Those who live by postmodern word games will die by postmodern word games

May 28, 2014 § 9 Comments

In the comments below, we are told that race is as arbitrary as the color shirt that a person chooses to wear:

Let us suppose you define the horrible evil sin of greenism, which is defined as doing evil while wearing a green shirt.

This is actually a poor analogy to racism.  A better analogy to racism would be committing unjust acts against people because of the color shirt they are wearing.  This kind of “greenism” or “shirt colorism” is not an anti-concept: it is perfectly intelligible.  But it is rather arbitrary because people don’t generally do this in reality; whereas people actually do sometimes commit injustices against each other because of (motivated by) race.

Notice though that the idea of “greenism” (whether the original or in the form better analogous to racism) agrees with liberalism that race is entirely arbitrary and vacuous: it is no more meaningful than the color shirt someone is wearing.

So much for “human biodiversity”.

Why is race such a “thing” in modernity?

May 27, 2014 § 42 Comments

I propose two possible reasons:

1) For liberals race is a natural group distinction – an inequality – which cannot be washed off in the shower or changed at will.  So it represents a constant personal intimate nagging reminder that we are not atomized free and equal individuals self-created through reason and will: a reminder that liberalism is in conflict with reality.

2) For neoreactionaries race provides a center of putatively illiberal ‘loyalty’ which, unlike traditional centers of loyalty such as family, church and country, does not require anything of us personally and therefore does not encroach upon our unfettered freedom.

Is neoreaction a form of postmodernity?

May 24, 2014 § 202 Comments

The modern world is pervasively characterized by the nothing-buttery I broadly call positivism.

Scientism (scientific positivism) proposes that RealTrue[tm] knowledge is nothing but what can be verified using scientific methods: other kinds of knowledge may exist, but they are inferior and in practice can be dismissed as irrelevant. Liberalism (a particular kind of political positivism, though not the only kind) proposes that legitimate authority is nothing but what promotes and protects freedom and equal rights: other kinds of “authority” may exist in a non-normative sense, but they (contra reality) have no teeth, and indeed must be made to have no teeth.  Behaviorism proposes to reduce the human experience to nothing but observable behaviors. Nominalism proposes that there are no meaningful universals or essences, so language is nothing but the arbitrary use of arbitrary names, and what words mean is exhaustively characterized by analyzing their function in communities: meaning is verified by (and is nothing but) linguistic usage.

Whenever we see claims that the meaning of something is nothing but what is revealed by some verification procedure or functional manifestation, we should suspect that positivism is in play.

There is a broad perception that postmodernism is the opposite of scientistic positivism, since the scientistic view is frequently seen as in conflict with the postmodern view.  Notice though that this is quite similar to the false perception that right-liberalism is the opposite of left-liberalism, rather than both being instances of the same kind of thing.  Notice also that unprincipled exceptions are the rule here: no sane human being can function in general as a nothing-buttery positivist; so the ‘tools’ of positivism are deployed selectively, and exceptions abound as long as we take care not to permit the exceptions to challenge the dogma.  (In general we need to be very suspicious of ‘one drop’ justifications of things: if ‘one drop’ of truth represented by ‘moderation‘ and unprincipled exceptions constitutes defense of an idea then the fact that the Nazis cared for their own children justifies Nazism).

Finally, notice that different kinds of modern ideologues are always (falsely) accusing their own close cousins of insincerity with respect to fundamental principles: this is precisely because, although they actually are committed to the same fundamental principles, they have adopted different baskets of unprincipled exceptions. If you want to know what people sincerely think, you just have to listen to what they say and watch what they do.  Yes, people lie; but in general, conspiracies that involve more than a few people are not sustainable and we can know what most people really do think just by asking them.

Now postmodernism isn’t all that different from the positivism it supposedly despises, just as progressive leftism isn’t all that different from the classical liberalism (or even the national socialism) it supposedly despises.  If meaning is nothing but how language functions in a community (ahem) then meaning disappears, and all we are left with is a power struggle of arbitrary “narratives”.

Postmodernism isn’t a rejection of modernity; it is an agree-and-amplify.

