Friday, August 30, 2013

Abortion Harms Women - the Next Generation

  Over the last few months I have listened to the BBC radio, read various publications, and visited a number of blogs all discussing the increase in rapes in India. Many of these pieces are merely informative; most of the rest are shallow. A handful mention the large (and growing) imbalance between men and women.
  It is doubtless that there are cultural factors involved but also doubtless that the stark difference in the numbers of men and women is a key factor in the increase in harassment, rape, and sex trafficking.
   And of course only one media outlet that I have encountered has breathed a whisper of the cause for this great imbalance, the rest have never discussed the ultimate source of this surge in violence against women.
  Abortion.
  Even the single article I encountered in Time magazine simply mentions abortion - the majority of its discussion is about how 'too many men in a population is bad'. This is an interesting way to frame the problem, isn't it? Why isn't it phrased 'too few women in a society is bad'? After all, the situation isn't being caused by adding men but by killing baby girls, right?
  I am not shocked by the way this imbalance is phrased, of course. While sex-selective abortion in Asia, Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe is most likely to favor boys at the cost of more dead infant girls in America and Western Europe it is the other way around and girls are slightly favored over boys (the pro-boy sex selective abortion of Asian immigrants tends to hide this). Indeed, the concept that 'men are the problem' seems to be part and parcel of the 'boys are toxic' attitudes of Western Liberals.
  The real issue, the core issue, is abortion and the attitudes associated with it. Indeed, sex selective abortion is one of the most glaring demonstrations of the moral contradictions inherent in those who support abortion. While there is a strong majority of feminists and others who support abortion that call for it to be available on demand, unrestricted, and subsidized many of them struggle with the fact that the real-world result of abortion on demand is fewer women, more sexual violence against women, and shorter lifespans for men.
  In short - abortion on demand is demonstrably bad for men, for society, and especially for women.
  But, as many of the links above repeat in their own words, the majority of Western feminists want unrestricted abortion despite knowing the massive negative impact it will have on them and their own children. They are promoting the unrestricted murder of children not only in disregard of the crime itself but in disregard of the undeniable negative impact it will certainly have on coming generations. There is no possible way this can be seen as moral, ethical, logical, or even rational. The reference to abortion as sacred may be literally true - pro-abortion supporters may actually treat abortion as if it were completely separate from morality, or even the source of morality.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Virtuous and the Vicious

  Aristotle tells us that when it comes to morals there are 4 types of people; the Virtuous, the Continent, the Incontinent, and the Vicious.
  The Virtuous person is morally good for its own sake. To be Virtuous,
"...then, is a state concerned with choice, lying in a mean relative to us, this being determined by reason and in the way in which the man of practical wisdom would determine it. Now it is a mean between two vices, that which depends on excess and that which depends on defect."
  Aristotle illuminates what he means by speaking of temper. An irascible man (i.e., one who loses his temper often and over minor issues) is wrong because he is inappropriately over-reacting. The timid man (who never loses his temper) is wrong because certain things (injustice, for example) deserve our anger yet he is inappropriately under-reacting. A man with an improper excess of courage is foolhardy and reckless while a man with an improper lack of courage is a coward, etc. The temperate man is angry when it is appropriate and brave in an appropriate manner. In a similar vein the Virtuous man reacts appropriately in moral situations.
  The Virtuous man is not conflicted about moral actions; his emotions and reason are aligned and there is no internal struggle to do the morally correct thing. Being Virtuous is a state, not a potential or tendency. And it is the state of understanding reality with both reason and emotion. Or as Aristotle and St. Thomas explain, a Virtuous man understands what is right, chooses to do the virtuous thing, acts properly upon this choice, and does not have 'contrary desires'. By 'contrary desires' they each mean the inner conflict of doing the right thing but wishing you could have done something else (such as not taking a bribe but wanting to have taken it).
  Of course, not everyone is Virtuous; many of us do the right thing but have contrary desires or understand what the moral choice is and wish to do it, but still act inappropriately. Aristotle divides these groups into the Continent and the Incontinent.
  The Continent man resembles the Virtuous man; his reason understands the moral good; he chooses to act appropriately; and he does act appropriately. But he suffers from contrary desires - he wants to run away almost more than to fight; he wants to indulge his lust rather than remain chaste; he wants to be stingy rather than pay the appropriate amount; etc. 
  In other words the Continent man is succeeding by self-mastery. By understanding the moral good he is able to overcome emotional resistance to it and accomplish the moral acts that are appropriate. And this is good because habitual success in this self-mastery over time can lead a person to Virtue where the contrary desires fade and are replaced with the proper alignment of reason and emotion as the result of virtue is understood by both the rational and irrational parts of the person. This self-mastery is the task of youth so that as they become mature they may also become Virtuous. Failure to master the self and properly align your emotions with reason can cause the Continent to become Incontinent, however.
  The Incontinent man is very similar to the Continent man but lacks the same level of self-mastery. The Incontinent man recognizes the good and, recognizing it, wishes to do the good but fails to act appropriately because of his contrary desires. The man who wishes to be a whistleblower but does not act for financial reasons (from loss of position); the bystander that knows they should stop the fight but fails to do so from cowardice; etc. 
  The incontinent man is failing from lack of self-mastery. With effort the Incontinent man may grow to be Continent and, then, Virtuous, but this is a great effort. With the wrong sort of effort the Incontinent man becomes Vicious.
  Obviously most people fall within the range of the Continent and Incontinent. Aristotle tells us (and St. Thomas warns us) that with proper moral and intellectual training and effort the Continent and Incontinent can either rise to be Virtuous or fall and be Viscous, as I mentioned above. In each case it is the habits of moral choice and action that guide the moral development of a man.
  The Vicious man is an inversion of the Virtuous man. His core flaw is he cannot properly choose - he mistakes virtue for vice and vice for virtue. He sees licentiousness not as an excess, but as good, for example. The Vicious man may see greed, cowardice, stinginess, vanity, and  boorishness as good and regard the Continent and Virtuous as fools. 
  As a result the Vicious man does not understand what is right, chooses to act wrongly, acts wrongly, and has no contrary desires. The truly vicious man may well cheat a family of their home, lie to a judge (sending his sister to prison unjustly), and physically bully an innocent child and yet sleep well at night, convinced they are correct in their choices and actions.
  The Vicious man is usually the result of the poor habits of the Incontinent man. After enough times of their contrary desires thwarting their proper choices their reason becomes undermined by improper emotion. Or, since their conscience is constantly pricked by their moral failing they decide, unconsciously, to correct the issue by rejecting morality. They, in effect, become irrational about morals in order to avoid the pain of their internal emotional conflict. Their improperly-ordered reason is a result of their improperly-ordered emotions and habitual actions resulting in an improperly-ordered self-love.
  Indeed, because of his twisted version of self-love the Vicious man will often strongly defend his choices even as his self-love is focused on material goods, possessions, and advantages over others. Where the Virtuous man (who has a properly-ordered self-love) will reject what St. Thomas calls the 'common vices' the Vicious will revel in the common vices and in excess, believing them to be 'good'. The Vicious man embraces debauchery as entertainment even as they reject chastity as foolish. Likewise the Vicious reject art the elevates for crude colors; they replace the beauty of the human form with pornography; they prefer drunken gluttony to the family meal; they replace fine music with crude rhythms; etc. 
  In the end the Vicious man, however seemingly educated, regardless of social position or wealth, despite a clear gaze and steady voice embraces the crude, the crass, the foolish, the irrational, the common, the low, the shallow, and the false. And once embraced they hold it aloft, proclaiming these things to be cultivated, sophisticated, subtle, reasonable, rare, elevated, profound, and true and demand that others agree with them.


