What The Right Hand Causes

I freely admit that I had little faith that Donald Trump would be an effective conservative president in the slightest, and to be fair I still harbor a fair amount of cynical assumptions about this administration. But I am also happy to admit that I have been surprised in a fair number of good ways since he took office, most recently in his decision regarding the Obama administration’s transgender bathroom edict:

Donald Trump’s government has revoked guidance to US public schools that allowed transgender students to use toilets matching their gender identity.

The guidance, issued by his predecessor Barack Obama, had been hailed by as a victory for transgender rights.

But critics said it threatened other students’ privacy and safety, and should be decided at state level.

At the outset several things are clear: of course this issue should be decided at the state level, if not lower; of course the rule threatened the privacy of students across the country; and of course the entire idea—along with the entire premise of transgenderism—was functionally absurd to begin with. (If “gender” is really a “social construct” as transgender activists often claim it is, then how could a bathroom possibly “match” a thing which does not exist?)

All of that is incidental to the matter at hand, however. The more pressing concern here is this: this kind of rule should not have been promulgated even in principle. There is no reason that the federal government should have been allowed to unilaterally issue a decree that affected the administrative policies of every single public school in the country. That is absurd, and the only reason it does not seem so patently outrageous to everyone is that we’ve become inured to this kind of absurdist form of government.

It wasn’t always this way. The practical foundations of our country’s dual sovereignty form of government initially meant that a federal department had no authority at all to bark some ridiculous order at every one of the nation’s public schools. We understood the importance of accountability (laws would be written and passed by our elected representatives) and federalism (the national government would be tightly contained in its scope and authority). We have more or less abandoned most of those principles in favor of a system in which the Department of Education can say to nearly 100,000 schools from sea to shining sea: “You must allow mentally ill children to use the bathroom that corresponds to a made-up qualifier that we actually believe doesn’t exist in the first place.”

Progressives love this system, of course, because progressives despise government accountability and are vehemently opposed to any real limits on government authority. Conservatives, meanwhile, profess a strong opposition to this style of governance—until they get into office and don’t actually work to put any practical strictures in place, that is. So the system continues.

It will continue, so long as we let it. If we have no desire to return to a sane and defensible form of government—one in which our representatives actually mean something and the bureaucracy actually means very little—then we’ll get precisely what we deserve. If, on the other hand, we start making demands of our government, we might be able to change the system a little bit—not a lot, no, not for a while, but when the federal government is setting the toilet policy for every single public school in the country, we should really at least try.

You Have to Sit for Something

If you follow Scandinavian international politics to any degree—and I know you do—then perhaps you were aware of this mild dust-up a week ago in the Middle East:

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven led a Swedish delegation to Iran. Lofven was received warmly by the Islamic Republic’s political elite — Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tweeted positively about his meeting with Lofven, adding that Sweden had a “good reputation” in Iran — and the two countries agreed upon a number of trade-related deals.

Back home, however, coverage of the Swedish government delegation’s trip to Tehran has focused on something else. As Sweden’s media noted Monday, a number of female officials who joined the trip, including Trade Minister Ann Linde, chose to wear Islamic headscarves while in Iran.

According to Expressen newspaper, there were 11 women on the trip out of 15 total in the Swedish delegation. The women were photographed wearing headscarves “almost all of the time” they were in Iran, with the exception of a number of events that took place at the Swedish Embassy…

Lofven’s Swedish government describes itself as a “feminist government,” and it has spoken of the need for a “feminist” foreign policy…

If ever there were a word overused and oversentamentalized, “feminist” is it. But in the end this little kerfluffle raises an interesting and really quite vital question: what is feminism? If, as many of its supporters claim, it is an ideology that simply advocates the proposition “Men and women are equal,” then paradoxically the Swedish delegation’s submission to Iranian mores could be seen as defensible from a feminist perspective. This is, after all, politics, and politics sometimes demand embarrassing concessions: consider that Barack Obama once showed his neck to the King of Saudi Arabia. If, indeed, “men and women are (or should be) equal,” then perhaps it is a mark of equality that the women of the Swedish government were willing to debase themselves in the same way male politicians often are.

Then again, is modern feminism really all that practical and hardheaded—are modern self-professed feminists really willing to play a calculative and utilitarian game in order to turn the gears of the political machine? There is some evidence that suggests the answer is “no,” at least regarding the feminist culture of Sweden. Consider: after a monster snowstorm late last year in Stockholm, the Swedish Green Party—an avowedly feminist political machine—implemented “feminist snow plowing” in order to make sure the municipal snow policy was “gender equal” (seriously). The result was a global humiliation, a city turned into a disastrous snow-covered mess: “Public transport failed, traffic piled up and injuries requiring a hospital visit reportedly spiked.” All in the name of feminism!

The discrepancy is thus a little hard to reconcile: on the one hand you have a Swedish feminist delegation playing ball with a theocratic misogynistic government, and on the other you have the purely ideological femi-snow apocalypse in Stockholm. What gives?

Perhaps this: maybe feminism, or at least Swedish feminism, is fundamentally an ideology of cowardice, willing to act out but not up: it will bring a city to its snow-covered knees and “troll” Donald Trump with an all-female photograph, but when it comes to walking the walking—when it comes to making a stand where it actually might have meant something—the avowed feminists of the country couldn’t be bothered. Oh, well. Maybe next summer’s feminist municipal easement management program will make up for the loss.

