Saturday, August 15, 2015


It was in the darkness that I first glimpsed your face:
                 I didn't recognize you, couldn't recognize you
                            only focused on my condition.

I didn't equate the darkness with the light of dawn,
                 The evening star was not the morning star
                           at that point in my journey.

I was lost, untethered, and couldn't see the stars for what they were:
                  fixed points to guide ships.

                            The idea of a fixed point brought venom to my mind, as if
              the very notion of a pole star was incompatible
with the freedom of the untethered ship.

I saw their light - this I cannot deny, but
               I didn't know what to do with it,
                        It was just a fact, like another pile of socks on the bathroom floor.

Could the dawn and the blackness of night, clouds on velvet sky, be one?

Peering into the abyss, digging deeper into the darkness,
              one day it all collapsed in blindness,
                    wandering like a fool without comprehension,
                            without words, without coherent thought, stumbling, stumbling. . .

Running away, like a boy escaping a ribbon tacked to his pants,
              You were tacked to my heart but I rejected you, fled you.

The monster is the sun.

There is identity:

The King orders his own Execution.

No one can understand because it passes all understanding, paradox,
                   broken bits of glass all gleaming, gleaming from the same light.

To escape, to go away, to descend, to see and experience the worthlessness of all things,
                   betrayal, humiliation, destruction, thousands of times, over and over

With your face pressed against the glass and yet simultaneously with the pain,
            the lacerations, the blood, the tears all running down like rain on that cold spring morning.

Till nothing but bone remains, to bleach white in the sun and decompose on a forest floor
            till winter hides the scene and spring blossoms into forgetfulness and merriment.

A merry world but hollow and bored, hollow and bored to the bones where wisdom is cliche
             and becomes indistinguishable from toothpaste slogans.

But you are here too, most invisibly, clinging like glass to a window pane.
             I can't see you but only through you, aching with the absence, hidden presence.

When did the stars become fixed?  How did the ship find its course finally,
           steered ever so ineptly by one who once dreamed of becoming a captain (at a very young age).

There seems to be more rocks on the coastline, and more storms at sea to make it impossible
          that this small ship can ever return to port, to go home, to return to the heart
                      that was lost and broken by blows and bitter tears and
                                 taunting voices that still echo down deserted corridors.

Can it be that in going home, one is already, mysteriously, home in some fashion already?

The boat is put in its course and it is home, and if only the captain thinks of home with his entire
              lonely heart, then the blood will pump and the hand will remain steady through the night.

To die on the return journey is to know, truly, the City in which you belong.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Limits of Representationalism

There is a classical problem in Antiquity in geometry, the problem of the squaring of the circle.  The basic problem is whether a square can be constructed that has the same (not approximate) area of a circle.

In 1882, the Leidermann-Weierstrass Theorem established that Pi is a transcendental irrational number--not only is Pi irrational, e.g. inexpressible as a series of repeating rational integers, but that the square root of Pi cannot be a solution to a quadratic equation with rational coefficients.  [For example, the square root of 2 is the solution to x^2 = 2, so the square root of two is not transcendental.]  Note that the square of an irrational number can give rise to either an irrational number or a rational number, for example, the square root of two, while irrational, when squared equals two, whereas the square root of pi gives rise to an irrational number.  [In 1761, Johann Lambert Heinrich proved that pi was irrational, and speculated that pi was transcendental, but this was not proved until over a century afterwards.]  [Note: to be accurate, if Pi is transcendental, then no root of Pi (square, cubed, etc.), to whatever integer power, will yield a rational number.]

The geometric point in all of this is that one can geometrically construct a square with an area of 2.  One takes a line segment two unit long, and makes a right triangle with its apex in the center of the line segment.  Using the Pythagorean (a^2 + b^2 = c^2), where the two sides are the same length (x^2 + x ^2 = 4  transforms to 2 * x^2 = 4 transforms to x^2 = 2, and x = sqrt (2).)  As above, one constructs a similar triangle below, resulting in a square with an area of two.  Interestingly, the points on the square, although they can be represented, cannot be assigned any exact Cartesian coordinates as the length of the line segment is irrational.  The approximate value of the square root of two is 1.41, but you can see that the next digit (4) lies between 1.41 and 1.42.  Because the series is irrational, and can never be expressed as a repeating sequence of rational numbers, there is always another digit, and the position of a line of length sqrt 2 can never described precisely, even though we can draw it.  However, in the case of a square with the area of Pi, no such square can be described, because Pi is irrational, and so the figure cannot be constructed.      

The consequence of this result is that the area of a circle cannot be expressed as either a square or even a sum of squares (although we could approximate it through a fractal structure of recurring squares decreasing in size, which would have to "proceed to infinity" to capture the area of a circle).  Likewise, a curved line can never be represented by a series of straight lines (although it can be approximated by a series of ever diminishing line segments).

Now, there are at least two forms of symmetry in nature, curvilinear and linear symmetry.  We can represent a line in space with Cartesian coordinates (x,y), and construct linear equations for such structures, which represent such structures (ax + b = 0).  Likewise, we can use polar coordinates (an angle and a length of radius) to describe curved structures in space (r*(phi) = a).  Because the circle cannot be squared, a curvilinear representation can never be analytically translated into a Cartesian representation (draw a circle on your etch-a-sketch).  While a point in space can be described interchangeably between Cartesian and Polar coordinates, an equation in Cartesian coordinates cannot be translated analytically into an equation in polar coordinates, or vice versa [again, recall that approximation is possible].  It is the property of the whole, its symmetry (straight or curved), not the property of a part, that makes the whole capable of representation.  The symmetry of the whole (line segment or curvilinear segment) can only be captured in one of the two coordinate systems.

We tend to think of "space" as being independent of a system of representation (such as Cartesian or polar coordinate systems) as well as "things" in "space" being independent of a system of representation.  Yet a circle can only be analytically represented in polar coordinates, and a line segment can only be represented in linear coordinates.  It might be pointed out that there is no such thing as a perfect circle in nature, so if we use linear coordinates, there is not a problem.  But it can also be pointed out that there is no such thing as a perfectly straight line segment in nature either.  It is not a case of one system of representation being "natural" while another adapted for a special case.  The choice of the system of representation depends upon utility:  some problems may only be solved in a particular system of representation due to the unique symmetry of the object of study.  Our systems of representation are fundamentally incommensurable with each other, and sensible "reality" incommensurable with either system.  The point is that when we think about mathematical representations of things in space, we are thinking about our system of representation, not something outside our system of representation.  When we talk about representations of things in space, we are talking about the grammar of our system of representation, not the "thing-in-itself".  Our notion of "space" cannot be divorced from the system of representation used to describe "things" in "space."  Further, our system of representation can always and only be an approximation of the so-called "real thing".

For this reason, we cannot actually talk about the "real thing".  It is itself an idealization, not something we can observe, describe or represent.  It is an abstraction, the "real length" of the board less the imprecision of our system of measurement, the "real shape" of the board, absent the limits of our representational system.  It is for this reason that Plato indicated that the knowledge of the sensible world constitutes, doxa, opinion, and not true knowledge, and it was for this reason that he held that the sensible world was an intermediate world between being and non-being.  The sensible world is only knowable through a system of representation (e.g. a system of meaning) while it can only be described in approximation.  Because there can never be an "ultimate" description of the sensible world, only an incessant series of better approximations, there can be no ultimate knowledge of the sensible universe.  Further, whatever approximate knowledge that could be had could only be found through ideas, which correspond to something like our system of representation.  These ideas are not logically derived from the sensible world  (they may be causally derived from the sensible world), they are the product of the human mind and spirit.  In other words, mathematics is not empirically falsifiable, even though the nature of the empirical world only conditions the utility of a particular mathematical approach (e.g. the use of polar coordinate or Cartesian coordinates based on natural symmetry.)

