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The Republican Crusade Against Sex

The Republican Crusade Against Sex

July 5, 2022 | 1,410 words | Politics, Philosophy

As a resident of Pennsylvania, I will be called on in a few months to help elect a new Governor.  As usual, I am less than thrilled with the two major party candidates we are able to choose between.  And also as usual in recent years, the Republican option in this election is even more of a concern to me than is the Democrat.

Doug Mastriano is what might be called a political novice, having won a special run-off in 2019 for PA State Senator, his first try at elected office.  He then won re-election to that seat by a wide margin in 2020.  Despite this skimpy track record, he managed to secure the support of Republican kingmakers in the state, win this year’s gubernatorial primary in a four-way race, and is running a well-funded campaign for the Governorship this Fall.

While I have no doubt Mr. Mastriano thinks of himself as a decent man who is trying to do the right thing, some of the positions he has staked out seem reactionary and a bit half-baked.  A little too knee-jerk conservative for my taste.  His unequivocal support of Donald Trump and the misguided effort to overturn the 2020 Presidential election are embarrassing, but might be chalked up to a measure of political naiveté.  His rigid stance on abortion is another matter.  Like many conservatives who consider themselves highly principled, he sees abortion as a clear-cut, black and white issue.  But presenting this as always being a harsh, selfish decision on the part of a woman to murder her unborn baby in the womb is presumptuous and dismissive, and hardly does justice to those women who find themselves in this difficult position.  He cites “the science” to support his contention that life begins at conception, as if nothing more need be said.  

Well, like Mr. Mastriano, I, too, happen to believe in the sanctity of human life that gestates in a pregnant woman’s womb.  I, too, believe that life begins at conception.  But I also realize there can be any number of medical complications during a pregnancy that threaten the life of a prospective mother, and the viability of the unborn child.  To say nothing of rape and incest.  

I think we need a much more informed discussion around the subject of “exceptions.”  The list we are all familiar with – rape, incest, and life of the mother – is but a starting point in what should be a broader and deeper conversation.  Medical professionals and ethicists should be invited into this discussion, with their rationales and ruminations widely disseminated.  Only then should our lawmakers consider formulating a new, more nuanced public policy.

But, of course, Mr. Mastriano is on record as being opposed to any exceptions whatsoever.

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I guess Doug Mastriano is just the sort of politician Mara Gay, a member of the New York Times editorial board, had in mind when she sat down to write her provocatively-titled Op-Ed piece, “The Republican Crusade Against Sex.”  It appears in today’s edition of the newspaper.

Ms. Gay’s strident tone in this essay might be chalked up to the countless little (and not-so-little) indignities women have suffered at the hands of men over the years.  Those indignities now culminate in the outrage many women feel – and Mara Gay expresses so well – at the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.  Not to mention rumors the High Court may be considering a restriction on the availability of contraception.  

Mara Gay sees this as a special project of “puritanical tyrants seeking to control our bodies.”  She goes on to describe the radical right-wing minority behind this movement as being “animated by an insatiable desire to punish women who have sex on our own terms and enjoy it.”

 

While Ms. Gay may have gotten a little carried away with herself in penning that last phrase – an insatiable desire to punish women… really? – the recent turn of events over at the Supreme Court is not a good look for Republicans who appointed and confirmed this last batch of justices, resulting in a new conservative majority.  In fighting abortion so vehemently, pols like Doug Mastriano focus on what they call “abortions of convenience.”  As if the decision to abort is never a gut-wrenching one, as if a woman decides to have an abortion on a whim.  

Setting aside what are often serious economic and emotional issues, along with the aforementioned rape, incest, and life of the mother exceptions, many principled women face a basic, everyday problem men never have to face:  They want to keep having sex, but they don’t necessarily want to keep – or start – having children.    

Conservatives should not be alarmed when Mara Gay starts her Op-Ed with the declaration: “I have sex because I like it.  Sex is fun.”  This should not brand her as a radical feminist out to remake the social order.  Or a slut.  It just makes her a human being with a healthy sex drive.

