Monday, December 31, 2007

Our interests are diverse and no politician can really fight for all of us

Pigs Don't Fly: The Economic Way of Thinking about Politics
by Russell Roberts* December 3, 2007
Pigs Don't Fly
Politicians are just like the rest of us. They find it hard to do the right thing. They claim to have principles, but when their principles clash with what is expedient, they often find a way to justify their self-interest. If they sacrifice what is noble or ideal for personal gain, they are sure to explain that is was all for the children, or the environment or at least for the good of society.
Pigs don't fly. Politicians, being mere mortals like the rest of us, respond to incentives. They're a mixture of selfless and selfish and when the incentives push them to do the wrong thing, albeit the self-interested one, why should we ever be surprised? Why should be fooled by their professions of principle, their claims of devotion to the public interest?
We call politicians our representatives and they often claim to be fighting for us. But when we think about it, we understand that our interests are diverse and that no politician can really fight for all of us. Inevitably, our interests and desires clash and politicians are forced to choose between the general interest and the special interest. Which wins?
The answer depends on the constraints facing the politicians. So politicians in a system with meaningful elections and competition are more likely to pursue policies that please the general public. Dictators have more range to pursue their own self-interest at the expense of the people.
The Logic of Political Survival, by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Alastair Smith, Randolph Siverson and Jame Morrow, looks at how the level of electoral accountability affects political outcomes. Bueno de Mesquita discusses the intuition behind the theories in the book in this EconTalk podcast.
For better or worse, it is an unavoidable reality that even when politicians are constrained by real or potential competition, they still have wiggle room for pursuing their own self-interest because the level of knowledge among the electorate is imperfect. The electorate can be misinformed. Or rationally ignorant. It's costly for voters to be well-informed. That gives politicians, even in a democracy, the chance to pursue special interests at the expense of the general interest.
EconLog blogger Bryan Caplan explores these issues in his book The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies
Bootleggers and Baptists
This wiggle room for politicians in a democracy leads to some strange outcomes. It allows politicians to do the right thing and the wrong thing at the same time. How is that possible? We shall see below. Even stranger, the imperfect information available to voters can even allow politicians to do the wrong thing and pass it off as the right thing if we're not paying close enough attention.
Bruce Yandle uses bootleggers and Baptists to explain what happens when a good cause collides with special interests.
When the city council bans liquor sales on Sundays, the Baptists rejoice—it's wrong to drink on the Lord's day. The bootleggers, rejoice, too. It increases the demand for their services.
The Baptists give the politicians cover for doing what the bootleggers want. No politicians says we should ban liquor sales on Sunday in order to enrich the bootleggers who support his campaign. The politician holds up one hand to heaven and talk about his devotion to morality. With the other hand, he collects campaign contributions (or bribes) from the bootleggers.
Yandle points out that virtually every well-intentioned regulation has a bunch of bootleggers along for the ride—special interests who profit from the idealism of the activists and altruists.
Yandle discusses his theory of regulation in this podcast. You'll also find additional readings on the theory there.
If that's all there was to Yandle's theory, you'd say that politics makes for strange bedfellows. But it's actually much more depressing than that. What often happens is that the public asks for regulation but inevitably doesn't pay much attention to how that regulation gets structured. Why would we? We have lives to lead. We're simply too busy. Not so with the bootleggers. They have an enormous stake in the way the legislation is structured. The devil is in the details. And a lot of the time, politicians give bootleggers the details that serve the bootleggers rather than the public interest.
Russell Roberts is a professor of economics at George Mason University and a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He is the Features Editor of the Library of Economics and Liberty and the host of EconTalk. For more articles by Russell Roberts, see the Archive. Copyright ©: 2007, Liberty Fund, Inc.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

You cannot silence your inner chatter by making others quiet

Silence yourself, not others! Pramahamsa Sri Nithyananda, ET 13 Dec, 2007
In the olden days, people in India did not stitch clothes after sunset. This is because all stitching was done by hand with a needle. In the dim candle or kerosene lamp light it was not possible to see properly and one could get hurt by poking the fingers with needle. Even now in India, some people will not stitch with a needle after sunset. Even seamstresses and tailors will not do it, though we now have electricity and lights. They may not even stitch using machines!
When we don’t have the necessary understanding of a practice, it becomes a dead rule, a superstition. With understanding, any rule can become a technique, a tool that helps us to lead life happily. With deep understanding, it will dawn upon us that all rules were basically created to help people live blissfully and happily. The rules were meant to ensure that you were in peace with yourself and the others around you.
Today, we have forgotten the basis for these rules. We create hell for ourselves and others with these rules. There are people who truly believe that meditation and prayer will save their lives. They have been told so!
They fuss a lot before they begin to meditate at home. They silence the children and all others around. They turn the whole household upside down. All for the sake of ten minutes of meditation!
Let us see how the meditation proceeds. The moment meditation begins, they doze off!
After a minute or two, they will start swatting mosquitoes. A couple of minutes later, a major itch manifests on some part of their body. Then, the back will begin to ache. Enough is enough, they decide, “I will continue this tomorrow. It is enough for today.”
Meditation is done for the sake of peace and silence. Why meditate at all, if inner awareness cannot be created? It is like a speaker trying to silence the listeners by out-shouting at them. Will it help?
If the listener is not interested however much one shouts, it is of no use. You cannot silence your inner chatter by making others quiet. You need to become silent, not others. We follow rules and tradition blindly. That is why religion has such a powerful hold on us. Let us awaken to the powers that are within us! Nature has endowed us with unimaginable energy to be free. Be alert, awake and reach for this liberation!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

James Madison envisioned a noisy public square with different religious denominations arguing, competing and balancing each other’s passions

Faith vs. the Faithless By DAVID BROOKS NYT: December 7, 2007
Jon Meacham is the editor of Newsweek and the author of “American Gospel,” which describes the history of religious liberty in the United States. Richard John Neuhaus is the editor in chief of First Things and the author of “The Naked Public Square,” which is about efforts to banish religion from public conversation. Yesterday, Mitt Romney delivered a speech that artfully blended the centrist Meacham and the conservative Neuhaus.
From Meacham, whose book he has read twice, Romney borrowed the language of America’s political religion. He argued that beneath the differences among America’s denominations there is a common creed, a conception of a moral order described in the Declaration of Independence, and lived out during the high points in the nation’s history. He recounted Sam Adams’s plea for unity in a time of crisis, and how his own father’s commitment to the basic American creed caused him to march with Martin Luther King Jr.
From Neuhaus, Romney borrowed the conviction that faith is under assault in America — which is the unifying glue of social conservatism. He argued that the religious have a common enemy: the counter-religion of secularism.
He insisted that the faithful should stick stubbornly to their religions, as he himself sticks to the faith of his fathers. He insisted that God-talk should remain a vibrant force in the public square and that judges should be guided by the foundations of their faith. He lamented the faithlessness of Europe and linked the pro-life movement to abolition and civil rights, just as evangelicals do.
It is not always easy to blend an argument for religious liberty with an argument for religious assertiveness, but Romney did it well. Yesterday, I called around to many of America’s serious religious thinkers — including moderates like Richard Bushman of Columbia, and conservatives like Neuhaus and Robert George of Princeton. Everyone I spoke with was enthusiastic about the speech, some of them wildly so.
Before yesterday, most pundits thought Romney was making a mistake in giving the speech now. But in retrospect, it clearly was not a mistake. Romney didn’t say anything that the Baptist minister Mike Huckabee couldn’t say, and so this one address will not hold off the Huckabee surge in Iowa. But Romney underlined the values he shares with social conservatives, and will have eased their concerns. Among Mormons, the speech may go down as a historic event. And yet, I confess my own reaction is more muted.
When this country was founded, James Madison envisioned a noisy public square with different religious denominations arguing, competing and balancing each other’s passions. But now the landscape of religious life has changed. Now its most prominent feature is the supposed war between the faithful and the faithless. Mitt Romney didn’t start this war, but speeches like his both exploit and solidify this divide in people’s minds. The supposed war between the faithful and the faithless has exacted casualties.
  • The first casualty is the national community. Romney described a community yesterday. Observant Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and Muslims are inside that community. The nonobservant are not. There was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious. I’m assuming that Romney left that out in order to generate howls of outrage in the liberal press.
  • The second casualty of the faith war is theology itself. In rallying the armies of faith against their supposed enemies, Romney waved away any theological distinctions among them with the brush of his hand. In this calculus, the faithful become a tribe, marked by ethnic pride, a shared sense of victimization and all the other markers of identity politics.

