February 26, 2016 § 55 Comments
Adultery is okay, but only if you don’t just keep a mistress, but also in her favor eject your wife. Spilling your seed is okay, but only if you make sure there’s still a chance of infecting a partner. In both cases, the sin is less obvious–one gets the appearance of a normal marriage and normal marriage relations–but the appearance is bought with the commission of a second sin. Would not consistent mercy be even more merciful?
That is certainly true objectively speaking. But the important thing in modern life is not what happens in objective reality. The important thing in modern life is maintaining our illusions. Shattering illusions is even more unmerciful than infecting your partner with AIDS.
February 26, 2016 § 9 Comments
Let me say something, as a notoriously intransigent non-voter. Nobody has more non-voter cred in the blogosphere than yours truly.
Democracy is not the core problem with our politics.
Democracy is a symptom of the core problem. The core problem is that the pervasive political philosophy of the ruling class – of really all classes of society other than a few freaks and nutcases wandering around raving in the darkness outside the padded walls – is liberalism.
Structure is at best a tertiary concern, a symptom not a pathogen. Political philosophy and structure do tend to reflect and reinforce each other (lex orandi, lex credendi). But suggesting that the fundamental problem with our politics is democracy is like saying that the fundamental problem with Islam is the Salat ritual, or that the fundamental problem with Twitter is its organizational structure.
February 26, 2016 § 31 Comments
By all accounts Pope Francis’ airplane interview story, about Paul VI authorizing nuns in danger of rape to use contraceptives, is false. It would almost be better if it were true, because the fact that it is false seems to be leaving everyone deceived. I’ll address one particular way in this post. (I addressed a different way in the previous post).
The interview has given rise to a discussion which is especially pernicious, because various parties are turning it into a debate over the application of the principle of double effect. So most people who read stories about the interview are likely to be presented with two sides to choose from, both of which are wrong, under a form of (selectively) relativistic moral reasoning which is disconnected from reality.
The principle of double effect cannot ever apply to contracepted sexual acts, because contracepted sexual acts are intrinsically immoral in themselves, as kinds of behavior. Choosing an intrinsically immoral kind of behavior is always morally wrong, full stop, no exceptions. The principle of double effect describes conditions under which a morally neutral behavior with both bad effects and good effects is and is not permissible. But contracepted sexual acts are not morally neutral behaviors in the first place.
Nominalists don’t believe (or make a selective pose as if not believing) in the reality of kinds of behavior. They believe that individual human acts are chosen (that individual objects exist), and that categorizing these acts (actual objects) into kinds of behavior (kinds of objects) is a matter of lumping things together in whatever way suits our purposes, giving those lumps a name (thus nominalism). Categories are merely tools of the mind which we fashion for ourselves, mere names for more or less arbitrary aggregations of bits of reality: categories are not objective features of reality-in-act, actual reality.
Nominalism is, of course, insane and self refuting; and like all incoherent views can only be applied selectively in a context of more or less heavy doping by unprincipled exceptions and other impurities of the mind. The heavily doped semiconductor is an archetype of modernity, with the will providing base-emitter current or gate-source voltage: modernity is a fabric of programmable switches over which we impose our will to construct the virtual reality in which we live, inside the padded walls of the holodeck or the vast virtual reality system of the Matrix.
Contraception is a kind of behavior: a kind of sexual behavior. A nun who wears a chastity belt is not choosing a sexual behavior; she is physically excluding certain sexual behaviors from material possibility (to the extent of the chastity belt’s security). A rapist may violate her in other ways, but the chastity belt restricts the ways in which he is materially capable of violating her. When she chooses to put on a chastity belt and give the key to her Mother Superior she is not choosing that a rapist violate her in one of those other ways: she is choosing to block the possibility of violation in a particular way.
A vowed religious woman living in a third world hellhole (or, say, in Germany) where she is likely to be raped is not choosing a particular kind of sexual violation when she wears a chastity belt. She isn’t choosing a sexual act at all. This is not a matter of applying the principle of double effect to a contracepted sexual act, because she is not choosing any kind of sexual act at all. She is merely securing her body – imperfectly, as is the case with any kind of security – from a particular kind of violation.
Now, it is entirely possible that she is unjustified in doing so under some moral analysis or other: perhaps a particular chemical chastity belt under consideration is abortifacient, for example. But the behavior she is choosing cannot be permissible on the basis that she is supposedly justified in choosing a contracepted sexual behavior under the principle of double effect. A rape victim is not choosing the sexual behavior of her rapist at all, by definition.
