Seeing myself at the movies

I imagine that liberals are able to identify themselves with the heroes in many movies they see.  Movie protagonists are often modeled after a progressive’s self-image.  There’s the nerd who’s smarter and more compassionate than everyone else, the misfit who at first nobody respects but turns out to be better than regular people at everything, the girl who’s prettier and obviously better at everything than everyone else but has to learn self-confidence…  I can’t say that I see myself in any of these characters.  Maybe it’s my reactionary contrarianism.  Maybe it’s my mediocrity being too apparent to deny.

There was once, though, when I could really identify with a movie character.  In Star Wars:  Return of the Jedi, there’s this Imperial soldier who points his blaster at Han Solo and says “You rebel scum.”  Just that once, it really felt like me up there on that screen.  Thank you, George Lucas.  It was exhilarating.

the provincialism of the philosophers

Anglo-American philosophers don’t know anything about non-Western philosophy, complains Bryan W. Van Norden in his new book.  He’s probably right.  Norden’s solution is to cry racism and demand multiculturalism.  Even the book’s reviewer, Jonardon Ganeri, is skeptical of this.  I come at the issue from a different perspective, as a Catholic having long heard the scholastics on my team whine about how these same philosophers ignore or disrespect them.  I suspect the provincialism of the philosophers is less geographical and cultural than chronological.  The classics of Indian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese philosophy were written a long time ago, and while often not theistic in the Western sense will no doubt strike contemporary philosophers (a very materialistic bunch) as tainted with religious and mystical concerns.  In other words, “just like those Thomists we hate, but even weirder”.

So the non-Western schools have a tough job ahead of them, since they are not despised like the schoolman but are completely ignored, which may be a worse hole to climb out of.  They can be encouraged by the recognition  neo-Aristotelianism is winning.  The scholastics didn’t get this by complaining.  They got it the old-fashioned way:  by attacking the materialistic consensus, giving arguments why that consensus must be flawed and why Aristotelian ideas fix the problem.

If the non-Westerners take this tack, there is the downside that each different non-Western canon will have to make its case separately.  If somebody proves that Indian philosophy has tools we need, that doesn’t prove we should study Chinese philosophy too.  Multiculturalism, trying to guilt Anglo-Americans into reading non-Westerners, works for everybody at once, although I would prefer that it not work at all.  Norden is an expert on Chinese philosophy, and reviewer Ganeri is an expert on Indian philosophy, and I don’t doubt that China and India have formidable philosophical traditions.  They claim that we Westerners are missing incredible riches by ignoring “philosophical texts and voices from India, Africa, China, Mesoamerica, and Indigenous worlds”.  I know it’s mean to say it, but I suspect these five sources to be of unequal value.

anti-clerical conservatives; the dangers of criticism

The conservative Catholic laity is sliding into Lutheranism.  Demanding married priests.  Pining for a spiritual Church in contrast to the visible “institutional” one.  Cursing the wealth and prestige of the post-Constantinian Church.  Celebrating the destroyed reputation of two canonized popes.  Wanting lay input in the selection of bishops.  Conceding most of the Protestant-liberal critique against the Church as she has existed since ancient times.  Not all of them by any means, but more than I’ve ever seen before.

I helped create this.  For years, I’ve done almost nothing on this site but criticize and insult the Pope and episcopate, screaming about their ambiguously heretical statements while taking for granted and ignoring the unambiguous heresy of the laity.  My intentions were good, not that that counts for anything.  I thought the Church would be better off if she stopped appeasing the modern world, stopped apologizing for her medieval record.  I thought Thomist arguments for the existence of God were flawed but that we could do better if we acknowledge the weaknesses and rebuild more rigorously.  A bit of tearing down, of clearing out, would have to precede this good work, but it was all in a good cause, I thought.  And when the good effects failed to materialize, I decided I just needed to tear down harder.  Innuendo replaced by blunt statement, blunt statement replaced by just-shy-of-blasphemous insult.  All the time thinking I was acting out of love for the Church, all the time actually doing Satan’s work.  ArkansasReactionary and other commenters tried to warn me, but I didn’t listen.

The natural conclusion to be drawn from my blog and those of many traditionalists is that the clergy as a class are contemptible and that our faction at least of the laity is holier, smarter, and braver.  People don’t need much encouragement to believe things like this, and from there it is a small step to demanding power for this superior group of which one is a part.

