August 31, 2018

A Letter to the Bishops

To the Roman Catholic Bishops of the Dark Coterie, and Pope Francis, Greetings!

I, a member of the laity, a convert to the Catholic church, a doctor of the law and a teacher, have for some months...or perhaps years...remained silent, while in my acts and prayers focused on my own faults and omissions. Ever in my mind was the story related of Abba Moses, the Desert Father:
In Scetis a brother was once found guilty. They assembled the brothers, and sent a message to Moses telling him to come. But he would not come. Then the presbyter sent again saying, ‘Come, for the gathering of monks is waiting for you.’ Moses got up and went. He took with him an old basket, which he filled with sand and carried on his back. They went to meet him and said, ‘What does this mean, abba?’ He said, ‘My sins run out behind me and I do not see them and I have come here today to judge another.’ They listened to him and said no more to the brother who had sinned but forgave him.
When this latest round broke - of things reported that you have done, have covered, have ignored, have dismissed - in the grand jury statement, I could read only parts of it. And those parts were a very monument of horrors - of lives destroyed, secret meetings and symbols of slavery, cover-ups, payoffs, pederasty, quid pro quo sexual favors, profaning the Sacraments, and God Himself only knows what else. Did Steven King and Gilles de Rais draft a play on the topic, scarcely could they hope to design a more lurid and demonic affair.

We among the laity have for years carried the hope that the Church Herself would correct course; that a reformer would appear among the clergy whom would cleanse us of this festering canker. But it appears that the good among the clergy were cut short and departed early on, embittered or silenced, and those that remained had a far slimmer chance of attaining any position which would permit reform. We are aware of the good Bishops and seminaries among us. We are also aware of the bad.

And you, Dark Coterie, are among the bad. I am hesitant to say this of any priest, bishop, or cardinal - I have in me the convert's respect for the Church. But, you have thrown your lot in with the Pharisees - hypocrites, binders of burdens, creators of children of hell, blind fools, blind men, filled with extortion and rapacity, full of iniquity. How can you read Matthew 23 and not tremble if you possess even a mustard seed of faith? Fear the Lord. His Judgment is Just.

But you have accomplished worse yet. You have scandalized the Faithful, you have stunted the Church, you have thrown open the walls of the castle in which we seek shelter to the Barbarians - to those who mock and castigate. Religious freedom is under attack in the United States and the rest of the world, and you float through life in a hellish spectacle and play at games as the Church catches fire.

And those among you who covered for others? Were you compromised, that you permitted this to continue? Did you believe that you protected the Church by paying off or denigrating the victims, even as you subtly and continually undermined Her Foundations? Did you not believe that a reckoning would throw back the foul rotting cloud and reveal all? Did you Believe?

Do you Believe? Will you repent, in sackcloth and ashes? Will you show that you are sorry, instead of sorry to be caught? Will you be bound in chains? Subject yourselves to the law? Will you sacrifice your tassels and fringes and phylacteries and the higher seats at the table and your special titles, and repent, in sackcloth and ashes?

The time is fast approaching when you will be forced to repent, if you will not do so of volition. The laity already flees in scandal - perhaps your repentance, repentance in sackcloth and ashes, will begin a healing process. The hour is late. The time is short. Repent. Repent. Repent.

August 17, 2018

Bread and Circuses

In the foreword to Amusing Ourselves to Death, author and cultural critic Neil Postman set forth the possibility that Orwell was wrong - it wasn't an external tyranny that was "out to get us," in an Orwellian nightmare, but an internal tyranny of distraction and pleasure. In his own words:
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
There can be no educator even remotely in touch with students who does not feel a chill upon reading this passage. It is worthwhile to know that Postman first published these words in 1985 - in 1985, when there were no iPhones, no Androids, no tablets, no internet, and barely any personal computers. The FCC noted in the New York Times in 1984 that the total number of TV stations was roughly 1,169. This sounds like a great deal, until you find out that the total number in 2017 was roughly 1,700, available networks have increased from 3 - 5 in 1984 to over 50 now, and that number of hours watched in 1984 was 7, rising as high as 9 after 2000, but falling back to 8.   This, of course, does not include stats related to computer use, video gaming, etc. For instance, from 1977 - 1993, the Apple II models sold 6 million units, worldwide. Compare that with total sales from the Playstation 4, estimated at 70 million consoles (introduced 2013), the Xbox One, estimated at 18 - 19 million consoles in 2016 (introduced 2013), and the Wii Switch, estimated at roughly 20 million consoles (introduced 2016). Of course, these numbers do not take into account legacy consoles, other manufacturers, or PC gaming systems.