In Romney’s account, faith ends up as wishy-washy as the most New Age-y secularism. In arguing that the faithful are brothers in a common struggle, Romney insisted that all religions share an equal devotion to all good things. Really? Then why not choose the one with the prettiest buildings?
In order to build a voting majority of the faithful, Romney covered over different and difficult conceptions of the Almighty. When he spoke of God yesterday, he spoke of a bland, smiley-faced God who is the author of liberty and the founder of freedom. There was no hint of Lincoln’s God or Reinhold Niebuhr’s God or the religion most people know — the religion that imposes restraints upon on the passions, appetites and sinfulness of human beings. He wants God in the public square, but then insists that theological differences are anodyne and politically irrelevant.
Romney’s job yesterday was to unite social conservatives behind him. If he succeeded, he did it in two ways. He asked people to rally around the best traditions of America’s civic religion. He also asked people to submerge their religious convictions for the sake of solidarity in a culture war without end.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

This is the aspect of Jaynes that interested William Burroughs, with his investigations into language as a form of social control and as a virus

Jaynes introduces his theory by making reference to the Iliad, in which there is almost no description of interiority and subjectivity, or of conscious decision-making; instead, all the characters act at the promptings of the gods, who give them commands that they obey without question. Jaynes suggests that we take these descriptions literally, that this was the way the mind worked for thousands of years of human history. After the opening section of the book, where he quite interestingly discusses a range of philosophical issues having to do with the nature of consciousness and its relation to language, Jaynes supports his argument almost entirely through an analysis of ancient texts and of archaeological discoveries.
Where to begin in discussing such a suggestive, even if overly simple and overly totalizing, thesis? First of all, Jaynes argues that language is a prerequisite for consciousness, rather than the (common-sensical) reverse. This seems to me to be unarguably true, if we mean reflexive, or second-order consciousness. His arguments for this thesis, coming out of the tradition of Anglo-American empirically-grounded psychology, are interesting precisely in their difference from deconstructionist, and other Continental philosophical, arguments to much the same effect. This is useful because Jaynes thereby is able to point to the (relative) primacy of language in the human mind, without getting lost in those rather silly skeptical paradoxes that the deconstructionists are partial to.
Second, I find incredibly valuable the way Jaynes presents his picture of the schizophrenic, pre-conscious “bicameral mind” as a mechanism of social control. The bicameral mind arises, according to Jaynes, in tandem with the development of agriculture and the creation of the first cities (i.e. the first stirrings of “civilization” in Mesopotamia, and perhaps also Egypt, the Indus River Valley, and the Yellow River Valley, at around 9000 BC). Its purpose is to ensure obedience and social harmony; it entails, and enables, the creation of vast, rigid, theocratic hierarchies, such as existed in ancient Sumeria and Egypt (and also, much later, in the Mayan cities of the Western Hemisphere, and in other civilizations around the world). This is the aspect of Jaynes that interested William Burroughs, with his investigations into language as a form of social control and as a virus infecting, even as it created, the human mind.
In describing the passage from bicamerality to self-consciousness, Jaynes is really proposing a genealogy of different regimes of language and subjectivity, in a manner that resonates with ideas proposed by Deleuze and Guattari at around the same time (see especially the chapter “On Several Regimes of Signs” in A Thousand Plateaus). For Jaynes as for Deleuze/Guattari (I assume that Jaynes was unacquainted with D&G’s work, and vice versa), a “despotic” regime is displaced and replaced by a passional, subjectifying one. (I need to be a bit careful here, because I don’t want to merely translate Jaynes’ terms and arguments into deleuzoguattarian ones. The specific interest of Jaynes’ book is how he defamiliarizes the bicameral mindset, shows how it cannot be reduced to the categories that we, subjective people, take for granted)...This entry was posted on Monday, March 22nd, 2004 at 8:49 pm and is filed under Books, Science. RSS 2.0 feed.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The premises of modern science themselves are based upon Christian metaphysics

D'Souza said (see Part 5 of the debate):

"The premises of modern science themselves are based upon Christian metaphysics:
the idea that the universe is rational, it obeys laws, these laws are accessible to our human minds. There is no Darwinian reason it must be so. Yes, we evolved, and I agree with Dan [Dennett] about this. But we evolved to survive, if you will, in hunter gatherer primitive environments. We did not evolve to figure out the rotation of the planets. We did not necessarily evolve to figure out the theory of relativity. So evolution can tell us why we survive and why we adapt. But evolution can't tell us why we believe certain things to be true."

D'Souza vs. Dennett: The Aftermath from Zaadz: ~C4Chaos' Blog (Crossposted from

Sunday, December 02, 2007

We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise?

15. While this community-oriented vision of the “blessed life” is certainly directed beyond the present world, as such it also has to do with the building up of this world—in very different ways, according to the historical context and the possibilities offered or excluded thereby. At the time of Augustine, the incursions of new peoples were threatening the cohesion of the world, where hitherto there had been a certain guarantee of law and of living in a juridically ordered society; at that time, then, it was a matter of strengthening the basic foundations of this peaceful societal existence, in order to survive in a changed world. Let us now consider a more or less randomly chosen episode from the Middle Ages, that serves in many respects to illustrate what we have been saying. It was commonly thought that monasteries were places of flight from the world (contemptus mundi) and of withdrawal from responsibility for the world, in search of private salvation. Bernard of Clairvaux, who inspired a multitude of young people to enter the monasteries of his reformed Order, had quite a different perspective on this. In his view, monks perform a task for the whole Church and hence also for the world. He uses many images to illustrate the responsibility that monks have towards the entire body of the Church, and indeed towards humanity; he applies to them the words of pseudo-Rufinus: “The human race lives thanks to a few; were it not for them, the world would perish ...”.12 Contemplatives—contemplantes—must become agricultural labourers—laborantes—he says. The nobility of work, which Christianity inherited from Judaism, had already been expressed in the monastic rules of Augustine and Benedict. Bernard takes up this idea again. The young noblemen who flocked to his monasteries had to engage in manual labour. In fact Bernard explicitly states that not even the monastery can restore Paradise, but he maintains that, as a place of practical and spiritual “tilling the soil”, it must prepare the new Paradise. A wild plot of forest land is rendered fertile—and in the process, the trees of pride are felled, whatever weeds may be growing inside souls are pulled up, and the ground is thereby prepared so that bread for body and soul can flourish.13 Are we not perhaps seeing once again, in the light of current history, that no positive world order can prosper where souls are overgrown?
48. A further point must be mentioned here, because it is important for the practice of Christian hope. Early Jewish thought includes the idea that one can help the deceased in their intermediate state through prayer (see for example 2 Macc 12:38-45; first century BC). The equivalent practice was readily adopted by Christians and is common to the Eastern and Western Church. The East does not recognize the purifying and expiatory suffering of souls in the afterlife, but it does acknowledge various levels of beatitude and of suffering in the intermediate state. The souls of the departed can, however, receive “solace and refreshment” through the Eucharist, prayer and almsgiving. The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon? Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Saviour, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God's time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too.40 As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.

