Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Aug/15

23

Bangladesh: Darkness Falls

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ChakrabartiWhen a sub-headline begins like this…:

Niloy Chakrabarti was only the latest atheist blogger to be hacked to death in the country this year.

That refers to the murder of Chakrabarti, slaughtered by a group of attackers in his appartment earlier this month.

A long piece in today’s Guardian explains what’s been going on.

Here’s an extract:

[Avijit] Roy, who held dual US and Bangladeshi nationality, was the most prominent atheist writer to be attacked in Bangladesh, but he was not the first – or the last. On 30 March, a month after Roy’s murder, another blogger, Washiqur Rahman Babu, was set upon by a group of masked assailants. On 12 May, Ananta Bijoy Das, who wrote for Mukto-Mona on rationalism and science, was attacked in his hometown of Sylhet. On 7 August, men with machetes broke into the Dhaka home of Niloy Chakrabarti, a blogger who used the pen name Niloy Neel. All three men died.

The four murders in 2015 were brutal and happened in quick succession, prompting police action. Three people have been arrested – including a British citizen, Touhidur Rahman – over the deaths of Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das.

A British citizen: I’ll just interrupt to note that fact.

But the violence goes back further. It began on 15 January 2013, when atheist blogger and political activist Asif Mohiuddin was on his way to work and was attacked from behind by a group of men with machetes. “I [thought] I would die,” he tells me over Skype from his new home in Germany. “But somehow I survived.” He spent weeks in intensive care, and still finds it difficult to move his neck. “I think I will carry this problem all my life.”

A month later, another blogger critical of Islamic fundamentalism, Ahmed Rajib Haider, was attacked in the same way outside his house in Dhaka. He did not survive. In August 2014, someone broke into the Dhaka home of TV personality Nurul Islam Faruqi, who had criticised fundamentalist groups on air, and slit his throat. A humanist academic, Professor Shafiul Islam, who had pushed for a ban on full-face veils for students, was murdered near Rajshahi University in west Bangladesh in November.

These brutal crimes have gone unpunished; arrests have not led to prosecutions. The government appears unwilling, or unable, to stand with atheists. Instead, in an attempt to appease Islamists, it has ramped up its own actions against “blasphemous” bloggers….

Read the whole thing.

Links
http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/07/asia/bangladesh-blogger-niloy-neel-killed/
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/22/brutal-fight-of-bangladeshs-secular-voices-to-be-heard

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Aug/15

23

Is A Papal Lecture on US Immigration on the Way?

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Pope FrancisCross-posted on the Corner:

Will Pope Francis use the privileged platform—an address to Congress—that he has been given (why?) by Speaker Boehner next month to say something about immigration?

Roll Call:

Many advocates for revamping immigration laws have tried to coax Congress into action over the years, but a particularly powerful one will be arriving next month: Pope Francis. Lawmakers and immigration activists expect the pontiff’s message will resonate beyond Capitol Hill and inspire members of Congress and their constituents. The pope’s U.S. schedule includes an address to Congress on Sept. 24 and a meeting two days later with immigrants and Hispanic families at Philadelphia’s Independence Mall.

“He’s been clear on our failure to respond appropriately to immigrants and refugees,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., told CQ. “I don’t think anyone will have any doubt on where the church stands on immigration after the pope visits the United States.”

…The Holy Father would enter the United States by crossing the Mexican border if he had the time, according to Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, the head of a papal advisory group of cardinals, during remarks in March before a Georgetown University audience.

McGovern, one of 169 Catholics in Congress, noted many Catholics might not be familiar with the church’s catechism that “more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood, which he cannot find in his country of origin.” He said he hopes the pope’s words will affect his colleagues who are opposed to a comprehensive immigration overhaul and encourage them to reflect on their actions.

“It may move some, it may not move others,” McGovern told CQ. “But I hope it makes those who have been obstructionist feel uncomfortable.”