The bottom line for naturalism is that the idea (or "apparent idea") of a universe of inert things in space obeying mechanical transformation rules/laws cannot possibly be the case. The thing can never be identified with the representation of the thing.  The system of representation is not given by things-in-themselves, but in the forms of human life.  For example, Godel's Incompleteness theorem established that human arithmetic for natural numbers cannot be reduced to a set of axioms plus associated transformation rules.  In other words, arithmetic does not and cannot be reduced to a set of axioms and a set of algorithms, whereby a computer could be programmed to derive all the truths of arithmetic.  In arthimetic, there are some theorems which cannot be established as true (e.g. the system is incomplete), and therefore, it cannot be demonstrated that mathematics is logically consistent with itself (as the truth of all theorems cannot be proved or disproved).  [If a formal system contains a logical contradiction, anything can be proved from it.]  Notwithstanding, we assume that it is the case that arithmetic is consistent.  As a consequence, machines using recursive algorithmic processes cannot "do" arithmetic, they can only serve as instrumental tools in the activity of arithmetic.  [A computer may "prove" something in mathematics, but only mathematicians can deem the solution "valid".]

For example, we can consider the following article from Der Spiegel:

Clearly, Godel's ontological proof for the existence of God can be formalized, and a computer algorithm can establish its logical validity [to the satisfaction of logicians], but this does not establish the existence of God.  It merely establishes that if one accepts the premises of the Godel's proof, then the consequence, God's existence, logically follows.  It is the initial leap of faith, such as faith in the consistency of mathematics, that makes mathematics a viable human activity, and it is the consequences of that faith, not merely in terms of utility, but also beauty and elegance, that confirm the soundness of the initial faith commitment (without, of course, justifying it).  Likewise, it is the faith in the intelligibility of the world that makes faith in social institutions such as organized scientific inquiry possible, while it is the consequences of that initial faith which have brought about subsequent research funding.

Chronologically, the sensible world precedes the human construction of systems of representation.  We have not been here from the beginning, no matter what your cosmology.  Moreover, a system of meaning, like mathematics, cannot be reduced to a set of inputs and mechanical transformation rules, so it is impossible for there to be a de-personalized and de-socialized activity of mathematics.  It would be one thing if human beings emerged and then created a virtual reality with computers and scientific equations.  This is not how it went down.  Instead, there was a world, and human beings emerged (co-emerging with language, which is trans-personal and the basis of human ratio) subsequently.  There is an interesting isomorphism between human systems of representation and the world of experience, e.g. the world of experience can be represented in approximation by mathematics.  But we cannot ultimately "explain" why our mathematical tools "work".  We have faith that they work, and there are useful results that stem from the fact that they work.  Presumably, we have these tools and not other possible tools because other possible tools would not be useful, but this is an a posteriori explanation.  It does not reach the question of why any abstract tools were possible in the first instance.  We can't explain how our means of description describes, anymore than we can prove the completeness of arithmetic.  The means of description is simply the given, just as the universe itself is only a given.

One can only approach this task in terms of a fractal analogy.  Just as we have a community of human agents who use language and mathematics to describe a virtual world, we can imagine a community of persons who use language to create a real world.  Because we are created, as fractal fragments in a sense, from these persons, we can approximate this process.  This can only be understood as an analogy, because we lie embedded within the universe, while these persons lie outside the universe, in a different order of being.  Our words cannot describe them, but rather reflect them, reflect their word.  For this reason, the universe is intelligible, as there is an analogy between our systems of meaning and the system of meaning that gave rise to the universe. 

Otherwise, we are trapped in our anthropocentric circle of representations which can only function within our anthropocentric activities.  We cannot talk about a sensible world because it lies precisely, and unreachably, outside of our system of representations limited by its underlying assumptions and approximations.  We cannot talk about an intelligible world because such a world can only exist in contrast to some other world (e.g. sensible).  Moreover, it is not even clear that we can talk about a world in this case, we can only speak of a narrow human community composed of certain conventions of language and activity, which comes into periodic conflict with other human communities.  In this case, the only thing that remains to hold the community together is authority, the authority of language and reason.  But, within this community, it is this authority that lacks any legitimacy, which by nature can only come by virtue of a relationship with something outside itself.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Unveiling

We can imagine the actions of God in a rhythm of two movements, the out-breath, and the in-breath.  The out-breath gives life to the clay, while the in-breath returns Adam to mere dust.

We can further describe this action in terms of hiding and unveiling.  God hides himself--and where does he hide himself--except in Creation.  When God unveils himself, he removes himself from Creation.  Life and Death, the polarity of our world.  The Greek word for this unveiling is the Apocalypse.  Often, in popular culture, the view of the Apocalypse is one of negativity, it is not something we desire.  And we know from the Bible, no one looks on the face of the Lord and lives.

But if we are to be reckoned among the faithful, should we mourn or should we celebrate this unveiling?  Is this a funeral, or the wedding of the Bride to the Bridegroom?

When I was a boy of twelve, I was pedaling my bicycle on a country road, all by myself on a peaceful summer day.  I felt the world, life, freedom, and sense of security and well-being.  Then around the corner came a car.  It left its lane, crossed the yellow line, and came directly at me.  I was riding an over-sized bike, and the shoulder of the road was low, and full of loose sand.  If I went into the shoulder, the bike would get stuck in the sand, and I would fly over the handle-bars.  Moreover, there was nothing to prevent the car from striking me down, helpless, in the sand.  So, while riding as close to the edge as possible, I held my ground, and approached the car.  At the last minute, the car pulled away.  It struck my leg, and I took the driver side mirror off the car with my wrist.

During this experience, my entire perception of the world changed.  All the peace and security and happiness drained out of me, with the realization "Oh my God, I am going to die."  Of course, I didn't die.  I was bleeding profusely, I could barely walk, my bike was smashed, I was alone in the middle of nowhere, but I didn't die.  The next motorist picked me up and graciously brought me to the hospital.  I got stitches, a sprained wrist, a hurt leg, but no broken bones.  But I was broken, set apart, my world had unraveled.

Was this experience bad?  From one perspective, I suppose we would say it was.  It is certainly not something I would wish on someone I loved.  Moreover, it wasn't the first time I was broken, but neither was it the last.  This is our lot in life, big or small, strong or weak, we are broken in the course of human events.  It is part of the rhythm of Life.

When we are young, we believe in the fundamental goodness of our world, of our parents, our caretakers, strangers, everyone and everything.  Then, some experience comes along and shatters this experience.  One possible way to look at this phenomenon is that the world simply sucks.  It is bad, and these experiences we have as a child are simply illusions, perhaps necessary illusions if we are to survive.  I would like to suggest an alternative interpretation.

