Hiding Behind the Screen, by Roger Scruton.

Human relations, and the self-image of the human being, have been profoundly affected by the Internet and by the ease with which images of other people can be summoned to the computer screen to become the objects of emotional attention. How should we conceptualize this change, and what is its effect on the psychic condition of those most given to constructing their world of interests and relationships through the screen? Is this change as damaging as many would have us believe, undermining our capacity for real relationships and placing a mere fantasy of relatedness in their stead? Or is it relatively harmless, as unproblematic as speaking to a friend on the telephone?

First, we should make some distinctions. We all now use the computer to send messages to our friends and to others with whom we have dealings. This sort of communication is not different in any fundamental respect from the old practice of letter writing, except for its speed. Of course, we should not regard speed as a trivial feature. The rapidity of modern communications does not merely accelerate the process whereby relationships are formed and severed; it inevitably changes how those relationships are conducted and understood. Absence is less painful with the Internet and the telephone, but it also loses some of its poignancy; moreover, e-mails are seldom composed as carefully as letters, since the very slowness with which a letter makes its way to its destination prompts us to put more of our feelings into the words. Still, e-mail is reality, not virtual reality, and the changes it has brought about are changes in real communication between real people.

Nor does the existence of social networks like Facebook, which are also for the most part real communication between real people, involve any attempt simply to substitute a virtual reality for the actual one. On the contrary, they are parasitic on the real relationships they foster, and which they alter in large part by encouraging people to put themselves on display, and in turn to become voyeurs of the displays of others. Some might claim that the existence of these networking sites provides a social and psychological benefit, helping those who shy away from presenting themselves directly to the world to gain a public place and identity. These sites also enable people to keep in touch with a wide circle of friends and colleagues, thereby increasing the range of their affections, and filling the world with goodwill and happy feelings.

Yet already something new is entering the world of human relations with these innocent-seeming sites. There is a novel ease with which people can make contact with each other through the screen. No more need to get up from your desk and make the journey to your friend’s house. No more need for weekly meetings, or the circle of friends in the downtown restaurant or bar. All those effortful ways of making contact can be dispensed with: a touch of the keyboard and you are there, where you wanted to be, on the site that defines your friends. But can this be real friendship, when it is pursued and developed in such facile and costless ways?

Read the complete article in The New Atlantis

Conservative Credo, by Barbara J. Elliott

Conservatism seeks the Truth that has emerged over time, drawing from the deep wellsprings of human experience, and builds anew on foundations that have withstood the tests of time. It fosters order and the flourishing of human beings as they live in relationship with one another. We are united in the eternal contract between the dead, the living, and the yet unborn.

Conservatism is rooted in the acknowledgement that God is our Creator and that the human soul sojourns through this realm toward its eternal transcendent fulfillment. We are all flawed human beings in need of redemption, capable of great evil as well as great good.

Because man is fallible by nature, the conservative seeks to limit the damage that can be done through the abuse of power by limiting its concentration.

The conservative fosters the fullness of human potential by protecting the freedom and dignity of each individual, acknowledging that responsibility comes with freedom. Rights and duties are always linked.

For the conservative, each man and woman is equal in dignity and equal before the law, but gloriously individual and unequal in talents, aptitudes, and outcomes. The conservative celebrates the uniqueness of individuals and does not level to eliminate differences.

The conservative honors the family as the essential building block of civilization, the house of worship as the locus for forming culture, and the community as the matrix for human interaction.  Culture and community grow from relationships and affinities over time, rooted in place. Conservatives value the rich diversity of relationships, organizations, and private associations that make up civil society and intermediary institutions.

The conservative values subsidiarity because we know many of the best solutions to human problems are found at the level closest to the individual person. We foster personal, local care for persons in need, preferably face-to-face with someone whose name we know. We believe that human transformation occurs best in the context of a personal, loving relationship, with accountability, over time.

The conservative is more concerned with the culture than politics, because the political realm is a derivative one, not primary, in human existence. Political problems are at their root moral and spiritual problems, which blend into the economic realm. Political change is rooted in cultural change.

Conservatives believe that caring for our neighbor is so important that it should not be left to the government. The one thing government cannot do is love. That is what we are called to do in the private sector, with our own time, talent, and treasure.

The conservative believes that that the True, the Good, and the Beautiful are interrelated, and that all things are measured against these three transcendentals.

We believe that there is Truth, that it is knowable, and that it is our duty to seek Truth and live it throughout our lives. The conservative believes that the virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance should be practiced in both private and public life.  We believe that virtues, not values, define the human soul.

We believe that Love is the highest motivation of the human person and that the purpose of life itself is to know God, to love Him and serve Him, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our ultimate fulfillment is in the transcendence of love.

