The Right is impersonal

One of the beauties of disciplined thought is that it is impersonal.  We can tell nothing about what kind of man Pythagoras was from his celebrated theorem, nor what kind of a man Rutherford was from his celebrated experiment.  The logic and the data speak for themselves; the qualities of their discoverers are matters of uninteresting historical accident.  The Right aspires to such discipline in the political realm.  We refuse to play the game of taking political statements as indicative of the moral qualities of those who propound them.

To see how alien this is to the modern mindset, consider a recent article on First Things, “To my liberal friends, on the day after the Women’s March”by Solveig Gold, who, like the magazine’s founder, seeks to be liberal on every issue except abortion.  How liberal?  Well, there’s the naked feminist chauvinism with which she begins and ends her piece.

I am a feminist. Indeed, I am, in some people’s eyes, the worst kind of feminist—the kind who believes that women not only are equal to men, but may, in fact, be superior. As I see it, a woman can do anything a man can do, but she can do it better, faster, and in high heels.

Pause for a moment and ask, not whether this is true, but what it even means.  Let M be the set of men, W the set of women.  She may mean that for any task z, there is some x in M and some y in W such that y is better than x at z.  This would be true but uninteresting.  She may mean that for any x in M and any y in W, it will be true that y is better than x at z.  This is rather less likely, and First Things being a religious magazine, I expect the editors would insist that there are at least some things Jesus Christ did that couldn’t have been done better by a woman.  Perhaps she refers to the median man compared to the median woman.  In fact, I doubt she’s thought it through herself.  This piece of nonsense is not meant to assert fact, but to display attitude, that is, to tell us about her, not about reality.

While on the topic of feminist chauvinism, let’s look at what the author finds inspiring.

But yesterday did give the feminist in me one reason to celebrate. Sandwiched between photos of uteruses and pink pussy hats, my friend from Princeton posted this status to her Facebook: “tfw your prof returns your dean’s date paper with thorough feedback the same week she had a baby and basically makes you realize you have absolutely no excuses for not doing work ever #myprofiswonderwoman.”

Well, it depends on one’s idea of how much investment in time babies require and how much it matters who it comes from.  Some might call this neglect of one’s higher duty rather than heroism.  The old accusation that pro-lifers don’t care about babies after they’re born is more plausibly made against pro-life feminists (who agree society should be structured around universal employment rather than family) than against pro-life patriarchists.  In any case, suppose we grant that women are better than men at everything (whatever one means precisely by this).  There is an economic principle of comparative advantage:  if there is one crucial thing that only women can do, it makes sense for them to concentrate on it regardless of their superiority in other fields.  From this, the traditional division of roles follows.

Moving on to the main point, it is striking how the author judges political beliefs not as true or false but as selfish or unselfish.

Over the years, I have listened carefully as you accused members of the Republican Party of selfishness, of a lack of empathy for experiences different from their own. And often, I think, you were correct. The Right’s frequent apathy towards, for example, welfare recipients and the environment and the experiences of minorities betrays a privileged and, yes, fundamentally selfish outlook. Certainly our new, narcissistic president ran a campaign that was all about him, and I would argue that his inaugural speech was selfish on behalf of America…

The question of whether or not what conservatives say about the pathologies of socialism or the black underclass is true needn’t be considered.  Ms. Gold is able to look into the souls of conservatives and see the blackness in their hearts.  One might think this rather presumptuous.  Wouldn’t it be better to allow oneself to be persuaded by liberals that the conservatives’ arguments are false, their conclusions invalid, and leave the state of their souls to God?  Her objection to each state putting its citizens first naturally prompts the question of whether it is selfish of me to put my own children first?  Isn’t that what separate families–and separate nations–are for?  Normal people understand that by putting my family first, I don’t mean that I may be unjust to other children.  It means my job is not an unconstrained optimization problem for the human race but a constrained optimization problem for my family.

Ms. Gold’s ability to divine selfishness forms the basis of her objection to abortion.

And yet, what could be more selfish than the rhetoric of the pro-choice movement? MY body. MY choice. Just as Republicans may be accused of ignoring their responsibility to the poor and oppressed, so you are guilty of choosing to ignore the possibility that we may have a greater responsibility to humankind—a responsibility to promote a culture of life, instead of death, a culture in which every human life is valued and allowed to reach its full potential. You make the right to choose all about you, while conveniently forgetting that it isn’t all about you—there is, in fact, another human life at stake, whether you like it or not. When you fight for the right to choose, you are saying that you should be able to prioritize your career, your education, your relationship, your convenience, etc., over the future of the fetus inside you.

