Arimathea
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Philosophy
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.
Wednesday, December 16, A.D. 2009
Requisite Vengeance

I found out on Auster’s site that a court in Florida sentenced another juvenile to thirty years in prison for a gruesome gang rape that occurred in West Palm Beach two years ago. Three other participants in the crime have already been sentenced to life in prison. There were several other boys involved, but I do not know if the police have been able to identify or charge them.

The annals of justice are replete with horrible crimes, but I found this particular act so revolting and disturbing that I fault the Florida court for not having sentenced the boys to death. Florida maintains capital punishment, and if this crime is not a capital offense, then the law is unjust.

If you have the stomach for it, you may read a detailed account of the crime on People You’ll See in Hell, “Gang Rape In Dunbar Village In West Palm Beach, Florida.”

On the 18th of June in 2007, at 9 in the evening, a 35-year-old woman came home to her apartment in the Dunbar Village housing project in West Palm Beach, Florida. She had just finished up a long day of delivering telephone books and she was tired.

She had immigrated to the United States in 2000 from Haiti with her then five-year-old son, hoping for a better life.

Before she went upstairs to bed, she and her son had started to make something downstairs in the kitchen for dinner when there was a knock at the door.

A young black male was at the door, his hair in braids. The teenager told her that her truck had a few flat tires and that she should come and look at them.

Following the apparent “good samaritan” outside, she hadn’t taken more than a few steps when three teenagers – all wearing masks and all carrying guns – pointed the weapons at her and told her to get back into her apartment.

They hit her, knocking her to the floor. They pushed her son down to the floor as well.

They demanded money, which she didn’t have.

Incensed at the lack of easy money in the apartment, the four boys beat the woman and her son, stripped the woman of her clothing, took her to the bedroom and raped her over and over, with each boy taking his turn.

Her son was held at gunpoint, forced to watch.

As they raped and sodomized her, she cried out in pain and fear.

Nobody came to help, not then, not when she heard her son cry out when they stripped him naked as well, sporadically breaking lightbulbs and plates on his head.

Up to five other teenagers did arrive, but they had come to join in on the raping and cruelty.

These other teenagers also raped and sodomized the woman, recording it all for posterity on a cell phone.

Eventually, after everyone had their turn with the woman in her upstairs bedroom, they brought her son upstairs at gunpoint. Holding a gun to the 12-year-old’s head, the gang forced his mother to perform oral sex on him.

It is unclear as to whether or not mother and son were forced to have sex with each other.

When everyone had finished abusing the woman sexually, they forced her into the bathtub, which they filled with vinegar and water. They poured common household cleaning products over her, such as hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover and ammonia-based cleaning solution.

Some ammonia was also thrown into her son’s eyes.

They forced a bar of soap into her vagina, hoping to remove physical evidence.

While they were doing this, the gang also threw ammonia into her son’s eyes.

After the group was convinced that they had disposed of the evidence, someone suggested setting the mother and her son on fire. After searching for – but not finding – a lighter, the group left, warning the pair that if they got out of the tub, they’d be killed.

30 minutes later, while the mother and her son were still in the tub, crying in pain, one of the teenagers returned to sexually assault the woman one more time. He wrote a man’s name and 6-CO – a different man and a different gang than the one that had gang-raped this family – on a piece of paper, telling her that he could be found on Sixth street.

As he left, he took the Playstation 2 with him.

The woman and her son stayed in the apartment for two hours after the attack. Nobody came to investigate the screams, nobody called the police for help.

Because their assailants had stolen their cell phone, their home phone and their fax machine, they were unable to call for assistance themselves.

It was a long walk to the Good Samaritan Medical Center, but they walked the mile together, two hours after the attack ended.

They were badly injured. The 12-year-old had to be immobilized for more than two days on his hospital bed, with bandages covering both eyes and a two-inch gash on the top of his skull.

There was a mild public outcry. [story continues]

I shudder when I think of this story. I feel wrath toward the criminals and pity for the victims. No pain or suffering would be too great for the monsters, and no solace could erase the trauma for the mother and her son. As she was an immigrant, I feel as the Greeks who called upon Zeus Xenios; woe to the city that permits its guests to be treated wrongly. American society inexcusably allows such savagery to fester among dysfunctional, poor blacks. For it has been cowed into inaction by Leftist anti-racists and apologists for crime so much that it neglects the most basic state duties of maintaining internal peace and safety. Dunbar Village is not civilization; it is a jungle, and its inhabitants live among feral beasts. Poor black neighborhoods have become islands of Lord of the Flies. Their boys run wild, without authority figures or direction. Generation after generation, they break the law, breed, and live off the indulgence of the productive members of society. The weak and the decent must suffer this state of nature unless and until they find a way to escape. Such is the daily life of a large segment of black America, but we would rather blame white racism for black suffering. Whites may be complicit, but it is not the white racists who are guilty. That sort of dysfunction did not exist in the era of Jim Crow; it is an unintended consequence of progressive benevolence. For it is the white Leftist enablers who have induced, through the mechanism of bad laws and counterproductive social policy, the cancers of black America. Johnson’s Great Society turned out to be Dunbar Village. Instead of the public mob lynchings of rapists, we have an endless state of anarchy and crime wherein the innocent suffer at the hands of brutes who act with impunity. “There was a mild public outcry.” A society like ours does not deserve to survive. Lord have mercy!

