The president’s belief that little of what he does is ideologically driven suggests he is living with a pampered, unchallenged mind. He has been told he is so smart for so long that he sees only clarity in his actions and unchallengeable reason in his conclusions. The president’s belief in his own intellect makes him think that whatever he does is simply the only thing a thinking person would do. Nothing ideological about that.
Roger's reading is possible, but not likely. I incline to a darker view. Obama knows that he is a leftist and that leftism is not the only option. He knows that there are sincere, highly intelligent, principled people who oppose the leftist agenda with an impressive armamentarium of facts and arguments. Although Obama hangs with his sycophantic own for the most part, he cannot not know about the black conservative Thomas Sowell, for example, and his views. And given how smart Obama is supposed to be, he will have discerned that Sowell and other black conservatives cannot be dismissed as Uncle Toms.
When Obama said that he is not ideological he was simply lying. He was stating something he knows to be false with the intent to deceive.
As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President's Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets. Not because I believe in bigger government -- I don't.
In this example, Obama's mendacity enters the Orwellian. Opposing bigger government, he is for smaller government. Bigger government is smaller government.
The truth is that the man is thoroughly untruthful. Why does he so brazenly lie, bullshit, prevaricate? Because he believes that there is nothing wrong with mendacity in the service of a noble cause. I don't think the man is simply out for his own wealth and power: he sincerely believes in the leftist agenda and that the glorious end justifies and requires the mendacious means.
For this reason he never comes clean about his real goals and values.
If you think about it this way, it all makes sense. He had to lie again and again about the content of the ACA. Otherwise it would not have passed. He knows best what is good for us, and his lies are for our own good.
Some pundits and journalists keep referring to Obama's signature "If you like it, you can keep it, period" as a promise.* This is an incoherent use of 'promise.'
Suppose a loan originator hands you a mortgage contract and says, "I promise you that this loan is not callable." (A callable loan is one in which the lender reserves the right to demand payment in full, plus interest, at any time.) If you are not stupid you will point out that this is not a question of the making and keeping of promises, but only one of the actual and explicit content of the contract. You will demand to see where in the contract it is stated that the loan is not callable. If the loan officer cannot locate the passage, or you find words to the effect that the loan is callable, then you know that the loan officer is lying about the content of the mortgage contract. At this point you might say to the officer, ironically, "I see you broke your promise, or perhaps it was a false promise from the start."
The point ought to be obvious and equally obvious its relevance to Obama's signature lie. One cannot promise what a document will contain given that there is an easily ascertainable fact as to what it does contain. Obamacare was a bill before it became law, but either way it has a definite content. It is not for Obama to promise what is in the ACA but to report truthfully as to what the definite content is.
Coherent: "I promise to sign the bill." "I promise to have a bill written that will provide that anyone who wants to keep his plan or doctor can do so."
Incoherent: "I promise that I was once an adjunct professor of law." "I promise that the ACA provides that anyone who wants to keep his plan can do so, period." "I promise that if you read the bill, you will see that it does so provide."
If you insist that our POMO POTUS made a promise with his signature avowal, will you say that he broke his promise or that he made an insincere promise from the start? Either way you don't understand the concept of promising.
Another mistake that some journalists make is to describe the Obama lie as a half truth. Not so. A statement that is false cannot be half-true. Compare
1. All of you who like your plan can keep your plan, period.
2. Most of you who like your plan can keep your plan, period.
(1) is false and (2) is true. (1) is not rendered half-true or partially true due to the presence of the universal quantifier or the fact that (1) entails (2).
'All politcians lie' entails 'Some politicians lie.' The latter is true; the former false, not half-true. Note finally that 'wholly true' is pleonastic.
* For example, "President Barack Obama’s “if you like it, you can keep it” promise has House Democrats facing a dilemma as they look ahead to a vote on Republican legislation to preserve existing health plans."
You host my favorite blog on the internet. I can’t believe I didn’t find out about it until just a few months ago. May you blog forever.
Here’s a counterexample to your latest definition which still includes an “intention to deceive”, i.e. here is a case of a lie where there is no intention to deceive:
Larry is on trial for felonious assault (he punched his grandma in the face repeatedly because she turned the channel when Chris Matthews came on). His whole family was there. There was blood found on him when the cops arrived that was his grandma’s, and there was no blood found on anyone else. His grandma and his own mother testify in court against him, weeping because Larry has been such a disappointment. There is no evidence presented for the side that he did not do it. His lawyer has presented absolutely no evidence in his favor. EVERYONE in the courtroom knows that he did it. Moreover (and more importantly), he KNOWS that they know that he did it (the jurors repeatedly shake their heads in disgust every time he looks at them).
But Larry is corrupt to the core, lacking any remorse. In the sentencing phase, as a last act in defiance of his family, the court, and his hometown, he coldly looks the jurors square in the eyes and says, “I did not do it.”
Very interesting case. It puts me in mind of O. J. Simpson and Bill Clinton. When Clinton told his famous lie, (almost) everybody knew he was lying, and Bubba knew that (almost) everybody knew he was lying. So when he made his false statement ("I did not have sex with that woman") he knew that hardly anyone would be deceived by what he said. I think Borland would say about this actual case what he said about his hypothetical one, namely, that the agent lied shamelessly but without any intention to deceive. If so, then any definition of lying that includes as a necessary condition the intention to deceive is mistaken.
There are at least thee ways of responding to this putative counterexample.
A. Run the argument in reverse. Borland's argument is that Larry lied but had no intention to deceive his audience; therefore, an intention to deceive is not a necessary condition of a statement's being a lie. But the argument can be run in reverse with no breach of logical propriety: An intention to deceive is a necessary condition of a statement's being a lie; Larry had no intention to deceive; ergo, Larry did not lie.
Or as we say in the trade, "One man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens."
On this approach, Tully's example is not a counterexample to my definition but merely an illustration of a phenomenon like lying but distinct from it.
B. A second approach is to question Tully's assumption that there is no intention to deceive where there is no possibility of deception. Is the belief that it is possible for me to deceive you a necessary condition of my intending to deceive you? Or can I intend to deceive you while knowing that it is not possible to deceive you?
It seems to me that, necessarily, if an an agent A intends to do X, then A believes that it is possible for A to do X. The following, though not narrowly-logically contradictory, strikes me as broadly-logically contradictory: I fully intend to complete the 2014 Lost Dutchman marathon in under three hours but I know that this is impossible for me.
Therefore, necessarily, if a person intends to deceive his audience about his or that , then he believes that it is possible for him to deceive his audience about this or that.
The (B) response to Borland's putative counterexample, therefore, does not look promising.
C. On a third approach we abandon the attempt to capture in a definition the essence of lying. We treat lying as a family-resemblance concept in roughly Wittgenstein's sense. Accordingly, there is no one essence specifiable by the laying down of necessary and sufficient conditions that all and only lies have in common.
Or perhaps I should put the point like this. There are correct uses of 'lie' and cognates in English and incorrect uses. But there is no one univocal sense shared by all the correct uses. So if a person uses 'lie' interchangeably with 'false statement,' then he uses 'lie' incorrectly. But a use of 'lie' that does not involve the intention to deceive is correct as well as a use that does involve the intention to deceive. And there is a correct use that requires that a lie be a false statement and a correct use that allows a lie to be a true statement.
