More quick thoughts to stimulate the intellectual digestion. (See Antipasto I.)
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A poster in my campus’s business school building is emblazoned with the slogan, "Leading at the Edge of Disruption." Yes, I understand about innovation. But how did breaking things become the preferred metaphor for the sorts of things accountants and managers do?
Hierarchies can be egalitarian, if they give equal treatment to those who are equal in merit, and if they treat only unequals unequally. Egalitarianism can be authoritarian and punitive, if it treats those who are unequal in merit as equal.
Terrorism is contagious, and some terrorist theories actually count on the fact. Their idea is that in order to fight fire with fire, the government will become so oppressive that at last the population will turn against it. And then the terrorists have won.
Social scientists often construct vast models with causal arrows spearing off in all sorts of directions – that influences this and that, and this influences that and this. I wonder: Haven’t those who construct these models noticed that social structures change constantly? Even if all the causal relationships really could be sorted out and measured, by the time the researchers finished doing so the relationships would all be different. This is why political philosophy does best when it focuses on what has been called the permanent things.
The boast of some of these models is that can “predict” the outcome of, say, every recent election, going back years. They can, but only retroactively. Whenever their predictions turn out wrong, the researchers go back and tinker with the parameters until they would have turned out right. That doesn’t mean the models will predict the next election right. What an exercise in futility.
Although deceiving ourselves is something like deceiving others, there is one great difference. If I lie to you cleverly enough, you really don’t know that I am lying. If I lie to myself, then no matter how clever I am, at some level I do know that I am lying. So when I lie to you, I have to keep you from noticing -- but when I lie to myself, I have to keep myself from thinking about it.
A student told me there were no objective moral truths. I mentioned a precept of the Decalogue, and asked “What about that?” He replied, “That’s not morality, that’s justice.” But if we take justice in the classical sense – giving to each what is due to him – almost all morality is about justice. To my wife, I owe fidelity; to my parents, honor; to the child whom I sire, an intact family in which to enjoy the care of me and his mother.
Though I can never keep up with it, I am endlessly fascinated with slang and its origins. People who know this often recommend to me the Urban Dictionary. Unfortunately, its definitions are submitted by users, and it is transparently obvious that many users find it amusing to invent filthy definitions for every word and phrase they can think of. The words and phrases may not have had filthy meanings before. But thanks to this so-called web resource, they do now.
People tend to think of souls as something only humans have. No, even a plant has a “soul,” just in the sense that its embodied life has a pattern. The difference is that the plant’s “soul” dies with the plant -- but for us, not so. The pattern of an embodied human life – which is a rational life -- persists even in the absence of the matter of which it is the pattern. But the human body is a part of human being too, and so the Christian hope is not an eternal bodiless existence, but bodily resurrection.
One soon wearies of all the nonsense spouted about “spontaneous order.” If taken to mean that the order we see does not entirely preexist, then yes, some forms of order are spontaneous – markets, for example. But if taken to mean that no elements of order need to preexist, then no, because there has to be a lot of prior order before other order can develop. Think how many shared understandings the development of a market requires.
Failure to distinguish the reasonable from the impossible sense of spontaneity leads to big confusions, like thinking that the theory of natural selection eliminates the need for a creator of the physical principles that make natural selection possible, or thinking that because the mind learns from experience it has no inherited structure.
Concerning that inherited structure, the mind is not pre-loaded with moral knowledge of good and evil – a toddler doesn’t know the Golden Rule. So don’t talk about innate moral knowledge. On the other hand, the mind does have the properties that allow it to recognize good and evil when it attains the age of reason. Even a blank slate must be made of a material that can take on the forms of the letters; try to chalk words on the ocean.
Scholars sometimes say that different views of Constitutional interpretation are like different views of biblical interpretation. Some people say sola scriptura, others say that the written text makes sense only in the light of the unwritten text. There is something to this analogy, but it breaks down quickly. I hope no one is insane enough to attribute allegorical meaning to the Privileges and Immunities Clause.
Sometimes people vote for persons who promote unconscionable views because they really believe in these views. However, sometimes they vote for them for irrelevant reasons – for example, they may trade their pro-life views for lower taxes. But in order to quiet the protests of their conscience, they may then try to talk themselves into believing in the evil views too.
Differences among interests and points of view within a shared moral framework is good for a polity, but where did we get the idea that radical divergence of basic moral outlooks is also good for it?
Social scientists have known for some time that conservatives understand what liberals believe much better than liberals understand what conservatives believe. I notice, however, that a good many progressive voters don't even understand what their own opinion leaders believe. When you quote these leaders, quite a few people of the progressive persuasion will say to you, “You’re making that up. No one would think that.”
Or that no one would teach it to public school children.
When the republic is finally destroyed, it will be taken down in the name of saving it from its destroyers.
As a Christian, I believe in the Messiah. That doesn’t mean I have to like political messianism, which we find both on the right and on the left. The difference is that left-wing political messianism is usually utopian, trusting the hero to take us to a political promised land -- but right-wing political messianism is usually reactive, trusting the hero to save us from the crazies who believe in utopia. The advantage here lies with the left, because unfortunately, most people are more impressed by lunatic visionaries than by persons with no vision at all.
Except for obscenity, profanity, and fighting words, I don’t believe in policing the words we use in public. But I do understand the temptation. If I could make a wish, I would wish that everyone who used junk words like “wellness,” “impactful,” “proactive,” and “mindfulness” felt a bit ridiculous.
A warning to intellectuals such as myself. Supposing the existence of square circles, you can do a lot of things: You can make syllogisms about them, you can develop theories about them, you can even prove theorems about them. But that doesn't mean that they exist.