I have been against the death penalty since my youth, not because I do not believe that criminals deserve it but because I think that we as a society should maintain our nobility by not condescending to the level of killing. However, the older I get, the less objectionable I find capital punishment. I remember when I first considered that its use might be justifiable when a society could otherwise incarcerate dangerous criminals. I was listening to Alan Keyes speak about how the law expresses and thereby teaches the values of a society. He argued that capital punishment demonstrates the seriousness with which a society views capital offenses. A society that does not kill the worst predators of innocent life does not value such innocent life much. At first, I mostly rejected Keyes’ argument with the “seamless garment,” “culture of life” vision. Years later, I suspect that he was right. The death penalty may or may not deter crime, but it certainly incarnates in law and in action the intolerance that a society has for wickedness, and I think that such may be morally and politically healthy.

Consider the criminals mentioned above. The boys who performed those actions did not simply make a mistake. They were not in the wrong place at the wrong time. In order to have participated in such inhuman and evil deeds, they proved themselves to be utterly unfit for human company. I think that it would be merciful to kill them to remove them from the misery of being such wretched, bestial shadows of men. Christian doctrine may call for repentance, but I cannot muster up the faith to think that such people are capable of redemption. God works miracles, but political policy cannot be founded on the exceptional and miraculous.

These cases make me think of the ancients’ abhorence of certain crimes and their view of miasmic impurity. Some crimes are so wrong that society needs to remove from itself the taint of the criminals’ presence. If we had something like Devil’s Island, maybe we would not need the death penalty to bleach such stains from our political fabric. Lacking that, I viscerally sense the primitive uneasiness in allowing such evil ones to live in our land. The very earth cries out for justice.

If we Americans have become so unserious about policing our own society, if we as a people are too sanctimonious to deal with the vicious as is necessary, then, perhaps, we need to outsource our penal system when possible. As the victims in this case were Haitian, I propose that Florida send the “youths” to Haiti for their punishment. The filth should be sent with detailed accounts of their crime and of their trials, and the Haitians can do what they want with them. I do not think highly of Haiti, but I believe that even the Haitians would have a better respect of justice.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, December 16, Anno Domini 2009
PoliticsCommentsPermalink
Monday, December 14, A.D. 2009
Is God an Accident?

I am hopelessly behind the times. Only this past year did I learn of the latest reductionist explanation of religion, wherein the nearly universal belief in the divine is dismissed as an accident of human evolution. The reductionist argument basically holds that it has been so vitally important for human beings to distinguish agents from things that men developed their sensitivity to agency too much. We humans tend to project agency onto all sorts of things that have none and even onto non-entities. The survival advantage in being able distinguish sentient beings from rocks led to the tendency to see spirits everywhere. It is a mere accident of evolution, then, that we are religious.

Last week, I read a four year old article by Paul Bloom in The Atlantic about this theory, “Is God an Accident?” Even though I do not find the argument ultimately convincing, I must credit Bloom for a good read. Why can’t American discourse exist at such a level? Let the secularists put forth a rational and honest Bloom, and the theists will offer Platinga or some such chap. We the audience public may actually learn something.

Anyway, I recommend Bloom’s article, which I find quite interesting and fair. My favorite part is when Bloom recounts the fascinating research that cognative scientists are doing with babies. When scientists actually do science, it is indeed a glorious affair. However, natural science is a species of philosophy, and it is natural (as I affirm teleology) for seekers of truth to search for deeper answers to underlying questions. Unfortunately, these intelligent folks are not well equipped to address metaphysical questions, and I believe that is why they fail to appreciate the problems of their reductionism.

For example, one of Bloom’s main arguments is that through evolution, human beings have become innately dualistic. We recognize from our earliest stages of development the difference between the life of the mind and the mechanics of lifeless things. What the Kantians call the noumenal and the phenomenal are basic insights into how we experience reality. I think that a sensible philosophical approach would have us accept the legitimacy of this distinction. The mind, the will, the realm of the spirit really is of a different order than the mechanistic cause and effect world of billiard balls in motion. We must see the difference, intuitively and rationally, as reason will not permit a sane person to understand reality otherwise. Yet, it seems that the reductionists hold that such an insight is merely an illusion that accidentally resulted from some adaptations in the human mind that make survival and reproduction more likely.

