At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Examining Obama’s idea of “Fundamental Transformation”

posted by Jack Kerwick

Since he has been elected president, commentators on the right have debated amongst themselves as to what Barack Obama honestly expects to gain from his policies.  One school of thought, represented by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, swears that the president seeks nothing more or less than the destruction of America.  The other school, of which Michael Medved is a key representative, insists that Obama has nothing but the best interests of the country at heart—however misplaced his mind on this matter may be.   

From which of these two positions should we choose?

Obama himself gave us more than a few hints regarding the correct answer to this question.   Setting aside everything else we know about him, we need only turn our attention back to the presidential campaign of 2008 when then Senator Obama proudly pledged to “fundamentally transform” America in the event of his election.

Even though a transformation involves change, it is a mistake to identify it with change as such.  Still, to comprehend the nature of a transformation, we must begin our inquiry with an examination of the concept of change. Fortunately, for our sake, we have a millennia-old philosophical tradition at our disposal, a tradition that stems back 2,600 years to classical Greece and that helped define Western civilization. 

From its inception, the themes of change and permanence have more or less determined the character of Western philosophy.  For this, we have the “pre-Socratic” philosophers to thank.  Parmenides, for example, thought that change must be an illusion, for change is identity-extinguishing.  This reasoning is sound.  Think about it: we know that two things are two things and not the same thing because each possesses properties that the other lacks.  But whatever changes has properties at one moment that it lacks at the next.  If change were real, then, we wouldn’t be able to identify anything.  Yet we can identify things.  Thus, change must be an illusion.

Heraclitus, in contrast, argued for just the opposite position: it is permanence that is illusory; change is the only reality.  We witness change all around us.   However, in spite of his disagreement with Parmenides over the nature of reality, that Heraclitus shared his belief that change precludes identity is gotten from his famous declaration that “one cannot step in the same river twice!”   

These early partisans of permanence and change, respectively, deserve gratitude for getting this conversation underway. Yet, thankfully, the conception of identity as exact sameness underlying their conflict has been revisited—and rejected—by subsequent generations of thinkers.  The most plausible candidate for identity, one that resonates with our “common sense” intuitions, conceives identity in terms of continuity.  On this view, something is the same thing at one moment as it is at the next, not if it never endures change, but if the changes that it undergoes are continuous with one another and, hence, capable of being assimilated.

It is important to note that this conception of identity excludes radical or transformative change.   The person I am today bears few similarities to the person I was at two years-old, but the fact of the matter remains that I am the same person.  That is, I can justifiably point to the picture of the two year-old on the mantle and claim: “That’s me when I was a baby.”  Although the cumulative effect of the countless changes that I have undergone over the span of my life have produced a 39 year-old with characteristics dramatically different from those possessed by the two year-old I once was, these changes have been gradual and continuous with one another. 

If, however, all of my memories, my very history, were suddenly to be eliminated and replaced by the experiences of another, then I would be “fundamentally transformed” into that other.  This, though, is but another way of saying that the person who I have always been would cease to exist.  To put it even more starkly, the “fundamental transformation” of anything is simply—and literally—its death.

So, paradoxically, “fundamental transformation” is beyond change altogether. Change is experienced in the process of dying, it is true, but since the dead experience nothing, the event of death can’t be said to be a change at all, for there no longer is a subject to suffer the change.  In other words, transforming consists of radical change(s) but the transformation is beyond change.

Anyone with any doubts on this score should ask himself how his wife would respond if he expressed his wish to fundamentally transform her.  The answer to this question is obvious.  Most spouses, at least those in moderately successful marriages, recognize the need to make some changes in themselves.  But the desire to fundamentally transform one’s spouse is nothing other than the desire for a new spouse.

With these considerations in mind, it should now be clear that President Obama does indeed wish to destroy America.  It isn’t that he longs for destruction for its own sake. His aim is to destroy the country that we have inherited and to forge from its ashes a new America of his leftist imagination.  No doubt, Obama genuinely believes that this new America in which material resources are more “equitably” distributed among racial and other groups is morally superior the status quo.  He no doubt believes that we will all be better off for it.

However, while he may be devoid of malice, our President’s promise to fundamentally transform our country is the promise to replace it with another.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New American

“WeinerGate”: A Moral Distraction

posted by Jack Kerwick

While Republicans and Democrats generally have a difficult time finding agreement on details, something close to a genuinely bi-partisan consensus over the Anthony Weiner situation seems to be forming. 

