenn Greenwald is the latest victim of this broad based cover-up.   As they said in Watergate times, the cover-up was worse than the crime…

In any case leading the pack with this are the major social media companies.  Twitter of course locked the New York Post out of their feed entirely because they ran this exposé on the subject.  Facebook has smothered the story, albeit with more subtlety.  It’s hard to imagine a time when our elites have acted in such lockstep with each other, but they have, and really it shouldn’t be surprising.

But let’s get back to social media.  I’ve been doing this website thing for more than twenty years now.  When it all started I was under the impression that the web was a place for an open exchange of views and ideas with wide reach and low overhead.  No where was that more evident than the “blogosphere,” which drove the web in the early years of the millennium.

Having started with static websites, I was admittedly slow in transitioning to that format.  This site led the pack with an interactive format in 2005 and WordPress in 2006.  By then social media–at the time MySpace–was getting started.  I was slow in getting there too, not going on YouTube until 2008 and Twitter and Facebook the following year.  (Linkedin came much later, but that’s really a topic all its own.)  Much of what drove that was to keep up with the goings on in my church; that ended with my job at same going away in 2010.

I’ve been active on social media ever since.  It was especially useful during the years I worked on my PhD and really didn’t have time to do this and my other sites justice.  But there’s always been something about it that has bothered me, and that’s the simple fact that the content you put there really isn’t your own.  Do you hold copyright to it?  What happens when they don’t either like some of your content, all of your content, or just don’t like you any more?  Does everything just go away?  Those considerations and more have held me back from going “full bore” with social media, especially Facebook.

All of these fears have been realized, not necessarily for me but for others.  It’s become evident that, for those of us who really think for ourselves (as opposed to those who think they do,) social media is a risky place, and you need to build some provision into your plan to disseminate your content without it.  This is something churches in particular need to pay attention to; they’ve become addicted to social media during the pandemic, it would be a tragedy if they were cut off without a Plan B.

For me, the first place I bailed on was Facebook, for reasons I explained here.  I’m still on Twitter but taking a low profile these days.  I’m most active on YouTube; the migration of my music pieces has had good results but was a move done mostly out of necessity.

But there are upsides too.  All of my sites save one are in blog format, and they’re doing well.  After something of a dry spell, I’m seeing more interest in following blogs again.  The biggest challenges are the capricious search engines, especially the One That Cannot be Named.  There are alternatives but it is, as it was for Chairman Mao, a long march.

It’s one we need to make.  Twitter’s Jack Dorsey basically told Congress this week that, if people couldn’t get their stuff on Twitter, they could go elsewhere.  We should take him up on that.  We need to stop being poker-playing dogs on social media, because when we are we’re sitting ducks.  How or when we get shot depends upon who wins next Tuesday, but there’s no sense in making it easy for them.