Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Substance of the Matter

The common view these days is that the answer to "what something is" is given by stating what material something is composed of.  In other words, for the question, "what is water?", we would say water is a molecule composed of two hydrogen atoms bonded with one oxygen atom.

On one the level, this point of view is correct, but from another point of view, it is superficial to view what something is as merely the aggregation of the stuff composing it.  I would like to suggest an alternative point of view:  substance relates to a specific kind of activity.  We know what something is based on what something does.  In fact, we determine what something is by what something does.  For example, water can be decomposed into hydrogen and oxygen atoms.  We say something is hydrogen because, for example, hydrogen creates a certain kind of spectrum if one performs gas chromatography on it.

Why is the notion of substance being a substrate of a material thing wrong?  First of all, because matter is the principal of differentiation.  If we look at the material composition of something, we can only look at analysis of the compound, breaking it down into composite materials.  This method of physical analysis can reveal the composition of things, but it cannot give us the source of the unity of things.  Absolute division can only occur in the material realm, to say something is material is to say it is capable of division: water can be divided into hydrogen and oxygen for example.  In terms of physics, the unity of things is revealed in so-called forces.  For example, the force of gravity explains the trajectory of a cannon ball falling down to the Earth.  Note that the Earth is the Earth, and the cannon ball is the cannon ball.  What brings them together is gravity, which is invisible and acts at a distance between two material things.  From a general relativity perspective, we can speak of the space-time continuum as an all-pervasive field, guiding objects in fixed trajectories.  In this view, all things are interpenetrated by an invisible matrix, the space-time continuum, the distortions of which orders the many into fixed paths.  The ordering principle pervades all things, and by virtue of its all pervasive quality, creates a unified pattern of motion.

The point is not which theory of mechanics one wishes to employ, the point is that what brings unity to anything is invisible and penetrates all things, and it manifests physically through unifying the activity of material objects.  Mass is not a property of matter, it is revealed in the interactions of matter.  If there was only one indivisible atom in a universe--assuming that such a universe were possible--it could have no mass.  After all, even if we were a non-physical intelligence viewing this atom, we would have no way of determining that the atom had mass, and therefore, no way of defining what mass would mean in that universe.  Something can be true, while not being testable, but something that cannot be defined cannot be true or false, but nonsense.  It is nonsense to say the atom has mass or to say it lacks mass, because we cannot define what mass is.  The point is that there can be one without a many, but there can never be a many unless it is unified by a one.  The one is manifest in the inter-relations of the many to one another, and the relations of the many differentiate each distinct part (within the many).  The principle of unity is also the principle of differentiation.  All material things are unified in that they participate in space, but all material things are differentiated from one another because they exist in different spatial relationships from each other.  If two things exist at the same location in space, they are the same thing.  If they exist in different locations, they are different from one another.

The second problem with the material substrate being the "real" thing is that the material substrate only relates to quantity.  It has no way of dealing with something like quality, which emerges through relation.  Light conditions + object + sense organ + sentient being yields a color.  A color is not a property of an object, nor is it a property of a subject.  Without both an object and a sentient being, you cannot have a color.  Instead, color is a kind of activity that an object generates in a subject, under certain definable conditions of light, when viewed by a sentient being with a certain biological capabilities (like working eyes).  The reductionist crowd wants to eliminate quality, because quality presupposes a mind or a soul.  Because the quality is a quality of an external object perceived by a perceiving subject, looking at the quality as some kind of token in the brain is worthless.   What gives the meaning to the token in the brain that makes it of the object?  After all, if one runs and falls down, one can get a bruise and a scrape on the knee, but is the injury an image of the pavement?  If we take the metaphor of a camera literally, it is clear that for a photograph to be a photograph of something, it needs a sentient organism to interpret it.  Our "cutting edge" neuroscience, which explains that a unitary organism is "really" a unitary organ, a brain, and then trots out some kind of mechanical camera theory is foolish.  The little picture in the brain needs a little man in the brain too to make sense of it, to interpret it, and to act on it.  Our "radical" materialist theories, that I am my brain, and other nonsense, simply push the analysis to another level, the search for the little man in the little organ, instead of searching for the man in the organism.

For a mechanical system, if you are given the initial conditions, and the laws of mechanics governing the system, you can predict (if the cannon does not misfire) the conditions at a particular future state of the system.  For a sentient being, given the initial conditions, you cannot reliably predict what the organism will do.  That is to say, unlike a mechanical system, which is bounded by its initial conditions, a living thing is unbounded, it has freedom.  This traditionally has been explained by the fact that an animate being, one with a soul, acts on itself, it chooses its own path.  On the other hand, there are unpredictable mechanical systems, like throwing dice, which generate random outcomes.  We cannot reliably predict, even with the initial conditions, what the outcome of the physical system will be.  Even if we maintain some kind of physicalist position, we can insist that even if mechanics cannot explain outcomes, what it does not explain is "random" and not the reflection of some purposeful or intentional process.

Let us consider the game of chess.  In a game of chess, there is a defined initial state, and there are rules for how each of the pieces move, and there is a system of notation for describing games of chess (which presupposes a common understanding of the rules of chess).  Any game of chess can be described by listing a historic sequence of moves, and each move is explainable by a universal rule governing transformation (e.g. the rules governing movement of the pieces).  Lets suppose we developed a table which contained a random hierarchy of possible chess moves (move x, if x cannot be moved, move y, etc.) and we rolled dice to determine which move to make, utilizing this chart.  Through this process, we would randomly generate a set of chess games.  In contrast, we could develop a description of chess games based on chess matches of players of varying skill levels.  How would we distinguish between the random games, and the games played by the sentient beings?  The difference is obviously not explained by the historic transformation rules, as the random games and the player games are both governed by the exact same rules.  Presumably, the way we could tell is the fact that there were recurring patterns, that is a convergence of patterns displaying homology among different players, in the games played by people, and no such pattern in the random games.

Looking from our game of chess, if we look at nature, the question of whether there is purpose in nature cannot be disclosed by the fact that there are laws of mechanics, historic transformation rules, any more than a game of chess can be said to lack a purpose on account of rules governing the movement of chess pieces.  The real question as to whether nature is merely a series of random variations based on mechanical processes (such as genes) or whether nature is purposeful (or are living organisms are purposeful) is governed by whether we see recurrent homology in nature.  Do different genetic lines give rise to similar organic structures or not?

Here is a link to a Wired article on a study by an MIT scientist, which shows that genetic variants of yeast converge on a similar morphology under similar environmental conditions.  One might even say that the yeast choose their morphology.

Experimental evidence increasingly points to the inadequacy of the Neo-Darwinist synthesis, as disclosed by the limited number of genes in people given their complex behaviors, the empirical failures of Chomskyan "language instinct" theories to explain language, problems such as Godel's Incompleteness Theorem which demonstrates that mathematical reasoning cannot be completely formalized (and therefore reducible to a mechanical algorithm).  The walls are coming down on the Neo-Darwinists, and while they can assert their dogmas, new minds are coming along who are willing to consider the empirical evidence which increasingly shows the bankruptcy of their ideas.  Certainly genes are important, and certainly genes are related to morphology, in the same way, books are important, and certainly books are related to the manifestation of ideas in the world.  But a library is not useful without a sentient being who can read and translate expressions of language into activity.  The material world is the physical substrate on which agents and other forces act.

