The Department of Transportation came to us one day and said they needed to increase the fees for driver’s licenses. When we asked why, they said that the cost of relicensing wasn’t being fully recovered at the current fee levels. Then we asked why we should be doing this sort of thing at all. The transportation people clearly thought that was a very stupid question: Everybody needs a driver’s license, they said. I then pointed out that I received mine when I was fifteen and asked them: “What is it about relicensing that in any way tests driver competency?” We gave them ten days to think this over. At one point they suggested to us that the police need driver’s licenses for identification purposes. We responded that this was the purpose of an identity card, not a driver’s license. Finally they admitted that they could think of no good reason for what they were doing – so we abolished the whole process! Now a driver’s license is good until a person is 74 years old, after which he must get an annual medical test to ensure he is still competent to drive. So not only did we not need new fees, we abolished a whole department. That’s what I mean by thinking differently.
- God is a warrior; therefore war is good. But warriors don’t think all war is good. When Joab was ordered to get Uriah the Hittite killed in war, he followed orders but he didn’t like it. When Saul tried to get Jonathan executed for violating orders in a war their fellow warriors got in the way and told Saul to back off and back down. The fact that God is a warrior no more makes him pro-war than the fact that God commands capital punishment makes him approve of Charles Manson. The question is always: Which war are you talking about? In the US other than a rare Teddy Roosevelt or a veteran, many wars are promoted by people who have not only never seen military action, but who were careful to avoid it.
- War is good because we have to defend America. When? Mostly that has been done adequately by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. One noticeable exception was Pearl Harbor. But in response to a few thousand people in a military target, we laid waste to all of Japan, indiscriminately killing both civilians and soldiers together, bombing major cities. (This is all in addition to the nukes we used when they were asking for surrender terms.) The fact is Japan had no resources to seriously invade us. War as a reprisal and demand for satisfaction was amply justified. War as a crusade refusing to give terms of surrender was not defense. The War wasn’t in self-defense; it was the excuse everyone acknowledges that FDR was looking for in order to re-make the world. One other time we got attacked from overseas, on 9/11/2001, we decided to invade and occupy a country that had nothing to do with it, and left it much worse off than it was before (Really. Just do some basic research). So, in theory, a war could be justified on the grounds of defense, but when has that ever actually happened to us?
- War is right because pacifism is wrong. Other than to recruit enough weirdos to continue the movement, pacifism exists to legitimize imperialism and murder in warfare. Think about it. If all war is equally and always immoral, then killing civilians, murdering children in mass numbers with fire from the sky, etc is the same as killing soldiers (thus, again, our response to Pearl Harbor, as one example). By being pulled into this stupid dichotomy Christians end up supporting all sorts of homicidal atrocities because they are not pacifism and we all know pacifism is wrong.
- Without war there would be no civilization. Civilization merely survives war; it is war that depends on civilization. It is production and trade that provides the food and tools and men that war requires. War relies on civilization; civilization never relies on war. Yes, specific groups need defense from other specific groups. But that doesn’t mean that war gets the credit. When someone uses this argument they are typically doing so because they want to justify aggression and conquest. For an argument the supports national self-defense, it is overkill.
- War is right because God wants the government to defend the people. Sure, but God also specifically prohibited any king from building up a standing army or assembling a war machine (remember horses are tanks and F-16s). Yes, the people were supposed to defend themselves, and the government could lead and help in that process, but the people themselves were supposed to fight. No one was supposed to rely on a standing army and a peacetime arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Nor were they supposed to be transported to the other side of the planet in the name of an infinitely elastic definition of “the national interest.”
