Many people have been talking about <a href="http://newsok.com/federal-government-says-hobby-lobby-cannot-raise-religious-objections-to-insurance-requirements/article/3722053">this story</a> about the government forbidding Hobby Lobby to apply for religious exemption to Obama's law.
The claim being made by conservatives is that the Obama administration is impinging on the religious expression of Hobby Lobby. That is not the case. I hate the Obama law, and I certainly think it should be repealed. The law itself is an abomination to religion, but not its particular application to Hobby Lobby.
As I said, I disagree with Obama's law itself, and think it is horrendous and should be repealed. But I don't disagree with the idea that Hobby Lobby should be held to that law, for one simple reason - Hobby Lobby is a corporation, not a private business. Corporations are created to shield its investors from personal risk, because the idea is that the corporation serves a purpose independent of the investors/owners. In other words, corporations have put themselves under the umbrella of the public, in order to shield the actual investors from legal action and certain forms of taxation. Therefore, it is certainly legitimate for the state to require that the corporations do things even if the owners/investors don't like it. They ceded that moral right when they incorporated. Again, I disagree wholly with the law, but agree that, as it stands, the law applies to Hobby Lobby. People starting businesses need to start paying closer attention to the moral issues involved, and not just look at the tax/liability implications.
In other words, tell your lawyer and your accountant to shove it when it comes to moral decisions. And, lawyers and accountants, you are not doing your customers any service when you ignore the ethical/personal side of the decisions you counsel them on.
Just saw this <a href="http://www.freerangekids.com/playgroup-suspended-for-lack-of-insurance/">article on Free Range Kids</a>. Basically, a playgroup is *disbanding* because of lack of insurance. Isn't that crazy? Kids - don't play with your friends because they may not be well insured for when we sue them!
This is, specifically, what I hate about America today.
I believe in a world in which living according to accepted norms gives you the freedom to just be in community. This is as much the fault of the liberals (who reject the freedoms) as it is the libertarians (who reject the norms). It is even the fault - to some extent - of the conservatives, who never thought it necessary to teach the value of social norms to other people.
For you confused libertarians - without the norms, everyone *must* have insurance, and *must* have presigned waivers, because there are no norms otherwise to govern the interaction.
For you confused liberals - just watch the President's interview with Letterman. Don't you think someone should be able to brew beer in their own home without having to go ask a lawyer about all the regulations? Don't you see how being regulation-happy doesn't hurt big businesses (who can pay the lawyers), but just hurts the individuals, who are now not free to their basic personhood anymore.
A very good and insightful debate. Prager managed to get in some key philosophical points in a short discussion. Most important was the discussion about whether the differences between men and women was a matter of body parts alone, or if there were deeper differences. If there are deeper differences, then there are things which a mother/father can provide which is different not just in degree but in kind which a mother/mother or father/father cannot provide.
Another good, interesting vide:
In a situation which must be as embarrassing as being caught with your zipped down (a situation many people have had to discreetly let me know about in my life), Sam Harris commits the is/ought fallacy in a public place, on an Internet-televised Ted talk.
First of all, let me say that, while I agree that there are some terrible problems with American healthcare, it is nowhere near as broken as the demagogues claim. However, I agree with the idea that we, as Americans, should work to increase access to health care.
However, I totally disagree that the way to do this is through insurance, whether single-payer or otherwise. Insurance may be part of the problem, but it isn't the whole problem. In fact, I would argue that a large part of the problem is that we are insuring things that simply shouldn't be insured.
For instance, my homeowner insurance doesn't cover the cost of lights that need replacing. It covers catastrophic damage. You know that an insurance policy is broken when you expect to use it. Insurance only works right when you expect not to use it. So, I would say that any vision of health care which continues the tradition in which routine doctor visits go through insurance (whether government or private), is about as insane as any vision of home ownership in which you present your State Farm policy to a Home Depot salesperson at the store entrance.
The issue that most people miss is right in front of them -- doctors. I don't begrudge any doctor the amount of money they make. What I do begrudge them is the monopoly they have on dispensing medical care.
What needs to happen is to legally separate basic medical care from advanced medical care. There is no reason in the world why someone should see an M.D. for a runny nose. None whatsoever. In fact, I would guess that probably 80% of the medical work could be diagnosed and performed by nurses without any supervision.
The problem is that all medical care is lumped into one bucket. It is true that a misdiagnossis can be problematic. But what makes it problematic more than anything is that it comes from a doctor - someone who is supposed to know everything about medicine. If, instead, we split medical care into two tiers - basic and advanced - it would do several things.
