A moral theory of general relativity

May 10, 2017 § 34 Comments

In this post I will argue that usury is worse than adultery in an important sense.

First we need some background.

We distinguish between what we call venial matter and grave matter (mortally sinful kinds of behavior). White lies, for example, are the former. We should never commit any sin (by definition), but for the purposes of this post we will set aside venial sin and consider only grave matter.

Choice of grave matter justly deserves the punishment of Hell[1]. Without Christ’s freely given grace (ordinarily[2] received through participation in the sacraments He instituted), mortal sin brings the judgment of justly deserved eternal condemnation.

Contracepted sex, adultery, sodomy, masturbation, and skipping Mass on Sunday without good reason are all grave matter. (Skipping Mass is grave matter because it involves disobedience of rightful authority in an important matter).

This list is, needless to say, nonexhaustive. And particular instances of other kinds of sins (e.g. theft, lying, usury) may be grave or venial depending on content: stealing a cookie from the cookie jar is probably venial, but stealing an old couples’ life savings is certainly grave matter.

We can consider the relative gravity of kinds of mortal sins under three modes by asking three distinct questions.

1) What are the most grave sins for you?

These are the mortally sinful behaviors which you are most likely to commit. You are most likely to commit mortal sins when you have a strong temptation to them, when the means to do so are easily available, and when you don’t personally intuit (for whatever reason) the moral gravity of the offense. These are the most grave and dangerous sins for you.

2) What are the most grave sins corporately?

This follows a similar pattern but for communities as opposed to individuals.  It depends in part upon what kinds of grave sins the community does not, qua community, treat as grave sins. If in a particular community contraception is considered generally acceptable, adultery is not considered acceptable, and many more people contracept than commit adultery, then contraception is a more grave sin than adultery corporately.

3) What are the most grave sins abstractly?

Without disparaging the possibility of addressing this question philosophically, I would suggest that it is rare for people to take an interest in this mode of gravity except as a means of avoiding the discomfort of addressing the other two modes: harlots dancing on the head of a pin, if you will.

Now for the argument:

Gravity in the first mode depends upon the particular person and his circumstances, of course, and so any argument about the relative gravity of sins generally speaking will not apply.  It is worth noting though that the gravity of kinds of sins in the individual relation will have significant dependence upon the corporate relation, because man is a social animal with all that implies.  (We might think of this as a ‘moral theory of special relativity’).

Gravity in the third mode is of abstract interest, but purely abstract relations between species of sin in a Platonic sense is not the sort of gravity the argument will address.  (We might think of this as asking the question ‘what was moral gravity like before the Big Bang?’)  The argument is that usury is concretely, as instantiated in our actual present reality, more grave than adultery.

Corporately, in our society in general, there remains some resistance to the idea that adultery is a perfectly normal and acceptable thing.  Resistance to the idea that usury is a perfectly normal and acceptable thing is immaterial; in fact even basic comprehension of what usury actually means (and doesn’t mean) is extremely thin on the ground.

There is still a pretty clear understanding, in more orthodox communities, of what adultery actually is and is not; and there remains strong moral disapproval in those communities.  The same cannot be said of usury.  Even in the most orthodox communities there is confusion over what ‘usury’ actually means, despite the ultimate simplicity of the subject matter and numerous Magisterial statements over the course of millennia. Even in the most orthodox communities there is controversy where there should not be controversy: there is rejection of the Tradition of the Church and the Magisterium (not to mention a lack of financial competence) in favor of an intrinsically uncharitable, modernist, subjective approach to usury.

In short, the most orthodox of communities are not corrupted by confusion and dissent over the grave moral wrong of adultery to the same extent these same communities are corrupted by confusion and dissent over the grave moral wrong of usury.

And an important figure in Christianity once said:

Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

[1] The traditional conjecture that different sinners have different experiences of Hell, depending upon their particular sins, may be worth a mention.

[2] We also have the concept of extraordinary grace, which is our way of acknowledging that, while God has promised to us the efficacy of His sacraments and always keeps His promises, He is not limited to dispensing grace in only this way.  However it is also worth noting that the presumption that one will onesself personally receive extraordinary grace is, itself, grave matter.

