Hawthorne the Sage

Originally posted on Aquila et Infans:

I recently picked up my collected works of Nathanial Hawthorn, only to be reminded of how brilliant he was, and how sad it is that top ten lists can only have ten items on them. In particular, I was reading ‘ The Celestial Railroad ’ which is available from Gutenberg Press.

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The story was written in 1843 (according to the date on the website for the story… I didn’t look it up anywhere J ). It is almost shocking how all of the roots of postmodern life are on full display in this story. I would say that the real humanistic modernism was already plunging headlong off the cliff, they just hadn’t hit the pavement yet (that would the World Wars in this brief but hopefully apt analogy.

Anyway, I will copy a few passages here so that you know what I was talking about.

The dreamer sets out in…

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Books for Non-Readers (and a small rant)

Go look at this list and before you go I’ll give you my opinion: this list is mostly BS. It always strikes me as strange how it seems always to be women giving advice on ‘reading-reluctant boys’ or ‘how to be a gentleman’ I sometimes wonder if this isn’t because men don’t care; but rather because a lot of women are nosey-parkers who don’t feel right unless they are giving advice to males… Whew! that wasn’t very nice of me, was it…

Let me continue complaining for a bit: ‘reading reluctant boys’ is actually fairly offensive. To make up a euphemism for someone who doesn’t like to read, and then talk about it only for boys is, well, forgetting that girls don’t read anything either. (…and thrill-loving girls, says the sub-title.) It is also a bit dumb to imply that boys need anything other than a well written, interesting story which is the exact same thing that a girl who doesn’t read needs. How about instead: books for children who haven’t learned to like reading? Or, books for anyone who doesn’t like to read but might want to give it a whirl… I guarantee that a large number of adults don’t read either.

As for books recommended for those who don’t like to read, The Woman in White is NOT one of them. The Woman in White made me almost want to give up reading as a pastime it was so boring and irritating. Also, the Horatio Hornblower books are formulaic and badly written. The only winner in the bunch is Dracula by Bram Stoker, and perhaps A Princess of Mars, which was entertaining, though perhaps neither are what I would recommend for someone who doesn’t really like reading yet.

So I will make two lists, one more tailored to young-ish audiences and one for adults who say ‘Oh, I don’t read…’ The criteria are very simple. In fact they are so simple that I have the same criteria for both lists.

1: Interesting 2: Well-written 3: Worth the time

That’s it.

Young-ish

#5 Farmer Giles of Ham

Dragons, common folk doing uncommon things… an intelligent horse… and a dog that talks vernacular (while the people talk Latin… :) )

#4 Sure, let’s leave Dracula on the list

The original bloodsucker. Who 1) tolerates sunlight just fine and 2) is indisputably evil. None of the anti-hero BS.

#3 Ender’s Game

The movie misses the book entirely in pacing. I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but the movie should have been less accurate to the book. The pacing and the moving around works for the book, but the movie is mostly a jumble.

#2 Nightmare City

Perhaps one of the best YA fiction. I read it without knowing for sure that is what it was intended for.

#1 A Journey to the Center of the Earth (Or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea)

Jules Verne is the best. After this one, and 20,00 Leagues Under the Sea, you should definitely pick up The Mysterious Island

‘Oh, I don’t read-ers’
Well, maybe sometime, when you wonder what do do with a tad bit of leisure, pick up one of these and try reading again: not for school, not because someone told you to read it, but because it will actually be fun. and worth the time. (As opposed to TV which may be fun, and is almost never worth the time.)

#5 Hey let’s put Dracula here too!

Yay! Dracula.

#4 The Scarlet Letter

I included this one because so many people think they know the story. So many people think its about sin and unjust societal retribution. In fact, it is about forgiveness and the human condition. And it is well written, and it is interesting… and obviously worth the time :) This is, in fact, the first book I ever sacrificed sleep to read. I read the entire book starting just before bedtime, and (not wanting to sleep) I read it after bedtime until around 2 am to finish it. I think I was 12(ish).

#3 Just after sunset

A collection of short stories/ novellas that are fast paced, interesting. I especially recommend ‘N’.

#2 A Killer in the Wind

This book is also a fast paced thriller (duh, read the title) but it is also perceptive and philosophically deep without ever losing the thriller pacing. quite an accomplishment.

#1 Out of the Silent Planet

C.S. Lewis has to make every list at some point… (perhaps we can leave him off the ‘brilliant physicist list… :) ) Read this one, then read Perelandra, then you will be ready for That Hideous Strength.