Quite why they should feel “uncomfortable” escapes me. The duty of these elected officials is to their constituents and to the best interests of their country. I doubt if those will be the grounds of any appeal that Francis may choose to make.

We’ll have to wait and see what he comes up with, of course, but, judging by Francis’s track record, most notoriously a homily he gave on the Italian island of Lampedusa not long after becoming Pope, he will indeed have quite a bit to say on the topic, little of it sensible.

As I’ve noted before, the Pope’s words on that occasion were analyzed by “Theodore Dalrymple” (Anthony Daniels) for Law and Liberty in a powerfully-argued piece that will, I suspect, turn out to have little in common with the hagiographic mush that is likely to characterize most mainstream media coverage of the upcoming papal visit. It is, therefore, well worth re-reading now, not least as some sort of inoculation.

Here’s an extract:

In his homily, the Pope decried what he called ‘the globalization of indifference’ to the suffering of which the tragedy of the drowned [migrants] was a manifestation and a consequence. Our culture of comfort, he said, has made us indifferent to the sufferings of others; we have forgotten how to cry on their behalf. He made reference to the play of Lope de Vega in which a tyrant is killed by the inhabitants of a town called Fuente Ovejuna, no one owning up to the killing and everyone saying that it was Fuente Ovejuna that killed him. The West, said the Pope, was like Fuente Ovejuna, for when asked who was to blame for the deaths of these migrants, it answered, ‘Everyone and no one!’ He continued, ‘Today also this question emerges: who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters? No one! We each reply: it was not I, I wasn’t here, it was someone else.’

The Pope also called for ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity that open the way to tragedies such as these to come out of hiding.’ With all due respect, I think this is very loose thinking indeed of a kind that the last Pope would not have permitted himself. The analogy between the two situations, the murder of the tyrant in Fuente Ovejuna and the death by drowning of thousands of migrants, is weak to the point of non-existence. After all, someone in Fuente Ovejuna did kill the tyrant; no one in the west drowned the migrants. Is the Pope then saying that Europe’s refusal to allow in all who want to come is the moral equivalent of actually wielding the knife?

By elevating feeling over thought, by making compassion the measure of all things, the Pope was able to evade the complexities of the situation, in effect indulging in one of the characteristic vices of our time, moral exhibitionism, which is the espousal of generous sentiment without the pain of having to think of the costs to other people of the implied (but unstated) morally-appropriate policy…..

And Dalrymple did not overlook the Pope’s descent into the intellectual squalor of conspiracism, territory, I would add, that Francis has since chosen to revisit on other occasions:

The Pope’s use of a term such as ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity’ was strong on connotation but weak on denotation, itself a sign of intellectual evasion. Who, exactly, were ‘those’ people? Wall Street hedge fund managers, the International Monetary Fund, opponents of free trade, African dictators? Was he saying that the whole world economic system was to blame for the migration across the Mediterranean, that the existence of borders was illegitimate, that Denmark (for example) was rich because Swaziland was poor, that if only Losotho were brought up to the level of Liechtenstein (or, of course, if Liechtenstein were brought down to the level of Lesotho) no one would drown in the Mediterranean? There was something for everyone’s conspiracy theory in his words…

Well, no good demagogue is ever more than a sentence of two away from a conspiracy theory.

Links
http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/422935/papal-lecture-us-immigration-way-andrew-stuttaford
http://www.rollcall.com/news/immigration_could_get_push_from_pope_francis-243331-1.html?pos=hatxt
http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/358412/re-border-cross-andrew-stuttaford
http://www.libertylawsite.org/2013/07/22/pope-francis-should-seek-clarity-on-moral-responsibility/#.Uf9c7sOZVPM.twitter
http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/421005/pope-francis-bolivia-dung-devil-and-other-matters-andrew-stuttaford

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Aug/15

15

Against the “Ultimate Indignity”

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Locked in Syndrome The Economist is a magazine (or ‘newspaper’ as it likes to style itself) that has badly lost its way, abandoning the quirky classical liberalism of a three or four decades ago for a bien pensant Davos liberalism that is as condescending as it is misguided.

