Archive for the ‘Poverty and Hunger’ Category

The Cornerstone Forum Once Again Refuses to be Confused by Facts, Alternative Opinions, Data, Evidence, Documentation, Reliable Information, or Scientific Studies.

June 13, 2012
“I must ask anyone entering the house never to contradict me or differ from me in any way, as it interferes with the functioning of my gastric juices and prevents my sleeping at night.”  — Sir George Sitwell, English Eccentric

Since its inception, Gil Bailie’s Facebook page for The Cornerstone Forum has sought to interpret and respond to contemporary culture “from a Catholic perspective and in fidelity to the social teachings of the Church.” This is because Bailie sees Catholic faith and practice as increasingly caught “in the crossfire,” as he puts it. And he is a faithful son of the church.

Benedict XVI and Gil Bailie

But Bailie’s use of the “crossfire” metaphor is a mite disingenuous. It implicitly casts the Church in the role of an innocent bystander or a disinterested third party—despite all indications that it is not and has never been either of these. Just in recent months, Catholic institutions have sued the U.S. government over the HHS contraceptive coverage mandate, thrown their full weight behind anti-same-sex-marriage initiatives, chastised nuns for focusing on poverty and hunger rather than abortion and homosexuality, bullied the girl scouts over including a 7-year-old transgendered girl, excommunicated doctors and nuns for saving lives, and joined Republican efforts to restrict women’s access to abortions at the state level. Over the years, Church institutions have lied about contraceptives to poor Africans, obstructed patient access to accurate information and services in secular hospitals, and purged scholars who attempted to build bridges to other faiths. (For details on several of these points, see “8 Ugly Sins of the Catholic Church,” by Valerie Tarico on Alternet.)

There can no longer be any doubt either that the Church has a horse in the race or, in the case of Gil Bailie’s unfortunate metaphor, that the king has no clothes: the Church is not “caught in the crossfire.” It is firing mortars at its enemies.

Bailie’s attempt to propagate an essentially hermetic and authoritarian ideology via the Internet was a tricky proposition from the start. The Internet is by design an open, expansive, inclusive, and anti-authoritarian medium—a “real” forum, unlike the “gated” one Bailie would like to cordon off within it. People come and go, expressing all kinds of opinions willy-nilly, in a real marketplace of ideas. It’s like a Turkish souk alive with chatter and dissension. You can buy anything there, but you’ll have to negotiate—sometimes loudly.

So, The Cornerstone Forum has indeed had visitors from all kinds of people from all parts of the world—England, Austria, China, Italy, and Australia, to name a few—and, surprise!—not all of them have expressed views that perfectly match Bailie’s own. Some of their voices have been more strident than his. Some of them have been highly articulate and even argumentative, as if they had no idea of the gravitas of The Cornerstone Forum’s founder or the unassailability of his views.

Flat earth orbited by sun and moon

A large part of the disputation at The Cornerstone Forum has concerned issues of truth. The thread I have reproduced below is typical: Bailie informs his readers that the earth’s population is in precipitous freefall, and then he seems genuinely offended that they don’t buy it. (Well, actually, some do.) At that point, facts and logical arguments are offered—always by readers, virtually never by Bailie—and he ignores or dismisses them with smug little retorts like, “We’ll see.” A few weeks later, he puts up another post informing his readers that the earth’s population is in precipitous freefall.

This has been the pattern during the many years that I have visited The Cornerstone Forum’s pages, where we’ve learned that climate change is a hoax, homosexuality is gravely disordered, same-sex marriage will cause civilizational collapse, religious freedom is under attack, the Obama presidency is precipitating totalitarianism, the Muslims are taking over Europe, and secularism is to blame for everything that is wrong with the world.

About a month ago, Bailie reacted to the growing chorus of dissent by issuing a warning similar to the one you will find in the thread below. When it was not heeded, he issued a second one and expelled one of the most insightful and articulate of his critics, George Dunn. All traces of Dunn immediately disappeared, and dozens of threads no longer made sense without his voice. If you’ve ever seen photos of Stalin’s politburo with purged officials airbrushed out, you’ll get the picture.

