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Tag Archive: Reality

Definitions Are Not Neutral

Posted: Friday, November 26, 2010 (8:51 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Friday, November 26, 2010:

Rita L. Marker and Wesley J. Smith on euthanasia & euphemism, from a paper first appearing in the Duquesne Law Review Vol. 35, No. 1 (Fall 1996) pp. 81-107 under the title “The Art of Verbal Engineering, ” published on-line by the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force:

Today when mercy killing is discussed, it is couched in euphemisms — words of gentleness or the language of rights. Titles of euthanasia advocacy groups contain words like “compassion,” “choice,” and “dignity.” Even the Euthanasia Society of American has undergone name changes to present a more positive image. (In 1976 the Euthanasia Society of America changed its name to the Society for the Right to Die and, in 1991, it became known as Choice in Dying.)

No longer does anyone but its strongest opponent refer to mercy killing. The word “euthanasia” is generally avoided in proposals to legalize it. Old words are replaced or given different, vague meanings.

Like a constantly changing kaleidoscope, meanings shift ever so slightly, forming new patterns of thinking. Slowly, quietly — but inexorably — the previously appalling is transformed into the presently appealing.

The manner in which words are defined is key to achieving this transformation.

This is something that Dutch euthanasia practitioner Dr. M. A. M. Wachter, the ethicist/director for the Institute of Health in the Netherlands, knows well. Speaking at a 1990 international euthanasia gathering, he stated, “The definition builds the road for euthanasia.” He acknowledged that “euthanasia is the intentional ending of the life of another….It is always a question of terminating human life,” then went on to urge that careful attention be paid to definitions.

“Definitions are not neutral,” he said. “They are not just the innocent tools that allow us to describe reality. Rather, they shape our perceptions of reality. They select. They emphasize. They embody a bias. Therefore definitions constantly need redefinition.”

Definitions are indeed not neutral. But they constantly require re-definition, not redefinition…

Inaugural Symbolism & Real Power

Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 (11:31 pm), by John W Gillis


All the fawning that’s fit to publish…

It’s been a rather surreal two days, focused around the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of these United States. The people around me all seemed to be grounded rather normally, but every time I’ve braved the elements and exposed myself to the mainstream media, it’s as if somebody (me? them?) has entered another world.

I’ve stayed far away from TV for the most part, but I was walking through the living room last night while Joyce had MSNBC playing, and I heard popular historian Ken Burns tell Keith Olberman that, if MLK’s “I have a dream” and Lincoln’s Gettysburg address speeches were 10’s, he would rate Obama’s inaugural address an 11. Aside from vanquishing whatever professional respect I might have had for this made-for-TV intellectual, it was just plain embarrassing. Obama – at his best – is vacuous compared to those two men, and from all other accounts, the inaugural speech was not even vintage Obama.

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe’s web site today offered the following tease for an inauguration-related “human interest” story:

Residents were frozen in place yesterday, spellbound by the unifying spectacle on their televisions.

The unifying spectacle? I appreciate that a lot of people are excited about what happened yesterday, but a victory party on the part of those who feel they have won – as much of a spectacle as it may be – hardly constitutes a unifying moment. Unification would seem to require the establishment of some sort of common ground among adversaries, not a simple reversal of political fortune. Those of us, for instance, who see the current abortion holocaust as the gravest moral evil this nation has ever perpetrated (and there is no small number of us) are horrified at the prospect of this man becoming President, because of the positions he has taken, and has pledged to maintain, on matters of the most profoundly serious social morality. I hardly feel like part of the party today, and I’m surely not alone in that.

Beyond the social politics and other policy storm winds of Obama, there is another element to the hoopla I find deeply disturbing. At one point today, I clicked through a few links and was browsing a forum discussing the Event, and a commenter opined that the Event was of almost unprecedented historical importance, because a Black man had been elected President of the U.S.A. He then instructed those who disagree with him to “stop being such haters.” Now, I am getting so completely fed up with the relentless insults coming from the radical left wing and their allies, in the form of accusing anyone who disagrees with them of “hating,” that I almost lost my cool at that moment. But that aggravation aside, I think there is an even more perverse intellectual error going on in this person’s thinking, and it is representative of what I see all around me today.

To a certain extent, I can understand the excitement around the symbolism of a Black man being elected President – especially among those considerably older than me. Having been born in 1960, I don’t really remember the Civil Rights movement of the mid-sixties. I was vaguely aware of the “Black Power” movement that came a bit later, but I came of age in the era of Equal Opportunity laws and Affirmative Action; a time when the Black man clearly became the worst enemy of his own people. Those with longer memories, who remember the systematic mistreatment and the struggle for basic justice and respect (and especially those who experienced it), will understandably place more importance on the symbolism of Obama’s ascent to the Presidency, but I think there is a serious danger in allowing symbolism to overshadow reality, such as we’re witnessing in the media’s interpretation of the “spectacle.”

