The search engine of Christ on Earth

June 5, 2017 § 80 Comments

The pope is primarily a sovereign, that is, a flesh and blood man born of ordinary human parents who possesses supreme authority over the Church.  He is the Vicar of Christ: a human representative of Christ who is  – Christ is – absolutely and supremely sovereign.

Human beings really don’t like to serve their masters in general, and they especially don’t like to feel obligated to obey other flesh and blood human beings.  Unlike God human beings are messy, smelly, fleshy, hairy, blood-and-bone animals with limited intellects, voracious appetites, narrow perspectives, egos well out of proportion to their ant-like personal significance in the scheme of things, mountainous lasagna layers of prejudice about matters they don’t understand, and prodigious helpings of vice. Who would want to be actually morally obligated to obey such a creature?

Atheists avoid the problem entirely by anointing themselves supreme intellect, but alas, this option isn’t available to believers. Protestants resolve the issue by appointing themselves Popes of their own personal Churches, projecting their own opinions onto pages of infinitely plastic interpretable text.

And one pervasive way for Catholics to be rid of this terrible and humiliating sense of obligation to obey a smelly beast with an oversized brain is to confound authority with degrees of epistemic certainty. After all, once we acquire knowledge of good and evil won’t we ourselves be like God?

So we are to obey Father because “Father knows best”, not because he is Father. If we knew better than Father our obligation to obey him would disappear. Father doesn’t actually have authority; he just happens to be in an epistemically superior position through accident of history, at least for the time being. Sovereignty is justified by the sovereign’s superior knowledge: by his capacity to infallibly declare doctrine, not by something so humiliating to us as actual possession of real authority.  It is to this transcendent knowledge that we give assent, not to the flesh and blood king. And the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is always there to set us free.

Popes almost never make infallible proclamations of doctrine though. The primary concomitant to the doctrine of infallibility is that almost nothing that a Pope says or does is an expression of epistemic certainty. His power qua Pope resides almost entirely in his real capacity to bind us to obedience in certain matters in the juridical domain of day to day Church rule — whatever we may think of, and whatever may be the objective wisdom or folly in, his decrees.

Institutionally of course there is real content to the Deposit of the Faith, and over the millennia this content has clarified and developed. Individual Popes and Councils have certainly made contributions here and there; though at least one Council is claimed, by the very Popes who called and ratified it, to have been purely pastoral: that is, to have defined no doctrines or dogmas at all.  “Pastoral” refers to the day to day life and actions of the Church as explicitly distinct from defending doctrine, that is, it refers to most of what the Church actually does as an authoritative living hierarchical institution headed by a flesh and blood monarch.

But the accumulated institutional body of knowledge at Ford is distinct from the authority of its CEO. The thing about Daddy is that on the sparse occasions when he actually tells you what to do you’d bloody well better do it, unless you have compelling contrary reasons and are willing to face the consequences of disobedience.

And the thing about individuals and whole societies with Daddy issues is that they usually don’t really want an actual Daddy. What they want is a flesh puppet with Daddy’s knowledge, competence, and authority to use his voice to speak their opinions and make them feel better about themselves.

The daddy issues of modernity

June 2, 2017 § 29 Comments

The natural law gives rise to absolute and categorical negatives: to absolute prohibitions which morally bind always and everywhere to prohibit certain kinds of behavior, independent of intentions and circumstances. Murder, contracting for usury, torture, and adultery are always and without exception morally wrong kinds of behavior.  Once a contemplated action is recognized as intrinsically immoral in species it is always morally wrong to choose that behavior.

It is also always morally wrong to intend the intrinsically immoral behavior of others, either as a means or an end.  We call this formal cooperation with evil.

The authority of particular men arises from and builds upon the natural law.  A father has authority over his children by nature; his imposition of a particular bedtime morally binds his children to obedience in virtue of his natural authority qua father.  We call the particular commands of a person in authority positive law.  For brevity I will refer to “the person in authority” as “the sovereign“.

Positive law can take two different forms.

In one form of positive law the sovereign directly asserts a particular command in a particular concrete situation: go to bed right now.

In another form of positive law, the sovereign promulgates a normative rule:  in thus and such a circumstance, this is to be done. Bedtime is eight o’clock.

Commands from authority are not the only kind of positive law.  For example we all have a positive natural law moral obligation to give alms: to materially support the poor and downtrodden, our brothers and sisters in Christ.

But it is fundamentally impossible for positive law to morally bind us to particular actions under all conceivable circumstances. Positive law is always by its very nature regulated by prudence. Going to bed at eight o’clock when the house is on fire would be a kind of mechanical rule-following which makes no sense under the particular circumstances. The positive rule is normative, but cannot by its nature be categorical.

I can’t explain this more plainly than the Church itself explains it:

Furthermore, what must be done in any given situation depends on the circumstances, not all of which can be foreseen; on the other hand there are kinds of behaviour which can never, in any situation, be a proper response — a response which is in conformity with the dignity of the person. Finally, it is always possible that man, as the result of coercion or other circumstances, can be hindered from doing certain good actions; but he can never be hindered from not doing certain actions, especially if he is prepared to die rather than to do evil.

Rules, procedures, and written law are not capable of becoming transubstantiated incarnations of authority itself.  The crafting of positive rules, the writing of text onto paper, is not a sacrament. Bureaucracy cannot become a substitute for fathers, daycares cannot become a substitute for mothers, and formal decision procedures cannot become a substitute for kings.

This is distressing to the modern mind, which desperately wants to believe that a politics with minimized authority is not merely coherent, not merely possible, but is the only moral state of affairs.