Today, Bailie issued a third warning. This time, the one expelled was I. Here is the conversation:

Gil Bailie:

I am currently researching the worldwide demographic decline and its enormous consequences. The evidence for the decline is overwhelming, but so are the studies that trace it and the data confirming the researchers’ conclusions. I cannot claim to have a complete grasp of the problem, but I have arrived at a preliminary hypothesis:

Whereas some animals don’t breed when in captivity, humans apparently don’t breed when in metaphysical despondency, regardless of how unacknowledged and embedded in material prosperity that despondency might be.

Doughlas Remy:

There is no “worldwide demographic decline.” However, there are declining birth rates in certain countries, such as Japan and some countries of Europe. The world’s population, now slightly over 7 billion, is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. That’s really rapid growth, so rest assured there’s no lack of breeding going on.

I’m not sure how you measure “metaphysical despondency” or whether there is in fact such a thing. But surely people in certain high-growth societies (e.g., in parts of Africa and East Asia) have much more reason to experience metaphysical despair than Europeans and Japanese, and it is not slowing them down.

Birth rates in Europe and Japan are falling because women are now better educated and have more options. And yes, low birth rates can pose social challenges, but so can high ones, as we discussed earlier. See my article about this on The Bent Angle.

Darrick Northington:

This seems like an impossible argument to make. I echo Doughlas, given that every human belongs to some demographic and earth’s human population is in fact growing rather than declining, the claim that we’re experiencing some kind of “global demographic decline” is false.

Gil Bailie:

We’ll see.

Doughlas Remy:

@Darrick: I’m surprised The Cornerstone Forum is again making this bizarre claim after the earlier discussion we had, where so many facts were laid out. And these facts are incontrovertible. Population growth, fertility rates, and youth/elder bubbles can all be measured. We’re talking hard data here.

It’s like one of those strange experiences where somebody points up to the blue sky and tells you it is green. You say, “No, it is blue, and my spectrograph will back me up on that.” And they say, “No, to me it’s green. And what’s a spectrograph?”

Patrick Daoust: 

The Economist recently published a book called Megachange, the world in 2050. I’m currently reading the chapter on demography. Mr Remy’s numbers fit with data in the book.

This said, we must ask ourselves why so much of Europe has such a low fertility rate – I think it’s about 1.3 in Spain and Italy. This is quite a problem for policy makers to deal with. My intuition is that in modern western societies the freedoms normally associated with men are seen as more desirable. A lot of feminist movements fight for equal rights with regards to salary, women in high profile jobs, etc. As a whole, our society seems to have stripped away all pride in motherhood.

Darrick Northington:

‎@ Patrick, it sounds like you think mothers have to be second-class citizens. In my opinion, motherhood and fatherhood are both consistent w/ equality, and any definition that necessarily subordinates one to the other is wrong. To suggest that our society doesn’t take pride is wrong, too. I think this kind of talk has more to do with white male dominance than motherhood…the kind of thinking that says a woman’s place is in the home, in the kitchen, and a man’s place is king.

By the way, birthrates in Spain have increased every year for the last 12 years.

Doughlas Remy:

@Patrick. In connection with your final sentence, about society stripping away all pride in motherhood, here is an interesting opinion from Gail Collins of the NYT:

If you look back on what’s happened to women over the last half-century – how the world has opened up for them to have adventures, pursue careers, make choices about the kind of lives they want to live – it all goes back to effective contraception. Before the birth control pill came along, a woman who wanted to pursue a life that involved a lot of education, or a long climb up a career ladder, pretty much had to be willing to devote herself to perpetual celibacy. That’s what contraception means to women.

Iron Woman. Photoshop rendering by Dean Hansen

So, maybe other life paths are simply more attractive to women. Motherhood, after all, is damned hard work, it’s unpaid and under-appreciated, and raising a child is more expensive than ever. Yearly tuition at state universities in Washington State, where I live, is now over $12,000.

In the face of all these obstacles, we have in this country a political party that wants to cut nearly a billion dollars of food and other aid to low-income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids. These cuts are part of a larger proposal to cut social services block grants to the tune of $17 billion over ten years. These grants support Meals on Wheels, child welfare, and day care for children. State legislatures are also unable to raise revenues in the face of anti-tax initiatives.

Child-bearing may also about to become riskier to women if hospitals are allowed to let a woman die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life.

