Autonomy as Enslavement

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites . . . . It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

–Edmund Burke, Letter to a Member of the National Assembly

I have written several essays critiquing contemporary liberal values such as equality, tolerance, and diversity. This adds to the number.

Autonomy too is a poor ideal to live by. It fails in roughly the same way as “equality,” which is incoherent if it means anything other than the semi-tautological and completely unhelpful proposition that we should “treat likes alike,” as I have argued elsewhere, though it is taken to mean much more, to the confusion of our political discourse. In the same way, there is a huge gap between the proper philosophical definition of “autonomy” and its popular meaning. “Autonomy” can mean mere unconstrainedness (lawless liberty, which is the popular meaning) or conscientiousness (following the law generated by one’s own conscience, the proper philosophical definition). Continue reading

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In Defense of Dogmatism

Amazon’s “look inside” feature has preserved intact a perfect little essay from the book, “Things That Are,” by Amy Leach. I have met Amy Leach–I even hiked in Provo’s beautiful Rock Canyon with her, her husband, and my personal essay class, courtesy of Patrick McMadden, my essay teacher, who I think was involved in getting her to come out to BYU and read from her book during BYU’s Friday Reading Series. If you will follow the above link, use the “look inside” feature, and search the word “hoopoe,” you will find a complete, lovely, and very short essay titled “God.”

In this essay, Amy Leach points out that men take the name of God in their mouths, but they do not speak God’s words. “They say it pleases him, to say his name incessantly. They sing it in songs and chant it together and broadcast it loudly on the radio, on signs. Perhaps it pleases him. I do not know. It does not please me.”

These iterations of his name are totally different from his words. God’s words, according to this essay, are his creatures, who “mount up with wings or leap through brambles or swim blackly in ponds.”

I find this essay utterly charming, like the rest of the book, but I also find something lacking in the treatment of how men speak God’s name. Continue reading

How to Argue with Republicans about Healthcare Legislation

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*This is an essay co-authored by Matt and Josh

There are a lot of opinions about whether Obamacare is good or bad and how Trumpcare would compare. Typically, these discussions focus on either anecdotes or moral platitudes. A story about a person who is worse or better off—a raised or lowered premium—or else the moral obligation to care for the underprivileged.

Anecdotes and morality have their place in debate, mainly they supply the emotions. But with powerful emotions always surrounding us we sometimes never discuss actual policy. And at some point you might suddenly realize what I recently realized: I hardly know anything about the proposed health care systems. And the bad news is it’s not really something I can just read up on in a few hours and have a grasp of everything. I tried. It’s huge and complicated.

So rather than offering another argument, I’m doing the opposite. I’m going to tell people how to argue with me. I don’t want another story. I just want to spend some time talking about actual policies and the theories behind them. When I’m done talking to you, I want to feel like I understand something about the healthcare system better than I did before. So if you want to convince me about your specific platform, here are eight points that matter to me as a conservative. Here’s where you’ll score winning blows:    Continue reading

What Role Should Religion Play in American Politics?

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[We’re happy to publish this guest post, written in response to “Reconciling Religion and Politics in Post-Obama America,” by John Griffin.]

In his March 20 post, David takes on a hot topic of late: whether religious views should be granted a more prominent and respectful place in American political discussion.  David’s answer – from his opening account of a God-fearing African American taxi driver to his warning that “failing to validate” religious voices will lead to social fragmentation – is an emphatic YES.  Without a place for such expression, David argues, the public sphere would become exclusionary and – with respect to fostering social cohesion – ineffective.

Historically, David would seem to be arguing the obvious. After all, religious elements have always played a major role in American politics, and to deny them significant voice ignores history and reality.  It turns out, for example, that one of the most religious groups in the American polity – measured by church attendance, prayer and members’ own self-identification – is African American Protestants, also one of the most loyal Democratic voting blocs.  Why then should those who champion progressive causes and view such groups as important political allies go to such lengths to exclude religious views from political discussion? Continue reading

Reconciling Religion and Politics in Post-Obama America

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Hakim’s car smelled faintly of cigarette smoke, but it was clean and he greeted me warmly. Hakim was an African-American man with a raspy voice and a slight southern accent. This was my first experience riding Lyft, and it was a pleasant one. He asked me about my work and told me about his—he recently retired as a parole officer, and drives for Lyft on the weekends. Our conversation eventually turned to politics. I didn’t know what to expect. In the wake of an election that had been described as a “whitelash,” I wanted to tread carefully. I tried to say things that would assure Hakim that I understood something about the racial tensions that were unsurfaced and aggravated during and in response to the election. I wanted him to know that I appreciated President Obama and that I had not supported Trump’s candidacy. I was surprised when he said, “You know, I had a real hard time with this election. I actually voted Republican in the last two. Just couldn’t bring myself to vote for Obama. Religious reasons, you know? I had the same problem with Hillary. But Trump?” The way he said “Trump,” sliding into a raspy falsetto, made me laugh. That and my surprise: a middle-aged, middle-class African-American man voting for McCain and Romney rather than Obama, due to religiously-motivated objections (to gay marriage and abortion, as it turned out). Serendipitously, perhaps, our destination was a church. As I got out, he said, “God bless, my friend.”

I know that people of color are not monolithic, just as I recognize that many are forced to uncomfortable compromises when voting, trying to participate within a system that has often explicitly discouraged their participation, voting for what seems to be the lesser of two evils and the least likely to provoke direct harm to them and their loved ones. It is very likely that Hakim is not consistently conservative. But in a defining moment of American politics, he voted Republican. I’ve often wondered which candidate he voted for in 2016.  He never told me, but apparently it wasn’t a particularly straightforward question for him. Continue reading

Hate or Love Trump, Have a Baby

I watched Trump’s inauguration address along with, according to him, trillions of other people. I was pained by the vitriolic rhetoric and us-versus-them mentality, and then I wasted an hour sinking deeper into misery scrolling through other people’s responses to the event. (See our very liberal, very smart friend’s response to Trump here.) Some were funny. Some were depressing. One, however, really scared me.

I can’t be sure that the post was real, but the woman’s confusion and fear seemed to be viscerally genuine. She wrote that she had been trying to have a baby and had just been to the doctor and been told she was pregnant. She was overjoyed—until she realized that it was Trump’s inauguration day. “Now I’m torn,” (and I paraphrase), “I don’t want my baby associated with that horrible man, so I’m considering getting an abortion.”

I was floored. I am not pro-Trump; I remember telling my husband through tears late on Election Night, “you PROMISED me he wouldn’t win!” as if it were his fault. With David, I understand the fear and pain and worry about the future of the country when someone counter to your views gains political preeminence. But even if we’d elected Big Brother or Hitler or even Dracula to be president, I would never consider having an abortion just because the announcements coincided. Maybe it’s my stubborn Irish heritage, but I could never concede the fight like that: he may have won the presidency…

But I will win the war.

I’m not talking about a partisan war, or even a political one. I’m talking about the fight for goodness, morality and human rights. Women, especially, have a superpower in the war we are all fighting—but it’s not one we generally think about. Continue reading