An Atheist Walks Into a Wall

The popular arguments for atheism are mostly tiresome and boring, chiefly because they tend to turn on the question of “science,” scare quotes deliberate. Your average atheist will tell you he believes in “science,” not God; that the practice of religion grew out of some prescientific understanding of the natural world; and that now that we’ve developed the study of microbiology and cracked the physics of elliptical orbit, we have no use for “magic sky fairies.” The implication seems to be: if only the authors of the Psalms had had access to quantum mechanics, they’d have known better!

I thought about this recently when Ricky Gervais appeared on Stephen Colbert’s late night show to debate atheism. Colbert himself is a Catholic and performed the role of Defender of the Faith.

To start off, Colbert posed to Gervais that famous question asked by Leibniz—“Why is there something rather than nothing?”—to which Gervais responded: “Surely, the bigger question is not why but how. Why is irrelevant, isn’t it?” This is a preposterous and laughable response—“why” is not merely a bigger question, it is a qualitatively different one, and far more critical in its qualitative difference. “Why,” in this case, is the lynchpin for explaining the very existence of the universe—of all of space-time—in the first place. After all, if it can convincingly be demonstrated that all of creation sprang ex nihilo sine creātor, then surely atheists would consider such evidence far more consequential than the actual mechanics of cosmic inflation and nucleosynthesis, which are just dry scientific facts when you get down to them.

If, likewise, believers can provide a suitably logical justification for the existence of God, then surely nobody—not even Ricky Gervais—would consider that “irrelevant.”

Such proof does exist, in various forms and approaches and schools of thought—my own favorite happens to be the argument from contingency—but instead of examining those just now, I’d rather look instead at Gervais’s own flawed justification for his atheism, which, as is per usual, rests on what he calls “science” rather than any real coherent philosophical belief or logical proof.

It is worth pointing out that, in one particular sense, one does not need to “prove” to Ricky Gervais that God exists, at least not on the terms he is likely stipulating. When someone like Gervais asks for “proof” of God, they usually seem to want either a photograph of God or else some complicated mathematical theorem that proves He exists. But God cannot be photographed (the atheist knows this, even if he does not believe in God) and the sciences are not capable even in principle of adjudicating the question of God’s existence (any more than the sciences are capable of adjudicating any other philosophical proposal). As a result, in this case we should consider not trying to “prove” God’s existence to Ricky Gervais so much as demonstrate that Gervais’s own proofs against the existence of God are logically flawed and do not stand up to scrutiny. If you knock down enough logical fallacies and the only defensible belief left standing is an argument for the existence of God, then you have effectively proven the existence of God, at least as should be enough for someone like Ricky Gervais to accept (though it is doubtful he would do so on live television, as he might find it rather embarrassing).

So how does Gervais justify believing in “science” rather than God? As he put it to Colbert:

“Science is constantly proved all the time. If we take something like any fiction, any holy book, and destroyed it, in a thousand years’ time that wouldn’t come back just as it was,” he said.

“Whereas if we took every science book and every fact and destroyed them all, in a thousand years they’d all be back, because all the same tests would be the same result. I don’t need faith in science.”

There are two major flaws in Gervais’s little thought experiment, so let’s take them one at a time:

To the first, that “science is constantly proved all the time,” we’ll be charitable and assume that Gervais meant to say something like this: the scientific method is consistently demonstrated as a suitable mode of examining and discerning the natural world. No arguments there. But “suitable” is not synonymous with “static,” much less “perfect,” which is how Gervais seems to believe the scientific method works (“all the same tests would be the same result”). No serious student of scientific discovery, not even the armchair students, not even the tattered coffee-stained thrift-store-chair armchair students, believe this to be true. Subsequent tests of similar phenomenon produce disparate results all the time. To take one small example, the federal government recently reversed its multidecade-long position on cholesterol based on new scientific discoveries related to the controversial nutrient.  For nearly half a century the conventional wisdom regarding cholesterol was seen as ironclad and indisputable. Now it appears to be changing.

This is to be expected—widely-accepted scientific knowledge changes and is constantly changing. But, consequently, the idea that “all the same tests [produce] the same result” is absurd and epistemologically nonsensical. Science is constantly revising, changing, correcting, examining, proving, disproving, relitigating, confirming, denying: it’s the nature of the industry.

Thus, because most established scientific belief may change at any given moment, the average person must simply accept what he is told about science at any given moment, believing the questions have been adjudicated by someone smarter and more thorough and more powerful than he. He has, in other words, faith in “science,” in the scientific method and the legitimacy of its results and the arbiters of the method itself. It is clear, then, that—contrary to what they say—atheists like Gervais simply trade one faith for another. But atheists commit a sin of willful ignorance, pretending that they are not “faithful” but rather rational and dispassionate. Clearly this is not so.

So we must ask this: if “faith in science,” so to speak, is perfectly acceptable, why not faith in God? Indeed, faith in the latter—Who by design is unchanged, unchanging, eternal, perfect, all-powerful and all-loving—makes much more sense than “faith” in the former—which is constantly in flux, heuristically fickle, subject to politicization, and largely uncertain, from day to day or even hour to hour.

Secondly, Gervais claims that if we took “any holy book” and destroyed it, it would never come back the same way. We will again be charitable here and assume that he is referring, at least in part, to the Bible, and at least in subpart to the Gospels. And one must stipulate that Gervais is indeed right—if you tracked down and destroyed every copy of the Bible, it “wouldn’t come back just the way it was,” if at all. But so what? If you tracked down and burned every history book—every David McCullough epic, every Schlesinger work, every tract of Herodotus, every last copy of Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking People, every Western Civ tome from McGraw-Hill—it is fairly certain that none of those books would come back the same, either, if at all. Would that mean that the history these books described never happened? Nonsense.