- I should defend my neighbor when he is attacked; so our country should go to war to right wrongs. First of all, if your neighbor is being attacked by an enemy you can do something about, then yes, you should help. But I don’t think you are obligated to go on a suicide mission that will only get your whole family killed. Secondly, the whole point of modern war is that it is far away from any personal knowledge or influence. You are told that they were killing preemie babies by taking away their life support units to leave them gasping and dying. You are told they have weapons of mass destruction they can bring to our Eastern seaboard by unmanned aircraft. When you can’t see for yourself what is going on the people who want your money and your blood are able to lie to you and make you think the country is facing a simple situation akin to seeing a neighbor attacked. Don’t let your real duty to love your neighbor be baited and switched into support mass slaughter overseas.
- We must go to war to prevent the use of WMD. Say citizens of the only country on earth to use the worst of them. (Perhaps I’ll make this its own post some time soon. Obviously, there is more that could be said).
This is only the beginning. What would you add to the list?
Humphrey Carpenter describes Joseph Wright (October 31, 1855-February 27, 1930), J. R. R. Tolkien’s most influential college professor:
Joe Wright was a Yorkshireman, a truly self-made man who had worked his way up from the humblest origins to become Professor of Comparative Philology. He had been employed in a woollen-mill from the age of six, and at first this gave him no chance to learn to read and write. But by the time he was fifteen he was jealous of his workmates who could understand the newspapers, so he taught himself his letters. This did not take very long and only increased his desire to learn, so he went to night-school and studied French and German. He also taught himself Latin and mathematics, sitting over his books until two in the morning and wirsing again at five to set out for work. By the time he was eighteen he felt that it was his duty to pass on his knowledge to others, so he began a night-school in the bedroom of his widowed mother’s cottage, charging his workmates twopence a week for tuition. When he was twenty-one he decided to use his savings to finance a term’s study at a German university, so he took a boat to Antwerp and walked stage by stage to Heidelberg, where he became interested in philology. So this former mill-hand studied Saskrit, Gothic, Old Bulgarian, Lithuanian, Russian, Old Norse, Old Saxon, Old and Middle High German, and Old English, eventually taking a doctorate. Returning to England he established himself in Oxford where he was soon appointed Deputy Professor of Comparative Philology. He could afford the lease of a small house in Norham Road, where he engaged a housekeeper. He lived with the native economy of a true Yorkshireman: he used to drink beer which he bought in a small barrel, but he thought that it went too quickly, so he arranged with Sarah the housedeeper that she should buy it and he should pay for each glass as he consumed it. He continued to work without ceasing, beginning to write a series of language primers, among which was the Gothic book that proved such a revelation to Tolkien…
Obviously, Wright was a genius (though it is not clear that anyone would have known that before he started teaching himself to read a newspaper at the age of fifteen). It is not possible to use Wright as an example of the success that everyone can have. I have no intention of doing so.
But what about an illiterate learning to read his native language as a teenager if he wants to? I don’t see why that shouldn’t be possible for a normal or even a slightly below-average individual.
Whenever I hear people talking about the importance of “education” (i.e. childhood and teen schooling) I think about Joe Wright. What are we telling people when we pump out government messages about staying in school? Are we pushing success? In some cases undoubtedly we are. But we are also saying something else: If you can’t make it in school or if you graduate without acquiring basic skills you are done for. You have no chance.
I think this is a self-fulfilling deception. The majority of forces that keep a person from succeeding are 1) his belief that what he is told is right, that he has no chance, and 2) the fact that a diploma (at whatever level) functions as a license to get a job. I don’t want to fix #2 by outlawing it. But I don’t want my tax dollars used to perpetuate the idea either. If we would get rid of minimum wage laws and other barbaric regulations that punish people for paying other people to do work, then alternative paths to productivity would not be barred. People without the piece of paper could prove themselves in other way to employers.
The entire idea of schooling and education needs to be rethought. In the nineteenth-century education was valued and people would go to school when they could… and they would stop and work to help support their families as well. Under that regime of freedom, the US as an economy and culture did not stagnate but grew tremendously.
We act like this bureaucratic, tax-fed, legally-constructed road we have created is some kind of universal path to prosperity. It isn’t. We need to kick over the fences.
