Capitulation to revision

January 30, 2016 § 1 Comment

I’ve made a few more revisions to the Usury FAQ, adding questions 50 and 51. (UPDATE: and now 52, as well as some tweaks here and there which have been eating at the back of my brain for a while).

The ebook has not been updated, and I don’t know if or when I will get around to doing so.  This is all material we’ve gone over since I published the combined ebook-and-online-FAQ last year, but this way the new material is consolidated into the online FAQ.  I thought the consolidation of new material into the FAQ itself was worth allowing the two versions get out of sync, at least for the time being.

The time value of prison sentences

January 29, 2016 § 1 Comment

I’ve added a new question and answer to the end of the Usury FAQ.  The ebook (as usual I am afraid) has not been updated.

49) Is it acceptable for a merchant to charge penalties for late payment?

It is certainly morally acceptable for genuine victims of fraud or theft to be compensated for their losses. A buyer of products or services who is able to pay but refuses to pay when those products or services have been received has committed an act of theft or fraud. A buyer who is not able to pay but pretends to be able is likewise committing theft or fraud.

A trickier case is when a merchant extends credit and allows a buyer to pay later. If the ‘buyer’ is an institution and the security on commercial credit is the balance sheet of an institution, this is not a mutuum loan so the usury prohibition does not apply. If the buyer is an individual who is personally guaranteeing payment to the merchant, this is a mutuum loan and the prohibition of usury does apply. This gives rise to two possible cases. In one case the buyer is able to pay on time but refuses. In the other case the buyer has suffered some catastrophe and is unable to pay. The former is theft or fraud; the latter is business misfortune, a risk associated with doing business. If the merchant does not have proper security in place then he should absorb the loss until the buyer is able to pay, and should not insist on any penalty above the amount owed. If the merchant does not want to be exposed to those kinds of losses he can arrange for some kind of security (claims against specified property) or he can require payment on delivery instead of extending credit.

My own tentative view is that theft and fraud should generally involve criminal conviction and penalties of some sort, not merely compensation of the victim at the level of tort, because theft and fraud harm the common good not just the victim. One way they harm the common good is by opening the door to various kinds of ‘hidden usury’ — thief and ‘victim’ in collusion attempt to get around the prohibition of usury, by creating a situation in which the borrower ‘defrauds’ the lender, wink wink, so the borrower owes a penalty in addition to the principal. Collusion in faux-theft in order to produce penalties under the legal system – hidden usury – would simply make both parties guilty.

If this seems severe, consider that stealing a pack of gum is criminal theft, because stealing harms not just the victim but the common good. Categorizing it as criminal does not really say anything about the severity of the offense in a specific case; it merely acknowledges the harm to the common good in addition to the victim, or the defrauding of the sovereign by the parties in collusion. A discussion of crime versus tort is beyond the scope of the present FAQ, but it is sufficient to point out that ‘hidden usury’ in this kind of case involves a conspiracy between borrower and lender to falsify an act of fraud so that the legal system will enforce a penalty.


January 28, 2016 § 3 Comments

A number of cranky-pants folks got rather wound up when I pointed out that alcohol is safer than psychotropic drugs, specifically because we have solid believable objective public knowledge about alcohol. Everyone knows that alcohol is a dangerous, mood altering and physically impairing drug which can destroy your life and the lives of your victims, and that it can be horrifically addictive. Nobody is going to believably pressure you to keep drinking alcohol if the benefits of drinking are outweighed by its detriments. We’ve got thousands of years of experience with the stuff. No industry or corporation or marketing campaign or question-begging monomanical theory backed by billions of pharma dollars can make us forget what we already know about alcohol.

That is what makes responsible drinking possible.

It is also what makes prescription drugs so much more lucrative.

Prescription drugs are much more dangerous than alcohol, perhaps innately but without question because of social context. You have to count on your dealer and his supplier to watch out for your best interests, as you doff your cap to the medical aristocracy.

That doesn’t always work out so well.

48 on the fifth

January 28, 2016 § 3 Comments

I added Question 48 to the Usury FAQ.  A number of times folks have cited the Fifth Lateran Council as casting doubt on whether things like fixed income investments for profit (e.g. corporate bonds) can ever be morally licit.  I briefly explain why the Fifth Lateran formula does not conflict with Vix Pervenit and the other Magisterial documents I have cited.

I have not updated the ebook.

Greek word salad with crotons

January 28, 2016 § 2 Comments

Around here we like to argue about basic errors which can interfere with our capacity to think clearly about reality, or even to think about reality at all — as opposed to being trapped in the storybook carnival of the post-cartesian mind.

Admittedly it is gratifying to be a character in our own stories, because – as the supreme author of our own stories – it lets us play God. That gratification has a shelf life though, because the real world is not something we are actually able to escape.  Even suicide simply accelerates our encounter with the Most Real of All Actual Things.

One of the most common ways we avoid conclusions we don’t like is to stop thinking about whatever subject gives rise to those conclusions. And one of the simplest ways to inspire quietism in folks with a conservative disposition is to give them examples from antiquity: to show that, whether X is good or evil, it has been with us in some more or less nascent form always. There is nothing new under the sun.