A last problem for materialism is that it cannot even address quantity properly.  That is to say, quantity is not a property of a thing, quantity is something that a person measures relative to a measurement standard.  The measurement standard is not measured to have a particular quantity, it is defined as having a particular quantity.  What can be empirically measured can only be measured based on certain non-empirical conventions of measurement.  Quantity does not yield the quantity of a thing in the world, a measurement of quantity is a judgment formed in the context of a system of human linguistic conventions and activities based upon a convention, a norm, of measurement.  We should understand our measurement standards for what they are: symbols, symbols of space, symbols of time, outside of our empirical description of the world.  A mathematical description of the mechanics of a physical system needs a symbol of space and time in order to be translated into a real empirically testable experiment.  Likewise, a real experiment in mechanics can only take place if there are preexisting symbols of space and time (clocks and rulers) that allow for the measurement of results.  An empirical description, to be meaningful, depends upon a system of social conventions and physical symbols.  Thus, as a philosopher, I am interested in symbolism over science, because all scientific description is parasitic on a system of symbolism and on certain social conventions and institutions which make the description meaningful (e.g. capable of application in the empirical world).  Moreover, although I am in general respectful of empirical science, I recognize that science can only be an anthropocentric and penultimate description of reality. 
If we look at an organism, we see an aggregation of matter organized by a unifying principle.  That principle is purposeful, and driven toward an end.  The unifying principle guides the development of the organism, and the unifying principle drives the physical body to its end.  We speak of the soul, the animating principle, with respect to organism, while we speak of the spirit, a collective animating principle, with respect to a colony of social animals.  We speak of an individual will, to which we attribute choice, guiding the direction of an individual organism.  We speak of a collective will, to which we attribute choice, guiding the direction of a colony of social animals.  For example, we say the bees decided to relocate their nest behind the bush.

It is important to recognize that the soul and spirit are not material, because what is material can be divided.  Certainly, if we cut off someone's arm, we don't say that the decapitated limb is animated by the soul anymore.  Nor is the soul some diffuse gas in things, it is manifest in the unified activity of the body.  Once the arm is removed, it no longer participates in the unity.  A unity is not reducible to a part, because a part cannot govern the whole.  For example, there can be a political dictatorship, but the dictatorship will not function if a significant faction elects to disobey the dictator.  Only if all persons, or the members of the significant factions in country, submit to the dictator can the dictator remain in power.  Moreover, the unifying power is not material because it can be reconstituted and expanded.  For example, a child is small, and is composed of a certain group of cells.  Over time, the child grows, cells die and regrow, and the material composition and the form of the organism changes, yet the unity is preserved.  The order cannot be identified with the material composing the body, but with the unified activity of the material currently composing the body.  Likewise, a nation-state remains a nation-state, if it survives, two hundred years later, even though the political body composing the nation-state has been entirely replaced by a new set of citizens.  The form replicates itself in time, and has no inherent boundaries on its expansion, except those which it places on itself.  Because forms are not material, it is possible for a material thing to participate in multiple forms.  Individuals can share in a common spirit, even though each individual has an individual soul.  In this sense, we can understand the cosmos as simultaneously the will of the Supreme Spirit, God, as well as expressing the will of a particular nation or a particular individual in a specific context.  All things are guided by God, and all governments by a national spirit, and all individuals by their soul.  Each explanation involves the manifestation of a higher, more general, order, in which all things are ultimately unified within God. 

We are accustomed to saying that the organism is the result of their genes and their environment.  In this viewpoint, the morphology of an organism, and/or the behavior of an organism, is strictly an effect of material conditions.  In contrast, if we acknowledge the soul, and perhaps, the spirit, we are inclined to say that the morphology of an organism, or the behavior of an organism, represents the choices made by the organism.  Now, of course, all choice is bounded by material conditions, such as genes and environment, but we say choice because alternative possibilities lie before the organism, and choice is the unitary cause of the result.  For example, when we explain the results of a chess match, we say Kasparov made the winning move at this stage in the chess match.  Presumably, Kasparov's move was limited by the laws of physics, the rules of chess (derived from custom) as well as the historical developments of the pieces to that point in the actual game.  We do not explain the game by reference to how two genetic lines, influenced by certain environmental inputs, interacted through a determinant mechanical process which resulted in a necessary outcome.  What explains the unity of the many is its form, and the form is higher than each of the parts, and what explains the choice of forms is the will.  For example, the organism kills off its own cells in order to preserve the health of the organism, to preserve its own form. The reflects the will of the organism, and the natural inclination to sacrifice the defective individual part for the sake of preserving the unity, the form of the body.  Likewise, nation-states sacrifice their own citizens in wars for survival, to preserve their system of government and law.  There is no real question of surrender provided a leadership sees a conflict as potentially winnable under the right circumstances.  Citizens might dissent, but they generally lose the argument in the historical process.  Suicide is always possible, for an individual or a nation, but unnatural in the sense that any organic system that elects to kill itself removes itself as an influence on the future.  If you want your way of life to die out, stop breeding and refuse to fight for its preservation.  The present is defined by the past survivors, and the future will be defined by the present survivors.

There are three major political ideologies of the Nineteenth Century, which are all rooted in materialism as their governing political philosophy.  The first is based on Darwinism, that genes explain difference between organisms, and genes explain difference between groups of organisms.  In the natural order, the superior genetic line kills off the inferior.  Note that in this point of view, individual behavior is not the result of individual choice, but a result of an individual participating in a shared genetic inheritance with other individuals.  Thus, people are not classed based on individual behaviors, but are classed on the basis of shared genetic groups.  In other words, one's socially destructive behavior is a marker of an inferior genetic line.  (Society does not need to punish anti-social individuals, who being "hardwired" cannot help themselves, it needs to quarantine or eliminate anti-social behavior by eliminating the bearers of inferior genes.)  Under this view, the role of government is clearly to kill off the inferior genetic lines, which threaten the domestic tranquility and strength of the nation.  In this type of government, although the government is killing off individuals, it views and defines those individuals as bearers of general genetic lines.  That is, each individual has a biological, physical essence, which they share with other individuals that share the same essence (genetic lines).  Killing off the inferior genes can be accomplished in two ways.  One either creates a toxic and vice-ridden social order without public assistance, where the inferior are left to their own suicidal tendencies, and allowed to kill themselves off, straight up Social Darwinism.  The other, generally rooted in a racist ideology, calls for the active extermination of inferior genetic lines, which we find best expressed in Nazi Germany.

The alternative viewpoint is to regard human behavior as the effect of certain social environments.  For example, society is divided amongst social classes, and each class has its own "consciousness" of itself and its class values.  Thus, people are not individuals, and do not choose their values, but rather their beliefs and values are the mechanical result of certain material environments.  We find this point of view in political correctness, where the fact that one is of a certain privileged racial stock and sex defines what one thinks or perceives.  Diversity does not depend upon individual point-of-view or the content of one's thinking or one's character (as point-of-view and content is derivative from race/sex/class/orientation/etc.), but on promoting the works of people with the preferred racial and sexual variations.  In this view, all the evil in the world, instead of resulting from evil genetic material, is the result of evil social environments.  Likewise, in this view, killing off a class of people, such as the Bourgeoise, is not killing off individual souls but rather the destroying of an evil form of life, class privilege.  Thus, subscribers to the "environmental" theory of consciousness conceptualize individuals in terms of fixed essences, but attribute these essences not to genetics, but to fixed environmental influences.  This is the viewpoint of Marxist socialism and communism.

An older point of view can be understood in a traditional monarchy.  The laws are derived from custom and tradition, and are attributed to God.  The law comes from God (or the gods), and the people are defined by their reverence to the law.  The King plays the role of enforcing the law.  The subjects obey the law, but the person of the King, as subject, is subject to the law, and is charged with not subverting the law.  If the King subverts the law, then he or she becomes a tyrant.  Laws are defined by behaviors, and law-breaking is not attributed to collective evil in the subject, in the form of the subject's genes or environmental conditions, but are attributed to an evil will.  In this view, except in times of insurrection, justice is individualized, and individuals are punished not based on their membership in a class, but based on their free decisions to disobey the law. In contrast is the law of quarantine, in which individuals possessing a biological agent, or exposed and at risk of infection from a biological agent, are held in the custody of the state, and treated against their will or even destroyed, based on their biological status.  In a spiritual order, the individual chooses an inferior form, contrary to the law.  In a material order, in which anti-social or lawless behavior is an effect of either bad genetics or bad environmental influences, it is clear that it becomes necessary to replace the traditional notion of crime and punishment with the notion of the quarantine and the prison, the Gulag, and the concentration camp.  It is clear that a constituted political order has to make a decision with respect to laws, whether it will be rooted in irrational superstition, or modern and scientific.  A political order may be divided between citizens who believe in the soul, freedom, and choice, and those that believe that all human behavior is merely epiphenomena of matter and environment.  The State has to make a decision between punishing individual law-breakers, or rounding up members of politically-defined defective classes, placing them in concentration camps, and attempting to "re-educate" or "rehabilitate" them (the Marxist option as described in Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago) or destroying them (the Nazi option).  The State cannot be agnostic about whether men have souls, or whether bad behavior is merely an epiphenomena of bad genes and/or a bad environment.

