Monday, January 30, 2006

Have We Learned Anything?

Saturday was the 20th anniversary of the Challenger disaster. Jay Barbree's unavoidably pretentious piece on MSNBC has some significant observations:

No one had ever seen a more “politically correct” crew. It was a public relations dream, made to order for worldwide acclaim. You simply could not ask for more: two white women, an African-American man, an Asian-American man and three white men.

Second only to the politically correct stature of the flight team was the selection of a social science teacher from one of the bastions of America itself: New Hampshire. Sharon Christa McAuliffe was smart, experienced, courageous, had a smile big enough to adorn any magazine cover and was a brilliant selection by NASA for the coveted role of the planet’s “first citizen in space.”

H/T: Slashdot Science

The first word in "politically correct" reflects NASA's priority: politics. Politics above an authentic exploration of space; politics above human safety. Fundamental problem: the shuttle is not oriented toward a goal, but toward spreading government largesse (as Robert Zurbin observed). Squandered resources are the implicit goal, and tragically, it seems that human life is not exempt.

But is there any way for NASA to avoid upside-down priorities? As Robert Garmong wrote last year, "this politicizing is an unavoidable consequence of governmental control over scientific research and development." Space should be privatized.

There is no justification for the shuttle program, either scientific or explorational. As I've said before, the space shuttle is a high-tech way to kill astronauts.

Ms. McAuliffe and her crewmates (not to mention the doomed Columbia crew) were victims offered up as a holocaust to big-government politicization of space.

Haven't we learned anything from this tragedy?

Jay Barbree, "A chill at the Cape," (chapter 1 of 8).

Robert Zubrin, "Getting Space Exploration Right" The New Atlantis 8 (Spring 2005), 15-48.

Robert Garmong, "Privatize Space," The American Daily (July 21, 2005).

Previous Posts on Space

Documents on Space Shuttle Disasters.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Into the Ears of Babes

Today being Mozart's 250th birthday, I thought it would be an opportune time to reflect on the cultural phenomenon of music. Why is it that babies like Mozart?

I've commented that a musician shouldn't been seen as a philosopher, nevertheless music does have philsophical and ethical implications. As Plato reflects in Book IV of the Republic,

When modes of music change, the laws of the State always change with them.

Music forms the soul and human souls are the foundation of the state. Note that it is the music, not the lyrics that form the soul. Many American conservatives get caught up in disputing the decadent lyrics of today's music (half the time you can't make out what the singer's mumbling anyway) and completely neglect the actual music, which has a far more formative effect on the listerner's soul.1 In sixth century A.D. the Christian philosopher Boethius wrote The Principles of Music in which he said,

music is related not only to speculation, but to morality as well, for nothing is more consistent with human nature than to be soothed by sweet modes and disturbed by their opposites. Thus we can begin to understand the apt doctrine of Plato, which holds that the whole of the universe is united by a musical concord. For when we compare that which is coherently and harmonious joined together within our own being with that which is coherently and harmoniously joined together in sound—that is, that which gives us pleasure—so we come to recognize that we ourselves are united according to the same principle of similarity.2

In other words there is an analogy implicit in the music itself with which the soul resonates. And it is not a purely conditioned response. In some sense we emerge from the womb ready to receive such beauty. This is why babies like Mozart.

Is Our Tonal System Arbitrary?

Another question occurs to me: is the Western musical scale unique or an accident of history? Did Pythagoras in the fifth century B.C. construct an arbitrary harmonic system or uncover a fundamental cosmic reality, something as objective as math or physics that springs out of the very nature of the universe (or at least human nature)?

Some modern composers have claimed it is arbitrary and attempted to replace the traditional scale with their own creation. For example, as Robert R. Reilly writes,

In the 1920s, Arnold Schoenberg unleashed the centrifugal forces of disintegration in music through his denial of tonality. Schoenberg contended that tonality does not exist in nature as the very property of sound itself, as Pythagoras had claimed, but was simply an arbitrary construct of man, a convention. This assertion was not the result of a new scientific discovery about the acoustical nature of sound, but of a desire to demote the metaphysical status of nature.3

The product was of course atrocious. Perhaps it was popular among the educated (read: indoctrinated) elites, but didn't catch on with the "uneducated" many, let alone with babies.

