Cryptocurrency for Catholics

Here’s another impromptu conversation post with a new friend of mine from Facebook.  We talk about the fundamentals of cryptocurrencies, currency in general, certain economic issues related to cryptocurrency and then the Catholic Church’s relationship to cryptocurrencies and possible options for it to navigate the current political and economic climate.  All the really meaty material starts at the 13:10 mark.

Coming Soon

Coming soon, to the Mad Philosopher project:

The Mad Theologian podcast!

This awesome picture of Rasputin is just here as a placeholder until our Mad Theologian-in-Residence takes his rightful place on the site.

See you soon and Carpe Veritas, readers.

P.S. In the mean time, head on over to Patreon to support this project and get some cool bonuses.

A Frank Discussion of Rights

Previously, I have written on my blog and on social media concerning rights and all the things surrounding rights in common discourse. As far as I can tell, I have not written the word “right” in quite a while… and I’ve only mentioned it a few times out-loud in private conversations as I explored the ideas I am planning to write on, today.

Today, I want to begin a frank discussion of rights. Given my self-imposed word limit and general mental constraints, I want to ask and contextualize three questions and make one follow-up (potentially) controversial statement. One may be able to trace the evolution of my ideas alluded to in previous posts to where I am now by reading though my published posts and the book-exclusive material, and one certainly could do so if they know me on social media or in-person; regardless, this is where I am at in my exploration of the concept of rights. So now, some questions:

  1. What function does the concept of rights serve?
  2. What is the ontology or metaphysics concerning rights?
  3. Are there more philosophically resilient alternatives to the concept of rights?

I will save my statement for later.

Rights seem to be a shorthand for ethical and moral reasoning. In classical texts I’m familiar with, “rights” are less a concern than they tend to be in modern and postmodern texts. As a matter of fact, when the Greeks and Romans addressed concepts that look like “rights”, they tended to focus more on what the term “privileges” covers in the modern age: a liberty granted to an individual or group by the guy(s) in charge. In a lot of ways, moral and ethical argumentation either had everything to do with virtue and ignored rights entirely, or centered entirely on one’s responsibilities as derived from one’s privileges. In the middle-ages, the concept had evolved slightly so as to include what amounts to “privileges granted by God”; a prime example would be the so-called “divine right of kings” or the liberties taken by the Church.

In the 1700’s, there was a major shift in popular philosophy. With the sudden explosion of productive technologies (such as the printing press and general industry), the subsequent decentralization of cultural production and consumption, and the sub-subsequent weakening of governmental power, certain theories that were only whispered about in the middle ages became widely popular. One such set of theories would be those of classical liberalism; another would be social contract theory; and one more example would be the rise of secular humanism.

One theme that was central to all three of those sets of theories was this niggling question: “If our rights aren’t derived from the king’s (or God’s) permission, how can morality exist?” The answer that seems to have won out in the marketplace of ideas is the straightforward, “People have rights because they are people, just because. Rights are something intrinsic instead of some contingent set of permissions.” Given how liberalism, democracy, and humanism have played out over the last few centuries, I doubt anyone with a basic understanding of modern history could honestly deny that the answer provided above is fraught with pitfalls. Even the SJWs demanding that free college, getting paid just for existing, and having permission to murder one’s offspring are intrinsic rights, just because, will tell you that people are mis-applying the concept.

Ultimately, every application of rights I am familiar with revolves around the essential question(s): “What can I get away with and what am I entitled to?” This is the reason I say it seems to be the case that rights are used as shorthand for ethical and moral reasoning; the focus of the rights discussion seems to be largely the same focus of ethical argumentation in general. If I have a negative right (the moral claim to be exempt from some obligation or another), such as the right to be left alone, that would mean that I “can’t get away with” harassing others (because they have the same right). If I have a positive right (the moral claim to be served by others), such as medical care, that would mean that anyone who can provide me with medical care is obligated to do so.

Depending on the theory, rights derive their ontology from different underpinnings. Some theories posit that rights are God-given, others posit that rights are brute facts, yet other theories posit that rights are derived from the general acceptance of society, and on and on. I think this diversity of suggestions is a result of the above discussed function of rights. Ethics and morality are, by their nature, abstract. Ethics and morality don’t make things happen in the world, at least not directly; they are descriptions of how one ought to act, but they don’t make someone act in a particular way. Rights, as a shorthand for parameters of acceptable human action are at least equally abstract. Where one can observe an apple falling in the orchard and posit a theory as to the mechanisms by which such an event occurs and the regularity with which such an occurrence is likely, one does not have the opportunity to observe a right and speculate as to the mechanisms by which the right accomplished its end.

Instead, more often than not, a philosopher or political activist will ask themselves, “What do I want to achieve? By what mechanism can I empower people to give me what I want and disenfranchise those who would get in the way of my goals?” This may sound like a very cynical take on Locke, Montesquieu, Smith… but one must remember that “What I want to achieve” may in fact be “peace on Earth and goodwill towards (wo)men” or some other fruitcake ideal. Upon answering these questions, the strong zeitgeist of rights becomes a valuable tool in accomplishing those ends. One need only come up with a source of rights that is compatible with one’s pre-existing ontological commitments and promotes one’s agenda.

Of course, this cynical reading of the history of philosophy presents a series of arguments concerning rights that have more to do with sophistry and political theory than it does with a genuine pursuit of Truth. If one were to make a genuine attempt to ground rights in a reliable ontological or metaphysical framework, I imagine it would look a lot like the cases made by a number of Rothbardian philosophers. Unfortunately, the level of abstraction required to make a case for the existence and nature of rights rivals the cases for the existence and nature of God. I only have enough bandwidth for one God-level case at a time, and people should know by now which one I’ve taken on. Instead, I just want to point out that a theory of rights which anchors itself in some moral or ontological case needs something metaphysical which lacks direct interaction with the physical world, some sort of platonic realism, and a theory of rights which anchors itself in utilitarian or sociological cases results in a utilitarian ethical framework which is sufficient to replace a similar doctrine of rights altogether.

So, what if a grounded theory of rights is better just left as an ethical framework without the concept of rights? Well, for one, doing so effectively neuters the ongoing social justice commentary as well as the general statist narratives wherein people claim positive rights which must be produced by state slavery. Additionally, It expedites certain discussions within and without my particular school of thought when one focuses on the principles and facts available which concern themselves with issues most people refer to as “rights issues”. What I mean to say is that the rhetoric and traditions of rights may only muddy the waters if there is an equally or more philosophically resilient alternative.

Despite the likelihood of being accused of all manner of character flaws, such as that of being a materialist, being a nominalist, or of being some sort of pagan or atheist, I think we can ground any discussion of “rights issues” in a far more easily defined and effective set of terms and principles. For example, I believe Hans Hermann Hoppe’s premises for argumentation ethics obtain nicely. One such premise is that private property is an inescapable feature of the human condition; the very fact that one has access to and control over one’s body demonstrates the principle of self-ownership in a way that cannot be abrogated by any instance or degree of criminal trespass or chemical interference.

So, ever the quintessential AnCap, I think that exploration of the logical, physical, and metaphysical features of property will sort out all of the issues commonly presented as “rights issues” and will, more often than not, produce results that jive with rational intuition. For example, a good portion of the classical liberal “negative rights” are the immediate logical consequent of the nature of property: the right to secure oneself against coercion, murder, and theft is less a “right” and more a natural result of the nature of self-ownership; If I own my body (and by extension that which my body produces), given the definitive quality of property that is “exclusivity”, I may exclude others from use of that property by whatever means that does not involve trespass on my part. There: without “rights”, I’ve established the justifiability of self-defense and, due to the universal nature of property, have also denied the justifiability of trespasses such as murder, coercion, and theft.

If there were any rationally defensible claim to what is often called a positive right, an argument for such a claim could be made stronger by avoiding a discussion of rights, itself, and focusing on the reality of property, instead. Perhaps the most defensible claim of positive rights is that of the Catholics: the “right to life”. For example, a “right to life” can not be taken seriously, lest it result in absurdity given the above alluded to discussion concerning the relationship between positive rights and state slavery. Death is inevitable, so to have a right to escape such an inevitable phenomena would require that mankind collectively devote every resource available to the discovery of immortality which would, itself, result in the deaths of everyone involved.

Instead, acknowledging the unborn human’s ownership of its body, the propertarian obligations of a landlord (or, in this case, a mother), the degree of action either is able to engage in, and other features of property and the human condition would result in positions which directly parallel the traditional positions of the Catholic Church concerning abortion, evictionism, self-defense, euthanasia, and care for the elderly. As an added bonus, such an activity would demonstrate the absurdity of the “right to choose”, “right to birth control”, and etc.

The time has come for my controversial claim (as if this hasn’t been controversial so far). The Catholic Church made a grave error in adopting the enlightenment-era’s rhetoric concerning rights. I kinda’ already alluded to that claim in the last section of the post, but I think it is important enough to warrant explicit attention. In engaging a secular humanist agenda on its own flawed terms instead of continuing its pursuits in determining the truth of the matter, the Church made itself more popular in an adversarial world. In the process, though, it laid the groundwork for the current social and ethical battles it finds itself buried under. That is not to say that the Doctrinal positions of the Church, or even the moral and ethical teachings of the Church as a whole are inaccurate, but it is to say that the use of flawed theories and terminology obfuscates the veracity of those teachings. Because of this obfuscation, it is not an unfair accusation to blame the SJWs on the Church and to point out that the Church has backed itself into a corner concerning the pursuit of knowledge of creation (most noticeable of which being economics). This mistake can be rectified if teachers and clergy make a concerted effort to pursue truth as opposed to political expedience… but how long it will take to do so is very much a live question.

TL;DR: Rights, in their most resilient formulation can best be described as “temporary privileges granted by the guys in charge” or, alternatively, “an ethical or moral shorthand for determining justification of actions”. There are a number of frameworks in which people try to ground rights and accomplish the ends for which the have created those rights, some are more reasonable than others, but they all present issues I do not believe can be resolved. Additionally, there is far too much baggage and theory in the realm of discourse concerning rights to expect calm, rational debate. Property, and the logical and material consequences of property provide a resilient alternative to the discussion of rights which also achieves intuitive outcomes. For these and other reasons, I think that it would be a better rhetorical move to simply deny the existence of rights altogether and demonstrate the efficacy and utility of property in dispute resolution and moral or ethical dilemmas.

Also, here’s some George Carlin, for your entertainment.

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Liberty Classroom: an Invaluable Tool

If you are reading this near the end of November in 2016, you can get some major discounts and provide a great deal of support to the Mad Philosopher project by going to Tom Woods Liberty Classroom and subscribing.  If you are reading this at any other time, you can still provide a great amount of value to the project by doing so.

Tom Woods Liberty Classroom is easily one of the most undervalued resources available on the internet, as it provides a legitimate PhD-level resource on a number of crucial subjects such as history and economics.  The term “legitimate” is important, here, as what most universities provide is only half-true and full of leftist propaganda.  This resource is the closest to comprehensive and the closest to unbiased as can be found.

Click Here to get some coupon codes and subscribe.  This affiliate program is definitely one of the best ways to support the Mad Philosopher project, second only to just sending me Bitcoin directly.

 

Here’s some free samples (the best stuff is behind the paywall, obviously):

the best way to fulfill the maxim “Carpe Veritas” is to subscribe to Liberty Classroom and take advantage of everything such a subscription provides.

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Logical Anarchy Guest Spot!

Today, I have another guest spot I’d like to present.  I feel much better about my performance on this episode than the previous guest spot I had, and I’d like my readers/listeners to check out the work that they do over at Logical Anarchy.

Carpe veritas



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Podcast List 2016

About one year ago, on the old site, I posted an extensive list and brief set of reviews concerning the podcasts I was listening to.  People still periodically ask me what I listen to, but the old list is out-of-date.  This week, I’m listing my current podcast list and some recommendations for others to listen to.

Podcasts I continue to listen to (in order of importance):

