Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween stuff

More Hallowe'en stuff. Also, this. Creepy! Happy Hallowe'en, everyone!

C.S. Lewis remembered

There is an interview with CS Lewis' adopted son Douglas Gresham here. Gresham is an advisor on the upcoming movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. An excerpt:
What is the least understood or least recognized aspect of Jack's character? Gresham: His humor. Everybody sort of pictures Jack as this dour professor, isolated in the ivory towers of academia of Oxford. But in fact he was this enormous bon vivant. He could tell great stories. On the drive coming out to Oxford, taking Jack back after a weekend or a holiday, I'd go along for the ride. We'd stop somewhere at a pub for a pork pie and a pint, and within minutes, Jack would have the public bar surrounded by builders, workmen, plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, roaring with laughter and enjoying every story he was telling them. And he would be laughing with them, conversing as equals with them. Nobody ever sees this in modern depictions of Jack. People would say, "Who's the guvnor? He's a real gent, isn't he?" That was Jack. Were these true stories he was telling, exaggerations, or what? Gresham: Sometimes he'd just be telling jokes. And he wasn't averse to ribald joke, as long as it was funny for itself and not simply for its obscenity. But if he would come up with a joke that was both ribald and funny for its own sake, he would use it. Americans have latched on to C. S. Lewis, and yet here's a guy who was a chain smoker, who liked his pints, who told ribald jokes, and in general, wouldn't fit what we think of as the "typical evangelical." And yet we've all wrapped our arms around him. Why is that? Gresham: One of the reasons is that through the - if you can excuse the expression - the bulls--t that has come to be taken so seriously in American Christianity, through all of that, they can still see the essential truth that Jack represented. The problem with evangelical Christianity in America today, a large majority of you have sacrificed the essential for the sake of the trivial. You concentrate on the trivialities - not smoking, not drinking, not using bad language, not dressing inappropriately in church, and so on. Jesus doesn't give two hoots for that sort of bulls--t. If you go out and DO Christianity, you can smoke if you want, you can drink if you want—though not to excess, in either case. But I think that even past the trivialities, many evangelical Christians can see the ultimate truth to what Jack wrote. I think that's why he's so popular.
Oh, one last thing. It is Hallowe'en night after all, so here is a look at the history of this celebration and how it's become what it is.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

New blogs

Well, this looks like it will be interesting.
About Pajamas Media Pajamas Media is a new blogging venture designed to bring together the internet’s brightest minds and most compelling content into a single source that will, in turn, complement and re-define journalism in the 21st century. Upon its official debut in November 2005, Pajamas Media will feature content from over 70 noteworthy bloggers. The company was founded in 2004 by acclaimed novelist and screenwriter Roger L. Simon and Charles Johnson, software designer, musician, and author of Little Green Footballs.
Apparently the name will be changing, but we don't yet know to what. Canadians take note, Angry in the Great White North is a part of this. His profile is here. Here are two more worth a look:
  • Surfeited with Dainties by freelance writer Michael Brendan Dougherty, because you can't have too many well written conservatives on your blogroll.
  • Albion's Seedlings, for history buffs with an interest in the countries and cultures of the Anglosphere.

