Thursday, June 11, 2009

When all things are seen as on a par

Here's the beginnings of a discussion that may or may not prove to be fruitful. We shall see in time.

Someone named Dale Caruso posted the poem by Martin Neimoeller which I'm sure you've all heard some version of at one time or the other. Here is the text of the poem Caruso posted at the Tenth Amendment Center with Mr. Caruso's preparatory comments added:

There was a poem was written by Martin Niemoeller in 1946. It has been varied over the years to apply to different causes … but the original message carries a powerful moral impact;

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me–
and there was no one left to speak out for me.


Yes, yes, by the time they got around to getting me they'd already long since disposed of everyone else. You know, the communists, the socialists, the Jews and trade unionists, etc. There I stood alone, with no one there to back me up -- you know, the communists and the socialists, friends I never knew I had.

Well, the poem did receive a couple of approving comments in the thread, to wit:

Michael Boldin writes:

The pastor Martin Niemoeller commentary is as relevant today as it ever was. We can’t just turn our heads because “they” are coming for someone we don’t like. Every time the government takes more power and violates another person’s rights is another step closer to you.

Jeff Matthews adds:

Exactly! That’s why I hate to see “enlightened” people submit so easily to laws that target the “unenlightened,” such as smokers and drinkers.

Huh?! I'm reminded here of the passage "...and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues and ending tyrants." (Can yo believe I had to look that one up? That's ok, I knew exactly where to find it. ;-))

Well, you know, with the approval rating of the poem quickly growing, I thought I might as well enter the fray.

TM writes:

Smokers and drinkers? Well sure. Certainly many of the same folks that support imposing “sin taxes” on personal practices and habits they don’t particularly care for as individuals, or that are not currently in vogue, engage themselves in practices and habits equally repulsive and self-destructive which they would never support the imposition of excessive taxation on. But Communism; Socialism? These are totalitarian philosophies of government which are completely and utterly antithetical to American Representative Republicanism. And the Constitution does, afterall, guarantee to each state in this union a Republican form of Government.

Apples and oranges you’re comparing here.

Jeff Matthews replies:

Not apples and oranges at all. Take the new bill that just passed into law by Congress submitting jurisdiction over tobacco to the FDA. Now, the FDA will have all sorts of fun running a tobacco-related political agenda.

The point I made above was that this is Unconstitutional, but the majority does not care because they support such usurpations against the minority. Divide and conquer.

It is directly on point to Michael’s comment that, “We can’t just turn our heads because “they” are coming for someone we don’t like. Every time the government takes more power and violates another person’s rights is another step closer to you.”

Okay, I'm a little bit confused now. Let's see what the following will yield:

TM:

So you’re saying the government has no more legitimate interest (neither authority) in preventing the spread of an ideology antithetical to itself within its jurisdiction, than it has tampering with the personal choices of individuals which can in virtually no conceivable way present it with an existential threat and has no ideological preferences one way or the other? Are we losing something in translation here? I’m a little confused.

Stay tuned. Or, of course, you can jump in there anytime. Because, you see, before they elicited a non-approving response out of me, they'd already scared away everyone else. You know, the Christians and the conservatives, the non-egalitarians, etc. ;-)

17 comments:

chiu_chunling said...

I think I posted my own take on that poem somewhere or other.

Basically, I made the point that I don't want some people standing up for me anyway. At least, I think that's the point I was making. It's really hard to tell what point I actually made.

Anyway, my 'poem' didn't feature communists, socialists, or trade unionists, because nobody is coming for any of them these days. But I still don't want any of them speaking for me.

Jews I'm okay with, though. They weren't in my 'poem' because, as it so happens, I speak up for Jews all the time (and unlike some people, I don't take 'poetic license' with the truth). But that's not a reciprocation thing. I just think that, even if you aren't big on Judaism, calling for their extermination is a bit much.

Terry Morris said...

Chiu,

Sorry, I almost missed your comment here (sometimes my "recent comments" feature doesn't do me much good. Neither the email notifications I get when people comment on my blogs.).

Anyway...

It would be quite a sight indeed, neo-communists going after their own. But I'm with you, I don't want communists and socialsits standing up for me in any event (a point I think I alluded to in the thread but it didn't yield anything). I'd rather stand alone than to, in any way, be associated with them.

On your point about Jews, I'm with you there too. However, if they're communists and Jews by bloodline, well, see rule no. 1.

Call Me Mom said...

I've always taken that poem to be an admonition to keep an eye on the government rather than an admonition to stand up for those with whom I do not necessarily agree.

