Saturday, 31 May 2008

ChnMind 1.28 The Tower of Babel and Its Imitators

The Curse Upon Babel and Its Lifting

The New World Order. One world government. Human history has seen a succession of universalist empires come and go. These have all had one ethic in common: an ambition of universal rule over all human life.
In the ancient world, a succession of such empires followed hard upon the heels of the other. They were the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Alexandrian, and finally (in the sequence) the Roman Empire.

In the Christian Era, we have seen the Islamic Empire, the Third Reich, and the universalist Communist empires. Comparatively, the last two, modern manifestations have fortunately been relatively brief and ended as spectactular failures, notwithstanding the devastation they wrought upon the earth in their relatively brief lives.

Also in the modern world we have had ersatz universalist empires―a kind of coalition of the willing. These have included the United Nations―a crazy kind of bureaucratic global federalism designed to decommission the nation-state by successive delegation of state's powers to an international bureaucracy. The United Nations is a sick joke, a parody of probity, a cesspool of corruption, malfeasance, and pettifogging―where the naked ambitions of super-bureaucrats run wild.

A second example has been the universalist claims of the Roman Catholic papacy. These claims and aspirations have appears to have waned in recent decades, but maybe they are just awaiting more favorable climes, before they recrudesce with new vigour and aggression. At its worst, the historical papacy was a kind of ecclesiastic doppelganger to the modern, secular United Nations―with equally disastrous characteristics and results.

A third example of modern ersatz universalist pretensions is the belief that history has stopped progressing with the development of modern liberal western democracy, that mankind has reached its apotheosis, and that the entire world will now be conformed to the ideals of a modern, secular democracy. This has belief has expressed itself as the Manifest Destiny of the United States―to be in the vanguard of the masses (one is tempted to say, “proletariate”)―and make the world safe for democracy.

All of these universalist pretensions and aspirations―and there are many more―have one thing in common. They are all echoing aftershocks of the first one-world-universalist-empire. They are all variations and permutations of a regressive, back-to-the-future move. They all walk after the spirit of Babel. They all represent―to one degree or other―an attempt to unite mankind again under one universal rule, which, as Tolkien so graphically portrayed, is the ultimate satanic seduction:

One Ring to rule them all
One Ring to find them
One Ring to bring them all
And in the darkness bind them.

Genesis 11 records the attempt and its aftermath. Firstly, a connection is revealed between the use of one tongue or common language and the aspiration to build a tower that reached to the heavens and a city that united mankind into one. The new human race, descending from Noah, reached the point where they established a united consensus of purpose―facilitated largely through their having a common language. “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach the heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered over the face of the whole earth.' (Genesis 11:4).

This, it seems to us, is the satanic countermove to the Lord's establishing the institution of the civil magistrate to punish murder after Noah's Flood. Since the antediluvian “every man doing what is right in his own eyes” was now forbidden and would no longer be tolerated by the Lord in history, and since the civil magistracy was given to prevent this occurring again, Unbelief rode the opposite pole, and rode it hard. The countermove was to create a super-state, a super magistracy that would bind mankind into one entity by force.

This universalist, totalitarian city would have produced as much evil as the period of lawlessness before the Flood. As we have seen, in the postdiluvian world, which is the world as we know it today, evil was to be prevented from assuming regnancy in the world. It was to be restricted, controlled and governed. The Tower of Babel was mankind's attempt to shuffle off God's restraint, replacing no-governance with totalitarian super-governance. The potential for evil implicit in this move is conveyed in Genesis 9: 6,7 where the unity of purpose of fallen man, represented and made possible by a common language (and culture), would lead to a removal of all restraints upon evil once again: “Behold they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.” In other words, the Lord reveals that in their unity, there would be no restraint upon their evil and what it would produce.

Thus, the Lord confused the common speech into a multitude of languages, so that people could no longer understand one another. This then resulted in a scattering of mankind over the earth and a decentralisation (and consequent) weakening of the forces, ambitions, and aspirations of evil. To this day, all attempts to create a universal language (Esperanto, for example) have failed. All attempts to deny the integrity and validity of nation states, people groups, diverse cultures, and diverse languages have eventually failed. All fulminations against patriotism, love of people group, tribe, or nation-state have been brought to nothing. No world-empire has succeeded in achieving and maintaining one-world-government.

Hitler boastfully proclaimed a Thousand Year Reich. It lasted twelve years. Those empires that lasted longer ended up collapsing in on themselves by the weight of their own corrupt decadence. In almost all cases it is the diversity of people groups within empires which play a large part in their downfall. Consider, for example, the emasculating effect upon Rome of the marauding barbarian hordes. The Soviet Union dismembered so quickly in the end due to the re-assertion of former sovereign nations and peoples.

The Scripture reflects this biblical view of universal history, when Paul says to the ancient Athenians: “and He made from one every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17: 26,27)

The Tower of Babel and its aftermath provides the template for universal human history. Mankind was scattered around the world, divided, separated, confused, and decentralised. This was a critical divine institution to restrain and govern human sinfulness. It is a wonderful institution of common grace. Those who would want to turn the clock back and rebuild Babel are consequently doomed to fail in the most abject manner.

It is significant that when, in the history of the ancient world, there were four successive universalist empires (Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman) Daniel was given, through Nebuchadnezzar's dream, the Lord's commentary upon and interpretation of this stage of history. The dream had one single huge statue, of which the Babylonian Empire represented the head.

It was indeed a universalist empire, as Daniel acknowledged: “You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory; and wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all.” (Daniel 2:37,38). In Babylon, the Lord had allowed a partial rebuilding of the Tower of Babel. Daniel's description clearly alludes back to Babel―which, of course, was in the plain of Shinar―the very site of ancient Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar was Babel redivivus. Three inferior empires follow. The last, the Roman, is an admixture of iron and clay; it will not achieve the strength or intensity of unity represented by Babylon. Rome is forced to revert to post-Babel type: “And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of pottery, so some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle. And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery.” (Daniel 2: 42,43)

In this momentous period of human history, God was demonstrating to all who care to learn, that Babel will not be rebuilt. In the end, even the most powerful empires end up being admixtures of iron and clay; they cannot cohere; they break apart.

But that is not all. At this time in history something truly remarkable and unique occurs. “And in those day of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.” (Daniel 2:45). In the dream, this kingdom, represented by a stone made without hands, falls upon the iron and clay feet of the statute and crushes the entire statue. The empires became like chaff carried away on the wind. But the stone, the Kingdom set up by God, became a great mountain that filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:35).

Thus, the Lord has indeed established the one-world-empire. But it is not man made. This universal kingdom shatters and breaks all Babel-like kingdoms and empires. It is a kingdom filling the whole earth, created and governed by His Spirit, transforming men, cultures, governments, and powers from the inside out. But what of the impediment of divided language? It is here that the miracle of Pentecost is so pregnant with biblical meaning.

Gathered together into Jerusalem at Pentecost were people from all over the known world. They were divided by language. As the Spirit fell at Pentecost the apostles miraculously spoke in their languages. Note how the text emphasizes this aspect most carefully:
Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together,a nd were bewildered, because they were each one hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and marveled saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs―we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” And they continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2: 5―12)

Notice how the text labours the point. Whenever Scripture does this, it intends that we would not miss the significance of what is taking place. It is a loud cry of “pay attention!” At Pentecost, through the miracle of the Holy Spirit falling upon His people, the Lord restored the gift of one language to the human race. But this time, the one language was not mankind united in conspiring to do evil, but it led to the reverse: it led to God's people using all the diverse languages under heaven to speak the same message, with one accord: a declaration of the mighty deeds of God. Thus―in many languages, there is one common, united message. Babel is reversed. The gift of tongues was really the restoration of one common language, through one united heart, bound in one Spirit to the worship of the true, living God. So, the universal empire that would fill the whole earth had come.

At Babel, one language led to one common purpose to evil. God acted to force many languages, leading to a hopeless diversity of opinions, cultures, and views―thereby restraining evil. At Pentecost, with the inauguration upon earth of the New Kingdom―the true One World Empire―the Spirit miraculously wrought the one common purpose to praise and worship God into human hearts, leading to many languages being used to speak the one message, uniting mankind into one common good.

But this is a divine kingdom, not made or manufactured by human hands. It is wrought by the Spirit. It is completely dependant upon Him and His work. It is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Peak Oil on Artificial Steriods

Bubble, Bubble, Oil and Trouble

The prospective price of oil has been a hot topic in recent weeks. It is the kind of issue which fascinates us at Contra Celsum because it has so many facets. We posted recently that the West has recently taken on the role that OPEC played in the great oil shocks of 1973 and 1974—albeit for different, although connected, reasons. Both OPEC then, and the West now, see themselves as being under real and substantial threats. Both acted (and are acting) to restrict the supply of oil.

In the seventies, OPEC felt that it was being exploited by Western oil consuming nations. So Arab nations (predominantly) formed a cartel, restrained output, and forced the world oil price up. The impact was felt all around the world. It resulted a decade of stagflation in the US and Europe (and other western economies, such as New Zealand). Stagflation is a macro-economic condition of rising prices (inflation) coupled with stagnant or no economic growth.

Stagflation leads to rampant inflation. Universal rising prices are tolerable (although not healthy) where productivity and economic growth is matching or outstripping price rises. Where prices are rising, but economic growth is static or contracting, however, as is the case under stagflation, in the end inflation becomes rampant. That is, economic actors (producers and consumers) engage in adaptive behaviour and adjust their production and consumption decisions to the expectation that costs and prices are going to rise.

On the expectation that prices will continue rising they markedly increase their debt levels (borrow now, and pay back later with cheaper, inflated dollars) thereby pushing up interest rates. They hoard real assets on the expectation that they will match rising prices (gold, silver, real estate, hard commodities) driving up hard asset prices still further. Manufacturers build in greater margins on the expectation that the next lot of raw materials will cost more, thereby pushing up prices still further. Employees, demand and get higher wages, without any increase in productivity or more effort. Rising labour costs result in yet another universal price rise. So the spiral goes viciously upward.