First of all, it would remove the expectation that the person giving basic medical care must be right. This benefits the patient, since, if things aren't going well, they feel better about seeing someone else. It also benefits the practitioner, since they are no longer legally assumed to be omniscient.
We need to be comfortable with the idea that there is a difference between giving medical care and practicing medicine. There should be standard training so that nearly anyone can get the qualifications to give medical care to others.
Let's imagine that we allow all nurses with 5+ years of experience are free to give basic medical care without supervision. In addition, we cap liability at $40,000 for people who are only giving basic medical care, and also don't require them to carry liability insurance. This immediately provides a source of care that anyone should be able to afford, and expands the options available to everyone.
Shoot - if given the option, I would choose the nurse over the doctor anyway. Doctor's forget that they are there to serve the patient, and instead feel the need to impose their own priorities on you. Nurses are true servants, and are usually a pleasure to work with. There are certainly many things that need an M.D. which a doctor just can't handle. But imagine a system in which it was only those situations which got referred to the doctor, and everything else was handled by someone appropriately qualified.
We would have a similar problem in any industry where overqualification was required. What if we required a degree in geology to be a miner? What if we required a Ph.D. in computer science to be a network administrator? What if we required a Ph. D. in biochemistry to mix drinks? It is easy to see that having overqualified people raises the cost of an industry prohibitively, and prevents access to many. Why is it that so few people see how that applies to medicine?
In Oklahoma, a nurse makes about $35 per hour. This is the cost of many co-pays, and that pays for an entire hour of their time. The average office visit costs about $150 and uses only 15 minutes of time. Imagine the quality of health care that you would be able to receive for less than you are paying now if nurses get to run their own shows, and weren't liable in the same way that doctors are.
Medicine is not a black art. It doesn't take an M.D. to give basic care. It doesn't take an M.D. to know when you need to pass someone onto one (as a point of fact, it is always a nurse that runs triage). If your goal is to provide a greater amount of access to a greater amount of people, and not just be a control freak, then the best way to accomplish that is to relax government regulations regarding who can deliver health care, and completely remove any mindset that says that using insurance to pay for basic care is normal.
Jim Wallis has a new editorial where he *surprise* misses the point of a conversation entirely. Wallis critiques Beck for telling his audience that they should leave their churches if they are teaching "social justice". Now, while I think that's rather extreme, and that Beck should have phrased this differently, I don't really disagree.
The problem is that there are two meanings of social justice - there is a theological concept and a political concept. The social justice theological concept, as Wallis correctly notes, is relatively uncontroversial within Christianity. Based on what I know of what Beck says on the radio, Beck would agree with the theological concept of social justice. Beck actually wants to return to the days when people helped each other, and politicians looked out for the people rather than tried to screw them. Both of these things are part of the theological concept of social justice.
The social justice political concept, however, is quite pernicious. It is, indeed, a way to bring radical leftist politics into public conversation using religion as a masquerade. I've read books by authors that openly admit to doing this. Shoot - I know people who openly admit to doing this. They use religion as a tool for their political agenda. That is, their interest in theology is only to use it as a means of pursuing their political agendas. They wouldn't care about theology at all if it weren't such an effective tool.
The social justice political concept is basically Marxist philosophy decorated with the sayings of Jesus. Most of it has the following basis for reasoning:
Now, the way in which they are able to smuggle this through as being "Christian" is that the Bible has very little to say on #1 and #3, and because there have been people in the Bible for whom #2 applied, it can be safely generalized to everyone else.
However, the social justice political movement often forgets the things that are in the favor of conservative economics, like (1) reality, and (2) the rest of the Bible.
Most people don't know this, but a large portion of the Bible is about getting money (read Proverbs). In fact, much of this points out that social injustice is not the only cause of poverty! Sometimes it is the cause of poverty, but poverty can also be caused by poor choices. And wealth can be caused by many small, good choices over a long period of time.
As far as reality goes, social justice politics simply ignores the fact that the largest causes of social injustice in the past have been bad economic systems. If your economic system isn't producing enough to feed everyone, then any distribution of it is going to be socially unjust. If your economic system is very abundant, then even your social injustice will be more socially just than the injustice of a bad economic system.
I think it was in a meeting between Gorbachev and Thatcher, where Gorbachev asked Thatcher how she fed her people. This is the thinking of social justice - it was the job of Gorbachev (or other really smart people in the Politburo) to feed everyone. This is insanity. In reality, no matter how smart you are, you pale in comparison to the combined, specialized knowledge that is contained throughout the economy. By centralizing decisions, you put your own wishes ahead of everyone else. I could go on, but instead I'll just refer you to Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy.