  1. Mad Philosopher Podcast: Yeah, yeah… I know… I listen to my own show, I’m such a dork and a narcissist.  I listen to it the day I upload in order to catch major quality-control issues with the show.  I’ve already caught and re-uploaded several, so the process works.  I recommend everyone listen to what I have to say, too (as any narcissist would).
  2. Very Bad Wizards:  My favorite Philosophy podcast, these two guys are hilarious and relaxed.  Their content is always fresh and informative.  They just discuss issues in ethics and philosophy at random.
  3. Sex and Science Hour:  Brian Sovryn and Stephanie Murphy are back, and they’re better than ever.  It’s really just Sovryn Tech, but with more banter.
  4. Sovryn Tech:  A tech and culture podcast with another paradigm anarchist.  A little thick/left sometimes, but always well-reasoned and intellectual, I think Brian Sovryn has done more for liberty than any politician has, ever.
  5. Primal Blueprint:  I will be discussing this one soon in a full blog post, but over the last few months I’ve made a lot of health decisions, as has my wife, and this podcast is an interesting source of information.
  6. Radical Agenda:  With more passion and rage than even I can muster, the well-read and ever-grounded Cantwell reads the news and gets “triggered”.  Lately, he’s been forced into a corner concerning racism and right-wing politics, but I very rarely disagree with him on anything more than tactics.  He will also occasionally record a stand-alone rant which always has something important to tell someone.
  7. School Sucks Show:  Usually randomly updated, but with long episodes, School Sucks is a show devoted to education and intellectual self-defense.  Parents and educators ought to listen to this show, as well as anyone who wishes to be intellectually literate.  The host keeps it really fun and very level-headed.
  8. DH Unplugged: A weekly discussion of the financial markets by Dvorak and Horowitz.  Very informative about what’s going on in the world, even if one has no skin in the markets.  With these two, I know more about what’s going on than even listening to Cantwell or Sovryn.
  9. Tom Woods Show:  Updated every weekday, I make it a point to keep up-to-date with this show.  Tom is one of the most respectable and most influential anarchists alive today.  Every day he has something new and important to share with the world.  Everyone, regardless of what they believe, should probably listen to his show.  He covers the surface of nearly every topic even tangentially related to liberty and periodically goes super-deep.  I also listen to Contra Krugman, Woods’ other show, wherein he and Bob Murphy teach economics by tearing arch-Keynesian Paul Krugman’s works to shreds.  It’s not a podcast, but since it’s a product by Tom Woods and it far surpasses either show, the Tom Woods Liberty Classroom needs a mention here.  It’ll get you a PhD-level education in history and economics and it’s an excellent tool for figuring the world out.  If you use my link, I get a little piece of the action and it helps keep the lights on over here.
  10. Catholic Stuff you Should Know:  A podcast currently hosted by my former assistant pastor and my current pastor, they cover a wide variety of subjects, all of which are important to living a full faith life.  Lots of fun banter and jokes, lots of educational stuff.  It’s exceptionally fun for a Catholic in the process of switching rites, as my former assistant pastor is a Roman Rite priest and my current pastor is a Byzantine priest.
  11. Personal Profitability Podcast:  This is a podcast put on by a former co-worker of mine from Summer Camp.  It reminds me a lot of “The Art of Manliness” but with more useful ideas about money and less soldier worshiping.  He’s a direct descendant of Baal Shem Tov… which is mostly just an interesting sidebar, but also an indicator that he knows his money, (if you know what I mean).
  12. Philosophize This:  A fun exploration of concepts in philosophy, seemingly chosen at random.  The host has a cleverness about him and a solid grasp of the concepts and contexts he covers.  It’s another great show for beginners, as well as a way to fill in the gaps for more well-read listeners.
  13. The Incomparable: After listening to Robot or Not for a year, they finally sold me on listening to their actual show, and it’s a lot of fun.
  14. The Cracked Podcast:  Just like the Cracked website, but in audio format.  Hilarious, informative, and a little too lefty to be taken seriously.  I have fun and learn a lot of trivia.
  15. No State Project:  I only started listening a couple weeks ago, but it’s a great exploration of the Socratic method and its applicability in the kangaroo courts of ‘Murica.
  16. History of Philosophy Without any Gaps: A weekly podcast that has been methodically plodding through the history of philosophy from the pre-socratics through today.  Each episode is short, easy to understand, and like the name says, has no gaps.  Excellent for both beginners and people who know it all.  I also listen to the corollary podcast History of Philosophy In India which, ironically, fills some gaps left by the preceding podcast.
  17. Partially Examined Life:  The first podcasts I listened to, the Partially Examined life is a monthly exploration of a small group of texts in philosophy.  With a healthy balance of irreverence, humor, and knowledgeably, this show is usually a lot of fun, and teaches me stuff I didn’t know in a field in which I’m generally very knowledgeable.  They approach the text much the same way a seminar class would in college, but with less authorities around.  Since they’ve become the name in philosophy podcasts, they’ve kinda gotten corporate and are trying a little too hard to be “inclusive” in their approach, but they’re still a great listen.
  18. Anime World Order:The snobby older brother to Anime Pulse, AWO updates rarely and sporadically, but I very much enjoy their discussions of older anime, especially since they tend to share similar opinions to my own and expose me to things I’ve missed.  They’ve got an older and more refined taste than a lot of anime commentators out there.  I grew up on 80s and 90s anime, so that’s still where my preferences lie.
  19. Robot or Not: Five minute episodes in which the hosts determine whether or not a specific piece of technology is a robot.  Fun, short, funny.  I disagree with their conditions for being a robot, but that doesn’t take away from the fun.
  20. Rationally Speaking:  An atheist podcast that focuses primarily on cognitive biases, science, and ethics.  On rare occasion they’ll bring Neil DeGrasse Tyson (or some other popular “scientist”) on to shit all over philosophy and religion, but they are usually very nice and even-handed.  One of the main hosts left a year ago, but the remaining host has carried along nicely.
  21. Revolutions:  A podcast that goes very in-depth discussing the history of drifferent revolutions.  I listened to it upon a reader’s suggestion after my post on slave rebellions.
  22. History on Fire:  A podcast from Daniele Bolelli (of Drunken Taoist fame).  He recounts interesting and often-ignored chunks of history from an amusing angle.  The history lessons being my favorite part of the Drunken Taoist, this podcast is pretty awesome.
  23. Downfall with Jared Howe:  Technically part of a larger group of shows (seeds of liberty), Downfall is hosted by a guy I met on facebook who is an absolute genius.  I finally got convinced by a mutual friend of ours to listen to his show, and I like it.
  24. Samurai Archives Podcast: Exactly what it sounds like.  A historical survey of Japanese culture, samurai, bushido, etc.  A must-listen for samurai fans.
  25. The Ex-Worker:  An AnCom production about AnComs.  I still listen to it, even though I’ve had an anti-communist awakening over the last year (alongside Cantwell’s racist awakening).  I am still encouraged by their ability to get out and fuck shit up, even if they are fighting the wrong enemy half the time.
  26. Revolutionary Parent:  Formerly “Powerful Parenting”, this show is almost never updated anymore, as they’ve moved to a new content method.  Their rare piece of content is still worth it, though, as the host coaches people through the methods of peaceful parenting, which is really just NVC applied to children.
  27. Radiolab:  This show (still) keeps just barely making the cut.  Overproduced, frenetic, and excessively liberal, the only thing that keeps me coming back is the fact that every three episodes or so presents me with something I hadn’t known about previously.
  28. Manga Pulse:  A subsidiary of Anime Pulse, a podcast that’s really gone down the tubes since management changed.  Manga Pulse is hosted by a couple guys that live in my hometown of Denver and tend to be a lot of fun whenever they actually upload a show.
  29. Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt:  This show is great for me, as I did a lot of reading about Egypt when I was in high school and never had a chance since.  I don’t know if the show’s been cancelled or not, as I haven’t heard much from them since the school the titular “Eric” works at got shot up by a drugged-up leftard.

Podcasts I no longer listen to:

  • Drunken Taoist:  the podcast started getting more and more lefty as I was getting less and less lefty.  With History on Fire being several hours at a time, I couldn’t do both.
  • Rebel Love Show:  Degenerate druggies discussing degeneracy and whining about cops.  Where Cantwell’s technical roughness is easily compensated for his actual content, the technical roughness of the rebel love show has nothing to hold onto for support.
  • Lets Talk Bitcoin:  As I became less enthusiastic about the inanity of the cryptocurrency “communities”, I lost interest in the daily shows about the inanity of the crypto-space.  Still love Bitcoin and still love MaidSafe, but I don’t want to listen to podcasts about regulators regulating what should be free.
  • East Meets West:  I just got bored with them and the other podcasts have overwhelmed my playlist.
  • Art of Manliness:  They started re-treading old roads and shows like School Sucks and Personal Profitability cover a lot of the same material.  The soldier-worship started getting intolerable, too.
  • Matt Walsh:  Since I put him on last year’s list, all he’s done is cry about Donald Trump and about how republicans aren’t warmonger-y enough.  I’d rather just listen to Cantwell.
  • Freedom Feens:  It used to be fun, but MK Lordes really started getting a lot more time (obnoxious feminist), and the program became the 24-hour “Michael Deen slowly dies on-mike while everyone strawmans Cantwell” show.  Ultimately, the daily two-hour shows were just way too much time and way too little content.
  • Anarchast:  Jeff Berwick is a scammy guy and I stopped listening a few episodes after he was seriously entertaining flat-earthers.

Podcasts that have been discontinued:

  • Superego
  • Atlas MD (never officially canceled, but I haven’t seen an episode in a very long time)

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Philosophy in Seven Sentences

I’ve previously presented a brief review of Christian Apologetics (which seems to have vanished… I will have to write a second one or re-publish it). From the same author, InterVarsity Press has recently published Philosophy in Seven Sentences. Now that I’ve read the book (twice), I feel compelled to share it with my readers.

I love teaching/tutoring, especially audiences yet uncorrupted by academic ignorance and apathy. A few years ago, I taught a series of philosophy classes to a local homeschool group. It was well-received, it payed the bills, it gave both myself and my audience a newfound appreciation for the science and art that is philosophy.

The average age of the class was somewhere in the vicinity of thirteen or fourteen years of age, so they were largely unaware of philosophy altogether (which is a shame). I had four lectures with which to cover all the bases of “Philosophy 101” in a manner amenable to a young audience. Ultimately, I decided on pulling four themes/philosophers from history and simply walking the class through a philosophical exercise of exploring those themes. Almost the entirety of my preparation time was spent choosing the four themes. Ultimately, I think I chose Plato’s (Socrates’) apology, Aristotle’s categories (basic logic), Descartes’ cogito, and Kant’s categorical imperative. Of course each philosopher served as a foil for their contemporary history of philosophy and their inheritors, thereby covering the bases of philosophy’s history. Having taken two Philosophy 101 classes (from two different schools, long story), I get a feeling this is a popular way to teach such courses.

All this dry nostalgia is to set the stage for a brief overview of “Philosophy in Seven Sentences”. Typically, this would be a full-on “teaching from the text” post, but this book is literally fresh off the presses and both you and Douglas Groothuis would be better served if you ponied up the small amount of money required to acquire the text itself. That said, I do intend to give the text its due justice.

In eight short chapters, averaging about sixteen pages each, Groothuis takes one sentence per chapter (plus a short challenge at the end) and gives an excellent introduction to both the tools and traditions of philosophy. Typically, such a text will either attempt to impress its readers with technical terms, obscure references, and complicated methods of presentation or it will be written so casually and simplistically so as to render a rich and beautiful tradition banal and empty. Groothuis manages to dance a fine line between condescension and elitism, speaking plainly and straightforwardly but also challenging even seasoned readers to step up to his level of mastery concerning the material at hand.

I genuinely enjoy reading primary sources which, I guess, makes me weird; secondary and tertiary sources are generally less appealing to me, but I read any material with a sufficient insight-to-page-count ratio. As a case-in-point, I’ve already read many of the texts referenced in “Philosophy in Seven Sentences”. Even so, Groothuis manages to take a broad array of information, presumably acquired through extensive reading, discussion, and lecturing, and distill it down to one of the highest insight-to-page-count concentrations I have seen, even for someone with reasonable familiarity with the material presented.

The seven sentences in question are well-selected: spanning history and traditions from ancient Greece with Protagoras, Socrates, and Aristotle, to the early Church with Augustine, to the enlightenment with Descartes and Pascal, to modern existentialism with Kierkegaard. While I may have selected a couple different sentences (exchanging Paschal for Nietzsche and Kierkegaard for Camus or Sartre), Groothuis tells a progressive narrative which begins, dialectically and historically, with Protagoras’ “Man is the measure of all things,” and concludes with Kierkegaard’s pointed and melancholy “The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all.”

Readers who have no prior exposure to philosophy proper should, at least, recognize three or more of these quotes, as they have become memes referenced and repeated throughout popular culture. “Man is the measure of all things,” “I think, therefore I am,” and “The unexamined life is not worth living,” are referenced in popular films, shows, books, and songs. Descartes’ contribution, in particular, is the subject of a great many common jokes. I once owned a t-shirt which read “I drink, therefore I am.”Groothuis does an excellent job of setting misconceptions concerning these sentences without becoming a party-pooper.

Usually, a book I enjoy reading is full of highlights, annotations, and sticky notes. Every page of Human Action and Existentialism is a Humanism has some sort of mark on it. One would expect, then, that an unmarked book would be a sign of disinterest and, typically, one would be correct. In the case of “Philosophy in Seven Sentences”, though, nearly every line would be highlighted (defeating the purpose of highlighting) and there is no need for annotating the text; it is clear, concise, and wastes no time or space in exploring, if not the history of philosophy, a powerful narrative through the tradition of philosophy.

I have never before encountered a book better suited to serve as a textbook for an intro to philosophy class. Admittedly, this book would likely be better received in a Christian institution than elsewhere but, even elsewhere, it far outstrips and conspicuously secular text as far as both demonstrating the techniques of the philosophical exercise as well as exploring the philosophical tradition. I guess I’ve been salivating over this book long enough and ought to move on to “teaching”.

The general plot of the book begins with Protagoras’ exploration of subjectivity. Given that the pre-socratics are the progenitors of western philosophy, it makes perfect sense that one would start the narrative there. With a quick glance over extant pre-socratic works, one largely has a choice between the Zenos’ contributions of stoicism and obnoxious math problems, Pythagoras’ trigonometry, Heraclitus’ almost Buddhist sense of impermanence and meaninglessness, or Protagoras’ relativism. While Zeno (either one), Pythagoras, Heraclitus, et.al. each contributed quite a lot to philosophy as a whole, Protagoras sets a particular stage for Plato and Aristotle to get the show really going.

“Man is the measure of all things,” could easily be the opening lone of a stage play concerning the history of philosophy. I know from firsthand witness that phrase has hung on the wall of many dorm rooms that have borne witness to activities often reserved for cheap motel rooms outside of town; it has also, quite contrarily, remained very near the heart of philosophical discourse for over two millennia.

Such a mentality is easy for the philosophically-minded to slip into. As the exercise of philosophizing often consists of comparing and contrasting (AKA “measuring”) experiences, narratives, and ideas, it’s a natural temptation to declare oneself (or one’s kind) “the measure of all things”. Given the absence of an immediately apparent alternative to man, as far as measuring is concerned, Protagoras can’t really be blamed for making such a claim. Groothuis does an excellent job of exploring Protagoras’ position, the rationale behind it, what such a position means, and the ultimate results of a position. I don’t have the ability or word count to do so.

Moving on, a younger and arguably more famous contemporary of Protagoras is reported to have said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Of course, if man is the measure of all things, then such an examination is likely to be very short in duration. Groothuis shows the tension between Socrates/Plato’s views on the transcendental nature of reality and Protagoras’ more materialist understanding of reality. While also setting up an opposition between Protagoras’ camp and the Socratic camp (which remains in the narrative all the way through Kierkegaard), he describes Socrates and his basis for such an extreme statement as “The unexamined life is not worth living,” in its own right as well. Admittedly, I feel that, despite explicitly addressing the key issue in interpreting Socrates (he didn’t write anything down, so all we have is other peoples’ accounts of what he said), Groothuis blurs the line between Socrates and Plato as far as their ideas are concerned.

Regardless of whether Plato or Socrates ought to get the credit allotted by Groothuis, they effectively prepare the stage for Aristotle who begins the discussion of man’s nature. Ultimately, the issue of man’s nature is what Augustine, Descartes, Pascal, and Kierkegaard are called to opine upon. Each one comes from a particular philosophical school and era in history and, therefore, has something unique to contribute to the discussion and Groothuis demonstrates a depth and breadth of knowledge on both the philosophers and their ideas.