But I should think that the paradigm cases of lying all involve the intention to deceive and the notion that a lie is a false statement and not merely a statement believed to be false by its producer.
I think the best response to Tully's counterexample is (C). What he has shown is that there is a correct use of 'lie' in situations in which there is no intention to deceive, and no deception either. But this use of 'lie' is non-paradigmatic and peripheral to the main way 'lie' is used in English which (dare I say it?) is my way.
A lie is a false statement made with the intention to deceive.
I wonder if more should be said about what counts as a statement. You leave open the possibility that there are other ways of tokening statement-types than uttering them when you say a statement type isn’t a lie until someone “utters or otherwise tokens the type.” Do you have in mind other ways to token statements that aren’t utterances?
BV: Well, there are written statements in addition to spoken statements. A written statement is not an utterance but it tokens a statement type. Obama has been caught numerous times lying via speech acts about the content of the PPACA. But suppose he publishes a written statement that includes the sentence, "After the PPACA passes, you will be able to keep your health plan and your doctor if you so desire." That sentence is a token of a statement type. It too would be a lie. Every lie is a statement, i.e., a stating, but not every statement is a spoken statement.
If so, we need to see if they, too, count as lies on your proposal (i.e., are there forms of deception that token statements without uttering them?). If a businessman leaves his home porch light on as he leaves for vacation, is he tokening the statement “someone is home”? Or does a football player token the statement “I’m going right” when he jukes right but goes left? If so, we have false statements being made with the intention to deceive. But it would be counterintuitive to say the business man and the football player here are lying.
BV: The question Chad is raising now is whether a statement type can be tokened by a non-sentential entity. Can one make a statement without speaking or writing or displaying (as on a sign) a declarative sentence? I would say no. A statement type is a linguistic entity the tokens of which must themselves be linguistic entities. The statement type *Obama is a liar* is tokened by my stating that he is a liar, i.e., by my assertive utterance of the sentence 'Obama is a liar.' But it can also be tokened by my writing the sentence, 'Obama is a liar.'
Note that not every utterance of a sentence is an assertive utterance. I might utter the sentence 'Obama is a liar' in oratio obliqua, or in a language class to illustrate a sentence in the indicative mood. And the same holds for writing a sentence. If you ask me for an example of an English sentence, I might write on the black board, 'Obama is a liar.' But I haven't thereby made a statement.
Or here’s a possible counterexample that avoids the non-utterance category. Suppose the CIA discovers that Al-Qaida has tapped the phone line on which the president’s whereabouts are discussed in an effort to plan an attack on his life. Knowing this, a CIA agent says over the line, knowing the terrorists are listening, that the president will be at the Washington Memorial at 4pm, when in fact he will be safe at camp David at that time. Has the CIA agent lied to the terrorists? It doesn’t seem to me that he has; not just because the deception here is not wrong, but because it just doesn’t seem like a lie period.
BV: This is an interesting example that Chad intends as a counterexample to my above definition. I utter a sentence that I know to be false with the intention of deceiving any terrorists who might be listening, without knowing whether any terrorists are listening. According to Chad, I have made a false statement with the intention to deceive, but I have not lied. Chad's point, I take it, is that a lie necessarily involves an interpersonal transaction in which the maker of the false statement knows that the adressee is in receipt of it. If that is Chad's point, then I can accommodate it by modifying my definition:
A lie is a false statement made by a person P and addressed to another person Q or a group of other persons Q1, Q2, . . . Qn, Qn+1, . . . such that (i) Q or some of the Qs are in receipt of P's statement and are known by P to be in receipt of it, and (ii) P's statement is made with the intention to deceive Q or some of the Qs.
But I should say that I do think all lies are morally blameworthy. I see here a distinction similar to that between murder and killing. All murder is morally blameworthy and also killing, but not all killing is murder. Similarly, all lies are morally blameworthy and deceptive, but not all deceptions are lies. So I’m inclined to see your definition as capturing only a necessary condition of lies. I have some ideas about what sufficient conditions are needed to get a better definition, but I’ve said enough for now. What do you think?
BV: Murder, by definition, is wrongful killing, whereas killings (of human beings) are some of them morally permissible, some of them morally impermissible, and some of them -- I would argue -- moral obligatory. It seems that Chad wants to pack moral wrongness into the concept of lying, so that the following is an analytic proposition: *Lying is wrongful intentional deception.* That would give him a reason to deny that the terrorist example is an example of lying. For while there is deception, and it is intentional, it is not wrongful intentional deception.
Suppose the SS are at my door looking for Jews. I state falsely that there are no Jews in my house. On Chad's analysis I have not lied because my action is morally praiseworthy, or at least not morally wrong. On my view, I have lied, but my lie is morally justifiable. But then moral wrongness cannot be packed into the concept of lying. I agree that lying, in most cases, is wrong. But I don't see the connection between lying and wrongness as analytic.
Suppose once again that the SS are at my door looking for Jews. I state what I believe to be false, namely, that there are no Jews present. But it turns out that, unbeknownst to me, what I state is true. So I make a true statement with the intention to deceive. Monokroussos in an earlier thread took this to show that a lie need not be a false statement. What's necessary is only that the statement be believed to be false by its utterer. I wonder what Chad would say about this case.
Herewith, a partial catalog of some habits that I at least find annoying. More examples later.
1. Calling an opposing view with an impressive pedigree a 'mistake' as if the opposing view can be simply dismissed as resting on some elementary blunder. Here is an example by a distinguished contemporary:
. . . it is possible to distinguish between the being and the nature of a thing -- any thing; anything -- and that the thick conception of being is founded on the mistake of transferring what belongs properly to the nature of a chair -- or of a human being or of a universal or of God -- to the being of the chair. To endorse the thick conception of being is, in fact, to make . . . the very mistake of which Kant accused Descartes: the mistake of treating being as a ‘real predicate.’ (Peter van Inwagen, Ontology, Identity, and Modality, Cambridge 2001, pp. 3-4, emphasis added.)
What van Inwagen is saying here is that the conception of being represented by such luminaries as Thomas Aquinas and all the lesser lights of the Thomist tradition is a mistake because it rests on a mistake. Now it would indeed be a mistake to "transfer what properly belongs to the nature of" an F to the being of the F-item. But that is not what the thick conception does. So if anyone is making a mistake here, it is van Inwagen.
That the thick conception of being does not rest on anything that could be called a mistake is argued by me in "Existence: Two Dogmas of Analysis," in Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives in Metaphysics, Routledge, forthcoming.
2. Attempting to refute by fallacy-mongering. This is a perennial favorite of cyberpunks. Having swotted up a list of informal fallacies, they are eager to find 'fallacies' in their opponents' reasoning. Cyberpunks are beneath refutation, so I'll cite as example A. C. Grayling's ham-handed attempt to pin the fallacy of petitio principii on Plantinga. See Sensus Divinitatis: Nagel Defends Plantinga Against Grayling.
