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All wisdom begins in wonder, and this delight kindles a desire for truth that leads us on a quest for the really real -- the source of being itself. Hence, the philosophical impulse, albeit often manifested in atheistic and irreverent stumblings in the dark of human ignorance, begins and ultimately ends in theology -- communicating and communing with our origin and goal. We men are rational animals who seek to know. We are agents of truth who want correct answers to questions that we must ask. From the noblest objects of contemplation to the seemingly insignificant everyday trivialities of life, we attempt to unravel perplexing knots. Limited, blind, and distracted, we nevertheless struggle for wisdom. This is our lot, and it is also our glory.
Tuesday, March 31, A.D. 2009
Daniel Hannan

I am no fan of the European Union or of its politics, but I wish to share a speech by English M.E.P. Daniel Hannan at the European Parliament last week. In it, Mr. Hannan responds to the preceding speech about the current financial crisis by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Hannan gives us a superb three minutes of political excoriation. “Brezhnev era aparatchnik” may be my favorite part. We rarely witness political rhetoric like that now, especially in legislative bodies. I admit that, for a moment, I even pitied Brown a bit, but then he certainly deserves the rubbing. How unjust he must find the world; he has to suffer the consequences of Labour’s malfeasance while Blair waltzes around with the diplomatic jet set. If only the United Kingdom had decent alternatives . . .

You can read Daniel Hannan’s articles on the Daily Telegraph’s blog site. It is good to know that some Tories still have spirit in Cameron’s kennel club of Corgis.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, March 31, Anno Domini 2009
Friday, March 27, A.D. 2009
A World Split Apart

In A.D. 1978, the venerable Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered the commencement address for Harvard University’s graduating students. I do not know if he titled his speech then or later, but it has come to be known as A World Split Apart. I highly recommend that you read it; it is a diagnosis of the modern West’s affliction. Solzhenitsyn offered the twentieth century one of its most profound voices. Memory eternal!

Oddly enough, it was a young Jesuit who introduced me to Solzhenitsyn—through this very speech. I suppose that I owe my conversion to Orthodoxy to the Jesuits in an odd way; so, perhaps, a Jesuit’s preaching Solzhenitsyn remains strange—but in a manner consistent with my experience.

You may also wish to see the list of Harvard’s commencement speakers; they are an illustrious lot on the whole. I harbor a suspicion that the Ivy bastion would not invite someone like Solzhenitsyn today, but they did invite Václav Havel in A.D. 1995. So, who knows? I have not found this year’s speaker, yet, but I hope that old Crimson picks someone fitting for my Harvard pals. Somehow, I do not think that Roger Scruton will be speaking there anytime soon.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, March 27, Anno Domini 2009
Thursday, March 26, A.D. 2009
After Words with Ann Coulter

Recently, Ann Coulter talked about her newest book, Guilty: Liberal “Victims” and Their Assault on America, with Michelle Easton, the president of the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute. You can watch the After Words interview on C-SPAN here by clicking on the red flash video button on the right of the linked page.

Coulter has many critics on the Left and Right; they do not like her “tone” or “mean spiritedness.” However, I love her. She attacks the Left with real flair. She is a much better writer than speaker, but she has improved over the years. She has held her own rather well in the scores of media interviews about her new book. I hate the Left and its hypocritical, moronic dishonesty, and Coulter performs works of justice in bringing their misdeeds to light.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, March 26, Anno Domini 2009
Wednesday, March 25, A.D. 2009
Relative Relativism

Present circumstances force me to interact with many folks who think little but say much about the human condition. Spending so much time in Gomorrah—I mean Washington, D.C.—entails such suffering. One of these folks endlessly harps about cultural conditioning. For her, everything is relative—everything is conventional. By everything, I mean statements made by other people. Her sensitivities to the Leftist Zeitgeist must be exempted from this conscientious intellectual modesty.

I readily grant that culture “conditions” human endeavors. An individual’s peculiar personal experience colors his understanding and interaction with the world. Similarly, a collective human group’s shared experience of life—culture—determines how members of that group approach and interpret the phenomena of existence. Nonetheless, human beings, as individuals and in communities, have certain natures and encounter the same world. Each particular man or group of men has limited experience, and this limitation both emphasizes certain knowledge and values and precludes others. Being a human being means living with such limitations; all human experience with the world is a sort of tunnel vision. However, it is the same world that is being experienced, and men, though quite diverse, have to deal with the same joys and pains of imperfect human nature.