ENCYCLICAL LETTER SPE SALVI OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF BENEDICT XVITO THE BISHOPS PRIESTS AND DEACONS MEN AND WOMEN RELIGIOUS AND ALL THE LAY FAITHFUL ON CHRISTIAN HOPE Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 30 November, the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle, in the year 2007, the third of my Pontificate. Spes Salvi

Saturday, December 01, 2007

I forcefully stand against the very dangerous philosophical idea of a “fusion of horizons” a la Gadamer/Taylor

Upon a bridge we see with new eyes, we feel with a new consciousness. And we do so for the very first time, in part, because a bridge usually elevates us slightly allowing us to have an overview of the whole, an overview of the interconnected parts and events, an overview of the ‘where from” and the “where to”...
But to actually move slowly across a bridge; that is one of the most unique experiences we can have as humans. One feels as if part of a primordial connecting power and desire which we humans possess at our core. We feel the beginning of a voyage, a departure, and sense that there is a new and unknown destination over there, on the other side of things. Of course, sometimes bridges are small, so we actually see the other side! But we also recall how very short bridges bridge what are monstrous abysses! Sometimes it even takes time to cross a bridge, some even many minutes! In this respect, bridges also link us to our temporality: for our very lives are like bridges between our births and our deaths. And in the in-between of our lives, in that unique expanse which is living, we may actually become experts in bridging itself by reflecting on what a bridge is and does.
But this is no easy task, for as with many other over-used things of our lives, we use them and only realize what they are, what they could be and what is their essence, when they actually fail to provide the use they were intended for. Recently a bridge collapsed in Montreal killing several fellow Canadians; it was then that bridges came to our public attention. But it is not that type of attention we seek here. We wish for a reflective type of attention.
Bridges we mostly go into in order to get to our destination. Infrequently we pause to consider in wonder what a bridge actually is. Actually, more and more given our traffic realities, it is quite unsafe to even stop at a bridge! And though I could not begin to tell you how to build a bridge, I have been fascinated by their multiple forms and the underlying symbolic nature for many years. As a matter of fact, I have dedicated many years to trying to understand how one could build bridges in a metaphorical sense between diverse areas of human understanding and experience. This is in part what comes about when one purposefully seeks to become a T or Ω-kind of person who, as I have argued elsewhere, takes up a form of life in which overspecialization is moderated by a permanent Socratic search for a deeper understanding in other non-specialized areas as well. The very letter omega (Ω) is, in fact, like a bridge...
I hope now you can sense why some of us are deeply interested in bridges and, more specially in bridgers. But at the same time, we seriously seek to reject a naive form of bridging which is dangerous to our very health! This is the reason why I forcefully stand against the very dangerous philosophical idea of a “fusion of horizons” a la Gadamer/Taylor, and instead more realistically consider bridging as a healthier and more prudent alternative for those who are truly interested in connecting the diverse.
Fusing dangerously seeks to do away with difference, bridges connect in separation. For to bridge is pleasurable in-and-of-itself and one must seek to protect bridgers from the excesses of those parties who care little for bridges and their beautifying presence. It would be very odd that those who did not bridge actually were happier than those who risked bridging; though as things stand, the non-bridgers swear to be the happiest in their smug alleged self-sufficiency. In contrast, when you bridge you gain a dual bilingual reality even if others decide to remain monist and unilingual. To those we could apply Wordsworth’s striking words: “dull would be he who could pass by.” Many are dull and the adventure of bridging must not be tainted by such dullness.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A truly free society must be rooted in something permanent and transcendent

Belief in Disbelief, or Inside the Postmodern Skeptic Tank from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob
[T]he new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything.... And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in the way when he wants to denounce anything. For denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it.... In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. --G.K. Chesterton
One of the key ideas of Orthodoxy is that we require a stable framework in order to think productively and deeply about reality, and that certain frameworks (Chesterton would say one framework) have been given to us from "on high," so to speak, in order to accomplish this. Naturally, the "radical" opposes this constraint on his freedom, but freedom in itself is not freeing, any more than progress in itself is progressive; without limits, or boundary conditions, the former is "nothingness" or "lostness," while the latter is just pointless change, drift, or entropy. This reminds me of the distinction Polanyi drew between what he called the open society and the free society. He used the practice of science to illustrate the difference, pointing out that a truly free society does not merely consist of everyone believing whatever they want. Science, for example, is a free and spontaneous intellectual order that is nevertheless based on a distinctive set of beliefs about the world, through which the diverse actions of individual scientists are coordinated. Like the cells in your body, individual scientists independently go about their business, and yet, progress is made because their activities are channeled by the pursuit of real truth.
In contrast, in a merely "open" society, there is no such thing as transcendent truth: perception is reality and everyone is free to think and do as he pleases, with no objective standard by which to judge it. This kind of "bad freedom" eventually ramifies into the cognitively pathological situation we now see on the left, especially as it manifests in its purest form in academia (the liberal arts, not the sciences, except to the extent that science devolves into metaphysical scientism). Initially, the assault on the existence of objective truth seems liberating, as we are freed from the dictates of arbitrary authority. However, the whole idea of the individual pursuit of truth was a deeply liberal project, since truth was not accepted a priori but was subject to criticism and logical or empirical demonstration. But with deconstruction -- the Swiss pacifist knife of the intellectual left -- the entire concept of truth is undermined, so there is no way to arbitrate between competing notions of reality. Therefore, whoever has the power may enforce their version of reality, which is what political correctness is all about: Truth is arbitrary, but you had better believe my version of it, or be branded a bigot, or a homophobe, or a white male oppressor. One more reason why contemporary liberalism is so deeply illiberal. Their ideas cannot be argued on the merits, so they are enforced by the illegitimate authority of political correctness. If you are on the left, you are undoubtedly oblivious to this bullying pressure (unless you are a totally cynical Clinton-type who does it consciously). If you are on the right, you feel it all the time -- cognitive “stop signs” that impede you from uttering certain truths in public for fear of triggering attack. The politically correct leftist is always a passively-aggressive controlling person -- hardly a victim, but an aggressor (for his self-imposed victimization legitimizes the release of amoral sadistic aggression).
Thus, the deep structure of the left-right divide in this country goes beyond the secular vs. religious worldview. A purely secular society is an open society, where all points of view, no matter how stupid or dysfunctional, are equally valued (e.g., multiculturalism and moral relativism), whereas a truly free society must be rooted in something permanent and transcendent. It doesn't necessarily have to come from religion, although it inevitably leads in that direction. Mainly, in order to be truly free, one must acknowledge a source of truth that is independent of man, an antecedent reality that is perceived by the intellect, not the senses. Fortunately, our founders knew that the self-evident religious truths that constrain us actually set us free (indeed, are the very basis of our liberty).
You may note that this has direct relevance for the current debate between strict constructionists vs. the notion of a "living constitution." In reality, strict adherence to the constitution results in increased freedom and democracy, while the "living constitution" quickly devolves into judicial tyranny. If you enjoy playing blackjack, your freedom is not really enhanced if the dealer can either hit or stand on 16, depending on his moment-to-moment interpretation of the living rules of blackjack.
How can a progressive even be progressive unless he has some permanent standard by which to measure his progress? In the absence of such a standard, there is only meaningless change, rebellion, random reshuffling, not progress. As mentioned yesterday, atheists ironically fantasize about a day when human beings will be liberated from the shackles of religion and be truly "free" to think what they want. First of all, this is analogous to a musician longing for the day when he is free to play his instrument without the annoying constraints of scales, notes, and keys. Perhaps more importantly, that day has already arrived. The atheistic free thinkers are noisily trying to knock down doors that are already wide open, especially in the arts and in academia. There you can see the direct consequences of "free thought," and it is hardly any kind of liberation, but rather a stupifyingly oppressive nihilism.
For those of you who are not jazz mavens, there was a movement in the 1960's called "free jazz." As a matter of fact, it wasn't so much a musical movement as a political one -- or at least it was indistinguishable from the breaking political winds of the day, i.e, "black liberation." There was the idea that one could absolutely break through the chordal structure of (white) western music and achieve a kind of quasi-religious purity of expression. True, you can do this, but it leads in a circle back to the "pre-musical" expressions of an angry or exuberant child. It is a "song of myself," by myself and for myself. In a word, pure narcissism, or musical maestrobation. It is the end of music, just as atheism is -- and must be -- the end of thought, i.e, intellection, as opposed to mere computation.
Again I must emphasize that no one is more surprised than I am at the essentially infinite amount of cognitive music one may play within the chordal structure of religion. One is not constrained but set free. I used to be a "free thinker," but the quality of thought I produced was essentially worthless get-a-cluevinilia. And now that I think about it, it was worthless for very specific reasons. Among others, it lacked timelessness, universality, generativity, wholeness, harmony, radiance -- exactly the things that revelation embodies par excellence. This is why a Meister Eckhart or Denys the Areopagite will always be timely -- because their thought is rooted in a source "outside time" -- whereas the narrow-minded rants of a Dawkins, Harris, or Hitchins are already beyond their hackspiration date by the time they have been pabulished. Truly, they are by the dead and for the dead, the blind leading the bland. In the absence of transcendent truth, freedom's just a nothing word for leftists to abuse.
Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame.... The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits.... Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three-sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. --Chesterton