Why am I telling you this?  First, because it is you, my readers, whom I have scandalized and who deserve this apology.  But more importantly because I’m sure I’m not the only one who has fallen into this trap.  “Offering the Church unwanted help” might almost serve as an alternative definition of “heresy”.  The plan is to tear down and then rebuild, but looking back only the tearing down ever actually happens.

What can laymen do, then?  I’m surely not the one to say, but a few things are clear.  Involving ourselves in clerical politics has not been productive.  It is, in fact, very characteristic of the post-conciliar age, whose instincts have been to exalt the laity not by emphasizing the value of their distinctive roles but by giving them quasi-clerical things to do.  Certainly, we can dedicate ourselves to distinctively lay tasks such as figuring out how to implement an economy that respects Catholic social teaching, figuring out how to embed modern science in a theistic worldview, or hatching plans to reconquer the West.  We can also criticize the infidelity of the laity (punch horizontally rather than up).  If the laity is going to initiate a broader reform of the Church (which I doubt, but many seem to believe it), it will have to reform itself first.  Medieval reforms were never led by lax orders, and the laity will surely not achieve anything good if it asks nothing of itself.  After all, most of what has happened to the Church in the past half century has come from the clergy pandering to us.

I will cull more old posts when I get the chance.  I am also beginning a policy that comments with blanket insults of the clergy will be deleted.

On the media being the enemy of the people

They are, of course.  However, I wonder how many of those who believe this realize that it follows that democracy is the enemy of the people.  Equally true, less equally noticed.  Democracy = majority rule = rule by those who control the majority’s perceptions/beliefs = rule by the media.

Many are the baneful effects of the media, and they are nearly universal across time and space.  We may nevertheless distinguish those evils that are necessary and those that are inevitable.  Necessary evils follow from the nature of the thing.  In all possible worlds, news publications distract our attention from abiding realities to ephemera and from local realities where we might exercise meaningful agency to the global stage where we are passive members of a mass.  In all possible worlds, news is subversive, because bad behavior of esteemed and authoritative figures is more newsworthy than the bad behavior of those from whom such is expected.

On the other hand, does not follow from the essence of the media that they should all coordinate and push a single narrative, that this narrative should always be that of the political Left, and that they should maintain this propaganda even when it means refraining from their own characteristic activity (since news can undermine Leftist authority figures and sacralized groups as well as any others).  There are indeed exceptions to this pattern, but isolated and fleeting.  A unified aggressively proselytizing Leftist media establishment is not necessary, but it is inevitable.  Natural selection makes it so.  The incentives of democracy call forth the great mind-control apparatus.  Every step toward its creation is rewarded with greater money and power.  The reward system brings the monster into existence.

True, even in nondemocratic polities, the ability to control public perception grants numerous advantages.  All else being equal, any society incentivizes such power.  But then, in the biological world, more strength, intelligence, or speed is always good, all else being equal.  Everything else is not equal, though, and advance in any area comes at a cost in bulk, food requirement, and many other things.  So natural selection will drive each species to an optimal trade-off.  In the social world, mind control apparatuses also carry costs.  The money, personnel, and effort devoted to propaganda in modern democracies are enormous, unimaginable to earlier times.  Then there are the more subtle costs.  The difficulty of assimilating new information.  The inefficiencies of conspicuous virtue signaling and witch hunts.  But in a democracy, the mind control-power gradient is sufficiently steep that the cost is always worthwhile.  Worthwhile in the impersonal sense of survival value.  You may not think it worthwhile to keep up in the scapegoating rat race, but then you’ll be purged.  Your organization might decide against an atmosphere of hysteria, but then it will be devoured by the more hysterical.

Why will the media consensus always be Leftist?  The possibility of ideological intolerance and holiness spiraling are not limited to any political persuasion, although Leftism may be better able to accommodate those who have misplaced their religious devotion onto this world.  The ranks of journalists and their audience are disproportionately urban and middle-class, groups naturally more attuned to liberty and equality than throne, altar, blood, and soil.  Then there is the fundamental asymmetry of goals.  An orthodox Catholic news outlet ultimately desires to serve the Church and her existing authority structure; a progressive Catholic news outlet ultimately desires to rule the Church.

Certainly, the media is the most evil thing about democracy.  But we can’t get rid of the former without getting rid of the latter.  Of course, a media and related ideological zealotry may exist even in a non-democratic state.  If the incentives are right, though, such entities would be putting far more resources into mind control than would pay off, and they would be selected against, most likely settling into low-energy mind regulation institutions like the official Churches of previous ages.

laity to the rescue, again

Eric Sammons at OnePeterFive writes concerning why our bishops are so bad

I would say a big reason is the selection process. The process as it’s currently set up results in choosing priests like my old pastor. Although ideology is one factor in bishop picks, I think pragmatism is a much bigger factor. The Church wants “safe” bishops – bishops who won’t rock the boat, who maintain the status quo. The Church wants bishops whose first priority is protecting not the Faith or souls, but the institutional Church.

