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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.
Monday, October 31, A.D. 2011
Painting in the Dark

Happy Halloween!

I do not have anything to add about our favorite less than Christianized pagan feast that I did not already mention in “All Hallow’s Eve.” Enjoy your All Saints’, your All Souls’, and even your Samhain.

However, the shadowy character of the holiday reminds me of an image that came to me during a recent discussion about mathematics. Nominalism is so rampant in the spiritual air that we breathe that I frequently find myself arguing with folks who hold that men created mathematics—ex nihilo, I suppose. In my last quixotic attempt to open the eyes of the blind to realism, my interlocutor suggested that mathematical concepts were entirely conventional. If that were true, then we should be able to dispose of them and to create another system of mathematics from scratch. Yet, even when we tweak various axioms that underly a particular mathematical approach, as in non-Euclidean geometry, the fundamental logic of mathematical relations continues to operate. There is much controversy in the philosophy of mathematics regarding the relationship between mathematics and formal logic, and I do not understand the problem enough to have any conviction on the matter. Yet, I cannot see how we could maintain logic or an understanding of mathematical relations without the other. I do not know if one implies the other, but, intuitively, they seem to coexist, at least in our thought process. To say that mathematics is entirely conventional is to say that we can think independently of what we mean by mathematical relations, and I do not see how such is possible. It is like asking a computer to function without programming or like asking a painter to copy a visible setting in the absence of light. We cannot think beyond the confines of thought. Could we have thought without mathematical reasoning? I am not sure if the simplest act of recognizing identity involves a mathematical judgment, but I am not comfortable in maintaining that we could still keep reason without such a significant constituent of it. We may manipulate which principles we apply in a given situation or thought experiment, but we do so still knowing and thinking with the suppressed principles in mind. Can we do violence to νοῦς without losing our mind entirely?

Posted by Joseph on Monday, October 31, Anno Domini 2011
Monday, October 24, A.D. 2011
The End of the Future

Earlier in the month, billionaire genius Peter Thiel published a short essay in National Review, “The End of the Future.” It makes for an interesting and sobering read. Thiel notes that the current political and social orders in Western countries depend on easy economic growth, which requires constant technological innovation. Thiel investigates the state of technology and shares some frank and rather unpleasant commentary about the near future.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, October 24, Anno Domini 2011
Wednesday, October 19, A.D. 2011
A Glimpse of Syria

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon of Chicago and several other American citizens traveled to Syria recently on behalf of Antiochian Metropolitan Philip to ascertain the conditions of civil life in light of the country’s recent troubles. Fr. Patrick recounted his impressions on the Antiochian American Archdiocese’s site. From having read many of his articles and sermons, I highly respect Fr. Patrick. I am wont to believe him when he describes the Syrian situation so differently than how it is portrayed in the American press. That is not to say that I approve of Syria’s regime. Yet, any government in the Middle East must rule quite differently than a Western government would—with its European or European descended citizens. Arabs may have conquered enough of the Greco-Roman world to know better political arrangements, but their fundamentally tribal tendencies and the dominance of divinely given human law (as they see it) have kept them from developing politics beyond the clannish stage. Assad may be brutal at times, and he certainly does not play nicely with American politicians, but he may be the best possible man for the job. As I wrote in “Egyptian Woes” during the “Arab Spring,” sometimes we should root for the autocrats.

Being no democrat myself and noting the likelihood of what “freedom” would mean for Egyptians, I think that a regime change would be quite ugly. Secular Arab nationalism has been problematic for the West, but at least it held Communism and jihadism at bay. For the most part, Copts in Egypt and Christian minorities in Syria and in Ba’athist Iraq have enjoyed far more freedom and security than their coreligionists elsewhere in the Dar al-Islam. Arab dictatorships were never truly friends of Western nations, but they have been allies of common interest in various conflicts. After imperial European rule, secular Arab nationalist regimes might be the best that we can get in the Mohammedan Middle East. If Egypt’s regime topples, its replacement will be worse.

