When I first became politically aware back in the early ’80s, the Republicans were the party of wealth and privilege, while the Democrats were the party of the common man. The educated and affluent were expected to be “conservative”, while the working class and underprivileged were expected to be “liberal”. Such were the stereotypes, anyway, and they usually held true.
As any student of American sociology and demographics could tell you, these old stereotypes no longer hold much water. Liberal political and social views are increasingly aligned with education and affluence. This new reality is stark in California, where the wealthiest counties voted against Proposition 8 last year. The most liberal cities in the United States are also bastions of education and affluence. Seattle, for example, boasts the highest percentage of residents who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. The ten wealthiest counties in the United States all voted overwhelmingly Democrat in the 2004 election. So what’s going on here? Has there been a major ideological shift? Perhaps. What remains consistent, however, is the ideological gap between rich and poor, between the highly educated and the working class.
THE DILEMMA OF THE ELITE
Wealth and education should really be treated as two separate variables. Education tends to be a prerequisite to acquiring wealth, but not always. In the ranks of the wealthy, there is some division between the intelligentsia and the commercial/entertainment class. Nevertheless, the policy views of Warren Buffet, Ted Turner and Bill Gates do not differ substantially from the faculties of Harvard, Yale and Stanford universities, so for our purposes we’re going to lump them together.
In the United States, it is wealth and education – not heredity, birth, race, religion, virtue, intelligence, knowledge or worldly achievement – that determines social status. I will call this ideological coalition of the wealthy and educated “the elite”. The voluntary racial segregation that still exists in some places is far less important than the near-universal segregation between the elites and everyone else. Don’t get me wrong – in a culture committed to radical egalitarianism, I am very happy to have at least one reminder that there still exists a social hierarchy, that human society still requires an aristocracy of sorts. I’m in favor of aristocracy. I’m in favor of elites. The danger is that, having forbidden other forms of hierarchy, the determinants of wealth and education take on a greatly exaggerated social importance, and the elites become captive to the intellectual currents that happen to dominate modern universities.
Now, here comes the twist. Our contemporary elites tend to be egalitarians themselves – a potent psychological combination. This egalitarianism is a function of indoctrination by our institutions of higher education. Let’s think about this. We have a minority class which is clearly superior in some ways to the majority – they live a much more comfortable material existence, are usually better educated, generally more intelligent (see the link between IQ and other forms of inequality), and always more influential. Their very existence is an affront to their egalitarian ideals. This presents a psychological dilemma of sorts. The world is not an egalitarian place: to the elites, nothing could be more obvious. Therefore – either something is wrong with their own class, or something is fundamentally wrong with everyone else. (It does not usually occur to them that something might be wrong with egalitarianism.) Human nature being what it is, most people do not regard themselves as parasitic or dispensable. So the obvious conclusion is that egalitarianism should be achieved by bringing the great mass of non-elites into line with elite standards.
THE SUFFERING MAJORITY
The world of the elites is an impressive one. The estates, condominiums, hotels, board rooms, offices, universities, resorts, beautifully landscaped neighborhoods, expensive restaurants, frequent traveling, easy access to every kind of pleasure and diversion – all of this make it easy to avoid the gritty reality of the outside world. To someone living in this environment, an intimate confrontation with poverty and material hardship can be shocking. The idea of large families eating macaroni and cheese for dinner several nights per week in a small rented home is horrifying. The thought that someone, somewhere, does not have health insurance is an outrage. But it gets even sillier. It should be recalled that suffering, for many liberals, is defined simply as not having one’s desires met. That is why same-sex marriage is such a priority for them: homosexuals desire to marry, and if this desire is not fulfilled, homosexuals will suffer, which is injustice by definition.
Part of the problem is that our contemporary elite class is lonely and bored. Very often the members of our elite have failed – whether by design or neglect – to forge those close human connections which are the preoccupation of the majority. Personal attachments and loyalties can impede the kind of “success” our elites tend to value.
My former boss once asked me why I wanted to have more than two children. He said that every family he knows with more than two children has invited suffering into their lives – a child gets sick, a child dies, a child fails in school, a child becomes a drug addict, a child ends up in jail, etc., etc.. My response was that yes, love is always a risk, and the more you love, the more you risk. Should we therefore stop loving, or love only “moderately”, in order to avoid the pain that often comes with it?
Our elites are therefore motivated by a fear of suffering and deprivation – first their own suffering, and then the suffering of the majority (who are assumed to suffer terribly because their desires are not fulfilled), which for them is also intolerable. The thought of suffering does not leave them alone. They are haunted by the knowledge that they are the “haves” and the majority are the “have nots”. Strangely, this “liberal guilt” usually translates into political and social activism rather than personal acts of charity towards their family, neighbors, and community. The attention they might otherwise have given to people whom they know and love is converted to an obsession with the suffering of the world, in the abstract.
