Monday, February 28, 2005

Random Thoughts on Music, Beauty, and Creation

The best proof that there is a Creator and that there is purpose in this world, in my estimation, is the truth of beauty. I was pondering this as I sat down to play the piano a bit yesterday. There is no reason that I should appreciate the interplay of certain frequencies of vibrations passing through the air, and yet the catharsis and emotions I experience as I produce those various vibrations is certainly real and certainly appreciated. It is beautiful. And there is no reason for it -- and that makes it even better. It brings pleasure of a higher sort.

So I got to thinking. There is a lot of other music that can also bring pleasure which I would not necessary call 'beautiful' in the same way I would label, say, choral music beautiful. Much popular music can bring a pleasureable experience, but where is the difference between it and the transcendent nature of human voices joining together in harmony? There must be a difference -- the two listening experiences are hardly comparable.

The answer, I think, lies in the appeal of each, and in the nature of humankind as between God and beast. Humans aspire to the Good. In Christianity, we are made in God's image. But we are also fallen creatures of the earth, and have instincts and desires akin to the animals and less akin to our Creator. We are 'between,' just as this world is something between the absolute joy of the transcendent and the sheer evil of what in Christianity would be termed hell. This is not to say that our baser instincts and desires are necesarily bad -- many are just good in a lesser way than the highest goods, and best when indulged in moderation. For example, the survival instinct and survival itself is a good thing, but it is a lesser good than, say, liberty, and thus arises the situation where someone sacrifices his life to preserve liberty. Likewise, sex is good. But so is beauty. The former relates to survival and our animal nature (here I mean sex in its most basic form -- it obviously can become something much higher) and the latter is an 'unnecessary' attribute. Beauty in its purest form is the divine. Beauty in this world is found in the measure that something (music, a sunset, a beautiful person) reflects that divine, perfect beauty. The interplay between the base and the higher is complex, as we desire both.

Music, too, is beautiful and can be pleasureable in one of two ways -- in its appeal to our more base side (sex) and its appeal to that which mirrors the divine (beauty). I think it safe to say that a popular song, say one of the hiphop variety, with suggestive lyrics, very base-intensive thumping rhythm, and suggestive dancing appeals to the base. A Bach invention doesn't. A Beethoven Sonata certainly appeals to beauty and the divine, but also may evoke emotions relating to the more basic side as well. Most things worth appreciating have a mixture of both aspects.

So too do human relationships. We seek the beauty of the divine in the relationships we form. The highest type of relationship may be the intimate one between man and woman, and this too can come to reflect divine beauty. A bad relationship, following this logic, would be the relationship driven solely by the base and not by the desire to find the beauty of the transcendent.

All of this is also proof that there is something higher -- why else would we appreciate music at all? Why would we appreciate the beautiful artistic design of a sunset? Why would we ever believe that sex and relationships could become something more valuable than the act of procreation and physical pleasure? The fact that we can discern a difference between the beauty of the divine and the lesser goods of this earth points to the reality of the transcendent. And that is a comforting thought to me.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Extreme Liberals: Motivated by Hate

Howard Dean, speaking at the winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee recently, remarked that he "hate[s] Republicans and everything they stand for." Over the weekend, the media by and large theorized that while Howard Dean is a bit extreme and perhaps a poor candidate, he is well suited to run the behind-the-scenes machinery of the Democratic Party. Really? The Chairman of the Democratic National Committee may do most of his work behind the scenes, but he is also one of the public faces of the party. And, he is where the party faithful look for leadership. Howard Dean has said it himself: he is motivated by hate. That the DNC could elect such a man to its top party post says a lot about the motivation of the party as a whole. It tells us that the party's core is not motivated by any vision for a better America, or a set of core American values (Kerry could not demonstrate any such vision during the last election), but rather is motivated by anger and hatred of the party in power. To the liberal Democrat core, they 'fight' for their own liberal ideology because they hate the fact that Republicans seized control of Congress in 1994 and the White House in 2000. They hate Republicans, and hate being out of power. And they are so blinded by their hatred and liberal ideology that they place regaining power and destroying the policies and preferences of the Republican majority above even sustaining American democracy -- and hence they feel no qualms about utilizing liberal judges to enact law from the bench where their ideas lose in the court of public opinion.

And Happy Valentine's Day!

The election of Howard Dean will force the party further to the left, and force many moderates to leave. I have seen it already -- several of my Democrat friends are now saying they will likely be voting Republican in the midterm elections. They do not like the anti-American feeling of the left-leaning Democrat core. They do not like Ted Kennedy berating our troops in the field. They do not appreciate the naysaying of the left-wing media when it comes to building democracy in the middle east. And they do not want to be a part of a party motivated by hatred first and the desire to regain power second.

This weekend I encountered the hatred of the far-left Democratic party face to face. On one occasion, as a friend and I were purchasing a few bottles of wine at a downtown Minneapolis liquor store, the cashier noticed my friend's Texas driver's license. He disparagingly remarked, "Oh -- Texas. Must be nice to not be down there anymore." I asked why he would say such a thing, and he replied, "you know -- Bush is from there. And there are so many of those weird people who are always calling themselves 'American' down there." By this he meant that he would never refer to himself as an American even though he certainly is an American -- he considers himself a 'global citizen,' and finds love of country and patriotism distasteful and embarassing. I replied simply that I was proud to have voted for Bush. He looked at me as if I had three eyes. We left. His ignorance was not worth our time.

