Mulling over the Question: “Who is my Neighbor?”

In my latest Federalist article I reflect on how I watched a manhunt break out during a morning walk.  It led me to consider things both practical and spiritual:  “It was a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood — For a Manhunt

FYI, the clip above gives a bit of “ambiance,” though that segment was not filmed on my street.  The action shifted all morning.  But I didn’t even know they were entering houses until I found this clip!  It’s interesting that this was put up by Russia Today news.  (This makes me chuckle a little because it reminds me a bit about the way Soviets liked to do propaganda, and how they would have loved to zero in on something like this to show “very bad Amerika.”)

It was a wild morning for me.  In the aftermath I considered two questions, one practical and one spiritual.  The practical side had me thinking about personal security (as in firearms.)  The spiritual side had me reflecting on the question put to Christ just before his parable of the Good Samaritan: “Who is my neighbor?” And how do people get to be the way they are?

 

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Vomitorium

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1490-1510)

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Vomitorium” is the title of my Federalist piece from the other day.  I spoke about it today with R. Scott Clark in a podcast at Heidelblog.net.

The main idea is that the movement to codify same sex marriage – supposedly only for the purpose of “equality” — has already let loose a lot of fringy sexual excesses into the mainstream.

Things you would have likely not heard about before this stage of the sexual revolution are now being injected into general public discourse. For example, New York Magazine recently ran an article “What’s it Like to Date a Horse,” a graphic interview with a zoophile who complains that his sexual orientation is not respected by society.  Following that one, they published “What’s it Like to Date Your Dad,” an interview with a young woman promoting her sexual relationship with her biological father as just as legit as any other romance.  And of course we now have the impending release of the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which serves to celebrate and mainstream the practice of sado-masochism.

There’s lots more where that came from, and I provide a short catalogue in my article. It’s all about excess and uncontrolled appetites.  The vomitorium — as understood in popular culture as a place where gluttony reigns so supreme that it can’t get enough of itself — seems to be where our society is headed.

But at the end of this road lies a society that’s lost its moorings. It’s an escapist culture centered around the Self.  At root, the sexual revolution wasn’t really about sex or even lust.  It used sexual desire to put people in a prison of Self and an empty cycle of gluttony.  It also served to create an easy means to escape responsible relationships. And we’re now at a phase when enough folks have swallowed that bait that their appetites have become unhinged.  At a certain point this state of affairs becomes not only ridiculous and dangerous, but also (to use a favorite term of self-described progressives) unsustainable.

This mindset of Self – brought to us by the sexual “revolution” — prevents people from seeing the world through the eyes of others, especially through the eyes of children. That’s an alienating and isolating mindset which creates a hostile climate for families and for all healthy personal relationships. Somewhere along this lonely path, the state will step more fully into that vacuum and take control of our personal lives, our relationships, and our conversations.

On Self-Reliance, Kids, Willie Mays, and Blasting Caps

Below is an old public service announcement in which baseball legend Willie Mays helps kids build awareness of the dangers of blasting caps (dynamite detonators) that they might come across while playing.  The 1950’s was a time when children played more freely outdoors than they do today.   Back then the answer to the problem of unattended blasting caps was to teach kids safety.  Not to tell parents to shelter them indoors and supervise them in their play 24/7.

This Willie Mays spot is astonishing in so many ways.  It illustrates that kids back then were far more independent and self-reliant than today.  We’ve fallen quite a ways in helping kids learn to navigate life.  Last week I wrote about this in the Federalist here: “Kids are Casualties in the War Against Self-Reliance.”

Constant hovering over kids to protect them teaches them dependence, not self-reliance. And the helicopter-parenting trend seems to correlate with a society that’s grown overly dependent on government.  It also correlates with a consumerist society that seems to indulge in excessive doses of passive entertainment from ever-present electronic devices.  Too many have forgotten that the process of growing up is really a process of controlled risk taking.  If we delay children from learning life skills when they are ready to learn them, we stunt their growth as well as their ability to pass those skills on to the next generation.  It creates a vacuum and it promotes a social climate more tolerant of a State that ever more aggressively monitors parents and families.

I wrote about the case of two very attentive Maryland parents who have been harassed by child protective services for allowing their children to walk home from a park unattended.   The kids were eager and ready to do so and had permission from their parents, but no matter.  As government grows, we will see more meddling in the parent-child relationship.  There is a connection between allowing parents to raise self-reliant kids and maintaining a free society.