Terry Morris said...

But if that's the case why does it say "...and I did not speak out because I was not a communist/socialist/Jew/trade unionist," etc.? The implication being that I should have spoken out on behalf of all of these; that had I spoken out for them then perhaps they'd have been around to speak out for me on my day of reckoning, no?

Call Me Mom said...

You have a point there, but the writer said "because I was not a ...".
To me that indicates that he thought, to some degree, that the individuals who were in those groups would not have spoken out for him because he was not a member of those groups anyway. The fact that it eventually comes to him indicates that there wasn't much speaking out done by the members of any of those groups.

Instead of viewing the government's actions from a life affirming vs. death causing point of view and working from there, he acknowledges that he and the other individuals making up the various groups he mentions were working from a "those groups don't concern me and wouldn't be concerned for me because I don't belong to them" point of view.
The end of the poem is where he realizes that those groups shared a common interest in maintaining government policies that affirm life for all citizens.

I don't think keeping an eye on the government to make sure it isn't eliminating groups of people is the equivalent of standing for whatever those groups of people believe. I rather think that it is an admonition to choose life and support life affirming government policies wherever one can.

That said, one of the reasons Mr. Obama's election concerns me is that he is the most anti-life president we have ever had. If you take any of his policies or decisions and examine them to see if the logical consequences engendered by them will have an overall affect of protecting life or causing death, guess which side wins?

chiu_chunling said...

Ace of Spades trumps everything.

Understanding that all humans are, by their nature, subject to sin and death is the foundation of Christianity. It is, possibly, the beginning of all wisdom.

"But there is no bargain. Here, what is, is what must be."

Those who seek to offer up others to save themselves are fools. Death needs no servants, no allies, no permissions.

I wish it were otherwise.

The_Editrix said...

Sorry, I saw that only now. Terry, I think you are seeing that too simplistic and Pastor Niemöller was a very complicated man indeed who had lived through very complicated times.

Mom says: "I've always taken that poem to be an admonition to keep an eye on the government rather than an admonition to stand up for those with whom I do not necessarily agree."

That is one legitimate way to see it. I think he means, furthermore, SPECIFICALLY those, with whom he didn't agree.

Terry replied: "But if that's the case why does it say "...and I did not speak out because I was not a communist/socialist/Jew/trade unionist," etc.? The implication being that I should have spoken out on behalf of all of these..."

Not on behalf of these AS Communists, trade unionists etc. He means AS FELLOW HUMANS. He expresses shame that he didn't do his duty as a Christian and pastor and didn't speak out for them because they were political opponents or Jews.

Sentiments like that shouldn't be taken out of their contemporary context and if, only with the greatest caution. It can not be applied to American circumstances in the 21st century.

There is that wonderful, moving poem by Heinrich Heine "Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht, dann bin ich um den Schlaf gebracht" where he expresses his love of and sorrow about Germany. Every idiot and his pet ferret from any thinkable point on the political scale is abusing those wonderful lines to express his unimportant opinion about the state of the nation. In politics, one just ought to leave poetry and poets alone.

Just my two Eurocents.

chiu_chunling said...

I think that is certainly the intention of the poem, but it is precisely the point being disputed.

Are all human beings really of completely equal value?

Do the individual choices humans make change nothing when it comes to considering how they ought to be treated?

If one swaps out "socialist" or "trade unionist" with "pederast" or "murderer", does it make any difference in what the poem means to you?

I'll freely admit it doesn't make a big difference in how the poem reads to me, which is why I did something like that in my own version of it. As far as I can tell, pederasts and murderers are no more dangerous than socialists and trade unionists. As it turns out, there's a lot of overlap too.

The part of the poem that really sticks in my craw is comparing Jews to the kinds of criminals who have really committed atrocities and destroyed entire nations. It's been thousands of years since the Jews did anything like that, to some thoroughly nasty little clans of vicious criminals running around in their area. Guess what? Everyone's ancestors did that, or they wouldn't have left any descendants.

Which gets back to the central issue. Societies must set some limits on what people can do and still enjoy the protection of society. Because the alternative (as America is about to demonstrate) is the total destruction of the society itself.

To claim that all human beings must be protected equally because they are humans is fundamentally the same as to claim that none of them should be protected at all.

I'm okay with the latter position.

Are you?

Terry Morris said...

Chiu wrote:

Guess what? Everyone's ancestors did that, or they wouldn't have left any descendants.

It's a salient point, Chiu, and it really ought to go without saying.

I've made the point myself many times in one way or another -- everyone's ancestors were once slaves AND slave masters (not at the same time, of course). That a given group in a given place happens to be the latest group in that place 'victimized' by this human tendency to enslave and to be enslaved, doesn't make that particular group any more special or otherwise deserving of special favor than any other group whose ancestors suffered from or committed the same crime at more distant periods in history. And in fact, if certain of these favored groups could gain dominance, they would no doubt enlsave their lesser counterparts. There can be no doubt about that.

In point of fact, we've merely swapped one form of limited slavery in America for another form of limitless slavery. We used to have statesmen like Jefferson who said that he was forever hostile to any form of tyranny over the mind of man. That kind of tyranny was, to him, the worst kind of slavery. And it is to me.

The_Editrix said...

"Are all human beings really of completely equal value?"

A counterquestion: Are you a Christian?

Call Me Mom said...

I've been thinking about some of Chiu's statements/questions.
"To claim that all human beings must be protected equally because they are humans is fundamentally the same as to claim that none of them should be protected at all.
"

I don't think so. It is one thing to say that all humans deserve to be protected simply because they are made in the image of God and another to say that all humans must be protected equally regardless of their actions.
One affirms God as the creator/author of all life and therefore deserving of that level of respect.
" Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter's clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding? " ~Isaiah 29:16
Respect for the vessel shows respect for the Potter.

But that is a Christian point of view. Another point in the Christian worldview is that those who are ignorant of or resistant to the work of Christ should be allowed as much time as possible for them to come to that knowledge and thereby be saved. Genocide is counterproductive to such a goal.It is also counterproductive to allow those who have no regard for the lives of others to act freely in a society with these values.

chiu_chunling said...

Whether or not I'm a Christian depends on how you define the term. I accept and heed Christ's divine and unique role in the salvation of all who, like lost sheep, have gone astray. I'm not particularly good at acting as He would, nor does this failing bother me. He is Christ. I am not.

Does that make me a Christian or not?

And does it have any relevance to the question at hand?

Whether or not I can be called a Christian, I am a pragmatist (as Christ definitely wills of those who would follow Him). Anyone who is not a pragmatist fails the most basic test of any plausible definition of being a Christian, which is to say, one who follows Christ's teachings.

And if you can answer the practical question of how one is to protect all humans equally while still protecting any of them at all, I'd very much like to hear it.

Remember who it is that 'they' were. It was national socialists. "They" differed from communists, socialists, and trade unionists only in name (and not by much, at that).

"It is also counterproductive to allow those who have no regard for the lives of others to act freely in a society with these values."

In practical terms, it always comes down to this. Protecting humans means protecting them from humans (sometimes, from their very selves). Humans protecting humans from humans. Yes, I've saved lives before. It's not something I'm proud of or anything, but I have some real experience with the issue. To save one life, you must risk (and sometimes sacrifice) others. Whether or not you succeed, someone has to pay a price that could have redeemed another life (sometimes many).

You must make a choice about who to save, or you won't save anyone at all. It's that simple.

Call Me Mom said...

Chiu,
I may not have phrased my objections very well, so I'm going to try it from another angle. I think your premise is flawed.

Most people in my observation(I grant you this may be a uniquely American experience - although I hope not)are not actively seeking to harm each other. Most of our laws are designed to protect us from the thoughtless actions or unintended consequences of the actions of others in a way that affirms the value of each individual life. Very few individuals set out in life with a goal to harm or kill others. We recognize the value of individual lives and in doing so create a layer of protection for all.

Those who do not recognize the value of individual lives and have somehow been granted the power to exterminate large numbers of people are viewed in every society of which I am aware, as aberrations who need to be removed from society.

In that light, it is a self correcting system to hold the life of an individual to be precious and to be protected. Deviation from that viewpoint is unhealthy for society in general. All can be protected because all hold the view that each is valuable. We protect each other. The tendency to choose life is valuable.

Yes, there are always choices to be made and sometimes those choices are life for life.
Yes we all die. Sometimes the journey isn't about the destination it's about the journey. The freedom to choose to sacrifice yourself for another individual or for a group of individuals may be what this journey is about. I don't think this is a zero sum game. I don't think we are born to die and nothing else. I think there is a purpose to our being here and making the choices we make. I think that we are not aware of all the consequences of even our smallest choices.
The Bible mentions war in the heavenly realms, angels protecting us, heavenly hosts not normally visible to the human eye. I think our actions may have far reaching implications that we are not equipped, in our current bodies, to apprehend or comprehend.

I don't think this life is all there is because that is what the Christian faith teaches. To say :" Death needs no servants, no allies, no permissions." is erroneous. Death does need allies, servants and permissions. Death needs God's permission to exist. Death needed the serpent as an ally and a servant to allow it into the garden. Death requires servants to kill individuals before they can come to a saving knowledge of Christ's work for them on the cross. Christ's work was for all human beings. Doesn't your pastor say that even the vilest murderer can come to a saving knowledge of Christ? All human beings should be protected equally:
because we are humans,
because God created us for His purposes, not ours,
because He has suffered and died to redeem us after we sold ourselves into death through the actions of Adam,
because we owe a duty of belief to our creator that His work is worthy of such efforts of protection on our part.

That is not to say that we cannot protect ourselves from each other, but we are to do so in a way that encourages the offending one to come to a similar understanding of the value of life in the circumstances that caused that individual to violate that premise.

I find that I hesitate to post this, because I am not a seminarian and I am not sure that we are communicating. I may not be understanding your points, and if that is the case, we may be fundamentally in agreement and simply poor at communicating.

chiu_chunling said...

Death doesn't actually benefit from people not coming to a saving knowledge of Christ. And, as a fine theological point, Death has been a faithful (if only marginally willing) servant of God from the beginning.

It is through the purification of Death that humanity qualifies for the Atonement. This is a rather blunt theological point, but if Adam and Eve had tasted the fruit of Life after sinning against God's commandment, they could never have been saved. They had to die so that they could be raised by the power of Christ's resurrection. Only those who have been raised by His resurrection can be saved by His Atonement.

Anyway, I shouldn't get into a theological debate on the exact nature and role of Death or delving into the mysteries of the Atonement. It's an interesting subject, but hardly relevant to the discussion at hand.

Whatever God's reasons for doing so, He made a world where you must make choices before you can accomplish anything. Yes, there are good choices and better choices. You can sacrifice one life to save many others, or sacrifice many to preserve one. You can also kill people for no gain at all. But you cannot save life without paying a price. Not even God could do that, which is why Christ had to lay down His own infinite and divine life to overcome Death (I won't argue that point, I'm just pointing it out because I believe you already accept the truth of it).

"All can be protected because all hold the view that each is valuable."

All those who hold the view that each life is precious can be protected as a class, perhaps (if they are willing to consistently live within the bounds which will make is possible). Socialists, Communists, and most Trade Unionists do not share that theory, and they must eventually stamp it out to meet their objectives. Moloch worshipers and pederasts don't share that view either. Islamists certainly don't share that view. It just so happens that there are a lot of people that don't share that view.

So you have a choice. You can protect the many from the few, or you can let those few gain power to destroy the many. Theology may explain why such choices are necessary, it cannot alter the hard fact that one must make choices to save anyone at all.

Like I said, I've retired from saving humans from each other or themselves. I was never really that good at it, partly because I lack the ability to ignore the cost of saving any given life. I do understand that most people would like to believe that saving a life couldn't possibly cost anything to others. It's one of the delusions driving the demand for universal health care.

But such is a deception. Even in a hypothetical population of people who universally treasure all life (and I'm in no way opposed to the creation of such a community, in fact I wish for it), everyone must bear the burden of devoting their life to that proposition. They must consistently give a substantial fraction of the time and energy allotted them, and refrain from entire classes of activity that could upset the balance that allows everyone to sacrifice only part of their own life to preserve all lives.

chiu_chunling said...

By the way, I should clarify something that people often forget.

We always deal with life in fractional amounts. There are a variety of ways to calculate the sum of a given life, and thus the fraction that is gained or lost in any given transaction. Time is almost always a component (often the only component), abilities or activity are also pertinent. Enjoyment or quality of life is commonly considered too. And there are plenty of other factors. When dealing with a life that is infinite in one or more ways, everything becomes incalculable by conventional mathematics. So, with apologies to theology, I stick with studying mortal life.

In a society where all preserves the lives of all, each person is responsible for ensuring that they contribute a bit more than they consume. This means that when the gain to your own life will cost significantly more than you can repay with that extra bit of life, you have to refuse. Most obviously (and cruelly), this means that advanced health care cannot be a regular feature of such a society.

Particularly for those who are too old (or infirm) to gain substantially from it.

Most societies haven't had to really deal with the economic problem of health care because they didn't have access to anything both expensive and clearly beneficial. Yes, a young mother trying to save the life of an ailing infant would generally expend a lot more effort than an older daughter working to ease the passing of an aged mother, but this was a matter of practical limitations and instincts as much as anything.

But, knowing that expensive care is possible, who has the strength to say "My life isn't worth it"? I happen to know several such people. But it isn't a majority even in my own family.

When you have an illness that will cut your life-span by 20 years unless you receive an available and effective treatment, can you calmly consider that benefit against the cost? Let's say that you reasonably estimate that you'll contribute a quarter-million dollars in total benefits to the community over those 20 years (and that's a lot higher than average, or was)...but the treatment would cost a third of a million.

Well then. Let's say that it's your child, now an infant, who could live an estimated 40 years more with a given treatment. The total expected return on investment is half a million, but the treatment costs three quarters of a million. Can you make that choice?

But if you don't, you are shifting that burden somewhere else. That quarter million dollar shortfall cost 20 years of someone's life somewhere else in the community. And not all health care is equally efficient. That quarter million could easily cover enough simple health care to add up to hundreds of years worth of life, spread out among the community.

This is hard to accept, but it is truth. Whatever tries to deny it, by whatever name, cannot be truth. Religion might help us deal with the brutal fact of Death. It cannot deny it and retain any saving power.

Well, I think more people should use faith healing anyway. So maybe I'm biased about health care. Even so, I'd need to see some persuasive math to change my mind.

Terry Morris said...

All those who hold the view that each life is precious can be protected as a class, perhaps (if they are willing to consistently live within the bounds which will make is possible). Socialists, Communists, and most Trade Unionists do not share that theory, and they must eventually stamp it out to meet their objectives. Moloch worshipers and pederasts don't share that view either. Islamists certainly don't share that view. It just so happens that there are a lot of people that don't share that view.

Yeah. Let me add to your list Darwinists.

We wonder why we've gradually slid into socialism and communism in this country (well, until recently when we dove off into it head first), and it's simply because that when 'they' went after the socialists and communists, a bunch of people who were neither (at least in practical terms) stood up in their behalf and said "hey!, you can't go after the socialists and communists," so that now we see that the socialist and communist swine we cast our pearls before and once stood up for when the bad old 'McCarthyites' went after them have quite literally turned around and rent us.

I used to be fond of saying that I would "die for your right to blah, blah, blah." But then I came to realize that this isn't true, and it was never true. There are, in point of fact, lots of things that I wouldn't voluntarily lay down my life for, and very few things that I would voluntarily lay down my life for. I wouldn't, for instance, lay down my life to protect 'a woman's right to choose,' I wouldn't lay down my life for your right to participate in a 'gay pride' parade, or otherwise engage yourself in the destructive homosexual lifestyle, and I wouldn't voluntarily lay down my life so that you can be a communist and work to advance the anti-American ideology of communism.

chiu_chunling said...

If I thought I could die to protect the rights of others, then I gladly would.

But, as Patton said, "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." Insofar as the government you support is instituted as a means to protect people's rights, dying for your country and dying for the rights it protects approach identity. You can't protect anyone's freedom by getting yourself killed, unless you're against freedom.

And once you establish that practical understanding of what is required to protect anyone's rights, it becomes clear that the more correct statement would be, "I don't agree with you, but I'd be willing to kill to protect your right to disagree."

And that brings up the question of who, exactly, you would kill. Which is why I don't make a habit of saying this, because frequently the answer is someone who holds a position nominally identical to that of the person disagreeing with me.

"I'd be willing to kill someone who promoted your views to protect your right to that viewpoint", is one of those lines that can create an awkward misunderstanding. Not that I'm particularly careful to avoid such misunderstandings.

More fundamentally, I'm not particularly willing to kill to protect anyone's rights, whether or not I agree with how those rights are used.

I just watched "Taken", and there's a scene where the protagonist threatens to kill an innocent women to force compliance from someone else. For me, that crossed one of two very important moral boundaries which the protagonist hadn't crossed elsewhere. First, if he was lying about something that important, it would undermine the honesty he showed throughout the rest of the film. And if he was telling the truth....

Naturally, there was a point. The protagonist in "Taken" is heroic in many ways, but is not a 'hero' and isn't supposed to be a hero. So it is artistically appropriate that he cross a moral boundary in just such an ambiguous way.

But leaving art aside, there is a critical difference between killing an innocent person to accomplish some goal, however worthy, and killing any number (dozens, in this particular movie) of the guilty.

Yes, the deaths of those who seek to destroy someone's rights may help to secure those rights. But that is not a morally acceptable justification for killing them.