Friday, November 23, 2007

Animals have "oughts"—rules that the group must follow—and the community enforces them

TIME Cover Story Friday, November 23, 2007
How We Stay Good
Merely being equipped with moral programming does not mean we practice moral behavior. Something still has to boot up that software and configure it properly, and that something is the community. Hauser believes that all of us carry what he calls a sense of moral grammar—the ethical equivalent of the basic grasp of speech that most linguists believe is with us from birth. But just as syntax is nothing until words are built upon it, so too is a sense of right and wrong useless until someone teaches you how to apply it.
It's the people around us who do that teaching—often quite well. Once again, however, humans aren't the ones who dreamed up such a mentoring system. At the Arnhem Zoo in the Netherlands, de Waal was struck by how vigorously apes enforced group norms one evening when the zookeepers were calling their chimpanzees in for dinner. The keepers' rule at Arnhem was that no chimps would eat until the entire community was present, but two adolescents grew willful, staying outside the building. The hours it took to coax them inside caused the mood in the hungry colony to turn surly. That night the keepers put the delinquents to bed in a separate area—a sort of protective custody to shield them from reprisals. But the next day the adolescents were on their own, and the troop made its feelings plain, administering a sound beating. The chastened chimps were the first to come in that evening. Animals have what de Waal calls "oughts"—rules that the group must follow—and the community enforces them.
Human communities impose their own oughts, but they can vary radically from culture to culture. Take the phenomenon of Good Samaritan laws that require passersby to assist someone in peril. Our species has a very conflicted sense of when we ought to help someone else and when we ought not, and the general rule is, Help those close to home and ignore those far away. That's in part because the plight of a person you can see will always feel more real than the problems of someone whose suffering is merely described to you. But part of it is also rooted in you from a time when the welfare of your tribe was essential for your survival but the welfare of an opposing tribe was not—and might even be a threat.
In the 21st century, we retain a powerful remnant of that primal dichotomy, which is what impels us to step in and help a mugging victim—or, in the astonishing case of Wesley Autrey, New York City's so-called Subway Samaritan, jump onto the tracks in front of an oncoming train to rescue a sick stranger—but allows us to decline to send a small contribution to help the people of Darfur. "The idea that you can save the life of a stranger on the other side of the world by making a modest material sacrifice is not the kind of situation our social brains are prepared for," says Greene.
Throughout most of the world, you're still not required to aid a stranger, but in France and elsewhere, laws now make it a crime for passersby not to provide at least the up-close-and-personal aid we're good at giving. In most of the U.S., we make a distinction between an action and an omission to act. Says Hauser: "In France they've done away with that difference."
But you don't need a state to create a moral code. The group does it too. One of the most powerful tools for enforcing group morals is the practice of shunning. If membership in a tribe is the way you ensure yourself food, family and protection from predators, being blackballed can be a terrifying thing. Religious believers as diverse as Roman Catholics, Mennonites and Jehovah's Witnesses have practiced their own forms of shunning—though the banishments may go by names like excommunication or disfellowshipping. Clubs, social groups and fraternities expel undesirable members, and the U.S. military retains the threat of discharge as a disciplinary tool, even grading the punishment as "other than honorable" or "dishonorable," darkening the mark a former service person must carry for life.
Sometimes shunning emerges spontaneously when a society of millions recoils at a single member's acts. O.J. Simpson's 1995 acquittal may have outraged people, but it did make the morality tale surrounding him much richer, as the culture as a whole turned its back on him, denying him work, expelling him from his country club, refusing him service in a restaurant. In November his erstwhile publisher, who was fired in the wake of her and Simpson's disastrous attempt to publish a book about the killings, sued her ex-employer, alleging that she had been "shunned" and "humiliated." That, her former bosses might well respond, was precisely the point.
"Human beings were small, defenseless and vulnerable to predators," says Barbara J. King, biological anthropologist at the College of William and Mary and author of Evolving God. "Avoiding banishment would be important to us." Page 3 of 4 Previous 1 2 3 4 Next 12:16 PM 12:27 PM

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The East's pull on the West is strong and undeniable