When I explain these arguments to the aforementioned person, she blindly holds that everything is relative because she has traveled around the world and now realizes that everyone does everything differently. I suppose that she has not picked up on some universal patterns. When I attempt to convey recent findings in the human sciences, such as universal human preferences in a variety of areas, she dismisses them. Even number crunching has no effect.

Her most obviously egregious errors involve human sexuality. She holds that the differences in men and women are all culturally based. Studies about the differences in brain function in men and women hold no water for her. She is, in fact, a militant tabula rasist.

I have given up trying to reason with this person; she is invincibly ignorant. It occurs to me, though, that extreme cultural relativists incur the wrath of the retortion argument. The man who claims that there is no truth undoes his own statement because he affirms a truth—namely, that there is no truth. Reductionists who hold that human opinions have no truth value but are merely successful memes that give their holders a reproductive advantage likewise destroy their own credibility as speakers. If they are correct, they cannot be correct—their position has no truth value but merely gives them a Darwinian edge. (Moreover, fertility rates over the past century disprove the thesis, as well. Reductionists have less children, though one could object that they still pass on their ideological genes in educating the offspring of the breeders. Eventually, however, such an arrangement would not sustain itself.) Similarly, cultural relativists argue that everything is mere convention. If so, their insistence on cultural relativism would apply to them, as well. They should dismiss their own relativism with the same cavalier attitude with which they treat all other statements about mankind.

It strikes me as fantastic that people do not realize the glaring inconsistency in their fundamental ideas. The contradiction in these cases is not obscure or hidden in removed logical consequences. Rather, the contradiction cries out from their initial stance. Yet, they have no ears to hear.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, March 25, Anno Domini 2009
Monday, March 23, A.D. 2009
Reilly’s Insight

Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly delivers some of the truest lines ever spoken on the stage:

Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm—but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.

From The Cocktail Party by Thomas Stearns Eliot

Posted by Joseph on Monday, March 23, Anno Domini 2009
Wednesday, March 18, A.D. 2009
Mathematical Status

A couple of weeks ago, I had an interesting but frustrating conversation with a fellow about the nature of mathematics. He insisted that we “made up” mathematical rules rather than discovering them. I tried to show him that the order of mathematics is inherent in reason itself. He suggested that we can create alternate mathematical systems. I responded that we could devise special rules, but the playing out of those rules would follow a mathematical structure that we do not create. Such special rules, then, become mere functions that we set up within the mathematical order.

I freely admitted that certain ways of expressing these mathematical relationships were conventional. The words that we use to denote numbers and their relations, the symbols employed for digits and operations, and even the base number system all could be quite different, but the mathematical structure that they concern is known, in Kantian terms, through universally accessible a priori reasoning. Obviously, no one sees this order in its entirety; the discipline of mathematics is always progressing. From mathematical developments achieved in ancient Sumer, Egypt, India, China, America, and Greece to contemporary work accomplished in Boston and Oxford, human beings, individually and collectively in their intellectual cultures, discover these mathematical relationships inherent in reason. Far from being a matter of custom, mathematics is the most universal language that we have.

Nonetheless, the fellow persisted in his opinion. What can you do with someone who is committed to relativism even with respect to mathematics? Is there any hope for him? Surely, reason has ceased to function for someone like him, which leads me to believe that such folks retain their intellectual commitments to nonsense for irrational reasons. When a nominalist or a materialist begins to consider the nature of mathematics, he endangers his understanding of the world. So, instead of entertaining heresy, he turns himself into a fool. I have witnessed it among Christian fundamentalists with respect to their religious views, and I have likewise seen it occur with modernists of various stripes. The mind often prefers delusions to the harsh prospect of reassessing its convictions.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, March 18, Anno Domini 2009
Sunday, March 15, A.D. 2009

I regularly find political discourse tiresome, if not outright irritating. Partisans of various “sides” and views argue past each other over this or that policy proposal. Yet, they approach these proposals with radically different visions of the world. Needless to say, such folks rarely come to an agreement. Their discord even engenders in them seeds of misology; men of worldly experience begin to distrust reason’s ability to assist both in theoretical matters and in practical affairs. As Socrates warns in Plato’s Republic, men who come unworthily to philosophy risk becoming haters of what they previously found attractive. These jaded folks then become either indifferent to the world or willing participants in the war of wills. You may ask how relativists maintain the energy to fight their battles when they do not believe in truth or in morality. Some are simply intellectually inconsistent, but others have bought into the idea that human life, individually and collectively, is nothing but the exercise and imposition of some will (preferably their own) over others.

