Thespians and the HHS mandate

September 24, 2012 § 23 Comments

An intrinsically immoral act is a deliberately chosen behaviour which is objectively – the behaviour – evil. In order to know what behaviour is chosen (the “object”) we need to see things from the perspective of the acting subject; because it is possible for the acting subject to be mistaken about the objective facts. If he is mistaken about the objective facts then his third-party observable behaviour isn’t what he actually chose. The object of an act is the objective behaviour actually chosen by the acting subject, so once we know what objective behaviour the acting subject actually chose – which can be different from what we observe as a third party either because there are non-material objective facts that we don’t observe or because the acting subject is himself mistaken about objective facts that we know – we can evaluate the moral species of his act.

An intrinsically immoral act is always an action performed by the person himself: it is his own deliberately chosen actions which we evaluate morally. His intentions are the subjective meaning he assigns to his act: the things he desires from his behaviour versus the things he wishes were not intrinsic to his behaviour or extrinsic effects of it. Intentions do not enter into moral evaluation of the object. (It is possible of course for non-intrinsically immoral acts to be evil because of evil intentions, or also because of circumstances).

Formal cooperation, on the other hand, is a matter of how our own intentions stand in relation to someone else’s act. A woman who procures an abortion does not (generally) actually perform the abortion herself. The actual concrete action is performed by the abortionist. However, since the woman who procures an abortion – makes the phone call, shows up at the appointment, etc. – intends the evil action performed by another person, she is guilty of formal cooperation with evil. Strictly speaking she has not performed an intrinsically immoral action herself. An actress on a “reality” show who pretends to make the call and show up to the appointment is not (necessarily) guilty of moral evil, and certainly is not guilty of moral evil as pertains to procuring an abortion. She doesn’t actually intend to procure an abortion: she is therefore not formally cooperating with an abortion. (We will set aside the complex relations between acting, joking, and lying, which is another matter entirely). However, if the person “acting” as the abortionist on the “reality” show actually performs an abortion, he obviously would be guilty of moral evil.

So the distinction between an intrinsically immoral action and formal cooperation is pretty clear, in my view. We should expect morality at bottom to be pretty clear and easy to understand, especially since St. Paul and Christ Himself have admonished us to be as little children as far as evil is concerned. It is true that at times we encounter genuinely puzzling cases “on the margins”. But the great majority of supposed moral conundrums arise, in my view, from the fact that there are just lots of clearly wrong actions that we are uncomfortable condemning as morally wrong.

This brings us to the question of compliance with the HHS mandate, and whether such compliance is formal cooperation or material cooperation with evil. Material cooperation is where we cooperate with another person’s evil act through some morally acceptable (taken in itself) action of our own, but we do not intend that other person’s evil act. A canonical example is of the commanding officer ordering his troops into the breach: this cooperates with the enemy’s action of killing his men, but the commanding officer obviously (unless it is a David-Uriah-Bathsheba situation) does not intend the killing of his own men. In fact his own act will be more successful if the enemy fails to kill any of his own men: clearly a case of material cooperation with evil with unintended bad effects.

There have been some recent articles bringing up the possibility that compliance with the HHS mandate is formal cooperation with evil, and therefore simply impermissible. See here and here, for example (hat tip Scott). I commend the authors of those articles for bringing up the point. All too often the questions of intrinsic evil and formal cooperation are simply glossed over, assumed without even a hint of an argument, so we can jump ahead to what the author wants to do: apply the principle of double-effect. Because once we’ve determined that an action is neither intrinsically evil nor formal cooperation with evil – that is, once we’ve determined that an action is material cooperation with evil – then its moral status becomes much more debatable.

Even once we arrive here I think there is a tendency to gloss over the requirements for licit material cooperation with evil: that is, the requirement that the material cooperation with evil must not be proximate and it must pass all of the criteria of the principle of double effect. The just war doctrine is one of those areas, where the fact that prudential judgement is involved in applying double effect is often treated as if it were the same as concluding that a particular decision to wage war cannot be determined to be categorically wrong based on objective, well known facts.

But here I will stop short of further discussion of justifying material cooperation with evil. The question on the table is, is compliance with the HHS mandate necessarily formal cooperation with evil? And while I strongly commend those who raise the question for raising it I think the answer is most likely that no, compliance with the HHS mandate is not necessarily formal cooperation with evil. I do have an important caveat in the closing paragraphs of this post, however.

