The Nature of Philosophy

As is the case with most cultural pursuits which hearken back into the dark recesses of history, philosophy has no universally-agreed upon definition.  Even in academic circles, the definitions of the enterprise called “philosophy” is likely to be as numerous as the number of philosophy department chairs one asks.  This is a phenomenon[1] that vexes many analytic-minded[2] philosophers, given their obsession with necessary and sufficient conditions[3].

While I write and think very much like an analytic, I do not feel that it should be absolutely crucial to assign a definition to philosophy which outlines necessary and sufficient conditions.  At the same time, however, I am not inclined to do as postmodern[4] and continental[5] thinkers tend and simply hand-wave the issue and say “it’s a family of activities that generally resemble each other”.  The only remaining option, then, is to make an attempt at crafting a heuristic[6] for identifying philosophical activities as opposed to any other activities within the scope of human intellectual experience.

Looking at the historical context of philosophy, one may get a feel for the “family resemblance” of philosophical activities.  The helps one create a genealogy of philosophy.  This genealogy begins with ancient thinkers were predominantly concerned with “living the good life” as well as understanding how the world worked.  One of the tools that was of utmost importance to the ancient thinkers and has maintained its utility (at least, up until the point where the postmodernists have taken over) is logic.  In the middle ages of Europe and comparable periods of time in locales such as India and Japan, there was a burgeoning attempt to ascertain the fundamental qualities of existence; admittedly, this was universally in a religious or theistic context of some form or another, but that does not negate the contributions made.

In the more modern eras, from the enlightenment[7] to today, the philosophical enterprise has been a predominantly directed at understanding the manner in which man interacts with reality, from the nature of sense experience to the nature of knowledge and its acquisition.  Additionally, there has been a lot of emphasis on the manner in which the individual interacts with mankind at large and how that interaction ought to be conducted.

Depending on one’s definitions and motivations for constructing a narrative, philosophy can be seen as the progenitor of, handmaid to, or companion of nearly other activity in human intellectual life.  Modern scientific methods are the product of ancient natural studies and enlightenment-era epistemology[8].  Computer science is predicated on mathematical principles and linguistic theories which have been formed through philosophical discourse.  Theology is, by and large, the application of philosophical tools to puzzles related to spiritual revelations and religious doctrines.  Economics[9] is the result of a-priori[10] reasoning in conjunction with philosophical tools of introspection and observation.  These relationships cannot be ignored, but the exact nature of these relationships is at the heart of many lively debates.

I can (and have) gone on a much more rigorous exploration of the necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be considered philosophy, but that sort of exercise is better suited for a longer, more exhaustive, procedural work.  For now, I think it would be most prudent to do a quick breakdown of the etymology[11] of the word “philosophy”.  The word, itself, hails from ancient Greek and effectively means “love of wisdom”.

Of course, nothing in Greek translates so directly into English.  For example, ancient Greek has at least four words for love (arguably, there are a few more).  This particular root, “-philia”, would be most appropriately used in the context of a dispassionate desire for (non-sexual) intimacy, such as that of close friends.  Additionally, “sophos” is a Greek word the denotes a wide array of practical and virtuous skills and habits regarding wisdom, rather than just the sterile modern English concept of knowing a lot or having advanced experience.

The best I can do to describe the Greek root of the term is to say that it is “an actionable desire to develop intellectual virtue and put it into practice in the world at large”.  This takes many different forms, as demonstrated by Socrates and Diogenes relentlessly badgering their neighbors concerning how wrong their ideas of how the world worked really were, while Aristotle, Pythagoras, Epicurus and Zeno started schools and lectured ad-nauseam.  Later in history, the general attitude of a philosopher had largely homogenized into academic bookishness and the writing of essays and long-form treatises.  The exact nature of each essay and treatise may be radically divergent with regards to content, method, and end, though.

Ultimately, taking into account all these diverse enterprises and the influence of postmodern thought, I believe that any human enterprise directed at creating an internally consistent, logically sound, empirically viable, and universal worldview which possesses ethical actionability, utility, and (ultimately) Truth can be rightly considered to be “philosophy”.[12]

In order to attempt to construct a worldview that correlates to reality, there are a great many prerequisites that must first be met.  For example, there is the assumption that there is a reality to which a worldview can correlate.  Another example would be establishing the fundamentals of logic in such a way so as to be certain of their utility[13].  Yet another assumption would be that one is capable of constructing a worldview at all.