From this historical failure, it might be concluded that any departure from the traditional tonal system is bound to fail. The argument is less than mathematically (ala Pythagoras) convincing. A musician and student of mine observed that he has heard traditional gypsy music that uses half-tones similar to twelve tone, and that it "works." I wonder if the problem with Schoenberg was not so much his system, but the rebellious spirit that animated it. As Reilly observes, his "assertion was not the result of a new scientific discovery about the acoustical nature of sound, but of a desire to demote the metaphysical status of nature."

It seems to me mathematically possible to change the tonal system in obedience to the tradition. For example, why is middle-C the frequency it is? It could theoretically be shifted without destroying the proportions on which Pythagoras built his system.

Not being a musician myself, I can claim no authority on this matter, but I would be fascinated to hear from anyone who knows more.


1. Hence the rather oxymoronic character of "Christian" rock.

2. As quoted in Reilly, p. 14.

3. From Reilly, p. 15.

Robert R. Reilly, "The Music of the Spheres, or the Metaphysics of Music," Intercollegiate Review 37:1 (Fall 2001), 12-21.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Tangled Web

Today is the anniversary, thirty-three years ago, of the U.S. Supreme Court's usurpation of the democratic process in the Roe v. Wade decision. Tomorrow tens of thousands of mostly young people will walk down Constitution Ave. from the Washington Monument to the Supreme Court for the annual March for Life. The mainstream media, who report with fanfare on the most minuscule gathering of pro-aborts, will remain silent about this gigantic protest.1 Come to think of it, it really is extraordinary news when pro-aborts get together... there are so few of them left unaborted!

Tim Carney has put together a striking compilation of criticism of Roe v. Wade by pro-abortionists:

Pro-choice Criticisms of Roe

Here's a sampling (underlining by Tim):

Laurence Tribe — Harvard Law School. Lawyer for Al Gore in 2000.

“One of the most curious things about Roe is that, behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found.”

“The Supreme Court, 1972 Term—Foreword: Toward a Model of Roles in the Due Process of Life and Law,” 87 Harvard Law Review 1, 7 (1973). [underline added]

Ruth Bader Ginsburg — Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

Roe, I believe, would have been more acceptable as a judicial decision if it had not gone beyond a ruling on the extreme statute before the court. … Heavy-handed judicial intervention was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict.”

North Carolina Law Review, 1985

Edward Lazarus — Former clerk to Harry Blackmun.

“As a matter of constitutional interpretation and judicial method, Roe borders on the indefensible. I say this as someone utterly committed to the right to choose, as someone who believes such a right has grounding elsewhere in the Constitution instead of where Roe placed it, and as someone who loved Roe’s author like a grandfather.”

The Lingering Problems with Roe v. Wade, and Why the Recent Senate Hearings on Michael McConnell’s Nomination Only Underlined Them,” FindLaw Legal Commentary, Oct. 3, 2002

Should it be a surprise that the pro-abortion movement should resort to such a shameless excercise of power? No rather, it would be quite extraordinary if the text of even as venerable a document as the U.S. Constitution should stand in the way of those to whom human life matters so little.

Another great antidote to the tangle of pro-abortion lies is:

Roe Reality Check

The myths it annihilates:

  1. Myth: “High Court Rules Abortions Legal the First 3 Months.”
  2. Myth: Most abortions are done because of maternal or fetal health problems, or in cases of rape or incest.
  3. Myth: Most Americans favor U.S. abortion law.
  4. Myth: Roe v. Wade said the Constitution includes a right to abortion.
  5. [Myth: Roe is respectable jurisprudence.]
  6. Myth: The U.S. abortion rate is relatively low.
  7. Myth: Most American women support Roe v. Wade.
  8. Myth: Most abortions are done before fetal organs are functioning.
  9. Myth: U.S. abortion law has not encouraged the use of abortion as a method of birth control.
  10. Myth: Abortion is legal only when the fetus is in the womb.
  11. Myth: If Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion will automatically be illegal in the U.S.
  12. Myth: Roe v. Wade is only about a woman's right to abortion, not about a right to take life in general.
  13. Myth: Abortion is standard medical practice; only religious hospitals and some physicians refuse to provide it.
  14. Myth: Roe v. Wade empowers women to choose freely whether abortion is their best option.

