Students in a 2013 archaeological field school at Angel Mounds supported by a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grant (image courtesy Jeremy Wilson, IUPUI)
This week in the midst of a government shutdown Eric Cantor and Lamar Smith took a stand in USA Today against archaeology and a swath of ambiguously defined “science programs.” Cantor and Smith argue that the nation should significantly restrict federally supported science projects (especially social sciences), and in a moment of economic hardship such fiscal discipline sounds attractive. However, their superficially reasonable fiscal sobriety masks a deep-seated aversion to critical scholarship and the academy, caricaturing archaeological research and taking aim on all social sciences in the process.
Cantor and Smith’s deceptive assault on National Science Foundation funding singles out disciplines like archaeology that they reduce to luxuries and recreational pastimes. Berkeley Professor Rosemary Joyce provided a measured defense of projects that Cantor and Smith suggest should not be counted among our national priorities ….
Thus begins a very thoughtful essay by Professor Paul Mullins, historical archaeologist and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI). You can read the entire thing here:
And you should. You would also do well to read the article by Professor Rosemary Joyce, Why fund studies of Maya architecture instead of saving lives?, which is hyperlinked above. It is a cogent refutation of the article by Representatives Cantor and Smith. I may have been tempted, after I read the Honorable Gentlemen's piece in USA Today, to say something about their specific claims, but Professor Joyce has discharged that task quite nicely. Both her essay and Professor Mullins's are well worth reading.
I'm a conservative. I vote in Republican primaries (which means that I am automatically a member of the Republican Party in Ohio, although party membership is sufficiently open that one can change parties merely by affirming or swearing the new "loyalty" at any primary), most of the political candidates whom I vote for are Republicans, and most of my conclusions on the major political issues are broadly consistent with the Republican Party, however I may differ in certain specifics or in the way of arriving at the conclusions. This means, among many things, that I am mistrustful of complex government programs and massive government expenditures. It does not, however, mean that I am any type of ideologue, and is that not a vexing problem: one has principles constituted of an ideology that takes view of reality, and this becomes a controversy with those who adhere to ideology that is without such a view. The latter, I think, are more properly called reactionaries than conservatives.
When I call myself a conservative, I mean in the practical realm that I look first to what has been tested and proven through time and tradition, and in the ideological realm I mean that I look to the principles—the ideas, the theory—that explain the tested and proven factual architecture of truth, and of course I mean that truth is not subject to change by any man's or any society's invention. Complex government programs, especially those with massive amounts of money behind them, are especially subject to false invention and in especially pernicious ways: while they are rooted in the ephemeral nature of man-made institutions, which suggests transience, they are so tightly bound up in complicated statutes and regulations and quickly tied to the capricious interests of those who would uphold them that they readily become immovable, except to the extent that their expansion and growing complexity are movement. Even fairly uncomplicated provisions, when they are slipped into massive amounts of legislative verbiage, can prove intractable problems and have bad consequences that were not even intended by the misguided folk who wrote the provisions or by the legislators who voted for them—voted for them, mind you, almost certainly without ever having read them.
For example, in a criminal case I recently tried, I issued subpoenas for the records of firearms sales at two Federally licensed dealers, and, while the staff at both stores were about the nicest people I could have dealt with and absolutely willing to comply, one of the stores was unable to comply, as it no longer held the records I sought, and the actual holder of the records—yep, you guessed it, the "Federal government"—refused to comply and had a nicely obscure piece of Federal legislation to back up the refusal. Even the Deputy Chief (Criminal) of the local U.S. Attorney's office, the first person I spoke with in seeking the records, did not know about this law and thought that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF), which controlled the records, would comply with a subpoena. The law that would prevent that compliance was not in the relevant Code section or in the relevant Regulations: it was buried as a rider requiring periodic re-authorization amidst—yep, you guessed it—massive amounts of legislative verbiage.
The Ohio Counsel for the BATF, it turned out, was well aware of this little "continuingly resolved," let's call it, piece of legislative nonsense, and had no difficultly asserting the Bureau's position. I surmise that this rider was stuck in the law in order to protect the privacy of firearms purchasers or some such vague rationale, but this interest—privacy of gun owners or whatever—was legislated in such a way that it made evidence that could be dispositive of a man's conviction or acquittal in a criminal trial immune to a subpoena. The rider also, by the way, has an exception for prosecutors, who are allowed access to the hidden records, while defense attorneys are not. Does that sound Constitutional or just to you? Do you think that the Members of Congress who voted for that, if indeed they even knew about this small bit of language, intended such consequences? I myself truly do not know what they intended (I'm cynical enough about the nitwits and malefactors who run the show in Washington), but in any case, there you have it: massive government and its massive verbiage, with a little rider hidden amidst it all, denied a man access to evidence that could have been exculpatory of the crime he had been accused of—and gave his lawyer grounds for a costly appeal on a Federal issue in a State case.
