Book Review: William Torrey Harris – The Philosophy of Education, Lecure I

Turns out my man William Torrey Harris never wrote a book on his philosophy of education, but after the manner of Fichte, delivered himself of a lecture series on the subject. Given in 1893, they are a mercifully short series of mercifully short lectures. Harris gave 5 short lectures. I’ll take them one at a time.

LECTURE I. January 7th, 1893. THE LITERATURE OF EDUCATION

It’s tempting to quote the lecture entire, as it is so short. Instead, please go read it at the link provided, if you’re interested.

Harris begins with a brief description of how various cultures educated their children, with a variety of goals in mind:

The first and most important of all educational literature is that showing the ideals of a people the literature on which they are brought up generally the sacred books which reveal what the people regard as divine ; consequently what is the highest ideal to be realized. China, for example, has Confucius and Mencius, showing the family as the type of the social whole. These writings furnish the contents of the mind of the Chinese minute observances of etiquette ; how to behave towards one’s elders and superiors in rank ; towards one’s inferiors or juniors ; towards one’s equals. Chinese schools are almost exclusively devoted to filling the memory of the pupil with the ethical maxims of these sacred books, so that the mind shall be full of family etiquette. The aim of Chinese education was to teach the young how to behave ; that of the Persians, how to ride, shoot, and speak the truth a faculty not much thought of by the Hindus. The Persian differs from the Buddhist in that the latter wishes to get rid of the world, while the former attempts to conquer the real. The Phoenicians, again, furnish a contrast to Chinese education. Their object was to wean the child from the family ; whereas the Chinese endeavor to educate the young so that they will become submerged in the family. The Phoenicians aimed to create a love of adventure. Their children were educated in myths. The stories in Homer’s ” Odyssey ” must have been derived from the tales of the Phoenician sailors, which were calculated to engender a hunger and thirst for adventure, so that the young Phoenician would gladly get on board ship and go to the ends of the world in the interests of trade. The Greeks were imbued with the new world-principle of a spiritual and beautiful individuality. They thought more of the games which they practised in the evenings on the village green than of the tasks by which they earned their bread. They learned history and geography from the second book of Homer’s “Iliad.” They thought not of commercial education, like the Phoenicians, but of that heroic individual who furnished a beautiful ideal. Later on, Greek education became more scientific and more reflective. The Roman concentrated his whole mind on the will. He went beyond the circle of his city, and studied to cause even foreigners to live under the same laws with himself. Freedom meant more to him than to any of the Asiatic nations. It meant the power of the individual to hold, alienate, and devise property.

It’s tempting, and perhaps justified, to dismiss this as just more Hegelian claptrap. Instead, I’ll attempt to show how it is Hegelian claptrap. First, much of what he says is true. Different cultures do educate their children differently. Hegel-style is to start with truisms, to which any challenge will appear as nit-picking pedantry. But among the truisms, stick in some stuff that sounds like what you’ve already introduced but does not in fact stand on the same common-sense foundation. Thus, we can accept the notion that the Chinese build their culture on family, since it doesn’t contradict anything the typical educated Westerner knows about China. We then slip in stuff about Phoenician education, about which, to my knowledge, very little is known. I mean, I have read a good bit about Greek educational practices, and the documentary evidence before 500 B.C. is very sparse. Much more Greek writing survives than Phoenician. Therefore, it would be curious bordering on fantastic if there somehow existed substantial historical support for any theory of Phoenician educational practices.

Curious, I googled ‘Phoenician Education’ and the first thing that popped up was this:

Education
Based upon their way of seeing the world (cosmogony), the Phoenicians focused on fulfilling their mission of being inventors and discoverers and spreading their knowledge all over the world.

Not that this proves anything, but this site at least isn’t pointing at any writings. Following the same approach as Harris, we back into what their educational goals were based on their ‘cosmology’ and what they did, which is presumed to result from that cosmology, then extrapolate way, way past the data to imagine they were motivated by a desire to fulfill a ‘mission’ of ‘being inventors and discoverers and spreading their knowledge all over the world.’

