Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Champion of Small Minds

In the spirit of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 this wonderful Knight of the Darwinian Faith intrepidly strides into bookstores and, hush now, surreptitiously moves intelligent design books from the science section and reshelves them in the religion section! Isn't that something? Don't you just admire the guy? Not only does he have the courage to do this great deed, but he proudly boasts of his mighty blows on behalf of the suppression of ideas on his blog.

It's not every day that we hear about such anti-intellectual heroics. It's not every day that people, scared to death of ideas and arguments that conflict with their own cherished convictions, manage to overcome their fears and their bigotry and actually rise up and do something to protect others from being exposed to those ideas. It's not every day that we're privileged to witness the glorious conjunction in one solitary man of a narrow mind and the impulse to extinguish uncomfortable and unacceptable ideas.

Our hats are off to today's champion of small minds everywhere, University of Montana grad student Michael D. Barton.

HT: John West at Evolution News and Views.


Philosophy Students' Lament

The author of the book C.S. Lewis' Dangerous Idea, is a philosophy professor by the name of Victor Reppert, who has apparently been hearing grumblings from his students about the value of studying philosophy. Everyone who teaches the subject (or any other subject, for that matter) has heard similar complaints. Philosophy students are often frustrated by the fact that philosophy seems to raise more questions than it answers and by the fact that few of the answers it does give are definitive. All of this is why I found Reppert's reply to his students very much on the mark.

He begins with this:

This is a response to some frustrations which a student expressed to me, and which are, I think, typical of a lot of people who are introduced to the subject. If you've taught philosophy for any length of time, you know where this student is coming from.

I know that philosophy, by its nature, can be frustrating, and it requires somewhat different skills than what you might be accustomed to using in other classes. I make no apologies for that; the discipline of philosophy is what it is.

There is a common conception when students come to philosophy classes that everything falls into two general categories, fact and opinion. If it is a matter of fact, we can settle it by some broadly scientific method. If it is a matter of opinion, then different people have different opinions, and we are all entitled to our opinions. Philosophical questions are all matters of opinion, and therefore there is something absurd and perhaps even offensive about grading a philosophy paper.

I think this neat division of everything into two boxes, fact and opinion, which we learned all the way back to fourth grade at least, is a distortion of the truth. Just because we cannot settle a question to everyone's satisfaction through a well-defined method doesn't mean that there can't be better or worse reasons for believing what we do, or that we shouldn't be aware of the reasons for and against what we believe. Whether it is worthwhile to spend time working through one's world-view and putting a lot of reflection into that, or whether there are other, more adequate uses for a person's time is not something I can answer for someone else.

If you've entertained the same musings as Reppert's student, or if you're a teacher, I encourage you to read the rest of his reply. It's quite good.

His book, by the way, is an excellent treatment of Lewis' argument in Miracles that the existence of human Reason is much better understood on the assumption that there's a God than it is on any naturalistic explanation.


Miss Me Yet?

The internet has been abuzz the last couple of days over a mysterious billboard in Minnesota that has a picture of George W. Bush with the words "Miss Me Yet?"

Michelle Malkin manages to resist nostalgia's seductive tug and lays out nine reasons why the thought of Mr. Bush's presidency fails to fill her with yearning for the old days:

President Bush put America on the proper war footing after 9/11 and deserves much credit for doing so, but he also:

1) joined with open-borders progressives McCain and Kennedy to try to force shamnesty down our throats;

2) massively expanded the federal role in education;

3) championed the Medicare prescription drug entitlement using phony math;

4) kowtowed to the jihadi-enabling Saudis;

5) stocked DHS with incompetents and cronies;

6) pushed Hillarycare for housing;

7) enabled turncoat Arlen Specter;

8) nominated crony Harriet Myers to the Supreme Court;

9) pre-socialized the economy for Obama by embracing TARP, the auto bailouts, the AIG bailout.

This is all true and cannot be gainsaid. At one point in his presidency I thought Mr. Bush had a chance to be a great president. Then came #1, 2, 3, 9 and his reluctance to explain and promote those of his policies which really were noble, and I gave up hope. I still think he's a classier human being than the men who preceded and succeeded him, but I'm afraid he let greatness slip through his fingers. It's really quite sad, actually.


Root Causes

Those concerned with the problems of our inner cities are forever talking about the "root causes" of the crime and educational failure besetting those, largely African Americans, who inhabit our urban areas. Usually, the proffered solutions involve spending money, but rarely does spending money do any good. The reason economic solutions fail, of course, is that the problem isn't really economic.

There's a column at City Journal that every person concerned about inner city poverty, educational failure, crime, illegitimacy and other dysfunctions should read. It's written by Heather MacDonald, and she puts her finger on the reason why people who are poor often remain poor, sometimes for generations. She lays the blame for crime, educational failure, and all the ills which plague the lower social classes on one single common denominator - fatherlessness.