  Here are some pieces related to this article:
  1) What makes premium cable so great?
  2) What is his name?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

2,996: Janice Ashley

On the 10th Anniversary

2,996 is an attempt to have bloggers place a separate tribute for each of the people who were killed on September 11th, 2001 on the internet. When I heard of the project, I signed up immediately. Not because knew anyone personally, nor because I thought it would make me a hero, but for more complicated reasons.

Ten years later, I am posting this, again, as I try to do each year.

As a veteran I had hoped that the random assignment of victim to blogger might allow me to write about a soldier in the pentagon, letting me use a quasi-personal connection to add depth. I was not assigned a soldier; I was assigned a young woman. A young woman with a connection a bit closer than any soldier I never met. A young woman that made me struggle with this tribute for weeks.

My struggle was about the focus of this tribute. At first, I wanted to avoid any mention of me, or my vague connection to some of the victims. I thought that this would make it more centered on the tragedy. No matter how I tried, though, it just sounded flat and dull. I realized that, for me at least, this tribute is about not “just” one of the 2,996 that died, but how we were all and affected. How each of these deaths touched each of us who lived. How the murder of these innocent people was an attack on each and every one of us, an attack that did harm by removing so many good people from our midst.

My job at the time of 9/11 meant that I had business to business dealings with literally thousands of firms all over the world. While most of these clients were rather distant and impersonal, some of these connections led to friendships that last to this day. One of the firms I dealt with, if rarely, was Fred Alger Management in Tower One of the World Trade Center complex. On the 93rd floor, Fred Alger Management was in the area of the impact, blast, and initial fire of the first plane impact.

Of the 36 employees at Fred Alger Management at that time, none survived.

For the next few weeks a great deal of my life was helping firms in the WTC complex rebuild. One of those firms was Fred Alger Management. We did everything we could, as did thousands (if not millions) of other people at hundreds of other firms.

After it was all over, I moved on to another job at another firm. In 2004 and 2005 I traveled to New York and visited Ground Zero. On a small handful of occasions I spoke of the work I did, and about the firms I worked with where everyone there that day died in the attacks. I realized last Summer that the attacks sometimes seemed more immediate to me than my own, personal, brush with death in April 2001, just a few months before.

So, back to the beginning, when I heard of 2,996 I signed up right away. I did it because I know that there are many others who feel 9/11 and its impact every day. I need to talk about it, and you probably need to listen.

The person randomly assigned to me that day was Janice Ashley, a research assistant with Fred Alger Management.

As I began my research I immediately hoped to speak to her parents. I was able to identify her mother and, with a long chain of friends-of-friends, I was given her mother’s home number. I called it, spoke to a person who identified herself as having the same name as Janice Ashley’s mother and had the same address – and insisted she was no relation.

I spent two days thinking about this as I left messages with groups Janice’s mother is or was involved in, asking for contact. I left similar messages for friends and other relatives, all asking for some personal insight into Janice and her life. I was never called. As a result, I will respect the apparent desire for her family and friends for privacy [and I hope you will, too]. As the entire world fills itself with reminders 9/11 I am sure that the Ashley family is not alone in wishing to be left in peace while they mourn their loved ones.

As a result, I know the following about Janice Ashley. She was 25 years old. She graduated from Oceanside High School in 1994. She graduated from Cornell with a degree in English. She was an artist. She had many friends. She hoped to, some day, open a florist gift shop. She had a nice smile and was pretty in a wholesome, girl-next-door way.

These little details are just that – the little, important details, the stuff you would put in a bio about a promotion to vice-president, or a quick ‘please introduce yourself” speech at a three-day seminar. Where we were, where we are, where we want to go will always be the important details. But it still somehow misses so much. It doesn’t tell us if she liked dangly earrings, or if she hated lipstick. I don’t know if she liked caramel more than fudge, or butterscotch best of all. Did she have running gags with her friends, the sort of familiar, well-worn joke that could elicit a smile with just a word and a cocked eyebrow? I don’t know. And I never will.

