Wednesday Thoughts

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Maybe I wouldn’t be so cold if I put some clothes on? There’s a thought!

A. Have we reached peak ‘because I can code, I know everything’ yet?

B. I keep wanting to remind people to stop worrying, because we all died back when Reagan started WWIII – at least according to the same sources who are doing their best to whip up panic at the moment.

C. The idea that Politics is Everything is simple insanity, an idea most beloved by those lacking normal healthy relationships to other people.

D. Isn’t the idea that everyone should have a college education just supply side economics applied to labor? Since white-collar workers tend to have college educations, we will turn everybody into a white collar worker? Or what?

E. In the modern world, it is simple dogma that a thing I do at most once or twice a year  – vote – defines me as a person more than things I do 24/7/365 – acting as dad, husband, friend, employee, church member.  Thus, depriving anyone of the right to vote is about the highest crime imaginable (besides hurting their feelings), while destroying or damaging the relationships wherein a person actually expresses his freedom is collateral damage at best, if it’s even acknowledged. Social issues are discussed not in terms of how they affect the interpersonal environment in which we all severally and together live – family, village, church – but how they may affect exercise of individual rights considered in a purely hypothetical vacuum. The point that individual rights are only meaningfully exercised within our families and among our friends is lost. People don’t usually march their placards up and down the living room, but rather take to the public streets.  No wonder they are eternally frustrated.

F. Can’t even read the news except for That Which Cannot Be Avoided. Anything interesting happening?


Frivolous Friday Bullet Points

  • Briefly looked over the *97* draft blog posts in my backlog. But am I finishing or discarding any of them? Noooo! I’m drafting another one! Right here, right now!
  • I’ve previously mentioned the froo-froo snacks thing we have going at my place of employment. The company supplies all kinds of free goodies in each of two nice kitchenettes – one upstairs, one down. This bounty includes sodas, bottled waters, fruit nectars, greek yogurts, single-serving cheeses (3 kinds) along with nuts, party mix, granola bars, fresh fruit and on and on. For an office with around 20 people in it.
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Seriously? Does that look like a snack food to you? Or rather more like what you’d feed wintering livestock?

We’ve recently upped the ante from this already embarrassing bounty by adding ‘healthy’ snacks from a service that supplies them in a cute cardboard box/display every couple weeks. I am weak – I tried some: they range from pretty good (e.g., coconut something-something bars – yum!) to weird (e.g., ‘jerky’ that ended up being limp sticky maple flavored bacon – huh? Bacon = good; this = weird.), as you might expect.

But I do draw the line somewhere. I have nothing against kale, per se, even if I have occasionally and with some

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“A skeet of delicious organic goodness!” 

justification referred to it as ‘a weed with a marketing department’. But

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“This puck delivers 100% of the recommended daily dose of gulibilium.”

I’m not even going to try a snack leading with ‘Blueberry-Vanilla-Kale’ in big print. I have some principles.

Also, the Gucci snack industry’s crack delivery system mutation division can’t seem to settle on terminology: are these oh-so-hip snack units bars? cookies? skeet? pucks? I’d go with ‘wads’ – ‘a delicious wad of vanilla- infused blueberries enveloped in a healthful duvet of the finest kale’ – I might try THAT, once, anyway, out of sheer cussedness.

  • My daughter and I sometimes kid about efforts to be holy, in what I hope is a light and not-asking-to-get-struck-down-by-lightening way. We once came up with ‘redemptive mockery’ in response to the use of the term redemptive suffering for every little inconvenience: one might piously help out a fellow sinner by mocking them relentlessly, for their own good! Look at all the humility and patience to be gained! In a similar vein, living out here in California, we get pretty touchy-feely at Mass. People tend to hold hands at the Our Father, sometimes forming circles of people so joined. I refered to this as ‘redemptive kindergarten’ to said daughter, and had the satisfaction of watching her spend the next few moments fighting off a giggle fit. At Mass. Bad Daddy! Bad!
  • This may have to be my default GIF from here on out:
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(BTW: trying to get my arms around the morality of ‘borrowing’ gifs – this is a snippet of a movie somebody already borrowed, then turned the lines from the movie into text. So the only people who should be concerned are the movie rights owners – who, if they’ve got an ounce of business sense, are thrilled to see people reminded of their movie a million times a day. Ya know?)       