Applying this idea to just one problem, I constantly hear that some zip codes are ruled by horrifying public schools where graduates are not even literate. I hear from the same sources in the same context that the drop-out rate is a scandal.
No. Willingly attending a useless dead-end skinner box ruled by bell signals for moving into the next room is the scandal. No one should put up with it.
Preaching to those “drop-outs” that their lives are now doomed is crocodile tears. Their lives don’t have to be doomed. Stop trying to doom them. Point out the value of education and encourage them to find both jobs and means of learning to better themselves.
I do worry about one potential pitfall in what I am saying. Telling a person that they can still succeed in the future can lead a people to think they don’t need to work hard “yet.” Obviously, that is a foolish attitude. That kind of attitude is addictive with the “success” always staying in the future. I don’t mean to encourage such sloth in any way.
My first seminary course was at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I got to participate with Dr. Reymond in a radio program he hosted in which he taught Habakkuk and promoted the seminary (I had a very small role in the program but I got to listen to him). However, my main memory of Dr. Reymond was the first sermon he preached at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church where I was a member.
Jennifer and I were not dating yet, but I seem to remember sitting near her that Sunday. Maybe that’s an impression left over from us discussing it at work (she was my immediate supervisor at Coral Ridge Ministries; let the wisecracks begin). Whatever: I remember we both really were transfixed and enthusiastic about his preaching.
I found another version of the sermon on Sermon Audio: “Our Man On Top of the Hill.”
He preached this version when he was 43, which I think means it was done earlier than the version I heard at Coral Ridge.
I listened to it and really appreciated his words. I don’t remember some of the things he mentioned, either because this version is different or because remembering a sermon from 1991 is probably above my pay grade. But it was good and edifying.
I don’t know if I ever told him how much I appreciated the sermon. But that doesn’t matter now. He’s hearing about what a great job he did from someone a lot more important than me.
Rest in peace, Dr. Reymond.
He says some interesting and true things in pointing out the difference in price between what Americans pay for healthcare and what people in other countries pay. He also did a gratifying job of knocking down some simplistic explanations for that discrepancy.
In my opinion, he does not satisfactorily address the possibility of differences in quality. If I have to wait two years for a hip replacement in one country, and can get it in a week in another country, that datum must be accounted for. But I am not arguing for that explanation for the difference in price. I’m just mentioning that I wish he had addressed it more thoroughly.
Green’s real problem is six minute in. Supposedly, other countries keep health costs down by taking bids from manufacturers and only giving the contract to the lowest bidder. According to Green, the government has more negotiating power than individual consumers and only the government can get corporations to really offer low prices because they want the government contract to provide a good or service to the everyone in the entire nation that needs that service.
But why shouldn’t the government take national supply bids on everything and thus provide consumers with goods and services at a lower price then they can ever get for themselves? (Side note: don’t people hate Walmart for allegedly doing something like this? Does the government sanctify the action?) According to Green, the alleged inability of consumers to get a lower price is due to “inelastic demand.” Because the person needing the hip replacement really needs it and cannot live without it, the corporation can charge him more.
John Green’s reasoning cannot be right.
Go to any grocery store. Food is necessary. It is more continually necessary than medicine. As Megan McArdle writes:
Food and water are far more vital than health care, let alone higher education, which the human race managed to do without for a few hundred thousands of years. You can go quite a while without blood pressure medication or even insulin — much longer than most people could go without fuel for heating or cooking. Clothing and some sort of shelter would also rank higher on the list of imminent necessities than health care and education. Yet none of these goods displays health care and education’s pattern of above-inflation cost increases. It’s true that demand for education and health care is what economists call inelastic — meaning that the demand doesn’t decrease very much even when the price rises — but that doesn’t explain why the prices of these two inelastic services, and no others, has risen faster than inflation for decades.