So it is with the Bible, or at least the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, which, though they are holy and describe a great many holy things, are also historical documents that describe real events that actually took place in human history. In effect Gervais is saying: “If you destroy historical texts, they don’t come back.” Well, boffo: the curators of the Library of Alexandria agree. What of it? That is why we preserve these historical works and protect them from destruction in the first place: they are precious and worthy of preservation and we don’t want to forget them. Destruction of recorded fact does not negate the reality of the facts having happened.

Gervais’s implicit counter-argument, contained within his implicit assumptions, seems to be this: that the Bible, or at least the Gospels, is not historical: that it is “fiction,” or—even worse!—a “holy book” which has little to no connection with historical fact. To which we might ask: where is his proof? A man so profoundly devoted to “science” must have at least some evidence that the testimonies of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—along with the Acts of the Apostles and the various claims contained within the Epistles—are false or else wholly unreliable. But nobody has ever been able to prove to any satisfactory degree that there is any reason to doubt the central assertions of these documents—that Christ lived, died, was buried, rose again on the third day and was and is the Son of God. The non-Christian contemporaries of Christ and the Apostles were never able to disprove these tenets, though there would have been ample opportunity to do so in proto-Christian Judea, especially for the rich and powerful opponents of burgeoning Christianity. Modern skeptics and scholars have been unable to do so, either. Many of them insist that the Gospels are more myth that fact, born out of earlier god-man traditions of Egypt, Syria, Babylonia and elsewhere (right), that the original gospel stories concerned merely a charismatic rabbi and these stories were soon corrupted by tales of miracles and divinity. But curiously enough nobody has ever produced even a single fragment of a single scrap of papyrus detailing a non-divine Christ: for all the insistence that Jesus was simply a “great moral teacher” who was eventually mythologized by the early Church, nobody, now or then, Christian or atheist, Roman or Greek or Gervais, apologetic or antagonistic or agnostic, has ever once been able to offer any evidence to that effect at all, in any form, of any variety. If “science,” if proof, is so important to atheists, then for goodness’s sake, can’t they just follow their own advice and drum some up?

So, to recap: we have disproven Gervais’s claim that the scientific method invariably produces “the same result,” and thus we have established that any man’s monomaniacal reliance on science is in fact a “faith” in and of itself; we have established that the destruction of historical facts do not somehow magically render those facts as fiction; and from that, appendicularly, we have underscored the perfectly logical and reasonable conclusion, reached by thousands and thousands of scholars and historians and billions of faithful throughout the centuries, that the Gospels detail historical fact regarding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What next?

I am not satisfied by Gervais’s justification of his own belief system. Neither should you be. Neither should Colbert have been, though surely the time restraints of a late-night talk show factored into his rather milquetoast defense of his own faith. In any case, there may still yet be a good and robust defense of atheism out there, and I will be happy to listen to it if it comes along. In the meantime, I will continue to believe in God, and in Christ, and Him crucified, and risen. It is a wonderful faith, and also a perfectly logical one at that.

An Inquiry Into an Hysterical Media

It is beyond the scope of this little blog to adequately catalog the absolute ball-busting media hysteria that has taken place over the past few weeks, though if you are at all perceptive then you are probably aware of it already. It has been an absolute maelstrom of delirium. The media are terminally obsessed with Trump—not obsessed in a good way, like how the Wright brothers were obsessed with figuring out the mechanics of powered flight, but obsessed in a bad way, like a high school girl’s monomaniacal social-media-fueled hate-filled obsession with her ex-boyfriend.

Getting a comprehensive view of this obsession is difficult simply because it is so vast and so multifaceted, but one of the consistent features of this mania is this: the media are absolutely and completely scandalized by everything—every word, every decision, every appointment—that Trump does. To our friends in the press—in the mainstream media outlets that oversee the vast majority of the news cycle—everything Trump does is categorically insane, absolutely unprecedented, shocking, upsetting, scandalous, frightening, chaotic—you name it! The hysteria is nonstop, and its implications are always the same.

The upshot is this: the hysteria almost always turns out to be unfounded, the implications invariably turn out to be overstated if not outright false, and the scandals usually turn out to be…not scandals.

For a great example of this new approach to doing media, consider the headline from CNN’s front page early yesterday morning:

For Trump, chaotic White House becomes the norm

Holy cow! That sounds nuts. A chaotic White House seems like it could have a profoundly destabilizing effect on global affairs and domestic tranquility, right? As CNN puts it, “the West Wing [is becoming] inexorably more entwined in political dramas and internal staff intrigues that threaten to detract from Trump’s crucial first 100 days.” Sweet porcelain porkchops! CNN even reports that there are people claiming that “the White House’s scattershot focus could eventually make Americans less safe.” Less safe—this sounds dangerous!

So what is the evidence to back up these extraordinary claims of chaos, drama, intrigues and danger? Let’s take them one by one.

  • “Mushrooming drama over the Trump campaign’s alleged connections to Russia” is apparently “working its way relentlessly closer to the president himself.”
  • “Questions” were raised “over the administration’s congressional and vetting operation” after Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Pudzer withdrew his name from consideration “over ethics issues.”
  • Mike Pence is allegedly upset that he was kept in the dark about the probe into Mike Flynn’s interactions with Russian nationals.
  • There is apparently a steady flow of “palace intrigues” involving “the maneuverings of Trump aides” like Stephens Bannon and Miller, Reince Priebus and son-in-law Jared Kushner. These “maneuverings” are “contributing to a growing sense that the new administration has lost control over its own story.”