Here, again, we see the fell effect of Hegel and Marx: the atomic explanation is rejected out of hand in favor of the vast, irresistible movement of Spirit and History. The atomic explanation, built up from what the units of society – people, families – do without any reference to presumed inexorable historical forces, might be that successful trade lead to more successful trade, and that kids grew up in families and cities engaged in trade, leading to educated opinions about everything from ship building to accounting getting passed on and refined from generation to generation. Hegelians/Marxists refuse to admit such explanations, as History or Spirit are dogmatically assumed to exist as the cause of all things, people being mere double-predestined puppets.

And this is before we note that there’s nothing in the behavior of the actual Phoenicians we know about to make us imagine they were motivated by much of anything beyond an immediate desire to get and hang onto wealth and power, and show off their wealth and power. People being people, in other words.

We do know that the Phoenicians were great sailors and traders. We can, perhaps, use this fact to support the claim: Phoenicians were sailors and traders, therefore their educational practices may have been directed toward producing traders and sailors. Or, more likely and humbly, their educational practices did not prevent a good number of men becoming sailors and traders.

Harris then lays down a ‘must have’ : “The stories in Homer’s ” Odyssey ” must have been derived from the tales of the Phoenician sailors, which were calculated to engender a hunger and thirst for adventure, so that the young Phoenician would gladly get on board ship and go to the ends of the world in the interests of trade.” As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this form of statement reminds me of the Von Daniken books I read as a tween, wherein he’s always making statements about how this or that must have been caused by space aliens. Even back then, this triggered a ‘must it have?’ reaction on my part. Also note the word ‘calculated’ – Harris wants to imagine that the education of Phoenician youth was something somebody calculated, and that these calculations resulted in choosing adventurous myths as the curriculum. In other words, he anachronistically imposes what he is up to on people living millennia ago in very different cultures (Punic culture was not homogenous over time and space. No culture is.)

And so on. Dubious claims, some fairly outrageous, most often taking the form of generalizations easy to square with the idea that Spirit or History is *causing* people to do things, are tucked in between truisms and bland deductions. This also sets up a field rich in opportunities for Motte and Bailey defences: when you question something doubtful, your interlocutor can defend something obvious nearby. That’s for when they don’t just dismiss you as unenlightened, which is Hegelians and Marxists favorite argument.

This first lecture contains the infamous quotation, which in context doesn’t sound nearly as ominous on first pass:

Education is meant to give one an insight into the genesis of these things, so that he can detect an element of each in the threads of his civilization. Ninety-nine out of a hundred people in every civilized nation are automata, careful to walk in the prescribed paths, careful to follow prescribed custom. This is the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual under his species. The other educational principle is the emancipation from this subsumption. This is subordinate, and yet, in our time, we lay more stress upon it than the other. Look at the French Revolution. What a prodigious emancipation that was.


Harris is asserting ALL ‘substantial’ education reduces 99% of EVERYBODY to automata. What makes such education ‘substantial’ is the content – this is Hegel-speak – which, as he has shown above, varies from civilization to civilization. He then allows for one other, subordinate, educational principle: escape from this subsumption of the individual. More Hegel: contradictions are said to be suspended and subsumed in a synthesis, which syntathis become the thesis for the next movement of the dialectic. So: individuals have wants and needs (thesis); so does the society within which those wants and needs are best met (antithesis). The individual is subsumed as an automaton in the synthesis, which is a society to which he sacrifices (and yet does not sacrifice) his individuality for the sake of having existence and meaning. The next step, which is subordinate in that it stands upon the society (synthesis) created in the previous subsumption, is for the individual to understand and somehow be emancipated from his status as an unconscious automaton, while at the same time remaining suspended as automaton.

Harris sees this emancipation as the movement of the Spirit in our current phase of History. In a chilling bit of foreshadowing, he’s not very explicit or concerned about the millions of deaths that resulted from the French Revolution and the wars it gave birth to, but rather sees a ‘prodigious emancipation.’ Pay no attention to the Committee for Public Safety!

Conclusion: in context, this quotation remains terrifying, just not in the exact sense in which I have seen it used, and have used it myself.

Comenius taught the emancipation of the individual from the printed page. Spencer says that the modern school system is all wrong, and has a tendency to get away from science and cause students to waste time over the dead languages. Emancipation has now become the important side of the educational question. But the student of advanced education must first avail himself of the wisdom of the race, and learn how not to be limited by it. He cannot progress unless he is a free man, for he must not be so much subsumed that he cannot investigate scientifically, and with safety to himself, all problems that present themselves.

