Election 2016: Intuitions and Reflections

My heart weighs heavy as the soap opera of this election year draws nearer to its dramatic conclusion.  I have decided perhaps against better judgment to add my own thoughts to the already vast cacophony of polemical voices and moralizing zealots.  I have little to add in terms of particular analysis of the candidates and the prophetic work of determining the specifics of the long awaited apocalypse.  What seems clear to me is that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton is a moral person.  Their vices are different in their various manifestations, but ultimately they flow from the same sources of power hunger and egotistical domination.  In terms of policy, even at its most promising, Trump’s policies and statements are often imprecise, mutable, ambitious, and sometimes outright immoral.  Of course, Clinton’s policies will follow the populist calls and financial contributions of the Left to whatever soft despotism those voices may lead.

In the sheer weighing of evils between a Hillary or a Trump presidency, it largely depends on how we have been conditioned to view the chief evil which assaults our society.  On one hand, Trump has magnificently managed to justify all the worst fears and bogeymen presented by the Left, concerned with the ever alarming racism, misogyny, and myriad forms of class warfare and privilege tearing apart communities.  His own erraticism and impetuous history has rightfully instilled strong reservations in a number of conservative thinkers, not to mention outright disgust.  Liberals and conservatives have been wise to point to the possible disasters of foreign policy awaiting such a ham-fisted and chaotic leader, a field where negative perception and thoughtless verbiage may yield grave consequence.  On the other hand, Hillary represents the epitome of “big government” in the form of the “benevolent” tyranny of which De Tocqueville warns.  Her infamous political machine has managed to keep her career afloat despite an insipid persona and a remarkable number of scandals, many of which include losses of lives, shady financial dealings, and blatant criminality and apathy towards the law.  Especially following eight years of Obama and with the availability of a politicized Supreme Court, her presidency has the potential to end any future hopes for a conservative vision of the good in a more permanent sense, to include the furthering of the abortion regime, the dilution of the family, weakness in foreign policy, and expanding the bubble that is our economy (not that Trump would probably do much better in this regard).

Reading both sides of the news media, I do believe the cases against both candidates tends to be overstated by their opposition, which should be of little surprise.  Notably, many of the media’s zealous psychological cases and “in-depth” analyses posed against Trump are laughable in spite of their intellectual masking, though it doesn’t by any means exonerate him of the very real character flaws he does possess.  The virtue of genuine self-reflection is sometimes enough to dissuade oneself from granting too much weight to a spurious article with implicit assumptions likely even hidden to the author.  Unfortunately, in an age where our social media only stokes our tendency to read opinions and thinking that agree with our own, we are all in some way enslaved to the whims of media and the social bubbles in which we surround ourselves.  In my opinion, Hillary, who will obviously pander to Leftist impulses, is on the side of our country’s future.  Naturally, as a conservative, I consider this a tragic reality.  Simply, she will prostrate herself before the growing zeitgeist of identity politics and progress at the cost of any touchstone of timeless principle, utilizing a well-oiled political machine to achieve her goals by whatever means are convenient.  Meanwhile, Trump would likely have to fight an uphill battle through the vast bureaucracy and antagonism of Washington despite (or because of) his “industrious” and overbearingly managerial tendencies.  In this sense, she represents the more potent of the two evils to my mind.

However, despite the higher potential evil of a Clinton presidency in the imminent future, the conservative (not established Republican) “Never Trump” camp correctly senses a possible evil more insidious and invasive.  By voting for Trump, we grant our final affirmation to the vision of the Left.  In short, we promote evil to halt evil, but in so doing, we lose our own soul, not only as a party, but as a community of thinkers and perpetuators of the good.  Conservatism, agree with it or not, has a level of moral and intellectual depth to which many of its supporters and detractors have not been fairly introduced, to include the minds of Smith, Burke, and de Tocqueville to Roepke, Voeglin, Kirk, and Scruton.  It relies on such values as community, conservation, tradition, prudence, humility, and beauty, and it is anything but anti-intellectual though avidly non-ideological.  However, conservatism as it is popularly conceived has failed on at least two fronts: 1) It has implicitly accepted Leftist premises in regard to the metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions preceding our political and ethical positions (for example, assuming the atomistic individual and “the good” as the expansion of Mammon), and 2) It has preferred to utilize tribal passion and flagrant antagonism to the Left-dominated culture instead of a positive call to beauty, unconditional love, and intellectual precision.  Trump consistently reveals himself to be the antithesis of all the transcendent values to which the conservative movement so desperately needs to cling if it is ever to recapture the heart of the culture.  In the wake of Donald Trump, the title of “conservative” will be (already is) marred by the very sexism, racism, privilege, and anti-intellectualism that the Left has always wished with which to caricature the Right.  The fear is that in electing Trump as our leader, any future hope of leading the party to a higher path is dissipated.  Trump’s own character is less significant than that of its national perception in this perspective, not to mention the character of the “Alt-Right” camp which he has prodded into being, where actual white supremacists openly find solace and a voice. So many have projected their vague and conflicting hopes (as well as worst fears) onto the man, it is nearly impossible to tell who he really is.  Arguably, he does not know himself.

Even if Trump fails to win the election (and he likely will fail), one must ask to what level are we willing to sink as long as a greater evil exists on the other side of the ballot.  I believe this question should be contemplated by the Liberal thinker as well, as they too are experiencing fierce divisions and hopelessness in their own camp among the more insightful.  The short-lived eruption of Gary Johnson and the third party candidates have been spurred by many of my generation, young idealists who properly recognize the ineptness of a democracy in which two political parties wish to own our votes via fear-baiting as opposed to offering a deep, competent, and positive vision.  Nevertheless, for the conservative in the vein of thought to which I have alluded, Johnson offers little apart from a different last name than the other two candidates, and while we may console our conscience with a third party vote, we must yet learn to live with the inevitable madness we have been handed.  I am deeply tempted to follow Alasdair MacIntyre with a non-vote, a rejection of the system in its entirety.  When do we consider the vote to be little more than a personal consolation?  Does the privilege to vote truly exist if it inevitably plays into the hands of ideologues so far removed from the people they represent, that we can hardly know the truth of their actions let alone the truth of their persons?  Of course, we sense this as we desperately claw through whatever scraps of information fall from the master’s table, attempting to rectify these supposed “facts” with a “common” sense that has been uncommonly shaped by the lusts and luxuries of a decaying culture.  At the same time we have seen a growing abundance of fact checkers, it seems to me the definition of “fact” has grown abundantly more malleable.   Forgive my grimness.  However, these very impulses led the culturally marginalized and less educated white working class to find their rebellious cry in Donald Trump, as well as the disillusioned millennial intellectuals to put hope in a resurrected socialist vision in the person of Bernie Sanders.  History can reveal that similar cravings and ideas clouded 20th century Europe not a century ago, though the comparison is imperfect.  Never before has that old Chesterton quip felt so prescient: “It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged today.”

Underlying all the hysteria sits the need to influence that one sacred act, your vote, the sacrament that connects you to the transcendence of democracy and the city-state.  Even the pragmatic significance and moral underpinnings of voting itself have come under fierce fire in recent months.  Probably these attacks serve as a means to assuage ourselves of the existential guilt that conflicts any voter accustomed to applying Kant’s categorical imperative to induce the highest ethical sense of duty in the act of voting.  This may be for the better, as we should not instill the state in any of its procedural forms with such ultimate and transcendent ethical value.  The whole scenario I find reminiscent of an increasingly complex version of the trolley problem, that classic scenario of deciding whether to sacrifice the one for the many.  Or perhaps the French Revolution.  Do we side with the absolutist monarchs or the madness of the Paris mob?  Is inaction, in fact, action?  Is a “non-vote” in fact a “vote,” if you will, for one side or the other?  One popular notion I would combat is that a non-vote disarms the potential voter from the right to complain about current circumstances.  I think quite the opposite.  The non-vote is the pinnacle of complaint.  It is they who have the most right to complain that in a society founded on the belief that a government should be responsible to its people, that no leader can even remotely represent their voice or persuade their conscience.  This is not a failure of the voter, but rather a failure of leadership and the culture that has produced it.  It is they who already live in the birth pangs of the benevolent tyranny.

Honestly, I do not have any grand answers for whom to cast your vote.  I am self-admittedly far from the most informed voter, as are the majority of us.  But apart from my bemused hopelessness, I do have something of a hope in it all.  We often speak of the “lesser of two evils” when referring to this election, but rarely do we consider the nature of evil itself, especially from a secular perspective.  In the classical Christian view, evil can be viewed not as an absence of good, or even something inherently not good, but rather as a corruption of that which is good.  In other words, evil is good misdirected.  In all these directions to which we find ourselves desperately seeking the best of all possible worlds and perpetually battling both seductive delusion and absolute cynicism, we must not forget the incredible humanness of it all.  There is good as well as evil in all of us, no matter our vote, and it must always be our intent to seek and tend to the goodness in ourselves and others.  This cannot be accomplished if we see our political opponents as mortal enemies instead of human souls.  Even for those so clearly (to our minds) voting for inanity, immorality, certain doom, etc., we must not lose sight of those redeemable aspects in others as well as our own incapacities.  We must not define ourselves and others according to a vote.  Indeed, it would be to negate ourselves, as if the entirety of one’s identity was equated to the leadership of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, depending on this most temporary action performed in a voting booth.  This is simply untrue, and we should stop pretending otherwise.

Finally, we cannot disconnect Trump or Clinton entirely from ourselves either.  They are in fact a reflection of our culture; indeed, a reflection of me.  Nor can we dismiss those who vote for Trump, or a third party—or a vote for no one, or even…yes, a vote for Mrs. Clinton.  Trump’s base has an inexplicable intuition that they are not only losing a culture, but any place to call home.  Apparently, they feel all the more like unwitting refugees in their own home towns, longing for recognition and receiving only empty platitudes. Surely there’s a goodness in loving one’s culture and one’s home, with all its certain faults.  Clinton’s base rightly points to the lack of reflection we have in how we treat those different from ourselves from whatever race or background, and we too should be humble to this truth in our own lives, even as we resist its implicit ontological reductionism.  Must a love of home and a love of other be interminably at odds?  The non-voters and the third partiers stand most strongly on principles.  Perhaps they do throw away their votes, but they become democratic martyrs.  It is their conscience that we must rely on to hold the major parties in check.  We need the Never Trumpers to hold a Trump presidency in check without falling entirely to the group think of liberal media.  I would hope the disillusioned Sanders supporters can provide ongoing criticism of a Hillary presidency, ensuring she never holds a complete domination of her own party. In their foresight, our vote may matter far more for us personally and for an example to our posterity than for any immediate impact it may have on the nation.  And how can we judge so harshly between the ethics of utilitarian or principled voting in the face of what we must eventually admit is an unknowable future?  We are all flawed human beings trying to do the best we can for the land in which we live.  From a historical outlook, we would hardly be the first people to suffer in the midst of an empowered madness, and it seems no matter who wins this election, suffering and disappointment in some form will come to us.  Can we suffer well?  In whatever lunacy awaits our country’s future, it must be our goal not to find ourselves among the ranks of the insane, but to retain the fact that even the people in those ranks remain our brothers and sisters, and that we are not automatically secured from that same potentiality.  As a nation, any hopes we have of depolarizing and taming our political leaders must begin with depolarizing and taming ourselves.

The Matter with Black Lives

“It’s an universal law– intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.”

― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

 

A popular “hashtag” battle has achieved a symbolic primacy in the contemporary racial debate. Both the “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” positions have been propagated by means of social media, often at the expense of thoughtfulness and responsibility. One popular analogy circulating social media proposes a defeater for the competing “All Lives Matter” mentality. Picture a burning house on a street beside a number of other unmolested homes. Clearly the burning house and its occupants require rescue. However, a stick figure representation of “All Lives Matter” is seen spraying water on other houses, avoiding the conflagration. Another stick figure (representative of “Black Lives Matter”) notices this error and explains to his counterpart the need to focus his efforts on the burning house; unfortunately, he is met by a litany of excuses about the equal value of all houses. By focusing on the equal value of all the homes, the stick figure fails to save the one in need of rescue. Thus, the “All Lives Matter” movement is seen as a needless redundancy, forcefully ignoring the present problem by means of reiterating moral truisms.

 

This analogy receives traction by indicating the need of precision in the treatment of a problem. However, the analogy fails as it operates on premises distinct from the competing movement. Compare the following narratives: 1) African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated, persecuted, and murdered by the legal system and law enforcement representatives. 2) Two people were unjustly killed by law enforcement officers, and shortly following, five unassociated policemen are murdered by sniper fire in retribution. The analogy of the burning houses fails to cross conversational boundaries because it does not recognize the difference in diagnoses. One narrative recognizes societal racial injustice, the other injustice in general. It fails to distinguish the possibility that these are not mutually exclusive approaches to current issues. According to the competing proverbial banner, not just one house but most of the neighborhood is on fire.

