Archive for April, 2012

Surrendering on Marriage

April 27, 2012

Andrew Sullivan’s response to Daniel McCarthy’s article in the April 25, 2012 issue of The American Conservative (excerpted in my previous post):

The whole piece is worth reading because it is an unflinching conservative reckoning with the forces of modernity. Much of its core argument I made in the third chapter of “Virtually Normal“: that once middle class gay people have emerged in a middle class society, simply refusing to tackle the subject of how to integrate them was not a long-term conservative proposition; and the alternative – more religiously-based repression against a minority rapidly gaining acceptance – was reactionary and spiteful. The point was simply that marriage was the obvious conservative solution: bring gays into this architectonic institution under the Burkean banner of conservative reform. That’s what I tried to argue for on conservative and libertarian grounds. Sadly, the neocons and theocons decided to ratchet conservative policy back to the 1950s. It was Bill Kristol who attempted to bring reparative therapy into the conservative mainstream in response to our progress in integration. It was as disgusting a move as it was utterly cynical.

How a reform that “is not at all out of step with the institutions and ideas of our time”, in McCarthy’s words, should shock “conservatives” is an interesting insight into the intellectual collapse of the right. Reforming institutions to keep them in step with reality is Burke’s definition of conservatism. That’s why the real social conservatives are not those intent on marginalizing fast-integrating gay people, but those managing that integration by harnessing it to existing institutions, that strengthen the family, encourage responsibility, teach sacrifice and keep the welfare state at bay. A truly conservative party would be pushing marriage equality, as the Tories are in Britain. What the GOP is, in stark contrast, is not a conservative party governing a modern society. It’s a radical fundamentalist and anti-government religious movement, dedicated to a core rejection of almost everything modernity brings but money.

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Why the Right Can’t Win the Gay Marriage Fight

April 27, 2012

Social conservatives lose to liberal modernity

By Daniel McCarthy | The American Conservative | April 25, 2012

(Excerpt) Read the entire article here.

If a conservative continues to endorse the pre-1960s mentality—itself a modern mentality, quite different from that of, say, the 1760s—then opposing gay marriage and banning homosexuals from serving in the military is not nearly enough. How can such people be too corrupting to be trusted in the barracks or on the battlefield yet be deemed safe for schools? Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) was guileless enough to express this logic in a 2004 election debate: “We need the folks that are teaching in schools to represent our values,” he said, agreeing that this definition did not include homosexuals. (He later added, in a spirit of fairness, that it also did not include “a single woman, who was pregnant and living with her boyfriend.”)

Consistently applied, this perspective leads to the conclusion that anti-sodomy laws are of some importance, thus Lawrence v. Texas was not merely a moot exercise in judicial activism but a substantive blow to virtue and justice, and at a minimum homosexuals should be discriminated against in public and private employment. Yet this is more than many social conservatives are willing to contemplate, and it most certainly is not something that Republican politicians more discreet than DeMint are willing to voice.

The second consistent position that conservatives can embrace, however reluctantly, would be that of providing full legal equality. This could be seen as a capitulation to liberalism; it could also be seen as an acknowledgement of reality. The trouble with this position is that it doesn’t stop where most conservatives would like it to stop: the logic of legal equality certainly demands that homosexuals be allowed to serve in government, including in the military, and prima facie it demands that they be afforded equal access to the institution of marriage. Conservatives can try to draw the line before that point, but doing so requires making an exception to the principle of legal equality, and exceptions are, by their very nature, more difficult to establish than arguments that go along with general rules.

Not an Animation

April 26, 2012

We Are All Nuns. We Are All Same-Sex Couples Wanting to Marry.

April 26, 2012

American Nuns

Roman Catholic feminist theologian Mary E. Hunt boldly challenges the Vatican’s current crackdown on the Church’s nuns:

When it comes to the Vatican’s crackdown on women religious, I believe it’s time to declare that for the purpose of this struggle: we are all nuns.

The mandate by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to reform the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) via the appointment of an Archbishop Delegate to bring the nuns back in line—below and behind the bishops—has outraged those who respect its rich legacy.