This wonderful resource was published by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. But what about concrete steps to ensure the faithful don't fight on the wrong side? For good and bad the Conference is not the bishops.2 As Pat Buchanan writes,

Which brings us to the unspoken issue here. Judge Alito is Catholic. If confirmed, he will join three other Catholics on the bench: Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who have already voted to overturn Roe.

On the Senate Judiciary Committee sit four Catholic Democrats: Leahy, Kennedy, Biden and Durbin. All have 100 percent pro-abortion voting records. All have attacked Alito out of fear he may overturn Roe.

Query: Why is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops so deathly silent in this war of Catholics to decide if abortion on demand is to remain the law of the land forever in God's Country?

Where are the Catholic echoes of John Paul II's condemnations of the Culture of Death?

Where is Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, who was designated to address the moral obligations of Catholic politicians? When John Kerry ran as the Democratic nominee, McCarrick's task force refused to tell priests to deny him Communion. Suddenly, pro-abortion Kerry was seen at the altar rail and won half the Catholic vote.

Buchanan continues,

Sixty-six years ago, Bishop Clemens von Galen took to the pulpit of Munster Cathedral to damn Hitler's regime at the peak of its power for "plain murder" in its euthanasia program and to direct Catholics to "withdraw ourselves and our faithful from their (Nazi) influence so that we may not be contaminated by their ... ungodly behavior."

Cardinal von Galen is headed for sainthood.

What is asked of you, Cardinal McCarrick, and your fellow bishops is less heroic. Just issue a statement before the 32nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, 2006, declaring:

"We pray to God that Roe v. Wade is overturned. We commend all Catholics and fellow citizens working toward that goal. We condemn any Catholic politician who would deny a seat on the Supreme Court to a fellow Catholic -- on the grounds that he might vote to overturn this abomination."

That too much to ask, Your Eminence? As Dante said, there is a special place in hell for those who, in times of moral crisis, fail to take a stand. By the way, Dante put a lot of bishops in there.

H/T: Tim Carney

Strong words! May God gird the bishops' backbones to be as strong.3


1. And sadly the March for Life website will remain in the stone age: instead of reaching over the heads of the MSM (mainstream media) by posting photos of the real people who attend the March, it will allow the MSM to spin the March by zeroing in on a few weirdos. May God help the pro-life movement!

2. On economic issues especially the USCCB is doggedly "liberal."

3. For all the moaning we hear from the pulpit about the dearth of vocations to the priesthood, it might eventually occur to some of the bishops that if they actually demonstrated that real men do serve God in the priesthood, they might actually inspire more real men to serve. In a coming post I plan to write on the characteristic faithfulness of Catholics toward their bishops that tends to bewilder most non-Catholics.


Pat Buchanan "Who's Practicing McCarthyism Now?" Human Events Online, Jan 12, 2006.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Flannery O'Connor on Ayn Rand

This post has little to do with the subject of this blog, but an item so delightful demands to be posted. In the letters of Flannery O'Connor, I recently ran across this incisive evaluation:

The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.

Ouch! Ms O'Connor really could express herself!

Flannery O’Connor, 31 May 1960 Letter to Maryat Lee, The Habit of Being, (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1979), 398.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Mothers Know Best

Personal note: With the semester re-beginning I must curtail the frequency of my posts. I'll aim for one a week.

Does motherhood make women smarter? An interesting article on the The Maternal Brain (full text requires subscription). From the overview:

  • Studies of rodents have shown that the hormones of pregnancy trigger changes not only in the brain regions governing maternal behavior but also in areas that regulate memory and learning.
  • These brain changes may explain why mother rats are better than virgins at navigating mazes and capturing prey.
  • Researchers are not investigating whether human females also gain mental benefits from motherhood.

Whether or not motherhood makes women smarter, it's definitely true that, being made to nurture life into the world (in a broad sense), smart women will choose to follow their calling.