Those meth heads have it so much better

March 28, 2017 § 38 Comments

Liberalism – making freedom a political priority –  is, at bottom, rationally incoherent.  But it is easy to see how folks committed to it might come to see having more options – independent of whether those options are or are not of any objective value – as something to be encouraged and pursued. Doctrine abstracted and analyzed in itself is one thing.  As an active social force in a population of real people it is another.  Under liberalism authority and tradition come to be (selectively) seen as something to be overcome, so the number of available options tends to proliferate in direct proportion to the amoral trivial banality of those options. You can live in any kind of city you want as long as it sports modern architecture, Starbucks, gay pride parades, and its own vibrant Little Somalia.

Against my better judgment I got into a combox back and forth with a commenter on donalgrame about whether modern men have a harder time pursuing the good in marriage and family than modern women: whether women, objectively speaking, have better options available than men when it comes to pursuing the good in sex and marriage.  I’ve noted before that modern people can get as much sexual stimulation as they want: what has become increasingly difficult is pursuing the good in sex and marriage, not pursuing ultimately self-destructive and unsatisfactory hedonism.

One of the things that constantly comes up is that, because men and women are different, the kind of immoral sexual stimulation available to women differs from the kind of immoral sexual stimulation available to men. Sure, men can immerse themselves in pornography and masturbation all they want, and can even go to a strip bar or hire a hooker.  But the average woman has greater empowerment to fornicate specifically than the average man, because in modern hookup culture 80% of the women are fornicating with 20% of the men.

It follows (!) that men have a harder time pursuing the good in sex and marriage than women.

But at the end of the day, this is like arguing that meth heads have it so much better than heroin addicts.  Modernity does indeed produce a marketplace of all sorts of degenerate choices; but anyone who can’t see that making good choices has become harder for everyone is living under a rock.

A paradox of modern masculinity

October 14, 2016 § 21 Comments

If you want to succeed in marrying, having children, and raising a family, you have to be prepared to judge the right time to grab a woman unexpectedly and kiss her without waiting for her explicit consent.

If you want to avoid charges of sexual assault you must never even consider grabbing a woman unexpectedly and kissing her without waiting for her explicit consent.

Weaponized ambiguity in defense of adultery

June 5, 2016 § 33 Comments

Reader GJ uses the term “weaponized ambiguity” in the comments below, as a cognate of what I have called weaponized nihilism and of what others have referred to as the motte-and-bailey strategy.  These are of course all forms of the venerable bait and switch, with the psychological feature that the person doing the arguing may be unaware of his equivocation.

Weaponized ambiguity strikes me, not without irony, as a very clarifying term.  It captures and clarifies the way in which the execrable hides behind the banal and tautological.

Examples are always helpful.

Feminism is just the acknowledgment that women are people too … when it isn’t instigating mass murder.

Murder is unjust killing, and not all killing is unjust … so pay no attention to this particular mass murder of innocents by ‘the good guys’, or this particular group of murderesses.

Game is a toolbox of techniques which empower a man to be socially dominant … so pay no attention to the fact that the reason you will only learn it from the male equivalent of sluts is that it is the male equivalent of sluttiness.

Usury is charging unjust interest on loans … pay no attention to the fact that usury is any contractual profit at all on mutuum loans, and that even unjust interest charged on non recourse loans is not usury strictly speaking.  The main thing we need to do is to avoid moral clarity.

More subtly, usury is selling what does not exist; but because there are many ways to sell what does not exist which are not usury, clarity on usury specifically can be avoided.

Contraception involves a purely subjective feeling that you want sex but do not want a baby right now. Pay no attention to the minor matter of choosing objectively mutilated sexual behaviors versus abstinence.

And adultery is sex outside of marriage.  But of course you can marry whomever or whatever you want whenever you want, and marriage lasts only as long as you want it to last.

Which is how Humanae Vitae becomes Vix Pervenit.

Unmerciful reality

February 26, 2016 § 55 Comments

Bonald writes:

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.

Cartesian sex in legoland

December 18, 2015 § 39 Comments

Ever since Descartes it has been hipster to think of the interior subjective world of phenomena as utterly distinct from the exterior material objective world of reality.  As a result, we post-cartesians tend to think of motivation or intention as something which can be separated from action or behavior: as nothing but an interior, fully, and solely subjective phenomenon.  We think that an intentional action can be literally broken apart into a really distinct subjective intention combined with an objective action.