If you can spell Catholic, you are probably asking: how dare they go after 57,000 dedicated women whose median age is well over 70 and who work tirelessly for a more just world? How dare the very men who preside over a Church in utter disgrace due to sexual misconduct and cover-ups by bishops try to distract from their own problems by creating new ones for women religious?

While this story is focused on nuns, it doesn’t stop there. Flowery medieval rhetoric by the Vatican about the nuns’ “special place in the Church,” and the fiction that religious women have “full participation in all aspects of the Church’s life” (while ordination is still for men only—come on!) make the dictum especially pernicious.

But it’s really about all of the laity, especially women, who see the world in terms of needs we can fulfill, not power we can hold; of radical equality, not hierarchy; of the many, not the few.

(Read her entire article, published by Religion Dispatches, here.)

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain

The Vatican’s “flowery medieval rhetoric” about “full participation” of women religious in the church (while in fact they are relegated to second-class status) couldn’t fail to remind me of the Church hierarchy’s weaselly dicta about same-sex marriage. In an April 2012 letter to Catholic parishioners in the Seattle Archdiocese, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain went to great lengths to explain why Washington State Catholics should sign a petition to put Referendum 74 on the November ballot. (If it gets on the ballot, Referendum 74 will ask Washington voters to accept or reject the legislator’s recent enactment of a law granting same-sex couples the right to a civil marriage.)

In his letter, Sartain denies that the Church supports discrimination: “Treating different things differently is not unjust discrimination,” he writes, as though the object of the discrimination in question were a mere concept that had nothing to do with flesh-and-blood people.

Sartain knows that replacing “things” with “people” in his little formula would get him in a world of trouble. Imagine if he had written: “Treating people who are different differently is not unjust discrimination.” That tack might have worked prior to the Civil Rights era, but nowadays it doesn’t wash. He might have gotten closer to the truth if he had written “not always unjust,” but I suspect he was less interested in clarity than in muddying the waters.

After focusing on differences (where one might have expected a Christian to ignore or transcend them), Sartain then informs us that “people who experience same-sex attraction have equal dignity.” Note his word “equal” and then compare Mary Hunt’s call for “radical equality,” and you’ll understand why I chose the word “weaselly” to describe the hierarchy’s dicta.

And here’s the real zinger in Sartain’s pastoral letter: “… the Church teaches that persons with same-sex attraction must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

Yeah, right. Just don’t let us start thinking we’re equal to straight folks.

How eerily reminiscent Sartain’s justifications are of the pious protestations of 19th-century white slaveholders and 20th-century segregationists. And how artfully he stakes out the moral high ground for the structures of oppression that he represents.

Catholic nuns who routinely have to put up with this kind of unctuous falderal are saints indeed.

Do you suppose the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and same-sex marriage advocates might find common cause?

BTW, the “Archbishop Delegate” appointed by the Vatican to “bring the nuns back in line,” as Mary Hunt writes, is none other than Seattle’s own J. Peter Sartain.

Bullying the Nuns

April 25, 2012

By Gary Wills, author of Papal Sin and Constantine’s Sword

(excerpted from his article, “Bullying the Nuns,” in The New York Review of Books, April 24, 2012)

“It is typical of [Pope Benedict’s] sense of priorities that, at the very time when he is quashing an independent spirit in the church’s women, he is negotiating a welcome back to priests who left the church in protest at the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. These men, with their own dissident bishop, Marcel Lefebvre, formed the Society of Saint Pius X—the Pius whose Secretariat of State had a monsignor (Umberto Benigni) who promoted the Protocols of the Elder of Zion. Pope Benedict has already lifted the excommunication of four bishops in the Society of Saint Pius X, including that of Richard Williamson, who is a holocaust denier. Now a return of the whole body is being negotiated.

