Costa Concordia Accident Reveals Decline of Western Civilization

Survivors tell of panic as men ignore order that women and children should go first and passengers fight to get on boats.

Fights broke out to get into the lifeboats, men refused to prioritise women, expectant mothers and children as they pushed themselves forward to escape. Crew ignored their passengers – leaving ‘chefs and waiters’ to help out.

This is a direct result of the sustained progressive attacks upon traditional notions of chivalry and honor — and personally, I think it’s disgusting.

Victor Davis Hanson: Another Writer You Should Read Regularly

Consider, for example, his latest article (at Pajamas Media):

Why Does the Good Life End?

Redistribution of wealth rather than emphasis on its creation is surely a symptom of aging societies. Whether at Byzantium during the Nika Riots or in bread and circuses Rome, when the public expects government to provide security rather than the individual to become autonomous through a growing economy, then there grows a collective lethargy. I think that is the message of Juvenal’s savage satires about both mobs and the idle rich. Fourth-century Athenian literature is characterized by forensic law suits, as citizens sought to sue each other, or to sue the state for sustenance, or to fight over inheritances…

Just because the state will sue you for the appearance of sexual harassment does not mean that leaving your laptop in a college university carrel means it is less likely to be stolen than, say, a wallet in 1955. The frightening worry is that the two are connected: the more the state steps in to to assure that we are cosmically moral, the more we assume we can relax and therefore become concretely immoral. Detroit is a symptom of that transition from family to state definitions of morality. Go to Athens today, and one can read high-sounding praises of the all-encompassing welfare state, and see all around private machinations to get out of taxes and boasts about getting a public job that requires no work and earns lots of pay…

I especially like that Hanson uses his knowledge of the classical period to make his case. Everything that we are experiencing now as a society has happened before. Unfortunately, historical literacy has not been encouraged in our nation’s schools.

Dalrymple Classics

I have a headache at the moment, so what I’m going to do tonight is point you to two articles which perfectly illustrate why I love to read “Theodore Dalrymple’s” literary and social commentaries:

The Rage of Virginia Woolf

The Cambridge Guide to English Literature describes Three Guineas as an established classic—but a classic of what genre exactly? Of political philosophy? Contemporary history? Sociological analysis? No: it is a locus classicus of self-pity and victimhood as a genre in itself. In this, it was certainly ahead of its time, and it deserves to be on the syllabus of every department of women’s studies at every third-rate establishment of higher education. Never were the personal and the political worse confounded.

The book is important because it is a naked statement of the worldview that is unstated and implicit in all of Virginia Woolf’s novels, most of which have achieved an iconic status in the republic of letters and in the humanities departments of the English-speaking world, where they have influenced countless young people. The book, therefore, is truly a seminal text. In Three Guineas, Virginia Woolf lets us know without disguise what she really thinks: and what she thinks is by turns grandiose and trivial, resentful and fatuous. The book might be better titled: How to Be Privileged and Yet Feel Extremely Aggrieved.

How – and How Not – to Love Mankind

It is true that Marx, like Turgenev, is on the side of the underdog, of the man with nothing, but in a wholly disembodied way. Where Turgenev hopes to lead us to behave humanly, Marx aims to incite us to violence. Moreover, Marx brooked no competitors in the philanthropic market. He was notoriously scathing about all would-be practical reformers: if lower class, they lacked the philosophic training necessary to penetrate to the causes of misery; if upper class, they were hypocritically trying to preserve “the system.” Only he knew the secret of turning the nightmare into a dream.

In fact, the hecatombs his followers piled up are—to the last million victims—implicit in the Manifesto. The intolerance and totalitarianism inhere in the beliefs expressed: “The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties. They have no interest separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.”

In other words, there is no need for other parties, let alone individuals with their own personal quirks: indeed, since the Communists so perfectly express the interests of the proletariat, anyone opposed to the Communists must, by definition, be opposed to the interests of the proletariat.

“Dalrymple’s” unique melding of erudition and sarcasm is such a treasure.

Book Rec: The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order

The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order
by Daniel J. Mahoney
Intercollegiate Studies Institute

I supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq for several reasons. First of all, I – like everyone else – believed that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. I also took into account Iraq’s history as an aggressor nation. When we entered the first Iraq War, we did so to stop Hussein from conquering neighboring Kuwait — and the cease-fire which prevented a complete regime change at that time was predicated upon Hussein’s living up to the terms outlined by the U.N. This Hussein repeatedly failed to do, so on those grounds alone, we had a right to relaunch the conflict. Lastly, it did matter to me that Hussein was a dictator who tortured, raped, and murdered his own people. We may have been mistaken in concluding that Hussein had a viable WMD program, but only a mendacious idiot would declare that this –

– was preferable to what the Iraqi people have now.