I only mention this because many conservatives who oppose legal abortion under any circumstances also, generally speaking, are against the widespread distribution of contraception.  The traditional opposition to contraception is grounded in the belief it promotes promiscuity among the citizenry, and threatens marital fidelity by making adultery easier to indulge in without consequences.  While those concerns may be real, what about those principled women I just referenced above – married or single – who simply want a say in when they will become pregnant?

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While all this would seem obvious, it’s something social commentators like J.D. Vance, the Republican nominee for Senate in Ohio, apparently need to be remined of.  Although Vance’s best-seller “Hillbilly Elegy” deeply resonated with me, Mr. Vance displays what I would call a tin ear on Twitter when he announces: “If your worldview tells you that it’s bad for women to become mothers but liberating for them to work 90 hours a week in a cubicle at the New York Times or Goldman Sachs, you’ve been had.”    

Gosh, J.D., that’s as bad as Mara Gay saying a radical right-wing minority has “an insatiable desire to punish women.”  While I’m far from an expert on the matter, I think the point women are making is that it’s okay to either be a mother or work at a demanding place like The New York Times or Goldman Sachs.  And, with a cooperative spouse and a suitable support system, the enterprising woman might even be able to tackle both without negatively affecting family life.

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I am familiar with the language and statistics Doug Mastriano posted on May 3, on the impending overturn of Roe v. Wade.  Namely that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a eugenicist (Mr. Mastriano refers to her as a “white nationalist”) who used family planning to target minorities.  He cites “recent statistics” from the Department of Health that indicate the African American and Latino populations of Pennsylvania account for more than half of all abortions in the Commonwealth, despite representing only about 18% of the populace.

I am also familiar with evidence of grisly “abortion mills,” like the one run by the infamous Kermit Gosneel in West Philadelphia (a minority neighborhood) for decades.  Mr. Mastriano called attention to Gosnell during a televised debate among the four PA Republican Senate candidates last Spring.  The statistics are troubling, as are the existence of such mills.  But the targeting of minorities is only one aspect of the complex abortion issue.  And allow me to add this:  If conservatives are really so concerned about the health and welfare of our minority populations, they would do well to rethink their insistence on trickle-down economic policies, since those policies provide precious little opportunity to those populations.

Another way for conservatives like Doug Mastriano to show their true concern for our minority populations would be to boldly fund child care and other financial support aimed at the poorest families, who often must have both parents working to scratch out a meager living that barely registers above the poverty line.

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Returning for a moment to the young, articulate Ms. Mara Gay of the New York Times editorial board, I enjoyed her edgy, well-written Op-Ed immensely.  As one human being to another, I sincerely wish her the best of luck in her continued search for happiness and fulfilment in the realm of sexual expression.  And in one day reaching her stated goal of becoming a mother.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr

July 5, 2022

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Mt. Sinai and the Second Amendment

Mt. Sinai and the Second Amendment

May 25, 2022 | 370 words | Politics, Philosophy

Yesterday the latest in a seemingly endless series of mass shootings occurred in a small Texas town, when 18-year-old Salvador Ramos walked into an elementary school with an AR-15 style rifle. He killed nineteen children and two teachers, and wounded seventeen others. Earlier in the day he shot his grandmother in the face, severely wounding her. He remained in the school for more than an hour before members of the U.S. Border Patrol Tactical Unit fatally shot him.

Today in response to this latest tragedy, a well-known media-friendly prelate in the Catholic Church – Cardinal Blasé J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago – has tweeted an admonition to the nation’s politicians:

“The Second Amendment did not come down from Sinai. The right to bear arms will never be more important that human life. Our children have rights, too. And our elected officials have a moral duty to protect them.”

It may be asking too much of Congress to enact legislation that will reign in a deeply disturbed teenager, or a severely mentally ill adult. But surely doing something about the easy access to rapid-fire assault-style weapons would be a good place to start.