Okay, we’re living in a big fat nanny state. That’s a euphemism, though. The reality is that central planners have always viewed a child’s first teachers of self-reliance—mothers and fathers—as enemies of the State. The less people learn about basic life skills (think thrift or basic survival) and how things work, the better it is for the bureaucratic tyranny. We ought to keep this in mind every time someone questions our right to think for ourselves or exercise self-reliance.

 

Potential book reviews; Singles Article in Federalist

Okay, I’m scrambling again to keep up with this blog.  When I travel, I generally get behind in stuff.  But I  do plan to do a couple of new things in the future.  One is to keep a booklist.  I’ll try to keep the “reviews” short.  I recently read Sheila Jeffrey’s book Gender Hurts.  It’s a fascinating radical feminist take on the whole gender identity thing.  I find myself agreeing with a lot of it, but parting ways with her on certain predictable points.  But there’s definitely a lot of overlap in terms of understanding where the whole gender thing is headed.  More on that later.  All of the books I’d like to introduce deal in some way or another with how we try to make sense of relationships and how we deal with the effects of social isolation.

I have another essay up on the Federalist (submitted quite a while back but just published the other day, so please excuse if it seems a bit stale) which was an extended response to Bella DePaulo’s criticism of my take on the whole idea of “Singles’ Rights.”  I also published a somewhat lengthy blog post on that a couple of weeks ago.  She believes in abolishing civil marriage because she says it discriminates against single people.  I believe that abolishing marriage is tantamount to abolishing all hope for a civil society.  And the effects of that would be disastrous for everybody. Once the state doesn’t have to recognize marriage, each and every citizen becomes isolated and atomized in the eyes of the state.  Family autonomy and privacy dissolve in this scheme.   This is not a good thing.   You can read the article here:  “Why Singles Rights and Same Sex Marriage Will Abolish All Marriage.”  Oh, my goodness.  I just now noticed that that article of mine has 593 comments.  Yikes, that’s a lot!   Well, I’ll deal with that later.  I generally can’t get too caught up in conments — and as you can tell, I don’t use them on my own blog.  But I will definitely have to scan those soon — there are so many — and maybe even write up a post about them.  Usually when there’s that many, though, it means a few people are arguing back and forth amongst themselves. (Of course I do expect to take some hits.)

I’ll find another way to post more often.  Some book review posts.  More posts on the issue of social conformity and the effects of PC/propaganda.  Loneliness and alienation is another important topic for these times.  And whatever else comes my way. Thanks for reading!

 

“Singles’ Rights” Goal of Abolishing Marriage Would Impose Legal Isolation on Everyone

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d0/Thoma_Loneliness.jpg

Hans Thoma. Loneliness (1880)   To impose legal separation on all of us would only cultivate loneliness.

Last week a singles’ rights activist wrote up what she claimed was a critique of my recent Federalist article called Welcome to Selfie Nation.  My piece was an exploration of various social trends, particularly some recent attempts to cultivate hostility towards married people for being “privileged.”

Most significantly, Bella DePaulo, author of the book Singlism and a blogger for Psychology Today essentially confirmed in her response what I’ve been saying for quite some time:  that same sex marriage isn’t really about marriage, but is being used as a vehicle to abolish marriage.  A coterie of singles’ rights advocates are arguing that state recognition of marriage discriminates against singles.  And they hope to use the precedent of same sex marriage to abolish marriage.

But DePaulo never addressed my most basic points:

1.  That the decline of marriage “plays right into the hands of central planners who have always been keen on getting rid of marriage altogether.”

2.  That putting every human being in legal isolation — which is exactly what abolishing civil marriage would do – can only diminish freedom of association for every child, woman, and man.  Once the state no longer recognizes your spouse or child or parent or siblings, etc. except at its pleasure, your personal relationships will inevitably come under greater regulation and bureaucratic control.

Rather than confront these concerns, DePaulo pulled out of thin air the bemusing nonsense that I am “afraid of single people.”  She also claimed I place blame on single people for “breaking down family bonds and community ties and contributing to a sense of alienation and division and distrust.”  Are you kidding me?

Who believes single people are even capable of doing such things?  Unless maybe you believe they’re some sort of monolithic force.  That idea — so untrue — would never occur to me.  Maybe it has more to do with DePaulo’s own outlook, but it sure isn’t mine.

I was talking about a shift in society that breeds isolation in people, reflected in the General Social Survey.  It’s a cycle driven by complex forces that we can’t pin on any one group of people.  Distrust breeds isolation.  Isolation breeds distrust.  Separation from intimate ties breeds distrust.   Distrust discourages the formation of intimate ties.

