That’s my bowl of turtle soup

March 28, 2013 § 16 Comments


A recent discussion got me thinking about how prescinding from claims about the origin of a thing is often represented as undermining a claim about the essence of a thing. In other words, the idea is that if we can’t clear up controversy about how a thing came to be, that undermines our claims about what it is now.

This is an example of the genetic fallacy.

The discussion in question was about property and ownership. I’ve been very critical of libertarian conceptions of property rights in the past, and remain so today. But just because liberalism misapprehends the nature of property, it doesn’t follow that property is arbitrary, or is a creation of the sovereign. The relation between owner and property is a part of the natural law, prior to any government:

For, every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own. […] The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from the law of man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair. — Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum

… and …

That the State is not permitted to discharge its duty arbitrarily is, however, clear. The natural right itself both of owning goods privately and of passing them on by inheritance ought always to remain intact and inviolate, since this indeed is a right that the State cannot take away: “For man is older than the State,”[34] and also “domestic living together is prior both in thought and in fact to uniting into a polity.”[35] Wherefore the wise Pontiff declared that it is grossly unjust for a State to exhaust private wealth through the weight of imposts and taxes. – Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno

Ownership is an example of a kind of authority, and I would suggest that modern concepts of authority tend to totalize will and eliminate nature. “Ownership” thus means either libertarian individual demi-godhood over specific material things or it means socialist government (sovereign) demi-godhood over material things.

Part of what gives this totalizing-eliminative view its apparent force is appeals to origins:

I am trying to imagine how, just exactly how, you came to own a piece of land. Did you make the land? Dig it up out of the river or the ocean? If so, well then maybe it really is “yours”. But no, you (with 99.99% probability) bought it. From whom? Oh, from some other guy who made, invented this land? No. He got it from someone else and so on. A sovereign entity once granted squatting rights on this land, and since he was sovereign no one challenged him.

The “turtles all the way down” approach here is thought to cast doubt upon Church doctrine that private property ownership precedes the sovereign, as opposed to following the sovereign as a creation of the sovereign will. But what that indicates to me is a problem with the reasoning process which produced the approach, not a problem with the reality of ownership as a legitimate authority which – like fatherhood – precedes the State.

At the present time we have no idea how (for example) single-celled organisms came to be in general; and we certainly can’t give a specific account of precisely how a specific randomly chosen bacterium came to be. It does not follow that therefore single-celled organisms don’t exist, and that our knowledge of their properties is in doubt. For any real thing we can play the curious child’s game of asking where it came from, repeating the question for each answer given, on into infinite regress, until we hit the wall of silence. But in general, lack of a definitive and comprehensive account of the specific origin of a specific thing doesn’t cast doubt upon our knowledge of the nature of that thing.

Turtle regression doesn’t cast any more doubt upon private property ownership – as an authority which legitimately precedes the authority of the State – than Zeno’s Paradox cast’s doubt upon our ability to cross all the way to the other side of the room.


Standard disclaimer: When I swipe commenters’ words as a springboard for discussing ideas I am not attempting to paraphrase the views of commenters. The fairest authority on the views of any commenter is the commenter himself; followed by his own words in the original context.

Where is Danny DeVito when you need him?

March 27, 2013 § 86 Comments

Suppose I am the manager of a large investment fund, ZipFund.  I have a little of my own personal money in ZipFund; but the vast majority of it is investments from small Mom and Pop investors.

Suppose my fund had invested in Cyprus Corp a few years ago by buying interest-bearing bonds.  We’ll call these Zip bonds.

Cyprus Corp has other bond investors.  Many of them are small investors like the majority of investors in ZipFund: we’ll call their Cyprus bonds Mom-n-Pop bonds.  There are also some larger Cyprus investors who bought FatCat bonds.  Mom-n-Pop bonds are senior to FatCat bonds: they are insured by the company, so they get redeemed at face value before the uninsured FatCat bonds are entitled to any proceeds.