3. Dismissing seriously posed questions as 'rhetorical.' Example. Thomists take a hylomorphic approach to the mind. Roughly, they maintain that anima forma corporis: the soul is the form of the body. I am not my soul, as on Platonism: I am a composite of soul and body, substantial form and proximate matter. But they also believe that the soul can exist in a disembodied state post mortem. There is a tension here inanasmuch as form and matter are incomplete items, 'principles' uncovered in the analysis of complete items, primary substances. But if souls, as forms, are incomplete items, how can they exist when apart from matter?
Now consider that question. Is it rhetorical? No. It is a genuine question and a reasonable one which may or may not have a good Thomist answer. To dismiss such a sincerely intended and reasonably motivated question as rhetorical is not a legitimate philosophical move. It is a way of disrespecting one's interlocutor by dismissing his concerns.
4. Using 'surely' as a device of bluster. Little is sure in philosophy, hence uses of 'surely' border on bluster. "Don't call me 'Shirley'" is a way of combatting this bad habit, one to which I have been known to succumb. I may have picked up the habit from Plantinga's writing.
"Surely, there is a property expressed by the predicate 'is Socrates,' the property, identity-with-Socrates." (This is not a quotation from Plantinga.) Shirley? Where's Shirley?
Just as one ought to avoid the cheap dismissals illustrated in #s 1-3, one ought to avoid the cheap avowal illustrated in #4.
5. Advertising one's political correctness. I am reading an article on some arcane topic such as counterfactual conditionals, when I encounter a ungrammatical use of 'they' to avoid the supposedly radioactive 'he.' I groan: not another PC-whipped leftist! I am distracted from the content of the article by the political correctness of the author. As I have said more than once, PC comes from the CP, and what commies, and leftists generally, attempt to do is to inject politics into every aspect of life. It is in keeping with their totalitarian agenda.
If you complain that I am injecting politics into this post, I will say that I am merely combatting and undoing the mischief of leftists. It is analogous to nonviolent people using violence to defend themselves and their way of life against the violent. We conservatives who want the political kept in its place and who are temperamentally disinclined to be political activists must be become somewhat politically active to undo the the damage caused by leftist totalitarians. By the way, there is nothing sexist about standard English; the view that it is is itself a leftist doctrine that one is free to reject.
6. Responding by repeating. If I raise a question as to the intelligibility of, say, the Chalcedonian definition, then it is no decent response merely to repeat the definition. Otherwise I become annoyed. And we don't want that.
7. Excessive use of 'of course.' I am guilty of this. It is like 'surely': more often than not a device of bluster in philosophy.
8. Feigning incomprehension. Saying, 'I don't know what you are talking about,' when you have a tolerably clear idea of what I am talking about. This may be the same as Petering Out.
What is offensive here is the dismissal of an idea or an entire philosophy because it is not totally clear, when it ought to be one purpose of philosophical dialog to clarify what is not totally clear. You say you have no idea what Emmanuel Levinas is driving at in Totality and Infinity? Then I say you must be one stupid fellow or uneducated or both. Same with Heidegger and Hegel, et al. You say you don't know what Hegel is talking about what he says, at the beginning of his Science of Logic, that Being passes over into Nothing? No idea at all? Then you are dumb or inattentive or lazy or a philistine or something else it would not be good to be.
Don't feign incomprehension. If you find what I maintain unclear, explain why you think it unclear, and then ask for clarification. In that way, we may make a bit of progress.
9. Taking the names of great philosophers in vain. If you are historically ignorant, don't attach the names of great philosophers to your pet theses. Don't use 'Leibniz's Law' for something that cannot be found in Leibniz. See 'Leibniz's Law': A Useless Expression. Don't call 'Aristotelian' the view that there are immanent universals. If you have never read Brentano or Meinong, why are you dropping their names in your labels for theses that are not theirs?
10. Confusing philosophy with the history of philosophy. Kant says it best in the second paragraph of the Introduction to his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (LLA ed. p. 3):
There are scholarly men, to whom the history of philosophy (both ancient and modern) is philosophy itself; for these the present Prolegomena are not written. They must wait till those who endeavor to draw from the fountain of reason itself have completed their work; it will then be the historian's turn to inform the world of what has been done. Unfortunately, nothing can be said, which in their opinion has not been said before, and truly the same prophecy applies to all future time; for since the human reason has for many centuries speculated upon innumerable objects in various ways, it is hardly to be expected that we should not be able to discover analogies for every new idea among the old sayings of past ages.
11. Criticizing a philosopher for thinking for himself and not discussing one's favorite historical figure.
It must have been in the early '80s. A paper of mine on haecceities had been accepted for reading at a regular colloquium session of the A. P. A., Eastern Division. The paper focused on Alvin Plantinga's theory of haecceity properties. Although I had a good job, I was looking for something better and I had also secured an interview with Penn State at that same APA convention. The late Joseph J. Kockelmans was one of the members of the Penn State philosophy department who interviewed me. When he heard that the paper I was to read dealt with haecceities, he asked whether I would be discussing Duns Scotus. I of course explained that there would be no time for that since I had twenty minutes and my paper dealt with ideas of Plantinga. Kockelman's question displayed the typical bias of the Historical/Continental type of scholar. Such a person cannot understand how one might directly engage a contemporary question without dragging in the opinions of long dead thinkers. They cannot understand how one could think for oneself, or how philosophy could be anything other than its history or the genuflecting before texts or the worshipping at the shrine of Heidegger, say.
And then there was a colleague I once had. He was a Leibniz man. Interested as I am in metaphysics, I once brought up the Identity of Indiscernibles with him. I asked him whether he accepted it. His reply was of the form: in one place Leibniz says this, and in another place he says that, and according to commentator X . . . " But what do YOU think of the principle, Dan?" Well, in the Discourse onMetaphysics Leibniz takes the view that . . . . And so it went. He was a scholar of philosophy, but no philosopher.
Examples are easily multiplied.
12. Compiling lists such as this one. This doesn't annoy me, but it might annoy you.
A striking one or two sentence formulation taken from a wider context is not an aphorism, strictly speaking. But I'm in a loose and liberal mood. So I present for your consideration and delectation the following sentence from Paul Ludwig Landsberg (1901-1944). It is from his essay "The Moral Problem of Suicide," translated from the French by Cynthia Rowland and bound together with "The Experience of Death" in a volume entitled The Experience of Death (Arno Press, New York, 1977). The sentence occurs on p. 69.
Temptation is an experience of the difference between the vertigo of power and the decision of duty.
There is so much to learn from the Trayvon Martin affair. One 'take-away' is the importance of self-control. If Martin had been taught, or rather had learned, to control himself he would most likely be alive today. But he didn't. He blew his cool when questioned about his trespassing in a gated community on a rainy night. He punched a man in the face and broke his nose, then jumped on him, pinned him down, and told him that he was going to die that night. So, naturally, the man defended himself against the deadly attack with deadly force. What Zimmerman did was both morally and legally permissible. If some strapping youth is pounding your head into the pavement, you are about to suffer "grave bodily harm" if not death. What we have here is clearly a case of self-defense.
Does race enter into this? In one way it does. Blacks as a group have a rather more emotional nature than whites as a group. (If you deny this, you have never lived in a black neighborhood or worked with blacks, as I have.) So, while self-control is important for all, the early inculcation of self-control is even more important for blacks.