After all, "a Black man" was not elected President, Barack Obama was. If Colin Powell had been elected President, I would be a much happier camper today. If Alan Keyes had been elected President, I would be happier still. Symbols do not get elected to public office, men and women do, and who those men and women are is of far greater import than what they are. I’m glad the United States has come to the point where a Black man can get himself elected President, but it fills me with a certain shame that the Black man we chose is one who embraces such misanthropic, unjust, and outright evil policies. Not because he is Black, but because – whether out of political expediency or a genuine but perverted moral conviction – he is committed to a radical support of a policy that involves the extermination of “undesirable” human beings. I couldn’t care less what color he is, and I’m disappointed that so many people do care – and care intensely.

But regardless of the motivations behind Obama’s support – and I have no doubt that it is quite complex – there remains this tendency to focus on the symbolic at the expense of the real. Politics is prone to this, of course, and Obama himself was shown to be a master of substituting symbolic language for substantive argument or suggestion during the campaign. Television in particular thrives on it, being as it is so poorly suited for intelligent discourse. As much as I wish people would reject Barack Obama’s politics, and as much as I admire Alan Keyes (albeit with reservations), I genuinely hope that the “spellbound” folks celebrating this inauguration would have been far less enthusiastic if it were Keyes being sworn in, because budgets and policies succeed the inauguration, and these things are crafted by men and women, not symbols. I hope they’re naively celebrating a misguided policy direction, and not a dangerously mindless accretion of the power of public sovereignty and devotion to a symbolic vessel. That, indeed, would be nothing but the most primitive form of idolatry, as Moses very clearly told his people many, many years ago. We do not need to go there.

Why MaybeToday?

Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 (7:46 pm), by John W Gillis


I was listening to a lecture by Peter Kreeft a while back, and he observed that time is the stuff of which life is made – time is life. People often say that time is money, but that’s an understatement. Kreeft is right: time is life.

This isn’t meant to suggest that time is a metaphysical necessity, or that there can be no such thing as eternal life. Rather, it means that the life we each possess – our life – is ultimately a very precise allotment of time, and that each sunrise brings us one day closer to death. Time is really all we have, and the whole content of our lives is an answer to the question: What did you do with your time?

Life is a timed test, where you don’t know how long the time is.

Like any test, it’s not enough to answer the questions; you have to somehow come up with the right answers. The right use of time is not just about avoiding procrastination, as important as that is. It’s about prudence, in all its aspects. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have found myself, in life, paddling furiously downstream to nowhere (sometimes quite effectively), just to realize that I’d only distanced myself all the more from the source I sought – and still seek. Time, in a sense, down the drain.

From my youth, I have been especially intrigued by the notions of time, of hope, and of reality. These three ideas have dominated my mental life in many respects. Perhaps I will find the opportunity to explore the relationships between them within these pages before too long, but Kreeft’s observation jolted me to the realization that the hope which lives in me – for all the lip service I may give it – has been subject to a rather systematic marginalization for much of my life, in deference to a kind of practical expediency – and even a heart attack at age 46 didn’t manage to seriously shake it free.

Hope is absolutely essential to sanity for anyone who seeks the truth, for anyone with a hunger to embrace reality, because reality has two very distinct faces. Reality is God, which we consider Beatitude, but reality is also the mess we live in – as well as God’s judgment on that mess. Hope is the reaching from brokenness to promise that climbs the ladder of reality, if you will. And it is hope that allows us to break free from captivity to anxiety and fear, to embrace – and realize – the promise of beatitude in our life.

The great Christian hope is in the return of Jesus Christ to earth, both to judge it, and to fully manifest the new creation. That return may happen today, or it may happen some day long from now – but we are not truly Christian if we do not expect that day, and indeed “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” And yet, for each of us, we live our own allotment of time – and we know not what time is ours, but our time, too, may come today, and there’s no good reason we should be any less joyfully expectant of the advent of our own end time.

I haven’t met a lot of people that embrace such a joyful readiness for death. In truth, most of us just don’t feel ready for it, and – speaking for myself – I know that’s because I have not lived my life – that is, I have not spent my time – prudently enough. It seems to me that there is only one right time to start changing that: today.

I was beginning yet another long commute home in a miserable winter rain storm one night last year, when the thought came to me that I needed to make a decision on exactly what to do about a rather complicated computer-related situation I had waiting for me at home – which included choosing a domain name for a web site I was planning. My initial reaction was to say “Maybe tomorrow,” but – with Peter Kreeft’s wisdom in the back of my mind – I immediately thought better of that, and said: “No, maybe today.”

There’s really no better time to get on with life – reaching for the promise – and it’s entirely possible that there will be no other time at all. Maranatha!

Uttering...

On the Cultural Relativism of Statutory Rape: Score One for Reality

Posted: Thursday, September 4, 2008 (10:13 pm), by John W Gillis


From the Department of Degenerate Disgrace: An article showed up in the Boston Globe a while back about a former U.S. Vice Consul to Brazil (no pun intended) who was asking a Virginia U.S. District Court judge for leniency after having been found guilty of taping himself having sex with various 14-17 year-old girls. Gons G. Nachman argued that it should be considered OK for him to have done this, because he did it in countries (the Congo and Brazil) where, he claimed, girls mature more quickly, and the cultural emphasis is on finding financially stable men for them to marry. A psychologist was being lined up to assert that the cultural differences between America and these other countries somehow made Nachman think what he was doing was acceptable.

