Month: September 2015

A question for conservatives about religious liberty and unjust wars

The political right in America seems to have decided that “religious liberty” is a banner they can rally around. With Kim Davis’s jailing, they have their first hero.

But what is this new thing we claim to value, and what are its limits? Consider a Romanian Catholic infantryman from Ohio, on the eve of the 2003 Iraq invasion, who receives this letter from his bishop:

Because such a moment of moral crisis has arisen for us, beloved Romanian Catholics, I must now speak to you as your bishop. Please be aware that I am not speaking to you as a theologian or as a private Christian voicing his opinion, nor by any means am I speaking to you as a political partisan. I am speaking to you solely as your bishop with the authority and responsibility I, though a sinner, have been given as a successor to the apostles on your behalf. I am speaking to you from the deepest chambers of my conscience as your bishop, appointed by Jesus Christ in his Body, the Church, to help shepherd you to sanctity and to heaven. Never before have I spoken to you in this manner, explicitly exercising the fullness of authority Jesus Christ has given his Apostles “to bind and to loose,” (cf. John 20:23), but now “the love of Christ compels” me to do so (2 Corinthians 5:14). My love for you makes it a moral imperative that I not allow you, by my silence, to fall into grave evil and its incalculable temporal and eternal consequences.

Humanly speaking, I would much prefer to keep silent. It would be far, far easier for me and my family simply to let events unfold as they will, without commentary or warning on my part. But what kind of shepherd would I be if I, seeing the approach of the wolf, ran away from the sheep (cf. John 10:12-14)? My silence would be cowardly and, indeed, sinful. I believe that Christ, whose flock you are, expects more than silence from me on behalf of the souls committed to my protection and guidance.

Therefore I, by the grace of God and the favor of the Apostolic See Bishop of the Eparchy of St. George in Canton, must declare to you, my people, for the sake of your salvation as well as my own, that any direct participation and support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin. Beyond a reasonable doubt this war is morally incompatible with the Person and Way of Jesus Christ. With moral certainty I say to you it does not meet even the minimal standards of the Catholic just war theory.

 Thus, any killing associated with it is unjustified and, in consequence, unequivocally murder. Direct participation in this war is the moral equivalent of direct participation in an abortion. For the Catholics of the Eparchy of St. George, I hereby authoritatively state that such direct participation is intrinsically and gravely evil and therefore absolutely forbidden.

What would today’s defender of religious liberty say to this soldier? Should he quit? Should he be allowed to sit this one out? Should he be jailed for insubordination? Why, or why not?

It’s worth noting that if a government only waged just wars, this conflict would not arise. It also seems untenable to allow soldiers to abstain from certain wars based on religious convictions and still keep their jobs. (Update: Some have pointed out the U.S.’s relatively generous standards for conscientious objectors, however, that status is usually only granted to people who object in principle to all wars — the Selective Service Act is written this way — not just certain bad ones.)

I have doubts that most of the supporters of religious liberty for Kim Davis would support it in this case, but maybe I’m wrong.

Front Porch Republic conference: October 3, feat. James Howard Kunstler and more

Front Porch Republic‘s annual conference is less than a month away, in Geneseo, New York. It’s shaping up to be a great program, and I hope to see some readers there. Please leave a comment if you plan to come. May have to start spamming some like-minded Northeastern bloggers to make sure they do too — Pittsford Perennialist, I’m looking at you!

From the press release:

Sustainable Localism: Sages, Prophets, and Jesters,” the fifth annual Front Porch Republic conference, will be held on Saturday, October 3 in the MacVittie College Union Ballroom at the State University College at Geneseo.

James Howard Kunstler, whose many books include The Geography of Nowhere, will deliver the keynote address: “Looking for Sustainability in All the Wrong Places.”

The conference will feature a special panel devoted to the life, thought, and legacy of Christopher Lasch, the late University of Rochester historian and social critic. Panelists will be Robb Westbrook, Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, and Eric Miller.

Other conference speakers will include Catherine Tumber, Jeff Polet, Tim Tielman, Bill Kauffman, Abbot Gerard D’Souza-OCSO, Jason Peters, and Jeremy Beer.