On occasion though, hints of the old Economist can emerge, as a recent piece in support of doctor-assisted suicide demonstrates.

Here’s an extract:

The idea fills its critics with dismay. For some, the argument is moral and absolute. Deliberately ending a human life is wrong, because life is sacred and the endurance of suffering confers its own dignity. For others, the legalisation of doctor-assisted dying is the first step on a slippery slope where the vulnerable are threatened and where premature death becomes a cheap alternative to palliative care.

It is worth interrupting to add that the argument of a slippery slope will have little resonance with someone, suffering say from locked-in syndrome, who may well believe that he has already slid down the slope and into the ditch to which the likes of Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley (a prominent opponent of Massachusetts’ sadly unsuccessful 2012 right-to-die initiative) would so prayerfully consign him.

Back to The Economist:

These views are deeply held and deserve to be taken seriously. But liberty and autonomy are sources of human dignity, too. Both add to the value of a life. In a secular society, it is odd to buttress the sanctity of life in the abstract by subjecting a lot of particular lives to unbearable pain, misery and suffering. And evidence from places that have allowed assisted dying suggests that there is no slippery slope towards widespread euthanasia. In fact, the evidence leads to the conclusion that most of the schemes for assisted dying should be bolder.

The popular desire for assisted dying is beyond question. The Economist asked Ipsos MORI to survey people in 15 countries on whether doctors should be allowed to help patients to die, and if so, how and when. Russia and Poland are against, but we find strong support across America and western Europe for allowing doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to patients with terminal diseases. In 11 out of the 15 countries we surveyed, most people favoured extending doctor-assisted dying to patients who are in great physical suffering but not close to death.

No wonder that, just as adultery existed in Spain before 1978, so too many doctors help their patients die even if the law bans them from doing so. Usually this is by withdrawing treatment or administering pain-relief in lethal doses. Often doctors act after talking to patients and their relatives. Occasionally, when doctors overstep the mark, they are investigated, though rarely charged. Some people welcome this fudge because it establishes limits to doctor-assisted dying without the need to articulate the difficult moral choices this involves.

But this approach is unethical and unworkable. It is unethical because an explicit choice that should lie with the patient is wholly in the hands of a doctor. It is hypocritical because society is pretending to shun doctor-assisted dying while tacitly condoning it without safeguards. What may turn out to be more important, this system is also becoming impractical. Most deaths now take place in hospital, under teams of doctors who are working with closer legal and professional oversight. Death by nods and winks is no good.

Better is to face the arguments. One fear is that assisted dying will be foisted on vulnerable patients, bullied by rogue doctors, grasping relatives, miserly insurers or a cash-strapped state. Experience in Oregon, which has had a law since 1997, suggests otherwise. Those who choose assisted suicide are in fact well-educated, insured and receiving palliative care. They are motivated by pain, as well as the desire to preserve their own dignity, autonomy and pleasure in life.

Another fear is that assisted dying will downgrade care. But Belgium and Holland have some of the best palliative care in Europe. Surveys show that doctors are as trusted in countries with assisted dying as they are in those without. And there are scant signs of a slippery slope. In Oregon only 1,327 people have received lethal medicine—and just two-thirds of those have used it to take their lives. Assisted dying now accounts for about 3% of deaths in the Netherlands—a large number—but this is less a rush to assisted dying than the coming to light of an unspoken tradition in which doctors quietly brought their patients’ lives to an end.

How, then, should assisted dying work? For many the model is Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. It allows (but does not oblige) doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to patients with less than six months to live who ask for them, if a second doctor agrees. There is a cooling-off period of 15 days.

We would go further. Oregon insists that the lethal dose is self-administered, to avoid voluntary euthanasia. To the patient the moral distinction between taking a pill and asking for an injection is slight. But the practical consequence of this stricture is to prevent those who are incapacitated from being granted help to die. Not surprisingly, some of the fiercest campaigners for doctor-assisted dying suffer from ailments such as motor neurone disease, which causes progressive paralysis. They want to know that when they are incapacitated, they will be granted help to die, if that is their wish. Allowing doctors to administer the drugs would ensure this.

