Cloud products, usury, and the death of property

February 20, 2017 § 31 Comments

Human beings used to be reasonably capable of distinguishing reality from imagination, at least in the boots-on-the-ground world of day to day life.  Property at one time referred to something real, something which exists in its own right. Thus property could be possessed, repossessed, bought, sold, stolen, consumed, or destroyed independent of the property’s owner or of any other particular persons.

Human beings and possessions were understood to be different things, with the notable – but at least clearly delineated – exception of economic chattel slavery, not to be confused with prison.

Then along came widespread acceptance of usury. Liberal modernity counts, as one of its crowning achievements, the destruction of chattel slavery.  As with all of liberalism’s putative emancipatory achievements, this is illusory.  Rather than freeing humanity from the objectification inherent in chattel slavery, liberalism has merely driven this objectification into the subcutaneous socioeconomic metalayer, implanted it under the skin, making it that much more difficult to see and resist.  As always liberalism does not actually “free” us from authority as it pretends to do: it simply makes authority sociopathic.

The old tyrannies could at least be seen out in the open. A man knew where he stood. Now the tyranny comes cloaked as the seductress “freedom”. Liberal tyranny boils up from under layers of flesh, lurks inside clinging to the bones as it gnaws away at internal organs and releases its offal into the body. If paganism, Mohammedism, and Rabbinic Judaism are packs of hyenas harrowing Christendom, liberalism is a cancer that eats away at it from within, an alien embryo feeding on its host as it releases a thousand horrors.

But I digress.

Property is objective[1], that is, it consists of objects independent of any particular human subject or subjects.  Owners are human subjects, human beings independent of any particular property. Take away a man’s property and you still have a man.

You can tell who truly owns what by asking what happens when the music stops: by asking what, at the end of the day, secures each person’s claims. In a recourse mortgage the borrower “owns” the house and the lender owns the borrower, because the lender is contractually entitled to collect deficiencies from the borrower if selling the house does not fully discharge the borrower’s contractual obligations.  The situation is even worse than that though, because in the case of taxable real estate the sovereign really owns the property and leases it back to the tenant (whom we deceptively label the “owner”).  Real estate “owners”, then, don’t really own the actual property. The sovereign owns the property and what the “owners” really own is exclusive leasing rights: a kind of financial security.  That isn’t nothing, but there is much less there than meets the eye. Real estate “ownership” where there are property taxes is a form of lie: what is owned is not land and buildings, but a perpetual[2] and exclusive lease on land and buildings.

Products dependent upon cloud software represent a new, technologically enabled phase in non-ownership “ownership”.  Cloud software or “Internet of things” products require a “mother ship” somewhere on the Internet in order to work. Without the mother ship they become literally useless; “bricked” in the vernacular. For example you can spend years of your life producing work with a cloud based – or even just cloud licensed – CAD program, under the illusion that you own at least your own actual work product. You don’t own the software, it is merely ‘licensed’ to you, sure.  But in fact you don’t even really own your own work product which you produced with the software using your own hands and mind, because you cannot even continue to access your own work without regularly checking in with the mother ship to ensure that license terms are met . If the terms and conditions change, or the company goes out of business or the mother ship crashes for some other reason, you can’t even access the features of your own “property”; not even your own accumulated work.

Cloud products represent a kind of legalized ransomware.  As with usury there is a superficial resemblance to legitimate transactions; in this case a resemblance to having sold or leased you some tools with which you can produce your own  work; work which you then own. The work you produce with cloud-based ransomware looks like it belongs to you.

But when the music stops your hammer no longer works, there are no other hammers which will work, and all that you have built with the hammer is hostage to the true owner’s terms and conditions.  You were never the owner of your own work product in the first place: you rent your own work at the pleasure of the private party who really owns it.

When philosophical anti-realism invades the domain of property, the distinction between persons and property disappears.  This erodes the distinction between persons and objects in spheres beyond property and ownership.