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Cardinal Cupich is not just admonishing our politicians with his pointed remarks, he is also sending a not-so-subtle message to fellow Catholics who take pride in their “conservative” bent. His snappy tag line highlights what I consider to be the ideological Achilles heel of all such Catholics. These folks firmly believe our founding documents are a reliable update of the Judeo-Christian tradition, no questions asked. And they tend to consider the Founders themselves as not just fine upstanding Christian gentlemen, but full-fledged saints.

In other words, conservative Catholics act as though the Second Amendment, along with the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, did come down from Mt. Sinai.

There are many mental health-related issues underlying the epidemic of mass shootings our country is suffering through, all of which fall outside the realm of “gun control.” But unwarranted reverence for every aspect of our Founding, for every detail of every document, is also a contributing factor. Uncritical support for “the right to bear arms” is helping the senseless killing to continue unabated.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr

May 25, 2022

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Astrology and Free Will

Astrology and Free Will

May 2, 2022 | 629 words | Philosophy, Psychology

Astrology doesn’t have many defenders these days, and with good reason.  The idea of a horoscope that can predict your future based on the month you were born and your “sun sign” is more than a little far-fetched.  The very thought strikes most reasonable people as silly, and a complete waste of time.

What’s more, passively giving one’s future over to the fates seems to violate the concept of self-determination and free will that most intelligent, rational people hold in high esteem.  As the poet tells us, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

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There are a couple of things wrong with this common dismissal of the superficial, sun-sign version of Astrology.  For starters, it fails to take the other planets (and the Earth’s moon), and their placement at the time of a person’s birth, into account.  It also makes no reckoning of the twelve houses that comprise each person’s “chart” at the time of their birth.

By way of example, just staying with the simplistic sun-sign version of Astrology, a person with their Sun in Virgo in the eighth house has quite a different outlook on life than another person whose Sun is also in Virgo, but in the third house.

But as I say this simplistic sun-sign version doesn’t begin to take into account the other planets and what signs they’re in, and in which house they appear.  It is the relationship between all these planets and signs and houses at the time of one’s birth that can provide valuable insight into one’s essential nature.

That’s all Astrology has even been to me:  not so much a predictor of future events, but a window into one’s soul.  It’s about understanding one’s predispositions and tendencies.  These are the things we come into this world with.  They are hard-wired into our DNA.

But it requires a skilled practitioner to conduct such an analysis and provide such insight.  There are books that can tell you what this planet in this sign in this house may indicate.  But it takes a wise man or woman to integrate all that information and yield an insightful portrait of a given individual.

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Needless to say, such skilled practitioners are few and far between.  I was lucky enough to bump into such a person early in my twenties.  

The gentleman in question was once a concert pianist who gave up the stage due to debilitating asthma.  By the time I encountered him during my one-and-only year of college, he was well into his second career as a French professor.  I had him for two semesters.  He got a kick out of my little essays in beginner’s French and gave me good grades.  After I dropped out of school we kept in touch, and eventually he “did my chart.”  In discussing its many placements and conjunctions and oppositions over the course of a few meetings, he did note a couple of bright spots.  But mostly he told me a lot of things about my emotional/psychological make-up that were hard to hear.

And that’s the thing about Astrology.  Like any worthwhile system of character analysis, it’s not just a matter of basking in the glow of one’s particular strengths.  Or gaining permission to sort of give in and accept one’s less-than-ideal predispositions and tendencies.  Knowing oneself should extend to using that knowledge in an attempt to improve upon certain less-than-favorable aspects of one’s character and personality, in the hope of becoming a better person.

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Freud, Jung, Abraham Maslow, Fritz Perls – these are all people who tried to map out human consciousness and discern the complexities of the intellect and emotions.  In-depth Astrology, in the right hands, can be another such detailed map of consciousness.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr

May 2, 2022

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Make It Work In The Real World

Making It Work in The Real World

March 1, 2022 | 1,455 words | Economics, Philosophy, Politics

The intellectual tradition to which I subscribe believes in an economics based on virtues such as justice and charity, instead of ‘laws’ like supply and demand.  The earliest guidelines for this preferred system can be found in the Acts of the Apostles, when the first band of followers were said to have shared all they had with one another, according to need.  This is what Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) identified back in the 13th century as “distributive justice.”