Hard looks, hateful looks, suspicious looks -- we all get them from time to time, but they are not justifications for launching a physical assault on the looker. The same goes for harsh words.
If you want to be successful you must learn to control yourself. You must learn to control your thoughts, your words, and your behavior. You must learn to keep a tight rein on your feelings. Unfortunately, liberals in positions of authority have abdicated when it comes to moral education. For example, they refuse to enforce discipline in classrooms. So liberals, as usual, are part of the problem.
But that is to put it too mildly. There is no decency on the Left, no wisdom, and, increasingly, no sanity. For example, the crazy comparison of Trayvon Martin with Emmet Till. But perhaps I should put the point disjunctively: you are either crazy if you make that comparison, or moral scum.
The theological virtues are three: faith, hope, and charity. The scientistic virtues are two: faith and hope. The scientistic types, pinning their hopes on future science, are full of faith in things unseen, things that are incomprehensible now but will, they hope, become comprehensible in the fullness of time. They thirst less for justice and righteousness than for the final slaying of the dragon of the Hard Problem that stands between them and the paradise of naturalism. (Of course they fool themselves in thinking that the problem of qualia is the only hard problem in the philosophy of mind.)
What is strange here is the quasi-religious talk of "pinning hopes on future science" as if -- quite absurdly -- knowing more and more about the meat within our skulls will finally resolve the outstanding questions in the philosophy of mind. And what, pray tell, does science have to do with hope? To speak of hope in this context shows that one has abandoned science for scientism. There is also something exceedingly curious about hoping that one turn out to be just a material system, a bit of dust in the wind.
"I was so hoping to be proved to be nothing more than a clever land mammal slated for destruction in a few years, but, dammit all, there are reasons to think that we are more than animals and have a higher destiny. That sucks! Life would then have a meaning beyond the four 'F's: fighting, fleeing, feeding, and reproducing!"
There are courageous souls who will say publically what others think but are afraid to say. True. But the courageousness of the saying does not underwrite the truth of what is said. Courage does not validate content.
Muhammad Atta and the 9/11 terrorists had the courage of their false and murderous convictions.
As a corollary, passion is not probative. The passion with which a proposition is propounded is no proof of it. It is scant praise of a person, and perhaps no praise at all, to say, as is often nowadays said, that so-and-so is passionate about his beliefs. So what? Hitler was passionate.
We have need of dispassion these days, not passion. William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming, first stanza:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the
falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. As John Randolph of Roanoke put it, Providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries. Human society being complex, remedies cannot be simple if they are to be efficacious. The conservative declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences. Sudden and slashing reforms are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery.
How does Barack Obama stack up against this fourth principle? Permit me a slight exaggeration: Obama is the apotheosis of imprudence. Like Randolph's "devil who always hurries," he is in a big rush to "fundamentally transform America" (his words), as witness Obamacare and Obama's stunning fiscal irresponsibility. The national debt approaches 17 trillion (by a very conservative measure) and the man thinks that not a problem. Well, as Krazy Krugman says, the government is not like a household: the government can print money! Yes it can. And will.
At once a devil and a deification. We are in for it.
It can happen that as a man becomes weaker, he is better able to weaken the grip of his weaknesses. Having less energy for their implementation, he now masters what mastered him. Vices vitiate until the body they have vitiated vitiates them in turn.
A mark of intellectual maturity is the ability to tolerate uncertainty without fleeing to dogmas that make false certainties of objective uncertainties, but also without falling into a self-vitiating relativism. The ideal is a love of truth that does not flag but also accepts no substitutes.
We are measurable by the nature of our regrets. What do you regret? Not having drunk enough good wine? Not having amassed more wealth? Not having given in to the temptation to commit adultery with willing women or men in faraway places? Or is it rather your intellectual mistakes and moral failures that you regret?
We can be measured by the nature of our regrets as much as by the altitude of our aspirations.
Courage is not fearlessness. The courageous feel fear, but master it, unlike the cowardly who are mastered by it. To feel no fear in any of life's situations is to fail to perceive real dangers. The fearless are foolish. It is therefore inept to praise the courageous as fearless: their virtue, which one presumably intends to praise, consists in the mastery of precisely that the absence of which would render them foolish.
Perhaps we are here to be taught humility. Some indications that this could be so:
1. War is endless and ubiquitous at every level and there is nothing much we can do about it. A 'war to end all wars" in Woodrow Wilson's claptrap phrase would be a war that put an end to humanity. It is an excellent bet that there will be wars as long as there are human beings. There are wars within families and between tribes and nations and gangs and interest groups. There is class warfare and racial hatred and the battle of the sexes. There are inter-generational tensions ("Don't trust anyone over 30!") and intrapsychic conflicts. There is inter-species predation. Not only is man a wolf to man, wolves are wolves to men, and men to wolves. If extraterrestrials should show up it is a good bet that a 'war of the worlds' would ensue. If they came to serve man, it would be to serve him for dinner, as in the famous Twilight Zone episode, "To Serve Man."
Some warn of the militarization of space as if it has not already been militarized. It has been, and for a long time now. How long depending on how high up you deem space begins. Are they who warn unaware of spy satellites? Of Gary Powers and the U-2 incident? Of the V-2s that crashed down on London? Of the crude Luftwaffen, air-weapons, of the First World War? The Roman catapults? The first javelin thrown by some Neanderthal spear chucker? It travelled through space to pierce the heart of some poor effer and was an early weaponization of the space between chucker and effer.
"I will not weaponize space," said Obama while a candidate in 2008. That empty promise came too late, and is irresponsible to boot: if our weapons are not there, theirs will be.
The very notion that outer space could be reserved for wholly peaceful purposes shows a deep lack of understanding of the human condition. Show me a space with human beings in it and I will show you a space that potentially if not actually is militarized and weaponized. Man is, was, and will be a bellicose son of a bitch. If you doubt this, study history, with particular attention to the 20th century. You can bet that the future will resemble the past in this respect. Note that the turn of the millenium has not brought anything new in this regard. And whatever happened to the Age of Aquarius?
Older is not wiser. All spaces, near, far, inner, outer, are potential scenes of contention, which is why I subscribe to the Latin saying:
Si vis pacem, para bellum.
If you want peace, prepare for war.
2. At the level of ideas there is unending controversy, often acrimonious, in almost every field. There is the strife of systems, not to mention the strife of the systematic with the anti-systematic. (Hegel versus Kierkegaard, for example.) Despite invincible ignorance ignorant of itself as ignorance, contentious humans proudly proclaim their 'knowledge' -- and are contradicted by fools of opposing stripes.
3. My third point is subsumable under my first, but so important that it deserves separate mention. Homo homini lupus. Never eradicated, man's inhumanity to man is seemingly ineradicable. As we speak, people are being poisoned, shot, stabbed for the flimsiest of reasons or no reason at all. Girls are being raped and sold into slavery. The abortion 'doctors' are slaughtering innocent human beings while apologists whose intellects have been suborned by their lusts cook up justifications. The Iranian head of state calls for the destruction of Israel and its inhabitants. Meanwhile benighted leftists ignore the threat of radical Islam and label 'islamophobic' those who see straight. Every hour of every day extends the litany of the 'lupine.' And there is not much we can do about it.