Janice Ashley would be 35 years old right now, if she had not been murdered. In the ten years that have elapsed since 9/11 she would have certainly met new people, made new friends, tried new things, and forgotten her keys once or twice. She didn’t get to do those things. All of the people she would have touched were prevented from doing so. All of the people she would have become close to have been robbed of a friend. Janice Ashley will never marry, she will never give her parents grandchildren, and she will never look forward to grandchildren of her own. She was denied the chance to have these things.

To the best of my knowledge, I never spoke with Janice when I called (or was called by) Fred Alger Management. Based upon what her family and friends say in other tributes and interviews, I think I would remember if I had. Much of the sorrow I feel about the death of Janice is for her family and friends, people who knew her and cared for her. But some of the sorrow I feel when I think of Janice, or of any of those killed that day, are for me and the rest of us who are still here. The attackers have denied us the chance to meet them, to learn from them, to love them. All of those people, 2,996 of them, were taken from us and we are poorer for it. I will never meet Janice when I am in New York talking to financial companies. I have no chance to see her on the street, or read about her promotion. I will never buy flowers for my wife in her store.

All of these rich, wonderful, frustrating, sometimes-boring, sometimes-sublime people have been taken from us. And we cannot get them back. The tragedy was a human one. The tragedy and the loss are ours and we are still learning just how big the loss was.


Good-bye, Janice. We all miss you.


The CNN.com tribute is here.

The legacy.com legacy is here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Who Decides? Part 2


A Reprint

originally posted 1/18/07


In my introduction to education and homeschooling I discussed my conversation with Prof. Rob Reich, who is seen as an opponent by most homeschoolers, and his view that parents should not have sole control of the education of their children. His opinion was echoed in comments by Elliot, who feels that the government should determine what is taught to all children. These two people, along with many others outside homeschooling who discuss how to ‘limit’ it, or structure it, or regulate it, etc. all seem to touch on the core topic involved without quite realizing what that core topic really is. Even Prof. Reich, with a Ph.D. in Political Science, at first didn’t realize that regulation of homeschooling is about the power of the state to control or eliminate pluralism.

Pluralism is, briefly, the concept that in a democratic society there will exist people and groups that disagree with each other and that this is OK. In deed, some argue that this disagreement is good and that the resulting dialogue can lead to discovery. Yes, multiculturalism is part of this idea of pluralism, but pluralism is more of a realpolitik acceptance of reality than an attempt to make a ‘rainbow coalition’ of enforced diversity.

In other words, pluralism is the acceptance of the fact that there are people who think electricity and automobiles are potentially sources of personal character erosion, there are other people who hope and plan for the transformation of mankind into technological creatures with little remaining attachment to their human roots, and that these two groups coexist, already, in the world. While the Amish and Transhumanist have little in common, they are both elements of American society (and world society, for that matter). I don’t know Prof. Reich that well, but I suspect that if I told him I planned to create a program that would convince the Amish that their lifestyle was backwards, mistaken, ‘wrong’, etc. he would at least be disturbed. After all, the Amish, although small, are part of what makes the world a rich, interesting place. They both reflect and raise interesting questions about the role of technology in human culture and how we can and should react to change.

At the same time, if I were to tell Elliot that ‘the State’ has guidelines that would force transhumanists to tell their kids (or, uh, whatever they consider their progeny) that posthumanist ideas are immoral, unnatural, or too fantastic to be believed, he would likewise be disturbed. While a fringe movement in as many ways as the Amish, transhumanists also raise questions about man and machine and how they can and should affect each other. The Amish and the transhumanists have radically different concepts of the nature of man and nearly-opposite views of the role of technology, views that they will likely never reconcile – and that is OK. Even if their differences in outlook and belief add nothing to the ‘greater good’ of the society around them, they are equal in their rights to hold their beliefs as they do – if we do, indeed, live in a free and pluralistic society.

I always become concerned when I hear discussion of what is good for ‘the state’ or for ‘society’, especially when discussing education. What if ‘the state’ we are talking about it, oh, Nazi Germany? Or Castro’s Cuba? Or Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge? All of these ‘states’ had clear ideas of what was good for ‘the state’ and made education a keystone in their creation of their vision of a better ‘state’, didn’t they? During the American Civil War the Confederacy had laws forbidding the teaching of literacy to slaves – once again, for the good of ‘the state’. When we look at the parents who taught their children that fascism was not perfect and Jews not inherently evil in the Austria of 1939, or the parents who teach modern Cuban children that speaking out against the ruler-for-life is not immoral, or Cambodians that insisted to their kids that a better life didn’t require the extermination of 1/3 of their fellow citizens, or the person who taught the children of slaves to read and write, we do not see someone who is working against the Good, do we?

No, what we see in these situations is people want to pass on their own values, despite what intentions or convictions ‘the state’ may have, and that the most powerful way of passing on those values is through teaching them to their own children. This is something so important, so central to the very concept of being a parent that we really can’t imagine it being separated from the very nature of parenthood. It is also the primary method that beliefs and values are passed down through generations. Groups as varied as the Assyrians and some American Indian tribes knew that the most effective way to eliminate an opposed group was to force their children to be raised in your own group. This forced assimilation was accomplished by simply taking these potential enemies while they were children and teaching them that your own ways were the best, even the only, methods and beliefs. In no more than a few generations the former opponents would vanish, absorbed into your own group and holding your own beliefs.

Remember all those feel-good examples of iconoclast parents breaking the rules to teach their kids in defiance of ‘the state’? Here’s the deal – in order to allow those sorts of heroes, you must also allow the other sort of hero – you know, the people who teach things you disagree with. Right now in Sweden, kids are being taught not to trust ‘the Jew’; in London, parents are teaching their children that Blacks are shiftless and lazy; in China kids are being told that Americans are all greedy and lazy; in San Francisco kids are being told that homosexuals are deviants; in Canada children are being taught that that Hitler fellow may have been right about a few things. You may disagree with every one of those positions (in fact, I hope you do), but if you think you can ban parent’s from teaching those things to their kids, what makes you different from the Nazi’s who wanted to ban the idea that Jews are just people? Why are you superior to the Klansmen of Indiana? In what substantial way do you differ from the faculty of Bob Jones University in 1968?