In war, one country collectively punishes the citizens of another country as a result of the other citizen's membership in a rival national group.  There is nothing to prevent a warring nation from making distinctions within the opposing political order, between soldiers and civilians, for example, but this is ultimately defined by the warring rival.  The nation under attack does not have the right to define itself to its aggressor.  In fact, success in war grants the victor the right to re-define the vanquished (its territorial boundaries, its constitution, its economic obligations to the victor, its trade policies, etc.).  On the other hand, in internal affairs, traditionally all citizens are punished individually on the basis of their collective participation in the general class of national citizenship. Collective justice places membership in a sub-national political group above membership in the political class of citizens.  It is clear that if we believe in materialism, given the ethnic, racial, and class divisions within American society, this traditional ideal of individualized justice cannot be maintained, whether we are Neo-Nazi's or Marxists.  If there is no individual will, and no individual choice of form of life, then there can only be individualized manifestations of either genetic or environmental conditions.  There is no point in punishing a genetic machine, or in punishing the effect, the product of a defective social environment.  Since the material world determines human behavior, the solution to bad behavior is to destroy the material conditions giving rise to bad behavior.  This viewpoint sounds humane, until we recognize that the individual is part of the inferior material conditions, and is part of the system of its replication.  Thus, we should not be surprised that Communist repression generally matches or exceeds the repression of groups like the Nazi's or other forms of ultra-nationalist repression.  Matter is the principle of differentiation, and materialism is a political philosophy that is instrumental for dividing a polity along membership in racial, ethnic and class-based categories, and legitimating civil war (as manifest in collective justice enforced internally).

For materialism, the notion of individualized justice, and democracy (where the irrational masses "choose" their leaders) can only be an irrational fiction, like the notion of the soul or God.  For example, materialists support the mental health system, which exercises social control over the bodies of subjects based on their membership in a defined class, but reject the notion of individual punishment for engaging in immoral acts.  The fact that what is and what is not a mental health diagnosis (e.g. homosexuality, tobacco use, etc.) is the result of a political/institutional process does not bother the materialist.  The fact that the Roman Catholic Church promulgates definitions of sin based on a political/institutional process does not ultimately bother the materialist.  The problem with the Roman Catholic Church is that it addresses individual conduct, and its pronouncement are rooted in a particular shared cultural and historical framework.  That is to say, the power of the Roman Catholic Church today is restrained by the past, whereas the power of the American Association of Psychiatrists has no such limitation.  The battle between matter and the spirit today is not a battle about the nature of politics, as both sides are equally political, but a battle between a totalitarian conception of the absolute state, freed from any historic or cultural limits, and an ordered system of liberty, rooted in a historic and cultural self-conception.  Materialism, as a political philosophy, can only result in a legitimation of conditions of civil war or insurrection, because it cannot conceptualize a free individual or a coherent conception of individual rights.  (People who espouse materialism and individual rights, like Camus, find it necessary to maintain an absolute fragmentation between what we might call political reality and empirical reality, the Absurd, without noticing that it is politics and warfare which ultimately defines empirical reality.)  The idea of an individual acting as a rational agent and choosing his or her own path is expressly excluded by materialism, whether a neo-Darwinist reductionist version, or a Marxist dialectical materialist account.  Only if we affirm the ontological existence of an individual soul, and an individual capacity for sin, can we coherently have an individualized system of justice, and an order based on individual rights. 

Materialism and the decline of traditional religious belief can only ultimately give birth to totalitarianism and political repression, as materialism denies the ontological independence of individual choice, human moral agency.  If there is no individual choice, then there can be no system of laws based on individual choice, as human choice is undefinable.  (Ontologically, the observable behavior is the effect of the choice, and if we re-define behavior as caused by material conditions, then the concept of choice drops out of the conceptual framework as meaningful entity.)  Moreover, the idea of law as a received order, above and beyond the polity, can have no place.  The only law can be positive law, and the law has effect because it stems from a constituted power, and the constituted power consists only of an elite manifesting their group characteristics (race/ethnicity/class/sex).  Thus, power defines law, and there is no higher law than power.  (Ontologically, materialism fails because it cannot define power, which is only knowable through its effects, and which precluded by materialism just as the individual will is precluded.  But constituted power is the God of materialism, unknowable, undefinable but the source and end of all things.)  Materialism simultaneously undermines respect for law, respect for human limits, respect for human rights, and the possibility of a harmonious national order.  The only game for the materialist can be to get your people on top, and then eliminate your enemies.  There can only be laws based on membership within a politically defined group, and there can only be legal repression against enemy groups (whether the enemy is white racists or male sexists or evangelical Christians or Jews or homosexuals or fascists).  An agnosticism, where one says one thing, and where one does another thing, is not ultimately sustainable.  If people cannot exercise true choice, then the idea of a democracy is patently ridiculous.  After all, people lack a soul, an animate principle, and thereby lack ontologically independent choice (e.g. so-called choice is defined by material conditions), and there is no true purposes in nature (e.g no real choices), who cares what 50.1% of voters "choose" to act as their leader?  Why shouldn't government, naturally, be the province of the rational and enlightened scientists and philosophers who reject the superstitions of the masses and truly understand the ultimate truths about reality?  Why should these enlightened men and women have their hands tied by religion, legal traditions and customs, and other superstitions? If Sam Harris's view of the world is correct, why don't we abolish democracy and put the world in the hands of scientific experts, who through absolute dictatorial powers, can guide the development of the peoples of the world to a new rational scientific order.  If such as system has historically manifested in tyranny, then shouldn't we question the soundness of the conceptual framework underlying it?  I would submit that if materialism is true, then the ideal human order must be found in either Hitler or Stalin.  If one does not regard either Hitler or Stalin's government as the ultimate order, then one must reject the conceptual framework underlying both orders:  materialism.  Those of us who irrationally cling to democracy, liberty and individual rights, we should also cling to the metaphysical system from which these values have been derived and coherently articulated, that is, classical theism.  Philosophies are ultimately political systems, and the naive way in which modern philosophies are embraced, leaves much cause to question the future manifestations of politics in Europe and America.  A human being has to live, and a person has to choose a way of life.  Clearly, a person does not have to choose a philosophical framework consistent with the way they live, in fact, they can choose a philosophy which contradicts the way they live.  But over time, what we say and what we believe, if it contradicts our way of life, will erode our clarity about what we do.  We must pick a side, politically as there must be a system of laws, whether it is derived from natural law, Marxism or eugenics and racial theories.  We do ourselves no favors if how we live is inconsistent with what we say we believe.  As I stated in the beginning, what we really are is defined by what we really do.    


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Talk Naturally

Metaphysics for Aristotle was the study of being qua being.  For Aristotle, categories of language reflected fundamental structures, not so much in the world (for what can be in the world can also not be) but composing the world.  Today, most people speak of ontology, which the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines as the study "of what there is".  This definition is deceptive, because ontology is not really empirical (much as people want to claim it is), because it is not an empirical question as to whether abstract entities like the soul or numbers exist.  In fact, the question of what is an empirical question is not actually an empirical question itself, it is a question about the meaning of the concept "empirical", and the boundaries of this concept.

In so much as we seek a definition, we seek to draw a limit on a concept.  Divination is an empirical process:  you say the question, you say the invocation, you throw the coconuts or the tarot cards or whatever, and you interpret the answer.  But, of course, most people who insist on a strict definition of what is an empirical answer (which is bound up with what is an empirical question) are interested in excluding divination.  I do not point this out because I have any burning interest in including divination within the purview of what is an empirical answer, but to point out the vagueness in our use of the concept of empirical.  It is not that the results of divination are not empirically manifest, but rather that methods of divination are not based on an empirical method.