I find this a fascinating twist on the usual relativist dissembling, which appeals to subjectivism: just because it’s not right for you doesn’t mean that it’s not right for me; whatever I feel is “natural” to me, and I am good, so whatever is natural to me is good, so whatever I feel like is good for me, and the only “wrong” is depriving me of doing whatever I feel like, or making me feel bad about it.

But here we have Nachman taking a completely different tack. Instead of arguing that his subjective sensibilities should define the morality of the situation, he is claiming that an objective circumstance (his geographical, and by extension cultural, location) was impinging upon the morality of the act, to the point of trumping his own subjective knowledge of the moral character of the acts – for he seems to be admitting that the acts would be not only illegal in America, but also immoral.

Nice try, Mr. Nachman. Even if the argument could hold its own water (it can’t), it would reduce morality to mores – which might fit snugly into your worldview, but would have nothing to say in the face of cannibalsim, genocide, or human sacrifice.

It seems Judge Gerald Bruce Lee also saw through the smoke (I’m glad this was tried in Virginia, not Massachusetts!). According to The Post Chronicle, Judge Lee last month sentenced Nachman to the maximum sentence (20 years) for the charges he was convicted on.

Fraudulent? Does That Matter?

Posted: Monday, September 1, 2008 (12:29 pm), by John W Gillis


Few things make me feel like I was born on the wrong planet as much as the blatant denial of the meaning and authority of reality – that is to say, the reality of objective truth. This is truly a malady of modern human reason, and it seems to be rampant – maybe even epidemic. There are days I’m sure I’ve seen everything, then there are days, and I think this is one of those days, when I’m almost afraid to look out the window at the world for fear of the lunacy I might encounter.

I came across a startling statement in a Boston Globe article a couple months ago or so, which I decided at the time to let slide without comment, but the story reappeared last week, and fits too well into a pattern with some other recent stories, suggesting that we have inadequate cultural resources at our disposal, on account of our social penchant for subjectivism, with which to deal seriously with personal fraud.

The statement came from a 71 year-old Massachusetts woman named Misha Defonseca, in an article discussing her ongoing troubles with an American publisher named Jane Daniel, in which Defonseca offered what she must have thought was a serious explanation for fabricating the story behind a book she wrote at Daniel’s urging. Defonseca claimed to have been a young Jewish girl who escaped the Nazis and was raised by wolves in the Ukraine, among other adventures. The book was huge commercially in Europe, and was even made into a film in France, but the story was a complete fabrication. Defonseca isn’t even Jewish, never mind the bit about the wolves.

Defonseca’s troubles with Daniel don’t really interest me – it is a tawdry story without any redeeming characters – but her explanation for the fraud she perpetrated floored me when I read it in the Globe:

“This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving,” Defonseca said in a statement released by her lawyers.

What on earth is that supposed to mean? Not only did a 71 year-old woman think this statement up, but her lawyers apparently thought it could somehow garner sympathy! What if they’re right?

It’s important to understand that she did not make the story up to publish in a book for profit; she had been telling the story for years to anyone that would listen. She has spent half a lifetime feeding off the attention her “fantasy” has attracted her (not to mention the large sums of money earned over the past decade or so), and yet now that her hoax is revealed, she shamelessly tries to cling to her story by subjectivizing the grounds for judging her actions. As long as she wants the story to be true, she figures she can continue to perpetuate it at some level, denying any culpability, with no concern for the many people she deceived, no sense of genuine repentance, and no apparent understanding that the truth matters. By her own words, her life has become so intertwined in this lie that she cannot extricate herself.

In a world in which the public order has repressed religious authority as being unreasonable and oppressive of individual freedom, we see in this embarrassing episode the worst elements of religious self deception and irrational, delusional pretense coming to expression in the hope-forsaken framework of the psychologized modern mind, with its pathetic appetite for self-esteem and “affirmation,” trapped in a prison of relativistic subjectivity that is incapable of distinguishing fantasy from reality. Reality (that is, the truth) plays such an inconsequential part in her chosen shade of existence that she will likely go to the grave without ever comprehending the evil she has contributed to the world through her shameless dishonesty. But perhaps even sadder is that she has completely lost her own self in the process.

This is, after all, not her story at all, even as she so desperately wants to believe it is. It is the story of someone who never existed, the story of no one at all. It’s the story of nothing – it’s not even a story; it’s a fraud – it’s not real. Her story, indeed, can never be known, because her existence has been emptied out meaninglessly, replaced by a fraud that has no reality, no existence. No one will ever know her, because her story can never be told; eternally lost in the fog of deceit and moral corruption, she doesn’t even know herself.

Truly, the saddest thing about the indulgent “identity” culture of modernity’s narcissistic bent is that identity can never be found in the mirage of self-seeking, only lost:

Thus says the LORD:
What fault did your fathers find in me that they withdrew from me,
Went after empty idols, and became empty themselves?
Jeremiah 2:5 (NAB)

Somewhere, there are those who, as young Jewish girls, did go through the horrors of Nazism, who must feel nothing but shame for this woman, who cannot manage to be ashamed of herself.