Fun exercise

Instrumentum Laboris, the guide to the upcoming Extraordinary Synod, is
a real doozy. I’ll have lots more to say about it later. For now, here’s
a quick exercise that will tell you where our bishops’ interests are. Go
to the document and do a search for any of the following:


Just try it.

New baby

The new baby was supposed to come in a week, but we became worried about how little the baby seemed to be moving.  When the doctors looked into it, they were even more worried than we were, and little Sabrina had to be brought into the outside world via emergency caesarean section yesterday.  The good news is that both baby and mother seem to be doing fine now.

I trust the Reaction will be able to continue for a short time without me.

What do the Kasperites really believe?

Consider this a Grand Inquisitor-style thought experiment.  Most baptized Catholics are to one degree or another Kasperite heretics, and I’m quite sure that I’ve often spotted this spirit just beneath their surface.  Whoever is running the American annulment factory is much more guilty of this type of thinking than Kasper himself.  The arguments that Catholic practice should depart from Catholic doctrine always seem phony.  What do they really believe?

Life is just a jumble of one thing after another, and none of it really means anything because it all ends in oblivion anyway.  Each of us will die, and yet we will each die alone, because my personal extinction is an incommunicable catastrophe.  There is no God, and the universe doesn’t care how you spend the time between now and your final destination.  And yet to make the swift years of life bearable, we must imagine that what we do matters in some ultimate sense.  We must feel as if we are really connected to other people by unbreakable bonds.  Otherwise, the fear and loneliness and despair would be too much.  So we need our vows, our promises of fidelity unto death, those grand gestures of throwing away our lives for love like Jesus did.

And yet, this is playing with fire.  “For better or for worse” means the possibility of having to accept great suffering and loneliness, the very things that vow was supposed to prevent.  What shall we do?  Is not the play-acting of children healthy, perhaps even necessary?  And yet, when the rules of a game or a dare lead to actual danger, is that not the time to remember that the game is in fact a game, and that they would be better off playing a different one?  Again, what shall we do?  Shall we devise new marriage vows with explicit exception clauses, new rules that keep things from ever getting really out of hand?  Heavens no!  This would defeat the point of the game, which must be played as if it were serious to have its effect.  The point of marriage is to feel that you are indissolubly bound to another person, that she/he is totally yours, and you are totally hers/his, even though it’s not true.  People in love always promise “forever”; it would be as cruel to keep them from promising this as it would be to actually hold them to it.

No, the game must continue to be played, because outside of it is darkness and despair.  We must play with fire.  But it must be play.  What is needed is a class of discreet and wise “grown-ups” to keep things from getting out of hand.  The point of marriage is the comfort of personal companionship.  The point of the Eucharist is the comfort of community affirmation.  We must see to it that these sacraments are really offering these things to everyone.  And yet, for them to work. they must maintain the illusion of transcendent purpose and absolute validity.  We must affirm the rules, and we must break them.

Eventually, we will not be satisfied with communion for the remarried.  We will insist that the Church recognize second unions.  We will not criticize indissolubility–oh no!  Let a woman enjoy the comforting glow of vowed-fidelity-unto-death with her husband.  And if that doesn’t work out, let her then enjoy it with her second husband.  And then with her third.  It doesn’t matter if these feelings don’t make sense in some absolute sense if the comfort is real.   Many of the Church’s other moral teachings will have to be practically neutered as well.  However, this is not something the Church is ready to hear yet.

The reasons we give for our policies are, of course, illogical.  They must be, because we can’t give our true reasons without breaking illusions we wish to see maintained.  The integralists say we are a new crop of modernists, but this is not quite right.  The original modernists were interested in theology.  They wanted  to reinterpret Catholic dogma in an immanentist sense, as “expressions of religious consciousness” or suchlike.  We have no interest in such speculative matters.  It is all the same to us if the laity believe in Apostolic Succession or Transubstantiation or other such nonsense.  We are only interested in the practical functioning of the psychological-sacramental system.  We only ask to be allowed to interrupt the game here and there so that most people can go on playing without trouble.  If we must blather on about being “merciful” and “pastoral” based on no principle to be consistently applied, we are certainly willing to do so to achieve our goal.

Some would accuse us of undermining the faith, but if the laity had any faith to undermine they would spurn us.  Instead we are immensely popular.  The people want what we’re giving.  Deep down, they know that marriage and religion are just play-acting.  They just want the play to be kept pleasant.  They do not share that barbarous obsession of the fundamentalists, the integralists, and the new atheists over issues of truth.  Are you surprised that I group these three things together?  You shouldn’t be.  What separates us from the atheists is their residual sense of reverence, their impression that the ideas of God, sacrament, and marriage are too holy to be trifled with even if they don’t correspond to anything real.  Most of us, though, are civilized enough to take a more practical view.

Who wouldn’t want religion as we sell it, all comfort and no judgement?  We take away pitiless rules and troubling truths.  We take away the Cross.

My problem with the social sciences strikes again

As I once wrote

This type of psychology demands that human behavior have explanations rather than reasons.  The explanations involve my unconscious fear of new experiences, my unconscious fear of my father, my unconscious homosexual urges, or some other such unconscious prompting.  None of these claims has any credible evidence behind them, and they all clash with the evidence of direct introspection–hence the recurring need for “unconscious” qualifiers.