Oregon’s law covers only conditions that are terminal. Again, that is too rigid. The criterion for assisting dying should be a patient’s assessment of his suffering, not the nature of his illness. Some activists for the rights of the disabled regard the idea that death could be better than a chronic condition as tantamount to declaring disabled people to be of lesser worth. We regard it as an expression of their autonomy. So do many disabled people. Stephen Hawking has described keeping someone alive against his wishes as the “ultimate indignity”.

Indeed it is.

But it is an indignity that men like Sean O’Malley, prelates who have been so busy of late proclaiming the primacy of ‘religious liberty’, are prepared to insist on. Liberty, it seems, is not for all.

Links
http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21656182-doctors-should-be-allowed-help-suffering-and-terminally-ill-die-when-they-choose?fsrc=scn/tw/te/pe/ed/therighttodie
http://www.usccb.org/about/leadership/usccb-general-assembly/2012-november-meeting/cardinal-omalley-ballot-initiative-on-physician-assisted-suicide.cfm

Aug/15

15

The Pope and Peronism

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PeronistPopeCross-posted on the Corner.

Uki Goñi has written an article for the New York Times on Pope Francis’s Peronist roots.Here’s an extract:

Less known is that Perón took his cue from the politicized Catholic leaders of ’30s Argentina. Church leaders back then sought the integration of Argentina’s new working class by promoting radical labor reforms. Bishops addressed some of the country’s first large rallies of workers, and Perón cut his teeth speaking at meetings of the Círculos Católicos de Obreros (Catholic Worker Circles).

Perón’s alliance with the bishops was sealed when the 1943-46 military regime, in which he was vice president, made Catholic education obligatory in Argentina’s previously secular public schools. The process culminated in 1944 when Perón decorated a statue of the Virgin Mary with a military sash and appointed her a “general,” accompanied by a 21-gun salute.

Now that’s a nice touch, but, to be fair, it’s worth noting that Perón turned sharply against the church in the later part of his first stretch in power.

Back to Goñi:

“Neither Marxists nor Capitalists. Peronists!” was the chant of Perón’s supporters. And it was borrowing from the church’s political thinking that enabled Perón to found his “Third Way.”

It’s perhaps a little more complicated than that. Perón made a careful study of the politics of inter-war Europe (he was based there for a while) and essentially concluded that Argentina could learn most from the corporatism of fascist Italy, a corporatism that was itself partly a mutation of some of the political and economic ideas set out in De Rerum Novarum, a hugely influential late-19th-century encyclical.

And Perón was not the first to believe that he had found a “third way” between socialism and capitalism, a notion that was the conceit of a number of Roman Catholic intellectuals in the early 20th century, not least G. K. Chesterton, a rather better writer than economist (interestingly, shortly before he became pope, the then Cardinal Bergoglio approved the wording of a private prayer calling for Chesterton’s canonization).

Francis has also borrowed quite a bit of Peronist style too. Reading an article in CapX by Federico N. Fernández about the upcoming Argentine election, this passage made me think of the way Francis has of scattering villains, straw men and hints of conspiracy in some of his more overtly political speeches:

The [Peronist] Kirchner couple has had three consecutive terms in office since 2003. In these twelve years they have isolated Argentina from the rest of the world and their hate mongering tactics have fractured and polarized society.

Following the intellectual guidance of Ernesto Laclau (1935–2014), the Kirchners have run their administration on the basis of constant conflict and the “friend / foe” logic…The Kirchners divided society between “the people” and different enemies – a kind of satanic anti-people who is constantly plotting to undermine the achievements of the “popular government.”

In describing Peronist rule, Goñi writes that “the populist general upended Argentina’s class structure by championing the country’s downtrodden”. There’s quite a bit to that (although Perón’s policies should also be read as an expression of Argentine caudillismo), but what he does not say is that Peronism ended in economic disaster, a fact that has not stopped Pope Francis from peddling a very similar brand of snake oil for reasons, I suspect, that do not do him credit.