 

Ironically, the analogy’s strength in focusing on precision is also its weakness, and correspondingly, a weakness in the “Black Lives Matter” front.  The analogy forgets that ethics regarding African Americans are necessarily nested in ethics regarding human beings. Especially in a time where “Black Lives Matter” becomes associated with the vengeful murder of policemen, such precision furthers disparity between races at best, and implies justification of atrocities at worst. By dividing racial justice so starkly from justice itself, racial tension is paradoxically perpetuated. Historically, racial equality has not been realized through mere “racial ethics” at the expense of an interracial community rooted in a racially transcendent morality. The Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement are significant examples which uphold leaders highly influenced by Christian and humanist ethics. When a proposed African American ethical solution conflicts with the human-oriented ethics from which racial equality is derived, it becomes not social justice but racial barbarism. On the contrary, a renewed emphasis on ethics as undistinguished by racial division pulls hitherto divided segments of society into a unified vision of the good, where racial equality is achieved naturally within its framework. African Americans fear negotiating a racially unjust society. Policemen fear wearing their uniform publicly. My mother has recently advised me to get a gun. When protectionism grasps social and class divisions, it breeds inhumanity in the name of self-preservation. Fear divides.

 

To deny the experience of fear, tension, or contempt often associated in anecdotes of interracial interactions is unreasonable. It is akin to denying another’s experience of pain. It is completely individual, cannot be analyzed from an exterior position, and is tautologically true when experienced. As individuals, our experiential realities can be communicated, but ultimately they will always rest in their fullness within that enigma called the individual. The same is true of the African American experience when applied at a cultural level. While a white person cannot know what it means to be black, neither can a black person know what it means to be white, nor any of us know what it means to be Babylonian. Racial reality only speaks to a portion of phenomenal experience when compared to the myriad factors which contort themselves into the individual identity, whether geographic, historical, biological, religious, or economic. However, no compilation of factors exhausts the individual identity, as all the factors previously mentioned do not quite define the fullness of a person. This ontological stance is intuitive in our cultural distaste of stereotyping. Fortunately, humans have the advantages of empathy, language, and media, existing in mass and manifold mediums, with the purpose of sharing experience via conversation. Intercultural and relational understanding will never be complete in the full metaphysical sense, but communion can be fruitfully and wonderfully pursued.

 

The dangers inherent in the “Black Lives Matter” movement rest in taking this experiential reality and forming it into a religiosity. A special knowledge (Gnosis) is exclusively available to the elect; revelation is granted to the African American. Only African Americans can know the African American experience, and the best to be expected from others is a loyal empathy and worshipful repentance. Those outside of the elect and their followership are dubbed heretics, perpetuating the evils of inequality by knowingly or unknowingly sinning through a subconscious racism. Denials of such are routed by implementing a Freudian dialectic, appealing with pseudoscientific fervor to a superior knowledge of the heretic’s underlying psychology. The heretic has not received the “Gnosis,” and thus is incapable of realizing his unwilled antagonism to Truth. Therefore, the difference between the elect and the heretic is one of education against ignorance, the modernly acceptable religious terms. Perspectives on people, events, and the world are filtered through the spectrum of this Gnostic lens, resulting in accusations of micro-aggressions and institutional racism where no objective evidence exists of overt or self-reflective racism. As God was once seen uncontestably acting in and symbolized by all things, so now all things take on racial undertones and symbolism. A specter of race has replaced the metaphysical demons of yesteryear. There is a neo-Marxist drive toward a Utopian future (read “heaven”) described as a pure equality between a historical oppressor and a victim class. The Utopian end justifies the ethical means, undermining the conception of the inherent dignity of human life by dehumanizing the heretic. Some must be damned that all might be saved.

 

The illusion of objective evidence is utilized to corroborate this Gnosis. Statistics and studies can be useful tools, but a certain danger comes with a heavy reliance on such methods. They fail to perceive the heart of matters for the same reason science fails to answer the philosophical questions of meaning or value. Information is neither knowledge nor truth. Statistics are numbers, and conclusions are abstractions made within the context of an inescapable and preconceived worldview. There is an inordinate number of African Americans in prison. Is it because more blacks are criminals or because more cops are racists? Does the overwhelming number of Jewish bankers in Germany entail that the Jews are responsible for the economic exploitation of the German people? The Nazis thought as much. There are too many questions and too many assumptions that pose as answers in confronting these delicate questions. All attempts to prove a point simply shield a worldview and an identity because they deny the very personal and relational complexity of each individual involved in any given situation. Our culture values knowledge as power, buttressed by numbers and science. Allowing even a miniscule segment of humility and empathy into one’s analysis is usually interpreted as weakness. Knowledge can be an idol, as unreal and impotent as any made of wood.

 

At the core of this issue rests the African American identity. As mentioned earlier, to deny a culture, an experience, and an identity that is inescapably and wonderfully unique to African Americans is philosophically and anthropologically irresponsible. However, just as one could criticize an individual’s morality (as is done every time one makes the “racist” accusation), so can one criticize morals associated with cultural identities. Currently, the African American identity is being compelled in the direction of the dehumanized religion described above. This identity depends not on positive elements about black history and contributions but rather on a negation, a required tension against an oppressor class. Unfortunately, the oppressor class then becomes a necessary element of African American identity. The actual elimination of racism would threaten and undermine this identity; therefore, oppression must be paradoxically preserved in this worldview in order to justify the identity’s existence. Racism has fallen by definition into the utterly subjective: perception is its final touchstone. This definition of racism is nebulous and subconscious and therefore pliable to any situation. Its continuation is guaranteed as long as there is someone to point at it.

 

As a result, the “Black Lives Matters” movement does not benefit the African American community. Marxist class struggles have only ever served to perpetuate the need for a powerful elite who promises to bring about the prophesied justice and the final equality. A reworking of cultural identity into victim and oppressor classes serves the very elites that class advocates portend to oppose. They exploit the semblance of crisis in order to justify a rise to power. It has been said never to let a good crisis go to waste, but this statement conceals a Machiavellian pragmatism. Crises can be used to effect evil as well as good, and oftentimes, crisis has been the excuse for sheer moral disregard (the internment of the Japanese in World War II comes to mind). Thomas Sowell (an African American) makes the case in his book The Vision of the Anointed that crises such as the current race struggle provide perfect leverage for opportunists to seize power. When such crises are unavailable, it is in the favor of these opportunists to create and nurture them. No matter how one assesses Sowell’s political leanings, the logic in the tactics is difficult to deny. Where idealists may propagate movements with good intentions and lofty thoughts, they will be accompanied by the elites who will not fail to sense viable opportunities for control.

 

Racial narratives and expectations that favor this class warfare are imposed in familial settings as well as through a ubiquitous torrent of media. Black children are taught to fear policemen, and white children are taught to fear any possible accusation of racism. Dichotomies established at such an early age immediately commence a deconstruction of trust and communion. Victim identities disillusion individuals against society, prompting a social rebellion that often dismisses the good of society along with the bad. Oppressor identities lead to an intrinsic sense of shame and an imposing fear of the ever immanent potential of becoming an active oppressor or being attacked as such. The situation leads to a madness of legalistic piety akin to the infamous Puritans of 17th century Salem. “Social justice” operating in this framework is only so in the sense that the French Revolution was social justice. Banners are flown proudly in the Parisian streets and on Twitter, and intellectuals propose whatever declaration of rights is fashionable, whether following Rousseau or Rawls. Righteousness is justified as blood fills the streets. Again, fear divides.

 

One cannot deny the legitimate existence of racism and its remnants that extends down to us through history. Neither is racism unique to our time and culture, but rather an unfortunate consequence of the human condition. However, the problem does not warrant the form of violent and accusatory protests and demonstrations that justify themselves by a declaration of crisis. Even racists first and foremost are people. Accusations don’t fix people. Education only fixes those with open hearts. “Fixing” and “education” are part of the problem. The heretic (the perceived racist) is dehumanized just as is the African American in the mind of an actual racist. Love changes a person in their core. Actual, self-denying, sacrificial love and relationship changes a person. Unfortunately, so does a lack thereof. The racist narrative is vindicated whenever there are attempts to dismantle the social order through chaotic protests and blindly impassioned accusation tactics. Such tactics instigate the need of a power struggle for the opposition as well. The one method neither narrative can comprehend is selfless love in the face of persecution.

 

The analysis of relationships in terms of power structure, a perspective proposed by Michel Foucault and now prevailing in academia, often leaves little room for this desired relational communion. Essentially, Foucault describes free relationships primarily in terms of power and resistance. He ascertains that certain historical structures lend to certain classes of people an ideological superiority which naturally overshadows and demeans the inferior, maintaining their own powerful position. In this sense, “Black Lives Matter” struggles for the reins of structural power, so tightly and subconsciously held by the historical white oppressor class. The problem with this very basic understanding of Foucault is that this philosophical perspective on relation sees power as primary and ubiquitous. The existence of a power struggle is unavoidable because power is how the relationship is predominantly defined, subordinating more traditional perspectives of love or duty or pleasure. Whether true to the depth of Foucault or not, this use of him declares no end to struggle. Foucault is often descriptive as opposed to prescriptive; he had no answer or quarrel to the struggle of power in itself, only the observance of its existence, whether overt or masked, for good or for ill. If we accept this philosophy, oppression can always be discovered and resisted in some form. Problematically, the proposed and expedient “fix” to the problem is not truly about a communion of persons, but an entire shift in power, the power of the victim coming to ascendancy. If this understanding of power is utilized to justify current brutalities, it would also justify any retribution which would follow in this generation or the next of the following victim class. The Utopia of the aforementioned religiosity will forever remain on the horizon.

 

Human change is a slow and delicate thing, like helping a plant grow. Similarly, growth must be rooted in something deep: indeed, the very core of who we are as human beings in relation to others, this world, God, and ourselves. Alasdair MacIntyre famously expresses in his book After Virtue that our society has lost this sense of self and any inherited context by which to understand words such as virtue, justice, or goodness. This context is what must be rediscovered—the reason why lives matter. Only then can one understand why black lives matter. The beauty and mystery behind the African American culture and people can only be assessed within this context. The postmodern critique has left the academy in a false comfort of ambiguity, often masking the individualistic (and in this case cultural) will to meaning apart from relational and moral obligations. MacIntyre’s understanding of this desired cultural context is not necessarily inimical to Foucault’s understanding of cultural power structures; rather, it may provide a virtuous means and end to which such subtle power can be directed. Indeed, the misled religiosity of the “Black Lives Matter” movement betrays the need for something more spiritual and substantial than sheer rebellion. Although the movement is fraught with dangerous implications, in its soul is something both natural and noble.

 

The first step in saving the world is not to seek out social justice or sweeping movements to enforce change on a culture, movements doomed to be exploited by the power-hungry and entangled in the profoundly limited emotions and creeds of our time. Rather, love your wife or husband. Play with your children. Share bread with your neighbor. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Love your enemies, even though they may revile you. Suffer well. The generalities of the day are simply that: generalities and thus unrealities. Mankind, whites, blacks, the upper and lower class—all such terms are referentially expedient but ontologically fictional. The world subsists in the minor, particular things, in persons and relations, which are unyieldingly more complex than their universal abstractions. The fate of the world rests in the small acts of ordinary people and the exasperatingly slow turnover of time, and this will remain true against all the youthful cries for an immanent justice and a Utopian conclusion to history. To save a single life may well be the worthwhile work of a lifetime. And by the grace of God we may even save our own.

 

To the Ignorant and the Open Minds

The other night, someone I had recently met confided in me her distaste for ignorant people. She continued with the usual diatribe that people who believe x, or people who perform y are ignorant, and thus follows the natural implication that such people are unworthy of the same amount of serious respect or attention as the rest of us. Of course, this latter implication is my own intuition of her underlying meaning, so I remarked that perhaps it is our solemn duty to educate the ignorant, for they are not less valuable than us. I believe she was thrown off kilter for a moment before ponderingly agreeing with me. I mention this quaint anecdote only because I have politely stomached many such onslaughts of this most recent class war between the morally enlightened, educated class and the persistently uneducated (and therefore) immoral class.  Sadly, she could not have known that I would have fallen into the latter category by her own standards. I ultimately resisted confiding in her my severe distaste for those who deride other people as ignorant.  Even on a sheer grammatical level, the label of “ignorant” leaves open the question of what precisely is one ignorant? At least the forgotten label of “ignoramus” alludes to a wittier and more stylistic form of insult.

Honestly, my heart goes out to these mysterious ignorant fellows who continually endure such demonization by their own generation. However, who is this ignorant person, the ignoramus, if you will? I believe if one is to inquire, the ignorant person is merely someone who disagrees with or does not hold another’s moral standards or worldview. I do not deny that there are different levels of intelligence or that there are better and worse belief systems, but to label another as ignorant simply dismisses the individual as opposed to confronting him with sincerity. Intuitively, I think our generation has grown weary of calling actions wrong and beliefs misled or incoherent because both of these claims would require the accuser to present a case and lower themselves to the level of conversation with the brute. Instead, “ignorant” is a convenient term because the accuser can place himself at a higher level of moral and intellectual worth, almost assuming an ontological superiority to the accused. I do not claim that this is a conscious thought, and I do admit to psychological conjecture on these points. However, what has been clear to me in all such conversations (I’ve endured many), is that there is a derision and almost a palpable disgust for the ignorant. Following a recent introduction to the work of Rene Girard, I can’t help but wonder if our society is in search of some scapegoat on which to blame the incoherencies and moral failings of the time and culture we inhabit and for which we bear responsibility. However, we have purportedly transcended moral categories, and thus, we are left with education as the new expression by which to divide the good from the evil. We are called to metaphorically crucify this ignorant populace who continually makes quite a mess of everything (or so the narrative goes), as they prove irreconcilable with the education and truth hurled at them through half-baked arguments and fiery social media posts.