The merits – or lack thereof – of the second war in Iraq will surely be debated for years to come, but I think Daniel Mahoney is right to declare in his latest that one of the major flaws of George W. Bush’s foreign policy was its democratic triumphalism. Though it may be true that all men desire liberty, it is manifestly not the case that they all wish to have it in the post-modern Western style — and it would behoove us to remember that top-down impositions of “democracy” may not always be wise.

As it is, the West itself is having trouble maintaining the old small-l liberal order because, as Mahoney writes, “democracy” has breached its bounds and bled into areas of life where it has been damaging rather than salubrious. It is not enough for today’s antinomians that our governments are democratic. No – instead, we must have a radical democratization of everything. The old authoritative institutions – organized religion and the family especially – must be knocked down.

Our Founding Fathers were quite congnizant of democracy’s tendency to democratize in the manner described above, so while they often wrote in the radical cadences set by the Enlightenment, they practiced the art of government in a manner that was more conservative. John Adams, for example, once famously opined that our U.S. Constitution would remain adequate so long as the American people remained religious. These men, in other words, counted upon the continued existence of pre-democratic institutions to moderate their political project. And this model worked — for a time.

Unfortunately, Western society now looks upon “authority” with distinct suspicion. Consider, for example, the constant negative coverage of the Catholic Church. When you combine its various projects, the Catholic Church turns out to be the largest charitable organization on the planet. The Church also educates more children than any other private group, and it often does so in areas where resources are severely lacking. Its hierarchical structure, however, is positively medieval; outsiders often regard the Holy Father as a quasi-king and the cardinals as quasi-lords, and the terrific pageantry of a High Mass in Rome certainly does nothing to dispel that impression. And the Magisterium? The fact that we Catholics can’t decide for ourselves what we believe about God or about the moral law is seen as an absolutely unconscionable offense against the democracy project. Thus, many seek to destroy the Church by magnifying its flaws at the expense of honest reporting.

Consider too how the usual suspects approach the military. The military is also a hierarchical organization in which respect for rank is considered an absolute necessity. A good commander will often seek the input of his subordinates, but once he has made his final decision, that’s it — a soldier is obligated to follow that commander’s orders tout de suite. And there’s a good reason why the military is run in this fashion: On a battlefield, disobedience can result in death. Our post-modern anti-authoritarians don’t understand this, however, and so they demonize the military as blood-thirsty and stupid at every opportunity.

Ironically, in tearing down these pre-democratic institutions, our radicals have ushered in an era of declining liberty and greater state control. Once, a man’s faith was expected to restrain his avarice; now, we must discourage greed via government fiat. Once, it was considered hideously impolite to whistle at a woman on the street, and men were taught to honor female chastity and modesty; now, we have draconian sexual harrassment rules which, again, are imposed from above. Once, families were put in charge of the moral education of our children; now, we must write legislation to discourage schoolyard bullying. We are losing sight of the principle of subsidiarity because we have radically weakened those small, local, and frequently non-democratic institutions which once took up a lot of the social slack.

In reality, Mahoney points out, the boundaries that were formerly delineated by conservative institutions like the family and the Church were part of what allowed our democracies to remain stable in the years before the “culture of repudiation” came into vogue. To pull down those boundaries, as many post-modern Westerners have done, is sheer folly.

In Egypt, Skeptics Vindicated

Islamist Group Is Rising Force in a New Egypt
by Michael Slackman @ the New York Times

CAIRO — In post-revolutionary Egypt, where hope and confusion collide in the daily struggle to build a new nation, religion has emerged as a powerful political force, following an uprising that was based on secular ideals. The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group once banned by the state, is at the forefront, transformed into a tacit partner with the military government that many fear will thwart fundamental changes.

It is also clear that the young, educated secular activists who initially propelled the nonideological revolution are no longer the driving political force — at least not at the moment.

At the Times, of course, reporters still hold out hope that the Muslim Brotherhood will help usher in a tolerant, pluralistic democracy. The rest of us know better, though. We may indeed end up with a “one person, one vote, one time” scenario when all is said and done.

