You Cry Out Archives

Marriage: A Short Defense

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…

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Words and Mind: Tax Cuts as Costs for Government

Tax cuts are often discussed in terms of budget impact with phrases like “paying for a tax cut” or as “costing money.” 

In a book I read years ago by a Microsoft engineer about projects development the phrase “idiot bit” was used. The context for that is that when a persons “flips your idiot bit” and you realize they’ve done or said something idiotic the conclusion that that person is not too sharp is a “sticky” conclusion. They may do half-a-dozen things that are insightful and highly innovative … but once you’ve internally labeled that person as “stupid” it takes a lot to reverse that conclusion. Now, anthropologically speaking, this might be in part due to the peculiarities of how perceptions of intelligence is socially valued within the Microsoft (and software) sub-culture … and perhaps as well that this sort of “sticky conclusion” might be generalizable to other sub-cultures and “sticky” conclusions centering around the things they value. 

Usage of the terminology like “paying for tax cuts” and “tax cuts costing money” is a red-flag which, for myself at least, flips a similar “sticky bit.” From a somewhat abstract accounting point of view there is a sort of peculiar logic to that sort of terminology. But usage of that term betrays a level of abstraction and a point of view about taxation and government spending which forgets that taxation is inherently a violence against person or family. Taxation is a necessary evil of government. But to think of less taxes as a “cost” on government is a reversal of what should be the normative point of view, that government and its spending itself is a cost which is paid for by taxes. 

For small government proponents, statements about tax cut as cost “flips” a sticky bit. This means that it is hard to escape categorizing the speaker as a person willfully riding down the road to serfdom and at best a socialist or fascist. 

A Small Favor Begged

I have an excellent excuse for not posting tonight … and a small request.

Tomorrow my (far) better half is going to have a small procedure at the Hospital. She will be there overnight for observation after the procedure. It’s not an emergency and not very risky but if you could remember her (Jill) in your prayers I’d appreciate it.


Considering Children

Pseudonymous Larry Niven at Rust Belt Philosophy has a short post in which the “right to avoid life” movement arises. Chantal Delsol points that this and similar movements are consequens of the rejection of taking the as axiomatic the ontological nature of human dignity in The Unlearned Lessons Of the Twentieth Century. I should note that a person “CM” is the author of these arguments and that in my reading of Mr Niven’s piece it is unclear what his stance is on this matter.

A relatively famous document begins:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Here we find the founders noting that some truths are not ones for which a foundational argument needs to be waged, they are self-evident. That the continuance of the human species is both good and a salutatory (if not to say necessary) attitude for humans to take seems to be another such self-evident statement. If you are a shark or a mosquito one must necessarily as such argue that continued existence of the shark and the mosquito is also good.

Mr Niven for CM offers two arguments against human reproduction, a harm based and a rights based argument. The harm based argument is easily countered. He offers that:

Choosing to reproduce, CM says, is tantamount to “imposing a lifetime’s worth of negative experiences on someone else.” And while one might agree that “everybody has negative experiences,” everybody capable of having negative experiences also has positive experiences: are these, too, “imposed”?

The abortion rights individuals hate the counter to this argument. Merely quiz the living, “Would you have never been born?” and oddly enough nobody whom we would term sane answers in the affirmative to that question. This particular argument is not uncommonly seen in the pro-abortion rhetorical quiver. The “his/her life would be too filled with hardship” and therefore termination is required. Yet oddly enough people with hard lives rarely venture that their lot would have been better in non-existence or death, but that sort of notion only resides with those people whose life has been in the main very soft and full of ease. Furthermore virtually everyone in the pre-industrial age had, by today’s standards, a life far harder than the hard life imagined for the incipient child.

The second argument is as follows:

For CM, no person has “interests prior to existing. Hence, biological children are always used as means to an end,” which, together with “the fact that people are brought into existence without their consent,” consists of a violation of the rights

This has two problems. One is a common rhetorical ploy found in philosophical circles the “if P then Q” where there is no logical connection between the premise and the conclusion. All things are a interest or a means to an end is not true. There are “ends”, which are neither. For a child can be see as in intrinsic good in and of itself. A child is good in an of itself, therefore creation of a new child is abstractly a good which is not a means (but an end). The second problem is in his notion of rights. CM suggests that the lack of consent implies a violation of rights. This might be OK if human beings were created ex nihilo with full faculties at creation, but that is not how it works. We have, well, these constructions known as “children” who are in developmental stages for at least a decade and a half. Consent is not a right children possess naturally because they are not equipped to handle those responsibilities at that time.