Politics? Education? Religion? Hey, the dumpster fires have to burn themselves out eventually, right? Right? PLEASE?!?

If you want to die at home, my advice would be, don’t go to a hospital. Perhaps this will strike gentle reader as a remark overweighted on the side of the obvious; but there is some method in some of my madness. So I will begin with a careful qualification: my advice holds for Canada, and the United Kingdom, but not for all of those Natted States. (I realize there are other jurisdictions.) And even there, the impossibility of fixing “Obamacare,” without further extending its “entitlement” provisions, shows the end is coming, soon. But in Canada and UK, the future has been here for some time.

The reason, of course, is that at these higher latitudes we have so-called “single-payer” “healthcare” systems in which, as we have been reminded lately, all decision-making is concentrated in the caring-sharing State, or as I prefer to call her, Twisted Nanny. Once the paperwork is complete, and the customer has progressed from the outer to the inner waiting rooms, he is entirely in her power. He may, after reviewing her apparatus (both surgical and managerial), want to go home and die there. But she is unlikely to release him, and it will require the assistance of loyal friends and family to effect the equivalent of a prison break. (Tip: staff tend to be at their least attentive during the conventional sleeping hours.)

You see, Twisted Nanny likes to watch people die. She can become quite annoyed when others appropriate this privilege. She also likes to kill people, and has gone to considerable trouble to establish a monopoly in this regard. And given her latest powers, under legislation for “euthanasia,” she prefers to do it in her own facilities. She doesn’t make house calls, the way they do in Red China.

Have a good weekend!


Sunday Musings: The Point of 1984

Like others, I too have wondered if anyone has actually read 1984. Two answers: 1st, no, not many people have read 1984; and 2nd, nothing in the experience of a conventionally educated American prepares him to understand it even if he did go through the motions of looking at the text. All required  readings are accompanied by specific questions at the back of the book, the acceptable answers to which are in teacher’s copy. If it were not so, how could you test on the text?

So, no: as Briggs points out, some small fraction of people are insane, and so truly believe men can be women if they say so 2 + 2 = 5. A much larger fraction have learned the survival value of group cohesion in school, and so just want to know the answer teacher wants. On the one hand, such folks won’t give much of a thought to whether or not what teacher wants to hear is true (“Truth? What is that?” as was famously quipped); on the other hand, anyone who dares dispute the claim is attacking the order carefully established through 12 or more years of schooling.

These people will act as crazy as the true believers when challenged, since their place in the world has been established by that same schooling that tells what the right answer is. The final irony: this exact same education has rendered them all but incapable of seeing that this reaction is what they are doing. (Example, for the thrill-seeker: try to have a rational discussion with a Marxist in which you challenge Marxism – watch the shields go up and the photon torpedoes brought online. It’s not the arguments that are being defended against – it’s the very concept of a challenge. Your interlocutor won’t even notice he’s doing it.)

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“For Heaven’s sake, did anybody not read 1984? What the purpose of torturing Winston to say 2 + 2 = 5? That the Party really believed that mathematical fiction? No! It was to subjugate and for no other reason.” William Briggs 

The use of nonsense as dogma is less critical than its use as a shibboleth – it matters much more that you say whatever everybody in the group says than what particular thing it is that you say. If you say, for example, that gender is a social construct, it’s very clear that you are a member in good standing, and, if you say there are only 2 sexes and gender is a term of grammatical art, you are excluded just as decisively.

Just as the Ministry of Truth regularly changes the shibboleths – we’ve always been at war with Eastasia! – to see who is really on board, we have politicians with their fingers in the air, declaring against, say, gay marriage right up until they declare for it.

