A Nation of Wimps

In a harsh world we can either become tolerant by not shying away from pain and disappointment, or we can shelter ourselves and be unable to cope when those challenges rear their ugly head.

In a political cartoon for the Detroit Free Press entitled “Traveling Across America,” artist Mike Thompson juxtaposed two women: a pioneer from 1857 and a businesswoman from 2007. The pioneer declares, “the trip is grueling and filled with hardship.” The businesswoman replies, “I hear ya!  My flight was packed and 20 minutes late!”

In 1905, Art Young was far more critical of his contemporaries when he illustrated a cartoon for Life magazine entitled “World of Creepers.”  It depicts a sea of men in sport coats crawling along the ground under a dark cloud.  The word “fear” hovers just above the horizon.

These two political cartoons express concern that we are (or were) becoming a culture of complainers, snivelers, and grovelers; mere shadows of our immigrant and frontier ancestors who attempted to prosper despite enduring constant hardships.


On Culture and Law

How can we claim to live in a free society, if our only choice is between conformity and punishment? In a truly free society, culture, not law, should be the proper vehicle for changing behavior.

It’s become a reflex in American society: all bad things, or even potentially bad things, must be banned. Whether it be vaping, smoking in public places (coming to a home near you), texting while driving, wearing your pants too low, large sodas, or other nuisances, a consensus has emerged that government has the right and obligation to punish behavior deemed harmful to the individual, perhaps even simply annoying or unsightly as well.

By making these activities illegal, the oft-repeated claim goes, it will promote the general welfare by discouraging them. But how can we claim to live in a free society, if our only choice is between conformity and punishment? In a truly free society, culture, not law, should be the proper vehicle for changing behavior.


Fortuna and the Free Market

“And thus does Fortune’s wheel turn treacherously
And out of happiness bring men to sorrow.”
~ Geoffrey Chaucer

Imagine you and another person are standing around a roulette wheel at a high-end casino. You place $50 on black and the other man places $50 on red. The ball has landed on a black or red number a dozen times, and you are confident it will land on either black or red once again. Both you and the gentleman are hoping to double your money.

Your odds are not 50/50, however. In an American roulette wheel, there is a single zero and a double zero, both green, nestled among the other 36 numbers. The odds of hitting these are slim, and so you both shrug off that probability.

The attendant calls for final bets, and at the last minute, an elderly lady places $5 on zero. The wheel spins. The ball lands on the single green zero, and the elderly lady walks away with $180.


Social Justice, Marxism, and Christianity

Christian social justice is a positive concept. It can and should be taken back from the secular left.

Simply defined, social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal access to economic, political, and social rights and opportunities, which is a concept most people can get behind. This perspective has become controversial, however, largely because of its co-option by the secular left, Marxists and socialists. The term “Social Justice Warrior” conjures images of hysterical activists and has become a pejorative even for people outside the political right wing. 

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Social justice incubated in the Catholic Church. In the 1840s, Father Luigi Taparelli used the term to criticize the major economic theories at the time for ignoring moral philosophy and for undermining the unity of society by dividing it into competing classes. Since then, the Catholic Church has been clear about its condemnation of both Marxism/socialism and unrestrained capitalism. 


What is Totalitarianism? Part I

If the United States devolved into a totalitarian state, would we recognize it? Maintaining a free society requires knowing these warning signs.

“Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

Benito Mussolini

Public anxiety over loss of civil rights and civil liberties in the United States has become increasingly common. According to Pew Research, 85 percent of Americans say it is very important that the rights and freedoms of all people are respected, but only 41 percent believe that describes the country very well or somewhat well. Concerns about “authoritarianism” and lack of respect for democracy are openly expressed.

But if the United States devolved into a totalitarian state, would we recognize it? The trouble with diagnosing our condition is that most people are unaware of what totalitarianism actually is. Even among the most politically astute, there is little consideration for the possibility that a state in the process of becoming totalitarian might lack the most brutal and outward signs of oppressive regimes portrayed in popular culture.

Because of our rather simplistic frame of reference (picture black and white images of National Socialist Germany or the Soviet Union) we recognize a country as either being in the advanced stages of totalitarianism or not at all. But just because a state maintains the trappings of democracy, for instance, that does not preclude it from being totalitarian.


Pragmatism vs. Ideology in Lincoln (2012)

An intellectual debate between opposing philosophical approaches plays out in Steven Spielberg’s presidential biopic.

Director Steven Spielberg’s biopic of President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to pass the Thirteenth Amendment during the closing months of the American Civil War was a critical success, with strong performances by Daniel Day Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones. Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of resolute and idealistic Thaddeus Stevens was the perfect foil to Lincoln’s more pragmatic and folksy personality.

Thaddeus Stevens

Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868) was a U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania, who served from 1849 to 1853, and again from 1859 to his death in 1868. Stevens was a staunch abolitionist and leader of the Radical faction of the Republican Party, who sought total legal and social equality for African Americans, including redistribution of Southern lands to freed slaves.

President Lincoln and Congressman Stevens had the same goal. Both wanted the Thirteenth Amendment passed, which would forever outlaw slavery in the United States. That required a two-thirds majority vote, and Lincoln wanted the amendment passed in the House of Representatives before the Confederacy surrendered, which was not a matter of if but when. In order to get the necessary votes, Lincoln needed bipartisan support from conservative Democrats as well as Republicans. Stevens, however, refused to compromise and moderate his tone.

In one scene of dialog from Lincoln, Lincoln and Stevens meet in a smoke-filled kitchen to hash out their differences. Lincoln needs to get Stevens on his side, but Stevens seems uninterested in compromise. This conversation is a perfect contrast between ideology and pragmatism. Pragmatists are willing to meet their opponents halfway, while ideologues will only accept a total and complete triumph of their ideas.

Mysterious America Reviews

The Last Laugh by Raymond Moody on Kindle

In the early 2000s, I stumbled on a book that radically changed the way I thought about ghost stories and the paranormal. That book was The Last Laugh (1999) by Raymond Moody, Jr. Today, it is only available in digital format on Amazon Kindle. After all these years, I still recommend it to my readers interested in having a more well-rounded perspective on this subject. You might be surprised at what you discover about yourself and what it means to be human.

Raymond Moody, Jr. is the doctor who first publicized the phenomenon of near-death experiences in his groundbreaking book, Life After Life (1975). Much to his chagrin, his work re-invigorated the New Age movement and he was thrust into the limelight as someone who had “proven” the existence of life after death.

This misconception, he reveals in The Last Laugh, came as a result of his publisher’s deletion of a crucial final chapter in Life After Life in which he argues that these personal experiences, though incredibly meaningful and sometimes life changing, actually do not prove the existence of life after death. They just “moved the goalpost.”

The Last Laugh was meant not only to be a post-script to Life After Life, but to also serve as that final missing piece. The premise of The Last Laugh is simple but deeply insightful. Throughout recent history, there have been three main players in the discussion of the paranormal: parapsychologists, professional skeptics, and Christian fundamentalists.

Not only have these three perspectives not advanced our knowledge very much on the issue, but Moody contends that neither actually wants to resolve the debate, because in resolving the controversy they would eliminate their reason for being in the spotlight and also lose a source of fun and entertainment in the process.