Broken Brains

So at least two nominally intelligent people (and apparently this is not that uncommon) have the notion that there is a clear and present danger that Mr Trump may attempt a coup and try to wreck our democracy (republic more technically) and announce himself … as some sort of dictator. Mr Krauthamer had a column in the Tribune (Chicago) offering that opinion and a Chicago Boy(z) noted a historian I’ve read (like the linked author I’d found the book “Bloodlands” well worth reading). The point is both of these guys think this is a real and present threat.

Why? That remains a mystery. Neither person seems to put forth any reasoning behind the idea. There are lots of clues why this isn’t at all likely. Exhibit one is the repeated executive orders and moves by the President to relegate power to the states from federal control. A short perusal of history will show that the set of dictators prior their taking full control ever ever ever relegating authority and control is … empty.

Go figger. Why this hasn’t occurred to those who think this is a threat is beyond my ken.

Which Is Worse?

Item 1. Judicial malpractice, some judge thinks Mr Trump can be “held liable” for incitement to violence. Not surprisingly the rhetoric cited is mild at best when compared to the former President and his cabinet. This post, same theme (bad judges) notes the “living Constitution crap-on-a-stick” and some likely consequences. Apparently as Mr Obama trampled on Constitutional protections as he was President (example not enforcing laws that didn’t suit him and his many questionable “executive orders”) those who thought his actions OK didn’t think that a President could be elected and use these same standards towards ends they didn’t actually agree with.

Item 2. This essay (missing the point slightly) … in which “aiming at the intelligence community” for allowing itself to be used to partisan ends “weakens the intelligence community”. Duh. And using the IRS for partisan ends does too, or should I say … the IRS allowing itself to be co-opted for partisan uses weakens it.

Item 3. This little snippet of a “reveal” by the left misses the point I think. And I’m not going to pretend this ass-hattery isn’t done on both sides of the aisle. Look. When you know something isn’t true or without basis and you are in position of influence then it is immoral and highly dishonest to push that lie for short term political gain. If you do that you lack integrity. If lacking integrity is common … then we’re screwed.

So. Which of these three items will do the most harm? The judiciary overstripping overstepping its bounds? Partisan corruption of essential government services and agencies? Or the loss of integrity being touted as a virtue?

Slightly related question. I searched but found no responses or hits on search terms. There are about a dozen to 20 (not including former Senators like Mr Obama and Ms Clinton) who voted unanimously for Mr Gorsuch for the federal bench. I have seen no answer to the question of why they all voted for him before but won’t now.


A “moderate” posts some view on patriotism and between her attempts to poke those with whom she apparently disagrees also thinks patriotism is synonymous with progressive and that the notions of liberty and freedom are fixed things. Apparently “flag” does not equate with patriotism. This book is an exhaustive and interesting review of how our different definitions of liberty and freedom and the symbols we’ve used to represent them have changed (changed!) throughout last 200 years and that book’s very existence demonstrates that her simplistic rejection of caricatured representations of the ideas of patriotism, freedom, and liberty mean and how they are symbolized by people who are not her.

Those who want a return to small government (e.g.,  a lot of those in the Tea Party) don’t necessarily want a return to some mythic past. Saying that is their view is a caricature, a straw man. Honoring a symbol of your nation as representing honor to the thing represented isn’t wrong or even hard to understand (really it isn’t). She writes:

The definition of patriotism is love for or devotion to one’s country. To love or be devoted to someone or something usually means to want what is best for that someone or something, to be willing to make the effort, do what must be done to protect that something or someone. Conservatives seem to want the opposite. They seem to want to destroy the very thing they claim to love.

No. Conservatives don’t “want to destroy” the nation. They want to save it from the destruction that they see “progressives” are steering us toward. If you love a ship which is sailing toward ice flows and you see progressives as “fixing” the problem not by steering away from the ice, but by adding pressure to the boiler. The policy differences in left and right is a vision of what is wrong and what needs to be done to fix it, not that conservatives want to break it and liberals want the reverse. Thinking that is naive (or perhaps a result of not actually having any contact with actual conservatives).

If you want to go along with her definition of patriotism, loving someone means also rising to defend the object of your love from attacks, verbal and otherwise. Conservatives see liberals as unwilling to do this, in fact so much as to offer agreement with those attackers. If you are at a dinner party with your beloved wife, and some at the table point out her flaws in insulting ways, whether or not you (and she) are working on said flaws in private, at that dinner her flaws are not admitted but defended. To not do so is a betrayal. This is something the left can’t seem to fathom.


A Short Thought

A month or two back in a comment thread I had remarked on how then President Clinton had promised the Ukraine after their separation from the Soviet state that they didn’t need to keep the nuclear weapons stockpiled there. He, in short, promised that the US would insure their national boundary/security against Russian aggression. Well, we all know how that turned out. When I’d remarked on this, the reply was that nobody on either side of the aisle wanted to get involved in the Russian/Ukrainian dispute. And I don’t disagree with that.

But. (and ain’t their always that sort of thing cropping up). But that being said, the thing about keeping your word and those trusting you to hold to your word isn’t about when keeping your word is easy or in your best interest. It’s keeping it when it isn’t easy, fun, or affordable.

If you make a promise. Keep it. If you inherit a promise. Keep it. And remember that, so you don’t make promises you don’t plan to keep.

And you wonder why the current President whose main rhetorical method is the BS session comes off so so poorly.

Random Things I Don’t Get

  1. Syria. So a year or so ago, our President “drew a red line” in the sand taking a “hard stand” against the use of poison gas. Assad (and/or the opposition) used said gases after he said that. Turns out that “red line” meant, “let’s talk”. Supposedly back then Mr Putin hornswaggled the President diplomatically and brokered a wonderful deal which satisfied everyone. Except, now there are reports that weaponized chlorine gas has been in use for some months in Syria. Why isn’t that bigger news? Why isn’t it talked about. I don’t get it.
  2. So the Clinton’s both of them, are scum. They’ve been involved and complicit in so many scandals and have so many items of pure greed and corruption laid to their feet that the mind boggles. Yet somehow, because “they’ve done it before” nobody except the opposition party seems to care. I really really don’t get it. I’m not saying that they need to go to jail (though that would be nice) but … that seems a very low bar. “Not going to jail” is no reason to listen to speeches or pretend you’d vote for them.
  3. Mr Schraub (and lots of other people especially on the right … which Mr Schraub certainly isn’t … ) get affirmative action exactly backwards. Affirmative action is wrong not because it “helps” minorities at the expense of other (mostly missed minorites, e.g., Asian Americans) but because it is harmful to those it supposedly benefits. Those on the right gripe about aff/action for the wrong reasons. Read Clarence Thomas’ remarks on why he thinks his Yale law degree wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. Or watch (or recall) the movie “Tuskegee Airmen”. The critical error by the openly bigoted people running the training squadron was that making things very very hard creates an elite unit. And how do you destroy the moral and capabilities of a group? Lower the expected standards. Aff action is wrong because it is harmful to those it pretends to help. This should be obvious to everyone observing it. So the point regarding Ms Clinton and Mr Obama gets it hind end foremost. They overcame the deleterious effects of affirmative action. This, on their part, is commendable … but any advantages they received from it is likely dwarfed by the disadvantages (again, read some Thomas on the subject and learn).
  4. And a last snipe  at his post… Mr Schraub writes “Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were and are every bit as qualified and meritorious as your typical President before them” … hmm. Mr Obama was less experienced and qualified as Ms Palin and as qualified as Mr Cruz and about Ms Clinton, well, we the prior point and remind everyone that for example selling US Uranium ore rights to Russian plutocrats to raise money for your PAC is the apparently exactly the kind of qualification Mr Schraub applauds. I remain ignorant of the methods and metrics people use to determine (and those on the left seem very very sure about this sort of things) how “qualified” or “smart” a politician is. As above, I don’t get it.


Simple Consistency

So, if as noted last night, consistency in political stance was seen as valuable is this even possible. Consistency, or the lack thereof, is used often as a rhetorical weapon for example, “how can you support/oppose abortion saying life is valuable if you oppose/support the death penalty?” is an example. Here lack of consistency is seen as a failing. Yet every political plank is wrought through and through with inconsistencies. Is a global consistent stance on issues possible?

Looking the maths as a template, often in group theory a trivial example which satisfies your criteria serves as both a useful model and an existence proof. It so happens that with respect to consistency. So is there a (or set of) trivial consistent ideological stances one might take? Indeed. It seems apparent that the single issue (if simple enough) individual can take an internally consistent stance, if “oppose abortion”, “love pets”, or “taxes suck”  is your only public position then you can consistently offer a position on all relevant issues and abstain on the rest consistently.

