Friday, October 28, 2005

The State of Debate

And so, having reviewed Mr. Kirk's Principles or Conservatism, we've found that there's not a tremendous amount of difference between at least this progressive and conservative principles. Further, I'd posit that many conservatives may not have problems with actual progressive principles.

That is, I don't think many are actually opposed to peace, as a notion. Conservatives do think steps ought to be taken before engaging in war. They are concerned about the poor and the environment.

I came from conservative roots and know too many traditional-minded people to think them monsters.

Nonetheless, I worry about the state of politics in our country. The state of reasoning and debate. I'll give an example from a recent series of dialogs I've had at a conservative blog on the issue of the Iraq Invasion.

I tried to point out at this blog that the reasoning for the invasion is the same as the reasoning for the terrorist attacks. The similarities, as I suggested:

The terrorist says: "The Americans are evil/a threat and must be stopped. They must be killed, even if we must kill innocent people to do so."

Those who believe that the Iraq Invasion is Right say: "The terrorists are evil/a threat and must be stopped. They must be killed, even if we accidentally kill innocent people to do so."

Upon saying this, I was accused of calling a young blogger a terrorist. The commenters said, among other things:

Please don't compare me to terrorists.”

So let any NEW liberals who post here be warned: any more people calling people here Terrorists, or even comparing them to Terrorists gets the boot! “

I pointed out that I did NOT call anyone a terrorist, simply pointed out the reasoning was the same.

They responded:

Dan refused to apologize. I even explained to him why I wouldn't let the comment stand where he implied we have the same agenda as terrorists...”

I pointed out that I did not imply they have the same agenda as the terrorists, that I said they had the same reasoning. At first, they never responded to my actual comment, only got angry at my supposed comments or implications.

When they finally got around to responding to my actual assertion, they said:

No, that isn't what the terrorists say. They say: "The Americans are evil and must be killed. All of them. Muslims must be in control of the world. Anyone who isn't a Muslim is evil." That's the difference Dan. Why don't you get it?

Of course, in so saying, this blogger was simply repeating what I had said, that the terrorists think we're evil/a threat and must be killed. They added the part about “Muslims must be in control of the world. And anyone who isn't a Muslim is evil,” but that is merely an explanation of why they think we're evil and doesn't change the meat of the comment.

Not only that, but there was the vehemence with which they took objection to my comments. Let me point out that at this blog (and most others I go to) I was calm, polite and reasonable. I called people “brother,” “sister,” “Mr.,” “Miss,” and by their given names. Yes, I occasionally gave a sarcastic response, but even those were mild and good-natured.

For example, when one blogger accused me of being a shill, paid to visit blogs and cause trouble, he cited as a reason that my answers were “Professional, thought out...prose”. To which I responded by thanking this person, calling them a sweetheart. Sarcastic? Yes, but hardly a devastating criticism.

On the other hand, I was called a shill, a fool, a traitor and told I was on the side of evil. My Christianity was questioned and mocked, and I was told to “shut the f*** up” and to keep my vomitus to myself.

One of the host's final remarks was, “The reason why I think so is because they [me and another blogger] were extremely insulting.”

Not that I care at all about the insults, sticks and stones you know, but I'm just trying to honestly represent the tone of the blog (to be fair, the conservative host was trying to be reasonable and kind with me for a while, but eventually came to believe all of the above, it seems).

I bring this up because it concerns me that there seems to be a lack of an ability to logically debate based on what people have said in clear print. I was never rude, but they heard me being rude (again, to be fair, there was another liberal commenter whose points were more explosive than mine – perhaps they were confusing who said what).

I never called anyone a terrorist, nor implied that anyone was a terrorist or had the same agenda and tried multiple times to correct the misperception, but they heard me calling them terrorists or having terroristic agendas.

This is not the only occasion where I've had these sorts of conversations. I could go on and on, believe me. I've even had similar lack of understanding clear words with a conservative friend in a face to face conversation. Have we lost the ability to honestly debate and reason or are these merely isolated cases of a few poor debaters?

