Christian Democracy is dedicated to St. Joseph the Worker. The icon of St. Joseph the Worker is by Daniel Nichols.

We Know That It's Wrong

July 31, 2015

The undercover Planned Parenthood tapes by the Center for Medical Progress are accentuating the issue of abortion for the time being, the gruesomeness of the procedure thus coming into focus. Not that supporters of abortion aren’t rallying to the defense of Planned Parenthood, an organization that seems to enjoy a significant level of power in the Democratic Party. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who previously said that she found the videos disturbing, has now recaptured the party line, and has said, “It's another effort by the Republicans to try to limit the health care options for women and we should not let them succeed once again.” [1]

Ms. Clinton was correct in initially calling the videos disturbing. That is especially true of, and something of an understatement regarding, the fourth video, which shows a Planned Parenthood doctor looking at fetal body parts with someone posing as a purchaser, and which you can find here. But, notwithstanding the existence of Democrats for Life of America [2], and a few pro-life Democratic legislators [3], the iron grip of the pro-abortion lobby in the Democratic Party remains, and we should not expect any of the Democratic presidential candidates to break free of it, notwithstanding the filming efforts of the Center for Medical Progress.

Science denialism is an accusation usually made against the Republican Party, and justly so, given the almost uniform denial of the causes of climate change on the part of Republican politicians. But the Democratic Party engages in some science denialism of its own when it comes to abortion.

It is a scientific fact that a new organism is created at the moment of fertilization, the beginning of pregnancy [4]. In humans, this happens as a result of sex between a human male and a human female. The new organism, thus, having human parents, is human. Any attempt to assign the beginning of human life at a later state of pregnancy, or at birth, is political in nature. Still, one hopes that the politicians who take the pro-abortion position have successfully deluded themselves that a human life does not exist until a later stage, because, if they haven’t, the ramifications of their position are awful to contemplate.

In any event, Planned Parenthood apparently believes that aborted fetuses are human enough for research purposes, and its recent exposure has incited a fair measure of outrage. And it is that very outrage that requires attention.

Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, protests that the videos by the Center for Medical Progress “do not show anything illegal on Planned Parenthood’s part,” [5] and that very well may be true. After all, abortions are legal in the United States. But that very legality must assume that the unborn are not actually human beings, otherwise we are in the position of denying legal personhood status to humans. And if the unborn are not human beings, where does the outrage come from? Selling body parts of non-humans happens all the time in the meat industry.

It is telling that Ms. Richards believes that she has something to defend. Regarding the videos she tells us that “medical and scientific conversations can be upsetting to hear, and I immediately apologized for the tone that was used, which did not reflect the compassion that people have come to know and expect from Planned Parenthood.” Yes, these things were upsetting to hear. Even more upsetting was watching the examination of fetal body parts. These things were upsetting because, deep down, in the inner core of our beings, notwithstanding the conveniences abortion is felt to bring to us, we know that abortion is wrong. What’s more, it was wrong before the videos came out, and it will continue to be wrong after the present controversy ceases to be a news story.

Jack Quirk     

Thoughts on Laudato si', Part 8: We Need a Solution to Mental Pollution

July 29, 2015

In the ancient is wisdom, and in length of days prudence.

—Job 12:12

Once I took a college level course on Plato, wherein we read The Republic. One day, before class, we students were standing outside of the classroom, and some began to complain of the burdens being imposed on us by the professor. I remember the incident, because it was one of those rare moments when something occurred to me that should have been obvious all along. I can’t vouch for my level of articulation as I expressed the epiphany, but it went something like this: “Only in the American system of education can something like reading Plato’s Republic be reduced to drudgery.”  

I’m not certain how those who heard me reacted to my remark, or even if I was speaking in intelligible English. But it was the genesis of a new inner disturbance, to go along with my other inner disturbances, that I carried around in my usual ineffective manner of not knowing what to do about it. As for the truth of the observation (or delusion if it is not true), I cannot cite a poll or social “science” study to back it up. Still, it seems plain that we have a lot of Americans going to school who somehow wind up not being educated.