Ultimately though reality doesn’t really care about the daddy issues of modernity. Pervasive commitment to an incoherent conception of authority doesn’t make authority go away as a feature of reality: it merely makes authority sociopathic.

Those who follow rules

May 30, 2017 § 153 Comments

Authority is conserved, so the political possibilities in resolving actual controverted cases aren’t “more freedom” versus “less freedom”. The range of real political possibility is between authority exercised publicly and accountably by particular men, and authority exercised sociopathically without personal responsibility behind a wall of mechanical bureaucratic procedures and ‘zero tolerance’ rules (a situation often labeled ‘the rule of law’, but positivistically excluding the particular judgment which justice requires).

Modern people are always looking for ways to substitute rules and procedures for the authority of flesh and blood men.  Folks who deny the reality of authority prefer to be an insignificant mechanical component in a vast impersonal rule-executing machine rather than a subject expected to doff his cap to the king. This necessarily results in unjust and sociopathic exercise of authority.

In this post I will argue that substituting rules and procedures for human judgment and authority is necessarily unjust for what is called the “exclusionary rule” in American jurisprudence.

The “exclusionary rule” requires criminal courts in the US to always suppress evidence of a crime when improper procedures were followed in the collection of that evidence.  (Pay special attention to the use of always and some/sometimes in this argument).

This rule necessarily results in some cases resolving to an unjust result; in particular in those cases where good judgment should take procedurally tainted evidence into account. This injustice obtains against both the victims of crime and the common good of the community.  

A rule which guarantees some unjust results is an intrinsically unjust rule. Note that it isn’t necessary for the rule to always produce an unjust result for this to be the case: it is only necessary for the rule to sometimes produce an unjust result, because the rule is supposed to apply always.

Therefore the exclusionary rule is intrinsically unjust.

Arbitrage on the holodeck

May 28, 2017 § 35 Comments

Context and subjectivity are not the same thing.  

Context is objective: water is objectively more valuable in the desert.  It is also more costly to ship water to the desert than it is to use it where and when it is already abundant.

Preferences are subjective, though even preferences are rooted in objective reality.  Preferences are not reducible to nothing but pure subjectivity, because man himself is not reducible to nothing but pure subjectivity.  In the absence of disorder fresh water is preferred over seawater as drink, because the former satisfies the objective needs which give rise to thirst while the latter does not.

Objective truth always trumps subjective preferences. A subjective preference which is contrary to the objective truth is an intrinsically disordered preference.

Prices reflect an equilibrium in preferences between counterparties in the exchange of goods and services. The reason for exchange in the first place is because different objective contexts obtain for each counterparty: the baker has ample bread and few candles, while the candle maker has abundant candles and little bread.  So ten candles are exchanged for a loaf of bread.

An actual exchange represents a preference equilibrium: a subjective meeting of the minds in bringing together two different objective contexts for putative mutual benefit.

But perception is not always reality.


When the controlling preferences of either party to an exchange are intrinsically disordered, the price is an unjust price.  The mutual benefit (or its lack) in any exchange is ultimately an objective property of the actual exchange, not a meeting of minds in an intersubjective preference space.

The social media panopticon

May 18, 2017 § 32 Comments

Jeremy Bentham famously invented the idea of the panopticon, initially as a way to manage prisoners in a maximally efficient way.  The architecture of the panopticon enabled a single guard to monitor a large number of prisoners simultaneously.

Being a modernist, Bentham started seeing the benefits of universal surveillance in all sorts of other areas of life.  (He was also in favor of animal rights, a right to sodomy, etc — in the 1700’s, mind you).  After all, as long as you aren’t doing something that offends the gods why should you care that you are constantly being watched?  This is obviously an efficient way to design a civil society with minimal violence; a society which does not require a lot of messy exercise of easily-abused authority, authority which in any case just falls to certain people by accident of birth.  Nothing about universal surveillance in itself interferes with a person’s freedom.

Bentham’s vision has taken a long time to materialize because (as it turns out) most people don’t really like living under the constant surveillance of prison guards; guards who just might view them as less than fully human, possibly tomorrow if not in the Current Year.

But Mark Zuckerberg found a way to convince a billion people to voluntarily enter the panopticon.  He baited the trap with an irresistible siren:  a perpetual High School reunion, pictures of grandkids, and cat videos.

The idea that ideas can be property is patently ridiculous

May 18, 2017 § 53 Comments

One of the interesting things about patents (unless the law has changed since I filed mine a couple decades ago) is that the invention must be “reduced to practice” before you can even apply for one: you have to have a concrete working implementation before the patent office will even accept your application. And once a patent is granted, what the patent holder actually receives – the patent itself – is a security entitling the holder of the patent to enforceable commercial exclusivity within the jurisdiction of the patent authority.

Similar things can be said about other forms of intellectual property.

So IP doesn’t count in favor of the contention that ideas can be property. It counts against that contention.

As usual liberal modernity requires you to studiously avert your gaze once actual reality starts to come into view.

Means and ends for kindergartners

May 17, 2017 § 113 Comments

There has been a bit of ‘reactosphere’ discussion of means and ends lately.

Unsurprisingly, the aphorism ‘the end doesn’t justify the means’ is ridiculed in its strawman form: basically ‘No means is ever justified by any end.’

I’m always here to help though, and Miss Suzy asked me to visit on Talk To A Grownup Day.  So get out your crayons and let me rephrase the aphorism for the class.

The non-strawman version goes like this:

“Good ends don’t justify evil means.”

That’s a lot to take in, I know, so that is probably enough for one day.