On Pious Baloney

A fun touch in DePaulo’s  post on my article is her (subconscious?) reference to a famous line by Newt Gingrich.  By which I mean she labels as “pious bologna” [sic] my connection of children with marriage. But I’ll raise DePaulo ten Newts on that.  Whether we grown-ups like it or not, the only legitimate reason for any state interest in marriage is that the state’s citizens come from a particular organic union that produces them.

Now the problem here for DePaulo and so many others, is that they have a perspective on children that insists on separating them from the people who sire and bear them.   Look, I get it. Indeed, a lot of unmarried people have kids and a lot of married people don’t.  And different family configurations abound.  And I understand that there are cases of dysfunction.  But that’s irrelevant to the point that state recognition of marriage can’t really exist for the benefit of adults.  It exists for the benefit of all the children in a society, whether or not their parents can or do get married, and whether or not married people have children, and no matter how many or how few children there are.

So it’s the union that produces citizens in which the state should be interested.  And it doesn’t matter whether that union takes place traditionally or in a petri dish or even at all.  I know that’s a hard thing for us grown-ups to wrap our heads around these days.  I do understand, believe me, that it doesn’t feel easy.  But it’s just one of those buried truths that have a way of outing themselves rather unpleasantly when ignored. You can take it or leave it, but it’s still true whether we like it or not.

If there are concerns about inequities, people of goodwill should find a way to address the inequities without endowing a centralized bureaucracy with the power to impose legal isolation on every single one of us, and particularly on children.

Families are the Roots of Community          

Below are a few claims DePaulo uses to support her belief that marriage should be abolished, and by logical extension, why she believes each and every person should be legally single:

  • Married people are “insular” and don’t contribute much to community
  • Married people don’t call their parents or siblings as often as singles do
  • Singles do more things “in the community” than marrieds do:  “They participate more in civil groups and public events, they take more art and music classes.”
  • Singles, not marrieds, keep cities lively and dynamic
  • Singles, she says, visit sick and infirm people more than married people in Britain do

DePaulo doesn’t cite sources on the above.  She’s suggesting, I guess, that singles are in some form, morally superior because, for example, they call Mom and Dad more than married people.  This is silliness.  Just arguing on her terms, I’d venture a guess that married couples are far more involved in community schools.  I don’t know how many members of legislatures and county councils and people who work for non-profits are married versus single.  But I’d be willing to bet it’s quite a majority of marrieds, even today.   And, no, married people are not morally superior for this participation.

Intimacy, not Separation, is What Breeds Trust

But I do find one of DePaulo’s observations of particular interest.  She writes that “getting married changes people in ways that make them more insular.”  I think what DePaulo perceives as “insular” is probably just a by-product of intimacy. Intimacy requires time and a certain degree of exclusivity and privacy in relationship. Committed relationships usually require intense work and a great degree of self-sacrifice that’s not going to be handily visible in the public sphere.  Nevertheless, that kind of interpersonal work with family members pays huge dividends for society because it tends to build empathy.

What this means, though, is that contributions to the community by marrieds – with or without children – are going to have deep roots and perhaps might not be as apparent to people like DePaulo who look to have everybody engaged on the surface, primarily in public places.   Not so much in private places which seem “insulated” from the larger community.  It seems that DePaulo doesn’t view the nurturing of one’s own children as something that counts in this scheme of things.  Nor perhaps would running a scout troop, or volunteering at your child’s school or with their sports teams, or through a church.  And certainly not the hard work of ironing out a committed relationship with or without children in the home.

If the only kinds of community activities that “count” in DePaulo’s eyes are at specific places identified as “community” – whether they be parks and recreation, theater groups, environmental groups, and so on – well, then, perhaps singles do those things more because that’s where the people are?  Or perhaps because practically every young adult today has “mandatory community service hours” to put in as requirement for high school graduation?   Regardless, DePaulo’s view speaks volumes about her stunted view of community and who contributes to it.

Abolishing Marriage Would Abolish Community 

I think we all understand in our gut that intimacy breeds trust.  Without trust – which has been declining over the past several decades – people become alienated and true community dies. You can have lots of people out there doing lots of activities, busy as bees at the hive.  But if there are no bonds of family intimacy which serve as the unseen ground water that irrigates the community – or what goes on unseen inside the hive of community by both marrieds and singles — then you don’t really have a community.  What you have left is a shell of a hive with the bees buzzing about outside of it.  Yes, you can see them better that way.  But without the hidden core – consisting of families, consisting of both marrieds and singles – each of us ultimately has no place to go.

