Daily Mass in Lent

We are very fortunate to have a lovely daily Mass at Parish C at 6:30 in the morning, early enough to attend and still get to work. There was a time when such a Mass was ubiquitous in America, but not any more, especially out in the ‘burbs.

One of the things I enjoy about this Mass is that the 30 or 40 people who attend every day look like a United Nations subcommittee, except with kids:  We’ve got several Latin American countries represented, the Philippines, an African nation or two, India, China, Europe and the US.

Also, the age spread is wonderful. We’ve got moms and dads, grandmas and granddads, some young adults and teenagers – our 2 girls come with us – and even some kids once in a while – if our 7-year old is awakened by the 4 of us getting ready, he’ll tag along. Sure, he falls asleep on the chairs pretty quick once we get there, but he’s there.

We’re having a good Lent. Daily Mass, which I haven’t heard recommended from the pulpit in decades, is a very, very good thing.

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The Inestemable Mike Flynn

…writes about courage, sloth and the nature of human beings.

Way better than anything I could say. I’m going to print his diagram out and explain it to the kids.

Will only add that his point about sloth being the opposite of courage is something I never think about, as I waste my life away in inaction. Much easier to sit here, collect a paycheck, take an incoming phone call once in a while, and maybe do something valuable just often enough to make my employers think I’m worth the trouble. And that’s the least of it – I can go home, maybe make some dinner or read a book to a kid, but more often than not, grab a quick nap or surf the web or otherwise become unavailable to this small crowd of people I’m supposed to love.

I am slothful. I am a coward. Lord help me!

The State is Us?

First, let’s give this concept it’s due:

Since we live in a democracy, where every office holder and law is reviewable, repealable and replaceable by the will of the people, for all intents and purposes the state is the same as the people. Don’t like something? Quit your whining and change it!

If this is an accurate restatement of the idea, there are two problems: theory versus reality, and time.

In theory, the people could could change any law, any officeholder, any program at will, and immediately. In practice, such a democracy is most clearly represented by a lynch mob, which is why our government is not a pure democracy. The difference between our representative constitutional democracy  and pure democracy is precisely this: that we, the people, cannot change anything we want whenever we want. We can only change our representatives every 2 to 6 years, we can only change laws by changing representatives, we can only change programs by changing laws. If we don’t like all these Constitutionally-provided roadblocks to direct action, and find that our representatives who hold their offices by virtue of those roadblocks don’t want to change them,  we can only change the Constitution by means (a Constitutional Convention) so difficult as to have proven to be fundamentally impossible. All of these roadblocks and processes were expressly meant by the Founders and explained in the Federalist Papers to  make change from the ground up so difficult and time-consuming as to be rare.

All of the foregoing is still theoretical – it assumes people are playing fair. If they don’t want to play fair, voters get intimated, ballot boxes get thrown in the river, bills never get to the floor because somebody got paid off somewhere, bureaucracies – the modern Praetorian Guards –  fund election of people who will guarantee that they always have a job. We have the perfidy of people on top of the safeguards against mob action as sand in the gears of change.

Now imagine I have a 5 year old and am ready to send her off to public school when I read this. Now, under the State is Us rules, all I have to do is replace the NEA policy with one that is tolerably sane. Meanwhile, my child will have spent 12 years in a system governed by the insane policy, taught by people who, at best, cant’ openly defy such policies, and, a worst, actually believe such policies are correct (or don’t go far enough!).  In fact, even if i were willing to devote my entire life to opposing this policy, and had success in recruiting millions of people to the cause AND the other side played fair (like that’s gonna happen), I’d be more likely to be babysitting my grandchildren than to have seen material change before my kids were out of school.

So, at the very least, I should hope that the State is Us crowd would recognize that, even if they are right, the time frames over which change can happen are such that lifetimes – your children’s lifetimes, in this example – would be wasted before any change took place.

All of the above assumes a fantasy world in which Machiavellian power struggles and utter deceit and craven greed don’t have their say. In this world, they not only have their say, they drown our every other sound.

Channeling My Inner Pedant

That I would fee compelled to throw up a post like this is a prime symptom of what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

Namely: There are, it seems to me, lots of  little bad ideas or commonplaces or, well, canards that live happy, comfortable lives, lolling around in public, catching rays – that ought to die. Right. Now.

My response to this overpowering urge to abbreviate the lives of certain ideas is to drag out some heavy artillery and start blasting, going after the mouse with an elephant gun, blowing holes in the walls, etc – generally, making a fool of myself.

Good thing I really need to be made foolish, for the salvation of my soul.

Then – here’s where this post comes in – I then feel compelled to explain and defend whatever odd position I’ve taken today. And then apologize, hope that I haven’t hurt anybody’s feelings, and say I’m not really an ogre, I’m polite and housebroken and everything. Small children and dogs like me! No, really!

I call this Channeling My Inner Pedant. Probably half the posts here are nothing more than that.  In my heart of hearts, I really believe that the world would be a better place if we never heard the term ‘paradigm shift’ again; if people got a clue about what science can and cannot tell us, if no one ever again uttered the phrase (or entertained the notion for more than 2 seconds) that ‘the government is us’; and a million other little tiny crawly creepy vague and/or dumb ideas. Ya know?

Of course, I could be wrong – but if I didn’t think I was right, I’d, like, change my mind.