What we perceive as a child, as an innocent, is nothing more than the out-breath of God, giving us Life, giving us conditions that allow us to grow and thrive.  We interpret this motion as the property of the world, of its inhabitants, of our parents, of strangers, yet these are merely the mode for its expression.  From the beginning, we mistake the Creature for the Creator, and thus we inevitably fall, we are broken, shattered, disoriented.  The world, often quite suddenly, becomes divested of love and security, even sometimes any kind of value.  We see that the world ultimately lacks any meaning or worth in itself, it is nothing more than a carnal butcher shop, life feeding on life in a seemingly eternal cycle of conflict and misery.

I don't believe these experiences are ultimately bad ones, because they reveal the truth of the world.  Our childish view of things was an error, but not because there is no fundamental source of goodness, but because we mistook the world for that source.  The unveiling is an opportunity to view that source of goodness and love more directly, if we are only capable of noticing.  Because the source lies outside the world, rather than despair, we can have hope, because Love can never be destroyed, even if it passes through Death by Dying.

I would like to say that the concept, really the Being of God, cannot be understood divorced from trauma.  God is unveiled in trauma, and in the myriad tales of wars and betrayals and bloodshed, we can discern the Revelation of God, paradoxically, the affirmation of love, beauty, truth and resurrection.  It is only in ourselves being broken, that we can ascertain the unshakeable foundation of the world.

I fear that as a culture we have forgotten the meaning of trauma.  We perceive only that the idol in which we formerly believed has been smashed, irreparably.  We perceive that even if we construct a new idol, and delude ourselves into believing it had value or power or goodness in itself, that in the course of time that idol too would be smashed.  Because God cannot be contained in the world, and the hands of a person cannot construct an image of God.  Unfortunately, instead of jolting us to look upwards, these traumas seem to send so many of us down into the abyss.  Yet evil is only the corruption of the good, just as lies can only be the corruption of the truth.  If the world were wholly evil, there would be no birth, only death.  The word would be divested of all meaning, rendering us mute.  The universe is perpetually winding down from a state of Order to a state of Disorder, with no known physical principal which can restore Order to the universe.  How could the initial conditions of the universe then be possible?  They can only represent the most improbable of miracles.

How do we as a culture deal with trauma?  It seems as if we want to eliminate it.  Yet how can it be so?  Nations war against Nations, that is simply what they do.  Groups fight with other groups.  Individuals do all kinds of cruel and wicked things to each other.  Do we really suppose that these things can be stopped, and stopped without recourse to even greater brutality than that unleashed in the ordinary course of human events?  We fear trauma, and rightly so, and we seek a world where the lion will lie down with the lamb.  Yet what we seek is essentially the re-making of the world in the image and likeness of the Divinity.  It is this endeavor which is completely hopeless from an anthropocentric perspective.  In fact, the world must be destroyed, everything must die, so that the order can be restored to perfection.  Although terrifying, this is a good thing, the best thing, the restoration of our hearts with the true and only source of Love.  The breath must blow in, so that our life force can return to our true homeland.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Dreaming of Freedom

The modern conception of freedom seems to derive its vision from two elements:  i.) individuals are able to choose, ideally infinitely, from various options, ii.) individuals are freed from the consequences of their choices (e.g. if one chooses to be lazy, the state will support you; if you get pregnant as a result of bad short-term decision making, the state will ensure you can get an abortion; if you choose to be an alcoholic or a drug addict, the state should try to assist you or rehabilitate you, while suspending judgment and recognizing that you have a "disease" not something resembling voluntary behavior).  We have the basic idea.

Where does this type of thing happen in the real world?  One can say it doesn't, because actions in the real world always actually have consequences for everyone else, whether direct or indirect.  If the welfare state gets too generous, and people begin to opt out of working, or if through demographic decline, the working age population declines, then the welfare state must be dismantled.  There may be cases (like abortion) where individuals can be shielded from the impact of the choices, but these cases must always be a sub-case, and always in some kind of tension with the rest of the society.

This freedom we are describing does have an environment where we can see it operating, and that is, when we are dreaming.  We can do anything we like in our dreams, and when we wake up, there are no consequences.  What is the difference between dreams and reality?  Dreams only have consequences for the dreamer, but things that happen in reality affect others.  To the extent we are alive, to the extent that we are real, we lack this modern freedom.  To be real, to be alive, is to accept that our actions have consequences on other people, and likewise, that we have a responsibility to other people that can (and should) limit what we choose.  Modern freedom is primarily the freedom literally not to be.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Secret

The secret, while obvious, remains secret:  everything necessary for the human being to survive and flourish has been already given to us, from the beginning.  Everything beyond this gift amounts to luxury, it is unnecessary, superfluous, and destined to be destroyed and uprooted in the course of time.  The problem today is that in our heedless pursuit of luxury upon luxury we have put aside and neglected what is our essential: the communion of friends, bread and wine, and perhaps a good story told around a campfire.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Object Relations

According to the Wikipedia, object relations theory is explained as follows:

Based on psychodynamic theory, the object relations theory suggests that the way people relate to others and situations in their adult lives is shaped by family experiences during infancy. For example, an adult who experienced neglect or abuse in infancy would expect similar behavior from others who remind them of the neglectful or abusive person from their past. These images of people and events turn into objects in the subconscious that the person carries into adulthood, and they are used by the subconscious to predict people's behavior in their social relationships and interactions.

 From the perspective of object relations theory, our ability to have healthy relations to others, to strangers, and perhaps even our enemies, is dependent on having healthy relations in infancy and early childhood with our parents.  The relationship of love is always personal, and distinct from the love of things.  We love who the other person is, and not merely, or even primarily, what they are.

For example, a baby loves their mother, but "motherhood" is a role.  Babies do not love "mothers" nor do they love "motherhood"--they have no way of conceptualizing these abstract concepts at an early age.  No doubt they like milk, and having their diaper changed, and the like, but they love their mother, and are bonded to their mother.  If you take a baby, say ninth months old, and suddenly take mom completely out of the picture, and put another competent care giver in the picture (perhaps even a more competent care giver), you cause emotional problems to the baby, which may manifest in emotional problems later in life.  Love begin in an I-Thou relationship.

Now if we are Freudian, and we see people as more or less organic machines, then object-relations becomes a prophesy.  If in early childhood the child has bad parents, or a bad relationship to the parents (however virtuous they may be), then they are destined to have bad relationships in adulthood to others--and this very well could be the case.  But if we are to hold out hope, that human beings in human relationships must be healed, then it may be important to craft an ideal, the ideal parent, who demonstrates total sacrifice and total love for the child.  Strangely enough, through this relationship to the ideal parent, the child may come to heal relationships with the less-than-ideal but actual parents, and well as the less-than-ideal but actual strangers in the world of the grown adult.  Moreover, while ideals are nice, they are bloodless.  Better than the ideal but abstract parent would be the ideal but actual parent, who's example we might imitate.  By entering into relationship with this person, we may be able to heal our suffering and live better lives.  The draw back to this approach is that our ideal but actual parent might die--this could only possibly work as a cultural system if the ideal parent did not die, or if they died, they were resurrected.

Of course, this sort of thing is impossible, and we would regard such talk, or the belief in such talk, as foolish.  But on the other hand, what if it worked?  What if people were able to experience inner transformation as a result of the cultivation of such a relationship?  Would we say that we witnessed a miracle, or are such people merely queer in the head and deluded?  Do they "know" something the rest of us do not, or are they "ignorant" of the real facts?  I don't think it is mine to say for another how they should or should not take these matters.