4. And then there is the eventual if not present corruption of all the institutions that are supposed to ameliorate the human condition: the churches, the criminal justice system, the U. N., governments. The reformers reform until they too become corrupted. And there is little we can do about it.
5. Let's not leave out our animal nature that insures fragility, sickness, death and untold miseries. Transhumanist fantasies aside, there is not much we can do about it. (We can do something, and we have, and that is good; but sickness, old age, and death are as much with us as in the days of the Buddha.)
Meditating on such points as these one might hazard the inference that this world is a vale of soul-making wherein a chief virtue to be learned is that of humility. Our minds are dark, our wills weak, our hearts foul. What is to be so proud about?
People are so easy to swindle because the swindler has as accomplices the victim's own moral defects. When good judgment and moral sense are suborned by lust or greed or sloth or vanity or anger, the one swindled participates willingly in his own undoing. In the end he swindles himself.
How is it, for example, that Bernie Madoff 'made off' with so much loot? You have otherwise intelligent people who are lazy, greedy and vain: too lazy to do their own research and exercise due diligence, too greedy to be satisfied with the going rate of return, and too vain to think that anything bad can happen to such high-placed and sophisticated investors as themselves.
Or take the Enron employees. They invested their 401 K money in the very firm that that paid their salaries! Now how stupid is that? But they weren't stupid; they stupified themselves by allowing the subornation of their good sense by their vices.
The older I get the more I appreciate that our problems, most of them and at bottom, are moral in nature. Why, for example, are we and our government in dangerous debt? A lack of money? No, a lack of virtue. People cannot curtail desire, defer gratification, be satisfied with what they have, control their lower natures, pursue truly choice-worthy ends.
Old age is a good time for the continence whose practice was too difficult in younger days. But wait too long, and your vices will abandon you before you abandon them. Scant is the merit of continence born of incapacity.
Liberals who have amounted to something in life through advanced study, hard work, deferral of gratification, self-control, accepting responsibility for their actions and the rest of the old-fashioned virtues are often strangely hesitant to preach these conservative virtues to those most in need of them. These liberals live Right and garner the benefits, but think Left. They do not make excuses for themselves, but they do for others. And what has worked for them they do not think will work for others. Their attitude is curiously condescending. If we conservatives used 'racist' as loosely and irresponsibly as they do, we might even tag their attitude 'racist.'
It is not enough to practice what you preach; you must also preach what you practice.
If a noble man becomes aware of my moral defects, he is saddened, disappointed, disillusioned perhaps. But the base man reacts differently: he is gleeful, pleased, reassured. "So he isn't better than me after all! Good!"
The noble seek those who are above them so that they can become like them. The base deny that anyone could be above them.
Must not the materialist, the mortalist hope that bodily death is the absolute end as death draws near? For he has lived as if it is. He has made no provision for anything else. He has decided that this life is all there is and has lived accordingly. He hopes he is in for no surprise. If he has lived in ways commonly regarded as evil, in the manner of a Saddam Hussein, say, surely he hopes that in the end there is no good and evil but only flimsy and fleeting human opinions.
So the mortalist too has his hope. He hopes for annihilation at death. He does not, after all, know that he is slated for annihilation. So he must hope. He has faith and hope. And love? He loves this world so much that he cannot allow even the possibility of another to distract his love.
These then are the mortalist's 'theological virtues.'
Near the end of Richard Weaver's essay, "Life Without Prejudice," he quotes Milton:
I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world; we bring impurity much rather; that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by that which is contrary.
The passage bears comparison with Theodore Roosevelt's remarks about being in the arena.
I like especially the last sentence of the Milton quotation. We are born corrupt, not innocent. We are not here (mainly) to improve the world, but (mainly) to be improved by it. The world's a vale of soul-making. Since this world is a vanishing quantity, it makes little sense to expend energy trying to improve it: when your house is burning down, you don't spruce up the facade. You don't swab the decks of a sinking ship. It makes more sense to spend time and effort on what has a chance of outlasting the transitory. This world's use is to build something that outlasts it.
But this will, pace Milton, require some flight from the world into the cloister where perhaps alone the virtues can be developed that will need testing later in the world.
A while back we had to deal with a difficult person. Afterwards, wanting to praise me for my patience, my wife said, "Thank you for trying to be patient." At that I lost my patience. "I wasn't trying to be patient, I was succeeding!" Until that moment.
Is all production vain and shameless? Perhaps not if one keeps one's productions to oneself. But writing books, articles and blog posts is not just production, but publishing, making public. Is publishing mere vanity and self-promotion?
In given cases it can be. And whether one of those cases is my case is not for me to decide. But surely it would be absurd to claim that all publishing by anyone is mere vanity and shameless self-promotion. Take the books of John Searle. He thinks he has solved the mind-body problem. He has done no such thing. Yet his books are enormously rich and stimulating despite some error and confusion. I am glad he has written his many books and made his contribution to our common ongoing philosophical quest. He has given me many hours of pleasure and elevated thought.
All living is self-asserting. But there is self-assertion and there is self-assertion. Personal assertion in the service of the impersonal truth is more than mere personal assertion. Thereby is vanity substantiated and shamelessness redeemed.
Finally, there is the problem of the social fabric. Segmented societies do not thrive, nor do ones, like ours, with diminishing social trust. Nanny-state government may have helped undermine personal responsibility and the social fabric, but that doesn’t mean the older habits and arrangements will magically regrow simply by reducing government’s role. For example, there has been a tragic rise in single parenthood, across all ethnic groups, but family structures won’t spontaneously regenerate without some serious activism, from both religious and community groups and government agencies.
First of all, no one thinks that a reduction in the role of government "will magically regrow . . . the older habits and arrangements." So that was a silly thing to write. Such a reduction is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of a reversal of American decline. Second, only a liberal could believe that government activism could lead to a flourishing of the 'vigorous virtues' of self-reliance, personal responsibility, industriousness and a passion for freedom. Action is required, but at the level of the individual, the family, the neighbohood, the community, the church, the school.
These virtues are what make good government possible. The notion that government can inculcate them is silly. The inculcation occurs primarily in the family. But what does government do? It undermines the family.
On a positive note, David Brooks is a very entertaining and mainly sane writer and proof that the leftist rag-of-record, the NYT, hasn't completely gone to hell on its opinion pages.
Your recent posts on temptation got me thinking (again) about a problem I've wrestled with a long time. I'm a Christian minister and I've long thought about a tension between Jesus Christ's focus on intentions and sin in the internal life of man and the Christian conviction summed up in Hebrews 4:15 that Jesus was tempted in all the ways that we are but did not sin. I accept Jesus' injunction against (for instance) lusting after a person in one's heart and being angry at a person as sinful mental states or attitudes. I know from many of your past posts that you, too, are sympathetic with such a view. I believe that attitudes and intentions can be sinful as well as actions, and no doubt I get that from my Christianity.
But it seems to me that to be tempted is at least in part to (for instance) 'lust after a woman in your heart'. To be angry at someone is to be tempted to act against them. To be attracted to a woman and think about (say) cheating on my wife is to be tempted to cheat. But isn't that lusting after her in my heart? This creates a problem with the view that Jesus was sinless and indeed has often made me question that particular doctrine. How could Jesus be tempted 'in all ways' that we are and yet not sin, since it seems that to be tempted is to adopt, if only for a moment, the attitudes he labels as sinful? I've never come up with a satisfactory answer to this question, so I was wondering what you might think of it.
