Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Summer on the North Shore

Finally a vacation that really felt like a vacation.  In my opinion, going to the seaside is the only way to make that happen.  We were on one of the small islands off the shore of northern Germany for 10 days with only the rhythmic  sound of the waves as background noise.   Quite a welcome change to the loud and never ceasing traffic of the main avenue visible from our house in Augsburg.  The only automobiles on Spiekeroog are small elektric "trucks," which  transport lugguge and packages.  Even bicycles were hardly a dominant presence on the island where everyone walks along the wider pedestrian paths.  Wide beaches with lots of space, time to just chill out and read, evening family games, afternoons at charming cafe's, and lots of walking and exploring made the 10 hour drive well worth it.  The pictures which say it all can be linked to from either the title of this blog entry or from the list of links with the title pictures.  

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bad Liberal Europe

The following is a response to a posting on facebook : Understanding the heart of Conservitism by Graham Dennis.

Hi there, it is me writing over here in "liberal Europe!" I can't quite share your enthusiasm about this piece by Graham Dennis. I've been living outside the states for 17 years now (not including the year in 88') and for most of that time in Europe (including England, Germany and Sweden). And tho I must admit, that there are sooo many things that I have pulled my hair out about as a Christian and an American, I did find myself needing to come to Europe's defense (wow, this is a first!) while reading this. The most striking incongruence is the statement he reiterates in point 4 (having said the same in point 2). about universal health care. "Once a government run health care system is put in place, the ideological promise of equal care... becomes impossible to deliver on. It becomes a “noble lie." First of all, not all European countries have a governmental health care. Germany does not. The health care systems and policies vary significantly from country to country. Second, these countries with a comprehensive health care management may not meet a perfect egalitarian record of treatment for all classes, races etc, but people are getting the care they need...I have never heard of ANYONE not being treated for an illness, not being able to afford medicine, being turned away because they are not insured or not being able to care for their children. Having experienced first hand the contrast of not being able to afford medical treatment because I was not covered to that of not having to worry about it AT ALL, I cannot express enough the importance of this issue to national politics. So I might not always get a private room in a hospital, but at least I get a room. There is so much propaganda out there about the inequality, bad service, lack of individual choice of doctors, etc, etc in “European” health care, which is simply not true. What is true is that people are not having to sell their homes to pay for cancer treatment, nor are they prematurely released from the hospital and left helpless. The “Europeans” I know gasp at the horror stories that come out of the states. And no one would want to trade!! On this issue, the States should exercise humility and take notes. Then it should do what it is good at: stealing an idea (like pizza or Tacos) from another country and making it even better!!  
It is also ill-advised to lump all of Europe (and I assume Scandinavia and Great Britain and Canada?) into one bag. Each of these countries has answered the healthcare issue differently, and of course struggles to overcome or counter the pitfalls or draw backs inherent within their own system, which, I agree, are partially the result of unlimited availability and an increasingly geriatric population. Yes, Germany has a declining national birthrate, but that is certainly not true of every European country. My husband just called over to me that he recently read, that in fact, the french are quite out doing us here! (France has a birthrate of 2,1 % to germany 1,34 %) Not to mention the countries that your brother also named, Poland, Ireland, Spain. (and wouldn't the numbers in the states look as dismal if it weren't for the large hispanic and immigrant population?) And, yes, this too puts a strain on our health care system (and would do us in a lot sooner if it weren’t for our own immigrant population).  
But also to fault for the growing burden of health care, are the extremely high costs of more advanced diagnostic and treatment technologies. I have had 3 MRT’s in the last half year...that might not have been possible even 10 years ago. So of course that brings with it enormous ethical questions: how much care and for whom? While I am getting 3 MRT’s here at an astronomical cost, young children are dying of illnesses in Africa which could be treated for a few dollars. In addition, the prenatal care, hospital stay (5-10 days), and required postnatal care (including postnatal house visits by the midwives) covered by German insurance companies are costs which fall away with a declining birthrate. Anyway, I think it is an over-simplification to say that “European health care needs have derived largely from it being a “stagnating population.”  