“None of the anti-Semitic ties of the Pius X crew matter to Rome, since that crew holds to the hard line against women priests, gay marriage, and contraception. They have also retained the Latin Mass, which Rome has been inching back toward. All these things, you see, are the work solely of male hierarchs, distrustful of the People of God—who are the church, as defined by the Second Vatican Council. Those Lefebvre defiers of the Council are all the things the nuns are not, and all the things Rome wants to restore. The real Gospel must be quashed in the name of the pseudo-Gospel of papal monarchs.”

Read Gary Wills’ entire article here.

Welcome to the Anthropocene!

April 25, 2012

This incredible video from Gizmodo shows all roads and air and shipping routes on the entire planet.

Homecoming

April 25, 2012

When Dogma Becomes Prejudice

April 25, 2012

Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Dish

A fascinating exchange between Will Saletan, Ross Douthat, and Andrew Sullivan on the “fit” between gay relationships and the “Christian view of sexuality:”

Andrew’s argument:

Let me use an obvious analogy which really gets to the heart of the unfairness at the center of this. Modern America is full of divorced couples. Unlike homosexuality, Jesus spoke unequivocally about divorce. Does Ross insist that our civil laws return to banning divorce on all grounds? No. Does he back a constitutional amendment to ban civil divorce? No. His reason would be to say that it simply cannot be done democratically. But that precisely reveals the church’s discriminatory position on gay people. Unlike divorcees, the gays’ position is not a choice. But unlike divorcees, they alone are the target of a massive campaign by Christianists to deny them any right to marry at all—not just twice but ever! This is where the current hierarchy is.

Notice too how they are not threatening to shut down services for the poor and homeless because one of their civil employees might be re-married or divorced (and thereby violating church doctrine). And yet they apply that standard to gay people—who have not chosen any lifestyle, but are guilty purely of being as God made them. They do it because we are few in number and they can deploy the power of religion to demonize us.

This deliberate tolerance of heterosexuals and deliberate intolerance of homosexuals on the same issue is on its face discriminatory. And don’t get me started on annulments. Newt Gingrich gets to marry his third wife in church, but the Vatican wants a constitutional amendment to prevent my having one civil marriage with no church involvement. What else can this be rooted in but animus? And total panic.

Why David Goldman is Wrong About “Imminent Population Collapse”

April 24, 2012

Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum is touting a new book by David Goldman, “How Civilizations Die.” Goldman claims the world is in a steep demographic decline whose consequences will be catastrophic.

The world faces a danger more terrible than the worst Green imaginings. The European environmentalist who wants to shrink the world’s population to reduce carbon emissions will spend her declining years in misery, for there will not be enough Europeans alive a generation from now to pay for her pension and medical care. For the first time in history, the birth rate of the whole developed world is well below replacement, and a significant part of it has passed the demographic point of no return.

Notice that Goldman’s victim in this scenario is the European environmentalist, forced to lie upon the bed she has so foolishly made. He continues:

Imminent population collapse makes radical Islam more dangerous, not less so. For in their despair, radical Muslims who can already taste the ruin of their culture believe that they have nothing to lose. … Population decline, the decisive issue of the twenty-first century, will cause violent upheavals in the world order. Countries facing fertility dearth, such as Iran, are responding with aggression. Nations confronting their own mortality may choose to go down in a blaze of glory.

Wait just a doggone minute. Hold them hosses. Is Goldman really saying that the world’s population, which has grown 300% since 1944, is in precipitous decline? Is it possible that today’s European adults will spend their declining years in abject misery for lack of enough young people to pay for their pensions and medical care? Is population collapse really “imminent” and even irreversible in places? And do populations with “elder bulges” really become more belligerent?

Gil Bailie could not be happier with Goldman’s thesis, for it appears to validate the Catholic Church’s longstanding position on contraception. Bailie has this to say:

The Church was right, and those who scoffed were wrong.

For decades, things repugnant to every prior age—contraception and abortion—have not only been considered licit, but beyond reproach. To the social, moral, and cultural damage resulting from the severance of sexuality from procreation and emotional commitment can now be added the demographic tsunami by which we already being engulfed.

And today our government is more determined than ever to favor and fund the anti-natal policies that are leading to this catastrophe. What many have said about the debt crisis is true as well of the very much related demographic one: Never before have we faced crises that were this severe and this predictable. And we are doubling down on the policies that created them.