Rather than dragging my readers through the most meticulous and technical aspects of post-enlightenment thought, I’d like to discuss the general methodology of philosophy and, if my readers are so inclined so as to investigate these problems in their fullness, I can recommend some starting places.[14]  These problems of philosophy are quite significant, and I believe that these issues ought to be examined, but they are not issues for beginners or the faint of heart.

Instead, I recommend familiarizing oneself with the fundamentals of philosophical methodology and begin exploring this new way of perceiving reality, first.  Even though it has taken many different forms throughout history and our contemporary academic landscape, the fundamental methodology of philosophy has found no better expression than that of the trivium and quadrivium of the middle-ages in Europe.  Although these fields of study were crafted in a theistic environment and are, therefore, often ignored or denigrated by modern (leftist) scholars, the methodology they present are still quite valid, even if they may have been used to reach illicit conclusions.

The trivium consists of three stages of thought: the logic, the grammar, and the rhetoric.  Initially, these stages of thought were applied exclusively to language (hence their names).  The logic was the basis of linguistic thought; it contained the a priori principles such as the law of identity[15], the principle of non-contradiction[16], and the resultant laws of induction.  The grammar demonstrated the rules of language which reflected the logical principles outlined earlier; subject-object relations and other syntax relationships are important to maintaining fidelity to the logical principles underlying that communication[17].  The rhetoric refined the above skill sets so as to aid a thinker[18] in convincing others of the facts which he had uncovered through the application of logic and grammar.

Since its inception as a linguistic methodology, the trivium quickly expanded into a philosophical methodology.  This is partly due to the close relationship that language and philosophy has always held and partly due to the axiomatic nature of the trivium lending itself to the inquiries of philosophy.  In essence, a thinker must first establish the furniture of the world (the fundamental principles and objects of those principles), then explore the relationships between those objects, and then must find a means by which to express those relationships.  For example, the “Socrates is a man” syllogism I referenced in the footnote on this page contains material that isn’t merely linguistic.  For example, the categories “Socrates”, “man”, and “being” are assumed to correlate to realities in the observable world.  Additionally, the grammar of the statement establishes a relationship to those categories which are assumed to correlate to the observable world.  This trend is maintained through the rest of the syllogism:

Socrates is a man,

All men are mortal,

∴ Socrates is a mortal.

At each level of the syllogism, new categories and relationships are assumed or established.  On a linguistic level, logic serves as the structural framework for the grammar to populate with the symbols for Socrates, man, etc. and the rhetoric is the manner in which one would express this syllogism to others and defend the validity of the syllogism.  On a philosophical level, the logic serves as the source for the objects Socrates, man, etc. the grammar denotes the relationships between those symbols, and the rhetoric serves as the means by which these ideas move from my mind to the page for your mind to reassemble[19].

This quick introduction into the methodology of philosophy will be expounded upon in the next chapter, as we explore the role of philosophy in daily life or, as the ancient Greeks put it, “how does one live the good life?”

[1] Phenomenon (n): The object of a person’s perception or discussion; an event of which the senses or the mind are aware.

[2] Analytic Philosophy (n): A school or tradition of philosophical thought predominantly populated by English-speaking philosophers which emphasizes procedural methodology and strict definitions and application of logic.

[3] Necessary and Sufficient Conditions (n):  The requirements of any given subject to meet a definition; necessary qualities are qualities which, if absent, preclude subjects from being defined as such and sufficient qualities are qualities that, if present, allow a subject to be defined as such.

[4] Postmodern (adj): Relating to a school of thought which maintains certain attitudes such as indefinability, plurality of reality, and subjective narrative ontologically trumping objective reality.

[5] Continental (adj): Relating to a school or tradition of philosophical thought predominantly populated by thinkers from mainland Europe which emphasizes meta-philosophical influences on philosophy such as culture and economics.

[6] Heuristic (n): A method or system of interpreting ideas as they are presented.

[7] Enlightenment Era (n): A period in European philosophical history, commonly accepted to be from as early as the 16th century to the end of the 18th century; the era is marked by a sudden surge in scientific advance, political upheaval, and sheer number of philosophical schools of thought.

[8] Epistemology (n): The study of knowledge, the manner and mechanisms by which one knows.

[9] Austrian Economics.  This will be discussed in Chapter 4: Political Philosophy and its Discontents.

[10] A priori (adj): A logical justification for a claim based on syllogisms, moving from given premises to their necessary conclusions.  This is often set in opposition to a posteriori or “empirical” reasoning.

[11] Etymology (n): The study of the meaning of words and the changes of those meanings throughout history.

[12] There is a good amount of jargon in this proposed definition; as these terms appear later in this book, they will be defined in more detail.