Because of the work that I do, I’ve had countless more-or-less unstructured conversations with Japanese mid-career professionals over the years, and we always talk about Japan’s birth dearth. They say raising a child is just too expensive. They value quality education and would feel shamed if they couldn’t give their children access to one.

I think there are ways women can be incentivized to have children, but governments like our own seem intent on disincentivizing them. Banning contraception is not, of course, an option, and it shouldn’t be. Women’s need for choice in these matters is paramount. The demographic problems will take care of themselves as we begin to think creatively about them.

Gil Bailie:

Let me try once again to explain why this Facebook page exists. It exists to offer encouragement to those who share its point of view. It does not exist to argue with those who don’t.

This is not a bulletin board or campus kiosk. It is a Cornerstone Forum page, and its purpose is that of the Forum, namely: to encourage and, with God’s grace, occasionally to inspire, those who share our vision and concern. The Forum and this Page exist to give an account of the contemporary cultural and moral crisis from a Catholic perspective and in fidelity to Magisterium and the social teachings of the Church, and to do so, when appropriate, by drawing on the extraordinary anthropological insights of René Girard and the theological riches of Benedict XVI, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar and others. It is also our purpose here to bring these perspectives to bear on the sundry cultural and moral issues we now face, paying special attention to what we regard as the gravest moral and civil rights issue of our age – abortion – and the gravest anthropological blunder – the evisceration of the meaning of marriage and the demise of the traditional family.

“Censer,” by Dean Hansen

We are not surprised to find that many do not share these concerns, and we offer our best wishes to those who don’t, but we will no longer allow this Facebook page to become an outlet for points of view that are wearily familiar to us, the refutation of which would be as tedious an exercise for us as it would be entirely unconvincing to our naysayers.

To those more sympathetic to our efforts, we are grateful for your interest, and we will continue to try to be as useful and encouraging as possible. If we occasionally point to certain unhappy developments in our cultural life, it will only be for the purpose of encouraging resistance to them for the sake of our children’s children.

Doughlas Remy:

Gil, I think your only option may be to “de-friend” those who do not share your point of view, as you did to George Dunn about a month ago. The Cornerstone Forum will no longer be an open forum, but at least you will have an echo chamber where you can get validation from your supporters and carry out your mission of channeling the church’s (and dare I say, the GOP’s) talking points on issues of the day. I hope you will be fair with your visitors, however: Let them know up front that they will be de-friended if their opinions diverge too much from your own.

As I said in an article on my own blogsite, it’s obvious you don’t value the time and thought that your readers devote to responding to your posts. That is a shame, and it is why I hope to provide a truly open forum on The Bent Angle for some of the issues that you raise. As you will notice, I have already begun to port some of the discussions over there, for fear they will suddenly disappear from TCF. So far, the idea hasn’t caught on with your visitors, and it may not, but I’ll continue the mirroring effort, as I think it is important.

I continue to maintain that truth is important and that none of us has a lock on it, or exclusive rights to it. We reach the truth through dialog.

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.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s Budget Proposal: Catholic Subsidiarity or Social Darwinism?

April 14, 2012

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee

Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum (Facebook page) prompts the following discussion by posting a link to an article from The California Catholic Daily of 4/12/12. The article, entitled “Subsidiarity is Really Federalism,” includes an interview in which U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, explains how his Catholic faith guided him in drafting his 2012 Budget proposal. Raph Martin is the first to respond:

Raph Martin He hasn’t studied his Catholic faith well enough!!! What he proposes is the contrary of the Church’s social teachings which is always concerned about the needs of the poor and needy. I would suggest he do a serious reading of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical On The Development of Peoples (Populorum Progression). What had at one time been viewed as the “third world” is now on the home front!

The Cornerstone Forum Thanks Raph. The goal of lifting the poor out of poverty and empowering them to live productive lives is one that is shared by serious liberals and conservatives. The issue on which they disagree is how best to do that. The results to date of the efforts of recent decades doesn’t constitute an indisputable case for the liberal approach. A full debate on these things, sans the stereotypes, is long overdue. Thanks again. My best.

Doughlas Remy Paul Ryan and other Catholic free-market fundamentalists have seized on the word “subsidiarity,” from Catholic social teaching, to further their own aim of transferring even more wealth to the one percent. This is not the kind of “wealth redistribution” that Jesus had in mind when he counseled the rich man to give all that he had to the poor. (Ryan must have got it backwards somehow.) And it is not what Pope Benedict XVI had in mind when he addressed the issue of poverty in his 2009 encyclical (“Charity in Truth”) and later through the Pontifical Council’s document of October 2011 (“Toward Reform in the International Financial and Monetary System in the Context of Global Public Authority”).