Book Rec: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child
by Anthony Esolen
Intercollegiate Studies Institute

When SABR Matt and I were in elementary school (in the seaside Connecticut town of Niantic), we used to while away much of our free time dreaming up elaborate yarns about the Zinkleys, a family of super-geniuses who lived in a climate-controlled dome in Antarctica. As I recall, we chose Antarctica because we’d seen an episode of 3-2-1 Contact in which the young star traveled to said continent to visit the South Pole, and we were completely enchanted by Antarctica’s forbidding and seemingly alien landscape. As you may have guessed, this was before my official introduction to science fiction. If I’d known about Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars or John Christopher’s Tripods Trilogy back then, I’m sure I would’ve insisted that the Zinkleys make their home on another planet.

Be that as it may, our games of “Zinkley Pretend” would often last for hours on end — and when we weren’t absorbed in our fictional universe, SABR Matt and I would often run down Kevin Road to play with a friend who had what seemed to us to be the most terrific yard in the world. Behind this friend’s house was a good-sized pond that was a potential source of entertainment in any season. In the summer, we’d go swimming, heedless of the leeches and the weeds that squinched under our bare feet; in the winter, the pond would freeze up, and we’d “skate” around on the ice (I use scare quotes there because we didn’t actually have ice skates). In our friend’s front yard, meanwhile, a departing glacier had deposited a large pile of rocks that became for us our moss-and-lichen-covered “mountain.” SABR Matt fell off the “mountain” once and broke his arm in two places, but oddly enough, he managed to survive — just as I managed to survive many years later the day I decided to ride in the direction of the sunrise until I found Puget Sound and ended up crashing my bike into a fence and tree (obviously, this was after we’d moved to Washington State).

I share these things to illustrate exactly how much free reign our parents gave us as children. We did get involved in a few adult-organized activities, like the Scouts, orchestra, children’s theater, and Niantic’s Sesquicentennial Project, an after-school activity whose name the poor secretary at Lillie B. Haynes could never pronounce correctly, but large swaths of our schedule were left entirely open. Not only did this allow SABR Matt and me to – gasp! – play outside, but it also gave SABR Matt the opportunity to mess around with numbers (we called that being “numberish”) and draw weather maps — and it gave me the chance to prowl around the public library devouring every book on medicine and disease that I could get my hands on.

Today, on the other hand, parents don’t often leave kids alone to entertain themselves — and in his fantastically written social commentary, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, author Anthony Esolen identifies this lack of free time and nine other current-day trends as the key enemies of passion and originality. A while back, SABR Matt wondered out loud why the students at his university seem to have no “desire”. This book, I think, may contain the answer to his query. Esolen argues – and quite persuasively, I might add – that children’s souls have been bled dry by a combination of overly-controlling parenting, factory-style public schooling (which he calls “drudgery without the facts”), and a popular culture that cherishes political correctness above all else. At the same time, he presents a rousing defense of patriotism, traditional morality (including the traditional understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman), and religious faith.

Esolen’s prose is a real treasure – wickedly incisive and profoundly moving all at once. Here he is, for example, after he’s just described the organization of an unsupervised baseball game:

…Now you actually have to play the game. You have to keep track of the batting order, or the downs, or the number of outs, or the fouls, or the score. Nobody is going to do it for you. But what happens when there’s a disputed play?

Here again, we see the wonders of organizing every non-electronic moment of a child’s life. When adults are in charge, they will settle the dispute. Sometimes they do so preventively, by making sure that disputes cannot occur. That’s what schools in Massachusetts did a few years ago, decreeing that for elementary school soccer matches, no one should keep score. What a remarkable teaching device that was! It prevented the children from using their wits to separate right from wrong…

But boys from time immemorial have fashioned their own “rules” for meting out sandlot justice… The boys will argue, using evidence, and they all understand that it is in everyone’s best interest to respect evidence, since otherwise no game would be possible… And if that doesn’t work, the boys will not go home in a snit. What would be the fun in that? They will not cry, like babies. They will not sue. They will use the supreme act of their moral imaginations. They will forgive the baseball universe. They will Pretend the Play Never Happened. Everyone goes back to where he was, and the play is done over…

This is perhaps a slight idealization, but scenes like this may indeed have unfolded on a regular basis during Esolen’s childhood, when kids had involved parents available at home to teach them the difference between right and wrong.