Short Thoughts

My laptop’s disk controller died. The disk seems fine … but evening blogging might be sporadic for the next few days as my access to the family computer will face competition. Some random thoughts:

  1. Our office decided (kinda on the spur of the moment) to enforce a “everyone must take one week of vacation” this month … because it looks right now like we’ll be real busy in Q3 and Q4 so it would be good to get some vacation out of the way. My eldest daughter is in summer school through July so I’m “flexing” 1 1/2 days per week for the final 4 weeks of July. I’m going to coordinate my schedule with the weather and my training. So it looks like I’ll come out of July in really good shape (and with a house projects done too).
  2. On Le Tour, Mark Cavendish is unbeatable in sprint these days. On Sunday I read a report that Tyler Farrar, not a bad sprinter himself, was unable to hold his wheel when Cavendish let fly. That’s amazing. And no, I don’t think there is a “real split” in the Astana team. I think it’s a tactic to get everyone to waste energy and time watching Lance … who is not their main threat. Remember he was the fourth strongest Astana rider Saturday.
  3. I looked over the “health care” site that the White House hosts. Remarkably free of actual concrete policy ideas. No mention of “vouchers” either, oddly enough (which came up in conversation today).
  4. The day after I tell my wife that “I haven’t had a flat tire in over a year” is the day before I have a flat tire. If that happened in a film people would think the writer was overusing a cliché.

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.

Brief Gnotes

  • It appears the “experts” think SOX (which as they say SUX) wasn’t bad enough a handicap for the US economy. For now we’re going to get SOX 2! (Will that SUX more?) That’s what a struggling economy needs, more paperwork, more restrictions. Who is feeding people in the beltway all those stupid pills? Why? Is there something in the water in DC? Who can imagine the way to jumpstart and get an economy into high gear is to increase the paperwork and regulatory load? That after we find corporations can reach a size which is “too big to fail” that either elected government officials are going to be able to keep that in check or that “too big to fail” should be enshrined in statute … without discussion over “too big to fail” is right, if there are alternatives, or if it is even a good idea.
  • When unemployment is rising, do we hear calls to lower the minimum wage? Does it occur to anyone that a high minimum wage makes it hard to justify keeping a marginal employee. That it’s easier for a company in a pinch to keep an employee if it can do so by cutting his salary … not his job? Does it occur to anyone that there are indeed people who would rather work for a bit less than not work at all? Does it occur to anyone that requiring and encouraging employer supplied health care is just another way of raising that minimum wage and making that marginal worker unemployable. That unskilled laborer in the US who requires $7+ an hour + benefits worth another $1+ per hour means he can’t compete at all on a global market with a Asian worker who will work for $3 to $8 in a 12 hour day … which means his job has gone or is quickly going to go overseas.
  • When Mr Obama says, “I welcome discussion and open debate on this” … does anyone still believe that is honestly intended? Or has everyone now realized that is just one of his many tactics used to stifle debate. After all the last, what three(!?), times he’s said that immediately afterwards legislation is rammed through Congress for “emergency” reasons and signed immediately without pause. The left used to complain that Mr Bush was always lying. I doubted that, in that I though that it was clear that Mr Bush believed to be true the things he said. However, it must be said that when it comes to being dishonest, Mr Obama outpaces Mr Bush by a wide margin.
  • Our family saw Up recently. I think the theme that I perceived, that it is not the sharing of grand adventure and the big things in life that matter and mean the most to us, but the ordinary and prosaic. I think that is right. I’m also disappointed that someone snuck a “Disney” dysfunctional dad into the story. Why is it in the Disney world that parents, and almost always the dads are missing, evil, or dysfunctional? And … on another cinematic note, Land of the Lost is already at the dollar theater (actually $3 now) and in the same week that Wolverine and Star Trek get there. So finally I might get to see the second two in the next week or so at long last.

A Remark Regarding Iran

Some 32 years ago, a little typewritten paper was published which took 20 years for the consequences of that document to unfold. The US stood silent then. We stood silent 20 years earlier when tanks rolled into Hungary. It looks like some would ask us still to remain silent, yet again.

Clint Eastwood directed White Hunter, Black Heart some years back. In it there is a scene in which Eastwood’s character enters into a fight against a man who was, if memory serves really deserved it. Eastwood’s character (John Wilson modeled after John Huston and his filming of the African Queen) is soundly beaten. His companion wonders afterward if he thought he had any chance of winning. The reply was no … but some things one has to make a stand against. To disregard the consequences.