I use the term “necessarily” because it is always possible to formally cooperate with evil, even without doing anything at all. Someone who in his own head says “good on her for getting that abortion” or “good for those people providing contraception” or “good for that judge clearing the way for Terri Shaivo to be starved to death” or “good on Bush for bombing that restaurant full of towel heads” has formally cooperated with mortally grave moral evil: he intends the evil act of another person or has shared in the evil intention of another person, and is morally condemned by that intention.

The plight of an employer faced with complying with the HHS mandate is similar to the plight of a legislator faced with a bill that restricts more abortions than are restricted now, yet still includes some exceptions – say the usual dark triad of rape, incest, and life of the mother. Evangelium Vitae tells us that not only is abortion itself intrinsically immoral; it is also morally wrong in itself to pass laws explicitly authorizing any abortion. It follows (my inference) that a legislator who specifically proposes the three exceptions in law, even if only as a means to the very laudable end of increasing legal restriction of abortion, does evil. You can’t specifically propose the three exceptions without intending the three exceptions as a means to some end: formal cooperation with evil. On the other hand, Evangelium Vitae also tells us that a legislator can licitly support such a bill, so long as his absolute rejection of all abortion – including by inference the three exceptions – is explicit and well known.

The situation with the good pro-life legislator is that he faces an omnibus choice: he does not support the three exceptions themselves and did not propose them himself, but if voting for the bill results in an overall better state of the law it is acceptable for him to vote for the bill. Similarly, the good employer does not support the provision of contraception and did not propose it himself. But he also faces an omnibus choice, where every option he chooses has bad – though unintended by him – consequences. It would be formal cooperation for him to propose and support evil provisions in the health insurance plan himself, as a means to any end; but it is not necessarily formal cooperation with evil for him to support the provision of health insurance that has many good benefits, even though it also provides, literally against his will, the material means for other people to do evil things.

There is a certain danger in this kind of thinking though. It is one thing to support a bill which increases restrictions on abortion across the board, even while retaining exceptions proposed by others (who are necessarily employing gravely evil means in so proposing, despite in some cases laudable ends). It would be another thing to support a bill which trades off restrictions: one which (say) introduced a previously closed exception for rape but closed an existing exception for incest. And it would be another thing still to trade off incommensurable evils: say, to further restrict some abortions while mandating sterilizations of certain individuals. It is far from clear that these “lesser of two incommensurable evils” calculations can avoid formal cooperation with the evil actions deemed “lesser”. I cannot therefore definitely conclude that compliance with the HHS mandate is not necessarily formal cooperation with evil (though I expected to conclude that when I started writing the post; so there you go).

If we conclude that compliance with the HHS mandate is not formal cooperation with evil, does that end the discussion? Not at all. As the cited articles point out, this is a discussion which must be had before it makes any sense to even begin analyzing compliance with the mandate as material cooperation with evil. If compliance with the mandate were necessarily formal cooperation with evil that would end the discussion right there: noncompliance would be morally obligatory.

How to lose the battle over the HHS mandate

September 22, 2012 § 7 Comments

The best way to lose both the battle and the war over the HHS mandate is to treat it  as a matter of religious freedom.   See here and here.

The Ballad of the Alpha Widow

September 22, 2012 § 4 Comments

I love this song musically, and really enjoy Les Miz as a broadway show.  But notice how Fantine blames the world for the consequences of her own bad choices rather than taking responsibility:

“Game” as postmodern feminism; or why women like bad boys

September 17, 2012 § 56 Comments

The usual narrative is that anti-intellectual postmodernity is radically different from the naturalistic/scientistic positivism it opposes. My own view is that the war between scientistic positivism and nominalistic postmodernism is a sibling rivalry: postmodernism is what happens when a modern naturalistically-oriented positivist realizes that positivism is false, but refuses to take the logical step and give up on atheistic naturalism. Richard Dawkins and Jacques Derrida have much more in common with each other than either one has in common with St. Thomas Aquinas.