And it’s totally out of line to notice, or to call liar. To do that is, again, proof you’re not of the tribe. That’s a price few will pay.

The schools are where this experiment is being run. I’m struck by how many dystopias include the idea that our evil overlords are experimenting on us, killing some and bending others to their wills. We are trying to resist and escape, but cannot! Why does such an idea lurk in our minds, such that it apparently rings true enough to a huge enough percentage of people to sell a lot of movie tickets and YA novels? Where, in the real world, would a cognate to such behavior be found? Dragons and sea monsters, sure, even werewolves and vampires seem like extensions of some at least marginally imaginable fear. But organizations torturing us into puppet-hood, and maybe killing us? What? Then there’s zombies, undead and lusting for brains…. Where do such ideas come from?

Then there are those who understand the latest insanity is, in fact, insane, but are unwilling to pay the price of open opposition, hoping, I suppose, that the problem will go away on its own. Finally, there are those who know exactly what they’re doing. This last group may to some degree believe this or that shibboleth, but that’s not the important part – it’s doing whatever they need to do to bring down the beast, as they see it, truth be damned! I think Alinsky and his ilk fall into this camp, as do all real Communists and some of their more self-involved useful idiots – that’s the impression I get from some feminists leaders, that they want to destroy the patriarchy more than they care about if what they say is true, let alone results in the happiness of any real women.

It’s a mess out there. As mentioned in an earlier post, things are so good in general that it’s possible to promote such anti-reality, anti-survival nonsense – and yet live. I think of the imaginary Merlin from That Hideous Strength, who was prepared to simply kill Mrs Studduck for the crime of not having the baby she was destined to have, or of real-life Charlemagne, who would have dealt with people promoting such nonsense promptly – maybe send them off to a monastery for the rest of their lives, he was merciful that way – and never given it a second thought.  But even these musings miss the point: people promoting such ideas as are common today would have been locked up, at best, by their own families or lords.

Here and now, we can afford (!) to let them run loose, evidently.


Cats and Gender

Once again, slipped up and clicked some bait, and watched a little video about some wild cats found in a Russian barn. (1) Turns out they were not the little feral kittens the barn’s owner first thought they were, but were rather Pallas’s cats, a fairly rare and people-avoiding wild species. Flatter faces, shorter, rounder ears, stockier build – and a very anti-social attitude, as far as hanging out with people go.

The kittens were really small when discovered. Soft-hearted animal shelter people took them in and found some lactating housecats to nurse them. They grew, after the manner of their kind.

After only a month, the little hellcats were looking to kill things – they wanted meat, not milk. So they were fed meat. The only person who could safely approach them was the staff member who had cared for them since they’d been brought in. Anyone else who got close enough got scratched and bitten.

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Picture credit. Note the ‘I would kill and eat you if I could’ expression on its face, an expression only found on domesticated cats maybe 50% of their waking hours.

Two of them caught some feline disease and died young.  The other two grew to near full size. This is where the story gets weird, at least to me: by now, some biologists are involved. They throw radio collars on the two young cats and let them loose in the wild.

OK – so here’s the nature/nurture thing: clearly, it is the nature of cats such as these to live far from people and hunt food in the wild. So far, so good. But as sophisticated, intelligent mammals, their raw instincts – hunt and kill food – are shaped into a useful form by their mothers. They have the claws and teeth; they have the instincts to use them – but on what, in this particular environment? How do you find prey? How do you stalk and kill it? Not prey in general, but what’s available in your neck of the woods? They won’t know this unless their mother shows them – a behavior found in many different species of cat.

Lions, tigers, jaguars on down to tiny little cats each get taught not how to hunt in general, but how to hunt what’s available to be hunted. Lions learn to cooperate; tigers how to go it alone. Some jaguars hunt mostly capybaras; others mostly caiman. Some hunt turtles. Some mix it all up – depends on what’s available in your neighborhood. It’s a much different approach, hunting caiman – stalk, swim, ambush or spring, avoid getting killed yourself – than turtles (the shells of which jaguar teeth can pierce – yikes!).  Some prides of lions hunt warthogs and zebras, some hunt baby elephants; some ambush hunt near watering holes, some out on the plains; some mix it up, some stick to a specialty. All learn the basics from mom.

