September 1, 2014 § 12 Comments
There has been a bit of a hubbub lately about the Old Testament. Generally speaking there are two sides to the debate. One side considers it obvious that God directly ordered the slaughter of the Canaanites and other mass slaughter in the Old Testament, and concludes that therefore killing the innocent – persons not engaged in attacking behaviors and not being punished for specific deliberate crimes, infants being paradigmatic – cannot be always and intrinsically immoral. This side claims that the Old Testament cannot be inerrant unless their personal interpretations are correct.
The other side is not so stupid, unimaginative, and arrogant.
The inerrancy of the Bible doesn’t mean that your personal interpretation, or any particular interpretation, is true and correct. It means that a true and correct interpretation exists.
Finite texts of sufficient complexity always underdetermine theories of meaning. If you have a theory of what a given text means, your personal theory is never the only possible theory of what the text means. This is built into the nature of symbols and meaning. In the context of interactive dialogue this becomes obscured, because interaction with the (presumed to be honest) speaker is possible to clarify meaning. But any ‘dead conversation’ is open to a multiplicity of interpretations.
The dilemma is falsely posed as pitting God “speaking directly” against the intrinsic immorality of murder. But that is just obviously nonsense. It is posed this way to beg the question: to invert the burden of proof.
When the Bible tells us that Samuel said “Thus sayeth the Lord of Hosts”, it is entirely possible that it is giving a literal account of words actually spoken by the actual prophet Samuel. I rather expect that it is; although that is not the only possible interpretation, and inerrancy only really guarantees that true and accurate interpretations exist, it doesn’t guarantee that I have it right.
But Samuel saying those words as a formal preliminary to issuing commands doesn’t necessarily imply what folks think it implies. We know that, as Popes do now, prophets had authority from God. But the fact that Papal authority comes from God doesn’t imply that every word and deed of every Pope is tantamount to a literal act of God. In reality Papal infallibility is something very rarely invoked, and the use of a formal introduction for the words of a Prophet doesn’t convert those words into a set of axiomatic syllogisms from which a positivist theory of everything can be constructed. Samuel’s formalism could conceivably mean that God actually spoke those words from a burning bush; but in the full context of the OT that seems less than likely. At best we can say that we don’t really know whether the formalism “thus sayeth the Lord of Hosts” is a formality – like the wearing of a crown – when the prophet gives orders.
What is being pitted against each other is some folks’ personal interpretations of the OT against the intrinsic immorality of murder. Understood this way the conclusion is manifest and immediate: those folks’ personal interpretations are wrong. Whatever the right interpretation might be, that particular interpretation is falsified. That you are wrong in how you interpret the Bible doesn’t threaten the Bible’s inerrancy: it threatens your personal world view. If that amounts to a “red pill” – perhaps the beginning of an understanding that positivism is modernist nonsense and that sola scriptura is positivist – then, in the words of the Prophet Morpheus, welcome to the real world.
If you read the Bible and come to the conclusion that a bedrock Christian doctrine such as the absolute prohibition of murder under the natural law is wrong, this doesn’t demonstrate a problem with bedrock Christian doctrine. It demonstrates a problem with you. If your reaction to this is some sort of outrage, some notion that you just must be right in your personal interpretations because God would never be so tricky as to construct a world in which positivism is a false and deceiving lie, then you’ve got some work to do. But the work you have to do is on yourself. Nobody ever guaranteed you a world in which positivism is a coherent epistemology.
August 23, 2014 § 18 Comments
No society gets everything wrong all the time. There are good and glorious things about Islamic society, despite the beheadings, the dancing in the streets at the scene of American civilians falling from burning skyscrapers, and other pervasive and wicked monomania. And there are good and glorious things about liberal societies, despite the medical waste bins full of human body parts sacrificed in the name of free love, wholesale destruction of family and childhood in the name of female emancipation, and other pervasive viciousness.
But the fact that nobody gets everything wrong all the time does not justify clinging to lies. This is as true of liberalism – politics which makes freedom a political priority, thereby creating an implicit or explicit demand for equal rights, insisting on rule that pretends not to rule in order to protect the fragile individualistic egos of “meritocratic” modern men – as it is of Mohammedism.
The individual cannot – apodictically cannot – be the fundamental unit of politics. Politics is always and necessarily a matter of controvertible cases involving multiple people. If a person were literally alone on a distant planet there would be no politics. Politics exists only in a social context — a context of multiple people and multiple possibilities about what could be done, that is, controvertible cases. Even when everyone happens to agree about what to do there are still always other possibilities: all political action is in principle controvertible. Actually choosing one possibility over others is never a neutral decision, even in those rare cases where everyone involved happens to share the same view; so the distinction between positive rights and negative rights is illusory as something distinct from the good.