The big problem, though, is that the political social justice people have been allowed to set the terms, definitions, expectations, and vision for what "social justice" is supposed to mean. So, even when someone is not part of the "social justice" political group, often times their vision for what social justice is and looks like comes from the social justice politics. We often forget that the pre-reflective perspectives we have on issues usually have a specific source. Our common ideas of heaven and hell usually come not from the Bible, but from Paradise Lost and The Inferno. That is true even if you have never read Paradise Lost or The Inferno. Likewise, the picture that is often in our heads about social justice come not from the Biblical picture of social justice (though there are certainly connections, just as there are in Paradise Lost), or even from what we know about economics, but from the Marxist viewpoint that has been politically active promoting their perspective.
Therefore, while I disagree with Beck about saying that if someone says 'social justice' in the Church you should leave, I also think that Wallis is being horribly naive in his response. All in all, I think that Beck is much closer to the truth than Wallis, because of the pervasiveness of the political social justice movement that inadvertantly (and sometimes intentionally) affects our view of theological social justice.
One thing that is problematic in modern public policy debates has been the expansion of what are considered "basic human rights". There are several reasons why unwarranted expansions in this area are problematic:
The third one is the one I want to concentrate on. While it would have been more appropriate to our current concerns to say "why healthcare is not a basic human right", I thought that it would show how basic the case is if in stead I made the case why food is not a basic human right - some humans can live without health care, but no human can live without food.
So why is food not a basic human right? Because a human right cannot be something that can be produced. It must be something that is innately possible within an individual person. More to the point, for something to be a right it cannot rely on someone else for its invocation.
For example, lets look at the freedom of religion and the rights of conscience. Neither of these require anything from anybody in order for someone to express them. Now, there may be some things that must be done to ensure that other people don't abridge them, but their normal operation does not entail any other party.
Take a look at the bill of rights. These are all things that fall into one of two categories:
Neither of these require anything from the people for their normal function. Congress "not making any law" means that congress should get out of the business, not into the business. The right to a speedy trial, in fact, only applies if there is a trial at all. If the citizens do not wish to give a speedy trial, they can simply let them go free. Thus, in no case does congress require that any item or service be rendered to any other person. It merely restricts what restrictions can be placed, or identifies what must be done in the event that a government decides to pursue an end. But never is the government requred to pursue that end. In fact, if there were no government at all, the Bill of Rights would be followed exactly.
Nowhere in the Bill of Rights, for instance, is there a guarantee that criminals will be prosecuted. Nowhere is there a guarantee that someone will be given food. Nowhere is there a guarantee that a militia will be active.
It's a basic feature of reality - that of limited resources.
Let's say, for instance, that we decide that having Widget X is a basic human right. Therefore, in a new amendment to the bill of rights, each human being receives at least one Widget X is a basic human right. However, let's say that, in this hypothetical example, that we have a population of 4 billion people. Then, after manufacturing 3 billion Widget X's, we run out of some resource essential for producing Widget X's. Therefore, in this scenario, 1 billion people are not being given their "basic human rights".
How, then, can it be a basic human right if there is a potential that it can't be delivered? Does that mean that we must tear heaven and earth apart looking for the missing component to ensure basic human rights? We might start that way, but soon, the economic burden of doing so will cause us to rethink this policy, and, instead one of two things will happen.
First, we might decide that it isn't a basic human right. The problem, here, is not just that there is a disagreement on what the basic human rights are, but that a right is bound up with the practical problem of delivering it. That is, rights become rights when we can deliver them, and cease being rights when we can't. Thus, no right is "basic", but rather they are all derived from our economic circumstances. Therefore, someone may argue, for any right, that our economic circumstances are different, and we should have a different set of rights. As you can see, our "rights" in this case are quickly shifting from being "basic" to being "arbitrary". And thus, even if we retain the terminology, we lose the whole concept.
Second, we might conclude that it is a basic right, but that, since there is not enough to go around, we must decide who gets the right and who doesn't. Thus, the source of the right moves from God to the government. These are no longer basic human rights, they are government-granted rights. We then have a classed system - those with rights and those without.
Thus, the rights granted in the Bill of Rights, and, I would contend, anything properly called a "right", does not depend on an economic product to deliver. That is, the right must, at least in theory, be deliverable without cost. And, as such, you can read the Bill of Rights and see that it is consistent with a situation in which no government at all exists.
Thus, food cannot be a basic human right, because there is no way for the government to guarantee that there will be enough to go around. Many countries survive on imports. If their trade relations went south, then there simply would not be enough food to go around. And declaring food a "basic right" wouldn't change that economic fact - it would simply de-value the idea of rights as a whole.
