Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I Guess Trump Really Could Win the Republican Nomination

11/24/2015—All along I assumed that Trump—and Carson also—were a joke. Yesterday, Paul Krugman posted a blog entry that Trump really could win, citing more detailed poll numbers.

I did not take Krugman seriously. It was the sort of thing that he would say in order to make fun of the Republican Party.

But today I looked at the rules of the Republican primary voting. These rules were tweaked in 2014 to avoid another lengthy primary battle, thus weakening the eventual nominee.

Well, the unintended consequence of the rule changes is that Trump could win, because States that hold primaries after March 15 will award delegates on a winner-take-all basis. Right now, Trump presumably leads in several of these states, as he does in Republican national polls. If 25% is enough for first place, it could be Trump. A Sweep on March 15—Florida, North Carolina, Ohio—might put Trump in a commanding delegate lead.

Here are the rules: The first states to hold primaries, as usual, will be Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Voters in those states will go to the polls in February under the party rules passed in 2014.

States that hold their primaries between March 1 and March 14, 2016, will award their delegates on a proportional basis, meaning that no one candidate could likely win the nomination before late-voting states get to hold their primaries.

States voting on March 15, 2016, or later will award their delegates on a winner-take-all basis.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Reason is Not an Alternative to Religion

11/22/2015—S.T. Joshi is an Indian American literary critic and novelist and is the editor of the book, Atheism: A Reader, which I have not read (though undoubtedly I have read pieces of it).

Joshi was upset by a David Brooks comment that the “secular substitutes for religion—nationalism, racism and political ideology—have all lead to disaster.” So Joshi wrote a short letter to the editor in the NY Times on Friday in which he stated that he was “deeply offended” by Brooks’ characterization.

“The true secular substitute for religion is reason,” he wrote.

Now let’s think about this. The statement implies that religious believers don’t utilize reason, which is a common secular statement, but, as I’m sure Joshi realizes, would be just as offensive to many religious believers as Brooks’ statement was to him. Take a look, for example, at the kind of Christian thinking that criticizes paradoxical religion at Bible Gateway.

The influence of various movements within our culture such as New Age, Eastern religion, and irrational philosophy have led to a crisis of understanding. A new form of mysticism has arisen that exalts the absurd as a hallmark of religious truth. We think of the Zen-Buddhist maxim that "God is one hand clapping" as an illustration of this pattern.

To say that God is one hand clapping sounds profound. It puzzles the conscious mind because it strikes against normal patterns of thought. It sounds "deep" and intriguing until we analyze it carefully and discover that at root it is simply a nonsense statement.
This religious thinking is steeped in reason. Yes, God is mysterious, but lots of matters in the universe are mysterious. For example, Joshi does not understand quantum entanglement (no one does), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

What Joshi means by reason is probably evidence-based policy making. But that matter is a small subset of what is at stake in religion. Most religious people have no problem at all with evidence based policy making. They do not object to geology class teaching the age of the Earth. Evolution is controversial because of its ethical implications or meaning implications. No one wants high school biology class to teach that the universe is without meaning. That is not, nor could it be, an evidence based statement. It is a different kind of statement.

Joshi is wrong not because reason is unimportant or unreliable—it might be both. Joshi is wrong because reason is, for him, a means-end connection. For Joshi, reason does not define proper human ends or goals. But that is precisely what religion does. Religion defines proper human activity.

So, I ask what secularism substitutes for religion in defining proper human activity? It is crystal clear that decent secularists substitute a kind of political liberalism or economics based conservative ideology. We used to substitute Marxism. Indecent secularists substitute racism and nationalism, just as Brooks says.

I have to add here that this flimsy, thin thinking is not all that secularism might embrace. Hallowed Secularism attempts to find deeper roots for secularism. One such root might be the thinking of Martin Heidegger, who may be thought of as teaching how one can be religious without the fantastic elements that put Joshi off. Reason might be given a new name—philosophy. And that endeavor might be searching for what is whole, deep and rich in reality.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

How to Defeat ISIS

11/19/2015—I have watched in amazement as the media has failed in analysis in the week since the Paris attacks. Shortly after the attacks, in a meeting in Vienna, the major world powers reached a framework to end the Syrian Civil War. There was to be a cease fire and then UN intervention followed by free elections. The precise timing of President Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s leaving office was to be worked out. It was not final, but it was promising.

And then…nothing. Back to more or less irrelevant bombing and Republican Party hints at more invasion on the ground—see a column by Mitt Romney.

Although it holds territory in both Iraq and Syria, ISIS’s current power is the product of the Syrian Civil War. End that war, end ISIS. The terrorist group is a political, not a military issue. Iraq has the military power to eliminate ISIS, but cannot rally Sunni forces because of its Shiite predominance. Iraq’s failure is also political, not military.

I am not making an argument against military intervention on moral grounds or even on national grounds. Such intervention is simply not necessary, nor even the most efficient way, to eliminate ISIS.

Now, how far apart are the US and Russia—Obama and Putin? From the outside, not particularly far. Putin does not look like he is insisting that Assad remain permanently. The US seems to have dropped its demand that he leave before negotiations take place.

All that is missing is the political will to make the deal. That will seemed present when it was understood that this is the way to fight ISIS and end the refugee flood into Europe. Now, that will has been diverted.

Still, the framework remains and eventually someone will figure out that the world is close to solving this problem for now. Incidentally, even coming this close to a deal shows that the Russian intervention in Syria was great for the US and for everyone else. For the first time, a power with the ability to deliver Assad had an incentive to end the Civil War in Syria. Prior to that, Russia and Iran could just sit back. With the bombing of the Russian plane and the chaos in Europe, everyone needs peace—or at least a cease fire and the reconstruction of order.

I’m optimistic. But where is the media? Where are what Paul Krugman calls the deep thinkers to point all this out?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Exhaustion of Liberalism

11/15/2015—The New York Times ran a story on Thursday about Democratic Party losses at the state level: in Obama era, G.O.P. bolsters grip in the states. The story laments the loss of young Democratic Party talent as the Republican Party has succeeded in capturing a huge majority of state legislative seats and governorships – – Republicans now control 32 state governorships.

The focus of the story is absurd. The problem of course is not the lost young Democratic candidates, but the loss of political support. Candidates follow support, not the other way around. And if the Democratic Party were to gain support, young attractive candidates would appear.

So, the question is, why are the Democrats doing so badly? After all, the Republican Party looks to be in a terrible position: on the wrong side of immigration in a country becoming more racially diverse, against gay rights in a country becoming more accepting, against action on global warming in the country that is coming to see that global warming is true and a threat, for religion in a country that is becoming more secular, against action on economic inequality in a country devastated by stagnant wages.

The article hints at an answer. The Democrats have trouble winning over voters, President Obama acknowledges in the article, and even when they do, they have trouble motivating their voters to vote. This is a problem, a deep problem, of message.

Adam Edelen, the focus of the article, who was defeated in his reelection bid for state auditor in Kentucky, stated that the problem for the Democrats is that the party is “perceived to be elite.” And the president, he said, helps foster that perception.

Now why should the Democrats have a problem re-engaging the guy who works in a factory or the woman was trying to raise kids on the salary of a waitress? Isn’t it the Republicans who favor the wealthy?

The answer may lie in the phrase, God, guns, country and family. The problem remains that old President Obama quote from after the 2008 presidential primary in Pennsylvania: “And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Here President Obama is trying to reach out but he is talking about people rather than to them.

But the problem is not Obama. What do liberals really believe about God, guns, country and family? Most liberals are embarrassed if not hostile to all four as understood by most people in this country and certainly as understood by most white working-class voters.

Now add to that liberals support for higher taxes and you have a recipe for disconnection with ordinary people.

All this can be dealt with. It requires only two things: first, the absolute end of postmodern irony; second, the substitution of wages for taxes. Forget the rich. Just pay the poor.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Heidegger’s Judeo-Christian

11/13/2015—There have been complaints, for example in the book The Unthought Debt: Heidegger and the Hebraic Heritage by Marlène Zarader, that Heidegger’s is silent about the Hebraic heritage that is said to influence him. There is even a hint in this line that the silence is willful and is evidence of antisemitism. Even someone sympathetic to Heidegger, like Allen Scult in Being Jewish/Reading Heidegger takes the allegation of silence seriously and tries to justify it by suggesting that one can only honor one tradition as a wellspring and for Heidegger, it was Greece.

But all this overlooks the most obvious possibility—that Heidegger thought that Jewish thought and Christian thought shared essential attributes. Thus, in either discussing Christianity directly or in adopting Christian motifs, he was also dealing with Judaism.

This would not be shocking. It is how I think of the tradition—as essentially one. And it would be the opposite of antisemitism.

I had no evidence to support this surmise until I ran across the following quote in Contributions to Philosophy: “The last god has his own most unique uniqueness and stands outside of the calculative determination expressed in the labels ‘mono-theism,’ ‘pan-theism,’ and ‘a-theism.’ There has been ‘monotheis,” and every other sort of ‘theism’ only since the emergence of Judeo-Christian ‘apologetics,’ whose thinking presupposes ‘metaphysics.’ With the death of this God, all theisms wither away.” Section 256, page 326.

Now this is not too flattering of course. But it is a criticism of the place of Jewish thought and Christian thought within Western thought. Whatever Heidegger learned from the religious tradition of the West—and it was a great deal—he believed another beginning was necessary. It is not an unthought debt. And only one determined to criticize Heidegger could consider it hostile to Judaism.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

What is Wrong with Whites?