If you would like to see the great dehumanization reversed, I can’t really offer much hope. But I’d be happy to hand you a shovel.

[1] Nota bene: not physical or merely physical, since physicalism is false.

[2] At least for as long as the tenant continues to make payments, which can be increased at any time without his agreement.

Sexual integrity as a state of mind

February 11, 2017 § 49 Comments

I recently received a Disqus notification for a comment someone left on a long forgotten discussion about the martyrdom of St. Maria Goretti:

[St. Goretti] did not die for her purity. She died for [her attacker’s] purity. Stop calling rape victims sinners. Stop committing idolatry by worshipping mere hymens. Stop allowing a demonic obsession with physical virginity to pollute you and make you a destructive force in the world. When you call rape victims sinful you’re committing an act of Satanic worship.

St. Maria Goretti is not just a martyr to purity.  In my view she is also a martyr to metaphysical realism.  If rape isn’t an objective violation of sexual integrity worth resisting when possible then why is it wrong at all?

Suppose instead of a rapist St. Goretti’s family had been attacked by marauding Barbary slavers, she had died resisting the breakup of her family, had forgiven her attackers, her attackers had later converted, etc.  Suppose the hagiography was basically the same, in other words, but the objective violation in question was different.

Years later she is canonized a saint and celebrated as a martyr to family integrity.

This leads to an annual freakout by protesting orphans and runaways, who feel aggrieved that anyone could celebrate the defense – to the death, by a saint and martyr – of family integrity.

Gold as medieval cryptographic paper

October 22, 2016 § 32 Comments

An important feature of cryptography is authentication: the ability to verify that a document comes from who it claims to come from and has the authority it claims to have. Authentication is a feature of the medium in which a message is delivered: it is not the message itself.

There are two kinds of financial securities, for present purposes: bearer securities and securities which must be cleared when they are transferred. The latter sort have to pass through a transfer agent who verifies the identities of the parties and the legitimacy of the transfer of rights.  Rights are not technically transferred until the check clears, and if someone is being dishonest we know who they are and can hunt them down.

But bearer securities transfer the rights they represent immediately, with transfer of possession.  They don’t leave a paper trail, and it has to be possible within reason to authenticate them as they are.

Folks are always asking me to speculate about why gold or silver was the printing medium of choice for bearer securities (in particular sovereign currency) for much of premodern history.  Whatever else may be the case, it seems obvious that premodern sovereigns had limited choices of available counterfeit-resistant print media from which to choose.

As for why masses of people tend to think that the value inheres in the print media rather than the financial security it represents, that obviously involves mass psychology about why lots of people  have wrong ideas about something or other. It isn’t as if the mass of humanity has a good track record of being right about politically and religiously charged subjects. Centuries of rampant usury has doubtless contributed to a mass illusion wherein many folks can’t tell the difference between actual bread and a promise of bread, and it is an especially modern error to conflate medium and message. At the end of the day what matters is what is true though, not the results of a popularity contest.

If you find yourself psychologically in need of a reason why gold was a favored medium for bearer securities before the modern age, you need look no further than the development of cheaper counterfeit-resistant print media.  And you should probably work on your own demotic resistance to the fact that a whole lot of the time the great mass of human beings muddle through without really understanding what is going on.

Usury, Jews, and libertine cruelty

October 20, 2016 § 28 Comments

In retrospect I suppose it is odd that this hasn’t come up before; but it isn’t the sort of angle I’d thought to raise myself.  That’s just not how my mind works.

In the comments below MarcusD writes:

A priest in my diocese, when the subject of usury comes up (well, all two times), states that opposition to usury is “inextricably linked with antisemitism.” Do you have any thoughts on that position? Will you add a rebuttal to that to the “Usury FAQ”?

My first thought was that the assertions of this priest are just obviously ridiculous, the sort of modern guilt-by-association lunacy unworthy of the validation involved in treating it as a serious objection.  (To be clear: it is certainly not a serious objection).