For sophisticated animals like cats, many key instincts are general, and need a lot of formation in the particular context the animals find themselves in to be useful. Mom takes care of that while raising them. She is infinitely qualified, as she has obviously survived to breeding age in exactly that environment.

After a few weeks, the starving wildcats were so thin that their radio collars fell off.  The biologists were nonetheless able to find them (see a problem here?) and bring them in and nurse them back to health. The little clickbait video ended by saying the new plan was to wait until a more opportune time, when prey was most plentiful, and to try the release again.

I’m going: why don’t you just shoot them, then? The possibility that they’ll successfully compete with the other cats and predators in their environment so that they survive the 18 -24 months or so that wild cats tend to live is pretty slim; that they will in turn know enough to avoid their own predators is likewise slim. Better to put them in a zoo or at least keep them caged and fed. They’re almost certainly not going to make it in the wild.

This got me to thinking about human beings, who, on the merely material level, are the most sophisticated and intelligent animals on the planet, current politics notwithstanding. We have a much more complicated set of skills to learn than cats, so complicated that we need around 15 years of childhood to learn them. Like cats, we learn largely from our mothers, at least in infancy, then, as the environments in which we hope to live in long enough to reproduce contain many people in many complex and varied relationships, we need years of Dad and uncles and aunts and siblings and friends and neighbors and cousins and so on to get the hang of surviving in the particular environment we find ourselves in.  Continue reading “Cats and Gender”

Curse of the Pyramids

(Thoughts not yet fully formed follow. Like that’s anything new.)

When diagramming out some issue using a pyramid, we are invited (if not forced) to think hierarchically, in terms of a foundation, middle stories built on that foundation, and a crowning achievement/reward at the top:

We have food pyramids,

USDA Food Pyramid
If you carb-load, then eat your fruits and veggies and top them off with a cheese burger, you have proved your virtue and may then have sweets! 

Maslow’s Hierarchy,

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“Breathing, Food, Water, Sex, Sleep, Homeostasis, Excretion” – Hmmm – which one of these is not like the others? (Homeostasis in this context is a largely redundant catch-all for all the others – except one.) 

Management hierarchies:

CEO Pyramid
I think this is a joke. I hope it is a joke. At the very least, except for a few very highly specialized businesses, it should be way wider at the bottom, narrow rapidly and come to a pointy-point. 


Even hierarchies of disagreement:

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So, we’re to base our disagreements on name-calling, and then work our way up through ad hominem past gainsaying and then finally arrive at something like reasonable discussion? Seems an unlikely progression. 

A moment’s reflection should reveal, I think, that except when applied to construction of large monumental structures, such pyramid thinking is very unlikely to apply to anything in the real world. Imagine, for example, a pyramid describing a bee hive:

Bee Hive Hierarchy

Or maybe:

Bee Hive Hierarchy II

Does either one of these make any sense at all? Of course not. Placing these relationships in a pyramid all but forces us to assume a hierarchy that isn’t there. Even the names – queens, drones, workers – are blatant anthropomorphizing. The queen isn’t commanding the workers any more than the workers are enslaving the queen.

In a similar way, all the examples given are nonsense. Our food habits aren’t hierarchical – we don’t build upon a base of carbs to support an apex of sweets and fats. Maslow’s diagram hides an important truth: that it’s belief in and desire for the good that often motivates people to accept less fulfillment or show no concern for lower levels, sometimes, because we are not defined by them. There are many accounts of brilliantly happy saints who went hungry, voluntarily eschewed sex, lived in times of turmoil, did not have a place to lay their heads, were shunned and mistreated by their contemporaries – and achieved a level of ‘self-actualization’ beyond anything known to Maslow’s philosophy.

In the flat moral universe I’m often on about here, the temptation is to see the world as a series of pyramids, where there’s a bottom level of oppression and mistreatment to be escaped, upper levels holding lower levels down with bad intent, and a struggle to invert the pyramid, somehow.