On the other hand, going back to my previous post on grammar, I should like to tie together the point that it is only out of the "I-Thou" relationship, a relations between persons who know each other, that it is possible to have relations with a "I-he" or "I-she"--proper relations between people who do not know each other, at least very well.  In these second type of relationship, the factor of what the person is (friend, stranger, enemy), not who the person is, predominates.  Thus, we find in Matthew, Chapter 22, Verses 36-40 the following exchange:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
It is clear in this passage that the primary relationship, the greatest and most important relationship, is an "I-Thou" relationship.  It is only on account of this first relationship that love--a love infused with personalty--is possible in the second kind of relationship, between "I-neighbor".  Without this first relationship, the temptation to reify and objectify the neighbor becomes too strong, and the neighbor (stranger/enemy) becomes de-humanized and reduced to an "it".  It has been claimed by some that the first relationship can be dispensed with, one only needs to love one's neighbor, and everything will be okay.  This is a fair statement, but the problem it faces is that it presumes that "love" is something a human being does naturally, perhaps turns on like a light switch.  In my limited experience of the human condition, it seems to me that actual love of another person, especially a stranger or an enemy, is about the most unnatural thing humanly possible.  That is to say, love is a skill that has to be learned, and is perhaps the most difficult of all skills to master.  Perhaps your actual parents were perfect, and you can effortlessly imitate their example.  My actual parents were not perfect, and even so, I still find it is quite difficult to imitate their best examples.  Imitating their vices doesn't seem to present me with anything near the same difficulty.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


If we look at Piaget's work, it is clear that the child's sense of self develops out of its relationship with its mother.  Children very early begin to identify faces, and begin to recognize familiar faces.  The first correlations the child likely puts together are the correlations between the child's sensations (hunger, fear, discomfort, wonder, happiness) and the face of the mother in response.  Only much later, when the sensations and the experience of the mother are established in memory, will the child begin to express emotions in language.  Not doubt the child may be exposed to a mirror, but no mirror is necessary for the child to develop normally.  In some sense, empathy stems from earliest infancy, as the child identifies his or her emotions with the response in the face of the mother.

It is clear that the first and the second person tenses evolve in tandem in the toddler.  The child can express their emotions in language, because the child can express these emotions in behavior.  The child can empathize with the second person, because they have learned to associate their sensations with the face of the other.  In this sense, "I" cannot be understood divorced from "you".

Now the third person is an interesting development.  In learning words, the parent teaches the child how to use conventions, perhaps pointing out the names of crayons, and asking the child to name the color of the crayon.  In this way, the child picks up a set of authoritative conventions, and once the child has mastered these conventions, the child can begin to attempt to construct descriptions.  Note that in learning not just to name, but to describe, the child can struggle even if they more-or-less understand the conventions.  Describing does not simply happen automatically, first a child needs to learn how to describe, just as the child needs to learn how to name.

Out of these descriptions, a new tense emerges, the third person, which can be personal (he/she) or impersonal (it).  It is important to acknowledge that what we describe is not given in experience.  It is only when experience is combined with a certain type of linguistic training that something can be described.  Moreover, our descriptions of the world are based on the agreement of the first and the second person.  Unless they can agree, there is no true description of anything.

What is necessary for the impersonal world to exist is not the truth of a philosophical metaphysics, be it realism or idealism.  What is necessary is an agreement in conventions and an agreement in descriptions.  In this sense, the real world drops out of the equation.  The so-called "real world" does not have to exist, so long the community agrees on its description of the "real world".  In fact, invocation of the "real world" only comes into the equation when there is a dispute between or over descriptions.  In terms of Platonism, what we can know is language, and this knowledge is based on interpersonal agreement.  If we switch to a more Wittgenstein take, what we cannot doubt is language, and our agreement is the sign of the absence of doubt.

If we consider the case of an apprentice and a carpenter measuring a board before a cut, we can imagine the apprentice measuring and marking the board at the point of the intended cut.  We can imagine the carpenter then measuring the board to test the judgment of the apprentice, and either accepting it or correcting it.  In this endeavor, the carpenter is on the face of things correct in his or her measurement, by definition.  I suppose in some extraordinary situation (say the ruler slips and the apprentice points this out), the authority of the carpenter's measurement can be called into question.  Yet the general authority of the carpenter, in most circumstances, cannot be brought into question without ending the apprenticeship.

What is important to understand is that the sensations that both the carpenter and the apprentice experience are private.  We cannot see through the eyes of either person, anymore than they can see through our eyes.  The agreement is not in the realm of sensation, the agreement is based on what the two persons do and what the two persons say.  What unifies people is not an impersonal "real world" but the unity of persons in activity.

In the old days, people spoke of materialism.  Today, people speak of naturalism, having given up on developing any cogent definition of what matter is in a quantum world.  Naturalism, in its essence, is the claim that first person expressions and second person expressions can be reduced to third person descriptions.  For example, the assertion "I am in pain" can be reduced to a third person statement about the physical condition of an organ.  Note that this is very different from a correlation between a first person sensation and an experience of a second or third person.  Specifically, the correlation is between a sensation and a facial expression.  To live in the universe of naturalism is to live in a universe that has no face, that never really smiles or frowns.  This is perhaps the attraction of naturalism to some.  It is important to note that the face expresses emotions.  A face is not an emotion, but the meaning of our emotional concepts cannot be severed from facial expressions.  We can--hypothetically--imagine a person who experiences emotions, but who is incapable of expressing them.  However, we cannot imagine the human species communicating as it does if everyone lacked this expressive capacity.

Because the face expresses emotions, and emotions cannot be divorced from their bodily expressions, we can see the claim that pain is "really just" a brain state is abject nonsense.  There may be a correlation between a brain state and an emotional display, but we are less wrong if we claim that emotions are just a facial expression.  I say this because we master the use of emotional concepts in connection with facial expressions, almost never in connection with brain imagery.  If human beings didn't have facial expressions, I don't mean to deny that they might not have emotional concepts.  However, the meaning of the those concepts would be different, and what is an emotional concept divorced from what it means?   Likewise, the idea that emotions are "really just" brain states radically alters the meaning of emotions.  This is perhaps the attraction of reductive materialism to some.

What is naturalism as a philosophy really?  It is the claim that first and second person expressions can be reduced to third person impersonal statements:  "It puts the lotion on its skin."  Empirical science no doubt rests on the capacity of persons to agree on third person impersonal descriptions, and to formulate correlations between historic states of systems.  Perhaps there is characteristic neural activity, and then facial expressions.  But this empirical science forgets what it rests on:  a system of linguistic conventions, and practices that are transmitted inter-personally and historically.  Without these social conventions, and this social training, the scientific description would be meaningless.

What is the source of the "I"?  Grammar.  What is the source of the "you"?  Grammar.  What gives these concepts meaning?  Our collective forms of life.  If an extraterrestrial observed the brain states of a human being, not knowing our language, and perhaps having different means for expressing affective states, there is no reason why the extraterrestrial would suppose the human being is in pain.  After all, we say that ants are in pain because if you shine the sun on them with a magnifying glass they move in the other direction.  The reason we say this is there is a correlation between their behavior and our behavior (if you shine the sun through a magnifying glass on our arm, or in our eyes, we jerk away).  If no such correlation existed, we would not be able to apply our concept to the ants.  Note the imputation is made not on the basis of a physical state of a thing, but rather through the correlations between the behaviors of two different unitary organisms.