This book is a must-read and must-have for anyone who is even fleetingly interested in matters beyond dinner, dates, and this week’s sportsball game. This goes for the engineer who did everything in his power to avoid liberal arts as well as the philosophy masters’ students who may need a reminder on the basics, a reminder of where philosophy 101 students stand, or as a textbook from which to teach. This book is one of the few secondary sources I will suggest, and I plan on snagging a few of the books listed in the bibliography for my personal extra-credit.

TL;DR; Philosophy in Seven Sentences, by Douglas Groothuis, is a paradigm example of how the more knowledgeable one is concerning a particular subject, the better one ought to be at explaining it in terms everyone can understand and, hopefully, enjoy. Derived from a popular introductory lecture style, Groothuis’ work takes seven deep, meaningful, and crucial sentences from the history of philosophy. While I may have chosen sentences from Nietzsche, Rousseau, ort Sartre instead, I would not have been even remotely capable of laying out so much information in so concise and readable a narrative. If anyone has a hard time keeping up with the terminology or argumentation in this blog, “Philosophy in Seven Sentences” is my most highly recommended starting place (followed by Liberty Classroom).

Life and Death: A Meditation

A good number of important intellectuals, famous artists, and people I know personally have died or come pretty close in the last couple years. This phenomena is nothing new to me; even in the heart of Empire, humans are subject to the human condition no less than those in Empire’s killing fields. I’ve been faced with this reality a little more than I have grown accustomed to of late and felt I could share my musings here a little more long-form from the offhand remarks I’ve been getting in trouble over.

Before discussing death outright, it would likely be prudent to address that which immediately precedes it: life. As will be addressed in my 95 Theses, there exist two possible ontological realities concerning life. It can either be teleologically directed or it can be a mere gratuitous happenstance. In the absence of what amounts to some purpose and afterlife beyond this one, life is nothing more than a complex chemical reaction that eventually exhausts itself; one’s phenomenological experiences are nothing more than a freak occurrence of matter briefly knowing itself before once again becoming deaf and dumb.

Alternatively, if the Catholics, Buddhists, animists, or adherents of some other religion turn out to be correct, the purpose of this life is directed towards what occurs afterwards. I don’t know how deeply I ought to follow this line of thought for the sake of this post; I think the absurd caricatures most people have concerning heaven and hell or reincarnation are sufficient.

In the case of life being gratuitous, death is equally so. Not even the individual who may be dying has much cause for emotion. In a few moments, there will be nothing left, and there will be nothing left to observe that absence; the universe is (phenomenologically) extinguished in death. Other than waxing poetic or discussing the epistemic impossibility of comprehending such a reality, there isn’t anything more that needs to be said. I guess I could mention that, in a universe in which life and death are gratuitous, moral principles are meaningless, even a prohibition on murder, as the “victim” has nothing to lose by such an incident. In the words of Albert Camus: “There is a passion of the absurd. The absurd man will not commit suicide; he wants to live, without relinquishing any of his certainty, without a future, without hope, without illusion and without resignation either. The absurd man asserts himself by revolting. He stares at death with passionate attention and this fascination liberates him. He experiences the ‘divine irresponsibility’ of the condemned man. Since God does not exist and man dies, everything is permissible.”

In the case of life having a telos, specifically one that motivates human action, then death may yet achieve some meaning alongside life. Death then, depending on the nature of the afterlife, could be a blessing or a curse, contingent on the relation the dying has with said afterlife. Given that the existence or absence of any sort of afterlife is yet unknown by any reliable measure, it would likely be the most prudent course of action to err on the side of rational caution, whatever that may be.

Either way, one type of comment that has gotten me in trouble is speaking of suicide in what some consider to be unaffected or positive ways. I’m no stranger to suicide, having seriously encountered that spectre in my life by way of both experiencing the temptation myself and having friends and family succumb to it. Observing suicide from the clinically detached position of praxeology can provide some insight as to the nature of such a choice. In the language of praxeology, suicide is a result of one of two possible functions: extreme time preference or cost/benefit analysis.

Speaking from personal experience, it can be quite easy to make ill-informed decisions when one has a very high time preference. Ultimately, that which differentiates human action from animal movement is the deliberative and deferred function of rationality. Where a dog will eat whatever activates their appetite, a man can choose to abstain or to eat something different from that which activates his appetites. Each individual has a different capacity for such deliberation. For example, one could usually pass up one bitcoin today if it ensured receiving two bitcoins tomorrow… but if one were to win the powerball, the would likely take half of the prize up-front, rather than taking the full prize divided into several annuities.

How does such a time preference influence the choice to kill oneself? The easy example is that of adolescents killing themselves over the inhospitable nature of school as an environment or bullying from their peers and adults. School may be a 25,000 hour system of dehumanization, but one is typically expected to live for forty to eighty years after emerging from that abuse engine. Bullies and environments come and go, but death is permanent. The decision, then, to kill oneself when still so young is demonstrative of a time preference by which one would rather permanently obliterate oneself (or face eternal damnation, same idea) than suffer the ennui of being a slave for what amounts to a relatively brief time.

A different, but functionally equivalent, example is one I have faced more than once. I have always had a very contracted time preference, and certain bouts of what could appropriately be called ennui could have been fatal for me in the past. In the saving words of Camus (again): “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest – whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories – comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer.” Technically, that question is an open one for me. The only reason I still live is that of a Sisyphean dare: “There is the possibility, however, slim, that tomorrow could be better than today… wouldn’t it be a sick stoic joke if I gave up just before it’s too late? I dare tomorrow to be worse though…” By and large, the number of better tomorrows has outweighed the worse ones.

After spending so many words on time preference, cost/benefit analysis doesn’t warrant much expenditure. Where suicide as a function of extreme time preference is typically the result of a flawed cost/benefit analysis, one which weighs immediate discomfort far more heavily than expected future gains, suicide as a function of cost/benefit analysis is simply one that is better informed. If someone is over a century old and is diagnosed with an inoperable and advanced form of cancer, odds are there will quickly arrive a day beyond which each day will be worse. In an act of stoic virtue, one may make an analysis of one affairs and choose to die on one’s own timeline, rather than that of one’s cancer. There are a great number of historical and literary examples which parallel this one.

This sort of deliberation has, historically, been rejected and discouraged by Christian thinkers and preachers even though, despite argumentation to the contrary, Thomism will defend my position, utilizing the myth of “double effect”. The most prominent basis for such a rejection has been that suicide is an act of despair and despair is the opposite of faith; to reach a conclusion that each day will be worse than the any preceding day and today is the lowest threshold of desirability is to despair in God’s ability/willingness to perform miracles. This is, of course, derived from a naive interpretation of Thomist theology. God has an equal capacity to miraculously improve one’s life tomorrow as He does to do so the moment before one pulls the trigger.

The other argument presented most often from the Christian camp is some variation of “Your body is not your own, it’s God’s; to kill your body would be to steal from God.” While such rhetoric could be eminently useful as a shorthand ethical device (“Would God rather I pursue physical and intellectual virtue with this body, or let it become a shiftless mass of wasted resources?”), the metaphysics of such a claim is either non-actionable or absurd, depending on the formulation. That is not to say that I am opposed to the idea that suicide may be a sin, but it certainly is not a crime.

Of course, when discussing faith and suicide, I would be remiss in not at least mentioning martyrdom. Allowing or intentionally causing oneself to be killed for the sake of furthering an agenda, especially in the case of “Christ’s Kingdom”, is typically what one means when one refers to a martyr in the literal sense. In other words, martyrdom is typically an instance of “suicide by cop/barbarian/jihadi/etc.” whereby one has allowed themselves to fall victim of an ideologue of an opposing faction. I intend to dedicate a full post to martyrdom some other time, but it suffices to say in this context that, if suicide is impermissible for any consistent reason, martyrdom must also be avoided at any cost (possibly other than apostasy or suicide) and a great many “martyrs’ may just be suicides by any reasonable definition. Having faith in God, the afterlife, or the righteousness of one’s cause is insufficient to differentiate between suicide and martyrdom, as suicide is an attempt to escape this life for whatever comes after (and is therefore more appropriately characterized as an act of faith in the afterlife, be it nothingness, reincarnation, whatever) and the only difference is whether one kills themselves by way of their own hand, or the inevitable reactions of others.

From a anthropological perspective, death is the driving motive behind human progress. Every human action is directed towards maximizing either quantity or quality to one’s life, even if that action may be misinformed. It follows, then, that the avoidance of death is what lies, fundamentally, behind the creation of internet, smart phones, cotton underpants, indoor plumbing, drugs/medicine, and whatever other white-bread modern inventions you enjoy. In addition to being a motivating factor, it is also an inter-generational biological process. Human strains that have existed for tens of thousands of years in a particular environment have been naturally selected to exhibit different characteristics due to that environment. Said factors have played a smaller, but more significant, factor in this selective process. Yes, I’m speaking of human evolution.

Human ingenuity has largely mitigated these natural selective processes in the last couple thousand years. One of the few factors which still contributes to beneficial selective processes is the individual detrimental effects of extreme time preference, which can largely only be mitigated by the actions of the individual in question who has such a time preference. As a result, suicide is, in effect, one of the few natural processes which contribute to beneficial breeding selection. This isn’t to say that suicide is a good thing, but it is one of the few factors in human environments that contributes to genetic hygiene.

One other circumstance in human environments which contributes to beneficial selective processes is the adverse consequences of crime and vice. Criminals place themselves in situations where lethal force may be used against them. If not immediate lethal force, social forces tend to reduce one’s ability to reproduce after the fact. Despite the best efforts of progressivism and the state to mitigate the consequences of crimes (such as theft) and vices (using poorly-designed drugs like krokodil or adderal), they have not totally succeeded. The violent death rate in progressive cities such as Chicago is one such data point to illustrate this.

In the absence of the state, these beneficial consequences will become more pronounced: rather than relying on welfare to purchase food so as to subsidize one’s drug addiction, a drug-user will be forced to choose between starvation or sobriety. Those with the capacity for virtue will eschew dependence on externalities and become a valuable member of a community and those without said capacity will not be passing on their genes. A similar paradigm emerges in the case of crime. In the absence of a politically-motivated and violent monopoly on security, jurisprudence, and welfare (such as prisons), criminals will be faced with more immediate and dire consequences. Without getting into specifics, as volumes have already been written about the plethora of options in LibPar, criminals will be faced with the prospect of a more vigilant and aware set of potential victims coupled with the likelihood of death or exile if caught. It is more likely, by orders of magnitude, that those capable of basic risk-assessment and cost/benefit analysis will refrain from making ill-advised decisions while those that are incapable are not likely to reproduce.

This post, thus far, has been largely descriptive: simply observing the ontological state of affairs without making a value judgment as to whether such things are “good” or “bad”. If you, the reader, have found yourself disagreeing with the facts as I’ve laid them out or if your aesthetic tastes have been put off by my sterile approach and you are still reading this, I first want to thank you and second would like your feedback. For the reminder of this already over-sized post, I want to delve into my personal aesthetics and, perhaps, some prescriptive writing.

Life, for me, exclusively finds its meaning in death. If there were no prospect that my existence as such would ever terminate, there would be no impetus for action outside of immediate carnal itches. Even the two deepest passions in my life (my family and philosophy) would likely lack the immediacy which makes me passionate. Rather than investing so much time and effort into relationships or reading, arguing, and writing, there would certainly be an attitude of , “I’ve got time… I’ll do that right after I eat this ten-pound steak and sleep it off.” Rather than frantically devouring philosophical texts or taking on the lifetime (and, in this hypothetical, therefore eternal) commitment of marriage and siring of children, a more causal and haphazard perusal of earthly delights would be in order. I believe I can at least understand why J.R.R. Tolkien, in the Silmarillion, would have the supreme creator of the world grant Man the the “gift” of being able to die, since Man was incapable of experiencing and appreciating the supreme beauty of the gods, as could the elves.

Given my awareness of mortality (having touched death a few times, unintentionally, and having lost friends, loved ones, and acquaintances), I have spent no small amount of time dwelling on the realities expressed above as well as much more that remains unaddressed in this post. Ultimately, as far as I can tell, death is no more or less significant that one’s birth, puberty, bowel movements, or meals. Circumstances of such an event, coupled with the aesthetic preferences of those involved can imbue the event with a subjective emotional quality (happy, sad, etc.) but an objective observer could identify certain facts about the event which may be lost to others blinded by personal preferences.

Regardless of whether life and death are gratuitous or teleologically significant, the reality remains that one’s emotional and aesthetic response to a death is what it is, and bears no moral value whether it be indifference, joy, or anguish. Ethically speaking, how one chooses to express or act upon one’s reaction is purely a matter of goal acquisition. If one wants to maintain relationships with one’s extended family, it may be ill-advised to shout for joy at grandpa’s funeral, for example.

If life and death are gratuitous, the deaths of your friends are to be mourned while those of your enemies are to be celebrated (if you care at all). If life and death are teleological in nature, it all depends on the telos; to a Muslim, animist, Buddhist, shamanist, or Jew, the circumstance of the death of either friend or foe is the determining factor as to whether it is cause for happiness or dismay. Christianity, being a uniquely optimistic worldview, presents a compelling case (and resultant mystery/paradox) that every life and inevitable death is cause for celebration. The resultant mystery is such that human beings are created with the innate and ineradicable desire to add quality and quantity to their lives, while also celebrating the extreme absence thereof. This apparent paradox is resolved by a more diligent exploration of ontological matters, which I will engage in the 95 Theses.

TL;DR: As this post is as concise as I could make it and it is still 50% larger than expected, I don’t know if an abbreviated version is responsible. The general moral that can be inferred from this post, I would hope, is that one should first focus on the categorical and ontological realities of life and death in an honest and descriptive manner before entertaining emotions, preferences, and prescriptions concerning specific cases. I spent so much time addressing this moral, though, that I never got to address the three or so statements I have made recently, revolving around this topic, which raised the ire of people less philosophically involved which motivated this post.

