April 4, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


The Christian Invention of the Human Person (CAMERON HILDITCH, April 4, 2021, National Review)

The advent of Christianity overturned this old order of the ages, which had reigned more or less unchallenged since the dawn of civilization until the first Easter morning in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago. The proclamation of the first Christians -- that God had become man -- obliterated the conception of personhood that predominated in the ancient world. If Jesus is a "persona," as the apostolic and patristic fathers of the Church maintained, and he has died and been raised as a representative of the entire race, then we are all more than society and the state would make of us. A gap opens up between our identity and our social obligations. The individual sets foot on the stage of human history for the first time. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Or, as Siedentop puts it:

For Paul, belief in the Christ makes possible the emergence of a primary role shared equally by all ("the equality of souls"), while conventional social roles -- whether of father, daughter, official, priest or slave -- become secondary in relation to that primary role. To this primary role an indefinite number of social roles may or may not be added as the attributes of a subject, but they no longer define the subject. That is the freedom which Paul's conception of the Christ introduces into human identity.

It's almost impossible for us to get a real sense of just how earth-shattering the millennia-long aftershock of Easter has been on our civilization. We are all in our moral sensibilities and basic worldview creatures of Christianity to such a great extent that we cannot see it from the vantage point of a pre-Christian society without tremendous imaginative effort. We cannot feel in our bones the farcical, blasphemous lunacy of a criminal, a non habens personam, speaking to a powerful ruler the way that Jesus speaks to Pilate near the climax of John's gospel. As for the crucifixion itself, the theologian David Bentley Hart is correct when he writes that,

try though we might, we shall never really be able to see Christ's broken, humiliated, and doomed humanity as something self-evidently contemptible and ridiculous; we are instead, in a very real sense, destined to see it as encompassing the very mystery of our own humanity: a sublime fragility, at once tragic and magnificent, pitiable and wonderful.

The contingency of everything we think decent and valuable about ourselves and our society upon the sorrows and the triumph of this one man, in whose luminous shadow we have all lived for the last 2,000 years, consistently eludes us. We forget that in a historically demonstrable way, we in the West owe our sense of common universal humanity entirely to Jesus of Nazareth and his Church. Even the smallest details of the Easter story, like the tears of St. Peter after his betrayal of Jesus, signal the radical discontinuity of the Christian revolution from what came before to an extent that we're utterly blind to today. As Hart movingly points out:

What is obvious to us -- Peter's wounded soul, the profundity of his devotion to his teacher, the torment of his guilt, the crushing knowledge that Christ's imminent death forever foreclosed the possibility of seeking forgiveness for his betrayal -- is obvious in very large part because we are the heirs of a culture that, in a sense, sprang from Peter's tears. To us, this rather small and ordinary narrative detail is unquestionably an ornament of the story, one that ennobles it, proves its gravity, widens its embrace of our common humanity. In this sense, all of us -- even unbelievers -- are "Christians" in our moral expectations of the world. To the literate classes of late antiquity, however, this tale of Peter weeping would more likely have seemed an aesthetic mistake; for Peter, as a rustic, could not possibly have been a worthy object of a well-bred man's sympathy, nor could his grief possibly have possessed the sort of tragic dignity necessary to make it worthy of anyone's notice. . . . This is not merely a violation of good taste; it is an act of rebellion.

As Siedentop recounts in Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, the intervening centuries between the first Easter and today have seen a long, uneven, and imperfect effort to translate the Christian belief in universal human dignity into social and political realities. Contrary to what the enemies of Christianity allege, the Enlightenment was much less of a break with what preceded it and much more indebted to centuries of Christian moral osmosis: It was not a sudden kickstart of reason after ages of enforced ignorance. The scholar Brian Tierney notes that already by 1300 a number of rights were regularly claimed and defended on the basis of the Christian understanding of personhood: "They would include rights to property, rights of consent to government, rights of self-defence, rights of infidels, marriage rights, procedural rights," and also measures to make these rights enforceable against positive law. To the extent that we see ourselves as rights-bearing individuals with real responsibilities, we are all cultural artifacts of Easter.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Police crackdowns on illicit massage businesses pose harms to the women they aim to help (Douglas MacMillan and  Abha Bhattarai, April 3, 2021, Washington Post)

In their efforts to rein in illicit massage businesses across the country, police sometimes rely on sting operations in which undercover officers engage in sex acts with spa workers, according to law enforcement experts and police records reviewed by The Post. While such tactics are generally permitted by law, policymakers are beginning to propose new limits on physical contact by police, which they say serves to dehumanize -- and potentially traumatize -- the very women the raids are purportedly meant to help. The spa owners and operators targeted by law enforcement, experts said, often go unpunished.