Jesuit Thomas Reese described the 2011 document as “closer to the view of Occupy Wall Street than [to that of] anyone in the U.S. Congress.” Meanwhile, right-wing neoliberal Catholics Nicholas Hahn and George Weigel actually railed against Vatican document, questioning its authority and calling it “incompetent babble.”

The idea of “subsidiarity” doesn’t call for a dismantling of government services for the poor. It only claims that nothing should be done by higher authorities that could be done at lower levels of participation. There is certainly some wisdom in this idea, but the question in our era of globalization and macro-economics is how efficiently and effectively can local charities address the problems of poverty, hunger, and homelessness? And if they can address these problems, why aren’t they doing so? And should government programs be dismantled before local charities have proven themselves?

The Vatican document is very critical of neoliberalism (or market fundamentalism), as espoused by Paul Ryan, Weigel, Hahn, and others. It supports government regulation as a means of controlling greed.

Over 90 percent of government assistance for lower-income people consists of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid nursing-home care for seniors, school lunches, Head Start, preschool programs, environmental and financial regulations, Pell grants, and mortgage guarantees.

These are all losers in Paul Ryan’s budget. And who are the winners?

The winners are the dogs of greed and militarism. Ryan’s budget includes tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and for corporations, cuts Medicare and Medicaid spending, and does little to get military spending under control.

We know what the Vatican would think of Paul Ryan’s budget. And there can be little doubt about what Jesus would think.

Yes, it’s time for a conversation about this.

Ayn Rand

George Dunn Is this the same Paul Ryan who has publicly expressed his admiration for Ayn Rand and her gospel of selfishness? Do you share Ryan’s admiration for this avowed foe of Christianity?

Doughlas Remy @George: Thanks for bring this up. It’s dynamite. The Ryan-Rand connection totally overshadows the Ryan-Jesus connection in every way. Jesus was obviously NOT an important part of Ryan’s moral development.

He says, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.” [um…not Jesus?]

For anyone not familiar with Rand, one of her central tenets is that financially successful people are inherently superior and that government should not redistribute any of their wealth to the poor, who are, I guess, inherently inferior. Jesus, of course, constantly exhorts his followers to aid the poor.

As one measure of how important Rand is to Ryan, he requires his staffers to read her novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

I read it myself many years ago and always thought of it as the antithesis of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.

Any thoughts, Gil?

Doughlas Remy I highly recommend the following article from The New Republic: “Ayn Rand and the Invincible Cult of Selfishness on the American Right.”

Raph Martin The 1%ers, it seems to me, don’t have a clue about people struggling to exist without food, shelter, a job, health care, survival, and basic ordinary needs. Add to their tampering with ecology and the rape of the earth for oil, natural gas, water rights in addition to its ongoing pollution by groups that only see dollar signs as a measure of progress and turn away from the basic needs of the billions of poor people living on this planet. Where’s the vision for a sustainable environment and society? Cutting expenditures to and from the needy poor as Ryan proposes we do- while mouthing Catholic social justice ethics under the rubric of “subsidiarity” shows how far he is from Jesus’ radical vision to “love one another.” Catholics need to be wary of the Paul Ryans of our society who align themselves with power politics, militarists, and the corporate world and then try to silence their critics-yes, even by quoting scripture and claiming Catholic theologians on their side. (Ayn Rand resurrected?) Let’s take a lesson from history: Many German Catholics, rather than critique their bishops when Hitler came to power, followed the lead of their bishops who didn’t see Nazism as a challenge to the Church. They chose to “save their souls” rather than “lose them” and showed Catholicism as aligned with the state rather than the gospel. It seems to me that once again Jesus’ message got lost in the transition.

Brian Graham I see no way to reconcile Ryan’s peculiarly self-serving views with Pope Benedict’s magnificent call to a profound cultural renewal based on charity, holistic understanding and “a new humanistic synthesis” in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate. I trust linking this article was meant to facilitate a robust discussion about the relationship between Catholic faith and politics, rather than an endorsement of this particular point of view. To me, Ryan’s comments suggest he has not given serious consideration to the Encyclical at all. He vainly attempts to build a Catholic argument to support his political views, but one has to completely overlook the encyclicals in order to get there. No thanks.