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Statist Sunday (Episode 1)

A reading from the book of Constitution:
“And, lo, the Founding Fathers rendered the skin og a sacrificial lamb, the sheep representing the flock of ‘we the people’. The Fathers inscribed unto that skin the Covenant prescribed by Locke, binding that flock into the Union. Madison then looked upon the covenant and was pleased. Riding forth on his black steed, he proclaimed in all the land of America, ‘This is truly the social contract by which you, the people, shall build muh roads.”
The Word of the State.
-Muh Roads-

The second reading from the book of Economy:
“In this time of the New Order, King Roosevelt approached the oracles and soothsayers in their den outside the City. ‘I am troubled. My slumber is disturbed by the spectre of time. The young of today will one day become independent and self-sufficient as they age and their descendants will inherit their wealth. The economy will cause them to forget my name and fall prey to the spirits of anarchy.’
Hearing the king’s lament, the spirit of Mammon (in whom we trust) overcame the oracle Keynes and thus he spake: ‘Oh, Roosevelt, builder of greatness, surely the young will one day become aged, but that age need not bring independence. Using your divine authority and seal, sign a covenant with the young of today. This covenant shall guarantee that you provide for their livelihood in old age and thereby secure your name in history.’

The king’s heart was lightened at Keynes’ words, but he was still troubled. ‘How shall I secure their livelihood? Not even the Awesome might of the Federal Reserve can create so much.’ Keynes laughed in the face of the king, ‘Steal it from their children and their children’s children; the old shall devour their young, and when the young age, they shall eat the next generation. These nosferatu will forever praise the name Roosevelt and his Social Security!’

With that, the spirit of Mammon departed from Keynes.”
The Word of the State
-Muh Roads-

The gospel according to Democracy:
“In the days of progressivism, the social planners stood atop capitol hill and began to preach to the schoolchildren. “Blessed are the followers, for leading is risky. Blessed are the victims, for Privileges will be granted to them. Blessed are the entitled, for they shall receive gives me dats. Blessed are the ignorant, for ignorance is bliss. Blessed are the sophists and autists, for they will attain consensus. Blessed are the patriotic and egalitarian, for the moral high ground shall be theirs. Amen, I say to you, vote early, vote often, obey the law, and the Kingdom of Mammon shall be yours.
The Word of the State
-We pledge allegiance-

Pope Francis and Shrek Babies

The Pope is making headlines again, as he made an allusion to the Thomist position on contraceptives similar in function to the condom being ok in some circumstances. In some ways, this is nothing new… The Church has a history of having such discussions when talking about AIDS in Africa and similar instances of terminal STDs.
 
What is new, though, is the Pope’s excessive dependence on pro-state activist scientists who amount to nothing more than snake oil salesmen. The Zika virus has nothing more than a flimsy correlation with the Shrek baby epidemic in South and Central America. There are far greater correlations that have more causal explanative power than a virus that’s been around for nearly a century and has never before had a correlation to Shrek babies.
 
This is dangerous territory to be wading into, as this sets a precedent for drastically lowering the threshold of severety in situations in which contraceptives would be morally and ethically permissible, almost to the point of conceding that point entirely to the culture of death.

Zomia Offline Games Pt. 2: Ninja Trek

Following closely on the heels of the first widely-known anarchist video game Zomia Offline Games has done it again.  Brian Sovryn of Sovryn Tech fame (or infamy), having set a challenging standard for what “anarchist game” means, has managed to meet this standard while releasing a more mainstream product.

Ninja Trek is a more mainstream-style RPG than Hypercronius.  What I mean by that is that it is a little longer, has more combat, and less dialogue.  It also has a slightly smaller price tag (It’s hard to get smaller than that of Hypercronius), at a mere .012 BTC.  I’m going to try and review Ninja Trek by it’s own merits, rather than comparing it to Hypercronius, but we’ll see how successful I am in that regard.

Gameplay/Story: The gameplay and story are pretty direct and intuitive.  If anyone has played Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest/Warrior, or any other classic J-RPG, you’ll know how to play Ninja Trek.  Even as a short game, there are exciting story elements, fun puzzles, and a decent variety of baddies to clobber.  Most notable of the story elements are the handful of connections made to Hypercronius, implying that this game takes place thousands or hundreds of thousands of years after the events in Hypercronius; I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll leave it at that.  There’s one main puzzle in the game which is simple but fun enough (I, in my sleep-deprived and mensa-puzzle mindset overlooked the solution and spent hours trying to figure it out). but general gameplay presents it’s own puzzle-like atmosphere; grinding would undoubtedly make the game easier than avoiding combat at every possible chance, but how will that pay off in the long run?  I’ve only played as a straight-up magic user thus far, but may play through again using the fighter class and see how that changes gameplay for combat.  It is possible to beat the game without grinding if one is smart about equipment, items, and party composition, but I’m sure it would be easier to just grind along the way, killing everything in sight.  But that isn’t the gameplay that I was looking for, given the subtext of the game’s relationship to Hypercronius.
There are, like in Hypercronius, a lot of obvious and not-so-obvious references to esoteric ideologies, which add to the richness and apparent depth of the environments in the game.  One can’t miss the use of the Ankh and the Garden of E.DIN, for example.
The Message:  Where Hypercronius is very, very story-heavy, Ninja Trek is a little more gameplay-driven.  As such the message is mostly contained in they payout at the end of the game (“Kami do not kill!“).  The protagonist/player is faced with what could be called a moral dilemma which has profound implications in the world laid out by the game’s plot.  If one is inclined to meditate on the story and the ending, they can easily tease out different implications concerning the nature of power, domination structures, and even the NAP.
A little bit of meta-game message is bundled in as well: the game’s EULA is actually the BipCot license.  It is pretty much the only EULA that I recommend anyone read, as it’s the first ever license that I know of which is valid under the rubric of the NAP.
The Rub:  If one is expecting the level of text, story, character development, and drama experienced in Hypercronius, they will likely be disappointed.  In addition to being less dialogue-driven, there was a noticeable absence of voice acting and sexy sprite-humping.  However, the game stands very well on it’s own as a classic RPG-style hack-and-slash.  I encountered one bug towards the end of the game that led to the game crashing, but I was unable to recreate the bug (it’s just as likely my antivirus breaking things as it is a flaw in the actual game).  Fortunately, the age-old “RPG best practices” of saving constantly meant that I only lost about 5 minutes of gameplay to the crash.
The Verdict:  For just a few dollars, it’s hard to go wrong.  Again, Zomia Offline Games successfully delivers on the stated goals of their project.  Ninja Trek is an excellent companion piece to Hypercronius in that they compliment each other’s absences.  Where Hypercronius lacks the more traditional hack-and-slash RPG elements, Ninja Trek has it in spades; where Ninja Trek lacks full-motion video, voice acting, and visual-novel levels of dialogue, Hypercronius has more than enough.  Seeing as how one could get both for under $10, one can get the full anarchist 16-bit experience for the cost of a cheeseburger.
In it’s own right, though, Ninja Trek is well worth the couple dollars for a couple hours of nostalgic adventure true to the medium which simply doesn’t exist in the modern gaming landscape.  The anarchy just makes it that much more fun.
Oh, and you can buy it with Bitcoin in addition to the usual PayPal et al.

https://zomiaofflinegames.com/product/ninjatrek/

TL;DR:  4 out of 5 stars, fun game, good combat engine, fun environments, yay anarchy.  I’m certainly looking forward to Hypercronius II as I’ve come to expect great things from Zomia Offline Games.

What Creates Poverty?

Despite my optimistic bluster a few weeks ago concerning my historio-economic status, I’m not exactly happy with my state of affairs. I currently qualify for all sorts of government welfare (which I refuse to take); not that such a qualification is tied to any particular economic measure worth paying attention to, but it indicates my relationship with poverty. The mom’s group at our local parish, which my wife attends, has a median income three times what I make, and aristocratic ignorance runs rampant. So whose fault is it that I’m poor?

I would love to be able to point my finger at anyone, especially government actors, and say “That asshole is the reason people (like me) are poor.” It would be so great if I could shout “eat the rich” and vote myself a raise at the expense of my betters. I wish I could “feel the Bern”. Of course, being in possession of a functioning brain and moral faculties, I am disallowed participation in systematized misanthropia. If I’m not going to blame bullshit artists like Robert Reich or violent criminal kingpins like Obama, who is to blame?

No one.

Unexpected, right? I mean, in some specific cases, it is possible someone is to blame. If someone was wealthy and had everything stolen from them, the thief would be responsible, or if someone was minding their own business and someone else blew-up or burned down his estate, of course the destroyer is to blame. Poverty on the aggregate, though, isn’t really anyone’s fault.

How can this be the case? What causes poverty? In all reality, this question is a case of the loaded question. Much like asking someone, “have you stopped beating your wife yet?” it is impossible to answer the question without addressing the bias inherent to the question.. “How can one stop what one has never begun?” may sound like dodging the question, but it is the correct answer. A similarly disappointing but truthful response is warranted when one is asked, “What causes poverty?”

Whether one is a Kabbalist, Christian, or atheist Darwinian, the natural or original state of the animal called “man” is one in which the ground is “cursed”, “…in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Given my limited exposure to the plethora of alternatives, it seems other cosmologies agree. Whether it be divine retribution for eating the wrong plant or the environmental forces driving the demand for greater intelligence, Man was born out of the absence of wealth. Not only is our species as a whole born out of poverty, but each individual man, from Cain to Trump, were forcibly evicted from their mothers’ wombs, slimy, naked, angry, and cold. In other words, poverty is the natural state of affairs.

If this seems unlikely or excessive to you, I would like to know whether you tend to agree with Hobbes or Rousseau more. Hobbes proposed a thought experiment, in the Leviathan, wherein one would reflect on one’s own nature and proceed to imagine a world without all of the trappings of technology and community we currently have. He quickly concludes that, without things like agriculture and coercive monopolies on force, the state of nature would be resource-scarce and very violent, resulting in a life that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Rousseau liked the experiment, but disagreed concerning what a world devoid of technology and government would look like. He suggested that the fictitious accounts of native peoples more closely represented the state of nature. He posited that the state of nature was that of a tropical paradise: food in abundance, no natural predators, nothing to do but eat, sunbathe, and procreate.

Both philosophers found their respective states of nature distasteful and used them as excuses for creating totalitarian communist monarchies. I disagree with both of them on both the state of nature and the “solution” to it, but I certainly sound like a Hobbesian at times. Even in the case of Rousseau’s “horrible” state of nature with food just laying around, that food is useless lest someone go retrieve and prepare it. Rousseau ignores this while Hobbes creates a caricature of this reality, wherein one must frantically search for even a berry bush and murder anyone else that discovers it, as well. Either way, though, one will starve if one doesn’t put in the minimum effort to accumulate the level of wealth required for survival.

The common basis of every apocalypse or disaster movie (or video game) is the fragile nature of wealth. The greatest monuments to human accomplishment, such as cities, sprawling farmland, the internet, etc. are held together by several very fragile lynchpins. The infrequency with which cities implode, farmlands dry up, websites go down, and entire populations disappear into the wilderness is, frankly, baffling to me. It really is a testament to human genius that such things could be built and an indication of man’s tenacity that they can survive. This is because the question is not, “What creates poverty?” but instead, “What creates wealth?”

“Labor!” shouts Marx. “Lucky Chance!” shouts Smith. “Fairness!” shouts Rawls. “More violence!” shouts every political candidate this year. There are nearly as many answers as there are political philosophers. This question is a very tricky one. Given my earlier allusion to labor in my example of poverty, one might assume I lean towards a labor theory of value/wealth. This isn’t entirely true, though. One example stands out to me which demonstrates the two major issues with such an answer. There is an older man that lives in my parents’ neighborhood who, nearly every day, sits in front of his house and moves rocks from one pile to another, one rock at a time. He puts in thirty-or-so hours of labor a week but, in most accounts, has accomplished nothing. It is certain that merely moving rocks back and forth did not create any wealth, Keynes’ lies aside.

That’s the first issue; labor does not necessarily create wealth or value. Value! That’s the second issue. If this guy isn’t getting paid and produces no discernible fruits from his labor, whatever motivation he must have in order to do what he does must be intrinsic. Intrinsic to himself, not the action itself. Perhaps he’s mentally ill and moving rocks scratches some mental itch; perhaps it serves some physical therapy role; perhaps he’s just bored and hasn’t discovered video games or drugs yet. The point is he clearly finds value in an activity that no one else does. This is because value is subjective.

Right this moment, I value one hour of my wife performing “wifely duties” more than I would value one hour of a cardiologist. When I inevitably have a heart attack some time in the future, I will likely value the labor of a cardiologist than that of an intimate encounter. The same goes for the Tom Woods Liberty Classroom subscription I got. I value the experience of a detailed series of courses concerning history and economics more than I value the money it cost; you clearly have not yet made the same determination.

Labor is an ingredient for the creation of wealth, but insufficient in itself. Perhaps resources? Saudi Arabia seems pretty wealthy, and that wealth is coincidental with oil availability… North America has a lot of most resources and has always been pretty wealthy (since white people moved in, anyway)… There seems to be a correlation. Of course, oil in the ground is useless unless someone puts in the labor to get it out of the ground and render it usable. Oil is an interesting example because, for the first 99.9% of human history, it was nothing but a costly nuisance when encountered. Only after someone came up with a use for it did oil have any value. Same for uranium, iron, copper, tin, even gold: they are useless without human inventiveness.

Introspectively, I doubt that my creativity, work ethic, and luck can overcome my needs and limitations sufficiently so as to create wealth. I could possibly build an aquaponic microfarm and a reasonable house with which I could tend to my family’s survival. Unfortunately, I doubt that I could amass much wealth by way of tending my garden; my only chance at retirement would be to produce enough viable offspring such that at least one would be willing and able to take on my work and feed me.

This isn’t due to insufficiency in the production method. I could easily produce a surplus of food and find ways to store and preserve it, but a pantry with a lifetime supply of salsa and preserves isn’t exactly what most people consider “wealth”. I can’t clothe myself in salsa, build a house out of preserves, or create electricity from fish scales. What I would need in order to transform my reources and labor into wealth would be to transform my surplus or products into the resources and labor of others.

I know, I know… “Leave it to the anarchist to bring it all back around to markets.” That’s right, the means by which one can convert one’s available resources, be it labor, ingenuity, raw materials, whatever, into wealth is by trading it with other individuals. If I have a surplus of salsa but a paucity of clothing, I can find an individual who has a paucity of salsa but a surplus of clothing and trade the salsa I don’t want or need for the clothing I do. In this way, both the farmer and the clothier are enriched. The enrichment is what’s known as wealth. This is the glory of the market: due to limitations such as marginal utility, human action is able to create a positive-sum game in which everybody wins.