The goal for education Harris sets out in this first lecture is for a student to first learns his own culture, with all its rules, standards and aspirations, and then get free enough from them to investigate scientifically (i.e., as an Hegelian) all problems that present themselves.

Sounds nice. A decade after Harris gave these lectures, Woodrow Wilson addressed a graduating class from Princeton’s School of Education, explained how the schools need to fit the vast bulk of people for labor. The little people must forgo the luxury of a liberal education (which is at least plausibly what Harris has in mind) in order to be fitted to do their jobs. Wilson is clear that this whole emancipation thing is not for everybody – automata is the end-state for the masses.

Next up: Lecture II – Problems peculiar to American Education.

Concrete Sins: Update

In the comments to the previous post, Richard A linked to this, this, thing, playfully nicknamed Our Lady of Minas Morgul, and I had to share:

I’m somehow not surprised that this is a real Catholic church building, St. Francis de Sales (who is doing 1,000 RPMs in his grave at the moment) in
Muskegon, Michigan. I was surprised, although I should not have been, that googling this structure yielded many articles *praising* this building. A fine example of Bauhaus, Modernism, Brutalism – you know, just what the typical Catholic in the pews wants in his church building.

While a comment at the above link mentions the obvious goal is evangelization of the orcs, I had to surf around a little to find some pithy, real world reactions, such as these from reddit:

  • “It looks like the Borg assimilated a group of Lutherans.” (I laughed)
  • “This looks like where you fight a final boss”
  • “This could literally be a building in 1984”
  • “Looks like exactly the type of place you would serve the flesh and blood of someone to others.” (ouch!)

Going back a few posts to those discussing the heresy of Americanism. In 1899, Archbishop Gibbons answered the Pope Leo XIII’s concerns about Americanism with firm assurances that nothing of the sort was going on; by 1964, a parish in Michigan is hiring a famous Modernist architect to design its church. (Aside: where does a parish get the money to hire a famous German Bauhaus architect? And the money to build the monstrosity?)

I’m sure there’s no connection.

Here’s a slightly more flattering picture of the interior:

Image result for st francis de sales in muskegon

And a quotation from William Torrey Harris: “The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places…. It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world. ” The purpose of school is, according to Harris, making obedient automata out of the students. So, what is the purpose here, in an environment so suited to Harris’s ideal?

As for praise, no less an oracle than Concrete Construction Magazine assures us that this building “fully demonstrates the architectural potential of cast-in-place concrete construction.”   Who could doubt it?

So, any of youse guys got anything ‘better’ than this?

Concrete (and Wood and Steel) Sins

May God forgive us for modern church architecture.

Have we turned the corner on terrible church buildings yet? I sometimes think we have, but that may be just me putting the blinders on so I don’t have to look at this:

There is nothing to recommend this building. It is preposterous and ugly by any standards. That it claims to stand in the line of the many noble and glorious cathedrals around the world is an insult to our intelligence.

Or this:

Image result for san francisco cathedral
This building, on the other hand, is not so terrible in and of itself – it would make a daring convention center – and has been enholied by the beautiful masses celebrated there, especially by the current archbishop. But in and of itself, as a church? Not so much.

Or this:

Oak Cathdrl 1.jpg
Wouldn’t this make a great Apple Store? The bomb-shelter greenhouse look will come back into vogue some day, eventually, and we’ll be ready for it! Not so ugly in and of itself, but insulting when compared to the thousands of much-beloved churches around the world.

and pretend they are anything other than hideous abominations, insulting to both God and man.

Ya know? Or this:

Image result for newman hall holy spirit parish
Berkeley Newman Center. If it weren’t for the sign out front, you’d be hard-pressed to identify it as a church. Looks like a detail from rejected plans for the Maginot Line.

The bomb shelter look was big. I remember reading about the Los Angeles Cathedral, how they took care building it to last 500 years at least. This is achieved by deploying thousands of tons of concrete and steel. Unlike many ugly parish churches, which probably have a 50 or so year life expectancy before the repair/tear down calculations starts to get (mercifully) interesting, these monstrosities are built to last. If the goal was to burn through the Church’s money while saddling her with repulsive buildings for generations or centuries to come, the outcomes would not have been any different.

