March 27, 2010
A classic example of journalistic objectivity brought to you by National Public Radio:
On the air, we should use “abortion rights supporter(s)/ advocate(s)” and “abortion rights opponent(s)” or derivations thereof (for example: “advocates of abortion rights”). It is acceptable to use the phrase “anti-abortion”, but do not use the term “pro-abortion rights”.
That last sentence is interesting. I’m considered “anti-abortion,” but my debate opponents are not considered “pro-abortion,” nor even “pro-abortion rights”? So, to put it logically, I’m publicly described as anti-X, but the polar opposite position cannot be described as pro-X. Sounds fair.
At least they are moving away from using the meaningless “pro-choice” label. While I was in law school, a fellow student in my Constitutional Law class once argued that the government wasn’t “pro-abortion,” it was neutral, and just allowed the “choice.” I responded, “let’s say the government permitted wanton murder of law students. Nobody is forced to murder law students. They are just permitted to murder law students. Anyone think the law is neutral to law students?” Nobody responded.
March 25, 2010
I am currently reading Miracles by C.S. Lewis. I came across a remark in passing that caught my attention:
The state of affairs in which ordinary people can discover the Supernatural only by abstruse reasoning is recent and, by historical standards, abnormal. All over the world, until quite modern times the direct insight of the mystics and the reasonings of the philosophers percolated to the mass of the people by authority and tradition; they could be received by those who were no great reasoners themselves in the concrete form of myth and ritual and the whole pattern of life. In the conditions produced by a century or so of Naturalism, plain men are being forced to bear burdens which plain men were never expected to bear before. We must get the truth for ourselves or go without it. There may be two explanations for this. It might be that humanity, in rebelling against tradition and authority, have made a ghastly mistake; a mistake which will not be the less fatal because the corruptions of those in authority rendered it very excusable. On the other hand, it may be that the Power which rules our species is at this moment carrying out a daring experiment. Could it be intended that the whole mass of the people should now move forward and occupy for themselves those heights which were once reserved only for the sages? Is the distinction between wise and simple to disappear because all are now expected to become wise? . . . .
If we are content to go back and become humble plain men obeying tradition, well. If we are ready to climb and struggle on till we become sages ourselves, better still. But the man who will neither obey wisdom in others nor adventure for her himself is fatal. A society where the simple many obey the few seers can live: a society where all were seers could live even more fully. But a society where the mass is still simple and the seers are no longer attended to can achieve only superficiality, baseness, ugliness, and in the end extinction. On or back we must go; to stay here is death.
Thus, according to C.S. Lewis, in the past it was perfectly acceptable to trust wise authority figures on spiritual matters. Now society urges upon everyone the need to figure it all out “on their own.” Of course, if a person is incompetent to figure it out “on his own,” Naturalism is often treated as the necessary default choice.
On a related note, last night I came across an interview with Antony Flew, a long-time atheist who recently became a deist (meaning he now believes in an inactive god but rejects all religious revelation). He discussed his reasons for rejecting Christianity with Christian Philosophy Professor Gary Habermas, but added this:
HABERMAS: You have made numerous comments over the years that Christians are justified in their beliefs such as Jesus’ resurrection or other major tenants of their faith. In our last two dialogues I think you even remarked that for someone who is already a Christian there are many good reasons to believe Jesus’ resurrection. Would you comment on that?
FLEW: Yes, certainly. This is an important matter about rationality which I have fairly recently come to appreciate. What it is rational for any individual to believe about some matter which is fresh to that individual’s consideration depends on what he or she rationally believed before they were confronted with this fresh situation. For suppose they rationally believed in the existence of a God of any revelation, then it would be entirely reasonable for them to see the fine tuning argument as providing substantial confirmation of their belief in the existence of that God.
Both the Christian and the atheist are beholden to simple reason. But when reason permits two contrary conclusions of fact based on evidence, neither side is justified in accusing the other of acting irrationally for retaining a prior belief. They may, and should, argue which way the evidence points, but each is justified in retaining prior beliefs, even if based solely on authority, unless all evidence and rational thought require one particular conclusion. No one can be a sage in all fields; we must accept some facts based on faith in someone giving us information, whether that person be priest or physicist.
March 8, 2010
I’ll admit that I was skeptical when I went to see it several months ago. I hoped not to see a sappy, overused rags-to-riches story. What I saw was indeed a holiday-style feel-good film, but with a twist. It’s a true story of an under-educated high school kid from a bad part of town who is taken in by a family when the family mom sees the boy walking on the street on a cold night in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. The boy is given a place to stay, and eventually tutoring, educational opportunity, and an opportunity to capitalize on his natural athletic ability (but he can’t play football unless he improves his grades so that he can be academically eligible). This Hollywood story might be unremarkable, except that it’s true, and the mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy, happens to be a white, wealthy suburban Christian woman in Memphis, Tennessee, and the boy, Michael Oher, is a black kid from the projects who didn’t know his father and whose mother’s life had been ruined by habitual drug use.
A rich white Christian helping a poor black boy reach success, just out of the goodness of her heart? Not exactly the stuff Hollywood scripts are made of. But it’s a true story, and the people who played out this drama are alive and well, because the movie ends with the 23rd overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft. Hard to dispute the facts.
Even so, the movie is not without its critics. In fact, I remarked to a family member shortly after the movie, “I bet this movie gets criticized for being racist, for suggesting that black people can succeed if they become like white people, even though that obviously was not the message of the movie.” I described a law professor I had in law school years ago—he was a Jewish neo-Marxist that had been a member of the Black Panthers in college (no, I’m not kidding)—who decried that kind of “paternalism,” arguing that such integration erodes the valuable black culture.