As with many of modernity’s isms, hatred of those closest to you serves two purposes. First of all it fires us up for battle, and you can’t win without motivating the troops; but of course any hated enemy would serve that purpose. Second, though, a vicious sibling rivalry ends up sucking all of the oxygen out of the room, leaving genuinely competing world views outside the purview of respectable thought. Paradoxically, then, having a hated nemesis is what sustains towers of Babel built on lies. Liberals see Nazis as the ultimate transcendent evil (rather than, say, seeing Communism or Feminism, which have each murdered orders of magnitude more innocent victims, as the ultimate transcendent evil) because Nazism, despite being a modern ideology very similar to liberalism – built on its own conception of freedom and equality among those considered fully human, on the triumph of will over an objective deontology, etc – is the point farthest away in thought-space from liberalism which the liberal is willing to admit actually exists.

Thus the analogy of the Red Pill in the manosphere world of Game: the idea is that feminism (and feminism-influenced Christianity, a.k.a. Churchianity) aren’t in touch with reality, while by embracing “Game” the manosphere faces reality head on.

The problem though is that Game appears to be a postmodern concept. I won’t go link hunting, partly out of laziness and partly because most of the links would be NSFW. But as I understand it Game is a rather slippery thing, a bucket into which various folks pour their various preferred meanings. There is North American Game, and Eastern European Game, Day Game, Christian Game, Pickup Artist Game … if you browse around a bit you’ll find all sorts of contentions about what Game is and is not. But you will also find a general consensus that the nominalist conception of Game is the right one: it is just a bunch of tools and insights cobbled together that you can pick from, cafeteria style, in order to do what works for you.

Some try to avoid the problems associated with a nominalistic view of Game by appointing a few High Priests from the pickup artist community as a kind of Game magisterium. I don’t think appointing a nominalist-in-chief works, though, and when an ostensible field manual on how to be a man ends up celebrating having yourself castrated you can color me skeptical that it reflects an underlying world view capable of apprehending what is and is not objectively manly.

Don’t get me wrong: the feminist/misandrist legal and cultural structures we live under are a horror show, with millions of innocent victims and with more actual cold-blooded murders to its name than National Socialism. Plenty of true and important anti-feminist insights are coming from the manosphere, etc, and its criticisms of the feminist order are frequently trenchant. (I could say the same thing about Republican criticisms of Democrats). But so-called Game isn’t a genuine red pill: it is just another section of the Matrix within the Matrix, where “taking the red pill” was just another illusory act. The manosphere is to feminism what postmodernity is to positivism.

So why do modern women find themselves, often against their own will, attracted to bad boys? Simple, really. Female attraction is much more socially conditioned than male attraction: women are natural followers, men natural leaders. Women are very good at figuring out the difference between the appearance of social status and its reality. You can’t snooker them – they can’t snooker themselves – by putting a nerd in a position of power. A nerd in an artificial position of power is still a nerd, and most women are going to find powerful nerds about as attractive as most men are going to find an obese woman in a bikini. Young women are always going to find themselves unwittingly attracted to men who have actual social status as accorded by our actual society, those who are seen as independent and “cool” in context (which is not the same thing as money, position, etc); just as men are always going to find themselves attracted to women who have physical characteristics that make for good childbearing.

Of course (actual not faux) social status is just one factor in the mystery of attraction, and this post isn’t intended to explore what is right and what is wrong with everything discussed in the “manosphere”. But anyone interested in a genuine red pill, a genuine embrace of reality rather than a trip through some other section of the Matrix, is going to have to start by giving up on the social impulse to admire peacocking cads and self-inflicted castrati as the model of a real man.

Telling right lies

September 11, 2012 § 5 Comments

Kristor has a post up about politically correct use of language and why language is one instrument of power in the political arsenal.  We bandy about concepts all the time, but the words we choose to represent those concepts color our thinking.

Take the term “right,” as in “property right”.  Underneath the language we use is a concept, and different words could – and probably should – be used to represent that concept in our speech.  A right is some particular authority: in the case of a property right it discriminates between the trespasser and the owner, granting limited juridical authority to the latter over the former when it comes to use of the property.  In the case of a right to life the right asserts authority over those who would take the life of a particular person.  In the case of a right to speech the right asserts authority over those who would silence the speaker.  In the case of a right to vote the authority asserts that John Voter – and John Voter alone, discriminate from all others – has the authority to add his particular choices to the ballot tallies in a particular voting precinct in a particular election.

In general, then, a synonym for “right” is “discriminating authority”.   Wherever we can correctly use the term “right” we can just as correctly use the term “discriminating authority”.