I had actually never thought of this. The problem seems genuine and worth discussing for anyone who takes Christian orthodoxy seriously. To throw the problem into sharp relief, I will formulate it as an inconsistent pentad:
1. Being fully human, Jesus was subject to every manner of temptation and was actually tempted. 2. To be tempted to do X is to harbor the thought of doing X. 3. Thoughts are morally evaluable: there are such things as evil (sinful) thoughts. 4. If a person habitually harbors evil (sinful) thoughts, then the person is sinful. 5. Being fully divine, Jesus was wholly sinless.
This quintet of propositions is logically inconsistent as is obvious from the fact that if the first four are true, then the fifth must be false.
To solve the problem we must reject one of the pentad's limbs. (1) and (5) are clear commitments of orthodox Christian theology and so cannot be abandoned by anyone who wishes to remain orthodox. (3) has a NT basis, and so it cannot be abandoned either. But (2) and (4) are rejectable.
As for (2), I can be tempted to do something like cheating my inexperienced customers without harboring the thought of doing so: I might just have the thought but then suppress it or dismiss it.
As for (4), even if a married person dwells on the sinful thought of a trip to Las Vegas (where, we are told, "what happens there, stays there") to hook up (in the contemporary sexual sense) with an old flame, that by itself does not make the person a sinful person. To be a sinful person one must habitually sin in thought, word, or deed. Going on a drunk or two does not make one a drunkard; lying a few times does not make one a liar, etc.
Note that (2) and (4) are necessary to derive a contradiction. The problem can thus be solved by rejecting one or both of these propositions. Rejecting (2) suffices to solve the problem.
In sum, Jesus' being tempted and his being perfectly sinless are consistent because, while Jesus had tempting thoughts, he did not entertain them with hospitality but rejected them. "Get behind me, Satan, etc."
I have been a follower and great admirer of you and your blog writing for some time. I enjoyed reading your most recent post, especially as this topic has been fresh in my mind from preaching a sermon last week from James 1:13-15 on the nature and power of temptation in the Christian life. While of course our conclusions will inevitably differ in many ways on this topic, given our differences of belief concerning Christianity, I wanted to write you to ask for clarification concerning what you distinguish as first-order temptations and meta-temptations (or perhaps second-order temptations?).
I believe the heart of your argument is: Meta-temptation is the worst form of temptation because one who succumbs to the temptation to reject the objective validity of the moral point view has removed the context in which dalliance with floozies, paying one's debts, not murdering one's rivals, etc. are morally evaluable.
My question is this: is not your definition of meta temptation true of all temptation? Since I always choose that which is most desirable to my mind’s eye in the moment (to paraphrase Jonathan Edwards on the Freedom of the Will), am I not choosing that which I perceive as the greatest good and desirable, even if in reality it is not good but evil? Of course self-deception is at work where I assent to contradictory propositions in the moment: I should not do [X] because it is evil (i.e. God has forbidden [X]); I should do [X] because it is good (i.e. [X] will satisfy me and thus I determine what is good and evil).
The distinction I was making was between being tempted to do what one's moral sense tells one is wrong in a particular situation, and the temptation to discount as illusory the entire moral point of view. These strike me as different because one can be tempted in the first way while having no doubts at all about the objective validity of morality. Consider an example. I am a married man in a distant city attending a convention. A woman I meet there makes it clear that she is attracted to me and is available for sex. Finding her attractive I am tempted to invite her up to my hotel room. This is a 'first-order' temptation in that it concerns a specific action. Let us assume that there is no prudential reason why I shouldn't act upon my desire. But my conscience or moral sense tells me that the contemplated action, adultery, is wrong because it violates a vow I took. I do not doubt at all the objective validity of the deliverances of conscience in general or even the validity of the present deliverance; I simply override the present deliverance. I just block it out. I don't even have to engage in any rationalization. I merely suppress the bite of conscience and go ahead with the action.
So I don't see that my definition of meta-temptation applies to this sort of case. I know (or rather believe) that what I am about to do is objectively wrong, but, in the grip of lust, I freely suppress this knowledge (or belief) and freely go ahead with the contemplated action. I am not choosing what appears to me at the moment most desirable (desire-worthy), for I believe I am about to do a morally shabby thing. But I do it anyway! I willfully do what I know or believe I ought not do. And I do it freely. Lust may have me in its grip but I am not powerless to resist it; I freely consent to going with the flow.
Is not the purpose of all temptation to construct on alternate reality/metaphysic of what is good and what is evil, to make the false “look more true than truth itself” (to quote Irenaeus from his Against Heresies), to make something look larger than life in order to tempt me to believe that it will slake and satisfy my vicious lusts? It reminds me of Romans 1:22-23 where the Apostle Paul writes, "Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” What is interesting about verse 23 is that Paul lists the order of creation backwards as if to say, “The moment you exchange the glory of the Creator for the creature, all of reality becomes inverted and perverted and thrown completely upside down.”
I think that seems to be the nature of all temptation: an inversion and perversion of reality where the evil becomes the good and the good the evil.
I don't see that all temptation amounts to an erection of an alternative metaphysic of good and evil. The example I gave, which is common enough, involves no transvaluation of any received values. We value fidelity and disvalue betrayal.
Please note that the inversion you speak of where the evil becomes good and the good becomes evil presupposes the moral point of view. Suppose A agrees with B that there is an objective and absolute moral order. But they disagree about which actions are good and which evil. A might hold that it is objectively good to procreate while B, under the influence of Schopenhauer, holds that procreation is objectively evil. That is a deep disagreement but one that plays out within the context of the shared assumption of an objective moral world order. The meta-temptation I am referring to is far more radical: the 'Nietzschean' temptation to dismiss as illusory the very notion of objective good and evil.
Is it built into the very concept of temptation that if one is tempted to do something or leave something undone that the act or ommission is morally wrong? I should think so. This is not to say that in ordinary English 'temptation' is not used in looser ways. For example, 'I am tempted to answer my opening question in the affirmative.' Or, 'I am tempted to take some of my cash and buy precious metals.' These are loose uses of 'tempt' and cognates. I am here concerned with the strict use, the moral use. Accordingly, it is by my lights a conceptual truth, and thus a necessary truth, that if one is tempted to do X or forego doing Y, then the act or the omission is morally wrong.
So, strictly speaking, to be tempted to do something is to be tempted to do something wrong. One cannot be tempted to do the right thing, or the good thing, or what one ought to do. This is nonsense: 'The floozy at the Kitty Kat lounge shook her comely ass in my face thereby tempting me to go home to my wife.' If there is temptation in this situation, it is the temptation to dally with the floozy. There is no temptation in the desire to be faithful to one's spouse or in the even stronger desire to engage in sexual intercourse with her.
Nor can one be tempted to do something morally insignificant, i.e., morally neutral. 'Home fries or hash browns' in normal circumstances is not a morally significant choice. I cannot be temped either way.