Ancient Chinese wisdom for modern Catholic Church
When Catholic missionaries brought the Faith to the Far East they found in Confucianism a preparatio evangelium that would aid them in spreading the Gospel to the peoples of China
Tuesday, November 13, 2007 By Joshua Snyder
Discuss Insights: Religion
That Holy Mother Church borrowed from and built upon the best of pagan Greek philosophy is as uncontroversial as it is indisputable. Similarly, when Catholic missionaries brought the Faith to the Far East, they found in Confucianism a preparatio evangelium that would aid them in spreading the Gospel to the peoples of China and the nations influenced by its venerable traditions. Today, the Catholic Church in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam are as marked by Confucianism as is the Church in the West by the synthesis of Jerusalem and Athens that occurred in Rome.
We live in an age of profound self-doubt in the West. China experienced a similar age a century ago, culminating in the end of the Ch'ing Dynasty and the establishment of a republic and later a people's republic, both ideas imported from the West. Only now are the Chinese becoming disillusioned with materialist Western imports. The Chinese are now not only returning to their ancient traditions, but also finding belief in Christ to the extent that the pseudonymous Asia Times Online columnist Spengler predicts the Middle Kingdom will be the epicenter of global Christendom within fifty years.
Meanwhile, in the West, disillusioned with the materialist ideologies that replaced the Faith, people are looking toward the traditions of the East to fill their spiritual emptiness. Buddhism is said by some to be the fastest growing religion in the United States. Even professed Christians feel the pull of the venerable traditions of the East. One can imagine that at a typical Catholic parish, a workshop on Zen meditation might draw more attendees than one on Scholastic philosophy. The trouble is that this spiritual curiosity often leads to a weakening of the Faith and to superficial or even outright syncretism.
The East's pull on the West is strong and undeniable. Among modern Westerners, the traditions of the East have a certain clout that their own have long lost. More then three decades ago, Catholic economist E.F. Schumacher decided upon the title "Buddhist Economics" for what was to become the most famous chapter of his tome, Small Is Beautiful. The economic ideas this chapter contained were influenced by those expressed by St. Thomas Aquinas, papal encyclicals, and Chesterbellocian distributism, but he explained, "If I had called the chapter ¡®Christian Economics,¡¯ nobody would have paid any attention!" Schumacher was not being disingenuous ©¤ he was a believer in the sophia perennis, or perennnial philosophy to which all religions to a greater or lesser extent took part of ©¤ he was only recognizing the degree to which the contemporary West looked to the East for wisdom.
The average Christian today in the West today is less likely to be influenced by our great traditionalists from Edmund Burke to Russell Kirk than by Captain Kirk. But mention Buddha or Lao Tzu, and one is likely to get at least a listen. Is it possible then that de-Westernized Westerners are ready to hear from that greatest of Chinese philosophers, Confucius, who is simultaneously the most misrepresented in the West and most compatible with Western thought? Could it be that the Sage has something to say to the Catholic Church in her time of trial?
When Fr. Matteo Ricci, S.J., the Apostle of China, arrived in the Middle Kingdom in the late Sixteenth Century, he first adopted the dress and mannerism of a Buddhist monk, so as to appear as a man of religion to the Chinese. To a first-time visitor to China, it would indeed appear that Buddhism was the country's religion. In the Chinese non-exclusive "tridharma" of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, the first is a great religion, the second a mystical philosophy popularly degenerated into a school of divining, and the last a worldly and humanistic philosophy and ethical system.
After Fr. Ricci had mastered the Chinese language, he came to realize that Buddhism, itself a foreign import, was, in actuality, not held in very high esteem by either the Chinese people or their rulers. Monks were often the object of derision. It was the Confucian scholars, the literati, who commanded the respect and esteem of all classes of society. Fr. Ricci remade himself as a Confucian scholar and found himself with a position in the imperial court as China¡¯s chief astronomer.
But it was not for gain, material or spiritual, that Fr. Ricci remade himself as a "Western Confucian." After translating the Confucian classics into Latin, Fr, Ricci came to realize than not only was Confucianism the philosophy of the Chinese soul, it was a universal philosophy, worthy of study in the West. He bestowed upon its two great philosophers the Latinized names by which we in the West know them today, Confucius and Mencius. Fr. Ricci even came to the conclusion that original Confucianism, which had to various degrees fused with Buddhism and Taoism into Neo-Confucianism, was in fact far more compatible with the Catholic Faith than it was with these Eastern traditions.
The cornerstones of Confucianism, which in Chinese translates as the "school of the scholars," are jen and li. The former, most often translated as "benevolence," is a reality understandable to the Catholic mind. In fact, when it comes to jen, Catholics are more Catholic than the Pope, or in this case, more Confucian than Confucius. The Confucian Golden Rule is stated in The Analects, XV, 23: "Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you." Our Lord's version was stated in the positive in Matthew, VII, 12 and in Luke, VI, 31. Thus, the charity work for which the Church is esteemed throughout the world, her hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens, and leprosoria, finds no counterpart in the Confucian East. Confucianism, as noble as it is, is but a human philosophy informed by natural theology, not a divinely revealed religion. Confucian jen is perfected by the Catholic Faith.
It is, rather, in the Confucian concept of li that the Catholic Faith is able to find a needed intellectual armament for the battle she now faces. Just as li is more difficult to understand than jen, the concept is also more difficult to translate. It has been rendered variously as "etiquette," "ceremony," "rite," "ritual," or "propriety."
Confucius understood that man was Homo religiosus, even though the Sage himself was, if anything, irreligious. He denied the presence of the ancestral spirits in the rite which has come to be known, incorrectly, as "ancestor worship" in the West. While he denied the existence of the spirits, he affirmed the importance of ceremonial propriety in the orientation of man toward the good, which, for Confucius, was filial piety. The ancestral rite was meant not for the departed ancestors, but for the living.
Confucian li proscribed a precise following of the rubrics without the slightest deviation in the ancestral rite. If Confucius meant to orient the people toward the good in the ancestral rite, how much stronger should be the li of Holy Mother Church, who means to orient the people toward God in the Divine Sacrifice of the Mass!
The Confucian understanding of li went beyond the ancestral rite to include ceremonial music and human relationships as well. It is obvious where Confucius would stand in the liturgical battles of the past four decades; he would be on the side of those who want Gregorian Chant and Palestrina, not folk guitars, at Mass. Also, the Catholic laity should find much with which to agree in the Confucian five relationships, between father and son, husband and wife, elder and younger brothers, ruler and subject, and friend and friend. Particularly, the idea of filial piety and male headship of the family would do much to restore to the family the dignity it once enjoyed.
In what has come to be known as the "Rites Controversy," the Church, under Jansenist influence, determined the Confucian ancestral rite to be pagan. In one of the great ironies of Church history, Catholics in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam were persecuted for centuries for what was misunderstood as their lack of li. It was not until 1939 that the Church came around to the learned opinion of Fr. Matteo Ricci, that the Confucian ancestral rite was familial, not religious in nature, and Asian Catholics were allowed to participate in it. It has been suggested that the East might be Catholic today were it not for this error.
Pope John Paul II offered a mea culpa for this misunderstanding on Oct. 24, 2001, the 400th anniversary of Fr. Ricci's arrival in China. We today have a chance to right this wrong by fostering Confucian li in the Church Universal. No, we should not introduce to the West the Confucian ancestral rite; we already have All Souls' Day. But an understanding of li could help us in restoring Catholic liturgy and Catholic culture to its former glory. Said the Sage, "Take your stand in the li" (The Analects, VII, 8.) and "Not to know the li is to have no means of standing" (ibid., XX, 3).
The Holy Father has taken his ¡°stand in the li.¡± Pope Benedict XVI has unwittingly shown himself to be something of as Confucian sage in his liberation of the Tridentine Rite with his Summorum Pontificum and his concern for propriety, li, in liturgy. And by this linking of li and the Traditional Latin Mass, we are led back to China; Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonz¨¢lez Err¨¢zuriz of Chile observed the following after the motu proprio:
All of those Chinese Catholics are unfamiliar with any other liturgical form besides the previous one, and most assuredly in full communion with Rome, in the case of many Catholic faithful of communities not fully united with Rome, would not mean a change in liturgical form. Now, many will be able to return to the unity of the faith and will be able to do so without any change to the liturgy.
Was the li expressed in Summorum Pontificum a gift from the Holy Father to the Chinese Catholics of the underground Church? Whether or not that was the Pope's intention, it was certainly a gift to all of us. It is our job as the laity to cooperate with the Holy Father in his efforts to promote the extraordinary form of the Mass and to see to it that the ordinary form is instilled with the propriety of which it is worthy. If Confucius is among the unbaptized and virtuous pagans residing in Dante's Limbo, he will smile upon our efforts.
An American Catholic son-in-law of Korea, Joshua Snyder lives with his wife and two children in Pohang, where he serves as an assistant visiting professor of English at a science and technology university. He blogs at The Western Confucian.

If Western values stand for liberalism and individualism, Eastern values are closer to collectivism and communalism

Home > Newszone > Opinion > Thoughts of the Times > 11-16-2007 17:09
Philosophy of Universality By Kee Woo-tak
In the world's spiritual history, what era could have made philosophers agonize as much over the issue of human nature as the current one? Various crimes caused by the contempt for human life throughout the world ― the 9/11 terrorist attack of 2001, a massacre at Virginia Tech, threats from nuclear weapons and the almost daily occurrences of carnage in Iraq ― are calamities brought upon humans by other humans. They should have been inconceivable in the civilized society of the 21st century, so in the face of these tragedies, philosophers must provide a solution. Life, whether it is your own or another's, is equally precious. Murder is the worst case of obliterating human nature and an extreme rejection of peace. We can't help but search for the cause of this destruction of humanity in the innate duplicity of human nature. This duplicity, while it gives humans an unflagging will for good, also gives way to their weakness when tempted to seek "the radical evil" tenaciously lurking within. Therefore, there can be few, if any, objections to the assertion that a key proposition of this era should be the "recovery of human nature."
Confucius, a famous ancient Chinese philosopher, said:
"What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others."
And the German philosopher Immanuel Kant said:
"Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end."
According to these teachings, human nature is noble and subject to reverence.The secret in the recovery of human nature is evasive, as humanity stands somewhere between divinity (morality) and bestiality. It is thus an important task of today's men and women to cast away their bestial (carnal) inclinations, and to elevate themselves to moral characters to maintain balanced personalities by encouraging their reflection on human nature. The philosophy of "recovering humanity" through nurturing morality should lead toward the road to global peace. Should the logic of a "World Citizens' Community" that Kant advocated in "Perpetual Peace" about 200 years ago remain just an ideal, an eternal dream? There is a limit to the role that religion and politics can play in resolving conflicts among human cultures. So its' the philosophers' role to provide solutions. They should elaborate a philosophy of universality for global villagers to prevent war and to serve as the basis for individuals' rights. Therefore, the creation of world philosophy is more urgent than anything else. It implies first of all breaking the wall between Eastern and Western philosophical traditions and facilitating mutual understanding and communication between the two heterogeneous cultures.
To give shape to "World Philosophy," a proper fusion of Western and Eastern values is necessary. In other words, if Western values stand for liberalism and individualism, Eastern values are closer to collectivism and communalism. Still, this dichotomous analysis can never be absolute, as Western values contain elements of Eastern values and there can be Western characteristics, too, within the components of Eastern values.
To resolve such cultural conflicts, it is first necessary to form a pan-Asian philosophy as the premise for establishing a World Philosophy, and for this purpose, I think it very important for the three East Asian nations of China, Japan and Korea to pursue the integration of a common cultural sphere and jointly examine how to evaluate modern values contained in the heritage of Confucian culture, as represented by the teachings of Confucius and Mencius. The discussion of the Universality of Philosophy is based on the global village theory to form a global community.
The progress in today's information and transportation technology sector, and the sweeping wave of globalization have made the fences of nationalism and regionalism no longer tenable. Philosophy must adapt to the new information society and the pursuit of cultural globalization, and universality should emerge as the grand proposition that brings together today's philosophies, a prerequisite for the birth of the Universality of Philosophy. The role of the Universality of Philosophy will be to seek, above all, harmony and unity that enable humans to escape from cultural antagonism and conflicts as well as to avoid philosophical, religious and cultural exclusiveness in their search for universality amid cultural diversity.
Kee Woo-tak is a former philosophy professor at Hongik University in Seoul. He is now a researcher at Sungkyunkwan University. He contributed the above article on the occasion of World Philosophy Day, which fell on Nov. 15. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) introduced the day in 2002 to promote philosophical reflection.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Plato used the myth of the cave to show how enlightenment is relative