Anecdotally, educators are very familiar with the ADHD-like effects of technology on their students. For instance, attention spans are very short, student no longer read significantly (and reading online does not appear to have the same impact), students often simply cut and paste portions of (what they imagine to be) articles addressing the topics of essays, and rarely seem to study. Even classes which seem to demand more than a couple hours of reading in a week are summarily dropped as "too difficult." And studies of students' habits back up these anecdotes, and reveal in many cases that students simply learn nothing in college. And, of course, there is the strange almost mandatory requirement of sexual freedom and experimentation, combined with the nearly puritanical insistence on strictures surrounding that experimentation, which treats women as de facto victims at any point in sexual activity, placing men in constant fear of punishment for lack of awareness of this victimhood.

Where am I going with this rambling, you ask?

In his Satires, the Roman poet Juvenal stated:
And what does the mob of Remus say? It follows fortune, as it always does, and rails against the condemned. That same rabble, if Nortia had smiled upon the Etruscan, if the aged Emperor had been struck down unawares, would in that very hour have conferred upon Sejanus the title of Augustus. Now that no one buys our votes, the public has long since cast off its cares; the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things—Bread and Games!
Hence, the famous phrase "bread and circuses." But, witness our modern debates on mandating a basic wage for all people, regardless of will to work, to produce, to contribute, or not to do any of these things. To provide healthcare for all, on the same terms. To ensure that every person has a cell phone. To ensure that every person can purchase the things which they desire for entertainment, and to be provided with the things which ought to have been first considered. Witness the railings against student college debt (and the lack of the same concerns), when statistics indicate that $400+ per month iPhones, or the like, are a standard item among college graduates.

I think Postman was right, and that (like the late Romans), we are now in the midst of a society fueled by distraction. I do not say "amusement," as much of our own distraction is focused on rage by proxy - massive jerks of (perceived) righteous rage on social media. Our media is full of stories about people who are angry that the wealthy have much more than the poor - people who seem fueled by envy and anger, but who (one can find without much searching) have better housing, better conveniences, better care, and more available amusements and leisure than most people in recent history.

Our culture is also one which seeks to be immune from pain, or distract away from it. Witness the opoid crisis in full swing, along with the numbers of people addicted or heavily using prescription painkillers. Witness the massive push for legalization of marijuana in the United States.

Video games, sex, and addictions - all methods of distraction and avoidance of problems, pain, and (truth be known) boredom. I cannot really explain or hazard a guess as to the outcome, but I doubt that culture will be very attractive when some sort of tipping point is reached, and it all crashes down.

August 7, 2018

1st Amendment, Free Speech, Censorship, Hate Speech, Facebook

I should be working on some questions for a deposition I am taking tomorrow...I really should. But Tommy Jordan, III (who blogs here) HAD to go and post a question on Facebook (the "Post") seeking input as to what people thought of Alex Jones (this guy) being banned by various media platforms (Facebook, Apple, YouTube). Being well-connected on Facebook, there have been a wide variety of responses to Tommy's post. Most were well-intentioned, but many were also full of serious errors. I felt compelled to respond in this blog post. Thanks, Tommy.

The purpose of this blog post is to discuss some differing concepts raised by Tommy's post, and try to make some differentiation. I plan to keep things as simple as possible (who really wants to read about all the fine points of 1st Amendment debates during the Founding of the United States), while at the same time attempting to create fine enough points of distinction that the differences in the concepts can be observed.