Let’s abolish the Big Lie that abolishing civil marriage would “get the state out of the marriage business.”  It would do the exact opposite, which is why statists love the idea so much.  I leave you with this excerpt from my Federalist piece:

All of the machinery of this bait-and-switch operation is well in motion to abolish civil marriage, and with it family autonomy. So our national conversation on marriage ought to cut right to the chase. Ultimately, the real question is not about who can get married, but whether or not we may live in a society that recognizes marriage and family. Abolishing civil marriage is a dangerous proposition that imposes legal isolation on everybody, making us all strangers to one another in the eyes of the state.

Singleton Nation

Rise in single adult Americans since 1976

 

Check out the above chart that was published last week in a Bloomberg News article about a growing trend among Americans to stay single rather than marry.  For the first time ever, a majority of the adult US population is single.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics — which supplies the figures in its monthly jobs report — calculates the percentage of “selfies” as 50.2 percent, or 124.6 million adult Americans.  That’s up from 37.4 percent in 1976.

I see this shift as an indicator that the individual in our society is becoming more “atomized,” with individuals less connected to others in strong relationships.  Fewer marriages mean fewer children in marriages and more detachment from a sense of family.  This in turn can lead to a strong feeling of displacement, a feeling that there are no community bonds either.

In fact, only natural families can build natural communities that nurture young and old alike:  communities of faith and voluntary associations that include deep friendships based on trust. When a sense of belonging is gone and trust in others is diminished, people look for comfort in other places: shallow relationships, gangs, the anesthesia of drugs, and government programs.

It all makes for the perfect vacuum for the State to fill.  The State is always promoting its own brand of artificial community that can’t substitute for intimate bonds of love.  It’s been taking over the functions of family in policies like state-run childcare, elder care, health, and education.  People who feel isolated naturally look to these programs when there’s no place else to go.

But the silver lining is that 75 percent of adult Americans are either married or say they want to get married, according to a 2013 Gallup poll.  And when high school seniors were asked how important a good marriage was to them, the results were even more encouraging: 84.5 percent of girls and 77 percent of boys replied that it was “extremely important.”

So people still desire strong relationships, and they still say that they do.  We should remember that because it’s cause for optimism and offers a window of opportunity.  It means people really do believe in their hearts that strong family ties are the best way to defeat alienation and loneliness.  We need to reach out and find new and effective ways to convey the obvious truth that strong marriages make happy communities.

“The Giver” is Worth Seeing and it’s Still in Theaters

Play the trailer below to get a faint idea as to how Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver was adapted for the screen.  

The setting is a dystopian society, which, of course thinks of itself as utopian.  The perfect “community.” Children are assigned to family “units” and everyone lives an illusion of peace and harmony because they’ve been anesthetized not to feel any strong emotions.  All memory of human history was wiped out in order to protect them from pain and suffering.  Everyone lives a sort of outwardly pleasant robotic existence.  They practice “precision of language” and apologize to one another a lot. There’s no real personal choice. One’s life — just like the economy — is planned from on high.

And it all leads to blind cruelty.

In the story, one person designated as “The Giver” (played by Jeff Bridges) serves as a keeper of the memories.   It is a covert position that was established in the event the elders of the society ever needed to consult on a question requiring that knowledge.  (Meryl Streep plays the chief elder.)  A boy named Jonas (played by Brenton Thwaites) has to try to make sense of it all.

If you’re going to the movies this weekend, I definitely recommend The Giver.  Despite any flaws, it’s a rare and welcome message in these painfully politically correct times.  To learn more, click on Jack Fowler’s review of The Giver in National Review: “Take Someone to The Giver.” 

Vin Scully and My Take on Baseball and Life

Vin Scully

If you’re not a baseball fan, or if you’re not familiar with Vin Scully, just think about the impact of nostalgia on your life and the importance of relationships in it. I wrote about legendary Dodger baseball announcer Vin Scully in my latest Federalist piece, not because I know much about baseball.  I don’t really. But he is now in his 65th year announcing for the Dodgers, and I believe his story says something big about how our lives intersect with so many others.  If you read my essay “Vin Scully and the Soul of the Crowd,”  you may well connect with what Scully says he felt as a child listening to “the roar of the crowd” on the radio:

His fascination with the “roar of the crowd” represents something I think we all want and which is unattainable on earth: the chance to converse with all of humanity at the same time. It represents a desire to be in community—or in communion—with others. It’s like being in a grand conversation in which no one can predict what will happen next. A community like that is held together through mutual respect and the anticipation of joy.

This is a feeling that I think reflects in part what C.S. Lewis meant in his essay “The Weight of Glory,” a universal human longing to “bathe” in a glory we can hardly put into words. Lewis notes that we often mistake this for a sense of “nostalgia,” but it’s so much more than that.