What are we doing when we say these methods are empirical and these methods are not empirical?  We are establishing a difference, in language, between two methods, and in so doing, we are giving the concept of empirical a meaning.  One can only speak of empirical methods, like experimental physics, because there are other methods, like tarot readings, which are not empirical methods.  Moreover, this process of creating identity and difference is not really an exercise in pure taxonomy.  For example, if we had a discussion about defining the identity of the master race, and distinguishing that race from the inferior races, this would not be merely creating a taxonomy of the human species.  Differences in language reflect differences in values.  We seek to make a distinction between empirical methods and non-empirical methods because we want to establish a hierarchy between empirical methods and non-empirical methods.  Moreover, this differentiation does not add to our knowledge of the empirical world, because it is not about empirical discovery, learning new facts about the world, it is about empirical classification--not the discovery of facts, but the ordering of facts.  Moreover, these classifications are not being made for personal edification, they are chiefly concerned with the creation of a political order, a system of power.  For example, one could imagine a government allocating money to fund empirical methods, and arguments being made about whether a method is or is not empirical by various interested parties.  So what is ontology, if not an political endeavor, an attempt to police language, with the end of reinforcing and/or undermining various social institutions, customs, and modes of speech.

I used the master race example for a reason, because it highlights the nakedly political aspect of ontology.  An ontology reflects not a description of "what there is", but a political vision of what should be.  Aristotle and Plato came to philosophy in large part based on their concerns about the management of the Greek city-state.  Aquinas's philosophy was rooted in a vision of the hegemony of the Catholic Church.  Rousseau's philosophy is rooted in the emergence of the nation-state.  Heidegger's work was in part about legitimating an ethno-nationalist state.  Contemporary philosophy, in Anglo-English countries, primarily concerns itself with the creation of a post-human, post-democratic order ruled by technocrats.  The problem of philosophy of mind concerns itself with suppressing alternative anthropologies to the view of human beings as biochemical machines.  Because matter can only act on other matter, whereas a being with a soul can act on itself (it is animated), materialism is ultimately an attack on democratic institutions and respect for individual rights.  After all, if an easily manipulated voting machine casts a ballot for a particular candidate, who cares?  It is simply following its program, and if it votes the wrong way, it simply needs to be re-programmed to vote correctly, or recycled if it can't be fixed.  Why respect the rights of so-called individuals, when individuals are nothing more than complex things, emerged from the primal slime?  Why not round up and shoot the defectors from the new scientific order in the name of Progress, the way we would wipe out an infectious disease?  

With materialism, matter acting on matter, and Darwinism, morphological and behavioral differences ultimately attributable to genetics, or the influence of environmental chemicals on gene expressions,  we end up with one solution to behavioral and political and cultural differences:  elimination of the inferior organisms.  The destruction or enslavement of the weak by the powerful.  After all, you are only your genes or your brain, or whatever material substrate you claim the real you consists in, and if you are a defective thing, it is only sentiment and religious superstition that prevents society from having you exterminated.  This can be accomplished through an extreme form of a capitalism, where the weaker organisms are given the means and the ability to kill themselves off, or through more direct, authoritarian means, like Nazi Germany.  If we retain materialism, but reject reductionism, we can embrace dialectical materialism, that systems or configurations of matter give rise to forms of life.  Here, the behavior of organisms do not reflect individual choices (something made up by Christians to provide ideological cover for capitalism) but rather economic configurations.  In this view, power flows from the unequal distribution of resources, and, therefore, if you concentrate power in the hands of an absolute dictatorship which then equally distributes the resources, power and hierarchy will naturally disappear and create a stateless society.  (In contrast, if the unequal distribution of material resources flows from an invisible ordering power, it would require increasing concentrations of worldly power to suppress the natural order of things in accordance with your strict egalitarian vision.)  Because configurations of matter determine spirit, changes in matter result in changes in spirit.  Although we never saw the complete withering away of the State in the Soviet Union, this is undoubtedly the fault of the perfidious capitalist counter-revolutionary forces (and not a corrupt metaphysical inversion leading to a failed social order).

The chief objection I have to materialism, whether in a reductive version (as expressed in the German National Socialist movement) or a holistic version (as expressed by Communism), is political.  I want a political system that acknowledges the dignity and worth of individual human beings, and a political system that acknowledges the value of human achievement in collective cooperation and sacrifice.  That is to say, in my ontology, I give primacy to the principle of soul, and view the body as the manifestation of the soul, and I give primacy to the principle of spirit, and view empirical configurations of political economy as the effects of a collective spirit.  This leads to a location problem for these invisible souls and spirits, which is to say that these souls and spirits must all be located in God, the source and creator of all things visible and invisible.  I say these things because I value Liberty and National Sovereignty, and I understand that Liberty and National Sovereignty cannot be conceptually disentangled from Soul and Spirit, and if Soul and Spirit are the causes, not the effects of matter, then for conceptual clarity, we need to understand Soul and Spirit as the effects of something greater, beyond the limit of intelligibility but the source of intelligibility (thus, the nature of the ultimate source of all things cannot be put into words).  My main method is the method of ordinary language, because our existing political order, which approximates a system of Liberty and National Sovereignty, is based on the ordinary forms of our language, our folkways and folk psychology, which manifest our national culture.    

On the other hand, I am greatly pessimistic about the future of both Liberty and National Sovereignty, because I understand that "scientific ontology" is displacing traditional metaphysics and theology in favor of forms of language that can only manifest in the form of a totalitarian state.  The only thing that gives me hope is that the people who are selling this "scientific ontology" do not seem to understand the logical and political consequences of what they are selling.  For example, the shift in our national discourse from the criminal prohibition of sodomy, a voluntary action, to the creation of a class of people with a status, homosexuality, which is now supposedly a genetic condition.  The gay rights debate has now been framed about the status of a collective group, constituted by an essential biological characteristic, and whether we as a society choose to be political friends or enemies with this group.  I believe that some folks on the Left see this as a positive social development, because they believe that it may be possible to have a political order which "friends" everyone, or that society can reach some political equilibrium where historically marginalized groups share equal power.  Of course, this is impossible, because political groups have adverse political interests, and aiding one group is always harming another.  Societies are always hierarchical (although absolute concentration of power, e.g. extreme power hierarchies, can create conditions of relative economic equality) and the drive to oppress is a universal characteristic of humanity, based on fear of the Other.  The Left, if they succeed, will simply put historically marginalized groups in charge, who are just as likely to abuse their power as their predecessors--one can merely look to the mixed results of decolonization in the world.  Will we get Zimbabwe or South Africa?  Is this a more worthy political objective than the historical goal of governing on behalf of the common good of of all?   

The cultural Left today does not disagree with the Nazi party regarding the existence of homosexuals, only on what to do with them.  What has been achieved is the creation of a political identity, membership in a political group, by virtue of an essential, biological characteristic, instead of merely being an individual who happens to engage in certain kinds of behavior.  Although I do not want to see sodomy laws re-instated, I would like to witness a deconstruction of the homosexual in my lifetime.  After all, while some people clearly have a strong behavioral predisposition to engage in homosexual acts (just as 90% of alcohol is consumed by 10% of drinkers), this behavioral predisposition does not line up in any absolute way with the behavior, given the numbers of bisexuals, and the number of people who switch from heterosexual relationships to homosexual relationships and the reverse.  Once society makes the transition from deviant acts to deviant identities, the ground is paved for either preferential treatment ("friends") or political repression ("enemies").  Since we are now friends as a society with homosexuals, we are increasingly gearing up to battle with religious traditionalists, our new domestic enemies, with long-term cultural and political consequences for the future political direction of our country.  One could even say that we now have a perfect political rationale for the State to conduct a kulterkampf against elements of our civil society that insist on independence from the new political order.

We can see this process in reverse in the case of pedophilia, in which society no longer condemns morally abhorrent acts, but morally abhorrent people, who by virtue of their identity status, some kind of behavioral propensity rooted in biology, can be subjected to indefinite civil commitment, e.g. lifetime incarceration in a special mental institution.  At least, so says our Supreme Court.  On the other hand, given the ways in which we have taken religious identity, racial identity, ethnic identity, and gender identity off the table, perhaps it is inevitable that we manufacture new forms of political identity, and create new political hierarchies based on the dolling out on one hand collective rewards, and on another hand, collective punishment.  I suspect these battles will justify the use of state power against those independent elements of civil society that insist on preserving traditional forms of culture and customs, instead of merely acting as mirrors of the ruling state ideology.  Rather than a system of Liberty based on the traditional virtues with a Sovereign Nation, we are moving to a system of Freedom based on politically validated modes of consumerism within a transnational system of capitalism.  Things defined by their consumption of other things and managed by technocrats, which our new ontology defines as naturally just "what there is".