In contrast, I actually do not care for the open-minded, at least, if the people who declare themselves as such are any indication towards the meaning of the term. If “ignorant” is the common curse of the day, then “open-minded” might be the self-acclaimed mark of the enlightened. I think in the most charitable view of the term, “open-minded” indicates the ability to comprehend and assess differing arguments, propositions, and lifestyles; in other words, to engage with difference in thought, foreign practices, and the elusive yet immanent “other.”  The problem arises when open-mindedness itself becomes a cultic identity. Few things intrigue me more than two people who vehemently disagree with each other whilst claiming the other is not open-minded. If I had to suggest a diagnosis, it would be that the concept of open-mindedness subtly conveys a metaphysical falsehood, that is, that our mind never closes back up.

Open-mindedness is hardly a holistic philosophical position, but rather a methodological posture which honestly has been a virtue among the educated and the inquisitive for many millennia prior to our current historical moment. However, there is a common thread that believes open-mindedness requires one to forego the assessment phase of my definition and thus not to render any intellectual judgment upon a position. This may be a popular and quasi-postmodern stance, but I will challenge the belief that those who do not fall into it fail to be open-minded or, even worse, should be labeled ignorant. If we wish to use ignorance as a foil to the open-mind, I would opine that there are two primary methods of remaining ignorant. The first is not to engage seriously the thoughts, opinions, and lifestyles of another because of a perceived or unconscious superiority over or fear of something that would challenge the comfort and stability of one’s own worldview. Actual bigotry and forms of dehumanization can fall into this category, as well as people who prematurely label others as ignorant. The second is to believe that all thoughts, opinions, and lifestyles are equally valuable and correct, thus failing to take seriously any contention that one’s hyper-subjective position itself be challenged. Indeed, this averts the other from meaningfully engaging in conversation by denying them the possibility of transcending the subjective and making any dually meaningful objective claim. This posturing effectively has the same results as straightforward bigotry by invariably shielding one’s beliefs from engaging with another; it simply happens to be a popular position, wielding the banner of tolerance and the safety of a moral high ground. It is the moral equivalent of throwing someone in a madhouse of padded walls and telling him he is free to do as he will.

In both forms of ignorance, the “other” is dismissed as irrelevant to the self. Moreover, this latter position rarely proves consistent in practice, but usually falls back on the moral significance of the will as the pinnacle of man’s value. This happens to be a philosophical position as open to critique as any other, which manifestly requires its own set of ethics. The prescribed ethics usually undermine the purported virtue of absolute “tolerance” as it cannot sustain any assertion that would challenge the unconditional dominance of the subjective will over the individual. Thus, since the classical moral spectrum cannot be utilized by the consistently “open-minded” individual, he labels those who break this ethic as ignorant. More often than not (to my experience), he is in fact ignorant of his own position.

In reality, this deflated version of the open-mind, in the sense of an all-encompassing acceptance, as many people believe themselves to possess, does not exist. Even a proper postmodernist admits that we can never truly transcend the subjective (as the discussed position probably subconsciously believes it does); we always view the world from some perspective, some tradition, some time and place, and never will the infinite variety of perspectives or singular holistic truth be available to us. Therefore, for a postmodern position to stand, the postmodern must admit to a position. However, merely because we are limited as subjective beings does not entail that we cannot have any grasp on what is objectively true at all; in fact, a coherent postmodern position relies on this point. It does not deny that there are better or worse arguments and beliefs, or that reason and experience can reveal objective truth. It only requires that we can never reach truth in its fullness, and I happily remind the reader that this is an altogether traditional and orthodox belief.  In this sense, all men are ignorant because all thought is limited; this is the wisdom that can be gained from the postmodern critique. I have written before about the contingency of the will, and the same reality applies to the contingency of the mind. We pretend education is the cure, but so quickly we forget that eugenics was at the height of the educated world less than a century ago. Education is only the cure insofar as it is a continual conversation and journey seeking to understand reality in its fullness, but this is only possible through actual engagement and relationship, seeking meaningfully the perspective of others, which demands an honest assessment of the limits of the self. The current antipathy between the accused ignorant and the self-acclaimed open-minded in the popular discourse is itself a bulwark against that very conversation and relationship.

Therefore, I urge the reader not to pretend to an open-mind. Rather the reader must seek to know the mind. Understand its limitations, its strengths and weaknesses, and its incredible reliance on the overlapping traditions in which it is inescapably contained. If one claims that I myself only write from a white male Christian position, they would be quite right. It simply strikes me that academic subjects which have grounded themselves in perceived antagonism to the white male Christian tradition, such as modern Feminine and African American studies, have singularly been produced in a society that developed in the white male Christian tradition. The very principles which allowed for the growth of such divergent perspectival studies arguably overlap with and at some point depend on the same principles from which I write. Thus the point of contingency remains, which then allows for understanding and engagement if we will only allow for it. Of course, the great point of convergence across geography and time is that all people are human. As C.S. Lewis perceived, and Schopenhauer more pessimistically before him, humanity is the one existential experience we all have the privilege of knowing from the internal perspective. Thus, to all other humans we owe a special deference, for they are not so different than I. There is a great strength in seeing our dependency on one another and recalling that if I could dismiss someone as ignorant by my own standard, inevitably I can be dismissed as ignorant by the standard of another. In this light, we owe a great responsibility to each other in this brotherhood of imperfect humanity. In Christianity, that responsibility is commonly expressed as loving thy neighbor as thyself.

If postmodernity be true and reflective, for all its insight, it must realize that a post-axiomatic principle is indeed still an axiomatic principle. If we take the postmodern criticism seriously in our own self-understanding, our necessary limitation does not completely relativize thought, but rather humbles it. Therefore, we find the ultimate virtue is not education or even the open-mind, but rather that more ancient virtue of humility. To call another ignorant, one should first admit to himself his own ignorance. If one wishes to distinguish himself from the ignorant by simply claiming a greater humility than one’s peers, I suggest he search for the irony in his own position. And if we wish to lift ourselves to greater truth, then it is only possible by true humility and engagement, allowing the other to speak into us as we do into them, knowing when we are tempted to accuse one of ignorance, that we also accuse ourselves of the same. Socrates, the patriarch of all Western philosophy, reminds us that true knowledge begins in knowing that one knows nothing. The Bible, the greatest book of the Western tradition, attests that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. The Scriptures do not contradict Socrates, but rather complete his insight, for he understood the limits of man, and God simply provides the infinite point of comparison, probably nowhere else so poetically as in his response to the suffering of Job. Socrates understood that man is finite though he sought truth to the point of death, but Christ came as the incarnation of the infinite, providing man the fullest perspective of his dependent and existential position, and once more the Truth was put to death. In my thought, the open-mind of postmodernity only rediscovered in new ways a very old truth. A truly open-mind is only possible once the mind realizes it is ignorant. A slightly more optimistic claim might be to say the mind is contingent. Perhaps the most honest claim is to say the mind is human.

Some Thoughts on Thankfulness

As much as Americans thrive in reaffirming the moral goodness of gratitude whenever Thanksgiving rolls around, I find not much thought is put into the concept of thankfulness itself, much to our loss. The frequent question at the dinner table for the more observant Thanksgiving traditionalists is not to ask what thankfulness is, but to ask that for which one is thankful (still an altogether appropriate question). What arises is often (to my experience) a sort of hidden social game, where those at the table seek both displayed sincerity and sometimes a certain moral height by finding something either amusing or unique to differentiate themselves from their peers at the table. Perhaps a more amateur attendee would answer with something specific and personal, such as a recent pay raise or finally finding a new home, guaranteeing a concurrence among the other feasters. Another attempt would be to pick out those more generally shared objects of gratitude such as family, freedom, or fine food, recognizing goodness in elements of life commonly taken for granted, which gains a healthy respect.  However, I believe the most inspiring and powerful declarations of appreciation come from those whom we would normally believe have little for which to be thankful. To see true gratitude in the face of poverty or great loss, I believe, is to find something that attains to the very heart of thankfulness as a virtue. It is seen in thankfulness for wealth when one only has a few dollars to their name, or thankfulness for children when one child is lost to an illness. Thankfulness, if we are to take this example, is the moral art of responding in humility, joy, and love to a light that no darkness can ever subdue.

The first lesson I take from this intuitive example is that gratefulness is never passive, but a discipline that is learned and practiced. When luxury and comfort is not an expectation, when pain and sorrow is ever frequent, gratitude is something of a courageous battle against despair; it is a choice toward a belief that life for all its evils has an underlying goodness inherent and unyielding. On the other hand, the spoiled have neglected any opportunity to practice gratitude, and at best have become adept at feigning it. Living in modern America, in a lap of luxury that transcends any other outside of recent history, our natural state of affairs is one that places few demands on our ability to exercise deep-felt gratitude. To declare a passing thankfulness for a new car requires little effort and is compelled by social pressures, but to find thanks in every breath is a difficult skill.

Not only is gratitude an active reaction to our world, but it is also a realization of humility, recognizing our mere mortality and utter dependence. Two strains of thought tend to run their course through our minds: that life in its goodness is either a right or an illusion. In the former, we decide increasingly that we deserve everything that supposedly makes life worth living; in the latter more cynical view, we realize no one deserves anything, and life becomes a game with the object of recruiting the most pleasure possible before the light dims. In the first conception, thankfulness is dependent on our desired circumstances relative to some imposed standard, and in the second, thankfulness is silly, because everything is mine to earn in the mix of material chaos and random fortune. Neither reflects the unintelligible joy displayed in the thankfulness of the suffering nor a moral effort deserving of any praise (for who will not claim to be “thankful” when all their needs and many wants are satisfied?). True gratitude must see the world neither as a right to be demanded or a mess to be manipulated, but rather as grace and a gift.

A sincere and deep gratitude then stems from three principles: that existence is an undeserved gift outside of our control or demands; that goodness resides naturally in existence; and that the proper response to said goodness is an intentional reaction of appreciation in both thought and action. Thankfulness for things I believe I deserve or especially for the perks in life creates a morality for the rich which fails to serve the less fortunate either food or respect. One can hear the prayer: “Thank you, Lord, for at least I am not this man!” To have a standard of circumstances attached to gratefulness unwittingly diminishes the witness of the downtrodden. Is it right on Thanksgiving Day to tell others that truly they should not be thankful? While it may attune people to real problems that demand solutions, I cannot help but imagine it robs the less fortunate of their capacity for joy in their present circumstance, that very inspiring state of gratitude to which I first alluded.

It seems an even greater heresy to only be thankful to oneself. It is the great advantage of the Christian to be able to praise God from whom all blessings flow, but even for the irreligious, I believe gratitude must at least originate in a reaction to something or someone outside oneself. Otherwise, gratitude is simply a moral affirmation of egotism, which hardly strikes me as the common purpose behind the Thanksgiving holiday. If joy is a passive experience, thankfulness is the desired moral response, and thankfulness assumes being appreciative for something outside one’s complete control (which in all honesty, is everything). It is recognizing that all our circumstances including our very existence were never determined by us, and that when we gaze upon all that is, we still declare that it is good.

I do not presume holistically to defend thankfulness as a moral good in this short reflection or even explain it fully or with the utmost clarity. However, I do propose that thankfulness, if accepted as a worthy moral principle, must begin in awe and humility and end in a sublime joyfulness beyond any individual state of affairs. It is the wild idea that life is both good and a gift that is always outside of our control. Furthermore, it is the expectation that we appreciate both the gift and the Gift-giver in our mind and body, and contemplate the fantastical idea that the evils of all circumstances pale in comparison to the goodness of circumstance itself. I suppose one can easily deny these thoughts (many famous thinkers have), but then I do think they also deny the virtue of thankfulness in its potential fullness and intent. They have assumed we should be thankful when we are made happy, but have forgotten we will be made happy only once we are thankful.

On Suffering Those Who Suffer

Today I contemplated death. I found that death is in many ways foreign to me. I have had the good fortune of health throughout my life. I have yet to lose a close family member, though I know many others who have not had such blessing. Of course, grief often accompanies these events no matter one’s age, and while I do not pretend fully to understand the experience of loss, even entertaining the idea leaves me deeply pained. To lose my mother or father, who have been loving foundations of support for me in my best and worst of times, would prove devastating. My younger sister, so full of vibrancy and potential, would be still worse. If I found myself on my deathbed, bereft of all the hopes and dreams I once held dear, what could I say for myself? I do not envy the pain, questions, and sorrow that so many others perhaps younger than I must face at such circumstances. But thinking upon it, my greatest fear is not the pain of loss, but rather a possible apathy. I do not fear the feeling, I fear not feeling.  I can think of no worse fate than to arrive at my mother’s deathbed with expert control and a calm demeanor, or my father’s funeral with a logical explanation and a carefully crafted set of sentiments to console the other attendants. I hope when I attend the funeral of a loved one that I am able to cry from my very depth. I want to shed tears. By God, I want to suffer.