In Iran today people are wondering what to make of the Iranian election. Was it a modern miracle of non-automated clerical assiduous labor. Was it voter fraud or not?

Lots of people have been following this far more closely than I. Lots of people are more expert than I at the Iranian cultural and political situation.

What I would entreat is that we don’t do the “pragmatic” thing, or the politically expedient thing. We (the US and the world that is not-Iran for that matter) should stand up for what is right. Too often we have stood silent in the face of horror and evil.

Lest this be misunderstood. I’m not advocating war. I’m not saying we should have gone to war then. But there is a vast difference between standing in silence (tacit approval) and war.

Let us not be silent. If a some Iraqis publish their chapter 9, let it be heard in Arabic, in Kurdish, in English, and indeed in all the languages of the modern world.

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. Would you characterize these responses as self-critical or the reverse? Bringing together or apart?

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.

Some Sunday Evening Notions

A scatter shot of thought offered from an early Sunday eve.

  1. Ms Althouse offers that Ms Sotomayor’s remarks are not out of the pale, but are fit as a “feel good version” into a larger and widespread racial talk in the legal academy. She offers that this, among perhaps the non-bottom feeders, might be a good opportunity for discussion racially sensitive or color blind jurisprudence. Given that race is, in my opinion, a ontological travesty. Race is a fictional entity invented for (perhaps) political reasons and enforced by stereotype. It is, on examination largely meaningless. Black, White, Hispanic are meaningless tags. There is no such thing as any of those things. There are certainly ethnic affiliations which have meaning, culturally and in forming people’s outlook. It is obvious that an urban white metrosexual yuppie far far has more in common by any cultural metric you might choose with a black gang-banger than with a recent rural Serbian immigrant, even though the first and the last are “racially” both “White.”
  2. From Chantal Delsol’s second chapter of The Unlearned Lessons Of the Twentieth Century: An Essay On Late Modernity, to which I will return later in the week, “… However, today’s scientism, compared with that of the nineteenth century, has become both hypocritical and worth of disavowal. In the nineteenth century, scientism rested upon the naive yet understandable belief — since it had not yet clashed with actual experience, that once the religious mentality had been swept aside, science would be able to explain everything and to alone bring happiness to humanity. The twentieth century sufficed to show that this was hardly the case. Thus, the scientism of today is founded on the mere hatred of religion and makes use of its own resentment against good faith. […] Today’s scientism, when it claims a monopoly on truth and is used to blur the boundaries of the human species, has become virtually criminal.” I’m guessing that there will be some objections to this quote. One would wonder who and why would defend scientism, for it is likely a more pressing threat to the real practice of science than any religious attack.
  3. Apparently an late-abortion practitioner has been murdered. At least one on the left thinks this means, that an assault on the freedom of speech is the answer. For myself, I’m confused as to the motivation behind the murder. If, as I think it is, the pro-life position is one anchored in the axiomatic ontological necessity of the necessity of a belief that all men share dignity. How that then leads to justifying murder cannot be rational or reasonable. Keep that assault on free speech (and the right to assemble) in mind when I return to Ms Delsol’s essay.
  4. In part the piece linked above connects that murder to the “empathy” argument used by the President. I wonder if “empathy” would be replaced by nous, in that particular liberal (?) legal methodology (see the Eastern Orthodox entry following the nous Wiki entry). While it might be just a little change of pace to find terminology like that flowing from progressive lips when arguing that a particular justice was qualified. As an side, it seems to me that the judicial philosophy entailed in the “empathy” argument is one which assumes and supports continuing irrelevance and immaturity on the part of the Legislature. The point is, the Judiciary is not there to fix “bad” law written by the Legislature but merely ones which are contrary to the Constitution. Depending on the judiciary to fix bad laws is a bad idea, because it enables lesser legislators to pen laws which are politically expedient and “counting” on the judiciary to overturn those laws … which they are more free to do being not as dependent on the electorate. But I digress, if you want to kill the whole “empathy” in the judiciary argument, one might frequently replace “empathy” with “eye of the soul” or “mind of the heart” or similar phrases. We might be continue with a trinitarian judicial philosophy, claiming our judges should equally weigh nous (heart), logos (reason),and spirit. That will go over swimmingly in the secular liberal world. If the right takes up that as a just judicial spirit, I’d bet the left will be clamoring for textualism or originalism post haste. See how the epomynous publius quote reads now, “Anyway, this violent act also bears quite directly on the whole “eye of the heart” debate.  What’s interesting about Obama’s comments is that the eye of the soul argument doubles as both a populist argument and a high-level theoretical assault on conservative jurisprudence.” I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to cast Mr Obama’s argument in as a trinitarian one.