There are some good points in there, but they are tangent to the main point that the pro-choice movement is selfish.  In fact, as proudly anti-abortion as I am, I would never presume to know this.  It would be preposterous to assume that Hillary Clinton is pro-abortion because she thinks she may need one herself one day.  I have no reason to doubt she holds her beliefs for the reasons she has given.  It’s true that legalized abortion allows one person to pursue her interest at the expense of another, but this is the point its supporters would dispute.  If “personhood” depends only on present mental ability and not substantial form, then they are correct to dispute it.  In fact, the personhood theory of the bioethicists is an error of the intellectual order, just as Cartesian dualism is an intellectual error.  They are, in fact, the same error.

I propose that the author’s accusations of selfishness are unconvincing.  It is the assertion that the fetus is a human being whose interests we are morally constrained to recognize that gives her conclusion what force it has.

There is a strain of thought on the Right, Neoreaction, which reduces Leftism entirely to moral status signaling, dangerous precisely because of the extremes these sorts of status competitions incentivize.  We in the Orthosphere wouldn’t go so far.  We attribute the dynamism of the Left to the ideas themselves.  We think these ideas are wrong; we don’t presume to judge those who hold them.  They are, after all, only following what they have been taught is incontestably true.  In fact, hostility toward liberal persons is always a conservative deformation, often a conservative deficit–the manifestation of an anxiety that one’s beliefs alone do not sufficiently differentiate oneself from the Left, so that one must posit personal moral failings to them as well.  I have no idea if Hillary Clinton has any serious personal flaws, but even if she does, these would be fundamentally irrelevant to the issue at hand.

The ways of dragons

Don’t let the cool-sounding title fool you.  This is a My Little Pony post.  In particular, this is a post about Spike the baby dragon, Twilight Sparkle’s servant and friend, a disturbingly accurate symbol of boyhood in feminist America.

Imagine a world in which each person has a unique talent and destiny, and it’s conveniently printed on her ass.  That’s the world of the ponies of Equestria.  Each pony has a predestined role, revealed in due time by the appearance of her cutie mark.  The role may be humble, but it is always a fit to her interests and abilities, and it is always good.  (There are, so far as I know, no evil cutie marks.)

Spike is a dragon, although unlike other dragons, he is missing his wings (a symbolically significant detail).  Dragons don’t have cutie marks, but they do have undoubted powers and inclinations.  The trouble is, Spike has been raised since hatching by ponies, who know nothing about dragon society and have no idea how the distinctive qualities of dragons are meant to relate to survival or the common good.  Unlike the ponies, Spike exists in a state of alienation from his nature.  It is no artistic accident that Spike is also a boy dragon in a girl-dominated environment.  True, Spike’s master, Twilight, has an older brother who seems masculine in a well-adjusted way (former captain of the royal guard, married to the unmistakably feminine Princess Cadence), but Spike doesn’t seem to have spent much time with him or with any other masculine role models.  His friends are Twilight and her five major girlfriends.

This is what a feminist looks like.

This is what a feminist looks like.

How does Spike relate to his dragon nature?  In the season 2 episode “Secret of my Excess”, receiving birthday gifts trigger’s Spike’s dragon hoarding instinct, causing him to begin growing up into an increasingly large, voracious dragon.  No doubt, these instincts serve some important purpose in a dragon’s natural habitat, but in Ponyville, they seem purely anti-social.  In the end, Spike repudiates his natural greed, shrinking back into a baby dragon.  He is thus left in the unnatural state of having no morally acceptable way to pass into dragon adulthood.

How like boys of today!  They find themselves confronted with powerful new urges without an adequate social context to understand their purpose, to morally validate them.  In a healthy society, fatherhood is honored, and so the sex drive exists in a clear moral context, restricting but also validating it.  Feminist America demonizes male sexuality, seeing it as ordered, not to fatherhood, but to rape.  A boy who takes his society’s values seriously is bound to see his new desires as monstrous.  Even greater is the hostility society shows toward natural male aggressiveness.  Traditional society restricted, but also validated, masculine aggressiveness by giving it a meaning:  the calling of a man to protect his family and city.  The modern world thinks it has no need of protectors, and so hopes to shame or drug these instincts out of men.

This is what a feminist looks like.

This is what a feminist looks like.

