Reid Buckley has declared that he cannot love our country because we are vile. Morally corrupt and bankrupt, we’ve even given Pat Buchanan license to doubt. “What is it now that conservatives must conserve?” he asked.
The Declaration of Independence offers a few good suggestions—life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness—and, if I may add onto the list: the preservation of the English language.
Life, for one, seems a given right. Life is the highest good—we all have life in common, though we may live out our own lives differently. Suicidal tendencies aside, most people would argue for the preservation of their life.
If a gun was placed against your head, would you pull the trigger or try to get out of harm’s way? Now, what if the gun was placed against another person’s head? A good person, who pays taxes and goes to Church; lives in the community and does good. Would you want to save that person? How about a bad person? A bad person is one who disregards other people’s lives, has wrecked havoc upon their community and has no regards for good, unless it is good for them.
If you would only save the good person, you are a bad person too.
It seems to me that Americans no longer know which way is up and which way is down. As a result, they are milling about life, thinking deeply on issues before growing tired and throwing up one’s hands to accepted despair. Change is a farce. Our sacred cows are sinners. Republicans are pansies and Democrats are, well, Democrats. The more things change the more they stay the same, eh?
The value of human life is a constant. In the face of evil, we cannot make exceptions. The Declaration does not read that we have a right to a quality of life; it says we all have a right to life.
In one of my favorite defenses against abortion, the Humble Libertarian writes that “nothing is created at birth.” That is, when people do not know whether or not a fetus is a person, remember that we’re all developing. A toddler is not an adult. A child is not a teenager. A senior citizen is not less worthy of good healthcare because they are closing in on face time with the Lord.
On November 12, Pope Benedict XVI met with 250 people at an international conference:”Adult Stem Cells: Science and the Future of Man and Culture.” This gathering is a collaboration between the Pontifical Council for Culture and the U.S. Stem for Life Foundation, and is an open dialogue examining “the use of adult stem cells in medicine, both from the perspective of science, and from that of its cultural, ethical and anthropological implications.”
This proviso is most important. The pragmatic mentality that so often influences decision-making in the world today is all too ready to sanction whatever means are available in order to attain the desired end, despite ample evidence of the disastrous consequences of such thinking. When the end in view is one so eminently desirable as the discovery of a cure for degenerative illnesses, it is tempting for scientists and policy-makers to brush aside ethical objections and to press ahead with whatever research seems to offer the prospect of a breakthrough. Those who advocate research on embryonic stem cells in the hope of achieving such a result make the grave mistake of denying the inalienable right to life of all human beings from the moment of conception to natural death. The destruction of even one human life can never be justified in terms of the benefit that it might conceivably bring to another.
It’s easy to say abortion’s wrong, and then disrespect the person who disagrees with you. It’s all fun and games for the GOP to say waterboarding should be allowable, and then not quite understand the outrage over the HHS contraceptives mandate for private insurance plans. Perhaps you give the TSA a slide for their abusive and unchecked power, or think the IVF procedure is okay. Americans, riddle me this: is it judgmental or correct to say something has grave moral consequences, is poison to families and culture, and may turn into a violation of religious liberties? The Anonymous Us Project doesn’t think so, as it is trying to piece together the hurt through testimonies:
The Anonymous Us Project is a safety zone for real and honest opinions about reproductive technologies and family fragmentation. We aim to share the experiences of voluntary and involuntary participants in these technologies, while preserving the dignity and privacy for story-tellers and their loved ones.
This organization is neither specifically Catholic or Christian, but its stories speak at a human level and put a face to the ethical issues. Here is an except of one such story:
I am a human being, yet I was conceived with a technique that had its origins in animal husbandry. Worst of all, farmers kept better records of their cattle’s genealogy than assisted reproductive clinics had kept for the donor conceived people of my era. It also made me feel strange to think that my genes were spliced together from two people who were never in love, never danced together, had never even met one another.
This issue of life is more than protecting your own life: it’s protecting other people’s too, and recognizing dignity and worth in every human being. With abortion and euthanasia laws abounding, I think that’s one thing conservatives should never, ever, ever, ever give up on (to paraphrase Churchill).