Animals are, as we say, self-moving.  The organism moves itself, without direct input from the external world.  In contrast, a rock will only roll if something rolls it.  A person smiles, a brain, a part of a whole, does not.  Traditionally, Western Civilization spoke of the soul, or the animate principal, because they observed a unified being.  While a symphony requires a conductor, the conductor cannot conduct without the conscious cooperation of the orchestra.  The symphony is a harmony that emerges through the cooperative synergy of the many players.  Likewise, what the body expresses is not a state of the body's organ, but the expression of a unified being.  That is to say, the universe must really have a face, at least in these parts,

It is clear that we cannot understand the meaning of the First Person except through the visible form of the Second Person.  It is further clear that the Third Person cannot emerge without the agreement of the First Person and Second Person.  Moreover, the Third Person, Impersonal, cannot be understood except as the passive form upon which the First Person, the Second Person, and the Third Person, Personal act in harmony.  Because the First Person, the Second Person, and the Third Person are only known through their mutual and harmonious activity, they are ultimately unknowable in themselves, they cannot be separated.  Moreover, because they are not divisible, they cannot be understood as one in number.  If they were one (as materialism would suppose), then their individuality would collapse.  Neither one nor three, but the source of all numbers, all meaning, all persons, all unity, and all description.  Our grammar expresses the mystery of Life.   

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Beauty, Truth, Goodness

All desire finds its root in beauty, the desire to become, to consume, or to unite with the beautiful.  Thus, culture derives its origin in a common apprehension of beauty, across persons, across time, pulling these various individuals into a unity over generations.  Beauty forms the character of the beloved, and the beloved becomes the mirror of the beautiful essence it embodies.

Beauty expresses itself in many facets, there are many cultures after all, many schools of art, each developing organically from a common source of inspiration, however indefinable.  The beautiful is, of course, the source and the basis of the individual's submission, for the individual to put other things aside in order to chase after the beautiful.  In this sense, beauty is the source of truth, of meaning, for which the individual gladly lays down other things, perhaps even their life, for the preservation of this beauty.  These little deaths pay homage to the glory, the magnificence of the Beautiful.  One saves, and hordes, and calculates, only to lay it all down, madly, without thought, to waste all that one has accumulated.

Education, in a traditional sense, is about teaching what cannot be taught.  It amounts to pointing out to youth what is beautiful, what is most beautiful in the eyes of their elders.  But the pupil cannot see through the eyes of their elders, and so can never be forced to see, they can only be provided with the opportunity to discover for themselves. Will they to see the True Light?  And it is indeed not assured that they will see, or if they see, whether it will be apprehended more or less dimly.  Yet if the Light of Beauty is apprehended, and the youth are inspired, they will flourish and carry on the traditions of their elders, and society will thrive.

The Beautiful provides the basis of orientation and direction of activity.  In this sense, it is True, in that it inspires, directs and organizes the collective.  The Beautiful is also Good, in the sense of an end or telos to which the collective strives.  Through the apprehension and inspiration of the Beautiful, the human beings strive to create, to reproduce its beauty, becoming the image and likeness of the Beautiful as far as is humanly possible.

The key to the destruction of culture, in fact, the destruction of all cultures, is through the fragmentation of the Beautiful, the True and the Good.  For example, the fragmentation between the Beautiful and the True can be provided by attributing the Beautiful to subjectivity, and Truth to objectivity.  If this move is successful, then the Good itself disappears, and life becomes divested of meaning, absurd.  One decides on one's own beauty, one's own good, which is absurd because the good, virtue, presupposes the existence of a moral community with shared norms.  For example, scientific inquiry is centered around social institutions composed of multiple people acting in accordance with shared norms and practices.  How is science possible without the existence of agreement on intersubjective norms and customs as much as intersubjective agreement on judgments of fact?  If beauty is only in the eyes of the elders, what then do the pupils see?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Extraterrestrial Encounter at the Football Game

As a hypothetical, let's imagine an extraterrestrial from a distant world travels to Earth and invisibly observes a football game.  The extraterrestrial has no knowledge or background, and is merely observing the football game, having no idea it is even a game, or that human beings are even sentient.

In watching the game, the extraterrestrial observes that when certain things (offensive linemen) receive the football, they begin running toward the goal post.  If the extraterrestrial assumes that the extraterrestrial is the only sentient organism in the universe, they will be convinced that they are witnessing some kind of complex mechanism.  Clearly, when certain parts receive a physical signal (the football), the football causes the machine to move up the field toward the goal.  The extraterrestrial notices that as the lineman moves up the field, the machine/offensive lineman seems to be repelled by the presence of defensive players approaching, moving out of the way or avoiding them.  Although the motion of the machine/offensive line man is not completely determined, the offensive lineman seems to move randomly toward the end zone, even accounting for the repulsion caused by the presence of the defensive line men.

Is the extraterrestrial witnessing the behavior of sentient human beings, or is the extraterrestrial witnessing the behavior of complex organic machines?  How could the extraterrestrial tell the two types of processes apart?  Empirically speaking, when the offensive lineman receives the football, it is followed by movement toward the end zone.  Wouldn't the extraterrestrial postulate that possession of the football causes the machine to proceed to the end zone?  In addition, the proximity of the defensive linemen--does this not cause the lineman to avoid the defensive lineman?  How do you distinguish a sentient process (dependent on signs and a socially created system of meaning) from a mechanical process?

In order to have a system based on meaning, we need at least two things:  a system of social customs and organisms with the faculty of memory.  There must be an agreed upon form for doing things, and there must be agreed upon signs that trigger certain behaviors.  We can make a distinction between norms, which are manifest in synergized behavior by organism, and rules, which are formal symbols.  There can obviously be a game, such as an informal game of catch, which function without explicit rules, but presuppose norms.  After all, you must know to catch the ball when it is thrown to you, and you must know to throw it back.  When a player deviates from the norms (in the eyes of the other players), then usually a discussion and an agreement on rules follows--for example, how hard to throw the ball, or what the agreed upon bounds of play are.  This point is important, because it goes in part to demonstrate that normative transgression results in the production of formal rules.  If all people shared the same sense of norms, and all people followed those norms, then there would be no rules. 

We can find this distinction between norms and rules made in Romans Chapter 2 verses 12-16, where St. Paul discusses the Law, which we can equate with rules:

All who sinned apart from the Law will also perish apart from the Law, and all who sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law.  For it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous in God's sight, but the doers of the Law who will be justified.  When Gentiles, who do not possess the Law, do instinctively what the Law requires, these, though not having the Law, are a Law to themselves.  They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bear witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, accord to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.

The law written in the heart corresponds to norms, whereas the revealed Law corresponds to rules.  One of the perplexities of Wittgenstein scholarship deals with Wittgenstein’s contention that there can be no moral rules.  The Law does not reveal the nature of the Good to us, the Law corrects us, or chastises us when we deviate from the true Good.  If we are truly Good, we need no Law, and if we possess a Law, mere possession or knowledge of the Law does not aid us, it is only if we obey the Law do we gain any benefit.  It is also noteworthy that the Law is only comprehensible because we already possess the true Law in our hearts:  the spoken Law only chastises us back into conformity with the inner Law of our hearts.