Rather than ceding ground to the misologues, I think that rational engagement must deal with the roots of an issue rather than the leaves. Fundamental questions about nature, the human being’s place in and with the world, and existence generally precede, even if subconsciously, all posterior ethical and political concerns. I am not claiming, of course, that we are metaphysicists before we develop ideas about the world. Rather, our inherited or absorbed views and values contain thousands of assumptions about reality of which we might not even be consciously aware. One of the endless goals of intellectual growth is to become aware of such assumptions and, when possible, to assess them critically.

Of great assistance in this endeavor is the encounter of other world views—other horizons of knowledge and experience. We have such encounters in our human relations, in travels, and in reading works from other cultures and ages. In such encounters, we become aware of our implicit beliefs and unexamined opinions. We glimpse other perspectives, and we can begin to think through a dialectical process in consideration of the divergent visions of the world. I recommend interested readers to consider the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, one of Heidegger’s many brilliant students. Gadamer, as his Heraclitean mentor and all the pessimistic Germans after Kant, appears to insist that we never transcend the limitations of our horizon, but perhaps we can, in Simpsonian language, “embiggen” our understanding of the world through such reflection.

If there is any value in “diversity” as the multiculturalists intend, it surely lies in this sort of activity. Yet, it benefits only a certain kind of person at a certain level of maturity. The temptation to simplistic relativism accompanies the initial philosophical discovery that nature and convention differ. This jarring realization can be the first conception of higher wisdom, but few human beings seem capable of such gestation. The average embryo of the spirit mutates and degenerates after such trauma. Received wisdom, discovered, collected, winnowed, and preserved by the ancients and past down in tradition, best preserves the sanity of the many. Mindless conformity for the masses makes for secure, well adjusted societies, where the bovine herd can live out its days of grazing in peace.

The Left, like the Enlightenment in general, has many insights, but then it misses their significance and couples them with inexcusable stupidity. Stifling dogmatic convention distorts truth and hinders the ability to discover truth. Yet, it is politically necessary. Human communities need their noble lies; even the most fortunate situation must involve the most truthful deceptions and simplifications possible. In Leftists’ commitment to their fantasies of equality and universal enlightenment, they fatally err. Our dying civilization is their bequeathed gift.

Posted by Joseph on Sunday, March 15, Anno Domini 2009
Saturday, March 14, A.D. 2009
Elizabeth Wright

As Michael Steele continues to show his disgust for the Republican Party that he now heads, one may wonder (and many do) if there is such a public person as an American black conservative—in whichever order of modifiers that you so choose. When “journalist” D. L. Hughley told Steele that the National Republican Convention “literally looked like Nazi Germany,” and Steele acquiesced to the charge, one might wonder if Steele is fit to lead the party. I watched parts of the convention, and I missed the National Socialist similarities. Messianic hopes and mob mentality euphoria were to be found at a diffferent party.

Of course, what Hughley meant was that the convention was overwhelmingly white, though not as proportionately white as Republican Party activists—and perhaps not even as white as Republicans’ voter support. For Hughley, such means that the G.O.P. is not friendly to blacks. If by being friendly to blacks, he means the sort of racial socialist policies currently in vogue with the Democrats, then he is certainly correct. If he means, however, that the Republican establishment isolates blacks, then he is delusional. In this age of endless brown resentment and white guilt, the G.O.P. has swallowed the multiculturalist diversity doctrine to the extent that it does not impede (or impede much) Republicans’ commitment to true liberalism. Liberals (real liberals) stress that all men are individuals and should be treated as such. Therefore, most Republicans still scoff at racial preferences, affirmative action, and group based rights. Besides such matters, Republicans, like all “white people,” cannot wait to showcase their three black acquaintances as the nicest, most hard working people that they know. Having a minority friend has become, for Republicans as for Democrats, a mark of enlightened social status, as Sailer repeatedly mentions and Stuff White People Like repeatedly mocks.

The sad truth is that American blacks have been co-opted as useful idiots by the Left. Marxists always attempt to entice another oppressed group into their revolution, and W.E.B. DuBois and his ilk have achieved a faithful mass of support for the Left in the American black community. Culturally and religiously, folks like the Obamas remain rare birds, but politically, most blacks have fully bought into the Gramcian Marxist world view that the white (sometimes Jewish) capitalist establishment—a.k.a. “The Man”—conspires to keep browner denizens in perpetual ignorance, poverty, and moral squalor. The vast majority of blacks vote for Democrats because they believe that socialist proposals will help them overcome these nefarious machinations. Leftist “empowerment” will lead them to the promised land. Republicans cannot win blacks’ votes without convincing them that such policies do not work and that they cause much turmoil among the folks that they ostensibly are trying to help.

