Congratulations to the Postmodern Conservative

James Poulos is now a father: wife Courtney gave birth to Nikos James yesterday evening. Warm, heartfelt congratulations to them!

More on Why I’m not a Libertarian — Or, When Belief in “the Market” is just risible, sad, and disgusting


1. Sitting in peculiarly busy traffic in downtown Baltimore this afternoon, I read, on the news monitor wrapped around a trashily modern glass building, a headline from the Baltimore Sun that informed me that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) has proposed a bill to create a new government agency “that could stop lenders from offering mortgages and other financial products deemed unsafe for consumers.”


Now, first, I’m wholly uncomfortable with adding yet another resources-sucking, power-grabbing, liberty-quashing entity to the behemoth known as the gummint. I love the ultimate sentence of the article: “Consumer protection is part of the Fed’s mandate, but Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the agency has been “asleep at the switch.”” So our answer is more gummint. Hmm, yep, I do agree with the libertarians here


However, the libertarian counter-argument, which, I confess, immediately flashed through my mind whilst I waited to move ahead in traffic, is equally absurd, to wit, that the market — properly unencumbered, of course — is the check on “mortgages and other financial products deemed unsafe for consumers” and a whole host of other yucky things. When corporations become as gargantuan as many of those at the center of our current economic perturbations are, they really exist beyond the controls of the market — sometimes because of the intervention of government, sometimes because they’re just “too good.” They’ve done so well that they outpace competitors to the point that no natural regulation hinders them. At this point, they fall asleep at the wheel, so to speak. Viva Distributism! Long live the small!


2. Though not a libertarian, I’m often sympathetic to many of their causes, I supported Dr. Paul quite passionately, I think that Young Americans for Liberty are doing some great work, and I wrote for the debut issue of Young American Revolution — as part of the conservative contingent of their Old Right coalition, of course. This post, regarding President Moloch’s desire to “shield” science from politics, on YAL’s Web-log, however, utterly terrifies me. Chet Butterworth writes,

Tabling the ethics of human embryo research for the moment, the only ethical way for any scientific decisions to be made is by the market. The market is unbiased and efficient. The market can determine the worthiness of the research and if it considers it worthy the market can produce it better. Through the market the only people who want stem cell research and do not care about any human embryo ethical questions pay. While people like myself do not.


One of the problems admitted by economic theory is the absence of perfect information. Sarah Palin rightly took flack for her brushing off of fruit fly research whilst on the campaign trail. (I’m not interested in debating the merits of such research here; rather, I seek merely to note that she obviously made her comment with no knowledge of why this research occurs.) If the lack of perfect knowledge is even remotely problematic in matters of everyday economic transactions, are we really willing to leave scientific research — the benefits of which often remain unknown until long into the processes — to the whims of people who lack any and all awareness of, let alone training and education in, particle physics, molecular biology, or gene therapy. (Yes, that’s my uncle in the Telegraph.) Maybe it hurts my “libertarian street cred,” but I’d rather have a living uncle than a realm of scientific research guided by the invisible hand.


The market is a good thing. But it’s also a tool of relativism. Matters of life and death seem, to me, to be beyond the very mere matters of supply and demand.

Elsewhere: Mark minces no words.

Why I’m Not A Libertarian (Abridged Version)

As, in the process of re-ordering my life (Read: Shirking as much academic responsibility as possible, lest I permit school to continue to obstruct my education.), I make my gradual, but ultimately triumphant, return to maintaining this humble web-log with greater assiduousness, I intend to offer my thoughts on why, though I most definitely sympathize with many currents of libertarian thought, and have supported l/Libertarian candidates, I not only refuse to call myself a libertarian, but ultimately judge that (collection of) ideology(ies) to be dangerous, internally contradictory alchemy destined to thrust society into authoritarianism of the “less intolerable” sort or, by way of “anarchy” — that is, chaotic individualism run amok —, into absolute, abject despotism.

This forthcoming post will require some research and much time on my part, so I make no promises of its appearance here on Nathancontramundi. For now, though, I permit Mr. Wendell Berry of Kentucky to speak at my behest, explaining marvelously why I abjure libertarianism (as well as the noxious conservative liberalism and “libertarian conservatism”) and embrace conservatism — real conservatism, that is, conservatism of the heart and soul, a conservatism of history, community, and place:

[T]he ability of an organism to survive outside of the universe has yet to be demonstrated. Inside it, everything happens in concert; not a breath is drawn but by the grace of an inconceivable series of vital connections joining an inconceivable multiplicity of created things in an inconceivable unity.