The Occupy Your City movement is growing!. I’ve seen videos of occupations from NYC to California; in Oakland, a Burger King was being occupied. Why? Because they’re damn capitalists! Making a profit off hunger! Yet, I think the protesters embody the same attitude the so-called Wall Street minions have: I get by with what I can get away with, be it other people’s money or other people’s property. Instead of making careful and necessary plans to propose changes, the Occupy movement resorts to mobocracy and calls it democracy.
The Occupy movement says it stands for the 99% of people who… well, I’m not sure what exactly the 99% stands for. I think I’m in it, considering I’m a college graduate making under 20k a year with student loans. But I doth protest their protestations: I’m a 23. I live with my parents. I work three jobs. I’m content to cut through the brambles of life, making my way towards… somewhere. A Masters, one day, and hopefully more published writing; marriage and a family, too. My small steps are leading me there. I calculate my choices and call them my own. Does 99% of the country do that? Or do they pay their minimum respect to the institutions they wish to reform? Does character count for anything these days?
The 1% certainly have a lot of answering to do. Most of the very wealthy are no longer the likes of Andrew Carnegie, who came over from Scotland at age 9 and rose to become a leader in steel manufacturing and a widespread philanthropist. My own local library is evidence of his generosity! George Monbiot wrote recently in The Guardian,
If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire. The claims that the ultra-rich 1% make for themselves – that they are possessed of unique intelligence or creativity or drive – are examples of the self-attribution fallacy. This means crediting yourself with outcomes for which you weren’t responsible. Many of those who are rich today got there because they were able to capture certain jobs. This capture owes less to talent and intelligence than to a combination of the ruthless exploitation of others and accidents of birth, as such jobs are taken disproportionately by people born in certain places and into certain classes.
The findings of the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of a Nobel economics prize, are devastating to the beliefs that financial high-fliers entertain about themselves. He discovered that their apparent success is a cognitive illusion. For example, he studied the results achieved by 25 wealth advisers across eight years. He found that the consistency of their performance was zero. “The results resembled what you would expect from a dice-rolling contest, not a game of skill.” Those who received the biggest bonuses had simply got lucky.
I do not support the Occupy movement. I don’t believe hooliganism to be methods for change. Perhaps big organized events with a beginning and end, like the March for Life every year, or MLK’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, but not sleeping in parks as a way to stick it to The Man or their endless rhetoric about wants. I do, however, think hard work should be rewarded. Not all rewards are monetary, though; and what a utilitarian mindset to believe so!
It struck me while watching The Inside Job, for instance, that the investors were not breaking the rules, but they were being irresponsible and disregarding the affect their actions might have on the people whose money they were playing with. There are ethical and moral implications to financial irresponsibility. A more recent example, of course, concerns personal misconduct–the phrase I kept hearing around Joe Paterno and the problems at Penn State is that he didn’t go far enough. He reported it, sure, but did he see it carried through? I am especially struck by the number of liberals who claim this as a moral failing. So… morals don’t exist except when they do?
(For further reading: the original T.I.C., John Willson, writes a fabulous discussion on the Black Sox Scandal, the implications of knowledge, and the defense of character(s) in “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”)
The Pursuit of Happiness
In the same tangent with the above arguments, a life cannot be measured by the amount of money poured into it. A millionaire’s son is not a better person than the janitor’s daughter. In America, if we really believe in and defend every person and their potential for greatness, then how can we as Americans allow the inconvenient people to be killed as a matter of mere choice, how can we make an argument that people have liberties worth defending? Are the liberties what matter or are the people who have them the real value holders?
America is facing an economic crisis, but doesn’t want to face the facts: we have to downsize and spend less. There must be moderation and accountability in our spending. This must be at every level, from federal to personal bank accounts. Moreover, to argue for increased spending on social programs takes away personal incentives for people to develop more cost-efficient services in their own community. If there is a need, there will always be an innovative someone there to fill it.
America is also facing a moral crisis. When I was asking (and being denied) my parents’ blessing to let me be a missionary in Belfast, Ireland during college, my father told me that there was more than enough missionary work to do here at home. Disappointed, I prayed for God to open my eyes to what needed to be done. What I saw amazed me. Everywhere, people are hurting, and are disappointed in themselves and their own life. The world, gentle readers, is seriously lacking in joie de vivre—the joy and enjoyment of living.