Unfortunately, there are few black American intellectuals today who follow in the tradition of Frederick Douglas and Booker T. Washington. They do, however, exist. Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, and Deroy Murdock come to mind as defenders of traditional American liberalism. I have now discovered a woman to complement the group—Elizabeth Wright. I am surprised that I have never heard of her before, but you can visit her Issues & Views site to read her thoughts. She does not hesitate to tackle racial taboos, either, lambasting the double standards that exist in society and in law, as in her Free Speech for Whom? section. Who else besides certain A.C.L.U. Jews would have such a commitment to liberalism as to defend white nationalists’ trademark rights?

Did you know that the terms “Black Power,” “Black Supremacy,” and “La Raza” (The Race) are all trademarks that have long been approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office? Even the Black Panther Party’s slogan “Burn, Baby, Burn” (which still evokes the threat of rioting and mayhem), had no problem winning official trademark recognition.

And then there’s “African Pride,” “Black Pride,” “Chippewa Pride,” “Cuban Pride,” “Indian Pride,” “Jewish Pride,” “Red Pride,” and lots more—all aimed at acknowledging a race or ethnicity. And all terms approved by the U.S. government.

As [r]eported by American Renaissance and Free Republic, when Justin Moritz, a former law enforcement officer, applied to trademark the phrase “White Pride Country Wide,” he was rejected in no uncertain terms. Registration of the words was not only denied, but the phrase was ruled “offensive” and “immoral.” More succinctly, the trademark office claimed, “... the proposed mark consists of or comprises immoral or scandalous matter.”

Incredulous, Moritz’s next step was to appeal the decision and give trademark officials a chance to reconsider his request. He first did some homework and accumulated a list of all the trademarks given to terms that acknowledge pride of race or national origin. He came up with over three dozen relevant terms or slogans, many referencing people of color, which objectively could be deemed close relatives to “White Pride Country Wide.” All to no avail. Rejection of his registration was upheld, and to add to his vexation, his $1,300 trademark application fee was deemed non-refundable.

Wright goes on to say that no organization on the Left or the Right, including the A.C.L.U., will take the case. What are principles, equality under the law, and free expression, after all, if they can be used by ugly racists?

Perhaps, modern Americans would feel better in a statist regime with an official racial ideology—since that is the society that we are currently now developing. Hughley may have been onto something when he remarked about National Socialism, though he had the wrong target.

Posted by Joseph on Saturday, March 14, Anno Domini 2009
Monday, March 9, A.D. 2009
Potestas Clavium

Here is a delicious quotation from Lev Shestov in Potestas Clavium:

“Scratch” any European, even if he be a positivist or a materialist, and you will quickly discover a medieval Catholic who holds frantically to his exclusive and inalienable right to open for himself and his neighbor the gates of the kingdom of heaven. The materialists and atheists claim this right quite as much as do the faithful sheep of the great herd of St. Peter’s followers.

Keep this quotation in mind when you visit various web sites. It is remarkably true.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, March 9, Anno Domini 2009
Sunday, March 8, A.D. 2009
Letters and Atoms

Yesterday, I posted a short attack on philosophical materialism. Today, I wish to add a wee bit concerning the reductionist tendencies of materialism.

Materialists argue that the mind is no more than the brain, that thought is no more than neurochemistry, and that the world is no more than its matter in mechanistic motion. I certainly think that the brain, neurochemistry, and mechanistic causation are worth study and that they do explain phenomena—at a certain level of inquiry. However, such inquiry is not comprehensive. To use a language analogy, imagine a man who would consider Shakespearean drama or the dialogues of Plato to be nothing but the mere assemblage of letters or of vocalized noises. Such a man would correctly note that these works consist, at a certain level, of letters in their written form and of noises in their spoken form, but they transcend the building blocks of letters and sounds. Letters and sounds might be necessary for expressing the meaning of such works, but they do not constitute the meaning as such. Similarly, the material cause cannot account for the whole of the world. I do not pretend to know the exact relationship of the soul and the body, of the mind and the brain, or of formal, final, material, and efficient causality, but I do know that we flatten, distort, and misunderstand the world by forcing all being to be considered only at the lowest level of our comprehension.

Posted by Joseph on Sunday, March 8, Anno Domini 2009
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