That physical motherhood is generally women's calling is inscribed in their bodies. As Juli Loesch Wiley writes in this month's Touchstone about the difference between men's and women's bodies:

Men are often tempted to think that their bodies were made for their own use. To a great extent this is true for everyone: Your hands, sir, are yours, they are for your use, and mine are for my use. A man can indulge this illusion of autonomy even further by supposing that even his genitals are there for himself. They’re a source of at times almost compelling drives and intriguing sensations. Even his testes are useful for him, in that the hormones they produce provide certain secondary sexual characteristics he has an interest in maintaining.

But a woman’s body has all these nooks and crannies which are no use to us but evidently were put there for someone else. Don’t get me wrong: We women have our pleasure doodads and our own hormonal self-interest as well. But then, well, there’s the womb. That’s not there for me. I can do without it. It was obviously put there for someone else. The same is true of mature mammary glands, rich with branching ducts and reservoirs, as they are found in nursing mothers and as they are not found in childless females, however nubile and Partonesque they may be.

The vocation to motherhood is all-important to society. Think about it: why does society exist? Is it for producing better cars, or raising armies, or building bigger sky-scrapers? Or is the purpose building smarter computers, or devising more elaborate scientific theories?

Or does society exist to support the human person?

And where do humans come from? The heart of the family: primarily from their mothers, of course!

Fulton Sheen summarized the societal importance of mothers this way: "If parents surrender responsibility to their children, the state will take up the slack. State power is the effect of the breakdown of family authority. Mothers more than politicians are the preservers of freedom and democracy."1

The beautiful Touchstone article concludes with a pangyric of motherhood's centrality to society, which I've excerpted (slightly secularized):

[S]plendid, dedicated mothering is, naturally speaking, the central activity of human history. Everything is supposed to serve this. Everything. Husbanding and fathering. Church and state. Tax law. Zoning. Corporate culture. The broadcast media. Market mechanisms. Cybertechnology. Foreign and military policy.

Nothing can replace mothering and the family life it makes possible. Nobody has a right to break it up and distribute its functions hither and thither. Nobody—not the state, or the culture, or business, or schools, or husbands (remember Callie), no, not even mothers themselves.

Cultural Conditioning

With all this importance, why have so many women abandoned motherhood for the office? Another Touchstone article explores the success of The Feminine Mystique. As Beth Impson quotes Betty Friedan, "Each suburban wife struggled with [this vague dissatisfaction] alone...afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—'Is this all?'" Friedan asserts that a woman who stays at home "stunts her intelligence to become childlike, turns away from individual identitiy to become an anonymous biological robot in a docile mass. She becomes less than human, preyed upon by outside pressures."

Impson describes the effects of the rising "self-reliance" after World War II as including a sense of independence from God. She writes, "As the self increasingly became god, people began chasing psychologist Abraham Maslow's ideal of 'self-actualization'; a phantom achieved solely by using all one's potential and creativity in some venue of public activity." (That's Maslow, not to be confused with Pavlov of trained-dog fame.) Impson finds the kernel of truth in Friedan's observation of women's unhappiness,

It is true, as Friedan claims, that the woman who "lives for" her husband and children and house, who finds the meaning of her existence in their perfection, lives in a world bound to collapse. But this is the human problem, not a problem of oppressed womanhood: When we live for the primary purpose of self-fulfillment, we will be disappointed.

The victories of this world are fleeting; they provide no lasting happiness. Our souls' desires are boundless. The attempt to draw lasting meaning from finite things can only end in disillusionment.

"Home cannot fill that need—but neither can the office. However we live, we must live for the One who created us 'to glorify him and enjoy him forever.'"


1. The January issue of Touchstone also features an insightful review of the history of family issues in the U.S.:

Allan Carlson, "The Family Factors," Touchstone 19:1 (January 2006), 23-29.

One gem:

Testing this theory in the United States, researchers found the spread of state schooling to be closely related to fertility decline in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Indeed, even in rural school districts, each additional month of a public school year resulted in an average fertility decline of .23 children: The state schools consumed children.

Craig Howard Kinsley and Kelly G. Lambert, "The Maternal Brain," Scientific American (January 2006), 72-79. (full text requires subscription)

Juli Loesch Wiley, "The Well-Connected Mother:The Centrality of Motherhood Is Not Just an Idea," Touchstone (January 2006), 34-39. (Part of this article appeared previously in "Mothering and Justice" in Caelum Et Terra.)

