English Reformation

Here is an essay from the UK’s Catholic Herald by an author who wrote two novels set around the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.

Eight years of research and two books later, I feel a complex tumble of emotions – intrigued, humbled, exhilarated, saddened and outraged – over what I learned about England’s lost monastic life.

Both my regular readers will shocked to hear:

In most books on the reign of Henry VIII the refrain is the same: the numbers of monks, priests and nuns had dwindled by the 16th century, and many questions had already been raised about the abbeys’ financial and moral soundness. After the monasteries were closed and their occupants evicted, no one much cared, except for some rebels in a failed uprising in the north known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Two books that went deeper into the topic made me start to question that conventional wisdom: G W Bernard’s The King’s Reformation described the extreme brutality the king doled out to those who opposed him. It went beyond the executions of Sir Thomas More and Cardinal John Fisher – monks and friars who did not want to forsake the pope and swear an oath to Henry VIII as the head of the church were imprisoned, starved, hanged, beheaded and even carved into pieces. Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England made a convincing argument that the Catholic faith was a vibrant and essential part of daily life when Henry VIII broke from Rome because he could not get an annulment from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Most significantly, by dissolving the monasteries the king was able to seize a colossal amount of money.

I’ve commented before over how people’s default image of religious cruelty tends to be ‘Spanish Inquisition’, not the English under Henry (or even better, any of the lovely pagan practices – crucifiction, say) :

Abbot Richard Whiting, 81, refused to surrender Glastonbury in 1539. He was arrested, imprisoned in the Tower of London, convicted of treason and dragged on a hurdle to the top of Glastonbury Tor. There, he was hanged, drawn and quartered, his severed head nailed to the gate of the deserted abbey.

(h/t to Amy Welborn)

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Donning the Sacred Lab Coat of Science!

in the service of lying about abortion:

Katrina Fernandez, who writes about this on her blog, astutely notes:

I know the story is over a month old, ancient in the internet world, but it continues to bother me. For several reasons I can’t let it go. The first being her deliberate wardrobe choice. Yes, I’m picking on her clothes.

It took me awhile to put my finger on it but then it hit me… she is intentionally trying to look like a medical professional. Go ahead, image search the word “doctor“.

Looking at her at face value in her lab-coat-white blazer and scrub colored blouse, those who don’t know better might assume she is a physician and think she actually knows what she’s talking about. This was her obvious intention. People trust doctors, not liberals with degrees in English and Political Science. She is deliberately practicing to deceive, using her wardrobe to subconsciously suggest a level of expertise she does not possess.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is Science! at the service of activism in a nutshell.  Does Harris-Perry care about the truth? As a decorated veteran of American higher education, one can be pretty sure she doesn’t – she certainly doesn’t care about biological reality. She cares about serving the god Progress. No sacrifice, especially the sacrifice of mere truth, is too much to make. Progress is a jealous god.

I was wondering where I’d heard her name before – I watch TV only when stuck in hotel rooms while on business trips – and  Wikipedia provided the answer:

In an MSNBC promo, Harris-Perry is quoted as saying:

“We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children: Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of these are our children. So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility, and not just the household’s, then we start making better investments.”

It isn’t surprising that someone who refuses to recognize the humanity of an unborn child will then turn around and say that the child is the property of the state – the ‘whole community’.  Due to all that fine education she received  she is of course immune to the stench of totalitarianism here. Just add this bit from Mike Flynn’s blog, and it should be clear where Progress is headed:

The buzzword among cognoscenti is “post-person,” defined in a much-cited 2009 Philosophy and Public Affairs paper by tenured Duke professor Allen Buchanan, as those “who would have a higher moral status than that possessed by normal human beings” (emphasis original). Buchanan admits crafting chromosomal übermenschen “might be profoundly troubling from the perspective of the unenhanced (the mere persons) who would no longer enjoy the highest moral status, as they did when there were only persons and nonpersons (‘lower animals’).”

If the likes of Dr. Harris-Perry were howling with outrage over this sort of talk, perhaps we could dismiss it at the ravings of a quack – but this duck’s pond is exactly the same collection of elite universities that have blessed the tiny-minded activism of Harris-Perry. So, it would be rude and disrespectful to point out that the idea of a ‘post-person’ is outrageous, undemocratic, and frankly evil if anything is evil. (That anything is or can be evil is a question consigned to cocktail party banter in universities, with eyebrows raised at anyone who doesn’t automatically assume the right answer.)

Or, could it be that the people in Harris-Perry’s peer group actually like the idea of post-persons, who could decide, with their higher moral standing, what to do about the children that are, let’s face it, their property? (It will never occur to them that they, the epitome of enlightenment, might be on the ‘cattle’ side of the relationship. Maybe if their high-end educations had included some history – but it didn’t.)

Has Aristotle Been Disproven? Part 2

Here’s part 1.

The second sense in which some people – Hegelians, Marxists and their spawn, mostly – seem to think Aristotle has been disproven is this: that Aristotle’s constant use of and insistence on classical logic and discrete observation demonstrates that he has been passed by by History. We now have better ways to understand the world, ways that supersede Aristotle’s rigid and limiting insistence on logic.

Early on in Hegel’s Science of Logic, he points out that, while other sciences had clearly progressed since the time of Aristotle, logic had, if anything, decayed over the previous 2,000 years since first formalized by Aristotle. Therefore, he – Hegel – was going to do us the service of bringing it up to date.

Bringing logic up to date meant disparaging and discarding it entirely, and substituting Hegelian ontology for it.  Logic, for Hegel, is how the true philosopher sees the unfolding of the Spirit through History in all its concrete reality and manifest contradictions. It has nothing to do with formal rules.

If one wants to know the truth, one does not use logic to dissect and synthesize the bits of information we receive through our senses to gradually build up and refine our understanding of reality. Instead, one must grasp the totality of what is to be understood directly, and not allow such trivia as violations of the Law of Non-contradiction to dissuade us. In fact, the use of logic and insistence on its rules is the sure sign that one is among the little people, like hard scientists and mathematicians (and computer programmers), who may be useful, but are never going to learn the truly-true truth about anything. Logic and math get their force – their certainty – by being totally abstract. They are convincing and ‘true’ only to the degree to which they lack all concrete content.

Something like that. The important point is not to understand Hegel’s method – given the various schools and infighting among people who claim to follow Hegel, it’s possible that there is no understanding it in any event – but to grasp the key point: Aristotle has been disproven! Therefore, etc.

Being declared obsolete does not equal being disproven. In fact, a curious aspect of Hegel’s approach is that he does not permit himself to use argument, because to do so is to avail himself of the tools of  Aristotle that he just got done dismissing. But if argument is disallowed, then how can anything be disproven? You can say your opponent lacks insight, is possessed of false consciousness, or is unenlightened, but there’s no proving anything in any traditionally understood meaning of ‘prove’.

Key point: if you want to say that Hegel has disproven Aristotle, then you must also dismiss as trivial all of science, math and technology. Which is done – by people who go ahead and drive their cars and balance their checkbooks.

 

Has Aristotle Been Disproven? Part 1:

It seems most people, if they think about it at all, assume Aristotle has been disproven. They seem to mean this in one of three ways. Here is the first and most common:

1. Because Aristotle has been shown to be incorrect in several of his more scientific observations, such as the relationship of mass to the speed at which falling bodies fall – a rock twice as large as another doesn’t fall twice as fast as the smaller rock – therefore, the reasoning goes, Aristotle has been shown to be wrong in general and must be rejected.

This  view even comes with a historical-flavored founding mythology: For centuries, the world labored in darkness, unable to figure anything out, until brave scientists such as Galileo threw off the shackles of Aristotle and really looked at the world. By carefully teasing out the truth through observation and experimentation, they were finally able to defeat Aristotelian dogma as handed down and brutally enforced by the Church, and create a new thing under the sun: Science! And so, as part of our warm embrace of science, which has given us all that is good, we celebrate its defeat of Aristotle. Aristotle is the disgraced and defeated enemy of Science!

As over the top as the above description is, I don’t think many Science! fans would fundamentally disagree with it. Trouble is, it is contradicted at every turn by history. Galileo (and all natural philosophers) base the whole process of scientific exploration on an Aristotelian foundation:

– logic: formal logic is Aristotle’s baby. Certainly, the early scientists learned how to reason logically from Aristotle via Thomas;

– insistence on natural explanations: the rejection of direct appeals to the will of the gods to explain natural events. Aristotle (and his disciple Thomas) reject as true but unhelpful the idea that the proper response to the question ‘why’ is to say God made it that way. (Compare with Islam after the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongol hordes, the dominant philosophical school of which rejects as blasphemy any other understanding). Instead, it is important to understand the natural world in terms of natural causes;

– the natural world is understandable by people: that, somehow, the human mind can grasp truths about the natural world through evidence acquired through the senses. I can look, feel, weigh, taste, smell and so on, and that these sensations can be processed and understood by my mind. The world is not the evil illusion of the Gnostics, nor the dream of Brahma, but a real, objective thing we can reasonably hope to understand.

– careful observation is the key: that careful and thoughtful examination of the world causes it to reveal itself. This is such a commonplace notion (despite being consistently ignored – but that’s another topic) that we’re tempted to believe it is ‘obvious’. If it’s so obvious, why has it been developed into an art in West and nowhere else?