As He shows Himself

Trinity Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity, if I haven't mentioned it already, follows the common tactic of exploring and slowly unpacking The Apostles' Creed. Almost two hundred pages in and we've only got the following part of the creed covered: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty." He spent a lot of time talking about what belief is and its rationality, before moving on to consider what the concept of God is, why God is one and why "Father." I've now gotten to the part of the book where Ratzinger is laying the ground for a discussion of "Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord..." In other words, Ratz is now discussing the concept of the Trinity; why the One God is said to have three persons. It's a famously and notoriously difficult doctrine but he handles it well:
The point at issue here is whether man in his relations with God is only dealing with the reflections of his own conciousness or whether it is given to him to reach out beyond himself and to encounter God himself... the answer found in those days [separates] the path of faith and a path bound to lead to the mere appearance of faith: God is as he shows himself. On this assertion rests the Christian relation with God; on it is grounded the doctrine of the Trinity; indeed, it is this doctrine. ... This means that when God appears as Son, who says "You" to the Father, it is not a play produced for man... but the expression of reality... Although it is true that we only know God as he is reflected in human thought, the Christian faith held firmly to the view that in this reflection it is Him that we know. Even if we are not capable of breaking out of the narrow bounds of our conciousness, God can nevertheless break into this conciousness and show himself in it... The enlargement of the bounds of human thinking necessary to absorb intellectually the Christian experience of God did not come of its own accord. It demanded a struggle, in which even error was fruitful... Thesis No. 1 God stands above singular and plural. He bursts both categories... To Him who believes in God as tri-une, the highest unity is not the unity of inflexible monotony. The model of unity or oneness toward which one should strive is consequently not the indivisibility of the atom, the smallest unity, which cannot be divided any further; the authentic unity is the unity created by love. The multi-unity that grows in love is a more radical, truer unity than the unity of the atom. Thesis No. 2 If the absolute is person, it is not an absolute singular... we shall have to acknowledge that "God is a person in the guise of a triple personality" explodes the naive, anthropomorphic concept of person. It declares in a sort of cypher that the personality of God infinitely exceeds the human kind of personality... the concept of person, illuminating as it is, once again reveals itself as an inadequate metaphor. Thesis No. 3 "Son" means being from another; thus, with this word [John] defines the being of this man [Jesus] as being from another and for others, as being completely open on both sides, [He, Christ] knows no reserved area of the mere "I"... It is the nature of Christian existence to receive and to live life as relatedness and, thus, to enter into that unity which is the ground of all reality and sustains it.