Will the extraterrestrial understand that the football match is a game, or will the extraterrestrial view the football match as a mechanical system, with footballs causing people to run up the field and the like?  Unless the extraterrestrial has a system of intersubjective norms similar to those held by the human species, it is not clear that the extraterrestrial will ever be able to comprehend that the match is a football game, and not merely a mechanical system.  But we have to ask, how do we know a football game is a football game?  In some sense, because we possess a similar set of norms as our football players.  What distinguishes a game of football from firing a gun?

First of all, the game depends upon memory, the memory of the players.  But in addition, the game depends upon the players possessing sufficient intellect to learn the game over a certain period of time.  Last, the game depends upon the will of the players, first to learn the game, second to continue to abide by the rules (and the norms) of the game during play.  Without memory, intellect, and will, there can be no football.  Thus, to understand the game is to possess a system of intersubjective norms, and to possess intellect, memory and will.  

What are these intersubjective norms?  Well, first is bears mentioning something that these norms are not:  describable.  Because human beings can coordinate their behavior, they can develop customs and norms.  Because human beings have norms, they can coordinate their speech, and their speech is intelligible precisely on account of the existence of these norms.  Thus, we can have norms without speech, but no speech without norms.  Accordingly, our speech presupposes norms, and manifests our norms, but, being incapable of division from our norms, can never describe what our norms are (their form), while being capable sometimes of explicating the substance of a specific norm is (within a community). 

Because we cannot really describe what our norms are, only their effects, it bears noting that we cannot describe why our norms sometimes differ.  St. Paul seems to suggest that our capacity for intellection has been impaired, confused, and that this can sometimes accuse us (obfuscation), and sometimes excuse us (true ignorance).  The Christian message regarding these norms is expressed in the story of the Fall:  transgression, fall, and then a new form of life, characterized by pain and strife.  It is a description of the effect of the Fall, but not an explanation of how our norms became corruption, because it deals in effects, not causes.  The Fall is unintelligible.

Returning to our discussion of norms and rules, we can see the limits of the Law:  the written Law presupposes a system of norms for it to be intelligible, and the written Law only chastises or returns us to the Law writ in our hearts.  Moreover, only on account of transgression is there a written Law in the first place:  the Law accuses us (the existence of Language accuses us), and disciplines us, but it does not, on its own accord, make us holy.  Moreover, given the fundamental indeterminacy of meaning, it is clear that the written Law, on its own accord, cannot even properly chastise us, because its meaning is ultimately unknowable.  We do not need ethical rules (because we lack the ability to interpret them consistently), we need an ethical example to imitate.  If we are to be good, the Good must reveal itself to us, and we must recognize it as the Good, and follow it.  In this sense, ethics is voluntary, and can never truly be compelled by another person.  This is our liberty, to follow or to reject, and we cannot be forced to follow, we can only be forced to conform. 

Returning to our extraterrestrial, the extraterrestrial must recognize the football players as rational agents, imitating some kind of paradigm, in order for the extraterrestrial to recognize what it is dealing with. 

The question is the following:  we know that human beings play games, have communication systems, follow norms, possess a collective sense of meaning.  Is it possible that the sub-components of the human being also follow norms and possess a collective sense of meaning, for example, the immune system?  Is it possible that life itself is really the manifestation of a system of meaning?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Theological "Truths"

I was watching an atheist clip the other day, and he was talking about how the fact that X number of people were willing to give their lives for the preservation of their religious tradition did not make it true.  It occurred to me that what I was hearing was a man who has a conception of truth that is radically different from the conception of truth found in many religious traditions.  Thus, he was not refuting an argument, he was imposing his conception of truth, and pointing out that martyrdom does not equate to truth under his conception.  Thus, he was not refuting the Truth of God, he was substituting his own truth in the place of God's Truth, as it has been articulated by God's followers.

This was interesting to me, not because I want to convince anyone that either side is correct, but because it presented a translation problem.  We have two rival conceptions of a concept, two sides advancing arguments, but misunderstanding of what each other is presupposing as their first principles.

Let's start with our atheist debater.  Although he didn't quite come out and say it, I surmise that his conception of truth is something like the following:  A statement is true if and only if it is true.  This is the correspondence theory of truth, a statement is true if it corresponds to reality.  Further, this correspondence is determined by empirical observation of reality.  In this sense, the fact that I subjectively believe something is true does not make it true, only the fact that it corresponds to this objective reality.  Thus, even if I die the death of a martyr, that does not make my belief true.

Of course, this correspondence theory has limited utility outside of very narrow empirical investigations.  For example, is it true that gravity exists, or that evolutionary theory is true?  In the first instance, no one has ever observed gravity, only its effects, so it is not true that gravity exists.  The theory of gravity is just a useful tool for making predictions about future observable events.  Likewise, the status of evolution is even shakier.  Evolution does not make any firm predictions about anything, it explains a historical fact of speciation.  In as much as there may very well emerge new species, it may be that someone can say that evolution makes predictions about how those species will come to be, but it is clear that evolution does not actually make any specific
predictions about future species, any more than astrology does.  My evolutionary friends are going to object to this way of formulating it, but the fact remains that evolution does not predict when a new species will happen, or what form the new species will take or anything of the sort.  It is a hand-waving sort of explanation, which should trouble some people, but does not.

Unlike gravity, evolution does not really make testable predictions, rather, it provides a narrative trope or a framework for talking about historical patterns.  At the same time, I am fudging it a bit, in population genetics, scientists will use probability models to predict genetic (and phenotypical) incidences in future generations, and these predictions are testable.  But is this really evolutionary theory (e.g. an explanation of the origin of species) or is this merely applying mathematical models to genetics?  Lets just say the theory of evolution makes a domain more intelligible than it might otherwise be, and that evolution can be teased into something like a predictive theory in certain contexts, radically inferior if judged in light of Newton's Law of Gravity. In any event, evolution is not true, it is merely useful.

We can consider mathematics, which is not empirical.  Mathematics is simply a kind of language, or a kind of activity that human beings engage in, but which happens to have practical applications to the empirical world.  A mathematical truth is not empirical, for example, we don't have to calculate what "2+2" equals on the moon to be assured it equals "4" on the moon as well as on Earth.  But notice my atheist friend cannot account for why mathematical truths can be said to be true.  Of course, we can engage in a little Platonic mythology, and talk about the transcendent eternal plane of Numbers, and that our little terrestrial operations correspond to these scared, eternal truths on the Platonic dimension.  But lets think about this one, shall we?  Let's say our little account were true, that there was this invisible realm, and that when I calculated my numbers, my result corresponded to this invisible Platonic structure.  How would I know such a thing?  How would I transmit such knowledge to my child?  How could I know that I knew such a thing? Do I know these things, or do I have a picture (or a model) that I derived from discussing propositions about empirical states of affairs, that I am now trying to impose on mathematical truths?

I should like to break out of this dilemma by suggesting that mathematical truths are true on the basis of convention.  Humans devise certain rules or procedures, and explore those procedures--we can compare it to the invention of the game of chess.  As humans explore these systems of procedures, we come up against certain possibilities, for example, division by zero yields one result when we use one procedure and another result by another procedure, so we make a rule that you cannot divide by zero.  Note that what makes mathematical truths true is that there is a uniform consensus of persons on the general rules of mathematics.  Thus, it is not up to an individual to decide what is or is not true in mathematics, but it is up to the consensus of a community.  For example, I can establish a mathematical proof of a certain theorem to my own satisfaction, but the theorem is not proved unless or until the community deems the proof to be valid.  Notwithstanding that mathematical truths are social facts, not empirical facts, this does not detract from the utility of various systems of mathematics.  Moreover, the fact that there are different means of constructing mathematical systems (for example, Euclidean versus Non-Euclidean geometries), this does not matter so long as the there are empirical applications.  That is to say, mathematics may be better viewed as a tool, a means of representation, rather than some super-essential structure of the universe.