The idea and history of myths is explored in Karen Armstrong’s “A Short History of Myth”. Myth is culture’s way of understanding itself and the word has many meanings across ritual and anthropological, literary and semiological fields. Armstrong primarily looks at the primary meaning: its ritual and anthropological function. She believes humans have been mythmakers since at least Neanderthal times and our imagination allows us to have irrational ideas. She said the five most important things about myths are
  • 1) the fact they are rooted in the fear of death
  • 2) it is inseparable from ritual
  • 3) they force us to go beyond our experience
  • 4) they teach us how to behave and
  • 5) they speak of another reality, most commonly referred to the world of the gods...
Around 4000 BCE humans began to build the first cities and with them the first civilisations. The earliest successful cities were in Iraq’s Fertile Crescent where the rate of societal rate rapidly increased. People began to learn new skills and there were new occupations: Engineers, plumbers, builders, barbers, porters, musicians and scribes. But destruction was common-place: Cities brought wars, massacres and revolutions. The violence of cities was reflected in the new mythology. Cain was the first city-builder and the first murderer. The Tower of Babel caused those who built it to be unable to understand each others speech. Mesopotamian myths such as The Epic of Gilgamesh were the first in which the Gods withdrew from the world. Civilisation and culture were on the ascendency and God was becoming increasingly remote.
The next major development in myth occurred between 800 and 200 BCE. Armstrong quotes German philosopher Karl Jaspers who calls this period The Axial Age because it is a pivotal era in humanity’s spiritual development. It marks the beginning of modern religion. There was Confucianism and Taoism in China, Buddhism and Hinduism in India, monotheism (Zoroastrianism and Judaism) in the Middle East and rationalism in Greece. A new market economy developed that saw power pass from holy men and kings to merchants. All the new religious movements began to tamper with the older myths. City life was making the divine more remote and alien. Indian cultures reflected this with the severe asceticism of their holy men. The Chinese did not speak of the divine at all. The philosophy of Confucius and Lao Tse were based on the ethics of how humans dealt with each other.
All the new religions believed strongly in rites which gave the myths emotional resonance. Myths demanded action. The Jews, so convinced by the emptiness of earlier myths began to insist that their god, Yahweh, was the only God. Meanwhile the Greeks used logos to find a rational basis for old myths. In matters such as physics, philosophy and drama, they explored ancient themes in new settings. Plato was impatient with myths but he saw they had an important role in the exploration of ideas that lie beyond the scope of philosophy. He used the myth of the cave to show how enlightenment is relative. Irrational matters, he conceded, might allow a plausible fable.
In the post Axial Age of 200 BCE to 1500 CE, the status of myth remained constant. Judaism inspired the myth of Christianity. The historical figure of Jesus was mythologised by St Paul. Paul was uninterested in Jesus’s teachings. What was important to him was the mystery of his death and resurrection. He turned the death and ascension in to mythical creations of the ‘everywhen’. Western Christianity used the Fall of Rome to develop the myth of Original Sin, but the myth is unknown to the eastern Orthodox, where the Roman Empire did not fall. The Christians were followed by Mohammed and the Koran. The Muslim holy book is a series of parables that speak about the divine in terms of signs and symbols.
In the 16th century, Europe (followed by its North American imitation) was beginning its world dominance. The Western modernity was based on logos. Society was freed from its dependence on the constraints of traditional cultures and forged forward fuelled on technological advances and constant reinvestment of capital. The western economy seemed infinitely renewable. This modernity bred an intellectual enlightenment that deemed myth as useless, false and outmoded. Modern medicine, hygiene, technologies and transport revolutionised life in Europe and North America. However logos could not explain these successes’ intuitive sense of significance. As a reaction, religion was read factually; hence the horror of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species.
In 1882, one of Nietzsche’s characters in “The Gay Science” famously proclaimed God was dead. Armstrong argues that in a sense Nietzsche was right; without myth and ritual, the sense of sacred dies. Humanity had turned God into a wholly notional truth. The nihilism of the 20th century seemed to bear this out. Iconic events such as the sinking of the Titanic, the killing fields of World War I, the death camps of World War II and the Russian gulags seemed to indicate the results of a total loss of the sacred. Armstrong argues we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that the myth is false or inferior. She says we need myths that help us identify with all of humanity, creates a spiritual attitude and helps us become transcendent. She argues that “unless there is some kind of spiritual revolution that is able to keep abreast of our technological genius, we will not save our planet”. Labels: , , , , posted by Derek Barry at 10:22 PM

Freud and Marx are fundamentalists of the Enlightenment and hold faith in the powers of reason. Nietzsche has lost even that faith