The recently married New York Congressman who repeatedly insisted on his innocence with respect to the charge that he sent naked photos of his genitalia to young women now admits that he had been lying.  Both Democrats and Republicans are calling for him to resign.  That Weiner lied and that his sophomoric and dishonorable conduct disgraced the Congress are the standard reasons given in support of this verdict.  

Before saying another word, let me assure the reader that Congressman Weiner doesn’t rank high in my affections.  From the relatively little that I know about him, in fact, I can safely say that even before this latest revelation concerning his character broke, I found him a most unlikable person.  And, of course, his politics I detest. 

Still—and perhaps this is a character defect on my part—I find this whole episode of little interest.  In fact, if Weiner isn’t guilty of any Congressional Ethics violations, I don’t even think that he should necessarily step down (however appealing the prospect of there being one less Democrat resolved to further undermine what’s left of the Constitutional Republic bequeathed to us by our Founders undoubtedly is).

My reasoning is actually quite simple.

No genuine lover of the kind of liberty that our Constitution was originally designed to secure could possibly look upon Weiner’s most recent actions with a fraction of the contempt that he reserves for, say, most of the agenda of both of our national political parties. 

Even had Weiner been making regular visits to brothels, this wouldn’t in the least jeopardize our liberty.  On the other hand, politicians who: wage interminable, undeclared wars and deploy the resources in blood and treasure of their constituents toward the end of constructing “democracies” in nations throughout the world; refuse to secure America’s borders against nothing less than an invasion of third-world aliens; favor the interests of the members of some races over those of others under the guises of either justice or diversity (i.e. “affirmative action”); support Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and literally countless other policies designed to redistribute income and wealth from some to others, such politicians do indeed pose the greatest threat to our liberty.

In other words, while my disdain for adultery is second to none, and while I would be the last person to email photos of my naked genitalia to anyone, including my wife, I would rather every one of our elected representatives engage in this sort of conduct than continue their perennial campaign to rid this association that we call America of every last vestige of its civil character.  Vis-à-vis my liberty as an American, I infinitely prefer Weiner the sex pervert (or whatever we decide to call him) to Weiner the socialist, for while the former is obsessed with revealing pictures of his private parts, the latter—along with his fellow travelers in politics—is obsessed with compelling an entire country to part with more and more of their freedom in exchange with his vision of “social justice.” 

In spite of all of the confused rhetoric to the contrary, in an association of free persons there is no place for political “leaders.”  I suppose it is my recognition of this fact that accounts for why I am neither disappointed nor outraged upon hearing of politicians who embroil themselves in sex scandals and the like.  The self-governing agents who compose an association of free persons relish in their individuality, their capacity to embark upon the pursuits of their choosing—not in those of which political “leaders” who, being government office-holders, must of necessity compel them to engage.  

In selecting representatives, character counts, for sure, but character encompasses quite a bit.  The legal or constitutional order that we authorize our elected representatives to safeguard demands, first and foremost, men and women who are resolved to insure that ours remains a nation of laws, not one of policy.  To put this point another way, considered just as elected representatives, holders of government office are artificial persons, persons constituted solely by the laws that authorize their existence in the first place.  And what this means is that while their personal or “private” character defects might be something of a sign as to how they will govern, they aren’t necessarily so.  At any rate, such considerations pale in comparison to whether candidates are committed to truly “upholding” the Constitution and the laws that justify their being as elected representatives.

Any reader disposed to reject my analysis should attend to the following brief thought experiment.  Whatever one’s opinion of Ron Paul, no one could or even would think to accuse him of favoring “Big” or unconstitutional government.  Now, suppose, contra to reality, Paul had as checkered a marital history as, say, Donald Trump.  If, though, Paul was the Republican presidential candidate running against Barack Obama, a man with an apparently stellar marital and familial background, could there really be any doubt as to whom the “moral conservative” would endorse?  For all of that, I don’t think that there is hardly a “moral conservative” alive who wouldn’t vote for Donald Trump over Obama, if these were his only two choices. 

Sex scandals of the sort at the center of which Weiner currently finds himself distract us from the real immorality of which every lover of liberty should have the utmost concern: the disregard, and even disdain, that our elected representatives have for the Constitution that they have pledged to preserve.  

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

The Mad Doctor, or Mad Medved?

posted by Jack Kerwick

In his, “Ron Paul, Hookers, and Heroin,” nationally syndicated talk show host Michael Medved has once more indulged his obsession with Ron Paul.

