Joshua Treviño on what left and right are getting wrong about Nelson Mandela

Josh Trevino posted this to Facebook (and gave permission to share it) and I think it is well worth reading. Informed by history and an understanding of the complexity and contingency of life and human beings.  Not simply cold ideology that filters everything through the lens of today’s political battles.

The reactions to Mandela’s passing are generally what one might expect, and, as laudatory as they are, also generally deserved. But two corners are not covering themselves with glory: The first, from the right, being those who denounce him as a Communist (he was) and a friend of tyrants (most definitely) and a terrorist (debatable) and having left a legacy of ruin (not really), and therefore not worthy of the praise given him. The second, from the left, is having a marvelous time dredging up every skeptic of Mandela and his ANC prior to 1990, and getting in one last kick against those who failed to join the liberal consensus at the proper time.

Well. Historical memory is malleable and imperfect. The truth about Nelson Mandela is that one may bring the full bill of charges against him and still find a great man: and that bill exists. The implacable critics on the right, and the post-facto triumphalists on the left, both forget Burke’s admonition:

“I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to anything which relates to human actions, and human concerns, on a simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction. Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.”

Those who believe Mandela was obviously a reconciliation-minded hero before 1990 willfully ignore the circumstances of nearly every one of his political type before him, from Mugabe to Nkrumah to Nasser to Indira Gandhi and much beyond. The list of left-wing figures who appealed to liberal principles while out of power, and then governed as bloody-minded authoritarians when in it, is long. In fact, it’s most of them. Caution that Mandela would prove yet another of their number, when his background was so drearily common in their ranks, was simply prediction born of empiricism.

Those who believe that Mandela was obviously at bottom a terrorist and Marxist both in and out of power willfully ignore the circumstances of what he actually did when his entire nation — including all his enemies — lay within his grasp. It’s a long list, but let me cite three illustrative things. First, he invited his Robben Island jailers to his inauguration, and even later intervened to see that one of them received a promised civil-service promotion. Second, he wore the Springboks jersey: if you don’t know the story, look it up. Third, and most important, he retired after a single term in office.

It’s the first two that set him apart as a good man. It’s that last, George Washington-style deliberate setting of precedent with the shedding of supreme power — and make no mistake, he could have died as a sitting president had he wished — that sets him apart as a great man. Acquisition of power is common. Exercise of power is too common. Restraint and refusal to use power is uncommon. Relinquishing power entirely, under no compulsion or stricture, is extraordinary. That alone, even in the absence of all else, makes a life worth celebrating — and remembering.

Stumbling into Movember

This was not my plan. I had no intention of participating in Movember:

As an official global charity, Movember’s vision is to have an everlasting impact on the face of men’s health. During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of millions of mustaches on men’s faces around the world. Through the power of the Mo, vital funds and awareness are raised to combat prostate and testicular cancer and mental health challenges.

But when I had not shaved for a few days my wife seized on it and decided that I shouldn’t shave for the whole month in solidarity with the campaign (even though the focus is supposed to be mustaches, thus the “Mo”).

Selfie I have to say I haven’t been the best sport about the whole thing. But in my defense I can’t really grow a decent looking beard and it is incredibly itchy and scratchy. So you end up with something that doesn’t look all that good and is annoying to boot.

But my wife and daughter are insistent that I live this particular experiment out and for some reason they won’t accept anything less than no shaving at all for the whole month.

After much grumbling I decided that I might as well carry it through and went ahead and registered.  If you feel so inclined you can even donate via Movember.

So if you see me out and about and are wondering what all that scruff is, or you see pictures of me online and have the same question, there is your answer.


Football, Families and Keeping Your Promises

Being a fan of the University of Michigan and Pittsburgh Steelers football teams, this has been a rough year for me. Experiencing it in Columbus, Ohio doesn’t make it any easier obviously.

Amongst other things, this has not been easy on my family; particularly my wife. As the frustration grows and my mood sours the tension in the house gets kinda high.  Nobody enjoys this.  I would like to think I have gotten better about sports as I have aged, and having kids actually makes it better (they are great at distracting you and reminding you what is really important), but I won’t deny it has been a rough year and I have had my share of ruined days.

In light of this, and in the aftermath of Michigan’s ugly and improbable win last night, I promised Lisa I would take her and the kids to the Columbus Museum of Art (which is free on Sundays) instead of sitting around the house and getting grumpy.

What I hadn’t thought about was that the game was actually on TV (Fox because the Lions are NFC). So instead of huddled over the computer following it online while listening to Steeler radio, or going somewhere to watch it, I could watch from the couch on the full screen TV.

When we came home from church I watched the first quarter as the kids changed their clothes, ate lunch, and played.  And it started out great. Soon the Steelers were up 14-0 and I was smiling and joking with the kids. And I began to wonder whether Lisa really expected me to sacrifice the joy of a Steelers victory just because I said something about going to the museum last night …


The X-Files Is Better Than Scooby-Doo

Interesting post from Brian Zahnd on the absence of mystery in today’s approach to faith: The X-Files Is Better Than Scooby-Doo.  I particularly like the opening paragraph:

Fundamentalism was born as the wrongheaded reaction to the crisis of modernity. Ironically, fundamentalism is an approach to faith that accepts modernity’s now discredited claim that empiricism is the sole source of knowledge. Feeling intimidated by the Scientific Revolution, fundamentalism takes a “scientific” approach to the Bible — which is perhaps the worst of all ways to approach Scripture. The Bible is not interested in giving or even competing with scientific explanations. What Scripture gives us is inspired glimpses of the Divine Mystery. The point is never to “prove” the Bible, but to enter into the mystery through the portal of Scripture. The Bible has no interest in “proving” itself — it has no need to do this and makes no attempt to do so. What the Bible is, is the Spirit-inspired sign that points us to the true Word of God — the Word made flesh. And the Word made flesh is the greatest of all sacred mysteries. Any approach to the Incarnation that does not treat it as a sacred mystery is an act of desecration. If we insist on explaining the mysteries of faith — the bane of fundamentalism — mysteries like the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Parousia, the new birth, baptism, the Eucharist — we inevitably reduce rich mysteries to cheap certitudes. In the search for certitude and a penchant for Bible-Answer-Man explanation, the intrinsically artistic nature of the Christian mystery is turned into gift shop simulacra. Fundamentalism is to Christianity what paint-by-numbers is to art.

I think you can take the mystery aspect too far, and I am increasingly of the belief that something along the lines of Andrew Perriman’s Narrative-Historical approach is the best way to get out of this modernist cul-de-sac evangelicals are trapped in, but Brian makes some good points and adds a valuable perspective.

I also really like this sentence:

Freed from the shackles of scientific positivism, the postmodern soul not only accepts the presence of mystery, it craves it.

Read the whole thing to see where Scooby-Doo and the X-Files comes in.

Ben Domenech on Michael Lind’s Revisionist Libertarian Smear

Ben Domenech utterly destroys Michael Lind over at Real Clear Politics today: Michael Lind’s Revisionist Libertarian Smear.

In any case, Lind has now responded by yelling about racism at the top of his lungs through a cardboard tube contraption of his own devising. The bulk of the piece is not worth reading, but I would draw your attention to the very last portion, in which Lind attacks Calvin Coolidge, about whom many libertarians have very positive feelings, cherrypicking a quote to transform Coolidge into an early stage Pat Buchanan.

This goes beyond the offensively stupid, which is Lind’s typical oeuvre, and enters the realm of sheer revisionist fantasy. Considering the world it operated in, the record of the Harding-Coolidge administrations is one of the most racially progressive in the 20th Century. Harding opened his presidency with a clarion call for anti-lynching bills, giving speeches in the Deep South criticizing the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Coolidge continued the practice, again and again raising anti-lynching laws which were repeatedly filibustered by Southern Democrats (in 1922, 1923, and 1924). Both men appointed African Americans to senior positions and ran segregationists left over from the Wilson administration out of power.

Please read the whole thing, but I just love the first sentences of those two paragraphs. Snark and invective is overused these days, but if you can use it with scalpel like precision and back it up with data, as Ben does here, it works.

Interestingly enough, I took on Lind a decade ago over conservatism and his use of history.

The gospel of our age

Live in the moment. This is the gospel of our age – live for today. Eat, drink, buy, travel – experience. Sex, drugs and rock and roll has become sex, pharmaceuticals and immersive digital content. YOLO, LOL.

I can see the appeal, and there is a sliver of truth there; if only to enjoy the everyday graces. Dappled sunshine, a cool breeze, the smell of fresh coffee, the tender yet intense embrace of a child just before bedtime … And I am deeply thankful for these moments that have been given to me.

But doubt pursues me. Regret lingers, coming into my vision with a disorienting pang of sorrow; a fog that too easily curdles into melancholy.

Or hardens into stoicism; not faith or hope or love but mere perseverance. This too shall pass. Vanity, vanity …

In this space I seek not a fortress of doctrine or intellectual architecture but peace; not the cold stones of a systematic belief that must be defended at any cost, and yet whose fragility is evidenced by its inability to adapt or change or speak outside its own self-selected club, but a place of rest.

Green pastures, still waters. The still small voice. Mercy, and not sacrifice …

Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

I believe; help my unbelief.

Yes, Alan Jacobs is Conservative (just not a political one)

Over at the The American Conservative Alan Jacobs asks a somewhat rhetorical question: is he a conservative?  He makes the claim the he doesn’t know and doesn’t really care but goes on to offer some data so to speak.

I am not and never have been a Republican. I feel roughly as alienated from that party as I do from the Democratic Party. I hold a number of political views that strong-minded Republicans typically find appalling: I think racism is one of the greatest problems in American society today; I am not convinced that austerity programs are helpful in addressing our economic condition; I am absolutely convinced that what many Republicans call free-market capitalism is in fact crony capitalism, calculated to favor the extremely wealthy and immensely powerful multinational corporations; I think that for all of the flaws of Obamacare, it was at least an attempt to solve a drastically unjust and often morally corrupt network of medical care in this country; I dislike military adventurism, and believe that our various attempts at nation-building over the past decade were miscalculated from the outset.

But Jacobs goes on to lay out his “three overarching political commitments” that I believe count for far more that the above caveats:

  1. “The first is that I strive to be a consistently pro-life Christian.”
  2. “My second steady commitment is to the principle of subsidiarity.”
  3. “My third leading political conviction is that the wisdom of our ancestors is both deeply valuable and tragically neglected.”

I will let you read the paragraph descriptions of the above commitments for yourself but I think those three are deeply conservative and still very much relevant to today’s politics.

The problem is that conservatism is less and less defined by philosophical commitments and more and more by short term political and specific policy commitments. The typical triptych for modern conservative Republicans is limited government, “family values”, and a strong national defense.  This usually means low taxes, less regulation and America as the lone super power and an activist one.