The point is not to justify the use of particular kinds of chemical or physical chastity belts by nuns in some particular set of conditions or other. The point is that people who are talking about it as an application (right or wrong) of the principle of double effect to contraceptive behaviors are making a basic category mistake — where categories are objective features of reality, not merely nominalist buckets into which we get to put whatever we want however we see fit.
A legitimate rape victim is not choosing a sexual behavior at all; and the category ‘non-sexual contracepted sexual acts’ is not even rationally coherent, let alone an objective feature of reality. It exists only in the Matrix.
February 23, 2016 § 53 Comments
Most people are, naturally enough, scandalized by the idea that a sitting Pope could be a heretic (and nonetheless still legitimately Pope).
My own view is that this is mainly driven by ignorance of Catholic history combined with modern/protestant attitudes toward authority.
Often enough when someone’s world view (in this case the world view of, say, a sedevacantist or the like; or his mirror image the ultramontane) is rooted in ignorance of history, it isn’t enough to dispel the ignorance by presenting the inconvenient facts (e.g. Pope Honorius I, clearly the Pope and yet posthumously anathematized by an ecumenical council). Historical facts tend to be met with some sort of revisionist approach, rather than taking a step back and just accepting that ultramontanism/sedevacantism is another one of those ubiquitous false dichotomies: that the truth must lie not so much somewhere in between the horns of the putative dilemma as somewhere else entirely, somewhere outside the padded walls.
Whatever it is precisely that Vatican Council I meant by the doctrine of infallibility, it can’t mean that it is impossible for a Pope to be a material heretic and it can’t mean that it is impossible for most of the hierarchy to be mired in heresy (see e.g.: the Arian crisis).
It has been pointed out before that the most obvious corollary* to the doctrine of infallibility when speaking ex cathedra is that almost everything that a Pope says and does is, like the acts of any other legitimate human monarch, perfectly fallible. As with other human monarchs, though, fallibility does not call into question his administrative authority.
Modern Catholics (including modern trad Catholics, I’m afraid, although many trads do tend to have better immunities to this than non-trads) are typically modern first and Catholic second. What this means is that we don’t really want to live in a world of messy, fallible, often dysfunctional human authority. So we look for some kind of machinery: some fixed body of text or bureaucratic machinery to substitute for authority, formal machinery which we can depend upon to give us rigorous assurances and treat us fairly.
That is, we lack faith.
Second guessing the Holy Spirit is a fool’s errand, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the people who are really supposed to learn something from the current crisis are the traditionalists — those who truly aspire to be faithful sons of the Church.
And another thing I’ve pointed out before is that it is easy to ‘obey’ king or husband when you agree with what he says; or, even if you disagree, when you are confident in his competence. Who wants to be obedient to the juridical directives of the Clown King? What wife wants to submit to an obsequious whining loser?
I’ll tell you which one.
The one who has faith.
* Another obvious corollary is that although a statement of dogma is infallible when the conditions of ex cathedra are met, the person interpreting that statement of dogma is not infallible – including his interpretation of whether a given statement precisely meets the conditions of speaking ex cathedra! So there is always rather less to infallibility than meets the eye. The Church may speak on matters infallibly here and there — though by all accounts this is rather rare. But I am quite aware of the fact that no matter how infallible the speaker may be in what he is saying, I am not an infallible listener.
[The current post is an elaboration on an OT digression in the combox of this post.]
February 21, 2016 § 9 Comments
I’ve updated the ebook form of the Usury FAQ, this time with the addition of a PDF format to make sharing it by email or what have you easier. If you are looking for something especially penitential to do for Lent you can read through it for any errors, typos, etc. Because the ebook was originally an afterthought requested by blog readers, the online version and the ebook version do not share the same ‘master copy’ of all of the material; but I think I’ve gotten them almost perfectly in sync.
There is all sorts of new material in the ebook since the first edition. I’ve addressed the Fifth Lateran Council definition of usury and its coherence with Vix Pervenit; added more material on why (what today we call) ‘personal guarantees’ or ‘full recourse’ and what the medievals called a ‘loan for consumption’ are synonymous; gone into more depth on questions of theft and fraud; talked more about ‘extrinsic titles’; dealt with the tenuous connection made by some scholars between usury and Scholastic theories of just prices; addressed questions about merchant credit and penalties for late payment; included additional explanation of the difference between property and personal guarantees as security for a contract; discussed the matters of inflation, fiat currency, and fractional reserve banking in more depth; and probably more. I even added a few paragraphs to address who the heck I am to be talking about this subject.
As before, I am releasing my own work on this into the public domain. Do with it as you will, share it with whomever you like, make as many copies as you want, sell it for fun and profit.