Paul is a “crackpot,” Medved says, because of his insistence “that government has no more right to interfere with prostitution or heroin than it does to limit the right of the people to ‘practice their religion and say their prayers’….” 

It is correct that during the first Republican presidential primary debate in South Carolina, Paul did indeed analogize the federal government’s relation to drug use and prostitution to its relationship to the practice of religion.  Just as Americans have long recognized that their liberty to practice or refrain from practicing any religion of their choice requires that all other Americans be equally at liberty to make this same kind of choice, so too should they realize that the liberty to engage in the “personal habits” of one’s choosing depends upon others being able to do the same.  “You know, it’s amazing,” Paul remarks, “that we want freedom to pick our future in a spiritual way but not when it comes to our personal habits.”

And what this in turn implies is that just as our Constitution prohibits the federal government from interfering in the exercise of religion, so too should it be read as proscribing the federal government’s interference with such “personal habits” as recreational drug use and prostitution. 

This is “[a] First Amendment type issue,” Paul declares, that, in the interest of protecting “liberty across the board,” should be turned over exclusively to the states to manage.  

For these remarks, Medved bombards Paul with a litany of ad hominem attacks.  In addition to calling him a “crackpot,” he refers to him as “the Mad Doctor” and attempts to besmirch Paul by accusing him of “proudly” associating with such disreputable types as 9/11 Truthers and “Holocaust denying neo-Nazis.”  Paul, Medved continues, used the first Republican primary debate as an opportunity to “stake out exclusive territory on the lunatic libertarian fringe.”  He is “addle-brained,” a “crotchety candidate,” a “sad caricature of conservative and libertarian ideology,” and “reckless.”  Paul’s “logic” is not only “rotten,” but “putrefying” at its “core.”  And just to be sure that his profound insights into the intellectual and moral dimensions of Paul’s character haven’t been lost upon the reader, Medved wraps up his brilliant case for Paul’s institutionalization by referring to him as “Dr. Demento.”

For the last 12 years, from the time I began working on my master’s degree in philosophy, I have taught various course in philosophy, from ethics to political philosophy, philosophy of law to philosophy of art, world religions to logic. Had a student of mine submitted a paper as poorly reasoned, as fallacy ridden, as Medved’s article on Paul, he would not have fared well.

However, once we turn to the shoddiness of the talk show host’s arguments against Paul, it is not difficult to understand why he had to resort to abusive name calling.   

Medved makes two arguments against Paul’s point of view. 

First, he charges the Texas congressman with inconsistency: if the First Amendment proscribes the feds from interfering with transactions involving drugs and sex, then it as well proscribes the states from so doing, for in 1925, the Supreme Court “federalized Bill of Rights protections.” 

As I already pointed out, Paul did not say that this was a First Amendment issue.  What he said is that it is a “First Amendment type” issue.  The First Amendment proscribes the federal government from interfering with the practice of religion.  Because religion is a “personal habit,” as Paul says, and personal habits are exercises in liberty, the “personal habits” of drug usage and prostitution should also be protected from the federal government.  In other words, while neither the letter of the First Amendment nor the Bill of Rights generally mentions drug usage and prostitution, the spirit of “liberty across the board” for the sake of which the Constitution and, specifically, the Bill of Rights exists demands that the federal government relinquish its tentacles from “the personal habits” of citizens. 

There is another way to meet Medved’s charge of inconsistency.  Paul could always reject as genuinely constitutional the Supreme Court decision to which Medved alludes.  After all, the U.S. Supreme Court is a branch of the federal government.  That the federal government, then, presumes to dictate to the states that they are as equally obliged as itself to observe the Bill of Rights could only be seen by Constitutionalists like Paul as but another instance of the federal government’s extended project of undermining the liberty of the states. 

To put this more bluntly, Paul could say to Medved that the latter begs the question.  It is as if a Christian tried to convince a Jew that Jesus really was the Messiah by alluding to the New Testament—a document that Jews reject as divinely inspired. 

Medved’s second charge against Paul is much weaker than the first. Paul’s “lunatic libertarian” position, Medved asserts, centers on the “provocative (and preposterous) claim that the First Amendment and ‘protection of liberty across the board’ forbid limitations on even the most dangerous drugs.” 

Either a lack of charity or a lack of rudimentary logic on Medved’s part could have given rise to such a straw man.  When Paul claims that Constitutional liberty precludes the criminalization of drugs and prostitution, contra Medved, he is most certainly not claiming that it precludes “limitations on even the most dangerous drugs.” 