THE CURSE OF INTELLIGENCE
On the whole, our elite class is blessed with above average intelligence. This really cannot be disputed. Intelligence, of course, can be used for good ends or bad, and can be cultivated or neglected, but the fact of superior intelligence exists apart from what is done with it. The economist F.A. Hayek wrote a book titled “The Fatal Conceit” which, among other things, attempted to explain why intellectuals tend to be socialists. In a nutshell, the reason is that intellectuals tend to overvalue intelligence, preferring to err on the side of infinite perfectibility. No system is too large or complex to be managed and perfected by human intelligence.
The intellectual has experienced the power of high intelligence, but he tends to disregard its limits and to deny that intelligence is unequally distributed. He disregards its limits, because if intelligence can be used to solve all problems, the intellectual is always in demand. He denies that intelligence is unequally distributed – against all evidence – because that violates his egalitarian dogma. Therefore the intellectual has boundless confidence in grandiose schemes of social organization and “equality of outcome” scenarios.
Most intellectuals do not sufficiently appreciate the human capacity for evil, believing that men would use their intelligence for the good if only they were freed from superstition (religion) and the oppression of certain institutions (church, family, nation). Some intellectuals deny the importance of virtue altogether, assuming that an intelligent act is also a virtuous act, and that a virtuous act cannot be unintelligent. Conflating the two qualities, intellectuals often consider lesser intelligence as though it were some kind of moral fault.
And so our elites believe that intelligent, well-planned, universal solutions exist for all problems. The liberation of human intelligence eliminates the need for traditional, parochial institutions which limit the scope of human activities. Hence the liberal’s indomitable belief in the power of education to transform society and create “world citizens”. Grand liberal initiatives ranging from universal pre-school to universal healthcare, from world population control to eliminating poverty or terrorism, tend to be the result of a conceit which radically overestimates the power of human intelligence.
To summarize, education and affluence can certainly be isolating, but these can’t be blamed exclusively for creating the liberalism of our contemporary elites. Rather, liberalism predictably arises from the combination of affluence with 1) the dogma of egalitarianism; 2) fear of suffering and deprivation; 3) loneliness and boredom; and 4) intellectual conceit.
Out here in the boondocks of northern California, it is not uncommon to see large yards with little rooster houses. Most are in pretty remote locations, but I know at least one that is visible from the interstate. They look like this:
The roosters, you will notice, are tethered at the leg.
We recently had a cockfighting ring busted here in Glenn County. I had always wondered what those little rooster houses were for – roosters are otherwise pretty worthless – and recently wondered aloud if these rooster farms had anything to do with cockfighting. A longtime county resident of my acquaintance responded, saying yes, anytime you see a rooster farm with those little teepee houses, you can be sure the roosters are being raised for cockfighting.
Can anyone else confirm this? It makes sense, except that some of these rooster farms are so easy to find it would seem they are just begging to be discovered by law enforcement. Perhaps there is some other reason for them?
“Attendees heard from more than a dozen businesspeople who complained of high workman’s compensation insurance, ‘predatory’ regulators, an unfriendly business climate, a ‘never ending paper trail of business forms,’ exorbitant utility expenses, fees, taxes, quality of life and overpriced overhead.
Randy York said he moved his polyurethane manufacturing business from Huntington Beach to Reno, Nev. in 1987 because he was tired of being ‘hammered’ with regulatory fees from the fire department, the health department, the state Environmental Protection Agency, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
He said it got to the point where he was paying $2,000 or $3,000 a quarter on fees – for company of 20 employees.
‘They were killing us with fees,’ he said. ‘Fees, fees, fees.’
Alan Jurkonis, president of a company that makes fire hydrant and gate values, described the ‘death by thousand cuts’ that led his business to leave Fresno for Minden, Nev. in 2007. Shipping to Southern California was cheaper from Nevada than Fresno, land was cheaper too. There wasn’t a reason to stay, he said.
Steven Patmont, president of the company that manufactures ‘California Go-Ped’ motorized scooters, said his company left California for Nevada because California doesn’t appreciate business. He described how California regulators hit him with hundreds of thousands of dollars of small fines even though his company has a stellar safety record.”
It’s hard to know where to begin critiquing Christopher West and his version of Pope John Paul II’s so-called “theology of the body”. It takes a great deal of effort to pin down the errors precisely – more effort than I personally have time for. As with most heresies, the lie is always protected by many layers of truth, and these layers serve to intimidate, and perhaps deceive, many outstanding Catholics who are anxious to defend anything that looks like orthodoxy.