“Leaving people alone” has to start from a position of already presuming to know the entitlements of the parties in controvertible cases. When Bob insults Harry and Harry punches him in the mouth, who is entitled to what? Positivist attempts to politically demarcate between the individual and society don’t work: for example moderns tend to think of property as a matter of a man and his stuff in isolation, but in reality property is a relation of multiple people: authority, objects, owners and subjects.
Liberalism’s view of society and politics is wrong. It is a lie, a terrifically wicked and destructive lie. We can either throw out the bathwater or wallow in filth.
August 22, 2014 § 6 Comments
When it comes to mental illness and mood, we have to acknowledge that a small percentage of people are not fit to look after themselves. They need constant adult supervision or else they will become a danger to themselves and/or others.
But modernity values freedom – personal autonomy – above all else, which is actually why our politics becomes so tyrannical; and the idea of grown human beings placed under the authority of other flawed human beings is anathema.
Enter the prescription pad. Even though a drug like alcohol objectively has a similar profile of risks and benefits for improving mood to other drugs, it is unsuitable because it cannot be an instrument of social control. So the use of alcohol to improve mood must be frowned upon, even though going on a bender with the boys to get over a bad breakup might be a healthy thing to do, within limits. A war must be waged on strong psychotropics on one front; while on another front psychotropics must be brought under the supervision of experts, and heaven help you if you ‘go off your meds’ even when they make you feel awful and destroy your health.
So the sociological purpose of the prescription pad is twofold. One of its key functions is to place you under authority while pretending not to place you under authority. The other key function is to control the information flow and narrative around the use of psychotropic drugs. Naturally the ‘experts’ who wield this chemical power on behalf of the State would rather you didn’t see it that way.
The genie is already out of the bottle when it comes to alcohol, so it cannot be used as a means of social control. With alcohol you are free to wake up from the bender, drink lots of water, take a few asprin, and get on with your life without carrying the subordinate label ‘mental patient’ into your future. And we can’t have that.
August 19, 2014 § 31 Comments
Nature has a way of bringing the rule of particular men to an end every few decades. The mechanism is called Death.
Liberalism though doesn’t have an expiration date or an inherently limited lifespan.
Rule by particular men is inherently more resistant to tyranny than more abstracted or formalized systems of government for a whole variety of reasons. One of them is that nature insures that a bad ruler is only around for a matter of decades.
But bad ideology can last indefinitely. Rule by demons has no expiration date.
So the next time someone complains about how hard it can be to get rid of a bad king, be sure to ask the question “compared to what?”
August 18, 2014 § 14 Comments
One of the common postmodern hipster poses you will see around the blogosphere is the idea that because liberalism is triumphant, the traditionalists who warned us about liberalism and its consequences were ineffectual and wrong. For example the traditional natural law understanding of sexuality must be repressed and wrong, because if it were right then the sexual revolution would not have happened. The fact that society didn’t heed the warnings points to a flaw in the folks who were sounding the warning, not a flaw in society.
Be sure to remember that the next time you are thinking about throwing yourself off a cliff. If the people who were warning about that gravity thing knew what they were talking about, nobody would ever throw themselves off of cliffs. The majority is always right, and the god Evolution assures us that whatever actually happens is fittest.
August 15, 2014 § 43 Comments
For someone who is depressed but doesn’t need immediate hospitalization, alcohol is a more effective and safer pharmacological treatment than antidepressants, if a drug is really necessary. It is better to avoid psychotropic remedies entirely; but if you are going to go there, at least do something that is a known quantity with a track record and a properly balanced social infrastructure.
Alcohol is something about which we have plentiful independent information: it isn’t caught in the vortex of economically motivated disinformation that David Healy exposes in Pharmageddon. Because its long term heavy use carries enough social stigma there is still some incentive not to get trapped in a situation of physical dependency, or to get out of one if you find yourself there. Nobody is going to stage an intervention to help you kick the SSRIs, but alcohol comes with some built in social mechanisms to help. Alcohol is quite effective at helping a person feel better in the short term, probably more effective than SSRIs; and it doesn’t come pre-packaged with a credentialed doctor who will hold you hostage to the prescription pad on the one side, and lecture you to keep drinking and not ‘go off your meds’ when you get to the point where the benefits are outweighed by detriments on the other. And nothing prevents you from having a qualified physician monitor your alcohol use.
So my advice to most people is that it is far safer to take up drinking than it is to see a psychiatrist, if you simply have to have a pharmacological remedy.
August 14, 2014 § 27 Comments