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Beast

Man is, in his heart, a beast.  He rapes, he kills, he pillages, he destroys for gain, and he destroys for pleasure.  He spends hours, planning, plotting, ready at the right moment to take his chance.  His passions overflowing, without rhyme, reason, he strikes, brutally, even at those he claims to love.  These are not the characteristics of a few, some misguided souls, this is in the hearts of all, inexplicable, yet the source of all crimes and wickedness in the world.

Because man is a beast, a rational beast, he does what all rational people would do:  he places himself in a cage.  First, the Nation:  he places himself subject to law, and to the duties of citizenship.  Second, the Church:  he places not only his body, but his soul in the care of a higher law, and a higher set of duties demanded by God.  Third, work, marriage and the family: he places a bound on his fecundity, and its directionality, to cultivate and redeem.  Man cannot be brought to love, but he can be brought to a cage, and perhaps, by grace, he can begin to walk in love, to love his cage, his limitations, his obligations, and he has the possibility of transforming this beast that rages in his heart into something gentle, compassionate, just.  Our cage makes it possible to become bigger than what we are on our own.  Alone, we are savage beasts, but together, bound in mutual obedience, we can become civilized, compassionate, cultured, wise, and loving.

This is the true corruption of modernity, the belief that man can be something higher than man in the cage, that he can throw off his cage and find his true self.  Man's true self, his true image, comes in his acceptance of his limits.  To pretend he can transcend these limits invariably renders him bestial.  He invokes the good, the right, and the true to dispel the idea he can and should be limited.  Not only a beast, but a foolish one by all accounts.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Cotton Economy

Professor Gates on the Cotton Economy:

On the Economy of Slavery:

Mearsheimer, Revolution and the Will to Power

In The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, John J. Mearsheimer lays out certain principles that form of the basis of his theory of "Offensive Realism".  The first is the fact of international anarchy, that there is no worldly power that stands above the nation-state.  Vanquished nation-states that cannot protect themselves are at the mercy of the Victors.  Second, nation-states are faced with the uncertainty of the intentions of their rivals.  No nation can be secure that its enemies are not plotting against them, and so all nations must assume the worst.  The only way that a nation-state can confidently be secure is to amass a relative level of military and economic supremacy over its rivals.  Thus, invariably, each nation-state plots to increase its relative power over its enemies and competitors, that is to attain hegemony.  If a nation can achieve hegemony, it will be (relatively) safe so long as it lasts.  Because all nations are constantly competing against one another for military and political dominance, when the smoke clears, what emerges is an international balance of power.

Mearsheimer notes that the will to power is primarily a means to the end of survival.  Ironically, in a nuclear age, the means poses the risk of negating the end.  But it is important to note that a nation is motivated by a conservative interest, survival, not a revolutionary interest of usurpation.  This phenomenon can also be observed in sub-national groups.  The upshot is that those individuals with a revolutionary program must be mindful that most large groups or institutions will not be brought into the folds of a revolutionary struggle unless they perceive an existential threat to their existence from the status quo.  An expansionist nation-state that is perceived to threaten other nations will provoke an alliance against it for its defeat and/or containment.  Likewise, an elite group that, through their mismanagement of the affairs of state, succeeds in provoking a sense of existential threat in the wrong sub-national groups will place itself, and the stability of the nation-state, in great peril.  The choice of a domestic enemy is always a delicate one for a ruling elite, and it is not without accident that historically the public target is a relatively powerless one that the people can rally behind. A competent elite group that governs with restraint based out of a concern for the common good will court less resistance. 

          For example, the American civil war was fueled by the anxieties of white laborers created by the expansion of slavery into the territories.  White laborers feared the "outsourcing" of paid labor to slaves would erode the economic conditions of white laborers, reducing them in effect to wage slaves.  The Dred Scott decision rendered by the Supreme Court reaffirmed these anxieties, that the Court and the Federal Government would support the big banks financing the slavery system and the capitalist slave owning class (slaves being capital goods) at the expense of workers.  Had the Federal Government been more effective in restraining the roll out of the plantation economy into the territories, the Civil War might have been averted.  As Lincoln coyly noted, "this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free."  The sub-text of his message was that if the expansion of slavery into the territories was not stopped, white laborers would be reduced to slaves.  These existential anxieties that gave rise to the Free Soil movement, the Republican party, the election of new political leadership, and ultimately, America's bloodiest war, a class struggle between labor and capital. The civil war was not fought to free the slaves, but to prevent the expansion of an inhuman economic system beyond the Southern States.

          Likewise, the Communist Manifesto played upon the same anxieties of labor.  Marx predicted that Capital would converge into centralized monopolies, dominate the media, legislatures and government policy, and work to maximize profits and control and to reduce wages to a pittance.  Marxism obtained its rhetorical power not from its promise of a future class-less society founded on total equality, but by playing to worker fears of being permanently trapped in poverty and debt, working jobs which did not even pay enough for adequate food and shelter.

          Returning back to the national level, Communism, in the developing world, gained an increasing foothold in the Twentieth Century due to its capacity to rapidly industrialize traditional societies, and allow them to catch up with the West.  Because industrial production is inherently linked to the capacity to mobilize armies, Communism allowed developing countries a means to resist the dominance of European and American powers.  Today, the Beijing Consensus provides a similar, but more efficient, platform for development. 

         In many ways, Marxist theory fails because it never took the notion of national sovereignty seriously.  The model of the Marxist revolution is, in effect, a civil war, a nation tearing itself into two.  Further, Marx, naively, conceived of workers developing an international class consciousness, whereby an assembly line worker in West Virginia would feel strong solidarity with an assembly line worker in Bangladesh, notwithstanding enormous differences in ethnicity, language, customs and religion.  As attractive as Marx's conception is for university students, such behavior has seldom, if ever, been observed in the real world.  Stalin, in his style of ruthless pragmatism, set to rectify this limitation, incorporating nationalistic elements into Soviet communism and even pushing the notion of a Pan-Slavic unity in Eastern Europe, at least until his falling out with Tito.  Stalin understood that although a revolution necessarily entails a destruction of national unity, the post-revolutionary phase necessitated the resurrection of a new national body.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reason and Revelation

From our discussion of might and right, we can come to some understanding of the proper relationship between reason and revelation.  History is the incarnation of meaning in the realm of fact.  History is distinguishable from a mere chronicle in that it attempts to impose a system of organization on a set of factual occurrences.  A good history makes the facts intelligible, a bad history, to maintain its coherence, must sacrifice the facts.

We are born to particular parents at a particular time in a particular culture.  We learn a particular language.  We live in a particular neighborhood.  We may belong to a particular ethnic or religious group.  We belong to, from an anthropological perspective, a particular race.  We do not choose any of these facts, they are arbitrary or providential depending on our perspective.  Memory is not solely a characteristic of an individual.  A language is collective, and within a language, speakers share a sense of collective meaning.  Similarly, the same is true of religious or ethnic customs.  To be born a human, a social and political animal, is to be born into a particular system of collective meaning and memory.  From a biological perspective, human beings are more or less the same.  From a social and political perspective, human beings are fundamentally different.  For example, consider different culture attitudes toward child marriage or eating dog meat or marriage between siblings.  Imagine a small community composed of secular Western educated feminist vegans living side by side with a tribal people who regarded eating dogs to be a delicacy and marrying off twelve year old girls to prosperous middle aged men a good way to provide a stable life.  These two forms of life cannot be reconciled:  one group must dominate the other and impose their way of life on the other.