The L.A. Cathedral is in a class of its own – there’s just no redeeming it, artistically. It is a giant, $200,000,000 middle finger to the Catholics of L.A. To get rid of it is almost impossible. I fantasize that a billionaire might come along, buy land next door, and build a huge beautiful Neo-Gothic or Romanesque Revival church, seamlessly incorporating influences from Mexico, the Philippines, Asia, Africa and so on in order to honor the remarkably world wide nature of L.A.’s Catholics, and then offer it to the diocese. The underlying tensions would thus be exposed. And L.A. would get a nice church.

At least in San Francisco and Oakland, one gets the feeling they were trying for something good, even if they went about it under the constraint that whatever was built must rebuke the pre-Vatican II church. The unhealthy compulsion to be different, which has lead to many bad fashion decisions and questionable tattoos on a small scale, leads to stuff like this when writ large:

These are a few of the approximately 800 louvres, I guess you’d call them, that make up the walls of the Cathedral of Christ the Light.

Louvre mania! And an imposing image peeking past the cables and braces!

These features appear to be slabs of laminated 2 x 12s, bolted to laminated uprights(1) with some seriously industrial looking galvanized hardware and bolts. They would make excellent work benches and picnic tables. Here? Oh, I’m sure there’s an artist’s program somewhere that describes how they are meant to let in the light in some deeply meaningful way that only a uncultured peon would fail to understand.

The effect is just weird. Like I say, not irredeemably ugly, just – weird. With 2,000 years of church architectural experience to draw on, this is what you do? Only if hell-bent on rejecting all that collected experience and wisdom.

I cherish my visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, and my many visits to Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity at Thomas Aquinas College, as both buildings are very beautiful and built in the last decade or so. Beautiful and appropriate churches can still get built, if people want to build them.

Obligatory note: over the centuries, many people have pushed and pulled church architecture in many different directions with greater and lesser success. Gothic, after all, was an innovation at one time. I’m not wedded to any particular style or approach, as long as it strives to embody the true, the good and the beautiful. For a century now, many architects have actively rejected those ideals. Such should not be let anywhere near a church design project.

Final funny (at least to me) moment: Youngest son and I were visiting the Oakland Cathedral for a Boy Scout function, when a mom came up to me (I was just sitting there! Minding my own business! I swear!), pointed at the huge image of Christ Enthroned, and asked: “What is He doing with his right hand?”

Somebody thought a 70 foot tall heavily pixelated image of Christ partially obscured by structural members was a good idea, the dominant and central statement of the building. Right.

I answered honestly that he was giving a blessing, and that such images – Christ enthroned giving his blessing – are quite common. She was hesitant to accept this, but eventually gave in. “I thought he was flashing a peace sign. I was afraid they’d gone hippy on us.”

“I have no comment.” I smiled.

  1. I have to think the external frame, or a steel core to the uprights, or most likely both, are actually holding this thing up. Those louvres have got to be heavy.

Music at Mass Review: Polyphony as Catholic

The music at Saturday’s Mass prior to the Walk for Life was good to excellent, sung by a good choir, some chant, some polyphony, English, Latin and Spanish.

I am grateful. The mass, with a dozen bishops, dozens of clergy, processions, incense, candles – the whole smells and bells routine – was beautiful. The homily edifying. One interesting aside: in a congregation made up of pro-life people, the songs get sung, the responses get said, and everybody kneels for the Domine, non sum dignus (it has somehow become customary in our neck of the woods to stand). It’s almost like believing in what is going on makes one more inclined to fully and actively participate, at least in the ways that can be seen.

That was Saturday, at the Cathedral in San Francisco. But then, as you may have heard, Sunday kicked off Catholic Schools Week. This had failed to register until we showed up for the 10:30 mass at our parish 5 minutes early as is our custom and found the church in general and, more important to us, the areas set aside for people with mobility issues (grandma uses a walker) already all but filled up. I will generously assume that all those kids and their families usually go to another mass, and the crowd at the 10:30 was offset by lighter-than-usual turnout at the other masses. Not easy, but I will assume this.

Here’s the obligatory note: these are some good and dedicated people, doing their best to the best of their understanding. It’s that understanding that I’m criticizing here, not the people, who have been formed over their lifetimes in a way not of their choosing. There may well be some personal blame to be laid somewhere, but not at the feet of these good people. My goal is to try to elevate the understanding.

