On the politicization of children

Pope Francis urges young people to be good Leftist stooges and hector their elders.

Dear young people, you have it in you to shout.  It is up to you to opt for Sunday’s “Hosanna!”, so as not to fall into Friday’s “Crucify him!”…  It is up to you not to keep quiet.  Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders – so often corrupt – keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?

What an evil, stupid thing to say.  If any young people are reading this, please check out my model commencement address.  American news outlets have tied the Pope’s exhortation to the recent school walkout in which children were encouraged by teachers and media personalities to skip classes to protest for gun control.  In fact, the context of the Pope’s words was the close of the Vatican Youth Meeting.  Apparently, the Catholic Church needs the wisdom of ignorant, media-programmed children to decide which of her doctrines to discard.  No surprises–what the kids want is more approval for sodomy and more power for women, in summary stricter adherence to the beliefs and status hierarchies of the secular world.  No popular belief has ever been more contrary to the truth than the idea that young people are naturally rebellious.

Still, CNN and the rest are right to connect the pope’s words with the gun control agitation.  If one lived in a social vacuum and just read the pope’s homily, one might think that he meant that young people should loudly proclaim the Catholic faith, but since everyone including me take him to mean young people engaging in advocacy, protests, awareness-raising (you know, Leftist bullying tactics), that’s what it really meant.

Leftists politicize their children from a very young age.  I member on a visit to Boston meeting a 5 year old girl who explained to me that Republicans hate poor people.  In an airport, I overheard a proud couple boasting that their one year old had learned to chant “Obama” whenever the then-president appeared on television.  No doubt, these liberal parents would also be the first to believe that one should not impose a religion on a child, but let him figure it out when he’s old enough.  Correct political beliefs, on the other hand, must be instilled early.

I have not seen the same thing in conservatives.  The idea of teaching a five year old a mirror image political statement, e.g. “Democrats hate Christians.”, is revolting.  It’s not that I’m more scrupulous about imposing beliefs on children than my political rivals.  Although I don’t talk about politics with my children, and never teach them that this or that party is made of bad people, I do speak to them of certain tenets of the Christian faith as definitely true.

The difference, I believe, is that we conservatives intuit that politics and its factionalism and partisan spirit are sordid affairs.  They are spiritually corrupting.  They are perhaps a necessary evil, but the young and impressionable should by shielded from them as much as possible.  Religion, on the other hand, we see as ennobling.  We would no more deny a child knowledge of God than we would deny him a knowledge of numbers, for a properly functioning mind should be able to both think quantitatively and acknowledge its Creator.  Leftists, on the other hand, really do believe in the goodness of democracy, not only in an abstract sense but in its embodiment in contemporary partisan politics.  They encourage young people to protest, march, “call out” their elders, and so forth because they think these are ennobling acts that both manifest and solidify a healthy moral sense.  I don’t think they see much moral hazard in protesting, so long as the protest is for a proper Leftist cause, just as we don’t see any moral hazard in practicing a properly orthodox religion and would never think to warn children of its supposed perils.

Children should not be marching for any political cause, not even a good one.  Childhood is a time for formation and learning, and young people should not imagine themselves qualified to dictate reform to their elders.  Then again, we conservatives keep on saying this, and we keep on losing.

Enough with villainy!

Manicheism is the great moral-intellectual error of our times.  There are no complicated issues, no issues still open for debate.  No cases where conflicting value systems may each have arguments in their favor.  No cases of competing goods where all that can be hoped for are reasonable trade-offs.  No conflicts where both sides have legitimate interests.  No, it’s always one side with all the arguments (for we can’t even grant that the other side has bad arguments, as that would grant that they have some case) and all the good people (because egalitarians know that they are just better in every way).  On the other side there is only “ignorance” and “hate”.  It is no longer considered a virtue to be able to see things from the other side.  I’ve been shocked at how often university personnel, whom one might expect to pride themselves on their broad-mindedness, boast about how they don’t understand how conservatives and Christians think.  To understand them would be a discredit, suggesting a commonality of nature with these demon figures.  To sum up, modern men live in a comic book world, in which everyone is a good guy, a bad guy, or a bystander/victim.

I’m a reactionary and am always reacting.  Maybe this is one of my overreactions, but I have come to hate the idea of villains even in fiction.  I regard it as a literary flaw to have a prominent character with whom the readers/audience are not meant to empathize.  Conflict and war have always been themes in the world’s literature, but I have not found in the ancient poets the same urge to paint sides as black and white.  When men were expected to fight for their cities and their gods because such is a man’s duty, there was no need to pretend that the people on the other side were pure evil.  That was before today’s suffocating moralism.  Now, movies make a point of establishing the evil of the villains by having them do gratuitously bad things like killing children or puppies.

