August 31, 2016 § 52 Comments
It would seem that there is a “Benedict Option“.
On the contrary: as the Internet Clown has observed, “Not even groups like the Amish escape the influence of liberalism.”
Picturing modern politics as a black hole is of course just an analogy, and a visual aid is just a visual aid. Hopefully some analogies and visual aids help us better grasp reality, or prompt discussion and thought which help some of us better grasp reality.
In this latest analogy political liberalism – liberty and equality as what justifies the exercise of political authority – is the singularity at the center of a black hole. What has not yet been explained is what constitutes, in the real situation, the force analogous to gravity.
A moment’s reflection reveals that the force analogous to gravity is commitment to or loyalty to liberalism on the part of individuals and communities.
Different individuals and communities have different traditions and preferences, and are thus attached to different baskets of unprincipled exceptions. Different individuals and communities face different real-life limitations. Different individuals and communities are committed to conserving different things; usually in such a way that liberalism itself is not challenged. Different individuals and communities have different ideas about what constitutes ‘authentic‘ freedom and equality. Finally, the strength of commitment to liberalism varies in different individuals and communities, everywhere from a kind of mild unreflective acceptance to intense religious fervor.
The strength of the gravity well, the amount of influence it has over you and yours, is based on extrinsic factors and intrinsic factors. That is, it is based on your own commitments and the commitments of every individual and community to whom you have ties. There is very little that anyone individually can do about the extrinsic forces. And there is really no point in worrying about those extrinsic forces before you have fully neutralized liberalism in the one place where you actually do have significant say.
A “Benedict Option” involves an attempt to create community somewhere as far from the influence of modernity’s lies as possible; so that there is some alternative to modernity in some spheres of life and/or so there are remnants of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful remaining when modernity finally destroys itself, whenever that may be.
But there is no Benedict Option which does not begin with clear identification of political liberalism, in conjunction with explicit and unequivocal rejection of it.
If your small community is fighting for its ‘religious liberty’, for example, you are kidding yourself. If your plan is to vote in the Frog Casino King or Grandma Abortion Witch – both deeply committed liberals themselves – to get things ‘moving in the right direction’, you might as well prepare yourself for an accelerated collapse toward the singularity. If your plan is to create a joint stock corporate-political formalism as a replacement for democracy so that the machine which rules over us will make sure that the right kind of people remain free to shop amongst the boutique polities on offer in the political marketplace, you have things you ought to spend time thinking about which are more fundamental than politics. You are in no position to deal with the extrinsic forces pulling you toward the singularity, because you have not yet dealt with the intrinsic force.
Those kinds of attempts at a “Benedict Option” are already betraying themselves from within, before they even get started. They aren’t a Benedict Option: they are a Benedict Arnold Option.
August 28, 2016 § 33 Comments
Libertarians are correct that their political views are, at least in a sense, more consistent with freedom and equal rights as uncompromising principles than other political views. That is precisely why libertarians (left and right) are so crazy and disconnected from reality. “Centrism” is really a concentric circle in between the singularity and the event horizon: it is a region of many unprincipled exceptions, little introspection, fairly strong comfort with the status quo, and unwillingness or inability to call liberalism into question.
UPDATE: Keep in mind that this is just a visual aid. The meaningful dimensions are left/right and distance from the singularity at the center of the picture. Up/down is not meaningful — the up/down in the libertarian diamond is simply distance from the center.
August 27, 2016 § 14 Comments
Modern political life has the incoherent logical singularity of liberalism at its center. Freedom as political act is self contradictory, because politics is essentially the public resolution of controvertible cases: the restriction of all possible controverting parties’ wishes in favor of a specific authoritative result. Authoritative acts – politics – always and necessarily assert authority to reduce an infinite number of potential resolutions to one particular actual resolution.
That is what politics, governance, authority is: it is the deliberate constraint of the infinity of potential choices by subjects into a limited, particular actual range of choices: a constraint asserted and imposed by men with authority. This explains why a society that becomes more liberal is always attempting to abolish politics in favor of ‘neutral’ bureaucratic procedures (e.g. democratic elections or neocameral formalism), really important documents in filing cabinets and under glass in museums, expert morally neutral scientific knowledge, and other quite literally inhuman forms of governance. Every important question must already be begged, so that authority can be invisibly exercised without admitting that authority is being exercised.