I am not familiar enough with neoreaction to be able to say whether it is or is not intrinsically postmodern.  But I am starting to get the impression that even if it isn’t intrinsically postmodern, it is certainly deeply infected by postmodernity.

Appropriate to recent discussions of racism (see here and here), I’ll leave you with an example of how a political reactionary can be against liberal propaganda and at the same time can avoid going down the postmodern language-power-narrative-propaganda rat hole (assuming he actually wants to avoid that, as opposed to seeing it as a virtue).  It is for example possible to generally oppose the use of the term racism without the self-immolation involved in contending that “racism” is an anti-concept and that thinking of black people as the moral equivalent of pets isn’t racist.

I myself have been contending for years that folks really should avoid using the term “rights” as much as possible because of the function that the word tends to perform in liberal society.  I could I suppose have further claimed – and perhaps built an historical argument –  that because of its etymology, the term “rights” has generally been used more as liberal propaganda than for anything else.  But I don’t bother to do that because the etymology and social function do not destroy the concept of rights: they do not reduce “rights” to nothing but an anti-concept.

“Rights” really do mean something: rights refer to a kind of discriminating authority, and if I made the postmodern move of pretending that the term means nothing at all, or is nothing but its behavioral function in society – if I denied that “rights” have an essence – it would become impossible to understand, let alone criticize, liberalism.

Nominalism intellectually castrates the nominalist, and to the extent neoreaction is postmodern it has already been neutered by modernity as a force for the good, the true, and the beautiful.

I suggested at one point that the “noble lie” of zero group differences is powerful because modern people viscerally understand that it is the only thing that stands between the modern liberal free and equal superman and the nazi. The propagation of the ideas that torture and racism are anti-concepts seem to support my view.

It is a bad news good news thing

May 17, 2014 § 33 Comments

In my previous post I made the radical offhand observation that Christianity really, actually is good news to those who hear it.

Christians are puzzled about how to convince modern man that Christianity is good news.  But the reason modern man does not see Christianity as good news is because modern man has become very, very good at hiding from bad news. I will argue that this is not really a problem for Christians interested in evangelizing modern man though, and does not require that Christians engage in any clever marketing or propaganda strategies or other lies-of-omission in order to get to a “baptism close” (or even a “keep coming to Mass and putting money in the plate” close).

I am going to do the traditional thing and talk about the bad news first.

The reason that Christians don’t have to teach modern man the bad news that he doesn’t want to hear is because, as much as he may try, modern man cannot escape the bad news.  That cloud on the horizon that modern man tries very hard to ignore is going to get here, no matter what; and the timing and precise conditions of its arrival are in God’s hands not ours.

The bad news is that suffering and death are coming, and there is no way to stop them.  The even worse news is that we deserve it.

Christianity has the good news, is the Good News, and I (literally) cannot summarize it.  But Christ loves you personally, and all the bad news amounts to nothing next to being the disciple Jesus loves for eternity.  (Naturally loving Him in return means that we will truly want to know what pleases and offends Him and act accordingly, not live in some deceived or immoral state where we do things offensive to Him without ever so much as being sorry for it).

But those whose ears are not thirsty for the Good News right now are absolutely guaranteed to be thirsty for Good News at some point. What precisely that point happens to be for individual people is entirely in the hands of Providence, not us.

So our job qua small-e evangelical Christians is to proclaim the Good News, in and out of season, in as plain and clear and honest terms as possible, so that those who are thirsty for it will hear it. (Possibly even to use words to do so when absolutely necessary). And it is especially important to proclaim the Good News to those who are thirsty for it right now: for those who know and are experiencing the bad news: the tired, the poor, the hungry, the sick, the repentant, etc.

But here is the thing: I don’t think it is our job, nor do I even think it is possible, for us to make people who are not thirsty, thirsty.

Marketing the new iChrist 7s

May 17, 2014 § 20 Comments

Personally I think just telling the truth in and out of season is better than trying to treat Christ as a marketing project. The Good News actually is Good News, after all.