Surely France and Germany loose many of their top experts abroad. However, this is occurring across the board and is not a phenomena limited to medical researchers. Sometime ago Time ran an article just on this subject. The basic tenor of the article was that most brilliant researchers in Europe get bogged down in bureaucracies, which slow up funding, suffocate “free thinking” and can douse the motivation of even the most determined minds. Whether in sports, astronomy, physics, archeology, engineering, theater, supermodels, even Cornelia Funke moved to California!! But not until she could afford to pay her hospital bills herself! No, having lived here in Germany almost as long as I have lived in the states, I have experienced first hand the mind set which can and does again and again stifle creative, innovative and adventuresome pursuits. I think I can safely say, it is not a result of universal health care, nor necessarily the social conscience that gave rise to it, nor strictly of Liberal Humanistic thought. It is much, much too easy to duck our own social-political responsibility to care for our neighbor and dismiss those, who are in some respects doing a better job of it than we are, by nailing them in a coffin with this label on it.  
I can’t really follow the logic in his argumentation contrasting the “intellectuals in Europe” who were “smitten with the path of revolution” with “our founders deep and prudent reflection upon the limits of the political,” Our founders were revolutionists!! They also understood the limits of “religion” and sought to ensure that this sword could in future not so easily be wielded as an instrument of intimidation and domination. Granted, they seemed to have more successfully “let out the bath water, while retaining the baby” by removing the administration of religious profession and practice from the Governmental body, but keeping it as a matter of personal and communal profession and practice. The “French” revolutionaries seemed to be sick of the whole dirty lot of it, and could no longer make the distinction between religious tyranny and the kingdom of God. But who can fault them for it? They now must live with the dirty bath water of their own making. And for trying to get them to take the baby back? I think America has long since sullied her own diapers and lost any position of moral authority it may have at any point had.  
“Part of the limitation of the city of man is that it cannot eradicate the natural selfishness of man. To create an ideological place-holder for common interest (the state or the government) is to assume something about the state that I don’t assume. This is what scares me about Obama. He, like the French and many other Europeans, doesn’t understand how self-interest works vis-√†-vis the city of man. It’s not that self-interest should be turned into a religious principle, but rather than the state herself is incapable or eradicating it. Only the city of God can perfectly eradicate self-interest. This creates the need for a check upon the government (the principle established by our founders). That check is, in part, self-interest. The Pollyanna hope that it could be eradicated by the “common interest” of the state, is a very French (humanist), progressive European political ideal. I think it is extremely dangerous.”
I am sorry, but i find this quote to be... completely nonsensical. ...”but rather the state herself is incapable of eradicating Self-interest.“ But isn’t that exactly what conservative Christians want, when they clamor for Government to legislate pro traditional family values, against abortion, gay marriage, etc, etc.? From my view over here, it seems like there are a lot of very loud conservatives, who believe just that; that the state can eradicate the self-interest of mothers choosing a “better” life over the life of their child, and of Gays choosing a same sex partner instead of a fruitful heterosexual one. And isn’t that exactly what Obama has been saying? “There are limits to how the State can prohibit our Self-interest choices? Especially in those areas, which are extremely difficult to enforce. I think it is precisely the false “hope” of the conservative base in state legislation, which has paralyzed and preoccupied them, keeping them from exploring more creative and effective ways of bearing witness to the sanctity of life. Obama has again and again maintained that he will focus on those areas where State not only has an obligation to litigate, but also a fighting chance at success in its implementation. 