And, by the way, who in the world is really going to care about something like that? Do you imagine some groundswell to reform so particular a matter as that one? If so, then you have a more prodigious—I would say psychotic—imagination than I do. An individual lawyer or a team of lawyers may find something like that law and may prosecute a successful appeal, but virtually nobody will know or care about it, and in any case "big government," as my fellow conservatives like to call it, will just keep on passing idiotic laws like that. It's all thanks to what a monstrosity our legislative process is: and, of course, thanks to the "theory" (that is, ideology) that tacitly explains the monstrosity's factual and wretched architecture.
No, I am not an ideologue, and so I find the article by Representatives Cantor and Smith and the deceptive ideology it represents ridiculous. Again, Professor Joyce does a very fine job of revealing the specific falsehoods in the Honorable Gentlemen's article, so I leave it to her essay to address those. The concern I'd rather mention here is the anti-intellectualism, usually hiding in some costume of populism or anti-elitism, that infects the discourse in my beloved conservatism. Is it really a waste of the "taxpayers' money" when some tiny fraction of it goes to research or scholarship in the social sciences? Or the arts, for that matter? And let's don't overlook that the hard sciences are often criticized in this very way from the right too. The pure ideology espoused by gentlemen such as Representatives Cantor and Smith touts itself as one of practicality, one of "improving Americans' quality of life." Let us set aside the spurious ways that this claim is offered (and I refer you once more to the linked articles for discussion of that) and just ask: is it fundamentally—which is to say, in all cases, no matter how small—impractical and in no way an improvement of the citizens' lives for their government to support the social sciences? Or the arts? Or research in the hard sciences that is not narrowly designed towards specific ends of practicality and "life improvement" (such as discovering a cure for Alzheimer's disease, to use an example that the Congressmen nobly show favor towards)? On this last question, after all, every student of the sciences knows that science only advances towards what it narrowly intends to accomplish and never discovers marvelous benefits that were not expected.
Besides the facetiousness of my last remark, let me also point out that I put the "taxpayers' money" in quotation marks for a reason besides just quoting the jargon: use of the phrase by folk such as Messrs. Cantor and Smith is a way to personalize and to render as a patriotic issue the financial burden for the audience, and so each taxpayer is implicitly asked to wonder, "Do I want my money going to that?" and "Should our nation's money be spent like that?" and yet that financial burden is often exceptionally small (see Professor Joyce's article for a rigorous and succinct discussion of this point), and folk like Mr. Cantor and Mr. Smith never really explain to the poor burdened taxpayer how the money is being spent, where it actually comes from, or for what purposes, and yet the taxpayer is nonetheless expected to be outraged. The anti-intellectualism of this portion of my beloved conservatism is not just anti-intellectual in the sense of being anti-elite, which is to say derisive of the most highly educated in our society: it is also just inherently anti-intellect. It is either unintelligent in its failure to grasp and convey the facts accurately, or it is deliberately dishonest. It is either devoid of intellect itself or knowingly relies upon the lack of any serious intellectual exercise in its audience, the kind of exercise that would readily reveal the speciousness of its claims.
Now, I imagine the possibility—hope springs eternal—that one or two of my more liberal readers may be saying, "My, this Virgil T. Morant fellow actually sounds like quite a reasonable and thoughtful type of conservative," but fear not, dear liberal readers of the more revolutionary variety, for I am quite conservative in a nice little number of ways that would no doubt offend you deeply, and so I wander a certain portion of the World Wide Stinking Internet as little better than a fugitive and a vagabond. Oh, I read blogs on the sciences (and tweet them prolifically) as well as legal blogs, and these bring me no grave dishonor, and goodness knows I find no dishonor in the countless kitty cats and bunnies I gaze upon with some distant affection, but my principal wanderings in the blogosphere, as well as this journal, remain spiritual and religious. In what seems the most prominent commentary of the religious blogosphere, as well as the most relevant to my troubles, I find mostly the madness of the extremes of left and right and carelessness alongside commonplace insult throughout the mean.
I began to sojourn in that certain little dead country online last year, when in the dead country of real life I saw a reactionary and delusional form of piety both cause and neglect grievous pain in one whom I loved. I learned in the World Wide Valley of Hinnom that there are a good many families that share sorrows like those I witnessed. Where the ideology that governs these households is not wholly anti-intellectual or anti-intellect, its ideologues utilize intelligence only deceitfully in order to control the households' members. Paramount to its ideals is a belief in one's powerlessness over one's evil nature (and I deliberately use the a term common to addiction programs, because the mentality here is fundamentally that of addiction). Paramount to its structure is a modern movement that calls itself Biblical patriarchy, which requires of its women obedience to its men that should be given only to God, and which ignores virtually every sorrow of these women and conceals even the worst offenses against them, being itself the source of most of these sorrows and offenses. The young men raised in such households are not afforded any true advantages in life either, mind you, and have a high likelihood of mismanaging their affairs to their own contagious sorrow when they take on the trials of adulthood. Within those who wield or want any power or position in this culture, their sense of their own wretchedness is exceeded, if by anything, only by their sense of everyone else's. Of course this "Biblical patriarchy" is not Biblical at all (do we remember my favorite phrase, "no basis in Scripture whatsoever"?), and in many cases it is not even much of a patriarchy, as the wives in such families, tacitly trained to be manipulative, grown miserable in vanity, and perhaps even seared in conscience, are often themselves the enforcers of the misery and not infrequently the arbiters, albeit typically in a quiet way, of the spiritual and religious law that dictates the misery. Such un-Biblical nonsense offends me as a conservative who values bona fide tradition, as a Christian who looks to Scripture, and as a human being who would be an enemy to the Enemy. Many of my fellow man, it seems, prefer to collude with the Enemy in the spiritual warfare.