11/8/2015—Here is a blog posting from Paul Krugman on a study showing rising death rates among non-Hispanic Whites in the U.S.
This new paper by Angus Deaton and Anne Case on mortality among middle-aged whites has been getting a lot of attention, and rightly so. As a number of people have pointed out, the closest parallel to America’s rising death rates — driven by poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver diseases — is the collapse in Russian life expectancy after the fall of Communism. (No, we’re not doing as badly as that, but still.) What the data look like is a society gripped by despair, with a surge of unhealthy behaviors and an epidemic of drugs, very much including alcohol.

This picture goes along with declining labor force participation and other indicators of social unraveling. Something terrible is happening to white American society. And it’s a uniquely American phenomenon; you don’t see anything like it in Europe, which means that it’s not about a demoralizing welfare state or any of the other myths so popular in our political discourse.

There’s a lot to be said, or at any rate suggested, about the politics of this disaster. But I’ll come back to that some other time. For now, the thing to understand, to say it again, is that something terrible is happening to our country — and it’s not about Those People, it’s about the white majority.
I’m tempted to attribute this to the death of religion and the failure of secularism to come up with a form of meaning that can contribute to flourishing human life. And there is some support in this idea, since the other groups, most particularly Hispanics and African-Americans, whose death rates are not going up, are more religious than is the White majority.

But, if this is the case, why would it not infect Europe, where the death of religion is much more pronounced?

This suggests that the real problem is the death of the American dream. Middle age Whites are the ones who never got ahead as the system was, and finally seemed to them to be, rigged against them: stagnant wages in the presence of massive wealth at the top.

But, again, why would Europe be exempt? Economic conditions there are much worse than in the U.S.

But social solidarity is not as low. That is true in two senses. First, materially, the social welfare safety net still works in Europe. For example, even if my life is a dead end, my children get a good education and have more upward mobility than in America. So, I would not have to feel like I failed my kids. Second, psychologically and ideologically, Americans believe in individualism. Conservatives and liberals. (On the left, it’s called choice and it’s the reason that fathers have no say whatever in the abortion decision, not even the right to know about it).

So, in America, you are on your own. Stand on your own two feet. Or, in this case, lie down in your own grave.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ross Douthat’s Mistake

11/3/2015—Ross Douthat responded today in the Post-Gazette (the column appeared earlier in the NY Times) to a letter to the Times from theologians criticizing him for commenting on what Douthat characterizes as a rift in the Catholic Church over admitting the remarried to communion without an annulment.

Douthat is right that both liberals and conservatives have reasons for downplaying the extent of the rift. And he is right to be offended when theologians respond that he does not understand because he is a lay person.

But Douthat is treating Church divisions as if they were American political disagreements and the two contexts are different.

First, Church doctrine really does change—it does not just “deepen.” This was the case with the teachings of Thomas Aquinas as well as Vatican II.

Second, the doctrines he is so concerned about are really not that important. They are political flash points, not theological ones. Jesus taught that marriage could not be dissolved, but the annulment process already reverses that teaching in many cases. Anyway, the issue is communion, not divorce. Jesus ate with sinners.

Finally, changes here will not require “a bitter civil war.” That is a political columnist talking, not a Catholic. The Church had a civil war over the Reformation. It is not going to have one over a matter like this.

The Church develops in an elaborate dance between continuity and change—sometimes more of one and sometimes less. Fortunately, the Church is not really like politics.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

So, It's Not Going to be Trump (or Carson)

10/29/2015--Well, who thought it would be?

As many predicted, now that it is fall and people are actually starting to pay attention, Donald Trump just seems like a bad dream. That much seems clear from the reporting on the GOP debate last night. I would not watch such a thing, but the reports are clear.

Dr. Carson will go next. It now seems that the "big" GOP field has just two people in it--Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. This is more or less what experienced observers--like Ross Douthat--said all along. Florida and Texas--the GOP heartland these days. They might even be a ticket one way or the other.

Back to ordinary politics.

And does this not show how wrong liberals are about money in politics? No big money anointed these two. They just spoke better to the base of the Republican Party.

But, what if one of them wins? They have both denied global warming in the past, but they are not stupid. Cruz for example relied on the pause in record breaking global heat. Now that it has resumed, he could go back. Rubio is tougher. He has been described as all fossil fuel all the time. But politics being what it is. Presumably they all love their kids and grandchildren. The cannot really want for them what is coming.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Heidegger and the Last God

10/23/2015—When I first encountered Martin Heidegger, I assumed that here finally was a philosopher of depth that atheists could embrace. This would be a way out of the crisis in secularism, a way out of the materialism and nihilism that have stunted secularism in America.

Imagine my surprise in studying Contributions to Philosophy, to read constant references to god and the gods. In the last parts of the book, this theme is particularly pronounced. Others might point out that this is not surprising in a philosopher who, in a letter in the 1920’s, called himself not a philosopher but a Christian theologian.

So, is Heidegger then not the future of western thinking? No. Heidegger remains that future (if there is to be a future, as he might have added). What is needed is the realization that atheism as commonly understood is a rejection of metaphysical religion—a rejection of the supreme being. Heidegger specifically identifies the Christian God as a manifestation of metaphysical religion. Heidegger offers a way of thinking at the end of metaphysics. So he might be called an atheist himself, except of course for all this god language.

What are we to make of this? We will just have to learn what Heidegger is seeing (or listening to) when he writes the word God. Maybe he is referring to that to which humans belong and which calls us in a demand. And maybe some will conclude that this is nonsensical. But this will have to be thought and shown.

One thing I believe I can say. God here is not a metaphor. The word is a name for something real. The most real.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Conservative Nature of the New Atheism

10/20/2015—I’ve long had the feeling that the New Atheists—the late Chris Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, etc.—are essentially politically conservative. But this has been just a feeling and given the power of the Christian right in the Republican Party, hardly a convincing one. My assumption just had to do with how selfish and individualistic the New Atheists seemed. There was little sense among them of human solidarity.

Anyway, I now have at least an example. Look up the interview in the Sunday New York Times Book Review of Matt Ridley. Ridley praises the New Atheist wing and likens it to Voltaire. But he also says the last book to make him furious was Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth because of its misstatements of science and claims that business people are made villains by novelists who live off the wealth they create. Ridley claims this is a bit facetious, but it undoubtedly represents his true feelings.

Then he describes the Bible in these words: “the grim tedium of this messy compilation of second-rate tribal legends and outrageous bigotry.”

Well, now. How can Gore’s misstated science make him furious and not the underlying danger itself? And how wrong can the science be in Gore’s book. Greenhouse gases make it warmer and that change floods a lot of people. That’s all the book really says and it is happening already, or so I hear.

As for the Bible, the followers of this book have done an awful lot of good in the world—bad, too—but what have atheists ever done for others? What has Ridley ever done for others?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Difficulty of Reining in Money

10/15/2015—Last night’s debate among candidates for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court illustrated the problem of reining in money. The candidates all pledged to take the Supreme Court out of judicial discipline, which may finally portend a new era of institutional modesty at the Supreme Court.

But in response to a question about independent money, there was confusion and obfuscation. The fear in Pennsylvania is last minute attack ads aimed at one candidate of the opposite Party, to help one more candidate get elected among the three to be elected. I’m not sure it’s going to happen. It’s getting pretty late in the election. But it could.

So the question was whether the candidates would prevent this from happening. What we got was that noncoordination rules would prevent any action by a candidate and that outside groups have a first amendment right to do this under the Citizens United case.

As to the first, there aren’t any noncoordination rules as far as I know. Judicial elections don’t have contribution limits, so why would there be rules on noncoordination that normally enforce contribution limits?

As for the first amendment, the question isn’t whether it would be illegal to run attack ads, but whether a candidate would tell her supporters not to do so. This mindset shows the harm of rights theory. Just because there is a right to do something, doesn’t mean it is right to do it.

It’s going to take practice to live in a world without contribution limits.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Liberals Fooling Themselves About Political Money

10/11/2015—The New York Times today shows how liberals fool themselves about money. On page one, there is the big story about how half of the money spent on the Presidential campaign comes from just 158 families. This money, the story intones, is keeping the Republican Party from supporting policies, like higher taxes on the wealthy, supported by 2/3 of Americans. So, money is the political problem rather than poorly conceived or communicated liberal ideas.

Except that other stories suggest this is not true. First of all, as Frank Bruni suggests in the Sunday Review, money has not been the primary factor this year.

“Remember how much money was supposed to matter, partly for the commercials it could buy? Well, the ads didn’t have, or aren’t having, the intended effect for Bush, Perry, Kasich, Bobby Jindal (another floundering governor) and — on the Democratic side — Hillary Clinton.”

The reason that Republicans don’t propose higher taxes on the wealthy, including someone like Trump who does not chase donor money as much as others do, is that they don’t believe in them. They don’t want government to get more money. They think it is a bad idea.

Consider the case of Ray and Melissa Lewie featured in the Sunday Business Section. They are angry about stagnant wages. But they don’t blame the wealthy. They blame government.

“When asked to assign blame for stagnating wages, he and his wife pointed to the federal government. Regulations and high taxes, he said, not lower wages abroad, led those textile mill companies to move to Mexico.”
“‘Our money is being wasted, wasted, wasted,’ she added. ‘And now we’re paying more and more, and our debts are going up and up, and we need to stop the debt. We have to find someone that’s going to actually take control and say, “‘Stop spending.’”