Fulton J. Sheen, "Women Who Do Not Fail," Life Is Worth Living, Second Series (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1954), 176-177.

Beth Impson, "Daze of Our Wives," Touchstone (January 2006), 10-12.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Twelfth Day

Today is the traditional date for the Feast of the Epiphany, the celebration of the Incarnate God revealing himself not only to Jews, but to all nations, as represented in the Magi.1 While the secular world dropped Christmas like a rock on the 26th (for Valentine's Day), some of us still remember that there are twelve days of Christmas, with the final one being Epiphany. In some cultures this is actually the the day for giving gifts!2

Speaking of gifts, what about that crazy "Twelve Days of Christmas" song? John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak write in The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living:

In the mid-90s we began to hear about a hidden meaning that underlay the charmingly nonsensical song “The 12 Days of Christmas.” According to Fr. Hal Stockert of the Catholic Information Network, the song was a coded catechism, used by persecuted English Catholics to pass on the faith to their children.

For those who haven't seen the claim, here's Fr. Stockert's CIN article:

The songs gifts are hidden meanings to the teachings of the faith. The "true love" mentioned in the song doesn't refer to an earthly suitor, it refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge which feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, much in memory of the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so..."

The other symbols mean the following:

2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

John and Denise continue:

The author didn’t provide his source for this information, and a number of critics have raised objections—for instance, the fact that Anglicans, too, believe in each of the things enumerated above (except for seven sacraments; they’ve slimmed down to three). A more obvious point: Would using such a song really help kids remember all those complex, sometimes abstruse theological points?

With a couple of exceptions the gifts offer little apparent connection to the things they're supposed to represent, and thus little mnemonic advantage over simply counting to twelve. Perhaps it's simply that we of the modern world don't grasp the rich symbolic of bygone ages? If so, advocates of the "catechism theory" owe some explanation.

Additionally, what's the use of simply remembering these numbers? In what way is it important to the Catholic Christian Faith to know, for example, that the Apostle's Creed has twelve points? Why not just learn the points themselves?

I've just stumbled across an article3 that includes this interesting piece of information:

However, according to A Celebration and History(ISBN 0-679-74038-4), by Leigh Grant, the written lyrics to "The Twelve Days of Christmas" first appeared in Mirth without Mischief in the early 1780s in England. Grant states that the tune to which these words are sung apparently dates back much further and came from France.

Maybe the claim gets so much play because Christians really do feel their faith under assault. The deeper story is not that Catholics were persecuted in the past, but that they are denigraded even today, largely because of widespread historical ignorance. (Ironically the claim about the song seems to represent a similar ignorance.) The celebration of Christmas didn't pop out of the sky, and it's certainly not specified in literal text of the Bible. While it's great that so many Christians want to put Christ back into Christmas, how about we put the Mass back too!


1. When we still had men in the American episcopacy, the Feast was actually celebrated today, instead of being transfered to Sunday.

2. One of the advantages to being in the know about the calendrical reality of Christmas is that one can in good conscience buy Christmas gifts at the "after Christmas" sales. Holy timewarp!

3. The Snopes article also contains some interesting background on Fr. Stockert's claims. The Snopes site is known for its liberal anti-religious bias, the information (updated Dec. 20) is still interesting.

John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak, The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living (Crossroad Publishing Company, 2005).

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Real War We Are Losing

An excellent article by Mark Steyn It's the Demography, Stupid: The real reason the West is in danger of extinction in today's Wall Street Journal. Below I've edited together some of the most pointed excerpts.

Most people reading this have strong stomachs, so let me lay it out as baldly as I can: Much of what we loosely call the Western world will not survive this century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most Western European countries. There'll probably still be a geographical area on the map marked as Italy or the Netherlands--probably--just as in Istanbul there's still a building called St. Sophia's Cathedral. But it's not a cathedral; it's merely a designation for a piece of real estate. Likewise, Italy and the Netherlands will merely be designations for real estate.

While we wring our hands over the war with Islamic terrorists, we have lost sight of how the West is being stolen with our own tacit consent.