[13] Utility (n): The capacity for a thing to provide or contribute to accomplishing one’s end, usually in the context of alleviating discomfort.

[14] “The problems of Philosophy” by Bertrand Russell, “Cartesian Meditations” by (((Edmund Husserl))), and (for the preeminent masochist) “Critique of Pure Reason” by Immanuel Kant

[15] Law of Identity (logic): A=A (A equals A), A≠¬A (A does not equal not-A)

[16] Principle of Non-Contradiction (logic): The logical principle that something cannot both be and not be in the same mode at the same time. (Abbreviated as PNC)

[17] For example, in the over-used case of the “Socrates is a man” syllogism, if you were to mistake the subject-object relationship, you can end up with things like “Man is a Socrates” which is not only incorrect, but it is nonsensical.

[18] i.e. The philosopher

[19] There are deeper epistemic realities hidden in this discussion of the trivium method, but those will be addressed in the coming chapters of this book.

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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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.

Rant 2: Social Darwinism IS Darwinism

Time for another rant:

“I’m totally a darwinist, but I couldn’t bring myself to adopt social darwinism.” Then you’re not a darwinist, you’re an intellectually dishonest waste of everyone’s time.
If humanity is the result of natural pressures (ie. scarcity) driving some monkeys out of the jungle and into the fields, an environment where something as flimsy as a human would have to develop at least partially K-selective behaviors such as lower time preference, increased intelligence, and social interdependence, then the forms those social interdependencies, time preferences, and ideologies take on are a natural extension of those same evolutionary forces.
If you are unwilling or unable to accept that some genetic lines are simply dead-ends and that the species as a whole would be better off if they just ended, rather then being subsidized at the expense of successful genetic lines, YOU ARE NOT A DARWINIST.
What you are is a lukewarm idiot. Don’t take on labels and ideologies out of social self-promotion, only to eschew them on the occasions that they aren’t politically expedient. In the same way every single politician at the debates this cycle (and every politician that ever came before) has changed their positions on how to best use initiatory violence based solely on what they think will get them (re)elected, you are a liar and a whore.
One cannot simply put on and take of different philosophies or hats based on one’s feelings at any given moment, it requires extensive research and contemplation to be able to contribute any value in the marketplace of ideas. Those that have demonstrated that they are incapable of doing so should just remain silent, rather than saying assinine things like “I’m totally a Darwinist, but I don’t feel like following such claims to their logical conclusion.” You’re wasting everyone’s time get a real job and shut the fuck up.

I’m actually an agnostic with regards to the whole “Darwinian vertical-evolution” thing, but it’s not for lack of research and contemplation. If someone who isn’t even committed to your alleged position can explain it better than you can, you’re either stupid or intentionally maligning the position you claim to adhere to. I’m pretty certain you aren’t intelligent enough to plan that far ahead, though.

SCIENCE! and Epistemology

Today’s resource suggestion is a little more involved than previous ones.  Today’s resource suggestion is Karl Popper’s Conjectures and Refutations.  This book primarily concerns itself with the problem of doing science from an epistemic standpoint.  This may not seem to be too important to the project I have been engaged in with this blog, but to anyone who reads the book, you will likely see the connection very quickly.  My post on Paradigmatic Awareness is, essentially, a synthesis of this work and another by Thomas S Kuhn, which will likely be another resource suggestion soon enough.

While Popper was primarily interested in the philosophy of science in this book, I believe his insights apply to all of epistemology, not just the study of the material world.  As a classical liberal, Popper extends his epistemic reasoning out to his own version of social contract theory.  I think that, while he had a good basis to work off of and an amazing intellect, he made the mistake that many classical liberals made: he forgot that the institutions he advocated for would never go away; where tolerance, as he imagined it, was only supposed to be implemented so long as it was practically useful to collective flourishing, it has become the monster that it is today… inspired by his own words.

So, please read Conjectures and Refutations.  It will help broaden your understanding of how one can say that they know what they know, how science as an exercise ought to be done, and reveal a great deal of the social philosophy that has gotten the western world into the trouble that it is in now.

http://www.amazon.com/Conjectures-Refutations-Scientific-Knowledge-Routledge/dp/0415285941

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.



 


My Last Love-Letter to Science for a While

Today’s resource suggestion is another Cantwell Production.  Like Tom Woods, he consistently produces quality content… and by consistently, I mean 2-3 pieces of content a day that are simply spectacular.  I thought I was done discussing my frustrations with the “scientific” community and people’s misconceptions about how science works, but Cantwell managed to take (almost) everything I had to say on the matter and put it together into this handy little production.