“The unconscious mind” is one of those things that people are afraid to question for fear of being thought “unscientific”; I’m sure I’ll shock some readers with even the basic observation that “unconscious mind” is a contradiction in terms.

Let us take one of the most celebrated claims of psychoanalysis, that I can have “unconscious” sexual desires.  What does it even mean to say that I have a sexual desire if I don’t experience it?

Thanks to The Elusive Wapiti, I now see this claim

..he added that many women were in denial about what they found to be a turn on. ‘The plethysmograph was showing lots of arousal when women were telling Chivers they didn’t feel turned on at all,’

I suppose it just shows I’m a blue-pill prude if I suggest that the simplest explanation is that blood flow to a lady’s private parts just isn’t a reliable measure of whether she’s sexually aroused?  But wait, I see from this NYT article (also linked by EW) that Professor Chivers, who actually carried out this experiment, is pretty much on my side.  She distinguishes physiological and subjective sexual response and makes no claim that her subjects were lying or “in denial” about the latter.  I would add that when most people talk about sexual arousal or desire they are referring to subjective states, not blood flows.

The value of the low-intelligence perspective

It’s interesting to read the comments of the reactionary blogs I frequent when IQ-related topics come up.  I’ve noticed that, whenever anecdotes are shared, commenters always have high IQs (they can often give an official number), and they find the mental limitations of their day-to-day companions excruciatingly obvious.  Of course, this is an impression rather than a carefully established correlation, and it may well be that people have a tendency to overestimate their intellectual superiority somewhat, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a large subset of reactionaries who are smart compared to their social environment.  After all, something must give them the confidence to go against the consensus of the intellectual elite.  I suspect I am one of the few people active on the reactionary blogosphere with low relative intelligence (meaning I suspect I am less intelligent than many of my work colleagues of similar or higher rank, and my mind is often inadequate to the problems I take up).  This gives me a different perspective, and I’d like to share it with you.  “Why should I care what stupid people think?” I imagine you’re asking.  After all, aren’t stupid people’s opinions worthless almost by definition?  The reason you should care is that cognitive limitation makes one aware of certain issues that the more cerebrally endowed don’t consider.

Above all, having low relative intelligence makes one conscious of intellect itself as a limited resource.  People who are used to being able to out-think their companions forget this.  How many articles have we read in Christian or conservative publications telling us that, instead of wasting time on politics, we should go out and win over the culture?  Just make brilliant movies, novels, and paintings that express our world-view.  Become eminent scientists and take over academia.  That’ll fix things.  No doubt the people who write these things are intelligent and think themselves awfully clever (or at least cleverer than the “religious right” they despise), but this is like thinking oneself a brilliant strategist for giving advice like “First, raise an army ten times the size of your enemy’s…”  You’ve got to fight a culture war with the army you’ve got.  Sure, we should certainly express ourselves with the best art and scholarship of which we are capable, but given that the Left has successfully indoctrinated the cognitive elite, we’re not likely to win any kind of brains or talent competition against them.

Intellect limitation raises all sorts of interesting practical questions that no one but me seems to be interested in.  For example, when is it rational to just accept the consensus of experts rather than making up one’s own mind on an issue?  Is it ever rational to accept what appears to be flawed reasoning from the expert consensus because “there must be something here that I’m missing”?  Officially, we are encouraged to study the arguments and make up our own minds on everything, but in practice each of us has limited brainpower (some of us more limited than others), and we must choose carefully how to spend it.  There are two solutions.  One is trust, which means you must still do the work of finding a trustworthy authority.  The other is bracketing, meaning mentally separating issues and seeing if you can solve the ones that really interest you while remaining agnostic on the others.  I’m something of a specialist, and I bracket a lot in both my day work and my blogging.  Lots of unflattering things are said about specialization, many of them just, but some of us probably couldn’t do intellectual work at all without it.

The cognitive elite berate the rest of us both for failing to think scientifically and failing to docilely accept the pronouncements of our betters.  Not only are the accusations contradictory, one of them is unjust.  As I’ve just said, those with low intelligence tend to give more weight to expert opinion due to our lack of confidence in our own.  What is true is that we tend to be less convinced by the types of arguments the cognitive elite make.  These often come down to arguments of the form “Here is an observation.  Our theory explains it.  All the other theories we could think of are less plausible (either conflict with other observations or involve “unnatural” assumptions).  Therefore our theory is true.”  Cosmological inflation and the documentary hypothesis for the origin of the Pentateuch are a couple of examples where I don’t find this type of argument convincing.  Yes, the alternative explanations I can come up with for these theories’ post-dictions might not be as compelling, but that just means I’m not as smart as Alan Guth or Julius Wellhausen.  Just because I don’t have better explanations doesn’t mean I know they don’t exist.  And yet, ultimately, all of science comes down to arguments of this type.  Even my “theory” that I’m sitting at home as I write this I ultimately accept because it’s so much more plausible than alternatives involving hallucinations or elaborate ruses.  So even the most intellectually humble of us will ultimately concede the truth of a theory when the known alternatives are reduced to silliness.  But our threshold is much higher than that of very intelligent people, who so easily convince themselves that their list of possible explanations is exhaustive and the intuitions they use to exclude some must be respected by Nature herself.

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