Time Travel? Blogger Proposes, WordPress Disposes…

This post was put up this morning, while this post was put up this afternoon. WordPress, however, decided that the second post was put up yesterday. In addition to being weird, eerie evidence of time travel, it messed up a couple internal references, wherein I refer to the earlier (now later) essay in the later (now earlier) essay.

No point, really, just FYI. I’d try to fix it, but I’m betting it’s like trying to make sure the same socks come out of the dryer as went into it – there are laws of nature man is not meant to understand.*

* The interwebs have failed me! Searched for what I thought was a classic cartoon, wherein somebody records over time exactly what socks they put into the dryer and the dwindling, miss-matched socks they got out, until, on the last panel, they get one unfamiliar sock back with a note pinned to it: “Stop messing with the laws of nature, and bring more socks!”  But no luck.

Being Fair and Being Good

In a bit, I will be calling for help to construct a quaestio (or whatever the proper Latin form of that word ison the issue of g-for-government gmarriage. The plan is to put all the arguments and premises in a nice logical format in a way that even the modern ill-educated can understand. Hey, a guy’s gotta dream.

In attempting to get my mind around what people mean by ‘fair’, I wandered off…

By ‘fair’, it seems people mean ‘just’ (if they mean anything at all). Justice has been long defined as ‘giving each his due’. So, before we can say whether someone is being treated justly, we must understand what each person is due.

First, note the manifest truth in the rebuke of millions of parents to millions of children: life isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to the zebra that he gets eaten by the lion, nor is it fair the lion otherwise starves; it isn’t fair that your sister gets to stay up later than you do, nor is it fair that she’s blond and you’re brunette. And so on. So we cannot turn to nature for guidance on fairness.

Note also that ‘fair’ is a two-way street: nothing is fair in abstract isolation, but only in a relationship – I give to someone else what is their due *from me*, which can’t really happen if we are disassociated individuals. To be just, they would also need to give me my due. Expanding this further, the whole idea of fairness involves a web of reciprocal *duties* – fairness exists within relationships. Fairness is a feature of communities.

To cry ‘that’s not fair!’ is to posit the existence of a community, without which the whole idea of fairness falls apart. But communities also have requirements, which become duties on the ground, without which they cannot exist. Therefore, all claims made in the name of fairness must – must! – take into consideration whether recognizing those claims sustains or damages the community as a whole. Without that community of duties existing through time, we’re all just another zebra on the lion’s menu.

Not sure how this works into the argument yet, but one story repeated endlessly is of people launching their communities into endless wars in the name of justice. The French revolution and its aftereffects spring to mind. People were murdered, enslaved, tortured, and these crimes call out for justice. There are only a few examples I know of – South Africa, a couple Latin American countries – where the people realized that the only way they would ever get a community worth living in would be to forgive, or at least agree to refrain from (perfectly justifiable and perhaps even ‘fair’) vengeance. Much of this is purely practical – if I know me and mine will be hunted down and punished, I’m very much motivated to keep fighting. But it’s also a recognition on some level, I think, that you can’t even talk about fairness unless you have that community of reciprocal duties described above.

So perps go unpunished in the name of peace. On some level, then, you must sometimes stop trying to be fair in order to be good. This brings us to the next thing parents tell their kids after explaining that life isn’t fair – that the ‘unfair’ differences in life can make for a better life for all. I often think of the times in the grocery store where I get something down from the top shelves for short people – it may not be fair that I’m tall, but it is good. I suppose in order to be fair, I should start asking short people to get me stuff from the floor-level shelves, so that my back holds up better the better to get stuff off the top for them?

Question: Whether Gmarriage is Objectionable on Rational Grounds – Part 1

The ‘g’ stands for ‘government’ and is silent. h/t to William Briggs for bringing this handy time and scare-quote saving device to our attention. Ultimately, the question is whether marriage is the sort of thing governments get to define, so gmarriage seems like the appropriate term.