If X has ancient roots then it cannot be some new and dire wickedness perpetrated by modernity in unprecedented ways and on unprecedented scales. Sin has been with us since well before modern times; so blaming sin on modernity is pish posh. There is no point in opposing it, and certainly there is no reason to attribute it to modernity. Go back to sleep, child.

Conversely, the unique atrocities of modernity cannot be attributed to X if X is found to have ancient roots. Modern atrocities must have some other cause. If liberalism has ancient roots it is sacred; the unique wickednesses of modernity must be attributable to something else.

The great thing about the claim that there is nothing new under the sun is that it is mostly true, as long as we don’t take it too seriously. No reasonably informed person would deny that modern political insanity has some roots in ancient Greece, for example. They teach us that it does in grade school, or at least they did when I was in grade school, and they aren’t wrong about the lineage. They are just wrong about what is substantively good and bad about it all. Democritus was a Greek, after all. The Greeks had parasites and disease too.

“Nothing new under the sun” is often just a rhetorical device to say, in different words, “nothing to see, move along”, “see no evil”, or “lets just all stop thinking and talking about this.”

It is worth applying some introspection to that particular rhetorical device.

The roots of feminism (just as an example) could be similarly historically traced and tendentiously argued. So nothing to see, move along. “This feminism thing has always existed alongside patriarchy, and the feminists – the right kind of feminists – always had the better argument.”

As with nominalism and in some ways related to it, once we concede the metaphysical frame we have already fallen on our swords and might as well not talk about anything at all. Feminism, you see, means just what I say it means, nothing more, nothing less. It is just the acknowledgement that women are people too. By definition it has no connection to atrocity.  Christian Game, I mean feminism, is the good kind of feminism. By definition anything bad about feminism doesn’t belong in Christian feminism, so opposing feminism in general can only amount to disagreement about definitions.

If our goal is quietist capitulation to evil we’ll be receptive to nominalism and arguments from antiquity which purport to excuse or downplay the wickedness of modernity or certain sacred doctrines of modernity. That’s fine I suppose; as long as we don’t object to our minds being covered in filth, infected with disease, and peppered with parasites.

Some folks do mind that though. We all run through the modernist weeds every day: even the Amish can’t fully escape it. For those of us who don’t want to wake up with our minds covered in blood sucking parasites it does not seem out of bounds to suggest regular tick checks, to see what we might have picked up, before heading off to sleep.

On doffing your hat to artificial intelligence

January 26, 2016 § 24 Comments

We shall begin with the words of the Prophet Rush:

When they turn the pages of history
When these days have passed long ago
Will they read of us with sadness
For the seeds that we let grow?
We turned our gaze
From the castles in the distance
Eyes cast down
On the path of least resistance

Many modern people are waiting in joyful hope for the coming of artificial intelligence. I’m not especially worried about Skynet taking over the world any time soon given that the current state of the art in AI, with all of the best minds and the most resources behind it, is the autocorrect feature on my phone. But many people seem to actually crave the emergence of AI.

Now that we’ve well and truly said farewell to kings, no man has the right to rule over other men. If another man has a genuine right to rule over us that makes us less than fully human. The justification of political power is that legitimate exercise of political power makes sure that nobody can tell anyone else what to do.

Nature and basic rationality beg to differ, so human authority does not disappear: it merely becomes sociopathic, ‘justified’ by consequentialism and other lies, as we attempt to replace human authority with neutral mechanical procedures. The telos of rule by neutral mechanical procedures is all nations kneeling before the great AI singularity.

Whether the superman will actually succeed, for certain values of ‘succeed’, in creating his god is I suppose open to debate. The future is not set, there is no fate, blah blah blah.

But adopting modern teleology does guarantee one thing: the results for those who adopt it will be inhuman.

The daycare fractal of modern politics

January 24, 2016 § 24 Comments

The premodern politics of Christendom was a fractal of the family.

Modern liberal politics is a fractal of daycare. This facelessness of rule is supposed to be a good thing, because doffing your cap to a king makes you less than human.

Modern politics enforces freedom on everyone, telling everyone what they have to do in order to make sure that nobody gets to tell anyone else what to do.  The result is imprisonment in a comprehensively micromanaged hive, along with the relentless destruction of all virtue. Awareness of even the most basic virtue and vice is flushed down the memory hole, and evil becomes the new good.

Premodern politics expected virtue of everyone. As with all merely human expectations of virtue, this expectation was often founded in an incorrect understanding of morality or was simply hypocritical. The result was a mix of virtue and vice.

Those who make freedom the goal of politics, in so doing, craft a monolithic all-encompassing tyranny.  Those who make virtue the goal of politics don’t achieve it universally, but they make it possible for more people. And those who actually achieve virtue have a kind of freedom as their prize: because the virtuous man always desires the good, and it is always possible to do good and avoid evil.