We try to avoid the reality of death in the United States. When we are forced to console those who mourn, we tend to feel uncomfortable, wishing that they would not be such an awkward and obstinate presence. We are sidetracked by the endless streams of distraction and entertainment designed apparently to reflect an unending blossoming of life. Culture fools us with the apparitions of everlasting youth. When the early explorers failed to discover the Fountain of Youth, their descendants chose to at least create the illusion. The men and women in advertisements and media rarely grow old, sickly, and ugly in that grander perception; somehow, we are always confronted with decadence and unrealistic beauty (even in scenes and descriptions of dying), and we forget the true ugliness that exists in human mortality. Death naturally confronts us powerfully with the existentialist questions of identity, impermanence, eternity, meaning, and the harrowing question of why. Cheap religious or secular slogans that once satisfied the mind as answers fail to satisfy the soul. What God can answer for such injustice? If He is not just, am I powerless against Him? If He is not real, then where can consolation be found? Are we immortal souls cruelly trapped within mortal frames? In the words of Ivan Karamazov, “It’s not God that I don’t accept…only I most respectfully return him the ticket.” For Ivan, God can give no answer to the injustice of evil, suffering, and death in the world, and all attempts to do so prove futile in the face of the thing. However, if grieving at the death of a loved one betrays any hidden belief, it is that meaning exists for us, or better, that existence has meaning. Life is good, and relationships are beautiful. We bear the intuition that death is an unwelcome and unjust intruder, despite any number of cogent and coherent philosophies available that either explain him or explain him away. Death is cold and often uninspired. His timing and his reasons: apathetic and arbitrary. His only principle is that all men are created equal.

On the other hand, several friends have confided in me that they hope their funerals are events filled with joy and celebration, either because they have been given an opportunity to live a great life, however short, or because of an unyielding conviction in the glory and peace of the afterlife.  I do not deny a logic to this, depending on one’s belief, but I think it is in danger of leading too far in the opposite direction. If the first tendency of a questioning sorrow might lead us to despair and ultimate apathy, disconnection and escapism, the second tendency of unabashed joy may lead to the renunciation of suffering and death as an enemy, and eventually the significance of life in this world. Is there truly nothing lost when one leaves this life? Even if you have ascended to eternal glory, is it wrong that I long for your presence and your comfort? What of children who cannot be raised by their parents, or mothers robbed of their infants? Should the sufferer not be suffered? I could not accept a God that made me to love so powerfully and yet who would deny me the right to mourn. One must certainly look to God in such confusion and see the injustice and the outrage. Yet God Himself could not bear the burden of this virtue. Did not Christ also weep at the death of Lazarus, though he already knew he would be raised by His hands? Even as the hands and feet of Christ were pierced, did not a sword pierce Mary’s soul? If there is joy, it must be sublime in the midst of suffering, not in contention with it.

I think no matter one’s religious background, people return to reciting their distant dogmas to provide comfort to those they know who have experienced loss. For many, the expectation to comfort proves more foreign and difficult than does even suffering itself.  But here is the mistake. Words are not an answer; not explanations anyway. No movement of the rational mind can solely answer the question of the soul. Here we distinctly discover against all our rationalist tendencies that mere understanding does not bring peace. At its worst, it brings withdrawal and the hardness of solitude. There is a recognition that one must eventually endure through the darkness of suffering. But both a logical apathy and a logical joyfulness deny the right to suffer, and they declare the wounds as illegitimate. The scars left upon us by those we love may be painful, but they are the testament and indents of those who have left us, their direct legacy in this world. I do not think any joy or apathetic acceptance should be the answering sensations to the anguish of loss, but rather a desperate hope. But do not attempt to justify such hope, for to do so would be to ruin it. One must be the hope. The deepest consolation comes not from words, or even ideas, but from presence and love. Presence pulls one out from the loneliness and buried darkness, and love renews the heart, slowly but intently. Indeed, in the United States we have forgotten this lesson. We have shunned suffering, and thus we have forgotten how to suffer. No, we have forgotten even longsuffering.

Death must remind us that not all tears are evil. We must not flee from the grief of death. Christ did not give any well-reasoned answer to console us. Rather He was the answer. Words were incapable of saving us, so God sent the Word Himself. Suffering and death may be unjust, but then God also suffered and died and bore the epitome of this injustice. And His death and suffering give hope; His wounds and imprint survive in the beauty and ugliness of His followers on earth that still bear His name as the Body of Christ. Through them, His love and presence remain tangible however imperfectly until His return. It is through this tension of sorrow and hope that joy and peace may be attained, not as an alternative perspective, but rather as a gift gained through the grappling of time and love. Such an answer may be a mystery, but do not declare it so, except maybe in a whisper. Do not explain the mystery, though perhaps you believe it can be done. Words are only imperfect attempts at grasping for the hidden and mystical reality around us, and in all their power, words can shatter the truth by declaring it. When others so poignantly endure the evils of this world, let us not meet them with deficient platitudes. Let us not give Death such dignity while forgoing the dignity of man. Let us be as Christ and suffer with them.

Deliberating Liberty

Since I was a child, I have long heard of the all-encompassing Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. My first thought is always that this is an imprecise translation of the great command of Christ, to love thy neighbor as thyself. The difference the word “love” makes in a classical Christian understanding is certainly a topic worthy of reflection. However, it was only this past week that I heard of the Platinum Rule: treat others as they want to be treated. At this, I shuddered. If the other desires death, should I give it to him? Where does this leave the formative process of parenting? Is my understanding of goodness so banal, that I can never be allowed to do something other than exactly what the other desires of me? In this manner of thinking, I have become merely an object, conforming to the expectations and desires of the other person, as opposed to a subject that can apply the pressure of another reality on my fellow man. Yet what better rule describes the moral dogma inherent to our modern society? Truly, the ethic is simple: everyone should be allowed the freedom to make whatever choices they choose, the only boundaries being to cause no harm, and to not constrain the same liberty of another. Increasingly, the first restraint begins in practice to look much more like the second. It has become commonplace and droll to see individuals rebel against the constructs of gender, sexual identity, traditional morality, and any other antiquated system against which they can prevail; they perceive a certain bravery and self-righteousness in rebelling against the heritage of their ancestors who have passed and can no longer defend themselves. All the while, they bow at the altar of the modern moment and believe themselves to be free thinkers. In all this, the recurring virtue is that of individual liberty, and the rights of the individual to identify and act as they so please. My purpose is to show that this blundering concept of freedom as individualist and unrestrained is both incoherent and untrue.

When people speak of a “free” country, I believe such a statement can only be reduced to the necessity of a free people, as in free individuals. Even if we think of a country with a powerful central government as determined by the people as free, all forms of freedom reduce down to the freedom of the individual to vote as he pleases. Therefore, one may conclude that the issue of the liberty of a nation is first the metaphysical problem of the freedom of a person. A “free people” first assumes that persons are actually free. In fact, the basic liberty of the individual is not simply assumed, but in our Western cultures declared a fundamental right. The timeless debate of course revolves around an overwhelming sense of free will against the painfully solid logic of determinism, or causation. In short, we have an unassailable intuition that we as individuals have a will free to ourselves guiding our thoughts and actions, yet, how can one deny the determinist logic, that the forces lying behind whatever one calls the will are not determined by ourselves, but rather by nature and nurture: a genealogy and circumstantial experience. I myself argue a compatibilist viewpoint of will and predetermination, that is there is a reality of both free will and determinism, and the truth of each lies in the tension of the causal agent or person. But in terms of the political reality, all one must realize is the existence of a “practical” free will; that is, even if one cannot make sense of free will, it is impossible for him to live without the actual sense of it. The basic precepts of Enlightenment political thinking (upon which the American governmental system is based) depend upon the rights and dignity of the autonomous individual, but these precepts are incomplete in themselves, for they forget or take for granted the determinist flank, that the individual is hardly autonomous, but necessarily contingent on preexisting structure.

Therefore, what one discovers is that the will (if we allow for it) is necessarily tied to a causal being, and significantly, this given being (the person) must precede all movements of the will. This brings the inquirer to consider the nature of identity. However one defines a personal identity, she must confirm the reality of an identity, at least if thinking is to proceed to a practical vision of politics (which necessitates multiple persons in interaction with one another). But why should one be tied to her given identity? Is it not the popular argument that one can overcome traditionalistic constructs of what a person is in order to discover and determine who she actually is? In fact, much commercialism and various political platforms depends upon just this instinct, that the individual can better himself or change himself to something more desirable to his sensibilities and should be able to do it. There is a reality to this idea of self-determination, even in the deepest senses, as seen in recent advances in the sciences of neuroplasticity and psychology (not to mention plastic surgery). However, any concept of self-change is still incomplete without a preceding “self” reacting both to itself and an external object. Our means of creation, to include self-recreation, depends first on knowledge of a different end-state, and any end-state that is completely produced by the self must first originate from the self, and thus still first exists as potential in the original self. Self-determination is thus wrongly named, for movement toward a change in identity is more akin to a call and a response, or growth towards a potential image. Self-redefinition might be a better term, but the “current self” is what decides to move towards a “new self,” and the “new self” is either found as a reaction or an idealization of what already exists outside the self as made possible in a potential within the “current self.” In other words, the concept of the autonomous individual, apart from any restraints, whether internal or external, remains nonsensical. Rather the individual only comes into true freedom through a deepening understanding of such constraints as essential to the identity from which liberty originates. To truly transcend the self, we must depend on something first from outside the self. What one finds is that to have any sense of self and its proceeding actions of the will, one must consider two things: identity and image; origin and direction. Liberty, if thought of outside of these two considerations of preceding structure, is chaos; and thus any sense of identity and change remain contingent. In short, individual freedom is utterly dependent on what already is.

Apart from identity as the origins of liberty, I feel there is also need to discuss the nature of individual liberty itself as a valuable thing. The premise is that individual liberty is an inherently valuable and desirable reality and right. Consider the actual purpose of individual liberty as making a choice. First, if the ability to make one’s own decisions is valuable, it means the actual decisions and actions hold meaning and value at some level. However, if this is true, the concept of liberty as escape from all restraint is again self-referentially absurd, for making a choice immediately denies the individual the ability to make any other choices. To choose is the same as to deny all other choices at that moment. If freedom is worthless unless one makes an actual choice, every choice demands then the death of freedom, for all other options that could have been, or might have been, are forever lost. Freedom for the sake of freedom is both self-defeating and delusional; it is a right that can never be exercised. True freedom finds its purpose not in itself, but in its responsible use.

On the other hand, one might say that to import such a responsibility on decisions is incorrect, for all decisions are valuable simply as a matter of the exercising of liberty itself. The choice itself does not so much matter as the fact that the individual made the choice. However, freedom without any value placed on purpose or demand similarly destroys itself, for if all choices are equivalent, then how can any meaning in choosing one choice over another exist? If that liberty was somehow denied or restructured, the ability to make a choice would not then matter, and thus choosing itself cannot hold value. Of course, actions yield consequences, some seen and some unseen, and if one is to deem any set of consequences as better than another, then it follows that specific decisions are better or worse than others. This leads into a discussion of ethics that I will not enter here, but suffice it to say, if there is a discussion of ethics, one must yield that there exists a better or worse in decision-making. It is exactly this ability to produce meaningful effects that grants weight and value to individual decision-making.

As a final note on practical free will, there is no choice in making a choice, for even not making a choice is a choice. Therefore, as beings who are inherently and (practically speaking) inescapably free, if we consider our ability to make choices as valuable, then we cannot escape the fact that our very existence is valuable and meaningful, for we cannot escape our own freedom. As already seen in the discussion of identity, individual liberty itself defined as unrestrained license is nonsensical, but rather is dependent, almost paradoxically, on denying the self its limitless choices by making choices. Naturally, these observations lead into the natural understanding that what choices are made matter, and thus, there must be a responsibility in making decisions for decisions to be valuable. Again, for liberty to be valuable, it must be restrained by the reality of a morality, or a guiding direction. Moreover, due to the contingency of identity, the nature of liberty comes full circle, for every person has a great and terrible responsibility to every other. Thus it must be that the origin and directive of individual liberty can never be solely individualistic, but also communal at its heart.