The design flaw of the secular social-democratic state is that it requires a religious-society birthrate to sustain it. Post-Christian hyperrationalism is, in the objective sense, a lot less rational than Catholicism or Mormonism. Indeed, in its reliance on immigration to ensure its future, the European Union has adopted a 21st-century variation on the strategy of the Shakers, who were forbidden from reproducing and thus could increase their numbers only by conversion. The problem is that secondary-impulse societies mistake their weaknesses for strengths--or, at any rate, virtues--and that's why they're proving so feeble at dealing with a primal force like Islam.

[The Islamists] know they can never win on the battlefield, but they figure there's an excellent chance they can drag things out until Western civilization collapses in on itself and Islam inherits by default.


That's what the war's about: our lack of civilizational confidence. As a famous Arnold Toynbee quote puts it: "Civilizations die from suicide, not murder"--as can be seen throughout much of "the Western world" right now. The progressive agenda--lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism--is collectively the real suicide bomb. Take multiculturalism. The great thing about multiculturalism is that it doesn't involve knowing anything about other cultures--the capital of Bhutan, the principal exports of Malawi, who cares? All it requires is feeling good about other cultures. It's fundamentally a fraud, and I would argue was subliminally accepted on that basis. Most adherents to the idea that all cultures are equal don't want to live in anything but an advanced Western society. Multiculturalism means your kid has to learn some wretched native dirge for the school holiday concert instead of getting to sing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" or that your holistic masseuse uses techniques developed from Native American spirituality, but not that you or anyone you care about should have to live in an African or Native American society. It's a quintessential piece of progressive humbug.


The default mode of our elites is that anything that happens--from terrorism to tsunamis--can be understood only as deriving from the perniciousness of Western civilization. As Jean-Francois Revel wrote, "Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself."


One way "societies choose to fail or succeed" is by choosing what to worry about. The Western world has delivered more wealth and more comfort to more of its citizens than any other civilization in history, and in return we've developed a great cult of worrying. You know the classics of the genre: In 1968, in his bestselling book "The Population Bomb," the eminent scientist Paul Ehrlich declared: "In the 1970s the world will undergo famines--hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death." In 1972, in their landmark study "The Limits to Growth," the Club of Rome announced that the world would run out of gold by 1981, of mercury by 1985, tin by 1987, zinc by 1990, petroleum by 1992, and copper, lead and gas by 1993.

None of these things happened. In fact, quite the opposite is happening. We're pretty much awash in resources, but we're running out of people--the one truly indispensable resource, without which none of the others matter. Russia's the most obvious example: it's the largest country on earth, it's full of natural resources, and yet it's dying--its population is falling calamitously.


I watched that big abortion rally in Washington in 2004, where Ashley Judd and Gloria Steinem were cheered by women waving "Keep your Bush off my bush" placards, and I thought it was the equivalent of a White Russian tea party in 1917. By prioritizing a "woman's right to choose," Western women are delivering their societies into the hands of fellows far more patriarchal than a 1950s sitcom dad. If any of those women marching for their "reproductive rights" still have babies, they might like to ponder demographic realities: A little girl born today will be unlikely, at the age of 40, to be free to prance around demonstrations in Eurabian Paris or Amsterdam chanting "Hands off my bush!"


But, after framing the 2004 presidential election as a referendum on the right to rape, Miss [Cameron] Diaz might be interested to know that men enjoy that right under many Islamic legal codes around the world. In his book "The Empty Cradle," Philip Longman asks: "So where will the children of the future come from? Increasingly they will come from people who are at odds with the modern world. Such a trend, if sustained, could drive human culture off its current market-driven, individualistic, modernist course, gradually creating an anti-market culture dominated by fundamentalism--a new Dark Ages."


[S]o-called post-Christian civilizations--as a prominent EU official described his continent to me--are more prone than traditional societies to mistake the present tense for a permanent feature. Religious cultures have a much greater sense of both past and future, as we did a century ago, when we spoke of death as joining "the great majority" in "the unseen world." But if secularism's starting point is that this is all there is, it's no surprise that, consciously or not, they invest the here and now with far greater powers of endurance than it's ever had. The idea that progressive Euro-welfarism is the permanent resting place of human development was always foolish; we now know that it's suicidally so.

By insulating man from his natural limitations, government has left him nothing to hope for.