By Merold Westphal Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1993. 296 pp. $19.99.
As the title clearly indicates, this book has not been written in order to silence atheists. It has been written, rather, to bring the church to repentance and renewal, and atheists, Westphal insists, can be helpful in this regard because their critiques of religion bring into clear focus the dangers of religion to the spiritual life. It is too often forgotten that "in Jesus' eyes the righteous are more deeply alienated from God than are the sinners." But it is not just any kind atheism that can have such a salutary effect upon the Church. Westphal distinguishes "evidential atheism," which constitutes scepticism, from the "atheism of suspicion," which directs its attention not to matters of truth and falsity but to the evasiveness of consciousness that allows religion itself "to mask and to fulfill forms of self-interest that cannot be acknowledged." Under such conditions, religion "reduces God to a means or instrument for achieving our own human purposes with professedly divine power and sanctions," which means that the devotees really do not know what they, religiously speaking, are doing.
Thus, given the emphasis of Hebrew prophecy on corporate self-examination and the Christian emphasis on personal self-examination, Westphal concludes that it is possible to speak of the religious uses of modern atheism if it is the atheism of suspicion. Atheistic suspicion may be helpful to the Christian in recovering the Bible's own built-in polemic against those forms of religion corrupted by instrumental interests. Westphal is aware how threatening his suggestions regarding the religious values of atheism might be to his readers, and he attempts in the remainder of part one of the book to provide a gentle introduction to the atheism of suspicion by turning to a form of such thought found in religious, and therefore less threatening, thinkers like Martin Luther and Karl Barth. He also provides a very brief account of the origins of such a hermeneutic of suspicion in Francis Bacon's critique of the Idols of the Tribe and Cave and David Hume's critique of religion in The Natural History of Religion. Each of the remaining parts of the book is then devoted to the "masters of suspicion": Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche.
In approaching Freud's work, Westphal is well aware that Freud is an evidential atheist, and he thinks Freud's scientism deserves refutation. However, he argues that to do so would be a mistake because Freud's primary mode of critique is his suspicion of religion and that understanding him on this score will yield the Christian great benefit. Westphal fears that refutation of the evidential atheism may lead to a simple rejection of Freud's atheism of suspicion as well. What is of value in Freud is his concentrated attention on the role of motive in religion and on the function of religion. In understanding him on these points, it is possible for Christians to see that their beliefs are often held for reasons hidden from themselves and that, because of that self-deception, they believe and act so as "to domesticate the divine power [and] to co-opt and control it for [their] own purposes." As Westphal puts it with respect to the performance of religious rites, Freud shows "that the believing soul engages in religious practices without understanding their meaning, without, for example, awareness of the motives that give to the rite its wish-fulfilling character." This means, quite simply, that Christians do not really know what they are doing, and that is a spiritually dangerous state in which to be.
As is the case with Freud, Westphal maintains that Marx's evidential atheism is also open to criticism but argues that Christians have much to learn by understanding what Marx means in his reference to religion as "the opium of the people." Even though Marx fails to note that religion can function as protest, it is the recognition of the role religion plays in the legitimation of social structures that can be of great benefit to the Christian. According to Marx, Christians think they adopt religion because it is true, but the truth is that they have adopted it because of its instrumental value to them in their everyday lives here and now. In not being aware of this, Christians also fail to see not only the ways religion endures evil in this world but actually eventually embraces it. This means, Westphal points out, that Christians "must go beyond asking whether our beliefs are true and our conscious intentions respectable to asking the really hard questions. How does our theology function?"
Nietzsche, unlike Freud and Marx, is not an evidential atheist, according to Westphal, because his critique of religion is grounded solely in a hermcneutic of suspicion. His message for the Christian, however, is ultimately the same as that delivered by Freud and Marx. But there is one sense in which Nietzsche goes beyond the other two masters of suspicion, namely, in his suspicion of reason. Freud and Marx, that is, are still fundamentalists of the Enlightenment because they still hold faith in the powers of reason. Nietzsche has lost even that faith.
Westphal concludes this meditation on the religious values of modern atheism by noting the dangers that accompany such an exercise-such an undertaking can simply spawn its own hypocrisy in the battle to rid itself of hypocrisy, or it can degenerate into cynicism, or it may destroy all memory of the grace of God. Despite the dangers, however, he encourages a careful examination of such atheisms as an antidote to a pervasive self-deception within the religious life, which leads to a severely distorted form of piety. He sees this book, therefore, as primarily for the church rather than for the academy. If modern atheists are taken seriously, he is confident they will provide a stimulus to a self-examination that can help restore the integrity of religious life. Thus, he thinks of the book as a kind of lenten exercise.
Although not directed to the academy, Westphal's book is a careful and illuminating analysis of the nature and the religious import of the atheism of suspicion and will, therefore, be of interest to many in the academy. It is also, and primarily, a profound religious meditation of particular value to Christians, though not obviously limited to those within the Christian church. Donald Wiebe Trinity College Toronto, ON

Monday, November 12, 2007

Happiness’ Sisyphean nature

All They Are Saying Is Give Happiness a Chance
By EDUARDO PORTER NYT Editorial Observer: November 12, 2007
The framers of the Constitution evidently believed that happiness could be achieved, putting its pursuit up there alongside the unalienable rights to life and liberty. Though governments since then have seen life and liberty as deserving of vigorous protection, for all the public policies aimed at increasing economic growth, people have been left to sort out their happiness.
This is an unfortunate omission. Despite all the wealth we have accumulated — increased life expectancy, central heating, plasma TVs and venti-white-chocolate-mocha Frappuccinos — true happiness has lagged our prosperity. As Bobby Kennedy said in a speech at the University of Kansas in March 1968, the nation’s gross national product measures everything “except that which makes life worthwhile.”
The era of laissez-faire happiness might be coming to an end. Some prominent economists and psychologists are looking into ways to measure happiness to draw it into the public policy realm. Thirty years from now, reducing unhappiness could become another target of policy, like cutting poverty.
“This is another outcome that we should be concerned about,” said Alan Krueger, a professor of economics at Princeton who is working to develop a measure of happiness that could be used with other economic indicators. “Just like G.D.P.”
It might be a bit of a political challenge to define happiness as a legitimate policy objective. Imagine the Republican outrage when the umpteenth tax cut didn’t do the trick. Democrats would likely slam the effort as regressive, distracting from efforts to improve the lot of the less fortunate by more conventional measures — like income.
Happiness is clearly real, related to objective measures of well-being. Happier people have lower blood pressure and get fewer colds. But using it to guide policy could be tricky. Not least because we don’t quite understand why it behaves the way it does. Men are unhappiest at almost 50, and women at just after 45. Paraplegics are not unhappier than healthy people. People who live with teenagers are the unhappiest of all.
Happiness seems fairly cheap to manipulate. In one experiment, subjects were asked to answer a questionnaire about personal satisfaction after Xeroxing a sheet of paper. Those who found a dime lying on the Xerox machine reported substantially higher satisfaction with their lives.
Most disconcerting, happiness seems to have little relation to economic achievement, which we have historically understood as the driver of well-being. A notorious study in 1974 found that despite some 30 years worth of stellar economic growth, Americans were no happier than they were at the end of World War II. A more recent study found that life satisfaction in China declined between 1994 and 2007, a period in which average real incomes grew by 250 percent.
Happiness, it appears, adapts. It’s true that the rich are happier, on average, than the poor. But while money boosts happiness, the effect doesn’t last. We just become envious of a new, richer set of people than before. Satisfaction soon settles back to its prior level, as we adapt to changed circumstances and set our expectations to a higher level.
Despite happiness’ apparently Sisyphean nature, there may be ways to increase satisfaction over the long term. While the extra happiness derived from a raise or a winning lottery ticket might be fleeting, studies have found that the happiness people derive from free time or social interaction is less susceptible to comparisons with other people around them. Nonmonetary rewards — like more vacations, or more time with friends or family — are likely to produce more lasting changes in satisfaction.
This swings the door wide open for government intervention. On a small scale, congestion taxes to encourage people to carpool would reduce the distress of the solo morning commute, which apparently drives people nuts.
More broadly, if the object of public policy is to maximize society’s well-being, more attention should be placed on fostering social interactions and less on accumulating wealth. If growing incomes are not increasing happiness, perhaps we should tax incomes more to force us to devote less time and energy to the endeavor and focus instead on the more satisfying pursuit of leisure.
One thing seems certain, lining up every policy incentive to strive for higher and higher incomes is just going to make us all miserable. Happiness is one of the things that money just can’t buy.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The liberal arts are not merely indispensable; they are unavoidable