Okay. So how do each of these claims hold up? Are they really indicative of a new “norm” of a “chaotic White House?”

Well, actually…no, not really. Let’s again take them one by one:

  • The “mushrooming drama” over Trump’s ties to Russia does not actually appear to be “mushrooming;” it appears to be petering out. We have seen this kind of hysteria before, prior to the election; nothing came of that, either, even though everyone thought it was the end for Trump. Both the New York Times and NBC News have verified that investigators have concluded the Trump campaign did not collaborate with Russia regarding the election. Maybe that will change. But so far there is no indication that it will.
  • Andrew Pudzer did not, in fact, pull out of the nomination process due to “ethics issues.” As CNN itself notes, Pudzer’s nomination was a hotbed of controversy from the start, the vast majority of it political, not ethical: labor unions hated him because of his policy preferences, Democrats dragged his name through the mud because of his acrimonious divorce from 1986 and because some of his restaurant’s commercials featured sexy women doing sexy things (this is what the modern Democratic party considers disqualifying!), he once employed an illegal immigrant as a maid (he claims he was unaware of her criminal status at the time of her employment). This was much the scandal surrounding his nomination; it had very little to do with “ethics.” As a matter of fact, the government ethics office eventually approved Pudzer’s paperwork, only noting that he was required to “liquidate all of his holdings in two companies.” Hardly the stuff of chaos here.
  • It does seem to have been a serious mistake for Trump not to inform Mike Pence of the questions surrounding Mike Flynn’s contact. But this is not so much “chaos” as “a bad move by Trump.” It happens. And it is worth noting that CNN itself reports that, according to an administration official, “The vice president has moved beyond this topic and is focused on the future. Any claims to the contrary are false.” Some chaos!
  • As for the “palace intrigue,” what indication do we have that there is any “chaos” regarding “Trump aides?” Well, CNN quotes two sources: John McCain (who claims that “nobody knows who is making the decisions” in the Trump White House), and two unnamed, completely anonymous sources, one who claims that Reince Preibus “badmouthed” Steve Bannon over the telephone, and another that claims Bannon might (not has—might) eventually (a) act as a counterweight to Jared Kushner and (b) stand up to Donald Trump if Trump is acting reckless. In other words: CNN’s evidence for intra-White House strife comes from an uncertain senator and two nameless “sources” who offer, respectively, an unsubstantiated claim and an entirely hypothetical proposal. This, folks—this!—is what CNN calls “palace intrigue!”

Be honest: do you believe these things constitute a “chaotic” “norm?” Or does it seem like nothing more than a busy, slightly hectic week in a newly-minted White House, one that is struggling a bit to try and find its footing, and one that has not been touched to any appreciable degree by any scandal or “chaos?”

You begin to see the problem. This is but one single news article on one single major news website. There are dozens of these from dozens of outlets every single day, most of them ginned up and overblown and noncontextualized and overbearing and overspeculative, short on information but long on “sources,” grasping for scandal, coming up with nothing and running a misleading headline anyway just for the hell of it.

This is the new normal now: not the chaos of a Trump White House, but the unbridled mayhem of a press that is desperately, frantically trying to wring some kind of bad news out of every single thing that the Trump Administration does. It’s madness, and it’s maddening, and for all appearances it is hear to stay: for the next four years, or eight, or however long they’re determined to let this idiocy persist.

It’s Sex, You All!

One of the more contentious aspects of modern public education is the question of whether or not we should teach public schoolchildren “sex education,” which is a euphemism for teaching kids how to have sex with condoms and other contraceptives. Some people want sex ed taught to young American men and women, while others want an “abstinence-only” approach. (It never seems to occur to either group to just leave the teaching to the parents, where it properly belongs.)

Many people insist that American youngsters are “going to have sex anyway,” so we might as well show them how to do it “safely.” There is a curiously defeatist strain shot throughout much of American childrearing: we seem to believe that our children and young adults are simply going to barrel into sex, head-on and unstoppable, like Norse berserkers running screaming and naked into battle, and that adults are utterly powerless to influence this behavior in any way, capable only of throwing some IUDs and Durex into the mix and crossing our fingers.

Anyway, a pornography site recently decided to do something about the scourge of “abstinence-only” education in the great state of Utah:

After Utah lawmakers rejected a bill that would have provided an alternative to its abstinence-based approach to sexual education in schools on Monday, a surprising organization stepped in to fill the educational gap: a porn site.

On Wednesday, the porn site xHamster altered its website so that when users with Utah-based IP addresses log on, they are asked if they’d like to be redirected to xHamster’s series of nonpornographic sex-ed videos. In a (NSFW) blog post, xHamster says it decided to proactively offer Utahns the educational videos both because of the legislature’s recent rejection of the comprehensive sex-ed bill and because “over the past few years, politicians in the state have … waged war on porn.” Indeed, last year the state legislature unanimously passed a resolution declaring porn a “public health crisis,” even though there’s no solid evidence that porn is harmful.

“Utahns consume the most porn per capita of any state, but have some of the lowest levels of sexual education,” xHamster states in its blog post. “We’re here to change that.” The notion that Utah has the highest per-capita porn consumption in the nation comes from a 2009 analysis of credit cards used to pay for online porn, which means it doesn’t necessarily reflect the habits of people who watch porn for free. Still, if Utah lawmakers really think porn is a public health crisis, you’d think they’d want to provide an alternative for teens looking for information about sex.