Perhaps Spike could come to terms with his dragon-nature if he were to seek out the society of fellow dragons.  In the season 2 episode “Dragon Quest”, Spike, finding his alienation from his nature unbearable, sets out to join the Great Dragon Migration and learn “what it means to be a dragon”.  He meets up with a gang of unsupervised male teenage dragons at a volcano.  The gang tease Spike and subject him to a number of difficult and embarrassing tests to prove his worth.  Three of Spike’s pony friends, watching in disguised, are shocked to find Spike responding with enthusiasm.  What’s brilliant about this episode is that it’s shown from the perspective of these girl ponies who can’t understand the psychological forces at play.  Probably most of the little girls watching don’t understand it either.  Spike is getting his first taste of male companionship and camaraderie.  Having to prove himself is important to him, although he is frightened and probably doesn’t understand it himself.  What the ponies don’t recognize, but adult viewers will, is that although the teenage dragons are acting tough with Spike, they’re actually showing quite a bit of restraint and accommodation to this baby.  Belly flopping into lava is not actually impressive, but it lets them give him the sense of having earned membership.  Men being the ritualistic sex, Spike is them put through an initiation ritual, followed by a night of revelry with his new companions.  Again, the ponies are horrified.  How can Spike want to stay with these awful dragons?

Unfortunately, the gang, lacking adult supervision, is prone to mischief.  They take Spike along to raid a phoenix nest and then turn on him when he refuses to follow along and smash an unhatched egg.  Spike runs away with his Pony friends, and ends the episode accepting his state of alienation as permanent, writing to Princess Celestia that “what I am” and “who I am” are not the same.  From now on, Spike will take no guidance from his dragon–or, one fears, his masculine–nature.  He will rely only on the abstract guidelines the ponies have given him about kindness and loyalty.

It is a disturbing ending, at least to those who understand the episode fully and realize the magnitude of the tragedy.  There is nothing wrong per se with the moral principles the ponies have given Spike.  What the ponies haven’t given him, because they cannot give it to him, is a way to relate these abstract moral imperatives to his own nature, a way to see his own abilities and inclinations in their light.  So it is as well with boys in today’s world, deprived of natural law and traditional culture.  We conservatives like to sneer at the morality of “niceness”, but in fact, young people today are given basic principles much better and sterner than mere agreeableness.  They know that doing the right thing can sometimes involve unpleasant confrontations.  They know that they should be promoting other peoples’ interests and positively contributing to society as a whole.  All true, as far as it goes.  And yet it is missing the connection between the abstract and their own given natures and histories that natural law and tradition exist to provide.

Spike the baby dragon has real virtues–courage, loyalty, compassion.  And yet I fear he will always be trapped in a truncated existence.  His boyish fantasies of heroism and adulthood (yet even his comic books are about superhero ponies) shall remain like his crush on Rarity–yearnings with no imaginable consummation.

Brief notes on the news

I avoid newspaper articles, but I can’t avoid headlines.  Eight years ago, we were being told to get with the international consensus and vote for Obama.  Now we’re being told that foreign devils have been pulling strings for Trump.  I’ve been assuming this media craze, like so many in the past, would soon be forgotten, and I’d never regret not learning about it.  The trouble is, I never learned about the previous scandal, the one about emails from the Democrats being leaked, the contents of which were said to be mildly embarrassing.  Apparently, although the leaks themselves were uninteresting, who was involved in the leaking is terribly important, and those with secret knowledge are sure it’s the Russians.  Maybe.  I’m not qualified to have an opinion here.  Being a monarchist, I defy the democratic expectation that subjects must have an opinion on all topics, or even all topics the press decides are of note.  I will content myself with enjoying the impression that the international consensus on American politics is rather less monolithic than we had once thought.

When I was young and naive, I was warned and believed that there are great dangers to having a state-run media.  What I didn’t appreciate then was that, in a democracy, the alternative to having a state-run media is having a media-run state.  I have come to believe that media power and democracy must be destroyed together in a single blow.  As long as democracy exists, unlimited power will accrue to those who can control the perceptions of the masses.  Without democracy, not only does control of public perceptions not immediately translate into power, the ability to control the minds of the public itself erodes.  How may of these issues that the news concerns itself with would really interest many people if they weren’t connected to partisan fighting?  People are indeed motivated to learn their party’s take on many topics if it means the chance of winning arguments for their team or even just having one more reason to think members of their team smarter and more virtuous than their rivals.  This “educative” operation of democracy has even been noted by democracy’s advocates.  I might be impressed if I thought the sort of knowledge gained (and, still more, the intellectual skills practiced) had much in the way of intrinsic value.  But I don’t. on scientific concepts that should be more widely known did a fun survey of notable scientists, asking them “What scientific term or concept should be more widely known?”  There are a lot of interesting responses.  I recommend you take a look.