Her husband said, ‘I don’t think it could get any worse.’

‘The government is taking 39 percent now,’ said Mr. Lewie, a little morosely, referring to the top income tax bracket. Not for the first time during the meal, he worried that high taxes would discourage the wealthy from producing jobs. ‘If they want 45 percent, they’ll take that and spend more. If they want 60 percent, they’ll take that and spend more. How much is enough?’”

Liberals have to stop talking about taxes and start talking about unions. Start talking—-more, that is-—about the minimum wage. That is the kind of message that might reach Mr. and Mrs. Lewie.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Pretty Small University

10/7/2015—-I mean to quibble. David Brooks wrote a column yesterday in the New York Times, entitled The Big University. In this column, Brooks argues for the future for universities founded in their original moral and spiritual mission, but secularized and open.

The column manifests the ambiguity of the liberal mind in terms of truth and individual choice. Brooks acknowledges that "literary critics, philosophers and art historians are shy about applying the knowledge to real life.” They are “afraid of being prescriptive because they idolize individual choice.”

But Brooks himself manifests the same hesitancy. He puts the issue as follows: “the trick is to find a way to talk about moral and spiritual things while respecting diversity.” But the great universities of the past did not respect diversity. They presented an array of truths that they endorsed. And this was especially so in the canon of Great Western works.

Yes, the universities respected different judgments by students and created a space for students to challenge the University’s commitments, but the University stood by commitments all the same. This is not diversity.

Brooks presents four tasks for the University. One, reveal moral options in our moral traditions, including the Jewish, Christian, and scientific traditions. But then Brooks adds the following: “then it’s up to the students to determine which one or which combination is best to live by.” No, the University endorses an array of truths to live by. The University does not simply present matters to be picked up by the student, like a smorgasbord.

Here are the other tasks. Second, “foster transcendent experiences.” In other words, surround the student with beauty and truth and commitment. Third, investigate current loves and teach new things to love. Fourth apply the humanities.

What Brooks wants is moral instruction. He should ask, since universities used to engage in moral instruction, what killed it? Unfortunately for Brooks, and bad for us, is that what killed moral instruction is all the aspects of modernity that we endorse. Thus, we are trapped.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Is Litigation the Way to Stop Global Warming?

10/3/2015—Mary Wood, Oregon Law Professor, gave a terrific presentation at the Duquesne University Climate and Creation Conference. Her message was an endorsement of pending atmospheric trust litigation that attempts to hold governments accountable for change in the climate. The litigation enforces what she calls nature’s trust—a kind of expansion of the public trust doctrine.

The necessity of such litigation is simply the emergency of climate change and the harm it is already doing. What she calls the statutory regime of environmental law is not adequate and a Congress bought by the fossil fuel industry is not up to the task. The citizenry has been intentionally confused by big money lies about the climate and cannot demand change.

Wood denies that such litigation turns judges into dictators, but she is being disingenuous about that. Such litigation, if successful, results in a court order to reduce carbon emissions. How is that to be done without legislation, except by direct executive action? The fact that the President takes the ultimate actions does not change the undemocratic nature of the undertaking.

Yes, courts enforce rights against the democratic branches. But this kind of action is certainly controversial and, compared to moving to a carbon free economy, is very limited in range an impact. In contrast, the President would have to impose a carbon tax or cap and trade etc.

What Wood was showing, although she would presumably deny it, is that democracy is just a luxury in the face of this emergency. The example she used—economic mobilization in WWII—just proves the point. Democracy in wartime generally takes a back seat. But only temporarily.

I may be overreacting. The litigation may be meant really to spur action—like the use of the necessity defense in civil disobedience cases is meant to allow the protestor to make her case before the public—not to win acquittal. If so, I wish she had said so.

The irony of this is that, back in 1998, I wrote an article laying out the same strategy that is now being used—Establishing a Federal Constitutional Right to a Healthy Environment, 68 Miss. L.J. 605. But I later repudiated this approach as ceding much too much power to the courts and lawyers.

Once it is concluded that democracy has failed, it doesn’t matter that much what happens to the environment. If the only way to save the planet is to enslave its people then I have to ask, what is the point of saving the planet? Just get rid of the people.

Martin Heidegger warned us about this years ago. He was quoted as saying that he did not know what form of political life was appropriate for a technological age, but he doubted it was democracy. Maybe he was right.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Did Pope Francis Do His Job?

9/30/2015—Did Pope Francis do his job? Well, that depends on what you think his job is. I would give him only a C+. He and I would agree that his job is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, why only a C+? The Pope made many of us feel better, much better, inspired by his humility and love. But did the Pope make it clear that the source of his character is Jesus Christ? Maybe he did in visiting the homeless and prisoners, as Jesus often did. But I heard one person at the prison say that the visit showed the Pope to be a “man of the people”. Jesus did not enter into it.

And, anyway, making people feel better is ambiguous in terms of Jesus. Sure, Jesus made the poor feel better. But many people found him to be a pain in the ass. If Jesus had spoken in Rome, he would not have made the people of Rome feel better. Well, wasn’t the Pope speaking in today’s Rome?

Here are two groups I believe the Pope should have been aiming at and did not reach. First, there are those conservative Protestants. Ruth Ann Dailey, one of this group, wrote a column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently criticizing the Pope’s message on issues like immigration and poverty. Many of the members of the Tea Party are quite religious. But I don’t believe the Pope succeeded in suggesting that the Gospel they purport to follow is inconsistent with their policy proposals.

The second group is liberal nonbelievers. Many in this group admire the Pope. But did the Pope succeed in showing this group that concern for the poor and for immigrants and for the unborn are linked? Did he show them that they are practicing a form of violence in abortion? I don’t mean people would have changed their minds. I mean only that the Pope did not press issues or approaches that would shock people. He did not introduce the strangeness of the Gospel.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pope Francis Visits

9/25/2013—I am surprised by the reception—rapturous reception—Pope Francis is receiving. I have to listen to the speech. Friends of mine called it charming. The Pope does have a good heart.

But what is notable is the authority with which he is speaking. People care what he says. People, especially politicians, want his approval. And not just Catholics. Partly it is because he is Pope. But of course it is also Francis’ own character.

But the most important lasting effect the Pope’s visit, and especially his speech to the Congress followed by visiting the homeless, might have is to remind secularists of the notable character of religion. Francis is unique. Most religion is not like him. But no secularist is like him that I know of.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yom Kippur

9/23/2015—I watched a part of a movie a few days ago about a British official fighting Muslim extremists in Britain. Early in the movie, a Muslim cleric is radicalizing a young British man, although one who might have been born abroad. They are in a bar, watching young people getting drunk. “We are not like them,” says the cleric.

On this Day of Atonement, I am reminded that no one in the world is like the rootless western secularist. A holy day like Yom Kippur gives shape to a year and to a life—-along with the rest of the religious calendar. But to the secularist, one day is like another. That is why so many of us look to nature to provide seasons and rhythms.

But the religious holy day is not just seasonal, but meaningful. That is literally filled with meaning. My relationship with ultimate reality is renewed. I am reassured that life is not an accident and is not pointless. I am placed once again in a great cosmic drama.

This drama of course requires a central character. This character could be God, but as in Job, I always believed it was I. Or perhaps it was I in relation to God. Thus, my purification was required by the universe. And I could emerge renewed and refreshed after the holy day.

If it sounds like I miss Yom Kippur and the Kol Nidre ceremony that was performed last night, it is because I do. But all of it—-including the fasting—-is too involved to perform unless one is a part of it. And one cannot just watch it from a distance. So, despite numerous invitations, I don’t go back to Dor Hadash for Kol Nidre and I don’t fast and pray on my own.

But I do blog. Thinking the religious calendar is now my substitute for having one.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Shabbat Shuvah

9/19/2015—The Saturday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is known as Shabbat Teshuva, the Sabbath of Repentance. [Well, actually, no. It is that, but the name of this Shabbat is Shabat Shuva, from the first word, shuva, in the haftarah from Hosea: Turn O Isarael. The root of the word for repentance, is shuvah, to turn. I regret the error, which I caught from reading Rabbi Jessica Locketz in the Jewish Chronicle].

Various accounts are given of why and how this is, but the general idea is clear enough, the Shabbat of this holy time—the entire 10 day period between RH and YK is known as the High Holy Days—is a natural time to think about one’s life. Shabbat has a different rhythm, after all. There is less doing. Shabbat Teshuva is also one of the two big sermons a rabbi traditionally gives. (the other is Shabbat Ha-gadol, the Saturday after the beginning of Passover). I was went to hear the sermon of Rabbi Yisroel Miller, who was head rabbi at Paole Zedeck synagogue, give this sermon. He said to do one more mitzvah in the coming year.

So, let’s think about repentance. There is ritual repentance and cultural repentance. This is a large part of what I heard that day. Keep kosher and identify more with the Jewish community (support Israel). This is the repentance of Israel bonds.

But it is also the repentance of liberal humanitarianism. Become a vegetarian and give to the Sierra Club (don’t drive so much). I have heard these also on the High Holy Days.

Anything wrong with that? No. Secularists like me hardly ever consider their lives at all, let alone for ten days.