This is an interesting stunt, chiefly because it seems so incredibly pointless: does anyone really believe that a consumer of xHamster’s expansive multimedia library is really going to be interested in a “series of nonpornographic sex-ed videos?” Perhaps the implication is that the beneficiaries of these videos will mostly be the Utah schoolchildren who were denied “sexual education” within Utah’s public schools. But if that’s the case, isn’t xHamster implicitly endorsing the consumption of pornography by minors? And isn’t that a little perverted?

In any case, two things immediately spring to mind here. The first is this: if Utahns do indeed “have some of the lowest levels of sexual education” within the United States, what is the practical result? Is the state a festering wasteland of single motherhood and sexually transmitted diseases?

Well: Utah appears to have the lowest unwed birth rate in the country, as well as the fourth-lowest rate of STD transmission. If a lack of “sexual education” is supposed to aggravate these phenomena, how does one explain these numbers? Shouldn’t Utah be awash in illegitimate births and gonorrhea? (On the flip side, Washington, D.C.—which mandates comprehensive sex ed in its public schools—consistently ranks among the highest districts in the country for both STDs and out-of-wedlock births. What gives?)

Secondly, and more broadly, it is always worth questioning long-held and popularly-accepted maxims. In this case the maxim is: “Abstinence-only education does not work,” namely because “kids are just going to have sex anyway.” Is this true?

There is actually compelling evidence to suggest that it is not true—that youth and young adults are not mystically fated to just bang each other non compos mentis. Consider the data compiled by Alfred Kinsey, Julia Ericksen and others: they point to the conclusion that, at the beginning of the twentieth century, nearly 95% of unmarried 19-year-old white women were virgins. In the early 1900s, in other words, many, many more women were waiting quite a bit longer to have sex, and the sex they did have was taking place within marriage. It is safe to say that close to 100% of these women received absolutely nothing in the way of “comprehensive sex education.” So why weren’t they screwing their brains out back then? After all, “abstinence doesn’t work!”

Perhaps the proper response is this: we should not be prepared to accept uncritically the shibboleths of the sexual revolution, chief among them its assumptions regarding the inevitably of human sexual behavior. Human beings are perfectly capable of exercising sexual forbearance; we’re not braindead automatons mindlessly humping anything with a pulse. The founders of and heirs to the sexual revolution, of course, are monomaniacal fanatics about sex—they are as militantly committed to the proposition of freewheeling sexual licentiousness as is any religious zealot to his dogma—and they are instinctively hostile towards the idea that people are able to practice any kind of reasonable chastity or self-restraint, much less that they should. It is not an easy task to convince a militant to give up his militancy to any degree.

Just the same, there is a case to be made for dialing back the destructive excesses of the sexual revolution—and that case is quite wonderfully illustrated by the unsettling irony of a nasty pornographic smut site’s attempting to lecture people about safe sex. If it’s come to this absurdity, then surely we have done something terribly wrong.

She Shall Not Pass! (She Did Anyway)

In the Age of Trump, what is the long-term liberal strategy? What do they plan to do to regain the significant amount of ground Democrats have lost in the past decade? Maybe some of them will focus on down-ticket races at the state level; others, on shoring up their presence in one or both houses of Congress; others will begin to lay the foundations for a presidential challenge in 2020. And others will do this:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was physically blocked by protesters from entering Jefferson Academy in SW, D.C. Friday morning. This was her first visit to a public school.

The protesters created a barrier to the entrance of the school, and began shouting.

DeVos turned away and walked toward her vehicle while protesters continued to yell, one screaming, “She doesn’t represent anything that they stand for.” Followed by chants, of “shame, shame, shame.”

So, look, I get it: it is a bit redundant at this point to note that Trump’s electoral victory basically fried the neural circuits of much of the American left. They just went kind of nuts, and a lot of them are still going nuts. I could likely produce examples of this phenomenon every single day for the next four to eight years. Leave all that aside, however, and just ask yourself this question: do these people honestly think tactics like this will work? Do they think that barring a government official from entering a building, hysterically screaming and shouting at her, and ultimately chasing her away is going to accomplish anything—anything at all?

I can’t see how. Surely they must be aware that this kind of nonsense produces no practically valuable outcome (“She did,” the report notes, “eventually make it into the school”). As a moral or philosophical protest it is equally worthless: instead of virtuous protestors, these people just look like angry children or mentally unstable adults, chanting a Game of Thrones meme at a woman who was doing and has done absolutely nothing wrong. For liberalism’s purposes this was an embarrassing, silly, counterproductive and ultimately worthless display of political vanity. And note that this is not just a rank-and-file goober-on-the-street tactic: the highest-ranking of liberal politicians are willing to do useless and bizarre performance art as well. Is there honestly some kind of expectation that these histrionics will produce an outcome of political value? Or are they just, you know, getting their ya-yas out?

Well, who knows? In any event, self-awareness has not been a defining virtue of American liberalism as of late. Just consider another set of reactions to DeVos’s nomination:

In a tizzy after Betsy DeVos was confirmed as President Trump’s Sec. of Education, liberals on Twitter started considering the merits of homeschooling for the first time.

The irony of invoking the freedom to choose where their kids go to school as a way to protest a pro-school choice Sec. of Education seemed lost on them.

Of course it was lost on them! Just the same, this is highly encouraging. As a former homeschooler myself (10+ years of it), I know well the disdain and outright hostility many liberals feel for the practice, and I have always wondered how to make them see the light about the wonderful benefits of teaching your children at home. Who knew? All we had to do was put a smart, successful, highly motivated philanthropist businesswoman in the Department of Education, and bam! Homeschooling is suddenly acceptable. Now what on earth do we have to do to get the Left to come around to guns?