This is of course, not something anyone does. People have have a varied number (in which that number is greater than one) of positions they’d like to hold. Many times these issues are in conflict. How a particular resolves a conflict differ, but it also demonstrates the relative importance of those same issues. A Democrat driving/owning an SUV indicates that status symbol ownership is more important than climate.

So inconsistency is not exactly an indication of actual inconsistency, but one of the evaluation of multiple criteria and their weightings. Thus a SUV owning Democrat who claims global warming is an urgent priority is signaling that the “urgency” part of this statement is at best empty rhetoric (more likely an untruth). This ownership doesn’t signal an inconsistent belief, just that it signals the priority of which this particular belief holds in their panoply of positions.

A Confusion of Party

In the US, Democrats (liberals) and the GOP (conservatives) are confused. Liberals fear jingoism, patriotism and enthusiasm for the country, yet prefer and support big government. Studies show Conservatives want to belong, are patriotic, and demonstrate enthusiasm for their country yet they are the anti-government party. The Democrats affirm support for the “little guy” against corporate and government abuse (not unrelated … this weekend Mr Obama held a 50k per plate dinner in which he spoke (apparently not ironically) against income inequality. Those conservatives that doubt Mr Obama’s oratorical skills should note that somehow that was delivered and received without a pause or for laughter (or an expectation of same)). Idiots of course abound on both sides of the aisle, partisan flacks somehow manage to only remark on those on their side. Mr Schraub, old time blog neighbor, for example manages to notice dumb statements regarding Ebola from the GOP, apparently missing almost identical stupidity from members of his party. Democrats claim to support those without defense, yet a party de facto requirement is that to be a Democrat one must support abortion. A fetus is without question one of the most vulnerable points of the human existence. Conservatives on the other hand, struggle to reconcile their “don’t tread on me” with desiring crack downs (by government) on illegal aliens and enforcing restrictions on marriage. Liberals drive their big SUVs to “green” global warming affairs and lay claim to be the “party of science” (on global warming) while at the same time speaking out against the “dangers” of vaccinations.

The point is that the neither side of the aisle is the least bit consistent in either their choice of ideals or their application of same. So, this consistency thing, is it of any value at all? Is expediency and power for its own sake the only priority? Sides have to be taken so the party leaders divvy up positions on a first come first served historical basis? Must the non players be always forced to choose party and pol by principles of which is the “least worst”. Is consistency of principles possible?

So what next? Well, the task (for tonight) seems to be as follows, first is an y consistent policy/ideological stance possible? This might follow several steps, first can one make a “toy” internally consistent stance (the analogous Maths thing would be a trivial solution or an existence proof). If not, then perhaps the only solution is to follow Eastern church’s solution to doctrine in contrast to the Western (western tends to go by Catechisms and statements of faith, the East in place of statements patterned after law points to a large body of poetry as to define their beliefs). If a toy solution is possible, then the next step would be to search for a realistic one.  Then finally if realistic solutions are possible, we might try to find some realistic consistent ideals to which one might desire to hold for oneself.

One of the fundamental problems with “being consistent” and not contravening known features of governance is that there are tensions. Government is, currently, by definition “top down”, the government dictates to the governed. Yet, as Hayek pointed out asymmetry of information points to an essential flaw of the top down approach. In some sense, having any government at all runs against the informational asymmetry. But of course, having no government (as Hobbes pointedly assures us) leads to nasty, brutish, and short lives, which is not at all conducive to life, liberty, and the pursuit of eudaimonia (happiness).

(to be continued)

Continuing Musings on Government and Spirit

Much if not most of the hard divisions between right and left these days goes back to the often mentioned (by me) Habermas/Ratzinger debate. Mr Lieter has tossed a book into the fray, which was discussed in First Things. Mr Lieter questions the practice of government protection/privilege of religion, alas apparently without establishing a clear victory for the Habermas side of the debate previously noted. This continues the prior essay in which I started out in the essay with the idea that thinking personal moral beliefs (which we will abbreviate in the following as EMS for ethical/moral/spiritual which in turn follows Dimitru Staniloae’s book which notes that spiritual = moral/ethical far more closely than in Eastern than Western thought patterns). One of the discoveries, for me, was that my assumption on the start of penning that former essay was that the American assumption with which I was raised, namely that personal EMS notions do not mix with legal/state ones is likely flawed. However, I did not address or question (yet) the fitness of that the separation question (or for a future essay perhaps whether the suspicion that I have that the correctness of this separation is a key aspect of the left/right divide).

So, let’s follow a bit with the idea that the core notion in many if not most of the societal debates we are having right now hinge on the place in public square for personal or communal EMS thought. The two extreme positions in this debate are those which maintain that EMS is required or that it should be completely divorced from the public square, law, and government. There are arguments for both, but what is missed is by the extremists is that alternatives exist. But first, let’s examine the actual not pretended extremes. Far too often both sides are guilty of painting a straw man extreme as the nominal “other” side. But alas, for both sides, more moderate positions exist on both sides at which points the debate should be centering but isn’t. Perhaps because demonizing the opposition is far easier than confronting more reasonable ideas.

So we are going to identify six “positions” in the Habermas/Ratzinger political spectrum. There are two extreme straw man positions, there are two extreme positions which are held by many (not straw men) and there are two moderate positions on each side. Habermas and Ratzinger in their debate argued around the two moderate positions, btw.

The extreme H (Habermas) position is to insist on complete divorce/separation from the ethical/spiritual and government. Those things which are moral or ethical should not be used as reasons in government or law. Examples of this are rampant. Just witness the allergic reaction by some to incidental expressions of religion by government (10 commandment or Christmas displays for example which might occur on state properties). This side would hold that your particular ethical/spiritual/moral beliefs are personal. They shouldn’t be used as arguments or even mentioned in the halls of state (in Babylon after all where particular notions must always give way to abstract or consequential ones, which are all that are left after the ethical/spiritual ones are removed from play). What then is the extreme straw-man H stance, that would be the one where expressions of public EMS beliefs are illegal, where priests get sent to mine minerals in Kolyma in the archipelago. It is a real historical non-fictional existence, just one that nobody reasonable on the H side of the debate is actually advocating, hence it’s a straw man.

That same (dominant) voice would hold that the other extreme is some sort of theocratic backwoods unenlightened, inwards looking space. But this isn’t so. That too is a straw man. Yes in fact there have been mono-religious oppressive states.  So what?  This is the bogey man raised by many arguing against the R case, but again it’s a straw man. What then is the extreme R position that isn’t a straw man? I don’t know. Nobody debating against the R position argues against it, they move directly to the “theocracy” bugbear. Few, if any, in the US argue for anything I’d identify as a extreme R position? Comments or assistance in this regard might help some, I have a weak suggestion below … is that right?

So then, what in fact is the opposite number. Well, read the debate. What is the normal moderate Ratzinger state? It is one where the government realizes that the spiritual/moral/ethical life is *required* for a Democratic state to continue. What then is concluded? Just that therefore the members of that same state should find it natural to foster an environment where that life is encouraged and nurtured so that their society might prosper.

In some countries (very few in number) the religious beliefs of its constituents are predominantly of the same faith. This isn’t the case in Babylon, a community in which people from many nations, many people come together in one society. So the question at hand for those honestly participating in the H/R debate is to consider what these two states look like, for in fact they aren’t as different as one might pretend, the only difference is quite minor.

Both states (the moderate H and R) are by the thesis the argument are democratic. They have similar institutions, the only difference is that the H position holds that independent ethical/moral/spiritual (EMS) institutions are not required to keep the democratic regime functioning and the R position is that they are required. The extreme H position is that the EMS institutions, should be held at arms length, the moderate one that they should be given no advantage and not protected (the extreme straw man H position is that EMS institutions should be held as harmful and perhaps made illegal). The R extreme is that EMS institutions have legal standing and powers, the moderate R position is that that members of the society should realize that these institutions are essential, need to be protected, fostered, and nurtured and as noted, the extreme straw man R side is an actual not pretended theocracy.

So now that we have set the stage, …. the next essay might consider how this might affect our actual debates if cast from a moderate on moderate stances instead of straw man on moderate in either direction.