If Fr. Patrick’s depiction of Assad, Jr. is accurate—not that Fr. Patrick would obfuscate, but I mean if his impression matched reality rather than following from a false but well staged p.r. event—the Syrian people are quite blessed. Politics is the art of the possible, and practical measures always limit the beneficence of a regime. Kings would probably like to show mercy and compassion most of the time, but such soft measures often precede regicide. Unruly mobs require harsh treatment, but too heavy of a hand likewise leads to insurrection. To rule men is a perilous vocation. May the Syrian president rule wisely.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, October 19, Anno Domini 2011
Wednesday, October 12, A.D. 2011
Leftist Pessimism

Reactionaries typify pessimism; we consistently and clearly see the timeful truth of the Latins’ sic transit gloria mundi. Leftists devote themselves to their delusions of progress; theirs is the lot of the optimist. It is humorous, therefore, to meet a radical Puddleglum, but that is what we find in an interview by Thomas Rogers on Salon: “How conservatism conquered America.” Rogers asked Corey Robin about his new book, The Reactionary Mind, wherein Robin notes that the American Right has won every battle that it has fought.

Now that you have cleaned up your spilt beverage and wiped the computer screen of splattered drink and saliva, let us ask how someone even as bonkers as an unreformed Marxist could state such. First, it is possible that Robin strategically lies in order to shift the balance of politics. The history of American politics for over a century has been a slide leftwards, which moves the centrist, moderate mainstream to the ideological area once occupied by the previous generation’s radicals. Leftists see such a movement as a necessary historical process, and conservatives have facilitated it through what View from the Right calls the Hegelian Mambo. There, Lawrence Auster notes:

. . . Since the left has become so extreme that it no longer supports national self-defense against our mortal enemies, conservatism has been reduced to the support of national self-defense against our mortal enemies. That which is not actively or passively treasonous is “conservative.”

The stated willingness of “conservatives” to abandon all conservative principles except for the principle of keeping ourselves alive is perhaps the greatest example so far of the Hegelian Mambo (a coinage invented by VFR participant Matt in this discussion, as a corollary of the Unprincipled Exception). In the Hegelian Mambo, as the left become more left, the right, in defining itself in opposition to the ever-more threatening extremism of the left, and not in terms of unchanging principles of its own, abandons its prior positions and moves ever further leftward itself. Thus, for example, at the rate we’re going on the life-style front, in ten years’ time a conservative will be a person who disapproves of sexual intercourse between humans and animals, and in fifteen years’ time a conservative will be a person who disapproves of marriage between humans and animals. The moderate position will be to support civil unions.

Robin could be following this well tread leftist path by calling the Right’s continual losses victories. Doublespeak and ceaseless deception help to maintain the illusion that the radicals have not been successfully transforming America for generations.

Second, it is possible that Robin speaks sincerely because he allows perfection to be the enemy of the good, or, more appropriately in this case, he allows his aim of social desolation to be the enemy of mere civilizational decline. The revolution that the Left has achieved pales in comparison to the Marxist utopia after which Robin and his ilk yearn. Therefore, in that we still have marriage, in that most Americans still cling to their “heteronormative” instincts, in that white people still breathe, we know that we have not yet reached the Promised Land. The Right has won, in Robin’s eyes, because Americans have not yet completely thrown off the shackles of natural law.

Third, ideologues thrive on struggle. They find meaning in the Great Fight. Robin might find it psychologically pleasant to imagine that his army is temporarily defeated, that his people are oppressed for the time, but that soon dawn will come again. As the Left privileges victims and the oppressed with special virtue, worth, and wisdom, relegating oneself to such status ever remains a temptation for the righteously self indulgent.

Fourth, success and power bring responsibility. If Robin admitted that his radical cohorts now controlled most of the government, the educational establishment, the non-governmental organizations, and the media, then he would have to ask why the happy times have not arrived. Leftist policies are ruinous, inhuman, and destructive; yet, Leftists always blame the problems that their ideas cause on their ideological enemies. They cannot learn.

Aside from Robin’s bizarre claim that conservatives have won their battles, the interview is interesting, and Robin freely exhibits the leftist drive for totalitarian control:

Elizabeth Cady Stanton famously asked why it is that these guys were so resistant to the franchise to women in the public realm. She argued it’s because they didn’t want to give up power in the home and I think she was absolutely right. There’s something about the intimacy of control in the private realm — the home and the workplace — that has always been central to conservatism. After the 2010 elections the first thing they did was to go after labor rights, and not just in Wisconsin. Something like the order of 35 states have some version of the Wisconsin plan. The Times just had a piece on the onslaught on reproductive rights, also in about 35 states.

