Nothing Buttery and Moral License

October 18, 2008 § Leave a comment

Often I hear someone contend that voting for a presidential candidate who supports a policy of murdering the innocent is nothing but an expression of a preference for an overall less bad outcome over a more bad one. It is as if people don’t think voting is a concrete human act with a particular nature at all: as if it were pure undistilled intention with respect to an election outcome.

It strikes me as a very bizarre way of thinking about it. But in the age of nothing buttery, bizarre is the new normal.

Onward Christian Voter

October 18, 2008 § 74 Comments

Suppose there is a war involving millions of soldiers fighting on two sides. Both sides are fighting unjustly and deliberately murdering the innocent, although it is clear that one side (the Donkeys) is substantially worse than the other (the Elephants).

You have the opportunity to transport one clip of sidearm ammunition to the front lines, and give it to the leader of whichever side you choose. You may also choose to abstain from the conflict. Remember that both sides have deliberate policies of murdering the innocent, though the Donkeys are murdering a broader category of innocents than the Elephants.

Now, clearly if you could make the Elephants win by fiat there might be a double-effect justification for doing so. But you do not have the power to do that. You just have one clip of ammunition, which you can give to either side or to neither side.

So the question on the table is not whether it would be a better outcome for the Elephants to win than for the Donkeys to win. In our scenario we take it as a given that it would be better, all other things equal (ahem). Rather, the question on the table is, is there a proportionate reason to give your one clip of ammunition to the Elephants?

Photography Question: Too Much Lavender, or Too Much Brownshirt?

October 15, 2008 § 4 Comments

Someone claims to want to send Jeff Culbreath an invoice for $1500 for putting up a picture – found in an article posted on line, which he excerpts and to which he links – of San Francisco first grade school children on a field trip to a lesbian “wedding”. I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me that Jeff’s blog post is commentary/criticism and is therefore fair use.

How much you wanna bet that if he had posted a photo of a car show or something he would never have heard from the Internet Photography Gestapo?

Hypostatic Markets?

October 13, 2008 § 10 Comments

One of the deceptive ideas going around is that the monetary value of a thing is, as a necessary and sufficient determination, whatever it can be sold for on the open market today. While that is one way of measuring the value of a thing, it is not the only way, and indeed sometimes it is a very nonsensical way.

Suppose I have a magic box. Every day I open up this magic box to see what is inside. On some days there is an ingot of gold inside, of varying size. On other days there is nothing.

Now there are two ways I might look at how much this magic box is worth.

One way is to take it to the flea market, show it around, and see how much someone will offer me for it. Suppose I do so for a week, and for that whole week no gold ingots appear, though I tell everyone of its magical qualities. Someone at the flea market offers me $1 for the box; and that is the only offer I get. Under a market price theory of value my box is worth $1, and that is the necessary and sufficient end of the story.

However, I may not decide to sell the magic box for $1, especially if I don’t need the money right now. Suppose I keep it for ten years, at which point it disappears; and over that ten years it produces $10 million worth of gold ingots. Under a hold-to-maturity theory of value, my magic box is worth $10 million. (Actually it is worth $10 million discounted to today’s value of money, but there is no need to complicate the discussion with such minutiae).

The point here is that the actual value of a financial asset to an investor capable of holding it to maturity is not simply the market value. Markets are not omniscient, and are often flat wrong in their predictions of the future. If they weren’t often wrong, we would never see markets go up and down. And I don’t need to tell anyone who has been conscious during the past week that markets in fact do go up and down.

It seems to me that the only reason to cling dogmatically to a market price theory of value is if we believe that the market has become omniscient, like God. I put forward the hypothesis that it is always a mistake to predicate one of the transcendent qualities of God to an earthly thing.

Begging the Proportion

October 12, 2008 § 4 Comments

The following words, taken from an endnote in a leaked private letter from Cardinal Ratziner to Cardinal McCarrick in 2004, have become a very popular citation in the Catholic blogosphere:

“When a Catholic does not share a candidate‚Äôs stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”

What usually follows is the conclusion “therefore it is morally licit for me to vote for the candidate I favor”. But this is obviously begging the question. To conclude that it is morally licit to vote for X requires more than merely demonstrating that one’s vote for X is remote material cooperation with evil, and not formal cooperation with evil. It also requires that there actually be a proportionate reason to vote for X.

Clearly this requires one to understand what a vote is as an act and what it actually does and does not accomplish in fact, since what it is and what it accomplishes are crucial to whether or not there is a proportionate reason to do it. And this is something the Church does not tell us, and indeed does not have any special competence in telling us, since it is not a matter of faith and morals. The Church can tell us that murdering someone by poisoning him to death is evil; she does not tell us that Compound B is a poison, nor does she claim any special charism with respect to scientific truths about chemistry and biology.

So no matter how you slice it, the Church has not said and will not say that voting for a specific candidate is morally acceptable.

Nevertheless, the Catholic blogosphere is filled with confident pronouncements (the combox of that post contains quite a few) of late that the Church tells us it is morally licit to vote for McCain/Palin. The confidence is unwarranted. Indeed, not only is the confidence unwarranted: the assertion is an outright falsehood. The Church does not teach us that voting for McCain/Palin is definitely morally licit. It could be morally licit – as is the case with any act of remote material cooperation with evil – if done for a proportionate reason. But the Church has provided no guarantee that there actually is a proportionate reason.

No, not even the constant repetition of this falsehood, as comforting as some may find that repetition – and it is an outright falsehood – can make it true.

A Post-Christian People Starved for the Sacraments…

October 11, 2008 § 8 Comments

… will invent their own concrete rituals which, to them, represent an outward sign of an inward grace.


(HT: Steve Burton at WWWtW)

It was a Bank Panic

October 5, 2008 § 17 Comments

I think people still don’t understand what Secretary Paulson was faced with a week ago Thursday.

It was a bank run.

Actually, it was a bank panic, since a bank run applies to one bank and a bank panic is when it is widespread and happens to many banks at once.

We did not have the threat of one, but one actually underway, with all that that implies: disappearing savings accounts, following the Joads west with all remaining possessions packed into the car, etc.

We have not had a bank panic like that since the Great Depression.

It was not a visible bank panic, with physical lines of people outside of physical banks. It was an invisible bank panic, with computerized lines of people and mostly institutions outside of the computer network doorways of the banks.

This bank panic was stopped by one thing, and one thing only: Secretary Paulson’s promise that (1) money market funds will be backstopped, and (2) $700 billion would be allocated to sop up all the illiquid mortgage paper clogging the system. This should work, and if it works and is left to be run well it will even be profitable, though the delays introduced by the criminally negligent House of Representatives last Monday have done irreversible damage.

So yeah, swallowing the “bailout” is a bitter pill, and it is unfair, and it sets terrible precedents, and it will be abused and misused in every conceivable way (even though run properly, with less interference by Congress rather than more, it could be profitable and could reduce the national debt), and all that. It was the worst thing to do, except for all the alternatives.

And yes, it may not be the last and final major intervention required.

What made this bank panic different from the ones during the Depression was its invisibility to everyman. You didn’t see the lines; you didn’t see the “bank tellers” involved in millions of transactions each second during that two hour period. That is a big problem with modernity: our relentless capacity to hide bad news and atrocity behind computer network cables, carefully prepared media presentations, and sanitarily marked medical waste bins.

Using the defibrillator was the easy part. Reforming our lives will be the difficult part. And if we don’t reform our lives, we’ll just end up in the emergency room again.

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