The incidents in Coweta County "stand out as both egregious and probably fairly typical," said Erin Albright, an anti-trafficking expert who trains law enforcement agents on how to reform their policies to better support victims.

"I do not believe for a second that whatever the state's interest might be justifies investigators getting naked and having the worker engage in physical contact of any sort," she said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Netanyahu's far-right allies seethe after Islamist MK's call for cooperation (Times of Israel, 4/04/21)

A primetime speech by Ra'am party chairman Mansour Abbas, in which he called for political cooperation between Jews and Arabs, drew praise from some left-wing and right-wing politicians on Thursday night.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right allies, however, were seething, with Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich reportedly refusing to take the premier's phone calls to discuss the prospect of forming a right-wing government supported by Ra'am. [...]

Ra'am could possibly put either Netanyahu or his opponents over the 61-seat mark, crowning the next premier. But right-wing politicians, both in the pro-Netanyahu bloc and the anti-Netanyahu bloc, have ruled out basing a coalition on the party's support, due to what they say is an anti-Zionist stance; others have accused Ra'am of supporting terrorists.

Opposition is strongest in the pro-Netanyahu bloc which includes the far-right Religious Zionism party.

Imagine that: a corrupt pol who doesn't actually share the beliefs of the followers he exploits for personal gain? 

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


A Moment Of Unexpected Wisdom From Alaska (Connie Schultz, April 04 | 2021, National Memo)

From Palin's statement to People magazine: "Through it all, I view wearing that cumbersome mask indoors in a crowd as not only allowing the newfound luxury of being incognito, but trust it's better than doing nothing to slow the spread."

COVID-19 can "really knock you down," she added.

As of this week, the virus has killed more than 550,000 people in the U.S. Nevertheless, a recent PBS Newshour/NPR/Marist poll recently reported that 41 percent of Republicans, and 49 percent of Republican men, are not planning to get vaccinated.

And here I am, insisting that I want those Republican men to live.

I am grateful to the former governor of Alaska for speaking out, and I hope her recovery is swift and full. I also hope all those Republican men who admire Sarah Palin will now find the courage to bare their mighty arms for that little needle that is saving lives.

As for the rest of you: Be Sarah, my fellow Americans.

For a little while longer, wear a mask.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


Two Korean Americans in Congress pull endorsements of Sery Kim over her comments on Chinese immigrants (Gromer Jeffers Jr., Apr 2, 2021, Dallas Morning News)

California GOP Reps. Young Kim and Michelle Steel, both of Korean descent, have pulled their endorsements of Sery Kim, a candidate in the race to replace Ron Wright in Texas' 6th Congressional District.

Kim, a Korean immigrant who worked in former President Donald Trump's administration, confirmed Friday that she had lost the backing of the trailblazing Korean members of the U.S. House.

During an Arlington forum Wednesday, Kim had criticized Chinese immigrants.

"I don't want them here at all," she said. "They steal our intellectual property, they give us coronavirus, they don't hold themselves accountable."

She added: "Quite frankly, I can say that because I'm Korean."

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


How China is Responding to Escalating Strategic Competition with the U.S. (Ryan Hass, March 1, 2021, China Leadership Monitor)

China's Evaluation of the United States

There appears to be broad agreement among officials and experts in China that America's power in the international system is declining relative to China's. Many Chinese experts diagnose America's anxiety about its relative decline as driving its reflexive efforts to undermine China's rise.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi gave expression to this viewpoint, for example, in his end-of-year interview with Xinhua on January 2, 2021. Reflecting on U.S.-China relations over the previous year, Wang concluded:

In recent years, China-US relations have run into unprecedented difficulties. Fundamentally, it comes down to serious misconceptions of U.S. policymakers about China. Some see China as the so-called biggest threat and their China policy based on this misperception is simply wrong. What has happened proves that the U.S. attempt to suppress China and start a new Cold War has not just seriously harmed the interests of the two peoples, but also caused severe disruptions to the world. ...China policy toward the United States is consistent and stable.[3]

In other words, Wang put forward Beijing's boilerplate explanation for the downturn in relations - it's America's fault.