Several things may be noteworthy though, at least in terms of characterizing the association and the guilt — to the best of my knowledge, and with all the usual caveats, this being well outside the domain of what I consider substantively pertinent to the basic moral question.

First, the fact that diaspora Jews in Christian lands gravitated toward usury as a profession is as much Christians’ fault as Jews’ fault.  The attitude was that Jews were heathens and were going to Hell anyway, so the Christian sovereign’s law actually treated Jews more leniently than it treated Christians. Christians were prohibited from engaging in usury for the sake of their own souls; but Jews were damned anyway so why not let them do what they want?  A libertine approach to the laws that applied to Jews was really a form of cruelty toward them, as is true of libertine legalism in general.  It was also a good way to cultivate anti-Christian forces within Christian society over the long term.

Just imagine if there were a tribe in modern America who were treated as if the law against violent crime didn’t apply to them. Wouldn’t that in objective fact be cruelty toward that tribe?  Wouldn’t we expect the violent behavior of that tribe to increase, to their own detriment and ours?

Second, the situation illustrates the lie built into ‘libertine’ law in the first place. Without the Christian sovereign’s enforcement, usurious contracts would have no teeth.  To the extent that the Christian sovereign enforced usurious contracts he formally cooperated with them: you can’t enforce contract terms without intending them.  So professional usury on the part of Jews was really a partnership between Jews and their Christian enforcers.

Third, there were in fact significant non-Jewish tribes or dynasties associated with professional usury, notably the Lombards.  As is the case in many high IQ professions Jews were doubtless overrepresented in part simply because they have greater intelligence than most of the rest of the bell curve.  But it isn’t as if they had a monopoly on the particular sin in question.

Of course it is risible in the first place to claim that the Church’s doctrinal condemnation of usury depends on whether or not one tribe or other has become, fairly or unfairly, disproportionately associated with that sin.  Alcohol abuse doesn’t become immune to criticism in virtue of its (fair or unfair) association with the Irish.

But in any case with usury, as with any basic execrable disgusting filthy sin against nature and nature’s God, there is plenty of guilt to go around.

Eastasian history

October 17, 2016 § 13 Comments

Catholic usury apologists find themselves in a bind, locked in a box of cognitive dissidence.

If any moral doctrine of the Church is simple and infallible, it is the condemnation of usury.  Moral doctrine on sexuality is actually more complex and nuanced than moral doctrine on property; moral doctrine on contraception more casuistically tricky than moral doctrine on usury (though still not nearly as difficult as self-serving cognitive dissidence proposes).

Catholic usury apologists fall into two camps.

One camp just asserts that doctrine is de-facto infinitely plastic, which means it can be molded into a shape that permits whatever perversions they want it to permit. Bread of Life and circuses for everyone!

The other camp asserts that doctrine never changes but that circumstances have changed enough so that – in the current year – black is white, up is down, and water is dry.

The cognitive dissidence is obvious once you step away from the hothouse, and has many tells.  One of those tells involves the simultaneous assertion that back in the bad old days nobody knew anything about the subject and that back in the bad old days everyone who was smart agreed with us.

So we’ll get simultaneous assertions that the nature of money has changed (as if that were even relevant), that simple mutuum (personally guaranteed) loans are no longer trivially distinguishable from other contracts, and that modern banking and commerce is a whole new kind of thing unlike anything that came before.  At the same time we’ll be treated to references of saints and popes whose families were bankers along with citations of Jesus chiding a servant for failing to make an interest-bearing bank deposit in the New Testament.

I keep waiting for their heads to explode.  But I am always impressed by the ability of human beings to cling to manifestly incoherent nonsense when it means they can have whatever kind of sex they want to have, with whomever or whatever they like.