Our form of life, in the first instance, is not chosen, it is entirely a historical accident.  There are a plurality of forms of life, and never, in the history of the world, has one form of life succeeded in attaining hegemony.  There is no a priori means of judging between forms of life.  I say this as dogma, but it may warrant a return in a subsequent post--simply treat it as a hypothesis if you disagree.  What we can say, as a description of history, is that forms of life compete with each other for power.  Moreover, to say "form of life" implies a condition of stasis which is absent.  Forms of life transform in the struggle for power and survival.  Augustine spoke of rational seeds, rationale seminales, essentially dynamic processes enacted in history.  Like plants, forms emerge, grow in strength, decay and weaken, and eventually die off.  Languages and religions die out.  Governments collapse.  Techniques of production disappear.  The sands of time consume everything.

In history, we engage in a type of comparative morphology, looking dialectically at similarities and dissimilarities between historical processes.  We start from historical accident, and we order these accidents in terms of forms, and we make discursive judgments based on the comparison of forms.  In so doing, we consider the meaning of history.  One arche, or first principal, for looking at the history of anthropos is the notion of original sin.  The origin of the idea of original sin is obviously a historical accident, but the use of the concept of original sin lies in its explanatory power, its capacity to make historical facts intelligible.  Likewise, we can see certain general cultural traits, such as courage or industriousness, emerging in forms of life through historical accident, but giving rise to cultural success in the struggle for dominance and hegemony.  A courageous and industrious people will have a will to fight, and the resources to fight, and will triumph over a cowardly and lazy people.  This is not to say that all members of group A are courageous and industrious, and all members of group B are cowardly and lazy, but rather that group A, in general, is more virtuous than group B.

According to Carl Schmitt, politics is based on a distinction between friends and enemies.  To be a member of a political group is to define internal friends and enemies and external friends and enemies.  Domestic politics is a struggle to dominate internal enemies, and international politics is an attempt to dominate external enemies.  All complex societies are controlled by an elite, managed by a bureaucracy, and most people are subjects of the state.  Domestic politics involves a struggle between factions for dominance.  Those in charge want to stay in charge, and those who harbor ambition seek to displace the current elite, usually through alliances with disaffected elements of the bureaucracy and the masses.  Likewise, the same may be said of the struggle between nations, those seeking to maintain the balance of power, and the usurpers.

The basic human dynamic principle is, as Nietzsche noted, the will to power.  This principle does not drive all people, but it drives all political struggle.  Because the attainment of power means the capacity to legislate, the legal rules, the defined right, is always parasitic on constituted power.  Thus, we have a basis for ethical considerations, namely, those customs and practices which create a vibrant and dynamic political life and which are conducive to the creation and preservation of a stable order of power, such as the Roman Republic or the Byzantine Empire.  These would be virtues per Aristotle, and would not be deduced from autonomous reason, but reveled in history.  From this viewpoint, wisdom would consist in the practical application of the virtues to present circumstance, and philosophy could not be ultimately distinguished from statecraft.  To the extent the philosopher possessed wisdom, and guided the ship of state successfully, the state would flourish.               

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Don Colacho Aphorisms

"Nothing upsets the unbeliever as much as defenses of Christianity based on intellectual skepticism and internal experience."     --   Don Colacho Aphorism 2961

"The Gospels and the Communist Manifesto are on the wane; the world’s future lies in the power of Coca-Cola and pornography."   --  Don Colacho Aphorism 2983

"Historical events stop being interesting the more accustomed their participants become to judging everything in purely secular categories.  Without the intervention of gods everything becomes boring."  --  Don Colacho Aphorism 2953

"Why deceive ourselves? Science has not answered a single important question."  --  Don Colacho Aphorism 2919

"Modern man lost his soul and is no longer anything but the sum total of his behaviors."   --  Don Colacho Aphorism 2904

See Link:

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Law Redux

"Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach."   --Heb. 10:1.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Power and Law: Might and Right

We speak of power, which comes to us from the Latin "potentia", which is also the source of our word, potential.  Power is potential from this perspective.  Power is related to decision.  There are many options, many potentials, but the one with power decides what is to be.

We also encounter these terms in physics, where power is not potential.  Potential energy, the rock on the cliff face, has the possibility of falling and translating its potential in kinetic energy.  The rock has potential energy, but of its own power, it has no capacity to fall.  Someone has to choose to roll it off the cliff.  Power in physics, on the other hand, is the ratio of work over time (work, of course, being the exertion of force over a distance).  It relates to the rate of energy consumption.  When the rock falls, it falls due to the power of gravity.

It is interesting that one reads a good deal of political philosophy, especially the Anglo-English drek, which gives no thought to the concept of political power.  I suspect because we find physical power so widely accepted, we fail to see anything different about political power.  It is the same word after all, so why be suspicious.  But let's consider the loaded gun pointed in the face.  The trigger is pulled.  Death results.  It's not the same when the jury comes back with a verdict of death, is it?  There are appeals, requests for new trials, habeas corpus proceedings.  But let's say the highest court comes down affirming death.  The convict awaits execution, meets with the priest, smokes his last cigarette (unless he is in an American prison), the electric chair is charged, but then at the last moment, the Governor's Office calls and commutes the sentence.  That is power, political power, quite a different thing from physical power.  The Governor makes a decision, makes a call, the life is spared.

But we can think about this situation also.  What if the Warden gets the call and proceeds with the execution anyways?  Perhaps he or she does not tell the others the truth.  Perhaps the Warden reveals that the call was from the Governor, commuting the sentence, but orders the execution to proceed anyway.  If the guards comply with the Warden, then the Warden has the power.  If the guards refuse, then the Governor has the power.

We have to ask where the sense of should arises from?  Should the guard follow the Warden's command or should they follow the Governors?  How would history have shifted if the soldiers had pointed their guns in the other direction?  Note there is no should for the bullet proceeding out of the barrel of a gun.  Political power requires authority and obedience.  It is not enough to issue a command, there must something (although there is nothing in fact) behind the command, something that compels another to follow it.  A governor, a warden, these are just people in roles, and the roles are simply defined by the players.  There is not even a real director.  The roles can be changed or exchanged, not at will, but through collective transformation.  There is no solidity in the whole thing, beyond reverence for custom and tradition.

Charisma is the word that is related to this quality of leadership and authority.  People say charismatic leader, meaning that one follows out of a sense of personal loyalty versus under the acknowledgment of a social defined duty.  We can ask, what is charisma, where does it come from?  We can note there is no comparable concept in physics, unless we look to the magnetic field.  How does a person generate a magnetic field?  Whatever we wish to say about government and politics, can we have any doubt that, at least in its most primitive form, politics has always been founded on this capacity of charisma.  

Political scientists speak about legitimacy.  But what is legitimacy?  I presume a government is legitimate if a functionary of the government, issuing an order that they are authorized to give, issues the order and it is obeyed without question.  If orders are issued and ignored or secretly thwarted, then there is clearly a lack of confidence in the functionary.  Likewise, if any and all orders issuing from a government are ignored or thwarted, the government suffers from a lack of legitimacy.

A political system creates a network by which human beings can cooperate and accomplish collective objectives without thinking or deliberation.  Clearly, the leadership decides on the objectives, with or without deliberation or reflection, but the bureaucrats carry out the orders (perhaps with resistance) and the subjects bear the brunt of the operations of state (taxes, imprisonment, conscription, etc.).  Given that all complex political systems are hierarchical, the few decide on behalf of the many, and the many carry out the instructions.  Further, many more are the passive objects of administration.  Pseudo-Dionysius, in describing the Divine Bureaucracy, assigns three layers (each composed of three layers).  On one level, you need deciders, implementers, and subjects.     

The system works well if there is a sense of identification between the ruling class and the subjects.  If the subjects believe that the rulers have their best interests at heart, they will follow without resistance.  On the other hand, if the subjects believe that their rulers are corrupt or acting against their interests, grumblings, unrest, and even insurrection may rise up.  We have only to consider the Whiskey Rebellion in American History to see this principle at work.  Because political systems are always hierarchical, there is always the need for coercion to make the system function.  The ruling class must have carrots as well as sticks to insure compliance.