Cyprus Corp is in big financial trouble, and the board of directors has been replaced by a judge.  The new board has a fiduciary duty to make the best possible financial choice for existing Cyprus bondholders, and complete authority to make decisions.  The company is about to go belly up if it doesn’t get an infusion of cash, which will make Zip, Mom-n-Pop, and FatCat bonds all virtually worthless.

The ZipFund partnership has voted to allow a deal to provide that additional cash, buying WhiteKnight bonds from Cyprus, as long as in doing so the value of Zip bonds is preserved going forward.  Our goal is not as much to make a profit as it is to minimize losses on the capital we have already invested.

I offer the Cyprus board of directors a deal, and after shopping around a bit ZipFund is the only offer of new cash they get.  Our deal preserves the value of both Zip bonds and Mom-n-Pop bonds.  FatCat bonds are required to take a 40% haircut.

New cash from the deal would immediately change the viability of Cyprus going forward.  It might not create overall value; but the board thinks it has a good chance of preventing wholesale value destruction.  If they don’t do my deal, any Cyprus bondholders will be lucky to get pennies on the dollar and the uninsured FatCats will most likely get nothing at all.

If the Cyprus board accepts the deal, has anyone done moral wrong?

Indian givers in Cyprus

March 26, 2013 § 102 Comments

I wonder how people’s attitudes would change if, instead of Cyprus, we were dealing with an Indian tribe that had borrowed far more US dollars than it could afford and was operating its own internal banks on the reservation (its sovereign territory) that the Mob was using to launder money and evade taxes.

I’d have a strong inclination not to offer any additional financing at all. But if I was going to offer additional financing I’d definitely have very strict terms. Every big player would have to take a haircut on the deal, including those with an equity stake (whatever it is labeled: labeling it “deposits” doesn’t change its fundamental nature) in bank operations.

They would of course be free to take it or leave it.

Women have harems too

March 23, 2013 § 351 Comments

The term “slut” is a female-specific insult referring to a woman with loose sexual mores. Egalitarians are frustrated by the supposed fact that no insult with equivalent social sting applies to men, which, like all double-standards, is just not fair. The unfairness of it all has become so acute that, taking their cue from militant homosexuals, sluts now literally organize themselves into parades proclaiming their sluthood. The only way to rid themselves of the unfair and hypocritical stigma associated with their evil behaviour is to shout to the heavens that evil is good and good is evil. Otherwise they’d have to do that whole repentance thing; and what fun is that?

The manosphere, impressed by the unfairness of the double standard and doing its level best to help, has proposed that there actually is a roughly equivalent insult for men: coward. This is a useful comparison in terms of the social sting of the evaluation: a man labeled coward bears an approximately equivalent social sting to a woman labeled slut. It is also useful because sluthood is unladylike behavior and cowardice is unmanly behavior, generally speaking.

But sluthood refers to specific concrete behaviors and attitudes, while cowardice is a much more general category. Furthermore, cowardice is not a specifically sexual behavior. So we may be able to gain a deeper insight into what is going on in the modern dysfunctional intersexual dynamic if we look at the male side of the dance a bit more concretely.

The punch line for those who need a motivation to read my further rambling – or a reason not to – is that from an intersexual behavior standpoint, the male equivalent of a slut is the beta orbiter. Modernity has turned sexuality into a buffet: what used to be a loving commitment for life to a particular person, where sexual intimacy and provision formed the mutual society of a family, has turned into cafeteria sexuality wherein people are encouraged to assemble their ideal virtual mate from the disparate contributions of different real people. Like the slut who gives away her sexuality on the cheap, accepting sexual attention with no commitment or provision, the beta orbiter gives away his provision and commitment without any corresponding receptivity to his sexual attentions.