Though he did his best work before capitalism kicked in and really took off, Aquinas had his finger on the pulse from its very beginning.  He was around just as the fabric merchants of Florence were inventing double-entry bookkeeping, which as we know was the single most important development in facilitating the international trade of their goods.

Right from the start Tommy A. could see that economics – especially big-time economics – is a branch of ethics.  Because all human action that proceeds from intellect and will must fall within its province.  (As opposed to “unthinking” actions like combing one’s hair, or scratching one’s beard). Since economic actions can’t help but proceed from intellect and will, they will naturally be subject to the requirements of moral philosophy, aka morality.

When we hear that onerous word ‘morality’ we automatically think of private action, specifically of the sexual variety.  Thou shall not commit adultery, and all that.  But Aquinas understands economic behavior is simply morality as expressed in the public arena.  It’s how a community and an entire country lives out a life of virtue together.  Or not.

 

This points up a key difference between the grand theoretical economics of justice and charity, with what we have now.  Our current economic system (i.e., capitalism) does not address the issue of living an ethical and virtuous life, which it deems outside its purview.  It focuses instead on maximizing productivity.

Now, productivity is surely a good thing.  But it should not be pursued to the exclusion of justice, or while violating justice.  That’s how social inequities are created.  In this vein Aquinas identifies three (3) types of justice:  legal, commutative, and distributive.

 

Legal Justice

This is preeminent among the moral virtues, serving as an analogue to supernatural charity.  That is to say, just as charity orders all man’s private actions toward God, legal justice orders all man’s public actions to the common good.

The idea of a ‘common good’ is a recurring theme in the intellectual tradition to which I subscribe.  Contrary to popular belief, it does not automatically result when individuals single-mindedly pursue their own private ‘good’, as the principle of enlightened self-interest asserts.  

Any civilized society should have the common good as its pre-eminent goal.  This can only be achieved when all citizens – the high and mighty, and the meek and lowly – order their actions to the overall good of the entire community.  That includes the ‘good’ of people we vehemently disagree with, as well as those with whom we get along famously.

 

Commutative Justice

Commutative justice requires ‘equivalency’ in exchange transactions, since neither party in an exchange wishes to suffer a loss.  This implies it is usually possible to determine an objective ‘just price’ of an object with a reasonable degree of accuracy.  Here it may occur to you ‘just price’ is diametrically opposed to our current yardstick of ‘what the market will bear.’  Aquinas is aware of the many variables that can play a role in determining what the just price might be in a given situation: the qualities of the item itself, current supply, current demand, etc.  And he cautions against trying for a greater degree of precision in this area than may be possible.    

That said, there is an objective basis to all exchange transactions that must be obeyed for justice to be served.  A seller may not charge whatever he or she likes, just because the buyer agrees to it.  

Usury

Traditional prohibitions against usury are simply an application of the principle of equivalency.  But this also means that, in certain clearly defined circumstances, a lender may be entitled to a greater return than the amount lent.  If a lender suffers a clearly identifiable loss in making a loan, he may legitimately request a greater amount in return to cover the loss incurred.  But again, the exchange should be governed by objective circumstance, not by the highest rate of interest to which a lender can persuade the borrower to agree.

Distributive Justice

Commutative justice by itself does not take into consideration the various needs, merits, and circumstances of people involved in economic transactions.  But this seeming deficiency is addressed by distributive justice.

Distributive justice is the virtue that directs goods be distributed by those who exercise authority over those goods, employing a proportional equality.  Now there’s as sentence that could stand to be unpacked in much greater detail.  But it boils down to this: Goods ought to be distributed according to the needs, merits, and other circumstances of the people receiving those goods.