Finding a clothier that wants salsa may be difficult. If, as a community, producers create an abstracted resource with a reliable and stable supply, such as silver coins or bitcoins, this exchange can see drastically reduced friction. This is money, obviously. This money is simply another commodity for trade; if I have a surplus of salsa and my clothier has no demand for salsa, but both he and I deal in bitcoin, I can trade my salsa to someone who wants it in exchange for bitcoin and then exchange that bitcoin for clothing. An added bonus is the permanence of money; I can take something perishable like tomatoes and turn them into something that doesn’t go away, like money. I could keep going for thousands of pages about all of the astounding emergent properties of something so simple as one guy trading with another, but that’s already been done and that’s not the point of this post.

So, the state of nature is that of poverty; the base operating system of this universe we find ourselves in is that of poverty. Wealth is the escape for the natural state of man, something accomplished by the voluntary exchange of goods and services for mutual benefit. Wealth is literally a creatio ex nihilo, a miracle of loaves, by which one takes one’s lack, one’s need, and turns it into something valuable.

“Well, then, why are there poor people? Are you telling me that poor people refuse to provide value to others?” Some of them, yes. Probably a minority, though. More likely, there are certain forces at work which prevent the chronically poor from producing wealth. Some, like my parents’ neighbor, may have biological deficiencies which limit one’s options for creating wealth. I’m not saying that these people are incapable of producing wealth in some way, only that their options are limited and the may not have discovered their remaining options yet. More likely than personal limitations, though, are institutional ones.

No, I’m not talking about boogeymen like “the patriarchy” or “racism”. I’m speaking of criminal gangs which, rather than engaging in market activities (making products and trading them for mutual gain), engage in wealth-destroying activities: a.k.a. coercion, murder, and theft. If I have the ability to produce plants and trade them to others for money, foods desirable for their health benefits, services that are pleasurable, or products which are otherwise in-demand, and someone points a gun at me and threatens to cage or kill me for doing so, that criminal is preventing the creation of wealth.

Of course I couldn’t go a whole post without pointing out how governments are actively destroying the human creature. By using violence and coercion to “re-distribute” wealth, the state takes wealth from those that have created it and subsidize those who don’t. As a matter of fact, it even destroys the ability of some to create wealth. By stealing money and using it to monopolize security, roads, financial instruments, etc. the state destroys the ability of those who actually produce such services to create wealth because they no longer have the ability to voluntarily engage with those who have a demand for such services.

Without getting too involved in economic realities, the amount of bitcoin I must offer to entice my clothier to trade is a function of supply and demand, and the market signals sent by human action on the aggregate. By way of criminal coercion in the form of legal tender laws, mandatory purchases, licensure, and otherwise preventing voluntary exchange of goods and services coupled with theft in the form of taxation, asset forfeiture, everything done by the Federal reserve, welfare, and so much more, the state sends false market signals which result in encouraging bad investments. If that sounds like something more benign than the wholesale destruction of wealth, you need to read about the dust bowl and the 2008 housing crisis, not to mention literally nearly every other bowl, drought, famine, and plague in human history.

It’s not too hard to realize that the state makes laws for two reasons: to make people do things they don’t want to or to make people refrain from doing things that they do want to do. Instead of allowing nature to take its course, rewarding beneficial behaviors and punishing detrimental behaviors, the state subsidizes detrimental behaviors and shields individuals from the repercussions of ill-advised behaviors. At the same time, beneficial behaviors are disincentivized and penalized. So, if “Nothing creates poverty; poverty is the basic reality of the human experience,” is somehow unsatisfying, an acceptable rhetorical move would be to say, “Criminals, by way of destroying wealth, create poverty. The state is the most effective band of criminals and the greatest destroyer of wealth.

TL;DR: The world we live in is one finely-tuned such so as to allow humans to exist, but only barely so. As such, poverty is the natural state of affairs, it is literally this state of nature which drove the creation of humanity as we know it. Nothing creates poverty; what one should ask is “How is wealth created? How does one escape poverty?” To which the answer is “The voluntary exchange of goods and services, a.k.a. the market, creates wealth.” The state, though its innately criminal actions, destroys and prevents the creation of wealth. So, why am I poor? I am poor because I have not yet overcome the impediments to wealth creation set out be the state, whether it be due to laziness, ineptitude, risk aversion, or the insurmountability of the state’s impediment.

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A Catholic Dayna Martin?

A Little Way of Homeschooling: Thirteen Families Discover Catholic Unschooling is  an interesting work.  It simultaneously provides the more rigorous and analytic exploration of unschooling that I was looking for after reading Radical Unschooling and tries to answer a question that had never crossed my mind: “Can a Catholic home/unschool?”

What Suzie Andres calls “The Little Way of unschooling”, I have been referring to as “the Tao of family life” for a while now.  The proper application of effort in the proper area of life.  Too much, and you break something, too little and nothing gets accomplished.  In the case of education and developing healthy relationships within the family, it requires a lot of focus and self-knowledge, unschooling seems to be an excellent method of discerning the proper application of effort.

I know I have been writing about primarily Catholic issues a fair amount lately, but pagan or atheist readers could easily take this book and exchange out references to trusting God to believing in the all-present life force or whatever or trusting in humanity and still get the same results.

Where I was already pretty much sold on unschooling before reading Radical Unschooling, my wife was suspicious before reading the book and then doubly so after reading that book.  In the interest of helping me out and giving my ideas a chance, she sought out this book herself at the library.  Now, she’s almost totally sold on the idea, and I have the reading list in the back of the book to help me find more resources that may be directed more towards people such as myself.

I would strongly recommend that Catholics with children should read The Little Way of Homeschooling, even if they are happy with whatever schooling situation they are currently in.  If non-Catholics are pursuing unschooling, this resource may still be useful, but they may want to read Dayna Martin (if they are of a freedom-minded persuasion) or John Holt.

Get Your Pagan On!

Today’s Resource Suggestion is a little bit of a surprise, I think.  I have been doing a fair amount of research the last couple years concerning Saint Nicholas (from 3rd century Turkey, not the north pole), due to a family devotion we started.  Patron saint of the Byzantine Catholic Church, the man himself was really interesting, punching heretics in the face, writing philosophical and theological treatises…

Of course, research concerning St. Nicholas inevitably leads to researching the truth about Santa Claus.  Something about Santa Claus’ traditional genealogy back to the historical St. Nicholas has always bothered me.  After doing research, I think I’ve figured enough of it out; then, fortunately enough, yesterday I heard a podcast about a book concerning that very subject.  Now, instead of being a crazy old scrooge no-one listens to, I can be a crazy old scrooge with academic references that no-one listens to.

Yes, it’s an atheist podcast.  However, I dare you to find any factual inaccuracies concerning the Church and St. Nicholas/Santa Claus.



 


About The Author (and his ideas)

Howdy? I am the titular Mad Philosopher of this particular work. I am a philosopher in my late twenties. Rather than focusing your ire on my lack of years, though, you may feel more vindicated by directing such feelings towards my lack of academic credentials. I am a proud college dropout who routinely speaks out against the academic industry.0612141803b

How can a man claim the title of “philosopher” without a degree or a chair at university? What are the
necessary and sufficient conditions for one to be a philosopher? I would argue that a philosopher is one who habitually engages in the activity of philosophy. Of course, philosophy itself is quite controversial. Is it merely thinking deep thoughts or questioning authority, or is it building a vocabulary and grammar for describing and discussing the human experience? Is it the activity of stoners and pedophile Greeks or is it the activity of academics and lawyers?

I am working on publishing a book dedicated, in small part, to addressing this controversy. In the mean time, readers of this blog (and listeners of the podcast) will notice a few family resemblances betwixt the entries on this blog which may inform the readers concerning what I believe philosophy to be. Readers of this introduction will receive the added bonus of my current working definition being explicitly provided here:
“Philosophy is the ongoing exercise of attempting to create an internally consistent, logically sound, empirically viable, and universal worldview which possesses ethical agency, utility, and (ultimately) Truth.”

I have been engaged in just such an exercise ever since I began reading the Nicomachean Ethics at the naive and virginal age of eight years. This has resulted in incalculable quantities of reading, writing, and arguing over the course of a couple decades. Also in that course of time, I have camped under the open sky for just shy of one thousand nights, earned the rank of Eagle Scout, renounced the honors associated with such an award, attended and dropped out of university (earning an associate’s degree in philosophy despite being a mere 20 elective credits short of a bachelor’s degree), married a (still) smokin’ hot woman, sired three beautiful daughters, and a bunch of other life experiences that likely only matter to me. These experiences have informed my worldview, though, and I thought it only fair to share them with you.

I tend a 500 square foot microfarm which provides nearly one ton of food each year. I make a meager living working facilities and maintenance at a church. I make time, daily, to work on this blog and my books as a matter of vocation and passion. I host philosophy clubs, play Dungeons and Dragons, shoot guns, do landscaping work, and tutor in writing, logic, and philosophy on the side.

More important than the man, I believe, would be his ideas. I doubt you are reading this blog to get to know me, personally, and are instead interested in engaging some unique and challenging views presented in a rational and grounded manner. Why else would someone read a blog titled “Mad Philosopher”? I cannot guarantee that any of these ideas presented will be unique in their substance, given that it is far more common for one to read numerous sources and simply synthesize a new arrangement of old ideas. I do guarantee, however, that I do what I can to make these ideas digestible to all audiences, that I try to make the form of the discussion engaging and bite-sized, and that these ideas are central to a series of worldviews and schools of thought which I contend ought to be at the heart of a fulfilling and eudaemonic life.

Many individuals, across the entire spectrum of intellectual ability, strive to eschew labels and “-ism”s in order to not bring others’ baggage into a discussion prematurely and to avoid feeling constrained by specific doctrines or dogmas. It may be my semi-religious upbringing speaking when I say it, but I find labels and “-ism”s to have a very unique and indispensable utility. For instance, I can provide you with a list of ideologies and “-ism”s which are the strongest influences on my worldview and method of reason, and that will help frame the discussion on this blog in such a manner that you are less likely to misinterpret my arguments.

As a matter of fact, that is what I intend to do. I will list here a series of ideologies and methods to which I owe my worldview, in order of philosophical priority, with each successive entry on the list obtaining only insofar as it is compatible with the preceding entries. I, Mad Philosopher, am a/an:

  • Epistemic Popperian: Of course, I have to put the most complicated entry at the top of the list. In all reality, it’s not too complex, only the terminology. Basically, I believe that “knowledge” defined as “justified true belief” is something to be approximated due to phenomenological limitations of the human mind (we can’t necessarily trust our senses and interpretation of experience). When one makes a knowledge claim, it must be accompanied with falsifying criteria: criteria that, if met, would force one to renounce the held belief. This is (ostensibly) the driving mechanism behind the scientific methods. I like to think that this is the underlying operating principle for all of my claims, given that I have had ample opportunities to change my mind concerning a great many important subjects. Reading this blog will gradually expose one to this catalogue of mind-changes.
  • Anarchist: This blog is technically about philosophical subjects in general. However, I choose subjects for blog posts based primarily with discussions I have IRL (in real life) and on various spots on the internet. As such, most of my posts would center on the most contentious of my beliefs. anarchism is, by far and away, the most controversial. Not because people would disagree with the premise (people shouldn’t murder, coerce, or steal from others), but because they don’t want to apply that claim to their own behavior in an intellectually consistent manner.  as far as the AnCom vs AnCap debate is concerned, I like to call myself “merely an anarchist“, but I am fairly economically literate, which would make most people consider me an AnCap by default.
  • Catholic: Yes, an anarchist can be Catholic and vice-versa. I have not fully explored this discussion in a blog post yet, but I assure you, it’s on its way. For now, It will have to suffice to say that I believe the doctrines of the Church to have sufficient falsifiability criteria to be provisionally assented to and that the doctrinal moral teachings of the Church bolster rather than contradict the Non-Aggression-Principle in any of it’s more intelligible forms. One will notice that I have issues with Catholic social teaching and a great many non-doctrinal claims. These issues are informed by the preceding entries on this list as well as a simple rational and critical inquiry into the teachings of such figureheads as Aquinas and Augustine.
  • Optimist: As a Catholic, I believe that this must, in fact, be the best of all possible worlds (It would have to follow from the claim of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God). There’s is the glaring issue of the problem of evil, regarding which I have several posts in the works. Given my issues with Aquinas, I am disinclined to endorse the Augustinian Theodicy (which is really a construction of Aquinas’) and instead hold to a cross between the Irenaean Theodicy and what I call the Rorschach Theodicy.
  • Brutalist: Almost as if to balance the claim of optimism (this is the best of all possible worlds) I also believe that this world sucks. Mankind has largely been concerned with the activity of enslaving, domesticating and murdering itself throughout all of known history (excepting the possibility of pre-agricultural revolution, pre-government times), and this has resulted in a world wherein humans are a tortured, maligned wreck. Unfathomable potential squandered by the lazy and criminal. This is why I listen to Death Metal.
    Taking on the label of brutalist is a sort of double-entendre, as there is the general disposition of a metalhead which is called “brutalism” and there is a line of libertarian/anarchist thought which strictly adheres to the Non-Aggression Principle. When I say I’m an anarchist, my particular brand of anarchism very closely resembles that of the brutalists to begin with. I do have various ethical and virtue-oriented prescriptions above and beyond that which the brutalists allow for, that’s why Catholicism precedes brutalism in priority on this list.

The name “Mad Philosopher”, itself, is a double-entendre. It’s obviously an homage to the popular phrase “mad scientist”, which seems appropriate: a mad scientist is often depicted as a social outcast reviled by other scientists and engineers for holding unorthodox views and implementing unorthodox methods. Would not this blog be the philosophical equivalent? That aside, I consider myself “Mad” in the same spirit as the mad scientist. Additionally, I am mad… well… livid, enraged, infuriated, wrathful, incensed, disturbed, repulsed, inflamed, and tempestuously, violently so. It is beyond my comprehension how one could be aware of the circumstance of contemporary culture and not at least feel a twinge of the pain, outrage, or guilt that I feel is warranted and just.

This blog is an opportunity for me to sublimate some degree of the infernal wrath I harbor, so as to maintain a level head in my day-to-day life while also hoping that others’ minds will catch fire as well. While I expect no amount of success with this project, if I were to have my way, this blog would generate a sufficient following such so as to instill a culture of resistance and intentionality. This culture would aid in making the world a better place in general, but also (more importantly to me) aid in the possibility of starting an actual intentional community outside the reach of Empire so that I can achieve some semblance of freedom in my lifetime. Oh, and it couldn’t hurt to get some bitcoin and sell some merch. on the side.