Well, we hear you say, so what? As long as everything keeps adjusting upwards the party can go on for a long time. Not if you are on a fixed income, or have no hard assets, or are renting. For such people, who are usually the most vulnerable in our society, stagflation and rampant inflation is devastating and results in impoverishment. Moreover, inflation means that more and more paper money is in circulation in the economy. To cope with rising prices and economic pain, credit restrictions are eased. But the transmission of the money supply is never uniform. There will always be those who are closest to the money spiggots; they always benefit, but at the expense of those who are furtherest away. Monetary based inflation is theft, pure and simple.

To break stagflation and burn it away required the harsh monetarist medicine of the eighties, with the inevitable accompanying recessions.

There have been plenty of people raising the stagflation spectre in recent weeks. But it takes more than the rise in the price of a commodity to create conditions of stagflation. Rising oil prices are a necessary, but not sufficient condition. The world is now far more of an open global economy than the seventies and while it is possible that stagflation will eventuate, it is not likely. Nevertheless, were trade barriers to be erected once again, were free trade agreements and treaties to break down, were wage and price controls begin to emerge, and were widespread government deficit spending to re-occur, all bets would and truly be off. But we are not there yet—not by a long way.

Meanwhile, will the price of oil come down again? Courtesy of the Hive, we read that a senior economist for Export Development Canada is arguing that the price will drop in the second half of this year back down to around US$80 per barrel. Reason: slowing economic growth will reduce world-wide demand for oil. And George Soros is quoted in another article, also courtesy of the Hive, arguing that the oil price will drop, but his reason is different. He reckons price is now the result of a speculative bubble which will burst. So, which is it to be? Slowing economic growth or the bursting of a speculative bubble? If both are right, the price may drop back to US$40 or US$50 per barrel.

Not so fast. Courtesy of Adam Smith of the Inquiring Mind we have been linked to a very thoughtful piece in the Wall Street Journal. It argues, based on research work being done by the International Energy Agency (IEA), that supplies of oil are going to be far tighter than previously thought. In fact, we are already at conditions of “peak oil”.

The methodology of the IEA until recently has been to forecast world demand for oil, and it has simply assumed that production would rise gently and gradually to meet demand. Now, however, the IEA is looking at supply, and concluding that aging oil fields and diminished investment mean that it is unlikely that world supply will keep up with demand.

But this occurrence of “peak oil” is an artificial creation. There are plenty more supplies of oil in the world. As one analyst put it, the difficulties in oil supply are not buried in oil fields—they are above ground. They are social and political. In the West they are largely the result of greenist ideology.

To be sure, the greenists do not mind that peak oil is being artificially created. They would be quite happy to see not one more drop of oil consumed—for this, they believe, would combat global warming. They are very pleased to see the price of oil so high, and wish that it were higher. They will probably be gratified in the months ahead, unless our Canadian economist and George Soros are correct.

In their zealotry, hard core greenists are happy to see everyone poorer. They write off as mere “collateral damage” the degradation, starvation, and death of millions in the poorest countries in the mad drive to manufacture ecology-destroying biofuels. Like all good utopians, rationalists, and ideologues, the end really does justify the means.

What of the reality, however? Laying aside the lunatic fringe, will greenism triumph? Not when it starts to hurt. All the soft-core greenists, the fellow travelers and the politicians who represent them, are likely to desert the cause pretty quickly. The most likely immediate response to high oil prices: reduced taxes on gasoline. We are bold enough to predict that in the forthcoming election campaign in New Zealand, one of both major political parties will move to reduce the price of petrol at the pump by reducing state petrol taxes. France's Sarkosy has already made such a call—yesterday, in fact. Gordon Brown has proclaimed that high oil prices are his current apocalypse du jour. (Last week it was global starvation as a result of biofuels. Poor Gordon is finding that all the pet leftist causes are creating global crises which he is now left to deal with. Old Blony Tair. You have to give the man credit. He has to be the ultimate exponent of the hospital pass.)

Secondly, expect that when rising oil prices are seen as a threat to national security, the US congress will move rapidly to open up some of its vast oil reserves in Alaska and the western states to exploration and development. Greenism will quickly be seen as a nice-to-have, but only when you are sitting in your warm living room, with lots of affordable groceries in the kitchen. But it will take time to bring the oil onstream.

Thirdly, expect the major developing countries in the Third World, which have never bought into greenist ideology, to move quickly and effectively to assist in exploration and development, in exchange for favourable supply contracts, in the poorer third world. We continue to expect that within ten years the crisis will have passed.

“Peak oil” will seem like a distant memory, a time of temporary madness. What is an open question is whether greenism will have been thoroughly discredited and completely repudiated in the process.

Unlikely, for as Freeman Dyson recently argued environmentalism has now replaced socialism as the established secular religion. High priests and zealous acolytes do not relinquish religious beliefs so easily.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Crocodile Tears and False Pity

Personal Accountability and Constructive Compassion

There is a long standing Christian civil tradition not to speak ill of the dead. A corollary is that one should not seek to make political capital out of them either.

Over recent days we have been treated to the unedifying spectacle of a public inquiry into the death of Folole Muliaga in South Auckland. Mrs Muliaga, you recall, died when electric power was cut off to her home due to the unpaid electricity bills, since she was apparently dependant on an oxygen respirator.

The unfortunate case proved to be a gift for those wanting to engage in pure political theatre. Rich capitalists were portrayed as preying upon the vulnerable. Dirty profit was being put ahead of human beings. Mrs Muliaga was Polynesian, so the incident had racial-overtones. Public socialised healthcare was implicated as partially responsible because the lady should have been receiving professional medical care.

Particularly repugnant was the media manipulation (the media, were apparently willingly and credulously co-opted into the scam) by a politically ambitious union official, who happened to be related to the family by marriage. He played every one of the above themes to perfection. The man had a talent of sorts. He subsequently became the Labour Party candidate for the area in the forthcoming election. The funeral of the poor lady was attended by no less a personage than the Prime Minister herself. Political theatre at its best.

The overwhelming themes in the entire tawdry episode were carried along upon a wailing emotional aria of pity, coupled with its inevitable doppelganger, a swelling chorus of guilt. Someone, some institution, some influence, something was to blame. Our job was to find out, and sheet home the blame. Then our guilt would be assuaged and atoned.

The politics of guilt and pity—ever the whipsaw of Athenian liberalism—marched up front and centre. The conductor was the unscrupulous, ambitious brother-in-law. The musical performers were the sensationalist media. And so the band played on.

Now we have been confronted with the facts and evidence of the public inquiry. The best thing to say about this—which is really a waste of public money—guilt and pity money—is that the reality is finally emerging. As so often is the case, the reality is far from the sensationalist melodrama of political theatre.

A brief summary of the facts (hat tip Halfdone) which testimony has elicited to date is:

1. Mrs Muliaga was near death, being morbidly obese, and the respirator was “window dressing.”

2. Her doctors had decided that Mrs Muliaga was not to be resuscitated if she collapsed in hospital.

3. Her case nurse repeatedly warned her about her diet, which overused fatty foods, and of her lack of exercise. She warned her that if she did not radically change her lifestyle, she would die within twelve months. Mrs Muliaga said that she found it very difficult to change.

4. Mrs Muliaga admitted to her charge nurse that she was erratic in taking her medication, despite being shown an x-ray of her enlarged heart, and being warned that it would not cope if placed under stress.

5. As a result of the one time that she complained about power costs, the hospital helped arranged an emergency payment to cover the bills.

6. She was told that for the respirator to be effective it had to be used 16 hours per day. Mrs Muliaga admitted that she was irregular in the use of the oxygen machine. Her medical advisers testified that she could have died at any time even if she were on the respirator at the time.

7. The Muliaga's had been sent 50 overdue power bill requests in seven years, including eight urgent disconnection letters and four final disconnection notices. It was once disconnected, then reconnected the next day.
What is Jerusalem's perspective on this? Clearly, every death is part of the tragedy of the human condition, ever since the Fall. Mrs Muliaga's passing from the sight of mortal men is no exception. But the salutary note which modern Athens is morally incapable of acknowledging, but which must be duly regarded, is personal responsibility. Human beings are in God's image: therefore, everyone is accountable and responsible for their own actions. Unbelieving Athens is a society built upon the opposite proposition: that we are without guilt, but that someone else is to blame.

Christian society insists that the buck stops with each one of us. You are accountable! You are responsible! In the Christian world-view, it is as if the pointing finger of Lord Kitchener is constantly before us. You cannot absolve yourself by devolving responsibility on to someone else.

It is part of the complex of sin to seek to blame someone or something else. Modern Athens has made blame-shifting into an art form. It has successively and comprehensively institutionalised the eliding of personal accountability and the transfer of blame to others or something else. Adam said, “the woman Thou gavest to be with me,” is the reason I sinned. Eve said, “the serpent deceived me,” so she claimed that she was exploited. The Lord, of course, did not accept these excuses for a moment. The death of Mrs Muliaga, and indeed the death of every human being since the Fall, proves it.

By contrast, in the culture and ethic of Jerusalem, Mrs Muliaga was primarily responsible and accountable for her own well-being and health. Is she not in God's image? Was she not bound by the sixth commandment (“thou shalt not kill”) with respect to her own life during her days upon earth. She was not well served by family, friends, church, or the socialised health system to the extent that they individually and collectively they did not sheet home this truth to her and confront her with it. We rather think they did not, since it would be such an unPC thing to do in modern Athens. But, whether they did or not, she was still responsible.