But That’s Just Me [tm], and I seem to be in a small minority. Most folks seem to think that we need to Game people into becoming Christians (or better Christians).

Why I am anti-anti-concept and you should be too

May 15, 2014 § 69 Comments

The concept of an “anti-concept” has come up in any number of discussions over the years (e.g. see here), most famously when a commenter at Mark Shea’s claimed that torture isn’t really a thing: it is just a meaningless anti-concept used to express the disapproval of the speaker.

The latest real thing to be cast as an anti-concept is racism: the assertion is that racism isn’t really anything at all, it is just an epithet expressing the disapproval of the person uttering it.  This is supported by an appeal to etymology, as if we are supposed to accept the nominalist presupposition that the essence of something is brought into being by the coining of a term.

The basic idea seems to be that in order to defeat liberalism we have to become even more postmodern ourselves. Liberalism is good at telling lies and spreading propaganda, so we need to learn how to play the same language games that modernity plays in order to “win”.

But of course racism really is (and quite manifestly) a thing.  If it weren’t a thing then propagandists wouldn’t have any reason to anchor their propaganda to it. Furthermore, anyone who cannot see racism in (say) a group of black thugs beating a white man to death while shouting “cracker” at him, or in a group of white slavers burning an “uppity nigger” alive, is a moral imbecile utterly incapable of even having a discussion about reality.

So the main reason to be anti-anti-concept is because the proposal that torture, racism, misogyny, and even homophobia are anti-concepts is false.  Even a term like homophobia, which is used almost exclusively as propaganda – that is, as a building block for telling lies – refers to a real thing with an essence.

So my advice is to stop layering more bricks on the Tower of Babel in the vain hope of “winning”.

Babel rising

May 13, 2014 § 82 Comments

Statistically speaking, I’d guess that when someone in our modern culture uses the word “racism” in a discussion to accuse someone else of racism the odds are better than even that I would substantively agree with the position of the accused not the accuser.

That doesn’t mean that racism isn’t real or isn’t morally wrong.  Racism is a real thing, and it is morally wrong.

But as a matter of how the word gets used statistically in conversation I am these days more likely to agree with the accused than with the accuser, because the function of the word in the discussion is as a kind of talisman or incantation to tarnish a particular point of view as beyond the pale.  And since “beyond the pale” these days tends to mean “not authentically liberal enough”, ceteris paribus I am more likely to be in substantive agreement with the illiberal point of view than the liberal point of view.

There are plenty of words like this, and they multiply and proliferate as our nominalist society attempts to win cultural territory through the conquest of language.  “Misogynist”.  “Unpatriotic”.  Heck, even “homophobic”, although I don’t think I’ve ever met a bona fide homophobe.

There is probably even a word for this kind of word, though I am not hipster enough to know it offhand.  And even if you told it to me, what guarantee is there that we could even understand each other?

Fertile discussion

May 9, 2014 § 78 Comments

In the comments below, CJ writes:

Also, (I’d like Zippy or someone else to correct me if I’m wrong), but even if a woman had a hysterectomy to remove, say, a cancerous uterus, the surgery itself would be licit under double effect, but subsequent intercourse would be sinful.

As with many things I think the Catholic answer is that there is no one-and-done Catholic answer: that is, there is a range of theological opinion which is consistent with doctrine.  That doesn’t mean that there is no right answer.  It just means that the Magisterium of the Church has not officially defined, as doctrine, specifically what the right answer happens to be in the detailed cases under consideration.

My own personal view encompasses a “range within the range” (with all the usual caveats: I’m just some guy who happens to be Catholic). My views are considered pretty hard core, but they are not as ‘strict’ as what CJ suggests. In my view the principle of double-effect for the most part does not enter into it, since we are working with questions of intrinsic morality.  The principle of double-effect only apples to questions of extrinsic morality, when the behaviors in question are morally neutral in themselves qua chosen behaviors.

