Thursday, January 29, 2009


In my earlier discussion I talked about the difficulty in making a change for those people who have serious problems. They resist change to the point that they are willing to gamble or steal in order to guarantee a desired lifestyle, or those who pick up drug or alcohol addictions. But what about ordinary people who don’t have those severe problems. Why is it so many of us have so much difficulty doing the things we know very well we should be doing?
I think one reason might be the fact that we are trained in government schools. Much of the premise of government schooling is false. Teachers in public schools are essentially bureaucrats, paid partially from local taxes and other local sources, but partially, and in most states, increasingly, by the state government. They are, therefore, not paid by those they serve and to a great extent, their pay is almost independent of that service after they have worked as teachers for more than a few years. The premise that is, therefore, transmitted to students is that an education entitles a person to a certain standard of living almost independent of the quality of the service rendered in exchange for that pay. In such a system, status within the system is far more important than the quality to service; hence, years in service, promotion to administration, number of degrees, and other criteria only peripherally related to the quality of service become determinants of the amount of remuneration. In that case, the chief motivation to improve, becomes seriously diluted. It is for this reason that one can visit a typical public school and find teachers who are poor, even terrible, examples of what they are supposedly trying to teach--health instructors who have poor health, math instructors who can barely work problems, and above all, a majority of teachers who have ceased to believe in the value of education, at least, as far as it concerns themselves, that they have not read a book or taken a class in years other than what is required to maintain their certification.
I cannot help but feel that if we were really convinced that the quality of our characters were the single biggest determinant of the richness of life’s rewards, that fewer of us would have such profound struggles when we recognize the need for personal change.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

natural law--2

In my earlier discussion of natural law, I mentioned that there is a problem with the 7th commandment--thou shalt not commit adultery. If we restrict the meaning of "adultery" to mean sexual violation of the marriage covenant, then this commandment follows from the Golden Rule. If, however, we take the commandment to mean, as the supporting material in both the Old and New Testament, clearly declare it to mean, any sexual activity outside the bond of legal marriage, then the commandment does not necessarily follow from the Golden Rule--as many liberals and libertarians clearly state. Of course, one possible reason for the drive to define the union of two men or two women as "marriage’, is to make it legitimate to those who profess belief in scripture, but I suspect that is a minor motivation.
If we keep with the narrow definition of adultery, then a bachelor is free to indulge his sexual appetite with equally free women, e. g. prostitutes. Liberals and libertarians are quick to point out that there is nothing really wrong with this because it occurs between "consenting adults". Although, I suspect, that they would be quick to state that they personally find the practice abhorrent, they would state that there is nothing really wrong with sexual liaison with animals. Currently, pedophilia is officially deplored, but the number of people practicing it is growing so rapidly, that there can be little doubt that those who do will soon have the political clout to make it as respectable as sexual promiscuity between adults of both sexes is today.
There is, of course, good reason why these practices were condemned in scripture. They are enormously addictive and destructive. The AIDS epidemic that has afflicted so many in Africa is said to have stemmed originally from animal-man sexual liaison. The promiscuity so widely heralded as a "right" by liberals and libertarians has resulted in the curse of abortion, in which women come to hate their most intimate neighbor--the one in their own bodies--a fact eloquently declared by Mother Teresa at a National Prayer Breakfast at which many political leaders including the Clintons who favor abortion participated.
The tolerance of sexual deviations invariably leads to the belief that natural laws and natural rights are whatever those who exercise power say they mean. It explains why so many liberals and libertarians, while sometimes giving lip service to belief in scripture, do not believe in it as a source of information about natural law. But if we do not go to scripture, where do we go? We invariably descend into a Darwinian cesspool where survival of the fittest is the only natural law. The recourse to such a society is always violence. Kipling describes such a society by stating "we were promised a fuller life--which started by loving our neighbor, but ended in loving his wife." The consequence? "Till our women had no more children"(They are all aborted as unwanted) "and our men lost reason and faith." How much reason is there in what the Federal Government is currently doing "to get us out of the recession?" My own feeling is that a careful analysis would show a direct correlation between acceptance of sexual promiscuity and deviation and the acceptance of more obvious violations of natural law such as taking one man’s property for the benefit of another because doing so will help "get us out of the recession".
But America was, and to a certain extent, still is, the proof that there is a law above that of survival of the fittest. Jerry Brown’s--and so many other of our political leaders’ schemes--are really attempts to undermine that proof.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