Her family, her husband in particular, but also her adult children, had God-given duties and responsibilities to her. They had a duty to sheet home her responsibility toward herself, and her family, but above all, to her God. Was not her husband duty bound to love his own wife as if she were his own body? They had a duty to command, cajole, and assist. If she struggled with the self-discipline of exercise (and when one has become so morbidly obese, such a failing is easily understandable), they had a duty to do everything possible to encourage and assist her, exercising with her, providing both an example and encouragement.

If she struggled with getting her diet right, reducing her intake of fatty foods, the other family members should have banned her from the kitchen and the shops, taken over the cooking, and controlled her (and their) diet. They should have said, “We love you too much not to do this,” and acted accordingly.

Sadly, in the “blame-seeking” exercise of the inquiry, the family—both immediate and extended—do not appear to acknowledge any responsibility at all.

It is an abiding sadness that so many Pacific island families, migrating to New Zealand, being professing Christians, have been first seduced then captured by the ethics and values of Athenian socialism. Possibly, it has been an easy capture since they have just transferred tribal corporate ethical systems to New Zealand socialism and its institutions.

In tribal cultures, the One (the tribe) is usually more important than the Many (the individual, followed by the nuclear family). The Tribe is the ultimate provider and protector. Few tribal cultures insist upon personal responsibility and individual accountability. Few tribal cultures have reckoned properly with the original command that a man is to “leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife”—which establishes a new locus of social authority, over which the One, the Tribe, cannot be overlord.

Such tribal cultures are easy pickings for Athenian socialists who, themselves, have imbibed deeply the ethics and values of tribalism—albeit in a far worse and more degenerate form.

In Jerusalem the One and the Many are equally ultimate, each having their respective spheres of duty and responsibility. Jerusalem will, therefore, have nothing to do with the politics of guilt and pity. In Jerusalem, the One (the Church, the State) as commanded by her Lord, insists upon the politics of personal accountability and constructive compassion (otherwise known in the vernacular as “tough love”) of the Many.

Likewise, in Jerusalem the Many resist any attempts by the One to remove responsibility and accountability from them. They remain faithfully independent, insisting upon the duties and responsibilities placed upon them by the Lord.

Of these things, Gollum-like Athens knows nothing, preferring instead slyly to pass off responsibility at every opportunity. From "the Devil made me do it" to "I was not breast fed as a baby" the panoply of excuses rains down incessantly.

In the meantime, may all who have sought to create and bank political capital from the death of this unfortunate lady find their just desserts. And for the one who has passed beyond the sight of mortal men, Mrs Muliaga, may she indeed Rest in Peace.

For the rest of us, may we reflect and learn appropriate lessons, taking up our individual and familial responsibilities, even as the Living God has laid them upon us.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

How High Will Oil Prices Rise?

Either Learn from History or be Condemned to a Worse Fate

The demand for oil is increasing steadily as economic growth speeds up in Asia, the Middle East, and in the Southern Hemisphere in general. Meanwhile oil stocks in the US are about average. Demand is falling in the US, due to slowing economic growth. Nevertheless, the global price of oil keeps rising.

Some have pointed the finger of blame at financial speculators, who, believing that the price of oil is going to continue to rise, rationally buy more of it, thereby artificially pushing up the price. This is how speculative bubbles are produced: the belief in rising prices causes greater demand, which in turn fulfils the expectation, leading to yet more speculative demand—until . . . One day, the house of cards comes crashing down and the speculators lose their shirts, or kaftans, or whatever.

Some analysts have concluded that speculation accounts for around 30% of the current price of oil at US$135 per barrel. This appears to be the view of Boeing Corporation which has recently announced that it expects the price of oil will fall back to a long term average of between US$70 and US$80 per barrel.

Maybe. It is very hard to predict successfully. Ordinarily the prognosis would be fairly simple. Oil shortages (due to increased demand from developing countries) would lead to a rise in the global price of oil (tick). Overall consumption would drop somewhat due to the rising price (tick). Global oil consumption has stabilised for the present. It has fallen slightly in the US. The higher prices, however, will mean that production will rise globally as oil producers seek to maximise their profits, and oil explorers and field developers, encouraged by the higher price, discover more oil and bring it onstream (cross). This increase in supply would lead to a falling oil price over time.

But things are not normal. The supply of oil is not increasing in response to the higher price. This implies that the problem is not one of increased consumption of oil, but of inadequate supply. According to the Economist, the output of several big exporters, such as Russia, Mexico, and Venezuela, is declining. None allow foreign oil firms access to the country to prospect or develop oil fields. The Middle East is likewise generally off limits to foreign investment.

Worse, Western nations are now in the inexorable grip of greenist global warming theories. This has led governments to stop the development of oil fields. The US Congress has declared that there will be no drilling in the Gulf of Florida or in the Arctic—which of course, includes oil rich Alaska. Thus, the US—one of the most oil rich countries in the world, as well as its largest consumer, has its supply of oil constrained by luddite, scaremongering greenism.

The oil shocks of 1973 and 1974 were caused by OPEC, the Middle East oil cartel, deciding to restrain supply. Prices shot up and the world economy suffered. It was the cause of regulated “car-less days” in New Zealand—one more governmental, bureaucratic idiocy that created more of a problem than the one it was intending to fix. It also led to Muldoon's Think Big projects, which squandered untold wealth. These catastrophic responses to the oil shocks brought the New Zealand economy to its knees.

Of course the effect of the oil shocks was exacerbated many times over by bankrupt government policies trying to cope with the problem. In the end, government fiscal discipline evaporated like the morning dew, leading to reckless overseas borrowing and huge public deficits, rapidly rising inflation, and the eventual imposition of wage and price and interest rate controls.

Ironically, the Western world broke the power of OPEC by increasing the exploration for, and production of, oil. Now, it is the lunacy of the greenist West that is exacerbating (if not creating) the problem. The greenist West is the new OPEC.

What then is likely to be the outcome? It is difficult to say. But, if this analysis is correct, Boeing will turn out to be wrong. Oil prices will continue to rise on average for the medium term. The greenist governments of West are likely to continue to exacerbate the problem by looking for scapegoats (other than themselves) , attacking oil companies with “windfall taxes” and other strategms which will have the effect of reducing supply still further.

A solution may arise in the developing world. China and India are unlikely to be hobbled by greenism. Nor are they likely to put their economies at risk. They are likely to engage in geo-political manoeuvering to secure longer term, growing supplies of oil. Hopefully, this will not be done out of the barrel of a gun, but with bilateral trade agreements that will lead them to invest heavily in increased oil exploration and production in those countries that are likely to welcome their overtures—that is, the poorer southern hemisphere countries. In exchange, they will enter into longer term price-fixed oil contracts with China and India.

The solution will not be immediate, but within ten years the greenist lobby in the latter-day pseudo OPEC West will be irrelevant. It will have succeeded only in making its host countries poorer. Meanwhile, the balance of economic and political power will have definitely tipped to the emerging giants of the Southern Hemisphere.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The S-Files

S-Award given to Ron Mark, MP

Contra Celsum is pleased to nominate Ron Mark, MP for an S-Award (together with two unnamed assistants) whose prompt actions saved a precious human life.


1. On the 17th May, 2008 (NZ Herald, 27th May 2008) Herman van Krieken was riding his motorbike when he was struck by a trailer going through the Terrace Tunnel. He was catapulted to the side of the tunnel, sustaining a complex leg fracture, a broken hand, and a split vertebrae.

2. He reports that within “three seconds” three people had got to his side, one of which was Ron Mark, MP who sort to stabilize him. Mark poked his finger into his main artery, stemming the flow of blood, saving his life.

3. Mark was on his way to the airport, was dressed in formal attire, but instantly laid these things aside and stepped up, then got down and dirty, and saved the man's life. He was assisted by his de facto wife and another woman.

4. Mark said: “I was trying to catch my plane . . . I heard the bang and saw the man flying through the air and the bike careering off down the road and the cars braking. I did the normal things, try to stabilise him, check him out . . .”

Humorists will point out that Ron Mark's fingers have had a notorious political career. Contra Celsum wishes to acknowledge that on the 17th of May in the Terrace Tunnel, Marks's fingers redeemed themselves in spades!
When men and women react so instinctively and immediately, without regard for their own safety or concerns, putting the dire needs of others first, they provoke everyone else to emulate their deeds. They make a difference, not only to Mr van Krieken, but to us all.

Thank you for such an example of humanity and noble courage in an otherwise madding world.

Ron Marks, MP: S-Award, Class I for actions in the course of duty that were Smart, Sound, and Salutary.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Meditation on the Text of the Week

Messiah's Mission

Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.
John 12: 31,32
Our Lord uttered these fateful and glorious words after His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. The whole chapter swirls with the conflict between belief and unbelief. The Jewish nation was being divided; hearts were being hardened in unbelief, others were being converted and were following Messiah.

In the middle of the chapter we are introduced to some Greeks—Gentiles—who had come up to the Passover. No doubt they were God-fearers. No doubt they would celebrate Passover as outsiders, in the Court of the Gentiles. They asked to see Jesus. Jesus responds by making one of His emphatic declarations. If a grain of wheat were to fall into the ground and die, it will bear much fruit. These Gentile Greeks are just the first fruits of what is to come.

But how much fruit? What is to be the level of success of Messiah's mission? Would He snatch just a remnant from the burning flames? Even as Israel was now being divided into Believers and Unbelievers, would a few Gentiles be snatched from the great masses in darkness—symbolized by these “certain Greeks”? Would the mission of Messiah resemble little more than a daring raid behind enemy lines, capturing a few “civilians”? Would it be a symbolic, token victory? Would the whole earth go to hell in a hand-basket, with Messiah managing to snatch out the odd fruit? Would the days of Messiah be as Noah, when the whole human race, apart from the remnant of Noah and his family, perished?