In what follows I will use the term “sexual attention” to refer to those interactive behaviors wherein a woman takes a man seriously as a potential mate. I will leave it deliberately vague; but it doesn’t have to imply escalation to intrinsically immoral behaviors. As usual on this subject I am attempting to clarify the theory: how well or comprehensively that theory corresponds to reality is something about which I’ve expressed any number of doubts myself, though I do think it is useful as a foundation for discussion.

The theory of hypergamy proposes that the top (say) 20-ish percent of men are more than willing to shower sexual attention on the top (say) 60-ish percent of women[1]. That doesn’t mean that the average male nine is generally willing to marry or commit to the average female six: just that he is willing to give her sexual attention. So at one point in the buffet line the average socially functional female six can scoop some male eight or nine onto her social plate.

Because the modern world is a sexual cafeteria the notion of monogomous pairing in marriage to one partner for life is largely dead, and as a result the modern woman can assemble her ideal virtual man from the disparate contributions of different real men. This results in a situation where most young women find it relatively easy to attract sexual attention “above their marriage grade”. They become accustomed to finding the men actually in their marriage grade unattractive.

Beta orbiting is a male behavior which is symmetrical to slutty female behavior: mirror image graphics could probably be drawn. (I haven’t thought through exactly what they would look like, but if there is interest I may give it a go). The key difference is found in the premise (goes the theory) that women are the gatekeepers of sexual attention, while men are the gatekeepers of commitment and provisioning. In the modern sexual cafeteria attractive women are generally willing to accept some providing attention from less attractive men, while rejecting their sexual attention. Attractive men, on the other hand, are willing to shower sexual attention on less attractive women while rejecting commitment to those less attractive women.

In addition to being a form of lie on the personal level this results in a very dysfunctional social dynamic, especially as virginity-at-marriage becomes almost nonexistent. Women become accustomed to sleeping with men who would never marry them; they find the men who are willing to marry them unattractive. And even when a woman has managed to stay chaste she has become accustomed to getting male sexual attention well above her marriage grade.

What this gets us to is a definition of slutty behavior that doesn’t require a reductionist accounting of certain kinds or numbers of sexual acts, and at the same time is not reducible to some ineffable interior disposition or attitude. Slutty behavior is when a woman accepts sexual attention from a man without any corresponding commitment and provisioning. This raises another interesting point: the female version of caddish behavior is the LJBF (lets just be friends) acceptance of the unrequited attentions of beta orbiters.

Just as the cad doesn’t feel a social sting for having his harem of sluts, LJBF-girl doesn’t feel a social sting for having her harem of beta orbiters. And what follows, I think, is that things will just keep getting worse unless and until fewer women engage in slutty behavior and fewer men engage in beta orbiting behavior. Shaming the cads isn’t going to work.


[1] For the sake of simplicity my graphic only shows a single slice of what is actually a set of multidimensional gradients. The ‘picture’ viewed from the point of view of an average male nine and an average female six will look different from the picture viewed from the perspective of an average male seven and an average female four; but the relative shapes of everything, and the intersexual dynamic it generates, remain more or less how I’ve drawn it.

The camel’s ass, again

March 23, 2013 § 46 Comments

Some folks are up in arms about the European Union’s attack on private property in Cyprus, and a few Internet pundits are updating their “THE END IS NEAR” signs with bigger, bolder fonts.

The Cypriot banking system is an order of magnitude larger than its GDP, largely (I am led to believe — I am certainly no expert on the Cyprus economy) on the back of Russian mafia money and other tax haven activity.  The EU proposed that as a condition of getting EU bailout loans, Cyprus should levy a property tax on “money” deposited there (ahem). The different proposed tax brackets look to me like a rough proxy, targeting mainly foreigners who use the Cypriot system as a tax haven and locals who have profited from that use.

Like every politically expedient proxy it is a blunt instrument.  People buy homes in “senior only” developments to keep out young thugs who tend to be disproportionately of certain races. But because you can’t say that out loud, “no residents under 50 permitted” as an HOA covenant accomplishes the goal without violating PC pieties. This is a rough cut, but it gets the job done while maintaining all the right fictions.