A person can be dealing with any of three different factual situations: (1) naturally fertile organs, (2) accidentally infertile/diseased/mutilated organs, or (3) deliberately mutilated organs which were healthy prior to the deliberate mutilation. “Accidental” here refers to the choices of the person whose body it is: forced sterilization by a government or whatever is ‘accidental’ in the morally pertinent sense, as is disease and, uh, accident.  It is important to keep in mind that a purely physical description of the objective physical facts fails to encompass a moral description of the morally pertinent objective facts.

Case (2) breaks down further, because in some cases (2a) diseased organs threaten a woman’s health no matter what she does (cancer, say) and in others (2b) they do not threaten her health unless she becomes pregnant. Assume the diseased organ has been removed — an assumption to which we shall return.

Case (3) breaks down further into situations where the person has made a bona fide attempt to reverse his self-mutilation (3a) and cases where he has not (3b).

My present view is that (married, obviously) sexual relations are definitely and unquestionably licit in cases (1) and (2a) (directly contrary to CJ’s impression). I don’t have a strong view of whether relations are morally licit in cases (2b) and (3a) (the ‘hard cases’ if you will), and I am pretty certain that relations are illicit in case 3b.  (It is this latter conclusion that makes some folks consider my views “hard core” or rigorous, sometimes incorrectly characterized as rigorist or physicalist).

(2b) is a ‘hard case’ because it is pregnancy itself which is a threat to the mother’s health, not the diseased organ. The real issue is whether it is morally licit to remove the diseased organ in the first place.  It is not in fact a healthy organ, which suggests that it is licit to remove it. It is not however a threat to health in itself if left alone, which suggests that it is an illicit self-mutilation to remove it. I relate to the inclination toward the former, because removing a diseased but non-threatening organ does not strike me intuitively as ‘self-mutilation’ in the same sense as removing a healthy organ.  It bears passing similarity to the situation when nuns who are at risk of rape use contraception.   But I am uneasy with any definite, categorical conclusion in this far corner of the casuistry; possibly because different concrete cases might have to be broken down further.

And that’s OK, because we don’t have to have definite answers to every question in order to have definite answers to some questions.

If we don’t raise taxes that’s a “tax cut”

May 3, 2014 § 54 Comments

Folks are always trying to pretend that “opportunity costs” are real.  Opportunity costs aren’t real.  Opportunity costs are by definition an imaginary exercise in what might (or might not) have happened if we had chosen a different course of action from the one we actually did choose.

At the fork in the road before we make an actual choice, our imagination can be helpful.  We can tell stories about what might happen in the future under various scenarios, and try to make better choices after reflecting on those imaginary stories about possible futures.

But the temptation to treat these imaginary stories – and associated “opportunity costs” – as if they are actually real is very strong, and as a subtle kind of lie this temptation frequently leads unwary moderns like us astray.

Once you’ve seen this kind of rationalization in one place you’ll start to notice it everywhere.

Murdering civilians in wartime, it is thought, must not be judged apart from “opportunity cost”: the quantitative consequences of incinerating two cities filled with civilians using atomic bombs has to be compared to the “opportunity cost” of an imaginary land invasion and all of the imaginary consequences that flow, in the fictional story, from the fictional invasion.  Divorcing her husband was necessary because of the imaginary life of misery for herself (and her husband and children, because if Momma ain’t happy nobody’s happy) in the fictional story of the imaginary future in which she had actually kept her vows.  Charging profitable interest on a full-recourse loan (usury) was justified because in an imaginary alternate reality the lender could have invested in something profitable.  In the Jerry Bruckheimer film I imagine in my mind, failing to torture terrorist captives led to mass murder and destruction in Los Angeles.  Joining Team Litterbug was justified because heck, in the story I told in my head I actually won the lottery and lived happily ever after.

Our imaginations are powerful things, and when they are made unequivocally subservient to the moral law they can be a very good thing.  But we must never be fooled into thinking that something imaginary out of a fictional story we tell about something that didn’t happen – something  like “opportunity cost” – can justify choosing concretely evil actions.

So don’t play the part of the modernist chump who can’t distinguish between fiction and reality.   Always do what is upright and morally good, and let imagined realities that might come to pass if we choose evil stay in the realm of fiction, where they belong.  The future isn’t in our hands anyway; it is in the hands of Providence.

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