At the incoherent liberal singularity in the center all reason breaks down and reality disappears. When man’s reason breaks down and reality disappears all that is left of him is the hellish agony of his insatiable desire and will. We define any man who is committed – at all – to liberalism as a liberal. The purest form of liberal, then, is an anarchotyrannical madman, a madman who has lost all capacity to perceive reality and to reason.
However, the liberal singularity does not exist in a rarified world of ideas. It exists in reality: in a real, physical, social, and spiritual context. If the singularity existed ‘on its own’ it would have no impact on reality. But because it exists in reality it structures and orders that reality in more or less comprehensible ways.
The interaction of liberalism with reality gives rise to various more or less comprehensible structures and features in liberal societies. Unprincipled exceptions in the most general sense are interactions between liberalism and reality – or at least with the reality of particular concrete desires by particular people – which leave liberalism itself intact and unquestioned. When we get close to parts of reality where liberalism dominates less, or where it has been ‘mugged by reality’, those interactions become more overtly violent. Closer to the singularity the violence necessary to maintain the delusion doesn’t disappear, it just becomes more clinical and is not acknowledged as violence.
I’ve criticized ‘no enemies to the right‘ before, and that criticism stands. But you can certainly see its appeal to someone swimming around somewhere on the right, whose eyes are beginning to open. Once someone on the right has perceived the horror at the center, or even just the horror at the event horizon past the center, he is going to want to damn the torpedoes and get as far away from it as possible.
But once you’ve broken symmetry you can see how someone on the alt left — like Dorothy Day, for example – might quite reasonably hold a different view, and might even be inclined to assert ‘no enemies to the left’.
The important thing is to escape as far as possible from the hellish insanity at the very center. But escape from the hellish center is only the beginning: an exit from the unreality immediately around the liberal singularity into somewhere else. And we shouldn’t kid ourselves: nobody escapes from at least the material influence of the gravity well, as long as liberalism dominates global politics.
August 25, 2016 § 40 Comments
Like all dynamic things which persist over long periods of time, evolution has had to adapt to survive.
Darwin: Very gradual change combined with natural selection sufficiently explain the origins of new cell types, organs, tissues, and species. (Falsified by scientific evidence).
Neodarwinian synthesis: Random mutations in the genome combined with natural selection sufficiently explain the origins of new cell types, organs, tissues, and species. (Falsified by scientific evidence).
Stanley Miller: Lightning strikes catalyzed the production of amino acids into ponds of primordial soup, which organized themselves into the first cells. (Cool story bro).
Haeckel: Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. (No it doesn’t).
John Scopes: Teaching kids evolution forms them into better and more critical thinkers. (This is far from clear).
Gould: Gradual changes plus selection cannot explain the origins of new cell types, organs, tissues, and species. (True). Radical and fast changes – saltation – actually occurred and this occurrence is supported by the fossil record. (Probably true: see e.g. the Cambrian Explosion. However, what is descended from what in the fossil record is not established either by fossil or genetic methods).
Margulis: New cell organelles originate when one life form colonizes another. Example: mitochondria are the vestigial remains of ancient prokaryotes which colonized host cells. (Makes a nice story. Might even be true in some cases).
Dawkins: Material cause and effect alone explain the origins of new cell types, organs, tissues, and species. (Statement of religious/metaphysical faith).
Behe: Mutation and selection are insufficient to explain the origins of irreducibly complex biological structures such as bacterial flagella and the blood cascade. (True). This leads us to conclude that these were the product of ‘design’ understood as something at least analogous to human beings designing artifacts. (Metaphysical/religious claim).
Kenneth R. Miller: Legitimate practice of science requires the adoption of methodological naturalism in order to demarcate scientific knowledge from other knowledge. (False). Methodological naturalism is not incompatible with belief in God. (Keep telling yourself that). Methodological naturalism is rationally coherent. (False). If we are critical of evolution we won’t get invited to cocktail parties with respectable people. (Probably true: ask Michael Behe).
Bioinformatics: Database driven statistical correlations in gene sequences strongly imply similar protein structures (could be), biological functions (also could be), and phylogeny (cool story bro).
Evolutionary psychology: The stories we tell about how certain human behaviors might have supported the successful reproduction of previous generations of human beings explain the psychology of human beings today. (Probably belongs in the literary class ‘historical fiction’).
My comment: One question is whether anything important about evolution has survived other than the label and its associated self-congratulatory attitude.
August 24, 2016 § 40 Comments
Proposal: modern politics is analogous to a black hole, because at its very center is a self contradictory logical singularity where all reason breaks down.