Overall, the results are more reaction-friendly than one might have expected.  Steve Omohundro suggests Costly Signaling, a subject dear to the neoreactionaries.  He suggests that technology may alleviate costly signaling inefficiencies by providing less expensive ways to reliably communicate hidden traits.  Now if only someone could make a cheap holiness sensor…

Speaking of forbidden topics, Gregory Cochran uses IQ heritability and regression to the mean to illustrate The Breeder’s Equation.

Steven Pinker suggests The Second Law of Thermodynamics.  One can’t help but think of the Left’s scapegoating tactics when he points out

To start with, the Second Law implies that misfortune may be no one’s fault. The biggest breakthrough of the scientific revolution was to nullify the intuition that the universe is saturated with purpose: that everything happens for a reason. In this primitive understanding, when bad things happen—accidents, disease, famine—someone or something must have wanted them to happen. This in turn impels people to find a defendant, demon, scapegoat, or witch to punish…

Poverty, too, needs no explanation. In a world governed by entropy and evolution, it is the default state of humankind. Matter does not just arrange itself into shelter or clothing, and living things do everything they can not to become our food. What needs to be explained is wealth. Yet most discussions of poverty consist of arguments about whom to blame for it

Helena Cronin makes the shockingly un-PC suggestion Sex.  That is, sex differences are real, and trying to make every job 50/50 is foolish.

Here’s why the sexes differ. A sexual organism must divide its total reproductive investment into two—competing for mates and caring for offspring. Almost from the dawn of sexual reproduction, one sex specialized slightly more in competing for mates and the other slightly more in caring for offspring. This was because only one sex was able to inherit the mitochondria (the powerhouse of cells); so that sex started out with sex cells larger and more resource-rich than the other sex. And thus began the great divide into fat, resource-laden eggs, already investing in “caring”—providing for offspring—and slim, streamlined sperm, already competing for that vital investment. Over evolutionary time, this divergence widened, proliferating and amplifying, in every sexually reproducing species that has ever existed. So the differences go far beyond reproductive plumbing. They are distinctive adaptations for the different life-strategies of competers and carers. Wherever ancestral males and females faced different adaptive problems, we should expect sex differences—encompassing bodies, brains and behaviour.

Paul Saffo suggests Haldane’s Rule of the Right Size, in what concludes as a general argument for subsidiarity.

Frank Tipler suggests the Parallel Universes of Quantum Mechanics as a solution to the problem of evil.  Readers interested in theodicy should take note.

Jerry Coyne struggles mightily to convince people of what thinks are the consequences of Determinism:

I find it harder to convince atheists that they don’t have free will than to convince religious believers that God doesn’t exist.

Just because they’re atheists doesn’t mean they’re crazy.  Does our being physical beings evolving deterministically necessarily invalidate personal descriptions of human behavior?  This is implicitly critiqued in Franck Wilczek’s contribution, Complementarity.  Also relevant is Antony Lisi’s suggestion, Emergence, which is how scientists like to talk about hylomorphism.

Seth Shostak suggests Fermi Problems, i.e. order of magnitude estimates, as a pedagogic tool for helping people appreciate science / reason quantitatively.  Tried that in my introductory astronomy classes.  Very hard to pull off successfully.

My old statistical mechanics professor, Nigel Goldenfeld, suggests The Scientific Method.  Forget the postmodernist bullshit; science gives us truth.

And there are many other worthy contributions.

2016: the year of the Left’s greatest triumph

2016 was full of electoral theatre, but it was above all the year of Amoris laetitia, which by making Kasperism apparently the official teaching of the Church has discredited the Catholic Church as an authority on matters of ethics, perhaps permanently.  One can argue whether Pope Francis’ exhortation really does say that wives should not submit to their husbands but may be obliged to render the marriage debt to their adulterous partners and that personal conscience has the authority to overturn universal ethical norms.  I may be a bad Catholic for finding this the natural reading of the document, but most Catholics, including bishops (who are eagerly extending the logic), seem to agree, and the pope’s own correspondence seems to reinforce this understanding.

Perhaps I should ignore the natural reading and try to read AL according to previous teaching?  But this undermines the rationale for a living Magisterium, which is that we are supposed to read old documents in the light of new ones, rather than vice versa.  How can I trust the natural reading of these older documents without tracing them all the way back to the oldest Magisterial documents, the Bible itself?  Must every Catholic follow this chain all the way back?  At the very least, we must concede that the Protestants were write all along about the “private interpretation” thing.  Not only is it possible to understand the Bible without the Pope; it’s impossible to understand the Pope without the Bible.

