Generally, our civil liberties protect our freedom to make our own choices in life. But some civil rights claims—the ones that assert a right to be immune from discrimination practiced by our fellow citizens—require the government to constrain people’s free choices. ¶ This tension is unavoidable in a society that strives to be both decent and free. A decent society will admit that there must be some limits to individual freedom, that some uses of individual freedom are wrong enough or damaging enough that they should not be permitted. At the same time, a free society will admit that many uses of freedom will have to be tolerated, even if they seem unwise or even inappropriate to those who govern. After all, it makes little sense to speak of a free society in which people are free to do only what is officially approved. ¶ The tension between these two principles may be theoretically problematic—at least to those who demand that their society conform to a particular theory. That tension, however, is perfectly satisfactory from a practical point of view. The good society involves various different kinds of goods. These goods cannot all be maximized: maximization of one necessarily entails the minimization of others, and the absolutization of one necessarily means the annihilation of the others. A healthy society, then, tries to strike a prudent balance among these various goods, by keeping them all within reasonable bounds.
To a very considerable extent the media of mass communications in a given country reflect the political, economic, and social climate in which they flourish. That is the reason ours differ from the British and French, or the Russian and Chinese. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable, and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. And our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late. ¶ … I do not advocate that we turn television into a twenty-seven-inch wailing wall, where longhairs constantly moan about the state of our culture and our defense. But I would like to see it reflect occasionally the hard, unyielding realities of the world in which we live. … This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance, and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.
Not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. ¶ The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his suffering or not.
It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love? … But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.
We … need to learn how to grieve, and remind people we can’t infringe upon others’ rights when we attempt to alleviate our own suffering. ¶ One round of IVF can cost $8-10,000. One surrogate + egg donor pregnancy can cost up to $300,000. We have the resources, the will and the intelligence to actually cure or prevent many forms of infertility. But we have to reject treating people like products. … On a forum I was reading several years ago there was a single mom by choice who had given birth to a son with severe learning disabilities. She asked, “Does anyone know if I can get a refund?” ¶ Even though these processes create new life, please understand that they are not pro life. ¶ Even though you hear again and again that these processes work to “make people happy”, please understand that they do not in fact make people happy. They only delay or transfer pain.
It’s not just about sex. It’s about egalitarianism itself, which, as Plato argued in The Republic, is inherently destructive of moral, legal, and rational standards, and has tyranny as its natural sequel. The egalitarian regime insists, notionally, on tolerating every opinion and way of life, and refuses either to judge any one of them as morally or rationally superior to any other, or to favor any of them in its laws. Yet no regime can tolerate what would subvert it. And the very idea that some views and ways of life are simply objectively superior, rationally and morally, to others, is subversive of egalitarianism. Hence egalitarian societies tend in practice to be intolerant of views which maintain that there are objective standards by which some views and ways of life might be judged better or worse. That is to say, an egalitarian regime inevitably tolerates only those views which are egalitarian. Which means, of course, that it tolerates only itself. ¶ Thus, in Plato’s own day, do we have the spectacle of Athens, which was democratic, pluralist, and egalitarian — and killed Socrates, because it suspected that he was none of the above. Thus do we have the French Revolution, which murdered thousands in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Thus do we have Stalinist Russia and Maoist China, each of which slaughtered tens of millions in the name of equality. If egalitarians have, historically, been able to convince themselves of the justifiability of all that, then burning down a pizzeria is a cinch.
In recent days we have heard claims that a belief central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — that we are created male and female, and that marriage unites these two basic expressions of humanity in a unique covenant — amounts to a form of bigotry. Such arguments only increase public confusion on a vitally important issue. When basic moral convictions and historic religious wisdom rooted in experience are deemed “discrimination,” our ability to achieve civic harmony, or even to reason clearly, is impossible. ¶ America was founded on the idea that religious liberty matters because religious belief matters in a uniquely life-giving and powerful way. We need to take that birthright seriously, or we become a people alien to our own founding principles. Religious liberty is precisely what allows a pluralistic society to live together in peace.
When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles.
In academic circles, many are naive enough to believe in pure science. They believe that government and business altruistically give them money to pursue whatever research projects strike their fancy. But this hardly describes the realities of science funding. ¶ Most scientific studies are funded because somebody believes they can help attain some political, economic or religious goal. For example, in the sixteenth century, kings and bankers channelled enormous resources to finance geographical expeditions around the world but not a penny for studying child psychology. This is because kings and bankers surmised that the discovery of new geographical knowledge would enable them to conquer new lands and set up trade empires, whereas they couldn’t see any profit in understanding child psychology.
Books were understood to be a storehouse of wisdom from the past, a treasury and repository of hard-won experience and knowledge of these limits. What these books taught was itself a justification for an education centered around them. Because the present and future were believed to be fundamentally identical to the past, the past was understood to be a source of wisdom about our condition as humans in a world that we do not command. An education in great books was itself a consequence of a philosophical worldview, and not merely an education from which we derived a worldview (much less sought an education in critical thinking).