The reason “discriminating authority” is a better term than “right” though is because the modern liberal weltanshauung attempts to assert rights while at the same time denying the validity of discrimination.  That is, modern users of the term “right” generally attempt to assert the discriminating authority of rights while at the same time denying the validity of discrimination and authority.

More succinctly the term “right” is an enabler of political lying.  It isn’t impossible to use the term correctly, because it does have a real referent.  But the term discriminating authority, while it has the same referent as the term right, is not an enabler of political lying.

Why pro-abort is consistent with anti-death-penalty

September 10, 2012 § 7 Comments

In the previous post we covered the fact that in the traditional teaching (citing the Catechism of Trent) the State’s power to inflict the death penalty derives from its mandate to protect the innocent, not from an independent mandate to dispense transcendental justice. Obviously death must not be inflicted unless it is a just punishment in a particular case; but that death is a just punishment is not sufficient in itself.  The State is not God, and must not play God: its charter is to cultivate  and protect the common good in the practical domain, not to immanentize the eschaton.

In fact, as Evangelium Vitae tells us, the justification for the State’s very existence as an authority is the protection of the innocent. That is why a State which enshrines abortion (or any other form of killing the innocent) as an explicit fundamental right undermines its own existence. If it fails to carry out its mandate to protect the innocent from murder the State is superfluous; if it undermines protection of the innocent from murder in its explicit laws the State chips away at its own foundations.

And this is precisely what liberalism does and has ever done: it chips away at the foundations of legitimate traditional political authority.  By pedestalizing individual freedom and equality of rights as the transcendent foundation of legitimate politics – so-called ‘consent of the governed,’ with its concomitant rituals – liberalism attempts to abolish substantive politics, replacing it with procedures putatively designed to treat all substantive conceptions of the good equally.  Unfortunately for liberalism it is the very nature and essence of governance to authoritatively discriminate, restricting freedoms to enforce some substantive conception of the good, discriminating against contrary conceptions of the good.  By embracing equal rights and individual freedom as the primary justifications of the exercise of political power, liberalism sets up a contradiction between authority and its own legitimacy.  “Liberal governance”, when taken seriously, is a contradiction in terms: authoritative discrimination resting on the premise that authoritative discrimination is illegitimate.

Across the spectrum of liberalism, from the less developed property-centric classical liberalism we call ‘conservatism’ to more consistent modern liberalism, discriminating authority resting on a substantive conception of the good, restricting the freedom of autonomous individuals, is considered the very essence of political tyranny. Opposition to the death penalty and to legal restrictions on abortion are thus both, to liberalism, opposition to tyranny.   The most consistent liberal is always both an anarchist and a tyrant.

Blessed Pope John Paul II on the death penalty: less development than meets the eye

September 7, 2012 § 10 Comments

In a thread over at the Orthosphere, a commenter posted an excerpt from the Catechism of the Council of Trent.   The whole section of that document on the fifth commandment makes for wonderful reading, and those who either appreciate or deprecate my posts on killing the innocent would be well served to read it.

Of particular interest here is the part under the heading Execution Of Criminals:

Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.

(Emphasis mine).

The Catechism promulgated by Blessed John Paul II reads as follows:

2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

Much hay is made over the supposed novelty of restricting the licit use of the death penalty to cases where it is “the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor”.  If I had a nickel for every time some Catholic has claimed that this represents a major rupture from the traditional teaching I’d have, well, a lot of nickels.  But from where I sit it doesn’t look like much of a development, given that the State’s legitimate power to inflict the death penalty arises – according to Trent, and when and only when it is also a just punishment – from a mandate to “[preserve] and [secure] human life.”

The third paragraph from the Catechism I include for completeness.  It clearly represents an expression of a prudential judgement regarding a factual matter of practical capabilities, not an expression of doctrine.  I’m dubious of the proposition that the modern State actually is capable of “rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm”, as long as we consider fellow inmates to be human beings who ought to be protected from harm.   So I think the scope of the applicability of this non-development of doctrine is debatable.

But as I mentioned in the Orthosphere thread, it doesn’t strike me as all that unreasonable to suppose that in addition to the burden of proving guilt and punishing justly charity lays upon us – that is, upon the State – the additional requirement of resorting to the death penalty only when it is, in addition to being just punishment, necessary to do so for the protection of society.  That especially makes sense in the light of what Trent tells us about the source of the State’s just power to inflict death as a punishment.

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