The best place to start, as it was raised by a number of commentators on the Post, is with the 1st Amendment freedom of speech. And the place to start, if one wishes to do so with first principles in mind, is the text of that amendment, as the text pertains to freedom of speech. In relevant part, the 1st Amendment states:
Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...
That's it. Of course, there are many court cases following which interpret this speech in different aspects and situations. But, what is critical, especially in the matter of Alex Jones, is to realize that the 1st Amendment restricts Congress from making laws. That's it. Now, it may have some impact on other government entities (such as state governments, local governments, etc.) due to other legal matters, but none of them change the central idea that, absent some form of government action, the 1st Amendment is not implicated in regard to speech.

So, for example, if the government makes a law requiring Facebook to remove all "hate speech" from its pages, then the government has violated the 1st Amendment, even if Facebook were willing to go along when requested. But when Facebook, in and of itself, decides to block or remove certain content on its own, no dice. Perfectly legal. Now, this is not to say that what Facebook does could implicate Civil Rights laws (so, if Facebook decided to remove all speech by Hispanics, that might implicate Civil Rights), or other laws aimed at copyright and trademark protection. However, simply in terms of blocking content Facebook doesn't like, for reasons other than Civil Rights, the 1st Amendment free speech doctrines do not apply.

Which leads me to "censorship." This term should go down with words which are "meaningless, f**king term[s]." This word gets thrown around as a derogatory phrase so often, with so many different (intended or unintended) nuances that it should be reserved for historical context only. It's like calling someone a "Nazi" - 99% of the time, the speaker has no capability to make the distinctions necessary to actually use the term correctly. Thus, the speaker is revealed as a mindless ***kwad.

Now, if we're not going to drop it, then we should make an attempt to use it more precisely. Censor, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, means several things. As a noun, it means:
One who exercises official or officious supervision over morals and conduct.
Or, more broadly:
An official in some countries whose duty it is to inspect all books, journals, dramatic pieces, etc., before publication, to secure that they shall contain nothing immoral, heretical, or offensive to the government. 
Note that the idea of "official" or "governmental" exists in both definitions. Relatedly, censor, as a verb, has the expected definition of "[t]o act as censor to." And therefore, censorship, as you might guess with a little thought, means:
The office or function of a censor...official supervision. [Also] control of dramatic production and films...[or]...of the press.
Now, turning to Facebook's control of content on its network, absent being forced to do so by the government, it cannot be censorship. Facebook is free to block or allow whatever content it wishes (absent, as I said before, certain specific limitations not implicated here), including anything at all which it or its audience dislikes, and it is not a censor. People who throw the word around willy-nilly, without bothering to understand the meaning of the term, ought to be forced into remedial English class taught by the ghost of Ambrose Bierce.

"Hate Speech" is another meaningless f**king term. It's a bull***t phrase, weaponized and deployed (mostly by the Left), to shut down conversation. What does it mean? Sometimes it's used to denote language which contains racist, sexist, and other *ist content. But, it's more often used to refer to speech the speaker simply doesn't like, or doesn't want to have to discuss. Claim that children who believe they are transgender often grow out of it? "Hate Speech!" Claim that people who have been charged with sexual assault should be given the benefit of "innocent until proven guilty?" "Hate speech!" And so on, and so forth. should be kept in mind that Facebook is free to deem "hate speech" any language, images, argument, discussion, meme, phrase, etc., it wants, and free to block it from its network. It doesn't matter whether it's Alex Jones or St. Patrick himself blogging about driving the serpents out of Congress - Facebook can block it.

Finally, the people on the Post who commented that it's a sad state of affairs are, likely, closest to the truth. Given that users on Facebook are capable of simply blocking or ignoring speech they don't like, and others are capable of debating speech they don't like, Facebook seems to be acting rather paternalistically. It does so, no doubt, to virtue signal how much it wants to protect people from "hate speech" and "evil" and etc. But in doing so, it helps contribute to the Balkanization of our politics and our society, by insulating people who might otherwise be open to discussion from each other. In that way, Facebook simply reinforces societal echo chambers, so that nobody need "fear" being exposed to opinions with which they disagree, or facts which might contradict their own opinions.