After setting up his wild distortion of Paul’s position, Medved proceeds to point out that the legalization of “perhaps the most commonly practiced ‘personal habit’ in American culture,” alcohol consumption, “hasn’t stopped authorities from limiting the hours of bar service or, in numerous ‘dry’ counties or states, prohibiting the marketing of liquor altogether….”  Medved has really nailed Paul here!  Well, actually, he hasn’t.  The truth is that a call for the legalization of currently illegal drugs is no more a call for a literally laissez faire approach to their sale, distribution, and use than is a call for the continual legalization of a legal drug like alcohol synonymous with a demand to abolish all regulations on its sale, distribution, and use.

Medved either cannot or will not grasp these not too terribly fine distinctions, for he continues this theme of Paul’s “libertarian instinct to condemn as unconstitutional any governmental role in the economy….”  As if arguing with himself, Medved then responds to his own straw man with but another fallacy, what logicians since Aristotle have called “the complex question,” a rhetorical question designed to assert precisely that which needs to be argued: “Would anyone claim that protecting liberty guaranteed a right to advertise some phony, falsely packaged ‘miracle cure’ for cancer that did significant harm to those who purchased it, or for a public market to offer dead cats labeled as ground sirloin?”

I wish I could say that I am as guilty of misconstruing Medved’s position as he is guilty of misrepresenting Paul’s.  But, sadly, this really is as good—or bad—as it gets for Medved’s argument.  He apparently really thinks that Paul’s invocations of liberty for a smaller, more constitutional government, is an argument for the practical abolition of government.  In reality, though, libertarians like Paul recognize the need for and desirability of a strong government capable of doing many things, among the most important of which is safeguarding citizens against exactly the kind of fraud and deceit to which Medved alludes.

And, as I hoped to show here, this is just the kind of fraud and deceit of which Medved’s attempt to pass off his analysis of Ron Paul as anything other than a piece of fiction convicts him. 

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

originally published at The New American

Is it a “Black Thing” with the Obamas?

posted by Jack Kerwick

Anyone who has read Barack Obama’s autobiographies knows that our 44th president has had a lifelong obsession with discovering (or creating?) a racial identity for himself. He is very candid about this in his Dreams of My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, his first—and more honest—memoir; indeed, Dreams is nothing more than a recounting of this odyssey, an epic journey that begins within the midst of the contradictions and ambiguities of the overwhelmingly white world in which Obama was raised and that culminates in the clarity and coherence of black Africa.

Obama, that is, is black by choice, and like any convert, he is animated by zealotry to establish himself as a “True Believer.”  If he labors under any self-delusions, they are no less the products of his choice than his “blackness” itself, for it is from Obama’s painful self-awareness that his guilt over his unfamiliarity with “the black experience” in America is begotten: the conspicuous absence in his blood line of American slaves; a black father who abandoned him when he was but a small child; the white grandparents who raised him; his upbringing, not in the “ghettos” or “hoods” of America’s “inner cities,” but the plush islands of Hawaii; the private educational institutions that he attended all throughout his life, from elementary school to law school; and the preponderance of friendships with mostly white kids growing up are among the circumstances that conspire to incessantly provoke Obama to prove his “authenticity” to black America.  This singular focus on convincing himself and others of his authentic blackness explains Obama’s aching need to recast the events of his own life, both its past and present stages, in the light of an imaginary “racism” that allegedly informs them; yet it also accounts for his conduct from before and after he was elected president.

Obama’s decisions to: become a “community organizer” in the “ghettos” of Chicago; join the church of Jeremiah Wright—an ally of Louis Farrakhan who Obama claims to have regarded as a “spiritual mentor—and remain a member in good standing for over twenty years; attend Farrakhan’s “Million Man March”; work closely with ACORN, a corrupt organization responsible for extorting from banks loans for aspiring “low-income” (read: black) property owners;  and, in spite of conceding his ignorance of the facts of the situation, express sympathy for his black friend, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., while castigating the white police officers with whom Gates had an encounter, are just some of the deeds that reflect Obama’s burning desire to achieve security in his “blackness.”