The demise of the West rises before us. This civilizational callpase is an event to be mourned, but it is difficult to summon tears for a pampered people who cannot find the moral energy to climb beyond their own egos far enough to provide for the future.

Mark Steyn, "It's the Demography, Stupid," The Wall Street Journal (January 4, 2006). Reprinted from the January issue of The New Criterion.


A tangentially related post: Abyss Calls to Abyss, which comments on space exploration as a project to reinvigorate the West's sense of purpose.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Boomer Death Watch

Happy new year!

Today the oldest baby boomers turn sixty-one and enter their seventh decade. Austin Ruse last year summarized their influence:

What we will say about the passing of the boom, contra their own self-adulation, is that they were a decidely mixed bag who had an outsized and largely negative influence on all of our institutions. Much of our cultural work [against the culture of death] is to repair the deep damage they have done.

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to blame this self-indulgent generation for so many of our modern ills.1 Even their continued existence is societally deleterious. How? Social security, etc. are pyramid schemes that only work when there are more workers to pay into the system than retirees to cash out. The boomers failed to uphold their part of the implicit inter-generational contract (Social Security blunted the natural motivation). They dallied in an extended adolescence and failed to raise a comparably-sized generation of successors. The November 21 American Conservative featured two excellent cover articles on the way the oldsters haven't pulled their own weight: they now drain more and more resources from the economy and make it harder for the younger generation to attain the financial footing necessary to settle down and raise families (further aggravating the inverted population pyramid of fewer youngsters than oldsters). The boomers have effectively enslaved younger generations via the welfare state.

And let's not forget that the boomers are the generation most responsible for the egotistical syndrome of "generational consciousness," in which each generation self-consciously names itself in distinction from its elders. This misbegotten legacy is one reason Gen-Xers have psychological complexes over their lack of a similar generational identity. And let's not forget the reverberations in the subsequent Generation-Y... followed by "Generation Why-not".

But to be fair, previous generations had something of a generational consciousness, e.g. the lost generation. And let's not forget the role that state-run indoctrination (as opposed to parent-run education) had in separating each generation from its predicessors.


Well and good: the boomers a baneful cultural influence. What's discussed less often is what made the boomers what they are. Quantitatively: contrary to popular mythology, the baby boom did not stem from an increase in birth rate, but from a decrease in infant mortality.2 Qualitatively: the boomers are such self-centered people because their parents—the so-called "greatest generation"— spoiled them rotten.

How did this happen? It goes back to a misconception of wealth. We Americans have a tendency to see wealth in exclusively material terms: as money or physical resources. We forget about the immaterial resources that it takes to acquire material resources, such as legal, educational, and social organization. What impoverishes the poor is not so much their lack of money, but the disorder that defeats their ability to marshall any resources effectively. I used to visit weekly a family in a South Bronx housing project, and the most striking thing was not their lack of resources, but the ease with which they either broke or misplaced anything I gave them. It is for this reason that money transfers aren't enough to raise a people out of poverty. (People need education, and before education they need a sense of the overriding value of education.)

Along these lines, the boomers' parents wanted to give them "everything" and misconceived "everything" as purely material. But it wasn't exclusively their parents. Before the war children's products were universally advertised to parents; after the war, advertisers no longer abstained from targeting young people directly.3 The boomers, lacking a strong education in virtue, were powerless to resist the lures of materialism. With such moral poverty, with the consequent egoism, it would be surprising were there not a war of the old and the rich on the poor and the young.

Today the oldest baby boomers enter their seventh decade. If the total life expectancy is 75, their numbers will begin to drop precipitously in another fifteen years or so. Another year down.

Happy new year!


1. This moribund blog may be of interest: Boomer Death Watch.

One need only look at our last two Presidents to get some idea of quality of the boomers. Clinton couldn't keep you-know-what in his pants. Bush can't keep the federal budget in the black or our miltary servicemen in the country (long enough to keep their families from splitting under the stress). No self-control.

2. President's Bioethics Council, Beyond Therapy, footnote p. 189.

3. From a Touchstone article of a couple years ago. Will post reference here once found.

Doug Bandow, "Everyone’s Entitled," The American Conservative (November 21, 2005).

Pavel Kohout, "The Old Country," The American Conservative (November 21, 2005).