A Word Against Bottom Feeding

Bottom feeding is not an uncommon thing to see (unintentional?) hypocrisy on exhibit on the few (good) liberal blogs I’ve found or have been recommended. I’ve previously criticized Mr. De Long for his blatantly un-collegial (anti-collegial) attitude that he displays and which is repeated here. This horrific meme, which apparently he is fond of enought to repeat. Ed Brayton, blogging here, regularly trawls for what he finds offensive or ridiculous that is on offer from the “other side” and lampoons it. Yet this is exactly the same sort of thing just given a patina of respectibility. Bottom feeding the opposition and representing that as representative of the same is just as bigoted and offensive as the behaviour which they attempt to lampoon. I will give Mr. Brayton his due. He doesn’t represent his blog as anything but what it is: a sort of National Enquirer for the libertarian/atheist reader. Mr. De Long on the other hand, represents his blog as an academic and principled blog. Yet we find him regularly engaging in bottom feeding and maintaining the pretense of the high minded intellectual. If one were to dip to Mr. De Long’s level for a moment, this would mean that if the GOP is the “stupid *and* immoral” party perhaps the Democrats are the “supercilious and immoral” party.

Mr. Niven on occasion will do the same, but here, for example, he seeks out thoughtful discourse and discusses it. The point of this enterprise is that if you want to raise the level of discourse then the way to do that is not to lower yourself to the bottom denominator but to seek out, engage, and elevate the best arguments, individuals, and ideas of the other side. It may be easier to disparage the Moore’s, the Ms Sykes, or political cartoonists similar output. However, this isn’t helpful in the least.

On blogs, in periodicals, and in books good conservative political, economic, theological, and political thought can be found quite easily, unlike it seems thoughtful progressive blogs and thought which are (for me) much harder to locate. If you want to raise the level of discourse this is the course you need to take. If you think discussion and intercourse between the sides of the aisle and between the various divisions in our society is of value, the only way to do that is to find the best of the other side and engage that. As fun as it might be, the sarcasm, humor, belittling and lampooning only serves to widen the divide and lower the tenor of the debate. It is counterproductive.

Lessons from the Recent Past

The Unlearned Lessons Of the Twentieth Century: An Essay On Late Modernity by Chantal Delsol, a french contemporary philosopher seems like a very interesting book. Ms Delsol self describes herself as a neo-liberal. This book came up in a search of book in the “Library of Modern Thinkers” series which summarizes the currents of thought of (mostly conservative and libertarian) important political, economic and philosophical figures. This book is very much different in that it is a (striking it seems) essay by one of these figures and not another author or expert summarizing and putting their works in perspective. Over the next few weeks (months?) I’m going to examine, hopefully chapter by chapter, the topics and ideas presented in this book.

In the introduction (chapter 1) Ms Delsol poses following, “Imagine and heir who has just been informed that his inheritance consists of a trunk full of serpents.” This is how she presents our present inheritance from the turbulent 20th century. The 20th century began with hope and a looking for great promise of the future and is ending with shame over totalitarian excesses. Ours is an age which is rejecting hope.

She also suggests why this age might be termed “late modernity” in particular to call to mind particular parallels with late antiquity. Like (Western) Rome of late antiquity, our society shows similar signs of aging in its arts. Late antiquity had “an affirmation of art without meaning, literature which was simultaneously pretentious and trivial, and a dwindling population.” Hmm. Sound familiar?

There is yet, one idea which had sprung forth in late antiquity which still remains, perhaps wounded and ailing today, that offers promise. The idea of the dignity of individual man remains. This idea had come under assault in the 20th century, notably in the totalitarian regimes but in other venues as well. Ms Delsol offers in what follows a clarion cry for the necessity of preserving this core principal.

An Informal Poll

I value gas mileage highly in my choice of automobile. In fact, one of the implicit criteria I had in obtaining new cars lately is that my “new” car should get better mileage than the one it replaces. My current car I drive is a 2000 manual transmission Honda Insight. It gets “officially” 61/71 mpg city/highway. My experience is that in temperate weather on dry pavement I get about 65/80 … but any drop in conditions or the thermometer drops the milage as low as 52/62 respectively.