Meanwhile, here is Esolen on the impossibility of creating great works of art without a sense of the transcendent:

We can suppose, then, that to remove from the child the possibility of praise – to rob him of any intimation of the Being that lends existence itself to all things that exist – would be like confining his mind to a room with a low ceiling. “This is all there is,” we say, “and don’t ask us where it is going, or what it means, because it is going to destruction only, and it means nothing. Now build a cathedral in honor of that. Write an epic poem about universal heat-death. Compose a song of love for what cannot love. Just try. When your head gets too sore from all the bumping against the ceiling, you’ll learn better, and be a good and useful citizen.”

Ouch.

Even though I don’t believe I’m called to marry, my inner teacher finds Esolen’s ideas quite inspiring. If you have children – or if you plan to have children in the future – and you’re seeking encouragement in your quest to raise creative and empowered kids who haven’t been deadened by today’s mass entertainments, I definitely recommend picking up this book.

Condemned to Joy

Condemned to Joy
by Pascal Bruckner @ City Journal

Now that it has become the horizon of our democracies, a matter of ceaseless work and effort, happiness is surrounded by anxiety. We feel compelled to be saved constantly from what we are, poisoning our own existence with all kinds of impossible commandments. Our hedonism is not wholesome but haunted by failure. However well behaved we are, our bodies continue to betray us. Age leaves its mark, illness finds us one way or another, and pleasures have their way with us, following a rhythm that has nothing to do with our vigilance or our resolution.

What is needed is a renewed humility. We are not the masters of the sources of happiness; they ever elude the appointments we make with them, springing up when we least expect them and fleeing when we would hold them close. The excessive ambition to expunge all that is weak or broken in body or mind, to control moods and states of soul, sadness, chagrin, moments of emptiness—all this runs up against our finitude, against the inertia of the human species, which we cannot manipulate like some raw material. We have the power to avoid or to heal certain evils, yes, but we cannot order happiness as if it were a meal in a restaurant.

An interesting article. As a matter of fact, Bruckner’s remarks call to mind G.K. Chesterton’s commentary on the fads of his day. I wonder if that was Bruckner’s intention.

Yet Another European Leader Declares Multiculturalism a "Failure"

Full text: David Cameron’s Munich speech on segregation, radicalisation and Islamic extremism

In the UK, some young men find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practised at home by their parents whose customs can seem staid when transplanted to modern Western countries.

But they also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity.

Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.

We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.

We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values.

So when a white person holds objectionable views – racism, for example – we rightly condemn them.

But when equally unacceptable views or practices have come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them.

The failure of some to confront the horrors of forced marriage – the practice where some young girls are bullied and sometimes taken abroad to marry someone they don’t want to – is a case in point.

This hands-off tolerance has only served to reinforce the sense that not enough is shared.

All this leaves some young Muslims feeling rootless.

And the search for something to belong to and believe in can lead them to this extremist ideology.

Read the whole speech. Despite his insistence that Islam and Islamism are not equivalent, the British left will surely rake Cameron over the coals for this. And that’s a shame, because he is absolutely, 100% correct.

Egypt

So – if you’ve been reading the news lately, then you know that Egypt is in the process of burning to the ground right now. Certain leftists on Live Journal would like for me to celebrate this “popular uprising” against Mubarak as an expression of the very “democracy” that we hawks champion, but I’m afraid I can’t do that without pointing out the ways this could go horribly, horribly wrong.

Consider what a recent Pew poll discovered about the Muslim majority in Egypt. While that majority favors “democratic government” (59%), they also support:

  • Gender segregation in the workplace (54%).
  • Stoning as a punishment for adultery (82%).
  • Whipping/cutting off hands for theft (77%).
  • The death penalty for leaving the Muslim religion (84%).

The ballot box does not a liberal democracy make. This is something that the international left repeatedly fails to grok. Over and over again, said leftists have claimed that duly elected socialists are “democratic” even when those socialists are guilty of numerous human rights abuses (see also: Hugo Chavez). But democracy is not established by the mere act of voting. Voting is just a surface feature of liberal democracy. Liberal democracy is a complex system comprised of the following obligatory elements:

  • The rule of law, not men.
  • The separation of powers (so that no one person or group has absolute control).
  • Checks and balances (so that, again, power is not concentrated in one person or group).
  • Respect for the rights of minority populations.

If a government fails to reflect these four key principles, it doesn’t matter whether it was “elected.” It’s still not a democracy.