The Church was right after all. All the evidence suggests so.

Was it? And does it? Are we really experiencing a “demographic tsunami?”

First, Bailie could have been more precise in his choice of a metaphor. A tsunami is a sudden excess of water pushed into coastal areas. That said, let’s weigh the evidence for Goldman’s “imminent population collapse.” My sources for population statistics are the CIA World Factbook and various United Nations publications, all freely available on the Internet.

Global population growth, 1300-2000 AD

Again, the world’s  population has grown 300% since I was born (1944), and it’s still growing very rapidly.

The population growth rate (not to be confused with the amount of growth) has dropped almost exactly 50% in the past 50 years (from 2.2% to 1.1% per annum, and that decrease is mostly attributable to lower fertility rates worldwide, though HIV-related deaths in Southern Africa and deaths from starvation and genocide in Sub-Saharan Africa must certainly be factored in. The growth rate is expected to reach 0.6% per annum by 2050, but that’s still growth, not contraction.

Global population growth rates. Source: World Bank

Yes, worldwide fertility rates have dropped, but only to 2.47 children per woman, well above the replacement rate of 2.1 cpw. It’s a good thing. We were headed toward nine billion before the end of this century.

None of these stats on growth and fertility points to “imminent population collapse” on a global scale. On the contrary, overpopulation is already straining the earth’s resources to an alarming degree.

Global fertility rates. Source: World Bank

But what about population collapse at the national level? Is any population really “collapsing?” Certainly, one might expect population numbers to fluctuate as environmental conditions vary over time. But is Goldman justified in reading “collapse” into every ebbing of a national population? Is any society nearing the “point of no return?” Are developed countries in a “death spiral?”

Clearly, Goldman’s hyperbolic rhetoric appears intended to evoke fear. It also appears to be driven by his own fears. But fears of what? The answer is beyond the scope of this post, but Goldman’s Spengler page on PJ Media will offer some clues. Suffice it to say that Gil Bailie and David Goldman share a visceral distaste for liberalism, modernism, secularism, Islam, and the sexual revolution; and that both are opposed to contraception.

Population Dynamics

The scientific literature on population dynamics shows basically four “stages” of population growth, with bulges moving up from bottom to top. As you might expect, there are problems with stage #1, which has a youth bulge, and stage #4, which has a “elder bulge.”

When too many young people come on-stream in a society that is ill-equipped to deal with them, as in stage #1, the results are likely to be increased social unrest, war, terrorism, and even genocide. Second and third sons can’t find employment and often turn to religious or political ideologies to make their mark in the world. Nevertheless, the “youth bulge” is never the only factor explaining these pathologies. Resources are key to whether predicting whether a society can effectively handle a youth bulge. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has done well, while Egypt has done very poorly.

Global Median Age

Where there’s an “elder bulge,” as we are seeing in Japan and Europe, social services are strained at the other end (i.e., social welfare for seniors), and the fewer resources that are available, the more acute the problems become. An educated and informed democratic society can always tweak policy to address the challenges. While draconian measures like criminalization of contraception are never necessary, they are often advocated by religious institutions locked into pre-modern and pre-scientific conceptions of social engineering. And make no mistake about it: Policies that criminalize or deny access to contraception are a form of social engineering.

The fourth model, with its “elder bulge,” is never an inverted pyramid. People don’t completely stop having children, even in modern China. And, contrary to what David Golden claims, elder bulges don’t provoke violent social upheavals.  As Samuel Huntington wrote in Clash of Civilizations, “Generally speaking, the people who go out and kill other people are males between the ages of 16 and 30.”

It’s always a complicated equation—never as simple as David Goldman’s model—and one must never factor out resources and other environmental factors. Overpopulation occurs when an area’s population exceeds its carrying capacity, and underpopulation occurs when there are not enough people to maintain an economic system. Depopulation occurs when people leave an area or are killed off. Somalia is overpopulated because it lacks resources to sustain its people, and the continent of Antarctica is underpopulated because conditions of life there are so harsh.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s population has quadrupled since 1945, causing a precipitous decline in resources, especially water, fuel, and soil nutrients. In Somalia, 12 million people are facing famine. The linkage between overpopulation and famine is undisputed.