Nostalgia can overwhelm us with a sense of wistfulness.  When that feeling takes hold, we find ourselves looking back with longing, hoping to find something “close to home,” something permanent to hold on to.  Nostalgia is triggered by any one of our senses. The sight of a memento, the sound of a voice, the touch of a fabric, a frangrance, a taste.  It comes to us as a  reminder that we feel lost in time and we ache for a sense of connection in relationships with others through all of space and time.

The sound of Scully’s voice brings back memories of my father listening to his beloved Dodger games.  It brings back echoes of my childhood  — as it does for so many baseball fans who grew up hearing Scully call the plays while telling us stories. The idea of his career ending brings us sorrow.  We’ll miss him.  And the feeling is mutual.  In his words, “It’s the relationships I’ll miss most.”

 

“The Wave” and the Cult Mindset

Human beings — especially Americans these days — don’t seem to understand how susceptible we are to group think.   A cult mindset can be very contagious if it is left unchecked.  Cults grow where people feel a sense of isolation, when they don’t ask hard questions, and when they are weak on discernment.  Below is a short movie called “The Wave.”  It’s based on actual events at a high school during the 1960’s.  It started with a teacher-supervised class experiment in group think, but it took on an ominous life of its own.

If you want to delve into the background, click here to look over the website www.thewavehome.com which was put together by the original participants. Here is an excerpt from the website:

In spring 1967, in Palo Alto, California, history teacher Ron Jones conducted an experiment with his class of 15-year-olds to sample the experience of the attraction and rise of the Nazis in Germany before World War II.  In a matter of days the experiment began to get out of control, as those attracted to the movement became aggressive zealots and the rigid rules invited confusion and chaos.  This story has attracted considerable attention over the years through films, books, plays and musicals, and verges on urban legend.  It serves as a teaching tool, to facilitate discussion of those uncomfortable topics of history, human nature, psychology, group behavior, intolerance and hate.

As an aside, I don’t want anyone to get too put off when they discover that Norman Lear produced this 1981 TV movie.  That’s fascinating, of course, because Lear is about as far left/statist as one can get in Hollywood.  And yet “The Wave” is an important story with urgent lessons for all of us. There seems to be a pattern among those who claimed to fight for independent thought in earlier eras, but who push political correctness so hard today. One can only wonder if the hijacking of stories and images warning against totalitarianism serve only to promote their power agendas of today.

“The Abilene Paradox:” Saying “Yes” when You’d Rather say “No”

The other day we saw how Solomon Asch’s conformity experiments, showed that people will deny what they see with their own eyes when under social pressure.   But what happens if the group pressure is not flatly stated, but only perceived  pressure?  Pretty much the same thing.   Watch the clip below of “The Abilene Paradox,” an organizational  training film based on the book by Jerry B. Harvey, professor of management at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Professor Harvey was trying to figure out why organizations so often ended up making decisions against their own self interest. Click here for a link to his book about this, which is a parable based on his own personal life experience.  His experience was a very uncomfortable family trip 50+ miles away in a hot car in the blazing hot 100+ degree Texan heat just to have supper at a cafeteria in Abilene that no one felt like going to.  The father only made the suggestion because he assumed that’s what everyone else wanted to do. He had no interest himself.  But they, in turn, assumed this was his wish and so all voiced agreement when not a single one of them wanted to go.  You’ll see a couple of other examples in the trailer.  A research and development guy who’s been tasked with “Project X:” making jet fuel out of peanut oil; and a young man and woman at the altar who don’t really want to get married to one another.

So when we do not want to embark on a course of action, why do we so easily agree to do so? And why don’t we at least communicate our disagreement?  Seems we just don’t want to rock the boat. Jerry Harvey’s conclusion is that human beings are always trying to spare themselves the pain of “anaclitic depression” or separation anxiety: Feeling cast out, unwanted, isolated.  It’s as though we’re always in survival mode when these defenses kick in.

The irony is that the human fear of social isolation runs so deep that we will navigate a huge portion of our lives around it and constantly make assumptions — often false — about what other people believe without really knowing.  In fact, you can know someone for years thinking they disagree with your views only to find out later he was on board with you with just about every issue.  But we never know if we don’t talk to people.  Do we?

Instead of acting on our assumptions , we ought to verify those perceptions more often.

The Abilene Paradox is another good lesson about how political correctness uses this human weakness.  By reinforcing this fear of isolation, people are less likely to get to know one another and exchange ideas.  Political correctness promotes this isolation so that open communication doesn’t get in the way of pushing PC agendas, and more folks can be nudged into agreement despite any misgivings they may have.