Plurality and a free society demand that for free speech to really be free, we must, and I mean must, tolerate the speech we like least. Most importantly, it means that we must allow the transmission of beliefs across the generations. You don’t like fascists? Fine, teach your kids to not like fascists, too. But does that mean that a grandson of someone who fought for the Royalists in the Spanish Civil War can’t teach his own kids that Franco was fighting for the life and future of Spain? Can he not teach them that the Falangists were the good guys and made the nation a better place?

Or, for an argument closer to home and the American homeschooling movement, can you demand that a homeschooler teach their child that evolution is “right”? If so, why? Here’s another step; a fair number of homeschoolers, especially the earliest, were radical Leftists, not Christian Fundamentalists. Can you demand that they teach their children that Capitalism is “right”? After all, Communism is a total failure as an economic system (see: the Soviet Union, pre-economic-reform China, Cuba, Cambodia, etc., etc.) and Capitalism is the system that runs the Western economy. It is obvious that those narrow-minded, doctrinaire Marxist parents are doing their kids no favors by giving them a sheltered, even blinkered, view of the world. I say that the government should demand that they be taught the truth about Communism being wrong and Capitalism being right; after all, it is in the best interests of the children…. Right?

Still not a clear example? State after state after state has passed bans on gay marriage. The concensus is obviously that the average American is opposed to gay marriage – does that mean that homeschoolers should instruct their kids that gay marriage is ‘wrong’? No? OK, then why should it teach that gay marriage is ‘right’? Because you think it is?

The list of contentious issues is a long one with these just a starting point. It is important that the contentious issues raised by opponents of homeschooling are not about math, or spelling, or handwriting.

Prof. Reich mentioned during our discussion that he was concerned that homeschooled kids could grow up so sheltered, so narrowly educated, so focused on the ideology of their own parents, that they were literally unable to interact with people from a different religion in a meaningful way (I find it telling that he discussed this in the context of religious belief, not politics or some other cultural element). He wanted to ensure that homeschooled children receive enough education about other points of view that they can interact with them. I asked him if he was aware of kids so narrowly indoctrinated and he admitted that he does not, even anecdotally. He also admitted when I asked that public school doesn’t really educate kids for this, either. I think that this attitude is more important than Prof. Reich realizes. There are no standards for comparative religion studies in the public school systems that I am aware of – why have higher standards for homeschooled kids?

The NEA’s stated opposition (well, at least in the situation mentioned) is about kids ‘not being exposed to people from a range of cultural and economic strata’ (to paraphrase). Now, I have no idea who diverse the students are in, say, Blake Elementary (with 11 students) or Russell High School, but if this exposure is so very critical (and I think that remains to be proven), then why must homeschoolers ensure it when it is so very absent from many public schools? Indeed, a great deal of the NEA’s focus in recent years seems to be beyond traditional education.

Prof. Reich’s example was not about kids unable to do enough math to make change, or unable to read well enough to fill out a job application (topics we will touch on next time), but about the cultural outlook of children and young adults. Indeed, all of these hot button topics about homeschooling are not about reading (homeschoolers are better), or writing (homeschoolers are better), or mathematics (homeschoolers are better) [again, the next article will be in academic performance, so be patient]. Nope, even the ‘socialization’ bugbear is really not the main issue. The issues, the hot buttons, all the things that get opponents of homeschooling frothed boil down to cultural outlook.

This is why many on both sides focus on evolution/creationism. Those homeschoolers who leave public schools because of evolution clearly state that they feel the public schools are being used to subvert the beliefs and values that parents want their children to develop and support. While many who want to force all children to learn evolution claim that understanding evolution is a pre-requisite for being a functional adult, let’s be honest – how many public-school educated adults (or high school seniors) can state what the definition of evolution is? [If you think that evolution is defined as “a change in allele frequency over time”, you got the question right. If not, maybe your education was lacking….]. Just as importantly, since many of the arguments for an imposed curricula is because it is for ‘the good of the child’ or ‘the good of the society’ or ‘the state’ – how important is an in-depth understanding of evolutionary theory to you?

I assume that it isn’t very important to your life at all. Unless you wish a career in evolutionary biology or evolutionary psychology you really don’t have any need for an in-depth understanding of evolutionary theory. If you have a career outside of certain branches of biology, you might not need to know (or believe) anything about evolution at all. Isaac Newton developed calculus while quite ignorant of evolution, John Locke published his ideas that the legitimacy of government exists only with the consent of the governed 70 years before Darwin published The Origin of Species, the Bill of Rights for the United States was written and adopted also more than six decades before Darwin published on evolution, and the rules of logic, reason, and rational deduction were developed in ancient Greece by men who explicitly believed in the spontaneous generation of life.

In short, those ideas seen as cornerstones of democracy (natural rights, the nature of government, equality of people, etc.) and of science (rational deduction, logic, mathematics, etc.) can, have, and do, flourish even in the direct rejection of evolutionary theory. The claim that a child must be taught evolution to be a ‘good citizen’ is ludicrous and the claim that a child must have an in-depth understanding in and acceptance of evolution to be prepared for a career is only true if that child must have a career in evolutionary biology.