Ritual and cultural repentance is the same for everybody. There is also the repentance that is personal. There are in a year particular acts for which we might be ashamed. (I had a pretty good year in that regard, but on the other hand I haven’t spent a whole day in self-examination). Classically, this is the moment to think about that affair you had, which your spouse does not know about. It is important to keep this repentance away from the petty and impossible—don’t yell at your kids so much is always good advice, but I am speaking here of something shameful and particular. Of course, it could include a very large matter, such as the job that requires you to lie every day. And certainly it must include how you regard your enemies.

You can resolve to do something about these things, or not do them again. And you can try to see how these acts flowed from your whole life and the way you are.

All very good and necessary. But I am getting too old for either. I’m not changing my lifestyle if I can help it. And wealth and lack of energy shield me from having to lie to people.

There is another kind of repentance—one to which Martin Heidegger calls us. It has to do with language and thinking. This should come as no surprise. The Jewish tradition often refers us to our language and thoughts. It is here that purification must begin. That same portion from Hosea reads, Take with you words and turn to God... ."

But we lack the tools. Torah study in part begins the movement of purifying our language and thinking. Heidegger gives us another place to begin.

The book, Contributions to Philosophy, is Heidegger’s great act of repentance. He had just resigned the Presidency (Rectorship) of the University of Freiberg (April 1934, less than a year after he was elected and joined the Nazi Party). He stopped going to Nazi Party meetings (he would later call this whole episode “the greatest stupidity of my life” but he never gave the public apology the authorities demanded.)

Contributions was written from 1936-1938, in private and never shown or even published during his lifetime. At the time, the book’s veiled references to the Nazi movement (biologism) would have gotten him in serious trouble. Even as it was, the government banned him from teaching before the end of the war—they could tell something was going on.

So, where does Heidegger begin? The official title, the one a teacher might have on the door, is Contributions to Philosophy—“dull, ordinary and empty” Heidegger calls this title and he has an alternative—Of the Event.

But why so dull a title? “Philosophy can be officially announced no other way, since all essential titles have become impossible on account of the exhaustion of every basic [grounding] word and the destruction of the genuine relation to the word.” (additional tran. by R. Taylor).

What follows is strange language, almost impenetrable for a long time.

But for Teshuva, the point is the exhaustion of language in the western, metaphysical tradition. Heidegger tried to stop using dead words. And that must be our starting point for teshuva. Wittgenstein called this not being pushed around by language. Teshuva requires that we examine our language—the way we speak every day. I can tell you, this attempt is difficult and tedious. Is it rewarding? We’ll know when we try it.

I can say that transformation does not happen without it.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Just Leave Me Alone on the New Year

0/14/2015—I used to speak at synagogue during the High Holy Days. These are the New Year holidays bookended by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Nowadays, I think, what would I say?

The Days of Awe, as they are also known, are peculiar to modern Americans. We don’t think of ourselves as seriously in need of forgiveness and, anyway, who could give it? So the hopes of forgiveness change into something more conventional—in liberal Judaism, to be a better person; in orthodox Judaism, to do one more mitzvah (to begin keeping kosher would be a great start in many orthodox synagogues).

But all this has nothing to do with Biblical living. In both old and new testaments, thus for me in Torah, which is both, sin is usually not so personal. There are exceptions, like not to murder, but even these are much more fundamental than not yelling at the kids or not eating shrimp in restaurants.

The sin with which the Torah is actually concerned, whatever the context, is refusing to listen to God’s word. So, Mary is praised in the New Testament for responding to God, do with me as you will (as does Jesus). Similarly, Abram (later Abraham) is simply told to go to a land that God will show him—lech lecha—and he goes. In other contexts, the symbol of such willingness is the word hineini—here I am.

This is not the modern, here I am as what I am. The is the biblical here I am, what would you have me do?

So, the proper prayer today on Rosh Hashana is, make me ready to say hineini to you.

Oh, I know I don’t believe in a God that says things. But the spiritual context here is not one that requires a God as a being. What is required is a call—I am called and I respond hineini. Atheists too.

Now, the hard part. If I am candid, I do not want such a call. And the tradition knows this too. That is, in part, why the Book of Jonah is read on Yom Kippur. When he receives the call, Jonah runs away. That is what we all do.

What if the call I received was to give up my comfortable, wonderful existence in the Mexican War Streets, where for the first time since I was 14 years old, I feel genuinely at home, and told to go to a new place—whether physically or otherwise. I like the life I have just fine.

So, the honest person prays the other prayer Jesus prayed—let this cup pass. Don’t call me. Please leave me alone.

Strangely, the trick here is to get modern people to understand that the terms of biblical life are our terms. And this has nothing, nothing!, to do with whether we “believe” in God. Abraham Lincoln received a call. People have wondered whether he believed in God. The call still took his life.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Iranian Deal “Passes”

9/12/2015—Just before the anniversary of 9/11, word came on Thursday that Senate Democrats beat off a closure vote and successfully filibustered the Iranian disapproval vote. So, the deal goes through and President Obama gets his second legacy win—first Obamacare, and now the Iranian deal.

Both achievements are significant and the President deserves credit for pushing through against all the critics. But, both victories also demonstrate just how partisan political life has become. No Republicans in Congress supported either measure. (Actually, at one point I think I remember one Republican House vote).

(By the way, in October, 2013, Ann Coulter tried to rally the base with the following in Human Events: “When your new health insurance premiums arrive in the mail, and you can’t find a doctor in your plan who speaks English, tell me the fight between Republicans and Democrats is not that important.” As Sarah would say, how is that working out for you, Ann?”)

But the Iran deal is actually nonpartisan. Some Democrats oppose it. So, the struggle over the Iran deal illustrates, as did Jimmy Carter’s Panama Canal Treaty, that Americans are really pretty aggressive in foreign policy. It’s not just a testament to 9/11. We don’t like the nuances of foreign agreements in which we give something up of real value. Americans tend to prefer the clarity of military action. (Jimmy Carter should be a hero for the war in Central America we never fought).

I have said before that the filibuster is an overused, anti-democratic tactic. And the Iranian deal is a perfect example. The American people deserved to have a vote. If the deal is that bad, let the people see who supported it. And, if the deal proves good, let the people see who voted to kill it. The Presidential veto would have been sustained and the ultimate effect would have been the same.

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Heideggerian Prayer

9/7/2015—What we, steadfast in Da-sein, ground and create and, in creating, encounter in a rush—-only that can be true and open and, consequently, recognized and known. Our knowledge reaches only as far as the steadfastness in Da-sein reaches out, and that is the power of sheltering the truth into patterned beings. Contributions to Philosophy, Section 193, page 249. (additional translation by Robert Taylor).

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Kim Davis is No Religious Martyr, No Prisoner of Conscience

9/6/2015—I agree that Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who was jailed by a federal judge for refusing to issue gay marriage licenses, should not be in jail. But the reason is that now the licenses are being issued. All she should have to promise the court is not to interfere. What difference does it make who issues the license as long as it is issued?

I used to belong to a group that promoted gay marriage and robust religious exemptions—to protect the florist and caterer who did not want to be associated with gay marriage. That was a matter of religious conscience. Davis has nothing to do with that.

Instead, Davis wants to use the monopoly power of the State to deny gay people the right to marry. She is not Henry David Thoreau, but Caesar.

Davis’ husband said in an interview that gay people are trying to force others to accept their position. No. They are just trying to marry. The question was never Davis and her conscience. Davis could always have personally have stayed out of it. The question was the actions of the government. The government has to issue licenses to marry.

Supporters of Davis yesterday raised the legitimacy of judicial review as part of her defense. But, actually, Davis’ situation is not much affected by what branch of government decides to issue marriage licenses to gay people. There are Christian clerks in states in which the legislature has enacted gay marriage as well. Their offices still have to issue the licenses.

Anyway, it’s a pretty big argument between gay marriage and the end of judicial review. We’ve had that power of courts to find legislation unconstitutional since the Constitution was adopted. Probably a good thing. Who wants to experiment now? Remember, it was the courts that protected religious conscience in the Hobby Lobby litigation.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How to be Secular

9/2/2015—James Kugel, the chair of the Institute for the History of the Jewish Bible at Bar Ilan University in Israel and the Harry M. Starr Professor Emeritus of Classical and Modern Hebrew Literature at Harvard University, is a Jewish superstar I never heard of, until recently. He is concerned with the question, how to be Jewish today. His own response is provocative. He calls himself “self-defined orthodox”. Imagine that. Kugel dares to be a Jew on his own terms, but still insists he is Jewish. These are ways I never managed to undertake. Also, although he lives in Israel, he does not seem to consider the Jewish State to be an important religious issue.

One recent book he wrote is entitled On Being a Jew. The book is a dialogue between a student and a teacher. I haven’t read it. But I appreciate the genre.

Now, why would he write this book? Because being a Jew today is the issue as Judaism declines. He is trying to be helpful. Presumably, he is also helping himself.

Now consider all these new secularists, including me. We don’t have any idea how to be secular. And people who sound like they are trying to help us be secular, end up writing about the religious traditions and their weaknesses—like Philip Kitcher’s book, Life After Faith.

The secular need is greater than the religious one. I tried to write about how to be secular in the book, Hallowed Secularism. And there are some meditations in that book that might be helpful. But I didn’t know then how to be secular. Still don’t in fact. But I am learning.

Anyway, Kugel has shown us our task—to write, and live, how to be secular.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Is There a World Beyond Capitalism?