Doughlas Remy Religious leaders have slammed Ryan for using his Catholic faith to justify cutting programs that help the poor:

It’s the height of hypocrisy for Rep. Ryan to claim that his approach to the budget is shaped by Catholic teaching and values,” said Fr. John Baumann, S.J., founder of PICO National Network. […] “A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.”

Read the full article here.

The Cornerstone Forum Ayn Rand? If only we could adjudicate the question of how to help those who cannot help themselves by critiquing a third-rate, crackpot, Libertarian novelist who has been read by a tiny fraction of one percent of our fellow citizens, even if one of these was Paul Ryan. Have you read Ayn Rand? Neither have I, for the same reasons you and hundreds of millions of others haven’t. How much more convenient it must be to go on and on about Ayn Rand than to face the realities with which Paul Ryan has been grappling for the last few years. Who wants to take a long hard look at the actual effect on the poor of the liberal programs designed to help them or the tsunami of debt that will soon bankrupt those programs? Ryan, to his credit, has tried to address these issues.

My point was – and is – that Paul Ryan has introduced into our political vocabulary arguably the most salient word in the lexicon of Catholic social teaching, and that this should be celebrated. To have an argument about what subsidiarity is and how it should work is a huge step in the right direction. I’m all for that argument, even though I have no special contribution to make to it. But to jump at the chance to pillory the man who is trying to incorporate the concept of subsidiarity into our political discourse because of his taste in literature hardly helps. The more we can argue about subsidiarity, the better.

The question – not the theological question, of course, which is a bigger question, but the public policy question – is how to empower those who stuck in poverty to become economically productive members of the middle class? When it comes to that challenge, getting one’s knickers all twisted about Ayn Rand is as useless as anything I can imagine. I haven’t read Paul Ryan’s budget proposals; I haven’t time to do so; it’s not what I’m called to do, but he’s actually trying to address some problems that won’t go away, and all he is getting for his efforts is carping from those who find it easier to criticize his proposals than to come up ones of their own.

“Subsidiarity respects personal dignity by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of giving something to others,” Benedict XVI wrote in Caritas in Veritate. “By considering reciprocity as the heart of what it is to be a human being, subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state.” The pope insisted in that same encyclical that the effort to help the poor “is always designed to achieve their emancipation, because it fosters freedom and participation through assumption of responsibility.”

Here, then, are a few more terms we need: emancipation, freedom, participation and responsibility. My wife volunteers at a center for the homeless. When she hands someone in need a meal or clothes, both she and they recognize that an act of generosity has taken place, and both she and they feel grateful for having been present when it did. The principle of subsidiarity insists that not every exchange can take place on so personal a level, but that efforts should be made to have them take place at the most intimate and local level possible.

In my opinion, moreover, and in light of the manifest inadequacy and unsustainability of current entitlement programs, those whose responsibility it is to help the poor need to address things like the actual statistics about the effect on the poor of public policies which – despite the good intentions of their advocates – incentivize the disintegration of the family – from which flows almost all the intractable social, moral, economic, and political problems of our society. We need to take a long, hard look at the social science data on the correlation between second or third generation welfare dependency and high school drop out rates, substance abuse, delinquency, criminality, out of wedlock births, the paucity of employable skills, and so on. Most of the kneejerk reaction to real efforts to do something that both works and that our currently bankrupt society can actually afford seems to assume that there is nothing wrong with the status quo that can’t be fixed by throwing more money at it – someone else’s money. Tragically, that is not so. It has failed many of those it was intended to help, and if nothing is done to change their plight, they will suffer further degradation when the money runs out, as it soon will. Serious adults are trying to find a better approach. It’s not as if the looming collapse of the European social welfare state isn’t providing a glimpse of where things are headed if we fail to find more workable solutions.

All this is just a little PS. Greetings to any who might want to keep at it, but I’m finished.