The action of distributive justice is more fundamental than that of commutative justice.  Commutative justice requires only mathematical equality.  It carries out the distribution pattern of goods already established.  If this pattern is unjust, commutative justice will simply perpetuate the injustice.

 

This short overview is meant as only the briefest introduction to what Thomas Aquinas has to say on the subject of economics and morality, which he sees as not just linked, but inexorably intertwined.  Such an introduction is necessary because, sadly, his ground-breaking early work in this area has been relegated to the dustbin of history.  Today’s cutting-edge economic theorists don’t give him a first thought, let alone a second one.  Which is our loss, since the fundamental things still apply, even if quite a bit of time has gone by.

There are, however, a handful of relatively obscure academics who recognize Aquinas’s insight when it comes to exchange transactions, and are busy riffing on his favorite themes.  But what good does that do members of the general public, caught up as we are in the daily grind?  

Who pays any attention to an off-the-beaten-path academic, except maybe a few other obscure academics?  Okay, maybe their students listen.  If only for a semester or two, until those students move on to other subjects.  As for breaking out and reaching a wider audience, the writing of these earnest scholars, though admirably detailed, is often a little dry, and difficult for the lay reader to decipher.  Not that the average lay reader is inclined to even try.

While everyone could benefit from familiarizing themselves with some of Aquinas’ thought, the real trick is not so much in getting us commoners to pay attention – it’s the movers and shakers we want tuned in.  For it is they who must turn this idle chatter about justice and charity into action, and make it work in the real world.

In recent decades there have been a few encouraging signs on the path to ‘economic justice.’  Such as the boutique concept known as the triple bottom line, with the three Ps of sustainability.  And the Business Roundtable redefining the purpose of a corporation away from Milton Freidman’s famous proclamation of ‘profitability alone,’ to a broader understanding of how a robust economy must do more than reward stockholders.  It must also strive to meet the intrinsic needs of employees, customers, and the community-at-large.  All these extenuating categories of individuals deserve to be factored into the successful-business equation.

Then there is the flamboyant CEO of asset manager Blackrock throwing his considerable weight around at high-profile international conferences, expounding on how investors and businesses should work alongside government.  According to this wacky crackpot, such counter-cultural cooperation could reduce the need for political leaders to engage in onerous deficit spending to remedy persistent social inequities.

 

 

But let’s face it, such do-gooder stuff remains an uphill battle.  Because humanity’s default inclination has always been toward greed, avarice, and sloth.  Alas, this is often true even among those fortunate few blessed with an extraordinary degree of ambition and drive.  As a general rule, we humans tend to be rather nonchalant, shall we say, in our consideration of anyone outside our immediate circle of acquaintances.  Contributing to the problem is the way the self-actualized among us have been given a green light to power their way to the top, in an enlightened self-interested sort of way.  

Some not-so-pleasant things about human nature have never changed, down through history.  Then again, with a little prodding in the right direction, sometimes some of them do.  This sort of incremental transformation is known in the trade as turning over a new leaf.  If Ebenezer Scrooge can do it, so can you.

 

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr

March 1, 2022

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The Magic of Proximity

The Magic of Proximity

February 27, 2022 | 322 words | Philosophy, Economics, Politics, Personal History

Because each of us is blessed with the Imago Dei, we possess an inherent dignity that is worthy of respect.  This is true regardless of our level of formal education and resulting station in life.  It is true no matter how meager our material circumstances might be.  

The Protestant Ethic behind our current version of capitalism – that worldly success is the result of temperance and hard work, and therefore an indicator of eternal salvation – has something to recommend it.   But it can also blind us to the larger reality that success if often nothing more than the luck of the draw, the result of where and when one happens to be born.  A geographic anomaly, if you will.

In this same vein, the magic of moving pictures – conjured up and made part of our lives in just the last hundred years – has fixated us on the striking physical characteristics of the most handsome and beautiful members of the species.  These attention-getters have done nothing to earn their good looks, but are merely the beneficiaries of a fortunate combination of genes.

