The Right Answer: “We Don’t Know”

The most powerful and certain argument against the “ends justify the means” argument is that we simply do not know the ends, all we know is the means. All we choose is the means. Prudence doesn’t mean we’ve got a crystal ball whereby we see past the means and choose only the ends. We cannot choose the end. Pretending that our choice of means is really a choice of ends is an arrogant, foolish lie.


“Nobody knows”. That was the answer Richard Feynman’s dad gave him, when, as a boy, he asked why, when you rolled a wagon with a ball in it, and stopped, the ball keeps going until it hits the front of the wagon.

Good question. Complete scientific ignorance might lead to the honest answer ‘I don’t know”. Ignorance of philosophy coupled with some science might lead to a complicated side-stepping,  into Newton’s Three laws of Motion.  The senior Mr. Feynman was astute enough to give the right answer: nobody knows.

The good question, the one young Richard asked, is not how, or according to what rules do we measure, or the history of the exploration of motion, but the simple ‘why’.  And, it turns out, to this day, nobody knows. The best answer within a scientific context: we call the general case of this thing you are seeing ‘momentum’, and it is evidently a fundamental feature of physical reality. Turns out the only way we can have an observable world (observable by us, at least) is if momentum is just such a fundamental feature exactly the way it is observed. Why it is such a fundamental feature is unknown – we can’t even begin to answer that question, except to say, were it not so, we wouldn’t be here to ask it.

“We don’t know” turns out to be the right answer to almost all of life’s interesting questions, if we’re talking about either the scientific approach or strict logic. While it is clearly true that we almost never know what’s going on now or what has just happened, it is triply true that we don’t know what is going to happen.Those things we can know, or are even  somewhat confident about, are precious and few.

Yet, if we sift a little, we can easily see how much of today’s social and political arguments are about predicting the future based on things we don’t even understand today. Two examples, one from science and one from morality. Continue reading “The Right Answer: “We Don’t Know””

Full Disclosure – I’m the 2%, more or less

Woke up one morning a few years back, to discover that *I* was the 2%. As a lazy dude who studied both philosophy and art as a student years ago, and doesn’t really get into the whole corporate job scene – how could such a calamity befall me?

Here’s how, starting with a little history, which, like all real history, is a little peculiar:

I am the 7th of 9 children. My father was a welder, sheet metal fabrication dude, shop foreman who, at the age of 45, when I was 5, decided to start his own sheet metal business. Before then, and for the next 7 years, our family had little extra cash – 8 or 9 of us in a typical ’50s tract house. Mom and Dad lived through the Depression, so they coped well – we never went hungry, Mom made clothes for us, the usual. (Prior to my birth, the family raised its own chickens and rabbits for food – kinda glad I missed that.)

Then, around 1970, Dad’s business started yielding some decent cash – we moved to a bigger house, actually bought a couple *new* cars, took 1 week vacations to nice places. Eventually, Dad had to sell his business after a massive heart attack at age 59 almost killed him, but by then, he’d actually made enough money to retire to a nice neighborhood and live comfortably for the remaining 29 years of his life.

What this means for me – I had a somewhat schizophrenic childhood, in that, for years, getting as much as a dollar out of my parents for anything non essential was unlikely, and we worked in the neighborhood and scrounged coke bottles for money. Then, when I was ready to go to college, Mom and Dad just wrote a check – totally weird, when you think about it.

So, off to college, where I study classics – the Great Books – then do a couple years volunteer work for the Church, then a year of art school, then – whoa. I’m now 27, and, other than working for my dad at his shop, have never really had a ‘real’ job – lots of odd jobs and grunt labor stuff, nothing ‘professional’. And, I want to get married to my beloved (that’s worked out well – 5 kids and 25 years later, we’re more in love than ever).

So, I return to my parent’s house, get a job at an insurance company, move, get another job at another insurance company, get married – and panic. Saying I don’t fit in an insurance company environment is like saying water doesn’t burn well. In (over)reaction, I get an MBA at the local state college, mostly at night. This takes 7 years – did I mention I’m disorganized and lazy?

During this time, we have 3 children, my beloved wife eventually stays at home (working harder at a more important job than I’ll ever have), and we have a household income at or below the median for our area, while having a household size larger than the median. In other words, NOT RICH.

Then, a funny thing happened. Got my MBA – at 38 – and landed a job with a peculiar little company that could actually use a goodly number of my talents – at a pay cut from what I was making. took the chance and the job, worked my way ‘up’, and – woke up, at around the age of 45 to discover I was in the 5%. Then, things got better.

The weird thing – because i spent the first couple decades of my working life at jobs that did not pay too well and with a growing family, we accumulated very little wealth. Our vacations got nicer, our house got bigger – but,  with kids hitting college age, it’s not like I’m rolling around on the floor in piles of cash.

I know I’m lucky (blessed), I know we’ve got more than most people, and I know I have, therefore, an obligation to be generous and to fear God’s justice. would I say any of these stupid things? (NSFW) I sure hope not. And, as a rich guy, at least according to what most people think of as rich, I don’t mind paying income taxes. What I do mind is being lumped in, somehow, with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and the Walton family – I still have to get up and go to work in the morning, my family would be screwed if I lost my job. Those folks employ people who look after the people who look after their money, and hardly care about income – taxable income, after all, is for the little people.