But returning to our correspondence theory of truth, it is pretty clear that we cannot gain any insight into mathematical truths from our correspondence theory, we are just left with some silly Platonist mythology which we are not able to connect up with a human epistemology or an empirical world.  So whatever we want to say about truth, it is not clearly a correspondence with empirical reality, and a correspondence with some metaphysical reality does not clarify anything.  It is like saying that because the word "unicorn" has a meaning, there has to be an imaginary world which is populated with unicorns, in the same way that for "cow" to have a meaning, there has to be a real world populated by cows.  But I have a means of teaching a child to use the term "cow" which includes pointing to real animals called "cows".  I can't do this with a "unicorn"--but we might have a way of understanding how "unicorn" can refer to something:  it can refer to an image.  But I cannot point to a "unicorn" in some alternative metaphysical realm.  We are using a certain model of truth and then insisting that our practices be made to fit into this model.  The truth of mathematics are social truths, and it is clear that we have to acknowledge two ontological levels:  one of the community, and one of the individual.  The truths of mathematics express a communal order, a norm of expression within a certain group.  On the other hand, the truths of mathematics do not express an individual order, as the individual can believe him or herself to be right, but can be wrong.  The community, on the other hand, cannot be wrong (unless it decides in the future that it was wrong in the past).  The task of the individual, in as much as the individual wants to succeed at mathematics, is not to be certain, but to conform to the rule of the community.  But why does the community want to preserve this system of norms and rules, and why does the individual want to conform to this system?  Presumably, because both the individual and the community perceive mathematics to be a good, or to result in a good.  After all, being an IV drug user also involves being a member of a certain community and conforming to the norms of that community, but none-the-less most people support the suppression of IV drug use because they perceive the end of the community to be evil.

A social fact implies the existence of a community unified by a set of rules and practices (which reflect communal norms) and which exists for some purpose.  Where there are communal norms (unspoken conventions of behavior) or communal rules and practices (verbal conventions embodied in conventions of behavior), there is a purpose.  In fact, this is the general structure for organization of a complex system.  A system of signals and conventions of behavior which can be socially transmitted to new persons, and which provides for positive and negative reinforcement of individuals.  Although this is true of human social behavior, I suspect, without being able to empirically establish, that this structure replicates itself downwards to all levels of self-organizing behavior.  Activity unifies many parts toward a directed goal, employing norms of behavior and, on occasion, symbols.  From this standpoint, life is not something contained within a physical matrix, but something symbolized through a physical matrix.  Thus, we should not be surprised that we cannot get far understanding mathematics from a reductive or mechanical framework, as the truths of mathematics can only be understood as manifesting the correspondence between one ontological level of reality to a higher level of reality.  [Speaking from the Platonic perspective, the higher level is higher because it makes the lower level intelligible.]  I think we can also understand where the notion of free will raises itself:  a goal directed lower order can either be integrated or oriented within the goals (and norms) of a higher order, or the lower order can deviate from the higher order.  Without positing a hierarchy of ontological levels, and a system of communication and punishment, it is hard to conceptualize what is involved in free will.

At the same time, we have a problem, because these different levels of reality cannot be fully differentiated.  Our mathematician is part of the community of mathematicians, and the community of mathematicians includes our mathematician.  Thus, we can make no ultimate division between the mathematician and the community, the way we can make one between our subjective belief about the weather and the actual condition of the weather.  The truths of mathematics are not true independent of mathematicians, but at the same time, a truth of mathematics is not true because one mathematician believes it.  There are truths of mathematics because all mathematicians agree, but if there were no mathematicians, or they were incapable of reaching agreement on anything, there could be no mathematics.  We have spoken previously of powers and effects.  Clearly most people, as a potency, the capacity to learn mathematics.  But everyone does not have the power to actually do advanced mathematics.  How can this potency be understood, except as a capacity to be able to develop to the point that one can do something.  Moreover, this doing of mathematics, it cannot be understood as a private activity, but as participating in a collective form of life.  This potency is the capacity to become part of something greater than simply one's self, through conforming to the rule of the community.

This discussion should cause us to come back to our simple "correspondence" theory, to point out that it has problems even in our empirical domain.  After all, "It is raining" is not true based on our observation, as we can be mistaken, or hallucinating, or delusional.  Rather, whether it is raining or not is ultimately the result of a communal consensus, not merely an individual.  Otherwise, there would be no difference between believing that I confirmed it was raining, and actually confirming that it was raining.  Thus, ultimately, we must reject our distinction between empirical truths and social truths.  There are only social truths.  Moreover, the relationship between an individual and a community cannot ultimately be rationally analyzed, because an individual cannot ultimately be segregated out from the community.   The communal norm forms the judgments of the members of the community.  The further we push our analysis of the truth, the clearer it becomes that we are never going to ultimately define the truth, except in this sense of the lower order of reality corresponding with the higher order of reality.  The lower order does not describe the higher order (as the higher order makes the lower order intelligible), the lower order expresses or shows the higher order.

Here we get to the notion of God.  If truth in the ultimate analysis is social, reflecting a correspondence of the judgment of an individual with a system of group norms, rules and behaviors, then power exercised in accordance with justice, authority, manifests truth.  On the other hand, even if power is exercised in accordance with the selfish ends of the control group, without concern for the subjects, although power dispenses with justice, power still retains the capacity to compel assent.  That is, the individual or group with power has the capacity to compel the assent of the subject individuals.  Stalin says it is true, and you repeat that it is true.  Subjectivity is ordered by an inter-subjective order of power, but if there is to be a traditional understanding of truth, beyond simple conformity to a system of power, then inter-subjectivity must be ordered by some power beyond itself.  That is to say, justice, the shared norms above the group, uniting the group.  Authority is the exercise of power in accordance with justice, which is above power.  The modern obsession with power, and limiting power, proves to be a chimera.  Since all complex orders are hierarchical, simply shifting the identity of the control group does nothing to make the system any fairer.  The real issue is not power, but the absence of justice.  So long as justice remains uncorrupted, the order is stable, whether it is administered by representatives of the bourgeois or representatives of the proletariat.

Because power interprets the meaning of the laws, the symbolic content of the law does nothing to restrain power.  If power is to be exercised justly, leaders must exercise self-restraint.  To the extent that a leader can exercise self-restraint, the laws will be just.  Thus, more than fetishizing positive legal symbols, in order to have a just or sound order, leaders must be educated in the virtues and demonstrate sound moral character.  If one looks historically at authoritarian regimes, historical divergences can be explained in large part based on the character of the leader: a Bismark can always be contrasted with a Hitler or a Bonaparte in main measure due to Bismark's virtue.  If mass movements supporting dictatorships do a poor job in selecting leaders, the principle of heredity does not seem to guarantee much success either.  For this reason, provided a people posses sufficient collective virtue to support it, a Republic serves better than a Monarchy, as a Republic combines features of both a Monarchy and an Oligarchy.  A Parliamentary system is more consistent than monarchy (if more mediocre) because even though a member stands for election, the structural forces in the society (mass media, monied interests) can exert influence on the Parliament no matter who wins or loses.  Parliament allows for oligarchical control and democratic legitimacy.  Thus, the Republic, with a unitary executive and a congressional body allows for a balance.  In times of a strong, decisive executive, the Republic exhibits characteristics of the Monarchy, whereas in times of a weak, ineffectual executive, the Republic reverts to the consistent mediocrity of Oligarchy.        