[…]

These ways of marriage, kinship, friendship, and neighborhood surround us with forbiddings; they are forms of bondage, and involved in our humanity is always the wish to escape. […] But involved in our humanity also is the warning that we can escape only into loneliness and meaningless. Our choice may be between a small, human-sized meaning and a vast meaningless, or between the freedom of our virtues and the freedom of our vices.”

[“Men and Women in Search of Common Ground”, in The Art of the Commonplace. Italicized emphasis original; bold-faced mine. – NPO.]

Perhaps most significant here is Berry’s linking “small, human-sized meaning” to virtue while he pairs “vast meaningless” — that is, our escape from bondage — with vice. Maybe the Devil really is the ultimate libertarian.

Unto Us A Child Is Born

Sincerest wishes for a blessed, merry Christmas day and season, and for a comprehensively prosperous 2009, from the bottom of my absent-from-web-logging heart.

Courtesy of The Northern Agrarian, Linus van Pelt explains the true meaning of Christmas.

Living the truly Catholic, conservative life, even until death

If you ever ran into Nokesville dad Thomas S. Vander Woude, chances are you would also see his son Joseph. Whether Vander Woude was volunteering at church, coaching basketball or working on his farm, Joseph was often right there with him, pitching in with a smile, friends and neighbors said yesterday.

When Joseph, 20, who has Down syndrome, fell into a septic tank Monday in his back yard, Vander Woude jumped in after him. He saved him. And he died where he spent so much time living: at his son’s side.

“That’s how he lived,” Vander Woude’s daughter-in-law and neighbor, Maryan Vander Woude, said yesterday. “He lived sacrificing his life, everything, for his family.”

Vander Woude, 66, had gone to Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Gainesville on Monday, just as he did every day, and then worked in the yard with Joseph, the youngest of his seven sons, affectionately known as Josie. Joseph apparently fell through a piece of metal that covered a 2-by-2-foot opening in the septic tank, according to Prince William County police and family members.

Vander Woude rushed to the tank; a workman at the house saw what was happening and told Vander Woude’s wife, Mary Ellen, police said. They called 911 about 12 p.m. and tried to help the father and son in the meantime.

At some point, Vander Woude jumped in the tank, submerging himself in sewage so he could push his son up from below and keep his head above the muck, while Joseph’s mom and the workman pulled from above.

When rescue workers arrived, they pulled the two out, police said. Vander Woude, who had been in the tank for 15 to 20 minutes, was unconscious. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, and he was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said.

[ . . . ]

Vander Woude was a pilot in Vietnam, a daughter-in-law said. After the war, he worked as a commercial airline pilot and in the early 1980s moved his family to Prince William from Georgia. In the years to come, he would wear many hats: farmer, athletic director, volunteer coach, parishioner, handy neighbor, grandfather of 24, husband for 43 years.

He divided his Nokesville farm into multiple plots, offering land to all his sons so they could stay close to home if they wanted, the daughter-in-law said. His eldest, Tom, became a priest. Five others — Steve, Dan, Bob, Chris and Pat — all married. And there was Joseph, who loved helping with all the odd jobs that filled the retired days of his father.

He fathered seven children: one a priest, five other sons married. A loving father who doted on his youngest son, who suffers from Down syndrome. A daily communicant. A veteran. A farmer, working the earth, even subdividing the family farm to keep his progeny close, working the land with him. Twenty-four grandchildren, to boot: Talk about instilling the right values in his sons! I know not what his politics were, but how he lived his life exudes conservatism — real conservatism, that of home and hearth, of God, family and community — from every pore, so to speak. I have no doubt that this man will be missed by many, and that a place awaits him at the eternal banquet. May Thomas S. Vander Woude requiescat in pace. Read the entire touching article here.

Bristol Palin is Trig’s mother!

And, contrary to current photographic evidence, Sarah Palin is unwed and pregnant by some teen-ager named Levi. Ain’t that right, Mr Sullivan?

The scent of the mint on a warm September night is reassuring. It’s sexy.