UN vs. Catholic Church

Here is a very brief list in response to this Drudge headline:

UN tells Catholic church to change teachings on abortion...

  • Roman Empire
  • Byzantine Empire
  • The Caliphate
  • The Ottoman Empire
  • The First, Second, and Third Reichs
  • The Mongolian Empire
  • The Holy Roman Empire
  • The Tang Dynasty
  • The Ming Dynasty
  • The Qing Dynasty
  • The British Empire
  • The Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258)
  • The Sharif of Mecca (967-1925)
  • The U.S.S.R

Et cetera….

What is that a list of? Five minutes of double checking dates of empires of institutions that the Catholic Church has outlived…. Rome is sort of cheating since it pre-dates the Pope, but still…

Anyway, I don’t think anyone (I suspect this includes the current Pope) believes that the Catholic Church doesn’t need cleaning up; however, the hubris of the UN is almost hilarious.

A Brief Thought on Prayer

I was skimming around and came across an article about prayer and sports.  While the main purpose of the article to point out that it is acceptable to pray actually for the victory of one team or the other, this passage really upset me.

Sometimes we merely fill out a requisition form and call it a prayer. That is, we tell God in a clear sentence what we want and then go back to work, trusting that he gets it and appreciates that he and we are all too busy to stand on ceremony. That’s a kind of prayer but sketchy, a pale version of the full-dress form that entails hours of high-octane concentration, which is God’s way of letting us participate in his constant engagement with and intervention in human affairs.

Passing snide remarks against people who pray short prayers is upsetting, and initially the reason I found it upsetting was not clear to me. To restate the highlighted lines without the snark, and from a different perspective: ‘Sometimes we ask briefly for what distresses us most, and then return to the work of our vocation, trusting God to care for our need and to answer our cry for help.’ Then the author proceeds to call this a sketchy and pale of a form of prayer, the real version of which requires hours of concentration.

Now what bothered me most became clear during church yesterday. Being a liturgical Lutheran, orthodox teaching comes from all parts of the service.  In this case it came when the Pastor finished the special prayers and said (and I abbreviate because I am miles away from my hymnal) ‘And we join in that prayer You taught us to pray:’ after which we prayed the Lord’s prayer.

The Lord’s prayer, if you will permit me to summarize is:

  • One phrase identifying who we are praying to
  • Four phrases of praise to finish out the sentence (in English at least)
  • One short sentence asking for God’s care of our bodily needs
  • One sentence asking for forgiveness of our sins
  • And one sentence pleading for deliverance from temptation and evil

In all, I suspect it takes less than two minute to pray, even at the snail’s pace we pray out loud together in church. And it looks an awful lot like the aforementioned ‘requisition form’.

It seems to me that the author of this piece on prayer has made a grave mistake, he has snarked (though surely unintentionally) at the prayer that God Himself taught us to pray. And while I would never claim that hours of prayer are wrong, it is vital to remember the whole instruction. Here from Matthew chapter 6 (From NIV, from Bible Gateway)

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

So, the model prayer taught to us by God Incarnate is a short prayer, briefly pleading from God the needs of both the body and the soul.  To say that such prayers are pale and less worthy is at the very least a travesty of pompous misunderstanding.

For more: see the Lords Prayer section of the Small Catechism

Minimum Wage: Part IV

Here is the last installment of the Minimum Wage saga. Please do note that some of the citations are unavailable without the proper subscriptions. So I left the original citations, and have added to the end the bibliography of the whole essay.  For those who just joined the reading, Part I, II, and III are linked there.

Another way minimum wage laws harm the poor who they are supposed to help is that costs are passed onto consumers.  In America we have long been accustomed to relatively inexpensive and abundant food. However, there is no reason to expect that the experiences of other countries that raise minimum wage will not occur here. Zambia is still experiencing the ill effects of raising the minimum wage law there. “The minimum wage increases have backfired on the poor because the prices of food and other essential commodities have escalated” (African News Service 2012).

Minimum wage visionaries assert that business can afford to just eat the costs of the higher wages forgetting that most of American businesses are small businesses which employ the people of their own community and provide basic services for that community. It hurts the poor when these basic services are no longer available. A virtuous sense of compassion and fairness ought to be outraged at the plight of Zambian business owner Kankhara “who owns 200 passenger minibuses.  He says, ‘If I pay the new minimum wage to all my drivers at the moment I would be bankrupt within one month and there would be no more Flash Buses on the roads anymore’” (African News Service, 2012). When that service is gone, it is the poor who walk along with the rich.