At this point, there are two usual directions one can take. The first is the relativist position, meaning that there is no means to discover objectivity or an absolute truth in terms of identity, morality, or purpose. A person cannot escape her own psychology; therefore, she can only ever hope to find her identity through self-determination and her purpose and ethical beliefs through personal appraisals. Any attempt by others or circumstances to convince her of any structure of reality or “ought” otherwise is necessarily infringing upon her given liberty. However, once she realizes that she can never be an autonomous individual (for the person is necessarily contingent), she discovers the defeat of freedom. All actions of the will become meaningless, for the person can never escape that which is given; they are trapped by the inherent structure of existence. To exercise liberty becomes to deny liberty. If liberty is merely the escape from restraint, then it is numb, for it is impossible. If objectivity is lost in this utter existential loneliness, then there can be no true metaphysical liberty, and also no guarantee to the right of individual liberty (however one defines it in a political structure).  The right and value of individual liberty is lost both for a lack of an objective means of determining a right and for the concept of individual liberty becoming self-referentially absurd.

The second direction available recognizes that truth not only exists, but can be apprehended. In other words, there is a means to better discover what the individual truly is as well as what the individual truly should be and do. The first consideration is an optimistic view of ontology (the study of being), and the second is the concern of universal ethics. In other words, a meaningful freedom and any right to liberty must first find foundation in truth, in a real sense of what is and what should be. This gives liberty a purpose and a bite. It means liberty can be determined as inherently a right, and that an objective value can be assigned to any given action of the will. Only in this structure can liberty find meaning. Only in this structure can liberty find the value which Western society has placed upon it. The existence of a free people depends first on an objective understanding of what man is as an inherently free being and that his freedom matters enough to be considered right or wrong, wise or foolish and thus effectual in relation to the whole of reality around him. Ultimately, the responsibility of self-governance must first depend on the responsibility of governing the self.

However, this second direction still leaves the question open as to who should determine the objective truths. Yet, the utterly individualistic approach of determining an objective identity and direction is not only untrue in practice, but as I hopefully have shown, incoherent. Objective identity and ethics can only be realized in cultural and communal constructs, for we not only learn these categories, but we also learn our methodologies of thinking from such constructs, either as accepting them or reacting to them. Previous and complementary to any established traditions of identity and ethics, a people can only discover and complement their constructs by means of a revelation of experience as understood through reason. If one is to doubt these, then there can be no basis for knowledge and therefore no basis to a right or value of liberty. To individualize liberty is to forsake true liberty. To break down the cultural edifices of morality and identity is to tear apart the very vanguards of liberty established by Western heritage, and the metaphysical position of the unrealistically autonomous individual and the nebulous “no harm” principle will continually prove anemic in replacing them.

Currently, this reality of individual freedom is the hidden elephant in the room at the foundation of our cultural wars. If the basic right of liberty depends upon the license of every individual to self-identify and self-direct, then it becomes the state’s priority to ensure that any form of contingency in relationship be overcome. Of course, to do so requires devaluing the choices of the individual by allowing them no effect outside themselves, at once stealing the inherent meaningfulness away from liberty and robbing the community of any direction. Furthermore, it would require that rights become “alienable,” since the individual’s right to make decisions about herself now trumps any other consideration that would follow from an inherent dignity. Thus individual rights can be denied by the self as an individual right, somewhat circularly. What is left is a group of self-defined individuals who can have no power to challenge or influence the constructs to which each other binds himself. The once laudable virtue of tolerance formerly sprouted from a responsibility to love thy neighbor because it considered thy neighbor to be objectively and dogmatically worthy of love in spite of any difference of belief, practice, or appearance. Now a degraded tolerance has taken its place that bases itself in disconnection and a grand epistemic uncertainty. This is a “love” that believes the greatest choice is to leave the other alone or adhere to their construct. Therefore, the preeminence of the Platinum Rule. The community then loses identity and direction due to the endless varieties of existential grasping manifested in pursuit of a pure individualism, and the duty of the state becomes to manage the chaos in the most efficient manner possible. However, the best guarantor of such a liberty would be by a centralized head of power, lest others who disagree with such a doctrine of freedom should continue to resist it and impose their wills upon others. The concept of individuals choosing a communal direction which would by necessity become binding on others is sinful from this point of view. The “sinner” must be silenced—anaesthetized with the rest of the population. Let them have the vote, just let it not be effective. Freedom becomes both politically and metaphysically a lovable illusion, and its restrictions and purpose will continue to shift under the benevolent hand of an unrestrained government.  When the jolly prophet once spoke, “Once abolish the God, then the government becomes the god,” this is what he foresaw. Liberty will be guaranteed as long as it doesn’t matter.

Fortunately, liberty as autonomous and individual has been demonstrated as absurd, despite our intuitive sense of it.  No matter how much one attempts to make it so, the reality is humans can never escape themselves until they destroy themselves. The structures and beliefs of society that act as bulwarks of liberty are often imperfect, but come to existence naturally in nearly every community. The family, father, mother, and child, must be the basis of all liberty, for here we have the two separate sides of humanity come together to create the new. In all cases, these individuals are dependent upon one another, both for the ability to create and for the structure of the new person who is created. Here more than anywhere else is the basis of humanity found in striking defiance of the individualistic mindset. The continuance of humanity (if we value such a thing) depends on connection. Here freedom is tested in its responsibility. A holistic conversation on the values of the family would require more space than I intend to use here, but other structures of liberty exist as well. Education is simply the traditions of knowledge and truth that we choose to pass down to following generations, to include the methodologies we attempt to utilize in that pursuit. As long as education can be tempered by the convictions of the previous generations (as opposed to being dominated by a select few in academia or in governance), it may always be imperfect, but it would be free. Religion of course is necessary for giving the people narrative and objectivity in their self-understanding and purpose. Religion in its Western formation offers a direct and continual challenge to changing currents of thought and principles in an increasingly secular society. The West would be remiss to forget that many of its values and morals found origin in Judaism and Christianity, most essentially the inherent dignity of man, though they have attempted to trade a religious foundation for an anthropological one. The Church and State may be separate, but never should religion be disengaged from the public forum. Following this is localized governance, where the politicians are one’s neighbors, friends, and family. In this context, those who lead the community are most closely tied to the people and directly responsible to the people, with the threat of more immediate consequences for disservice. Of course, all these institutions are latent with flaws, yet they are free. Freedom requires the opportunity for wise and unwise choices. It requires the ability to do wrong as well as right. The liberty of man is not impeccably intended to appear efficient, pleasurable, or tidy, but it is beautiful and inescapable.

In conclusion, if we do not believe we can or should come to a dogmatic and objective agreement on the nature of human identity and freedom, then we must deny liberty as a value and a right. We must trade it, for freedom only leads to chaos, inefficiency, and pain. Either rise as a self-avowed mastermind of a utopian or trans-human ideal, or waste away in the agonizing numbness of your own existence, but do not speak of liberty, for liberty unfounded on truth is tyranny. The more we become convinced of the language of liberty as indistinct from the unrestrained individual, the more we tear down the societal restrictions that defend its mystical virtue and veracity, which even the ever rational Jefferson felt right to invoke the divine to ensure. Man must either be herded to whatever end by whatever means, for he is but another animal, or there must be a faith behind his dignity and his liberty. Such rights derived from an objective understanding of what man is, as inherently dignified, and most powerfully expressed as the very image of God. The continuation of democratic liberty of our nation was dependent upon two things which go hand-in-hand: a well-educated and moral people. Education allows for a sharpness of mind to see through the lie of the tyrant; whereas the morality is the very structure adhered to by the people to preserve the people, specifically to both maintain their freedom and guide them in it. The beauty of our system is that it is based on dogmas and a creed, considered self-evident, that all men are created equal, that their rights are inalienable, and that government leads only at their consent. But a people is not simply a collection of individuals; they are bound together. And it is only together, unified in love and truth, that they may be free.

Guns and Consistency

Following the recent tragedy in Oregon, I cannot help but agree with President Obama’s assessment: prayers and sentiment are no longer enough in the wake of such wanton violence, not when the decision to take action is available. For too long, Americans have had to live under the fear of random and unexpected scenarios of violence and death for which they are unprepared. Sadly, such events are often all too preventable, yet we sit on our hands. Despite frequent news coverage, many less appalling incidents resulting in death or severe injuries go largely unreported. Unchecked prevalence of this market in our current culture has been directly related not only to murder, but suicides and fatal accidents, and yet, sheer cultural sentiment, supported by massive lobbies, continue to guard against the enactment of common sense laws, hiding beneath the mask of supposed “counter arguments” opposing further regulation. After some basic research, I find the conclusions are nearly unavoidable. We must push our Congress to highly restrict, perhaps even ban, citizens from the ownership and use of guns…and alcohol.

As should be no surprise, alcohol is a much more powerful and effective killer than any firearm in our society. According to the CDC, 1 in 10 deaths of Americans between the ages of 20-64 are directly related to alcohol use.  In Oregon, the numbers are 1 in 9. As I became slowly more educated on the arguments for gun restrictions, I began to realize nearly every single argument applies to alcohol as well. The main difference is only that alcohol has proven much more deadly.  Here are the arguments in brief:

  1. The first argument is simple logic. If you make guns less available, then there will be fewer guns and gun related incidents. By the same logic, if you make alcohol less available by restricting or banning alcohol, alcohol related deaths decrease. Of course, these restrictions apply only to those who obey the law, as the NRA and the anti-Prohibitionists will remind us, but decreased availability will almost certainly result in a decrease in incidents. Also, merely because people will disobey the law is not enough reason not to have sensible law. It may be an imperfect solution, but the restrictions will lead the nation in the right direction and gradually decrease related incidents.  As law enforcement and culture gradually shift to taking such issues more seriously, illegal establishments serving guns or alcohol will certainly decrease as well, as commercial interest will eventually wane and the perceived risk for criminal perpetration increases.
  2. The Second Amendment at the time it was enacted clearly did not foresee the incredible availability of weapons capable of such deadly force. Furthermore, the Second Amendment was instated with the concept of a regulated militia in mind, as opposed to a large variety of justice-seeking vigilantes. In contrast, no express right for alcohol consumption or ownership exists in our Constitution apart from basic property rights, which, as obvious in the case of weapons and the existence of taxes, are not absolute. Of course, the Founding Fathers did not prohibit alcohol either, but they could not have foreseen the widespread use and necessity of motor vehicles, which has clearly changed the playing field. Therefore, it is sound to ban both in cases of private use, according to the Constitution.
  3. Next, guns in their inherent purpose are designed to kill with very minimal skill and physicality required. Alcoholic beverages are designed with no practical purpose aside from inhibiting good sense in a form of self-indulgent escapism, and drinking said beverages also requires minimal skill and physicality. One might say that the designed purposes of either item are clearly disproportionate in terms of yielding undesired outcomes, but let us shift the perspective. One might as well say the express purpose of a gun is to shoot a bullet, but clearly the vast majority of bullets shot in America either while hunting or at a range do not result in human death or injury, because they are used responsibly. The possibility of a bullet causing a human death therefore primarily has to do with the training, situation, and intention of the shooter. If drinkers are irresponsible, though it might not be their original intention, they just as easily kill others or, under alcoholic influence, commit violent crimes. Simply because a majority of Americans exercise responsible use of either guns or alcohol is not an excuse to justify the high frequency of irresponsible use for either product when they serve no inherent benefit to individual or communal livelihood. If we are honest in confronting the many available statistics, both items have a cult of users and abusers who cling to their preferred item for sentiment instead of any realistically useful reason.
  4. Perhaps the most touted argument of the alcohol-defender is that of the historical failure of Prohibition. However, one might recall that the British attempted to control guns in the colonies just prior to the American Revolution, and obviously, the strict regulations did not work well for them either. The point is that culture changes, and we have the ability to guide that cultural shift. Historical failures are not excuses for failing to do what needs to be done today, and clearly, whatever we are doing now to solve the alcohol problem is not working, as it is currently the third highest preventable cause of death in the United States. Indeed, a majority of adults above the age of 18 do not consume alcohol excessively or irresponsibly, and as law abiding citizens, would likely be able to put the drink down without too much coercion if they were educated about how dire the situation truly was. Over time, with improved law enforcement and the expressed interest in saving lives, the alcoholic and gun cultures can be defeated with patience and perseverance.
  5. As is very well known, other countries have banned guns effectively, such as Britain and most importantly, Australia. Maybe less known, other countries have banned alcohol effectively as well. One might note that countries with effective bans on alcohol are mostly Middle Eastern nations influenced heavily by Islamic ethics, which are strongly anti-alcohol. However, this simply returns to the need to reshape culture instead of simply accepting a widespread culture of death and assuming there is nothing more that we as a concerned populace can do to affect change. While the meaning of the gun statistics in Australia seems endlessly debatable, we do find that gun crime in both Australia and the US has decreased nearly identically between the years of 1995 and 2007; on the other hand, over the years following the Australian gun ban in 1997, violent crime increased in their country overall by 42.2%. Success and failure in these prohibitions can only be effectively measured over generational spans requiring culture to shift. Measures of success and failure require a realistic and long-term perspective, taking into consideration negative initial reactions as well as relevant anecdotal evidence that can only compile over long lengths of time. On the contrary, the usual arguments (perhaps necessarily) consist of preconceived, desirable interpretations established by finding the most favorable statistics. A holistic answer must address long-term benefit in terms of saving lives, but that term must be seen generationally, as clearly arising issues will differ between times and cultures. Statistics offer limited inductive evidence, but never deductive proof.
  6. Another typical pro-alcohol argument is that alcohol can be easily made with store bought products in one’s own home, and thus, it cannot be realistically regulated. The same argument applies to methamphetamines, child porn, poison, bombs, and interestingly, guns. One might argue that the required skills and tools available to create guns are much more difficult to acquire than those to make alcohol, but such an argument is a red herring. Both the knowledge and the tools are extremely available (trust me, just google it), and in an illegal market, both the knowledge and tools become much more profitable to obtain and utilize. Furthermore, the ease of doing something illegal does not mean the act itself should not still be illegal. It is easy to sell one’s body for sex, but we still regard prostitution as illegal based on the nation’s view on a woman’s dignity. If one belongs to the pro-prostitution lot, then child porn or domestic abuse are two fitting alternatives. The ease of creating alcohol is not a justification for its legality.
  7. Of course, we have current restrictions on both guns and alcohol consumption; perhaps we need only to reconsider the most effective regulations. However, even with the most stringent restrictions in regards to whom can legally purchase guns, background checks are imperfect, waiting periods only forestall the inevitable, and the firearms often get into the wrong hands through theft, private sales, or gift giving. Similarly, we do have restrictions on who can legally purchase alcohol, but obviously, reaching the age of 21 is no sign of responsibility. Furthermore, fake IDs, lack of physical barriers in private households, and adult purchases with intention to share with minors and other irresponsible adults make any such restrictions implausible. Once either guns or alcohol leave the established providers, there is so way to track or enforce their appropriate use.
  8. Both firearms and alcohol have strong correlations with suicide. In fact, I would argue alcohol is the more dangerous factor. There exists any number of available means of committing suicide apart from guns, but alcohol directly affects one’s rationality and inhibitions, which is where the true fight against suicide lies. Indeed, according to a recent study, almost one-fourth of suicide victims in the United States are legally intoxicated at the time of death. Restricting availability would likely save lives in this regard as well.
  9. Naturally, most mass homicides in the United States utilize firearms. Interestingly, alcohol abuse is more highly linked to the profiles of homicidal shooters than mental illness or illegal drugs. The profiles of criminals incarcerated for violent crimes indicate that about 40% had been drinking at the time they committed these offenses. Indeed, apart from gun availability, the chief link between mass shooters, more than mental illness or drug abuse, is alcohol. One may argue that this is not causation, but rather correlation, yet alcohol abuse certainly does not assist in stopping these killers. Rather, it likely eases their natural inhibitions against committing violence. In terms of mass shootings, gun availability may provide the means, but alcohol likely assists in prompting the will. Argument of correlation and causation at this point may be debatable, but the same argument would apply to mental illness and other factors heavily focused on prevention that are often taken for granted. In either case, its consistent presence is certainly unsettling.
  10. Another claim is that America has a gun violence problem when compared to the rest of the world, and the statistics displaying our high threshold of gun-related deaths are widespread. Additionally, America also has a serious problem with alcohol related deaths. I have often heard that America should strive to imitate Europe in this regard; they argue that Europe is so lax with alcohol that the culture naturally encourages responsible and reasonable drinking habits. In fact, Europe is the only area of the world that consistently outperforms the United States in alcohol related deaths.
  11. Many pro-gun advocates argue that guns can be used for sports or hunting, and the government should not infringe on these activities. I have heard even Australia has regulations instated to enable citizens to participate in these activities with their own firearms. However, no matter one’s stance on this issue, no serious likeness exists in the realm of alcoholic drinking, unless one would count beer pong as an amateur sport. Of course, any games that result in excessive drinking only increases risk in modern circumstances by the sheer nature of encouraging further drinking, whereas hunters and sportsmen utilize their weapons in much safer contexts.
  12. Apparently, according to a number of articles, America has the highest gun ownership per capita in the world. At the very least, Americans recognize firearms are widely owned and distributed in the States. Thus, most people probably know of someone who owns a gun that they could obtain if desired through proper planning and forethought, even if they could not buy one from a commercial vendor. Naturally, the United States also has an extremely high number of people who own alcoholic products at any given time. The difference being that alcohol is much less secure and more ubiquitous, only hidden and contained behind a refrigerator door. If someone was unable to obtain alcohol from a commercial vendor, the neighbor’s fridge would be nearly as accessible.
  13. A high level of training is necessary, or at least encouraged, to be able to responsibly wield and use firearms in sudden circumstances of self-defense, especially in public locations. Often this facet of the argument does not receive enough attention, as many poorly trained gun wielders may hurt themselves or others. However, a very low level of education is necessary for responsible alcohol use, and while that education is prevalent and often obvious, basic principles of consumption continue to be ignored, as attested by the continuation of alcohol related death. Thus, mere education is not in itself a solution for either product, even if it has some marginal effects.
  14. Gun advocates might maintain that weapons are necessary in fighting back against a potentially tyrannical United States government. The usual retort is that a rag-tag group of citizens could not possibly resist the might of the modern United States military, with its superior technology and organization. No matter where one stands on whether the government should rightfully have the monopoly on arms in the modern era, alcohol has no such idealistic purpose to stand upon. I have not bothered to research the effectiveness of alcoholic escapism in combating personal problems.
  15. One common theme in limiting gun violence is to limit legal magazine sizes and types of weapons that can be legally owned. Similarly, perhaps limiting alcohol content and types of alcohol in circulation would help the problem.  While this thought may deserve some credit, bullets still kill and alcohol still influences the mind. A perpetrator of either item can still easily find a way to kill mass numbers of people (by having multiple legal firearms for example) or get irresponsibly drunk (either by creating more potent drinks through distillation and other methods, or simply increasing the quantity of the beverages consumed).
  16. While gun free zones might assist in limiting areas where firearms accidents can occur around mass numbers of people, one cannot help but notice a majority of mass shootings occur in these areas, as they tend to be sensitive areas that draw a large population, such as schools, churches, or theaters. One common misnomer is that the shooting incident in Fort Hood was not a gun-free zone, but as anyone in the military can attest, military members do not walk around their base with loaded weapons. Rather, weapons and ammunition are heavily controlled on military posts. Therefore, gun-free zones, to include military bases which likely do have highly efficient law enforcement response times, appear to have limited to no effect in controlling mass shootings; this form of regulation seems obviously ineffective in itself. Alcohol has a reasonable comparison in that there are laws against public intoxication or performing certain tasks while intoxicated (such as driving). However, these very restrictions are consistently violated. I might mention that most popular drinking establishments are a car ride away, another case of businesses indirectly encouraging illegal and deadly behavior. In both cases, areas and activities where guns and alcohol can do the most harm continue to prove vulnerable to death and violence despite strict law enforcement acting to the contrary.
  17. One might argue that we should leave it to the states to determine their own gun policies in order to measure their effectiveness without invoking federal power. However, gun laws are nearly impossible to support at state and local levels due to the consumer’s ability to buy prohibited weapons in nearby states. Clearly, the same principles of commerce and transportation between states apply to alcohol.  In order to apply effective restrictions, the government must enact law at the federal level. One might argue that guns and alcohol can still be easily smuggled in from other countries, especially through the Mexican border.  While this is doubtlessly a legitimate fear, the national borders can and must be heavily secured and controlled in order to avoid severe and dangerous weapon and alcohol proliferation at the borders. (Allow that realization to slowly sink in.)
  18. Finally, both alcohol and guns are common contributors to domestic violence and accidental injuries in the households. Alcohol especially is commonly found as connected to any number of severe crimes, from domestic abuse to sexual assault or rape. For further unsettling facts associated with alcohol prevalence, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides a number of jarring facts about its unquestionable societal detriment.

Whether one agrees with me or not, my point here is to show that common arguments that demand gun control can almost unanimously be applied to similar restrictions against alcohol, and advocates for free alcohol use have much less ground to stand upon, either based in ideals or statistics. Naturally, all analogies break down at some point, and I imagine a few of the bolder readers have already scoured the internet for their evidences to contradict one claim or another. Just pondering the comparison, I imagine one could argue that death caused by guns only require a trigger pull, as opposed to much more complicated and incidental circumstances that would require alcohol use to result in death. Yet against all odds, alcohol is undeniably the greater killer. Of course, I am well aware of the consequences and lessons learned from our previous attempt at Prohibition, and I will provide you a relevant link that discusses the associated issues it presented.  Nevertheless, prior to that amendment, the arguments were overwhelmingly in favor of Prohibition, and the negative results were highly unexpected by all the experts and statisticians. If even part of my argument holds, it follows that those who argue for more restrictions on guns also should argue for more restrictions on alcohol. Furthermore, assuming the purpose of those who argue to restrict guns is to reduce unnecessary death and violence, I struggle to see how they could not argue all the more vehemently for a solution to the alcohol epidemic. If the American people simply recognized the amount of death, violence, and societal pain inflicted by alcohol, one would think the responsible adult would be willing to put the bottle down. However, people are not so selfless.

In conclusion, I realize Prohibition might not look the same as a ban or increased restrictions on guns (I am not a prophet); however, I also ask that those who advocate for such laws understand the psychological issue from the alternative side. Imagine that you and your family and friends have enjoyed alcohol responsibly for all your life, but finally the government declared your possession of it an inherent danger to society. Would you be so quick to give up something you love and enjoy? If you were someone trained in the use of firearms and knew how to prevent and effectively neutralize mass shooters, would you feel the government justified in taking away the tool that may have served you effectively in the military or law enforcement when your family is involved? Finally, if you have difficulty separating your own logic for increased gun control away from the logic for increased restrictions on alcohol, I recommend pursuing deeper education to improve your position on both issues and flee incoherence and hypocrisy (unless you believe the argument holds). We should move away from simply sharing pop statistics and incomplete arguments and acknowledge the difficulty of the debate in brotherhood with those whom you disagree. The United States is a free and stable nation, and many of those men and women wielding weapons helped create and maintain that very reality.

Three Empty Words

The following thoughts are not a commentary on politics, but rather a politics on commentary.  In the course of reading thoughts and debates amongst my peers on current political issues, I do not claim to have all the right answers, but I can tell when someone really has no answer.  When it comes to claiming one’s position, especially in the realms of politics and religion, I think it fair to say we have fallen into a state of “sound byte” or “bumper sticker” philosophy, where holistic ideas are replaced with short, witty statements or singular words that bear either a positive or negative sentiment.  Unfortunately, due to the quick excitement of wit and the ease of not expanding one’s attention span, short quips once endowed with great meaning have been emptied.  Thinking has been replaced by a shell, the image of thinking.  It is in regards to this image that I write today.

When people speak on either side of a political issue, especially as highlighted in the recent government shut down, the word “bipartisanship” continues to recur like the empty clanging of a tin bell.  Everyone in the television news thinks we need more bipartisanship, so naturally everyone who watches the television news thinks we need more bipartisanship, and to this moment I have not the slightest clue what these people are talking about.  Bipartisanship might simply refer to respectful talk and debate on a topic.  We would certainly prefer if our representatives talked with each other, but as is made clear in diplomacy and history, not talking remains a legitimate tactic to achieving one’s ends, and talking does not ensure agreement, especially when the two parties wish they were not talking.  Probably, bipartisanship would be better defined by its intention, that is, the ability to compromise and come to a mutual decision.  Clearly agreement and compromise is a rightful political measure, but what shall our two parties agree upon?  If the question is whether to chop off one’s arm at the shoulder or not, is the compromise to chop off the hand?  If one relies on the principle that maintaining a full and operative limb is necessary for healthy living, where we place the stub on the mutilated arm makes little difference, especially when returning to its prior state is impossible.  Assume we compromise and chop off the hand and oddly things do not bode well.  The only reasonable next action in that situation (or so would say the pundits) would be to continue to chop further and further up the arm since we cannot restore the hand anyway.  Ideally, the condition should get better at later state as the original argument dictated it would.  They would declare that things are not better because we have not progressed enough.  However, on returning to first principles, we realize this argument is flawed.  Under what pressure do we claim that a man should abandon his first principles?

And here we discover the next empty word, that doctrine known as progress.  Notice the argument employed to continue mutilation of the limb relies on its necessity, or its eventual continuation and its inability to return to a previous state.  Progress has become an argument in itself.  How often do the moderns speak of making progress, or criticizing those who hinder progress?  People prefer to be moving in some direction, but when two parties disagree inherently on that direction, compromising a principle is no compromise at all.  If two men, bound together, found themselves at a crossroads, and one believes quite strongly the best route goes east, and the other is rather convinced the correct route leads west, it is difficult for me to see how going north or south accomplishes anything.  More often, we find the plea is the case of stalemate, where one party argues, “From here we shall go nowhere, let us go East, for it is better than sitting still.”  But his companion would again look at his map and argue that East would lead to despair, that only West shall accomplish anything worthwhile.  The man wishing to go east may make some form of compromise, perhaps offering some food and a promise that at the next intersection they can follow his lead.  The problem is, at the next intersection, they follow the same man east once more.  If the path eventually leads directly off a cliff, I would argue remaining at an unmoving stalemate would be the second man’s moral obligation to ensure.  The argument of progress can easily be used to lead us to either heaven or hell, because progress alone is a doctrine solely of movement, which is temporary, and not of an end state, which can be much more permanent.  The question in this form of argument is not one of bipartisanship or progress, but rather one of who is holding their map upside down.