I hope the reader will forgive the autobiographical details in this particular article, if I explain that what I hope qualify as observations on this topic come from personal experience rather than any in-depth study. I’m not sure how one could study it. Still, when it comes to the subject of education, I have this expertise: I spent many years being educated in the American system. And even though much of my grade school years were spent in school hallways, having tried the patience of my teachers to the breaking point, or, later, in vice-principals’ offices, either for the same reason, or due to some pugilistic exploit, I might have acquired sufficient experience to make some pertinent comments. Indeed, I may be able to render some opinions that would be difficult to find elsewhere, since my relationship with my education, with notable exceptions, was not a happy one.  

With such a background I am compelled to ask: what was it that created in me such an abhorrence of school? There were many character flaws cooperating to make my educational experience a dismal one, to be sure, and being an advocate of personal responsibility I am loathe to blame systemic failures for those of my own. But I cannot help but notice, in hindsight, that most of my fellow students seemed to share the same abhorrence, with this difference: they cooperated with what they detested, the same attitude I eventually took on in my final years of education.

How is it possible, this abhorrence of learning? Curiosity is a characteristic of the young of many species, and human beings are the most curious animals of all. It would seem to follow that young human beings would possess a curiosity beyond measure. But so many of us discover our curiosity only years after detoxing from the American educational experience. 

One wonders how it can be denied that the grading system displaces curiosity with a kind of performance anxiety, and learning with grade achievement, though many will deny it. One also wonders how a system with grade achievement, rather than learning, as the objective cannot be expected to incentivize cheating. While learning is a natural process for children, grade achievement is not. Rather it is a lazy way for educators to evaluate student progress, especially when education is directed toward the memorization of data rather than development of the thinking process.

Still, that isn’t even half of the problem. Poverty has known adverse effects on the ability of children to learn, and, to that extent, solving the problem of education is also solving the problem of poverty. But there are also environmental factors that affect children of all economic backgrounds.

There is a phenomenon, which every parent is aware of, that we might call “The Candy Effect.” The sweetness of candy, pastries, or soft drinks is a classic source of temptation for children. It is common for them to prefer such food items to more healthful foods. Thus, when a dessert is to be had after a meal, a parent is forced to make finishing the meal a prerequisite for having the dessert.

Now desserts, in moderation, are not particularly harmful, though desserts to the exclusion of other foods would be. But there are some things to which The Candy Effect draws our children that are always harmful. These things come through television, radio, and music media, which, in their best form, set forth examples of, and encouragement toward, shallowness, triviality, and banality. In their worst form they serve as inspiration for irreverence, callousness, and immorality, and The Candy Effect makes these things superficially more interesting than things worthy to be in an educational curriculum, and sometimes contain content disparaging of such worthy things. Thus we hear anecdotes of children knowing the names of celebrities, but not presidents, or the locations of countries.

In Laudato si’, Pope Francis tells us that “media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload.” [1] The answer, he says, is that efforts “need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches.” 

We have freedom of speech in the United States, and purveyors of the unwholesome will resort to that principle as a defense to the dissemination of “mental pollution.” But the First Amendment came into being to prevent government from restricting political, social, or religious debate, things that are useful and necessary in a republican system. It was not so that corporations could acquire wealth selling immorality and stupidity to our children. We must find a way to implement the efforts suggested by the Holy Father, or the price could be the degradation of our very humanity.

Jack Quirk

The Vice of Moderation

January 26, 2015

An article appeared in the Washington Post the other day, a response to which must be made. [1] It congratulates presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for not endorsing the idea that the federal minimum wage rate ought to be raised to $15.00 per hour. The writer admits that the current rate of $7.25 per hour is too low, which is a worthy concession, since it is a wage that results in a yearly income of almost $10,000.00 per year under the poverty guideline for a family of four. [2] She also appears to support a minimum wage hike to $10.10 per hour, a wage that would put that family of four $4.050.00 under the poverty guideline annually. But $15.00 per hour, a wage that would lift that family out of poverty? No, that’s too much.