I am inclined, though not tempted, to say that the worst form of temptation is the temptation to think that it doesn't matter morally what one does or leaves undone, that the moral point of view is illusory, that morality is buncombe, conventional at best, not grounded in rerum natura. Lacking a better name for this I will call it 'meta-temptation in order distinguish it from such first-order temptations as the temptation to commit adultery or to shoot my neighbor's barking dog.
Meta-temptation is the worst form of temptation because one who succumbs to the temptation to reject the objective validity of the moral point view has removed the context in which dalliance with floozies, paying one's debts, not murdering one's rivals, etc. are morally evaluable. Such a person 'beyond morality' may have prudential reasons for doing this and refraining from that, but not strictly moral reasons.
But if meta-temptation is a form of temptation, strictly speaking, then rejecting the moral point of view is itself immoral. Rejecting it is immoral, however, only if the moral POV is objectively valid and binding. If it is without validity, then it cannot be immoral to reject it. And if it is invalid, then what appears to be temptation cannot really be temptation, and the bite of conscience that accompanies the meta-temptation to reject the moral POV is illusory and not revelatory of any moral truth.
Nothing I have said resolves the question of the objective validitiy/invalidity of the moral point of view. I myself find it impossible to shake off the thought of its objective validity. Its objective validity is subjectively certain to me. That inability of mine is, however, arguably consistent with the illusoriness of the moral POV. And so my subjective certainty is not objective certainty -- even to me!
I suspect that here as elsewhere one must in the end simply decide what one will believe and how one will live. You are fooling yourself if you think you will come up with a knock-down argument proof against every objection and acceptable to all able and sincere investigators. Examine the question throughly and then decide. Once you have decided, don't let your decision be overturned lightly. What you have resolved upon in your best hours should not be put in jeopardy by passing fears and doubts.
Talk-show host Dennis Prager is a fount of wisdom. I recommend his Happiness Hour to you, and the rest of his show as well. But I just heard him say on the Happiness Hour segment of his show, "jealousy slash envy." I beg to differ. I see a distinction between the two. See my Envy, Jealousy, and <i>Schadenfreude</i>.
Distinctions are good so long as they cut the bird of reality at the joints. The more the better.
The better people are hard on themselves. The exemplify the anti-Bukowski property: they try. They set themselves difficult tasks and strive to complete them. They make intellectual, moral, spiritual, and physical demands of themselves. They are alive to the discrepancy between what they are and what they ought to be.
But they also know how to relax and enjoy life. Be hard on yourself, but honor yourself and permit yourself a bit of self-congratulation at obstacles overcome and goals attained. The true conservative knows how to appreciate and enjoy -- and that includes appreciating and enjoying dear old self.
Money, power, sex, and recognition form the Mighty Tetrad of human motivators, the chief goads to action here below. But none of the four is evil or the root of all evil. People thoughtlessly and falsely repeat, time and again, that money is the root of all evil. Why not say that about power, sex, and recognition? The sober truth is that no member of the Mighty Tetrad is evil or the root of all evil. Each is ambiguous: a good liable to perversion.
One might wonder about recognition especially as it shades off into fame, and beyond that, into empty celebrity. Is it really good? Surely a modicum of recognition by certain of one's fellows is necessary for human happiness. To that extent, recognition is good. But a little suffices, and more is not better. To be famous would be horrible, after the initial rush wore off. And it might even get you killed by some crazy, as witness the case of John Lennon.
Consider this quartet of claims:
1. Money is the root of all evil. 2. Love of money is the root of all evil. 3. Inordinate love of money is the root of all evil. 4. Inordinate love of money is the root of some evil.
It is easy to see that each of (1)-(3) is false, and that (4) alone is true. Money is an abstract form of wealth and wealth is obviously good. How can something good be the root of all evil? It is not even the root of some evil. It makes more sense to say that the love of money is the root of all evil. But this too is plainly mistaken. Since money is good, a certain ‘love’ or desire of it is both wise and morally legitimate. It is the inordinate love of money that bears some connection to evil. But to all evil? Surely some of the evil in the world derives from such other sources as the inordinate love of power, sex, and fame. Therefore, the most we can say with a show of plausibility is that the inordinate love of money is at the root of some evil.
An inordinate love is an excessive love, a love unhinged and unbalanced. One form of excess consists in taking for an end in itself what can only be viewed as a means. Thus the miser’s mistake is in taking money to be an end in itself when it can only be a means.
Generalizing the opening quartet yields:
A. X is the root of all evil. B. Love of X is the root of all evil. C. Inordinate love of X is the root of all evil. D. Inordinate love of X is the root of some evil.
I claim that whatever one plugs in for ‘X’ — whether it be money, property, progeny, power, influence, sex, fame, knowledge, alcohol, tobacco, firearms — results in a pattern of three falsehoods and one truth. You may verify this for yourself. Or else present me with a counterexample.
One conclusion I draw is that evil has no one root. So one should not speak of the root of evil. Evil has many roots corresponding to our many inordinate loves. Since there is no one root of all evil, the eradication of evil is no simple matter. Or if there is a single root, it lies not in things desired, but in the disordered human heart. Only metanoia, a change of heart/mind, could eradicate evil, assuming evil can be uprooted.
Wait too long to develop self-control and you may find that your vices have abandoned you before you have had a chance to abandon them. In divorces of all kinds it is better to be the one who sends packing rather than the one sent packing.
The attitude of gratitude conduces to beatitude. Can it be said in plain Anglo-Saxon? Grateful thoughts lead one to happiness. However you say it, it is true. The miserable make themselves miserable by their bad thinking; the happy happy by their correct mental hygiene.
Broad generalizations, these. They admit of exceptions, as goes without saying. He who is afflicted with Weilian malheur cannot think his way out of his misery. Don't get hung up on the exceptions. Meditate on the broad practical truth. On Thanksgiving, and every day.
Liberals will complain that I am 'preaching.' But that only reinforces my point: they complain and they think, strangely, that any form of exhortation just has to be hypocritical. Besides not knowing what hypocrisy is, they don't know how to appreciate what actually exists and provably works. Appreciation is conservative. Scratch a liberal and likely as not you'll find a nihilist, a denier of the value of what is, a hankerer after what is not, and in too many cases, what is impossible.
Feeling compassion for the earthquake victims, he was pleased by his sensitivity, but his warm feeling did not motivate him to do anything such as make a monetary contribution to the Red Cross. His feeling remained mere sentiment and to that extent mere self-indulgence.
Better to feel compassion than to define it. Better still to act upon the feeling. But now an interesting question arises. Would it not be even better to act in alleviation of the other's suffering without feeling the negative affect? This line of thought is explored in Spinoza on Commiseratio.
I told myself that come November I would quit Jackin' off for a while, but October's momentum continues. I was just now looking in an old journal for something else and found this entry from 10 November 2000:
During the years he wrote Some of the Dharma, Kerouac had a chance. But then On the Road was published in 1957 (in a sense the opposite of Some of the Dharma), fame came, and he was lost forever. Sex, drugs, booze, and fame. Ancient lures. A lure is an evil that appears good. The alluring is that which to all appearances is good but is poisonous at its core. The fish lure se-duces the fish then hooks him. Women are the chief "fishers of men" to twist a New Testament phrase. The fish is 'taken in' by the lure and then 'taken out' by it. "Pretty girls make graves," said Ray Smith the Kerouac character in The Dharma Bums. The meaning is that sex leads to birth and birth to another go-round on the "slaving meat wheel" (Mexico City Blues, 211 Chorus) of samsara.