A recently televised interview with Christopher West has put the “theology of the body” (henceforth TOB) in the national spotlight, prompting Dr. Alice von Hildebrand – who with her husband was an intellectual forerunner of TOB – to issue a stinging rebuke to Mr. West for his lack of modesty in presenting the subject. Other, milder crticisms have been posted in the Catholic blogosphere, none of them really getting into the doctrinal, theological, and spiritual problems associated with TOB itself.
Arturo Vasquez, the author of an eclectic blog titled Reditus, is an exception. In an article titled “Theology of the Body as Realized Eschatology”, he traces the problem directly to the late pontiff, which suggests that it may be unfair to blame Christopher West for the flaws in TOB, real or perceived.
I haven’t read much of JPII’s work on this topic. “Love and Responsibility” is thick reading, and it sits on my bookshelf unfinished, collecting dust. I picked it up a few times and just didn’t feel like I was getting good mileage out of it. There is really no possibility of this kind of work ever becoming mainstream – nothing wrong with that - so ordinary Catholics must rely upon the distillations offered by Christopher West, Greg Popcak, and other TOB luminaries.
Here’s a little sniff test Catholics can use to determine whether some new teaching might be challenged in the orthodoxy department. If the new teaching makes the apostles, doctors and saints of the Church look like misguided fools, then the new teaching probably ought to be questioned. Therefore, when you read something like this …
“According to John Paul II, coming to understand God’s plan for sex – and by that I mean coming to understand God’s plan for creating us as male and female and calling the two to become ‘one flesh’ – is essential if we are to understand who God is and what his eternal plan is for us. In other words, it’s essential if we are to understand what the Gospel is actually all about – what it promises, how it challenges us, and what it leads us to believe in and hope for both in this life and the next.”
… you may conclude that the author, at minimum, is not yet a reliable catechist. The great apostles and evangelists converted millions without the help of TOB – without first explaining “God’s plan for sex” in graphic detail to the multitudes. Legions of young saints understood “what the Gospel was actually all about” before learning the first thing about sex.
Everyone agrees that the Christian does need to understand human sexuality correctly. But the more you get into Christopher West’s writings, the more you find that understanding, for him, is linked to experience. If Mr. West acknowledges somewhere that one may fully understand “God’s plan for sex” apart from actually experiencing the marital embrace [update: in fairness, he does acknowledge this], it is lost in the overall impression of his message.
Furthermore, human sexuality is a reflection of divine love, not the other way around. It would be more accurate to say that one cannot possibly understand “God’s plan for sex” until one first understands “what the Gospel is actually about” – until one has experienced the Gospel in his own life.
Marital sexuality is indeed a reflection of divine love, but it is not the only reflection by a long shot. Love has many expressions apart from sexual intimacy – expressions which are, for that matter, much more easily understood. A husband and wife might enjoy the pleasures of the nuptial bed without love, and I’m afraid that many do. But is it possible that St. Francis did not love the lepers he kissed? Is it possible that St. Maximilian Kolbe did not love Franciszek Gajowniczek, for whom he gave his life? Is it possible that St. Maria Goretti did not love her murderer, whom she pardoned and converted by her prayers? No – these are unmistakable as acts of love, perfectly intelligible without any reference whatsoever to “God’s plan for sex”.
So we have, in the popularization of TOB, a gross exaggeration of the sexual dimension of Christian life. Given the times in which we live I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised.
An even larger problem with TOB is that it cuts the ascetical heart out of Catholicism . If the marital embrace is so all-important to understanding the Gospel, then there is little justification for the kind of sexual asceticism practiced by so many saints over the centuries, beginning with the voluntary celibacy of Mary and Joseph, of Saint Peter, of the holy monks and virgins who renounced marriage in imitation of St. Paul, who taught that it was good for a man never to “touch” a woman. Examples could be multiplied. The logical consequence of TOB is a married priesthood and the abolition of celibate religious life. In other words, Protestantism.
There are other errors constantly spread throughout Catholic TOB-land. The idea that the Catholic Church, for 2000 years, taught that the body was evil and sex was sinful until JPII and TOB came along, is one of the more patently offensive of these errors. TOB also seems to be joined at the hip with other problematic movements in the Church, such as NFP-as-birth-control and Attachment Parenting, both of which mitigate powerfully against Catholics having large families.
Having said all of this, I want to acknowledge that Christopher West and his supporters have done some good and valuable work. I have no reason, at this point, to think he is anything but a sincere (and talented) Catholic attempting to promulgate the truth as he knows it, following the lead of a pope he greatly admires. Many people have said they have been helped by his books and lectures, and I believe them. Perhaps the latest controversy will help Mr. West refine and purify his message.