But way more than enough about me.

A Recent Post About Homeschooling Raises Issues…

Over at First Things, this First Thoughts blog referenced this essay by a homeschooler who addresses some of the persistent questions faced by people who choose to educate their kids anywhere outside the current compulsory classroom model. Both are worth a read. The young man is very impressive.

I am reminded of one of the protagonists from Satanic Verses, who is an Indian living in England. He wears a bowler and tweed and carries a cane – a parody of Englishness – and makes his living doing voice-over work: he sounds more English than any Englishman. Like immigrants signing up to fight in their adopted country’s wars, he’s desperate to prove he belongs and fearful of doing anything that might mark him as an outsider – and so does what everybody else does, only far better.

Thus, we have a polyglot polymath 18 year old, who studies subjects not 2% of kids his age (or any age) study, and writes better than 99% of adults, selling us on the wonders of homeschooling. See? It’s just like what you all do, but better! The homeschooling he pursues is just like regular school – he states he’s in 12th grade to answer the question: if you were in school, what grade would you be in? The awkward question is really about how he measures progress  – socially accepted and recognized progress – without the benefit of having someone tell him what grade he’s in. But rather than challenge the idea that anyone else gets to grade you (in the specific sense of putting you in a grade), he gives the easy answer – again, see? I’m just like you, only way better.

I have no reason to think this young man isn’t a thoroughly decent fellow, and intends no put downs, and is merely doing his best to answer what persistent and annoying questions that tend to come from people who have no idea what they’re talking about. Maybe disappointed it the word. While he’s made admirable progress getting educated, he is still enthralled to current education models – what is being silently suggested, it seems, is that if only schools were more like this kid’s experiences, everything would be fine, we’d be cranking out accomplished students ready to tackle the world.

What’s far more challenging , and much closer to the truth, is pointing out that any relationship between what this young man has accomplished and what goes on in a typical school classroom is strictly accidental. He talks about flexibility – and that is key, especially when flexibility is extended enough to change categories into true freedom. He has transcended the whole concept of grade level – seriously, there are boatloads of PhDs who can’t write as well as he can. Extraordinarily well developed communication skills are a hallmark of those who are not educated in the standard model, in my experience. Yet, rather than firing back with something like ‘what grade I might theoretically be in is  utterly unimportant. I’m getting ready for college and life, and I trust my family and friends and the colleges I’ve applied to to help me know when I’m ready’ he accepts the questioner’s framework.

Too bad.

 

A couple small thoughts on socialism

Let’s start with the things that are appealing about socialism:

– injustice: certainly, there is great injustice in the world that can be traced to men who have wealth and power using them to rob, pillage and manipulate poor people. Socialism makes reasonable claims to mitigate this injustice;

– stupidity: vast amounts of time, money and effort are spent trying to sell more hamburgers, more sticks of deodorant, and in general trying to convince people that their next impulse purchase will somehow make their life better. Even stupider are the vast economic resources devoted to fulfilling these newly-created delusions. Socialism proposes to mitigate this stupidity, and to make our economic world more rational.

And that’s about it.

And I could imagine going along with this IF – big if – the first and foremost efforts of socialist were directed towards creating a true democracy, or even if every socialist were to simply admit that the whole concept of socialism can only work if the government that controls the economy is of, by and for the people.

But no. The efforts to put yet more and more of the economy under the control of the government is never accompanied by any acknowledgment that the government is not really democratic, but that some people with money and power get what they want while the vast many get the shaft. Let alone any proposal to do anything about it.

At what point, to take an especially egregious example,  do we take the Treasury department away from Goldman Sachs? At what point do the Socialists even admit that Goldman is de facto the national bank that sets national economic policy for the benefit of Goldman? Sure, the more Marxists end of the pool would say that the solution is to socialize Goldman – but what, exactly, would that mean when the government that would be taking Goldman over is being driven by Goldman?

The two fundamental problems are these: you’d have to reform the government first and make it profoundly democratic so that we, the people, could really and truly fire anyone in the government, dissolve or defund any department or program in short order, AND have the process by which we do so permanently freed from manipulation.  Otherwise, all we’re doing when we ‘make progress toward socialism’ is handing people in government more power to make sure they stay in power.

The second problem traces back to Marx’s denial of human nature – what if people aren’t soft clay that can be remade into whatever form suits today’s purposes? What if not all behaviors, instincts, and customs are the mere result of social conditioning? What if people choose? What if people – all people – at least sometimes choose badly? Selfishly? Stupidly? What if the human capacities for self justification and self delusion are as infinite as they appear to be?

In short, what if the idea that socialists, unlike all other men, are not the genius saints they clearly think they are? When your favorite words for your opponents are ‘stupid’ and ‘evil’, what other conclusion can one reach?

So, if socialists want my support, they will need to explain how it is that we get from our current state to a strong, resilient democracy full of well-informed voters with the time, inclination and ability to govern BEFORE we hand over any more power, and what other checks are to be put on the eventual holders of power besides ‘just trust us.’ Without these things, the injustice and stupidity admittedly present in the current arrangement will not be ameliorated, just rearranged like so many deck chairs. At best. Until then, based on my reading of history and human nature, it’s far, far better idea to keep as much power out of the governments’ hands as can safely be done.