The conference registration fee of $50 ($20 for students) includes lunch and light snacks. There will be plenty of opportunities for attendees to gather informally with one another and the speakers. The conference will run from 9 am-5 pm.

Sign up here, hope to see you!

See a flier here.

Applying the ten principles of Burning Man

This year, like every year, there is a discussion in burner circles about plug and play camps at Burning Man, camps where rich people pay over ten thousand dollars to have their camp set up, meals prepared, costumes designed, even sometimes a “sherpa” to help guide them around. These plug and play camps go against several of the principles of Burning Man, most notably, radical inclusion, radical self-reliance, and participation. Though I am a second year burner, I have tried to abide by the ten principles. Here is my attempt to clarify what they might mean in practical terms.

Like all rules, there is difficulty in interpreting the principles. Radical inclusion, for example, if taken literally, could mean no private property. This year dozens of people tried to wander into our camp on Friday night (our neighbors were having a big party and we experienced some overflow). Some lovely members of our camp spent the night directing the wanderers to the party next door and out of our camp. This was sometimes met with questioning, “aren’t all camps open?” The perhaps unfortunate answer is no. Most camps pack only enough food and booze for themselves. If there are leftovers to dinner they might share them with passers by, but most campsites are private property of the campers themselves. In this sense we can differentiate between private and public spheres in Burning Man. Public spheres, them camps and art cars should be radically inclusive, limiting people for mainly for safety reasons. Private spaces include sleeping areas, shade areas, and kitchens which are constructed solely for the use of people in the camp. Of course, these private spaces should be welcoming to outsiders, but outsiders should not feel entitled to use them.

More specifically, what constitutes a plug and play camp. Paying a camp mate for buying groceries does not make a plug and play camp. What about paying someone to use their generator, paying someone for a shade structure. Again, these do not seem to define plug and play camps. Simply by the nature of large camps, a small group of people will keep and maintain important playa gear, shade structures, cooking equipment, art cars etc. Paying for the maintenance and storage seems in line with Burning Man principles.

Let us have another scenario. Suppose you do not live within a day’s drive of Black Rock City. However, you have several friends in the Bay area. They camp together every year and are fairly well organized. One year you join their camp. They buy the food and bring it to Black Rock City as usual, as well as bringing shade structures and kitchen supplies, however, you are un-involved in the process except for an email chain simply because you live in a different area. You pay them at cost for the food and the shade structure. This seems to be getting closer to plug and play, but it is not quite there yet. What if you arrive on Tuesday after they have set up the communal shade structures and leave on Sunday before they take them down. How radically self-reliant are you?

I ask these questions, because, like most things, hard lines are difficult to draw. What then, separates someone of modest means of joining a camp of well-organized burners and paying a few hundred bucks for storing, maintaining and bringing the shade structure and kitchen to camp, as well as food and electricity, from a wealthy burner paying ten thousand dollars for something similar? In the above scenario, the only substantive distinction would be the quality of food/shade/alcohol/etc.

Larry Page, for example, attended Burning Man before 2002, far earlier than me. Who am I to judge him if he wants to organize a camp with all his rich friends? He likely contributes a lot more to the art projects than I do.

That being said, there are substantive differences between the plug and play camps and friends getting together and splitting costs. I will outline them below, but I think the primary aspects are, paid employees, wristbands, and setting up your own tent/yurt/etc.

Paid employees at Burning Man clearly go against radical self-reliance in a strong way. I think having a camp cook is a strong dividing line between chipping in when someone buys groceries and a plug and play camp. If Larry Page wants to eat caviar all week, that’s his prerogative, however, he or his friends should prepare it themselves.

Wristbands are another indicator of a pay to play camp. Human experience puts a natural limit on the number of people who can share a space/food with no formal exclusion. For example, my camp this year had 43 people and I had trouble remembering all of them. This seems around the natural limit for a camp which shares a kitchen. Our camp was small enough that we could identify most of our camp mates. On the other hand, wristbands mean that a camp is so big that facial recognition alone isn’t enough. The wristbands then act as a formal method of exclusion of outsiders from the food and drink. While not as clear of a giveaway of a plug and play camp as paid employees, wristbands still suggest something is running counter to the ethos of burning man.