George Dunn Ryan’s affiliation with the Ayn Rand cult is merely a matter of his “taste in literature”? Would you regard it as equally trivial if he expressed the same deep admiration for Friedrich Nietzsche or credited Nietzsche as the inspiration for his entry into politics? Surely Rand’s rabid hatred for the Christian virtues exceeds anything found in Nietzsche, whose critique of Christianity was nuanced and qualified. Don’t you see that? Oh, that’s right. You haven’t read her! Well, as someone who has, I can assure you that her philosophy is vile in ways that must turn the stomach of anyone who loves the gospel. Read her yourself, Gil, and see what I mean. Then think about the fact that her “philosophy” is the real inspiration for the economic programs you so naively laud.

(more…)

Is Abortion a Form of Human Sacrifice? (Ctd.)

March 30, 2012

Leo Walker responds to my previous post:

Thirteen is quite a lot of kids! No wonder your grandma was worn out. Yet these are choices that she made along with your grandpa. Even back in deepest darkest 19th century the connection between conjugal relations and children was understood. They made choices and, so far as your narrative illustrates, they accepted responsibility for those choices. Poverty is not the worst evil in the world, nor is it an impediment to joy, love, or any other virtue, though it makes some harder. You imply that your grandparents suffered unremitting misery and despair. Was there no love, joy, peace, sense of accomplishment, surprise, curiosity or triumph in their lives? I doubt that this would be true of them, or their children. If poverty is difficult to bear, should we then grant them sweet release by some form of murder under another name? I notice that the poor; I have known and lived among the poor who aspire to what passes for poverty in the USA; don’ t seem to be hungering for death. On the contrary, they often live more fearlessly and fully than so many who have more to defend. The Catholic position on the issue balances openness to receive the gift of children from God and a prudent stewardship of the procreative act. Planned parenthood, as it now constituted, is a repudiation of both of these principles. The hungry millions are the result of the sinful mis-allocation of resources. Justice consists not in murdering, sterilizing or otherwise outraging their lives, but in working to make God’s bounty available to them. Life is a greater good than material well being. Condemning to death those whose standard of living is suspected of not meeting some arbitrary standard set by the road-to-Hell-pavers is no mercy. Oh, and I might mention that arguing from a particular to a universal, which you do above, is a logical fallacy and any conclusion drawn from it is ipso facto false.

@Leo Walker: Referring to my great-grandmother’s 13 children, you write, “…these are choices that she made along with your [great]-grandpa.”

You make her sound like a modern woman who has voting rights and a real range of choices for her life. She was not and did not. She was poor and uneducated, powerless and voiceless. She lived in an intensely patriarchal culture where her life plans were laid out for her by men. Women’s educational and employment opportunities were restricted or non-existent, and they were cruelly shamed for making any effort to better their lives. These are just facts, not generalizations off a particular case history.

I recognize that many women of that era were happy with their lot, but my point is that those who were not did not have any choice. Choice became so important to American women that they were finally willing to fight for it. Their crowning achievement was passage of the 19th Amendment, giving them the right to vote. From there to here (via Roe v. Wade) is an unfolding story of liberation and greater choice. As long as women have the same choices as men do, they will continue to want control over their bodies and their reproductive cycles.

A severely malnourished child lies down after being admitted to Banadir Hospital in Somalia's capital Mogadishu on July 26, 2011. AFP PHOTO/ Mustafa ABDI

To your point about poverty, I would just reiterate that overpopulation leads to social and ecological collapse. Those affected by extreme poverty may not want to die, but often they will kill others over scarce resources. Again, this is just an empirical fact. The earth’s resources are not inexhaustible, and the goal of equitable and efficient distribution may be a chimera. Water, for example, is plentiful but extremely hard to transport in the quantities needed to sustain populations in areas affected by drought. “Prudent stewardship of the procreative act” (your words) must be coupled with—or even guided by—prudent stewardship of resources. Stewardship does not mean “maximizing births.” It may require limiting them, for its goal must always be to bring supply and demand into balance.

Abdifatah Hassan who is eleven months old and suffers from severe malnutrition lies on a cot at a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontiers in the biggest refugee camp in the world in Dadaab on July 4, 2011. AFP PHOTO/Roberto SCHMIDT

You write, “The hungry millions are the result of the sinful mis-allocation of resources.” If that is true, then let’s get the supply chains in good working order before encouraging people to have more and more children in areas susceptible to drought and famine. In 2011, 12 million people living in the horn of Africa were in urgent need of food and water. The U.N. estimates that six million children die of malnutrition every year, worldwide.