What is the solution to Somalia’s problems? Certainly an infusion of food and water supplies would alleviate suffering there. But until that happens, would anyone dare suggest that Somalis should have more babies? Would anyone in his right mind suggest withholding contraceptives? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you probably need to read up on Catholic teachings.

There isn’t a single country or society where either underpopulation or depopulation, as defined above, is currently a social problem on the scale of the overpopulation problem in Africa. This is not to claim that populations cannot implode. Indigenous populations were decimated throughout the Americas from disease and conquest following the arrival of Europeans. The Vikings left Greenland because of climate change, and some Polynesian islands were abandoned between 800 and 1000 AD for environmental reasons that are still in dispute. In none of these cases was “birth dearth” the cause of depopulation. Again, environmental factors were decisive.

So, if there is, in Gil Bailie’s words, a demographic “tsunami,” then surely we are witnessing it in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is indeed a “death spiral,” but one that results from overpopulation, not depopulation.

David Goldman’s concerns about declining fertility rates in developed countries are driven less by fears of underpopulation than by fears about cultural dilutions resulting from immigration. There is certainly no dearth of people in the world, and, as said earlier, the total fertility rate is still well above the replacement rate of 2.1 bpw. The key to understanding Goldman’s misplaced concerns is to understand what he, as a stakeholder, fears about cultural dilution.

If developed countries need to beef up their populations, they can prioritize financial incentives for families to have more than 2.1 children, as Japan and some northern European countries are currently doing. Or they can leverage immigration, or encourage workers to delay retirement. Students can be given low-interest-rate loans so that starting a family after college does not become an impossible financial burden for them. There are costs involved in any of these measures, but the resources are not lacking.

The reality is that resources in developed nations are not yet at a point where population attrition is inevitable. These societies are now being asked to decide whether unlimited accrual of personal wealth is conducive to cultural or national survival. At some point, the perceived common good may require adjusting priorities. Women who have political choice will not opt for more children when resources are scarce, and they may justly demand a reallocation of resources.

Strained resources in India

If less-developed nations face overpopulation, then why not support family planning as a way of bringing those populations under control? We know that family planning works, but we have not yet seen that resource replacement does so.

To take contraception off the table is to deprive ourselves of a highly effective tool for managing populations and for ensuring the well-being of those who do populate our planet. It isn’t just numbers that we want, or more life. Humans are not warrior ants, driven only to reproduce and make war. We are made for something better.

Randall Jennings comments:

Seems the modern world is very good at creating problems and then creating new ones with their “fixes” on ever grander scales. I could foresee tens of millions Chinese men, for instance, having their own ideas of reducing global population as they realize they will very well never have a bride and a normal family life after the ‘success’ of the state’s one child policy.

George Dunn responds to Randall Jennings:

Randall, the widening disproportion of men to women is a concern of the Chinese government, which is one reason they are relaxing the one child policy. What you foresee is also foreseeable by policymakers, who are in a position to adjust the policy accordingly. But I hope you’re not suggesting (as Gil undoubtedly would) that the solution is to criminalize the use of contraceptives. That would be to consign hundreds of millions of Chinese to grinding poverty and possibly starvation. Say what you will about the current Chinese regime (and, as an expat in China, I am certainly not an unqualified fan), but they have succeeded where their predecessors have all failed in meeting the greatest challenge that a developing country must face—they are keeping every single one of their 1.3 billion citizens fed. Not only that, but they have lifted an unprecedented 600 million people out of poverty. I shudder to think what China would be like today if contraception had been criminalized for the last fifty years.

Ian Mac Laue writes:

I don’t dispute that some of the data might be overblown or used to support xenophobic ends that aren’t by any means admirable, but as it concerns strictly european nations there does seem to be a problem of replacement level growth. Shouldn’t a country be concerned when its tax base is incapable of supporting its older members? Or are you suggesting that any such problem could be allieviated by an influx of immigration?

