Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Truth Will Set You Free

As you can tell if you read this often, I like to interact with Charles Colson.  Even though we sometimes disagree, we also seem to have much in common.  Today I want to interact with Colson’s “Liminal Christians:  Christianity without the Church?

Colson’s thesis, drawing from several interesting sources, is that a loss in Americans of a desire to associate with others is a key to understanding the kind of stand-offish attitude toward the church which is becoming more common.  The idea is that, back in the 1980s people wanted to invent their own, personalized set of beliefs.  Churches, as “organized religion” came with pre-packaged sets of beliefs.  This was supposedly the barrier that kept some people out of churches back then.

Now, according to Colson, it is no longer the problem of the 80s; rather, it is the reluctance people have to entering into any kind of “community.”  As Colson says, drawing from one of his sources, more people want to go bowling, but fewer wish to join bowling leagues.  They simply want to “bowl alone.”

My conjecture is that these two are not all that different.  (I’m not sure what Colson would say about this, but he seems to present these as different and distinct.)  The same kind of mindset that will only accept a “personalized, designer religion” will probably not want to enter into associations.  This is because an association for any purpose will require some kind of rules – written or not – to make the association work.

I think we all need to be individual, critical thinkers.  I don’t just accept something simply because someone tells me to do so, nor do I think anyone else should.  But good critical thinking informs us that truth cannot be of our own invention.  Critical thinking also helps us realize that religious views are not exempt from the measurements of truth.  (There is much more that could be said about those ideas.  I leave that unexplored for now.)

I contend that most of the problems we encounter in our society - religious, social, and governmental – are in the end traceable to our very stubborn societal resistance to the idea of truth.  There are realities in all these areas, and it is possible to know these realities, at least to some extent, and thus arrive at truth.  These realities and the truth about these realities dictate how we should proceed.

Those who deny all this butt their heads against the brick walls of reality.  It is painful.  It is frustrating.  It destroys even the possibility of a good life.  This syndrome has come up in recent, and remote, history in various ways.  It was manifest one way in the 1980s, and another in the early 21st century.

But it is, in the final analysis, the same problem – the problem of truth.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Authoritarian Capitalism, a.k.a. Fascism

There is a helpful article today from the Mises Institute titled “The Vampire Economy and the Market.”  The author’s point is to contrast what he calls “authoritarian capitalism” or fascism with “liberal capitalism” or the free market.

Fascism works by creating a ‘partnership’ between business and the state which always tends toward the state absorbing business to make it almost a department of the state.  With this fusion comes the breakdown of any significant sense of law or justice.  Under liberal capitalism, the court system could serve as an outside and impartial referee for the participants in the business world.  But this is not possible when when the state has absorbed the business world, because the court system is neither outside nor impartial.

Under fascism, although the state has ultimate control of all property, business owners can still enjoy increased consumption because the fascist state does not typically consume all the profits of business.  But this only means that business ‘owners’ have a great motive to use their profits to buy influence in the state.  In fact, a new business skill is born and is required in fascism:  political entrepreneurship.  This is the ability to forge the right kind of relationships with those in power in the state.  So now business is not devoted solely to serving the customer.  Now business must first of all serve the state.

Thus business cannot be ‘law abiding’ because the problem is the law itself, which is designed to defeat business.  For business to continue to any extent, it must find ways around the law.  So instead of making things consumers want, the business of business becomes dealing with the state.  The leads to economic decline, which often gives the state the pretense for further intervention into the world of business.  And so the spiral downward will continue.

That is my summary of the article with a few of my own extrapolations inserted.  I am not a fan of the term “capitalism” for reasons I won’t review here.  But that aside, it seems to me that a significant part of those who find fault with “capitalism” do not realize that what they object to is the authoritarian capitalism that we have grown accustomed to over the last seventy years or so, not the free market.

We haven’t experienced anything even close to the free market for so long we can’t imagine what it would be like.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Beware of “Click to Call” Skype Add-on

This blog is usually about theology, philosophy, cultural critique – if you read it you know that.  Today, however, there is a small little tech matter I want to warn my friends and readers about in the hope that you won’t become as frustrated as I was yesterday.

I recently noticed that in Office 2010 applications, my multiple paste options had disappeared.  I could only paste things as text.  I often want to keep the original formatting.  It became a bit maddening.

After much searching, I found the answer on a Microsoft support forum.

If you install Skype (which I had done the day before) it will, by default, install a little add-on called “Skype click to call.”  For some reason, this little digital critter screws up the ability to paste properly in MS Office applications.

If you encounter this problem, be thankful that all you need do is uninstall “Skype click to call” and restart your computer.  The problem will disappear.

My guess is that the Skype people will fix this soon.  The Skype main program does NOT cause the problem, just the “click to call” add-on.  I hope this saves someone from frustration.

We now return to our usual business around here!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Please Don’t Send Us Free Stuff!

This item recently came from the newsletter of my U. S. House member, Geoff Davis:

Last week, I voted with a majority of the House to pass H.R. 4105.  This bipartisan and bicameral legislation ensures that the Department of Commerce can continue to apply countervailing duty (CVD) law to non-market economies, such as China.  Trade remedies are tools that allow the government to take remedial action against imported goods that are hurting a domestic industry.  CVDs are among these tools, which aim to offset foreign government subsidization of imported goods that can distort the free market.

Mr. Davis has announced he will not seek another term.  I must say that he has generally been an above average member of the House as far as representing my views is concerned.  But here is a place where we seriously disagree.