In almost every case, such an understanding is poor. Relationships are both more complex and subject to much more variety than can be even roughly approximated by layer in a triangle.

Pyramid thinking: a bad idea.

All Cases Make Bad Law

(Half-formed thoughts, subject to revision. More than usual, I mean.)

Two anecdotes:

As a  young man, worked briefly in the insurance industry, for a while as a personal lines (auto, home, that sort of thing) underwriting analyst. The particular company I worked for had a marketing strategy by which they would approach certain groups – the California Teacher’s Union being the biggest – and offer them some special deals if they’d agree that we were their official insurance company and let us market directly to their members that way. A very interesting business model, and how I came to have a small bit of personal contact with the uppity-ups in the Teacher’s Union. One part of the typical deal was an appeals board that included some actual union members, that people insured could make appeals to if they didn’t like how the insurance company treated them. (1)

One task we with the Underwriting Analyst job title would do is look over the more crazy, out there claims and issues, including stuff that had been appealed to these boards. One time, we were discussing a case where a dreaded Young Male Driver was appealing non-renewal (when the insurance company says ‘no thanks’ to another year of coverage). Over the previous year or so, he had multiple moving violations to the point where his licence was near being revoked, and had made a couple of claims (those things do go together). He was shocked and claimed it was totally unfair of us to not renew his policy – that his driving record was no worse than anybody else he knew. For all I know, he was completely sincere.

Now, an underwriting analyst has access to much accumulated insurance wisdom. Using this wisdom, I know I am a fairly typical driver: in 40 years of driving, I’ve had 2 at fault accidents (both in the first year of driving, when I was a dreaded Young Male Driver myself) and 1 moving violation. That averages out to 0.05 accidents and 0.025 tickets per year. Having more than one ticket in a year is very unusual, and raises a lot of red flags, because getting tickets and costing the insurance company a lot money do go together. This kid was a phenomenal outlier and probably a menace. But he was sure he was typical, and no amount of information could convince him otherwise.

Second anecdote:

Almost the last time I listened to NPR was years ago, a Terry Gross interview of some legal scholar. They were addressing the issue of how real life changes faster than laws can get written, so that judges are faced with cases laws never anticipated and for which there are not any really valid precedents. Their conclusion: of course judges must make the law! With a strongly implied ‘how could anybody seem so stupid as to imagine otherwise?’

Instead of discussing the need for balance – the need for the written law to be respected and weighed against the occasional need to rule on a situation that lies outside the written law – we just chuck the written law! What could be simpler?

A common thread in the above is how a a thing, a ‘this’ in Aristotle’s way of talking, presents itself for consideration. In insurance, a thing might be a claim; in law, it might be a case. As a claims adjuster or a judge, the units of interest to you arrive to your awareness prepackaged, as it were, by rules and laws, assumptions and theories – as facts, as things made, in a traditional configuration. Yet what’s missing, what is critical to making wise decisions, is the knowledge of the wide cultural and moral context within which the claim or case is made.

Such a moral and cultural context is not strictly objective, in the sense that it’s not something to be learned merely by looking at how things are at some time and place. It includes, at least in the West, recognition of imperfectly realized ideals. Without this cultural context taken in the widest possible sense, a sense that includes Jewish reverence for the law of God, Greek logic, and Christendom’s ancient sense of salvation history, not just hard cases, but all cases make bad law.

This is where case law gets tricky. If we look to precedent, what we are doing should not be just sussing out how other judges judged and seeing if their judgement applies to the facts in this case. We should also try to to understand that constellation of moral and cultural beliefs that made that judgement seem just to that judge.

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Righteous mustache, I must admit. 

I’m not a lawyer, and have felt only the slightest attraction to that profession(2). But I love philosophy. I’ve read just enough (very little) of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr to be dangerous.  OWH Jr assures us that law is, in its essence, philosophy (3). Well, then! Here we go.