Links
http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/422510/pope-and-peronism-andrew-stuttaford
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/13/opinion/uki-goni-peronist-roots-of-pope-francis-politics.html?ref=international&_r=2
http://www.sconews.co.uk/news/30679/pope-gives-blessing-to-cause-for-chesterton/
http://www.capx.co/argentina-an-alternative-against-populism/

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Aug/15

2

“Antiracism: Our Flawed New Religion”

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That’s the title of John McWhorter’s excellent piece at The Daily Beast. He looks at the rhetoric of the Blacks Lives Matter movement and its acolytes and finds all the trappings of a new and only nominally secular religion. It’s essentially liturgy, as he explained in a recent Bloggingheads convo.

Fans of writer Sarah Perry and her musings on the sacralization of politics will see similar themes at work in McWhorter’s article.

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Jul/15

23

The Francis Effect?

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RaulFrancisI’ve no doubt that Pope Francis’s visit to the US will be a great success (and I have very little doubt that Speaker Boehner will come to regret having invited the pontiff to speak to a joint session of Congress). That said, new Gallup poll findings suggest that the papal demagoguery is beginning to jar with some listeners:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pope Francis’ favorability rating in the U.S. has returned to where it was when he was elected pope. It is now at 59%, down from 76% in early 2014. The pontiff’s rating is similar to the 58% he received from Americans in April 2013, soon after he was elected pope….

… In the current poll, conducted July 8-12, Francis’ favorable rating [59%] declined, while his unfavorable rating increased to 16% from 9% in 2014. One-quarter of Americans say they have never heard of him or have no opinion, up from 16% in 2014. Now removed from the plaudits of 2013 and the high ratings of 2014, it appears that fewer Americans know enough about the pope to be able to rate him.

… The drop in the pope’s favorable rating is driven by a decline among Catholics and political conservatives, two groups that have been ardent supporters of the modern papacy. Seventy-one percent of Catholics say they have a favorable image of Francis, down from 89% last year.

Pope Francis’ drop in favorability is even starker among Americans who identify as conservative — 45% of whom view him favorably, down sharply from 72% last year. This decline may be attributable to the pope’s denouncing of “the idolatry of money” and linking climate change partially to human activity, along with his passionate focus on income inequality — all issues that are at odds with many conservatives’ beliefs.

Gallup rightly points out that Francis’s favourable ratings comfortably exceed those for Benedict XVI in the last year of his tenure (40 percent, a very low bar), but to the extent that some people are beginning to focus on Francis’s ideology rather than his charm, this first blip in the popularity of the ‘rock star’ pope is only to be welcomed.

And it’s not just those on the right who are beginning to fret.

Gallup again:

The pope’s image has taken a hit among liberals and moderates as well. Francis’ favorable rating among liberals fell 14 percentage points. Many liberals have criticized the pope for not embracing ordination of women as priests or allowing priests to marry. His papacy is still relatively new, however, and in time he may address these long-standing doctrinal questions more fully.

Beyond some mood music, I doubt it. This is after all a pope with quite a lot of that old time religion about him, a man who (when still a cardinal) described same sex marriage as the work of that busy fellow, the Devil.

That said, I think that the Pope’s theological conservatism will continue to be largely overlooked by a left only too pleased to have found a charismatic new spokesman for their crusade against climate change and for economic superstition.

Links
http://www.gallup.com/poll/184283/pope-francis-favorable-rating-drops.aspx
http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/cardinal_bergoglio_hits_out_at_same-sex_marriage

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Jul/15

12

“In a battle of facile narratives, the one with more action wins”

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londonbombingsWriting in the Independent, Howard Jacobson on reactions to the terrorist atrocities in London ten years ago and some uncomfortable truths about which ‘narratives’ appeal:

“We need a counter-narrative.” How often have we heard that since 7/7? We need to tell a better story to those young British Muslims for whom bombs and beheadings hold a greater allure than anything we have to offer. Someone’s seducing them away with a narrative of lies, so we must seduce them back again with a narrative of truth.