Farewell to the People Persons

There are any number of ways people make it easier and more palatable to kill or subjugate another human being or another class of human beings. One can ascribe to them any manner of evil and nefarious motives and undertakings, as the Nazi machine did with the Jews; one can accuse them of political and societal sabotage and subterfuge, as the Russian Communists did with  the kulaks and the “wreckers;” one can construct a fiction wherein the targeted demographic is believed to be stupider, less capable and closer to animal than human, as did the pro-slavery partisans of colonial and antebellum America regarding blacks.

Pro-abortionism, so far as I  know, is the only ideology that for the most part presumes a priori that the human beings in question are not persons. Where antisemitic Nazism and the system of American slavery and any other number of belief systems generally assumed that their targets were bad people or undesirable people or inferior people, the ideology of pro-abortionism tends to assume that the affected people are in fact not people at all.

In a sense this is unsurprising, because among all of the great crimes against humanity, abortion stands alone in its marked and unique brutality: it kills the most innocent and defenseless human beings among us, most of the time for trivial and transient reasons, and on a scale unfathomable to even the most fanatical of despots. In less than four decades worldwide there have been almost one and a half billion abortions: since 1980 we’ve exterminated what amounts to a little over a fifth of the world’s population today, all of them defenseless, with the vast, overwhelming majority of these exterminations being undertaken on the flimsiest and most unjustifiable of pretexts. Count off five people you know personally, then slit the throat of one of them: in a practical sense this is what abortion has done to the human race since 1980, a half-decimation of the global populace.

All of that killing has to be justified in some way; genocide sits easy on nobody’s conscience, no matter what they say. And so you have the kind of rationalization we see from Dr. Willie J. Parker, who speaks frankly in the pages of the New York Times:

Here’s the thing: Life is a process, not an event. If I thought I was killing a person, I wouldn’t do abortions. A fetus is not a person; it’s a human entity. In the moral scheme of things, I don’t hold fetal life and the life of a woman equally. I value them both, but in the precedence of things, when a woman comes to me, I find myself unable to demote her aspirations because of the aspirations that someone else has for the fetus that she’s carrying.

“Life is a process” is, of course, a clever turn of phrase—and it is one that could only be uttered by someone who has been born. If the unborn could speak, surely they would object to qualifying their lives in such a way. Anyone would; indeed when it comes down to it everyone who can, does. Nobody given a choice in the matter would define themselves in a way to make their lives utterly expendable. But abortion doctors don’t give the unborn such a choice: they just kill them, and then they have the gall to speak about “moral schemes.”

Two things are immediately apparent regarding Dr. Parker’s justification of his abortion practice. The first is that his incredible claim—that an unborn human is not a “person” but rather an “entity”—is both meaningless and equivocal at the same time. Meaningless because it is not at all an explicative definition: persons are “entities,” too, after all, and Dr. Parker offers no justification for why the unborn as “entities” do not qualify for personhood (maybe I’m old-fashioned, but if you’re attempting to justify killing other humans, I feel like you should have to show your work). Equivocal, too, because he assumes that the relevant moral feature of a human being is not one’s self-evident humanity but one’s qualified station in life. This qualification, of course, invariably comes from somebody who is bigger and stronger than the qualified unborn, somebody who has killing on his mind. This crude kind of functionalism is what Peter Kreeft calls “might over right rationalized,” in which one justifies one’s brutal treatment of weaker human beings by way of half-baked philosophical claptrap. It is a necessary fixture of pro-abortion politics, for otherwise nobody who supports abortion would be able to sleep at night.

Secondly, one notes that Dr. Parker’s assessment of the stakes of abortion—the “aspirations” of the mother versus the “aspirations that someone else has” for the unborn—are remarkably lopsided, morally speaking, at least if we are to take seriously the women who have abortions. What are the main reasons women have abortions? With some notable exceptions they are, variously and for the most part, financial (“can’t afford baby now”), selfishly personal (“too young/immature/not ready for responsibility”), selfishly practical (“enough children already”), or wholly irrelevant to the actual matter of bringing a child to term (“mother single or in poor relationship”). These are the vast majority of the “aspirations” of abortive women of which Dr. Parker speaks.

And what are the “aspirations” that pro-lifers have on behalf of the unborn? Simply this: that they might live; that they might not be murdered; that they might survive and be given the chance to know, to grow, to feel, to learn, to love and be loved—simply that they might be given the full range of human opportunity and possibility that the law accords every born human.

In the end, regardless of one’s perspective on abortion, everyone must ask himself this rather simple question: what sounds like a more consequential “aspiration” to you: “I have enough children already” or “I don’t want to die?”

The Weirdest Science of All

At its heart science is apolitical, but—like any tool—science can be perverted and twisted to serve political ends. That is more or less what we’ve got on our hands in our current political moment: various scientists, pundits and politicians alike are determined to use “science” as a partisan cudgel rather than the simple, helpful, boring, uninteresting method of systematic interaction and exploration with the natural world that it really is.

Indeed, “science” itself has become a kind of silly metonym for a particular worldview and a particular set of political priorities and policies that accompany that worldview. The word “science” carries with it some measure of weight and authority, and so it often serves as a substitution for rational and coherent debate. Thus, for instance, how the entire debate over man-made climate change—an extremely contentious discourse dealing with incredibly complex variables of ridiculous breadth and sensitivity, and involving policy questions that could have profoundly negative effects on human civilization and the course of human history itself—-generally boils down to: “Ummm I believe in SCIENCE, why are you so anti-intellectual?!?!”