There are permalinks to download the e-books from the right hand sidebar. For convenience here they are too:
Usury E-Book – .pdf version, for sharing by email or just for whenever an e-reader format is not convenient.
February 6, 2016 § 26 Comments
Suppose your best friend needs wheat and can’t afford to buy any. He doesn’t need paper: he needs wheat. You’ve got some excess wheat you could lend him, but you like the way paper futures look better, and you want a guarantee that you won’t lose any buying power when you are doing your best friend a favor.
So you lend him paper (even though he needs wheat, and is just going to exchange the paper for wheat) just so that, as a formality, the kind of thing he owes you back is paper. Or you tell him that you know he needs wheat and you have plenty to lend, but you like paper futures better. So you’ll give him wheat, but you want him to repay the wheat you gave him by doing imaginary wheat-to-paper exchanges (they will be imaginary to avoid transaction fees and taxes) at the point of borrowing and repayment. Because of the excursion into the land of imaginary paper he ends up owing you back more wheat than you lent him on this mutuum loan – usury.
It seems to me that your friendship is as imaginary as the wheat-to-paper exchanges. That is no way to treat a friend in need.
And mutuum lending is only morally licit as an act of friendship or charity. It is not morally licit in pursuit of gain. Preservation of market buying power as something guaranteed by someone else is a kind of gain.
If your best friend decides to pay you back more wheat than you loaned him out of gratitude, that is a gift from him to you. There isn’t anything wrong with that. It is even true that he owes you gratitude in a sense. But gratitude between friends is not convertible into a specific dollar amount which he can be said to owe you as a financial matter. No true friend is going to quibble, in dollar terms, as to whether his best friend has been grateful enough in the natural exchange of favors which occurs among friends.
It is possible for friends to do each other injustice in mutuum lending; even to have a falling out and to no longer be friends. Suppose you lent your best friend the wheat, he now has enough to repay you the amount that he borrowed, but he refuses to do so. In that case he is not being a good friend; and he really does owe you back the amount of wheat that he borrowed, as a matter of justice. His refusal to pay it back now that he can is a kind of theft or fraud. You truly are entitled to return of the principal amount, and the falling out of your friendship does not remove that entitlement in justice.
But this does not make mutuum lending morally licit as a wealth preservation investment strategy. There are plenty of ways to look after your own property financially: many different kinds of contracts for preserving and growing wealth are morally permissible.
But the security on those contracts must be property, not personal IOU’s. Otherwise you are unjustly profiting financially from arbitrage over friendship.
February 6, 2016 § 9 Comments
Modern man is so acclimated to usury that when it comes to wealth, he has convinced himself that the second law of thermodynamics runs backwards. Back here in the real world though property and its buying power deteriorate unless the owner does work himself, invests more property to protect what he has, and/or takes risks with his property in putting it to work as productive capital.
Even the most durable property – a cache of precious metals, say – requires some investment of work, risk, and additional property in order to merely preserve it. To bury a pot of gold takes work. To acquire or rent the land on which it is buried absorbs additional resources, as does protecting that land from prospecting trespassers and thieves. To bury it on someone else’s land which is not owned, rented, or otherwise protected through ongoing expenditure of work or capital is to take a more significant risk. You have to keep track of where it is, make sure that thieves don’t find out where it is, and be ready to retrieve it or just lose it if someone else finds it.
Even when a non recourse insurance bond covering the loss of the property is purchased, this does not eliminate risk: it simply spreads the risk over a larger pool of property, compensating the insurer for renting his property to the insured as security, thereby putting it at risk. If the insurer’s overall losses on all claims are too great then the property he has staked to insure your property will not pay your claim: the well is only so deep. And of course you have to pay for the insurance bond.
It is a commonplace among investment advisors that a wealth preservation strategy involves investing a portfolio in such a way as to maximize the chances that it will preserve its buying power: to take the smallest risk possible with respect to losing buying power. You cannot even preserve the buying power of your property without investing: without doing work, employing your capital in some inherently risky enterprise, and/or taking on other risks. (Other investment strategies include aggressive growth with high risk, and various intermediate strategies in between). Portfolios of property – that is to say, the collection of all of the property that a person owns – do not preserve themselves. Just staying even takes work, investment, and risk. If you don’t swim, you are going to drown. That is the nature of life in the universe in which we live.
One way to understand usury is as the unjust compensation of the lender for work, risk, and investment undertaken by the borrower; because in a mutuum loan the borrower personally pledges to make the lender whole, restoring property equivalent to what was originally given to the borrower, no matter what actually happens to the actual property borrowed. This is why interest on mutuum loans is intrinsically unjust, and mutuum loans may only be licitly undertaken as a favor to a friend or a person in need, expecting no compensation in return.