Lastly, setting up your own sleeping structure. It is better if everyone helps set up the whole camp, but that is not always possible. This year there were a limited number of early arrival passes in my camp so the kitchen and the shade were mostly constructed by the time I arrived. However, people should at least set up their own sleeping structure. Of course, they can ask for help, and some people might be unable to do it. However, if you arrive at camp and everyone had their sleeping structure set up by someone else, it might be plug and play.

These are some of my recommendations on how to differentiate plug and play camps from regular camps. I purposefully left them fairly loose. I think radical inclusion means we should welcome everyone except those who repeatedly and intentionally violate the ten principles. In this context that means only defining plug and play camps as an extreme.

The next question is how to deal with these camps. This year, Larry Harvey said he would visit plug and play camps to see how he was received. This seems like a poor idea. I would be somewhat skeptical of a 50 year old man I did no know entering my camp. I would offer him beer, water, or a snack, but try to guide him out, as I would feel obligated to stay with him to ensure he did not take anything. I imagine female campers would be extra cautious for obvious reasons.

As for how to reduce the number of plug and play camps, I would recommend banning those who advertise for paid positions from Burning Man, and perhaps creating a public registry of them for humiliation. Even if they did not publicly advertise for the positions, word would likely escape it would be relatively easy to set up a mechanism for determining whether or not a camp had paid staff.

In conclusion, I am appreciative toward rich people at Burning Man. They allow me to see beautiful art that I would never be able to fund myself. However, they also have created some camps which violate the spirit and the principles of Burning Man. Banning paid employees at Burning Man (of course this excludes essential staff, police, doctors, EMTs, DPW, etc), would help restore some of those principles.

Here’s the plot behind ridding public life of offensive symbols

Alexander Hamilton may have been a big government imperialist but, as the first Secretary of the Treasury, he shouldn’t be taken off the $10 bill.

Wait…step back one second. Remember all the hubbub over the U.S. Treasury’s decision to replace Hamilton’s visage with that of a woman’s?

Perhaps you don’t. In our hysterical age, the media moves from one outrage to the next, rarely stopping long enough to allow real contemplation on the injustice du jour. The capriciousness is akin to a porn addiction that soothes the brain by beguiling it with feelings of moral superiority and pity.

Not long after cultural feminism scalped Hamilton off the 10 spot last spring, the next wave of intractable wrath came in the form of the Confederate Flag – the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia to be specific. Because some shit-for-brains in South Carolina shot up a prayer meeting and had posted pictures of himself online holding the flag, the symbol had to be removed from the state capitol. That act of courage (inanimate objects kill people after all) snowballed into the Confederate Flag being purged from all venues of respectable American life.

Now we’ve reached the next Houdini-like act of disappearance. President Obama, in a swipe at white colonialism, unilaterally changed the name of Mount McKinley back to its local designation: Denali. The act is meant to appease the native population, who never took to the moniker of the twenty-fifth president. The peak was unofficially named McKinley by a gold prospector in 1896 but Congress made it official in 1917 to honor the assassinated head of state.


Black Rock Rangers: A case study of private police

One of the primary critiques of private cities is how private police would act. Would police be responsive to powerful interests or would they act in favor of justice and dispute resolution. The Black Rock Rangers at Burning Man offer a glimpse as to how police might act in a private city.

Black Rock City is the name for the temporary city of 70,000 people in the Black Rock desert which houses Burning Man, an art festival, for lack of a better descriptor, for a week. Having recently returned from the event and having had numerous interactions with Rangers I realized they are a model for policing with lessons that can be applied more broadly.

First it is necessary to clarify what the Rangers do. They are closer to security guards than police (Edit Rangers prefer the term “non-confrontational community mediators”). They have no arresting power, in fact, the most power they have is to turn off the sound systems of noisy camps. A full list of their duties is here. In my experience, most of their time is spent helping to mediate disputes between neighboring camps and ensuring intoxicated people get home safely.

There are several reasons why working at Burning Man would be more stressful than other locations. First, many norms of interaction are different at Burning Man than the default world. There is a great deal of nudity, sexual expression (I was camped near the orgy dome), and hugging. As such, boundaries are different from the default world. This is a potentially risky situation as people can overstep boundaries that aren’t clearly established. For example, the numerous “Nudity is not consent” signs around Black Rock City suggest some people come to Burning Man believing that nudity is consent.