Sex lottery perverts

October 10, 2016 § 6 Comments

The point of playing the lottery is winning the jackpot.  The action is buying a ticket and waiting around for the results.

Winning the jackpot is a wonderful thing, but it comes with responsibility.  To be a property owner is to be a steward of that property.  Being a good steward of property involves risk, work, and expense; all of which increase with the value of the property.  (These don’t exhaust the requirements of being a good steward: they are just some of the requirements).

Someone who buys a lottery ticket and immediately throws it away is a lottery pervert: he acts contrary to the nature and purpose of lotteries, and contrary to accepting the responsibilities associated with the possibility of winning, a possibility intrinsic to buying a ticket.  A lottery pervert who buys a lottery ticket and throws it away would do better to just not play in the first place — even though playing may give him a thrill. In general someone who seeks the experience of playing the lottery while ruling out the possibility of winning attacks, by doing so, the nature of playing the lottery as an act of a rational being.  This approach to lotteries sets itself in opposition to the nature of lotteries and/or the rationality of the person playing.

If he already bought a ticket but feels unequipped to be a good steward of the jackpot, he ought to at least wait until the payout and donate it to someone who will be a good steward. Throwing either the ticket or the winnings into the trash is perverse, with respect to the nature of lotteries.

Lottery perverts act perversely no matter what the odds of winning happen to be; whereas someone who buys a ticket and waits for the result is not a lottery pervert, no matter the odds of winning.

And the same is true of sexual perverts.  Sexual perversion isn’t a matter of playing  with odds: it is a matter of perverting the nature of a sexual act

Stigmata, scars, and brands

October 10, 2016 § 5 Comments

As incarnate beings, our bodies bear witness to many of the choices we have made.

A more or less neutral term for this is scars. Scars may be the result of accident, of injustices committed against us, of noble acts, or of shameful acts.

When our bodies bear witness to noble actions on our part, we might refer to these as stigmata. (The most noble of stigmata are the fatal wounds of the martyr and, well, stigmata).

When our bodies bear witness to shameful actions on our part, we might refer to these as brands.

Stigmata are ennobling; brands are shameful; mere scars in themselves are neither ennobling nor shameful.

Examples of stigmata include the physical signs in a woman’s body caused by bearing children for her husband[1].  The same scars on an objectively unmarried woman or an adulteress are brands: signs of her immoral actions.

Tattoos in modern liberal societies are most often brands: self inflicted scars which make personal flaws manifest in literal scars deliberately engraved into the body.  Sometimes though tattoos can be stigmata, as when they symbolize the brotherhood of a particular group of men fighting for a noble cause. The same kind of common mark is a brand when the cause is ignoble, for example, in gang tattoos.  As deliberately self-inflicted, no voluntarily acquired tattoo is a mere scar.

Sterilization deliberately acquired is a brand.  Sterilization accidental or forced is a mere scar.

These are objective characterizations.  You don’t get to choose in an act of will whether a particular wound on your body is noble stigmata, ignoble brand, or mere scar: it is what it is because of how it got there. You can choose whether or not to mutilate your body with brands; but you cannot in a revisionist act of will turn what is objectively an ignoble brand into mere scar or noble stigmata.  It is no genetic fallacy or retreat to subjectivity to observe that noble stigmata and ignoble brands are different kinds of objects, with different moral implications.

Most people understand this to some degree, whether or not they want to accept it.  Thus things like fat shaming as a reaction to fat acceptance: fat acceptance attempts to neutralize the shame associated with gluttony (a vice which is all too easy to indulge in modern society); or even to turn it into something noble. But of course not all fat is shameful brand.  Some, as with the aforementioned fecund wife and mother, is noble stigmata. Stereotypes are useful, but they aren’t an excuse to turn off your brain.

[1] Or, as we might say today when referring to her actual husband, her first husband; with all the usual caveats about widowhood, prior fornication falsely labeled ‘marriage’, etc.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Moral Theology category at Zippy Catholic.