Conclusion: No, modern science never disproved Aristotle. In fact, Aristotle’s key teachings – logic, and understandable world – are indispensable to science, and always have been. Even Galileo used Aristotelian methods to disprove individual conclusions reached by Aristotle – a fact Aristotle himself would have most likely been fine with or even proud of.

More on Business People & Politics

(Just thinking out loud here. Another short post metastasizes.)

In Chicago a few months back, visited the Chicago History Museum (where resides, among other things, the bed upon which Abe Lincoln died) and heard this interesting tale: 

German Jews arrived in Chicago in the second half of the 19th century, and rather quickly established themselves in the garment industry. Making clothes became the foundation of the fortunes of a number of Jewish families, and the basis of prosperity for many more.

Then, in the years straddling the end of the century, Eastern European Jews began to arrive, and, along with other non-Jewish European immigrants, got jobs as garment workers, working for the Jews that had arrived a generation or so earlier. The women in particular got the lowest-skilled job – sewing on buttons.

Hart, Schaffner, and Marx, the biggest maker of men’s clothing in Chicago, was owned and run by German Jews. Nonetheless, they repeatedly cut the wages paid to the low-skilled button-sewers, many of whom were fellow Jews, precipitating the 1910 Chicago Garment Worker’s Strike. The strike went on for more than a year, was messy both within and without the unions and was only a step in getting better wages and conditions.

Not picking on the Jews, here, this type of story is hardly unique to them. It was, however, striking how little sympathy the German Jewish immigrants had for the Eastern European Jewish immigrants – having just gone through the whole trauma of immigration and settling themselves in a distant land, one might expect more sympathy for others going through the same experience. But, no – we get the classic fuel for Communist fury: Capital acting on its own, it seems, and doing evil, with the human beings just pawns in the dialectic.

Let’s try to conjure up a little sympathy for Messrs. Hart, Schaffner and Marx. I can hear them say:

Look, when we came to Chicago, nobody gave us anything. We hustled and scrambled to make a buck. Through years of hard work and sacrifice, we built this company, which provides work for hundreds of people – people who didn’t take the risks and make the sacrifices we made. So, you new immigrants show up, and we give you a job – nobody gave *me* a job when I showed up. Then, you all have the gall to complain! Hey, how about you do it our way? How about you  figure out how to make a living, hustle and sacrifice, and start a company? Then you can hire people and see how you feel about them whining about taking a ready-to-go job.

Bottom line: why is it my job to provide you with a job you like at wages you like? Why isn’t it your job to go make your way in the business world like we had to?*

(After I wrote this, I could almost hear my dad’s voice saying it. He was a small business owner, who felt morally obliged to treat his people well, as he understood ‘well’. But he put in the 80 hour weeks and night school and took risks, so he wasn’t too sympathetic to accusations of injustice directed at his success.)

The problem with this argument is not that it’s unreasonable – it isn’t. The problem is that it is un-Christian (and un-Jewish).

Continue reading “More on Business People & Politics”

More Random Thoughts from the Road

Parked in JFK with 3 hours to kill. But hey, heading home!

– The worst Chinese food in this galactic quadrant has been identified: food court, Jet Blue terminal, JFK. The sad part: I ate about half of it before the ‘what the heck are you doing!?’ self-preservation alarms went off. Living, however briefly, dangerously.

– One additional ‘there are two kinds of people:’ pseudo-insights – there are people who reflexively think like business people, and people who don’t. In the imaginary Venn diagram of ‘how people think’ in my mind, there’s a huge overlap of ‘experimental hard scientists’ and ‘business people’ – both are trying to make something work, both are adjusting to feedback on the fly, and both are on the lookout for things that will ruin the experiment/business venture.

A lot of the reactions of business people to wacky political proposals has to do with the business people’s default mode of analysis: I’m trying to get something done here, how will this course of action/proposal/idea affect my efforts? So: knee-jerk reaction to taxes on business activities: bad bad bad! Taxes make it harder for me to get it done. More regulation? Bad bad bad! Same reason.

Business people are also very attuned to incentives. They – especially sales and marketing types – understand that people generally do things (like spend money or work hard to earn money) because of what they believe it will get them. Whenever I’m making small talk with business people, the topic of incentives almost invariably comes up under one guise or another.  Here’s an example: in my industry – equipment finance – companies called lessors buy equipment solely to lease it out to other companies called lessees. Because lessors often lease out a piece of equipment – we’re talking things like MRIs or mining equipment, items worth a lot of money and essential to the lessee’s business –  for about all of its useful life to one lessee, leases often look a lot like merely lending money to the lessee to buy the equipment. The lessor never really expects to get the equipment back.