If I understand justice to be essentially something eternal and unchanging, along the lines of a Platonic form, more or less, I will look at case law as perhaps revealing something true about justice. At least potentially, all those decisions will reflect all the judges’ best cogitations on the same truth. Like science, it would be acknowledged up front that all such attempt are provisional, that something that comes along later might require reexamination of assumptions. But the basic shape of the process is also like science – it assumes the existence of an objective reality to which our best efforts are an approximation. Over time, we should hope that the approximation gets better. In the meantime, we get useful gadgets and useful rulings.

Hegel, whose influence, fell and dread, was strong on OWH Jr, teaches that the methods of science is not suitable for true philosophers. By this, he does not mean the (real and true) limitation of modern science to things that can be measured. Rather, he refers to the logical processes that underlie not only science but all prior philosophy. Science works by ‘propositional logic’, moving step by careful step from premises stated and restated to be as clear as possible, using logic as beloved by Aristotle and Thomas to reach valid conclusions. Hegel dismissed such efforts as something engaged in by the little people – not by true philosophers like himself.

True philosophers use speculative reason, a phrase redefined away from its traditional meaning by Hegel to mean insights gained by whatever it is that Hegel does to get insights.

The most fundamental of all realities to Hegel are not immutable truths, but Progress. The Spirit reveals and comes to know itself through an endless series of revelations. Reason that relies on logic as an immutable foundation is thus never going to get it right – people wedded to logic, to the notion that true things need to make sense on some level, will reject the latest revelation on the grounds that it is irrational – that it is self-contradictory. To Hegel, this is both of the nature of revelation – it wouldn’t be a revelation if it made sense – and the reason to reject *logic*, at least in philosophic discourse.

Human beings struggle to come to grips with these revelations, struggle to shed the previous rigid thinking we’d settled into after we’d incorporated the last revelation into our consciousness. Those who cannot incorporate the new revelation – those unable to suspend the contradiction within a dialectic synthesis – are left behind, are on the wrong side of history, or, worse yet, are trying to turn the clock back.

Hegel has never been accused of being clear.

We see a meeting of soul-mates. This is not a coincidence. Hegel was a conventional Lutheran. For 300 years, Lutherans and Calvinists and Protestants in general had asserted the rational superiority of their beliefs to Catholicism. Yet both Calvin and Luther famously denigrated reason – ‘that whore’, as Luther called it. I suppose that’s one of those contradictions subsumed in a synthesis, a contradiction in creative tension.

If you define ‘rational’ as ‘falling under the purview of the methods of Aristotle and Thomas’ the teachings of Calvin and Luther will lose that argument (4). That’s why Philosophy since 1630 or so has been exclusively devoted to dismissing or ignoring Aristotle and Thomas. Just as Holmes’ inherited convictions from his Harvard crowd about how the good and holy Puritans Unitarians secularist progressives should be in charge survived his rejection of the God upon the understanding of Whom such claims of superiority were initially based, the efforts to find some other way – any other way! – to think about reality than using Aristotelian logic survived the Academy’s rejection of all things theological. The lust for power survives any particular justification for it.

To be continued.