This reductionism has consequences, and one of those consequences is that we have a tendency to find pre-cartesian thought about sex incomprehensible. Or, more accurately, we think we comprehend it and find that it – what we think we have comprehended – is abhorrent to reason.  We project our own worldview upon it, so that when we read that intercourse even with one’s wife must be motivated by the procreation of children we think that the ‘motivated by’ part refers to a rarified interior disposition, utterly divorced from the concrete behavior we are actually choosing.

Reality begs to differ with Descartes though. A man with different motivations chooses different actions. A surgeon who is trying to murder his patient may, at a certain fuzzy resolution, look like he is choosing the same objective behaviors as a surgeon who is trying to save his patient. But an accidental cut to the aorta is different in species from a deliberate choice to cut the aorta: it is a different objective behavior, not merely a different motivation.

Reductionist post cartesians think of actions and motivations as separable things, each of which can exist on its own.  They are like lego blocks which can be arranged and rearranged arbitrarily: for a given actual concrete deliberately chosen action, any one of an arbitrary number of motivations may apply. Morality then becomes reducible to nothing but ‘motivation’, understood as an entirely subjective phenomenon.

Reductionism can be a very useful conceptual tool.  But it is a mistake to think that reality, as an ontological matter, is actually partitioned into distinct elements of Being by our conceptual reductions.  It is a mistake to think that the male and the human can be dis-integrated from each other and treated as separate ontological objects in reality.

So sexual reductionists take the moral principle that licit sex must (among other things) be motivated by procreation to mean that husband and wife must summon, within the isolated purely subjective cartesian realm of their interior being, in the IMAX theater of the mind, a pure desire-object, a desire to actually conceive a child right now in this very act.  But that of course is to treat motivation as something utterly distinct and severed from the choice of action.  It is to treat actions and motivations as distinct lego blocks such that ‘sex motivated by procreation’ is not a deliberate choice of a particular kind of behavior, but a purely subjective motivation block fitted together with a purely objective ‘intercourse’ behavior block; an objective behavior block which could go together, in all of its detail and at all resolutions of objective understanding, with virtually any arbitrary and purely subjective ‘motivation’.

The cartesian separation of reality into ontologically distinct subjective and objective worlds makes reality incomprehensible.  If there are two utterly distinct worlds then a given ontic object has to exist in one or the other. So economic value and morality become purely subjective; at the same time consciousness becomes merely an epiphenomenon of matter and energy swirling about in response to the mathematical dictates of  physical laws.

Human acts are not – in actual reality as opposed to the post-cartesian house of mirrors – reducible to arbitrary combinations of utterly distinct subjective and objective ontic lego blocks, one made of nothing but purely subjective ‘motivation’ and the other of nothing but purely objective ‘behavior’. Cartesian metaphysics applied to sex leads to hacking acts of a human person into pieces at the ontological level and rearranging them how we please, or in whatever way fits our preconceived notions.

Is it any wonder then that modern man is starting to literally hack apart his sex organs and rearrange them how he sees fit?

Usury is so gay

November 7, 2015 § 25 Comments

Dante did not put usurers and sodomites into the same circle of Hell by accident.

Reality always asserts itself, so nobody can get away with comprehensively ignoring reality all the time.  When I say that all modern economic theories (including the ones you like, not just the ones you dislike) are anti-realist, I do not mean that they are postmodern. Postmodern theories look at the hopelessness of the positivist project – which is an anti-realist project, since it attempts to fully capture reality in formal representation, to reduce some demarcated part of reality to nothing but symbolic representation or a metaphysically neutral verification procedure – and pretend to give up on objective reality altogether. This becomes immediately rather ridiculous to sane and well adjusted onlookers, because directly and explicitly rejecting reality is something that it takes a peculiarly pointy-headed intellectual form of sociopathic stupidity to do.

Anti-realist economic theories (which is to say, all existing economic theories of which I am aware) therefore are not entirely disconnected from reality. There are true things which can be learned even from wrong theories: stopped clocks and all that. The sodomite’s understanding of reality is not comprehensively wrong in every respect: his understanding is a distorted and disordered view of reality, not a beaker of distilled and purified falsity. Every lie has to have some grounding in the truth in order to get any traction at all; although the more lies take hold, the less that is the case.