Finally, I’d like to call out your straw man. I am not advocating abortion, the murder of poor people, or forced sterilization. I am advocating family planning and education around reproductive issues so that women can, together with their husbands, make informed choices. These choices should include contraception, of course, because contraception decreases the likelihood that a woman will seek an abortion, licit or illicit. Abortions are not a desirable outcome, but when they occur (as they will), they should be performed under optimal medical conditions to protect the health of the mother.

Is Abortion a Form of Human Sacrifice?

March 30, 2012

Gil Bailie responds to the final paragraph of my previous post:

The efficacy of a sacrificial regime – understood in terms of the anthropological analysis of René Girard – does not require that the sacrificial community hate or revile the sacrificial victim. All that is required is the conviction that the elimination of the victim is necessary to the preservation of the community as presently constituted, and that the present constitution of the community is worth the sacrificial costs required to preserve it.

Understood in this way, the existence of abortion on demand qualifies as the greatest single sacrificial system of all time. The killing of the unborn is – explicitly or implicitly – considered to be indispensable to the continuance of the regime of the sexual revolution, and the sheer number of those sacrificed to its continuance exceeds that of any regime in history. Moreover, the unborn undeniably constitute the most powerless and voiceless category of victims imaginable.

In the late 19th century, my great grandmother, living in Texas, was virtually a baby factory. She bore thirteen infants (no twins). She was poor, and her husband offered very little help in raising these children. She did all the care-taking herself—the washing, cleaning, cooking, and shopping—all during an era when there were no electric appliances or motorized transport to make the work easier. She even made and patched the children’s clothes, grew vegetables, and looked after chickens.

She died not many years after giving birth to her thirteenth child. She was, as my mother says, “worn out.” Her husband lived to a ripe old age.

The sacrificial system Gil Bailie has described was fully in place and operational, but instead of sacrificing the fetus, the community (as constituted at that time) sacrificed the mother. Let’s not forget that women of that era were about as “powerless and voiceless” as the fetuses that Bailie would like to protect. (The 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, was not passed until 1920). The siblings also suffered because their quality of life was so diminished by having to share scant resources. They were poor, overworked, and undereducated, and they never forgot the hardships they endured during those years.

My great grandparents probably did not use any form of birth control and would not have considered an early-term abortion. I personally think it would have been better if they had, even though I might never have born as a result.

More life is not necessarily better than less life. The world’s population has more than doubled in the last fifty years, to 6.8 billion, and is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 at latest. Approximately one-seventh of the world’s population suffers from chronic hunger, which causes not just craving but exhaustion and disease. I am much more disturbed by the sight of an emaciated child than by the thought of a fetus that was aborted before it could even experience pain.

I am more concerned about eliminating human misery and improving the quality of life than about bringing new life into this world at any cost. This is why I support the efforts of organizations like Planned Parenthood. Family planning promotes maternal well-being while reducing unwanted pregnancies and the need for abortions.

My own parents, who were poor at the time of my birth, had decided to limit their family size, and I must say it worked out extremely well. I have only one sibling, but we had the benefits of good nutrition, the attention of  two healthy parents, and a college education. Best of all, my mother did not wear herself out as her grandmother had done. She is now 93 and in excellent health, living in her home of the last forty years and about to buy a new car. She obviously plans to be around for awhile. By not bringing those extra lives into the world, she and my dad improved the quality of all our lives. I do not mourn the children that weren’t born, and I certainly don’t regard my mother or father as “murderers” for having used birth control. Nor would I reproach them if I were to learn they had decided to abort an early term fetus. I hope I would recognize that it was a difficult and painful decision for them.

In short, I don’t think the “sacrifice” that my parents made (or might have made in more extreme circumstances) rises to the level of victimage as described by René Girard. My parents simply “tended their garden” in a mature and responsible manner. On the other hand, Bailie’s calumnies of gays and lesbians and his endorsement of organizations like the National Organization for Marriage and the Ruth Institute clearly do cross the line. The suggestion that same-sex marriage will bring about an unravelling of natural law, a birth dearth, and, ultimately, civilizational collapse is not only unwarranted by empirical reality but also obviously intended to stoke deep-seated fears and animosities. No good can come of it.