Such politicization naturally leads to paranoia and hysteria: if you weaponize the scientific method in this way, you’re naturally going to be afraid that it will, at some point, be used against you. That appears to be happening to a significant degree under the presidency of Donald Trump, wherein science partisans have declared that the new president is waging a “war on science.” However, at Slate, Daniel Engber writes that the arbiters of science should not take the bait; as he puts it, this “war” is “a trap” that may actually end up working in Trump’s favor:

The War on Science works for Trump because it’s always had more to do with social class than politics. A glance at data from the National Science Foundation shows how support for science tracks reliably with socioeconomic status. As of 2014, 50 percent of Americans in the highest income quartile and more than 55 percent of those with college degrees reported having great confidence in the nation’s scientific leaders. Among those in the lowest income bracket or with very little education, that support drops to 33 percent or less. Meanwhile, about five-sixths of rich or college-educated people—compared to less than half of poor people or those who never finished high school—say they believe that the benefits of science outweigh the potential harms. To put this in crude, horse-race terms, the institution of scientific research consistently polls about 30 points higher among the elites than it does among the uneducated working class…

Thus we find ourselves in a position where America’s anti-science sentiment, such as it exists, has gathered behind a single candidate. Science partisans have noticed, too, and their “war on science” rhetoric has never been so frantic and intense. “Is Trump the most anti-science president ever?” asked Newsweek the day after the election. Other outlets have since then been cataloguing Trump’s most aggresive, anti-science moves and other warning shots that mark an epic war to come.

There are two important things to note here. The first is that, contra Engber, one’s affinity for “science,” as it were, often does indeed depend upon one’s own political persuasion; you just have to ask the right question. Only two-fifths of Democrats, for instance, believe that human life begins at conception—this in spite of the fact that decades of embryological scientific study have proven otherwise. The progressive obsession with abortion, and their ascientific justification of it, overrides the clearly-established evidence that affirms the humanity of the youngest of the unborn. “Anti-science,” if that’s what you want to call it, is a bipartisan affair.

The second thing worth mentioning is simply a matter of practical denotation: in a strictly elucidative sense, the question “Is Trump the most anti-science president ever?” is meaningless and stupid. Newsweek justifies this question, and implicitly affirms it, with some remarkably weak and irrelevant evidence, such as this quote from Ars Technica writer David Kravets: “For energy, [Trump] plans to do the exact opposite of what would be required to address climate change, and he plans to seek a wholesale culling of federal regulation regardless of whether there’s a scientific basis for the rules.” Note, again, the weaponization of science for partisan political ends: if your policy goals don’t go far enough in “addressing climate change,” then you’re somehow “anti-science,” rather than, you know, someone who for any number of reasons just doesn’t buy into the overhyped global warming hysteria. “Science” partisans mistake the product for the process: they believe “science” refers to the affirmation of Democratic policy goals rather than a methodology of investigation that may or may not lead to that affirmation.

This kind of binary thinking—“You’re either with us, or with the anti-scientists”—is what has inspired many people to stop paying attention to the histrionics of the “science” crowd. To be sure, in the end Trump will probably have little to no effect on the United States’s scientific undertakings; a little funding might get cut here or there (which will surely usher in a fresh round of hysterics), but that’s probably it. The real threat to the integrity of our scientific culture comes not from our blowhard president but from the zealots who have turned “science” into a half-bright political enterprise for their own silly political ambitions.

Some Soup Is Not Good Food

If you’re like most Americans, you probably spend relatively little time per day cooking. There are a lot of people who think this development marks a great moment of human progress: people can spend less time cooking and more time on other “more important” activities, like working longer hours or scrolling through a few more status updates on Facebook. Sounds like an awesomely beneficial trade-off, right?

But there are signs that, at least among younger consumers, the winds are changing: more of us Millennials are moving away (albeit quite slowly) from the Quik-E-Mart style of feeding ourselves and towards something a little more intensive and thus healthful. This is a welcome development. But it has made a few folks nervous: the corporations who have built their monoliths around the kind of gee-whiz push-button cooking model of the mid-20th century. What is a multinational canned soup conglomerate to do when the customer base starts gravitating towards the fresh vegetables? Well:

If shoppers are often steering clear of the center aisles, Campbell reasons it needs to meet them in the parts of the store that they visit. That is why two of the new soups, Garden Fresh Gourmet and Souplicity, are refrigerated products that come in plastic containers, not cans, that can be sold on the cold shelves that line a supermarket’s perimeter.

Souplicity is the highest-end line of the three, a single-serving organic product that costs $5.99 for a 17.6-ounce container and comes in such flavors as “Carrot Curry Ginger” and “Broccoli Parmesan Lemon.” This is designed for a health-conscious customer — picture, perhaps, a yoga devotee who already springs for items such as cold-pressed juices. Campbell made sure to market-test this one in Southern California, a hub of healthful eating.

“We saw an opportunity there for a very culinary experience, very clean experience,” said Suzanne Ginestro, chief marketing officer and general manager of innovation at C-Fresh, the division of Campbell Soup that makes fresh food…

There are no major media campaigns now for Souplicity and Garden Fresh Gourmet. And the products so far are sold in just a small set of grocery stores, where Campbell can see how shoppers react to them and then slowly build into more stores.

“It’s much more organic, from the ground up. And that helps you deliver on this smaller, authentic, real [principle],” Ginestro said. “Let’s be completely transparent and let this business grow organically.”

I have nothing against Campbell at all, but I will say it kind of delights me to see a century-old food processing dinosaur cluelessly scramble after the coveted cold-pressed-juice-drinking “yoga devotee” demographic. The free market is astonishing not just for the way it brings us an endless array of products but also for the way it forces Baby Boomers in Camden, New Jersey to kowtow to cultural forces they probably know nor care nothing about.