Because elites, being elites, inevitably resort to enriching themselves at the expense of the people, and the people, being the people, inevitably begin to bear resentments against the elites, there is an inherent level of paranoia and mutual suspicion in the system, between all levels of the political system.  At the same time, more or less publicly, there is a public proclamation of mutual agreement and sympathy, some of which may be legitimately felt and expressed.  However, in the core of their being, every elite knows and realizes that the day may come when they may be perceived as "fungible", and if their exit is on bad terms, the results may be bloody.  In fact, the more repression the elite deals out to keep the masses in fear, the more likely that the inevitable transfer of power will prove ugly.

But in so much as there is human cooperation, there is the reality of power, and the power belongs to the deciders within the measure of their discretion.  One way that power is expressed is in the positive enactment of laws.  As Carl Schmitt pointed out, legitimacy precedes legality.

One view of the nature of justice is that power is justly exercised when it conforms to positive law, and unjust when it ignores the law.  This understanding may be fine and well, but we must be led to understand that power always enacts the law (or the constitution) in the first instance, power always executes or applies the law, and power always decides whether its application conforms with the written requirements.  Paper rights may in theory protect against tyranny, but paper rights inevitably leave the fox guarding the hen house.  The rule of law may exist in the practical sense of a consistency in legal outcomes, but it results not from the articulation of vague general principles, but from respect and reverence of government functionaries for the traditions and customs of the Republic.  The progressive "expansion of rights" is, in effect, the progressive destruction of the constitutional order.

The so-called "expansion of rights" argues for the abrogation of long-standing practices in favor of the creation of new practices.  The rationale is generally some abstract general principle, but in actual fact, an abstract general principle that was understood one way, e.g. as consistent with an existing form of practices, is now re-conceptualized to forbid existing practice.  Rather than, as claimed, the rule of law restricting the operation of power, in actual fact, these revolutions effectuate the rule of power over the rule of law.  On the other hand, this may be how it should be, or rather, how it always is in practice.  Expansion of rights tracks the expansion of centralized power and control over subjects.

If we leave our analysis at the level of the world, then we can see that might always makes right, because might in the ultimate analysis defines right.  If we stay at the level of agnosticism or atheism, then we must come to realize that the only ultimate reality is power, which in turn defines truth, justice and morality.  The question of whether creation science or evolution is taught in school, for the consistent naturalist, must ultimately come down to which faction possesses control over the national government.  The question of what should be taught serves only as a litmus test over which faction one belongs to.  After all, truth can only be understood as a function of which system of ideas obtains hegemony over the noetic territory. 

Let us entertain an alternative notion.  What if right precedes might?  On one level, this is absurd.  Might always precedes what is defined to be right.  If we speak of right here, we must be speaking of Right, which is by nature undefinable.  If Right could be defined, it would be limited, subject, to worldly might.  Let us suppose that Right exists.  In this case, might could be judged with reference to an undefinable norm of Righteousness.  If might conforms to Right, it is just.  If it deviates, to the extent that it does deviate, it is unjust.  Further, since all positive laws define Right, which is by nature undefinable, it is clear that might must always deviate from true Right.  In other words, life isn't fair.

But what purpose does Right serve?  Say might grossly deviates from Right.  Right has no power.  In order to have power, there must also be Might, an undefinable power, which enforces Right.  But how could this Might and this Right, combined, act in the real world, where might is might and defines right.  If Might and Right exist in combination, then these principles must be incarnate, however so inchoate, in history.  Where might and right coincide with Might and Right, a Nation flourishes.  Where might and right deviate from Might and Right, a Nation flounders and falls into ruin.  The first is the just realm, the second a tyranny.  Here we also encounter Goodness and Truth.  The True, the Good, survives.  The false and wicked destroys itself.  The more wicked the order, the faster it implodes.

What this presupposes is a (super)natural limit on any political order.  Worldly might can define the truth for itself, but worldly might withers in the Sun of Justice, which passes judgment and damnation down upon it.  I am forced to conclude that the existence of Might and Right provides a more intelligible way of viewing human history, morality, and politics, than merely confining our analysis to the positive fact of a constituted power and a positive law.  Moreover, if I am right, then my analysis, even if presently unfashionable, will ultimately prove victorious.  On the other hand, if I am wrong (whatever that means to the mighty), my views might still find favor with might, and ultimately prevail.  In contrast, my opponents views are either destined to be proved demonstrably wrong, or in the alternative, they can only prevail by virtue of a political struggle, the outcome of which to date is uncertain.    

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Buddhism and Christianity

The major conceptual distinction (as I understand it) between Madhyamika Prasangika and Classical Theism is that in general, Classical Theism affirms the existence of a Something which we can ultimately say nothing about, and Madhayamika Pransangika affirms the existence of nothing which we ultimately end up saying something about.  This distinction can only be resolved, or dissolved, in silence.

The Containment Problem

Let us return to beauty and consider a possibility: Beauty unseen bestows on the world beauty in varying proportion, and the things of the world which we take as beautiful possess no beauty in themselves.  If this were so, then everything in the natural world would be perceived as an admixture in relative proportion of beauty and ugliness, even though beauty was not in fact an actual material ingredient of anything in the world.  I would now like to consider the definition of the beautiful.  How would we define the beautiful as we find it in the natural world?

We would have to divide the world into the beautiful things and the ugly things.  But we if have supposed that everything contains an admixture of the two, this would amount to the drawing of an arbitrary line somewhere on a scale of contrasts (like the definition of a color).  We would then define based on the relative difference, the ratio, between what we took as beautiful and what we took as ugly.  In so doing, we would treat beauty, which was a gift freely bestowed on all, as a possession, the property of the few.  There are two problems with this view.  First, another would undoubtedly draw the line differently, resulting in a new definition, a contrary definition from mine.  Second of all, one investigating this magical property of the few would be incapable of finding any specific property in the few which gave rise to the beauty.  For example, we could construct a physical description of the Mona Lisa, and perhaps program a three dimensional printer to make facsimiles of the Mona Lisa that are indistinguishable to the naked eye.  Yet nowhere in our description or the algorithm would be a description of the quality of beauty. One might conclude that the obvious, the beauty of the world, did not exist as it could not be defined or scientifically measured.  (You know what I mean, so don't tell me beauty is subjective.  The attribution of beauty in a particular context is a judgment call, similar to a strike in baseball.  It's not subjective when an Umpire makes a terrible call.)

Another problem is that our approach is static.  There are constantly emerging new forms of beauty in the world, and it is unclear whether they would meet our definition based on history.  We would then have fights about the application of our definition, even if we could agree on one, which I submit we can't.

This is the containment problem.  If beauty is a natural property of things in the natural world, then beauty should be definable and the subject of scientific investigation, like electricity.  The existence of beauty is both obvious, even to a little child, and a source of immense value to people across cultures and time.  To deny the existence of beauty sounds a bit like one's dogma ran over one's karma.  We can say that beauty is "subjective"--that most "subjective" of categories--but that leaves the mystery of why people are able to reach collective agreement on relative judgments of beauty such that the term has a stable collective meaning and can be understood across individuals and languages and cultures.

The only way to make the existence of beauty intelligible is to suppose that in fact its not the world that contains beauty, but that the Beautiful contains the world, and in perceiving beauty, we do not in fact witness the property of a thing, but the diffuse radiance of the source of all things.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Pascal on Might and Right

"It is right to follow the right, it is necessary to follow the mighty.

Right without might is helpless, might without right is tyranical.

Right without might is challenged, because there are always evil men about.  Might without right is denounced.  We must therefore combine right and might, and to that end make right into might or might into right.

Right is open to dispute, might is easily recognized and beyond dispute.  Therefore right could not be made mighty because might challenged right, calling it unjust and itself claiming to be just.

Being unable to make right into might, we have made might into right."

Pascal, Pensees

The Son of Justice

From a Wikipedia entry on Joseph de Maistre:

"SoirĂ©es de St. PĂ©tersbourg ("The Saint Petersburg Dialogues", 1821) is a theodicy in the form of a Platonic dialogue, in which Maistre argues that evil exists because of its place in the divine plan, according to which the blood sacrifice of innocents returns men to God, via the expiation of the sins of the guilty; Maistre saw this is a law of human history, as indubitable as it is mysterious."  
In previous entries, we have discussed matter as the principle of differentiation.  Material things are capable of discrete separation and as such, are capable of quantitative measure and definition.  Furthermore, quantity always entails the comparison of two things, a measuring stick and the object measured, so identifying how much something is a function of a dyad.  Measurement does not reveal the quantity of a thing, it reveals the relationship of a thing to another.  That is to say, definition, the identity of material things, depends on difference. 

