Hey! Did you pay for that?

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As a semi-serious news watcher and trend observer I have come across several stories about ‘cultural appropriation.’

The Wiki definition is:
Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is a concept in sociology dealing with the adoption of the elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture.

Examples given are as plenteous as are the shades of our citizen’s skin. Taco recipes, corn-row hair braiding, yoga, the Blues, Mardi Gras, etc…  These allegedly represent the co-opting of the fruits of various cultures without having had to ‘pay the price’ for those benefits. The complaint is that some things are the cultural property of certain groups in much the same way that any ‘intellectual property’ is. It apparently deserves protection by patent and trademark. I have some sympathy for this conclusion but I cannot treat that topic here with the attention it rates.

Bari Weiss, a staff editor and writer in The NY Times writes:

“Charges of cultural appropriation are being hurled at every corner of American life: the art museum, the restaurant, the movie theater, the fashion show, the novel and, especially, the college campus. If there’s a safe space left, I’m not aware of it.”

I also will not explore, here, whether this is the natural outcome of a ‘melting pot’ culture like America, or whether this is an actual case of theft. I am specifically considering the case of an even more brazen piracy of a foreign idea.

The core moral teaching of Jesus is still the de facto standard of the ethical argument of the secularist (whether they acknowledge his influence or not). If there has ever been a product of an opposing worldview that has been so thoroughly poached by another as Christianity, I am unaware of it. Secularists go on about ‘human rights’ and ‘morality’ as if something in their map of reality required such ideas.

In Western culture, the predominate moral standard has been the ethic of Jesus. Whether those who claim to act in his name have been true to his positions are up to the reader to judge. What remains clear is that the many benefits of Christian thought are often enjoyed by many whose worldview denies the basis for those benefits.

Those Western values and norms that you enjoy – let me ask you…. did you pay for that?

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Depends

At the end the 1992 comedy My Cousin Vinny, the characters played by Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei are discussing how the not-quite-legit lawyer Vincent Gambino managed to win the case.

Her: So what’s your problem?

Him: My problem is I wanted to win my first case without any help from anybody.

Her: Well, I guess that plan’s moot.

Him: Yeah.

Her (heavy sarcasm): This could be a sign of things to come.
You win all your cases, but with somebody else’s help, right?
You win case after case, and then afterwards,…
…you have to go up to somebody and you have to say ”Thank you.”

If you have seen the film you know that the expert testimony provided by his mouthy girlfriend, Mona Lisa Vito, was clearly essential to the case. In the ensuing dialog, Gambino is forced to face his own dependence. To Vinny’s chagrin, he must come to grips with the idea that he is not an island of competence and strength. I suspect that the movie’s audience has generally nodded their  approval of this lesson in humility. Do we, however, remain oblivious to the personal application in our own lives?

Dependence. It is a fact of existence. Everything we see, know, and interact with has its cause in something before it. It is contingent on something more primal than itself. It doesn’t take a degree in philosophy to see that this relationship of things depending upon other things cannot go back forever.

 

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power to the people

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Maybe you’re like me and stare with wide eyes at all the specialized technical stuff that we are exposed to. How could I possibly know if what I am presented with is legit? Professor ‘this’ or Dr. ‘that’ has asserted it and now I am left to either nod in the affirmative or risk the contempt of those who are the members of the vast chorus of ‘all right-thinking people.’

What hope is there for a “Joe Lunchbox” like me to evaluate this onslaught of claims that I am faced with on a daily basis? These are all voices that want to be taken seriously with the idea that knowledge confers authority. Although few have the leisure to become fully informed on the details of every field of study that we hear from, we are not left without tools to evaluate claims of knowledge, in general. We have the right to require that claims of knowledge be coherent and logical before we accept and act upon them.

Fortunately the basics of logic are not beyond the reach of most of us. By mastering a few of these ‘rules of reality’ we can defend ourselves from blatant fertilizer and the even more subtle bits of marketing of ideas.

By DR. J. P. Moreland –

There are three fundamental laws of logic. Suppose P is any indicative sentence, say, “It is raining.”

The law of identity: P is P.
The law of noncontradiction: P is not non-P.
The law of the excluded middle: Either P or non-P.

The law of identity says that if a statement such as “It is raining” is true, then the statement is true. More generally, it says that the statement P is the same thing as itself and its different from everyhting else. Applied to all realty, the law of identity says that everything is itself and not something else.

The law of noncontradiction says that a statement such as “It is raining” cannot be both true and false in the same sense. Of course it could be raining in Missouri and not raining in Arizona, but the principle says that it cannot be raining and not raining at the same time in the same place.

The law of the excluded middle says that a statement such as “It is raining” is either true or false. There is no other alternative.

 

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The power of “No.”