This is happening in American inner cities which have become economic dead zones. Many goods and services are no longer available to the poor people who live there. It is an economic burden that the poor bear disproportionately since they are the ones who are least able to afford the transportation costs to procure goods and services. Minimum wage laws contribute to the economic conditions which making doing business unsupportable.

These are just some of the ways in which minimum wage laws harm rather than help the poor and vulnerable of our society. The consequences of our so-called compassion turn out to be anything but actually compassionate and fair. When the consequences are so opposite to the claim, perhaps the intent never was what we have been taught.

The Progressive movement in the United States is “usually thought of in glowing terms of social reform and the advance of fairness for all. Yet it has a more sinister side which we cannot afford to allow the mists of time to erase” (Leonard, 2005, abstract). Part of the Progressive agenda was the “process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defective” as Margaret Sanger, Progressive and Founder of Planned Parenthood said as quoted by Angela Franks (2012 para.6).

This attitude was shared by Progressivists who shaped America’s early labor reform laws including minimum wage. They thought that unemployment was an actual benefit to society as it would tend to operate eugenically, that is to remove from the human gene pool certain undesirable elements, among which poor blacks topped the list. During the 1930′s these ideas were openly discussed and written into textbooks which were used throughout the United States. Progressives believed that science proved the inferiority of certain races. This inferiority if left to propagate would dilute the human gene pool. They believed and taught that experts should be the ones to direct evolution (Horvath, 2012).  Many of the compassionate sounding reforms that were instituted during the Progressive era, had this underlying motive, now long hidden.

For Progressives the only race that showed any promise for improving the race was of white European stock. ” African Americans were indolent and fickle, which explained why… slavery was required: The negro could not possibly have found a place in American industry had he come as a free man . . . [I]f such races are to adopt that industrious life which is second nature to races of the temperate zones, it is only through some form of compulsion. (Leonard, quoting John Commons, 2013, pg. 215).  Minimum wage laws make it so that a black worker with low skills, who shows up for a job that he does not have the skills for, can be turned away legitimately. Then society has a reason to isolate the undesirable and perhaps persuade him to kill the offspring he cannot support or prevent their conception. (Leonard, 2005, pg. 213-216).

These were mainstream ideas promoted by American Universities, not just a few kook thinkers. It was not uncommon for academics and politicians to agree with A.B. Wolfe as quoted by Thomas Leonard (2005, pg. 214), “Better that the state should support the inefficient wholly and prevent the multiplication of the breed than subsidize incompetence and unthrift, enabling them to bring forth more of their kind.”  Mainstream Progressive economists from the American Economic Association believed that, “establishing a minimum wage above the value of the unemployables worth would lock them out of the market accelerating their elimination as a class (Goldberg, 2009, pg. 269).”  We are very close to this situation today in our inner cities.

In conclusion, minimum wage locks America’s most vulnerable populations out of their chances to better their lives as they age. It robs them of hope for a better future.  The evidence shows that raising the minimum wage lacks any ethical ground, either in its results or in its original and perhaps not lost intent. Not only should it not be raised, for the good of poor people, teens and especially black teens, it should be abolished. However, there is no political will to do so, nor any political benefit, the best we can do for now is to stop raising it.

Postmodern American visionaries are more about how a thing sounds and feels than what it actually produces. If a thing sounds good and feels good then it is assumed that the intent is good, and since Kant, intent is all that matters in ethical considerations. This is to the shame of our educators, our colleges and universities who promote utopian visions using philosophy for their own ends instead of to uncover timeless truth.  It is time we reclaim our skepticism of power and authority so that ideas can once again be freely challenged among free citizens. In order to actually do something to help poor people especially black teens, we need to stop seeing them as parasites and a social disease which needs curing and start seeing them as humans who share the potential to grow and learn and work and become prosperous. While we are fighting about a policy with a track record proven throughout the world and across time to be disastrous for poor people, we cannot focus our attention on creatively devising new policies that would be of service to people. And most of all we need to return to ethical thinking that is built on more than the ideal, the virtuous, the dutiful, the utilitarian or the emotive. Ethics needs to return to a foundation that “integrates human reason and transcendent realities” (Eyer, 2010, pg.37). In other words, we need to return to being able to say that something is not true. And if it is not true it is not ethical, no matter how good it makes us feel about our pure intent. In continuing to raise the minimum wage, America forestalls the best hopes of the poor. In limiting or removing it, hope for a better tomorrow is restored.