There are a diminishing number of Chinese officials or experts who remain willing, at least visibly, to question this explanation of the downturn in U.S.-China relations. One of the few to do so, albeit subtly, is Wang Jisi, president of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University. In a January 2021 op-ed, Wang observed, "Our actions at home and in the world determine to a large extent the attitude of the U.S. toward us. I believe that China, not the United States, can turn the tide of U.S.-China relations at historical junctures, although this position may be debatable." [...]

Will China's Strategy Work?

It remains an open question as to whether China's medium-term strategy will enable China to overcome hurdles that stand in the way of achieving its national ambitions. China's strategic choices are not made in a vacuum. Chinese actions often generate reactions, whether at home or abroad.    

For example, China's tightening grip on the corporate sector appears to elevate control over innovation. This raises a fundamental question about whether a system that presses for conformity and adherence to plans is capable of allowing the unorthodox and boundary-testing thinking that is the lifeblood of next-generation innovations. Such constraints may partly explain why some of China's most creative minds, such as the founders of the video-conferencing service Zoom and chipmaker Nvidia, along with many of the world's leading AI researchers, have chosen to pursue their goals outside of China.

Beneath China's flashy economic growth numbers, there also are flashing warning signs about the long-term health of the economy. One such indicator is the declining growth in productivity - or output per worker and unit of capital. China's economy is only 30 percent as productive as the world's best-performing economies, such as the U.S., Japan, or Germany, according to the IMF.[41] And as China's aging population demands more resources for social services, this will place stress on the government's ability to continue propping up growth with government expenditures and state-sector investments.

China also confronts questions about whether its pursuit of technological self-sufficiency is achievable or practical as a policy goal. Without access to advanced lithography and other critical external inputs for semiconductor manufacturing, it will be very difficult for China to produce cutting-edge chips that are necessary inputs for China to achieve its technological ambitions. The more adversarial Beijing's relationship with other advanced powers becomes, the more longshot will its attempts be to achieve technological self-reliance.  

Similarly, China's domestic policies are failing to win over the Chinese who live along the country's borders. There are growing numbers of examples of ethnic Mongols, Uyghurs, Tibetans, and others chafing at Beijing's intrusive involvement in their lives and its attempts to impose cultural conformity.[42] Ditto for Hong Kong.[43] The tighter Beijing squeezes, the more that negative attitudes toward China appear to be hardening along the country's inner periphery and in many parts of the world.[44] The United States government already has characterized China's conduct in Xinjiang as an act of genocide.[45]

Furthermore, China's stated ambitions and determined efforts to become a world leader in an expanding number of high technology fields, and to push for rules and norms around those technologies that reflect Beijing's illiberal tendencies, have generated unease in many parts of the Western world. In response, London has proposed the establishment of a D-10 of leading powers (G-7+ Australia, South Korea, India) to pool resources and align policies to accelerate development of new technologies in democratic societies.

By a similar token, the more loudly nationalistic China's diplomacy becomes, the more alarmed many Western countries have become about China's domestic and foreign policy trend-lines. China's expanding interests overseas will demand a greater Chinese presence. Already, as the PLA Navy has become more active beyond its immediate periphery, so too has the level of coordination among other powers in response. This trend can be seen in the Indian Ocean, where there have been corresponding increases in Chinese naval activity alongside rising security coordination among like-minded powers (i.e., "The Quad," Australia, India, Japan, the United States).    

Perhaps for some of these reasons, some Chinese experts have been urging sobriety in evaluations of China's position in the international system. For example, Renmin University scholar and government advisor Shi Yinhong recently cautioned:

China's chances of filling the vacuum created by the Trump administration's abandonment of America's original "global leadership role" are limited, and indeed smaller than many at home and abroad predicted. The appeal of China's "soft power" in the world, the resources and experiences available to China, are quite limited, and the domestic and international obstacles China will encounter, including the complexities created by the coronavirus pandemic, are considerable.[46]

Experts such as Shi Yinhong appear to be warning against presupposing that China will continue to ascend on a linear trajectory indefinitely in the direction of its national ambitions.

Having grown old before it grew rich and suffering both the same economic limitations as Japan did and the political deformation that the USSR did, China had an awful lot of eggs in Donald Trump's declinism and approval of their Nationalism.  He's gone.