natural law-1

Recently Jerry Brown has requested that the California Supreme Court overturn the outcome of the election in California denying the right of homosexuals to marry. As justification he uses natural law and natural justice, two subjects about which, I suspect, he knows almost nothing. At the foundation of his philosophy of natural law is law based on force and power--which is, unfortunately, the understanding of natural law that has predominated the discussion from earliest times and in most countries.
But our forefathers in this country had a very different concept of natural law. For them, natural law was based on scripture. The reason is clear. If there is such a thing as natural law, to us as mere mortals, it is unknowable. We generally recognize the existence of laws of physics such as Newton’s laws of motion and the laws of electromagnetism described by Maxwell’s equations, but even when we move up to chemistry we find that we are in areas that are best described as empirical relationships rather than laws. We can use our knowledge of these relationships to predict the outcome of certain reactions when the elements or compounds are fairly simple and there are only a few of them and environmental conditions are right, but these are hardly laws. When we move into the realm of biology, to speak of laws is pure conceit. A believer in Natural law cannot even tell you the "law" that informs you what you should eat for breakfast. Even when the number of variables is held to two, the results are imperfect and unpredictable. Would anyone seriously describe Linus Pauling’s relationship between vitamin C and the common cold as a law? And yet here is a biological relationship reduced to two variables with empirical data from dozens of well designed experiments performed on hundreds--possibly thousands--of subjects. If it is impossible to arrive at a set of laws governing biological behavior, what can be said of psychological, sociological, and political behavior--all much more complex than simple biology.
And yet laws governing behavior in these areas we must have. For our forefathers the answer was, either those who have power to enforce their wills on others or a voluntary submission to law based on scripture. They chose the latter. The basis of that natural law is the scriptural edict that "God is no respecter of persons." Jesus summarized the entire scriptural law with the statement we know as the "Golden Rule". Of course, a summary is just that. It leaves many details unexplained, many of which are not immediately derivable from the summary. Part of the law, for example, is the Ten Commandments. It would be difficult to derive the first five of those commandments from the Golden Rule. The second five are easily derived from it in our dealings as individuals with others with the exception I will explain below. But if we accept the Rule, then the law against murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and even coveting follow because we do not want those things done against us. Most men, for example, are not very happy at the prospect of discovering that their wives are sleeping with the neighbors or the men at work, and, therefore, if they accept the Rule, they don’t sleep with other men’s wives.
Of course, later in his ministry, Jesus gave a more expanded summary of the "law and the prophets" known as the Two Great Commandments--love God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The latter, of course, is derivable from the Golden Rule; the former leads us to accept the first five of the ten commandments. These commandments were accepted as natural law transcending the laws made by man as king, parliament, oligarchy, dictator or whatever. The Golden rule or 2nd Great Commandment is essentially adopted into our political heritage in our founding document as the statement, "all men are created equal". It is the incorporation of this natural law into our political structure that sets us apart, but those who wish to live at the expense of others using political force are always in every way possible turning from this natural law, often while giving it lip service. For example, we have the Two Great Commandments given us in scripture from two sources, one Jesus himself, but the other, from a Jewish lawyer. It is the in response to this lawyer that Jesus gives us the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
This remarkable parable illustrates the difficulty we face interpreting natural law in the light of political and social pressures. Mercantilists at the time of Adam Smith, and many to this day, considered themselves religious people but they simply refused to acknowledge that God is no respecter of persons. Pat Buchanan, a modern mercantilist, has never, and, in my opinion, it is unlikely that he ever will, understand this parable. Undoubtedly, he would say that it teaches us that we should help someone in trouble or in need if we happen to come across such a person. Jesus, of course, taught this idea by precept and example in numerous ways using numerous illustrations, but that is not the main point of this parable. This parable came in response to the question, "who is my neighbor whom I should love and whom I should treat as I would have him treat me?" One of the greatest books in Western Civilization, "The Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith, was written to amplify Jesus’s response. Many great minds, starting with Alexander Hamilton and including such men as Marx and Keynes, were impressed with the techniques that Adam Smith developed in making his amplification, but they didn’t like his conclusions.
This sort of desire to believe in the natural law on a very narrow basis, but deny it’s validity in broader application is most common in political setting. The man who pays much less than he originally contracted to pay for his house, for example, because the government has diluted the value of the currency through inflation, seldom, if ever thinks of himself as violating the 8th commandment, anymore than does the politician who kept himself in office by supporting the dilution. The man who collects Social Security hardly thinks of himself as being party to a fraud, nor again, does the politician who was able to originally sell him on the idea by telling him he was buying into an annuity program. These, and almost everyone else in our society, shares Pat Buchanan’s problem. They simply refuse to see the violation of natural law in their actions because they are politically popular or personally profitable, or, in too many instances, both.
Although the belief in the force and efficacy of natural law (as contrasted with man-made law) has become greatly diluted as we have left our scriptural bearings, the belief in the basis is still there. Few people openly espouse stealing, or lying, or murder. But there is with the 7th commandment--that against committing adultery a special problem, which we will discuss in a later essay.