So yes, some “innocents” would probably be caught in the proposed Cypriot property tax net — if Cyprus hadn’t rejected the proposal, that is.  And of course something like it may still happen on that wee Mediterranean isle.

But this hubbub hardly represents the camel’s nose in the tent.  Large swaths of our economy are based on usury, which means that much of what constitutes “property” literally doesn’t exist as an ontologically real thing.  I’ve made an argument that property taxes in general may be intrinsically unjust. I am open to a conclusion that property taxes in general (as opposed to taxes on transactions) are all basically forms of robbery perpetrated by the sovereign. But the notion that this rejected proposal on a small Mediterranean island somehow represents the end of private property is ridiculous: either private property ended long ago, the first time Mom and Pop had to sell the family home to get out from under property tax liabilities that they could not meet, or there is nothing to see here. I am somewhat inclined toward the former view.

Sacrosanct by association

March 22, 2013 § 8 Comments

Back during the Great Torture Debate I recall several times when commenters claimed that if waterboarding prisoners is torture and torture is intrinsically immoral, it would somehow cause a personal crisis of faith.  The idea seemed to be that if those of us who opposed torture didn’t tone it down we were going to drive torture-sympathetic people away from the Church; therefore we should shut up.

Over at Catholic and Enjoying It there was recently some discussion of Ann Barnhardt’s political, economic, and religious punditry.  A commenter claimed (I won’t link because I don’t want to make this about that person specifically) that reading Barnhardt’s economic commentary was a first stepping stone to him finding apologetic material which led to him personally joining the Church.  Criticism of Barnhardt’s writing, then – and he was explicit on this point – was tantamount to telling him that he should have stayed a Protestant.

I’ve pointed out before that there is more than one form of ad hominem fallacy, the fallacy of truth-status-by-association.  Ad hominem most commonly takes the form “Bob is a bad man, therefore his statement is false,”  which everyone recognizes to be baloney: bad men make true statements all the time.  But we are more prone to fall for it it when it takes the form “Bob is a good man, therefore his statement is true”.   If we maintain that the statement is false in the face of this contention, it is implied that we are saying that Bob isn’t a good man; and who are we to judge him?

But we shouldn’t allow falsehood to establish itself through this subterfuge.  If the statement is false, it is false: it doesn’t matter who is saying it or how great a guy he happens to be. We aren’t doing anyone any favors by pretending otherwise.  Fornication is unequivocal wickedness.  A new child conceived in sin is a wonderful, unequivocal good: the child, not the sin.  That God makes good come from evil does not license us to call good evil and evil good.

We live in a fallen world, so anyone other than the Blessed Virgin and Christ Himself who has gotten anywhere good has taken some evil paths along the way.  It is great if something happened to be a stepping stone toward the good for a particular person; but that doesn’t sanctify it (whatever “it” may be).  Our obligations are to what is good, true, and beautiful.

The “sacrosanct by association” maneuver doesn’t serve the good, the true, and the beautiful.  It serves what is evil, false, and ugly by shielding them from the light of truth.  So we shouldn’t do it ourselves, and we shouldn’t give it a pass when others do it.

With friends like these …

March 16, 2013 § 18 Comments

So we’ve learned a few things about our new Pope.  It helps that I knew literally nothing to start with; so that has given me the opportunity to pick out some high level basics which especially shine through when both his admirers and detractors agree.

For example, we’ve learned that Pope Francis is not an economic libertarian.  All the right people are screaming that he is a “socialist” or has been overly influenced by liberation theology, even though, as a prominent South American cleric, he has always overtly distanced himself from the movement.  My long time readers know that I take all that to be a good thing.  Real Communists and Socialists exist, of course; but when people who define the set of all non-Randians as “Socialists” start raving about you it at least shows that you have some of the right enemies.