Indeed, the Dallas Observer published a piece entitled The Blind Side: What Would Black People Do Without Nice White Folks?, in which the writer argued that “Blind Side the movie peddles the most insidious kind of racism, one in which whiteys are virtuous saviors, coming to the rescue of blacks who become superfluous in narratives that are supposed to be about them.” A commenter on Yahoo added, before even seeing the movie, “It’ll still probably be racist, though, because it’ll probably portray the young black boy Sandra Bullock adopts as being ‘better’ than other black people in the film in some disgustingly charming way, with all the other black people treating him badly and Sandra Bullock having to come running to his rescue.” The same commenter argued, “This is a movie about white people, for white people, that lets white people feel good about themselves.” (This movie did not make me feel good about myself, it humbled me because I find Ms. Tuohy’s actions to be so much more compassionate and loving than anything I’ve ever done.)
Turns out that such criticisms reached the ears of the movie’s director and prominent star Sandra Bullock. They had some rather positive things to say. Director John Lee Hancock remarked:
“There will always be a certain camp that will say, ‘Oh it’s paternalism; its white guilt; its another one of those stories that says an African-American can’t make it on his own.’ I think its all balderdash,” said Hancock. “Even though there is a racial component, I looked at this story as more of a discussion of haves and have-nots and nature versus nurture. This is a kid who been discarded by society, especially from an educational standpoint. And his story goes to prove what having a safe bed to sleep in, having a family unit, having loving, interested parents can do. Lo and behold, this kid who was falling through the cracks is on the dean’s list at college. It’s like a miracle, and I think that’s a far more interesting element than any racial aspect of it. Leigh Anne Tuohy didn’t stop that car to pick up that kid because he was African-American. She stopped that car to pick up that kid because he was cold.”
Sandra Bullock added:
“One of my biggest issues has always been people who use their faith and their religion as a banner but don’t do the right things, yet still go, ‘I’m a good Christian and I go to church and this is the way you should live your life,'” said Bullock. “And I’m like, you know, do not give me a lecture about how to live my life when you go to church every week but I know you are still sneaking around on your wife. And I told Leigh Anne in a live interview, one of my largest concerns getting involved with this project was that whole banner-waving thing because it scares me, and I’ve had experiences that haven’t been great with people like that. I don’t buy a lot of people who use that banner as their shield. But she was so open and honest and forthright with me I thought, wow, I’ve finally met someone who practices but doesn’t preach.”
Bullock’s next comment suggested that the Tuohy’s newfound fame has provided them fresh opportunities to impact others with the hope that they have. “I now have faith in those who say they represent a faith,” Bullock commented. “I finally met people who walk the walk.”
The kerfluffle does raise an interesting question. Let’s say that the Tuohy’s “white culture,” whatever that is, actually did have more wealthy yet responsible and philanthropic individuals than Oher’s “black culture,” whatever that is. And let’s say that the “black culture” had more child abandonment, drug use, crime, and poverty. If that were true, would it be wrong to encourage the “black culture” to be more like the “white culture” in that respect? Is the “black culture” equally valuable as the “white culture” if the “black culture” turns a blind eye to such atrocities? Not to say American “white culture” doesn’t have plenty to work on itself, or that it is the standard against which other cultures must be measured. But, as I wish I had asked my law professor, can one culture be more valuable—more right—than another? I’m inclined to say yes, and it only takes pointing a lazy finger toward Nazi and Stalinist “cultures” to demonstrate that some cultures must be erradicated, or at least radically broken and rebuilt, to rise to the level of other more valuable cultures.
But in any event, The Blind Side really attempts no such cultural commentary. It’s just a true story of a rich white Christian woman coming to the aid of a homeless black kid, and the resulting interracial family. Had that kid been white, the critics would have no basis for labeling the movie “racist.” So in an odd way, the critics would apparently prefer either that (a) rich white Christian ladies not help black kids, but to stick to their own kind, or (b) the stories of rich white Christian ladies helping black kids not be told, because they might foster (perhaps accurate) stereotypes about blacks, or (c) that stories that challenge (perhaps inaccurate) stereotypes about rich white Christians not be told. None of the critics make any effort to demonstrate that a large segment (but not all) of the black community is not afflicted with the problems depicted in the film. But the critics would rather rest comfortably in willful blindness of the truth than be forced to admit the less-than-politically-correct problem.
March 5, 2010
You may have noticed a teacher or student protest in a neighborhood near you…
From Los Angeles to New York and from San Diego to Humboldt in Northern California, students, faculty and parents at many schools decried higher student fees, reduced class offerings and teacher layoffs in what leaders described as a “Day of Action for Public Education.” Labor unions and student government groups were the main organizers.
. . . .
At Wilson High in Long Beach, about 2,000 students, parents and teachers crowded gymnasium bleachers for a special meeting after school. Union leaders said that more than 700 employees, mainly teachers, face layoffs next year in the Long Beach Unified School District, crowding more students into the remaining classes.
“Bigger class sizes put pressures on teachers, and that trickles down to the kids. It’s a disturbing situation all the way around,” said Diana Craighead, a former PTA leader who has a daughter at a Long Beach middle school and two sons who graduated from Wilson.
If I had been better educated, I would have thought of this quote on my own: “It is more effective to have a good teacher in a large class than a poor teacher in a small one.” Ouch. Hopefully the poor teachers get laid off first.
In any event, welcome to the real world, public education. I’m sure that all those millions of currently unemployed folks feel sorry for you. Instead of protesting, many of them are trying to find real jobs–that’s how it works with all of the private workers employed “at will.”