Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Alex Evans is a seven year-old second grader at Mary Blair Elementary School in Colorado.  Recently, he was suspended for throwing an imaginary grenade while pretending to “rescue the world” from “pretend evil forces.”

Little Alex, it turns out, violated his school’s “absolutes” against fighting and weapons, “real or imaginary.” 

So-called “zero tolerance” policies of the sort on display at Mary Blair have long been in place in public schools throughout the country.  Alex’s mother said that she thought that they were “unrealistic” for kids her son’s age. She is right as far as she goes.  The problem is that she doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Such policies are indeed unrealistic, yet they are unrealistic for people of all ages.  Moreover, they aren’t just unrealistic. They are at once idiotic and outrageous: rather than enable children to become responsible adults, zero tolerance policies threaten to retard this developmental process.

Boys are particularly harmed by it.  Alex Evans is a case in point.  Here is a seven year-old child whose only infraction is that he possesses an imagination that is both lively and heroic.  Think about it: he delights in envisioning himself as a self-sworn enemy of all that is evil, a world savior.

The kid dreams, not about harming the world, but rescuing it.  He longs to be more like Superman, not Stalin.

Yet for this, the childish adults at his school punish him.

Speaking as one who was once a boy, I can assure you that the sort of play in which Alex Evans and a gazillion other boys engage in is not at all atypical.  When I was a kid, my cousin Wade and I would regularly pretend to be superheroes: Superman, Batman, and Spiderman were our crime fighters of choice.  We would also not infrequently imagine ourselves as characters from Star Wars.  But Wade and I were especially creative: we would essentially play out our self-assigned roles as if we were enacting or—in the case of Star Wars—reenacting films.

Of course, since there was only two of us, and since no hero is complete without a nemesis, we also had to pretend to be villains. Unlike Alex Evans, however, we didn’t just hurl imaginary weapons at one another; we also really wrestled.  If the rules of Mary Blair Elementary School been our family’s rules, had our family a “zero-tolerance” policy, we would have been in some serious trouble.

The value of these imaginative exercises to a boy’s intellectual and moral development is sorely underappreciated.  They expand his mind’s horizons, awakening him to possibilities to which his counterparts of duller sensibilities will remain oblivious.  And inasmuch as it is the hero that he plays and replays, they serve as the means by which he cultivates those excellences of character that will make him into a virtuous man.

This is no new insight.  Prior to our generation, it went without saying—though it was often repeated—that the key to maintaining and strengthening civilization lies in heroic men showing young boys how to become heroic men. And it was as well obvious that the virtuous would not infrequently have to deploy force against the vicious.

Those commentators who see in the case of Alex Evans but the latest battle in the so-called “War on Boys” are only partially correct.  If “zero-tolerance” policies like those at Mary Blair are the proverbial shots fired in any kind of “war,” it is a war against men, for in stifling the intellectual and moral growth of boys, they produce men with neither heads nor hearts.

But if it is a war on men that is being waged here, then, ultimately, it is a war on civilization.   

 

 

While teaching on Aristotle in my ethics class last week, I noted that not unlike his contemporaries or his medieval successors, the great philosopher was a “teleologist.”  A teleologist is simply one who thinks that everything in the world has an essential purpose that makes it the kind of thing that it is.  This is what most people held up until the advent of modern science.     

An astute student then attempted to tie Aristotle’s analysis into the current debate over the Second Amendment. He observed that those who favor ever more oppressive restrictions on the Second Amendment—the proponents of “gun control”—sound very much like teleologists when it comes to guns.  Guns kill, we are told.  This is their purpose.

That cars, knives, fists, and many other things other than guns also kill is neither here nor there for Second Amendment deniers. Cars, say, aren’t meant to kill.  Guns are.

My student was correct. When it comes to guns, the enemies of the Second Amendment do indeed speak as if they were teleologists.  Forget that when it comes to almost everything else, their teleology goes out the window.

But let’s play along and see whether these cafeteria teleologists are willing to follow their reasoning to its logical term.

The purpose of a free press is to safeguard our liberty against corruption.  Those who rely upon the First Amendment to peddle their wares in the media can constitutionally justify their existence by alluding to this purpose.  Without our media “watchdogs,” we are lead to think, those in power—those in government, particularly—could all too easily trample our liberties under foot.

A free press is what separates liberty from tyranny, citizens from subjects or slaves.

If this is so, however, then it is not unreasonable to think that if those in the media are not doing their job, if they are not serving as watchdogs, then maybe they should no longer be permitted to hide behind the First Amendment.

And they are not doing their job. 