Yet there are other, more subtle actions that our president has taken that could very well be just as driven by this desire.  For the time being, we can leave to one side Obama’s signature policy position on “Health Care Reform,” his nationalization of significant swaths of the banking and automobile industries, and his attempts to design energy policy around the fiction of “Global Warming,” all of which promise to effect a massive redistribution of resources from “the haves” to “the have not’s,” from whites to non-whites, from Americans and Westerners to non-Americans and non-Westerners.  Such policies are “reparations” by other names and Obama knows it, but the engagements (or disengagements) that betray his fervor to prove his “blackness” have none of the grandiosity of these.

Whether it is his near obsequiousness regarding Islamic nations; his steadfast refusal to secure the southern border and comparably steadfast resolve to insure that neither Arizona nor any other border state realize that goal; the coolness of his reception of such traditional, Eurocentric American allies as England and Israel and corresponding affection for an assortment of Latin American, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries; his reluctance to grant General Petraeus’s request for tens of thousands of additional American soldiers in Afghanistan; his complicity in the left’s smear campaign of the Tea Party as “racist”; his irresponsible and baseless insinuations that Arizona’s latest efforts to address the violent ravages of illegal immigration are the function of nothing other than “racist” and “anti-immigrant” sentiment; his appointment of various leftwing radicals to positions in his cabinet and the Supreme Court; his Justice Department’s decision to refrain from prosecuting not just thugs from the New Black Panther Party who had been caught on video intimidating and threatening white voters who would dare to vote for John McCain over Obama, but, according to one of its attorneys, any black defendants accused of victimizing whites;  his frequent golf outings and other holidays—including his wife’s much publicized extravagant vacation to Spain; and his choice to mark a radical departure from a cherished American tradition of presidents appearing at Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day last year to honor the dead by sending his vice-president in his stead are, I contend, the equivalent of “code words,” acts designed to convey to “people of color” around the world that the Obamas are in solidarity with them. 

In his first memoir, Obama says that he stopped “advertising” his mother’s race when he was still a young boy of twelve or 13, for he feared that in so doing, he would “ingratiate” himself to whites.  Think not that this fear has eased.  In fact, it is likely that it has only intensified, for even with his unrivaled sophistical skills Obama could never persuade himself that he doesn’t owe his current position to the white vote.  The country remains, much to the left’s chagrin, predominantly white.  If Obama loses enough white support, which he already has, his prospects of getting re-elected are nil.  He needs whites, and so he is desperate to alter the growing perception that he is biased against them (thus, the readiness with which Obama urged the termination of Shirley Sherrod when her derogatory comments concerning a white farmer first surfaced), yet this need is outflanked by his need to perceive himself, and to be perceived by others, as “authentically black,” and so he is hypersensitive to giving the impression that he needs whites. 

I am convinced that my analysis of the Obamas is on target.  But even if my speculations should run aground, is it really that unfair to ask whether, with the Obamas, all of this doesn’t ultimately boil down to a “black thing?”

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

Previous Posts

Eric Garner and the Natural Law: What To Do When a Law is Unjust?
Eric Garner, many libertarians seem to think, was innocent as far as the natural law is concerned. “Natural law” is an ethical tradition with an illustrious pedigree stretching back millennia.  From this perspective, natural law is a transcendent moral order that provides the standard of jus

posted 8:33:32pm Dec. 14, 2014 | read full post »

More on the Eric Garner Grand Jury Decision
In this column, I recently argued in favor of a grand jury’s refusal to indict Officer Dan Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner.  To my dismay (and, frankly, shock), a great many “conservatives” and “libertarians,” I’ve had the great misfortune to discover, disagree vehemently with the

posted 7:56:58pm Dec. 09, 2014 | read full post »

The "Eric Garner" Case: Truth versus Ideology
From the rough that is contemporary America, the grand jury that just decided that there were no grounds on which to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner is the second diamond to be retrieved.  The first is the grand jury that refused to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the d

posted 10:02:40pm Dec. 04, 2014 | read full post »

How and Why TNT's "Dallas" Failed
Word broke last month that Dallas—TNT’s contemporary version of the spectacularly successful 80’s series—has been cancelled after three seasons.  The “Save Dallas” campaign designed to relocate the show to another network bore no fruit. To long-time fans like yours truly, this news i

posted 12:49:28pm Nov. 29, 2014 | read full post »

Two Things to Think About This Thanksgiving Day
With the exception of the usual suspects on the hard left, most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  Like Independence Day, Thanksgiving is a quintessential American holiday. Thanksgiving Day is a golden opportunity for celebrants to accomplish a couple of things. First, we should bear in m

posted 12:11:17pm Nov. 27, 2014 | read full post »

Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.