Carpe Veritas,
Mad Philosopher

A Response to Laudato Si

 

Has Mother Church wielded the sword and shackles of the state for so long She has forgotten the use of the shepherd’s crook?

 
A Response to Laudato Si

As is usually the case, the Pope did something and the liberal media came in their pants with excitement. My less-involved Catholic friends and some non-catholic friends then asked me what he actually said and did and what it means, media spin aside. I make it a point to read Encyclicals as they come out, as often as possible. While I’m skeptical of Catholic social teaching for a number of reasons, it would be unbecoming of a Catholic intellectual critical of some social teachings to not keep abreast of progress made in that regard. Also, with the persistent questions from others, I find that it is beneficial to myself, my friends, and our relationships to be able to provide a service in the form of translating 170-odd pages of teaching that’s very involved and built on millennia of scholarship into something digestible to a more secular mind.

In interest of defending Church teaching against the portrayal it will receive in the mainstream (RE: pagan) culture, I spent a good chunk of yesterday and this morning reading and re-reading Laudato Si and reading many short commentaries written by various clergymen and lay Catholic journalists. I have several pages of handwritten notes, addressing specific things that were said, the general theme of the encyclical, and its relationship to history and standing Church teachings, and I’m not sure how much use those notes are going to find in this post, as there’s some very important general themes that need to be addressed. These issues far overshadow individual lines or phrases that may be misinterpreted or otherwise used contrary to the goals set out for the encyclical, so these smaller issues may be overlooked in this post.

The most important point to get out of the way is the relationship between Catholic social teaching and the general body of scholarship within the Church. Many Catholics, even devout Catholics do not understand the role that the encyclicals and other works in Catholic social teaching play in the Faith. Catholic social teaching is not Doctrine or Dogma, it is not an infallible pronouncement by the Pope acting alone and in persona Christi. Catholic social teaching is, essentially, the magisterium of the Church saying, “Based on what we have to work with, here, this looks like the best solution to a particular problem the Church faces.” In the case of this encyclical, it identifies several problems, some real and some imagined, and looks for a root cause for these problems in order to make “a variety of proposals possible, all capable of entering into dialogue with a view to developing comprehensive solutions.” In such a dialogue, “…the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.” This post (that will be wholly invisible to the magisterium and to those who could and would affect change) is an attempt to address the issues presented, their root causes, and continue the dialogue sought by Pope Francis. No, I don’t claim to be an “expert” as indicated in the encyclical, but I am confident that I am no more or less an expert than a substantial majority of the people involved in and affected by this dialogue. As such, I am as entitled as anyone else to express my informed assessment of the situation.

This document is essentially three different encyclicals blended together in a frenetic and haphazard arrangement, a departure from the more analytic and procedural voice and style of Francis’ immediate predecessors. It may sound strange, but I will do my best to explain what I mean.

One of the encyclicals is an assessment of mankind’s relationship to it’s environment, the role that we play in our environment’s well-being and the role that our environment plays in our well-being, both spiritually and physically. It explores how exploitative and irreverent practices with regards to creation develop vicious attitudes within the practitioners which results in the exploitation and irreverence being directed at other human beings as well. In a surprising but well-defended argument, the Pope lays out how industrial monoculture farming is culturally related to inhumane medical experimentation and abortion, for example. This encyclical reads as a slightly less poetic text that one would expect Francis’ namesake to have written, waxing on and on about the glory of the Creator as seen in His creation, our role as stewards of that creation, and the teleology of all things. This encyclical appears to be addressed to the traditional audience of the encyclicals: the people of the Church in the world at large and within the magisterium. It calls for a pastoral approach centered on acknowledging the almost panentheist nature of reality, how God Himself is part of his creation and His presence in His creatures must be respected, lest one fall into the habit of not acknowledging that same presence on one’s fellow humans. With typical Franciscan flair, the primary focus is on how the poor are marginalized and harmed the most by these irresponsible and irreverent practices.

Another one of the encyclicals is drawing a connection between this renewed environmental focus and the greater body of Catholic teachings, the relationship between abortion, postmodernism, consumerism, the destruction of the family, the evils of war and violence, etc. These passages are, unsurprisingly, the main focus of the articles popping up all over the internet titled some variation of “Ten things that the mainstream media will ignore in Laudato Si”. This encyclical is, essentially, a reaffirmation in the long-standing tenets of the Church: Abortion is murder, contraception is bad, gay marriage is a metaphysical impossibility, postmodernism is an intellectual cancer that is killing humanity and faith, etc. The only new addition to this litany that is presented is to try and add “and mind your greenhouse gasses” somewhere in-between “Postmodernism is bad,” and “We have to be careful with GMOs.”

The main focus for everyone, myself included, is this third encyclical. This one is addressed to “world leaders” and the UN in particular, as opposed to the Church and its people. This encyclical is rife with praise for worldwide economic manipulations, the use of government violence to accomplish the ends of the Church, an appeal for granting all governments more authority and force to implement stricter environmental regulations, broader economic manipulations, and redistribution of wealth. This encyclical explicitly calls for a progressive carbon tax, a world government with a navy and police force with authority to supersede national governments, national and local governments to implement “free” public housing and utility access, and heightened enforcement of drug laws.

Worse, though, than pleading with the state to use it’s swords and shackles to coerce responsible behavior out of humanity at large, Francis takes a page out of Pope Urban VIII’s book. Overstepping his authority in moral and theological matters, the Pope attempts to side with the “scientific consensus” and endorse a worldview that is anti-scientific and empirically falsified. Declaring human-caused global warming to be an existential threat to creation of a magnitude equivalent to the great flood which God repented of in Genesis, Francis demonstrates that he needs to hire better researchers and ought to be more reticent before declaring Galileo anathema. He makes this mistake twice, in rapid succession. After demonstrating an unwillingness to critically assess the legacy academic stance in light of empirical evidence in science, he does so again in the realm of economics. Using Keynesian economic prescriptions and “green” socialist rhetoric, he creates a straw-man of the free market which is even more flimsy and caricatured than those manufactured by liberal college students on social media.

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Pope Francis decides to decorate the Vatican instead of reading Rothbard
  There was one line, in particular that required a double-take, a re-reading, and it ultimately elicited a violent reaction from me:

“Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise[sic] a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute.” p96

This quote is taken from the midst of pages upon pages of diatribe against international outsourcing of labor, speculative investment, development of trade infrastructures, the automation of menial tasks. While lamenting these actions, the Pope calls for an increase in the policies which are the direct cause of them. Economic regulations, such as the minimum wage, intellectual property legislation, and progressive corporate taxation and subsidies creates innumerable perverse incentives within the market, as a natural matter of course which is empirically verifiable. To blame “the market” and paint such claims as “a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals,” demonstrates a wholesale ignorance of the science that is economics. One should expect a former scientist to understand the limitations of his understanding of others’ fields and at least call upon them to inform his opinion. If he has done so, he needs to look harder for a reliable resource.

The reason this sudden interest in mainstream sciences and display of ignorance in these matters is offensive is because the Pope is a moral authority in the world, and to draw upon obviously false data, bundle it up in moral language and issue ethical and political proclamations demeans both the sciences he misrepresents and the position which he occupies in the See of Peter.

These three encyclicals are blended together in a manner that makes them inextricable from each other. In one sentence, Francis will point out a theological understanding concerning substantive relationship of the trinity, move to an analogy concerning the nature of agriculture, and indict private ownership of resources. Because of this, it is impossible to tell where the Pope is addressing individual Catholics and exhorting them to consider their role in creation from a theological perspective and where he is exhorting politicians to use violence in order to protect the poor in the developing world from global warming from an economical perspective.

There is no denying that people everywhere in the world are facing ecological crises: living in cities that are not conducive to human flourishing, living near industrial mining operations, facing evictions from tribal lands or private property in the interest of economic gains for the powerful, the destruction of biodiversity in inhabited areas, and a general disregard for the inalienable rights of human beings are all issues that need to be addressed, and quickly. However, to blame “the free market” when there is no such thing, to pin the blame on people that are merely doing their best to survive when faced with systematic violations of their rights, and to fall back on methods that are the direct cause for the decline of Christianity and the rise of the postmodern world seriously misdiagnoses the cause of the problem and results in a very dangerous situation, both in the world at large and in the Church itself.

This political edict in the guise of moral teaching places those that are well-versed in science and economics in the difficult position of trying to justify the teachings of the Church that are explicitly contrary to what they know to be true. Some may lose their faith, either in the Church or in reason. The loss of faith in either is a tragedy, and it can be prevented simply by Francis double-checking his work and being cautious not to overstep the bounds of papal authority. An even greater tragedy than some umber of individuals losing their faith due to a contradiction in moral teaching and empirical fact is the alienation that such teachings has formed between the Church and the people and institutions best situated to aid the Church in pursuing a more Christian world. Economists the world over are denouncing the Church and discovering the long-standing trend on Catholic social teaching towards full-blown socialism. The scientific communities that tend to lean more socially and fiscally conservative (like the Church) also happen to be the ones that have disproven any substantial causal relationship between human activity and global climate change, in outright ignoring their findings, the Pope has alienated the scientific community once again, driving the long standing wedge between reason and faith even further. Even in moral and philosophical circles, there is outrage that the pope would undermine basic human rights (such as the right to be secure in one’s property) for the sake of the rights of woodland critters and soil bacteria, which is explicitly done in this document.

TL;DR: Despite all of my defenses of Pope Francis to-date, my re-interpretations of his words in the light of reason and Church teaching in order to explain to others how one can rationally support his teachings, there is no way to deny that he is a full-on socialist with a callous disregard for economics and science. While I am not a sedevacantist or about to apostatize, this is an excellent opportunity to begin picking apart the whole of Catholic social teaching and calling for reform in the Church, not concerning matters which are doctrinally secure (such as prohibitions on gay marriage or abortion) but concerning instances where the Church draws too heavily on philosophically and scientifically flawed information. Many lament that this encyclical will be remembered as “the global warming encyclical”. I lament it as well, the global warming was merely a pretext for pushing a theologically-backed call for one world socialist government, and to remember it as the “global warming encyclical” discounts the very real damage that has already been done by the document to the integrity of the Church and the incalculable damage that will be done if world leaders heed the Pope’s plea.

Discovering that the See of Peter is occupied by a died-in-the-wool socialist is a good opportunity to review Church history. I’ve found, in my limited education of the subject, that the delineation between a Doctor of the Church and a heretic is a razor-thin one between those who are willing to admit the possibility of error and those too prideful to do so.

Only time will tell.

You can read the full text of Laudato Si here:
http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

 

An Open Letter to Mom and Dad

 

Dear Mom and Dad,

We rarely find time to talk anymore. I guess that’s what happens when you have eight kids and your son has three more. Rushed, oft-interrupted, and emotionally-charged bursts of conversation are not conducive to mutual understanding, and I understand you are too busy to read and understand everything I write. While considering this reality, I’ve decided to address my confusion over our philosophical disagreements and consolidate my ruminations into the most direct and concise letter I can write for your to read at your leisure. Depending on how the letter turns out, I may publish it as an open letter on my blog, for others to better understand as well.

Really, the heart of my confusion is centered on mom’s disparaging and dismissive attitude towards my ideas and understanding of the world. I have arrived at this stage of my understanding primarily due to your influence. Dad’s perennial pragmatism and skepticism gave me a high standard and difficult challenge for rational methodology and mom’s example for action has given me a healthy respect for intuition and substantial consideration regarding virtuous and moral action. In a way, I guess I’m concerned that I may have put you on a pedestal and now require more form you than you can provide, but I am extremely reluctant to admit that possibility. So, here I will write the things I feel you have taught me and how they have led me to the conclusions I have reached; hopefully, it will give us somewhere to begin understanding each other.

If an idea or approach is discovered to be false or does not work, eschew it for what is and does:

When I was a little kid, I often had great ideas or plans which were poorly engineered. Clubhouses which required far more than the few pieces of scrap wood I had available, for instance. While he may not have had the greatest method of explaining why, dad was very good at pointing out why the idea was impossible and providing a more realistic, comparable plan. After the school system had demonstrated that it wasn’t working, mom pulled me out and attempted home schooling. At which point, you perpetually modified and refined the curricula and methods of schooling. Trying different methods for allowance, chores, discipline, and personal liberties, keeping what worked and dropping what didn’t was a constant state of affairs growing up. It seems that ethos is still in full force today.

It shouldn’t take too much explanation to see how this ethos has had an effect on my journey thus far. Primarily, identifying and learning from mistakes. Whether it be my approach to studies, finances, personal life choices, whatever, I’m not afraid to admit error and strive to rectify it, and to rectify the subsequent mistakes made in the attempt to rectify, ad infinitum. Philosophically, I have always had a set of needs. I’ve applied this ethos to fulfilling those needs, moving through pursuits such as paleontology, vulcanology, meteorology, astronomy/ology, cryptozoology, theology, astrophysics and demonology, ultimately settling on philosophy. Along this path, I’ve found what fulfills this need and what doesn’t

This process has served as a useful tool for self-awareness, but I will save that for later. For now, I will move to the things you have shown me which have been consistently shown to work.

Deontological maxims supersede practical considerations:

This is a truth that was a long and hard task to learn. For a long period of time, possibly due to the environment in my early childhood, it was hard to critically assess the position that, “The ends justify the means.” “If my goal is noble enough and attainable, the most direct course of action to get there must be taken, regardless of how undesirable the course of action may be.” This claim, in it’s myriad forms, consistently saw resistance from you. “Murder is still murder, even if it’s for a good cause,” was a common response I would get.

As I warmed up to the idea, for example, that the ten commandments are non-negotiable, I explored the real world and hypothetical ethical dilemmas which would test such a deonotological maxim; trying to expose inconsistencies and contradictions with such an approach became a daily exercise. So far, after trying to break deontology, all I have found is that a clearly-defined and concise set of maxims are the most resilient and reliable basis for moral action. Sometimes, these maxims set a standard too difficult to achieve; this is due to human failings, though, not the mind of God to which we ascribe these maxims.