There’s a problem with narratives. Most that spring to mind are fictional. And while we like to think it’s stories as subtle as Ulysses or humane as Middlemarch that drive civilisation along, in fact what quickens the popular imagination are simpler tales of goodies and baddies, in which the baddies are always someone else. Artless fairy stories enchant us in our first years and retain their hold on us until our last.

The Government’s proposed hymn to British values is equally naiive. Man wakes up, kisses wife (but not in a homophobic sort of way), reads chapter of Magna Carta aloud to family, goes bareheaded to work, eats humanely killed pork sandwich, practises sundry acts of tolerance, returns home to gin and tonic, prays unfanatically to secular god, and goes to sleep thinking of the Royal Family. Indubitably, there are worse ways of getting through the tedium of existence, but as a narrative this one’s unlikely to prevail against millenarian fantasy and a plentiful supply of virgins. In a battle of facile narratives, the one with more action wins.

But why must it be a choice, anyway, between blowing people up on buses and a docile embrace of British values to which very few Britons of any faith or temper subscribe? Extreme views can kill, but disagreement is the breath of life. Non-conformity has always been one of the great British virtues, and that includes non-conformity to things British. The terrorist isn’t a problem because he doesn’t conform; he’s a problem because he does. It’s what he conforms to that makes him dangerous…..

And

The writer Mehdi Hasan similarly sprays guilt around and, for good measure, suffering as well. If we think 7/7 was a terrible time for the victims, he wants us to remember who else got it in the neck. When the bombers were identified as British men with names like his, “a knot tightened at the pit of my stomach”, he wrote in The Guardian. “We’re screwed,” he told a Muslim friend. Beware the grammar of narrative. Self-concern appears to come too quickly here, trumping the horror of the moment. You’re screwed, Mr Hasan? There are dozens dead and hundreds injured and bereaved, and you’re screwed?

Read the whole thing.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/here-we-go-again-inverting-terrorisms-timeline-so-everyone-gets-the-blame-except-the-culprits-10381521.html

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Jul/15

12

Pope Francis in Bolivia: The ‘Dung of the Devil’ and Other Matters

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PeronistPopeCross-posted on the Corner.

Even by the standards of this pontiff, Pope Francis’s speech yesterday in Bolivia to a crowd that included the country’s president wearing a jacket emblazoned with the face of a mass-murderer (Che Guevara, in case you needed to ask: we can at least be sure that Speaker Boehner won’t do that when he introduces Francis to a joint session of Congress), was a doozy.

The Guardian exults (of course it does), quoting this amongst other delights:

“The new colonialism takes on different faces. At times it appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.”

Not for the first time with Pope Francis, we see traces of conspiracism (a demagogic standard, I’m afraid to say) in his use of the phrase ‘anonymous influence’ and the suggestion of dark works by ‘corporations’ and ‘loan agencies’. The distaste for ‘free trade’, complete with scare quotes of course, harks back to the Peronist preference for economic autarchy that marked the Argentina of his youth. And so does another extract from the same speech in which the Pope seems to call what he refers to as a “truly communitarian” economy, often a buzz word for those, such as Perón, who claimed or claim to be looking for a ‘third way’ between communism and capitalism, a third way that, in Argentina’s case, ultimately led to disaster.

Turn now to a 2013 blog post from Jacob Lederman reacting to posters that appeared across Buenos Aires after Francis’s election, posters that read, “Francisco I, Argentino y Peronista”:

The fall of the first peronist government is said to have been precipitated by Peron’s break with the church but in fact I have always thought that the two shared many common attributes: top down structures, a measure of paternalism which can be discursively rendered a form of communitarianism, and a strong inclination toward the mystical. Look at the speech, and we see that Francis has no time for what he refers to as “the bondage of individualism”.