Then, driving home from church on Sunday, a man driving in a car behind our own, perhaps in his mid-thirties, noticed our 'Bush-Cheney' and 'Support our Troops' bumper stickers. He proceeded to pull alongside our vehicle, rolled down his window, and made several obscene gestures and gave us the 'thumbs-down' sign. We, of course, did not dignify his embarassing display with a reply. This enfuriated the hating liberal further. He proceeded to speed up, dangerously cut in front of our car as we were moving down a freeway entrance ramp, and then slowed down to about 5 mph, holding us and about ten cars behind us up as we attempted to enter the freeway. After about 30 seconds of this, he made another obscene gesture, and took off at high speed.

These are the kind of people that could elect Howard Dean, a man who himself declares that he is motivated by 'hatred' of his political opponents, chairman of their party. These are the kind of people that are driving more moderate people out of the Democratic party. And this is why the election of Howard Dean signals many more years, perhaps decades, of electoral defeats for the Democrats.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Utopian Pessimism v. Realistic Optimism

I have now actually reached a point where I find it very, very difficult to watch the nightly news or read CNN's web page. Prior to the Iraqi elections, I could handle the mainstream media's pessimism, the nay-saying, and the Bush bashing. But now that the Iraqi elections have occurred in a way that exceeded everyone's expectations, the continued inability of many in the mainstream media (with a few notable exceptions) to acknowledge that the Iraqi people have taken a first, large, decisive step toward liberty and self-government has my blood boiling. It is as if many liberals and members of the media never believed that the Iraqi people had the capability, desire, nor the requisite humanity to build a foundation for self-government and to recognize the absolute evil of the insurgency. It is demeaning to the Iraqi people, it is demeaning to our troops supporting them in their cause, and it is demeaning to America's core values, which are, of course, the very values the Iraqi people are fighting for.

So where do we find the roots of the liberals' naysaying? I have come to believe that liberals exist in a state of paradox. They hope for and believe in the ability of a generalized 'peace' to somehow descend down upon the earth (apparently from nowhere as they don't generally recognize the direct impact of the transcendent), but at the same time reject and belittle any incremental, real, human efforts toward the same goal if those efforts involve any amount of pain or hardship or sacrifice. To a liberal ala John Kerry, politicians find solutions in creating institutions and government structures, hierarchies and programs. Individuals are not the problem because liberals do not believe in absolute evil--an individual's bad behavior is a reflection of systemic problems and influences. This is true in all issue areas, from the liberal's belief that the unequal distribution of wealth and unequal bargaining power actually cause poverty and even crime (and thus a welfare program and legal changes will solve the problems of the dependent poor or the criminal), to the extreme liberal's belief that underlying Islamist fundamentalist is an angst resulting from global inequity and the United States' capitalist oppression and domination (and thus a fairer global economic order would diminish Islamism). For the liberal, it is the system that needs fixing, not the individual, because evil isn't real. This is the same kind of Utopianism that infected the French revolution -- heads roll when the creators of Utopia fail and search for a scapegoat, believing that only sabotage could have derailed their perfect, systemic plan.

But modern American liberals combine this kind of ridiculous, relativist utopianism with a strong pessimism that is unrelated to any kind of practical realism. John Kerry grudgingly acknowleges that the Iraqi elections were a success, but concentrates on the difficult road ahead, underscoring the remaining strength of the insurgency and doubting the eventual outcome. Media outlets call attention to suicide bombings on election day. Chris Matthews wonders out loud on Hardball whether the indelible ink used to ensure that each Iraqi votes only once will become a 'marker for death,' a target for insurgent killers. How can such a utopian lot be so pessimistic at the same time?

The answer is relatively simple: They care more about their ideology than they do about what is actually happening to actual people. They value their belief that evil is not really absolute but rather a result of unfairness in the world too much to acknowledge that Bush's strategy of killing the evil-doers and incrementally building democracy is working and leading to real benefits for the Iraqi people. If liberals praise the courage and power of the Iraqi people to recognize and reject the insurgency, they would be admitting that the world is not the almost-utopia-but-for-global-systemic-unfairness they believe in, but rather is a place where absolute evil and good do battle for dominance. They would have to admit that real good can be achieved in the world only through sacrifice, and that war and hardship cannot be eliminated by a committee or a U.N. resolution. In short, their entire Utopian-pessimist worldview, which drives their views regarding things as disparate as welfare and foreign policy, would have to be wrong.

The naysaying and the pessimism of the utopian-liberals sounds utterly ridiculous to a thoughtful, realistic person. After this successful election, the liberal pundits wonder about the future for Iraqis, the strength of the insurgency, and worry about uncertainty. One must ask them: Do you think the oppressed Kurds 'worried' about uncertainty under Saddam? Do you think those filling his torture chambers would have traded their position for ean 'uncertain' democracy? Do you think even his own Baath party members feared purges and feared one day finding themselves on Saddam's bad side? Yes.

This utopian-pessism is not a philosophy without costs. Its pessimism, its naysing, its rejection of the possibility that any good could come from any kind of war has the potential to demoralize our troops and undermine the support of the American people. In fact, this is what the insurgents have been counting on. Luckily, the Iraqi people have stepped up to the plate. The insurgents are everywhere on the run. Good is winning. And President Bush will rally the nation to his realistic optimism (the opposite of utopian-pessism, this is a philosophy that understands the imperfection of the world, understands the necessity of sacrifice and hardship to create good, and believes that good cannot but come if we work at it) tomorrow night in the state of the union address.