If only someone were negotiating on whites’ behalf

If we were allowed to speak on our own behalf, we would prefer to have non-white quotas than diversity thought policing at work (including “diversity statements” from applicants and humiliating diversity training of employees). We’d rather the salaries of the diversity and inclusion commissars who torment us went to hiring non-white regular employees instead.

We would rather just have a law removing all statues of whites and names of whites on public buildings than have a racial reckoning. That lady who objected to the Father Damian statue because he was white was being nice. At least she didn’t feel the need to destroy his reputation first, like they have done to the other canceled Catholic saints. I honestly think a law of this sort would reduce racial tensions. If we must lose the public honor of our heroes, at least spare us the lectures on how they are symbols of “hate”.

Similarly, we’d rather have a law against giving any awards to whites than force private organizations to undergo yearly racial reckonings and vilification of their white members. We would enjoy everyone knowing that the awards had thereafter become jokes but no one being allowed to say so.

Schopenhauer on death

Arthur Schopenhauer is much given to refutation by insult, a practice that irritates me. Thus, he says many times that only fools could believe in the existence of the soul after death without also believing in its existence before birth, but we are never given an argument why the idea is incoherent, just that some arguments for post-existence are unavailable to one who won’t embrace pre-existence (i.e. that the soul is atemporal, which no one who believes in an afterlife believes anyway). Personality tics like that make me warm to Schopenhauer less than I do to Montaigne. Let me now try to set that aside.

According to Kant, all we know about things are how they fit into categories that we already have in our minds. (You can’t get an answer to a question that you can’t think to ask.) There may be more to objects than this, but we’d never know it; thus the claim that the thing “in itself” is unknowable. Schopenhauer, like Descartes before and C. S. Lewis after, claimed we have unique access to one object, ourselves, toward whom our relationship is not just that of a subject knowing an object, and from this he thought he had caught a glimpse of the thing-in-itself: will. Now, the thing-in-itself is, by definition, outside our ordinary categories of thought–space and time (and hence, he infers, individuation), substance and causality. Thus, temporal properties do not apply to our innermost essence, which is the thing-in-itself, which is will, but belong only to our “representation” (the world as ordered by our mental categories). So this essence doesn’t cease to exist at death. Now, if we are to deny temporal categories, neither should we say that it persists after death, but having made this point Schopenhauer soon puts it aside in his enthusiasm for what he takes to be the wisdom of the ages (all peoples who weren’t screwed up by those dumb Abrahamic religions): the transmigration of souls. As he pithily puts it, men fear that death means themselves terminating while the world continues, but in fact it’s the opposite: our innermost essence (unindividualized will) is beyond termination, while the world (our representation of it) ends.

This German idealist reasoning is remarkable. I’d like to try it. I have a red rubber ball. “Red” is an a priori category I have imposed on the ball–just an arbitrary range of EM radiation when my ball has so many other properties that are not captured by this designator. Because there is more to the ball than its color, let us speak of the ball in its other aspects, abstracting from color. Call this “the-ball-apart-from-its-color”. Now, by definition, the-ball-apart-from-its-color does not include color descriptions. One might say that the the-ball-apart-from-its-color is not red. It is not any color. The-ball-apart-from-its-color is invisible! Warming up to my though of the-ball-apart-from-its-color not being red, I shall even see wisdom in calling it that quality which is the opposite of red, namely blue.

The lesson of this rather silly example is clear. If your post-mortem hope is in your noumenal self being atemporal, you’d better find something else to help you sleep at night. That you-apart-from-temporality can’t be said to cease to exist (because of arbitrary restrictions on what aspects of you we’re talking about) doesn’t mean that you won’t cease to exist.

I’m a fan of philosophical writings about death, but they usually strike me as dishonest. The problem is framed that each of us knows that he is going to die someday, and we must find some reason why we shouldn’t be freaking out about this. But that is starting with a desired conclusion and reasoning backwards, an invitation to sophistry. We should start our investigation open to the possibility that maybe it is rational to be inconsolably horrified by the prospect of our own mortality. Of course, practically speaking, such horror would not help anything and would make us miserable, so we would like to avoid it. But that’s not a rational justification.

Speaking even more practically, regardless of whether or not the knowledge of our own mortality should fill us with crippling terror, mankind never seems to have had this problem and doesn’t seem to have it today. Here I think Schopenhauer is right, and it’s a point I’ve made myself–Christianity has made men less able to accept death than they were without it. And this is a good thing, because the heathen acceptance of death is founded on forgetting the distinctiveness of each person and is therefore metaphysically deficient and morally suspect.

A corollary to “things coming to a point”

If things are coming to a point–less ambiguity, with fewer and fewer aspects of life or culture free from a stark choice between Christianity and atheism, then things were less pointy in the past, and we can afford to be more generous toward ambiguous figures in the past than we can be toward prevaricators in the present.

As an example from the last post, I am less hostile toward Renaissance humanism than most traditionalists are. Yes, one can find elements in it that contributed to the West’s later embrace of evil, and these elements do indicate defects in the humanist program, but that doesn’t mean that these defects are the essence of the program, or that humanists like Petrarch were less than sincere in their belief that they were doing the Church a favor.

As another example, growing up in an ultramontanist Church, it was once natural for me to see advocates of imperial or royal power in ecclesial organization as enemies of the Church, antecedents of a later age’s anticlerical totalitarian revolutionaries, while advocates for the autonomy of national Churches against the Papacy remind us in retrospect of post-Vatican II liberal, heresy-infested local Churches. And it is true that support of the temporal power did evolve into the atheist subjugation of the Church, and resentment of papal authority brought much ruin to the Church during Vatican II and afterward. But when judging past figures, we must remember how differently things not only seemed but were when the temporal power in question was a Christian kingdom, and the national Church in question was robustly illiberal. Plenty of Gallicans and Josephists were sincere Catholics. In the light of Vatican I, we can definitely say that their positions were defective, but during their time it was still possible to have such defects without having a fundamentally anti-Christian orientation. Today, those who support secular states or local synods against the universal Church are open in their hatred of the historic Faith. Things have come to a point.

Postscript on Renaissance Philosophy

Over Christmas break I read most of The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Philosophy to see if my inferences from Cassirer’s book held up to subsequent scholarship. In fact, the claim that Renaissance humanism and the resurgence of Platonism were primarily reactions against Averroism’s supposed threat to the Faith seems to be so well supported that it would probably not even be considered remarkable to Renaissance historians. I’ll next want to see what support (or disconfirmation) I can find for my guess about the role of revived Platonism in the scientific revolution. One interesting thing I learned in my book was that the resurgence of skepticism, which we have seen being the Catholic apologetic weapon of choice in counter-reformation France, also seems to have had its origins in these same worries about the danger to belief in personal immortality from an unreliable unaided reason (a position ironically similar to that of their Averroist opponents). Nevertheless, the argument that we should prefer revelation to fallible private reasoning works better against Averroists than against Calvinists, i.e. when the content of revelation is not itself in dispute.