Just the same, this is, all things considered, fairly pathetic. Corporate culture—the soulless, dollar-chasing, focus-group-tested, utterly safe and predictable style of modern corporation adpseak—is so transparently fake enough to be almost uncomfortable. “A very culinary experience;” “authentic, real;” “much more organic;” “C-Fresh:” there is such a desperate attempt here to appear genuine and unaffected, to the point that you have to wonder who is giving these people their cues. Where does this dead-eyed and so obviously coached approach to human interaction come from? Who started this, and why is it perpetuated?

Apart from the cringeworthy jargon, this whole sales gabmit feels like the awkward and embarrassing result of a company’s attempting to stray outside of its natural métier in favor of something that just doesn’t fit. Historically—and perhaps appropriately, given the dynamics of the market—Campbell wasn’t concerned with “delivering” on a “smaller, authentic, real principle.” They were concerned with churning out millions of gallons of soup, roiling rivers of chicken noodle and tomato and pepper pot, slathering the American continent in cream of mushroom and consommé from sea to shining sea. You can almost picture the glory days of the Campbell empire: cigar-chomping executives slapping tiny little push-pin Campbell soup cans onto a map of the United States: “We’re in another grocery chain in the Midwest, boys!” Back then Campbell knew its mission and it knew the parameters of that mission: manufacture and sell the American people a whole bunch of damn cans of pre-made-effing-soup. Let the wheels of industry turn. Mmm mmm good!

To be sure, the soup was not all that good, and not all that good for you—and it is unsurprising (and good) that, in this day and age, people are moving away from that old style of wartime ration soup cans in favor of healthier and more flavorful options, especially those fresher, unprocessed options that impose a measure of self-sufficiency upon the American consumer.

But that’s the point: Campbell had the opportunity to go out with some dignity, accepting the changing marketplace and the changing desires of the American public with a measure of self-respect. Instead, we have this ignominious and humiliating attempt to “meet customers in the parts of the store that they visit,” fabricating pretentious little plastic pods of soup that are meant to be “authentic” and “culinary.”

In all likelihood, this attempt will not go very well at all, and Campbell will suffer for it. But they will have suffered doubly: by losing a lot of money on an inadvisable market gamble, and by selling out the ethos of their great American company in a misguided attempt to conform themselves to a changing world. “Let’s be completely transparent,” they say. Don’t worry, Campbell: you already are.

Call It What You Won’t

As profoundly weird as it is, I was not all that surprised to see that the Boy Scouts have finally relented and are allowing “transgender boys” to join the organization; by “transgender boys,” of course, they mean, “girls who believe they are boys.” Admitting girls into a social group that by definition excludes them seems to be a bit of a stretch, though we should not rule out the possibility that the Scouts are just trying to make up for a recent precipitous decline in membership.

The transgender movement is an odd one, not necessarily because of its pathology—it is a delusion, and a heartbreaking one at that, but there are many heartbreaking delusions out there. Transgenderism’s unique place in the our socio-political hierarchy stems primarily from the privileges it is accorded: no other mental illness is so celebrated, so revered, and indulged on so massive a scale. The Boy Scouts’ capitulation is not even the worst of it. Consider this news out of Great Britain:

Guidance put together by the doctors’ union the British Medical Association (BMA) says that using the term ‘mothers’ could upset intersex and transgender men.

The advice was part of an internal document to staff outlining a raft of common phrases that should be avoided for fear of causing offence.

On pregnancy and maternity, it says: ‘Gender inequality is reflected in traditional ideas about the roles of women and men.

‘Though they have shifted over time, the assumptions and stereotypes that underpin those ideas are often deeply-rooted…’

‘We can include intersex men and transmen who may get pregnant by saying ‘pregnant people’ instead of ‘expectant mothers’.’

To be perfectly fair, it is commendable to want to accommodate, to the greatest degree reasonably possible, people with biological abnormalities like those who were born “intersex.” Just the same, there is a real patronizing condescension at work here: the assumption that intersex individuals—-who, by some estimates, make up one-half of one-tenth of one percent of the population—are incapable of understanding or accepting the reasoning behind the widespread usage of the term “expectant mothers,” an idiom which refers to what philosopher Peter Kreeft calls a “truth about the species” rather than a “quirk of the specimen.” Do we believe those with intersex conditions are so outrageously fragile that they can’t understand why we would use such a term to describe all but a categorically minuscule number of pregnancies?

That being said, it is the deference to transgender ideology that is truly astonishing here—the idea that we must modify our socio-scientific language in order to conform to a psychological illness. In individual, extreme cases—wherein a doctor has decided that a “transgender” patient’s delusions should be indulged rather than ameliorated—you could understand such an impulse. As an industry-wide policy it is absurd on its face. Women get pregnant. Men do not. This is as well-known and ironclad a scientific fact as any, and as such it is not open for any real debate, political or otherwise, at least not without engaging in a kind of wild anti-scientific quack mysticism.

As with those of abortion, the politics of transgenderism demand a kind of outright rejection of scientific fact in favor of little more than literal fantasy. As always, the immediate victims of this flight of fancy are the mentally ill men and women whose illnesses are being indulged by a silly and reckless social craze. Yet victimized as well are two other important things: rational discourse and even, as we see in Great Britain, scientific integrity. Who would have thought that, in the second decade of the 20th century, the phrase “Men can’t get pregnant” would become both a political scandal and a challenged scientific assumption? And who will dare to predict what absurdities will come next?