The tradition of the West is embodied in the Great Conversation that began in the dawn of history and that continues to the present day. Whatever the merits of other civilizations in other respects, no civilization is like that of the West in this respect. No other civilization can claim that its defining characteristic is a dialogue of this sort. No dialogue in any other civilization can compare with that of the West in the number of great works of the mind that have contributed to this dialogue. The goal toward which Western society moves is the Civilization of the Dialogue. The spirit of Western civilization is the spirit of inquiry. Its dominant element is the Logos. Nothing is to remain undiscussed. Everybody is to speak his mind. No proposition is to be left unexamined. The exchange of ideas is held to be the path to the realization of the potentialities of the race.
At a time when the West is most often represented by its friends as the source of that technology for which the whole world yearns and by its enemies as the fountainhead of selfishness and greed, it is worth remarking that, though both elements can be found in the great conversation, the Western ideal is not one or the other strand in the conversation, but the conversation itself. It would be and exaggeration to say that Western civilization means these books. The exaggeration would lie in the omission of the plastic arts and music, which have quite as important a part in Western civilization as the great productions included in this set. But to the extent to which books can present the idea of a civilization, the idea of Western civilization is here presented.
These books are the means of understanding our society and ourselves. They contain the great ideas that dominate us without our knowing it. There is no comparable repository of our tradition. To put an end to the spirit of inquiry that has characterized the West it is not necessary to burn the books. All we have to do is to leave them unread for a few generations. On the other hand, the revival of interest in these books from time to time throughout history has provided the West with new drive and creativeness. Great Books have salvaged, preserved, and transmitted the tradition on many occasions similar to our own.
The books contain not merely the tradition, but also the great exponents of the tradition. Their writings are models of the fine and liberal arts. They hold before us what Whitehead called “‘the habitual vision of greatness.” These books have endured because men in every era have been lifted beyond themselves by the inspiration of their example, Sir Richard Livingstone said: “We are tied down, all our days and for the greater part of our days, to the commonplace. That is where contact with great thinkers, great literature helps. In their company we are still in the ordinary world, but it is the ordinary world transfigured and seen through the eyes of wisdom and genius. And some of their vision becomes our own.”
Until very recently these books have been central in education in the West. They were the principal instrument of liberal education, the education that men acquired as an end in itself, for no other purpose than that it would help them to be men, to lead human lives, and better lives than they would otherwise be able to lead.
The aim of liberal education is human excellence, both private and public (for man is a political animal). Its object is the excellence of man as man and man as citizen. It regards man as an end, not as a means; and it regards the ends of life, and not the means to it. For this reason it is the education of free men. Other types of education or training treat men as means to some other end, or are at best concerned with the means of life, with earning a living, and not with its ends.
The substance of liberal education appears to consist in the recognition of basic problems, in knowledge of distinctions and interrelations in subject matter, and in the comprehension of ideas.
Liberal education seeks to clarify the basic problems and to understand the way in which one problem bears upon another. It strives for a grasp of the methods by which solutions can be reached and the formulation of standards for testing solutions proposed. The liberally educated man understands, for example, the relation between the problem of the immortality of the soul and the problem of the best form of government; he understands that the one problem cannot be solved by the same method as the other, and that the test that he will have to bring to bear upon solutions proposed differs from one problem to the other.
The liberally educated man understands, by understanding the distinctions and interrelations of the basic fields of subject matter, the differences and connections between poetry and history, science and philosophy, theoretical and practical science; he understands that the same methods cannot be applied in all these fields; he knows the methods appropriate to each.
The liberally educated man comprehends the ideas that are relevant to the basic problems and that operate in the basic fields of subject matter. He knows what is meant by soul. State, God, beauty, and by the other terms that are basic to the insights that these ideas, singly or in combination, provide concerning human experience.
The liberally educated man has a mind that can operate well in all fields. He may be a specialist in one field. But he can understand anything important that is said in any field and can see and use the light that it shed upon his own. The liberally educated man is at home in the world of ideas and in the world or practical affairs, too, because he understands the relation of the two. He may not be at home in the world of practical affairs in the sense of liking the life he finds about him; but he will be at home in that world in the sense that he understands it. He may even derive from his liberal education some conception of the difference between a bad world and a good one and some notion of the ways in which one might be turned onto the other.
The method of liberal education is the liberal arts, and the result of liberal education is discipline in those arts. The liberal artist learns to read, write, speak, listen, understand, and think. He learns to reckon, measure, and manipulate matter, quantity, and motion in order to predict, produce, and exchange. As we live in the tradition, whether we know it or not, so we are all liberal artists, whether we know it or not. We all practice the liberal arts, well or badly, all the time every day. As we should understand the tradition as well as we can in order to understand ourselves, so we should be as good liberal artists as we can in order to become as fully human as we can.
The liberal arts are not merely indispensable; they are unavoidable, Nobody can decide for himself whether he is going to be a human being. The only question open to him is whether he will be an ignorant, undeveloped one or one who has sought to reach the highest point he is capable of attaining. The question, in short, is whether he will be a poor liberal artist or a good one.
The tradition of the West in education is the tradition of the liberal arts. Until very recently nobody took seriously the suggestion that there could be any other ideal. The educational ideas of John Locke, for example, which were directed to the preparation of the pupil to fit conveniently into the social and economic environment in which he found himself, made no impression on Locke’s contemporaries. And so it will be found that other voices raised in criticism of liberal education fell upon deaf ears until about a half-century ago.
This Western devotion to the liberal arts and liberal education must have been largely responsible for the emergence of democracy as an ideal. The democratic ideal is equal opportunity for full human development, and, since the liberal arts are the basic means of such development, devotion to democracy naturally results from devotion to them. On the other hand, if acquisition of the liberal arts is an intrinsic part of human dignity, then the democratic ideal demands that we should strive to see to it that all have the opportunity to attain to the fullest measure of the liberal arts that is possible to each.
The present crisis in the world has been precipitated by the vision of the range of practical and productive art offered by the West. All over the world men are on the move, expressing their determination to share in the technology in which the West has excelled. This movement is one of the most spectacular in history, and everybody is agreed upon one thing about it: we do not know how to deal with it. It would be tragic if in our preoccupation with the crisis we failed to hold up as a thing of value for all the world, even as that which might show us a way in which to deal with the crisis, our vision of the best that the West has to offer. That vision is the range of the liberal arts and liberal education. Our determination about the distribution of the fullest measure of these arts and this education will measure our loyalty to the best in our own past and our total service to the future of the world.
The great books were written by the greatest liberal artists. They exhibit the range of the liberal arts. The authors were also the greatest teachers. They taught one another. They taught all previous generations, up to a few years ago. The question is whether they can teach us.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

As though we were a single person with four heads

What the New Atheists Don’t See Theodore Dalrymple
Selected Responses: Sent by Sam Harris on 10-29-2007:
Needless to say, Dalrymple is not the first critic to respond to Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, and me as though we were a single person with four heads. He is not the first to claim, somewhat paradoxically, that our criticism of religion goes much too far without, he is sorry to report, going so far as to say anything new. He is not the first professed "atheist" to suggest that, while he can get along just fine without an imaginary friend, most human beings will always need to delude themselves about God—nor is he the first to fail to see just how condescending and unimaginative one must be to believe such a thing about the rest of humanity. Dalymple is, however, the first in one respect: he is the first writer to claim that he could have produced every argument found in the "new atheist" books ("with the possible exception of Dennett's") by the tender age of 14. I do not doubt this for a moment—though this leaves me wondering how many blows to the head Dalrymple has suffered in the intervening years.
In lieu of answering our arguments against faith—in lieu, even, of noticing them—Dalrymple simply misses the point of our books outright. He misses it petulantly at first, but his obliviousness to matters of substance soon swells to something like exultation. He then delivers what he clearly imagines to be the killing blow, comparing our misbegotten work to a few religious meditations he deems especially profound. Perhaps it was meant as a further insult to us that he sought to convey the invidious gulf between the "new atheists" and certain "Anglican divines of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries" by furnishing the readers of this journal with some of the most banal religious meanderings ever recorded. But I fear there is not this much method in Dalrymple's madness. The man appears simply lost. He sees neither what is worst about religion, nor what is best, with anything like clarity. It’s a pity we don’t have the 14-year-old Dalrymple to reckon with. Then we all might have learned something.
Theodore Dalrymple responds:
I understand why Mr. Harris feels strongly about the way in which I expressed myself, and perhaps I was a little intemperate, in which case I apologize.
There seem to me three main points to discuss. First, the existence of God; second, the actual historical record of organized religion; third, the metaphysical difficulties of human existence without God.
The arguments for and against the existence of God are by now pretty well rehearsed, and I do not think that any of the new atheists (I call them that because their books came out at about the same time) add anything much to them. They are not entirely to blame for this: it would take a very great philosopher to do so. I certainly have nothing new to say on the matter.
Second, the historiography of religion employed by most of these authors, though admittedly not by Daniel Dennett, is one of bringing up only damning evidence. This does not seem to me to be an honest appraisal of religion's role in human history, but one that is emotionally parti pris and fundamentally intolerant. It would be possible to write a history of medicine using only the stupidity and ignorance of doctors, and the harm that they had done, as material; but that would not be the history of medicine in its entirety.
Third, the metaphysical difficulties of human existence are considerable, and I do not think the abandonment of religion would make things any easier. Many people would find the reverse to be true.
Finally, with regard to Mr. Harris's statement that it may be ethical to kill people with certain (unspecified) ideas: for myself, I fear the likelihood of mission creep. I cannot help recalling the wise words of a great British judge, Lord Mansfield, who said in the eighteenth century that so long as an act remains in bare intention alone it is not punishable by our law. Killing people for their thoughts alone is not a recipe for anything except bloody disaster. Autumn 2007 Table of Contents