Marriage: A Short Exposition

Alasadair MacIntyre in his book Whose Justice Whose Rationality demonstrates using ancient political divisions to illustrate how, when meta-ethical differences between groups arise conversation between those groups is difficult. Well, perhaps “difficult” is putting it mildly. We see this today as it unfolds in conversations between those in different sides of the political aisle. Highly paid commenter Boonton on this blog noted recently that the only good arguments concerning SSM are on the pro-SSM side, there are no arguments and only avoidance of the same seen from the right. My response was that the left side of the aisle perceives it this way because they insist on a “small playground”, only debating this issue in the context of their particular meta-ethical context and refusing to step outside. And yes, by analogy, if you assume flat 2-dimensional Euclidean geometry there is no good way to dispute that the the interior angle of a triangle sum to pi. But all geometries are not 2-d Euclidean, in fact the world we live is not. So what follows will be an attempt to bridge that divide, to give a glimpse to the left the basics of the marriage debate as seen from the right. Be warned however, in crossing this bridge there are always hermenuetical difficulties, when speaking across meta-ethical and foundational divisions the same words can be viewed from different context and what is said can easily be misunderstood. That is to say, bear with me … and this gets a little longer than the usual essay … so the rest is below the fold…

Continue reading →

Theories of Government and a Plug for Academic Prostitution

Blog neighbor Mr Schraub tosses up on the wall two notions, that there are basically few, if any, useless “medical” studies that one might sponsor and that mocking the historical speciality near and dear to him, notably “Black Studies”, is unwarranted. For the both in part, that opinion depends on your what you think the role of government might be. If you think government is basically limited (see 10th Amendment) to the role of keeping my fist from your nose and vice versa, settling disputes, guarding our borders, and then getting out of the way so we can be about our business pursuing life , liberty and all. Then these measures as instituted by the state makes little sense. If on the other hand, the role of government is to supply happiness, life and liberty to everyone … then government has a tall order to fulfill and has to employ  plethora (see Das Scholss -> The Keep/Castle) of fellows xyz-ocrats making sure everyone is maximally happy-in-ated, all in a very Kafkaseque fashion.

So, you go to school and major in this Black Studies thing, and as Mr Schraub suggests, do some useful writing in the field. What the heck do you do with that? I guess you write papers in academia read by other academics. Or you become a Castle senschal? Is Exxon going to hire you? To do what? Do you become a better barista in Starbucks competing with out-of-work actors? What?

But what in general are we to make of Academic pursuits? For this has begged a serious question, what role do history, literature, and other “soft” studies have in our academic and general pursuits? What is the point of this Academic research. Academics themselves have noted (and I’m not finding the link where this was posted, it was months and months ago) that lots of their papers are read by a select few. We are in an age of hyper-specialization in parts of academia and as this is the result. For academic teaching of those “hard” topics, maths, engineering, medicine, and for that matter, carpentry the pay off is obvious. Kids trained in those subjects have careers outside of academia awaiting them. So here’s some unsolicited advice to “fix” the problem of hyper-specialization in increasing irrelevance of so much of the academic world. Here’s one solution, less considered. Prostitution.

Academics are used to publish or perish driving their existence in their department and as a measure of their worth. It is their carrot and their stick. How about If  instead of having specialized journals be the norm, that those were the exception, That schools began to demand “publish” mean “publish” in a general market and make money at it? That in turn to the general audience and more importantly make a profit selling those works … then they’d be forced to confront and to embrace some level of relevance. In the historical field, a David Hackett Fisher can make a good buck selling good history … well, get the rest of the historians to do the same thing. If you can’t make a return selling your speciality (hence the second part of the title) then … perish.

Attempting to Make It Sensible

Recently, in a links post, the difficulty for the Western individualist to make sense of the Afghan legal ruling, which allowed that a young girl who was incarcerated for the crime of being raped might be released if she married her rapist, was noted. There was a query of how this might be understood which was not undertaken by anyone, and the following attempts to discern this and some discussion follows.

Our Western society, unlike most of the historical past world and we are informed by anthropologists some 80% (by population) of the current world centers itself on the individual and locates status primarily with wealth. By contrast the rest of the world centers itself not on the individual but the family (perhaps extended) and status is primarily located via a shame/challenge calculus. This legal ruling doesn’t “compute” from a I/W society but makes some sense from an H/S perspective.

In an H/S society normative social intercourse (how one moves through society and interacts with people) is structured differently. A well defined list of men whom a women is “not allowed” to have sexual intercourse with is defined, fathers, uncles (?), and brothers for example. Social movement of people is structures so that a women might never isolated (in the absence of other women) with a single male with whom sex is taboo. Putting oneself in a situation where that occurs is the primary law which the young woman noted above broke, the evidence that this occured was the rape. In our society a woman is so frequently alone in the presence of a non-taboo restricted male that the realization that societies exist in which to do so is non-accidental is hard to imagine. Armed robbery is an intentional act and never accidental. In part, because one can’t accidentally or thoughtlessly commit armed robbery this can be deemed a felony transgression. In a society in which being alone with another man (for a women) is just as non-accidental as armed robbery is how blaming the rape on the victim is justified.

That however isn’t the site of the difficulty I have with the crime as given and its rectification. Many, if not most crimes, have a instigator and a victim. We in our I/W society see rape as a crime of violence comitted by a man against a women. Is rape, in an H/S society, a crime of violence or something else? Individuals are not seats of motivation like in the west, so who (or what) in this particular case is the instigator and the victim? If the young woman, considered as an individual, is not the instigator (or victim) then what part does this judgement against her lay, on what basis is it calculated? Do answers to those questions make it clear(er) why marriage to the rapist might allay the crime?

Secular vs Religion and the Public Square

On and off again I refer to the little book published that consists of the debate between Jurgen Habermas (eminent German philosopher) and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict). The title of this book is Dialectics of Secularization. Mr Habermas opens, sets the stage and gives a brief argument (streching 30 pages of a small format book) … and Cardinal Ratzinger replies in like length. This book is published by Ignatius Press (2006) and is quite inexpensive (and available on Amazon). It was, of course, originally published in German.

The Question:

Does the free, secularized state exist on the basis of normative presuppositions that it itself cannot guarantee? This question expresses a doubt about whetherthe democratic constitutional state can renew from its own resources the normative presuppositions of its existence; it also expresses the assumption that such a state is depenedent on the ethical traditions of a local nature.

Mr Habermas takes the affirmative, and of course Mr Ratzinger the negative. Continue reading →

Public/Private/Home … School, Healthcare, and Beyond

Recently the Paul interview sparked a conversation about the limits of government to take our choices putatively for the public weal. This is, for the nonce, the status quo regarding education. How that impacts us in society is of some relevance as the progressive/liberals in our midst have the notion that this would be a good thing if moved to other spheres, like healthcare. What they fail to do is point out the downside for the ordinary person. Continue reading →

Changing Labels: Moving from Conservative to Progressive

I think I’m going to start calling myself a progressive. If one labels place on the axis regarding social or cultural change … progressives want to move away from the status quo toward something new, conservatives are cautious about movement along that axis, and reactionaries also want cultural change … but back toward a past relationship. Conservatives in that light are at the zero point, the origin of a generic “social movement” metric. This is (in the light of prior discussion) not a “retconning” of the definition of progressive, reactionary, and conservative but indeed the standard ones. However it might be noted that in popular parlance, progressive and conservative have come to mean ill-defined but definite political party affiliations … and this is not the usage of these words I am applying here. The other meaning however is also well known and common and I don’t think there are really any alternatives words to use in their place.

Sometime past the topic of Honor/Shame cultures came up in a more sympathetic setting than I had experienced before. I think the so-called ‘conventional wisdom’ regarding H/S cultures is a confused message from the liberal academic establishment. The conventional wisdom is that their treatment of woman (and gays) is appalling and that life in these societies is horrible. Our news services flood us with messages giving us a feeling of superiority regarding our culture, with stories of older men marrying or abusing pre-teen and young women. Yet as was pointed out what is missing in those stories are numbers and any sense of comparison of different flaws which appear in our own society. That is to say, that yes, while women suffer some problems in those societies that is not necessarily the norm but that these are outliers or abuses that appear at the edges. On the other hand, in our society rape, murder, suicide and mental illnesses like depression which are apparently far rarer in those societies and serve the similar role of outliers and breakdowns at the edges of our society. The upshot is that if one sets aside these two sets of outliers people in the Western individualistic society are wealthier people in H/S/non-individualistic cultures are happier. Continue reading →

Our Unhappy Political and Religious Discourse

From a comment:

In Mark’s post-modern relativistic world it appears almost impossible for anyone on the right to say anything untrue. Likewise there’s almost nothing Obama can say that can’t be ret-conned into a lie.