The thing that distinguishes anti-realist economic theories from a realist theory of economics, which as far as I know does not exist, is that anti-realist theories attempt in various critical places to reduce value and/or property to nothing but the projection of subjective human intentions, understandings, preferences, will, or desire.  What you may notice is that this often involves abstracting together unlike things as if they were the same kind of thing: securitizing unreality, if you will, at least metaphorically speaking but sometimes literally. A realist perspective, in contrast, does not deny the importance of the subjective and psychological but recognizes that there is an irreducibly objective aspect at work too. (This is true in moral theology as well, where the morality of human action cannot be reduced to nothing but subjective intentions). As with all lies anti-realist economic systems would fall apart immediately if they were pure nothingness: if there were not some anchor in reality. So the thing to look for, if you really want to take the economic version of the ‘red pill’, are the places where metaphysically anti-realist finance marbles together the irreducibly real with the purely subjective into a thing it calls ‘cake’, and which it says we must all eat.

In sex, analogously, look at the manifest conflation of sodomy with intercourse. Look at the manifest conflation of the masculine with the feminine. Look at the more subtle conflation of ‘dating’ and serial fornication (as opposed to parallel fornication, which is Really Bad, at least for now) with marriage. Look at the conflation of self sacrifice (what a husband and father owes his family) with authority (the obedience the family owes to the father), and the labeling of these entirely unlike things ‘mutual submission’. Look at the conflation of committed self-sacrifice with fickle and fleeting emotions, both under the label ‘love’.

And continue looking from there, because the most important thing that waking up to the obvious examples shows is that we can be fooled by the obvious. Nominalist pseudo-categories conflating things rooted in reality with what human subjects want, intend, or expect are absolutely necessary for the lie to continue.  This only works as long as most people carefully avoid noticing the introduction of anti-realist poison into their thoughts: as long as repentance is avoided at all costs.

It may help to think of accounting as the mathematics of property; of finance as the physics and engineering of property; of economics as the meteorology of property. In modern accounting, an “IOU” or “note receivable” can mean a claim against some actual pool of property, or it can mean the securitization through usury of nothing but a promise made by a borrower to personally repay. Said sightly differently an entry on the asset inventory of a balance sheet can mean a claim against some actual pool of property, or it can just be the counter-entry to a personal IOU.  A note payable can mean the impairment of some actual property, or it can mean that a person is on the hook to come up with some amount of money — an IOU.  The ‘fractional reserve’ is either cash and equivalent liquid property kept on hand that a property aggregator/securitizer (bank) can use to satisfy demand deposits under normal operating conditions, or it is a magical delegation of power by the sovereign which permits banks to create currency out of nothing but personal IOU’s through an accounting trick[1].  You aren’t supposed to notice the difference; because as soon as you notice the difference, the jig is up.

The conflation of reality with unreality doesn’t just make folks think that unreal things are real though.  It also makes folks think that real things are unreal. A husband and father’s authority is just tyranny, because people don’t feel like they should be morally obliged to obey flawed human beings (unless they agree with the command; that is, unless it isn’t a command). The wife’s commitment to satisfy the marriage debt is rape. Taxation is theft, because the sovereign’s role in the functioning of industries, markets, and property in general doesn’t exist. And sovereign currency is mere fiat not a security against actual valuable property[2], even though it actually does entitle the bearer to the settlement of tax liabilities which he incurs in carrying out public commerce in the sovereign’s marketplaces. (More on the backward troglodyte financially ignorant medieval perspective on sovereign marketplaces can be explored here).

Once the ‘red pill’ hits you, though, you’ve got a choice.

You can plant your triumphant flag right there at the starting line, next to the naked emperor and the madmen wandering about in the desolation, and enjoy the delightful company of fellow sociopaths.

Or you can start looking for the more subtle ways in which unreality has been mixed into your reality. You can become a digger.


[1] and [2]: The ‘fiat currency isn’t real’ crowd, it seems to me, is rather too credulous about the willingness of private bankers to accept payment in literally meaningless bits of paper or numbers in computers which represent nothing but themselves, on nothing but the sovereign’s say so. I’ve never known a banker, of all people, to hand out actually valuable property in exchange for something literally worthless. That is the domain of timeshare purchasers and other victims of hucksters. Bankers may often be evil, but they are not stupid.

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