Is there any wonder than many homeschool advocates, even ones with degrees in biology and a deep understanding of evolutionary theory, suspect that the advocates of mandatory evolution education may have, shall we say, a deeper agenda? The public debate between the religious and secular elements of society has largely been centered around evolution since about, oh, 1859 or so. While many believers in religion accept evolution as a scientific fact in varying degrees, some (especially Fundamentalists) do not. Despite the rather broad acceptance of evolution among the general body of believers, it cannot be denied that evolution is still a primary tool of opponents of religion who attempt to portray religious belief as inherently wrong. While some proponents of demands that evolution be taught to children are honestly only interested in a well-rounded science education, to deny that some are motivated by anti-religious prejudice is, at best, naïve.

This, again, cuts to the cultural basis of this debate. While the most often stated reason homeschoolers cite for their decision to teach their own kids is to give their children a better education, over 38% cite religious reasons and over 12% state that they object to what the local/available public school teaches. These parents obviously want to control the cultural, moral, and ethical education of their children. I do not see how this can be opposed without opponents admitting that they want control of the moral, ethical, and social education of children to be taken, in whole or in part, from parents. Prof. Reich was kind enough to simply state that as his own position. Elliot simply states that parents have no such control if ‘the state’ decides that certain morals, ethics, etc. are ‘minimum requirements’.

Remember those examples of parents bucking the trends and teaching their children their own morality I gave above? This is because in any society there will be people who disagree with one another – that’s just the way it is. When those people are a minority or distrust/disagree with some element of society they will attempt to avoid it and/or replace it with their own version of it. One example from the American education experience is the Catholic school system. When Catholic immigrants began to reach America in large numbers they found that the existing public schools were anti-Catholic with explicitly anti-Catholic sentiments expressed by teachers and textbooks. This attempt by the mainstream to forcibly assimilate Catholics was met with the creation of a separate network of schools built, maintained, and funded by Catholics. These schools were opposed by the Know Nothing Party, a group that also wanted to mandate minimums in education for all children – mainly to make sure they were taught the ‘proper’ (read ‘Protestant’) version of the bible.

Do any readers wish to argue that Catholics were wrong to want to preserve their culture and beliefs in the face of this hostility? If you think that they were, what do you have to say about the history of mandatory public schools as a tool to purposefully destroy American Indian culture? After all, the intent of those who determined that American Indian children would be forbidden to speak their language and taught that their religion was superstitious nonsense had, at heart, the very best interests of those children. Did the parents of those children have any right to reject public schools and the ‘minimums’ the state had determined? To insist that they, the parents, could determine what their children should learn, thank you? According to Elliot – no, they didn’t. If ‘the state’ determines that all kids must learn that animism is silliness, irrationality, and superstitious; well, that’s a minimum to get by in the modern world, isn’t it? And Prof. Reich with his concern that parent’s not be allowed to completely determine what their children learn is just a few steps back, in my opinion.

How about today, when public school curricula actively promote stances that conflict directly with Catholic beliefs? If parents concerned with these issues can send their kids to Catholic schools, why not homeschool them? The Amish won a long court battle that allows them to have their own schools so that their children can be taught as their parents wish – including not following the compulsory education laws. Why are the legitimate desires of the Amish to pass on their beliefs and culture worthy of being honored, but not homeschooling parents who happen to be, say, pagans?

This desire to strip parents of their authority over their children or to claim that the interests of ‘the state’ trump the interests of parents in their own children are, at heart, anti-democratic. The essence of democracy is that each person is inherently valuable and all are equal before the law. The natural rights that we pre-suppose when we discuss democracy include the rights to think, speak, and believe as we wish. Our children are, ultimately, the most powerful agent of change that exists in any society, especially in a democracy. After all, our children will continue to work, vote, and act within a democracy long after we are dead. People do not work hard to pass on frivolities to their children, and they do not sacrifice their time, money, and opportunities to educate their kids in things that they, the parents themselves, find unimportant. Homeschoolers do what they do not only to provide a superior education for their children, but to attempt to preserve and spread their own beliefs – in effect, to preserve their own culture.

Limiting this ability is, in the end, limiting the speech and beliefs of the parents in a very critical manner. Prof. Reich is stating, implicitly, that parents do not have an unfettered right to exercise their beliefs or to express in speech their heart-felt thoughts. Elliot is saying that ‘the state’ (which is, after all, the people in a democracy) trumps the desires of its citizens. In each case, the underlying statement is ‘you can believe whatever you like, I guess, but don’t expect us to allow you to promulgate it’.

In many ways, the desire to determine what homeschoolers can and cannot, must and must not, teach their children is just a shade of the Know Nothings and the Indian Office. It is someone determining that they know best, or at least better. It is the belief that someone, either yourself or an ‘expert’, is better/smarter/better educated/more ‘mainstream’ than a parent and that you need to intervene in how they raise their child – for the good of the children, of course! Eventually, with enough education, you can finally get the population all thinking the right things, believing the right truths, and acting in the proper manner….

You ever read Brave New World?

Who Decides? Part 1


A Reprint from my other blog experiment

Originally Posted 1/18/2007

Just last week the Religion & Ethics Newsweekly program on PBS had a segment on homeschooling. As you might expect from that paragon of not-being-Leftist-no-matter-what-content-we-actually-show called PBS, it was terribly narrow in its focus, skewing the presentation into a very anti-homeschooling stance.

As usual, the focus of the report by the mainstream media was on two areas – 1) they’re crazy! And, 2) they are making their kids crazy, too! No matter how many homeschooled kids are Liberal and go to Evergreen State College (a rookery for the far Left), no matter how many homeschool magazines and blogs discuss evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology so that parents can discuss it with and teach it to their homeschooled kids, no mater how many homeschooling parents have a degree in biology or are professionals in fields such as Cell and Developmental Biology, and no matter how many homeschooled kids go on to be accepted at a major university to study biology, the money quote for any, and I mean any, mainstream media discussion of homeschooling is where a parent avows “we don’t teach evolution” and at least one child chimes in with “I don’t believe evolution”.

This is obviously meant to paint homeschooling in a negative light.