In the above, the accusation leveled at myself is likely a charge made reflexively whenever Mr Boonton (or likely any number of interlocutors from the left) sees someone on the right suggesting that a phrase or word can be taken in more than one way. This is noted in the wake of the particular history of post-modernism/quasi-Derridan theories of language and as a result of the rejection of the same by conservatives. The ironic thing here is that the accusation of this sort attempts to at the same time defend relativism, i.e., multiple meanings while at the same time force a particular meaning to be established.

Foucault and Derrida, as is my understanding, suggest that fixing and setting the meaning of words and phrases, fixing the primary hermenuetic if you will, is an act of power and that furthermore there is no intrinsic meanings for things beyond being an expression of power. While this is undoubtedly a simplification at the same time has the problem of getting the matter exactly wrong.

Meanings are fixed … but their particular assignment to particular words is not. When one says something the intention, the meaning is the one thing which is fixed and not a thing captured or expressed fundamentally in and via particular words. The act of speaking and then of hearing is a distortion on the original meaning (or web of meanings) which is being expressed. Conversation is one aid to the exercise of transmitting this which allows one to correct and refine the transmission. This is of course an exercise made more complicated by the fact that the idea reflected back is itself distorted by the act of expression by the receiver. If speaking is a lossy transmission of one’s thought to another. When you converse and try to get your meaning across, discussion is the act of trying to correct the image of your idea into another’s mind through the quadruple layers of distortion (thought -> spoken words then perceived words -> thoughts with a reflection).

What perchance does this have to do with the title selected for this particular essay? Well, in our political discourse peculiar (particular?) assumptions are made about what phrases mean which are normally misinterpreted by the other side and which make our discourse more contentious than it would normally be. One of the common irritants between parties then aligns along the continual frustration which this engenders. One says a thing to express one idea and by the other’s reaction and comments it is clearly misunderstood. Furthermore as one clarifies and attempts to more clearly state and restate the original point one either gets nowhere or the act of restatement is interpreted as an attempt at “changing” what one originally said.

Enter the Seraglio

Saturday night my wife and I went to the symphony. One of the pieces we heard was Symphony no. 4 by Sergei Prokofiev. In the program notes, one of the things we were informed about this symphony was that it borrowed heavily from an earlier work a ballet entitled The Prodigal Son. Furthermore we were informed that the third movement borrowed from a section of the ballet which introduced (for sex appeal) a seductive dance by a female dancer/love interest, added to the story to increase popularity apparently. So when the the third movement came around, I was expecting seductive or melodic patterns that would fit a seductive dance. Yet I got a surprise. The third movement, to my ears, was quirky humorous and, well, goofy. To my minds eye, the exotic dance would feature a grinning minx with strident makeup, mismatched pigtails, a flouncy dress, and a puckish grin and attitude.

Here’s my point. While this is on occasion what I might find captivating and perhaps seductive … I think of myself unusual in this regard. I’ll freely admit, for example, in the Magic Flute, I’m more interested in the Popageno/Popagena love story than Tamino/Pamina story. What do you think of humor and puckish elements as part of seduction?

Rousseau and Cameron meet Mr Checkhov

The noble savage as characterised by Jean Jacques Rousseau has been repeated in a variety of venues. The 19th century Slavophile movement in Russia idolized the “simple” peasant. Thomas Jefferson repeated that notion with his political writings emphasizing the single family farm as a bedrock of American democracy. Karl Marx distinguished the “proletariat” and their virtues over the decadence of the bourgeoisie. James Cameron’s Avatar is just the last in a long line of works of art to capitalize on this theme. I should say “apparently” when speak of Avatar as I’m basing this on numerous reviews and essays and not a personal viewing of the film, which I yet still intend to accomplish but I think I’m on safe ground making those comparisons. If the sentiments in this film, idolizing the noble savage, being at “one” with nature, and the inherent evils of corporate ethics are shared by much of the left, then there are two problems with this notion.

The first problem is location. Mr Cameron as part of the artistic elite is a card carrying member of the ‘decadent’ (recall that groups reaction to Mr Polanski in the news of late, defending the indefensible) and not a member of the savage simple. In the US in fact, the closest thing that would come to Mr Jefferson’s single family farm as an American representative of the noble savage would be the same rural flyover country which he despises and opposes is in fact where those representative might be found. To put it plainly, the elements he would idolize comprise the political faction he at the same time opposes. Oops.

At the same time, this idolization which is fictional in Avatar, requires fiction for fact is alas not so plain. Mr Checkhov (as quoted in Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia on page 255) unlike so many of the peasant lauding 19th century Russian intellectuals, went out and spent time with those same said peasants. He was not impressed. Quoting from Checkhov’s Peasants:

During the summer and winter months there were hours and days when these people appeared to live worse than cattle, and life with them was really terrible. The were coarse, dishonest, filthy, drunk, always quarreling and arguing amongst themselves, with no respect for one another and living in mutual fear and suspiscion. Who maintains and make the peasants drunk? The peasant. Who embezzles the village, school, and parish funds and spends it all on drink. The peasant. ….

Therein lies the problem, idolization of the savage waxes a little pale and loses its lustre when it comes in final contact with the actual subject. Those savages are just as fallen and prone to the same flaws as those groups which would idolize them. 

Christmas and Commercialization: My Meagre Attempt to Disconnect

The commercialization of Christmas and the holiday (etymologically associated as holiday derives from Holy Day) associated with gift giving has diluted “real” message of Christmas. This has been discussed and debated over and over and I’m not going to attempt to add anything new to that particular discussion. However, for my family, for the last two years have been trying something new. Which we hope is a way to further the disconnect between the two, i.e., the commercial/gift exchange and celebration and remembrance of the Nativity of Jesus.

The figure of Santa Claus derives from Saint Nicholas of Myra and based on this we’ve made a slight change. The feast day for St. Nicholas is December 6 … which is quite close to the Christmas break. Thus we’ve made the decision that for our family we now have been (and will) exchange gifts on December 6 (technically after evening Vespers on the 5th), not on December 25. Thus on the 24th and 25th the “special” things we do is that we attend the Nativity services (and end the Nativity fast). Thus the anticipation of “stuff” that kids (of any age?) associate with the gift exchange has been (and is) disconnected with the Nativity which is then rightly and more easily focused on Christ and the Church.

So to bastardize Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals, if we universalized that practice … do you think that would that help? Is this a good way to disassociate the commercial and worldly aspects of the Nativity from the Sacred? Is/was this move a good idea? I welcome thoughts and opinions on this little switch.

A Life of Humility

These culture wars aren’t new. Via the magic of RSS and Google Reader … a reply to Jared comes apropos post from the Desert (and I quote in full, because that’s sort of the point):

It was said concerning Abba Agathon …that some monks came to find him, having heard tell of his great discernment. Wanting to see if he would lose his temper, they said to him, “Aren’t you that Agathon who is said to be a fornicator and a proud man?” “Yes, it is very true,” he answered. They resumed, “Aren’t you that Agathon who is always talking nonsense?” “I am.” Again they said, “Aren’t you Agathon the heretic?” But at that, he replied, “I am not a heretic.” So they asked him, “Tell us why you accepted everything we cast you, but repudiated this last insult.” He replied, “The first accusations I take to myself, for that is good for my soul. But heresy is separation from God. Now I have no wish to be separated from God.” At this saying they were astonished at his discernment and returned, edified.

Aren’t you one of those right winger Christians who [hates gays, is a hypocrite, hates women … does or says or thinks X, Y and Z] ?? Well, we might say  … yes, unless they accuse of separation from God.

[Update]: I should add the reason we might say yes is not because it is true (which is usually not the case) but because it is good for our souls to bear the burden of false accusation.

An Uncomprehending Look at the Far Left

Mr Swartz is on the (far) left, which he thinks should be a larger plurality. In this post expressing that sentiment he writes:

It quickly became clear that I was the only person even remotely on the left. And it wasn’t simply that the others disagreed with me; they couldn’t even understand me. I remember us discussing a scene in Invisible Man where a factory worker brags he’s so indispensable that when he was out sick the boss drove to his house and begged him to come back, agreeing to put him in charge. When I suggested Ellison might be implying that labor, not management, ought to run workplaces, the other students (and the teacher) didn’t just disagree—they found the idea incomprehensible. How could you run a factory without managers?

And thereby it becomes clear why the left which Mr Swartz envisions is so small … it’s because the ideas he holds are so, well, wrong in a very obvious way.