But aren’t there people out there who do bad things and are really just not sympathetic at all?  And wouldn’t an honest telling of their stories make them out to be villains?  Sure, but not all true stories have literary merit.  When I was a kid, I went to see a live performance of Peter Pan, and I remember that we were instructed that it’s okay to boo when Captain Hook is on stage–the actor wouldn’t take it personally.  Was that a good thing for the cultivation of my virtues?  Probably it was less damaging than most of the Manichaean fiction I consumed as a child, since the artificiality of it was made explicit.

In popular culture, villainy is used as the motive when other, more understandable ones, are at hand.  Why doesn’t Voldemort want wizards cross-breeding with regular people.  Because dilution of wizard blood would necessarily mean the end of their magical society?  No, because he’s evil.  Why are people scared of mutants in the X-men?  Because half of mutants violently hate humans and half of the other half are prone to lethal accidents?  No, because they’re evil.  Why does the emperor put an end to the Republic in Star Wars?  Because it was a manifestly incompetent government?  No, because he’s evil.

A generation bought up thinking in these terms has now reached adulthood.

If I had to choose, I’d prefer explicit sex to bad guys, because hatred is worse than lust.

Of course, I would feel this way, wouldn’t I?  I am, by all the standards of this age, a villain, a bad guy, both ignorant and evil.  (Have you noticed, by the way, that only Christians are asked to think of ignorance as be exculpatory?  When liberals call their opponents “ignorant”, they mean it to compound rather than mitigate our loathsomeness.  Ignorance is contemptible.)  Naturally, I don’t like how society is being prejudiced against villains like me.

But we bad guys have an advantage on you heroes; I speak now to the socially-approved righteous ones of this age.  You can’t understand us–your self-righteousness won’t let you–but we understand you.  I’m sure you too have seen in movies where the hero confronts the villain, and the villain points out that he and the hero are alike in many ways.  The hero always rejects it angrily.  “No!  I’m good!  You’re bad!”  He can’t let himself leave his own frame even for a moment.  But we agents of darkness are not so fragile.  We can jump effortlessly into your head, and look dispassionately at those silly cliches you call principles.

Like Pascal’s “thinking reed”:  the heroes of this age can crush us, but we are greater than them, because we can understand what it is that destroys us.

People will have existential crises on command.

Martin Jay points out that in a few short decades “alienation” has gone from being the fundamental malaise of modern man to having all but disappeared.  How can this be?  He and I would disagree on details, but I endorse his overall conclusion.  He doesn’t say it in so many words, but what it comes down to is that the Left-wing cultural establishment decided that alienation was no longer high status–now only losers and fascists want to feel at home in the world and crave an organic connection to a people and place.  Once people realized that the existential agony of alienation wouldn’t make people think they were sophisticated, wouldn’t get them laid, wouldn’t help them promote their books, they dropped it in a heartbeat.

Forgive me, but sometimes my disgust with the human race gets the better of me.

Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and their followers on self-motion and the generation of new substantial forms

The classic argument against self-motion

From Saint Thomas’ First Way:

Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another.

Criticisms of the argument

A skeptic would respond as follows.  This principle of proportionate causality (PC–It’s called several things in the literature.  I took this name from Edward Feser.) doesn’t even work for Saint Thomas’ chosen example, in that cold objects can become hot through friction or exothermic chemical reactions without any prior thing being hot.  Whatever agent causes the heating must be in act in the sense that it must exist and have some power to influence the heated object, but it needn’t itself possess the actuality of being hot.  For that matter, an object can cool itself without being influenced by a cooler body, e.g. through blackbody radiation.  Thus, if Aquinas means that the cause must possess the form it actualizes in the effect, this conflicts with experience.  Nor is it obvious a priori why forms can only impress themselves and not causally connect to other forms.  Alternatively, one could propose a more modest PC principle, that the effected act pre-exists in the cause only in the sense that the cause possesses a power to effect the relevant change, but then the principle is tautological, and the argument against self-motion collapses.  It gives no reason why a being may not have a passive potency to receive x, an active potency to cause x (due to the possession of some other form), and may then act on itself without any need for the two potencies to reside in different parts.

