Sunday, April 12, 2009

Seavey in New York Times! Rawls on God! Magneto as Paint! Debates as Audio!


This weekend, the New York Times (online only) ran my letter defending the “Tea Party” protests going on around the country. As my front page right margin suggests, I’ll attend one on Wednesday — and recount it to you on Thursday at the bar Merchants NY East, if you join me there.

On a related note, the Times’ Opinionator blog did a nice roundup of recent reactions to the resurgence in open use of the term “socialism,” something that I think is actually fairly healthy, in that at least the real enemy is finally lumbering into view.


Of course, welfare-statism is not precisely the same thing as socialism and does not necessarily have the same philosophical underpinnings (if that even matters for practical purposes). Indeed, it now appears that the most popular academic-philosophical argument for welfare-state liberalism over the past forty years or so was rooted all along in…religion — a fitting surprise for this Easter Sunday.

As Jacob Levy recently noted, John Rawls’ early, later downplayed conviction was that we are all equal in the eyes of God and thus should not experience radically different social outcomes even if we differ in exertion, value to customers, or other markers of earthly merit. Tempting as it is to respond to this in an upbeat way — Rawls is more eclectic than we realized! — it also means the tough Randian or atheist-anarchist approach of throwing out religion and the state together looks more and more necessary.

Whether you’re up against the statist Taliban or the religious/metaphysical egalitarians of Western welfare states, you face foes unfazed by empirical reality — yet happy to deploy violence against you. Religion, as I’ve often said, may not be wholly evil but is certainly an unreliable political ally (by contrast, secular Robert Nozick is the libertarian philosopher often used in political philosophy classes as the chief foil of Rawls).


Consider: (1) We did an April 1 debate on religion’s possible morally-beneficial effects, without getting quite as political about it as I just did. (2) Today is Easter. (3) May 6 brings our debate on animal welfare. (4) And (as also currently noted in my front page right margin) this blog’s theme for May is nerd culture, as it was during last year’s flurry of pre-summer film releases.

But, you no doubt ask, can all four of these themes be summed up in one glorious painting — maybe something involving a nerd version of a Franciscan friar? Thanks to artist Brandon Bird — and the true mutant savior, Magneto — they can.

(Absurdist Robyn Hitchcock — who I saw last night in concert — would be pleased by the bizarre combo, I think. So, too, might a band with whom he’ll apparently be appearing at Radio City Music Hall in July: the funny and poetic Decemberists, well represented on my iPod thanks to girlfriend Helen. Try their songs “The Legionnaire’s Lament” and “Sixteen Military Wives” for starters — not to mention the ghostly “Leslie Ann Levine” and leftist-loving “Valerie Plame.”)

Brandon Bird is also, of course, the genius behind this painting of Bea Arthur and this one of Michael Landon. He is not the director of The Incredibles, though. That was Brad Bird.

In other Magneto-meets-Jesus news suitable for Easter and libertarians, by the way, Ian McKellen will apparently play the villainous No. 2 and James Caviezel (who played the title character in Passion of the Christ) will be No. 6 in the imminent UK remake of The Prisoner. Here’s hoping they work in some line about No. 2 being like a wizard and No. 6 being a savior figure — Patrick McGoohan was Catholic, after all.


Speaking of our April 1 religion debate, here is audio of that momentous evening. Here is a completely unrelated text story about a crazy woman committing a religiously-themed murder-suicide that sounds like it involved some rather odd theology. (I’m not suggesting getting rid of religion just to prevent a few inevitable crazies from using it as inspiration — though if the crazies among us are inevitable, maybe we shouldn’t be giving them any extra reasons to believe that the world really is full of demonic forces, voices from beyond, etc.)

The debate prior to our religion one was about sci-fi, and all you Nybakken and Raspler fans will definitely have to read my “Month of the Nerd II” entries starting in two and a half weeks for more such musings.

And the debate back in February, one month prior to our sci-fi one, was on the question “Has the Right Hit Bottom Yet?” — of which an audio file can be found here [UPDATE: Oops -- not any longer; FURTHER UPDATE: OK, see link in second comment below]. If this Tea Party phenomenon becomes the sort of grand-fusionist “conservative + libertarian + econ-focused + Founders-invoking + populist (even left-populist) + timely” phenomenon I’ve been longing for, maybe the right’s resurgence — or more important, a fiscally-sound America’s resurgence — really is at hand. More on that come mid-week.


Ken Silber said...

I have no idea why the debate audio file has been made “inactive.” Maybe sendspace is a sleazy operation where if you don’t take any of their paid services after a while, the free ones mysteriously glitch out.

Ken Silber said...

Ok, the thing is now available at at least for the next month — or longer, depending on popular demand. (It turns out they delete files that no one’s downloaded in a month — so click away, do it for Lolita.)

drewart said...

I am looking forward to the animal welfare debate. I just happened onto your site, whilst looking for ways to evangelate Susan Jacoby…link or something.

So I will keep checking in on your site from now on…lucky you!

Regarding animal welfare, I immediately think of animals being free, but having no rights, as relative to people having rights but are not “free”. More generally assessed, if one gives animals rights, then their innate freedoms can or will be denied. Natural freedoms, domestic rights, and whatever in between; are we free to give animals the rights to be free? Sometimes I believe my dog doesn’t understand what her wlefare is to me.

I personally have been chased by a bear, kicked by a horse, bit by a dog and given a disagreeable look by a bull that had no right to do so!