You see, there is a concern expressed, as there always is, that higher wages will adversely impact the economy. The writer is convinced that in certain parts of the country where wages are low, she names Arkansas and Mississippi, a hike in the federal minimum wage to $15.00 per hour would likely throw many people out of work (she thinks that the current $7.25 per hour is already probably too high for Puerto Rico). There is no mention of the fact that more money in the hands of workers will increase their spending power to purchase things from—that’s right—businesses, which will benefit from the increased sales, and be able to hire more workers. There is also no mention of the fact that there is something fundamentally wrong with an economic model, if the writer is correct in what she says, that requires the payment of poverty wages in order to run smoothly. 

The problem with the kind of analyses reflected in the article is that they give an appearance of being moderate. We like moderation. Aristotle told us that moderation is a good thing. And we all want to be moderate, because not being so is to be an extremist, and that’s like being a drunkard. So raising the minimum wage by a moderate amount, well, that’s okay. But we don’t want to go overboard and actually lift these people out of poverty.

But the writer does make a point when she says that a single, across-the-board, minimum wage is kind of a ham-handed approach. What it takes to make a living wage is not everywhere the same. And so she suggests adjusting “wages based on regional cost of living, and then” indexing “those levels to inflation going forward.” To make that work, she proposes utilizing MIT’s Living Wage Calculator. [3] 

So let’s do that. She specifically mentions Arkansas, where she tells us “the median hourly wage is $14.01.” The poorest county in Arkansas is Lee County, with a median household income of $25,034.00 (2009-2013). [4] According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, the living wage in Lee County for a family of one adult and two children is $24.03 per hour. [5] For a family of four with two adults and two children (with one adult working) the living wage is $20.83 per hour. The only situations where even the proposed $15.00 per hour qualifies as a living wage is where there are no children in the home, or there are two adults working with less than three children. As for the proposed $10.10 per hour minimum wage, that only qualifies as a living wage in Lee County if there are no children in the home, and, if there are two adults, both of them have a job.

Now let’s look at Mississippi, the other state the writer mentions, telling us that there the median wage is “an astoundingly low $13.76.” The poorest county in Mississippi is Holmes County, with a median household income of $22,325.00 (2009-2013). In that county, a $15.00 per hour minimum wage is a living wage only where both adults in the home are working, or there are no children, and a $10.10 minimum wage only amounts to a living wage if no children are in the home. [6] 

It is worthy of note that neither minimum wage proposal will provide a living wage for any single mother living in either Lee County, Arkansas or Holmes County, Mississippi. Thus, it appears, using the writer’s own criteria, that the $15.00 per hour proposal is rather a modest one indeed. It is past the time that we stopped worrying about making the economy work on the basis of preferred models, and started constructing an economy that actually works for people.

Jack Quirk  

Thoughts on Laudato si', Part 7: We Have No Such Right

July 23, 2015

Extinction happens; it’s part of nature. The vast majority of species that have lived on earth are now gone. Throughout Earth’s history, the normal rate of extinction has been one species per million a year. But now we’re “in the midst of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction crisis,” and it has been estimated “that 30,000 species per year (or three species per hour) are being driven to extinction.” [1] As a result, “global biodiversity itself is being lost at an alarming rate.” [2]    

The earth has gone through mass extinctions before, to be sure, but this one is different. It is not being driven by Earth’s physical processes, but by the activity of one species: human beings. And the problem is serious. Scientists have “identified the maintenance of biodiversity - the variety of plant and animal species and their habitats - as critical to human well-being; they rate biodiversity loss as a more serious environmental problem than the depletion of the ozone layer, global warming, or pollution and contamination.” [3]  

The most significant drivers of biodiversity loss are habitat change, climate change, invasive alien species, overexploitation, and pollution [4], all of them human created problems. And the implications are immense. Loss of biodiversity adversely affects greenhouse gas emissions; “8% of global emissions derive from tropical deforestation.” “Loss of ecosystems such as salt marshes, mangroves, and coral reefs increases vulnerability to sea level rise and storms and exacerbates natural disaster impacts. Functioning coastal wetlands could have reduced the impact of Hurricane Katrina, estimated at $150 billion.” Moreover, reduction in “biodiversity can result in a loss of known and undiscovered chemicals valuable to human health. Chemical compounds such as quinine, antibiotics including erythromycin and neomycin, and taxol (a cancer treatment) are important pharmaceutical agents derived from other life forms.” It impairs “the ability of the environment to recover from natural and human-induced disasters,” destroys “natural systems that purify the world's air and water,” increases “flooding, drought, and other environmental disasters,” damages “agriculture, fisheries, and food production,” diminishes “the ability to control infectious diseases,” and substantially contributes “to the degradation of the world’s economies, thereby weakening the social and political stability of nations across the globe.” 