Thus is came to pass that the music was provided by a children’s choir. Somehow, by some unwritten but iron law, music sung by children in Mass must evidently be infantile both musically and theologically. This is done, presumably, because the little dears are not up to singing good music with theologically sophisticated lyrics. The only theological messages their little brains can process are along the lines of let’s be nice to each other, Love is God and, for the more advanced, ‘alle alle allelooooia’.

One suspects there might be a little bit of that soft bigotry of low expectations, at the very least, going on here. One would not want to suppose the kids are purposely being dumbed down, despite Catholic Schools Week being, essentially, a celebration of how our parish schools are kinder, gentler public schools with a little optional Jesus thrown in. Those public schools, after which true Progressive American Catholics have long pined and to which they have aspired, exist to dumb as down, as has been discussed and documented here over the years. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

What should we expect? For context, here are a bunch of young ruffians, orphans even, *boys* even! doing a bit of light singing under the direction of meddlesome adults:

I had the honor, 40 years ago, to hang out for a week with Monsignor Francis Schmitt, founding director of the Boys Town Choir, may he rest in peace, and have also read about him. He was an imposing man, radiating a manly strength, yet warm and easy to talk with. Two things became clear: he was an unapologetic taskmaster, insisting young boys learn some moderately complex music. He also loved the boys and was greatly beloved in return.

It’s as if boys like to be challenged, especially by men they can look up to and who care about them. It certainly is clear that these boys responded gloriously to Msgr. Schmitt’s challenge.

A subsection of the same law mentioned above requires, at least in local usage, the children to gather in front of the altar (backs to it and the tabernacle, naturally) and sing a pre-dismissal song after which all are expected to clap. And so it happened.

As the unruly gaggle of adorable kids congealed around the altar, my 14 year old, wise beyond his years, nudged me and pointed at his Padre Pio wrist band: Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry. I smiled sheepishly, and whispered: “count how often God gets mentioned in this song”. By my count, zero times. Lots of talk about Love, which, assuming some degree of theological understanding, could reference God. But the song failed to remove all doubt.

The teacher ‘leading’ the singing sang loud, as did a few of the kids. I’d say about 90% were whispering, mouthing the words, or engaged in pulling the hair of the kid in front of them or some similar kid activity. But they were adorable, up in front of the altar, in their little school outfits.

Finally, after the kids had dispersed, the congregation started to do likewise – while the priest was still at the altar. In their defense, the Mass + the extracurricular activities had run almost 90 minutes, some people were getting antsy. He and the acolytes then made their way through the milling crowd. Seems the people’s sense of order had been disrupted.

On to the songs: I didn’t know most of what might generously be called ‘tunes’ and there was mercifully not a program, so I can’t comment on most except to say they were simplistic and insipid. No self-respecting kid would be caught dead humming such tripe on their own time – they’re rappin’ or singing pop tunes, which by comparison are freaking Mozart.

I guess the memo that went out with the new translations a few years back about how these are the words, use them as is, no freestyling does not apply to the clap clap Gloria, the text of which is only loosely based on the liturgical text.

And so on and so forth. It hardly needs mentioning that that most sacred and feverishly pursued goal of active participation, beat into our heads over the last 5 decades, which here might be thought to include singing the songs, was jettisoned without comment. The kids choir was performing more egregious than any aloof and aloft choir loft dwellers of yore, which we were told was bad when we were chased out of that loft.

There was effectively zero singing by anyone except the children and their keepers. I’d never heard most of the tunes before, or my brain’s self defence mechanisms purged all memories of them. In any case, nobody but the kids and teachers sang them.

One exception was the old chestnut ‘One Bread, One Body,’ a song older than the grandparents of some of these kids, sung as a communion song. I learned this song in high school, and learned the harmony part – very minimal, Row Row Row Your Boat level musical skill is required to sing it. So, here was an opportunity: a music director could kick the kid’s musical experiences up a small but critical notch just by having the boys, say, sing one part while the girls sang the other. They could have a small taste of the thrill and glory of singing in parts, where you do your best on one thing, others do their best on another, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. But it didn’t happen.