It is infinitely more honorable to set a moral standard, strive to meet it, and fail than to set a low standard or otherwise make no effort:

These moral maxims, such as “Thou shalt honor the LORD above all else,” “Thou shalt not murder, steal, or covet,” and their necessary conclusions, “Love your neighbor as I have loved you,” and “Uphold the dignity of the human person,” can be more demanding that one can manage at times. This is not an indictment of these maxims, but instead an empirical fact of the human condition. When faces with this fact, one may choose to dissemble and rationalize or justify their failures and accept them or, worse, to simply give up altogether. I’ve lost too many friends and seen too mane others loose friends to this temptation. Seeing you strive to more consistently meet that standard, and succeed, has demonstrated the honor in doing so.

Rather than striving to meet such a standard, I would often attempt to reinterpret these maxims or rationalize my status. You dissuaded me for doing so, mostly by example. It helped that, as I explored limit cases of these maxims, you made an effort to resolve issues or directed me to resources wherein others made the effort. Often, neither you nor the sources could provide a compelling resolution, but instead gave me the tools needed to do so for myself. The important trend through this process was the need for integrity: if someone abandons honesty to themselves and their standards, it is tantamount to lying.

Acting justly is more important than comfort:

Between the maxims mentioned above, the need to act in accordance with those maxims, and the need for integrity, one has a duty to accept responsibility for their situation. Again, this is something I learned from your example, first, and be exploring the philosophy behind it later. Simply assessing your circumstances and making what is ostensibly the best choice available, even when it will be difficult or uncomfortable. Those instances when we would move, switch to hippie food/medicine, move to homeschooling, etc. seemed to demonstrate that duty and the discomfort associated with it. Discussing my situations concerning college, marriage, kids, work, etc. with you also followed that trend.

To engage in or directly benefit from immoral action is to be complicit in that act:

Part of acting justly despite discomfort is to avoid immoral action. When I was younger, I had a hard time understanding why you would discourage ideas of what would be a clearly profitable venture: varying from things like selling vices or running (relatively) harmless scams. The recent example would not be wanting Tommy to be a security guard for a pot shop. While I may disagree with you on specific questions of morality, I think we all agree now that selling one’s morals for profit is unacceptable.

That which is immediate and actionable supersedes, distant, future, or theoretical concerns:

Even though it may pay the bills to sell cocaine out of the Church garage, and may make enough to be comfortable on top of paying the bills, but the ends do not justify the means. There’s a story stuck in my head that I think dad told me, but even if it was someone else it sounds like all the other stories about poop brownies and the like. There was a olympic rowing team that lived together and whenever someone wanted to do something, the team would ask them, “Will it make the boat go faster?” At face value, it would seem to justify the idea that the sole justification of the means is in fact the end.

That interpretation is incredibly naive, though. The olympic rowers found themselves in the circumstance that they were olympic rowers; the olympics was upon them and they had a demonstrable and immediate goal of making the boat go the fastest. In their case, the olympics is as distant or theoretical as getting shot is when on a battlefield or being corralled onto a train in 1939 Poland. That is to say, not very abstract. When faced with a choice, as one is thousands of times a day, the primary consideration of that choice ought to be, “is this option just, in and of itself?” and then whether the demonstrable outcome of the action will “make the boat go faster”. After that analysis, the “what if?” and big picture enter into the equation.

This is how I was coached with regards to Boy Scouts, college prep, financial issues… Dave Ramsey‘s version of this is “debt is bad, mmk? Avoid selling your future for unnecessary gains (like one does with a car loan). Use what is on-hand to solve the problem.”

It is impossible to judge the heart of another, for your sake you must give them the benefit of the doubt even when judging their actions:

The way I have best seen this expressed is Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” Dad has consistently stated and re-stated this claim in some form or another at every occasion I have judged another person. It took an embarrassingly long time to come around to the idea. Philosophically, I call it the “phenomenological/epistemic barrier”. That is, one is privy only to one’s own internal experience, it is impossible to directly apprehend the outside world, especially the internal experiences of others. One has an indirect access to others’ behavior (the same way they have access to the behavior of a rock, tree, or beast) but not to the internal experience corresponding to the behavior.

One can, with varying degrees of ease, judge the behavior. For example, dismembering an infant with scissors can easily be identified as the crime of murder, regardless of whether the murderer’s internal experience reflects that behavior. The CIA could have slipped the murderer some crazy drugs, he could be indoctrinated by the medical school system to do so, or he could simply have dementia. I can’t judge his internal experience and call him evil or insist that he is going to hell, but I can say that he has murdered a baby. However, some cases are not so clear-cut and it would not be unjustified to err on the side of caution.

Question the auspices of authority (the only authority is epistemic):

This is something that I think I watched you learn which, of course, is what taught me. My early life experiences like my appendicitis ordeal and elementary school career demonstrated the need for skepticism when interacting with an individual or institution, even if they have the credentials (like an M.D., 100-ish years of history to back them up, or a teaching certificate). The authority of the doctor, teacher, administrator, or priest is not some metaphysical or divine attribute, but instead an epistemic one. The doctor is an authority in medicine insofar as his knowledge of the field is accurate. Not all doctors, teachers, etc. are created equal. Hearkening back to how those who have no standards tend to dissemble and rationalize, those that lack authority tend to lean on their credentials and auspices of authority and, subject to skepticism, are therefore not to be trusted.

Independent research and conceptual reasoning countermand the status quo:

Alongside authority, the status quo is also subject to skepticism. Your rejection (or partial rejection) of vaccines, standard education models, debt-oriented finances, moral/legal equivalence, and the “2.4 kids and a puppy” paradigm is the logical extension of the skeptical approach to the auspices of authority. Independent research can be anything from getting a second opinion from another authority to actually doing the requisite work oneself. Very little on the internet is true, of course. For that matter, very little outside the internet is true, either. This makes independent research incredibly difficult; by extension, that difficulty makes finding an actual authority equally difficult.

What, then, can one rely on when searching for factual or true knowledge? Conceptual reasoning can guide the process, at least. The application of careful deduction, induction, and abduction is ultimately the only tool one has in discernment between different claims, authorities, or options. Of course, like a hammer and nails, reason is useless without experience. All epistemic crises aside, the facts one is able to discern as immediate and actionable often come into conflict with and overcome the status quo. That’s because the status quo is an emergent property of human nature.

The human condition is such that utopia and systematization is impossible:

Back in my Marxist days, dad frequently said things like “people don’t work that way”, “You can’t program society like a computer”, and “who is going to program the computer you put in charge?” Meanwhile, mom was vocally denouncing standardization, especially in education but also in medicine and just about everything else. That, coupled with the Scriptural education you provided, paints a pretty clear picture about the relationship between the human condition and utopia. Utopia being the Greek word St. Thomas More made up which means “no-place”.

Namely, that relationship is radically irreconcilable. In spite of rejecting gnosticism, I am certain that corporeal paradise as we can conceive it, is fundamentally opposed to the human condition. This is not a failing of the human condition, but instead one of utopia. Utopia, in all of its implementations, requires humans to be standardizable, equal, replaceable, and incapable of growth or change. Humans are none of those things; attempts to make them such are doomed to failure.

Coercion doesn’t work, neither does rules:

Coercion is essentially any engagement which can be reduced to, “Do/don’t do X, or else.” In hindsight, almost every moral crisis I had faced until recent years was a result of being coerced. Sometimes, the coercion was an explicit statement as above. Other times, the coercion was inferred from consistent exposure to the above statement or the behavioral equivalent. I don’t want to air dirty laundry, new or old, especially as everything is essentially forgiven and forgotten or is still a secret and not yet beyond the statute of limitations. Having been on both the giving and receiving end of coercion, even in the form of rules that are “for your own good”, I have seen how such behavior does infinitely more harm than good and, on a long enough timeline, ultimately fails to accomplish its intended end. Besides, the ends do not justify the means and coercion undermines the human dignity of the victim in every instance.

Contracts are bullshit:

This is something I have to pin on dad, so you can skip this portion, mom. This comes primarily from our discussions on social contract theory. I unknowingly, used to place undue metaphysical belief on the social contract. You brought this to my attention be demonstrating how the social contract has no effect on the physical world. In a world such as Hobbes’ state of nature, there is no difference between two people backstabbing each other over a limited resource and the leviathan’s people/leaders backstabbing each other over other issues. The social contract has no more effect in the real world than any other metaphysical fairy-tale. I can believe in ghosts all I want, but that will not change your behavior. The same is true for “real” contracts. Ultimately, any contract signed is nothing more than a promise which alludes to the integrity and ability of the signers to uphold that promise, a-la the social contract. Admittedly, there is a difference between the social contract and a “real” contract. That is, a social contract attempts to coerce its “signers” with the boogeyman of anarchy and a “real” contract attempts to coerce its signers with the threat of government violence. But we’ve already had this discussion.

The dignity of the human person:

More important than the practical issues concerning coercion, there is a moral issue. Being created in the image of their creator and being given a special moral quality which is at the center of salvation history, there is a certain revealed dignity to human persons. Even “natural man”, a.k.a. Pagans, are aware of this dignity, expressed in our reason, will, and relationship to each other and the divine. Actual catechesis aside, you taught me this be way of debate, example, and counter example, just like all the other items in this letter.

I’m going to circumvent the whole Plato vs. Aristotle, “human being” vs. “human doing” debate and just assent to people possessing their own dignity by virtue of being human. Ultimately, that’s the only available underpinning for individuals’ duties and rights, but I’m trying to avoid getting too philosophical and lengthy in this letter. I’m just going to stick to the duty (or right) to life, in the interest of time. Simply by virtue of our relationship with out creator, humans have inalienable rights. Chief among those, that from which they are all derived, is the duty to life.

Simply put, it means murder is wrong. By extension, coercion (the threat of murder) and theft (depriving one of their resources used for living) are wrong. Accidental murder, that is, killing someone through avoidable circumstance is still murder. For example “If I leave this toxic waste near the well, people may get poisoned and die. Oh, well, I’m will do it anyway.” So, abortion, murder proper, the death penalty, and war are necessarily a violation of human dignity. Additionally, abdication of one’s humanity and person-hood is an offense against human dignity. I imagine this is the basis of mom’s paranoia concerning drugs, but I’m not sure. I am sure, though, that intentionally allowing oneself to be objectified, abased, or to lose one’s free will/discipline is a violation of human dignity as if they had done the same to someone else.

I guess this is as good a place as any to ask why you changed your mind with regards to the American proxy war in the Middle East. When Bush Jr. wanted to re-invade Afghanistan and Iraq, I fell for the propaganda. You were quick to try and dissuade me from that position. A decade later, I came to your earlier position by a different avenue, that is, by way of the dignity of the human person. I was surprised, then, that mom is so anxious to continue that war and the slaughter of millions of innocents that she tried to dissuade me from supporting. Dad is a bit more coy on the subject, but I think he agrees with mom.

Find what you love and pursue it; make it a tool for survival:

I have a million interests and desires, but the all grow from a root desire which is a love affair I have with Truth and my family. Unfortunately, there is a very limited market for these things in a world rife with lies and captivated with misanthropy. That’s not an excuse, but an assessment of my situation. Why does it matter though? I mean, the aspect of the “american dream” you preached to me the most was entrepreneurship and the ability to turn one’s loves into a tool for living. So, then, I ought to determine how I and my family are called to live and do what we can to fulfill that vocation.

“If you’re not growing, you’re dead.” Another nice soundbite from dad that I now totally agree with. In each aspect of one’s person, if they are not growing, they are dead. Spiritual, mental, and physical growth, at a minimum, is required for one to uphold one’s dignity and pursuit of Truth/flourishing/perfection/“the good”/whatever. Mental growth is clearly the aspect of person-hood I am most disposed towards, with a constant pursuit of numerous “-logy”s and “-ism”s and such, seeking to ground my rational faculties in Truth. Mental growth alone has it’s limits. To pursue mental growth, spiritual and physical growth are required. People and action are required.

I am confident in a great many beliefs I have as to what my own vocation has in store for me, and only slightly less confident in what I feel my family’s vocation is. Of course, to come to such conclusions, I have to constantly work together with them; I know only myself, and must rely on them to know themselves.

Exit Strategy. Have a concrete goal with demonstrable success/failure criteria and have a contingency plan:

There is so much I have to write on this and the preceding subject, as the main initiative for this letter is to try to figure out where our misunderstandings lie in general, but most especially concerning moving to New Hampshire and later fleeing the american empire. Unfortunately, I’m running out of steam for writing this letter, so I’m sure you’ve run out of steam and time to read it.

One of the many books dad is never going to write inspired this one. I know I took his treatise on eschatology and turned it into a practical tool, but you grab truth where you can find it. I don’t know how much I need to expound on the heading, it seems straightforward enough.

So, what?

This collection of beliefs and lessons has obviously influenced my worldview at large. I think I’ve spent far too much space and time exploring these ideas, so I will try to wrap this up quickly. Really, I can’t understand why you would be so dismissive and crude about the things I have come to understand and what I intend to do. I totally understand disagreeing, as we have always had disagreements, but those disagreements were (generally) calm and rational. Yelling, name-calling, and repeating fallacies is unproductive and neither calm nor rational. It certainly won’t change my mind as previous discussions have.

I don’t find the beliefs I have to be too extreme. Due to the dignity of the human person, no one has the right to murder, coerce, or steal from another. One has a duty to life, in the fullest philosophical sense of the words. One has an obligation to uphold whatever responsibilities and obligations one takes one. One must have rational justification for one’s actions, derived from these first principles.

I find myself in a position where I have taken on the responsibility for the well-being of four other people whom I love dearly. I have this responsibility in the midst of a disturbing situation. This situation is one where I live in a culture centered on misanthropy and death. A society where myself and my children are treated as livestock, coerced into various behaviors by the perpetual threat of murder, routinely stolen from, and ridiculed for pointing these things out. A brief study of history demonstrates an unavoidable cycle of imperialism, where we are currently in one of those cycles, and the fates of those unable to predict such historical cycles. Most importantly, the situation is such that a murderous gang of kidnappers with no accountability, far more firepower than I possess, and a predilection for kidnapping children from those who have beliefs such as mine operates in my neighborhood (funded by the money stolen from me, no less).