That doesn't mean that needs such as food and shelter and healthcare should never be touched by the government, it just means that the "rights" language needs to go. This is an economic decision, not a rights decision. It is a decision about allocating resources. There is always an economic end to the amount of resources which can be put to something, and, if something should count as a "basic right", it should be impervious to that resource wall.
Since that is the case in the case of food, it is even more the case in the case of healthcare. In any situation, there can always be more money applied at a problem. At some point, the money runs out. I have been the recipient of generous amounts of money, both from friends and from insurance, for the healthcare of my children. But, even with the amount spent, more could have been spent. The question is, where does it end? If it does have an end, then the decision is an economic one, not a rights one. If it did not have an end, then we would need to open up a new research department for every unknown illness encountered the moment it was encountered, and not wait for pesky things such as foundations and research grants.
Therefore, it is important for the preservation of the idea of rights, that rights not be bound up in any way with economic goods. As soon as they do, the whole notion of rights will be swept away with a giant whooshing sound.
The problem with left-wing politics is that it falls apart as soon as you assume that the world's resources are finite. The advantages of conservative politics is that the finite-ness of the world's resources are at its basic core. This is why conservatives are often considered "heartless" - what we can do in reality is more important than we might want to do if we had infinite resources. Conservatives focus on the "can" and "likely" to be done, while the liberals focus on the "wish" could be done. Conservatives aren't any less likely to help others, they are just less likely to believe that there is an endless pool of resources from which the generosity comes. And, I think, in the end, that makes us all the more thankful for the help we do receive, because we realize all of the other economic goods that the money could have alternatively been spent on. I think about this almost every day.
The thing that annoys me most about the environmental debate, is that the "effect" of being pro-environment is not open for debate. That is, if someone is to think of themselves as being pro-environment, then they must automatically be, for example, for lower energy consumption. Or protecting the wild african spelling bee. Or whatever the current cause is.
Now, let me make something clear - I am for lower energy consumption, but it has nothing to do with the environment. If we want to lower energy consumption, I think we should first start by talking to God about all of the stars He put in the sky, especially the innumerable ones which are nowhere near life-inhabited planets, and tell Him that He needs to be conserving energy. There is an uncountable amount of energy being consumed in the sky, for what? Making the sky pretty?
The fact is, no matter how fast we consume energy, we can't outpace God. I think having a giant fusion furnace 9 million miles away pumping energy through space is excessive. I'm not complaining - I think the excess is wonderful. God is extravagant! And if you don't believe that God is extravagant, you should cut open a bell pepper and count the seeds. Most of those seeds will go to waste.
My point is that honoring the environment as a work of God doesn't necessarily mean lowering energy consumption or being less extravagant. Both of those things might be good, but not because of the environment!
Therefore, I hereby protest the idea that the environment comes with one, prepackaged way for us to respond to it, and especially that environmentalists have any idea what that way is.
Postmodernism has greatly increased the relevance of "story" in both the interpretation of the Bible and in interpersonal interactions (for those of you who are unaware of what this is, here is a really good short summary by a friend of mine). On the whole, this is a good thing. However, recently I have been reading books which abuse the notion of story as to become propoganda. This is a phenomena which I believe we will see more of, and is an unintended effect of our culture's shift towards "story" as a way of understanding.
The problem is that "story" can easily become a substitute for "rational argument". When we overemphasize story, we fail to be able to analyze a situation critically. The book I'm currently reading is about the "story of the universe," and, actually, it is much worse than previous books I've read on this subject.
With story, one need not give an argument. One simply presents heroes and villains and victims. It is not possible to ask of a story if the heroes were heroic or evil, or if the victims were actually villains in someone else's story. Story prevents you from asking many questions which are essential for discerning truth.
That isn't to say that story can't be used to communicate truth. I certainly believe that the Bible does that. The problem is that "story" only communicates truth when the teller of the story is a trusted source. The only difference between story and propoganda is the trustworthiness of the teller.
Therefore, the postmodern shift towards story, while it may be good for both Biblical studies and interpersonal relationships, could really damage us in the realm of public knowledge, because to rely on story for this critical aspect of life will mean that it is inevitably susceptible for anyone to create a good enough story, with beautiful looking heroes and mean, nasty villains, and, since "story" instead of "argument" is the key phrase, public villainizing can be substituted for public debate.
"Story" is not impartial, and it's usefulness depends on the trustworthiness - and shared ideals - of the teller.
My good friend Rick did me the great service of making excellent criticisms of my essay on libertarianisms. I started to post a response in the comments, but it quickly got too long. In any case, here is my response:
"I disagree with your premise that giving a social norm the weight of (sovereign) law is distinguishable from governmental intervention. Sovereign law, for better or worse, IS government intervention."