Journalists and pundits in publishing and broadcasting far too often protect, not the liberties that government office holders are busy away eroding, but the government office holders themselves. In exchange for access to politicians, the tireless champions of the press’s sacred right to freedom of speech reduce themselves to public relations tools for these same politicians.

So, this being the case, we should ask of the First Amendment absolutists: Do they really need freedom of the press? 

If we are in turn accused of wanting to repeal the First Amendment, or at least that part of it that guarantees freedom of the press, we should deny the charge: No one is talking repeal here, we must insist. Rather, we are only talking about “common sense” restrictions or regulations. 

Those in the press can maintain their freedom of speech—but only if they really need it.   That is, if they are exposing or otherwise challenging those in government—and not acting as their propagandists—then and only then should they be free to continue doing so.  However, freedom of the press will not extend to those media figures intent upon serving as apologists for the powerful. 

To make sure that we apply the First Amendment in a “common sense” way, those who own and manage media organizations—and possibly those in their employment—should be required to submit their coverage of the events and people of the day every so often to a bi-partisan, independent Congressional commission.  

If it is established that their networks and publications have taken an insufficiently adversarial stance toward the government, then a penalty will be leveled.  This is what will happen the first time around.  If it is subsequently discovered that those who are supposed to be pit bulls are actually poodles, then their business will be extinguished.

The First Amendment is not violated here, we can remind our critics. Quite the contrary, in fact, for these “common sense” restrictions will preserve and strengthen it. They will make sure that its purpose is fulfilled.

Somehow, I doubt very much that those who are all too eager to apply these arguments to the Second Amendment will be so eager to accept them when it comes to the First Amendment.

Ron Paul is under fire for a tweet sent from his twitter account regarding the untimely death of Navy SEAL sniper, Chris Kyle, who was allegedly murdered by another veteran who he was supposedly trying to help deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Paul’s tweet read:

“Chris Kyle’s death seems to confirm that ‘he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.’ Treating PTSD at a firing range doesn’t make sense.”

Paul is a veteran himself.  After he became the subject of criticism, he extended his condolences to Kyle’s family and assured his critics that it is not Kyle himself to whom he referred, but “the unconstitutional and unnecessary wars” in which the late SEAL participated. 

“Unconstitutional and unnecessary wars have endless unintended consequences,” Paul said.  “A policy of non-violence, as Christ preached, would have prevented this and similar tragedies.”

Some comments are in order here.

First, anyone who knows anything at all about Paul knows that his most recent remarks are not an attempt at backpedaling on his part: Paul is nothing if not a stalwart opponent of what he routinely calls “the Warfare State.”  As far as he is concerned, there really is no end to the evil that America’s incessant warring abroad promises to visit upon all affected by it—including and particularly those who engage in it.

Still, Chris Kyle chose to become a member of the United States military.  He chose to become a Navy SEAL.  And he chose to distinguish himself as the biggest killer in the annals of American military history.

These are not criticisms. They are facts.  They are facts that neither a believer in individual liberty, like Paul, nor Kyle, the proud author of American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History—would think to deny.  Paul comes dangerously close to playing the “Society made him do it” card when he shifts the focus of his tweet from Kyle to the government.

Second, perhaps Kyle was not mistaken in viewing the 150 lives that he extinguished as a cost that had to be paid for the preservation and well being of his country.  Yet perhaps he was so mistaken.  That the American government selects a group of people as “the enemy” does not mean that they pose a threat to the country.  And when this same government refuses to follow its own Constitution by issuing a formal declaration of war against those who ostensibly pose a vital threat to its interests, there is that much more reason for skepticism regarding its claims.

Third, even if Kyle was correct and he acted justly in killing 150 people, the fact remains that he still killed.  That is, he did indeed live by the proverbial sword.  Those in the police, the military, the secret service, bodyguards, security, and so forth, all live by the sword.  There is nothing objectionable about this.  Indeed, if the title of his book tells us anything, it tells us that Kyle knew this about himself better than anyone. If one who unabashedly styles himself to the world as “the most lethal sniper in U.S.military history” isn’t also one who “lives by the sword,” then who is?

Yet, presumably, it is precisely because the Kyles of the world occupy the most violent and potentially violent of occupations that so many Americans, especially those on the right, elevate them as heroes.  It is because they stand the greatest chance of dying by the sword that they are admired and praised.

Finally, that Paul quotes Jesus in connection with the violent death of “the most lethal sniper” to which America has ever given rise strikes this Christian as eminently defensible—intellectually, morally, and religiously.

As was just noted, we all know that police officers in high crime areas and military personnel in combat zones—like Kyle, who served multiple tours of duty over a ten year period—are more likely than college professors and maintenance men to die in the line of duty. 

