Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Thoughts of Consequence

Three remarkable posts from three disparate sources coalesce around the concepts of stewardship, consequences, and responsibility.

In the first, the Anchoress compares differing reactions to the “alarmism” in President Bush’s response to terrorism (or the threat of Iraq, or the threat of Iran), and former Vice President Gore’s global warming alarmism, and notes the irony. (I also note the hypocrisy. Alarmism, evidently, is in the eyes of the beholden.)

In the course of her reflection, the Anchoress reflects on stewardship, and the potential consequences of taking action before fully understanding causes and effects:

I think what’s happening is natural - it’s happened before - and only our generation is conceited enough to think that it’s all due to “us” or that “we” can do much about it. That’s not to say that conservation measures are not useful - they are, and I practice many of them in my life. But common sense says before we go off half cocked, creating laws and affecting governments and personal liberties, it behooves us to take a longer, closer, much more open-minded look at this thing and not simply submit to alarmism. As noted, many who deplore the Iraq war would say precisely the same thing - that before entering into the “terrorism alarmism trumps all ideas” mode, we would have done better to look more closely at everything. To me much of this has seemed like hucksterism around which an entire industry (and a good deal of policy) is being formed, for the benefit of capitalists and governments.

Beware the hidden agendas, and even more, unintended and unanticipated consequences. If those of us who supported the war in Iraq can be accused of accepting at face value what critics perceive as a disingenuous manipulation into an elective war, then what does that make supporters of the necessity for urgent and draconian Government intervention, in perceived but poorly understood and not at all proven human influenced carbon cycle effects on a warming global climate?

Recommended actions involve bigger government, more controls, less freedom, greater costs, all of which would make certain individuals with questionable agendas very, very rich. At the expense of others, who would bear the costs. Always good advice: measure policy against who pays, who benefits, and who really pulls the strings.

In the second piece, Sigmund, Carl, and Alfred link to the Anchoress, and elaborate on the concept of stewardship:

Is parenting a kind stewardship? If so, how do we determine the different kinds of stewardship as it applies to infants and teenagers? When do we guide, when do we interfere and when do we let nature takes its course?

For decades, it was public policy to eradicate all forest fires, all in the name of conservation. Eventually we learned that we learned that nature has a remarkable and complex capacity to take care of herself. Now, we allow nature to take her course and in many instances, fires burn without intervention. After Mount St Helen’s erupted in 1982, experts predicted a moonscape for decades, if not longer. Within a few years, nature proved all the experts wrong as life established itself again and with great tenacity. Forests have been reborn and animals have returned- all despite the dire warnings of the experts.

Of course, if there is kind and benign stewardship there can also be malignant and repressive stewardship.

Human nature is as part of the natural world as anything else. The great attempts to ‘steward’ human nature in the past, all in the name of Utopian ideals have all resulted in failure and misery. Can- or should- human beings be subject to any kind of stewardship imposed on them?

We want to write further on what is or isn’t stewardship. That isn’t easy. With each effort, we find the ‘plot thickens.’ For example, Pervez Musharraf declared martial law in Pakistan and people are up in arms at the suspension of civil rights in that nation. What if reinstating constitutional rights leads to mass violence and death? What if reinstating civil rights were to provide radical Islamists the platform with which to impose a vicious and violent Sharia Law on Pakistan? Attacks on churches and Christians are not uncommon in that nation, all in the name of God. Does the reality that women, gays and Christians might be subject to random violence in the name of religion provide some justification for Musharraf’s actions? These questions aren’t academic. Religious violence in Pakistan has long been seething and has nothing to do with America, Iraq or Israel.

Recent events in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan have forced us to reconsider our thoughts on the meaning stewardship. The current presidential campaign only highlights and emphasizes the issues of political stewardship of the benign and not so benign varieties.

How does the saying go? Let not the perfect be the enemy of the good. And something even more extreme than that, I think, that led to the very concept of weighing the lesser of two evils.

Of course it’s easier when you can analogize your choice as a kind of Solomonic wisdom, as when two women appeal to Solomon to resolve their dispute about whose child lives. Recall his solution, offering to split the child, which presumed that one of the two parties would place the well being of the infant above their own desires. Not at all a safe assumption for many of the cultures and subcultures we must deal with in the fight [not be called the global war on terror].

Unfortunately, the choices and trade-offs are rarely so easily weighed against each other as the living whole versus the two halves of a now brutally killed infant. And, it should be acknowledged, there are far too many bad faith players in this game who care not one wit if what gets weighed are corpses or destruction.

In the third and final piece, Thomas Sowell, writing at Real Clear Politics, calls for us to stop making a difference.

Sowell writes compellingly of what are too often mindless bromides, “making a difference” and “giving something back.” Sowell suggests that the new “difference” won’t always be good unless you know what you’re doing, and giving something back only makes sense if you’ve received or taken something from those to who you intend to give.

Sowell speaks of unintended consequences:

Even the simplest acts have ramifications that spread across society the way waves spread across a pond when you drop a stone in it.

