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Cody Boutilier

The coming age of idleness

Religion is more than a creation myth. It’s more even than an explanation of where we go when we die. The “I love science” gang, in its pseudo-intellectual cynicism, is fond of polishing off the hoary Jacobin chestnut that no one inclined to superstition ought to be entrusted with authority, but more serious atheists acknowledge the true substance and purpose of religious belief: namely, the why of the natural world, rather than the how. Religion provides meaning that science cannot. As this meaning becomes ever more in doubt in an age of idleness and atomized individualism, the human attraction to extreme ideologies will only grow. Just as religion does far more than simply explain the body, so work does far more than simply feed it. “’Work’ and ‘purpose’ are intimately connected,” writes Mark Steyn.   Researchers at the University of Michigan, for example, found that welfare payments make one unhappier than a modest income honestly earned and used to provide for one’s family. “It drains too much of the life from life,” said Charles Murray in a speech in 2009. “And that statement applies as much to the lives of janitors — even more to the lives of janitors—as it does to the lives of CEOs.” Self-reliance—“work”—is intimately connected to human dignity—“purpose.”   Religion has long ceased to be an organizing social principle in the West, and the logic of relativism attenuates whatever force religious conviction maintains in the private sphere. Thus, in our secular age, work is all the more valuable in imbuing the human life with purpose. But employment is becoming scarcer, thanks in part to the rise of technology, and the starvation our society faces is spiritual rather than physical. If work is redundant, and religious conviction ever more tenuous, whence will man derive the meaning needed… Read More

With an eroding private sphere, who even needs the NSA?

Donald Sterling, the owner of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers being castigated for bigoted remarks about black people, is a hateful and racist curmudgeon. That much is clear. How American society is better off knowing this, and why it is the public’s business to begin with, is less obvious. Considering that his rant was part of a private conversation, and not a press conference or public interview, the more salient and troubling issue is not the racism of an octogenarian, but the apparent social acceptability of spying and informing. I don’t know the motive of Sterling’s denunciator, but I doubt it had much to do with furthering the common good. Indeed, since Sterling’s words are indisputably offensive, why impose them on the world? Leaving the rant unexposed would not have been paternalistic censorship, but principled respect for the separation of public and private, and for Sterling’s personal right to privacy. (Yes, racists also have rights.) Our outrage should be focused on the individual who recorded the man's private conversation and exposed it to the world. As modern technology renders the separation between public and private unintelligible, respect for this separation erodes. When all civilians, of both good and bad intention, are armed with a camera phone and audio recorder, state surveillance seems almost redundant. Yet even as privacy disappears, we still hold people to the standards of propriety that were once reserved for a more clearly-defined public sphere. Few of us hold sentiments as noxious as Sterling’s, but we have all said things in confidence that would shock our casual acquaintances. One doesn’t have to be a racist like Sterling to be crude, tasteless, petulant, or boorish—qualities that most, if not all of us, have abundantly displayed in unguarded moments. Yet whether society will forgive these universal flaws, when they… Read More