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Aristotle’s Physics: a review

Aristotle’s Physics concerns key topics in what was a few centuries ago called the philosophy of nature and is now called ontology:  the natures of space, time, motion, causality, and infinity.  When speaking of it, it does not do to patronize Aristotle, saying that of course he wrote what he did because he couldn’t have imagined modern science.  In fact, the Physics is a surprisingly contemporary book.  Aristotle considers the possibilities that the order of the world is fully explicable in terms of chance, of immutable atomic laws, or of the affects of natural selection on biological organisms, and he rejects them.  He is quite aware of the possibility of a Galilean-Newtonian universe (laws of motion space-translation invariant, no preferred inertial frame) and takes efforts to fend it off.

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More on the yellow peril

Yan Shen at unz.com argues that the major difference between East Asians and Westerners is not overall IQ but math/verbal split.  It’s in quantitive/spatial reasoning, not verbal reasoning, that East Asians excel by a large margin (on average, of course) over whites.  This is the reason China’s academic rise has been both so rapid and so lopsided.

As noted by Australian academic Simon Marginson, “in 2000 China authored just 0.6 percent of chemistry papers ranked in the global top one percent on citation rate in the Web of Science. Only 12 years later, in 2012, China published 16.3% of the leading one percent of papers, half as many as the US- an astonishing rate of improvement. There were similar patterns in engineering, physics and computing- where China publishes more top one percent papers than the US- and mathematics (NSF, 2014.)…

Based on the number of papers in the top 10% of citations, East Asian universities clearly excel at mathematics and computer science and physical sciences and engineering relative to the other three categories. For the time period of 2012-2015 and ranked by total number of top 10% papers based on citation rate, East Asia had 5 of the top 10 universities in physical sciences and engineering and 8 out of the top 10 universities in mathematics and computer science.

By contrast when looking at total top 10% papers in the field of biomedical and health sciences, the highest ranked East Asian university was Shanghai Jiao Tong at 48th.  For life and earth sciences, the highest ranked East Asian university was Zhenjiang at 20th.  And in social sciences and humanities, the top rated East Asian university was National University of Singapore at a fairly low 80th place.

There may well be cultural biases in the impact of humanities papers, but that 8 out of 10 in math is stunning.  Chinese dominance is already here.

Shen predicts that the West will maintain a strong position in life sciences and medicine, which are less quantitative and therefore (I suppose) more verbal.  Interestingly, despite Chinese dominance in computer science, America is still holding its own in computer software.

In fact, as anyone who’s been paying attention has noticed, modern day tech is essentially a California and East Asian affair, with the former focused on software and the latter more so on hardware. American companies dominate in the realm of internet infrastructure and platforms,…

I believe that the various phenomenon described above can all be explained by one common underlying mechanism, namely the math/verbal split. Simply put, if you’re really good at math, you gravitate towards hardware. If your skills are more verbally inclined, you gravitate towards software.

Programming is, indeed, a kind of communication.  Then again, these American software companies are hiring a lot of Asians, so I’m not sure that whites are competitive even there.

There are interesting similarities to sex imbalances in the sciences, also driven by the math/verbal split.  East Asians dominate the closer a field is to engineering.  Women are rarest in fields closest to engineering.  I’ve noted that Chinese physics students have almost no interest in astronomy, and this is the most popular field for female applicants.  In fact, there were several genuinely accomplished female astronomers in the early 20th century, certainly more than in other branches of physics.  (I believe women were also noticeably present in the early days of computer programming too, come to think of it.) As I recall, American life science departments often have majority female students.

I also found this interesting:

reference to physicist Eugene Wigner’s remarks about the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics, physicist Steven Weinberg wrote about the equally unreasonable ineffectiveness of philosophy in his book Dreams of a Final Theory, suggesting that no physicists he knew of in the post-WW2 era meaningfully benefitted in their work from philosophy in any way.

Physicists before WW2, on the other hand, were often strongly engaged with and guided by philosophical concerns.  Perhaps this change was not a good thing.

One also wonders, if this preference for quantitative reasoning is innate among the Chinese, can we see this in their historical culture?  Is Chinese philosophy unusually mathematical?  It never struck me as especially so.  When I visited an art museum in Taipei years ago, a difference of emphasis did strike me, that while Western artists focused on capturing impressions, Chinese artists focused on cool technical effects.  But I don’t know anything about art, so maybe the coolness of some of the “stunts” the Chinese sculptors pulled off (which is also what was usually emphasized in the written commentary beside each piece) made an undue impression on me.