Bibliography:

African News Service. (2012) Minimum Wage Leads to Steep Food Price Rises.

BalancedPolitics.org. (n.d.) Should the minimum wage be abolished? (i.e. Reduced to $0.00)?       Retrieved from: http://www.balancedpolitics.org/minimum_wage.htm

Eyer, R. (2010), Holy People Holy Lives. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House

Franks, A. (2012) A life of passion: Progressive eugenics and Planned Parenthood. Retrieved       from: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/01/4445/

Goldberg, J. (2009) Liberal Fascism: The secret history of the American left form Mussolini to      the politics of change. New York, NY: Random House.

Goree, K., &Manias, N., & Till, J. (2013) Ethics Applied (6.5 ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson     Learning Solutions.

Hannity, Sean. (December 2, 2013). The Sean Hannity Show. WSAU

Horvath, Anthony. (2012). Roots and Fruits: The conquest of America by the culture of death.       Athantos Christian Ministries.org

Leonard, T. (2005) Retrospectives eugenics and economics in the Progressive era. Journal of         Economic Perspectives—Volume 19, Number 4. Retrieved from:             http://www.princeton.edu/~tleonard/papers/retrospectives.pdf

Schiller, R. & Mukhopadhyay, S. Trends in relative earnings mobility. University of Nevada,        Reno. Retrieved from: business.unr.edu/Faculty/SankarM/mobility.pdf

Sowell, T. (2013) Minimum wage madness. Retrieved from:             http://townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/2013/09/17/minimum-wage-madness-           n1701840

The Washington Times (2008) The abortion industry. Retrieved from:             http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/mar/26/the-abortion-industry/

Williams, W. (1999) Minimum wage, maximum folly. Retrieved from:             http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/wew/articles/99/folly.html

Williams, W (2013) Williams column: Minimum wage killing jobs for black youth   Retrieved from:       http://www.jacksonsun.com/article/20131016/OPINION/310160003/Williams-column-            Minimum-wage-killing-jobs-black-youth

Minimum Wage: Part III

Minimum Wage Part I

Minimum Wage Part II

Now to pick up where we left off, looking at the consequences of minimum wage laws. Remember these are guest posts (so to speak) as is explained in Part I. The author of these posts is also the author of the book study guides linked here and in their own tab above.

We are not without recourse, however. We can look at the minimum wage law through the lens of consequential ethics, that is, we can ask ourselves what the actual real life consequences of the law are. Here the analysis is on firmer footing because there is actual statistical data to analyze rather than just emotional anecdotes, and opinion columns from media. The evidence can be allowed to speak for itself and like Socrates advises, we can follow the evidence wherever it leads us. If we can step back from our Postmodern penchant for trusting emotion over reason we may be able to arrive at a disinterested conclusion and formulate a plan for the future (Holy People, Holy Lives: Law and Gospel in Bioethics,Eyer, 2010).

Minimum wage laws have not helped our poorest and most vulnerable populations secure much needed employment. “Most academic economists who’ve studied the minimum wage conclude that higher minimum wages cause unemployment, not so much among the general labor force but among low-skilled workers, especially teenagers” (Williams, 1999, para.1). It has been argued that raising the minimum wage isn’t about helping teenagers get jobs. Teens use their money only for video games and snacks. It is about people like my husband, supporting families. But perhaps people supporting families would be further along if they had had a job as teens.

For teens, it isn’t so much about what they do with their income, although that they just waste it is a hasty and unwarranted generalization.  It is not the money so much as ” the lessons learned such as: proper work attitudes, promptness, and respect for supervisors. For youngsters living in dysfunctional homes and attending rotten schools, a job might be their only chance to learn something that will make them more valuable workers in the future” (Williams, 1999, para. 6). One only has to look at the stringent rules for Globe University students to see the lengths society has to go to mend this lack. Skills such as dressing and acting professionally, punctuality, and adherence to schedules now have to be taught to University students who would have learned these things organically had they had a job as teens.

Sadly, the youth in our inner cities who are predominately black are the youngsters Walter Williams describes. Their homes are often dysfunctional; their schools are often rotten. This is not disputed by anyone in America. Their physical safety is daily at risk as the unemployed youth turn to crime and drugs. “Today white teen unemployment is about 20 percent, while that for blacks is about 40 percent and more than 50 percent in some cities” (Williams Article for Jackson Sun, not available online). It might be tempting here to attribute this to racial discrimination but in “1948 when we can hardly defend that there was less racism, the unemployment rate of black 16-year-old and 17-year-old males was 9.4 percent, while that of whites was 10.2 percent”(Williams Article for Jackson Sun, not available online). Minimum wage laws harm black youth disproportionately. They have not learned the lessons that employment can teach them because those kinds of jobs are unavailable.