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I go to a certain restaurant most mornings to sip coffee and peacefully read for a few minutes before clocking into my regular job. This particular fast food establishment is quite popular with young moms who tend to bring their kids with them to breakfast. It is hard not to overhear the interaction between them.

As many of you may have observed, young children can be particularly fond of the word “no.” Admittedly, it is a word that many kiddos have heard early and often. Maybe they’re just parroting back the sounds of their environment. I don’t think so. I think that they are beginning to flex their authority as individuals.

Of course, they are subject to their parents direction and dominion as a fact of life. So then, is the persistent objection that many children exhibit a bad thing? That depends upon what you mean by “bad.”

We parents have the complex task of bringing our children to submit to our instruction in order to prepare them to choose on their own. They instinctively know that they have a little ‘kingdom’ that they have say over. Too young to rule it wisely and too young to understand, they chafe against our imposition of authority. Yet their rule over their sphere will be, largely, what defines them. It may be foolish and blind or it may be humble and wise.

They are made to have a will and it is the center of who they are. Their yes and their no are central to their personhood because we are all essentially choosing beings. I hope that I will see this clearer with my grandchildren than I did with my own kids.

 

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Merely

A basic technique of modern science is to explain various aspects of objects or phenomena by reducing them to their parts and the interactions between those parts.  We are told that what we saw this morning was, in fact, not a “sunrise” but merely a  turning of our planet.  This is also done in psychology, anthropology and religious studies.  Freud and Marx tell us that religion is merely a coping mechanism for our fears and attempts to make sense of our environment and our mortality.  Morality, we also learn, is merely the human herd’s social adaptation.  Merely, for all its humble appearance, turns out to be a very powerful idea.

Let’s see how a common notion fares when this reductionism is applied:

I have a “pet”

By pet I mean dog

By dog, of course, I mean an animal

By animal I mean an organism

By organism we know that we are talking about a collection of chemicals

By chemicals we mean various molecules

When speaking of molecules, we really are talking about arranged atoms

Those, we learn, are groups of sub-atomic particles

Which can easily be accounted for by strings

It turns out that I don’t have a pet….I merely have strings.

“Sit!”  Good Strings.

But you cannot go on `explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on `seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to `see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To `see through’ all things is the same as not to see.

The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

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Did you hear the one about the lawyer……..?

  I don’t believe we have adequate appreciation for the task of the attorney.  He gets chosen to take a side of the case (a client) and fight to get the judge to agree with him about the facts and about what should be done in light of those facts.  Any sympathies the lawyer has with the opposition’s case must be suppressed in light of the duty to create a favorable outcome for his own client.  In a world where we are limited in point of view, intelligence and our own prejudices, the lawyer’s task is crucial to our system of justice.  In the same vein of thought, let us consider a similar case.

Modern science, with its strict methods, observes, describes, and makes predictions.  To the degree to which it can control some experiment on a thing or a phenomenon, it can often give clear insight on what the thing is or what is actually going on.  As a methodological rule it excludes supernatural causes as an explanation precisely because it cannot control or repeat them. Like the lawyer, many scientists feel a duty to press natural explanations as THE explanation.  This, in itself, does society the same valuable service the attorney does for his client.

This leaves still leaves the job of the judge to be done.  In the courtroom and in the minds of those who need justice and truth concerning their case, judgements must be made. Too many important things hang in the balance for the judge to only let one explanation be heard, even if the advocate is famous and successful.  Likewise, too many things hang on the big questions of life to let only one source of truth be considered.  We should not begrudge naturalistic science a license to come before the bench, but we should think long and hard before we put a judge’s robe on its shoulders.

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How’s your turn signal?

In this ever more self-centered world in which we live, I have come to notice an odd “indicator” of our condition.  The humble turn signal is a mid-modern device that lets us communicate our navigational intentions without the primitive arm waving that used to be required for signaling a turn or a stop.

As a public endeavor, driving must harmonize many individual driver’s goals under a set of rules about how we relate to each other out on the road.  Thus, I acknowledge the importance of your purposes and plans by letting you know what my intentions are, as a fellow motorist.  This lets you begin to slow down, to know when to proceed, or to plan a means of avoiding a delay.

This is a small thing to many people and one may seem petty for its mention, but I think it serves to illustrate what has become the norm for our society.  Me-ism.  I just don’t have time to take my civic, social, citizen, or motoring responsibilities seriously.  The common attitude is to assume that others will make allowances for my actions and I would be foolish for not taking advantage of this fact.

Signaling my turning plans may not seem like an important activity (many police officers are apathetic towards this violation) but it is a small way to acknowledge others and their rights and importance.  Signaling says “I want to do my part to integrate my individual driving into the community of driving.”  It is an act of respect.

How’s your turn signal?

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