I posted the following on my Xanga page at two fifty-nine a.m. on the twelfth of September, back in 2005. So long ago! I had headed home for the day — or maybe only for a couple of hours –, and on my way back to Notre Dame, thoughts emerged in my head, as I breathed deeply the heavenly scent of mint whilst heading north on US 35 north of Knox, that later that night became this post. In the spring of 2006, under a title that I don’t recall, it ran in Common Sense, the left-wing student-run paper at Notre Dame. (Yes, I wrote for a left-wing paper.) Perhaps not the most scintillating piece that I’ve ever written, it nevertheless conveys a degree of emotion that I usually refrain — or at least try to — from allowing to slip into my writing. Doubtless, some edits, particularly for any typos in the original post, occurred prior to the run in C.S.; I published here, at Nathancontramundi in March, and, back in North Judson, have decided to re-post it because, as I drove north on IN 39, about five twenty this morning, the intoxicating aroma of mint hit me for the first time in far too long. Now, as in March, I present it, errors intact, as I posted it on Xanga.

***

A certain security exists in the nighttime drive through mint country in late summer. The calm breeze, wafting that strong, almost intoxicating (but not in an inebrious way) scent of mint, sets the soul at ease. I know that the drought-like conditions of the past summer stunted terribly the yields, and that farmers will suffer this as they continue the struggle required simply to make ends meet. But the sense of safety is still present.

I fear that this is a false sense; perhaps for me it isn’t, but for the mint country of rural Indiana that is my home justification for this fear is plentiful. Maybe, though, it’s not the people, my neighbors, who fear for themselves. Rather, I fear for them.

I don’t, I think, risk misrepresenting myself very much when I assert that I come to Notre Dame from a place inconceivably different from the cities, suburbs, and communites whence most of my peers moved on to Our Lady’s University. A few certainly knew conditions worse than those that surround me whenever I venture home; some, even worse. Most though, without a doubt, can only imagine what life is like for the “ordinary people”. Maybe they can’t.

The student body of this school is known for its involvement in service projects; for this they ought to be commended. Taking oneself out of the comforts of the upper-middle class world, if only for a weekend, or even for an hour, requires a love of neighbor that in many is little more than skin-deep, little more than a clever disguise for self-centered intentions. Some students, quite admirably, have even pulled themselves out of the comforts of this country to cohabitate with some of the most abused, ignored, pawn-like members of our society, starving, victimized humans in Uganda, or Costa Rica, or Southeast Asia.

Most of them barely get it, though. Or so it seems to me. Their concern, their attempt to rally support for their causes, is sincere. Nevertheless, only a couple, maybe just those who’ve freed themselves from the security of living in this country — along, of course, with the very few who emerged from settings similar to or worse than mine — really, truly, deeply understand.

I’ve always been fortunate, lucky, blessed, whatever you will. My family’s roots in my community reach far deeper than most of my peers’; my mom and dad, employed as a medical assistant and a rural mail carrier, respectively, earn income that, for our area, is reasonably high. It’s not the same as the annual salaries of lawyers, doctors, and investment bankers, but it typically suffices, or at least it did before bills from two universities started arriving in the mail; at least it did before my dad was out of work for half a year because of health problems.

I’m fortunate; but I’m surrounded by the down-trodden. Starke County, Indiana, which happens to border the extreme southwest corner of St. Joseph County, is the second poorest, if not the poorest, county in Indiana, by no means the wealthiest of states. This past summer, serving as an assistant manager in the grocery store where I’ve worked since July of 2000, I earned $8.00/hr. That was good money.

Most of the jobs that actually exist in my hometown are in the retail sector. Retail, across the board, across the country, is always at the low end of the wage spectrum. Here in North Judson, wedged in between acres of corn, mint, and hay, it hits rock bottom. Some of us earn, say, $6.00/hr, nothing about which to brag, for sitting atop the lifeguard chair at the country club’s pool. The pay perhaps fails to suffice, but the workload, the seasonality of the job, and our age combine to provide some sort of justification for this.

Single mothers working eight-hour days on their feet, serving up $13.99 prime rib meals or standing at the cash register, allowing their souls quietly to slip away, find any sort of justification or satisfaction to be something chimerical. Or at least they view satisfaction quite differently. For some of our parents, our attending Notre Dame was an attainable form of satisfaction. For many whom I know, clean clothes, functioning shoes, and three (with help often from school lunch programs) squares for their kids add up to satisfaction. The car payment might have to wait; rent, too; but the kids will not go to bed hungry. It takes work. It takes love. It takes every ounce of being.