Successful reference and the Flying Spaghetti Monster

January 20, 2016 § 73 Comments

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is a reference to God. Indeed that is its very point: to craft a blasphemous and silly concept of God as a rhetorical way of trying to justify disbelief in Him. It wouldn’t be blasphemy if it weren’t referencing God.

I think there are a lot of people who are successfully referencing God who will be, in the long run, quite surprised at the consequences of their success in referencing God.

Your counterfactual ideas are fantastic

January 20, 2016 § 9 Comments

One way to be an Aristotlean-Thomist is to understand AT metaphysics as consistent and complete. If you aren’t a positivist though then seeing ‘consistent and complete’ together like that ought to make you chamber a round. If Aristotlean metaphysical theory is in any sense consistent then it cannot at the same time be formal and complete.  If it is not formal then the symbols and grammar have to have epistemic wiggle room: the meanings of words and rules of inference themselves have to be allowed to shift around from one thing to another in a literally unspecified and unspecifiable way.  This is basically the same as being inconsistent.

If AT metaphysics is not complete that just means that there are metaphysical truths that it doesn’t capture. Modern people find the idea of there being truths within the domain of a theory that the theory doesn’t capture rather alarming. But I’m not a positivist, so what modern people find alarming is just what I expect to be the case.

So when I say I am not an Aristotlean part of what I really mean by that is that I am not an Aristotlean in a positivistic sense. And that is because I am not a positivist in any sense.  It is possible to take any theory as positivistic: as a “theory of everything” within the domain it covers. This is always a basic epistemic error, for any sufficiently interesting subject about actual reality. The relationship between theory and reality is inherently non-positivistic.

One of the things I think Aristotle gets right at a high level is his conceptual understanding of act and potency: of actual things, and the real potentials these actual things have to transform or move into other things or states. If a boulder sits on top of the mountain then the potential to roll to the bottom of the north side of the mountain, and at the same time the potential to roll to the bottom of the south side of the mountain, really do exist in that boulder. Real potentials inhere in actual things. In addition, if the boulder ends up at the bottom of the north side of the mountain it remains true that the boulder really did used to have the potential to roll down the south side of the mountain: a potential it no longer has.

Human beings have imaginations which allow us to conceive of counterfactuals. Sometimes the counterfactuals pertain to things which really could have been but now cannot be. Sometimes they pertain to things which may come to pass in the future. But often they are merely stories – stories like my boulder and mountain, which may illustrate a point about reality but which do not refer to actual reality.

So to Aristotle’s act and potency we should probably add fantasy: that is, made up stories about ‘things’ which are really concepts. Whatever we may think of concepts – and as a mild sort of Platonist I am likely to grant them more reality in some senses than you are, if you are a typical post cartesian modern – it is clear that concepts and actual reality are not the same. A concept of a boulder is not itself an actual boulder.

And at the root of recent controversies over making reference to ‘the same God'[*] lies, in my view, an incapacity to distinguish fantastic reality from actual reality.

[*] See here, here, and here.


A parable: feeding the One Bob

January 19, 2016 § 20 Comments

Suppose there is only one Bob.  Suppose the Neeches and the Screeches engage in different practices that they call “feeding the One Bob”.

The Neeches have a better understanding of Bob’s nature than the Screeches (though of course really knowing Bob is not a matter of fully grasping his essential properties from a philosophical point of view, if that is even possible).  Both groups do things that they understand to be ‘feeding the One Bob’, but because of their different understanding of Bob’s nature they have very different understandings of feeding.  The Neeches feed the One Bob by making him a sufficiently nutritive meal, according to instruction from Bob himself.  The Screeches ‘feed’ the One Bob by throwing excrement at his house and beheading people.

There are plenty of other people around too, who are neither Neeches nor Screeches, who have varying understandings of Bob’s nature. Some have more in common with the Neeches, others have more in common with the Screeches, and sometimes it is a complex mix of commonality and difference. These people don’t come into the story, except that who wants to have cocktail parties with whom may be a motivating factor for the insanity which is about to follow, and some of them join in on the insanity.  In addition still other people are wandering around carrying signs that say “there is no Bob!” or “there are many Bobs!”

Some Neech ecumaniacs stand up in the public square and proclaim “both Neeches and Screeches feed the One Bob!” and start carrying around buckets of excrement as a show of solidarity with the Screeches. These ecuneeches seem to think the fact that the One Bob is the focus of the various actions each group calls “feeding” has some significance.

This so outrages other Neeches that they lose their minds, and start insisting that because the Screeches’ concept of Bob is radically incompatible with the Neeches’ concept of Bob, the Screeches aren’t even referring to Bob when they use the word “Bob”.  These contraneeches develop a theory of the essential properties of Bob, insist that nobody can even talk about Bob without first accepting their theories and their understanding of Bob’s essential properties, and go on an Internet rampage.  They insist that the Screeches are not even referring to Bob when they use the word “Bob”, because they don’t understand Bob’s essential properties.

Bob, who at the end of the day is perfectly capable of feeding himself, encloses the ecuneeches, contraneeches, and Screeches in an insane asylum where they scribble things on the walls and mistake their scribbles for the real world outside the padded walls.

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