One final thought: These conservatives that I've talked to have been, in the main, religious conservatives, ones who are glad to invoke religion when the debate is on gays or abortion. I was just noticing that they had made several comments about me along the lines of, "I am tired of being preached to by Dan..." because I quote Jesus.

It seems oftentimes that they are fine with using religion in the political battlefield until you start actually quoting Jesus or other biblical verses which undermine their points. It's sort of amusing seeing the "Holier than thou..." crowd being annoyed by someone acting "holier than they."

Monday, October 24, 2005

Kids In Leaves

Kids In Leaves
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

In praise of autumn

Politics are pending – more on conservatism and progressivism to come (and what of Karl and Scooter – is it time to break out the pardon pen?).

But for today, I'd like to offer a few words in praise of autumn.

Here at my old Kentucky home, we've had that prime 40 – 80 degree weather for over a month now, the leaves are about due to peak in bright ruby and golden glory (a little later than normal) and that sweet antique leaf smell has been breathing new life in to us as the year slows to a stop.

I've a bit of savings in my underground sweet potato bank yet and a mess of a back yard to deal with and putting to bed the garden for her winter sleep yet to do. With energy rates skyrocketing, I've some very needed insulating kinds of things to do around the house.

But what a great time of year! Although it is cooler this morning, gray and damp, autumn is alive and well. Our annual church retreat is this weekend and we have great beauty and joy to look forward to. Hallelujah! (pardon me if I wax charismatic – fall does that to me).

I'll close with John Updike's poem on fall, to speak that which my words fail to accomplish.


The breezes taste Of apple peel.
The air is full Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts Chrysanthemums.

Like plates washed clean with suds, the days
Are polished with a morning haze.

John Updike, September

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles, Part 1

Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. The conservative is not opposed to social improvement, although he doubts whether there is any such force as a mystical Progress, with a Roman P, at work in the world. When a society is progressing in some respects, usually it is declining in other respects.

The conservative knows that any healthy society is influenced by two forces, which Samuel Taylor Coleridge called its Permanence and its Progression. The Permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions that gives us stability and continuity; without that Permanence, the fountains of the great deep are broken up, society slipping into anarchy. The Progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement; without that Progression, a people stagnate.

Therefore the intelligent conservative endeavors to reconcile the claims of Permanence and the claims of Progression. He thinks that the liberal and the radical, blind to the just claims of Permanence, would endanger the heritage bequeathed to us, in an endeavor to hurry us into some dubious Terrestrial Paradise. The conservative, in short, favors reasoned and temperate progress; he is opposed to the cult of Progress, whose votaries believe that everything new necessarily is superior to everything old.

I hate to end with a fizzle, but all I can think at the moment to respond is, "Okay."

Fine, Progress should be tempered by the Good from the old. I have no problem with the concept. As always, the devil's in the details.

I mean, it seems to me, f'r instance, that we threw an awful lot away over these last 75 years by embracing the Petroleum Age. As I've stated before in this series, I believe, we've entered in to this dependence upon Petroleum in the evolutionary blink of an eye. Further, due to the peaking of oil and the continued rise in its use, the Petroleum Age will also be over in the blink of an eye.

Where I think a wise conservative (liberal, radical, etc) would have tempered these sweeping changes (Progress, some would say), we haven't. We haven't measured the results of this sweep and have failed to account for the damage. We just changed from sustainable to unsustainable. From organic to petroleum-based. From local to global.

I think Kirk - if I'm reading him a-right - would shudder with disgust in this abandonment of Permanence for the flashy convertible called Progress.

So, no, I don't disagree with this conservative notion, depending upon how you interpret and apply it.

Thanks for joining me in this journey in to the Conservative mind. We now return to your regularly scheduled Liberal madness...

(Just kidding, I'll have a debriefing next.)

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Ohio This Morning

October On the Ohio
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

Near real-time photo!

Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles, part 2

Almost done. Kirk's Ninth Principle:

Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions. Politically speaking, power is the ability to do as one likes, regardless of the wills of one’s fellows. A state in which an individual or a small group are able to dominate the wills of their fellows without check is a despotism, whether it is called monarchical or aristocratic or democratic. When every person claims to be a power unto himself, then society falls into anarchy. Anarchy never lasts long, being intolerable for everyone, and contrary to the ineluctable fact that some persons are more strong and more clever than their neighbors. To anarchy there succeeds tyranny or oligarchy, in which power is monopolized by a very few.

The conservative endeavors to so limit and balance political power that anarchy or tyranny may not arise. In every age, nevertheless, men and women are tempted to overthrow the limitations upon power, for the sake of some fancied temporary advantage. It is characteristic of the radical that he thinks of power as a force for good—so long as the power falls into his hands. In the name of liberty, the French and Russian revolutionaries abolished the old restraints upon power; but power cannot be abolished; it always finds its way into someone’s hands. That power which the revolutionaries had thought oppressive in the hands of the old regime became many times as tyrannical in the hands of the radical new masters of the state.

Knowing human nature for a mixture of good and evil, the conservative does not put his trust in mere benevolence. Constitutional restrictions, political checks and balances, adequate enforcement of the laws, the old intricate web of restraints upon will and appetite—these the conservative approves as instruments of freedom and order. A just government maintains a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of liberty.


While I have some young anarchist friends with whom I'm sympathetic, I nonetheless agree with Kirk here. I don't know that I have anything to add.

I will say only this: The way our system is designed and practiced, we have just the sort of aristocratic anarchy that Kirk fears here. The rich are more equal than others. Our capitalist democracy has been sold to the highest bidders and that currently is the military/industrial oiligarchy.

Bush and his people, for instance, get away with lies, cheating and murder. It doesn't seem to matter what they do, they remain in power. And you know what? This was true for Reagan, GHW Bush and Clinton before War Bush.

To quote that famed socialist, Helen Keller (surprised?):

Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats. We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Monday, October 10, 2005

J. Dirtbike

Jordan Cyclist
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles, part 3

Almost done. Kirk's Eighth Principle:

Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. Although Americans have been attached strongly to privacy and private rights, they also have been a people conspicuous for a successful spirit of community. In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily.

Some of these functions are carried out by local political bodies, others by private associations: so long as they are kept local, and are marked by the general agreement of those affected, they constitute healthy community. But when these functions pass by default or usurpation to centralized authority, then community is in serious danger. Whatever is beneficent and prudent in modern democracy is made possible through cooperative volition. If, then, in the name of an abstract Democracy, the functions of community are transferred to distant political direction—why, real government by the consent of the governed gives way to a standardizing process hostile to freedom and human dignity.


Here, I'm back to agreeing in principle with Kirk. While I'm a big believer in a communal living mindset, I'm not wanting to enforce community upon anyone. Further, Kirk is addressing here the notion of local decision-making, with which I, in general, agree.

That is, generally speaking, the people at the local level are going to know what is best for them and, even if they might not, I'm cautious about taking away from local decision-making.

Having said that, I'll admit to being of two minds on the matter. Sometimes, it seems to me, Justice demands action and if the local community is not listening to Justice's demands, an outside (federal) authority can be a force for good.

Here, I'm thinking of the Civil Rights era, where many local communities would not have offered Justice to their minorities without federal prodding. I'm also thinking of pollution issues. What if the local community decides that it's okay for someone to set up a hog pond next door to my house and pollute the groundwater which belongs to us all?

Do I, in general, want the feds to dictate to local communities how they must act? Not really. Do I think it sometimes appropriate? Yes.

Seems to me that this is one of those times that a slippery slope ought to be cautiously trod.

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles, part 4

Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked. Separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all. Upon the foundation of private property, great civilizations are built. The more widespread is the possession of private property, the more stable and productive is a commonwealth. Economic levelling, conservatives maintain, is not economic progress. Getting and spending are not the chief aims of human existence; but a sound economic basis for the person, the family, and the commonwealth is much to be desired.