It's an excellent article and MacDonald is very persuasive. Here are a few excerpts:

In 1984, Obama's first year in Chicago, gang members gunned down a teenage basketball star, Benjy Wilson. The citywide outcry that followed was heartfelt but beside the point. None of the prominent voices calling for an end to youth violence-from Mayor Washington to Jesse Jackson to school administrators-noted that all of Wilson's killers came from fatherless families (or that he had fathered an illegitimate child himself). Nor did the would-be reformers mention the all-important fact that a staggering 75 percent of Chicago's black children were being born out of wedlock. The sky-high illegitimacy rate meant that black boys were growing up in a world in which it was normal to impregnate a girl and then take off. When a boy is raised without any social expectation that he will support his children and marry his children's mother, he fails to learn the most fundamental lesson of personal responsibility. The high black crime rate was one result of a culture that fails to civilize men through marriage.

In 1994, two particularly savage youth murders drew the usual feckless hand-wringing. An 11-year-old Black Disciples member from Roseland, Robert "Yummy" Sandifer (so called for his sweet tooth, the only thing childlike about him), had unintentionally killed a girl while shooting at (and paralyzing) a rival gang member. Sandifer's fellow Black Disciples then executed him to prevent him from implicating them in the killing. A month later, after five-year-old Eric Morse refused to steal candy for an 11-year-old and a ten-year-old, the two dropped him from a 14th-story window in a housing complex, killing him. Eric's eight-year-old brother had grabbed him to keep him from falling, but lost his hold when one of the boys bit him on the arm. None of the perpetrators or victims in either case came from two-parent families.

In the early 2000s, the number of assaults reported in and around schools increased significantly, according to Northwestern University political scientist Wesley Skogan. School dismissal time in Chicago triggers a massive mobilization of security forces across the South and West Sides, to try to keep students from shooting one another or being shot by older gang members. Police officers in bulletproof vests ring the most violence-prone schools, and the Chicago Transit Authority rejiggers its bus schedules to try to make sure that students don't have to walk even half a block before boarding a bus.

In September 2009, that now-notorious cell-phone video gave the world a glimpse of Barack Obama's former turf. Teenagers-some in an informal school uniform of khaki pants and polo shirts, others bare-chested-swarm across a desolate thoroughfare in Roseland; others congregate in the middle of it, indifferent to the SUVs that try to inch by, horns blaring. Against a background din of constant yelling, some boys lunge at one another and throw punches, while a few, in leisurely fashion, select victims to clobber on the torso and head with thick, eight-foot-long railroad ties. Derrion Albert is standing passively in the middle of a knot on the sidewalk when one boy whacks him on the head with a railroad tie and another punches him in the face. Albert falls to the ground unconscious, then comes to and tries to get up. A boy walking by gives him a desultory kick. Five more cluster around him as he lies curled up on the sidewalk; one hits him again with a railroad tie, and another stomps him on the head. Finally, workers from a nearby youth community center drag Albert inside.

Needless to say, everyone involved in the Albert beating came from a fatherless home. Defendant Eugene Riley hit Albert with a railroad tie as he lay unconscious on the ground in his final moments. According to 18-year-old Riley's 35-year-old mother, Sherry Smith, "his father was not ready to be a strong black role model in his son's life." Nor was the different father of Riley's younger brother, Vashion Bullock, ready to be involved in his son's life. A bare-chested Bullock shows up in the video wielding a railroad tie in the middle of the street. As for Albert himself, his father "saw him the day he was born, and the next time when he was in a casket," reports Bob Jackson, the worldly director of Roseland Ceasefire, an antiviolence project.

In Chicago, blacks, at least 35 percent of the population, commit 76 percent of all homicides; whites, about 28 percent of the population, commit 4 percent, and Hispanics, 30 percent of the population, commit 19 percent. The most significant difference between these demographic groups is family structure. In Cook County-which includes both Chicago and some of its suburbs and probably therefore contains a higher proportion of middle-class black families than the city proper-79 percent of all black children were born out of wedlock in 2003, compared with 15 percent of white children. Until that gap closes, the crime gap won't close, either.

All the maladies associated with our inner cities occur everywhere and among all races wherever fatherlessness is the norm. Black crime is disproportionately high because black fatherlessness is disproportionately high. The solution to the problems of our cities isn't to throw more money at them, MacDonald argues, it is to get men of whatever color to learn to value monogamy and to be present in the home to nurture their children as they grow up. If that doesn't happen the future for the children of those who refuse to be real fathers will look increasingly violent and relentlessly bleak.

There's no quick fix for the social breakdown that has occured in our cities, but the path leading out of it is clear for anyone who wants to take it:

  • Get all the education you can get.
  • Don't have children until you're married and once you're married stay married.
  • Get whatever job you can and be the most dependable, hardest worker on the job.
  • Get involved in a church where you can get social and spiritual support.
  • Stay away from drugs and alcohol.

This is the route to the middle class taken by generations of Americans. It's the route that has resulted in generations of Americans having a better standard of living than did their parents who walked that path so that their children could benefit from their discipline.