While thus bedazzled, we are prone to look past the inner beauty of those around us – be they men, women, or children.  That everyone possesses their own unique set of appealing characteristics is the Imago Dei at work.  We would all be happier if we spent less time ogling over the surface appeal of “stars,” and more time appreciating the qualities and gifts displayed by those in our immediate circle of acquaintance – family, co-workers, and friends.

Take the average, age-appropriate woman, for instance.  The sort of person one might consider as a potential romantic partner.  Someone who seems unremarkable at arm’s length becomes downright alluring when one gets a little closer.  Her eyes, her hair – my word, even her hands. The shadow of her smile. This is what might be called the magic of proximity. 

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr

February 21, 2022

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Viability

Viability

January 22, 2022 | 705 words | Politics, Philosophy, Religion

With a new conservative majority resulting from three recent Trump appointees, the Supreme Court is said to be on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade later this spring or early this summer.  For pro-choice advocates such a reversal would represent a serious blow to a woman’s bodily autonomy.

Letting women make decisions for their own reproductive health and wellbeing is a powerful argument, one that surely resonates with every rugged individualist who is committed to our founding principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Everything makes sense, until one stops to consider what is meant by the term “reproductive health” in this context.  Terminating an unwanted pregnancy sounds very clinical, but such phrasing cleverly sidesteps a messy detail:  what’s being terminated is a human life.  The spoonful of sugar that helps this harsh medicine go down is the concept of ‘viability outside the womb’ we are hearing bandied about.

There is a lot of science being invoked to support this idea.  And far be it from me to doubt the experts.  But I can’t get past a simple question:  What is it that a pregnant woman carries in her womb, an eggplant?  I mean, either it’s a human being, or it’s not.  Debating viability outside the womb to determine the “humanness” of a human fetus strikes me as a rather disingenuous dodge.

 

The underlying problem that abortion seeks to address, but is anathema in this enlightened age, is our radical redefinition of the meaning and purpose of human sexuality.  In the intellectual tradition to which I subscribe, what is referred to as the marital act has two aspects: unitive and procreative.  It’s supposed to help bond two people together for the long haul, enriching both by sharing life’s joys and weathering life’s sorrows.  And it naturally results in the begetting of children.

Which is not to say every act of intercourse need result in pregnancy.  There are ways to regulate the female reproductive cycle without resorting to potentially harmful chemicals.  And requires the active cooperation of the male partner.  Though I will not attempt to get into that discussion here.

 I realize there can be such a thing as an unwanted pregnancy, and that there have always been abortions.  I am also not deaf or blind to the observation “if men could get pregnant, we would have had legal abortion a long time ago.”  

But maybe sexual intercourse should be elevated above its current status as a purely recreational activity, to be enjoyed upon demand by consenting adults (and now, adolescents) without regard for inconvenient complications.  Maybe this dumbing-down of sex to its purely elemental physical appeal is a little bit of a trap that’s been set for women, by agent provocateurs peddling sexual revolution and so-called women’s liberation.  With the average man being only too happy to go along for the ride.

Making decisions about reproductive health should probably start before one is pregnant, rather than after the fact.  Since getting pregnant is not an air-borne disease that befalls the innocent and unsuspecting.  It’s pretty much the natural result of having sexual intercourse, right?

As for tending to the plight of women who find themselves in a dire circumstance, I would have more sympathy for the stated mission of the Guttmacher Institute if it didn’t make so much money, and receive so much federal funding, for handing out morning after pills and performing elective abortions.  Reproductive health and wellbeing, indeed…

 

While I agree with those who view the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 as an act of unprecedented judicial overreach, I am also on record as saying reversing it now in one fell swoop is not a particularly good idea.  In this angry political climate where we are all ready to tar and feather any opponent, such a high-handed maneuver will result in nothing less than civil war.

It may deeply disturb my pro-life friends to hear me say this, but that popular pro-choice slogan makes a very good point:  If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.  Instead of attacking the tip of the iceberg, advocates for life should start addressing the root causes of this plaque.  Many of which can be located in our heralded Founding.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr

January 22, 2022

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