 

He didn’t quite go into the fullest depths of my position concerning philosophy of science, but this effectively explains why I decided to not pursue a career in physics (which is what I was set on until about a year before going to college).

More Science Complaints

As a fun follow-up to my recent post concerning some of the troubles with how people do science, I present to you an otherwise very smart man who would rather try to fix politics than academia.

This article is primarily about The Needless Complexity of Academic Writing and the ill-effects it has on academia as a whole.

Related to that article is a fun example of what he’s talking about:

20 Grad Theses explained in common terms

Scientists Are No Longer Skeptics

I have previously shared resource suggestions critiquing she way in which “science” is done today.  I do this not out of distaste for science, but instead because I love it.  The primary avenue by which I chose (and dropped out of) a college major was because of my relationship with science.

I wanted to do science, but discovered that the way science is done today is totally broken.  I believe the reason for that brokenness is the lack of philosophical grounding in the science community coupled with the pernicious influence of state funding.

Today’s Resource Suggestion is an exploration of one small symptom of science’s brokenness.

http://www.vox.com/2015/5/13/8591837/how-science-is-broken

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.

Picture

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.

 

The Death of Honor

 

Whoever appeals to the law against his fellow man is either a fool or a coward
Whoever cannot take care of himself without that law is both
For a wounded man will shall say to his assailant
“If I live, I will kill you. If I die, you are forgiven”
Such is the rule of honor
~Randy Blythe

 Welcome to “honor part two”. Wonderful, right? I spent a good fifteen minutes of your life rambling about ancient concepts that are quite evidently dead, and the best way I can find to spend another fifteen is with a sequel. If you bear with me, I can show you what I see.

Something I did not articulate in the last post is that honor, in its purest ultimate form, is unobtainable by humans; the human condition is such that perfection is unobtainable in this lifetime. We still ought to try, though. No human being has ever demonstrated that they were entirely consistent, self-sufficient, powerful, courageous, just, and intelligent. Instead those that are honored are honored for specific ways in which they demonstrate virtue, not for being perfect. One could honor a soldier’s combat prowess while also acknowledging the fact that he is a murderer or honor a bank robber’s tactical reasoning while also acknowledging that he is a looter.

This is important because there are people we can look at and say, “I want to have the athletic skill of that man, so I will emulate him… but, unlike him, I’m going to try to avoid doing drugs and beating my girlfriend.” Similarly, one can say that someone is a “good thief” or a “good cop” in that they excel at a profession, while still being aware that the profession in question is immoral. If you haven’t noticed yet, I avoid using the words “good” and “bad” with regards to ethics, as our language equates “good” with utility and “bad” with discomfort, neither of which apply in ethics. In this way, honorable action can appear to take on a multitude of incongruent forms.

The character of an honorable man does share certain commonalities across every specific instance of honor, though. They are active, personally engaging their environment in a manner which is efficacious. They are consistent, not stumbling into being honorable but instead consistently acting in accordance with principles for action. They are defiant, not in the way of being stubborn and childish, but in a virile and confident resistance against injustice, misfortune, or the petty squabbles of lesser men.

The aged farmer clawing food from a drought-scorched field, a spartan blocking the advance of Xerxes’ army, the scholar pursuing the truth in a society of liars, the Batman pursuing justice in a city of criminals, and the father leading his family to refuge from wicked men are all examples of honorable action. Looking at all of these examples, which I argue to be a representative sample, we will find several commonalities. They each face adversity in some form or another, whether it be the result of personal choices or environmental misfortune. They determine an appropriate course of action, whether it be fight or flight. They are willing and able to sacrifice everything they have in order to pursue that course of action. They do not expect others to do their work for them. Most importantly, though, they are not inviolate. Not planning ahead, resorting to misanthropic agendas, mis-diagnosing the problem, not living life in a manner consistent with achieving flourishing, reliance on vice, naivete, the list of shortcomings is quite long.

So, we’re halfway into a post titled “The Death of Honor” and I’m still continuing last post. What is the death of honor? Ultimately, the death of honor happened at the hands of the puritans. One day, I will share my full indictment against puritanism, but today really has little to do with puritanism; it merely dispatched a decrepit shell of what honor once was. Most of the work was done by the state.