Perhaps, I misunderstand the subtlety of their argument, but it appears that the reductionists fail the test of retortion. I have mentioned this basic argument before, but it cannot be repeated enough in this twilight age of reason. The reductionists offer their scientific theory as an explanation of how the world (well, in this case, the human mind) works. They propose a theory as true. Yet, they dismiss the foundations of human rationality—including the basic perception that mind and the mindless operate according to very different principles—as accidents of evolution quite unrelated to truth value. We hold such intuitions—and our reason operates thus—not because such are true but because such give us a survival advantage. I wonder if the reductionists’ dismissal of human rationality undermines their own attempts at explanation. They are not simple relativists; so, maybe they pass the test of not refuting themselves. However, I do not know how one can salvage human wisdom once one dismisses such fundamental insights. As with the nominalists, how does one proceed to build castles of philosophical systems in the air after one has destroyed their possible foundations? Epistemological violence leads to metaphysical nihilism.

Bloom offers as an argument the following remarkable passage:

This notion of an immaterial soul potentially separable from the body clashes starkly with the scientific view. For psychologists and neuroscientists, the brain is the source of mental life; our consciousness, emotions, and will are the products of neural processes. As the claim is sometimes put, The mind is what the brain does. I don’t want to overstate the consensus here; there is no accepted theory as to precisely how this happens, and some scholars are skeptical that we will ever develop such a theory. But no scientist takes seriously Cartesian dualism, which posits that thinking need not involve the brain. There is just too much evidence against it.

I always think back to the analogy of language when I encounter these ideas. We cannot reduce the meaning of a word to its letters or to the sounds that it takes to speak the word. Nonetheless, a word cannot exist as a written word without letters or as a spoken word without sounds. Reality ought not to be reduced to its necessary conditions. It may be correct that the material structure of the brain makes thought possible, but thought transcends its origin. I accept as a possibility that human consciousness may only occur to or with embodied human beings. However, even as bodies with brains, we attain the spiritual and immaterial through our very thought. Having thought thoughts, we know that order and the innumerable intelligible qualities that we witness cannot be reduced to a jumbling of particulars with no evidence of the transcendent. We see God when we see the world because we see the world. While our experience does not rationally justify belief in the afterlife, it does validate the distinction between thought and the world. In thinking, we noetically reach beyond the limits of time and space. We know, in thinking, that we are truly more than just bodies. Whether such existence outlasts the body is another matter. It remains that case that we are more than flesh and blood.

Bloom and his comrades of the material mind find it conclusive that one can have design without a designer, and they believe that evolution proves it.

Sometimes there really are signs of nonrandom and functional design. We are not being unreasonable when we observe that the eye seems to be crafted for seeing, or that the leaf insect seems colored with the goal of looking very much like a leaf. The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins begins The Blind Watchmaker by conceding this point: “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” Dawkins goes on to suggest that anyone before Darwin who did not believe in God was simply not paying attention.

Darwin changed everything. His great insight was that one could explain complex and adaptive design without positing a divine designer. Natural selection can be simulated on a computer; in fact, genetic algorithms, which mimic natural selection, are used to solve otherwise intractable computational problems. And we can see natural selection at work in case studies across the world, from the evolution of beak size in Galápagos finches to the arms race we engage in with many viruses, which have an unfortunate capacity to respond adaptively to vaccines.

I marvel at how clever creatures can draw explanatory principles from the empty well of chance. Chance does not explain; chance merely signifies the complicated levels on which intentional agents experience reality. With apologies to Aristotle, allow me to talk about my fictional pals, Bob and Matt. Bob the bartender owes Matt the Maytag repairman money that he intends to pay him when he sees him again. One day, Bob goes to Best Buy to buy his belle, Betty Sue, a microwave oven. Matt happens to be at Best Buy trying to catch up on the latest developments in the laundry machine trade. Bob sees Matt and pays him. We can say that Bob’s paying Matt when he did was the result of chance. There was agency by both men, but the result of their intended ends was not intended by either one of them. Chance explains an element in the story.

Yet, note that chance only indicates how the intended actions of two agents interelated in a wider theater than their own perspectives. When we consider a theater as wide as reality, what role does chance play? Is it not simply what we might call the order of being’s manifesting itself in motion? When people speak of chance, they often mean random and unpredictable. Yet, we observe everywhere the tendencies of nature and the probability of phenomena that betray an order. The universe has a structure that is intelligible. It has patterns that human reason perceives and understands. When we attribute causality to chance, we simply admit that we remain ignorant of the whole as was Bob of all the facts. Yet, Bob and Matt both acted as agents with will and ends, and they acted so in an orderly universe. Likewise, evolutionary biology does not show that order develops from chaos. Rather, evolutionary biology recognizes that the particular qualities—the particular structure of our universe—gives rise to the multiplicity of life as we know it. There is no way to pass the buck of design to nothing. As the ancients knew, there must be an uncaused cause. When, in thought, we encounter the wondrous beauty and unity of the intelligible world, we recognize such a source. For Bloom, this recognition is an illusion. It is strange to consider how much effort the blinded put forth in order to remain in darkness.