The program also refers to homeschoolers’ higher performance in reading, math, college GPA, SAT and ACT scores, but quotes Prof. Reich of Stanford (a professor of Political Science and Education) as, well, dismissing them. I was intrigued by this, did some research, and spoke with Prof. Reich via phone. Mr. Reich was very generous with his time and opinions, especially since I caught him with an unsolicited phone call on a national holiday. In short, I believe that this particular article and several others I have found that quote Mr. Reich do a poor job of explaining his objections.

In the almost 20 minutes that we spoke, Mr. Reich explained that he felt that current measures of homeschoolers’ performance are lacking for a simple reason – we don’t know how many kids are homeschooled. Therefore, we have no real idea what percentage take the ACT, go to college, etc. He even rejects the fact that homeschoolers perform substantially better on the ACT over traditionally schooled students because we have no idea what percentage of homeschoolers take the test – although he did admit that the self-selection to skew the results so much would need to be severe.

Personally, I find this a bit tough to swallow. After all, the ACT is administered to more than 50% of high school graduates in only 25 states, meaning that the ACT average for traditionally educated students is heavily self-selected, too. If the SAT or ACT was a universally-administered test for traditionally-educated students, but not for homeschoolers, he might have a point. As it is, he seems to accept the self-selected ACT scores for one group and to dismiss the self-selected scores of the other.

He went on to state that most information about homeschooling is anecdotal; that for every ‘a homeschooler won the national spelling bee’ story there is an ‘a homeschooler was kept at home to hide abuse’ story, and neither type of tale really told the entire story. He wants, he says, comprehensive data on all homeschoolers, akin to a drivers license for drivers.

With just a touch of prompting he elaborated that his true concern is that some homeschooled kids will grow up so isolated from outside influences that they will be unable to interact with other citizens with different beliefs which is, he states, a problem. In a pluralistic society like the modern world, I would tend to agree that such person could be a problem. When I asked if he knew of any homeschooled people with such narrow outlooks, he admitted he only really knew of… anecdotes.

During our discussion he was adamant that he felt parents have a right to pass on their own beliefs to their children, but was worried that they would not make their children aware of alternatives. At the end, I asked if a fair summary of his concern is,

“Who determines what homeschooled children are taught?”

He demurred, stating he felt a better summary would be.

“Parents should not have unchecked authority over their children’s education, nor should the government.”

Since I did catch him with a surprise call and a pop quiz, I will gently point out that he probably did not realize that his position is, indeed, a discussion of who determines what homeschooled children are taught.

Indeed, in my experience the entire debate about homeschooling always gets down to that bedrock question – who has the authority to determine how children are educated and what they learn?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig

Well, a little over a year ago I was very excited about this blog; I had been a Weblog Awards finalist 2 years in a row, my readership was up, links were thick, and I was posting regularly. So, on the advice of someone prominent in the blogging community, I got my own domain, switched to Word Press, and 'moved into the big leagues'.

Sure. My readership level did increase, but my writing frequency, length and quality all went down. I realize now that if I ever move to the 'big time' (whatever that is) I will be dragged there. This blog is something fun, not a job. When I treated like a job, it suffered.

So, once again, here I am. I will be re-posting the things from my brief experiment I like here and adding new content.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Short Note - Update

Deep Thought and the Airborne Philosophy Squad (Aristotlean) are in the process of moving. Not to a new house, like last time, but to a new location. That’s right, I bit the bullet and got my own domain and am switching to Word Press!

Quo Vadis?

As the comments for my recent post on political and religious socialization show, many people are still convinced that they world is becoming a secular one. I have received emails echoing the conventional wisdom that religion is on the way out and that non-believers are destined to rule. Even amongst many researchers and pundits who see the future as one that will be increasingly Christian, they focus on the Southern hemisphere and the growing trend of southern Muslims converting to Christianity. They almost to a man ‘write off’ Europe as being, eventually, all secular, all the time.

A few people, though, don’t agree, mainly some demographers and sociologists that are specifically watching trends in religion in Europe. As I have mentioned before and will again, religious women have more children, overall, than secular women. Again, the more devout a particular woman is, the fertility continues to increase. I will also repeat that children of religious people (especially religious mothers) are quite likely to be religious themselves. In the end, the argument over whether Future Europe will be religious or secular boils down to two questions: first, are religious women having more children in great enough numbers to be meaningful in the near-term (in this case, 100 years); and, will enough of these children of the religious stay religious?

Let me introduce you to Eric Kaufmann, a professor with Birkbeck University of London. Mr. Kaufmann is a demographer researching, among other things, religion in Europe. While everyone from me to Mark Steyn seems to be pointing out that religious women are certainly having enough children to overcome the moribund fertility of the secular, Mr. Kaufman is focusing on the second question by researching the combined effects of fertility and apostasy on future generations in Europe. His results are very interesting. While he does agree with the conventional wisdom that Europe is still becoming more secular, he points out that this is a trend that will end. By about 2035 Europe will be as secular as it will ever be, at about 55% non-religious (this is also, I would like to point out, almost exactly when world population will peak). After that, the secular population will begin to literally die off, leaving the religious. In the end, Mr. Kaufmann predicts, the Europe of 2100 will have a population more religious than the Europe of 2000. He points out that it will be a much more socially and politically Conservative continent, as well.

Just to recap; demographers predict that the Southern Hemisphere will continue to become more religious. Current research shows that Europe will become more secular for 30 or so more years, then rapidly reverse and end up more religious than they are now.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Kids Today, with their Music and their Haircuts!

During my discussions of fertility, birth rates, population decline, and the future, I have been fairly direct in my conclusions – the future population of the Earth will be smaller and more religious. I have had a surprising number of people counter that religious and political beliefs are not a matter of parentage, but of ideology. As one person stated ‘just because your parents are religious and Conservative doesn’t mean you will be’. Granted, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that some people from religious homes grow up to be atheists. And some people raised atheists become religious.