A simple cost/benefit analysis revels a clear course of action, especially when the well-being of my children, all the way down to the state of their immortal souls, hangs in the balance. We must assess what fundamental needs we have, what desires we have, and how to change our environment to best fulfill those needs. In order to achieve the flourishing we seek, we must be able to avoid or counter the coercion, murder, and theft we may encounter. That is categorically impossible where we currently live, therefore we must go somewhere else. We must go somewhere where we will either not encounter such things or have more of a fair fight against them. The simple matter of fact is that it is too late in this place to fight back and I don’t want myself or my children to face the circumstances that naive Catholics have been faced with in first-century Rome, 18th century Prussia, 20th Century Poland/Germany/France, and at least a dozen other places and times.

I am fully aware that I am to be a martyr, but martyrdom comes in all shapes and sizes. I would like to be a martyr worth emulation, even if never recognized by historians. I would not hesitate to kill or die for my children, so why should I hesitate to forego creature comforts and worldly status? If the status quo is such that I could take advantage of criminal activity, imperial decadence, and misanthropic agendas if only I would forego my conscience or “move to Somalia”, I would side with morality, reason, and my conscience. Not for my sake, but for my kids, so that they will not have this dilemma foisted on them because I didn’t feel like addressing it.

I don’t need you to understand. I don’t need you to agree or condone my ideas or actions. What I need is to understand you, your actions, and help giving you a chance to prove me wrong. I wrote this down so you could read it at leisure and approach the discussion more calmly and rationally and so that you could see that I still value our relationship and your opinions, even if they are wrong.

 

Holy Saturday

 

 

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the marketplace, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!” As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, the madman provoked much laughter. Has God got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? Emigrated? Thus did they shout and jeer.

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideways, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine putrefaction? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he flung his lantern to the ground, and it shattered into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said. “My time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars — and yet they have done it themselves.”

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

~Thus Spake Zarathustra

 In Catholic culture, it is common to describe someone’s personality, temperament, and spiritual charisms by way of a particular analogy. There are “Good Friday people” and “Easter Sunday people”. I believe there is a protestant equivalent of “Old Testament people” and “New Testament people”. Good Friday people tend to be more prone to despair, legalism, talk of duty and fire and brimstone; Catholic guilt runs deep in Good Friday circles. Easter Sunday people, alternatively, tend to be more prone to wearing rose-tinted glasses, overemphasis on mercy and forgiveness and belief in happy-surfer Jesus; liberalism tends to creep into Easter Sunday circles. Now, these are, of course, caricatures intended to convey a point to people who are less-involved in Catholic culture, but the claims are still valid. I used to think I was a Good Friday person, with my tendencies towards the Metal ethos and pathos. As time went on, though, I realized that my particular brand of duty, guilt, and forgiveness do not match the generally-accepted sense of a Good Friday person.

I live in the world of Holy Saturday. I live in a world in which we have killed God and have to live with his blood on our hands. What does such a world look like? It is a wold where, yesterday, we knew where we were going, what we were doing, and we had a direct line to the divine, He was sitting right next to us at the dinner table. Today, however, he is gone. He is somewhere we cannot see and we can’t even prove to ourselves that He didn’t just vanish altogether. Today, we don’t know anything more than the fact that we are lost, adrift in a world devoid of the meaning it once held. We hope that tomorrow, He will come back and fulfill all of the promises that were made… but we can’t be certain that it will happen. We thought we had it all figured out, and then (even though we were explicitly warned) we were surprised by the execution of our Lord and our subsequent despair associated with it.

If this world looks bleak and unrealistic, that’s fine. It certainly is bleak, but not unrealistic. We face certain epistemic crises that remain unresolved. The problem of induction, which has no solution, tells us that we cannot truly prove anything meaningful to our lives through experience or reason. The eschatological questions: “What happens when I die?” and “What happens if the world ends?” cannot be answered with any degree of certainty and all we have to go on are some well-reasoned guesses and books written thousands of years ago by people who claimed to have a direct line to the Truth. In other words, even though God himself may, in fact, be the cookie elevated in sacrifice over the altar tonight, I have absolutely no way to tell. All the empirical tools I have at my disposal tell me it is just a cookie, and the best logic can provide me is a well-reasoned guess that it may be more than it would seem. I have to accept that guess on faith, though, the same faith that tells me that the sun will rise tomorrow and that others experience consciousness in a manner comparable to my own. Even more difficult to rationally explore and prove would be the idea of life after death and redemption versus damnation.

However, as Paschal thoroughly explored in his corpus, there is quite a lot at stake here, and guesswork is ultimately all we have. I find myself compelled to carry out my affairs in a manner consistent with this tension between nihilistic despair and extra-rational faith. I must act in a manner consistent with my own human flourishing in this life, but always with an awareness of the possibility of an after-life as well. Ultimately, it is the only rationally self-interested way to approach the horns of this dilemma which surpasses our limited human perception and reason. This isn’t to say that I don’t try to engender a healthy and fulfilling relationship with God, only that it is incredibly difficult to do so when His only avatars are other human beings as equally repulsive as myself and a silent piece of bread.

The tension of Holy Saturday is the tension of being a rational creature both unwilling to despair and unwilling to forego the ratio which allows this tension in the first place. It is the tension of the philosopher, of seeking Truth, despite the impossibility of fully acquiring such a thing. It is the tension of the pilgrim in a foreign world. It is the tension of a moral actor amidst the amoral. It is the tension of a sinner, a criminal, a vicious creature striving for something greater, striving for perfection, a will to power, an upsurgence of life, and a desire to flourish in a world that is finely-tuned to allow for one’s existence but only barely so. It is the tension of being truly Catholic.

“I am reckoned among those who go down to the Pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom thou dost remember no more, for they are cut off from thy hand. Thou hast put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep.” ~ Psalm 88

 

An Untimely Religious Rant

I am really fed up with my friends and family quoting scripture piecemeal and appealing to Catholic Social Teaching with a superior tone, especially when doing the equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and walking away.  By what authority do you dare to interpret Scripture at me?  Where is your Collar?  Your Holy Orders?  When half of the priests in this country can’t decide of Jesus was some flimsy hippie or a genocidal maniac, you think that you can somehow do a better job than they?

Very few of you, despite your years, have read more of the Scriptural Commentarries, Church Fathers, or Talmud than I.  In having read such things, I have found myself recalcitrant in taking the Divine and wrapping it up in my agenda.  When I was a child, I could find justification for all things in my benighted self-catechesis and sunday school preachers.  In my youth, I found a great confusion in the ways man can so horribly misinterpret Revelation and sacrifice their very relationship with God to fight an intellectually dishonest war with their fellow man.  How many saints are there who actively rebelled against their sunday school teachers?  Their priests?  The very Pope himself?  In every instance, it was due to a man overstepping his bounds, attempting to take the divine and make it a mere possession, a tool in a sorcerer’s bag of tricks.  You think you can do better than a Pope?  I challenge you.

I can take the Word of God, wrap it up in bullshit and throw it at you disdainfully.  I used to do it quite frequently.  It was probably one of the single most soul-rending behaviors I have ever engaged in, but it’s a skill that once-learned, never rusts or dulls.  Unless God Himself sends the Ophanim, with a golden scroll bearing the seal of the Tetgrammaton, carried by the cherubs and escorted by all the principalities and angels to tell you that you have his Divine mandate to carry out your deeds and preach what you preach, you had better make damned well sure that your heart, mind, and soul, are in the right place and are living in His heart.  For, if they are not, you blaspheme and sully His name, a sin that in earlier ages would wipe you from existence.
Humility may be a virtue that does not come to me easily, but do not mistake what little vestiges of humility, awe, and shame I bear with regards to His Word for ignorance or apathy.  I merely believe that it would be imprudent to claim I know His will with certainty when I am still fallible and sinful.  I urge you, my friends and family, out of my care for you to consider the same.

The Pope and the Precipice: a Tale of Two Popes and 2,000 Years

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A very intelligent and good friend of mine recently mailed me a card (an important and lost art) containing a newspaper article (and equally important and lost art, journalism). The headline read “The Pope and the Precipice”, by Ross Douthat. Full disclosure: my friend is a devout protestant philosopher and I am a devout Catholic philosopher wannabe. I felt this was a good opportunity to show my appreciation for his card and address an issue in the Church at the same time.

Firstly, it was an excellent reminder as to why I no longer read the paper; anymore, it’s all bad news written by bad people. Secondly, though, it reminded me of a phenomenon I encounter at least once a month (usually in the church I work at). Someone (Catholic or not, this is an equal-opportunity encounter) will express that they firmly believe that Pope Francis is some sort of reformer, cutting through 2000 years of Tradition and “modernizing” or “liberalizing” the Church. Sometimes, they are happy about this belief and sometimes they aren’t so happy.

The source of this belief is not hard to determine. Since the first moments the white smoke issued from the Sistine Chapel, the media in America have been preaching the good news of the new Pope, the first American Pope, the first Jesuit Pope, the first Pope to fall into a number of categories… clearly, this will be the first Pope to allow gay, married women priests and sell the Vatican in order to be the first Pope to carry out Christs message of charity, and oh-my-god isn’t he so cool and rebellious, it’s no wonder these enlightened liberal millenials in America love him. Of course, this depiction sounds like facetious mockery… but it is only barely an exaggeration. I hear someone parrot these talking points from the Huffington Post at least once a month.

The amusing part of this hubhub is that this is merely the latest sequel in one of the media’s most boring franchises. I have heard and read firsthand accounts of life before, during, and after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Despite what so many people seem to think, Vatican II was actually a very minor event, both in the Church and its relationship to the world. Whereas previous Ecumenical Councils resulted in such incredible things as canonizing the Scriptures, building the fundamental doctrines of the Faith, and structurally overhauling the magisterium of the Church, Vatican II resulted in a mere decision to allow adoption of the vernacular, integrating modern technologies into mundane church features such as architecture, and better defining and encouraging lay involvement in Church faculties.

Western society, composed primarily of under-educated, lukewarm Christians and secularists, however, were ecstatic with the results of Vatican II. The media produced a narrative throughout this event that was comically divergent from what actually occurred. Even a very brief comparison of of Lumen Gentium and the newspaper clippings reveal a tale of two Councils. However, because Catholics in the western world received their news and education from the mainstream media, they seemed to think that Vatican II was an endorsement of tambourine-waving belly-dancers wielding snakes and doing bodyshots with the Blood of Christ (way to go, Germany). Even priests and bishops found themselves falling for the state fairy tales rather than simply reading a book issued by the Vatican.

Today is no different. As Francis uttered his first papal words, he could barely be heard over the media ecstatically shouting, “Women Priests! Gay Marriage! Married Priests! Pedophile Witch Hunt!” This, of course, made the more Catholic members of the church very skeptical towards the Pope. I, with my apocalyptic personality, was one of these people. Making a conscious effort to maintain stoic silence and apatheia; I managed to have no comment on Francis until he began speaking, writing, and generally pope-ing. Listening to what he says, reading what he writes, and hearing from friends in the Vatican, I quickly realized that Francis truly is a Pope, like any other.

He preaches the message of Christ, in the same words and the same philosophy as Benedict XVI and John Paul the Great before him. Evangelii Gaudium reads similarly to “Love and Responsibility”, Deus Caritas Est, and “Humanae Vitae” (not from Benedict or JPII, but still important) and, rather than undermining or overthrowing them, simply affirms what they have already stated. There exists two popes today as there exist two Vatican IIs: there is the liberal Jesus who is trying to reform a stale old Church, protestant-style, to change every area of doctrine to match the clearly superior opinions of millenials in the western world, and there is a Catholic pope who preaches love, responsibility, and the infallible and unchanging doctrines of the Church.

This particular article finally inspired me to write about this phenomenon for one particular reason (besides giving my friend a shout-out); There was a clever and vague attempt hidden in the article to undermine the doctrine of infallibility. The article frames infallibility in the context of politics and personal interests as opposed to the realm of philosophy and faith. There does exist certain philosophical issues concerning infallibility, but politics is not one of them. The most central of these issues is the one alluded to in the article and has ties to the philosophy of science. What does infallibility mean and how can one prove it?

Taking the philosophical route, I will attempt to categorically define infallibility. Infallibility is a state of epistemic affairs in which one’s knowledge claims necessarily comport to reality. In the case of the doctrine of infallibility, this state of affairs is limited to the pope’s definitions of doctrine with regards to faith or ethics to be applied universally. As for what infallibility looks like, we are presented a certain epistemic issue alluded to in the article. Infallibility, as indicated in the First Vatican Council (1869-1870), would be fairly easy to identify… at least, to a believer. Every utterance of the pope that is supposed to be infallible, if logically consistent with all other infallible claims and not clearly a violation of natural law would be identifiable as infallible. Of course, until such a time that a supposedly infallible claim violates existing infallible claims, this instance of infallibility would be indistinguishable from a tradition of very, very careful and academic politicking. In philosophy, it is often referred to as the inductive problem of grue and bleen (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_riddle_of_induction). As a popperian, I claim we can assume that the doctrine of infallibility obtains and blue is blue until such a time that the claim is falsified… so long as we are aware of and open to the possibility that it is simply careful politicking and blue is actually bleen.

How do these two ideas come together and how can I tie this to my anarchist principles? Media pope vs. the Pope’s words and actions and the doctrine of infallibility meets anarchy. This is my chance to give a peek behind the curtain of my private life and show that I am not just some naive cradle Catholic that imagines the Church to be some inviolate mother who never misbehaves; I readily admit to a great many faults of the people withing the magisterium. The way the western world responded to Vatican II and Pope Francis and outright denies the the teachings contained in Church documents like “Humanae Vitae” is almost entirely the fault of bishops and priests (and to a lesser degree the lay ministers) in the church. The Church has abdicated a great many of it’s duties and functions to the state, one of which is exemplified here; Catholics, “good” and “bad”, learn what it means to be Catholic and what the Church teaches from the state and media instead of from the pulpit and parish. I have a lot to say about separation of church and state and how an anarchist could be Catholic (hint: one is a prerequisite for the other), but as pertains to the tale of two popes, this is all I have time for today.

TL;DR: If you think Pope Francis is any different from our last two popes, you need to read what they say, write, and do, instead of listening to MSNBC and Fox (just turn that shit off). Either the doctrine of infallibility obtains or we have a 2000 year old tradition of a most impressive degree of diligence. The confusion concerning the Church and “politics” within the Church is the Church’s fault, as it has allowed its flock to become statists at the expense of being Catholic. And lastly, you ought to listen to this podcast on the Synod on the Family: http://catholicstuffpodcast.com/?p=906