Oh sure, people are enjoying themselves. I live in the city—there are at least four bars within five minute walking distance from my house. They are always packed. Is that a happy existence, though? Blessed Pope John Paul II said that freedom is not doing what we want, but doing what we ought. Sometimes those two overlap; other times, not. Happiness is not found in merely getting what we want; it must be more deep-set than that. It must be more contentment. Contentment is not resignation to life, but rather an active acceptance of life’s pickles while still striving to do good, make one’s sphere better, and do God’s will in the world.
To pursue happiness does not mean one will achieve it; after all, not all who wander are not lost. Part of happiness is the journey, not the ending. It is the friends one meets along the way; the sights seen; the smells; the glee you give to another.
I return to the original argument: what matters in life? Is it life or our liberties? Or is it both?
If a woman becomes pregnant and thus determines she cannot (or will not) care for the child, the first question she should ask is: what am I at liberty to do with the child? There is only one answer: adoption. By carrying the child to term, this new human being is not punished for the actions of others. A cry for poor quality of life is not reason enough to kill another; would you kill a homeless person? Their life is not one many people envy, and yet many rise from the experience. A stand against abortion should be at the forefront of any conservative’s fight. Abortion deprives both life and liberty from the fetus (which means “unborn baby”). Abortion excuses the right to life by saying another’s right to pursue the ever elusive happiness is more important.
Which brings us to something which all conservatives, especially imaginative ones, should never cease from upholding and conserving:
The Preservation of the English Language
In order to preserve anything, be it dead animals, fruits and vegetables, or our vocabulary, we as humans must see the goodness in the process as well as the end result. George Orwell, in his essay “Politics and the English Language,” says,
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.
I recently had a minor disagreement with someone over the headline of their article; I found it misleading, they found it fair. Too often, the word chosen is the right word, but it is not the best word. Moreover, the misuse of words leads to vagueness.
The Republican Party, the hot mess of America right now, doesn’t know what to do. It doesn’t know what it stands for. It has mediocre Presidential candidates because the contenders think they can throw out “catch phrase!” and “According to the Founders…” and win over the people with their jaunty smile and excellent tie selection.
Republicans need to stop apologizing for being conservative. If they don’t know why family, faith and community are worth protecting, then they need to run for a local office, not a national one. Republicans need to stop defending themselves against Democrats and start being on the offensive of civic leadership and taking the moral high ground in private and public life. If they (or their pants) fall down, they need to apologize and not let the arguments get personal. To be successful in politics, one must stop being squeamish. Those with virtue are shouted down. It’s better to be a coward than lose an election on principle, they think.
Don’t accept such an easy road.
Words make people listen. In public and in private, words are not just for communication- they are for thinking with, too. Don’t accept words to be misused; ask for clarifications. Words have meaning; if you’re going to use them, mean what they say. The best words aren’t fancy, and they’re universally understood. I believe President Obama’s use of the words “hope” and “change” were a key component of his winning the 2008 presidential race. He locked in on two human words and emotions, and exploited them for political gains.
Which brings us back to the question? What is worth conserving?
My desire to leave my community was brought on by all the hurt I saw going on outside the United States. It is good and noble to want to help others. But look around: you own community needs your help. Perhaps not the way Detroit needs help, but in the small ways.
If conservatives cannot win the vote, then perhaps it is because of the lack of example being set. Let’s be imaginative about all the different ways we can witness to love, truth and goodness as tangibles. We need to be nice to people, be it smiling, or saying thank you, or holding doors open. We can volunteer with the less fortunate, and help out around our houses with a smile. We can occupy our living rooms and spend time with our family. We can invite people to church and talk openly about God. We can discern purpose and live it out! Life, to paraphrase Archbishop Sheen, is worth living. It is also worth conserving.
Conservatives, can you do all that? Can you encourage goodness and reap kindness? Can you fight back against the vile people who say you can’t? Yes, yes you can! Do not grow sluggish and stagnant! Or prepare for more of what we have now: people trying to control life through money and sterilization and thoughts. People trying to take the fun out of everything worth enjoying, if I may say so. Let our great service to our nation be to conserve the best of it: that is, its people, and any institutions which properly serve the integrity of humans.
Return to the beginning, gentle readers, and realize that we’ve always had a noble purpose and things worth protecting. Don’t listen to the emperor: he’s naked. We live on a rock, and defend it we must.
In addendum: Mr. Masty not only prompted the subject, but wrote on it too. Read here, please.
Books on this topic may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.