Read the complete article in The Imaginative Conservative

Whose Rights? The Paradox of Moral Relativism, by Edward P. Sri

Whose rights are protected in a relativistic culture?

It is precisely on this point that relativistic societies face a serious dilemma:  How does a community arbitrate various individuals’ competing interests?  There is much rhetoric in our modern world about protecting human rights and every individual’s freedom, but what if one person or group wants to do something that is directly opposed to someone else’s values or interests?  How does a society decide whose “right” or whose “freedom of choice” will be protected?

Take, for instance, the following moral debates in our own times:

Does a child in the womb have the right to life?  Or does a mother have a right to abort her baby?  Does a business owner have the right to say publicly that he believes marriage is between one man and one woman?  Or does a homosexual person in the community have the right to be protected from such public statements which he or she might consider to be “hate speech”?  Do women have the right to receive contraceptives through their health insurance, even if they work for the Catholic Church?  Or does the Church have the right to adhere to its moral teachings and not provide contraception to its employees?

How does a relativistic society determine whose freedom of choice will be safeguarded and whose will be limited?  In a culture that has no reference to a common good — that has no shared vision about the good life for man — these questions are not resolved in any fair way.  They remain constantly up for debate and completely up for grabs.  Lobbyists maneuver in Washington.  Groups organize to protest.  Strategists try to sway public opinion.  Compromises are made and some will have to give up more than others.  But one thing is clear in the process:  not everyone’s “rights” are protected.  In the end, the very determination of what a human right is and whose rights are safeguarded is completely arbitrary.

Read the complete article in Catholic Education


To Whom Do Children Belong?, by Melissa Moschella

Children belong not to parents, but to the whole community. So claimed Melissa Harris-Perry in a recent MSNBC promo spot that has sparked heated controversy.

Harris-Perry argued that if we are going to start investing adequately in our public schools, “we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”

Now, if she simply meant that families and community members should support each other with neighborly gestures, such as—to take her own example—offering to drive a child home from school when the parents temporarily cannot, then her position is hardly controversial.

But her words are much more than just an exhortation to neighborliness or volunteerism. They reflect the troubling but not uncommon view that the education of children, particularly their formal education, is first and foremost the task of the state rather than parents, and that the state has primary educational authority over children, at least once they are old enough to attend school.

This is effectively the position that political theorists such as Amy Gutmann and Stephen Macedo take when they argue, for instance, that the state can and should require children to be exposed to values and ways of life that conflict with those they are learning at home, that the state at least in principle has the right to mandate such “diversity education” programs even in private schools and home schools, and that parents in principle have no right to opt their children out of such programs, even if they have a moral or religious objection to their content.

Read the complete article in Public Discourse

The road to same-sex marriage was paved by Rousseau, by Robert R. Reilly

There is more to same-sex marriage than politics. It only becomes plausible if you accept certain assumptions about how to distinguish what is natural from what is unnatural and what is right from what is wrong. The intellectual origins of the debate stretch all the way back to the Greeks, but radical changes in philosophy over the past couple of hundred years accelerated the process. In the essay below, Robert R. Reilly gives some deep background. 

Ineluctably, the issue of “gay” rights is about far more than sexual practices. It is, as lesbian advocate Paula Ettelbrick proclaimed, about “transforming the very fabric of society … [and] radically reordering society’s views of reality”.

Since how we perceive reality is at stake in this struggle, the question inevitably rises: what is the nature of this reality? Is it good for us as human beings? Is it according to our Nature? Each side in the debate claims that what they are defending or advancing is according to Nature.

Opponents of same-sex marriage say that it is against Nature; proponents say that it is natural and that, therefore, they have a “right” to it. Yet the realities to which each side points are not just different but opposed: each negates the other. What does the word Nature really mean in this context? The words may be the same, but their meanings are directly contradictory, depending on the context. Therefore, it is vitally important to understand the broader contexts in which they are used and the larger views of reality of which they are a part since the status and meaning of Nature will be decisive in the outcome.

Let us then review briefly what the natural law understanding of “Nature” is and the kinds of distinctions an objective view of reality enables us to make in regard to our existence in general and to sexuality in particular. The point of departure must be that Nature is what is, regardless of what anyone desires or abhors. We are part of it and subject to it. It is not subject to us. Thus, we shall see how, once the objective status of Nature is lost or denied, we are incapacitated from possessing any true knowledge about ourselves and about how we are to relate to the world. This discussion may seem at times somewhat unrelated to the issues directly at hand, but it is not. It is at its heart and soul. Without it, the rest of our discussion is a mere battle of opinions.

Read the complete article in Mercator

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