Anyhow, here’s the question. How many years will I have to wait until a replacement vehicle costing under $25k that gets better mileage will be available. The only other criteria I have is that it at least seat two with some luggage and when I’m alone can fit me with my bike (wheels removed). The Insight can do this handily. 2012? 2015? Or never?

So, what’s your guess? When will there be an alternative out there which meets those criteria?

Yet More Words on Torture

Commenter Boonton accuses my position on torture as “not clear.” Five or six years ago, if asked impulse would be along the lines of the film Taken, or other revenge oriented narratives if harm had come to my family or more specifically my daughters … torture and taking law into my own hands included with that package. But then again, my ethical framework has been turned about since I became Christian and my political thinking as well has, well, sharpened as a result of this exercise known as blogging came into my life. Since that time my notions of political ethics vs personal ethics have diverged … but not in the strictly simplistic fashion that one might imagine. Politically speaking I am influence by a number of sources, Bertrand de Jouvenel and Aleskandr Solzhenitsyn influence (in contrast to the more traditional influences along the lines of Hobbes, Locke, and the founders). For what follows I am going to try to establish what I see as the political ethical situation vis a vis torture.

Regarding torture. I find childish and simplistic the ordinary narrative we find so often arising from the left. That torture is well defined and clear cut. That it the consequential argument is all that is required to oppose it. That numbers do not matter, i.e., that the torture of 10 or 100 men (illegal combatants at that) is the same thing for a regime, for a people and ethically speaking as the torture of millions of innocents. That a good man cannot find himself driven to choose it as the lesser of evils (see again the movie noted above). All of these points are repeatedly made by the left and the critics of recent activities of the past (and it seems likely the current) Administration(s). Unfortunately, that these things are all wrong and in error is not the same as taking a position that torture should not be the policy taken by and on behalf of our country.

And it should be repeated that these combatants which are in custody, almost certainly to a man, are guilty of heinous war crimes. They themselves torture, drug, and abuse their enemy. They fight without regard to civilian or military personel as target, in fact more often than not they specifically target civilians. In prior ages, and rightfully so, their combat would be regarded as unspeakable and they would be summarily executed when apprehended. The only argument against doing just that as far as I have understood or heard is that is tactically unwise, i.e., a foe who knows he faces death on capture will fight to the last.

Torture is not well defined. There are large and relevant cultural and personal elements which need to be taken into account when considering what constitutes torture. This cannot be waved away as irrelevant. Seemingly this should be clearer to the “side” of the debate that scoffs at the failure to define pornography but that “one knows it when one sees it.” This is not in and of itself problematic. Torture has been used for two distinct purposes by regimes in the past (and likely in the present). One is to inculcate fear and terror in a populus. Consider again the (excellent) fim Das Leben der Anderen, it is true that the regime was venal and corrupt. It is also true that torture, fear, and terror “worked” in the purely consequential sense. Intimidation with the force of the state … is highly intimidating, especially if you have friends or family. It takes a heroic stance to be able to withstand such force and heroes are rare. Torture to obtain information also can be effective. It also can be not be effective if used poorly. For that matter, modern guns and weaponry and trained soldiers can be not be used effectively. Pointing that in a specific instance that torture was ineffectively used is not proof that it cannot be used effectively. Information gathering and analysis is a difficult task. Heisenberg and the quantum theorists of the early 20th century identified the notion that the observer and the observed are not two independent entities. An analogous thing operates in the gathering of information. One has to be careful that prejudices of the observer do not influence the data being sought, always a problem in high noise to signal environments. But I digress. The point is that any sort of interrogation is a flawed source of information. If a intelligence agency or community finds itself with a extreme dearth of information and feels that information is crucial at a juncture in a conflict … the desire and need to turn to alternate means, knowing that there is a price, i.e., that this is the least worst alternative, makes the turn to methods to extract information that are considered in the drawing room as torture is understandable.

However, torture is not consistent with the American way. We do not systematically speaking condone torture. This authority, to borrow from Jouvenel, has not been granted by the people. Furthermore, this conflict in which we find ourselves is highly asymmetric. We can and should claim that we will in fact not avail ourselves of these methods not because they are not useful, because if used intelligently they can be, but because we don’t need them to beat our enemies. We should make a stern point to highlight the difference between legal and illegal combatants and our treatment of the same. Sticking to our principles may have material and tangible costs. We should acknowledge that up front and accept. Or if we are unwilling to do so, we should be honest about our failing to do so and strive to come to a place were we do not have to sacrifice our principles to acheive those necessary ends.

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