Among those who make a difference by serving food to the homeless, how many have considered the history of societies which have made idleness easy for great numbers of people?

How many have studied the impact of drunken idlers on other people in their own society, including children who come across their needles in the park -- if they dare to go to the parks?

How many have even considered such questions relevant as they drop their stone in the pond without thinking about the waves that spread out to others?

These are critical, important insights. Those who blindly adhere to childish notions that “I’m here to help,” will often cause the greatest harm. It’s the defining character of every aspect of the modern Nanny State, and the fatal flaw in most major social justice imperatives. (As such, it means that Democrats condemn themselves to policy solutions guaranteed to make worse, whatever problem they are trying to solve with government policy. Not that 40, 50, 60, even 70 years of failure will dissuade them.)

Sowell does acknowledge something important to “give back,” but something far indeed from what most social engineers intend:

If we are giving back to society at large, in exchange for all that society has made possible for us, then that is a very different ballgame.

Giving back in that sense means acknowledging an obligation to those who went before us and for the institutions and values that enable us to prosper today. But there is very little of this spirit of gratitude and loyalty in many of those who urge us to "give back."

Indeed, many who repeat the "giving back" mantra would sneer at any such notion as patriotism or any idea that the institutions and values of American society have accomplished worthy things and deserve their support, instead of their undermining.

Our educational systems, from the schools to the universities, are actively undermining any sense of loyalty to the traditions, institutions and values of American society.

They are not giving back anything except condemnation, often depicting sins common to the human race around the world as peculiar evils of "our society."

We sell cheap our birthright, and lose what should not have been lost. And what stands in its place? A jaded cynicism, a trendy fatalism, and call for obedience to a collective will that tells you what to think, what to do and not do, and who you must silence or demonize as too offensive for consideration.

Equality of opportunity must be translated into equality of outcomes. Victim classes must be identified, and compensations tangible and intangible made payable. Racism is defined, not as the thoughts and behavior of individuals, but as an inherent characteristic of a specifically defined population, itself as racist an idea as anything birthed in the “multicultural” diversity cauldron of modern academia.

The worst of everything those who left us our inheritance of liberty fought against in the struggles of their day.

Paramount above all else, is the command to eliminate consequences. If everyone but the racist population (again, defined in the fact of their existence, not in thought or deed) gets defined as victim, then surely any untoward consequence or event must be the result of oppression, considered institutional if one can’t find the evidence of actual oppression.

That means nothing happens as a consequence of bad choices, bad behavior, bad attitudes, or even simple bad luck.

I am in a season where I am struck by how irresponsible it oftentimes is to stand between people and the consequences of their actions.

I see it throughout our culture: pathologies that all directly relate to shielding people from rightful consequences out of love, compassion, and an otherwise ill-considered intent to protect someone from harm.

We see it in all manner of dysfunction, my wife and I, in our families of origin, in our local community, and even in our church communities. The wrong idea that love always means softening a consequence, the flawed equation that hurt is the same as harm, and that if something feels bad for someone, the proximate “cause” of the hurt must be bad, and the “hurt” should be prevented or “taken back.”

I see it in aberrant but pervasive permissive child rearing, parenting that reacts defensively to outside criticism, that coddles or excuses, that allows children to remain juvenile beyond all reason, that avoids punishment, not just corporal, but any constructive discipline. Allowing adult children to overstay their welcome. The automatic assumption that parents must and will pay for a young adult’s college education, without requiring any sacrifice or contribution from the student.

Beyond the truism that experience is the best teacher, consequences are God’s (or Nature’s, if you prefer) simple answer to “what if” questions.

Conversely, you get more of what you reward with incentives.

Whenever we step between someone and the consequences of their own (bad) behavior or wrong choices, we relieve them of any responsibility for what they’ve done. They don’t learn, and they certainly don’t change.

(Credit where credit is due. This idea is described as the “Law of Sowing and Reaping,” as presented in Boundaries, by psychologists Henry Cloud and John Townsend.)

An Epilog, of Sorts

(It would be prologue, but I thought it would chase away too many readers.)

Blogging will sometimes evoke that wondrous feeling of synchronicity: when several posts from disparate sources, writing on different subjects, approach the same interior spaces (thoughts, emotions, logic and history).

That no doubt sounds more ethereal than I mean it to, but it remains a difficult thing to describe. Collage can serve the purpose in graphic arts; likewise allegory in literature. Perhaps the dynamic of metaphor comes closer, when a set of specific ideas serves as an organizing framework for otherwise unrelated, or at least, unassociated circumstances.

One underappreciated benefit from wiki and other collective creative processes, are the many instances where previously unlinked ideas gather into networks, and thereby generate a synthesis that has not previously been recognized, or acknowledged? And is it too far fetched to suppose that as these networks link and correlate information, they might likewise connect people and communities, who would not otherwise be aware of each other, the ideas which motivate, and the patterns they perceive?

Anyway, that’s what I sometimes experience, reading blogs, writing, and in the course of life, find things that resonate. That strike the same chords, over and over.

The things most important to think about, I think, those most worthy of our attention.

The call of God, for those inclined.


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