And he seems unimpressed by the remarkable (and, of course, incomplete) achievements of the free market (however approximate, however imperfect) in not only coping with a vastly expanded global population (ahem) but in pulling so many out of poverty across the world. All that appears to count for little with a figure who, economically and politically speaking, appears to view much of the modern world through the lens of the exhausted ideologies of the mid-20th Century.

Let us say NO to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service. That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth.

To him this is the system (“a subtle dictatorship”, apparently, a description which left me wondering how he would describe Cuba) that has “irresponsibly” (an interesting word to use, in this context: some sort of central planning, I suppose, is to decide what is or is not “responsible”) accelerated “the pace of production, while using industrial and agricultural methods which damage Mother Earth in the name of “productivity”….

The Green Revolution was bad?

This Pope’s vision is dark, with more than a touch of the millenialist about it, complete, even, with reference to Old Nick.

Behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called “the dung of the devil”. An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.

Quite where this “unfettered pursuit of money rules” escapes me, but then straw men are a Pope Francis staple. After reading the Pope’s speech, I returned to Joel Kotkin’s thought-provoking Daily Beast article on the eco-encyclical.

Here’s an extract:

What we seem to have forgotten is the historic ability of our species—and particularly the urbanized portion of it—to adjust to change, and overcome obstacles while improving life for the residents. After all, the earliest cities of Mesopotamia and Egypt arose, in part, from a change in climate that turned marshes into solid land, which could then be used for intensive, irrigated agriculture. Similarly, pollution and haze that covered most cities in the high income world—St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Dusseldorf, Osaka, Los Angeles—only a few decades ago has greatly improved, mostly through the introduction of new technology and, to some extent, deindustrialization. In recent decades, many waterways, dumping grounds for manufacturers since the onset of the industrial revolution and once considered hopelessly polluted, have come back to life. This notion that people can indeed address the most serious environmental issues is critical. We should not take, as Francis does, every claim of the climate lobby, or follow their prescriptions without considerations of impacts on people or alternative ways to address these issues….

And

Ultimately the green platform seeks not to increase living standards as we currently understand them (particularly in high income countries) but to purposely lower them. This can be seen in the calls for “de-development,” a phrase employed by President Obama’s science advisor John Holdren for all “overdeveloped” advanced countries, in part to discourage developing countries from following a similar path. This way of thinking is more mainstream among European activists who seek to promote what is called “de-growth,” which seeks to limit fossil fuels, suburban development, and replace the current capitalist system with a highly regulated economy that would make up for less wealth through redistribution.

We know how that ends.

Links (I still cannot link directly)

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/421005/pope-francis-bolivia-dung-devil-and-other-matters-andrew-stuttaford
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/10/poor-must-change-new-colonialism-of-economic-order-says-pope-francis
http://jacoblederman.com/2013/03/18/papa-argentino/
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/07/05/green-pope-goes-medieval-on-planet.html

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Jul/15

7

Pope Francis and the “Poverty of Ambition”

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Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Peasant_Dance_(detail)Writing for the Daily Beast, Joel Kotkin on Pope Francis’s Laudato Si:

With Francis’s pontifical blessing , the greens have now found a spiritual hook that goes beyond the familiar bastions of the academy, bureaucracy, and the media and reaches right into the homes and hearts of more than a billion practicing Catholics. No potential coalition of interests threatened by a seeming tsunami of regulation—from suburban homeowners and energy firms to Main Street businesses—can hope to easily resist this alliance of the unlikely.

That may (yet) overstate the impact that the Pope, raging against the Devil one day, against air conditioning the next, may actually have, but it is a reminder of just how foolish it was of Speaker Boehner to invite Francis to speak to a joint session of Congress. It’s true that the encyclical had yet to appear when the invitation went out, but the fact that Francis is a profoundly political pope was no secret, and nor was the nature of his essentially Peronist politics.