We have a number of words which express dualities.  We speak of good and evil, truth and falsehood, beautiful and ugly.  To the extent that these concepts take material instantiation, we are defining things on the basis of difference.

If we take this reasoning to the political level, if we talk about Republicans and Democrats, Black and White, Native and Immigrant, 1% versus the Many, Northern or Southern, Straight or Gay, Liberal and Conservative, Protestant and Catholic, etc., we have to realize that the groups denoted by these labels must be perceived as different communities of belonging in order for this discourse to be meaningful.  To transcend all differences based on religion, class, race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, etc. means to subtract all meaning from these identity tags.  The translation of this vision into a political space is to imagine a collectivity composed of people who lack any stable sense of identity or belonging, mindless inter-changeable parts, literal nothings.  To be among your own people (as you define them) is to be apart from the other.  Further, we can suppose that if all contemporary identity tags were rendered meaningless by political and social development, because of the basic human need for belonging, new groups based on new identity tags would emerge (junkies and straight edge, tattoos and the uninked, old and young, English and Spanish).

To put this another way, political identity is based on a distinction between friends and potential enemies.  Politics occurs in the space in which groups form alliances and compete against each other, oppose each other, and declare one another enemies.  Political struggle inevitably occurs amongst domestic and foreign enemies.  If you want to decode someone's political orientation, ask yourself who are their domestic and international enemies--who are they trying to oppose or to legislate against?  Eventually, politics breaks down, the contradiction becomes intolerable, and war, the negation of the other, transpires.  Further, if we believe in a just order, we may even celebrate warfare if the war is fought to prevent tyranny or the ruthless domination of one group over another.  But it is in the nature of warfare that innocents will be killed.  Soldiers and civilians may live under a tyrant, but these individuals are not necessarily evil and wicked, and certainly not justly deserving of death even if they die under the banner of a tyrant.  As Hemingway stated, "Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime."

The roots of warfare lie in the manifestation of the word.  The emergence of the word divides brother against brother, tribe against tribe, nation against nation.  The inevitability of tyranny and warfare ensues from human greed and lust for power, one group or one nation insisting on domination over another group.  This is the natural result of language conjoined with human wickedness.  It can never be legislated away.  Eventually, the slaves or the peasants or the workers revolt, or the elite stage a coup, or the foreign invaders see a nation divided and weak.  Human history is a story of corruption, greed for wealth and power, and class-based over-reaching, ultimately leading to the shedding of the blood of innocents.  Moreover, no state of political justice in the world has ever been achieved without the shedding of blood, whether we look at the civil rights movement, Indian independence, the Civil War, the American Revolution, or the Exodus of the Israelites from the land of Egypt. 

The existence of the soul can be viewed as principally a political question.  If humans have no soul, if humans are simply material things, then the only possibility for the species is a form of politics inevitably giving way to war and bloodshed.  No true justice is ever achievable, the death of innocents is meaningless, and justice a mockery.  The only truth for the worldly order is constituted power and death.  On the other hand, if human beings contained within their essence something immaterial, indivisible, and omnipresent, then the human species contains the possibility of achieving a unity and a harmony not based on numerical identity and difference, but above identity and difference.  Unity not through the destruction of difference, but unity within our difference.  We could call this quality Justice, and we would note that it is this quality which is most clearly revealed in our hearts when we witness the shedding of the blood of innocents.  We might go as far as to say Justice becomes incarnate in the innocent man going to his execution.  His death is necessary as the price paid for our collective sins.  And if we truly seek Justice, we must be prepared to follow him.  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Life Matters

There are two ways to look at descriptions and representations.  One way is to imagine that a description or a representation functions like a portrait, that it captures the likeness of the object of the portrait.  Now, certainly, a portrait is a kind of representation, and we could imagine that a diary might provide something like a written portrait of someone's mind.  This is obviously a metaphor, but the metaphor works.

But not all descriptions or representations are intended to be likenesses.  For example, a legal description in a deed does not give us a likeness of the parcel conveyed, it is intended to clearly specify the reference of the deed.  Rather than a portrait, a good deed functions like an index finger, telling us "that real estate."  An architectural rendering is an interesting case.  In some sense, we are interested in the representational value of the rendering.  We want to visualize how the flow of the building may or may not work.  But on the other hand, blueprints serve another function, they help the crew constructing the building to know how to proceed.  Thus, a description might variously show us what an object is like, help us to find where an object is, or even tell us what to do.  It is important to note that a description or a representation might be nothing like its object, but might still tell us how to find the object, and how to go about getting there. 

For me, I start from the supposition that human life matters, by which I mean that I believe that all our choices, no matter how insignificant, matter in the ultimate scheme of things.  This belief may be criticized as irrational.  The sun is due to burn out in five billion years, and all life as we know it on Earth will be dead.  Will it ultimately matter that Hitler murdered millions of people?  Can we say that it would ultimately have been better if Hitler spent his life striving for world peace and not world war?  I fall in with those who choose to say it does matter, that all our lives matter ultimately.

But what does it mean to say all our lives matter ultimately?  Ultimately, life as we know it will cease to exist, the sun will burn out, the universe may experience heat death.  It is clear that when I speak of the ultimate, it cannot be the ultimate in the domain of facts.  What I mean is that based on the choices we make in our lives, we will face ultimate reward or ultimate punishment.  This reward or punishment will not happen within the space of facts, but in the after-fact or after-life.  I am, of course, speaking of the reality of Hell.

Why do I write of the reality of Hell?  This sounds very old fashioned, and may strike some as evidence of intellectual or mental decline.  But the bottom line is this:  our lives can only have ethical meaning if our lives have some kind of ethical consequence.  Rather than absolve us of some great burden, the denial of Hell divests our lives of great meaning.  If there is no Hell, then in what sense has Hitler been held accountable for his choices?  What distinguishes him from Gandhi, ultimately?  Why would one follow Gandhi over Hitler if it does not matter in the end?  Ironically, the denial of Hell, rather than spare us, condemns us to live lives from the point of view that our lives ultimately don't matter.  It takes Hell from its location beyond mortal life, and makes mortal life the realization of its condition.  It is better to try and fail than live a life devoid of hope.

In the oldest conception, the question of heaven and hell is nothing more than the expression of the relationship of a soul with God.  Heaven is communion with God, and in Hell we choose ex-communication.  If God is love, then to live with a view toward heaven is to live in communion with love.  Heaven may be impossible here, but intimations of heaven are.  Certainly, cruelty, despair, hatred, envy, these are all possible, and give us visions of alternative human possibilities.

So what does it mean to say that one believes in the reality of God and God's judgment, and the reality of heaven and hell?  The mode of God's being, to my understanding, is inconceivable.  Whatever heaven and hell might be, they are surely not actual places anywhere.  Certainly, we have mental images, of court rooms, of burning landscapes with tortured souls, of angelic choirs and light.  But there can be no issue of these images "corresponding with reality."  There can be no question of proof in these matters.

What I am talking about is a specific attitude that one takes to life.  The purpose of the pictures was never to describe some metaphysical castle in n-space.  The purpose of the pictures is to orient us in the world, and to direct us in how to live.  Perhaps in walking this path, we begin to understand the truth which we are called to, this truth that is a higher truth, beyond a world of mere facts and trivialities.  A truth written in the heart, not in text books.  But not something that can be written out to the satisfaction of geometers.  The truth of faith.

The question of attitude is a question of choice.  We can live our lives as if they don't matter, or we can live our lives as if they do.  Nothing can ever prove, one way or the other, whether our lives have value, except perhaps ourselves.  So why do we deny Hell?  Why do we embrace meaninglessness?  The reality of salvation is something that can be experienced in this life.  Why do we choose to turn away from it?  What are we running from. . . if hell does not exist?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


"What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that remains is the empty print and trace?  This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself."  -Pascal