My response to Ian Mac Laue:

Countries with birthrates below replacement levels have legitimate concerns about the burdens placed on working-age populations to support their elderly. People throughout the developed world are living longer, and women are having fewer babies.

I don’t believe there is any single solution to this problem, but I do believe certain proposed solutions should be taken off the table. Criminalizing or withholding access to contraception is a non-starter. Turning back the rights revolution and the sexual revolution is another non-starter. Once women got the right to vote, the game was up for patriarchal structures of power, and the path ahead is clear. Women will continue to demand equality and the right to control their own reproductive lives, and they will increasingly achieve their goals. We must just accept that as a given.

Populations that are still growing are generally those where women are still substantially oppressed. Oppression is not an option for constitutional democracies.

Solutions to birth dearth include immigration, government-sponsored incentives, and later retirement. None of these solutions is without problems of its own, but at least none of them requires any curtailment of individual liberties.

Dean Hansen responds to Gil Bailie:

I wasn’t aware that contraception and abortion have been repugnant to every age. When we refuse to examine our own “repugnance” regarding reproduction issues, nature steps in and does it for us with bubonic plague, cholera epidemics, wars, droughts, floods, and fires.  Nature doesn’t give a damn about our moral scrupulosity. I’m so glad Gil took this time out of his busy schedule to remind us how happy we could be if we surrendered our autonomy to the authority of a group of demented celibate old men in Rome. Of course, Gil has been taking time out of his busy schedule to say the same stuff over and over, day after day, quoting anyone who will agree with him, and then covering his ears every time someone objects.

What I do believe is that people who live their lives in fear and superstition can make life a living hell for those who don’t, but women have always resorted to whatever means were available to them, regardless of the darkness of the age they resided in, or the potential danger to themselves, to wrest control of their own lives from “well meaning” male authorities who claimed to speak for God. Much of that so-called repugnance was nothing more than a continuation of a shaming mechanism aimed at reducing human reproduction and human sexuality into a miserable farce whose whole aim to is to denigrate any kind of sexual act that doesn’t take place in the sacred baby-making factory of family bedroom.

Yes, those declining years will be spent in misery, unless we make up our minds to burden an already over-stressed world with a new and continuous supply of human beings—who can starve along with the ones who are already here, many of them unwanted or unplanned—and to put additional demands on resources that are irreplaceable and on energy systems that are still dominated by an oil industry determined to keep their profits rolling in no matter what the cost to the planet. The real misery for subsequent generations will be fished-out seas and coal-fired plants belching more carbon into an already overloaded atmosphere. And when the electricity goes off, so does the running water, the toilet, the shower, the microwave oven, the refrigerator, the TV, the air conditioning … well, just about anything that distinguishes our relatively civilized culture from the others that will be dying off at an even faster rate.  Now that’s population collapse, brother, and it won’t be caused by our inability to remember how to fuck and make babies.

It amazes me that Gil holds up Paul Ehrlich as an example of bad science, when much of what he said was prescient and has come true.  The dates were off but the trends are sound.  We are at three times the population world-wide that existed at the time of Mr. Bailie’s birth. We are running out of potable water, sustainable crops, and non-polluting energy, and still he dumbs-down the rhetoric by quoting anyone who parrots the idiocy about “fertility dearth.”  The only real and measurable dearth is in the neuronal dendrites that can no longer be called into service in Bailie’s apparently concrete-filled head as they march into the waste basket of his own personal historical delusions.

And what’s the final cherry atop the tasty Catholic cobbler in this intellectual feast or famine? “The Church was right after all.”  Right about what??

I would modify that numbing bit of falderal by suggesting the people who have left the church in order to maintain their sanity and live lives of honesty were right, and that that will ultimately make the only real difference.

Vatican Criticizes Nuns’ Stance on Social Issues

April 22, 2012

Sister Margaret McBride

National Public Radio, All Things Considered, April 19, 2012.

Listen to the audio interview here.

Read a related post by Andrew Sullivan on The Daily Dish, here.