The left as a whole segregates the issue of reproductive rights as if it’s separate. But it is absolutely critical and central to the conservative project because it is about man’s control over women in the home. Go back to the French revolution and Louis de Bonald, who is one of the great theoreticians of the counterrevolution — he was obsessed with the liberalization of divorce because he saw a connection between the emancipation in the family and of women and the whole revolutionary project.

Robin is absolutely correct that the issues are related; de Bonald had profound insights into the destruction that the Left would cause. Yet, Robin sees it in terms of competitive power. For him, there is no order, no proper spheres, no natural duties and responsibilities—simply Hobbesian war of all against all. Somehow, given this amoral and nihilistic outlook, the Left curiously privileges equality and then seeks to bring about the “justice” of equality in society.

Of course, conservatives who object to governmental intrusion into the private sphere do so because they stand against such justice; they want to keep their womenfolk in bondage, you see. Decent people obviously realize this, and that is why there is no good reason for the state not to intrude upon the private sphere in whatever manner appropriate to expand “social justice.”

This comes, without shame, from the folks who repeatedly whine that the state cannot legislate morality! It makes me ask whether Leftists are incorrigible liars or simply mad from their lifelong abuse of logic.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, October 12, Anno Domini 2011
Wednesday, October 5, A.D. 2011
Leftist Self Mastery

Earlier in the week, a commentator on View from the Right expressed an insight that I really appreciated. The post, “The truth that liberalism prohibits, even as it exploits it,” concerned a reader’s puzzlement concerning leftist promotion of homosexual “marriage.” Another reader then provided the following gem (with Auster’s comments bracketed in bold, as is his custom):

S. writes:

. . . The liberal psychologist Jonathan Haidt has done fascinating research into the moral psychology of liberals and traditional conservatives. He acknowledges that even many liberals find homosexuality deeply repulsive. He claims that liberals typically react by assuming that they are the one with the problem, and that they need to overcome their “bigoted” reaction by repressing the natural reaction of disgust. They see this as virtuous because they are allowing their “rational” egalitarian impulses to overcome their “irrational” and “bigoted” moral impulses. I think this partly explains the recent push towards the normalization of ever more bizarre forms of sexual expression like transsexuality. The more disgusting some deviant behavior is, the more the liberal can practice the virtues of tolerance and non-discrimination by accepting and promoting it. If the behavior is truly perverse and revolting, it is a heroic act to tolerate it and accept it, an act of liberal supererogation, as it were. [LA replies: That’s a new variation on Auster’s First Law! Under liberalism, the more vile and perverted an act is, the more virtuous it is to tolerate it.]

In the traditional morality of virtue, one attempts to exercise control over one’s baser desires and animal passions. One eventually learns to tame these passions, thereby achieving the kind of self-mastery that is necessary for spiritual development. The liberal, on the other hand, achieves a different kind of self-mastery. He learns to control and suppress his natural moral passions, so that he can forge a society in which all people are free to indulge their baser desires without fear of social censure.

LA replies:

Excellent comment. It’s often been said that liberalism inverts traditional morality. You have shown more precisely how this is the case. The traditionalist, in order to become a better person, restrains his baser behaviors. The liberal, in order to become a better person, restrains his belief in morality.

S. replies (before he saw my bolded response to him making the same point):

This phenomenon dovetails nicely with your theory that in a liberal society, the worse a designated victim class behaves the more forbidden it is to criticize it. The more obvious it becomes that some minority group is transgressing the bounds of decency and morality, the more heroically virtuous it is to tolerate their transgressions and to punish those who speak the truth.

S. continues:

Come to think of it, this phenomenon may lend some measure of credence to Steve Sailer’s “status competition” theory of liberal insanity. In any group of people with shared values and norms, there will be ideas about virtue and vice. Those who most embody the virtues will have enhanced social standing. Hence, in liberal society, the more tolerant and permissive you are of vile and revolting behaviors, the more you distance yourself from the benighted non-liberal and the more you demonstrate your virtues to your peer. If you can accept even outrageous offenses against decency and nature, you are the liberal version of Aristotle’s great souled man, able to expect much and receive much.

S. demonstrates in this comment how a degenerate form of Kantian morality perverts human nature. From what I have witnessed of our upside down contemporary world, I believe that S. analyzes finely.

In case you were wondering about Auster’s First Law of Majority-Minority Relations in Liberal Society, you may wish to read “Clarifying the First Law.”

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, October 5, Anno Domini 2011
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