tanning beds and taxing the poor

For some people the health care funding and decision-making law that passed a few weeks ago is a political triumph for President Obama and it is exciting because it is “historical.” Some people may even benefit from it.

But for many, many people the new law is an expression of a new American mindset. Admittedly, this mindset was put in motion in the late 19th century by the Progressives, implemented by short-sighted people like Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, and expanded under blind leaders like Lyndon Johnson and the George Bushes.

So maybe I should call it a “renewed” mindset rather than a new one.

In the last two years I’ve seen an alteration in the common discourse that I was oblivious to before that. Maybe it was there and certainly it could be found if you looked for it. But in the summer of 2008 someone gave the parrots permission to talk about Progressivism in positive light.

Now everywhere I go on the internet I read articles and comments that defend and use the word Progressivism instead of the word liberalism.

Progressivism is like Depressions. The people who live through them are very careful with their money and tell their children about what they endured. They avoid debt and, for the most part, so do their children. But the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, lacking a historical sense, forget. So they lay the foundations for the next cycle.

But it’s not the big words that concern me, it’s the open commitment to meddling. The latest is the tax placed on tanning beds. Did you know that you will have to pay a 10% tax to use a tanning bed.

So far, that seems like not a big deal. But what bothers me is the mentality of those who defend it. It seems that the reason this tax is acceptable is because tanning is bad for you. So the government, by slapping a tax on it, might discourage people from engaging in this carcinogenic activity.

It confirms to me that the battle over cigarette smoking was only an early field test in this battle.

What am I failing to understand? Why is it so hard for people to get their heads around the fact that they are giving increasingly unlimited power to a government that, as President Obama repeatedly pointed out in his campaign, isn’t trustworthy – plus it doesn’t like them?

What are we afraid of that is so scary that we run into the wolvish mouth of the state?

It seems to me that the reason lies in the national habit of thinking tokens instead of thoughts. Words and political gestures are symbols. People can’t imagine those symbols coming alive in their own lives, so they just enjoy them. Orwell predicted this.

Today you will be taxed for using a tanning bed. Tomorrow you might still have to pay the “Botax,” but since you have an interest group and lots of money behind your right, the state will have to wait until they can demonize you. You’ll probably make it. You know how to play the game.

The people who are going to carry the burden of this new American mind are those who can’t afford the lawyers.

Did you notice? Everything just became a special interest.

Creator and Creators

At the end of each day, the First Creator looked at His work and said, “It is good.”

Then He delegated the task of completing the creation to one of His creations, which He had made in His own image.

They didn’t live by His creative standards, preferring to focus on one petty detail of the project – the only one He told them to avoid, so He had to adapt their role to their diminished capacities and to their new problems.

And yet – He still holds out the promise of a well done to those who are willing to work with Him.

That is why Keats could say, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all you know on earth – and all you need to know.”

Freedom Begins at Home

If a people would be free (and very few people would be free) there are two things they must do, two foundations they must lay and that firmly. First, they must love their neighbors. Second, they must honor their fathers and their mothers.

There is a third as well. They must not commit adultery.

And yet another comes to mind, and maybe it is the foundation for all the rest. They must not steal.

These crimes against the soul are snakes in the garden, cancers in the social body, breakers of wills.

A people governed by sentiment will tolerate thieves and nurture adulterers. In such a society children will learn to dishonor their parents as a matter of right, while abstracting love of neighbor into a substitute to soothe the conscience rather than to obey it.

Such a people will never learn to govern themselves. Each will cry out for protection from and power over the other, some from greed, some from fear, some for vengeance.

Thus, like charity, freedom begins in the home. When husbands fail to love their wives, when children are not expected to obey their parents, when families do not love their neighbors, the blessings of liberty are sought with an ever intensified futility.

For how can she whom we have killed continue to bless us?

Even Poorer in Thanks

Still immersed in final preparation of LTW II so it’s been very hard to write on here. Camille Goldston called me this morning to see how I was doing  and whether there was anything I needed her to do.

It’s amazing how much work she has put into this project over the last couple years – and into studying and teaching the Lost Tools of Writing before that.