An intelligent friend of mine once remarked to me that the United States should be more like Europe in its politics, where there is much greater consensus and much less extremism.   Apparently, there are fewer radicals and fringe groups in places of power in Europe.  For example, the Tea Party in the United States fills the papers and headlines in our time as the radical right-wing fringe group, but there is no modern day Jacobin movement in France or any British party wishing to restore the Empire.  But from where has the modern Tea Party grown?  If the modern Tea Party is based on anything, it is based on principles and a rejection of the current political mold, a mold only based on principles when it suits its adherents (in other words, not based on principles).  Principles commonly act like dogmas: They are difficult to change and refute once accepted and appear as madness to those who are foreign to them.  However, it was not good politics, but principles (right or wrong) that drove several minor colonies to revolt against the most powerful Empire in the world in 1776.  Such dogmas are madness to the modern’s skeptical mind, but they are a madness more effective and enduring than the softness of modernity.  The problem has never been extremists in politics; the problem has been finding the central position.  How can we declare insanity when we cannot yet define sanity?  Good politics fail to impress me; good principles, popular or not, always do.    Europe may not have any fringe groups, but we may in a grand historical perspective find their center dangerously far left with no hope of returning to a sense only found outside of the modern perspective.  In short, the labels of “radical” and “fringe” do not make any declaration on what is right or what is true, and when used alone to form a point, are more akin to ad hominem than any real argument.  Perhaps the absence of a notable left-wing fringe group in the media reveals that we are member to the left-wing fringe.

In concluding, my purpose in writing this, if anyone will read it, is only to express my frustration with the use of “bipartisanship”, “progress”, and “radicalism” as arguments and reasons for such and such in current debates.  They are buzzwords with no inherent intellectual value, but carrying a grand amount of public sentiment.  As principles in themselves, I believe them inextricably flawed.  When a movement progresses that thinks differently from your own, whether right or wrong, there generally exists some truth or goodness to be gained from it, and the use of such words to ignore them entirely is a hypocritical blow to thought.  Define your principles and why you believe them.  Then ask yourself, if the entire world demanded you abandon them because you were the only one who held them, would you?  In the words of Chesterton, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

Of Pipes and Strings

The guitarist hurried to his usual spot in the city park, a vintage amp hanging from one hand and a beaten Fender slung across his back.  The light breeze barely managed to whisk back his thick blonde hair, stretching down to just above his shoulders as he approached the spot.  The worn Converse sneakers padded with a distinct stickiness along the antiquated bricks of the old pathway as the scraggly young man made his way to the green park bench.  The bench acted as his stage beneath the spotlight of a tall iron street lamp, glowing in the early evening like an ancient, colonial beacon to all things rock and roll.  Inscribed in the backing of the bench was the word, “Community,” an odd notion for an area where people from so many other communities preferred to pass each other by.  With his usual cool, Keith placed his amp on the bench, utilizing the outlet in the little brick wall behind him, and positioned his open and empty guitar case on the ground facing a small café across the walkway.  Several patrons sat outside the local café, glancing at him in expectation as they chatted and finished their meals.  More importantly, they were finishing their drinks.  The late afternoon remained cloudless.  He rapidly tuned and strummed his first power chord.  Perfect.

Yet as he strummed, an unexpected sound burst through the air with all the power and proclamation of a minor god.  It was high and shrill, yet demanding of obedience.  Keith scanned to his periphery for the source of the careless noise.  Upon a park bench twenty feet down the walkway stood a man Keith had somehow managed to miss only moments ago.  The top of his balding head reached well over six feet without the aid of the bench, and his shoulders were wide as an ox.  He was an older fellow, but at no loss for vivacity; unlike many large people, his movements seemed quick, careless, and energized.  Circumventing his head was a thick mane of fiery red hair, matching his unkempt beard, and a heavy kilt draped down from his hips to just above his knees.  The noise was none other than a bagpipe.

Keith was not in the mood for competition.  He turned up both the volume and distortion and commenced his set.  However, before he could reach the first verse, his concentration was broken by the blaring power of a bagpipe sifting through a traditional tune Keith had heard somewhere in his past.  He continued to strum his chord progression as he glanced over to spy a competitive looking bagpiper staring him down with menacing blue eyes, chest and lungs bulging as he managed to compete with the volume of the amplifier.   Both continued relentlessly playing their separate tunes, and the patrons, confused and repelled by the competing sounds, began to leave.  Only one elderly woman remained, sitting by herself, smiling and bobbing her head to a mysterious rhythm that neither the guitarist nor bagpiper played.  Finally, Keith hit a wrong chord, slung his guitar behind his back, and moved to confront the man on pipes.

Upon his approach, the bagpiper jumped from his bench without a hint of grace.  He still towered over Keith.  The guitarist collected himself.

“Hey, man, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to move.  This is my spot.”

“Your spot, lad?” returned the bagpiper in a just perceptible Scottish brogue, “I was here 15 minutes before you.  I think I saw your spot a few blocks down by a weenie stand, if you understand me.”

“I’m sorry, but this is my spot,” demanded Keith, stronger now, “I’ve been playing this spot for over a month!  Ask anyone who works at this café; they all know me.”

“So then, will it be you or the little café workers who will make me move?” asked the Scotsman, smiling slightly and presenting his rather large frame.

Keith realized this may take more convincing than he first expected.  He hated confrontation; the bagpiper apparently thrived on it.  The old lady at the café sat staring with her chin resting upon her hands, waiting expectantly for a response.  In some anger, he chose a different avenue of argument.

“Listen, nobody comes out to this park to hear bagpipes,” Keith returned hotly, “Bagpipes are shrill instruments best left for parades and funerals.  Some light guitar music in the background is fine for a meal, but bagpipes would ruin the atmosphere.  It’s impossible to enjoy a conversation listening to that thing.”

“Now you’ve gone too far,” spoke the Scot loudly in a gruff voice.  “Bagpipes don’t ruin an atmosphere, they create an atmosphere!” He pounded his chest in pride and continued, “You want this spot because your little harp needs this spot.  It is one of the few places people will tolerate it whether they like it or not.  But the pipes!” yelled the piper, gesturing to the heavens, “The pipes don’t bend to the environment but change it!  With that powerful, natural sound passed down from centuries ago, a normal spot suddenly can become sacred and beautiful.  People talk over your guitar because it is typical, popular, and boring.  Rather than being talked over, the bagpipes give people reason to talk.”

Several people gathered around listening to the orator as he shed a brief tear, apparently affected by his own speech.  The old lady at the café clapped with a smile on her face and turned to Keith expectantly.  The guitarist was taken aback, but far from defeated.  This was now about more than the spot.

“You may be right about my guitar’s purpose here this evening, but you are wrong about the guitar’s purpose!” Keith leapt back onto the bench, standing now eye to eye with the foreigner.  “An electric guitar can easily facilitate a light evening of conversation; whereas a bagpipe struggles to do the same.  And a guitar can stir the deepest feelings of a person as well as any bagpipe!  I have played my soul into this guitar and others have felt it.  This guitar is intended to be amplified and can exceed even your natural volume; the number of sounds, settings and effects are practically limitless.  You see, the guitar is versatile.  Anyone can play in any style and accomplish any purpose.  It is an instrument of individual freedom.”  Keith now turned to the crowd, “The bagpipes are stuck forever with their one antiquated sound, an instrument of the close-minded and traditional.  They are singular in purpose—a purpose that cannot be found here.  The electric guitar possesses a sound for every man and every purpose.  The guitar is an instrument of the open-minded and free.”

The several onlookers gathering had become nearly a crowd, and many were nodding their heads with some light applause.  Keith beamed and granted his new followers a slight bow.  With a smile, he turned to see his foe red in the face, steam practically blowing out of his nostrils.  Keith’s grin widened, as did the grin of the old woman in the café, though her smile held remarkably fewer teeth.

“Enough of this…this utter nonsense!” howled the Scot as his belly shook, “You speak of freedom, but you do not know what freedom is until you have heard the pipes!  No man would have freedom if first there were not a right for all men to be free, and that is what the pipes represent!  They are marched in parades because they resound with the freedom of a nation.  They were marched into war proclaiming freedom against the bitterest of enemies.  They are played at funerals to free others from the sorrows of mortality and to aid the passing of a soul to the freedom beyond.   The pipes are one sound because they represent one truth that has not changed since God created this good earth, and that truth is maintained in the tradition.  Guitarists must constantly be learning new music to stay exciting or popular, but if a piper only knows Amazing Grace, the people will love him.  Your electric guitar may be open-minded, but it is ultimately unfulfilling.  The bagpipes may be close-minded, but they have at least grasped something that is eternal and solid.”

The crowd now clapped and gave a few cheers.  The Scot took several bows and shook the hands of a couple standing nearby.  Infuriated, Keith held up his guitar, threatening to swing it at the fire-haired gargantuan.  He blushed abstained as he noticed the old lady, joyously stomping her feet and pointing at him in laughter.  In reaction, the Scot seemed to ready his bagpipe, for what, Keith was not quite sure, but he had no wish to find out.

“There is a reason that all those old dictatorships and communists hated the electric guitar!” Keith began anew in his artistic fury, “It is because they realized the music itself stood in defiance of tyranny!  Your pipes are only an instrument for controlling the masses, they have never been an instrument of the masses.  It is the guitar that has risen against the corruption of government and society!”

The Celtic giant began pulling at what remained of his hair.  “You have lost your mind, lad!  The pipes have given order and unity to the people!  They can gather around its beauty, but your electric guitars only divide.  It’s such an easy instrument to play everyone practically does!  In trying to be unique, you’re all the same in your self-righteousness.  You all rebel, but everyone is rebelling for different reasons.  The electric guitar has not only blurred the meaning of goodness, but of good music as well.”

“Self-righteousness?  Listen to yourself!” proclaimed Keith in his sentiment, illuminated now by his street lamp in the early evening. “Fewer people play bagpipes because they’re difficult to play and transport; they’re not worth the time for so uncommon a performance of one or two songs!  And half of you pipers force it on your children like some sort of enforced institution.  Obviously most people would prefer to be learning a fun and exciting instrument like the guitar, which explains why most people then play the guitar.  The electric guitar has not blurred good music but freed it!”

“If by enforced institution, you mean the unity and pride of the family, then yes, I accept your critique!”  The Scot suddenly lowered his voice.  “Bagpipers are fighters; they have always played in the midst of battle.  All your guitars are known for is whining about wars when we are fighting them.  So, that should make this battle easy.  Aha!!!”

The crowd had been moving their heads back and forth listening to each musician in his turn, but now they realized the whole argument had degenerated into something terribly different.  With a valiant cry, the Scot raised his pipes over his head in some wild attempt to crush the artist of the new age, but Keith had already prepped his guitar behind his back, prepared to swing at the piper in stalwart defiance.  The remainder of the crowd began to scatter rapidly, several shouting for the police.  In the sudden chaos, the “Community” bench seemed the only thing with legs not running around.  However, before the two musicians could trade blows, an odd thing occurred.  A little, old lady had walked up right between them, causing both to stop and collect themselves for a moment.  Each lowered his makeshift weapon as it became clear the old woman had something to say.  The people stopped bustling.  She looked the Scot in the eye and slowly turned her head to do the same to Keith.  Her eyes shone with light; a depth of blue betrayed a wise yet youthful heart beneath her aged features.  Both players became aware that the depth this little woman wielded would declare the right and wrong, and neither could withstand her judgment.

“Play your bloody music already!” she resounded with a harsh British tongue.  She moved back to her seat and immediately downed a glass of Merlot.

Both stood stunned for a moment.  Eventually, Keith looked to the piper and asked for a key.  The Scot gave him one.  Their first song together was simple.  It floated from the bench across the whole park, filled with the heart of rebels and power of kings.  People everywhere ceased their conversations and edged closer to listen.  A mother and her young daughter began to dance on the patio without care.  So the old had met the new, and there was freedom at last.  The duo played the rest of the evening, earning more money than either had ever made playing solo.  To this day, both play together at the same spot outside the little café in the park.  Sometimes, you will find a lone, old lady sitting nearby with an unending glass of red wine, smiling mysteriously to herself.

An Old Tale for a Young Heart

This story revolves around a little village in times past that rested peacefully on the side of a great mountain. Normally, the town would be of little note, and no scholar, no matter how studious, would find its name amongst all the annals of history. Yet it is the stories forgotten by history and remembered in legend that are most worth retelling. History is remembered and recorded by the educated few, so as to reflect what is important to those who see the world from a high tower. But legend is remembered and recounted by the common man, so as to reflect what is important to those who still till the earth and live by its soil.

