Faith: another category to be vindicated

My new post at the Orthosphere:  Faith is honesty in doubt

A papal rebuke to globalism

Pope Francis:  indigenous people have rights over their land

The Pope said that indigenous people should have the final say about what happens to their land.

Pope Francis insisted on Wednesday that indigenous groups must give prior consent to any economic activity affecting their ancestral lands.

The pontiff met with representatives of indigenous peoples attending a UN agricultural meeting and said the key issue facing them is how to reconcile the right to economic development with protecting their cultures and territories.

“In this regard, the right to prior and informed consent should always prevail,” he said. “Only then is it possible to guarantee peaceful cooperation between governing authorities and indigenous peoples, overcoming confrontation and conflict.”

History’s first Latin American Pope has been a consistent backer of indigenous rights and has frequently spoken out about the plight of indigenous people in resisting economic development that threatens their lands.

“For governments, this means recognizing that indigenous communities are a part of the population to be appreciated and consulted, and whose full participation should be promoted at the local and national level,” Francis told the indigenous leaders Wednesday.

If the post-Vatican II mess puts an end to Pius XII’s idiotic “right to immigrate” I guess it won’t have been all bad (just almost all bad).

The Right vindicates common sense distinctions

Quincy Latham notes the perils involved in trying to free one’s mind of Leftist-tainted concepts, concluding

On the whole I think it would be better for leftists to feel that they cannot use certain basic concepts comfortable without admitting unwanted implications, and for us to feel quite at home with our basic conceptual vocabulary

….

Leftists already read little because study and thought do little to advance their social status, but we should look forward to the day when they actively avoid Homer, Rousseau and Darwin because they “know” that these authors are somehow implicitly fascist.

In some ways, we’re already there.  One of the core intellectual tasks of the Right has been, and will continue to be, the analysis and rehabilitation of categories found useful by pre-modern humanity but rejected by moderns in their fits of ideologically-driven oversimplification.

Consider these three:

  1. Friend vs. Enemy.  Carl Schmitt famously put this distinction at the core of his political theory in explicit defiance of the liberal humanitarianism of his day that wanted to reduce all questions to abstract morality and economic efficiency.  The friend vs. enemy distinction, Schmitt insisted, is independent of these.  To identify a threatening nation as the enemy does not necessarily make any statement about its moral, aesthetic, or economic qualities.  Schmitt observed that the liberal nations (for him, the victors of WWI) in fact do mobilize against threats and competitors; forbidding themselves the vocabulary of “friend” and “enemy” means they recast their hostilities in terms of moral absolutes.  The nation they attack cannot be called their own enemy, so it must be demonized as the enemy of all humanity.  This will be a reoccurring conservative argument.  Eliminating a needed category doesn’t eliminate hostility between peoples; it only forces them to be incorrectly conceptualized along moral lines, which actually diminishes our ability to empathize with our opponent.
  2. Native vs. Foreigner.  Much of what Schmitt said about the distinction between friend and enemy applies to the more basic categorization of people as belonging to “us” or as being alien.  I argued recently in the Orthosphere, concerning the topic of Muslim immigration, that we can actually be more sympathetic to Muslims among us if we acknowledge that our concern is not that their ways are objectionable in some absolute (moral/philosophical) sense, but that they are alien to the culture we wish to preserve as dominant in our nation.  Reflections about the “universal person” are also quite relevant to this.
  3. Masculine vs. feminine.  Conservatives have found little to recommend the liberals’ distinction between biological “sex” and socially constructed “gender”.  However, pre-modern peoples had intriguing intuitions of masculinity and femininity as essences or principles that can be considered beyond the strict context of sexual reproduction.  Largely defined by relation to each other (so that, for example, a woman relates in a feminine way to other people more than to wild animals or inanimate objects), even things other than sexually reproducing animals can participate in these principles to some extent.  For example, the sun is masculine while Luna is feminine, at least in how they present themselves to us.  Masculinity and femininity seem to represent poles in the structure of relationality itself, and so even the more mythical attributions of these essences were not necessarily intended metaphorically.