But back to Kotkin:

There are of course historical parallels to this kind of game-changing alliance. In the late Roman Empire and then throughout the first Middle Ages, church ideology melded with aristocratic and kingly power to assure the rise of a feudal system. Issuing indulgences for the well-heeled, the Church fought against the culture of hedonism and unrestrained individualism that Francis has so roundly denounced. The Church also concerned itself with the poor, but seemed not willing to challenge the very economic and social order that often served to keep them that way.

Historically Medievalism represented a “steady state” approach to human development, seeking stability over change. Coming after the achievements of the classical age—with its magnificent engineering feats as well as an often cruel, highly competitive culture—the Middle Ages ushered in centuries of slow growth, with cities in decline and poverty universal for all but a few.

There’s something else though. The medieval church’s preference for ‘stability’ may or may not have been influenced by its perception that this was somehow better for the poor than any alternative (I doubt it), but it did have quite a bit to do with its realization that innovation and affluence represented a dangerous threat to its position in the intellectual, political and social order.

That, I suspect, is something that bothers Francis, who is no free spirit.

Kotkin’s article contains so much that it seems invidious just to post a few extracts (read the whole thing, really), but here goes:

What makes the Pope’s position so important—after all, the world is rejecting his views on such things as gay marriage and abortion—is how it jibes with the world view of some of the secular world’s best-funded, influential, and powerful forces. In contrast to both Socialist and capitalist thought, both the Pope and the greens are suspicious about economic growth itself, and seem to regard material progress as aggression against the health of the planet….

… Given their lack of faith in markets or people, the green movement has become ever less adept at adjusting to the demographic, economic, and technological changes that have occurred since the ’70s. Huge increases in agricultural productivity and the recent explosion in fossil fuel energy resources have been largely ignored or downplayed; the writ remains that humanity has entered an irreversible “era of ecological scarcity” that requires strong steps to promote “sustainability.”

…Ultimately the green platform seeks not to increase living standards as we currently understand them (particularly in high income countries) but to purposely lower them. This can be seen in the calls for “de-development,” a phrase employed by President Obama’s science advisor John Holdren for all “overdeveloped” advanced countries, in part to discourage developing countries from following a similar path.

So Prince Charles, another individual whose, so to speak, business flourishes best in ‘steady state’ societies, turns out, Kotkin explains, to be something of a fan of the slums of Bombay, which apparently offer more “durable ways of living” for the developing world than those available in the suburbanized west, a comment steeped in the revolting blend of ignorance, condescension and smugness all too typical of the heir to the British throne. May the Queen live to be 120!

Kotkin does, however, note the encouraging (and entertaining) prospect that the ideas of the self-proclaimed ‘Pope of the poor’ will be rejected by, well, the poor:

Trying to sell anti-growth green ideology may prove a tougher in the developing world. Not surprising then that, no matter what the rhetoric that is adopted by the climate conference to be held in Paris this month, critical figures like India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not restrict building new coal plants—the country has tripled coal imports three fold since 2008. In the sweltering cities of the subcontinent, moves to ban air conditioning are simply not good politics. And Chinese President Xi Jinping, the leader of the world’s largest carbon emitter and user of coal, clearly has no real intention of reversing rapid development, based in large part fossil fuels, till 2030, when reasonably priced alternatives may well be generally available.

And then there’s this:

Architect Austin Williams suggests that sustainability, the new prayer word of spiritual greenism, “is an insidiously dangerous concept, masquerading as progress.” It poses an agenda that restricts industry, housing and incomes in a manner that severely undermines social aspiration. Indeed, Williams argues, greens and their allies—now including the world’s most important church—have created “a poverty of ambition.” Williams suggests the common green view is that humanity is “destructive and in need of reduction” rather than “a source of innovation, creativity, imagination and socialization.”

That is a profoundly anti-humane and, yes, dispiriting view. That Pope Francis has chosen to come so close to it says a great deal, little of it good.

Full Kotkin piece here (For some mysterious reason, I still cannot link): http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/07/05/green-pope-goes-medieval-on-planet.html

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