By turns we are too much the one or the other. We find it difficult to balance doubting and believing.
Properly deployed, doubt is the engine of inquiry, but it can also become a brake on commitment and thus on living. One cannot live well without belief and trust -- but not when they become gullibility and credulousness.
Whistle blowers such as Harry Markopolos have a hard time getting through to people who want to believe. Their intellects suborned by greed, otherwise intelligent people who were warned by Markopolos were taken to the cleaners by the avuncular Bernie Madoff despite the improbability of a legitimate 1% per month return in a market that safely permitted half of that.
They were skeptical of Markopolos while credulous of Madoff. A clear proof of not only the difficulty of balancing skepticism and credulousness, but also of the weakness of the intellect in the face of the torrent of the passions.
By the way, Markopolos' book, No One Would Listen, held my interest from the first page to the last. It lives up to its subtitle, "A Financial Thriller." A central lesson is that we should be deeply skeptical of federal regulatory agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission. It failed utterly to uncover the Madoff Ponzi scheme and dismissed the repeatedly-made Markopolos warnings. Liberals, with their tendency to believe in the salutary effects of an omni-intrusive and purportedly omnicompetent government, should heed this lesson.
People are generally aware of the importance of good nutrition, physical exercise and all things health-related. They understand that what they put into their bodies affects their physical health. Underappreciated is a truth just as, if not more important: that what one puts into one's mind affects one's mental and spiritual health. The soul has its foods and its poisons just as the body does. This simple truth, known for centuries, goes unheeded while liberals fall all over each other climbing aboard the various environmental bandwagons.
Why are those so concerned with physical toxins so tolerant of cultural toxins? This is another example of what I call misplaced moral enthusiasm. You worry about global warming when you give no thought to the soul, its foods, and its poisons? You liberals are a strange breed of cat, crouching behind the First Amendment, quick to defend every form of cultural pollution under the rubric 'free speech.' But honest dissent you label as 'hate speech' and you shout down those who disagree with you.
Might does not make right, but neither does impotence or relative weakness. That weakness does not justify strikes me as an important principle, but I have never seen it articulated. The Left tends to assume the opposite. They tend to assume that mightlessness makes right. I'll dub this the Converse Callicles Principle.
The power I have to kill you does not morally justify my killing you. In a slogan: Ability does not imply permissibility. My ability to kill, rape, pillage & plunder does not confer moral justification on my doing these things. But if you attack me with deadly force and I reply with deadly force of greater magnitude, your relative weakness does not supply one iota of moral justification for your attack, nor does it subtract one iota of moral justification from my defensive response. If I am justified in using deadly force against you as aggressor, then the fact that my deadly force is greater than yours does not (a) diminish my justification in employing deadly force, nor does it (b) confer any justification on your aggression.
Suppose a knife-wielding thug commits a home invasion and attacks a man and his family. The man grabs a semi-automatic pistol and manages to plant several rounds in the assailant, killing him. It would surely be absurd to argue that the disparity in lethality of the weapons involved diminishes the right of the pater familias to defend himself and his family. Weakness does not justify.
The principle that weakness does not justify can be applied to the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict from the summer of 2006 as well as to the Israeli defensive operations against the terrorist entity, Hamas. The principle ought to be borne in mind when one hears leftists, those knee-jerk supporters of any and every 'underdog,' start spouting off about 'asymmetry of power' and 'disproportionality.' Impotence and incompetence are not virtues, nor do they confer moral justification or high moral status, any more than they confer the opposite.
The principle that mightlessness makes right seems to be one of the cardinal tenets of the Left. It is operative in the present furor over the enforcement of reasonable immigration laws in Arizona. To the south of the USA lies crime-ridden, corrupt, impoverished Mexico. For millions and millions it is a place to escape from. The USA, the most successful nation of all time, is the place to escape to. But how does this disparity in wealth, success, and overall quality of life justify the violation of the reasonable laws and the rule of law that are a good part of the reason for the disparity of wealth, success, and overall quality of life?
Near the end of Richard Weaver's essay, "Life Without Prejudice," he quotes Milton:
I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world; we bring impurity much rather; that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by that which is contrary.
This fits nicely with Keat's notion of the world as a vale of soul-making.
I suggest that we think of courtesy as a mean between rudeness and obsequiousness. The courteous are neither churls nor courtiers. This despite the etymology of 'courtesy.' (As a separate post could argue, there is no such thing as the true meaning of a word, and even if there were, etymology would not guide us to it.) To put it crudely, so that even a contemporary can get the point: the courteous neither show, nor kiss, ass.
Passion dies out in the old, but there is no credit in that. If your vices abandon you before you abandon them, you are no candidate for praise. The trick is for the young and the midstreamers to learn to control passion while there is time left to enjoy the passion-free state.
Wait too long to develop self-control and you may find that your vices have abandoned you before you have had a chance to abandon them. In divorces of all kinds it is better to be the one who sends packing rather than the one sent packing.
Small acts of kindness have the power to transfigure the bleak face of existence. While gratefully remembering the words and gestures I have been fortunate to receive, I also regret the occasions I let slip where, at no cost to myself, I could have offered a word of encouragement or support to someone in need.
This is one of my favorite bumper stickers, and not just because there are all too many motorists clogging the roads who seem unacquainted with the function of turn signals. The sticker is a parody of ‘Visualize World Peace’ (‘Visualize Whirled Peas’). Visualizing something as nebulous and utopian as world peace is about as pointless as the sort of visualizing going on in John Lennon’s silly ditty, “Imagine.”
If you want to improve the world, try visualizing some concrete action that it is in your power to perform such as letting a motorist enter your lane. Better, visualize an entire day in which you gratuitously offend no one in word or deed. Then take the next step: visualize an entire day in which you gratuitously offend no one in word or deed, and entertain no negative thoughts to boot. In the end, there is only one person over whose behavior you have any real control, namely, yourself. So if you are serious about improving the world, you can start with that guy. If you desire peace in the world, begin by making war against your lower self.
I am not saying that this is sufficient for world peace, but it may well be necessary.
No one preaches self-denial anymore. We have become a nation of moral wimps. We need a taste of the strenuosity of yesteryear, and who better to serve it up than our very own William James, he of the Golden Age of American philosophy:
Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than its difficulty, so that, when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. Asceticism of this sort is like the insurance which a man pays on his house and goods. The tax does him no good at the time, and possibly may never bring him a return. But, if the fire does come, his having paid it will be his salvation from ruin. So with the man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things. He will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.
We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never-so-little scar. The drunken Rip Van Winkle, in Jefferson's play, excuses himself for every fresh dereliction by saying, "I won't count this time!" Well, he may not count it, and a kind Heaven may not count it; but it is being counted none the less. Down among his nerve-cells and fibres the molecules are counting it, registering and storing it up to be used against him when the next temptation comes.
At James' door we receive bread. At Quine's a stone. How American philosophy has fallen off since the Golden Age of James, Royce, and Peirce.