8/30/2015—Between Gar Alperovitz’s DVD of his lecture, “the next American Revolution: beyond corporate capitalism & state socialism,” and a program I attended last week here in Pittsburgh, I can begin to imagine a world beyond capitalism. Alperovitz is describing a different kind of economic system, but it is really an older one, that of worker cooperatives. And, in the program, some people who are doing this kind of thing here in town were describing their experiences.

The difficult part is to imagine how a change takes place. After all, there are worker co-ops now and capitalism is as strong or stronger than ever. Why would not the economic landscape look the same as today in 200 years?

Then there is the question whether it is worth replacing capitalism with cooperative ventures. Right now, most of the benefits and gains go to the top 1%. But, in the context in which we are speaking, that of business organization, the entrepreneur also takes all the risk. By that I mean that if the business goes under, the worker loses nothing but the next paycheck. In contrast, the owner should lose everything. There are advantages to such a system.

It was also revealing that there was a great deal of hostility in the room concerning the new, sharing, economy. For most of the speakers, the new economy is just the way to turn workers into underpaid, self-employed units.

Anyway, I need to contact Gar Alperovitz to find out what law schools are doing, if anything, to speed along the next American Revolution.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Introducing Constitutional Law in the Midst of the Plight

8/26/2015—Martin Heidegger says that we are living in the midst of an emergency. That emergency manifests in many ways, one of which is that we do not understand that we are living in an emergency. We think things are OK. Normal. Like they have always been. Our problems are just human nature.

Last year, I talked about the broken Republic. (On this blog, one year ago) This year, I tried to introduce my students in constitutional law this year to thinking in the emergency. Here is what I told them.


Why does almost every American law school require constitutional law? Unlike the 1st year courses in private civil law and procedure, such as the property, torts and contract, constitutional law does not really form the basis of all legal concepts in all other areas of law. Nor will most of you handle constitutional cases, though some of you will. Of course constitutional law is on the bar exam, and in fact constitutes a substantial portion of the bar exam, but family law is on the bar exam as well and most law schools did not require it.

The answer has something to do with Marbury v Madison and the doctrine of judicial review. Judicial review, which Marbury is credited with establishing, although the idea was not particularly controversial and had been previously accepted, is the power of the court, in the course of ordinary litigation, to hold the actions of other branches of government, such as statutes and Executive Orders, unconstitutional and thereby void. Judicial review is the opposite of parliamentary supremacy, which is the doctrine that laws enacted by the legislature are beyond challenge by other branches of government.

Aside from the context of Marbury – – how it arose, how it was a part of a political/legal struggle between 2 political parties, the Federalist party and the new Democratic Republican party of the recently elected president Thomas Jefferson, and how the particular holding of unconstitutionality could not readily be overturned by the president or by Congress –- aside from all that, the establishment of judicial review meant that some questions that could perhaps have been treated in purely political terms with the common issues of law to be debated in a courtroom. And so, with many twists and turns, and with much controversy, some of which we will examine in this course, Marbury leads to the resolution of the gay marriage issue in the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges. And that means that lawyers – – judges, litigators and even legal theorists – – will be at the heart of American public life. Judicial review mean that the legal profession that you are seeking to join has a special responsibility for the healthy functioning of the constitutional system. And I believe that this is the reason that almost every law school requires constitutional law. You will each be responsible for the health of American public life.

So the question I want to put you is, how are we, and the Constitution that has been put into our hands through the doctrine of judicial review, how are we doing?

I think we are doing very badly indeed. I know members of our faculty in the law school disagree with me about this, Maybe we are doing just fine. But In fact I believe that the experiment of the Republic is in danger of failing. There was always a question of how this would go. Apocryphally, Benjamin Franklin was asked if he left a constitutional convention, Mr. Franklin, what form of government have we? The answer, the Republic, Madam, if you can keep it. We are in danger of not keeping it.

The story of failing American public life obviously can be told from 2 different points of view. From one point of view, the Republican Party has become a rogue political party, denying facts and science, in thrall to the economic 1%, and so is poisonously partisan that it would rather see America go down the drain then see Pres. Obama succeed. From the other point of view, we don’t have a president as much as we have a dictator, who believes his own policy, rather than, as the Constitution would have it, the policies of Congress, should be the law, in many fields from immigration to environment to the Iranian deal. Under this regime of Presidential will, no individual rights are safe, from search and seizure to religious liberty.

The very fact that there are 2 such narratives absolutely believed by millions of Americans demonstrates that political solidarity and community is failing in America today. Perhaps you believe that everything is fine and that political life has always been like this more or less because of human nature. But I think there is something wrong.

The question then becomes, what went wrong? When did it go wrong? How did it go wrong? And, most importantly, can it be made right, or at least more right than at present? And I hope that this course will give you the tools, and perhaps if I am successful, some hints, that might help you answer this most important task of healing America.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

“The money seems to have lost its knack for hoodwinking the voters.”

8/19/2015—The above quote is from Paul Krugman—you can look it up. (I believe it was his blog). Krugman’s point in context was that Jeb Bush is raising all this money from just a few billionaires and he is still just fourth in the polls.

But the quote fits into a larger context as well. Bush is mostly raising independent money. That is, super PAC money. I have been arguing that the problem of money in American politics is not the amount but the independence. We need that money to go directly to candidates so they are responsible to the voters for it. This is my disagreement with Harvard Law Professor Larry Lessig, who is now running for President.

And I can do something about that independence—if we end campaign contribution limits, all that money eventually will have to go to the candidates themselves. Then the voters will see plainly who is paying for what. And won’t some of these rich people go home if all they can do is contribute to campaigns?

And, additionally, then the Democrats will not be handicapped with these ridiculously low contribution limits. Big donors give millions to Super PACs backing Republicans while Hillary spends all her time raising nickels and dimes. This partisan edge is not my reason for opposing contribution limits, but you would think the Dems would support the idea out of self-interest alone.

It’s not just the money. Krugman sees that now. It’s independence that is the problem.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

No Religious Right to Refuse Government Service

8/15/2015--Word comes now of the refusal of a Kentucky clerk to issue a gay wedding license for "religious reasons." Reportedly a handful of county clerks are refusing to obey a court order to issue the licenses. This will all sort itself out soon enough. We are still a nation of law even though we now know that law is arbitrarily man made.

Aside from the obedience to law aspect, this episode is one of a number of religious conscience cases. A few days ago, a Colorado court ruled against a baker who refused to bake a wedding cake.

Here's the thing. Principle should go out the window here. The country is split over gay marriage still and we should leave small businesses alone who don't want to serve gay weddings. I say that even though there used to be racists who would do the same thing. This case is different because major religions did not teach racism. Do supporters of gay marriage want religious martyrs? I say this as one such supporter who does not.

But, as the group of pro-gay marriage supporters who also support religious conscience have said before, conscience cannot trump government services. If someone in such an office objects, someone else must issue the license.

Gay rights are a beautiful thing. They won't stay beautiful long if religious people are hounded. As long as everyone can get their needs met, this issue of religious objections does not have to absolutely worked out. And it shouldn't be. This should be a matter of live and let live until everybody gets used to the idea of gay equality.

I am not demeaning discrimination. That is what it is. But I am also not interested in fights over symbolic denials of services for the sake of forcing a symbolic affirmation of equality.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Need for Forgiveness

8/9/2015—I was reading today in the Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper a short story about how Pope Francis is urging Catholics to go to confession, which is a practice that has gone out-of-favor in many parts of the Roman Catholic world. It was interesting to me the reason that Pope Francis gave for why he believes people are staying away from confession. Pope Francis believes that people are ashamed of what they had done.

The question is whether non-religiously observant people have a need for forgiveness and how that need might be satisfied. The emphasis by Pope Francis on shame answers one objection from the nonreligious world. Pope Francis is not particularly concerned, apparently, with getting people to confess so-called sins, such as loving gay relationships, which particular Catholics do not believe are sinful. Obviously, although it is true that a gay Catholic would not feel the need to go to confession about such a relationship, the reason would not be shame. The reason would be that there is nothing to confess.

Pope Francis is concerned about something else entirely, something that we tend to forget. We do bad things. We do bad things all the time. The bad things that we do all the time are inexcusable. We hurt the ones we love all the time. And we lack concern for those whom we do not know all the time.

Now, how is a person to deal with such a circumstance? From Pope Francis’s perspective, such a person, which is all of us, goes to confession, confronts the evil, his own evil, and is forgiven. But the structure of this particular forgiveness – – Pope Francis says that the confessing person does not confront angry judgment but a forgiving merciful father – – is not without a norm. Yes, I am forgiven for doing wrong, but I am drawn to acknowledge that I have done wrong. Even though I am likely to repeat the wrong, and even though I will be forgiven again, and even though I know that is the case, I still must admit in confession that I have done something wrong.

It is this very characteristic, that is, the admission of wrongdoing, that’ I find utterly lacking outside the religious communities. The inability to acknowledge our own wrongs is killing us. It is a part of the great falseness and lie that seem to be at the heart of American life.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

What Is a Religious War?

8/6/2015—It was pointed out to me by a friend that the framers of our constitutional system feared, above all things, the sort of religious war that had beset Europe from 1524 to 1648 A.D. America has largely been spared this sort of Catholic – Protestant warfare that the framers had in mind. This is so despite some real anti-Catholic discrimination at various times in American history.

But let my friend suggested is that we now have a different kind of religious war going on. On the one side, there is a conservative religious alliance with capitalism. On the other, there is a kind of left wing anarchism. This is his rough approximation of the Republican Democratic split in the United States today.