Apparently a loud (but who knows how large, small, or representative) mob of liturgical traditionalists think the election of Pope Francis is a disaster, because (the story goes) he sabotaged the implementation of Summorum Pontificum in his own diocese in Buenos Aires.   I’m not going to link to comboxes full of vitriol at our new Pope, and I don’t know what the true story is, but I’ve had to provide leadership to fairly small groups of unruly opinionated people myself.   The impression the combox warriors are making on me – though of course I’m just one guy of no particular note – is that there definitely exist groups of liturgical traditionalists who need to be smacked around and kept in line, good and hard.  Not that liturgical trads want my advice or anything, but this was probably a “better to be silent and thought an ass than to open your mouth and remove all doubt” moment.

I know there are lots of good liturgical trads out there with a strong devotion to the Extraordinary Form, that Benedict’s reign has been a wonderful breath of fresh air on that front, and that some trepidation about a new Pope is perfectly natural.   I expect those folks wish more than anyone else that they could press a “shut up” button that works on their “friends”.


March 15, 2013 § 151 Comments

A number of years ago I walked into an employee’s office to find that an anonymous someone had written a bit of satire about the executive team on the white board.  One of our senior vice presidents was a real force of nature, a source of primal energy to be channeled but never fully tamed or harnessed, and famous for making snap judgements. Next to her name was the word “Fire!” Next to my name was “Ready, Fire!”  While doubtless amusing to the person who wrote it and his snickering compatriots, I take the criticism seriously as a valid third party impression of the way I tend to work.  I have no doubt that I sometimes drive people crazy with my penchant to charge in and start swinging, or to say something or make a decision which leaves everyone in the room speechless.

So I’m not really the reserved type who will sit there and go “Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, ZZZzzzz …”

But I don’t have anything to say about our new Holy Father other than may God bless him; that I find the choice of “Francis” quite touching; and that his displays of humility are very … encouraging isn’t quite the right word, but it is a cognate. Literally every single thing I’ve learned about him I learned after watching him emerge on the balcony the other day; and that has been from media and on-line sources which are scrambling to mark whatever hydrants suit their territorial imperatives.

By the way, do people who take this raging little woman seriously have any idea how ridiculous it makes them look?

The curious case of Matthew 19:9

March 8, 2013 § 23 Comments

And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery. – Matthew 19:9

In the comments below, Proph asks:

I’d be interested, Zippy, in your thoughts on the passage commonly cited by Prots (in Matt. 19:9) suggesting that Jesus OKs divorce in cases of adultery. It’s an oddly worded passage and I cannot accept this interpretation since it conflicts with so many other, less ambiguous passages (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:10-11, Romans 7:2-3, Luke 16:18, Mark 10:2-12), but I’m not sure how to properly read it.

At the outset I need to be very clear that I address this question thinking (to the best of my limited ability) like a Catholic. The Apostolic Church which actually collected and brought us the Scriptures, testifying as to which particular documents, out of the large body of them floating around in early Christianity, are authentically inspired – and which are not – is an absolute necessity in order to extract consistent, definite, unequivocal doctrinal meaning from the Scriptures at all. It isn’t my intention here to argue against sola scriptura; but I take it as a given that sola scriptura is false in what follows. The Church has had to solve all sorts of detailed problems with respect to marriage which are not addressed in Scripture: e.g., what to do in the case of a pagan barbarian who has seven wives in a remote land, converts to Christianity and is baptized, and is unable to return to his homeland without being beheaded; or what precisely constitutes valid consummation of marriage in the case of men who have been involuntarily sterilized by some tyrannical authority. Good luck finding definite, unequivocal, inarguable answers to those questions in the text of canonical Scripture and only the text of canonical Scripture.