Since the name of the village is unrecorded, I cannot say with any certainty what it was, except perhaps that is was likely a name in the common language for “hill-by-the-mountain,” or called by some other natural feature, not unlike many small towns of similar flavor. The town consisted of a number of wood-working folk of various natures, for surrounding their little hilltop a great forest spanned as far as the eye could see, even much of the way up the mountain. While the village and its people were not unusual, tales spread about a magical fountain that sprung up in a cave near its peak. Of what sort of magic, none seemed to agree. Some said it could grant eternal youth, while others believed it would heal any malady and restore one to his former and truer self. As with all tales of that sort, few took it entirely seriously, and even fewer ventured to seek out the fountain, for the climb to the peak was treacherous, and rarely did any who attempted the feat returned to tell of it. Of those, none had even discovered a cave, let alone a fountain.

One day, an old peddler entered the town. He had an ill look about him; his face shone pale in the rising sun, and scraggly grey hair fell upon the wrinkles lining his long face. Since visitors were rare, he had little trouble gathering the attention of the townsfolk to reveal his merchandise.

“Look here,” said the old man, exposing a bottle from beneath his cloak, “This is water from the ancient fount in the mountain, and I promise that all those who drink of it will find beauty and youth for as long as he drinks.”

Before any commotion could be raised, he uncorked his bottle, and released but a drop upon his tongue. Immediately, he transformed before the crowd into a young man, with strong stature and long blonde hair. The eyes of the people grew wide, and in trade for the water, the people gave much of their gold. Pains and aches were healed, wrinkles faded, and color and life restored to skin and hair. Festivity filled the evening air, and the merchant was forgotten. What the people of the town did not know was the true nature of the peddler; he was a powerful wizard who often wandered the wood seeking to take advantage of the imprudent.

The following morning, the aches and wrinkles had returned to the people, but worse than before. They were forced to drink more of the water to be well again, but each following morning, the aging became worse and worse. The process continued until only several drops of the magical water remained in all the village, and all but a few were too feeble to move without their magic drought. The people searched across the hills and woods and mountainside, but the peddler was nowhere to be found.

Now, only the children of the village remained unaffected by the curse, for they had no desire for the water, and it was the children who were forced to nurse their parents. Although the adults became feeble, they also grew ill-tempered and treated the children poorly. The youth convened and decided something must be done. The peddler could not be found, and the only solution that seemed to have any hope of success was to find the true fountain and pray the water could restore the townsfolk. Most the children were afraid of such a journey and argued they had to care for their parents instead of risk the hike. Only one boy stepped up and offered to fulfill the task, and his peers quickly accepted him. He packed that evening, remembering to take along with his provisions a bottle with which to draw the fountain’s water. He also took a long coil of sturdy rope and his father’s hunting knife. One of his friends promised to care for his parents while he was gone, and he left the very next morning for the mountain.

When Jon began up the mountain, he did not know where he might look to find the fount, but he had heard an old tale that a fox with fur white as the moon lived in the cave, drinking its water and living forever. For three days he hiked, always traveling upward, looking for any signs of a cave or a white fox. On the third night as he lay down to sleep, he noticed two thoughtful eyes watching him, glinting in the star light. The white fur of the fox glowed as bright as the moon.

“I have heard of you, the fox with fur white as the moon,” stated Jon, standing to meet him. “Please, show me where the cave with the magic fount is that I might save my village.”

The fox tilted his head as the wind picked up, rattling the branches of the trees. He responded, “Why would your village need the magic of the fountain? Is it not their fate to live and to die as everyone else?”

“That is their fate,” answered the boy, “But before their time. They were tricked by a wizard into drinking a magic water that would bring youth for a short time, but increased age soon after. All those who drank it are too feeble to hike the mountain, so I have come instead.”

“What does your story mean to me, who lives forever?” asked the fox. “Is it for you to choose the time in which your people shall live and pass? They have made their decisions, and they chose greed and vanity, and their consequence they now must reap.”

“It is my choice that I might save them if I can,” said Jon, “And I choose neither from greed nor vanity. What is that consequence to you, who lives forever?”

“It is a consequence you do not yet know,” replied the fox, “But if it is the waters of the fountain you desire, then I shall lead you there.”

The fox of the moon-fur leapt over Jon’s head and sped on into the thickening trees. Jon realized the fox was larger than any fox he had ever seen, easily twice his own size. The boy followed in close pursuit. Every time he thought he had lost the fox, a glint of his white fur flashed through the entanglement of branches, and he followed as quickly as his legs would carry him. Stray twigs scratched and clawed at his face as he ran through bramble and briar, leaping fallen trees and trickling creeks in the light of the stars. He knew not for how long he pursued the fox, but he would not relent. The path began to ascend, and slowly little by little the trees became sparser. Finally he came to a clearing near the peak of the mountain, and cut into the rock face was a small crawlway, only large enough for a child to enter. Two brilliant blue eyes gleamed at him from the hole before disappearing within.

The boy knew better than to rashly disappear into an unknown crevice, so he withdrew his rope and tied one end to a nearby tree while adjoining the other end to his belt. Jon then lowered himself and began to crawl after the fox. The ceiling of the little cave pressed against him. The darkness would yield no sight; he could rely only on what his hands could feel ahead of him. Jon believed there was only one path, but he could not tell for certain if he had not passed other extensions that might lead elsewhere throughout the mountain. Still the boy pressed onward. In the dark, he began to wonder should he ever return from this cave. He worried his rope would not be long enough to extend the entire trail. Jon remembered stories of men who died trapped in the mountain, and other much wilder stories of unnatural fates for those who wandered too far off the beaten paths. He felt for the knot of rope on his belt and was comforted to find it holding tight.

The path narrowed and drove deeper into the mountain. Just as Jon was uncertain he would be able to fit further along the trail, the tight passage emerged into a grand cavern, filled with light that emerged from the very stones themselves. The light was of all colors and changing colors, from soft blues and earthen greens to fiery reds and regal violets. The air hung heavily, for it had not been disturbed for an age. A pile of corroded bones lay in the corner, too small to be the bones of any man, but perhaps those of a child. Jon could hear the slightest trickle of water, drip by drip. He spied only a small pool of water, fed by the droplets of a hanging stalactite. While the rocks shown many colors, the stalactite alone glowed white. Jon prepared his bottle and cautiously approached the pool, but the growling of a fox halted his footsteps.

“You have followed me into my house and my home to steal my precious water,” growled the hidden voice of the fox, “But it is not for your belly I led you here, but for mine. Life and death matter little to me, but upon flesh and wit I do feed. So, all who partake of this water must answer first a riddle. If you cannot answer me the riddle of the fount, then I will certainly eat you whole.”

“Then tell me the riddle, fox of the moon-fur. But should I guess it, I will fill my bottle with the fountain’s water and return safely to my village.”

“Agreed,” growled the fox hungrily, “But do not take long, for I have not eaten in over an age, and I am very hungry.”

The fox’s voice came again, but this time slightly louder and closer:

“This ravenous beast none can escape:
A rich man’s comfort and poor man’s fate.
For him, men labor, fight, and die
While he the wells and fields lays dry.
He’ll take your food and drink your wine;
Should you decline, he’ll growl and whine,
Until you finally acquiesce,
Else your soul shall go to rest.”

Jon stood thinking for a moment, puzzling over each line in his mind as the colors of the cave blazed around him. The air grew silent and still, withstanding his own breath, but he could feel the glowing eyes upon him.

“Give me three guesses then, since my life depends upon them,” demanded Jon.

“Give me three quick answers then,” growled the fox, “What is your first?”

“Is it you? The fox of the moon-fur?”

“Wrong. What is your second guess?”

The fox’s voice had grown yet closer, but echoing amongst the many jutting rocks of the cavern, Jon could not tell from whence it came. He tugged at his rope once more, and felt that it was still taut, with only a coil or two left at his side. He was far from the surface indeed, and even with the rope, he knew he could not outrun the fox through the narrow crawlway. The lights emanating from the stones no longer gradually faded between colors, but shifted more rapidly.

“Your second guess? You take too long,” uttered the fox’s voice again. Jon spun around to where he thought he heard the voice just behind him, but nothing was there. He realized his first guess was too obvious; riddles were usually more difficult. The answer likely was no beast at all, or even something tangible. He slowly inched towards the fountain, preparing to fill his bottle and run if he must. What would the fox concoct as an answer to his riddle? A thought suddenly came to him.

“Greed! Is the answer greed?” asked Jon, much more confidently.

“Clever boy, clever boy,” echoed the fox calmly, “But still not the right answer. Final guess, and make it quick. I am so hungry, I must swallow you whole.”

“Yes, give me a few moments to think,” said Jon. He believed he could feel the unearthly breath of the fox upon him, yet still his eyes discerned nothing. The lights of the cavern now flashed quicker than before, and only between oranges, reds, and yellows, like the pit of a great fire. Might the answer be money? Or perhaps envy? He did not want to risk another guess. He drew closer to the pool.

“You are nearly out of time,” grumbled the great fox, “I am sure you are quite tasty, tastier than the other children. And I am so hungry.” The cavern suddenly rumbled as if a small earthquake rose from below, but Jon somehow distinguished it as the rumbling of the fox’s belly. Just then the fox emerged, his fur no longer pale as the moon, but a mix of crimson and orange, reflecting the flames of the cavern walls. His eyes now shown red and drool slipped from his hungry jaws. He appeared now more wolf than fox. The burning beast stood easily taller than his prey as he steadily approached, as if he had physically grown to match his impending hunger. The cavern shook once more with the growling of his stomach. And then Jon’s eyes grew bright.

“Even you who lives forever are haunted by the answer to the riddle, are you not?” declared Jon. “The answer is the stomach!”
The fox lifted his angry head and howled like the wolf he appeared to be, and the cavern trembled the more fiercely. Jon felt as if he stood within the crater of a volcano.

“It is no matter, boy! I am too hungry, and I shall eat you whole!”

The fox leapt through the air toward Jon, all hesitation left behind. But the boy was ready. He withdrew his hunting knife and slashed savagely at the approaching jaws of the beast. The great fox, who had never encountered a child such as Jon, was not expecting a defense, and the cool, sharp blade of the hunting knife sliced him clean across the snout. The fox of the moon-fur erupted in spasms of agony and rage, for he had not known the sting of pain since he was first mortal at the beginning of the world. Yet Jon could not escape the mass of his enemy, and in the creature’s fit, Jon was thrown into the fountain’s pool.

Within the water, all was calm. The flaming colors of the cavern were gone, along with the fox’s howls and the quaking of earth. He could hear nothing. Jon at first tried to swim, but the water grew heavier, his energy and will quickly fading. He sucked in his first mouthful of water. Solace encapsulated him. He stopped struggling as he felt the water restoring his body. He looked around to see the cerulean sea dotted with little specks of light, what they might be he could not guess. They extended forever. He was floating in the sky, surrounded by stars, floating ever upward. His eyes began to close in the peace of sleep. He was drowning. He wanted to drown. But he could not, for this water brought only life. He would drown forever. He looked up to see a circle of light, surely the moon, growing more distant every second, the seconds fading together to minutes. Then darkness. Something tugged at his side, interrupting his peace. What could it be? It would not let him float away. It would not let him drown. He felt for it, and found a rope. A rope! Why a rope, why a rope?

Jon suddenly remembered. Summoning the last of his strength, he grasped the rope and pulled. He floated sharply towards the moon, but it was not a moon. It was the world, it was real life, it was his purpose, it was freedom. Some strength returned. He pulled again, this time with two arms he climbed, climbed from that eternal depth toward the world that he remembered, that he knew as a child. He fought comfort, and he fought pain, all at once. He pulled again, gasping not for the heavy succor of endless water, but for the wild levity of the air above.

Finally, in a great splash he emerged, hanging onto the rope with all the strength of a man and faith of a child. The fox was gone. A trail of thick blood ran down a dark tunnel he failed to notice earlier. Jon took several minutes to breathe in the stale, yet refreshing air. Then he filled his bottle with the fountain’s water and returned by the path he came, following his rope the whole way.

Jon made his way back to the village without further incident. The children and townsfolk were glad for his return, for several who had drunk more greedily than the others of the wizard’s potion had already passed away from their old age. He gave one drop to every person who had partaken of the wizard’s draught, and they were immediately restored to their initial health. All were amazed by the boy’s story concerning the fox and the pool and the cave of lights, but none fully believed him, for he was only a boy filled with imagination. Some suggested he had only found another wizard with a kinder heart. No man had ever found the fountain, so how could a boy? Could it be that the secret to youth can only be found by those still young?

Everyone was still grateful for his magic water, whatever its source, though they continued to age as normal after they had been restored. After many years, the boy’s tale was mostly forgotten, becoming a myth and fancy of the last generation’s imagination. Only three drops from the fount remained after Jon had helped the entire town, and the wise boy kept them secret and safe for himself or for those he loved. However, Jon alone never grew old, but remained his age. He would have given the drops away, but he could find nobody who could answer the riddle, the riddle of the fount. And Jon still walks the earth to this day, a boy with a few drops of water and a riddle that one day you may be fortunate enough to answer.