Burning Man also has a lot of drug and alcohol use. I would guess that per capita drug and alcohol use at Burning Man is comparable, if not greater, than Mardi Gras in New Orleans or St. Patrick’s day in Boston. The ubiquitous drug use means people are in a strange environment, with unusual rules for interactions, with many of them intoxicated. This could easily be a recipe for a great deal of conflict.

The Rangers are at least partially responsible for ensuring there is a minimal level of conflict.

Comparing the perceptions of the Rangers and police officers at Burning Man shows how, at least in limited circumstances, private police can be more responsive and helpful to community needs than traditional law enforcement.

Law enforcement at Burning Man consists of two groups, officers from the Bureau of Land Management, and officers from nearby towns. The perception of them is similar. They are seen as intruders in the city who primarily try to bust people for using illegal drugs. Visiting popular forums prior to Burning Man there are often guides on how to deal with police and reports on how aggressive they are pulling cars over. In fact, positive interactions with police are so rare than some people post their positive interactions just to counter the prevailing sentiment of negativity towards them.

Rangers, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly viewed in a positive light. During my first interaction with a Ranger, she clarified that she was not a cop and did not care if you were “tripping balls.” She stressed that Rangers were there to help and facilitate, not get people in trouble. Another rather intense interaction involved the leader of a camp and some Rangers. The leader of the camp had been placed next to a very loud sound stage, loud enough to shake the trailers in his camp. At around 3 in the morning the leader was very irate and implied to the Rangers that if they had been doing their jobs correctly they would have shut down the sound camp. The Rangers handled it very professionally, articulating the process by which a sound camp gets shut down. Given that it was loud, early in the morning, and everyone was tired, it is easy to imagine an escalation. However, the exchange ended with a hug and the leader saying he loved Rangers.

Ultimately it is hard to generalize from the Black Rock Rangers. Burning Man is a unique event, the Rangers are all volunteers for example. However, at the very least it shows that private security can be more responsive to local needs and form strong community bonds.

Edit: Former Ranger in the comments below pointed out two things that warrant mentioning. First, Rangers come from the community so they understand and respect community traditions. This is very important in formal policing as well. Second, Rangers do not like to be called security guards. I apologize for that. However, in my defense, like the rest of Burning Man, Rangers are difficult to classify in traditional terms as there are few comparable examples in the default world.

Sorry, Kim Davis should face some repercussion for not fulfilling her duties

Author note: While I find much to agree with in Mr. Church’s sentiment here, I can’t fully embrace ignoring the law without consequences. I guess traditionalists are right about Kant and his epistemological head games focused on non-contradiction: they rot the brain. Perhaps mine is rotten too. I’ll let the readers decide.

Much ink has been spilled on the ongoing plight of Kim Davies, the Kentucky county clerk who is currently incarcerated for refusing to issue marriage licenses.

First Things editor R.R. Reno praises her resoluteness to “quietly following the dictates of her conscience.” Author Luma Simms also celebrates Davis “acting in accordance with God’s moral law which is now written on her heart as a convert” to Christianity. National Review’s Charlie Cooke is adamant that Davis breaking the law and intones that “[she]does not have a leg to stand on.” Rod Dreher blogs, “even though my heart is with Kim Davis, my head says principle matters” and that “if we grant individuals the right to defy any law they like without consequence, as long as they claim religious liberty, the rule of law ceases to exist. “

The liberal media is having a field day over impugning Davis’ intransigence against complying with the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision. Back when California outlawed same-sex marriage, the Grey Lady herself endorsed government officials defying the law. But let’s forget about the hypocrisy of the liberal media for a moment. The question at hand for Christians is this: What’s the proper role of civil disobedience in the face of a hostile government?

I love a good poke in the eye of authority as much as the next guy. But, like Dreher and Cooke, I see that the law must have consequences. I’ve praised the defiance of some Southern counties refusing to issue marriage licenses altogether. That movement, small as it is, represents a dropping out of public requirement. But like Kim Davis, the perpetrators have to face the consequences of their choice. And for the Kentucky county of Rowan, the chickens are coming home to roost.