One underappreciated glory of the ancient Catholic liturgical music is the way it mirrors the structure of the Body of Christ. Chant, especially sung antiphonally, requires real cooperation and focus. There are parts for you, parts for others, and parts for everybody. Some chants are easy, some a difficult, and a few are quite challenging.

The better everyone does his part, the better the whole. It is in each accepting and executing his part to the best of his abilities that the whole comes to its fullest expression.

Polyphony has the same logic, but in a greatly enhanced form. Those kids at Boys Town learned to not only sing their part, but to *listen* very carefully to all the other parts, and to follow the director, the blend and and balance and stay together. As with the chant, each had to learn how to confidently execute his role and make it fit. But the result – the harmonies created by the blending of several independent and independently beautiful parts – far exceeds their sum.

And this is the lesson learned:

If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?
If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
But as it is, God placed the parts,
each one of them, in the body as he intended.

Sometimes this truth – that it is by doing our part to the best of our ability that we most belong to God, and that we must always respect and encourage all other parts – is hard to see. A great piece of polyphony teaches us that sometimes, we are front and center, sometimes we move tightly with others and sometimes seem to be going it alone. Most often, we are supporting others, who in turn support us. It is a great blessing, and not at all hard to see how each is differently blessed for good of all, when singing great music in a good choir for the glory of God.

A Couple More Links, and Sola vs Schola Revisited

I’ve written here before on the importance of the setting in which philosophical enquiry is done. This is summed up by Sola vs Schola: Are you, like Descartes, Hume, and Kant, contemplating your navel in your private, sunless room? Or are you going a round with other philosophers and students in a Greek academy or medieval university? In the first case, you can pretend to doubt everything – the world, the room you sit in, even yourself. No smirking sophomore buddy is there to sneak up behind you, as you hold forth on the compelling nature of radical doubt, and smack you on the back of the head, and then act all innocent while explaining that he could not have smacked you, as he does not exist, and anyway, what’s with this whole ‘smacking the back of your head’ phenomenology? Awful lot of unsupportable assumptions in there…

In the second case, there is.

Image result for back of head
If I don’t exist, I can’t whack this dude on the back of his head. But I can. Therefore, etc. QED

So we can see that Sola – alone – leads quickly and inevitably to insanity, while Schola – a school or group – has within itself certain corrective forces, called ‘other people,’ whose presence, specifically, whose unwillingness to be dismissed as fantasy, offer at least some chance to stay sane. In the modern world, philosophy falls broadly into two camps: the sons and daughters of Sola occupying one (and occupying virtually all University teaching positions) while the children of the schools, the sons and daughters of Aristotle and Thomas, hold the other.

With that in mind, here is an essay that floated to me across the ether unbidden: The Crisis: Nothing New? The author asserts that the situation we, specifically, the Church, are in today differs substantially from all previous challenges to the Church and, more broadly, sanity.

Now, in all sane societies, it has long been understood that, when you come into the world, you come into a whole network of relationships, rights and duties, which you did not choose, but which in a sense choose you. You can’t legitimately say, “I didn’t choose to be born into this family, this town, this country, so I owe none of them anything.”

But to Enlightenment ideologues, the social world is made up of autonomous individuals who form only those relationships they choose. Things like family, Church, governments, and so on are institutions set up by evil people to oppress other people. Of course, the ideology does recognize that autonomous individuals can form alliances with other autonomous individuals to protect themselves from each other, but, in principle, this is the closest it comes to recognizing any concept of community. But basically, there is no such thing as community, or an ordered society, or an ordered universe, ordered to a common good, but only the mechanical arrangement of fragments of matter, including human matter. And no Creation.

It is easy to see how this outlook could evolve in time into nihilism, and that is exactly what has happened in the lifetime of those of us who are now elderly.

Sola versus Schola, but written large across all relationships.

In the religious ed classes I’m involved in in our parish, I tend to point out that things in the Church have always been bad, as she is made up of people no better than any of us. The author of the above is asserting that this round of heresies (and the corruption that necessarily follows) is worse.

I don’t know, I don’t have a broad enough historical perspective to say that Ambrose’s challenge at the hands of an Arian emperor were less threatening to the Church than what goes on today, or the rise of Islam or the Protestant Revolt. Those also seem pretty bad. But the point warrants consideration.