I honestly want Egyptian small-l liberals to succeed in overthrowing Mubarak and installing a truly democratic goverment. The moralist in me believes we shouldn’t tolerate Mubarak’s thugocracy for another minute. But if, after ousting Mubarak from power, the Egyptian electorate then proceeds to vote for the full enforcement of sharia, that will not be a victory for democracy. If the Muslim Brotherhood is allowed to participate in a future election and wins, that will not be a victory for democracy. That will be the worst case scenario.

Spot the Theme – The "Open-Minded" Edition

See if you can spy the common thread that runs through the following articles:

  • Educational programme brings foreigners to North Korea
    Matt Danzico @ BBC News

    The Pyongyang Project was the brainchild of Matthew Reichel and Nick Young, who were inspired to counteract what they describe as the “one-sided” coverage of North Korea in the international media.

    “The US and North Korea don’t have established relations, and talks are indirect at best. And what we believe is that there is a need for a grassroots level of engagement that we haven’t seen yet between citizens,” says Mr Reichel, a 23-year-old Brown University graduate. “We feel that education is the best ice-breaker.”

  • Philosopher Quarterback Emerges in the Desert
    The Associated Press

    Szakacsy is, as the title of his new CD suggests, someone who has spent his life chasing truth.”

    “I’m just really interested in everything,” he said. “You can find God in everything, truth in everything, so everything is cool at the end of the day. I try to just really see myself in everything. It’s all connected in some way.”

If you guessed “misguided idealism in our youth,” you are absolutely correct.

Regarding the first example: Our dispute with the DPRK is not – and never has been – based on a mistrust of the latter’s ordinary citizens. Indeed, the exact opposite is the case. Our relationship with the DPRK is hostile because, as Americans, we are universalists and therefore assume that the North Korean people also yearn to be free of the Kim family. Indeed, it doesn’t surprise us in the slightest that some North Koreans who’ve managed to escape what my (South Korean) boss calls “the worst country in the world” are currently clamoring to join the South Korean army. That’s exactly what we would do in their place, by God!

Abe Greenwald of Commentary put it well in a recent blog post:

To Mills, somehow pointing out government oppression is synonymous with assuming the existence of a zombie public. As inexplicable as this intellectual shell game is, it is not uncommon. This is exactly what we heard from Tehran apologists in 2009, during the run-up to the fraudulent June 12 presidential election and the deadly crackdown that followed it. “Iranians are property-buying, car-mad, entrepreneurial consumers with a taste for the latest brands,” wrote the New York Times’s Roger Cohen in February of that year. “Forget about nukes. Think Nikes,” he urged, before closing on this recommendation: “America, think again about Iran.” I hope the Iranians had their Nikes on four months later when they had to run from Revolutionary Guard clubs and bullets.

It is precisely because Americans do not assume the people in authoritarian countries to be thoughtless automatons that we recognize the tragedy of their lot. The fact of individualism and the recognition that people in other countries harbor the same hopes and dreams of all human beings are the most elemental aspects of support for political freedoms. A defense of a country’s population is not a defense of its authoritarian leaders; it is an indictment of them.

In sum, Reichel and Young and other folks of their ilk completely miss the point when they urge us to “get to know” the citizens of enemy nations. Chatting it up with the locals is not going to improve relations with North Korea, for instance, because it is not those locals who are causing the problem. The only thing that will improve relations with North Korea is, dare I say it, the reunification of the Korean peninsula under a democratic government — a regime change most North Koreans would welcome, I’m sure.

Regarding the second example: It is certainly not the case that all religions teach the same things; therefore, it is not the case that all religions are equally true. A demonstration: Buddhism calls for us to renounce the self entirely; in other words, it teaches the denial of personality. Christianity, on the other hand, calls for us to renounce our sinful selves so that we may put on our godly selves; it teaches that the personality is one of God’s great masterworks and encourages each of its followers to contribute to the Body of Christ according to his or her unique vocation. Are we obligated to respect the deep traditions of these two ancient faiths? Certainly. But they can’t both be right; their positions are contradictory.

It’s good to explore different faiths when you’re young. Eventually, however, you’re going to have to settle on something. It is not a sign of philosophical depth if you just accept everything as “cool at the end of the day.”

At this point, I think I shall conclude with another relevant quote:

“An open mind is really a mark of foolishness, like an open mouth. Mouths and minds were made to shut; they were made to open only in order to shut.” – G.K. Chesterton, 1908