Bloom’s strongest point, in my opinion, is that the human mind sees design where there is arguably none. We see patterns and qualities in artworks that were designed to be random (an odd cultural phenomenon, to be sure). Personally, I know that my mind sees faces in almost any grouping of lines and colors. Couldn’t it be that we simply project meaning onto this meaningless world?

As previously argued, I do not think that we can undermine human rationality in such a severe way and still maintain knowledge in any sense. There is another explanation for the human mind’s readiness to attribute order, meaning, and patterns to “randomness.” It could be that we do see such examples of order, meaning, and patterns in what were intended by their craftsmen to be random and meaninglessness because they actually do instantiate such order, meaning, and patterns. Hume may be a reductionist nominalist, but his theory of mental association is quite insightful. We understand many phenomena by relating them to memories of other phenomena. I do not think that we can reduce our ideas to such, but that is not to say that such does not occur in our minds. Of course, we learn and remember based on experience and association. The man who harbors a lifelong disgust of Cheerios because of an unfortunate breakfast incident in his youth shows how strong such associations can be. Thus, clouds may appear to us as palaces or dragons—or at least cotton balls for the unimaginative—because the clouds resemble such things in certain respects. Our minds do not thus lie or falsify information; for the qualities that cause us to see the resemblance are truly present in the clouds, such as certain shapes, sizes, and relations. We only fall short of truth when such resemblance tricks us into assessing something incorrectly. For instance, I may mistake a mannequin for a real man because of its resemblance to a real man. Such errors ought not to cause us to question the power of human thought; rather, they are good reminders about the limitations of empirical evidence.

So, I recommend Bloom’s article, but the ease of intelligent men in making intellectual errors continues to baffle me. Do materialists really find such arguments convincing, or are they trying to dismiss their own awareness of the transcendent? With the latest reductionist theory, these materialists may soothe their minds by explaining away their suppressed religious tendencies as natural, homo sapiens normative, irrational impulses. Then, there will be no need to think more about the contradictory stances that one takes when he reduces reality to a level that does not even allow for his act of intellectual reduction.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, December 14, Anno Domini 2009
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Saturday, December 12, A.D. 2009
Effective Giving

The sloganeers like to call Yuletide the “season of giving.” Just so, Americans tend to give gifts to each other and to strangers, to donate to charities, and to volunteer their time more during the Christmas season than at any other time of the year. If you are among the many world fixers, do gooders, and lazy shoppers who give charitable contributions for their Christmas presents, or if you are among the saints who devote their time to their fellow man, you may wish to consult the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide, especially the list of sober suggestions for charity in “Effective Compassion: Seven Principles from a Century Ago.” Consider, for example, the third principle, categorization:

Charities a century ago realized that two persons in exactly the same material circumstances, but with different values, need different treatment: One might benefit most from some material help and a pat on the back, the other might need spiritual challenge and a push. Those who were orphaned, elderly, or disabled received aid; jobless adults who were “able and willing to work” received help in job-finding; “those who prefer to live on alms” and those of “confirmed intemperance” were not entitled to material assistance.

“Work tests” helped both in sorting and in providing relief with dignity. When an able-bodied man came to a homeless shelter, he often was asked to chop wood for two hours or to whitewash a building; in that way he could provide part of his own support and also help those unable to chop. A needy woman generally was given a seat in the “sewing room” (often near a child care room) and asked to work on garments that would be donated to the helpless poor or sent through the Red Cross to families suffering from the effects of hurricanes or tornadoes. The work test, along with teaching good habits and keeping away those who did not really need help, also enabled charities to teach the lesson that those who were being helped could help others.

Today, don’t we need to stop talking about “the poor” in abstraction and start distinguishing once again between those who truly yearn for help and those who just want an enabler? Programs have the chance to succeed only when categories are established and firmly maintained. Work tests can help: Why shouldn’t some homeless men clean up streets and parks and remove graffiti? Now, as thousands of crack babies born addicted to cocaine and often deserted by mothers who care only for the next high, languish in hospitals under bright lights and with almost no human contact, why shouldn’t homeless women (some are psychotic or sick, but others are healthy and gentle) be assigned to hold a baby for an hour in exchange for food and shelter?

Such appears to me as solid and wise advice.

Posted by Joseph on Saturday, December 12, Anno Domini 2009
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