The model is incomplete (as we should expect), and far from perfect. I’m not really sure what I think of it myself, even though I drew it. But in the Internet age folks seem to like diagrams as a basis for discussion: I remember seeing question-begging text based libertarian diamond diagrams on Usenet way back in the late eighties or early nineties, years before the first web browsers.
Because modern politics – liberalism – is insane and self contradictory, it can be very difficult to describe as an objective phenomenon situated in reality. This is mostly a description of how things look from various positions inside the modern mind trap. Locally, politics looks kind of like a spectrum from left to right. When left liberals look to the right they see through the translucent right liberals to the nazis beyond. When right liberals look left they see through the translucent left liberals to the Stalinists beyond. What you see when you look around depends very much upon where you stand.
And just about everyone is trapped in the inescapable gravity well.
August 22, 2016 § 7 Comments
If you are one of the folks who purchased For God and Profit by Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute in the hope of receiving a fair hearing on the subject of usury, you will unfortunately be disappointed.
To all appearances the book provides an interesting review of economic history in general, and more specifically of the Catholic contribution to entrepreneurship and economic life as a positive endeavor which contributes to the flourishing of individuals and the common good.
Unfortunately, when it comes to usury specifically the text is most notable for what it misapprehends and leaves out. In particular, while selectively curated arguments of this individual or that about extrinsic titles and the like feature throughout the first three chapters dealing with the history of usury in the Church, actual citations of the Magisterium are thin on the ground.
Perhaps this is because the author does not own or have access to a copy of Denzinger. He writes:
In the first place, there appears to have been no significant effort by the Church to define what constitutes a loan, let alone the specific characteristics of different types of loans.
If the author had access to a copy of Denzinger he would be aware that the Magisterium actually has done this. But you won’t find citations of Regimini Universalis (or Cum Onus, for that matter) in this book.
Nor does even Vix Pervenit, the papal encyclical equivalent to Humanae Vitae on the subject of usury, show up when I search my Kindle version of the text. Gregg makes the usual mistake of distinguishing a mutuum from other kinds of loans based on the kind of property which is lent. But if he had read Vix Pervenit he would know that the distinction between usurious loans and licit contracts for profit is not in the nature of what is lent: it is in the nature of the contract:
We exhort you not to listen to those who say that today the issue of usury is present in name only, since gain is almost always obtained from money given to another. How false is this opinion and how far removed from the truth! We can easily understand this if we consider that the nature of one contract differs from the nature of another. – Vix Pervenit (Emphasis mine).
The author cites Aquinas as approving of some extrinsic titles on mutuum loans (e.g. damnum emergens, as I mention in the Usury FAQ). This is I suppose a way of rhetorically putting the weight of the Dumb Ox behind the book’s liberal presentation of usury as something manifest, not in objective behaviors, but in bad intentions. Notably absent is Aquinas’ unequivocal condemnation of contractual profit on mutuum loans — loans of any kind of property whatsoever, not just ‘consumables’.
This is not to say that this book has no value. Like the author, I see two trends in Christian thought when it comes to money, investment, and property: there are those who see property and commerce as mostly evil, and those who see it as mostly good. Most of this is based in incomprehension, as the author notes:
But how do we determine when a particular burden of debt accumulated by an individual, business, or government has become morally problemmatic? … In many instances, the rhetoric of some Christians concerning money and contemporary finance is long on indignation but short on how, for instance, particular financial instruments work.
What makes this ironic is that the author himself does not appear to know precisely what kinds of profits the Church has and has not condemned – indeed, he openly denies that the Magisterium has even made clarifying pronouncements. I suppose that isn’t too surprising given that he appears to be unaware of specific Magisterial pronouncements on precisely that point.
But our mutual agreement that most commentators on usury have no idea what they are talking about – don’t understand financial reality or the way various kinds of public and private financial securities work – is about as far as it goes. When it comes to usury this book is just another exercise in avoiding moral clarity.
[UPDATE 8-23-2016: Post lightly edited.]
 As of this writing I have read the first three chapters, in which Gregg discusses the history of usury as the centerpiece of his overall thesis.
 I’ll note just in passing the focus on the borrower here, as opposed to the lender.
 And oddly. It seems more than a little strange for a Catholic scholar recounting the history of usury to avoid even mentioning Vix Pervenit. That would be like a Catholic scholar recounting the history of contraception while avoiding all mention of Humanae Vitae. But I suppose that is how the memory hole works.