Imagine as Mr Swartz suggests a “factory without managers.” How might that proceed. Well, consider that factory entirely consisting of managers. Somebody of course has to procure raw materials … and a good price would be nice. So one or more of the workers, depending on the size of the plant, isn’t on the plant floor, he’s making calls and finding suppliers. Somebody (or more people again depending on the plant size) has to manage the cash-flow: ingoing, outgoing, and arranging for lines of credit. People will have to locate buyers, find markets, locate new ways of the products produced at the factory to be used. Some people will need to tool up for new product, decide “build or buy” on new property for expansion and arrange for the, uhm, capital as is necessary.  Additionally some of those workers will need to arrange for the hiring of new workers, assist during health emergencies, and could even help plan retirement plans. Others will need to do engineering or basic science work to figure out new and better ways to manufacture whatever it is this factory produces. These roles, oddly enough, are indispensable. They all  in fact take quite a bit of hard work. Additionally many of these roles take more expertise and background training than an unskilled labourer requires, which cost that person time and money in order to acquire. A plant manufacturing “stuff” if it is real actually depends on these sorts of services. We have a name for those people in those roles, that name for people watching the supply chain, doing sales, managing capital and doing HR services are what we call management. Oddly enough the idea is in fact incomprehensible. It is in fact impossible to run a factory without managers in a actual real world situation.

So it seems this is the sort of leftist who finds it sad that factories which don’t actually sell their product, acquire raw materials, and so on … are not seen as realistic. Or to put it another way, I find it completely incomprehensible that Mr Swartz figures on running a factory without people performing the jobs and roles noted above. Who will do this? How and why? There must be a standard answer in his repertoire. What might that be?

My commenter JA scoffs at my idea that those the communist sympathizers and the sympathies held by the left in the mid to late 80s didn’t suddenly have an epiphany and decide that everything they believed was wrong. That they instead have softened their rhetoric and acquired camouflage. Part of his difficulty with that sort of notion is that Mr Obama is of this generation and himself being somewhat younger and one of the “non left lefties” that Mr Swartz complains realize that the socialist/communist dreams of the 80s left has not been inherited by the younger left.

On Fragility

Well, in a long conversation on the fragility of our civilization with commenter Boonton, one point of contention is apparent. Mr Boonton thinks that the “inflection point” in economic, i.e., the rise of technology in the late 19th century means that comparing today’s culture and civilization to those before is a apples/oranges comparison. Now, everything is different. I demur.

What features characterize today’s technological culture:

  • It is highly interconnected.
  • That interconnection is fueled and aided by high speed cheap transportation.
  • Continued technological advancement is essential.
  • Population levels are staggering when compared earlier eras.

Western Rome fell. It was highly connected and had, for its day, cheap transportation with the Roman road system. Yet it fell, and standards of living and population levels dropped precipitously. The statement “standard of living dropped” this cannot be emphasized enough. Roman era was quite wealthy. Technology that existed, for example examining simple wares like fine china was not eclipsed until the 18th or 19th century. Literacy was almost universal in Rome, even the poor and the slaves could read. Charlemagne was illiterate … and a king, the first “Holy Roman Emperor.” Literacy levels of the Roman era were also not eclipsed in the West until … the 18th or 19th century.

Examine the pottery situation for a moment in the Roman era. Pottery shards happen to be a refuse item which survives for archaeologists to find. In Britian, after Rome retreated something quite surprising happened. Pottery vanished. A potters wheel is conceptually quite a simple thing. But it takes a little time to master. It takes just a little infra-structure to maintain. But … the culture that survived in Britain in the post-Roman times had not the wherewithal to do so.

The only holdout and exception then is technology. How fragile then is technology. It is assumed by many that text and our written records, which are in fact robust and repeated and kept in many places, will insure that our technological advancement and prowess is secure. Things however may in fact not be a secure was we imagine. For it is not the written record on which most of our technology rests but instead of on the unwritten and ineffable expertise of those keeping industrial technological machines running and improvements coming. Michael Polanyi notes the example of the German sale to Hungary of a light bulb manufacturing process. The machines were duplicated, the process written down, and training was completed. Two years after the installation was completed … the machine still had yet to produce a single working bulb. Why? Because the people running the machine were not able to transfer the knowledge of how to run the machine elsewhere.

Our industrial processes and indeed our academic scientific culture is ineffable. It is a culture transmitted by master to apprentice. It depends not only on the skills transferred but cultural norms and values which have to be assumed successfully by the student in order for the continued progress of technology, of science, and academic excellence.

Additionally there are hundreds of thousands, if not many milions, of interlocking industrial components which are required for our civilization to continue. Most of these have multiple sources. Many of these (thousands) are essential, the loss of just one, for example high power/voltage step down transformers, would spell disaster. It is likely that many of these thousands of essential cannot-live-without components, of which we are not really aware in our daily lives, depend on just a few experts to continue their production maintenance, and improvement. One pandemic could wipe out a number of experts in many of these components and … it is not implausible that for some few components the expert base might be lost. Then the social unrest of the pandemic would be acerbated with a failure of one or more key infrastructure components keeping things running. Which in turn causes, because of our very high population levels, starvation and deprivation … which causes the loss of more components and bam! Most of us, just like the survivors of the Western Roman region will be back at pre-civilization early iron age levels.

It might not be a pandemic of course. Our worldwide economies are tightly linked. A monetary crises might cause civil unrest. The resultant violence might leave us missing the people needed to replace the lost infra-structure in the wake of just that. Right now there are some who suggest that the academic industry is the next bubble, which might pop under the stress of the current economic woes. This might not leave the scientific culture which in part depends on university cultural elements intact. If advancement of technology ceased … do we depend on continued technological improvement or not? Our culture is dependent on cheap oil. While it is a matter of debate how long cheap oil will persist … it is not really a debate over that it will at some time cease to be cheap. When, is debated. That it will become dear is not. The unrest that might arise on transition from an oil based civilization to a petroleum-is-expensive one, like the other events noted above could be the proverbial straw, breaking the back.

The point is that there are still striking similarities between our culture and the Roman one. It failed … and perhaps a lesson there to be learned is that our time of peace and prosperity is not likely to be as permanent, nor is as robust as we pretend.

Why I’m Conservative

Last week, Mr Dreher noted an essay by Mr Coates a progressive blogger for the New Atlantic. Mr Coates offers his reasons “why I’m a liberal,” which Mr Dreher disputes. This weekend this came up in conversation and a friend offered “why he’s a conservative”, and offered a point on which I agree. In brief:

I’m a conservative because our civilization is fragile.

Liberal/progressives don’t believe that to be the case. Unlike Mr Dreher, who says:

I am not a liberal because I do not share the same view of human nature that most liberals do, and because I think that in my culture and country, our traditions and institutions, broadly speaking, are a wise guide to our life in common. And I believe liberals have such an unrealistic view of human nature that they typically run off to tear down fences without any regard for why the fences were erected, so to speak.

Not that I disagree strongly with that viewpoint, but that the more important thing is the fragility of the order in which we live. They believe they can whack away, merging politics and science strongly regarding climate, futz with marriage, redefine sexual mores and roles, bludgeon our healthcare establishment, and so on. That the structures that drive and which serve as the foundation of our civilization is fundamentally fragile. Our very progressive President has grand plans to restructure society. Progressives forget the disasters they reap. For example it was the progressive movement which brought us Prohibition and the twin progressive reforms of the 60s easing divorce and of welfare which annihilated the inner city family structure so effectively. And don’t examine Europe … the 20th century history is a wrecking yard of progressive ideas which foundered on reality.

How is that they don’t realize that their progressive failures are disappointing failures and disasters most of the time? They use a few mechanisms and repeat as needed. The primary mechanism is to forget that the failures were progressive innovations … they pretend that they were innovations pressed on society by the conservative faction … even though that very idea should resound with cognitive dissonance. The other mechanism is ignorance. For example, Black slavery in the New World was a progressive innovation introduced by a Spanish nobleman in order to allay and ease maltreatment of native central American peoples by the conquering Spanish peoples. And yes, it wasn’t his plan that the evils of the triangle trade might arise … but that’s always how it goes … and this is the third mechanism. Because the “plan didn’t work out” … the massive suffering that entails the enterprise is exonerated. Throughout the 20th century, Western European and American liberal establishment was enthralled with Marxism and the communist bloc. They ignored the suffering and pain because that wasn’t in the plan. It wasn’t intended.

Take science for example, Mr Polanyi notes in Personal Knowledge that the transmission from master to apprentice is the primary way in which our scientific methodologies are transmitted. He notes that University culture has been transplanted into a variety of cultures and settings and the results by and large have not been as successful as would be expected, in many places it hasn’t worked at all to this point. The key here is that the culture on which our scientific progress depends is fragile. It is hard to construct. It took centuries to arise and … didn’t arise in many other places which were more literate, wealthier, and had more time. Likewise our social customs and practices fit together to form our society … are very fragile. They took centuries, millenia to build up in a way in which they fit. It is a progressive conceit that they have “new ways” of social arrangement untried and unconsidered by anyone in the previous 5000 years. They believe that their scientific knowledge will protect them from error at the same time at which is retreating rapidly from the notions that it has anything to offer in moral and social arenas. Odd that. 