Camille has told me that she didn’t like writing before she got involved with this, and there are times when I’m sure I’ve made her like it even less. Yet she outlined and created the great bulk of the level II teacher’s guide and then subjected it to review by others, especially Dr. Timothy Diebler from Covenant Academy in Houston, TX.

That takes some courage.

Camille has written, modified, and edited module guides and worksheets, she has found others to help with various parts of the project and guided them in their roles, she has given me feedback on most of the things I’ve worked on directly.

When I review what Camille (and Leah) have worked on, and then I remember that another dozen people have been involved in this task, I ask myself what exactly I have done.

The only thing I can come up with is my normal role ever since school days: to create confusion and chaos for the people who are trying to be productive.

I hope that you will all get your hands on LTW II because it really is going to be the best upper school writing program for the teacher who wants to teach students how to think and who values practical communication skills that grow from clear and creative thinking.

And I hope that when you get the program you will drop Camille a line to thank her for the innumerable hours of work she has given to classical rhetoric, from her four years in the apprenticeship to teaching level I (including on-line with Memoria Press – see our website for details on that), to the last two years of showing constant initiative to complete level II and work through some really tough spots even when I felt like quitting.

It’s personal. I’m indebted to Camille for her work and for her encouragement. But I can’t thank her enough. Can you help me?

Should we be a Secular Country?

If so, how can religious freedom carry any meaning?

Over the last two decades the popular opposition to religious thought in the public forum has become increasingly snarly and aggressive. Lately I’ve begun to wonder whether it is possible to be free in any meaningful sense when the transcendent realm is removed from public discourse and, more importantly, decision making.

People like to say, and more loudly since Christopher Dawkins and company have figured out how to market the bromides of the “New Atheism,” that “religion is bull shit” and insightful things like that.

But think about it. As one who would like to be a deeply religious person, I agree with that statement. But so what. The same can be said of politics. Does that mean we should shoot each other instead of debate? Or of the media. So what?

“Religion” is a vast abstraction. It can’t be judge as a whole any more than books or food or stores can be judged as a whole.

So our country enshrined the right to freedom of religion. Then the state pulled a one-two hat trick: one, they determined that freedom of religion only applied in domains in which the state was not involved. Wherever the state had a role, they had to eliminate freedom in order to keep from establishing a particular religion.

Two, they gradually expanded the role of the state to be involved in everything, thereby continually shrinking the role of religion in the public sphere.

Can a secular state be free? I don’t think so, for a number of reasons. First, by nature or disposition, secular states have always limited the free exercise of religion. In other words, they restrict religious freedom. They are, therefore, not free states. QED.

Second, without a publicly acknowledged role for religion, there is nothing adequate to restrict the power of the state.

Third, without a publicly acknowledged role for religion, there is no foundation on which to build a free state. Freedom, after all, is a transcendent value, rooted entirely in the notion that human beings have a will and that the will is free. No secular argument could ever so much as imagine, much less discover, the idea of freedom. It is a borrowed and contorted religious concept.

Therefore a secular state must, by its nature, become despotic.

Job Review

I’ve always made a point of knowing what my boss wants me to do when he hires me. This video shows a boss reminding his “employee” of the terms of his job description.

I regret the ending because the point was so effectively made and was weakened by the speakers failure to sit down once it was made. But the point is so incredibly important.

There is a document that constitutes the parameters of the job of some of the most powerful people on earth. This video underscores it:

2010 Paideia Prize Winner

The winner of the 2010 Paideia Prize, given annually at the CiRCE  summer conference for lifetime contribution to classical education, has been voted upon and the results are in.

This year’s prize winners are Dr. Glenn and Virginia Arbery.

Glenn Arbery is the d’Alzon Professor of Liberal Education at Assumption College in Worcester, MA. In the past, he has held teaching positions in literature at the University of St. Thomas in Houston and Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. He directed the Teacher’s Academy at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture from 1997 to 2003. From 2003 to 2008, he was senior editor of People Newspapers in Dallas, where he received first-place honors in state and national film reviewing, columns and editorial competitions. Dr. Arbery is also the author of Why Literature Matters: Permanence and the Politics of Reputation (2001) and the editor of The Tragic Abyss (2004) and The Southern Critics: An Anthology (2010).

To learn more about the 2010 CiRCE conference click HERE.