I’m not sure that his description is entirely correct. But his basic insight that the division in the United States is all-encompassing and does not seem to respond to particular issue analysis seems apt. Simply put, we are divided not for a particular reason but simply because we are in two separate blocs.

I’m reminded of this because of the reception of the Iranian nuclear deal. I was very surprised that a majority of Americans do not support the deal. After all, the alternative is war at some point, as president Obama stated yesterday. I am pretty sure that a majority of Americans will support the deal.

At the moment, however, the deal is following prey to this split. Almost all Republican oppose it. Therefore, if only a few Democrats also oppose the deal, the deal fails in Congress.

The question becomes how to heal a split that is only in part based on policy differences? I don’t know the answer to that. The wars of religion in Europe only ended when Europe became exhausted.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

What We Can Learn from Fifty Shades of Grey

8/1/2015 – – I finally saw the movie, Fifty Shades of Gray. I do not usually address gender issues, but three comments do occur to me.

First, the movie is a lot of fun. Sexy and entertaining. Fortunately, the movie ends with Anastasia finally understanding how sick Christian Grey is. All that talk about safety and exploring one’s sexuality dissolves at the end of the movie into a male character simply wishing to inflict pain. The unanswerable question, why do you want to see me like this?, exposes this creep as the abusing loser that he is.

Second, Jamie Dorman is not exactly a commanding male presence. And, indeed, as presented in the movie at least, he is needy and confused. He is just rich, not impressive, and not confident. For an object lesson in what Christian Grey should have been like, just rewatch the opening appearance of Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind.

Third, and most important, the success of the book and of the movie shows that many women like to fantasize about being controlled by a man. Throughout the movie, Anastasia is quite content to be passive. And, if the demands on her had not become so extreme, she probably would have continued going along with them. The revealing moment occurred when she asked, are you going to make love to me? It was all up to man.

The secret life of the fantasies of women is their own business, of course. And it is also the case that some portion of the women reading the book or watching the movie feel that reality and fantasy should not be mixed.

But what does the success of this book and movie tell us about the gender equality on campus and about sexual assault? If there are women who desire male forcefulness and initiation, then some of the campus initiatives are bound to fail.

Years ago, one of the classic feminists—I don’t remember which one—made the point that secret fantasies are not public policy. This is of course true and date rape has nothing to do with sexy games.

Nevertheless, this movie reminds us that men and women are to a certain extent different. And that difference does not submit itself to the standards of what it ought to be.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Power of Choice

7/29/2015—Maria Russo, the editor of the children’s books for the New York Times Book Review, wrote a penetrating indictment of our culture in the Book Review last Sunday. She was writing about the newly discovered Dr. Seuss book, What Pet Should I Get?. The book is ok by the standards of Theodor Seuss Geisel and was just about ready for publication. But it was never published. The question is, why?

The official explanation given is that, at the time, Seuss was so busy that he forgot this one. That does not ring true to Russo—or any other author, frankly.

Russo’s explanation is that the content of the book—2 children trying to decide which pet to get in a pet store, led Seuss away from dog and cat to imaginative animals. This, she believes led him to write One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, which has many of the same elements, but has moved away from the context of commercial choice into pure imagination. Seuss “ran… away from the pressurized of money and responsibility… .”

Choice is the rubric of our day. It is the foundation of both capitalism and individual rights theory—loss of choice is why jail is a punishment. Choice is human autonomy and free will.

But choice is also not-imagination. It is the opposite of play and lies always in the realm of what already is. Choice is not transformative, except maybe in exposing my surrender to my context, as in Sophie’s Choice. Thus choice is also the opposite of itself. I am choosing among choices I did not necessarily choose.

Russo is showing us that the current world is unimaginative. Seuss was too imaginative to live in it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why a Jew Invented Hallowed Secularism

7/22/2015—If you look on page 7 of the book Hallowed Secularism you will see the reference to E.L. Doctorow’s 2000 novel, City of God. Doctorow invented the term hallowed secularism in that novel. Doctorow died yesterday and I thought it appropriate to think about him and the kind of religion that could bring forth such an idea.

In the novel, a very liberal rabbi, Sarah Blumenthal, is struggling with the Jewish tradition. Her synagogue is called the “Synagogue of Evolutionary Judaism.” Sarah wants to maintain a universal ethics “in it numinousness”.

That term refers to the sense humans have of the tremendous mystery of existence. Something more.

Sarah wants to answer, yes. God can be seen as something evolving. The teleology of humanity, which we pursue without even always realizing it, has given “one substantive indication of itself—that we, as human beings, live in moral consequence.”

Realizing this is the potential of hallowed secularism. I used to think of this as mere humanism, but it is not that. Instead, there is a reality apart from just us, though we are a part of that reality. We relate to that reality.

Doctorow was born in 1931. A baby through the Depression. Ten at WWII. Drafted during the 1950’s. His first novel was published in 1960.

So Doctorow was Jewish to his core, but was part of the last Jewish American generation that could think religion without primarily thinking the holocaust. He was as liberal as could be. But he was always a religious thinker. Politically, there was something European about him. According to the NY Times obit, he described himself as part of the “pragmatic social democratic left.” (This might be how my hero, the late Tony Judt, might have described himself).

Doctorow must have viewed Judaism as closer to the universal element that is real and universal, without the fantastic elements he could not believe. This was leading him toward something wholly secular, but not simplistically materialistic. We need the holy, he was reminding us.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Great President

7/21/2015—It is time to give President Barack Obama his due. He really has improved things for America and the world. The four major items of accomplishment are: medical insurance for many of the uninsured, the reopening of diplomatic relations with Cuba, the Iranian deal and coming out of the 2008 recession.

As for Obamacare, this has been a goal of progressives since the New Deal. The program could be better but it is done. And it has had a major effect on the life of poor and working class people. That effect will only grow.

As for Cuba, this move has improved US relations with Latin America more than any action since the Panama Canal Treaty, for which President Carter never gets enough credit. The move should have been made years ago.

If the Iran deal prevents Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon for 10 years, it should count as a major achievement. And there is the potential for even a greater payoff. Within those ten years, the deal may change the nature of the regime.

Finally, I cannot say I am ecstatic with the state of the economy—with its 5.3% unemployment and low participation rate and too much part-time work—but have you looked around the world? Obama’s opponents would have moved us down the path of Europe.

I would add other matters as well. I am committed to free trade and believe the potential Asia trade pact will be helpful. Some kind of peaceful counterweight to China is needed.

There are a number of areas where Obama has clearly failed. The worst misstep was promising action against the Syrian regime and not acting. But in general no clear policy with regard to the Arab world, China and Russia. But Obama is a cautious man. No clear policy is better than a bad one.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Religions that Promise Us Death and War

7/18/2015—I have written before about the death of Islam. It is easy to see that Islam will go down the path that Christianity did in Europe after the wars of religion following the Reformation. For what do we see? The more religious you are, the more violent you are. This can be seen in the lone gunman who kills marines in Tennessee. But the violence is almost as clear in the Saudi Arabian diplomatic cables that put opposition to the Shia sect in Iran above even humanitarian aid. All in the name of purified Islam. Who needs this?

But now we see the same thing in Judaism. The Aipac organization is opposing the deal with Iran and, of course, Israel does too. The more Jewish you are, the more likely you are to oppose the deal.

Israel’s version of security lacks any real commitment to the humanity of its foes. You see this in the way Arab citizens of Israel are treated. You see this in the way Iran is portrayed. Demonized.

I don’t know whether President Obama is skilled enough to sell the deal to the nation. But Roger Cohen’s column today in the New York Times is how a lot of young people will see it—-the alternative to the deal is war and an actual Iranian bomb. And these young people will see that religion, in this case Judaism, kills.

And you can see this in India, too, in Hinduism’s political expression. The more religion, the more hatred.

But what do we see in Roman Catholicism? Pope Francis. What do we see in Buddhism? The Dalai Lama. They have their blind spots too. But it isn’t always the more religion, the less humaneness. If religion has a future, they are it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Good News Tuesday

7/14/2015—Woke up today to the news that agreement has been reached on loans to Greece and an Iranian nuclear deal. The world is a little better today.

Not altogether better. Greece did not get much debt relief, which it needs eventually. But it would be bad at this point for the Euro zone to fracture. As for Iran, the Republican Congress will not agree to the deal.

But that is OK. Netanyahu opposes any deal with Iran. But he is wrong. Even in terms of Israel’s interests. Eventually, the American electorate will choose peace and not war. I just hope Clinton runs on the deal.

As for Greece, apparently Krugman was wrong. A deal for them is better than an exit in their view. Well there is always time to leave if the economy does not pick up.

A good day all around and better than most alternatives.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Mark Greif Says We Can No Longer Ask, What is Man?

7/10/2015—In a really depressing demonstration of how trivial the concerns of our time have become, Mark Greif—a teacher at the New School, co-founder of n+1, and the author of Against Exercise, a supposedly important essay in 2005 (actually just a goof)—has written The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933-1973. Grief’s thesis is that writers during this period—for example, Niebuhr, Mumsford, Sartre, Arendt, etc—asked, in light of the Holocaust and Hiroshima and the bomb, about the nature of man and that this discourse now appears “tedious” and “unhelpful.” “For a variety of reasons, we are more likely to identify (and, as we like to say, to celebrate) the differences among human beings than to corral them into some hortatory category like ‘universal man.’” (quotes selected by Christopher Bentley in the New York Review).