I’m conservative because I’m aware our track record at intentional innovations in engineering and fixing our society is very very poor. I’m conservative because the effort to make decent human society was bought at great price. 500 years ago the “Emily Post” etiquette manuals of behavior had to instruct individuals to eschew public defecation in dining areas at mealtime. Our manners, our culture, and the institutions which bind us together took great effort to erect. They are fragile. The first impulse should not be to whack them indiscriminately as they are planning and doing right now.

Of Dolls and Men

Well, slowly but surely I’m catching up on my viewing of Joss Whedon’s latest enterprise, Dollhouse [note: I’ve two episodes left to catch up on]. Underlying the Dollhouse plot-line is the of course the ethical (and pragmatic) questions underlying the actual running of an enterprise as suggested. Dolls, are people, who (we are led to believe) knowledgeably contract for a 5 year term during which their minds and memory (self) is (mostly) erased and reprogrammed during the term of tenure for whatever purposes the house might desire.  For the following assume contract is not forced and the terms of the contract are made clear. That is the contractee (doll) enters into the contract with full knowledge of what it entails and voluntarily submits.

So, the question on offer is whether or not a dollhouse contract might be ethical (moral). My take looking across the ideological divide is that a strict contract libertarian cannot argue against it. For a contract libertarian no voluntary contract can be dismissed on ethical grounds. My guess is that the progressive/liberal would argue against it incompletely. That their argument would be on class/power grounds and that this is an abuse of the same … but that the progressive would leave substantial numbers of people undefended, i.e., that recruiting dolls from those suffering irrevocable brain injuries that left the person amenable to the programming process would be eliglble (salvageable as doll) for permanent doll status. Finally, it is my opinion that the conservative view would be that this is immoral under any circumstances for a number of reasons, in human rights terms (which I don’t find persuasive, but can serve here as shorthand) is that we don’t posses the right to give up our autonomy in that way.

However, making assumptions like that is fraught with danger. One cannot and should not ascribe motives an arguments for the others side, they are likely to be wrong. Recently in two discussions on the abortion debate I witnessed, the pro-choice speaker assumed motives of the pro-life side, making the categorical claim that any and all pro-life positions assume a patriarchal viewpoint and wish to oppress women. Now there may in fact be pro-life people who advocate patriarchy and oppression of women, but I’m not one and I’ve never even met one in conversation. So here we have what might be a typical view of the pro-choice left of the conservative pro-life movement which is mostly fictional. It ascribes motives and arguments to the other which, although easy to argue against, are not actually held by any but a tiny minority.

So, with that in mind, I’ll only offer my argument of why the doll process and contract is immoral, and oddly enough, it is lies at the heart of my opposition to abortion. As a defense against the totalitarian excesses of the last century it is essential that we hold to an ontological axiomatic assertion of the dignity of man. The doll process, in that it moves a person to “thing” violates that principle and is therefore immoral.

So what are my gentle reader’s takes on doll ethics? If the dollhouse process is contractually aboveboard and kept that contract is kept faithfully … is it moral?

The Light Bringer Goes to Cairo

Some remarks on the President’s address.

  • “For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning; and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of
    Egypt’s advancement.” Hmmm. That seems a stretch.
  • “I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar — that carried the light of learning through so many
    centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.” This is indeed a persistent fallacy. In the last five or ten years, I think the maxim that “Every commonly held belief about historical events and motivations is exactly wrong” is a turning out to be a fine rule. From WWI trench warfare to this one, all these notions … all wrong. That “light of learning” was carried by Byzantium and a lot of it came west at the sack of Constantinople by the crusaders and the carting off of the libraries, marble, gold and so on to Venice. If you think that’s wrong, ask yourself where, when, and how the intellectual exchange of documents and teaching between the crusaders and the West occurred? (hint: it didn’t in any meaningful way … and what little did was came via Byzantium)
  • “And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they
    appear.” How about to highlighting the negative realities?

If we compare the responses of this speech from two esteemed bloggers from both sides of political spectrum there is, on offer, an interesting comparison (besides the nearly identical title). The pseudonymous “hilzoy” offers that this “broke the mold” and offered praise and criticism to both “sides” and that each side might take away from the lesson learned from the criticism. Richard Fernandez on the other hand, similarly comments that there is in fact praise and criticism that both sides might note … but that the effect will be the reverse. That each “side” will key on the criticism of the other and like Eris with her golden apple this will only serve to inflame each other, with each ignoring the faint mentions of their own and inflame their own image of the other’s flaws? Given human nature … which will be the more likely response. I’d offer that the ‘hilzoy’, in part because of the shared assumptions, might closely match the intention of the President and his speechwriters … but that the effect will be the more pessimistic realistic appraisal of Mr Fernandez.

But … like his remarks on the hijab a similar response might be made about the tepidity of his allusion. In a similar vein, examine this response.  Reflect for a moment on the discord vs self-examination as posed our two bloggers and examine those remarks in that light.

Solzhenitsyn coming to the West gave four significant of addresses and spoke from a position of utter political weakness, he was after all no President and weilded no power. His words were rejected but were right in many ways and pulled no punches. Mr Obama on the other hand came to Cairo and told honeyed lies filled with calculated misdirection all intended to move people closer. His words, being fiction, have a better chance of not being rejected outright … but their effect it seems has a not unlikely chance of moving people in the direction he did not intend.

Hope, Change, and Danger Danger

The claim that the current Administration and their supporters trend to ‘socialism’. My co-blogger at Stones Cry Out wonders if this is an appropriate phrase and as well if the term is being abused to the point of being meaningless. Freydrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom might be read as a clarion call not specifically warning against socialism itself but a more general tendency highlighted in Chapter 2 of Chantal Delsol’s  The Unlearned Lessons Of the Twentieth Century essay which I’m in the process of blogging my way through. Many of the tendencies and hopes (for change?) that the movement which propelled Mr Obama to the White House are in fact identified by Ms Delsol in her essay (and Ms Delsol being first of all a French national, a philosopher, and writing an essay that pre-dates Mr Obama’s run to the Presidency should be noted). Utopian dreams and the totalitarian consequences is the real danger. It should also be noted that many themes in this chapter resonate well this week as the abortion ethical question returns to the surface propelled by the killing of Mr Tiller.

A recurring theme of Ms Delsol’s is that the crux of the unlearned lessons lie in the continued acceptence of the fatal flawed that lie as the basis of the 20th century utopian totalitarian projects which were so very costly in human life and dignity. While we reject specifics of those projects we accept very many of their premises and therefore lie likely (easy?) prey for finding new ways to explore life in a totalitarian dystopia.

Ms Delsol begins chapter two, which is entitled The insularity of the human species.

Totalitarianism, of whatever persuasion, emerges when we get caught up in the belief that “everything is possible.” It might be worth recalling just how difficult it was to have this idea accepted, or, for instance, to remember how reluctantly the thought of Hannah Arendt was received in France. To deny that “everything is possible,” to make the postulate of unlimited possibility the cornerstone of the errors of the twentieth century, was, it was said, to equate terror and utopia, or to liken the perversities of man’s annihilation to ideals about reshaping human nature. To do this was unthinkable as long as ideological dreams were still persuasive.

Several decades of perseverant reflection, however, finally made it possible to state openly that the idea of that “everything is possible” represents the birth of the twentieth century. This little phrase, which was to reveal itself to be so terrible, essentially means two things. “Everything is possible” is a way of determining who is human: one can then arbitrarily set a boundary here or there between humans and “subhumans” and declare a particular category to be nonhuman, which is what Nazism did. “Everything is possible” is also a way of determining what it is to be human: one can then arbitrarily decree that humans can or should live without authority, without personal secrets, without family, or without gods, which is what communism did. In fact, communism ended up adding the first consequence of “everything is possible” to the second and denied the humanity of those who made no effort to become other than they were.

The essential defense against “everything is possible” is the axiomatic ontological insistence on the irreducible dignity of the human being, which must be and remain a foundational certainty. Human dignity in this context implies two important things. First that man may not be treated as a thing. This contitutes a ontological distinction between man and the rest of nature. Second, that there is therefore an essential bond between all men.