The point was not that it was or wasn't governmental "intervention" - sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't, but rather, a law doesn't require a government. See for example this post about the powers of text.
In fact, you find throughout history many laws that have no explicit punishments. That is because, often, none is needed. By intermarrying society and law, you can have laws that don't require governments. When you separate them, the only thing that enforces law is a government.
"Rather than allowing individuals to define the terms of their relationships (or to choose NOT to define them, a possibility you've overlooked)"
I am unclear how an undefined terms of relationship would work in a legal context, except, perhaps, by ceding authority to social norms!
"A market would exist (in fact, already does exist) for ready-made contractual arrangements, especially for relationships as common as marriages"
But this is only part of the point. The fact is that, (1) that there are always unexpected parts of a relationship which the law must handle. These are handled according to societal norms and goals, precisely because that is what is left when a contract breaks down, and (2) marriage impacts much more than just the people getting married. I pointed this out here. If marriage communication is, in fact, privileged, then who receives this privilege is a societal issue, and not one of the contractants of marriage. The possibility of children introduces players into the contract which were not a party to it. This means that either (a) the children are treated as simple property, or (b) that society establishes norms regarding their handling, which would have priority above the contractural relationship. In fact, even though there are many other places where society and law have a necessary interaction, the existence of children alone bring together societal norms and law in a very powerful way.
The fundamental problem of libertarianism is that it presumes that we can be, for the most part, disconnected from each other, and even elevates that to a societal goal - to be connected to only those people you choose.
In reality, though, this is neither possible nor desirable. Libertarianism, similar to liberalism, places extremely high value on the degrees of freedom that an individual can do. While I agree that there shouldn't be any unwarranted restriction on degrees of freedom, I find this highly suspicious as an end-goal. Is the ability to pick my nose in public really the purpose for which liberty aspires? I should hope not, for if so it makes it a goal not worth persuing. I agree that liberty is important. I also agree that the nature of liberty requires that society allow things that it normally doesn't agree with, and that society and law, while overlapping in many areas, are not coextensive.
Liberty is the combination of self-mastery, faith, and humility. It is self-mastery in that none of us are free unless we can get control of ourselves - the biggest source of bondage is actually the lack of personal control over ourselves, not other people. In addition, liberty is about the faith that others' may be persuing societal good by means which are radically different, and not necessarily completely understood. Also faith in the fact that most errors in this direction are not fatal. Finally, it is about the humility to accept that there is room for disagreement in everything.
From this perspective, while individual degrees of freedom are important, they are not the only consideration. Freedom to err is vitally important for the freedom to be correct, but this doesn't mean that liberty implies that I should be able to just do anything I want. That is the attitude of my children, I should hope that by the time they are adults they will have sufficient self-mastery to be beyond that.
"In addition, government recognition (aka regulation) of marriage also allows the government a guise of legitimacy under which to confer benefits on one group at the expense of another. Tax and other benefits are provided to married people but denied to gays, polygamists, and unattractive singles."
Just to point out, most of the "benefits" are actually to unmarried cohabitators. We found this out this summer. The state social workers were encouraging us to divorce so that we would have more access to benefits. They determined that we were going to need $89,000 in assistance each year, but that my salary (which is less than that figure) disqualified me from receiving anything. However, if we divorced, then Christa would be able to get the full benefits package.
"Your conclusions about contracts for burgers and lawyers attending weddings are nothing more than unsupported hyperbole."
I disagree. The fact is that law is actually moving more towards your view with regards to basic human interactions. And, with that, we are receiving a constant increase in the number of things we have to sign. We have crazy lawsuits because we no longer have a societal expectation for self-responsibility. Therefore, in nearly every interaction, we have contract which disclaim problems that occur from a lack of self-responsibility. We have idiotic privacy forms we have to fill out at the doctor's office. We have stupid EULAs we have to click through to install software. Why do we just click through them? Because we know what they say. However, if, instead of everyone lawyering up, we instead had a means of social expectations interacting with the law, we could do away with (a) the lawyers to draft them, (b) the lawyers to fight with them, and (c) having to read them all.
The problem with the libertarian position is that it assumes a lot of the societal interaction that it rails against. Most libertarians agree that lawsuits about stupid things are stupid. But that is just because they are assuming conservative, not libertarian, values. In libertarianism, society doesn't affect legal expectations, so why should self-responsibility be assumed?
The nanny-state of liberalism is simply the byproduct of the libertinism of libertarianism. When an ethical self-mastery is no longer part and parcel of what it means to be free, the only valid social response is the nanny state.
So, to sum up, I would say: