22 November, 2009

A strange sort of reunion

It is always weird to come back to something you wrote years ago and re-read it. It's partially nostalgic, partially taking askance at changes in opinion, and partially a reunion with some good and formative times.

Memories aside, the real reason I came back to dust off this internet artifact was to say:

If you've somehow stumbled upon this blog, you should check out my current writing pursuits at:



17 June, 2007

The End of Radical Traditions

Two days ago I attended my last debate tournament as as a competitor.

Yesterday I graduated from high school.

Today, I am announcing the official retirement of Radical Traditions.

As history marches inexorably forward, a new chapter is turned.

Next month I will be teaching, coaching, and judging debate with CFC.

Next year I will be going to college.

I intend to write in a blog again, perhaps a Radical Traditions 2.0.

These transitions do compel a new kind of feeling. I feel reminiscent and content as I look back over my high school career. I can't ask for much more there. At the same time, I feel fond despair as goodbye is "such sweet sorrow." To top it all off, I feel incredibly excited for new locations, new friends, and new experiences. I didn't cry at the last night of the tournament. I didn't bawl at my graduation. I haven't shed hot tears about ending this blog.

But, unlike when one has a birthday, I do feel different (as well as uncharacteristically introspective.) I feel like a character riding off into a sunrise, rather than a sunset. Not that high school was darkness, but now the world dawns anew in a bright, wild, and colossal light. I like what Taylor Carlson said at my graduation ceremony, "it's not an end ... it's a christening ... it's a knighting" Now I intend to earn my spurs. Farewell ... for now.

29 April, 2007

Who Are You?

I know I've already talked about Ayn Rand and The Fountainhead. I have an excuse about bringing it up again though. First, I read The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Second, I wrote an essay for a scholarship on The Fountainhead, so I had to do some review. I came to a bit of a different conclusion than my previous post.

Ayn Rand was right about one thing; one thing that is central to the book but one I honestly overlooked (or at least didn't mention in my other post.) Previously, I had critiqued the idea of selfishness as a value. But the point of The Fountainhead is about defining yourself. Ayn is contending that you should be a "self-sufficient man" in the sense others should not define who you are or what you believe. Here is where Oscar Wilde comes into play with an excellent quote from Dorian Gray, "… to influence a person is to give him one's own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of some one else's music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's nature perfectly – that is what each of us is here for."

Too many people are letting others define them, it is true. Why do you think Dr. Phil and Oprah are still so immensely popular? They tell you how to think, what to read, and, effectively, who you are. Culture seeks to define people, what they wear, what they like, and who they are … and this is what Ayn Rand sought to critique in her book.

I think she is right. You should not let others define who you are. They will ultimately define you wrong, not only because they are separate individuals and therefore incapable of totally knowing you, but also because an imperfect thing determining the values, truths, and ideas of another imperfect thing has an exponential factor of problems. That's like … wrong squared.

Dorian Gray, however, demonstrates that you cannot necessarily define yourself either. What we desire, what our nature compels us to do, and what we feel is right is not necessarily good, or just, or right. Often, it is neither right for ourselves or for those around us. The whole idea of Dorian Gray is a completely self-absorbed individual whose own soul becomes ugly and decrepit; his natural definition of his rights, wrongs, and values cause his ultimate destruction. On the other hand, if I feel a strong and very natural urge to punch someone, that is certainly right for me … but not for anyone who I decide to bash in the face.

So, you obviously can't let others define you. That much is given and accepted. But you can't really follow the Disney-fied ideal of "listening to your heart" because that will cause problems for you and others. Where then shall we turn for the definition of our ideals, goals, aspirations, truths, values, and character? How about the One who not only knows us, but created us? God can define what man cannot, and he will get it right … if we choose to listen.

16 April, 2007

Ode to (Un)Common Sense

My last audio post sounded far too much like the National Public Radio folks … I have a weird taste of … quasi-British in my mouth. Hopefully an ode will be a bit more fun.

Direct Link

05 April, 2007

A Country's Guilt

I was at debate last Monday, and an interesting thought was presented. While I don't know the actual opinion of the team, they argued for the purposes of the debate round that the United States should front the bill for a new prison facility in Afghanistan in order to prevent instances of torture and other abuses. Their rationale was basically that the United States should pay for past mistreatment.

This got me thinking, should a country have the whole of its citizens pay for the damages of some? Should later generations have to pay restitutions for the harms of their forbearers, such as slavery restitutions? In thinking it through, I would argue quite simply "no."

The basic reason is that forcing restitutions, economic or otherwise, harms those who are themselves innocent of the crime. When punishing an offence, punishing the entire population of the country will cause more harm than good. Effectively, two wrongs don't make a right.

Take for example Germany after World War I. The payments required of Germany to war ravaged countries soon caused economic conditions in Germany to spiral out of control. Money printed by the German government became more valuable as a fire starter than as a currency. These conditions created an environment that prompted desperation and indeed, a measure of support for nationalist parties such as Hitler and the Nazis.

Now, I'm not arguing that forcing a country to pay for past grievances will cause a Fascist dictator to start a world war, but rather that the standard in determining the correct extent of legal damages is lacking. Even within the United States legal system, the criteria for determining the correct extent of damages owed is nebulous at best. Any measurement of harm done to a human being in dollars and cents is bound to be difficult to ascertain … especially if you don't want to cause harm to the payer for being compelled to give too much.

Germany also provides an example of how it is false to assume the entire country is guilty or in support of its government's actions. There was a German resistance group that culminated in the 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler. Furthermore, citizens themselves were involved in resistance groups that did not support Hitler and expressed themselves non-violently. Because not every German citizen supported Hitler, voted for Hitler, or followed Hitler's orders in committing atrocities, to say that the whole of Germany was evil is false.

The government is admittedly supposed to represent the people … but if the government commits a wrong, should the people have to pay for it? Should the actions of a governmental individual compel all of society to pay for that individual's crimes? In the slavery question today, should later generations be forced to pay the offspring of those that were harmed? Multiple generations of people came to this country in the 1900s … should they also have to pay for the harms of those before them? I say that punishment should rest where punishment is due … not some vague notion of a country's guilt.

So, the impact of these examples is that forcing economic restitutions is often itself wrong. It is wrong to take undue amounts of money as reconciliatory measure because often there is not a good standard for determining to what extent damage is owed. Even more important, however, is the fact that forcing citizens to pay restitution lumps them all into a general "guilty" category that is not only untrue but also causes even worse feelings of resentment and discord. The bottom line is that two wrongs don't make a right.

Now, I have given thought to an alternative. As far as I can see, rather than continuing a cycle of harming one group to "fix" the harm of another, the solution is to forgive, forget, and move on. Direct damages should certainly be paid, but money isn't everything. Unfortunately, I doubt this whole "forgiveness" thing will catch on before there are a lot more payments demanded and received.

27 March, 2007

Upgrading to Speech

Here it is, Radical Traditions' first audio presentation. Rejoice!

Direct Link

13 March, 2007

Smashing the Universe

I was at Academy Northwest yesterday reading the little notes that students leave under the plastic see-through mats on the table. One of them sparked my interest. It's a hold out from Sophie's World, an introduction to philosophy that the class is studying. It asked, "What is reality? What if all of this is a dream?" I felt compelled to answer.

First, what difference does it make? There is no way to prove, really, that we are not in our own or in someone else's dream. There is also no real way to prove that we are. Especially in light of this, there is no reason to not live as we ought now. It doesn't make a difference to our world whether or not it exists in a very real sense. There are still pragmatic issues to confront, such as the monthly bills, and there are still philosophical truths to debate, such as morality. The true nature of reality is irrelevant to life and how we ought to live in it.

Second, since empirical proof is lacking about the nature of reality, we ought to look for the system of belief that most adequately and consistently explains the nature of things around – and within – us. Now certainly, a person may claim that we are all the figment of his imagination, and we have no immediate way to disprove him. However, G.K. Chesterton put together an excellent rebuttal. He said:

"Nevertheless he is wrong. But if we attempt to trace his error in exact terms, we shall not find it quite so easy as we had supposed. Perhaps the nearest we can get to expressing it is to say this: that his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle. A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle; but, though it is quite as infinite, it is not so large. In the same way the insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, but it is not so large. There is such a thing as a narrow universality; there is such a thing as a small and cramped eternity; you may see it in many modern religions."

Basically, the idea that we are in some dream state may be consistent with all the evidence, but fails to explain the large things in a large enough way to truly placate the mind and soul. So, our search must be for a logically consistent yet truly all-encompassing belief system that explains both the nature of man and the nature of God. Personally, I ascribe to a worldview that not only explains the depravity of man, but also explains how God in His grace and love sought to reconcile the impure with a most Holy God. As a believer in "mere Christianity," I have found that system to be the best explanation as to what is real and what is not.

But the question of how we ought to behave still remains, no matter what philosophy or religion you may ascribe to. How shall we then live? I again turn to Chesterton, who said it most excellently. We have got to "smash the universe." Try as I might, I can't quite put my own words up to rewriting his quote … or significantly cutting it.

"Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world, and enough of a Christian to die to it? In this combination … he is ready to smash the whole universe for the sake of itself." (I've been on an Orthodoxy binge, in case you couldn't tell.)

So, to whichever student wrote that question about the nature of reality and placed it underneath the mat, I admittedly haven't answered your dilemma. But, I do contend that it is irrelevant. The real question is what should we believe and then how shall we act. That is a personal choice … but Christianity provides a big enough answer and a clear enough system that I am compelled to go smash the universe "for the sake of itself."
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