The modern secular (and many liberal deist) thought continues the project of defining man by his attributes and denying his essential axiomatic dignity. Discoveries (and the rise of scientism … see the quote excerpted Sunday), have blurred the biological and neurological differences between man and the animal world. Medical and biological capabilities have expanded our understanding of man’s development and our ability to affect this.

The Kantian was hoped would deflect the necessity of ontological axiomatic dignity. Kant argued persuasively that man deserves respect by virtue of being endowed with moral autonomy. This results however in the tempting substitution replacing “It is not man who has dignity, but man insofar as he is autonomous. [emphasis mine]” One characteristic is not sufficient to defend man. Thus the newborn, the dying, the handicapped become less than human. As our abilities at genetic screening expand, the fine tuning of our exclusion from the ‘truly human’ can narrow.

At the beginning of the twentieth century it was felt that the rise of reason and our understanding of the physical world would do away with the need for religion. But, especially inasmuch as religion provides a framework in which to base the necessary axiomatic irreducible dignity of man the reverse is true. The necessity and place for religion, instead of being done away with, is ever more needed and required as a bastion holding a multitude of totalitarian dystopias at bay.

A final note which may connect to the currently vogue resurgence of the abortion question in the light of current events.

Prudential wisdom consists precisely in acting within shadowy areas, where bearings have a tendency to disappear. but prudence is not a form of pragmatism; it is a virtue. It may dispense with overly strict principles on the condition that its eyes remain fixed upon points of reference that lie above those principles: there is an immense difference between allowing someone to die and decreeing that all the dying who have reached a certain point are no longer persons.

Dying and fetus I’d offer might be exchanged in the above.

Bringing Solzhentisyn into the Torture Debate

Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty has started reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Achipelago. If it his purpose would likely be better served by reading The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Mr Solzhenitsyn had a number of polemical points he was making in his three volume of the Achipelago . The purpose of the detailed descriptions of NKVD atrocities was in part to establish scope and then to tie historical threads inescapably connecting those atrocities to the figure of Lenin (still revered in parts of Western Academia and the left) with Stalin whom normally gets the brunt of the blame. Post-Stalin Communist and Soviet apologists attempted to fix the blame for the terror on Stalin and exonerate his predecessors including and primarily Lenin. Solzhenitsyn demonstrated clearly that this was a flawed understanding. Yet, another major theme in these books is one of optimism, of the unquenchable human spirit and the value and perhaps the necessity of the Christian faith in the face of such suffering. It is this last theme that Mr Kuznicki will not find as useful. Mr Solzhenitsyn found the problems of East and West rooted in atheism and “the calamity of an autonomous, irreligious humanistic consciousness” … a theme not often found to get a good reception at Positive Liberty.

Solzehnitsyn, born in 1918, was raised and trained in mathematics and he tought for some time. He was a loyal and unquestioning Soviet and fought (and was decorated) in WWII as an artilleryman. He was then caught in Stalin’s web and sent to various work camps, i.e., the gulag. It was there he became Christian (for an excellent example of the epitome of that, this book Father
is very inspiring). Somewhat like Edith Stein of whom I’ve written before, it was the example of Christians in response to hardship and loss of life that inspired a person to the faith in the modern world.

I offer this in the light of 9/11, note that this was an address to the AFL-CIO and was given in 1975, which I quote from here. I thought the mention of the towers intruiguing.

“Is it possible or impossible to transmit the experience of those who have suffered to those who have yet to suffer?  Can one part of humanity learn from the bitter experience of another or can it not?  Is it possible or impossible to warn someone of danger?…  The proud skyscrapers stand on, point to the sky and say: it will never happen here.  This will never come to us.  It’s not possible here…  Humanity acts in such a way is if it didn’t understand what Communism is, and doesn’t want to understand, is not capable of understanding… The essence of Communism is quite beyond the limits of human understanding.  Its hard to believe that people could actually plan such things and carry them out…
    “Communism has infected the whole world with the belief in the relativity of good and evil…  Among enlightened people it is considered rather awkward to use seriously such words as ‘good’ and ‘evil.’  Communism has managed to instill in all of us that these concepts are old-fashioned concepts and laughable.  But if we are to be deprived of the concepts of good and evil, what will be left?  Nothing but the manipulation of one another.  We will decline to the status of animals.
    “That which is against Communism is for humanity.  To reject this inhuman Communist ideology is simply to be a human being…  It’s a protest of our souls against those who tell us to forget the concepts of good a evil…
    “I understand that you love freedom, but in our crowded world you have to pay a tax for freedom.  You cannot love freedom just for yourself and quietly agree to a situation where the majority of humanity over the greater part of the globe is being subjected to violence and oppression.
    “Yet when one travels in your country and sees your free and independent life, all the dangers which I talked about today indeed seem imaginary.  I’ve come a talked to people, and I see this is so.  In your wide open spaces even I get a little infected.  The dangers seem a little imaginary.  On this continent it is hard to believe all the things that are happening in the world.  But gentlemen, this carefree life cannot continue in your country or in ours.  The fates of our two countries are going to be extremely difficult, and it is better to prepare for this beforehand…
    “Two processes are occurring in the world today.  One is a process of spiritual liberation in the USSR and the other Communist countries.  The second is the assistance being extended by the West to the Communist rulers, a process of concessions, of détente, of yielding whole countries.

I will add, I think Mr Kuznicki’s program of trying to establish a consequential argument against torture to be flawed in principle as well as in fact. Evidence that the previous Administration was ineffective at getting information from torture is not a good argument. In the early years in Iraq a lot of what we tried to do was ineffective and badly done. A person making consequential argument against Mr Kuznicki has just to reply that “they did it badly” and that Mr Obama’s boys will “do it right.”

Again the better argument is that, torture is wrong. We don’t do it because it is un-American and unethical. We understand that there may be real costs in setting this aside. We have to say that we accept those costs. America is fond of the free lunch. Alas, in the real world, there is no free lunch.

One final note, a politicial thesis of Solzhentisyn has been argued by Mahoney that it is not out of touch with modern Libertarian or Conservative thought:

Mahoney locates a crucial element of Solzhenitsyn’s political teaching in his analysis of Peter Stolypin,
the Prime Minister of Russia from 1906–11. Solzhenitsyn’s appreciation of Stolypin has been largely unknown because it appears in the second
edition of August 1914: The Red Wheel I (1989), which few have read. What Solzhenitsyn claims in the Stolypin chapters is that a
moderate alternative to Tsarist autocracy existed in Russia in the early twentieth century—namely, a peaceful evolution toward a
European–style constitutional monarchy under the enlightened statesmanship of Prime Minister Stolypin.

The main features of Stolypin’s plan were the
preservation of the Romanov dynasty and Orthodox Church, combined with economic and political reforms—reforms that would have given land to
peasants and established local self–governing councils. Tragically, Stolypin was assassinated by terrorists who feared the success of his
plan (which Solzhenitsyn estimates could have created an independent peasantry in twenty years and prevented Communist revolution).
Mahoney’s analysis shows Solzhenitsyn to be a Burkean–style admirer of constitutional mon archy that gradually evolves toward ordered liberty
while preserving his nation’s distinctive traditions.

It is in part from this that my personal ideas of the coming collapse of freedom in this country and the need for localization, the “local self-governing councils” in early 20th century Russia, are required to be started and fostered here or we too will lose our liberty. It can happen here.

A Serious Generic Criticism of Mr Obama’s Administration

In the nineteenth century in California a housing bubble popped. Californians promised themselves that never again would they come to believe that could depend on housing prices would rise indefinitely.

In the nineteenth century scientists consistently and continued to deny the possibility that rocks (so-called meteorites) could fall from the sky (via Personal Knowledge), evidence be damned.

Today we too believe ourselves immune to this failing. We insist that our epistemic armor has no chinks. We think that our understanding of man, society, and our surroundings is improving and in the main correct.

Epistemic humility, to know that we do not know, is as was noted just a few (countable number of) weeks back by that Socrates fellow that knowing the actual extent of our expertise and knowledge is the first step to wisdom.

One of the consistent features of the political left and specifically our Administration today is a distinct lack of epistemic humility. They are the “smart” ones who have the answers. They will avoid the sins and faults of other side committed because they are far more clever, because their epistemic skin has been dipped in the Styx and is invulnerable to the slings and arrows and mortal failings unlike the clueless other guys. How long will it take then for Paris, aka reality, to slide the poisoned arrow into their ankle?