...For the institution of private property has been a powerful instrument for teaching men and women responsibility, for providing motives to integrity, for supporting general culture, for raising mankind above the level of mere drudgery, for affording leisure to think and freedom to act. To be able to retain the fruits of one’s labor; to be able to see one’s work made permanent; to be able to bequeath one’s property to one’s posterity; to be able to rise from the natural condition of grinding poverty to the security of enduring accomplishment; to have something that is really one’s own—these are advantages difficult to deny. The conservative acknowledges that the possession of property fixes certain duties upon the possessor; he accepts those moral and legal obligations cheerfully.


I can agree that I'm not too keen on a State actor taking property away for their own purposes – and especially for corporate purposes, as was decided here lately by the Supreme Court!

Nonetheless, I'm thinking that I probably don't agree all that much with Kirk on this point, either.

Philosophically, I'd have to agree with the native american saying, We do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. This, of course, is echoed by New Testament teachings (The earth is the Lord's and its fullness. I Corinthians) and Old Testament teachings (The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is Mine and you are but aliens and My tenants. Leviticus 25:23).

Lest I'm accused of cherry-picking verses, I will point out that this is a large theme in the Bible – from the Jubilee laws teaching that land was not to be endlessly acquired, but guaranteed that land will be passed down, so that none can go poor for long, to the early church's practice of holding all things in common. Feel free to look it up.

This is not state-ownership, but neither is it private ownership. I'd suggest ownership is the wrong paradigm altogether. It's really more of a stewardship thing. That is, we're responsible for holding and tending property for the purpose of passing it on to others in good shape. We borrow it from our children, indeed.

Monday, October 3, 2005

Girl and Ducks

Girl and Ducks
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles, part 5

Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability. Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created.

Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent—or else expire of boredom. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things. All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk.


Here again, with this principle, I find myself agreeing and disagreeing. Certainly people are imperfect. Some moreso than others. I know of noone who'd argue to the contrary.

However, my faith system teaches me to pray and act, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Perhaps a key phrase would be the “utopian domination,” Kirk references. Surely, people chaff under restrictions imposed upon them – even restrictions for noble purposes (see Prohibition, both of alcohol in the past and of other drugs presently).

To this extent, both conservatives and liberals (on different issues) are correctly wary of imposed morality. At the same time, we are called upon by our humanitarianism as well as our God (for those of us who believe in such) to work for a better world.

Who can disagree with wanting to end hunger? War? Pollution?

Myself, I don't share Kirk's pessimistic view that “to seek for utopia is to end in disaster.” The anabaptists (Amish, Mennonites, etc) have done it and done it remarkably well, I'd say. And they're not the only ones. In Kirk's defense, perhaps it might be fair to say that they're not seeking utopia, but a right and just way of life. Semantics. Maybe.

So, for now, I'll acknowledge that it is a tricky road to walk, between working for a better world and imposed morality. But it is a road worth walking and to avoid it altogether would be a great shame.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Companeros y Sandino

Companeros y Sandino
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles, part 6

Kirk, again:

Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems.

For the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality. The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation. Society requires honest and able leadership; and if natural and institutional differences are destroyed, presently some tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs will create new forms of inequality.


This is the principle of Kirk's with which I probably most strongly disagree. His notions of “preservation of classes” and “justification of inequality” spark a creepy negative reaction in me.

While I am certain that most conservatives have no desire to “keep anyone down,” this principle seems to help perpetuate the thought. “We need our happy slaves, after all.”

And, while I agree that equality and a just egalitarianism will not be seen this side of Heaven, the whole suggestion that, “The poor, ye will always have with you” has been used way too often to justify doing nothing.

I do agree with his suggestion that society requires honest and able leadership (now more than ever), but what's he getting to? It sure sounds like he's talking some serious class denigration or oppression or something. I can't quite put my finger on it, but this one creeps me out.

As I have no doubt that most of our conservative friends don't wish to be oppressive towards “the lower classes,” I'd be glad to have someone give me a better interpretation of this principle, because the way he states his point leaves me very cold.