A recent discussion on the radio regarding the horrific ‘game’ of knock out included two black analysists.  The point of the game  appears to be attacking unsuspecting white people with a blow from behind which knocks them out. One analyst defended these criminals by suggesting that someone give these poor young men jobs so that they would have skills and a future. Perhaps then they wouldn’t participate in criminal activity. (Hannity, Dec.4, 2013, radio interview).  Given his political leanings, it is not unlikely that this man also supports minimum wage laws.

It is as if  he, along with the rest of the minimum wage visionaries ignore “[o]ne of the simplest and most fundamental economic principles… that people tend to buy more when the price is lower and less when the price is higher. [They] seem to think that the government can raise the price of labor without reducing the amount of labor that will be hired (Sowell, 2013, para. 2).” It is part of a vision of justice which discounts the real consequences to real people. It is more important for advocates to take a stand on the issue to elevate their own sense of moral superiority. This is more important than “empirical consequences…. however much they may proclaim their love of humanity… the poor or other ostensible beneficiaries of their activities” (Sowell, 2002, pg.105).

Next time in Part IV, we will look at the actual effect of minimum wage on the poor.

Minimum Wage: Part II

It hasn’t been many years since my family income hovered around the poverty line.  We were frustrated by this because we were not uneducated, unskilled workers. My husband finished his BA the year after we were married and had been the primary anchor and news producer for AFKN for two years. It was a surprise to us that in the civilian market for news reporters and anchors military experience meant starting at the bottom and the bottom meant working for minimum wage. At first, more than half of our income was taken up by rent. We did not get food stamps or other aid preferring to operate within an older ethic that did not burden others for choices we had made. We pawned everything of value and did without.

I know the pain of being underemployed.  I empathize with those who are in a similar situation and on a personal level do whatever I can to soften the pain of going through this stage.  And Americans do go through this stage in the sense that “individuals do in fact move up and down the earnings hierarchy all the time (Schiller and Mukhopadhyay, pg. 16). Although young people start in the lowest income quintile they do not need to expect to stay there.  This mobility between income quintiles is well documented and not disputed between economists of different schools (Schiller and Mukhopadhyay).

Whatever facts and experience tell us, the pain of being a low wage earner is difficult for those in the midst of it and for those who believe that any inequality that exists should be remedied by the government. According to Balanced Politics.org, this is one of the common arguments for raising the minimum wage: “Workers need a minimum amount of income from their work to survive and pay the bills.” After all, if inflation makes all the prices go up, it seems reasonable that the minimum wage should rise to meet it so that our poorest people are not the ones to suffer.  It makes a sort of sense to “force businesses to share some of the vast wealth with the people that help to produce it” (BalancedPolitics.org).

While this reasoning shows a lack of fundamental economic understanding, the intentions of politicians and voters who want to increase the minimum wage law seem to be good. They don’t like to see people suffer and they feel that it is such an easy way to minimize the suffering of some of our poorest people. They want to be compassionate and fair. These are seen to be the best virtues by which to evaluate the ethical nature of the law. If it is unfair that people earn different amounts of money, then to guarantee the lowest earners enough to live on is a way to approach fairness or to compensate them for the income inequality they are suffering.

Unfortunately, closer analysis reveals a number of problems with the use of virtue ethics to judge laws.  First, there are differing ideas about which virtue should be at the top of our national agenda. At one time the virtue of personal industry was paramount and laws which tended to diminish personal industry lost their support. At another time, liberty was the highest virtue in American ideals so that laws that impinged on liberty did not go very far. Virtue ethical systems have this problem; it is inherent in the structure (Ethics Applied Edtion 6.0,Goree, Manias & Till, pg.164).

Furthermore, even if we were to agree that the goal of the minimum wage law was fairness and that fairness was the most important virtue to consider, further analysis would be necessary. Fairness to the employee must be balanced with fairness to the employer and also to the customer.  Is it fair to penalize the person who takes the risks of owning a company in order to prop up earners who are just at the beginning of their earning trajectory? Since we cannot even define fairness in this situation, is it fair to impose a minimum wage law?

Note: We pick up next time with investigating the consequences of minimum wage as a method to assess its fairness.