  1. Aside: you’ll sometimes hear an insurance company tout its 97% customer satisfaction rate with its claims services. Duh. About 97% of the time, the claim is obvious and any half-way respectable insurance company will promptly pay it – reasonable people are pretty satisfied with that. The other 3% includes the very rare hard case,  where it’s not clear at all that the insurance company should pay, a few fraud cases, but mostly, I’d guess about 3% of the population simply does not want to be satisfied no matter what. I suspect we all know people like that, and thus suspect anything over a 97% satisfaction rate doesn’t include a representative sample of humanity.
  2. Taking my father’s oft-stated belief that education was for getting a better job, I couldn’t see law as anything but a job that claimed to be a vocation that has no justification outside of working for justice. In other words, a lawyer making money is a sell-out by definition. Of course, a couple of my college roommates became a judge and a worker’s rights lawyer, which kinda works…
  3. And, in the course of assuring us of this, dismisses the vast bulk of lawyers as just journeymen of a craft, with no real understanding. This goes back, I would think, to his bedrock Harvard/Boston/essentially Puritan roots, institutions founded on the belief that people like him – the smart, good people – should be in charge of the less smart, less good people. Even losing his faith in God didn’t damage his faith in his own Brahmin class’s meritocracy and fitness to rule.
  4. The Catholic Encyclopedia, whose side in this dispute should be obvious,  says of Robert Bellarmine: “In 1576 …the lectures thus delivered grew into the work “De Controversiis” which, amidst so much else of excellence, forms the chief title to his greatness. This monumental work was the earliest attempt to systematize the various controversies of the time, and made an immense impression throughout Europe, the blow it dealt to Protestantism being so acutely felt in Germany and England that special chairs were founded in order to provide replies to it.” Thus began Catholic attempts to make sense of the mish-mash of Protestant claims and arguments. That there are so many conflicting claims and arguments has always testified against them – Does human will count for anything? Does a plowboy need any help understanding Scripture? Do we need baptism or not? Once, or more than once? What, if anything, does the Eucharist represent? And on and on and on. It is obvious that, if these claims represent superior rationality, that rationality cannot be based on the belief that the Truth is One. Thus, Aristotle and Thomas must be rejected.

Peace, Love and Misunderstanding

Stating the obvious this morning.

1. The name is not the thing. Focusing on the political side of things for now, calling a nuclear missile a Peacekeeper or thousands of pages of unread federal laws and regulations the Affordable Care Act, for example, does not automatically keep the peace or provide affordable care. It matters both what the thing is, and how it is used. What its proponents call it, not so much.

Yet, judging by what one reads, some people are convinced that questioning anything about the ACA is the same as not wanting affordable care, and is, in fact, indistinguishable from tossing sick poor people out of their hospitable beds to die in the street. Others, aware enough so that the (predictable and predicted) failure of the ACA to in fact provide affordable care has gotten past their defenses, seem baffled or betrayed, even, that the thing isn’t exactly what it was called. (1) These reactions reveal a charming innocent faith that the name is the thing, that voting for the right name is the same as voting for what the name says it is.

This magical belief differs from the traditional belief in the power of names, in that, under the traditions of many peoples, the true name, the name that is bound to and reveals the true nature of the person or thing named, is something to be discovered, or bestowed with great care. Under the modern practice described here, the process is reversed: simply by naming something, we make it what we’ve named it. So, not only is a muddled mess of a bill affordable care, but a man is a woman is the Eiffel Tower.

2. Along the same lines, what a politician says he is or is doing does not necessarily conform to what he actually is and is doing.  This one is bifurcated: politicians on my team are who they say they are and are doing what they say they’re doing, while politicians on the other team are never who they say they are, and are always lying about what they’re doing.

If forced to choose – and we are not – I’d go with filter B: they are all lying, power-hungry hypocrites and require evidence to the contrary before believing anything a politician has to say.  The party affiliation hardly matters, in general, except for times (like now) where one party is so wedded to profound unreality and the tyrannical enforcement thereof, that a sane man can conclude that anyone promoting that line is proven, at best, the victim of long-cultivated delusions or, in the case of politicians,  more likely a lying tool. See, for example, the positions of major politicians on gay marriage 10 years ago versus now.

3. That the other side is wrong has no bearing on whether your side is right or not. Both sides can be wrong. In general, that’s probably the most likely situation, as there seem to be many more ways to be wrong than to be right. The existence of a two-party system (or, frankly, a system of parties of any number) all but guarantees that, on most issues, both sides will be wrong. Why? Because parties take positions as a function of getting support, or at least of not alienating constituents too much. If a position arrived at by cooking up such a stew happened to be right, it would be a happy and unlikely accident.

4. Properly speaking, the terms right and wrong apply to principles. Terms such as effective or ineffective, prudent or imprudent and the like apply to policies or courses of action, and the bills, programs, departments, cabinet secretaries and so on instituted to carry them out. Thus, the principle that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights may be true or false, right or wrong, while the Constitution instituted to promote and protect a nation embodying that principle may be wisely or unwisely wrought, or well or ill executed.