Statistically, however, the children of parents with ‘identifiable beliefs’ (i.e., they have an opinion on politics or religion strong enough to express it) are most likely to share their parents’ beliefs when they reach adulthood. The development of your political and religious outlook, called political socialization and religious socialization respectively, has been studied, especially in the last 25 years or so, and shows that most adults reflect the religious and political attitudes of their parents. The various ‘socialization factors’ that lead to our ideological development include family, school, peer groups, major events, workplace, marriage, etc. By far the most critical factor is the family, especially since the vast majority of political and religious beliefs are developed in childhood. Even the second most influential element, school, pales in comparison, even when attempts are made to directly influence political outlook with concerted school efforts. Indeed, researchers are coming to suspect that the main influence of school is as an environment where children learn the skills needed to promote and defend the beliefs developed at home. Thus, while major changes in life (leaving home for college, entering the military, marriage and parenthood) can cause something called ‘resocialization’, or seemingly-dramatic changes is behavior and outlook, the large majority of adults mirror the political and religious beliefs of their parents. Research also indicates that, for children of Conservatives or Liberals, the majority of those who do not mirror family beliefs become moderates, not members of the opposite extreme.

There is some evidence that Liberals/Mainline Religious families have lower rates of positive socialization (i.e., their kids are more likely to not be Liberals than Conservative children are to not be Conservatives). This seems to be especially true of Mainline Religious families who may have Liberal children, but those children are less likely to be religious. The biggest problem for Mainline Protestants and religious socialization is that Mainline Protestants are usually intermittent church-goers, and thus their children are less likely to be religious.

In brief: Liberals are likely to have Liberals kids and Conservatives are likely to have Conservative kids, but a higher percentage of Conservatives’ kids are like their parents. Devout parents tend to have devout kids, but lukewarm parents tend to have unchurched kids. Got it? OK.

Let us draw some conclusions. Given identical populations and birthrates, over time there would be a tendency of a group to slowly become more Conservative, since Conservatives have a slightly higher positive political socialization. Concurrently the level of religious participation would tend to sort out into devout and unchurched with fewer and fewer ‘sometimes’ attendees.

This leads to the second argument that I tend to hear: ‘If socialization patterns favor Conservatism’, I am asked, ‘why the dominance of Liberal ideas in the 20th Century?’ The answer to this lies in another element of political socialization – major political events. Let’s skip the potentially-huge discussion of if the Democrats were really Liberal (as we currently use the term) pre-WWII and focus on a few events [This also allows me to skip the discussion of ethnic alignment with political party and its decline, etc.]. The first is the Great Depression. This led to a slight preference towards Democrats because of their support of social welfare programs. This tendency was reversing itself when the next political event came along, Vietnam. Opposition to the draft led many young adults to become Liberals. In both cases, major events led to a slight increase in political socialization towards the Left.

However, even with these major events, and supporting events like Watergate, there was never a dominance of either Democratic Party or Liberal/Leftist influence in America. The nation leaned Right from 1900 to 1930 and even with the landslide Democratic victories in 1930 and 1932 a coalition of Conservative Democrats allied with Republicans regained dominance of both houses of Congress by 1937 and maintained that dominance for almost 40 years. Even the post-Watergate presidential election of 1976 was amazingly close, with less than a 2% difference in the winners. Ronald Reagan’s historic landslides and the Republican Revolution of the ‘90’sshow that even when baby-boomers were in their most politically-active phase that Conservatism was very strong in America, as it remains today.

To put it another way, there was no dominance of Liberal ideas in the 20th Century. In my opinion, the late 19th and early- to mid- 20th Centuries are remarkable for the (relatively limited) levels of success Liberal/Left ideas actually enjoyed.

Besides, the growth of Socialism, Communism, major wars, and political scandals and their cumulative bolstering of the Left all pale in comparison to the effects of demographic shift in the last 40 years.

The facts are clear – Liberals have fewer children than Conservatives. Much more directly, the devoutly religious have many more children than the non-religious, and the impact of religiosity on fertility seems to be growing over time. A study out of Australia illustrates how the impact of this cannot be understated. The study tracked a group of women from age 30 to age 40. It found that 22% were childless, 16% had one child, 35% had two children, 20% had three children, and 7% had more than three children. This means that 27% of the women accounted for more than 50% of the children. When the demographic, economic, and social factors were examined, the researchers found some interesting facts; women who had not cohabitated before marriage were more than 2.5 times more likely to have 3 or more children than women who had; women who had not planned their first child were over 1.5 times as likely to have 3 or more children than women who planned their first child; Catholic women were over 1.5 times more likely to have 3 or more children than non-Catholics. Toss in that starting young and having more than one child before being 28 also increased the chances of a woman have more than 3 kids, and you see a clear pattern - Catholic women who marry young and start having children early are having much more impact on the future than their own numbers indicate.

Using the generic “80% of children share their parents’ political and religious affiliation” (instead of the ‘97% of the children of very devout homeschooling Conservatives share their parents’ values’) that means that about 40% of the next generation will behave in a similar fashion, representing a 50% growth in relative numbers in a single generation. With Australia’s TFR of about 1.6 these political and social impacts will come faster than they will in America with its higher TFR and immigration, but those changes will be reflected in every nation with a negative TFR.

In the end, I stand by my position, which is: the demographic shift we are currently experiencing will lead to population that is increasingly religious and Conservative.