Friday, January 16, 2009


One intriguing question for me is: why is it so difficult to change? There is this week (1/11-1/16/09) in the Deseret News there is a series of articles about addiction--mostly drug and alcohol addiction. They claim, based on some sort of survey by a government bureau, that there are over 20,000 people in Utah alone who need drug treatment services, but only about 10% are aware of that need. Apparently, the government feels that over 20,000 people in Utah need, from one problem alone, (drug and alcohol addiction) to change so badly that only professional interdiction of some sort will get them make that change and yet they either don’t know that they need to change or they are convinced themselves that they can make the change without professional help. Even some, according to the article, who recognise the need for help, feel that they can, or will, do it on their own because they lack the resources, or feel that they do, to use professional help.
Of course, those who steal and gamble, can be seen as attempting to prevent the need for change. In earlier days when there were not so many lotteries as there are today, the newspaper would typically publish the first comments of a "big winner". The comment I remember being most often reported was, "I don’t want anything to change." My own comment in private response was "then why did you buy a lottery ticket?" I believe that what they typically meant was that they didn’t want friends and family to view them as being different now that they are rich. But in all probability, they are going to be different and things will indeed change, but they will be different and things will change in ways that they would not want them to. For one thing, suddenly wealth almost always increases self-indulgence, and almost all rational men want to change in a direction away from self-indulgence, or at least, if they wish to indulge themselves it is in very controlled and very careful directions. For example, they may want to go on a cruise or visit a popular tourist spot or throw parties for friends and family. They may do some of those things, but usually, the self-indulgence takes forms that they had wished to change in the other direction. In War and Peace, the hero, Pierre Busuchov, in the early part of his life, talks endlessly of the value of liberal reforms, and says that if he were in control of his father’s vast estate, he would institute those reforms amongst his fathers serfs. Because he is an illegitimate son, he does not expect to have more than the regular allowance from the estate that he has always had. But his father has a change of heart on his deathbed and leaves the entire estate to Pierre. Pierre, however, is so overwhelmed with self-indulgence at his new-found wealth, that inspite of the fact that he is the richest man in Russia, he cannot muster the surplus capital to institute the reforms.
But those of us who do not gamble or steal or in some other way find ourselves the possessors of enough wealth to escape the need to change, still have a very difficult time changing, why? We will explore that question more later.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Of course, when we think of change, we often think of the social and political context in which change is made. We tend to think of conservatives as being opposed to change, with reactionaries being conservatives who are not only opposed to change but who want to undo recent changes and bring back the "good old days". On the other hand, liberals are supposedly all in favor of "progress", i. e. change that gets us to the utopian society that they promise in their political platforms. Radicals are liberals that are willing to use force, even violence, to bring about the changes that they desire. Those are, of course, the textbook definitions of those terms.
When looked at very closely, however, we find that almost every political platform is ultimately a platform opposing change. A radical unionist doesn’t really want to change everything in society, in fact, what the radical unionist most often wants is to use force, or even violence, to protect his job. He is, in fact, willing to force everyone else in society to change so he won’t have to. Likewise, the liberal that supposedly wants progress, really generally wants a guaranteed life so that he, and his supporters, will not be challenged and so that, no matter how much society may be changed, no personal change will be required on their part. The conservative in today’s society generally favors the status quo--why?, so he (or she) won’t have to change. It is this constant desire to oppose change in some way that characterizes most political movements.
The exception is the American revolution. Edmund Burke said of it that it was not a revolution at all but a revolution prevented. It was, in fact, the most radical imaginable of all revolutions, although, admittedly beginning in Europe, mostly in England, with ideas from the New Testament. But those ideas were (and still are) radical in that no large society had ever really accepted them. The ideas include the Golden Rule, the fact that God is no respecter of persons (and hence, all men are created equal), that the Samaritan (and hence, the foreigner despised by the political elite) is , or can be, "good", that your past (and that of your ancestors) does, or, at least, should not, determine your standing in the eyes of God or man, i.e. change (repentance) is possible and desirable, and finally, there are immutable laws (commandments) that transcend man’s laws our conformance to which is more important for present and future well being than anything dictated by man or any group of men.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Having taken a vacation in December, I am beginning the New Year by using this month to discuss change. Why is change so difficult? What are the social, political, and economic roadblocks to personal change? Do we really want to change? And, if so, how much and in what direction? We will begin tomorrow with a discussion of political change and the meaning of conservative, liberal, radical and reactionary.