Many would answer yes, yes, and yes to these questions. There are perilously few Christians today in the Western world who dare to believe otherwise. Messiah of remnants is their experience, and lamentably, their hope.

But faith is the substance of things hoped for, the essence of things not seen. We in Jerusalem today are called once again to stand where our father, Abraham stood—to stand upon the promises of God, and know for certain that these promises will inevitably and irrevocably bend universal human history to conform. Even as our father has done before us, we must stand as though our experience is nothing, for we believe God, Who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.

Consider carefully the following declaration concerning our father in faith:
In hope against hope he believed, in order that he might become the father of nations, according to that which was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform.
Romans 4: 18—21
So, just what are the prospects for Messiah's mission? Firstly, His mission brings judgment upon the world—but judgment of a particular kind: the ruler of this world (Satan) is to be cast out. (John 12: 31). The casting out of Satan from the world indicates the complete and total restoration of the entire earth and all its peoples. For if Satan (and all his followers, by necessary implication) be cast out, then the unfolded perfection of Paradise, before the Fall, awaits.

But, will it be a perfected world, populated with a handful? No. Jesus declares, “But I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men to Myself.” All mankind—not in the sense of every individual—but in the sense of every tribe, nation, people, language, culture, race and class. A universal representation of the human race.

But again, we must press the point? Is this a kind of statistical sample, the kind of representation which we see in opinion poll methodology (where one thousand might “represent” millions)? Again Scripture leaves us in no doubt upon this point: the harvest of Messiah will be so vast and so extensive, that it will represent a multitude that no man can number. Myriads upon myriads is the quantum. (Revelation 7:9). In other places, the Scripture, when describing the extent and number of God's people uses similes such as God's people being as numerous as the grains of sand upon the seashore, or as numerous as the stars in the heavens.

What will be the extent and breadth of the success of Messiah's mission? Too vast to describe, except by metaphor and simile. As for the seed of the serpent, the world of Unbelief which will be cast out—they will be a small remnant, a mere handful, in comparison.

Messiah of remnants, or Lord of Hosts? Which is it? As we stand in the West, with our bodies "as good as dead", let us stand as Abraham stood. Our Lord is not the Messiah of remnants, but the Lord Messiah of Hosts. Let us live and act and work accordingly.

The Loser Letters #1

The Loser Letters
A Former Christian Converts to Atheism

National Review is publishing a modern update on the Screwtape Letters by Mary Eberstadt. Mary tells us that she used to be a Christian, but has now become a recent, maybe the only, convert to Atheism. She is writing to her new found colleagues in an attempt to make them more effective in appealing to Christians. Read the first Loser Letter, here. It is about sex--just to grab everyone's attention--a favourite Atheist device.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Sabbath Meditation

Confirming the Work of Our Hands

Psalm 90 contains a wonderful “sabbath” prayer. We read at the end of the Psalm: “And let the favour of the Lord be upon us; and do confirm for us the work of our hands. Yes, confirm the work of our hands.”

This Psalm is a prayer of Moses and it is a lament over the frailty of life, its shortness, and tenuousness. It is also a lament over having lived under the disciplining judgments of God. He says, “For we have been consumed by Thine anger, and by Thy wrath we have been dismayed. Thou hast placed our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy presence. For all our days have declined in Thy fury; we have finished our years like a sigh.” (Psalm 90: 7—9)

We recall that Moses spent the last third of his life with a generation of Israel which had been condemned by God to die in the wilderness, having been refused the privilege of entering into the Land of Promise. His duty was to lead the people during this phase of redemptive history. He was leading a people whose iniquities had been placed before God. They were doomed not to enter the land of rest. It was a time where the heart would have quailed; there would have been a deep sense of the worthlessness, uselessness, and vanity of life.

Nevertheless, towards the end of the Psalm, Moses asks the Lord to feel sorrow for His servants, and return again to them with the morning of His lovingkindness. He concludes by asking the Lord to confirm for them the work of their hands.

There are times and generations within the history of God's people when they lie under the anger and wrath of God. God seems far away. There is evil and unbelief on every side. Faith is weak. Compromise is the order of the day. We live in such times in the second world, as the Christian faith weakens and flickers in the West.

It is critical in such days that we not lose heart. Our eye must ever be toward the Lord, and our hands ever stretched out to Him. For His lovingkindness will return. He cannot deny Himself or His Son, and He has taken solemn oaths concerning us. The prayer of faith in such days is that the Lord might confirm for us the work of our hands.

When we pray this prayer we are asking that, however weak or limited, frail or compromised our labours have been, the Lord might make them stand and confirmed. If Moses could pray that the labours of that generation would be confirmed by the Lord, how much more we? We are thereby admonished to ask in faith that our labours would be acknowledged by God and in due time they would bear their fruit in His kingdom. Our generation may not see their fruit, but the Lord will make subsequent generations to see and be blessed by them.

As we enter the Lord's presence on the Sabbath in holy worship, we come bearing the works of our hands of the preceding week; we also are conscious that we will labour in the forthcoming week. We bring this labour as a sacrifice before Him and ask Him to confirm the labour of our hands. May very straight blows be struck by the Lord with our crooked sticks—this is what we must pray.

There is no better place nor time to pray such a prayer than on the Sabbath day, as He greets us with joy and welcomes us to His Throne of Grace.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Economic Vandalism

Treason is not Too Strong a Word

Watching the budget charade this week, one could not help the odd sardonic smile. For nine years the Labour government has sown to the wind. Now it (along with the country, unfortunately) is reaping the whirlwind.

Firstly, there is the bold lying effrontery of the Finance Minister, who for years has sermonised on the evils of going into debt to pay for tax cuts, now suddenly has apostatised and tells us that it is a good thing. For years, tax cuts have been forbidden because they are inflationary, and because Labour is a socialist government, and socialists raise taxes and spend the money (according to Cullen). Now, economics is suddenly colour conscious: Labour tax cuts are not inflationary—only National ones—and it's OK for a Labour government to cut taxes when one's own political survival is at stake.

Secondly, in our hubris and pride, we have foolishly forgotten that New Zealand is a poxy little economy. As a people we have believed our own venal cheerleaders. If it is to survive at all, let alone prosper, New Zealand has to compete globally. Labour politicians have forgotten (or possibly have never realised) that in today's world, capital is both mobile and global. People also are globally mobile. Thus the two absolutely vital components of economic production—capital and labour—are not locked into New Zealand, but can move elsewhere in the globe. In the case of capital, it can often move offshore instantaneously.

The only thing that will keep capital and labour (productive people) in New Zealand long term, producing the goods and services which enable us to trade with the world, which in turn will allow us to maintain and even increase our living standards, is the prospect of achieving a better return on both capital and labour in New Zealand than in most other places in the world. Sadly, these conditions no longer apply in this country. Hence, we are seeing a people flight as hundreds depart weekly to offshore countries looking for a better life for their families. And hence, we are seeing exorbitantly high interest rates in New Zealand as the riskiness of investing capital in New Zealand increases, requiring higher interest rates if it is to be kept here.

So, Dr Cullen spends up large, and cuts taxes. The financial markets correctly see that this is damaging to the economy. It is inflationary. So, immediately, the financial markets increase the price of money—interest rates rise—negating the spending and tax cuts. Meanwhile, all Cullen can do is gloat in Parliament that he has eviscerated National's tax-cut fox, and tossed it back to them. He has left nothing in the Government accounts. It has all gone. His gloat and glee is at the expense of the country. His actions in office have become self-serving. He and his Government have done real and substantial damage to us all, destroying ordinary lives on the rack of their insatiable personal greed and ambition.

In the modern economic global world the only way ahead for New Zealand is to have the leanest, meanest racing machine on the block. When Labour took over nine years ago, we were well on the way to building that competitive productive machine. The Indycar series was in sight. Now, we are left with a clunking Eastern European skoda. It only took nine short years to weaken and blight the country. It will take at least twenty years of hard grind to get it back to where it was.

So, what went wrong? Firstly, you have to keep capital and labour in New Zealand. That is priority number one in economic policy settings. In order to do that, you have to make it attractive for both to stay (or come or return). Reducing tax rates—especially in a world where our global competitors are reducing their tax rates—is absolutely critical. This is doubly effective—it rewards both labour and capital; workers and investors—at the same time.

There has been a lot of scaremongering talk that tax cuts are inflationary. It turns out that government spending is far, far more inflationary—and it is always inflationary—because government spending is viewed by everyone as an entitlement. It is rarely at risk; it can rarely be taken away. Once provided, the political dynamic is such that people regard it as their inalienable right. Since they don't have to work for it; since the handout is “free”, it falls into the syndrome of “easy comes, easy goes.” Almost all government hand-outs translate immediately into consumption spending, pushing up consumer demand, fueling inflation. Interest rates rise.

Tax cuts are far less intrinsically inflationary. Why? Because a tax cut means that you get to keep more of what you earn. But what you earn is not without cost. You know what it took to earn that income. Therefore, there is a latent social and economic tendency to husband and use tax cuts wisely, because the cost of earning the money is always in your face. Entitlements and hand-outs have no such price attached. They are free money. Money for jam. There is always an insouciance attached to government largesse. Spend it up quick and go back to the trough for more. It's easy!

Cullen has deliberately taxed and spent for ideological reasons. He has boasted that that is what socialists do. He is a socialist, running a socialist government. (Helen Clark appears a relative ignoramus in such things. She seems to have been just led by the nose in economic matters.)

Secondly, to compensate for the labour drain, the Government has deliberately encouraged immigration. This has proved to be a distortive, short term palliative that has seriously damaged the economy. Instead of facing the question as to why labour was preferring to leave the country, the Government said, “No problem. We will just replace them with immigrants.”