Next, I’m struck by a more subtle inconsistency (or, if you’re feeling less generous, hypocrisy) in today’s world: the same people who claim progressivism, socialism or communism (insofar as there’s any difference. Hint: not materially) are enlightened and kind and the only future worth pursuing are also very unlikely to promote or even notice what the people behind such movements actually say. That the Communists have said repeatedly that they not interested in reforming the system, but are pursuing whatever moves the world toward revolution – well? That the Fabians* said that they were promoting Communism by working for anything that would lead to communism, but – wolf in sheep’s clothing is their coat of arms – hiding the fact that what they are promoting is moving us toward communism – well?

So we live in a world where Communists promote Progressive and Socialist ideas only because and only to the extent that they believe these ideas will promote revolution. Communists repackage these ideas with plenty of lipstick and misdirection, and then simply lie. But their intent is out there for anyone to see, in print, in their own words, if they want to. It’s not the liars that concern me here, it’s the many, many useful idiots who just refuse to look.

That’s spelled out in this article here.

*The Fabians have fallen into a sweet and sticky Kafkatrap of their own making: What could be more Fabian than not openly joining the Fabian Society? Or denying your communist aims? Or even having the Society itself sort of peter out over the years? All of those things are exactly what one would expect the most dedicated Fabians to do! Thus, Polanyi and Keynes we ‘attracted’ to the Fabian Society, but never formally joined (although the London School of Economics was a Fabian project, and Keynes was their guy) – Well? Are they Fabians? Not formally joining is exactly what a prudent Fabian would do….

Life, the Universe, and Everything: A User’s Guide

That title is a wee bit over the top. A bit. Here’s the real deal: I am the RCIA sponsor this year to a very bright young man, 16, who asks a lot of good questions and really seems to want to understand things. But he, alas, is a product of the schools, and therefore has systematically been denied any whiff of real education.

So, I thought to myself, I did, that maybe I could hook him on some basic logic and philosophy and steal him from the clutches of those who would dumb him down and control him. I could feed him just a bit of real, honest thought. Seemed like a plan. But given the realities of modern ‘education’, I should keep it real short.

A seriously furrowed brow. There just must be some serious thinking going on in there, right?

Here it is: a one page outline of Truth. What do you, my esteemed readers, think?

An Introduction to Truth, Facts, and Reasoning

Truth: A man is said to have the truth when his understanding corresponds to reality.

Necessary Truths: Those things which must be true if anything is true. Or, put another way, those things that must be true if you know anything at all about reality. Necessary truths do not depend on anything in particular you see, hear, feel, smell, etc., but rather must be true IF you see, hear, feel, smell or touch ANYTHING AT ALL.

The study of Necessary Truths is called metaphysics. (Today, the term metaphysics is applied to all sorts of stupid ideas, but this is what it means when used correctly.)

Necessary truths include:

  • An objective world exists. We call this world ‘reality’.
  • Truth exists. We can understand reality, at least some parts of it, at least a little.
  • The law of noncontradiction: A thing cannot both be and not be in the same way at the same time.
  • All the other rules of logic. We use those rules to understand the rest of reality, but the rest of reality doesn’t help us in any way to understand those rules.
  • The rules of math. Same as the rules of logic.

Conditional or Contingent Truth: Truth that depends on conditions or assumptions. Conditional truths all take for granted the necessary truths. You can’t have any conditional truths without the necessary truths.

Conditional truths are very important. Almost everything we know are conditional truths.

Facts: Units of conditional truth created when the necessarily true rules of reasoning are validly applied to observations.

Conditional truths include:

  • All science. All science begins with observations and measurements, which are conditional because we can get them wrong. Science applies the rules of logic and math, which are necessarily true, to those observations and measurements to create scientific facts.
  • All theology. Because it includes revelation and observation!
  • All philosophy besides metaphysics.

Informed Opinion: A kind of conditional knowledge that has not been thought through completely, such as what a good craftsman knows about his craft. He hasn’t worked through all the logic or examined all the assumptions, but he ‘knows’ what works.

Zero-Point: Flash Fiction

Two old priests, hands clasped behind their backs, stood at the edge of a hole in the ground.

“Zero-point energy,” one gray head said, a simple statement.

“Hmmm,” opined his companion.

A man in a hard hat approached them. “Please, fathers, move to the viewing area.” He held his hands up.