My passionate hatred for Wal*Mart, my detestation of most things corporate, is by now known to many. Nevertheless, criticizing wholly, without any sympathy, those who skip over my employer’s store, or perhaps only “cherry-pick” there, and drive thirty miles to Wal-Mart troubles me too much. When I am aware that a fellow student recently has been to Wal*Mart, or will be heading there, or to Target, or Meijer, or many similar stores, I typically lose the slightest bit of respect for him. Usually a student here need not frequent the store because of legitimate financial hardship. It just happens to be cheaper. We should know better, but we don’t.

People back home, even some who earn those meager wages working in a grocery store that without question suffers from the Waltons’ presence thirty miles away, need to go to Wal*Mart.

Of course, because of the dearth of jobs in town, many flock to this same store seeking employment. Some of them actually make a bit more than they would in town, at least before the costs of gasoline and eventually repair of problems caused by the wear and tear of the trip on the car are factored into the equation.

In a way, the seemingly ever-increasing prices at the pump benefit my home town. Driving thirty miles to W*M does not result in the same overall savings that it once did. As much as I rejoice at the possibility of even slight growth in economic activity on Lane St., this saddens me. The entire system is broken; as long as it is, shopping locally will hurt them as much as it helps them. And now, it seems, the harm of shopping at Wal*Mart has become more visible. Escape, though, is virtually impossible.

What, on cursory glance, at least by “progressive” standards, provides the most trouble is that these people never vote “in their best interests”. Democrats typically in the past, though not so much of late, have retained a stranglehold over much of local politics. But this is the oft-forgotten rural, conservative branch of the Democratic party. The same electorate constantly supports the GOP in the presidential elections, not to mention Senatorial and Congressional races.

A sense of puzzlement, sometimes even resentment, emerges in those who look at this scenario from the left. These lookers-on just don’t get it. They can rant for days about “Jesusland” and “off-shoring” and about the ignorance of these people. But they can’t know. These are two different worlds. The separation between them, though, is far from merely an economic one.

Faith in God, particularly of various Protestant persuasions, drives these people. Even those who end up giving birth to five children by four different fathers have this faith. Even those who get drunk on Saturday night and end up in bed with a near-stranger and then walk into church in their Sunday best without a hint of shame on their faces have it. And it’s not a matter of simple hypocrisy. It’s a matter of existence. Failing always to live up to the standards that one professes indicates not hypocrisy at its heights, but instead humanity as it really is.

This faith is nearly incomprehensible to many of its secular critics. It still baffles me as a Catholic, even though I’ve grown up surrounded by it, sometimes threatened by it, sometimes strangely encouraged by it. The Republicans may someday lose this sector, but the Democrats likely never will gain it. Inroads may be made, but no great ideological shift will occur. Part of it is psychological: the Republicans at least seem to welcome God-fearing people, while the Democrats, at least in these minds, do not.

Something more, I suspect, is at play here, too. Many of these people rely on welfare programs. A heck of a lot of them abuse these same programs. Some of them would be in the street without hand-outs courtesy of you, me, and the rest of tax-paying America. However, a certain sort of unseen, almost undetectable resentment accompanies the reliance on, and even the abuses of, the welfare state.

The father whose job disappeared from under his nose and whose unemployment benefits have run dry often cannot help feeling shame as he opens that check, as he signs it, as he cashes it; cannot help feeling embarrassed as he hands his HoosierWorks card over to the cashier as a teenage boy, perhaps a friend of his son’s, bags the bread, eggs, and lunchmeat for $6.00/hr. Six whole dollars each hour, six dollars worked for, and not received from a helping hand. The same welfare programs intended by the Democrats (and, perhaps still beyond the realization of this father, the GOP by now as well) to help the man hurts him. He becomes a slave, and as long as the system runs as it does, he’ll remain a slave, even if he gets back on his feet. Because wage slavery and welfare slavery, at the core of the matter, are frighteningly similar.

But I’ve digressed even further than I often tend to do. Back to the mint. Dismal thoughts of drought-caused yield reductions aside, the scent of the mint on a warm September night is reassuring. It’s sexy. This is the smell of life and death, of love and hate, of humanity. It’s the smell of fear.

Not until one smells the mint can one begin really to understand what it all means — the plight, the faith, the strange reassurance, the hope. Only then.