If you asked me, should a wife obey her husband as her regal lord, and should a grown and unmarried daughter do the same for her father, I would answer no and no, and then I might point you to the relevant passages from the New Testament on how the Lord treated His disciples and how husbands ought to treat their wives within the image of Christ and Church. Just the same, if you asked me, who is the head in a marriage, I would tell you the man, and whom should a son or daughter honour (τιμάω), father and mother, and I might then also point you to the relevant passages from the Apostle Paul and perhaps even a few others in Holy Scripture. Godly spousal and filial piety are not as either the extreme left or the extreme right reckon them to be, and here I make only broad statements about them, statements that require closer examination to discern the nature of the counsel and commandments and to ascertain any application of the ideas to reality. I'm no ideologue, and I'm no reactionary, but I am also certainly not a revolutionary.
It seems, however, almost as though a revolutionary is what one must be in the portions of the Internet that contend with spiritual abuse: those I see anyway who have fled "Biblical patriarchy" or any like abuses in Christendom run from such false conservatism to equally false liberalism. One ought to reject as evil and un-Biblical the abuse of women and children, and yet must one then also reject, along with inventions rooted in falsified "traditions" that are a mere few decades old (albeit now governed by man's long-standing corruption)— must one then also reject the bona fide norms, doctrines, and commandments of the faith, believe, for instance, that the dogma of the Holy Trinity is optional, that Jesus Christ was not God, or that everlasting hell is not everlasting, decide perhaps that there should be a female priesthood or marriage of same-sex couples or sexual acts outside of marriage or the normalization of any "consenting" (and naively contractual) deviancy ad revolutionary absurdum?
The conservative who would restrict the state's money to only programs that are deemed pragmatic inevitably has a pragmatism that is short-sighted, too narrowly construed, and unrealistic about the nature, value, and consequence of the sciences and arts. A religious reactionary who would impose every conceivable restraint, mostly commandments of men, upon his kin (and to whatever degree he wishes upon himself), when it causes pain that has no redemptive quality or purpose, makes God and man both monsters (a logical enough, albeit perverse pairing, though, given the anthropology of God's image and likeness). A religious revolutionary who would throw out these or those commandments of men and yet also casts aside several of the commandments of God makes God and man mere children's playthings or doodles to draw on one's own, erase or discard as one wishes, draw another way, and so on (and again, at least man still gets to be in the image and after the likeness of his falsified creator).1 All have in common a lack of intellectual rigor and honesty. They also have in common failure to understand the nature of the human person and the nature and purpose of human endeavor.
We were not made for this beastly or bureaucratic stupidity and deceit. To iterate another phrase that ranks high among my favorites, we are called upon as Christians to be martyrs for our faith: we are not called upon to make martyrs of others.2 The Lord permits many evils to fall upon us, and He may ask us to turn to our malefactors the other cheek, but He does not command us to approve of the malefaction or, in any would-be humble obedience, to cause or even just to allow the abuse to spread or multiply beyond whatever we may righteously endure for love. And that is the heart of every commandment: αγάπη. That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. (John 13:34, KJV.) I'm a conservative, and I am a Christian—and an Orthodox one, to boot—and so I believe that man was made in the image and after the likeness of God, and that the only way to live in the knowledge of Christ and to walk in His image and after His likeness (as it was intended in the creation of man) is to keep God's commandments (cf. I John 2). When a fellow conservative materially misrepresents facts in the service of a vainly ideological agenda, it bothers me. When a fellow Christian inflicts pain in the service of man-made commandments, it offends me. When anyone thus injured feels obligated to affirm and perpetuate the inevitable cascade of injury, to the offense is added grief in my heart.
1 Political liberals, by the way, may count it a stroke of luck that I have simply not found a place for them in the economy of this essay, but surely a critique of their more extreme cases would mirror nicely in fun house style the false pragmatism of the more unfortunate examples of political conservatives. ↑
2 See The Devilish Perfidy That Arises out of David P. Murray's Response to a Dumb Article by Peter Enns. ↑