The two priests shuffled back a few yards. Lines on the ground marked where onlookers could gather, but besides the two priests, only a young mother, babe in arms, and a watery-eyed old man man had come to watch the Translation.

For a moment, the onlookers did not speak. “I was baptised there,” the old man said to the priests. “As was my mother and son, God rest their souls.”

The hole was in a flat acre of ground in the middle of a new suburb, surrounded by new homes. Each had endured feeble efforts to make it seem unique. This one had faux stone fascia on the porch, that one brick trim, a third a slate walk, like different colored sprinkles on cookies from the same cutter.

“Hole is an odd shape,” said the first priest.

“St. Monica’s was built on a slope,” answered the second. “Basement is deep enough, they put a basketball court in it. The Knights had their donuts and pancake breakfasts there.” He stared at the hole, in which one end was dramatically deeper than the other. “The plan is to split the difference.”

“And the purple foam?”

“Adjusts. These geniuses here can nudge a corner up here, drop a wall there, until she’s good and settled. Then, a little ultraviolet, and it sets up harder than stone.”

A distant claxon sounded, and lights delineating the safe observation area flashed gently. Four men in hardhats, each holding a tablet stood a few yards from the hole, one each to a side.

“I never get used to this. No matter how many times I see it.” The first priest said a silent prayer, eyes fixed on the sky.

“People don’t think a train going by is any big deal,” said the second, “but thousands of tons rolling along hundreds of miles of steel ribbons – it should be as shocking as this…”

High in the sky, a dark form appeared, descending out of clouds. Slowly, it approached, coming into focus: St. Monica’s Catholic Church, built in the heart of the city by the children of immigrants, immigrants whose grandchildren left the city, the Church, or, most likely, both. St. Monica’s was no longer needed, no matter how she prayed for her children’s conversions. She was now a widow veiled in dark gray stone, coming to a new home, and, it was hoped, to new children.

The baby cried and the new mother fussed. The old man stood motionless. The two priests now both silently prayed.

The scene was otherwise silent. The four hardhats looked from their pads to the sky and back, occasionally touching the screens. The new bishop had decreed that, since the technology now existed, the old, abandoned, urban churches in his diocese would be moved to the suburbs as needed. Thus it came to pass that St. Monica’s, a Romanesque Revival testament in stone to the faith and stubbornness of a tiny group of American immigrants, descended from the clouds upon a few hopeful citizens of a freshly stamped Promised Land.

“Heating was terrible.” The old man broke the silence as St. Monica’s approached, now a mere 1,000 yards in the sky. “Froze our asses off every winter. Could hardly hear the sermon over the teeth chattering and the old furnace moaning like the damned.” His watery eyes never left the descending edifice. “Not that you’d miss much. Roof leaked into the basement. A kid could slip and kill himself on that basketball court. Johnny Popec damn near broke his neck.”

A white pigeon had somehow gotten trapped in the zero-point energy field, and hung suspended most impressively in front of St. Monica’s west rose window. The building reached the ground. The four engineers were now checking elevations and levels as the building settled into the hole like a ship coming to dock.

Everything remained eerily silent. Finally, a chime let the engineers know that that St. Monica’s was within acceptable parameters. A bright violet light came from each side of the hole for perhaps a minute. The four engineers stepped back away from the the building. “Here goes!” one shouted.

The zero-point field was disengaged. The tech is binary: either the field is on, or it is off. Thus, in one instant, St. Monica’s went from a silent, heavenly image as weightless as an angel to a very fleshly thousand tons of stone, glass and concrete.

The silence was shattered by the muffled crack of stone being wrent, and the onlookers could see cracks forming in the rose window’s glass. The pigeon fell silently to the ground.

The engineer who had just given the OK was starting to explain to the onlookers that some settling was inevitable and minor damage to be expected when the young mother, babe still in arms, rushed past him and picked up the motionless pigeon. She examined it closely. “It’s still alive!”

The engineers looked at each other. Nothing bigger than a tardigrade had ever survived several hours in a zero-point energy field. Messes with metabolisms. The priests had walked over to the young woman, babe on her shoulder, pigeon in her hand. “Terrible mold problems,” the old man had not moved. “Summers stank.”

The two priests and the woman examined the bird. One wing moved.