So, the theme of universal man is unmasked as colonialism and sexism and we now include people of color, women, gays etc. (I won’t ask who this “we” is if no conglomerations are possible. Or, is it now groups we are supposed to ask after?)

And what are we supposed to ask now? Not any attempt “to reopen a fundamental philosophical anthropology” but “Answer, rather, the practical matters, concrete questions of value not requiring ‘who we are’ distinct from what we say and do and find the immediate actions necessary to achieve an aim.”

So now we are utilitarian and it does not occur to Greif that he has asserted, unquestioningly, that man is the sort of being who lives to achieve an aim. But is man the kind of being who lives to achieve an aim? Or is man becoming the kind of being for whom all aims now seem pointless?

It turns out that it is not the question what is man? that is unhelpful, but prematurely arriving at an answer. For Grief’s warning is against “preprogrammed” answers to any such questioning. Grief just does not believe anyone can ask the question of man and keep the question open. I guess Grief does not know Heidegger.

I am willing to assert that the question of man, properly framed to move away from anthropology to ontology, is the only question worth asking, for it leads to all other questions. The question is not what is man but who is man and it certainly can open by asking Who am I? Without this fundamental questioning, all other investigations, such as how to stop global warming, are boring. I cannot ask about the world if I have never asked about the human being’s responsibility for the world. And that fundamental question of responsibility is not aided very much by dividing it up into the woman’s responsibility for the world, the gay person’s responsibility, the responsibility of people of color, that of rich white people and so forth. Looking at matters in this latter way is comical as a starting point, however important such political/economic questions can become as the discourse unfolds.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Can God Do a New Thing?

7/4/2015—This may seem a strange question for a hallowed secularism blog, but it is the gay marriage question. A controversy has broken out on a law and religion listserve about the view of the New Testament on gay marriage. Or on marriage generally.

But this controversy goes beyond law. It is the basis for most of the opposition to gay marriage in America today—or a lot of it.

One has to start with the acknowledgment that Jesus would have been horrified by the prospect of gay marriage. Of course he would, because such relations were unclean under the Old Testament purity code. But so was, most particularly, eating ham. Or not being circumcised.

The purity code was plainly abolished by God when Peter appealed to it in the Book of Acts. “What God has made pure, you must not call unholy”--or in the underlying Hebrew terms, what God has made kosher, you must not call treif.

The gentiles—today Christians—who condemn gay marriage do not understand that they themselves were regarded as unholy by the purity code and by Jesus--"It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."--until Jesus himself learned the lesson that Peter had to relearn after Jesus' death. That code is no more.

So the only Gospel question about gay marriage is whether God has made it kosher. Even to a nonaffiliated former practitioner like myself, it is clear that God has done a mighty act, has broken down a new barrier. But it is as hard for some religious people to accept that God does a new thing, as it was to many Jews in Jesus’ day to imagine that gentiles were now included in the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

7/1/2015—John McGinnis, Professor of Constitutional Law at Northwestern Law School, and the author of the book, Originalism and the Good Constitution, wrote a piece last week in City Journal commenting on Chief Justice John Roberts decision in King v. Burwell. Based in part on the work of St. John's law professor Mark Movsesian, McGinnis criticized the method of statutory interpretation that allowed Chief Justice Roberts, and the majority, to uphold subsidies on the federal Obamacare website despite language in the statute suggesting that such subsidies are only available on websites created by the states. Chief Justice Roberts was using a method of statutory interpretation that looks to the purpose of the statute and adjusts interpretation accordingly.

Now, one can criticize Chief Justice Roberts on the ground that he got the purpose of the statute wrong or even that the hodgepodge of the Obamacare statute should not be considered to have a purpose.

But McGinnis does not rest with arguing that Robert's got this particular instance of statutory interpretation wrong. McGinnis argues more generally, relying here on Professor Movsesian, that since federal legislation "is a product of 535 legislators plus the president" interpretation by purpose is inappropriate for a statute: "It's hard to distill an overriding intent or purpose from such a collection of wills… "

McGinnis and Movsesian seem very close here to denying the intelligibility of collective work. For them, there is no rationality, there is only will. They have been infected by the ideology of the market, in which people have desires and nothing more can really be said about them. The person with whom they may be said to be in agreement is Margaret Thatcher, who famously said "there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families."

In keeping with the spirit of individualism, McGinnis judges methods of statutory interpretation by how much they favor the ends of progressives, as opposed to those of conservatives. But there is much more at stake in the denial of intelligibility than the outcome of this or that political issue.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Supreme Court's Week

6/27/2015—This blog has been off and on during June because of travelling. But coming this week, Hallowed Secularism will be back to a normal 2-3 posts a week schedule.

The Supreme Court has a big week, upholding Obamacare once again and enacting national same sex marriage. Given my long time support for both, it may surprise people that I have very mixed feelings about these decisions.

Basically, the decisions are not very convincing. In King v. Burwell, the Obamacare case, Chief Justice Roberts' majority opinion admitted that the dissenting arguments were strong. They were. The decision can be defended, but only on the ground that the Act could not really mean what it said, which is not a persuasive basis for an opinion. In Obergefell v. Hodges, the Court fortunately rested on the fundamentality of marriage, but there is no reason to think of gay marriage as itself a fundamental right—something that had not been dreamed of only a few years ago.

In terms of gay marriage, there was always a two-prong possibility—politics or rights. The advantage of politics, in which states legalized gay marriage one by one over time—is that the opponents would feel they had a say and that compromises could be worked out with religious believers who continue to maintain that gay marriage is sinful. Holding gay marriage to be a right means that no compromises are likely. This means that gay marriage will now become a wedge to pursue religious institutions that refuse to adhere to the new right. Law is supposed to bring harmony, not further controversy.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Democrats Are Wrong on Trade

6/20/2015—I don’t mean the Democrats are necessarily wrong on the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which I don’t know much about. But the rejection of the trade agreement by House Democrats last week was not about this particular agreement. It was about the benefits of trade in general.

This is where the failure of leadership by Paul Krugman and people like him has been so glaring. The economy is a dynamic system. The dynamism of that system has benefited the US. Yes, a lot of those benefits have gone to the top .001%, but not all. And even if redistribution is the goal, a growing pie is easier to redistribute than a stagnant one.

Protectionism is part of a general retreat by Democrats from growth and a better future. It says that we have a certain number of good jobs and we have to do everything to keep them. In the end, this hurts most workers. It’s the old story of trying to retain the carriage industry when cars came out.

The irony is that jobs were already coming back to the US. We’re an economy that does not really need protectionism because of our dynamism.

It is an empirical question whether the US economy benefits from freer trade or not. My impression is that the evidence is clear that we do benefit. A lot. So, where is the strong defense of free trade by people like Krugman?

So, I don’t know much about this agreement. On the other hand, if it does protect intellectual property from government confiscation, isn’t that a good thing when many governments do not respect property rights at all? And if the agreement is as much about the politics of Asia—keeping a peaceful counterweight to China—well, isn’t that a good thing as well?

Anyway, Democratic opposition to this trade deal was mostly about latent opposition to NAFTA. And that opposition is a mistake. Trade in general is the issue. And trade in general is good.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The End of Rawls

6/18/2015—The Duquesne Law Library kindly forwarded to me a recently published book edited by Martha Nussbaum and Thom Brooks, which presents a series of essays on John Rawls’ book, Political Liberalism. (It’s called Rawls’s Political Liberalism).

I tried to read Nussbaum’s introduction, and I really must, but I couldn’t. Rawls has been around since the 1970’s and since that time, liberals like Nussbaum have tried to convince themselves that a stable, reasonable, secular world can be built around him. But it is just not the case. Rawls is not the future.

The basic problem is one of truth. Rawls does not want the liberal state to take a position on the nature of a good life because people disagree. But there is no getting around some actual value commitments in political life. The pressure of normative life gives to Rawls a feeling of result oriented jerry rigging, as when he famously viewed the pro-life position as outside legitimate liberal political life. Rawls gets to decide which comprehensive doctrines are “reasonable” and it always seems that they are the ones he does not disagree with too much.

But I stopped reading the Introduction when Nussbaum suggested that Judaism is more rational and regards autonomy more than does Christianity. And then she cites the Oven of Aknai story as proof—it is not in heaven.

Does she not realize that the Oven of Aknai story is about the overwhelming power of the rabbis to squelch dissent? It is the opposite of the rational account Nussbaum and other liberal Jews like to tell themselves. The lone dissenter is excommunicated. And while it is true that the story states that God cannot intervene in disputes between scholars, nothing in the story suggests that the winning side was actually more rational than the dissenter. They just had the votes.

Judaism is rabbinic, not rational and is not dedicated to autonomy. That is why there are chief rabbis and why the rabbinate in Israel decides matters of family law. You can call rabbis making rulings rational if you want, but the legal reasoning is just the same as in Christianity or Islam. And just as hierarchical.

The problem we liberals have is that we lack a foundation. We distrust religion—Jews attempt to distinguish Judaism, as Nussbaum did—because we reject the authority of truth. Hence Rawls’ proceduralism. But how do you sustain human life this way?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Secularization in Greece and Turkey

6/16/2015—I’m just back from a visit to Greece and Turkey. I was exposed not to young people as much as to the generation of my children. And even there, to people from Istanbul, rather than from more rural areas, which makes a difference.