Morally and religiously, Paul no more speaks out of turn in applying Jesus’ teaching to America’s most lethal sniper than Jesus spoke inappropriately when directing His teaching toward Peter, “the Rock” on which He would build His church.  The difference between Peter and Kyle, though, is that while the latter saw himself as killing for his country, Peter was prepared to kill for his Lord and Savior

Another crucial difference is that Peter never killed—and yet Christ still admonished him.

But if Christians aren’t outraged over the fact that Jesus issued this adage to one of His closest friends and disciples, then why is there outrage on their part now that Ron Paul has issued it (posthumously, of course) to the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history?

Ron Paul’s tweet raises a number of questions concerning Christian charity, patriotism, war, and our civic obligations that far too many of us remain unwilling to face.

February is Black History Month.  As those on the right (and even an increasing number of people elsewhere) know well enough, these four weeks are all too easily used by activists as an opportunity to promote a politics of victimhood congenial to a leftist agenda. 

The famed black writer—and conservative—Zora Neale Hurston, frustrates this program.

Born in the early 1890’s in the lower South, Hurston would one day join the ranks of those black writers who became associated with “the Harlem Renaissance.”  Unlike most of her colleagues, however, she staunchly rejected the communism and socialism with which they sympathized. 

Hurston resented the efforts made by black and white intellectual alike to make of black Americans a new proletariat, a victim class perpetually in need of an all-encompassing national government to ease the “lowdown dirty deal” that “nature has somehow given them [.]”  Hurston was adamant that she was “not tragically colored.” She insisted that “no great sorrow” lies “damned up in my soul, lurking behind my eyes,” and she placed a world of distance between herself and “the sobbing school of negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are hurt about it [.]”

For what contemporary black commentator Larry Elder refers to as the “victicrats” among us, Hurston had zero use.  “Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves,” she remarked.  Much to their chagrin, though, “it fails to register depression with me.”  Furthermore, she stated bluntly that “slavery is the price I paid for civilization.”

Our increasingly joyless generation is oblivious to another of Hurston’s insights: a sense of humor can bear most, if not all, painful things.  Regarding racial discrimination, she noted that while she “sometimes” feels “discriminated against,” she does not get “angry” about it. Rather, the experience “merely astonishes me,” for how, Hurston asks, “can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”  

As far as foreign policy was concerned, Hurston was of the old right.  She was what today we are inclined to call a “paleoconservative” or “paleolibertarian.”  With the Russell Kirks, Patrick J. Buchanans, and Ron Pauls of the right Hurston had much in common—especially when it came to foreign policy.

Of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, she spoke contemptuously as she identified what Hurston took as their hypocrisy.  Those “people who claim that it is a noble thing to die for freedom and democracy,” she asserted, “wax frothy if anyone points out the inconsistency of their morals [.]” The fact is that “we” also “consider machine gun bullets good laxatives for heathens who get constipated with toxic ideas about a country of their own.” Roosevelt “can call names across an ocean” for his “four freedoms,” she added, yet he lacked “the courage to speak even softly at home.”

When Truman dropped “the bomb” on Japan, Hurston referred to him as “the Butcher of Asia.”

But Hurston blasted away at Big Government for domestic purposes as well. She was an adamant critic of the New Deal and jumped at the chance to support presidential candidate Robert A. Taft when the opportunity arose for Republicans to dismantle the house that Roosevelt built.

A big part of FDR’s legacy, Hurston complained, is that “the word ‘liberal’ is now an unstable and devious thing in connotation [.]”  What this means in practice is “Pinkos and other degrees of fellow travelers” have succeeded in convincing large numbers of people that a liberal “is a person who desires greater Government control and Federal handouts.”

Taft, though, could put an end to this, Hurston claimed, for Taft is a real liberal, a Jeffersonian liberal. 

Interestingly, Hurston found Taft’s lack of charisma to be among his virtues, for she realized that those presidents who seduced the electorate with their charms were dangerous to liberty.  Taft, she thought, was more like “those men who held high office” before “the mob took over” with “the advent of Jacksonian democracy [.]”

An opponent of segregation, Hurston was just as much of an opponent of federal efforts—like Brown v. Board of Education—to end it.  She was bewildered by the idea that, as a black person, she should take comfort in the fact that there was now “a court order for somebody to associate with me who does not wish me near them [.]” 

Race relations in the South, through the “effort and time” of those who live there, “will work out all its problems.”

In short, Hurston was a devotee of liberty. She relished in her individuality while courageously discarding the collectivist, utopian fantasies of which the twentieth century was ridden:

“I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.”

During this Black History Month, all lovers of liberty would be well served to follow Hurston’s lead.          

 

 

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