Notes from the Fine Arts Front

Well, in the light of the fact that it’s been touted that “conservatives” have abandoned their defense of high culture. I’ll freely admit that I have not. Friday night my beloved, the inestimable Mrs Pseudo-Polymath, and I attended the CSO for a concert conducted by Bernard Haitink. I was surprised this year, for I don’t recall Mr Haitink having such trouble getting around. He used a cane to assist his walking and stood/sat/leaned on a edge of an elevated chair while conducting. I have to admit his mastery of the orchestra and his use of subtle controlled gesture to get his meaning across was a wonder to behold.

Three peices were performed, none of which I’d ever heard earlier. They were Max Webern’s Im Sommerwind (In the Summer Wind), Gustov Mahler’s Ruckert Lieder, and Franz Schuberts 9th Symphony (the Great). I’d like to offer a few remarks on the short Mahler songs. They were five Ruckert poems set to music sung by Mezzo Soprano Christianne Stotijn. Ms Stotijn sang beautifully, and my only critique might be that I thought she needed sing a little more strongly to counterbalance the orchestra better. Of these poems, the fourth was a simple love poem which Mahler dedicated to his new bride. It is simple but poignant.

Liebst du um Schonheit (If you love for beauty)
(translation from program notes)

If you love for beauty,
then do not love me!
Love the sun,
for he has golden hair.

If you love for youth,
then do not love me!
Love the spring,
which is young every year.

If you love for money,
then do not love me!
Love a mermaid,
for she has many find pearls.

If you love for love,
then yes, do love me!
Love me forever,
I’ll love you evermore.

Wing to Wing: A Reload

Recently I suggested returning to reading through an excellent book on marriage. Hopefully, for the foreseeable future, I’m going to be blogging my way though in exhaustive detail through the book Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. This is a repost of some introductory remarks about this book and then look ahead, via the table of contents at what is in store for us over the upcoming weeks.

Leon Kass, by virtue of his tenure on the President’s Committee on Bioethics has become a somewhat polarizing figure. I had the distinct pleasure of having him teaching a class at the U of Chicago some few years ago in a class on .. of all things, ethics and science. He was (and still is) an amazing discussion leader. His ability to “sum up” and hone in and restate the jumbled thoughts of undergraduates. His wife Amy was even more sought for her courses by those Humanities and Social Thought undergraduates.

This book is not what one might expect. It doesn’t put forth any particular viewpoint in any obvious way. The majority of this book comprises a collection of essays or short excerpts bequeathed to us as part of the heritage of Western civilization. For example, contributing essays or excerpts are drawn from: Darwin, Erasmus, Keirkegaard, Homer, Herodotus, Shakespeare, Franklin, Tolstoy, and Frost. The structure of this book is as follows, after a short introductory remarks, the readings and discussions are drawn up in seven larger/basic sections:

  1. Where are we Now? This section is comprised of essays by modern critics, anthropologists, and scholars who examine and critique the state of modern courtship and marriage. Contributors are Stone, Bailey, Bloom, and Blankenhorn. Arguably this might be the most controversial or biased section of the book.
  2. Why Marry?The book then pushes forth with a firm defense of the institution of marriage. Contributors range through history: Darwin, Aquinas, Erasmus, Bacon, Austen, Keirkegaard, Tucker, Meilaender, Borowitz, and Muir.
  3. What about Sex?Next, sexuality itself is examined via writings of Homer, Genesis, Rousseau, Herodotus, Kant, Riezler, and May.
  4. Is this Love?What is this (little) thing we call love? Answers are sought from Divakaruni, Plato (2 contributions from the Symposium, The Song of Songs, De Rougemont, Shakespeare (2 entries), Rousseau, Rilke, and Lewis.
  5. How Can I find the Right One?If Marriage is good, and love is a thing we are beginning to have a glimmer of understanding, Courtship must be considered. Advice from Miss Manners (Martin), Genesis (2 entries), Abraham, Pitt-Rivers, Erasmus, Shakespeare, Franklin, Rousseau, Tolstoy, and Austen is on offer.
  6. Why a Wedding?When one considers wedding, May, De Rougemont, a variety of wedding ceremonies and vows are included (including Anglican, Lutheran, Jewish, Muslim, and “Contemporary” vows), and an essay by Kass and Kass on the patronym.
  7. What Can Married Life Be Like?Finally, what are the blessings one might obtain in marraige? These include contributions from: Homer, Aristotle, Jewish Midrash, Kipling, Ballou, de Toqueville, Rousseau, Capon, Tolstoy, and Frost.

In each of chapters, each of the readings is introduced by a very short (page or less) introduction explaining the context of the reading selected, why it was selected and perhaps some assistance in understanding how the writer operates if the dialectial methodology is unfamiliar to most, e.g,. the formalized dialectical methods of the scholastics as is used in the example drawn from Aquinas. Continue reading →

About the Hate Filled GOP

The problem with not getting out and about is that you can form some pretty insular about people far away. In a recent discussion it was remarked that (my remarks quoted from a previous comment in italics):

I actually personally don’t know any GOP members who “hate gays”, perhaps they are a mythical bugbear put forth by the left or a small minority?

I think you’re in some serious denial about the Republican base. You stick to your elitist blogs and big-brained philosophers and tune out the Rush Limbaughs and the Michael Savages and the Joe the Plumbers of the world. The people who make up and rally the real base.

Now, this is reminiscent of a liberal diatribe/book I read some time ago about fundamentalism and conservative theology “stealing” Christianity from the liberals. The salient point I’m drawing here is an intended non-ironic remark the author made upon discovering during a conversation with a person at a gathering … when they found out that the person with which they were conversing was exactly one of those people. And to the authors surprise the person was intelligent and quite nice. This, I suggest, is a more generic phenomena. That those one the left, who characterize as those on the right, especially conservative Christians, as “haters” and “bigots”. When they actually, meet those they despise, in non-confrontational social settings are surprised that they are actually quite nice.

Church pot-lucks as social interaction, personal involvement in charity, and in general an open and friendly manner these things characterize rural and small town flyover communities. These are the people who make up the real base. If they also posses a natural suspicion of academics and the East and Left coast elitist intellectual movement who simultaneously would tell them how to think and act and despises them, I would suggest that intuition is not just natural but that it is right. Northern Europe is much further along in their social experiment and progressive change that those same said elitists want to implement. It is also undergoing catastrophic demographic collapse, has been hit harder in general by the recession, and in general if held up as an “example” of the benefits of progressive practices put into play serves as more as a really good … bad example.

A House Built On Sand

Is it problematic when your argument is based on falsehoods?

Blog neighbor David Schraub and I have gone around before on the “Jesperson dilemma”, but there is a problem. He poses her “dilemma” as a proposition that women’s grooming and makeup is so much substantially more expensive than that it is for men. His argument bases itself on the idea that this is a merely a matter of expense. It is not. Lipstick, blush, and so on can be expensive, but that is a matter of choice. Men might buy and pass on that argument, but if you glance at prices of such items in your local Target or Wal-Mart, you can actually purchase women’s grooming products remarkably inexpensively. The problem for those pressing the “cost” as a crux of the issue is that that “extra” cost so incurred amounts to about 4 bits a week. Gosh, what a burden.

The real problem is apparently, Ms Jesperson didn’t want to wear makeup, but was as a matter of company policy required to do so. We expect, as a matter of course, that NFL players must wear appropriate garb. We expect that actors dress their part. In fact, McDonalds can (reasonably) expect its employees to wear company uniform, just as every other company has a reasonable expectation (especially in retail) of being able make standards regarding the appearance of their employees. Harrah’s, where Ms Jesperson worked, is a casino. Casinos have, quite often, a particular stylish “look” they wish their employees to maintain as it encourages their patrons to be looser with their money if they harken to a “high class” style of look. Mr Schraub and his entitlement notions notwithstanding, we live in a free society. The problem is we are not entitled to employment. Employers amost universally set behavior and appearance standards especially when they interact with the public. It is not the “responsibility” of the employer to conform their standards to every whim and conceipt of their employees. It is more properly the responsibility of a employee to find a job he or she finds acceptable regarding job requirements.

Envy Me!

Here’s where I’ll be tonight. For fairly obvious reasons, I couldn’t go to my regularly scheduled Saturday night date last weekend … the whole Pascha thing and all. For those not following the link, it’s the Symphony … Wagner, Chin (whom I’ve never heard) and …. (drumbeat) … Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique.

On Obama

I’m not going to write about him any more, until after the convention. I’ll link essays to him as they normally less reflect my ideas than the best of the common currents or interesting points of view.

Suffice it to say, he’s a politician and politicians aren’t really worth talking about overmuch until one or two hundred years after their time.

That isn’t to say I’m not going to write about issues that might be raised by current events and those which might impact Mr Obama. I’m just going to refrain from talking or offering my opinions about him directly.