You will notice that McArdle is responding to someone who is attempting to explain both why health care costs in the US and also why education costs so much. I’d be interested in what John Green thinks of this argument since Green gets so eloquent about how badly health care is needed. He certainly can’t claim that education rises to that level.
But that’s the point: treating the cost of health care as a single problem in the American economy is a fundamental error. Historically, we have more than one industry that is or was characterized by prices rising faster than inflation. Housing was one until the country could no longer take it. Education is another one. Perhaps energy/utility costs are another one.
The problem is not in the health care industry. The problem is the Federal Reserve and corrupt monetary policy (to be redundant). The American financial “system” produces booms and busts. Some, like housing, expanded and then contracted relatively recently. Others might have started earlier and yet not collapsed yet.
If you run ten times the allowable amount of water pressure to run through a hose, the hose will spring leaks. Each one of those leaks might be explained as a weakness in the hose, something that allowed water to flow at that point. But the weaknesses in the hose are not really an explanation of why the hose leaked. It leaked because there was too much water going through it.
Likewise, there are reasons why price inflation is hitting the health care industry and not groceries, but those reasons are not “why” we pay more. We pay more because of the Federal Reserve’s manipulations. We have a bubblicious economy. That is where people should focus their attention if they want to see prices get reasonable.
One of my favorite essays by C. S. Lewis is his piece collected in God in the Dock on “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.” You can read it in the internet graveyard here (by “graveyard” I mean Angelfire; my older readers will understand). Lewis viewed himself as defending the traditional view of punishment–people were punished if and when and to the extent that they deserved to be punished. Lewis’ view leaves me with questions about the history of punishment in Christian lands, but I think his basic thesis holds up.
So what to make of Putin?
He is Tolkien’s melodious and fatherly Saruman come alive.
Hanson is not wrong about Tolkien’s fictional character, but I had forgotten that aspect of Saruman–his “melodious” persuasiveness. Frankly, I don’t think Putin is charismatic enough to qualify.
When I think of Saruman, what first comes to mind is Saruman and his orcs. He used them and bred them to wage his wars.
I’ve been thinking of Saruman a great deal lately because his strategy of conquest seems so familiar to what I see, not in Putin, but in US policy. We flooded Libya with orcs and
gave them air support bombed their enemies. They murdered many sub-Saharan Africans and flew black flags over the conquered towns. Later, at a time when they escaped Saruman’s grip, they killed our ambassador and others in Benghazi.
Now we are using them to overrun Syria so they can rape Christians and burn down churches and overthrow a secular dictatorship in order to replace it with an Islamist nightmare.
As far as the “melodious” aspect of Saruman is concerned, that would be the pseudo-conservative writers and speakers who are doing all they can to prevent an anti-war, anti-establishment movement from growing and to turn it into a partisan anti-Democrat-Party, pro-GOP movement that will froth at the mouth when the next Republican President attacks another nation.
One of the Apostle Paul’s most famous descriptions of the church involves an individual human body:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27, ESV)
One could easily think that Paul is arguing from the premise that every human person is a unified body. In a biological sense that seems self-evident. But the Bible can speak of people as driven or controlled by various body parts. Paul must be arguing here from the ideal human person–the one who has matured. Paul himself is a large part of the Scriptural witness that affirms that human beings are often bodies in which the parts are at war with one another.
I was getting my hair cut the other day by someone other than my wife, for a change. As a result I got exposed to Christian culture outside my own personal sociological safe room. I am ashamed to say how seldom this happens. Of course, by not “getting out more” I help other Christians form their own little bubbles of idiosyncratic belief and theological naivete.
But not this time. The barber learned, as he cut my hair, that I was a seminary graduate and had pastored in a number of places around the country. So, as he finished up shaving the back of my neck, he let loose with his camaraderie question: “Before I let you go, I have to ask you: Do you think the Lord is coming back soon!”
The sound of his voice alerted me this was, in his mind, a rhetorical question. We were supposed to share in the joy of the soon return of Jesus to earth.