As the wealthy immigrants flowed in, the price of houses rose. As the price of houses rose, turbocharged by restrictive development prohibitions and impediments, a secondary, speculative cycle took off. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon. People splurged on debt to buy houses, with the intention of letting house price inflation float them upwards to easy wealth. The consequence: inflation rose. The Reserve Bank has to increase interest rates. The dollar consequently rose to unsustainable, speculative highs—and stayed there for years. Why—because overseas lenders and speculators liked the taste of our relatively high interest rates—so they bought New Zealand dollar assets. Our exporting, productive, tradeable sector of the economy has consequently been hammered.

Overseas speculative capital (to fuel consumption, not production) has flowed in. Domestic, productive capital has flowed out seeking better returns offshore—and at an increasingly alarming rate. The upshot—when the speculative overseas capital leaves—as it surely will in time—the New Zealand capital base will have been dangerously depleted.

Thirdly, the current Government has done more than any administration in living memory to create a debt culture. There is an irony here. Because the government sector was running surpluses, but was choosing to spend the surpluses in “giveaways” rather than reducing the surpluses through tax cuts, the private sector rationally concluded that it could afford to take on more debt on its own balance sheet. After all, there are few things more certain in life than a government paycheck or handout. So, New Zealanders have felt sufficiently secure to take on more debt. And more debt. And more debt. “Don't worry. Good old Mickey Cullen will be there to help us out if we need it. He had better! We voted for him.”

Over 40% of debt financing for the private sector now comes from offshore. We are spending the savings of Japanese housewives and Belgian dentists. Oh—yes—one day they will want it back, but don't worry, Mickey Cullen will be there.

Then, the inevitable global economic dislocation occurred (they always do—from time to time). But because the New Zealand economy had been growing obese on economic fast foods and because it had become totally dependant for its lifestyle and consumption of the fat of overseas lenders, the credit crunch has hit us hard. And it is about to hit us very, very hard. Wait until the speculative New Zealand dollar collapses—as it inevitably will—and see the pain hit the consumer, the poor and the vulnerable.

If the New Zealand dollar drops by 50%—which is likely—petrol at the pump will jump sharply and will stay up. A fifty percent drop in the dollar will mean that food prices will rise in the region of another 50%. Let a block of cheese hit $30: wailing and gnashing of teeth will be heard throughout the country.

Finally, this Government has welcomed and promulgated the greenist religion of preservation over production. It has made a virtue of doing nothing with our natural resources—except to frame them as a spectacle to be looked at. It has sought to regulate every productive business according to the greenist mantra: cobble, restrict, and control so that the values of preservation override the ethics and values of production. The detachment of the Government from the realities of those who are striving to produce tradeable goods and services is almost beyond belief.

Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake.” But our Government has said, “Let them suck air. But don't you love us. At least it is clean.” We live in one of the resource-richest countries of the world, but our government has turned it into a no-go zone. If any doubt the charge, just reflect on the maniacal Emissions Trading Scheme—which Prime Minister Clark insists is
still going ahead. And the result—more capital migration offshore. The whole country will be poorer and beggared as a result.

But, let's be in no doubt. The blame for this catastrophe needs to be rightly sheeted home to a profligate, venal Government, which for nine years has promulgated evil economic policies based on theft and gratuitous self-indulgence.

That will be the Clark and Cullen legacy. Welcome to the socialist workers paradise, 21st century style.

We believe that it would be appropriate to create a new national honour: the Honnecker Medal for Human Progress and Achievement. Clark and Cullen should be the first and only recipients. Then, they should be banished from New Zealand shores for the term of their natural lives.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Chn Mind 1.27 Making Sense of the World

The Myths and Realities of the New World Order

The great majority of people in our world regard the events recorded in the Book of Genesis as mere imaginary stories. They are respectively seen as quaint, primitive, simplistic, naïve, folksy or apodeictic devices to “explain” things. Nevertheless, we are told, they are still relevant and beneficial, because contained in them are motifs and concepts which can be usefully translated into our modern world and can still be relevant today—in the same way that inherited nursery rhymes can still be relevant in a technological world.

There is no doubt that social myths can be powerful, shaping constructs. Superstitions, when dominant, can deeply affect all of life. Consider, for example, the Maori concepts of tapu or makutu which can comprehensively bind the lives of people—and do so to this day. Consider, also, feng sui and how its superstitions to this day effect building and construction practices in China. Broken mirrors, black cats, Friday 13th, and ladders are prosaic western examples. More pervasive in the western world, these days, are powerful social myths regarding the universal efficacy and competence of the state; the redemptive power of education; or the transformative power of democratic systems of government.

These superstitions or myths provide an organising framework for life. They “put things in their place.” They make “sense of the world” for those that believe them. They provide explanations for events and circumstances. But are they true? Aye—there's the rub. Post-modern rationalist philosophical constructs would argue that it does not matter whether they are true or not. What matters is that they have influence. The verification of the myth is that people believe it, that it makes sense to them; and that it “works” for them. On the other hand, pre-modern rationalists (that is, those who still maintain the naïve rationalism of the Enlightenment, believing that it can find truth objectively by an impartial, neutral, scientific investigation of the “facts”) maintain that it matters a great deal as to whether such myths are true—that is, whether they are congruent with the real world—or the world as it really is.

But post-modern rationalists just smile and point out that “truth as congruence with the real world” is just another framing myth—in this case the myth of pre-moderns.

What is apparent in all these manifestations is that framing concepts are inevitable. You cannot think or exist without them. In order to investigate anything, in order to commence and maintain any human work or enterprise, every human being draws upon some framework or other which defines the world for that person. The post-modernist rationalists are quite right in their debates with the Enlightenment pre-modern rationalists. While the pre-modernists insist upon the objectivity of knowledge they can do so only they have already drawn upon and drawn down a framework in which such “objectivity” is seen as possible.

On the other hand, the pre-modern rationalists have a vital point to make. Any framing concept which does not accord with the world as it really is will, in the end, be harmful and destructive. Feng sui, makutu, and education-as-redeemer are untruths which have a mere semblance of coherence with reality—only insofar as people in general adhere to them. But in the end, either the emperor has clothes on or he does not. Sooner or later the nakedness of the emperor will be exposed.

An irony is that many modern framing concepts are just as superstitious and imaginary as what we now regard as primitive myths. There is little doubt that successive generations will look back on our own day and view the presence of such widespread powerful myths as manifestation of a spirit of crass ignorance and wilful stupidity. Future generations will no doubt shake their heads in disbelief—even as we shake our heads at the medieval notion of a flat earth—at the belief in the omni-competence of the state to remove all sociopathic behviour, at the redemptive power of education, or at the now almost universally believed superstition of demand-rights, or entitlement-rights. They will no doubt view these things as proof of a second Dark Age.

The events recorded in Genesis are not myths in the sense of powerful, shaping, but imaginary stories. They are real-time, powerful, historical events. Nevertheless they also are shaping constructs. They both construct and govern the world as it really is and will be. How can we be confident of this? Surely modern man understands a good deal more about natural laws, the patterns of the creation, and about human beings than the human beings of Noah's age. We (that is, those who have had their eyes opened) can be very confident because this world is an exhaustively and comprehensively governed world.

The God Who brought to pass the historical events of Noah's Flood, and Who instituted the covenant with Noah and his descendants, is also the God Who continues to command and control every movement of the smallest sub-atomic particles through to the behaviour of the greatest masses in the universe. All reality conforms to His will and command at all times, in every instance, in every place. He numbers the hairs on every human head. Every sparrow that falls does at His command. The decision of every cast lot is from the Lord.

He superintends and governs human history to ensure that it conforms to the constructs and institutions He set down in the very beginning. Thus the framing concepts for human existence and history revealed in Genesis both stipulate and describe the world as it really has been, is, and will be.

The pre-modern rationalist asserts that pattern and order objectively exist in the world, and that it can be objectively analysed by human reason. He insists on there being a one-to-one correspondence between the rational mind of the human subject and the rational order of the natural object. But he does so superstitiously, without foundation. In fact, worse than that, the pre-modern rationalist also asserts—at the same time—that matter and the universe is ultimately random.

The post-modern rationalist, on the other hand, denies that the world is objectively framed in any sense. He has taken the purported randomness of the world much more seriously. Therefore, truth is simply that which one finds subjectively useful. The discovery of truth is merely a matter of documenting frames of belief and how they function—that is, documenting where their utility lies. But he does so superstitiously, without foundation. In fact, worse than that, in his analysis, description, and documenting of frames he is asserting and drawing upon a wider, deeper frame that pre-supposes that such description and documentation can be universally understood.

If the post-modernist can describe frames of belief in a meaningful way, post-modern rationalism cannot possibly be true. If the pre-modern rationalist actually establishes and proves successfully that pattern and order objectively exist in the world, pre-modern rationalism has to be a load of old cobblers.

Bel bows down. Nebo is stooping. Athens is a wretchedly stupid city.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

More Money, Please

Violence and the Modern World

Yesterday, whilst driving back to civilisation, the boot full of back steak and stag loins, with that wonderful anticipation of a venison-filled freezer for winter, we happened to turn on the radio to catch up with the latest goings on.

There was an item on Radio New Zealand criticising the government for having spent (blown) around $15m on its “It's Not Okay” propaganda exercise against family violence, whilst a front-line organisation working with violent people in Rotorua was having to shut down, due to lack of funding.

After having enjoyed four days of the magnificent splendour of God's awe inspiring creation, this was surely a rude return to the inanity of modern Athens. Let's deconstruct this latest manifestation.

Firstly, ever since the Fall, violence has been part of the world of man. Did not Cain murder his own brother out of envy—and that was in the first generation? Murder came from the heart and hand of the first born son of the human race. From that point on, violence has been in the van and the train of successive human generations, histories, and cultures. There are few who would dispute this—and those who would probably need to make an appointment with an optometrist.