Moving on to Proph’s question, we note that Church teaching on whether divorce and remarriage is possible when a spouse commits adultery is very clear, at the highest level of Magisterial authority:

If anyone says that the Church is in error for having taught and for still teaching that in accordance with the evangelical and apostolic doctrine [cf. Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Mk 10:11f.; Lk 16:18; 1 Cor 7:11], the marriage bond cannot be dissolved because of adultery on the part of one of the spouses and that neither of the two, not even the innocent one who has given no cause for infidelity, can contract another marriage during the lifetime of the other; and that the husband who dismisses an adulterous wife and marries again and the wife who dismisses an adulterous husband and marries again are both guilty of adultery, let him be anathema. – Canon 7, Council of Trent, Session 24, November 11, 1563 (Denzinger)

However, it is important to note that in the taxonomy of marriage, sacramental Christian marriage between baptized followers of Christ is not the only kind of marriage. Marriages among pagans are also true marriages; they are in fact not dissoluble by the civil power (as a morally licit act under natural law), but in certain cases they are dissoluble by ecclesial power (an obvious case here is a pagan with multiple wives who wants to become a baptized Christian). They are not, however, sacramental marriages, because the sacraments apply to the baptized. Therefore Divine law with respect to ‘natural’ marriages differs from Divine law with respect to sacramental marriages:

We, therefore, responding to your inquiry, in conformity with the advice of Our brothers, even though one of Our predecessors [Celestine III] seems to have thought otherwise, make a distinction between two cases: when there are two unbelievers and one converts to the Catholic faith, or when there are two believers and one lapses into heresy or falls into the error of the heathens. For if, indeed, one of the two unbelieving spouses converts to the Catholic faith, and the other does not wish to live together in any manner, or at least not without blaspheming the divine name or leading the other into mortal sin, the one who is abandoned, if wishing to, may enter into a second marriage, and in this case, We understand what was said by the apostle: “If the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so: in such cases, the brother or sister is not bound” [1 Cor 7:15]. And likewise, the canon that says: “The insult to the Creator dissolves the juridical bond of marriage for the one who is thus abandoned.” [Cf. Gratian, Decretum, P. II, cs. 28, q. 2, c. 2 (Frdb 1:1090]

But if one of the believing spouses either falls into heresy or lapses into the error of the heathens, we do not believe that in this case the abandoned one can enter into a second marriage while the other spouse is living, even though in this case a greater insult to the Creator may be evident. For even if, in fact, a true marriage exists between unbelievers, it is still not ratified. Between believers, however, a true and ratified marriage exists, because the sacrament of faith (baptism) once conferred is never lost, and indeed it makes the sacrament of marriage ratified so that the marriage itself endures in the spouses as long as the baptism endures. – Pope Innocent III, Quanto te magis, letter to Bishop Ugo of Ferrara, May 1, 1199 (Denzinger)

And for good measure:

And if this stability seems to be open to exception, however rare the exception may be, as in the case of certain natural marriages between unbelievers, or amongst Christians in the case of those marriages which though valid have not been consummated, that exception does not depend on the will of men nor on that of any merely human power, but on divine law, of which the only guardian and interpreter is the Church of Christ. However, not even this power can ever affect for any cause whatsoever a Christian marriage which is valid and has been consummated, for as it is plain that here the marriage contract has its full completion, so, by the will of God, there is also the greatest firmness and indissolubility which may not be destroyed by any human authority. – Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubi

In conclusion: there is an awful lot to say about marriage – both as sacrament and as natural law bond between a man and a woman – which is not recorded explicitly and in detail in the Gospels. And there are certainly places within the permutation space of true statements about marriage where that one seemingly innocuous clause in the Gospel of Matthew might legitimately apply, without casting the slightest doubt upon the exceptionless indissolubility of valid sacramental Christian marriages.

(NOTE: This is a useful resource on the nuts and bolts of the question).

There are no time machines

March 8, 2013 § 5 Comments

It seems that many people think that the difference between a contract and a covenant is that a contract is reversible by mutual consent.

This view is mistaken.  It is true that some contracts are reversible by mutual consent.  But the vast majority of them are not.  Most of them reach a point of consummation, after which they are no longer reversible.

Once the meal has been eaten, it has been eaten.

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