Sometimes people fail to engage their ‘economic minds’ when these sorts of matters come up.  I am but an amateur in this field, though I have read enough to be somewhat informed.  So think through this with me.

China subsidizes goods it exports to us.  What does that mean, economically speaking?  It means that China is giving us some free stuff, or more accurately, the people in China are being forced to pay part of the cost of things we consume.  Why is free stuff a bad thing?

According to Mr. Davis (and this idea is very common), this free stuff will ‘hurt domestic industry.’  This is true in one sense, but false in another, very important sense.

It is true that if your business makes widget X, and you don’t plan to give part of yours away, you might not be able to make widget X profitably as long as the people of China are being forced to pay part of cost of sending a widget X to us.  But this does not ‘hurt domestic industry’ as a whole.  Rather, it means that domestic industry should turn its attention to making things other than widget X.  After all, many of us want widget Y and widget Z too.  (This is beginning to remind me of The Cat In the Hat!)  If we don’t have to make widget X, we can spend our efforts making more of widget Y and widget Z.

Suppose you were a farmer.  Perhaps you produce eggs, milk, and grain.  If your neighbor decides to give you all the eggs you need, what is your likely, reasonably economic reaction?  Will you do something to stop the free eggs from getting to you – your version of H. B. 4105?  Only if you are a little nutty, it seems to me.

But what if companies in the U. S. give up making widget Xs and then China stops sending us partly free ones?

Back to you as a farmer, you might object that if you get accustomed to free eggs, you might sell your chickens and no longer be able to produce eggs.  Won’t it be expensive to restart your egg production?  Perhaps.  But consider the two possibilities.  First, your neighbor might come to his senses quickly and stop giving you eggs.  At this point, it is not too difficult to restart production recently ended.

The other possibility is that the neighbor is nutty enough to keep giving you eggs for some time.  It won’t be long before you have been given enough free eggs to more than make up for the future costs of restarting your egg production if you need to do so.

Politicians like to think in terms of ‘jobs.’  But in the end, most people don’t want a job.  They want the stuff that working can make.  In the local neighborhood we don’t seem to worry about someone giving us free stuff.  In the international neighborhood, we do seem to worry about getting free stuff.  H. R. 4105 was just part of a move by our government to force us to stop taking free stuff from China, among others.

And that seems, well, just plain stupid.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dear Mr. Madison


"What is to be the consequence, in case the Congress shall misconstrue this part [the necessary and proper clause] of the Constitution and exercise powers not warranted by its true meaning, I answer the same as if they should misconstrue or enlarge any other power vested in them ... the success of the usurpation will depend on the executive and judiciary departments, which are to expound and give effect to the legislative acts; and in a last resort a remedy must be obtained from the people, who can by the elections of more faithful representatives, annul the acts of the usurpers."

--James Madison, Federalist No. 44, 1788

Dear Mr. Madison:

I greatly appreciate all you tried to do for us in the founding of our nation.  But in specific reference to your words above, I have some complaints.

You placed some hope in the executive and judiciary departments to check Congress in attempts to usurp their powers.  But you must have suspected that this remedy would not always be successful, because, in the end, you rely on the people and elections to “annul the acts of the usurpers.”

But what if elections become vast, expensive marketing operations?  What if many of those who might protect liberty simply cannot afford the expense of marketing themselves?

What if the people become lazy and indifferent?  What if by a self-imposed ignorance they lack that ability to recognize of understand cases of misconstruing the Constitution?

What if the people become addicted to the largess that can be provided to them (for a time, at least) by the very usurpations that you fear?  What, my dear sir, if they become the very way they are in the Year of Our Lord 2012?

On further review, sir, I withdraw my complaints.  We cannot rightly expect you to overcome our rampant stupidity.

I am humbly yours,

Kent B. True

Friday, March 2, 2012

Of Al and Rick

I must admit that I cannot keep up with ‘politics’ in the sense of electioneering.  I am busy with other matters.  But beyond that, even though I am interested in who might be elected, I find many aspects of the process revolting.  But that, as they say, is ‘politics.’

There is, however, an interesting article out the other day from Al Mohler in which he does a nice summary review of the campaigning of Rick Santorum.  I have heard many complaints about Santorum, especially that he is not focusing on what is important now, that being economic issues.

Who really knows what a candidate thinks these days.  From most of them you hear what they think you want them to say about various matters, including the very selection of matters about which they decide to say anything at all.  This is the impression I get from the admittedly very small bit of listening I have done to Mitt Romney:  a man reciting (somewhat woodenly) lines he thinks will get him elected.  And who can blame him for that?  His goal, after all, is to be elected.

But Mohler’s article portrays Santorum as saying things that many people think are likely to prevent him from being elected.  Mohler says, in effect, that Santorum has a theological view that he tends to brandish very openly when speaking about matters political.

I find that refreshing.  There are good reasons, some of which are very theological, not to force people who object to pay for abortions, or even birth control, just to name a few things.  And the fact that Santorum has certain theological views that motivate him to say these things – and that he freely makes those theological views known - I find to be a good quality in a candidate.

This is not an endorsement of Santorum.  I lean very much in the direction of Ron Paul on many issues.  (Though I hope that rumors that he might be maneuvering to be Romney’s VP candidate are false.  That would make me a bit queasy.)  But I can admire a guy like Santorum who puts his theological/worldview cards right out there on the political table, and follows them to their logical conclusions.

This in spite of the fact that I realize that such behavior is unlikely to get anyone elected – which probably speaks not so much to candidates as to the mental laziness and even stupidity of many voters.