Gripping stuff. With me so far? One thing people who don’t think like business people often miss: what shows up on a company’s books is very important, life and death to the company, even. In the big picture, investors and banks look at ‘the books’ in the form of quarterly and annual reports to determine if they will lend money to those businesses, and under what terms.  Therefore, boards of directors tend strongly to tie the compensation of chief executives to how the books look. The CEO, in turn, ties his executive team’s compensation to how the books look as well – the underlings get paid for good looking books, the CEO gets paid, the board is happy, banks lend money and bond buyers buy bonds at terms favorable to the company with the good-looking books.

Now, back to the ‘real’ lease versus the ‘loan faking it as a lease’.  The Financial Accounting Standards Board, or FASB, which sets the rules for how things look on the books, has set rules governing how a lessor needs to show on its books a really-truly true lease  versus a pretty much a loan to the lessee lease. Turns out the loan thing looks a bit better on the books than the real lease.

It’s important to note that the actual economics often favor the truly-true lease. What this means: it’s better for the lessor, the lessee or both that the lessor provide the lessee with a lease rather than a fake lease loan. But: the FASB rules, coupled with the Board’s insistence of good looking books each and every quarter, provide a strong incentive for lessors to put ONLY fake lease loans on their books. Every lessor is now incented to 1) do the economic right thing; yet 2) make sure whatever they do LOOKS like a loan.  This results in millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of  man hours (at least!) to be spent each year making sure, as far as possible, that every transaction that hist the books is a fake lease loan thing.

This kind of stuff drives business people nuts. It also means that the typical business person is far more attuned to the unintended consequences a law/proposal/idea will have on people’s behavior. That’s their world, after all.

Are business people often greedy? Sure. What’s not clear is that they are any more likely to be greedy than anyone else. Either way, it is wrong to imagine that every time a business type opposes some political idea it is *only* greed that motivates him. It could be that he sees that the course of action – socialism, say – will hopelessly and terribly skew *incentives*, and that the unintended consequences will be terrible.

Random Thoughts from the Road

Travelling on business this week, on the East Coast. But does that mean that my hyperactive mind is taking the week off? Nope:

– Is it possible to walk around historic Richmond, VA, without feeling *some* twinge of sympathy for the South? Slavery is evil, but does the presence of one great evil mean there’s nothing of value in a culture, nothing worth saving and even loving? If we are to judge a culture by a one great evil outweighs all standard, none could survive, least of all our own.

– The Catholic churches in these old cities tend to make me sad or at least a little melancholy. Richmond, for example, has two old churches down town, yet no regular daily morning masses. The Cathedral, adjacent to VCU, can only muster 4 weekday noon masses. Somehow the faith and people who were able to generate the energy to build those churches have dissipated to the point where those buildings are only infrequently used for what they were built for. Not to pick on Richmond in particular, this seems to be the case in just about every old city I visit.

– The mother, father and relatives of a man who dies deserve sympathy and respect, even if that man is a great murderer. Glancing at TVs in airports and hotels, and seeing swarms of reporters jamming microphones and cameras into the faces of the Boston Marathon bombers’ parents and relatives, then speculating over their reactions – vile. These are human beings  first, and there are few pains to compare with a parent loosing a child, even if that child perhaps deserved to die. And what if they are publicity hounds? (Have no reason to suspect this, just speculating here.) That would be a doubly good reason to leave them alone.

– American citizen commits heinous crime on American soil and is apprehended in America by American law enforcement – he gets a trial in an American court, with American rights, and, if convicted by a jury of his American peers, gets set up for life in an American jail.

Period.

I don’t say this because I’m “soft on terror” (whatever the hell that means), but because I’m strong on civil rights. It is enlightened self-interest to want this kid tried in the most fair, careful, legal, and American sense possible.

– The business world is really funny, populated by characters Shakespeare would have had fun with. I never cease to marvel at the comedy inherent in any given room full of business people. In some cases, it’s hard to imagine what, with the exception of perhaps church, would ever motivate that group of people to be together in the same room voluntarily. In others, it’s like a wolf pack, gathered for a common purpose yet fearing each other on some level as well. And then there’s gaggles of people who seem like friends, laughing and chatting at every opportunity – these tend to be people with administrative type functions, but, sometimes, surprisingly, sales teams will be like this instead of like a wolf pack.

In every case, there’s the false solemnity of BVSINESS. Like this whole money thing is the real thing, and the people are there because of the overwhelming reality of money – that the money persists apart from people’s interest in it, somehow, and acts directly as an organizing principle. Then, layer on top this more or less forced geniality. And then look at the Power Structure That Shall Not Be Named – how many bosses are uncomfortable in their skins as bosses, and try to be one of the guys, while retaining the asymmetric power to take away your job, your place in the little synthetic tribe, and – gulp! – your money.  Pals like that one would prefer to do without.

Business is dripping with comedy. Sure, it’s that Irish sort of comedy where the punchline is as often as not someone getting maimed or killed, but funny nonetheless.  Wish we had a Shakespeare to immortalize it.