But how to deal with violence? At this point, Jerusalem and Athens begin to diverge and take radically different positions.

Athens is deeply ambivalent over human violence. On the one hand, Athens not only recognises that violence is intrinsic to the world, but it actually advocates it as a necessary condition of progress. Its evolutionist ideology leads it to insist that progress has depended upon and been driven by the survival of the fittest—which means that the weak will attenuate, the strong will succeed, and progress will occur more quickly to the extent that the strong destroy or kill off the weak. The gene pool is thereby strengthened.

For the Athenian world of Unbelief, violence is at root neither evil nor wrong. The human race could not have come into existence without it; human beings could not have achieved dominance over other species and life forms without violence. Humanity depends upon violence to survive.

On the other hand, Athenians are deeply troubled over violence. At this point their being in the image of the Living God is more powerful than their spurious evolutionist ideology. Despite their evolutionist rubbish they—at the same time, and with both a straight face and a furrowed brow—insist that violence is evil. “It's Not Okay!”, after all. With its evolutionist hat on, Athenians insist that violence is a helpful and necessary construct. But with its ethical hat on, Athenians insist that “man's inhumanity to man” is sinful. Go figure!

So, from the outset, madding Athens's inconsistencies and slipperiness mean that it will not be able to offer a meaningful and fruitful solution to violence. Nevertheless it will try. Its approaches will inevitably take one of two tacks.

One alternative will be to crush it out of society by the imposition of uber-violence upon the community. This is the totalitarian option. If anyone dares to “step out of line” the state will crush them. The state arrogates supreme power and violently subjugates any dissent. This results in a peace of sorts, such as in the former Yugoslavia—Serbs and Croats, Bosnians and Montenegrans living in a state enforced harmony. The world remains terribly violent, but the state has a monopoly on aggression. Step out of line, become a non-state sanctioned thug, and you end up against the wall or in the gulag.

This alternative is not so fashionable in modern Athenian democracies, so generally in our world, the other alternative to dealing with violence prevails. This calls for people to be redeemed and sanctified away from violent behaviour. The populace looks to the state to be effective in removing violence from society. The populace looks to the government as a kind of saviour. It wants the government to “do something.” It demands government action to remove anger, clamour, bitterness, envy, hatred, loathing, and divisiveness from the human heart.

So begins the endless panoply of programmes, campaigns, talkfests, and propaganda initiatives. Anger management courses sprout up like weeds. “Female virtues” are extolled through a pretty comprehensive feminisation of the education system. The causes of violence are identified as residing in deprivation (economic and social), so welfare programmes are topped up and intensified and promulgated more than ever. On it goes.

The Athenian population feels better about the whole thing. Something is being done. An effort is being made. Progress can be expected. The fallacy of reductio ad educatum reigns supreme.

But it will all end in disillusion and bitterness. The programmes will achieve one thing, and one thing only—a colossal waste of time, energy and resources. An utter waste of money. Governments cannot deal with sinful hearts. Governments always fail to change people from within, and violence is simply an external expression of an inward moral corruption. The civil government cannot bear the weight of responsibility which Athenian citizens insist it carries.

When that reality finally sinks in it is around about that time when the populace starts thinking of the “other alternative”—the strong leader, the Boss, Sharkey. What could not be done through the internal transformation of the heart and mind will now be achieved through external violent compulsion. (Already we see signs of this in New Zealand. Cindy Kiro, Sue Bradford, Helen Clark et al. have called for, and achieved, a significant extension of the power of the state over the lives of families and parents—imposing upon them state sponsored violence—which in turn is justified by a claim that it will stop community violence.)

Jerusalem, on the other hand, knows that violence is intrinsic to this world of sin. At this point, we part company from Athenian ideology. The hope that Jerusalem represents is genuine and comprehensive. Firstly, it does call for a strong role to be played by the government—but a role that it focused, narrow, and within the sphere of civil government's God-given competence.

Jerusalem looks for the criminal code to identify the most extreme forms of violence and ensure that they are made criminal offences to be punished by the sword of the magistrate. This is necessary not to transform wicked hearts, but to restrain and hold back violence in the community. The focus upon restraint rather than prevention and transformation means that the state is acting within its sphere of competence.

Secondly, Jerusalem looks for the civil code to hold parents (whether natural or legal) completely responsible for the actions of their children, until the age of criminal accountability. This includes responsibility for training, welfare, and education. The sooner parents are held accountable at civil law for their children, the sooner social transformation will occur. Jerusalem would throw out, in an instant, the beggared philosophy which asserts the irresponsibility and incompetence of parents only to replace it with an assertion of the competence of the state. “The buck stops with you!” is Jerusalem's message to all parents.

Thirdly, Jerusalem gives an unequivocal message on violence: it is evil. There are only three kinds of violence which are righteous and appointed by the Living God. These are: the violence of the state for the punishment of criminals after due process of law; the exercise of lawful violence for the training and correction (not punishment) of children, and the promulgation of defensive war against aggressor nations. All other expressions of violence are wrong and in almost all cases should be dealt with via comprehensive civil courts, where justice is to be accessible, immediate, measured, and appropriate.

Finally, Jerusalem knows that these measures will only be accepted within the walls of the City of God. Athens will never tolerate them. But because Athens has no solution to the horror of lawless violence, it will weaken and eventually tear itself apart. Because King Jesus sits as regnant over the earth, eventually Jerusalem will triumph over the whole earth, with our Lord having transformed from within the hearts of the smallest to the greatest.

Under its reign, the very meaning of the name “Jerusalem” will have come to pass—it is, indeed, the City of Peace.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

While I Was Hunting

Guest Post: Ben Hoyt and Sam Gamgee

I have had to put in my apologies today, as I have felt the Call of the Wild, and am in the hills stalking the wonderful red deer.

My friend, Ben Hoyt, has kindly given permission to have a rather clever parody he wrote some time ago to be published at Contra Celsum. To appreciate this, you really need to be a bit of a Tolkien nut. It would also help greatly if you we up with the play on some of the current intra-mural debates taking place in Jerusalem. In particular, some knowledge of N T Wright and his New Perspectives on Paul and the ensuing debates would be helpful.

Thanks for standing in, Ben.

The New Perspective on Sam

Ben Hoyt

Tolkology is always one of those touchy, almost religious, subjects: Tolkologists hate being categorised, and yet people invariably put them into boxes. One of the latest Tolkienian schools of thought has been popularly dubbed “The New Perspective on Sam.” Serious Tolkologists and Fans alike have variously condemned and embraced this new way of interpreting Tolkien’s ancient manuscripts.

Certain things must be clarified before we look at exactly what this “New Perspective on Sam” is. Words such as Fundamentalist and Liberal are thrown around like balls in a cricket game, but they have never quite been caught and held.

A Fundamentalist used to be a Tolkologist or Fan (or even just a Reader) who held to the fundamentals of the Tolkienian text. Fundamentalism began as an attempt to flee from the prominent errors of the day. Its advocates held strongly to “straight-forward” renderings of the text, and emphasised doctrines such as: the inerrancy of the Canon of Tolkien (that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and his other works edited by Christopher Tolkien); Gandalf’s bodily death and resurrection after the events at the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm; the importance of Eru, the Holy One, to daily life; the corrupting power of the One Ring; and the joy of eternal life in the Grey Havens.

With the coming of television and other forms of shallowness originating from the United Shires of Amarië, however, Fundamentalism took on a new form. As a result, a “Fundamentalist” has come to mean one who interprets Tolkien’s manuscripts literalistically and over-emphasises the importance of the individual. These Fundamentalists only recognise The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as canonical, with the latter taking a far more prominent place than the former, and for practical purposes even superseding it.

Most Fundamentalists teach that the “strong drink” consumed in varying quantities throughout the book was non-alcoholic, especially the Ent-draught. (Pippin’s antics at the Prancing Pony were apparently due to a “Hobbit-like excitement” rather than any intoxicating effects his drink may have had.) By studies of the original Westron text (the Common Speech during the Third Age), Fundamentalist scholars believe they have found that the “tobacco” Gandalf and the Hobbits smoked was simply dried birch leaves – harmless to the lungs and soul.

Fundamentalists hold strongly to various other doctrines: that Sauron is alive and well in Middle-earth; that we only have real certainty of going to the Grey Havens after our coming-of-age at 33 years; that our faith in Eru hangs on a literal reading of the phrase “The Balrog’s wings spread from wall to wall”; and that those over 33 will finally be joyously raptured up to the Grey Havens when the High King returns.

A Liberal, on the other hand, is a Tolkologist who interprets almost none of the Canon literalistically, and who readily accepts the idea that Tolkien’s great story is not “true” at all, but really only mythological – people’s attempt to explain the mystery and morality of life. Liberals deny the bodily death and resurrection of Gandalf (if they believe in Gandalf at all), and deny that eternal life at the Grey Havens is more than a symbol. They accept many non-Tolkienian works as being authoritative, and most liberal Tolkologists believe the first three chapters of the Canon were really written by a Fan thousands of years after the events occurred.

Liberals also readily accept much that secular Tolkologists have to offer: that Legolas and Gimli were “rather close” and almost certainly had more than platonic affections for one another; that the dwarves were actually women, and their large beards were not hair at all, but masks worn in an attempt to survive in male-dominated Middle-earth; that the number of children Sam and Rose had was unforgivably oppressive to Rose and her career choices; that King Aragorn (Eru’s Middle-earthly representative) was most probably a tall Afro-Amariën dwarf with good rhetoric skills; and that Sauron and the Ring of Power simply represent evil and darkness within the soul.

With that clarified, what exactly is the “New Perspective on Sam”?