Folks, what I want to do here is assemble the rational arguments in a nice orderly format – and the most nice and orderly format known to man it the quaestio developed in the medieval universities (whose most prominent child is the Scientific Method). As the Oracle Wikipedia puts it:

The quaestio method of reasoning was initially used especially when two authoritative texts seemed to contradict one another. Two contradictory propositions would be considered in the form of an either/or question, and each part of the question would have to be approved (sic) or denied (non). Arguments for the position taken would be presented in turn, followed by arguments against the position, and finally the arguments against would be refuted. This method forced scholars to consider opposing viewpoints and defend their own arguments against them.

See? What could be more reasonable? The rules of the game require that the positions with which one disagrees be stated as strongly as possible and in a form with which a reasonable person who held that position would agree. In other words, no straw men allowed, and no unstructured emoting in the place of reasoned argument.

So, the first step: identify and formulate the arguments for gmarriage in as strong and reasonable form as possible. Here’s where I need help: Please suggest either other reasons, or suggest ways to tighten up the given reasons. As we move through the process, we’ll add counter-arguments and other fun stuff.

Also note that I’m trying to keep this non-technical (in the philosophical sense) as much as possible, but I am following the practice of reducing arguments that depend on the same principle to one argument – for example, Thomas was right in that there are only 2 rational arguments against the existence of God, yet people will propose dozens of ‘arguments’, many of which are mere name-calling or otherwise irrational, the remainder of which fall under one or the other of the two reasons Thomas identified (either God is not needed, or is inconsistent with evil in the word, in case you’re wondering). So, with that said:

Objections:

It would seem that gmarriage is not objectionable on rational grounds. For

1. Marriage is nothing more than a voluntary union between adults. It is nothing more than an accident of history, specifically religious history, that it has been restricted previously to one man and one woman. The ubiquity of “No-Fault” divorce proves this.

2. Modern science has proven that homosexuality is a completely normal, natural and healthy state. It is not reasonable to place any restrictions on homosexuals that are not placed on straights, nor is it reasonable to grant rights to straights not granted to homosexuals. Marriage has been just such a right up until now, so that acknowledging the right of any two adults to marry if they wish is reasonable.

3. Society is built on consensual arrangements between sovereign individuals, as Rousseau asserts and as the Founders of the United States enshrined in the Constitution (“We, the people…” establish the laws of the land). Law has no other basis than the will of the governed. Marriage is also a contract within this system of law; therefore, marriage is whatever the people say it is (through their representatives in the legislature and courts). It is reasonable for the people, through the courts, to define marriage to include homosexual unions if the people wish.

Notes:

What I’m shooting for is 1) the redefinition of marriage as something temporarily entered into by two adults at their pleasure is a done deal. Any social objections have been crushed by the reality of no-fault divorce; 2) There can be no rational discrimination (in the basic, non-name-calling sense of the word) against homosexuals; 3) Under the principles under which the laws of this nation are established, the courts get to redefine any terms they feel inclined to redefine. As O. W. Holmes Jr says: the law is whatever the judges say it is.

Well? Does that capture it?  Any other arguments? I suppose we could break this up into two questions: whether gmarriage is reasonable and whether the courts have the power to establish it…

My wife’s comment from hearing arguments in the wild is that proponents always frames this up as a question of fairness. I went back and forth on this, but fairness is such a squishy claim that I can see a whole series of arguments around what is fair/just – see the last post. In the end, I left fair out. Thinking we’ll need that set of arguments in the end anyway. What do you think?

Edward Feser Tackles the Dilemma…

of those of us arguing against the current views of our enlightened betters:

So, the skeptic’s position is ultimately incoherent.  But rhetorically he has an advantage.  With every move you try to make, he can simply refuse to concede the assumptions you need in order to make it, leaving you constantly scrambling to find new footing.  He will in the process be undermining his own position too, because his skepticism is so radical it takes down everything, including what he needs in order to make his position intelligible.  But it will be harder to see this at first, because he is playing offense and you are playing defense.  It falsely seems that you are the one making all the controversial assumptions whereas he is assuming nothing.  Hence, while your position is in fact rationally superior, it is the skeptic’s position that will, perversely, appear to be rationally superior.  People bizarrely give him the benefit of the doubt and put the burden of proof on you.

This, I submit, is the situation defenders of traditional sexual morality are in vis-à-vis the proponents of “same-sex marriage.”  The liberal position is a kind of radical skepticism, a calling into question of something that has always been part of common sense, viz. that marriage is inherently heterosexual.  Like belief in the reality of the external world — or in the reality of the past, or the reality of other minds, or the reality of change, or any other part of common sense that philosophical skeptics have challenged — what makes the claim in question hard to justify is not that it is unreasonable, but, on the contrary, that it has always been regarded as a paradigm of reasonableness.  Belief in the external world (or the past, or other minds, or change, etc.) has always been regarded as partially constitutive of rationality.  Hence, when some philosophical skeptic challenges it precisely in the name of rationality, the average person doesn’t know what to make of the challenge.  Disoriented, he responds with arguments that seem superficial, question-begging, dogmatic, or otherwise unimpressive.  Similarly, heterosexuality has always been regarded as constitutive of marriage.  Hence, when someone proposes that there can be such a thing as same-sex marriage, the average person is, in this case too, disoriented, and responds with arguments that appear similarly unimpressive.

Feser concludes:

So, things look pretty bad.  But like the defender of our commonsense belief in the external world, the opponent of “same-sex marriage” has at least one reliable ally on his side: reality.  And reality absolutely always wins out in the end.  It always wins at least partially even in the short run — no one ever is or could be a consistent skeptic — and wins completely in the long run.  The trouble is just that the enemies of reality, though doomed, can do a hell of lot of damage in the meantime.

(Do go read the whole thing!)

And remember, kids: argue with vigor when you need to argue – argue to win –  but remember we are dealing with wounded souls like ourselves, who, like us, are inclined to lash out in their pain, and need love, no matter how hard they make it on us to love them. So it is much more important to be patient, kind and gentle, to turn the other cheek, as we endure our little sufferings, than it is to ‘win’ an argument. (I’m mostly talking to myself here, for sure.)

Asbestos Handbasket Sales Reach All Time High

Others have covered the late unpleasantness of our judges appointing themselves legislators (to the cheers of the elected legislators, who are thus relieved from the unpleasant duty of changing laws, which involves all sorts of icky contact with those unsavory voter-people, and as often as not results in handing one’s opponents something to beat them with at the next election).

Thus, representative democracy dies. Of, by and for the people? Please! Our betters have been trying to wean us off that nonsense ever since some wild-eyed radicals proposed it back in the late 1700s – useful, perhaps, in getting people to fight and die to break free from the British Crown, but hardly workable! Are we really to believe that the people of the United States are not only the seat of all legitimate political power in this nation, but – ridiculous! – also *wiser* than the institutions they set up and the people they elect?

No, much better to have 5 of 9 old people educated at 2 almost identical schools* a couple hours drive from each other in the heart of the blue-blooded Yankee homeland make the laws. Somebody has to tell us poor dears what to think.

So the White House is lit with rainbow colors, as a sign that, no matter what issues may divide us, we are still one nation, characterized by humble and brotherly acceptance of each other, despite our flaws. Meanwhile, here in the Bay Area, we’ve gotten ‘spontaneous’ parades and marches. I’m sure that the organizers wrestled with their consciences about not wanting too overt of celebrations, not wanting to offend their fellow Americans who, while they may have been on the wrong side of this issue, will, tomorrow, be showing up at work and family gatherings and need to be treated with respect, so that we can all return to building up our beloved country as brothers. Right? So we settled on jamming the roadways and shutting down the streets for most of today – spontaneously, of course.

Not at all like this:

Others have more ably traced the roots of this latest outrage to the 7th Lambeth Conference, or no-fault divorce or the Pill or whatever, and they have their points. However, none of this works unless you can count on people adhering to the group – a group defined by the government. What we are seeing now is the culmination of a 180 year effort to make Americans reliably fall into step with whatever their betters dictate, on fear of being excluded from the group and thereby losing their very identity. When Horace Mann brought Prussian style schooling to America, he had no interest in the 3 Rs or helping kids reach their potential or any such nonsense – he wanted to reduce us to pliable order-takers. He ran head-on into all that fluff mentioned above: Americans didn’t see themselves as followers of men like Mann. They didn’t see themselves as followers at all. Of, by and for the People, after all. God, Family and Nation – in that order.

So, step by step, God and Family had to go. The chosen tool: schooling. Compulsory, universal education. Religious school were quickly brought to heel. In order to win the battle for their existence, they had to surrender the true war – they had to follow the Prussian graded classroom model, which they do to this day. It took until the 1940s to eliminate the one-room schools, but they got it done. Homeschooling is a bump in the road, but notice how viciously the education establishment attacks it – can’t have a rebirth of loyalty to family and church, not after so much success killing it off.

Then you have to wait a few generations for all who remember what it was like before to die off.

Thus, today, with fitful moments of semi-awareness, we take it for granted that the state raises our children for us – education and morality alike. What is the one question every grade school kid knows the answer to, the first question one kid asks another upon meeting?

“What grade are you in?”

Because it doesn’t matter who your family is, what you may or may not know, but it is of supreme importance that you know your state-determined *place*.

So, today, all the media and government need to establish is that the cool kids all agree that the Supreme Court did the right thing by usurping the legislative power, because the end result was right, and a huge majority of Americans, having learned through 12 or more years of school what it’s like to have the cool kids treat them with disdain, will fall eagerly, fawningly in line. Like, say, WordPress going with the rainbow banner – see, cool kids? They want you to love them!

The next small step, one already taken in principle but in a roundabout way: have the executive declare that his power does not come from the laws themselves, but, like the laws, come from the will of the people. Therefore, if the laws get in the way of the will of the people, he has every right, nay, a duty to ignore them, and do what the people want.

That’s a little history test, right there. Has such a thing ever happened before?

* Yale and Harvard. 9 of 9 Supremes were educated at those two schools. Yay, diversity!

Brownson: The American Republic – Preliminaries

Before I start in with a chapter by chapter review of this work, thought it best to cover a few historical and biographical preliminaries. Context, and all that.

Orestes Brownson (1) was born in Vermont in 1803, and grew up on a small farm there. His father died when he was very young, and his mother felt compelled to have him adopted by a nearby family, who raised him in a strict yet loving Presbyterian Calvinism. A voracious reader, he had almost no formal education, yet learned enough Latin to translate Virgil by age 19. He went on to teach at several universities, off and on.

Around this time, Harvard, the intellectual gravitational center of America, had converted from Calvinistic Puritanism to Unitarian Universalism. In other words, converted from the belief that God both saves and damns without reference to human actions – no free will – to the belief that God has saved everyone through his Son. Still no free will in any meaningful sense, but much nicer predestination. The emphasis switches from being righteous to being nice, and Scripture changes from being the essential and central deposit of God’s Truth to being a real nice tool for helping people be, well, real nice.

Brownson was baptized a Presbyterian at age 19, but immediately found himself in theological conflict – a recurring theme of his life. By this time, the new enlightened religion of Harvard and the Boston intellectual circles provided an option, which he took, becoming at age 20 a Unitarian Universalist, and a minister a few years later. He edited and wrote for Universalist publications, where he tended to stir up controversy – another recurring theme of his life.

About this time, Tammany Hall was feeling its oats down in New York, and, not having learned that a key to any good political machine is to pay off that portion of the the voters who vote for it (and punish any who don’t) was a little too transparently corrupt. Orestes threw his support behind the Workingman’s Party, the major achievement of which was to bring the benefits of paying off your grassroots supporters to the attention of Tammany Hall. Within 10 years, the Workingman’s Party had dissolved as Tammany Hall both cheated to stay in power and started making sure the various workers got paid – a formula that ensured its continuation in power for almost another century.

Brownson was that rare individual who thought that the world should make sense, and so soon became unhappy with Universalism. He got caught in the gravitational pull of the core beliefs, and so came to deny divine revelation, the divinity of Christ, and any future judgement. Not a man for half measure, he ended up supporting the Workingman’s Party under the wings of Robert Dale Owen, a socialist and anti-Christian crusader, who – history is fascinating in its consistency – attacked the institution of marriage, among other things.

With the dissolution of the party, Brownson discovered that bettering the situation of workers was not something that could be achieved by political actions (I imagine it was his up close and personal look at those actions that convinced him) but required social change – and that required religion of some sort. So, in 1831, he went back to preaching as a Universalist (2) and publishing another magazine (yet another recurring theme).

When the magazine failed, Brownson became committed to Transcendentalism, which, while it does not in fact involve getting beyond teeth, did involve a belief in the fundamental goodness of people and nature, which goodness was only corrupted by society. Transcendentalism arose as a protest against – ready? – the Unitarian Universalists at Harvard (3). However, since Universalists don’t actually believe much of anything, Brownson found that he could stay a Unitarian preacher while at the same time being a Transcendentalist. Handy, that.

In 1836, he organized the Society for Christian Union and Progress, and soon began publishing the Boston Quarterly Review. His views made him popular in the Democratic Party, even while he denounced the idea of popular sovereignty as just another name for mob rule and tyranny.

Then he was bit unwise, politically speaking:

In his “Review” for July, 1840, he carried the democratic principles to their extreme logical conclusions, and urged the abolition of Christianity; meaning, of course, the only Christianity he was acquainted with, if, indeed, it be Christianity; denounced the penal code, as bearing with peculiar severity on the poor, and the expense to the poor in civil cases; and, accepting the doctrine of Locke, Jefferson, Mirabeau, Portalis, Kent, and Blackstone, that the right to devise or bequeath property is based on statute, not on natural,law, he objected to the testamentary and hereditary descent of property; and, what gave more offencethan all the rest, he condemned the modern industrial system, especially the system of labour at wages. In all this he only carried out the doctrine of European Socialists and the Saint-Simonians. Democrats were horrified by the article; Whigs paraded it as what Democrats were aiming at; and Van Buren, who was a candidate for a second term as President, blamed it as the main cause of his defeat. The manner in which he was assailed aroused Brownson’s indignation, and he defended his essay with vigour in the following number of his “Review”, and silenced the clamours against him, more than regaining the ground he had lost, so that he never commanded more attention, or had a more promising career open before him…

And then finally, suicidal, politically speaking:

…than when, in 1844, he turned his back on honours and popularity to become a Catholic.

The slavery question was starting to boil over. Brownson intensified his writings about politics, now focusing more on the nature and origins of nations and governments, now from a fully Catholic perspective. He was strongly for preserving the Union and strongly for ending slavery – both views lost him support, almost completely among Southerners, and largely among Northerners hoping to avoid war.

After the war, he compiled and reworked his writing and ideas into the book we’ll start reviewing soon. Brownson died in 1875 at age 72.

We’ll get to reviewing the work shortly. In the meantime, here are two quotations, unrelated to the American Republic, that give a flavor of his thinking:

First, of his decades of experience arguing with Protestants, which has carried over to the arguments of moderns, except its only gotten worse:

Convict [your opponent] from tradition, and he appeals to the Bible; convict him from the Bible, and he appeals to reason; convict him from reason, and he appeals to private sentiment; convict him from private sentiment, and he appeals to skepticism, or flies back to reason, to Scripture, or tradition, and alternately from one to the other, never scrupling to affirm, one moment, what he denied the moment before, nor blushing to be found maintaining, that, of contraries, both may be true. He is indifferent as to what he asserts or denies, if able for the moment to obtain an apparent covert from his pursuers.

and, his opposition to Prussian education:

A government system of education in Prussia is not inconsistent with the theory of Prussian society, for there all wisdom is supposed to be lodged in the government. But the thing is wholly inadmissible here not because the government may be in the hands of Whigs or Democrats, but because, according to our theory, the people are supposed to be wiser than the government. Here [in the U.S.] the people do not look to the government for light, for instruction, but the government looks to the people. The people give the law to the government. To entrust, then, the government with the power of determining the education which our children shall receive is entrusting our servant with the power to be our master. This fundamental difference between the two countries, we apprehend, has been overlooked by the board of education and its supporters. In a free government, there can be no teaching by authority, and all attempts to teach by authority are so many blows struck at its freedom. (Brownson, 1839, quoted by Tozer, 2002, p. 75)

1. Also see the Oracle Wikipedia’s take.

2. As Kurt Vonnegut put it: “Unitarians don’t believe in anything. I’m a Unitarian.”

3. Transcendentalism is one of those things where I start gagging about 2 sentences in, so I’m sure I’m missing the beauty and sublime truths contained therein, but – oh, come on!