I hear this a lot from conservative Catholics who should remember that Luther’s idea that there is a visible and an invisible Church is heresy.  The “institutional Church” is the only Church–the bride and mystical body of Christ, etc.  There will be no invisible, spiritual Church left over if media and government action destroy the “institutional Church”, so preserving it should be a bishop’s first priority.

As the process currently stands, the selection of new bishops rests almost entirely in the hands of the local and regional bishops, along with the apostolic nuncio for the country…As should be obvious, this bureaucratic process essentially ensures that the status quo is maintained. If a potential candidate has at any time “rocked the boat,” he will be passed over for a “compromise” choice. There’s almost no chance of a radical selection. In a sense, it’s an oligarchy: a small number of men have all the power in determining who will become a bishop.

Thank God!

Sammons’ advice, of course, is to give the laity a say, which would just put us on the fast track to apostasy, since no episcopal candidate could ever be approved again who wasn’t openly in favor of gay marriage.  As with any democratic element, one might as well just give power directly to the New York Times editorial board and cut out the middleman.

In dioceses that have historically been overrun by heresy, it’s likely the selection committee will make bad selections. But let’s be honest: it’s unlikely their selections will be worse than what we have now.

I don’t think conservatives appreciate how well the Church’s authoritarian constitution has worked.  The Church has kept her prohibition of contraception on the books for half a century in the face of 80-90% lay dissent.  This is extraordinary.

The reason the bishops and priests are so rotten is because the laity is even more rotten.  They may well be the least rotten bunch we’d be willing to endure, which still makes them a loathsome bunch.  We should be grateful that the Church is not following the protocol left by Jesus Christ for situations like ours.

married men and the laity will not save us

I’ve seen some bad ideas floating around the Catholic blogosophere of late.

One, I hear that we could ordain married men to flush out the gay priests.  But is a married man more likely to be uncompromised by sexual sin than a homosexually-inclined, nominally-celibate priest?  Remember that contraception is a mortal sin.  Also, the modern clergy is just not very appealing to masculine men, so at best we might end up only as queer-ridden as the Mainline Protestants, which is hardly worth messing with tradition for.

Two, remember that no matter how awful the teaching of Pope Francis is, if the majority of the laity had their way, it would be far, far worse.  If it were true that Catholic doctrine is only valid if “received” (i.e. accepted) by the laity, then this would negate the Church’s teaching on contraception, cohabitation, divorce, homosexuality, and transubstantiation.  The laity would dismantle the Church faster than the clergy if they had the chance.

Thank God for the Church’s authoritarian structure.  Without it, we would be completely trapped within the bubble of modern prejudice.

I won’t say that the laity will never rebel against their clergy.  In fact, the Catholic laity was all in favor of punishing the Church with the contraception mandate.  Not for the first time–remember the French revolution–the Church was protected from her laity by Protestants with their heretical notion of religious freedom.  Or consider the frequent persecution of the Church in Latin America, where there are not enough Protestants to protect her (a preview of our future if our open-borders clergy have their way).  But if the laity do rebel, you can be sure it will be in the service of evil.  Really, I am a Catholic layman, and outsiders cannot fathom how vile and worthless we are.  Never grateful to the Church, never mind even the thought of suffering unpopularity for her defense.  Always so insufferably pleased with ourselves.  Always whining about how we deserve better.  And what we want is always more license to sin, more surrender to the world.

There is no reservoir of good Catholics to whom we can look to save us.  Quite a dilemma, I admit.

Those horrible denialists

This is why I don’t trust psychology.  Keith Kahn-Harris at the Guardian wonders what can be wrong with people that they would doubt officially-promulgated truth on the Holocaust, vaccines, AIDS, global warming, and evolution.  Yes, these sinister “denialists” construct an elaborate pretense of reasoned argumentation, but all of that can be ignored.   As a professional sociologist, Dr. Kahn-Harris is privy to the inner thoughts of strangers, and he knows that denialists actually do it because they hate reason and want to commit mass murder.  Ah, but here they run into a contradiction, because in order to promote their science-hating, Jew-hating, homicidal plans, they must pretend to respect the scientific method and regard genocide as a bad thing.  Of course, it’s only a contradiction if you accept that, for example, climate change skeptics actually do hate science and just want to promote mindless greed, which of course they have never admitted or provided any evidence of believing.  But Dr. Kahn-Harris is, as I said, a credentialed expert and believer of the establishment creed, so if you doubt him, you probably just hate science.

at the Orthosphere

I give a summary of the whole “welcome to the ranks of the deplorables” series here.