But you can read more about that under the category moneymoneymoneymoney.

The Current HHS Unpleasantness

Here’s my take,  as explained in an email to a popular Catholic blogger:

I get this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach – people who oppose the mandate (I am among them) need to be very, very careful. As you pointed out, we must resist the temptation to point and yell ‘neener-neener-neener’ at the pro-Obama Catholics who are just now smelling the coffee. But I fear there are other, even darker temptations and stumbling blocks here.

It would thrill Obama’s team (with the possible exceptions of a few useful idiots) to fracture the Church. If the Pelosis and Bidens of the world start getting excommunicated – as justified as such an action is – then maybe half of the Georgetown faculty, for starters, will go with them, make a show of giving them communion, and cement their claim that ‘most’ Catholics are with them. This will force a choice on millions of Catholics whose faith and understanding of what the Church can rightly ask of them is weak.

In my neighborhood, there’s one parish that I’d put money on making a huge show of support for the excommunicants, if it comes to pass. I suspect this is true in many places in America – there are still many, many priest and maybe even a few bishops (God forbid!) who might just feel that this is the time to make the schism manifest. Are we so confident that, in the current political and judicial environment, they couldn’t get away with seizing church property, declaring themselves the ‘real’ American Catholic Church and then waging war for souls with Rome? Then, how is going to look when the Church ends up in court for years trying to get parishes and convents and monasteries back? All the while having various parties pop up on the news claiming to speak for the ‘real’ Catholics? Even more than now, I mean.

Chiefly, and to put it bluntly, we must recognize that, as clearly as the power grab of our delusional  God-King is, there is more to this than political puppetry. Our president and government, their ambitions and hatred and arrogance, are being used. Obama’s non-human masters are not interested in politics or contraception or anything other than the destruction of the Church. People marvel at Obama’s lack of political savvy to how the Church would react to the HHS mandate. Didn’t he know people were going to get upset?  Maybe, maybe not. Maybe the mandate going through or pleasing his political allies or even getting reelected doesn’t really matter here. What matters is doing as much damage to the Church as possible.  Obama may or may not be thinking like this – doesn’t really matter, because he is not the enemy – he’s being used by the Enemy.

So, we must be careful, pray, fast, welcome any who will stand with the Church with open arms, and pray especially for unity and guidance for our bishops and leaders who have to decide what to do.

One further note: timing is everything. If Obama had been able to try this even as little as 10 years ago, schism would have been very, very much more likely. But, now, with the new crop of bishops and the many younger, more orthodox priest, it’s possible the Church can ride this out – God willing. This could be a desperation move by the Culture of Death. Another 10 years and the remaining crop of older, less orthodox bishops and many of the priests they ordained will be retired. It may be now or never if modernism is to fracture the Church in America.

This kind can be cast out only with prayer and fasting.

A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day – John Donne – repost

Happy St. Lucy’s Day! Here’s a post from a while back:

‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world’s whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring ;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;
I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave
Of all, that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else ; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown ;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know ; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love ; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none ; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s and the day’s deep midnight is.

UPDATE: Final rewrite to make this a little more scholarly.  Continue reading “A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day – John Donne – repost”

More Kant & Hegel

Why should anyone care if Kant destroyed logic as a meaningful aspect of reality? Why should we care that Hegel denies that logic, as understood by scientists, mathematicians, computer programmers as well as philosophers and theologians, has no place in philosophical thought?

Chesterton explains somewhere that to prove out something logically to a medieval man was to compel him – that his unshakeable (if probably unconscious) belief in the unity of human experience and understanding meant that his *behavior* had to follow the logic. This is not theory – as the master logician John C. Wright explains in the already linked essay, logic has its own momentum or gravity, making it work to be inconsistent -it’s an uphill battle, as it were, while consistency is, logically, as natural as sitting down.

People today are much more willing to put in the work required to be inconsistent than they are to change their behaviors. But it has not always been so: witness the hundreds or thousands of churches, usually named after our Lady, which sprung up after Francis and Dominic starting in the 12th century. Once you accept the Incarnation, especially as manifested in the Transubstantiation of the Eucharist, what is there to do besides build the most beautiful building you can, embellish it with the greatest art and music, and devote your life to celebrating that mystery? For centuries, across thousands of square miles, amidst all the wars, famines, plagues, and invasions, millions of people routinely celebrated beautiful liturgies in gorgeous buildings accompanied by the best music ever written and surrounded by the finest art man has ever produced – as a result of following the logic of the Church with regard to how God works our salvation in this world.

Now? We start, with Kant, by asserting that there’s no appeal to the real world to answer our questions about reality – it’s all a game, we can’t really know anything except how our own personal mind works, with the predictable result that our mind becomes the one sacred arbiter of TRVTH. Next, following Hegel, we disavow that logic has anything to do with anything – sure, it’s a game mathematicians and computer programmers (and auto mechanics and plumbers) play – but what’s that got to do with reality? with ME? *I* see the world as *I* see the world – and there’s nothing you can do about it! To even try – like, say, by reasoning with you – is a fundamental violation of the unspoken rules that underlie this world-without-rules. And don’t even think about pestering me about consistency – hobgoblins, and all that.

If you believe that ideas matter, and want to live in a sane world, then Kant and Hegel are the enemy.