Ent E. Rite, a prominent Tolkologist in literary circles, has been almost unanimously heralded as the founder of the New Perspective. Rite’s research into Samine Theory (analysis of the behaviour, attitudes and writings of Sam Gamgee) has shaken Tolkologists and Fans the world over – be they Fundamentalist or Liberal. Rite himself says, “I do not wish to stick to the categories present in traditional Samine thought, nor do I wish to re-interpret the Canon in the ad-hoc manner too common today. I wish to challenge Fundamentalists for their often-naive interpretations of this Canon, and I wish to challenge Liberals for their denial of most anything supernatural.”

The focus of the New Perspective is Sam’s “faithfulness”, a Tolkienian word which has connotations of friendship, loyalty, and trust. Tolkology has traditionally said that the faithfulness of Sam refers only to Sam’s loyalty to Frodo; but with careful studies of the original Westron and Quenya texts and extensive research into the historical setting of the Canon, Ent E. Rite believes that “Sam’s faithfulness” means much more than that. He believes it speaks both of Eru’s faithfulness to Sam, as well as Sam’s faithfulness to Eru, to Frodo, and to the whole Hobbiton community.

In opposition to the Fundamentalists, the New Perspective stresses the importance of the Hobbiton community as well as the individual. It emphasises the importance of Aragorn’s kingship over the whole of Middle-earth, including Sauron’s domain. The New Perspective denies that Tolkienian beer was non-alcoholic, and instead promotes the idea that Aragorn is king over every aspect of life, including a right use of both strong draughts and smoky leaves.

Over against the Liberals, Rite Tolkology and the New Perspective hold firmly to the bodily death and resurrection of Gandalf and the worth of the Grey Havens. Rite upholds the authority of the Canon, albeit in rather different terms than traditional Tolkology, and he is opposed to the “nonsense about Rose’s career choices and Aragorn being a dwarf.”

Rite’s take on Samine Theory has incited no small amount of controversy, even in the most unlikely of places. Bruce Silkenskin, a leader in Amariën Fundamentalism and author of The Prayer of Lobelia, says of Ent E. Rite, “He’s undermining the cause of individual spirituality. He holds that Eru doesn’t delight in spirit-filled prayers like Lobelia’s, nor quick-growing ministries like mine, and he almost scoffs at the joyous Rapture of faithful Hobbits that may happen at any moment. I am quite certain he is being used by Sauron as the Antigandalf.”
In the other camp, Bishop Póng, a left-wing Liberal Tolkologist, says that “while there may be some truth to Rite’s teaching, he is largely irrelevant for a modern audience.” Póng adds that “Rite’s teachings are still far too traditional, and do not seek to help the hurting people in today’s world. What does Sam’s faithfulness do to help the thousands of AYDS-stricken Orcs throughout Middle-earth? How does it help the poor, lesbian Hobbits who are fighting for their very rights? Yes, I believe Rite is wrong. He needs to show more tolerance and understanding to the modern world. He must learn what being a sensitive, Fourth-Age guy is really about.”

Despite the criticism, Rite and others involved in the New Perspective have been rewarded with an ever-increasing following among Tolkologists and Fans alike. Some see the Tolkological benefits in a more community-centred take on Sam’s faithfulness, and some jump on the band-wagon simply because it seems to be a solid middle-ground between Liberalism and Fundamentalism.

When asked if he considers himself the founder of a movement, Rite responds with typical humility, “Not at all. If anything, I want to return to the Movement as Tolkien originally perceived it. I stand, not as a Fundamentalist or Liberal, but as one who in the strength of Eru can help Hobbits, Men, Elves and Dwarves come to a better understanding of what it means to be the faithful people of Eru.”

Only Eru knows whether this “New Perspective on Sam” is for good or for ill, and yet in the meantime we Hobbits must be Beriéns, always searching Tolkien’s Canon, ensuring that everything we read and hear matches what we have been taught. Whether we consider ourselves Fundamentalists or Liberals, we must press on, looking always for better ways to serve Eru and live as much like Him as Hobbits can.

Ben Hoyt is an amateur Tolkologist who considers himself a Fundamentalist in the original sense. He was born in the United Shires of Amarië (and hence can legitimately criticise its shallowness), but has dwelt in Masterton most of his life. He earns a living with dwarvish work but tries to be more elf-like in his spare time.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Meditation on the Text of the Week

The Blessing of God in our Labours

Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labour in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
Psalm 127:1
This is a wonderful text to remind us of the “true state of play.” What it tells us is that when I am building a house, there are really two people who are building it: myself and God. If God is not building the house in, with, and through me, then it is an utter waste of time.

Similarly when the watchman is patrolling the city, there are really two people who are on guard: the watchman and God. If God is not there, so as to be working in and through the vigilance of the watchman he might as well go to sleep.

This perspective, which belongs only to the citizens of Jerusalem, makes the Believer's zeitgeist, or “way-of-looking-at-the-world” completely different from the Unbeliever.

In the first place, it tells us that all of life is holy. God actually does build houses and guard cities. He also feeds children, does accounts, and drives cars. He does these things in and through our doing them. As Luther used to say, when the milk-maid milks the cows, God is milking the cows.”

The pagan view is completely different. In the pagan view, both men and gods are on the same chain of being; the gods are merely a higher form of man. Thus, in Unbelief the gods are conditioned and shaped by the actions and re-actions of man. Similarly, man is conditioned and shaped by the gods. The gods do something and we react or respond.

For the Unbeliever, all existence is a matter of a co-operative enterprise between man and his gods (however they are conceived to be). Thus, when man does something, he looks to his god to do its bit. We do something, god makes a contribution, and together we achieve success. This concept is applied to the matter of salvation. We do some things which are right or good; we live a certain way; and we expect the gods will approve our acting in good faith, and meet us half-way, as it were, and deliver us or save us, or do for us whatever we are wanting them to do.

Thus, the Unbeliever might fast a bit, pray a little, or offer up a token of incense. In so doing, he is seeking to buy the favour of his god, so that the god will do its bit, respond, and give him what he wants. All superstitions work this way. Sadly there are not a few in Jerusalem's walls who have brought the pagan zeitgeist with them; they have not yet grown out of it.

On the other hand, many Christians remain fundamentally confused about our work and God's work and how they interrelate in another direction. They have come to realise that God is so great that He is utterly unlike them. They don't want to trust their own work. Human labour they think is a “work of the flesh.” They think that all that they do is a waste of time; useless effort. It is not “living by faith.” Therefore, they think the best course is to “let God and let God take over.” At its most extreme, they would not pick up the hammer to build the house. They would sit and wait until God did it for them. They would sit down and not watch the city at night. If it stayed safe they would say, Look it was God who guarded the city. I was asleep.

Such believers are always decrying their own efforts; they are looking instead for the unexpected, the different outcome, the change of direction. When this happens they think that God, rather than they, is at work. They will give away their means of support and wait for someone else to provide for them—which they will claim had to be a work of God, since they had contributed nothing.

The biblical view is radically different from both these pagan perspectives. The Believer knows that God has both commanded that houses be built and declared who is responsible to build them. But more than this, every man who builds a house only does so by the power and work of God. As Paul said, “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Elsewhere, he is inspired by God to declare to the Philippians: “ . . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2: 12,13)

Notice the relationship: as the Philippians work out their salvation, God is working and willing in their work. Thus when we build the house we do so in faith, believing that God is building it through us; we look to Him to make our labour successful, that the house might stand. When Believers grasp this truth, they no longer remain confused over how much they should do, and how much they should expect God to do. They will work and act with vigor and diligence, since they will need to do it all. But as they labour, they work in faith, looking to God to work in their work that it might indeed be successful and stand.

This is why Jerusalem is such a dynamic and vital city. Its citizens believe and know that God is as work in and through their work. Not only is this inspiring—it also makes our labours a great joy and privilege.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Sabbath Meditation

The Power and The Privilege

If God has appointed means (methods, institutions, practices) by which His grace comes to us and He transforms us, this gives us both a great power and an enormous privilege.

The implications are significant. Firstly, it means that we can take meaningful responsibility for our spiritual lives and the spiritual lives of those who are dependant upon us. The ordination of means, or to use a theological term, God's establishment of second causes, empowers man to achieve, and accomplish. Because God has instituted the means by which a seed germinates (warmth and moisture) and these means are constant and unchanging, when we discover or apprehend these second causes, we can “cause” seeds to germinate, by applying the God ordained means. God's steadfastness, constancy and faithfulness in maintaining the means ensure that the means will be effective.

As we have argued in a previous Sabbath Meditation, God has likewise established means for spiritual life and growth. Theologians have called these the means of grace. By applying these means, in faith—looking to God and depending upon Him—we can expect that God will work in our lives, transforming us, enabling us to mature as His children and servants. The means of grace empower us to work at, achieve, and accomplish spiritual growth. Our destiny is in our hands.

Secondly, we have reason to expect and experience God's powerful working in our lives. The Scriptures make abundantly clear that the saving work of God in our lives is solely at the pleasure and prerogative of God alone. He said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy and compassion upon whom I have compassion.” Paul takes up this revelation and applies it to everyman: “So then He has mercy on whom he desires, and he hardens whom He desires.” (Romans 9: 15,16)

Consequently, the Lord, when instructing Nicodemus on the new birth first makes it abundantly clear that one cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless one is born again. But this new birth comes to a person from the Spirit of God, and no-one can command or direct the Spirit. “The wind (in Greek, the same word is used for Spirit as wind, so our Lord is making a clever play upon words) blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3: 8) Like the wind, we can tell of the presence of the Spirit by the fruit that is borne; but we cannot tell whence the Spirit has come, nor where He will go next.

Nevertheless, because God has appointed means by which, in which, and through which the Spirit of God works in our lives, we have reason to expect that as we use the means of grace and take hold of them and wield them, the Spirit of God will work amongst us.

Now at this point, we need to make some careful distinctions, for ever our hearts are ready to swerve off into idolatry of one kind or other. The essence of idolatry is to believe that one has control over one's god. We first make the image before we bow down to it. The idolater controls and shapes the god before he worships it. That is why, at heart, idolatry is really self-worship.