Weblog Awards, Again

Hello, and good day. The voting for the Weblog Awards is going to end on the 15th of this month, so I encourage you all to go and vote. As someone who routinely reads American Princess and likes most of the blogs I am up against, I can only say (like Holy Mama) – despite the excellent competition, why do I want to know how badly I am doing? Oh, and thanks to Where I Stand for the nod. I think.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Japan and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Life

In June of this year Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare released their findings on total fertility rate for 2005, a number that has not been revised since. The confirmed TFR for 2005 was 1.25. This is lower than the previous year (1.29 in 2004) and quite lower than had been predicted in 2000 (in 2000 the prediction was that in 2005 Japan’s TFR would be about 1.4, as can be seen in the World Factbook). As I have discussed before, TFR’s throughout the world are dropping faster than predicted, even predictions from just a few years ago. The result is that Japan’s population began dropping last year, two years before demographers had thought possible – and their predictions were made in 2000.

How surprising is this change? As recently as 2002 the Japanese National Institute of Population and Social Security Research announced that the lowest possible TFR in Japan was 1.3 (which would be reached in 2007) and that the TFR would rebound to 1.39 by 2035 and remain stable there indefinitely. This theory is now, obviously, discarded.

Attempts by the Japanese government to increase the rate of childbirth have all failed, although they continue to introduce new plans. These economic incentives, ranging from cash payments to parents, more day-care centers open longer, more parental leave, legal certainty that a mother would get her job back, etc., all failed. Indeed, as I mentioned above, the TFR fell faster than predicted after these programs were put in place. The programs also included steps to ‘increase awareness of the importance and value of children’; during the last fifteen years child abuse, sometime horrific, has steadily risen in Japan. Whether this is an actual increase or just better reporting is immaterial – in either case, a nation with fewer and fewer children continues to struggle with abuse in the face of both how few children there are and when government programs spend millions to promote their value.

Other stats look just as bad for Japan’s future. As the population declines the number of households is increasing. In a country with so few children, this means more and more Japanese of all ages are living alone. The declining number of workers and the allure of Chinese markets, which is draining some of Japan’s entrepreneurs, have caused a shortage of workers in Japan; yet in 2004 unemployment was the highest it has ever been since records were kept. Unemployment figures in Japan only account for people looking for work (stay-at-home mothers, for example, are not counted as unemployed), so this record level of unemployment masks the phenomenon of Hikikomori.

Hikikomori (which translates to “pulling away”) are young people from the ages of about 15 to as old as 30 who simply never leave their parents’ home and, almost always, rarely leave their own room. The usually eat alone in their rooms, rarely speak to even their parents, and the majority seem to only leave their rooms at night, when everyone else is asleep. This behavior is so common that the Ministry of Health limits the term ‘hikikomori’ to people who exhibit such behavior for more than six months. In some cases, hikikomori have not left their rooms for 15 years or more. While female hikikomori are underreported (Japanese culture tends to spotlight male behavior) there is some evidence that hikikomori are abour 60%/40% male/female. Estimates for total numbers are tough, due to a social stigma that causes many parents to simply not mention that their child is a voluntary shut-it. The best guess, though, seems to be that about 1 million young Japanese are hikikomori. This is equal to about 1.5% of all Japanese of working age, or about 5% of all Japanese between 15 and 35.

There has been discussion about suicide in Japan for decades, but it is getting worse. The overall rate is more than three and a half times the rate of the United States (which has a high rate, itself) and suicide is the leading cause of death for Japanese between the ages of 25 and 39. Since 1998 at least 30,000 Japanese have committed suicide every year; that’s almost one suicide every 15 minutes, all day, every day. Suicide rates are increasing across the board, including suicides among elementary school-aged children and murder-suicides where a parent kills their own child before committing suicide. Now people even join internet ‘suicide clubs’ where they can learn how to commit suicide and work with others on their plans. As a result, group suicides are a growing trend in Japan.

Another growing trend in Japan is the sexless marriage. This is common enough that it even has a slang term; ‘Narita ED’. Narita ED seems to cover all age groups equally, indicating that it is related to culture, not age, In a survey of Japanese married couples of all ages it was found that about 1/3 were chaste with another ¼ having sex less than 5 times a year. More and more single Japanese are both declining intercourse and marriage, fearing a ‘disruption’ to their lives. This has led to the average age at marriage being 27.8 years (women) and 29.6 years (men) with the average woman giving birth to her first (and increasingly only) child at 28.9 years of age. It also means that the average number of marriages per 1,000 people is down to 5.7, an all-time low.

So what the heck is going on? Most researchers point to the flat Japanese economy and intone that ‘the long-stagnant Japanese economy is driving people to despair’. I say this is bunk. The Japanese economy began rebounding in 2003 and showed very strong growth through the middle of 2005 – hindered by a lack of skilled workers! As the Japanese economy rebounds unemployment is dropping (although slower than anticipated). If one of the prime reasons for suicide is lack of economic opportunity, why are workers killing themselves in greater numbers as their prospects improve? This makes no sense. The ennui that leads to the statistics we see above comes from more than just the economy. More importantly, high rates of suicide and the hikikomori phenomenon began when Japan was going gangbusters, making it unlikely that a poor economy is, or was, the culprit.

So what is it that is taking the once-vibrant Japanese culture from being aggressively expansionist to apathetically self-destructive in the course of a mere 60 years? I have a vague inkling of a theory. As I mentioned earlier, religion is good for you. Religious societies tend to be happier, more fully employed, higher earning, and have more children. They also have lower rates of depression and suicide. Japan is perhaps the most secular Western society on Earth, removing the positive effects of religion from its population. Also, it appears that there is some correlation between suicides and projected population growth. This could mean that despair means fewer children, fewer children in a society lead to suicides, or that both are symptoms of something else. In any case, the positive effects of religion are absent from Japan. At the same time, Japan’s embrace of what they perceived as Western values after WWII led to it becoming in some ways the epitome of Western materialist and postmaterialist aims.

I believe that Japan is showing us nothing more, and nothing less, than the ultimate result of a materialist, secular nation. The rejection of religion and mysticism, the detachment of morals and values from absolute claims, and the embrace of the government as surrogate family are all seen in Japan. The resulting society is the goal of any number of Western thinkers.

In short, I think Japan is a warning.