And (Obama), like the French and many other Europeans, doesn’t know how self-interest works vis a vis the city of man.” Is this for real???? I don’t think there is a person alive in the developed countries, who doesn’t know how self interest works!! There is a much shorter term for “self-interest vis a vis the city of man”; it’s called capitalism! And because America has proven to be the heavy weight in all things capitalistic, honing its “self-interest” skills to a sharp edge, does not automatically send all of Europe to the far corner of socialism. If America has been good at exporting any values at all on the greater community, especially the European neighborhood, than it is the value of Capitalistic self-Interest. And hasn’t that been the mantra of republicans since yea and yea, that any perceived economic or social slack in the country be met with more self-interest? I am sure it is not the objective of any candidate to “eradicate self-interest.” My suspicion is that the republicans want to continue to fan the self-interest flame much in the strain of Adam Smith, who proposed that the best result comes from everyone in the group doing what is best for himself (which America as a case study has proven does not work for a gross majority of the country or for the larger community of which America is also a part). Nash’s mathematically substantiated theory of governing dynamics has overthrown Smith’s, however, proposing that the best result will come by everyone doing what is best for himself AND for the group (or participants in the group). And isn’t that exactly what Jesus told us to do? “Love your neighbor AS yourself”? We are not to love our neighbor to the neglect and denial of self interest nor are we to love ourselves to the exclusion of our neighbor. May I suggest that the former smacks of the communist ideal and the latter of the renegade capitalist ideal? I think each country in Europe has tried in its own way, with its own resources to find this equilibrium in its governing capacity, to lesser or greater success.  
“Lastly, this tendency to think of the state as the “family” has also led to a profound denigration of the family. Why? Because the family is suspiciously viewed as an arena of “private interest.” Normalizing people to the infrastructure of the state, then, becomes one of the central goals of liberal humanism. This is why public schooling is so important.” I wish i could just let this slide by, because it is late and I have already spent way too long on this, but the oversimplification just nags at me. I am wondering which European country he is referring to? Yes, we are constantly trying to defend the value and sanctity of the family (and not just the cell family, but the extended family as well) and feel the tug and pull in so many directions to abandon it. But your brother is shooting at the wrong enemy, or indeed aiming too high. I do not believe that there is a liberal humanistic conspiracy to rot out the “private interest” of the family, at least not here in Germany. I do believe that the state more often than not cooperates with the forces at work in the world, which undermine the strengths of the family, but those forces are even more base than liberal humanism.  
I believe this force to be as ancient as history itself, and to be the only real counter philosophy that Jesus ever named (by the way, to put Jesus in a list of conservatives is silly; Jesus took pitches from both sides of the field and hit all the balls out of the park. Didn’t he say something like, “a good teacher uses both old and new stuff” (ok, i can’t find the quote right now, but it is really one of my favorites). A shorter verse that i am able to remember (not one of my favorites): “You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” Consumerism, the number one leading religion in our world. It infiltrates any philosophical, political or religious system and morphs it into an instrument of consumerism. Consumerism (Mammon) can make a currency out of anything. So a communist country, with the high ideals to pursue the good of the community, quickly becomes a country of consumerists who use Communism as a commodity to pursue self interest. And a christian country (group, church) with the high ideals to love God and their neighbor as themselves, quickly becomes a consumerist country using their religiosity, religious symbols and piety to pursue personal gain.  
It’s an old story, dating back long before the French revolution. The church got their first and only spanking in the book of Acts for this very thing. Ananias and Saphira were using the pious, “selfless” act of selling their home and “giving” to the community as a commodity, as a means of “gaining” something: the regard of the community. They were trying to “sell” themselves to the church. So whatever one means exactly by throwing around the term “liberal humanism,” have no fear, I am sure, this threatening philosophy has long been morphed away into our ancient enemy, much like the bad guy in The Matrix. And whatever is left of it in Europe is being rapidly shoved aside by capitalism. I would suggest then that we recognize our true enemy and stick to fighting him at our own address. (Didn’t Jesus say something like that, about sticks and stones...ah, splinters and beams!). After all, america has the staggering murder count: America uses most of the worlds resources; America has citizens living in 3rd world squaller, obesity, higher infant mortality rates, by far more people in prisons, a disreputable primary and secondary education system, and if I understood Graham correctly, it sounds like America (not the liberal humanists) has the most liberal abortion laws. Way to go for the sobering effects of self-interest. just wanting to keep the straw men from the table, lee