Nevertheless, it is clear that secularization is continuing to make tremendous inroads in these two countries. The phenomenon is not the same in each country. In Greece, matters are similar to the United States. People leave religion and do not give the matter of religion much thought. That is not possible in Turkey, where Islam is a dominating presence and the entire country is organized around the Islamic calendar and practices. (A revealing detail is that our hotel did not serve bacon at breakfast, even though many foreigners stayed there).

So, secularization in Turkey occurs among people who were raised in Islam and take much of its teaching seriously. Just few of its practices.

In both countries, however, the issue of the future remains open. One way to think about this is as a question of the source of values. More deeply, however, is the question of whether values are real and important. Nihilism asks the question, what’s the use? A secular civilization must have a way of addressing that question. So far, neither Greece nor Turkey has successfully come to terms with this problem.

The way this plays out is that in Greece, the ancient sites are simply archeological curiosities with historical significance. In Turkey, however, the spiritual power of religious spaces is openly and unself-consciously acknowledged. This makes a visit to Turkey satisfying in a way that a visit to Greece is not—or, at least not to me.

Turkey is a country that will be very important to the future of world events. The roots of democracy and liberty are very deep. They are not a function of a westernized elite. Turkey is the place where a new public role for Islam will be worked out.

Monday, June 1, 2015

How to be Spiritual but not Religious

6/1/2015—It is beginning to dawn on people that this nonreligion thing is going to be difficult. Hence Molly Worthen’s piece in the New York Times yesterday entitled Wanted: A Theology of Atheism. The idea is to get away from the “ill-tempered nihilists” image, says Worthen.

Well, actually no. The goal is to get away from the “good without God” self-confidence. The need is not, as Worthen believes, for “a confident humanist moral philosophy.” It is the opposite. Finally, nonbelievers must come to see how bereft humanism is. Humanism is just as implausible as theism. That should be the starting point. Then, maybe we could get somewhere.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Krugman on the Economics of the Average American

5/30/2015—Since I have been so critical of Paul Krugman on trade, it seems fair to acknowledge his importance in reminding American policy-makers—-or even just the comfortable top 25%--of the reality of life for everybody else.

He has done this before, but he did it again in yesterday’s New York Times, in a column entitled The Insecure American. Krugman is giving a kind of overview of a new Federal Reserve Study on the financial well-being of American households. He writes specifically that he “hope[s]” readers will not find any of his statistics surprising, but Krugman is plainly worried that well-off people have forgotten what life is like.

Krugman begins with conservative bashing—-not from the study, of course. Three quarters of those who self-identify as conservatives think the poor have it easy because of government benefits.

Do you know anybody like this? I don’t. Instead, people I know—-and this would be true not only of conservatives but of most people—-would say it is hard to be poor. But we have no idea how hard it is. Just watching people taking two buses at 5:15 a.m. to get to a job while dropping children off at daycare—and those are healthy, young people with jobs. Seeing them you think, how do they do this every day? Don’t blame conservatives for our obtuseness.

Krugman makes three major points. First, life expectancy has not risen much at all for the bottom half—-so don’t raise the retirement age for social security. Second, social security provides almost all the income for 25% of Americans over 65—-so don’t cut benefits.

Third—life is precarious for the bottom half, so don’t cut entitlements for anybody. Krugman is shocked by one finding in particular—-47% of Americans report that they would not the resources to meet an unexpected expense of $400. “$400!” he writes.

This reaction reminded me of a scene from a documentary about public defenders that I watched last week. In an opening scene, a young African-American lawyer despairs because she has worked a deal for pre-trial diversion for a young client accused of some minor crime—shoplifting? Charges dropped if he goes to a program and stays out of trouble for a year. But the condition of the program is that he be out on bail and he and his family never are able to find the money--$500? So, he is probably going to jail, which will change the rest of his life utterly.

Moral of the story—-we should be thankful if life is not utterly hard. We should be generous in spirit toward those for whom it is. We should not be so concerned about other political issues that pure class issues escape us. The political left has so forgotten this last point.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Future of the Roman Catholic Church

5/25/2015—It is a mark of the richness of the Roman Catholic Church that two men who have recently been beatified, and one now a saint, had conflicts with each other when they lived. I’m speaking of Archbishop Oscar Romero and John Paul II.

I am no expert in these matters. The story of the Pope’s concern about communism and Marxism in Central and South America leading him to blindness concerning the death squads and oppression in some of these countries, notably El Salvador, where Archbishop Romero was murdered, is well known. On the other hand, there are those who argue that the story is largely a myth. You could look at Filip Mazurczak’s piece from February 2015 to see this other side.

I am most interested, however, not in the conflict, but in how the Church could respond so well to the needs of the time in these disparate areas of the globe. JP II was needed in Poland. His stance against the inhuman oppression of communism will stand forever in the annals of human rights.

But liberation theology and the stance of the Church with the poor against overwhelming economic and military power, symbolized by Romero, was also needed then and is needed today in the face of global capitalism. The Church is able to respond to both. Can this be said of any other institution in the world today?

This brings me to Ireland. The media is reporting the very welcome news of Ireland’s endorsement of gay marriage as a defeat for the Church. And I suppose you could say that. The Church spends a lot of time and effort opposing gay marriage.

But the stories only obliquely refer to the illegality of abortion in Ireland. This matter, a crucial matter, a matter of life and death apparently finds no similar cultural change. Perhaps it is not a decline of the Church. Perhaps the Church is simply wrong about gay marriage.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Finally, a Krugman Column on the Trade Pact

5/23/2015—Well, I finally got the op-ed from Paul Krugman on the proposed trade pact (the Trans-Pacific Partnership—TPP) that I have been waiting for. The column appeared Friday.

If you read the column really carefully, Krugman is, as he has said in his blog, mildly opposed. But it is a mealy-mouthed opposition. There are reasonable people on both sides, he says.

Krugman ends up writing mostly about how the Obama Administration has not been forthright. The President has not made the case etc. It's not really about trade, it's about intellectual property—as if protecting property rights is not an aspect of free trade.

Krugman even seems to say that free trade is no longer important—because we have already realized most of the available benefits by generally lowering tariffs.

But this is a real sleight of hand. Many of the opponents of the TPP are opposed to free trade. They believe that we would be better off with tariffs and other trade barriers. If they are wrong about that, shouldn't Krugman have said so?

Krugman wants the issue to be technical and narrow. But it is not. The Democratic Party is turning against trade. Krugman disagrees with this new thrust. Why does he not say so?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Martin Heidegger’s Humanism

5/19/2015—Well, that title is certainly misleading. Heidegger made clear that he was not a part of humanism in the Letter on Humanism. Every humanism is grounded in metaphysics that Heidegger was trying to overcome.

But yesterday, in reading Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy, I came across indications of the place of the human being that I could only call humanism.

The terms will be strange upon first hearing them. The subtitle of Contributions is Of the Event. The event is that which appropriates the human being. (You could return to the statement in Introduction to Metaphysics—the human being is that being for whom being is an issue).

Heidegger writes often of the gods or the god. You could hear divinity. But you could also hear history. Creativity. Holiness. Significance. Heidegger places the Supreme Being of Christian and Jewish thought in the tradition of metaphysics. So he is not speaking of a being when he speaks of God.

Here are the two sentences that struck me. “[The fissure of being] can come into question only if the truth of beyng as event lights up, specifically as that of which the god has need in such a way that the human being belongs intrinsically to the event.” “The appropriating event conveys god to the human being, even while it assigns the human being to god.”

In some way, Heidegger sees being as between the human being and the god. The point for me is not just that the human being is claimed—Heidegger would write that expressly in the Letter on Humanism. The point for me is that the god needs the claimed human being.

This is not a recapitulation of Christian thought, though it evokes Christian thought. It is an essential task of humans. God—the call of what is essential here and now—comes to us and we are thereby claimed.

This is a way to think human life that could be called religious, though Heidegger would point out that such universalisms are metaphysical. This thinking calls forth a credible way of life outside the usual categories of religion and nonaffiliation. There is something important for humans to be.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Where Is the Democratic Party Leadership on Trade?

5/18/2015—I thought pandering to the base was a Republican Party monopoly. Apparently not. Specifically, where is Paul Krugman on the Trans-Pacific Partnership—the Trade Deal?

In his op-eds, Krugman is pro-free trade. But he has been mostly silent on the opposition in the Senate by Democrats to the TPP. I had thought that Krugman was afraid to say he supports the deal because Democratic Party sentiment is against it. Turns out, if you read his blog, he mildly opposes the deal and does not think it that important. He says it is not really a trade deal.

But there is a larger point here. The New York Times today ran a story about a closed refrigerator plant in Galesburg, Illinois that Barack Obama had noted in his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. It’s still closed. The workers are still out of work or underemployed.

In other words, the argument is not just over this trade deal, but still over the NAFTA. On this issue, Krugman originally supported free trade, rather strongly, but in the telling by William Greider in the Nation in 2013, Krugman has since pulled back in his support.

Look, I don’t know about trade. I assume that it is generally a very good thing. And even closed factories in the US would probably have closed anyway, free trade or no. But I can be persuaded by a real debate.

But what is needed is that real debate within the Democratic Party—and we are not having it. Right now, there is less discussion of the trade issue in the Democratic Party than over global warming in the Republican Party. Why am I reading about trade in Krugman’s blog and not in his columns? It ought to be possible to decide whether the NAFTA was overall a good thing for America or not. This absence of discussion is more indication of the sickness within our political life than the partisan gridlock in Washington.