Of course, it is the poor who experience the worst impact of biodiversity loss. “Many aspects of biodiversity decline have a disproportionate impact on poor people. The decline in fish populations, for example, has major implications for artisanal fishers and the communities that depend on fish as an important source of protein. As dryland resources are degraded, it is the poor and vulnerable who suffer the most.” [5] 

There are actions that can be taken to address this problem, but, unfortunately, as Pope Francis points out in Laudato si’, caring “for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained. Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable. We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.” [6] 

It is true that “countries have made significant progress in establishing sanctuaries on land and in the oceans where any human intervention is prohibited which might modify their features or alter their original structures,” and international agencies and civil society organizations are drawing “public attention to these issues and” offering “critical cooperation, employing legitimate means of pressure, to ensure that each government carries out its proper and inalienable responsibility to preserve its country’s environment and natural resources, without capitulating to spurious local or international interests.” But greater “investment needs to be made in research aimed at understanding more fully the functioning of ecosystems and adequately analyzing the different variables associated with any significant modification of the environment.” Programs and strategies need to be developed, “with particular care for safeguarding species heading towards extinction.”

While the discussion here has thus far been about the impact of biodiversity loss on human beings, there is even more to be considered. As the Holy Father tells us, it is not enough “to think of different species merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.”  

Jack Quirk

Thoughts on Laudato si', Part 6: No Market Solutions

July 20, 2015

Water scarcity has become a serious worldwide problem. It affects every continent. “Around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world's population, live in areas of physical scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation.” [1] But that is not all. “Another 1.6 billion people, or almost one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage (where countries lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers).” Of course, not all of the people living in those regions actually suffer due to water scarcity, but the number of those who do is still high. That number is around 700 million people in 43 countries.

The main contributors to water scarcity are “growing freshwater use and depletion of usable freshwater resources.” [2] The global demand for water “for domestic, agricultural, industrial and energy purposes is reported to have increased by 300% in the last 50 years,” while freshwater resources across the world have been depleted by disrupted precipitation patterns which have resulted from climate change. Water pollution has also been a factor.

The growing scarcity of water can be expected to adversely impact agricultural output, together with a rise in food prices. Moreover, a shortage of such a necessary resource, can lead to acts of desperation, and “there are fears that water scarcity will lead more often to security concerns within or between countries, and even trigger armed conflict.” 

Obviously, the adverse impact of this situation is felt mostly by the poor, and Pope Francis emphasizes that fact in Laudato si’. He tells us that one “particularly serious problem is the quality of water available to the poor. Every day, unsafe water results in many deaths and the spread of water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemical substances. Dysentery and cholera, linked to inadequate hygiene and water supplies, are a significant cause of suffering and of infant mortality. Underground water sources in many places are threatened by the pollution produced in certain mining, farming and industrial activities, especially in countries lacking adequate regulation or controls. It is not only a question of industrial waste. Detergents and chemical products, commonly used in many places of the world, continue to pour into our rivers, lakes and seas.” [3]  

Some will be tempted to confront this problem with existing market based economic models. Right now it is being suggested that water is simply too cheap, which creates “a disincentive for water users to be efficient in their use.” As just as that observation may be, simply raising the price of water would be a remedy that would place an unfair burden on the poor. Water is simply too basic and necessary for human life to allow access to it to be determined by the ability to pay. 

Still, as Pope Francis points out, even “as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market.” This solution is anti-human at its core. As the pope goes on to say, “Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor.”   

In a word, this crisis should not be appropriated by certain business interests for profit. Companies in the business of selling water would benefit from its scarcity, and, if that happens, it is foreseeable “that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century.” It would be foolish to anticipate world-wide passivity in the face of large corporations controlling the world’s water supply for purposes of selling it to the highest bidders. Hopefully, we will be wiser than that. 

Jack Quirk