It is no secret among historians that the sate, any state, has a vested interest in concentrating and standardizing populations. There is a fair amount of scholarship as to why this is the case; most popular and accessible of which is the writings of James C. Scott. The only reason pertinent to this discussion is that of dependence. If the state is to justify its theft and coercion, it must convince its victims that they need the state to commit these crimes for the sake of their survival. By securing the infrastructure for urban environments and taking advantage of the human tendency towards paranoia in crowded spaces, the state can convince its victims that without the state no one could build the roads or protect them.

I am certain you can already understand why the attitude of dependence is antithetical to the concept of honor but, before I address that, I want to address population concentration. I briefly touched on the Dunbar number before, and the time has come again. The Dunbar number is basically an expression of the reality that the human person is constructed such that one can maintain only a limited number of meaningful interpersonal relationships. Honor is closely tied to that number; normal honorable acts can only effectively serve as setting an example within a community of a few hundred people at most, and extraordinary honorable acts are limited to a couple thousand. I am currently working on an “Intro to the Dunbar Number” post, but for now, I will have to direct people here if they want to learn more about it.

Ultimately, by concentrating populations greater in number and density than the human person is built to handle, individuals are forced to begin interacting with other individuals as if they were merely objects in their environment. An object is not given attributions of things such as honor and virtue. One doesn’t have the ability to legitimately honor the girl making one’s coffee, the man taking away one’s trash, or often even one’s own grandfather, simply due to ignorance and the constraints of the lifestyle of a population-dense area.

“Now, wait a minute,” you’re saying, “What about Martin Luther King, John Paul II, and Murray Rothbard?” Well, they’re dead… so… “Ok. How about Pope Fancis, Stan Lee, and Edward Snowden?” These people certainly have done honorable things that are worth emulation, but have you ever met one of these three? Do you go out for coffee together, go to the same school, church, or bar? Unless you know them personally, you only know a story of a thing they did. These stories are quite useful in demonstrating socially preferable behavior, but only in the same way that Hector, Moses, or Bruce Wayne demonstrate such behavior: as mythology. In concentrating populations to unhealthy degrees, honor becomes an attribute of myth as opposed to man.

More importantly, the mindset of dependence which is instilled by excessive population density is strictly antithetical to the development of honor. Where honor requires that one takes responsibility for one’s situation, good or bad, and takes the initiative to improve that situation, dependence insists that the work be done by someone else and that the credit, good or bad, should go to that someone else. When a king conscripts labor to build the roads and aqueducts according to a central plan, he is credited by those that develop a dependence on those commodities. When the kings’ men stop neighbors from invading or pillaging, the king is credited for that security. When the kings’ men pillage and invade, it is seen as the necessary cost of these other things. Out in the fields, though, men are left to their own devices and still successfully travel, procure water, and ward off aggressors with little or no assistance from the king. These activities engender spirit of self-sufficiency, productive action, and responsibility, which overrides any sense of dependency and encourages honorable action. A less-than-perfect but only recently lost example is the anti-or-small-government sentiment amongst bands of farmers and other producers in rural areas of North America.

The modern democratic equivalent of this dependency vs. honor paradigm is readily available, however. The common citizen saying “there ought to be a law”, and attempting to accomplish one’s own ends by use of the ballot box as opposed to direct action is dependent upon his domesticators, whilst the “outlaw” identifies a need, whether it be a market demand or the homeless needing food, and fulfills that need, the law be damned. It may very well be honorable to grab a weapon and interject oneself between a murderer and his victim whether it is a back-alley assault, an abortion, or an ISIS beheading, but there is no honor in demanding that someone else do so. It may be honorable to advocate good causes and to expose misanthropy, but there is no honor in demanding that others should compel good behavior or kill those that exhibit bad behavior. It is even a possibility that there could be honor in assaulting me for my possessions, but there is no honor in sending someone else to do so.

The state is the death of honor. In order to restore this essential virtue, one must establish a geographically local community with a reasonable number of members and engender in themselves the virtues on which honor depends. In the interim, one ought to do what they can to become honorable whilst establishing deep, authentic relationships with friends, family, employers, customers, etc. Stop asking “is it legal?” and start asking “what is just and righteous?”
One cannot obtain external freedom without first becoming free internally.

TL;DR: Honor requires that one be willing and able to assess a situation and take matters into their own hands. The ethos ingrained in subjects of the state is antithetical to these requirements. So long as a culture is dependent on reputation systems, laws and their enforcement, and a mentality of irresponsibility, honor will remain dead. If someone may be faced with the need to call 911 or is anxious to keep their gold stars, they are not free. Without honor, freedom is impossible.

Also, you’ll have to bear with me on the wonkiness of my recordings.  Audacity keeps doing something weird and I haven’t been able to figure it out just yet.

 

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.