Ya – Like that’s ever gonna happen.

An exception might be the case where a law, etc., is proposed that violates a principle it is said to promote and protect. Such a law would be wrong in principle, or, at least, its proponents would be making a poor (or, more likely, dishonest, sad to say) decision or argument.

Thus, we voters, to do our jobs, would need to understand the principles underlying a proposal (or candidate!) and how it is that the proposal (or candidate) is designed to better realize those principles. Then we make a judgement call. To do otherwise reveals us for posers and rubes.

5. Finally, I’m not sure whether the bigger problem is seeing what we want to see or refusing to see what we don’t want to see. Take Bernie – please. I see what is irrefutably true: Bernie is a rich white man – richer than me, that’s for sure. He is nearly in the 1%. He and his wife owns 3 houses, at least two of which sit unused at any given time. His family net worth was conservatively estimated at about $1.7 million (2). He has far better healthcare and retirement benefits than me or anyone I know. According to his tax returns, he gives next to nothing to charity – way less than I do, at any rate.  With all that wealth, several times more wealth than an average American, he and his wife support only themselves. By comparison, I, like millions of Americans, support a family with several children with my income.

Now, I’m totally cool with this – Bernie has largely lived the American Dream, he and his wife – mostly, his wife – worked for a lifetime and have some security and stuff like houses to show for it. I hope to do as well.

But his attacks on rich people ring more than a little hollow. Is ‘rich’ defined merely as ‘has more stuff than me’?  Bernie is richer than 98% of Americans.

Why are these facts not relevant? I’ve never heard them discussed at all by Bernie’s supporters. How about this fact: just as every wannabe tyrant in a democracy for the last 2500 years – Greeks, Germans, Italians, Latin Americans – everywhere there has ever been a democracy – Bernie explains to all the little people – you know, the 98% that aren’t as well off as he is – how the *real* problem is those *other guys* who, by having stuff, ruin it for the rest of us! If only I ran things! If only I  had the (of necessity, by definition, totalitarian) power, I’d get those guys! I’d take their stuff! I’d fix everything! Skittles and beer all around!

All tyrants begin as friends of the people – Plato.

A result – an intended result – of the systematic destruction of American education over the last century or so has been the elimination of the kind of learning that would allow people to hear Sander’s rhetoric as the demagoguery of a typical wannabe tyrant. (3) If you come to appreciate Plato and Aristotle as great repositories of wisdom, you are likely to notice; if they are just dead white(ish) males, then they are easily dismissed, and their observation cannot serve as warnings.

  1. Then there are the cynical Alinskyite types, who knew it wasn’t going to work, didn’t want it to work, or, more accurately, were counting on its failure to provide the crisis under which yet more power would be centralized. Present yourself as the only solution to a crisis you caused or exacerbated  – a playbook any number of ancient Greek tyrants would have recognized 2500 years ago.  Those would be the true architects of the bill, and those most willing to lie to get it passed, all the while patting themselves on the back over how brave and progressive they are to say and do whatever is necessary to get the poor slobs – that would be the rest of us – to do what’s good for us. Thus, presumed moral superiority goes hand in hand with a willingness to lie, cheat, manipulate and even resort to violence to get their way – a topic for another set of musings, perhaps.
  2. Nobody really knows the Bern’s net worth, they back into it based on required Senate disclosures, which provide wide enough ranges as to be almost useless. And his wife is most likely the major source of family income over the years – she was a college president, among other things. The Sanders did recently drop $600k on a lakefront vacation home, something he can afford to do, I imagine, because his Senate pension is *nice* – no need for the Sanders to pinch pennies for old(er) age.
  3. Worse than a tyrant, actually – a savior. As C.S. Lewis points out, when a do-gooder starts in fixing people, there is no end to the misery he may cause, because he’s doing it for our own good, and  with a clear conscience.