The liberal critique of these categories, and others not accommodated by their ideology, comes down to the following

  1. Imperialism of the moral.  The category in question is recognized as nonmoral, and the critic asserts that it is morally superior to use only moral categories.  (“Wouldn’t it be better to judge someone based on whether he’s a good person than on where he was born?”)  Alternatively, the critic presumes that other categories actually are reducible to moral categories, and other categories are condemned for being inaccurate in their presumed implicit moral evaluations.  (“He’s a good person.  How can you call him an ‘alien’ as if he were some kind of monster?!”)
  2. Appeal to boundary cases.  Sometimes the boundaries of the criticized category are fuzzy.  Perhaps a particular person is like “us” in some ways but unlike “us” in others.  From this, conclude that the category is arbitrary and meaningless.
  3. Emotivism.  Claim that the criticized category is actually a sub-rational emotional response.  It must be because it has no place in liberal ideology, which the liberal presumes to be coextensive with reason itself.  And in fact, when certain ways of thinking are made socially unacceptable, they will likely only pop out in emergencies and moments of distress.  It would be no different with moral categories–if the concepts “evil” and “unfair” were socially disfavored, people would only resort to them when intolerably provoked and undoubtedly emotional.
  4. Imputation of sinister social motives.  The critic points out that the categorization promotes some established social structure; therefore, it must be an illusion.

Ironically, Leftist categories are arguably far more vulnerable to these objections than traditional ones.  Consider the core Leftist category of “privileged” vs. “oppressed”.  It clearly assigns moral status based on what are actually amoral-in-themselves  sociological facts.  That the “privilege” is illegitimate is presumed rather than argued, and the moral imputations are often incorrect.  Also, dividing the world into privileged and oppressors is a gross oversimplification of complicated reality.  Many people are privileged in some way and disadvantaged in others, or privileged compared to some and disadvantaged compared to others, or privileged in some contexts while disadvantaged in others.  To claim that all white men are “privileged” regardless of income, location of residence, family reputation, religion, disability, education, etc. is ridiculous.  The boundaries of privilege are even fuzzier than those of race.  Most people are in the fuzzy boundary of privilege, while most people have clear racial and national identities, and only an insignificant few lack a manifest sex.  Needless to say, the accusation of privilege is often emotionally charged, an accusation borne of resentment and envy.  And from the beginning it has been at the service of a distinct political agenda.

The Leftist is in no position to criticize other peoples’ categories.  But I agree with Mr. Latham.  By all means, let us be glad as we watch them mentally cripple themselves.

Orthosphere posts

I’ve put a couple of posts of the Orthosphere lately.

First, a book review of Roger Scruton’s How to be a Conservative.

Second, a consideration of Why people don’t want Muslim immigration.

My reason for returning to the Orthosphere is the new policy that allows a distinction between ephemeral “posts” and more substantive “essays”.  I am a mere culture warrior with no pretense to profundity, and when I’m not culture warring I’m comparing My Little Pony to Star Trek, but I’m pleased that the Orthosphere aspires to higher things.  Now I can do my thing without getting in the way of them doing their’s.

Also, with President Trump’s idiotic belligerence toward Iran, those who told me that we needed to elect Trump to avoid a nuclear war are advised to reconsider my argument for why you shouldn’t vote.  Even more relevant, here’s an old post of mine on why the Republican Party is always going off on crazy tangents.

Ours is an age of decisive leadership

I speak, of course, of Pope Francis.  I’ve been marveling at how he just decided to go all Unum Sanctum on the Knights of Malta like that.  If you don’t like condom peddling, you’re out on your ass, just like that!  For decades, we’ve been watching as priests and religious orders openly defied Paul, John Paul II, and Benedict and got away with it.  Then we’d say “Well, the Pope isn’t a dictator” or “Just wait–the Church thinks in centuries”.  But you know what?  Francis doesn’t think in centuries.  He didn’t like the FFI, so he didn’t wait a hundred years to murder it.  When he sensed resistance in the CDW and the Pontifical John Paul II Institute, he didn’t dialogue; he purged them.  Not one at a time, either.  All at once.  Then he promises to closely monitor the JPII Institute to make sure they’re teaching his new depraved doctrine.  Priests who don’t like it are suspended.  See the decree suspending Father Medina.  It strongly suggests that anyone who disagrees with Francis’ newfangled teachings is a schismatic and incurs latae sententiae excommunication.  Expect to see that idea percolate up to the top.  How new is the new normal?  The pope’s own newspaper reprints a letter saying, basically, that it’s okay  to have sex with a woman other than one’s wife as long as one feels at peace with God.  “I am the tradition!” declared Pius IX, but can anyone imagine him thinking he could rewrite Catholicism like this?  On the books, Pius IX was all-powerful, but the Church was never thought to be his to do with as he pleased.

I am struck by how insubstantial the past has come to feel.  One used to have a sense that beliefs and practices that had existed for millennia, or even just centuries, were very solid, and if subject to change at all, only in a gradual, organic way.  We would mock the ignorance and hubris of American politicians who would demand the Catholic Church change teachings as old as humanity to satisfy some ideological craze of the moment.  Now, the past has lost its weight, while ideological crazes seem unstoppable.  Those in power can overturn anything and everything with the stroke of a pen, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

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.