If we fall into the trap of thinking that the established means of grace give us control over God, that the means of grace function as some sort of automatic magical, incantation by which God is manipulated, then we have fallen over into the slough of idolatry. We do not manipulate or command God by the means of grace; on the contrary, He manipulates and commands us. Therefore, we take hold of the means of grace in reverent faith, looking to God, not to the means themselves. Without God's good pleasure and gracious mercy they are empty clanging symbols.

But as we look to God, believe in Him, and believe that because He has appointed the means by which His grace comes, and as we take up these means and enter into their use, we can expect that God will indeed pour out His Spirit upon us.

Thirdly, this indicates that the means of grace are holy. They are special. They are associated with the presence and power of God. By these means, as we lift up our hearts to God, He Himself draws close to us and ministers to us.

Imagine if God wrote you a letter to the effect that He wanted to meet with you, and that He would be at a certain place at a certain time, and asked you to be there that He might enjoy your company and bless you with His grace and favour. That letter, that appointment would become an institution or means of grace. But it would be the most holy (different, sanctified, set apart for God) of times and places for you—and God. It does not take much imagination to get a strong sense of how we would long for the day to come; how we would hasten to the appointment. Nothing on earth would keep us or distract us.

So, the means of grace are the sacred things of life; all other things are the profane. This does not mean that the rest of life is not to be holy and sanctified to the Lord. On the contrary. But the means of grace are different insofar as these are the special means by which God blesses us face to face, as it were. These are the appointed means by which the Lord joins Himself with us, rejoices in our presence, and blesses us with life and favour.

The first means of grace—greatest because first—is the Sabbath Day. On that day, the Lord releases us from all our other duties and responsibilities as His servants on the earth so that we might enter a holy convocation with Him, and celebrate because He is amongst us. At the very beginning, we read that God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. He made it holy.

As we enter into the Sabbath regarding it as a means of grace, so we will look to the Lord particularly to minister to us and bless us on that day. And so we will be blessed with every spiritual (Holy Spirit wrought) blessing which He is particularly pleased to bestow on that holy day. Sabbath celebration is one of our greatest responsibilities, but also an incalculable privilege.

By it, we are transformed from one degree of glory to another because at that time God presences Himself amongst us as face to face.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

The Pseudo Objectivity of the News Media

The Vulpine Dress of the No Spin Zone

In recent days there has been a thread over at Poneke's Weblog on the purported objectivity of journalists and media. (q.v. "Should the News Media Endorse Political Parties", May 11th, 2008) The initial question up for discussion was whether newspapers in New Zealand ought to endorse political parties or candidates as is done in other countries.

The case was made that, in fact, they ought not to do so. Poneke argued: “In New Zealand, as in other countries with an 'objective journalism' tradition such as the United States and Australia, the news pages have traditionally reported the news as factually as possible and without the newspaper’s or the reporter’s political opinions being in the story. The leader and op-ed pages have been the preserve of comment and any calls to support some issue or cause or party or another.”

He went on to state that. “Personally, I don’t believe a working news reporter should express party political views as part of their job. I never did, and never would, not even in this, my personal blog. I genuinely do not have party political views, and that comes from years of working as a journalist. Many journalists, I believe, are similar. Most New Zealand journalists see their job as reporting the news, not campaigning for a party or an ideology or a cause.

“I think it is pretentiously elitist of a journalist to think their view is so important that they would tell readers or audiences how to vote.”

He concludes: “Call me old fashioned, but I still believe that you should expect to find news, not opinion, on the news pages of a major daily newspaper. ”

Forgive us for reacting with a healthy dose of amused cynicism.

“Objective” or “just the facts” journalism that leaves it up to readers to decide is a farce. It always has been. It is disingenuous to pretend otherwise. How Poneke can write as he does with a straight face is almost beyond belief. The cognitive dissonance is extreme. Those who know that his blog is worth reading will also know that he regularly uses it as an opportunity to air his opinions on all kinds of political issues—corporal discipline of children, for one.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this—but please, let's have some integrity about it.

How many of the journalists gravely endorsing Poneke’s post would be the first to “tut tut” at (Fox) Bill O’Reilly’s claim that when you listen to his programme you are entering the “No spin zone”. Everyone knows that there is spin at every turn in the “No spin zone”–and it will always be the case. Every news media, and every journalist, is no different. At best (and it is rare that we see examples of the best) we are only talking about relative objectivity–which, of course, means that every journalist and every news media is more or less subjective and biased.

Therefore the media and its journalists would do us all a great service is they would stop trying to maintain a patina of false professional pride and tell the truth. It will do wonders for the soul.

Every thinking person knows that objectivity in media is a farce. Let’s just quickly count some of the main ways that the medium itself provides the message, to borrow from McLuhan:

1. Space/time is limited, so the “facts” become a highly selected menu of the truth–which requires selection, ranking, discarding. Bias and pre-commitments intrude from the outset and through the whole process.

2. Placement/prominence. This requires ranking stories according to their perceived level of importance, which in turn draws upon one or more value systems.

3. Revenue and profitability. The need to make a buck is paramount–and rightly so. Don’t tell us, therefore, that news media do anything else than try to garner readers/listeners. In order to do that the medium has to have a view of who the readers are and what they want to read/hear. Bias, bias, and more bias. Brute objectivity in such a world is completely impossible. Why not be honest about it?

4. Career dynamics. Reporters and news media employees are as bound to their employers as anyone else. In order to get ahead they have to deliver what employers want and require. Don’t even suggest for a nano-second that this does not bring untrammelled bias into everything news reporters, sub-editors and editors do. Not to be upfront about such things is simply unbecoming–and somewhat embarrassing.

What’s the solution? Journalists and news media need to do what everyone else is required to do in the real world–engage in disclosure, disclosure, and more disclosure. It ought to be mandatory in every news media that regular disclosures are given of ownership, how the media makes its money, what its beliefs are about what its audience wants, what the world-view of the particular institution is, etc. Such disclosures ought to be audited regularly to ensure they meet a defined code of standards.

Imagine, for example, the integrity that would come into the process if Radio New Zealand and TVNZ had to disclose regularly to their audiences that they were owned by the government of New Zealand and were finally accountable to the Minister of Broadcasting. Having to make such disclosures would go a long way to helping the respective organisations prove their objectivity and independence as they covered stories.

Moreover, each news story should declare any conflicts of interest of any (named) journalist briefly at the end of each piece. For example, if the journalist happens to believe that privatisation of state assets is wrong, and he/she is writing a story on the State’s re-purchase of trains, he/she ought to be required to declare their belief at the foot of the story. Failure to declare ought to result in formal notification (and publication) of a breach of ethics.

Every journalist and every sub-editor should be required to draw up a Personal Disclosure Statement, covering all the major issues or themes their employer has determined the business will run with. That statement should be made available to readers or listeners. This sort of thing is done in financial journalism all the time. It is well past time that the rest of the profession caught up.

In the light of this, we have no problem whatsoever in a paper endorsing a political party or candidates–provided the paper declares overtly the basis of its endorsement and continues to publish its commitment and bias in this regard. It should also be required to give a health warning that its pre-commitments are likely to influence its selection and presentation of all news.

These are not hard concepts. Fiduciary obligations to one’s clients is a well-established, widely practised, and a universally required duty in common law. And the clients of the news media are its readers.

In fact, it would be a great deal better than our current Alice in Wonderland world where the media and journalists gravely intone noble ideals of objectivity, which everyone knows are completely untrue. It's almost as bad as the kind of parody of the truth which plays out in regimes where official propaganda is the received truth. Everyone intones the official line, but no-one really believes it.

Poneke says that he regards it as “pretentiously elitist of a journalist to think their view is so important that they would tell readers or audiences how to vote.” We demur. The real pretentiously elitist position is for journalists to make out that they don't have opinions or bias which reflects how they look at and assess the world, which in turn colours and shapes the way they massage the “facts”. To believe one is beyond or above bias is truly pretentious. On the other hand, to declare and disclose the inevitable bias that every human being has helps keeps it under scrutiny and check.

It is only when bias and pre-commitment is disclosed that truly objective discourse can occur, since bent and bias on the part of every human being is inescapable and inevitable. If everyone else in the real world has fiduciary requirement to disclose conflicts of interest, why should the media be exempt?

If the news media would be rightly indignant at a real-estate agent who did not declare a conflict of interest in a house sale, why should the media itself be excused such basic ethical behaviour when it comes to its own conflicts. If the real-estate agent were to claim some sort of professional objectivity which meant that he really did tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to the client, despite not disclosing his conflicts, he would be laughed out of court. But why, then, a double standard for the media?

We suggest that this intrinsic duplicity, represented in all media in New Zealand, is one of the key reasons why the media is held in such low esteem almost everywhere.

However, no doubt media professionals would reply that disclosure of conflicts of interest when it comes to monetary gain or loss is in a different category from bias regarding news or concepts and ideas. Not so. It is because of the immensely influential position of the media, and its responsibilities as the Fourth Estate, that demand adequate disclosures. It is precisely because the media can abuse its privileges and position and consequently cause great harm to a democracy (particularly one as small as ours) that a higher standard of care is required. The media is capable of doing great damage, as well as much salutary good. It is too important to be allowed to escape the obligation to disclose.

We would expect that if such a comprehensive disclosure regime were to come into play, the professionalism and relative objectivity of reporters, newspapers, and other media would rise enormously. We would also predict that respect for the media would increase commensurately.

In fact, we predict that were any media business to enter such a regime of self-disclosure voluntarily it would prove so powerful, and resonate with such integrity, that within six months it would have to be emulated by its competitors. Otherwise their naked silence would beg all sorts of questions about their respective integrity and professional standards.