In considering our leader, we must posit an ideal from which our actual leader deviates.  For this ideal leader, all exercise of power will be in keeping with the norms of the community.  What he or she does will be just.  What he or she knows will be true.  That is, we have to postulate an ideal subject, which embodies authority, in which knowing and being are unified, e.g. what it thinks is, and what is is what it thinks.  In this sense, power, knowledge and truth are unified in this subject, and this subject unifies all creation.  If we postulate this ideal subject, then we can conceptualize how a community can be ultimately wrong.  Stalin may define knowledge, and he may define what is true, but for all that, he lacks the capacity to make it true.  Because of this disparity, Stalin's power, and therefore his knowledge, is limited.  On the other hand, the Sovereign of the Universe is not limited in any fashion.  In this sense, the truth of a social order is given by its correspondence with the higher ontological level, it is true in as much as it is just.       

If we consider the game of chess, we recognize that we are dealing with a complex system involving rules which expresses a competitive purpose.  One wants to best one's opponent.  Who wins the game of chess?  If we think strategically, we can say that the structure of the game affords certain strategic advantages, and the player who can see these advantages can triumph over a weaker opponent, regardless of how the opponent actually plays.  The strategy emerges from the structure created by the system, and the one who sees more clearly, comprehends or intuits the relative benefits of various chess positions.  Rules create a purpose-driven activity, but rules in combination with physical limitations create strategic possibilities within the system.  Likewise, war and politics may be viewed as a game, and to the extent that both war and politics are driven by ends, they are limited by rules and norms.  The outcome of a battle rests on the laws of physics, but above and beyond the laws of physics, the battle rests on the morale, the level of cooperation between troops, on the abilities of the generals, etc.  A good general must not only see the purely material dimension of the battle, but these truths which are revealed in the higher orders of things.

We can contrast war and politics.  Politics is a contest between two groups or factions for domination, but a political contest always occurs within certain bounds.  Even if a form of politics includes assassinations or poisonings, these aggressions are targeted at specific individuals.  On the other hand, in war, enmity is unbounded, and in many instances, the victor has annihilated the vanquished.  Who we are in terms of nationality is directly or indirectly the result of human warfare.  What language we speak, or even what religion we practice is directly or indirectly the result of human warfare.  I would submit that war defines humanity, humanity does not define war.  We speak of "ending the cycle of violence" but the cycle of violence can have no clear end.  We can only suppress the cycle of violence, and only for a limited period time, in a limited area of territorial control.  Without order, violence inevitably raises its ugly head, and no human order is everlasting.  Human beings are not ultimately in control of their destinies, any more than the outcome of conflicts between relative equals are assured.  A conflict between two rival human orders can only be resolved by an order above both.  We say "One Nation, Under God" for a reason, because a nation can only exist so long as it is a unified order, and it can preserve itself and its territory in battle.  If we read the Old Testament, it is clear that it is God that grants salvation, victory in Battle, to his Chosen People.

I have a theory about the psychological and sociological origins of modern atheism.  If we accept that human beings are defined by an order beyond themselves, which ultimately culminates in God, then God brings wars and God decides wars.  In an age of massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons, it is clear that God can, in a pretty direct way, destroy modern society in the span of approximately 3 minutes.  It would be splendid if we really thought human beings were fantastic and beautiful, and that modern society could not possibly warrant total destruction.   But there it is, isn't it?  We probably on some level realize that we deserve destruction.  Well, God has both the means, and a damn good motive.  Moreover, there is even an expressed Biblical intent to destroy the world by fire.  It would be a whole lot nicer to believe that human beings could control warfare, that human beings could limit warfare, that we could make a world in which warfare never happened, that all these weapons never got used.  But notice that humanity has never been able to even wholesale limit the production of these weapons, and reductions between the United States and Russia have never significantly limited the nuclear capacity of either Nation.  Why should we suppose anyone would pull back in the event of reasonable provocation?  The real existence of God is horrifying in the extreme--God is in control, and we have, in our arrogance, developed the means for our own slaughter by the Sovereign.  He sent us out to fetch a switch, so we brought back a thermonuclear arsenal.  Better to deny the existence of God, and engage in acts of sacrilege to assure ourselves there is "no one up there".  Surely it could not be unmerited mercy that stays his Hand?

I, as a grim realist, must confess that the existence of hierarchical orders is an irreducible feature of our world, as expressed in language and social structures.  Further, all human hierarchies are answerable to a power outside of themselves.  Whether we call it God or Justice or Judgment, all Nations enjoy peace and victory only on account of powers beyond themselves.  Nor would I claim that victory goes only to the just.  The wicked are punished, but the good are also tested.  The arc of history tends to Justice, but it can be a very long bend during which time we can only persevere in faith and prepare in hope for a meeker future.

So we return to the argument that God exists based on the willingness of his followers to die for their faith.  If we understand that the ultimate truth is not something that you can measure on an instrument panel, but a trust in something that will insure the survival of your group in the face of the ultimate testing ground of human existence, war and death, then I think we have to look at the theistic argument differently.  After all, we spoke of those who in chess could see more clearly than their opponents, and who understood more clearly what the right move was.  In chess, one can only determine the soundness of a move at the end of the game.  In the game of life, it is unclear how we can judge whether a person's decision to embrace martyrdom is a wise or a foolish decision.  We have rejected the notion that a mathematical truth is a description of some invisible metaphysical reality, likewise, we must reject the notion that theology serves as a description of some invisible metaphysical reality.  Rather, a human being cries out in fear and trembling when the meet the face of God, the Judge of Judges, the King of Kings.  We cannot understand theology as descriptions, but rather expressions of the awesomeness and greatness that is beyond words.  To encounter someone so powerful, so magnificent, that obedience and trust in that person superseded any punishment a Magistrate or an Emperor could dish out--that would be an encounter with Truth.  Moreover, their death would manifest that encounter with Truth to those persons from whose eyes that the scales had fallen off.

Who is afraid of the Truth?  Not the one who is willing to die for it.  Not the one seeking to live for it.  Only the one who lives in variance with the Truth would fear encountering it.  The Truth, in so much as it exists, is an existential Truth, it orders our lives, our minds, our families, our communities, our nations.  The source of meaning cannot be described in words, because if words could signify it, the words would have to be outside it, that is the words would have to be meaningless.  I can signify a cat with the word "cat", because the word "cat" is wholly separate and distinct from a cat.  God is the source of the cosmic system of meaning, which contains all language.  Language cannot then refer to God and remain language.  The lower order participates within the higher order.  Language can only express or reveal God in the world, and to see God's Revelation is to see the Glory of God manifest in the world.  Left to ourselves, we cannot even pray without the intercession of God.  God calls us by name, we do not call on God.  When God calls us face to face, and one responds without fear or hesitation to God's call, then we have evidence of a Soul who has encountered God before and made peace.  Thus, martyrdom is a witness to Truth, but a Truth which by nature cannot be reduced to a description.