November 26, 2016 § 21 Comments
There is a struggle going on to define the soul of the United States of America, because modern people are under the impression that reality can be controlled by controlling the contents of the dictionary. This is because modern people are nominalists; though like the dead people in Bruce Willis movies, they don’t know that they are nominalists.
The soul of a thing is, roughly speaking, what unifies it and animates it as the kind of thing that it is.
What we might call the actual soul of the United States of America is what actually unifies and animates the USA in reality as a real community. This can’t be reduced to a formula or definition, but we can say things about it. It involves primarily shared religion (fundamental beliefs about reality and our place in it) and the shared history and historical connections of particular people.
Communities are a kind of fractal of the family. Modern people have the conceit that we can destroy the family and recreate its benefits, but subject to supreme human reason and will rather than to a nature which places inherent limits on what we can choose. So modernity is always trying to destroy natural family-fractal community and replace it with daycare-fractal community. Tending a garden and raising your children are out; food and children manufactured in a laboratory are in. If we control the owner’s manual and the design specifications we control the soul in the machine.
So there is a war on over the contents of the magic dictionary which defines the soul of the USA, and there are three main competing definitions: the proposition nation, economic nationalism, and ethnic nationalism. The first of these has dominated recent history in the USA, but conflict with actual reality has produced a perceived need to revert to other magical definitions while still preserving unifying worship of the god Liberty. We are by definition either a nation of anyone and everyone who professes fealty to the intoxicating horror of liberal principles, of liberal Walmart whales with citizenship papers united by our common love of Black Friday stampedes and murder over cheap consumer goods, or of disparate groups of inbred genetic stock who need to be segregated into corrals by an emperor where we can be free and equal among our own kind.
This battle is futile and self destructive, because any ‘soul’ which can be captured by a dictionary definition is not a living soul. There is just enough truth in the views of dictionary tyrants, of positivist reductionists, to make them dangerously stupid. It is true that communities tend to share religion (beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality and our place in it); it is true that communities tend to have common economic interests; it is true that mostly unforced intermarriage within communities produces a unique and particular ethnic and racial character.
But these are all natural products of community. Treating them as the controllable parameters of a big civilization machine always leads to unspeakable horror.
September 23, 2016 § 53 Comments
“Given an arbitrary world and arbitrary fitness functions, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but that is just tuned to fitness.”
Now we are getting somewhere. If evolutionary theory is true, as opposed to merely sophistry which has evolved as a political defense of metaphysically naturalist hubris, then the humans who evolved to become evolutionary theorists ‘see none of reality’.
Or, alternatively, it might just be time for some folks to check their metaphysical premises.
April 24, 2016 § 12 Comments
I’ve expressed before why I am not concerned that some artificial intelligence is going to take over the world and turn humans into slaves any time soon. Computer scientists have been yammering on about how AI was just around the corner since before I was typing rudimentary game programs into Hewlett-Packard calculators in the 1970’s. The pinnacle of what all of this massive human effort has produced is smart phone autocorrect.
Computers don’t have intelligence and they will never have intelligence. They do just exactly what they are told to do, nothing more, nothing less. Because they can do so very, very quickly, and because human beings are telling them what to do, they can be used to do some astonishing things. But they are just mindless tools, and that is all they will ever be.
However, computer-infected objects have managed to become quite narcissistic, at the instruction of their programmers. It is astonishing how many inanimate objects are constantly nagging me for attention, not because of something they can do for me but because they need me to attend to their own special needs.
Of course if humans continue on our current trends Alan Turing may turn out to have been prescient after all. As human society approaches the Narcissism Singularity it may ultimately become impossible for a third party observer to distinguish between the nagging narcissism of circuits and the nagging narcissism of meat.
March 8, 2016 § 164 Comments
One of the ways that folks keep falling into the mind trap of liberalism is through failure to grasp that liberalism is specifically and concretely a political doctrine: a basic understanding or view about the right exercise of authority. Liberalism makes freedom into a purpose, final cause, or telos of political action, that is, of the exercise of authority. Discussion of freedom as something other than final cause of political action is a change of subject: it is a squirrel, a red herring. Liberalism is freedom as a purpose or final cause of political acts.
Politics in action specifically just is the art of discriminating authoritatively, restricting freedom in controvertible cases to promote some particular understanding of the good. Actual politics – politics in act, in action – every specifically political act – involves the exercise of authoritative discrimination to restrict freedom. So it is impossible – nay not merely impossible, it is incoherent – to try to make freedom a telos or final cause of political acts. Political acts just are restrictions on freedom.
Political acts always and necessarily involve the resolution of controvertible cases. Freedom as final cause of political action quite precisely demands that we do not resolve the specific controverted case in front of us: that we do not exercise substantive discriminating authority: that authority must refrain from prejudicial acting, must remain neutral in a specific controverted matter. But when we authoritatively decide ‘not to resolve’ the controverted case in front of us – whatever that implies for the particular case – we have still made an authoritative, discriminatory choice about that controverted case.
Making freedom the principle of political action requires politics to not act. It requires politics to remain non-actual: it insists that prejudiced political authority a priori favoring a particular understanding of the good must disappear. Insisting that freedom (and concomitantly equality and fraternity) are the principles of political action, are the final causes of political acts, requires politics to remain literally unreal, non-actual. It creates a political wraith, a ghostly creature which pretends not to exist as it tears out your entrails: the unholy ghost of modernity.
Naturally, in the context of real people competing over real controversies, liberalism’s inherent anti-realism is invoked selectively by parties in political conflict with each other. Rather than defusing violence coming from unreasoning prejudice as it pretends to do, liberalism amplifies violence and covers it up with a positivist blindfold.
But freedom or liberty as a specifically political priority/telos – liberalism – is not just wrong. It is not merely a mistake which places a lower good in too high of a place in a hierarchy of goods. It is quite literally rationally incoherent, and thus destroys politics. It invalidates actual authority (authority in action), makes rejection of authority into the principle of authority, thereby unleashing the unconstrained will.
There is no coherent freedom as a specifically political prior which does not entail empowering wickedness and suppressing the good.
February 23, 2016 § 50 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.]
January 20, 2016 § 71 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.
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.