Perhaps Francis, by teaching heresy, is not a valid pope?  But if an anti-pope can rule the Church without the Church noticing it, corrupting the deposit of faith, how can we be sure this didn’t happen 100, 500, or 1500 years ago?  You see the magnitude of the problem?

What’s more, the damage is irreparable.  A conservative pope might someday reverse every controversial bit of AL, but that would only mean that a rival faction would have temporarily come to power.  Everyone would remember that Rome had once taught the opposite with the acquiescence of the world’s bishops.  The ethical teachings of Rome will henceforth always be seen–by people on all sides–as current policy rather than immutable doctrine.

Plus, I know it’s not magisterial, but having a Pope tell interviewers stuff like that communists are the real Christians and only cohabiters are really married is taking its toll, even on me.

Everything I’ve said is true even if your innocuous reading of AL is correct rather than mine and the majority’s.  Assuming Catholicism survives the Francis pontificate, teaching authority will henceforth play a far smaller role for the Church than has been the case for a thousand years.  For a long time, Magisterial authority has played the key role in convincing people (to the extent they were convinced) that Catholicism is a package deal, that one may not pick and choose the bits one likes.  Without this assurance, it is much easier for liberalism to pick off “difficult” teachings one by one until nothing is left.  Now that Peter has faltered, what can hold the pieces of the Church together?

  • Tribalism.  Obviously, loyalty to Catholics as a people with distinct rituals and history can’t completely substitute for the certainty of faith, but it does give a lot.  It provides a will to resist liberal attacks.  It is itself a principle for resisting liberalism, which rejects loyalty on principle.  It gives a reason for valuing the sacraments, namely their communal binding role, even apart from their supernatural efficacy.  Ironically, tribalism is the only way to make the communal focus that liberal Catholicism wants actually work.
  • Reverence for the sacraments.  The Eucharist is the true heart of the life of the Church, but assuming your appreciation for it is more than merely tribal (not that there’s anything wrong with tribal appreciation!), it is based on certain doctrines like Transubstantiation which you regard as assured.  That is, sacramental Catholicism is no substitute for doctrinal Catholicism.  We must have some core of beliefs that can’t be shaken no matter how absurd, offensive, and self-contradictory the Church’s official teachers shall henceforth be.
  • The ideology of Catholicism.  One could try to formulate Catholicism not as a living authority but as a fixed set of principles and the deductions from them.  Catholicism would then be defined as the application of meta-principles like corporatism and sacramentalism to the historical assertion of the Incarnation.  I sort of tried to build such an ideology here.  The trouble is that, insofar as Catholicism has an ideology, it is an ideology that points to the inadequacy of ideology, that any finite set of axioms cannot adequately represent the truths in supra-rational sacramental acts and a living tradition.
  • Nitpicking.  We can continue ignoring non-Magisterial statements of popes, devising readings of hostile Magisterial documents that avoid direct contradiction with previous teaching, when that fails arguing that some older document trumps the newer one in authority according to non-arbitrary criteria.  Catholic readers will tell me this is the only viable course for an orthodox Catholic.  It suffers, though, from a priori improbability.  People are rightly skeptical that a few scattered malcontents understand Catholicism better than the Pope and bishops.  They rightly realize that our critique is self-devouring:  if 2017 Catholicism can’t be taken at face value because it doesn’t match 1958 Catholicism, how do we know we can accept the latter at face value?  The 2017 Church is every bit as emphatic about rejecting racism, national borders, and proselytism as the 1958 Church was about rejecting Communism, Protestantism, and Islam.  We could argue, as I have, that the 1958 condemnations fit Catholicism the ideology better than the 2017 condemnations, or one could argue that the 1958 condemnations carry more authority for technical reasons.  Either way, our case is complicated and non-intuitive.  I’m not entirely convinced myself.

So, what else happened in 2016?  Somehow, believing that a man who cuts his dick off and puts on a dress does not thereby become a woman passed out of the Overton Window.  Given the magnitude of the Left’s recent victories in the culture wars, this felt much less momentous than it otherwise would have.  We on the Right had gotten spoiled, expecting that it would take a full half-decade between the time the Left invents a crazy idea to the time no one is allowed to disagree.  Now it happens faster.  Welcome to the era of the no-limits Left.

The British are getting a lesson in the futility of democracy in the absence of rival elites.

On the bright side, LIGO detected gravitational waves.  Woo-hoo!  And the day after the press conferences, I got tenure.  I suppose that should make me bolder for The Cause, but given what the Catholic Church has just done to herself, it’s hard to see the point anymore.