Also, I got tired of social science papers on conservative stupidity just giving means but not the amount of overlap.  So I did it myself.  Below, “1” is the most liberal, and “7” is the most conservative.  Details in the Orthosphere link.


You see why just giving averages can be deceptive?

I was pleased with myself for this article.  Unlike most of mine, it has actual information.

dignity arguments on the death penalty and slavery

The Cathechism now states

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes…

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

Dignity arguments are always fallacious when claiming to establish universal norms.  This is because the way that dignity is recognized is entirely culture-dependent.  As with standards of modesty, the intentional object of dignity is an objective, universal reality, but the rules of its expression vary from people to people.  Even as we recognize this, we are nevertheless bound by rules of our own people.  Indeed, to follow a customary rule with full knowledge of its contingency is to make two acts of recognition at once, the first to the universal object (the dignity of persons, in this case) and the second to the value of spiritual unity with one’s people.  My neighbor’s dignity deserves to be recognized, and my people deserve that I should do it in the manner of my ancestors and neighbors.  Thus, dignity arguments may well be valid for the culture in which they are made.

For example, there is nothing intrinsically immoral about the owning of slaves.  The Church has recognized this from the beginning, and abolitionist arguments all fail (at least as intending to prove the intrinsic inadmissibility of slavery as opposed to noting some dangers and disadvantages of the practice).  No slave-owning people would have agreed that they fail to recognize the humanity of their slaves, and they knew their own minds far better than self-righteous Bostonians.  However, abolitionist propaganda has convinced the larger culture that to own a slave is to assert his lack of dignity or “full”  humanity (whatever that means), so now it has become immoral for us to purchase slaves, because we would now see this act as demeaning our slaves, and it is sinful to intend to demean according to the customs of one’s society.  For example, there is nothing intrinsically immoral, absent cultural context, about sticking one’s tongue out at another person, but if one’s people regard this act as a sign of ultimate hatred and scorn, then it is immoral to do so.

Pope Francis now provides an analogous argument against the death penalty.  That execution intrinsically fails to recognize the dignity of the condemned is absurd.  It is, in fact, the ultimate recognition of him as a moral agent.  All other times and places have recognized this.  The Church herself has always recognized it.  There are strong arguments for the intrinsic immorality of the death penalty, but this is not one of them.  Dignity arguments can at most apply within a single cultural context.  Thus, the Pope must appeal to “Today…growing awareness…”  Just execution by lawful authority may be in itself morally admissible, but we in the West have developed this bizarre hangup over killing people, so we should not do it.

Alternatively, one could regard the change to the Catechism as an act of papal authority.  The death penalty is not intrinsically immoral, but the spiritual power is superior to the temporal, and Christ’s Vicar on Earth now commands temporal powers to refrain from this act.  However, my explanation at least makes some use of His Holiness’ arguments, which appear to use his teaching/declarative role rather than his ruling/imperative role.  (“The Church teaches…” rather than “the Church commands…”)

I begin to think that it is becoming spiritually perilous for the laity to seek to know what the Church’s teaching is on topics which do not affect us personally.  The experience of physics and mathematics has led us to expect that the truth should be simple, beautiful, and clear.  We would like to have a few clear principles to understand, defend, and apply.  But when we wish to know what the Church teaches about something like the death penalty, we find that we cannot proceed as we would wish.  Instead of applying general principles, we must first gather two thousand years of documents, then try to carefully parse the language in each one looking for some set of readings that will make all of them consistent.  I admit that my mind rebels against this, and I say to myself “I don’t have time for all this lawyer sh*t”.  Perhaps this is my pride, that I think myself too good for “lawyer sh*t”.  Perhaps I’m just spoiled by science and philosophy.  But then again, there’s no reason why I must understand what the Church teaches on the death penalty.  I am not a magistrate with the power of life and death, and the Church has made it clear that she doesn’t want amateur apologists like me picking fights on her behalf.  So perhaps I should just leave it at that.  I do not know if the death penalty is always immoral.  I do not know what the Church teaches about it.  The question of faith–do I believe that what the Church teaches about it is true?–does not even arise for me on this issue.