The Nature of Law

With all of the action going on down south on who should succeed justice Sandra Day O'Connor to the U.S. Supreme Court, it's a good time to reflect on what the Law is, what we expect from it, and why it is such a compelling subject. At Right Reason, Edward Fesser defends GEM Anscombe from Simon Blackburn and in so doing, offers a succinct description of the Natural Law tradition:
since the natures of things are just the forms in which they participate, and forms are, on the classical metaphysical picture in question, eternal in the way that mathematical truths have traditionally been taken to be, there is a sense in which the moral truths entailed by our having a certain form are necessary truths. Of course, that we exist at all is not a necessary truth, but a contingent one; and of course, it is also true that there could have been creatures that were like us in some respects but not others. But given that we do in fact exist, and that we have the specific characteristics we do in fact have, that certain things are morally allowable for us and certain other things morally forbidden by virtue of our having the natures we do is true of necessity. That’s just what it means for it to be part of our nature that certain things are good for us and other things bad. (Of course, this does not mean that there aren't some things whose moral status is contingent, only that the core of moral truths is not. The specific way in which certain necessary moral truths get applied to contingent concrete circumstances will in some cases vary from time to time and place to place, so that certain secondary moral principles, which govern how we apply the primary ones, might be changeable.) Finally, I want to note also that there is a strand within the classical theological tradition according to which, contra Plato, the forms do not exist independently of any mind whatsoever. For while they do not depend on our minds for their existence, they do nevertheless exist eternally within the divine mind. And that means that while there is a sense in which they depend on God for their existence, they do not depend on Him in the sense in which contingent things do. For example, it is not as if they did not exist at one point in time, and then were brought into existence at some later point. Rather, they have existed always and necessarily, because they have always and necessarily been the objects of divine contemplation. And this is as true of the form that determines our nature, and the moral truths that follow from our nature, as it is of any other form. The idea behind this view, which goes back at least to Augustine, is that while the Platonist is right to hold that truths about the forms, being necessary truths, cannot depend on finite and contingent minds like ours, the anti-Platonist is also right to hold that any proposition can only exist as entertained by some mind or other. The only way to reconcile these claims is to hold that truths about the forms exist as entertained by the infinite mind of a necessary being.
Keep this understanding of Nature of Law in mind when you read Ann Althouse's musings on a statement by Michael Luttig, who is widely seen as a conservative contender for O'Connor's seat.
Quite clearly, Luttig is not saying that there is a such thing as super-stare decisis. He's a Court of Appeals judge bound by Supreme Court precedent and subject to Supreme Court review. He's paying attention to what that Supreme Court has written about abortion rights, and he's reading the Court to have intended Casey to serve as an especially strong precedent. In making up a new term, Luttig may have even been subtly mocking the Casey Court. How does a majority in one case get the power to imbue its decision with extra weight? You can intend to give your case super powers but have you succeeded? Saying it's super powerful doesn't make it so. It is up to the later Court to decide whether to overturn that precedent. Will the fact that the Court that decided it meant to make it more powerful matter? That's the aspect of Casey that Luttig chose to point out: the Court claimed special power for it. He, as an inferior court judge, must go along with such things, regardless of what he really thinks.
The question here is on the Nature of what constitutes a binding authority. Civil disobedience fans take note: The Liberal opinion here, namely that rights, once given, cannot be taken away, places supreme authority in the court in a very direct way, in the people who nominate them in an indirect way, and the people themselves it leaves little to nothing. The court is bound by precedent, it is true, but then people who lean left on court issues have a tendency to allow a great deal of creativity in the interpretation of precedent. In other words, the very people who who see the court as being invested with the most sweeping powers of authority also tend to be those to give it the longest leash. There tends to be an assumption that granting rights can never be a bad thing, and / or that rights do not come into conflict. It's like saying that granting the right to kill other people for food (cannibalism) is a good thing and no threat to anyone else. Of course Liberal justices do not say such things but one can and ought to be concerned about what can be inferred from a statement as much as one can with what a statement actually says. As Fesser writes:
There is nothing incoherent in the thinking of someone who has never consciously entertained modus ponens as an abstract rule of inference, but who nevertheless believes that Socrates is mortal because he knows that Socrates is a man and that all men are mortal. His thinking becomes incoherent only if he consciously entertains and rejects modus ponens while continuing to make the same inferences he always has. You don't have to be a logician to think coherently, even if you do have to avoid explicitly denying truths of logic.
If Luttig is right and the Casey court intended its ruling to be especially binding, it has placed itself in the position of grandstanding about the expansion and surety of rights while placing all such rights in terrible jeopardy. They are in jeopardy because no court and no human person can create or guarantee a thing like a right. That is what is contained in the Fesser quote I lead off with and reflection and experience ought to show the rightness of it. Suppose a court ruled that the government has the right to seize your house for what it deems to be the "greater good." This, I understand, some US court recently did! Suppose further that the ruling suggests that the court holds its ruling to be especially binding and precedent setting. It has "expanded" rights but obviously - and I hope it's obvious - a ruling like that expands the scope and power of the government to infringe on its people. Under "no rollback of rights" how can people hope to oppose and seek to overturn such a law? What criterion will they hold up to show its injustice? If you want to draw a distinction and say that only increasing individual rights is an unalloyed good, I do not see how it alters the question. Change the property seizure situation so that the right to seizure belongs to an individual and you haven't balanced the situation a whit. Under a Natural Law view, only those laws that are just are binding. Their binding nature comes not from the barrel of a gun - as does any law whose authority rests solely on a court and the police who do its bidding - but from their participation in God's law. There needn't be anything threatening about this to a non Christian because the argument makes no claim about the nature of the divinity in question. This argument also allows that governments and courts can err in understanding both the nature of Natural Law and in grasping the full implications of its own rulings. It allows - and in fact obligates citizens to oppose laws that they deem injust. Althouse raises the Liberal objection here:
But there is more to Casey than the mere assertion that the Justices intend it to have extra weight... the reason [is] embodied in the phrase "Liberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of doubt." Part of having rights is the sense of permanence. It is not just that courts in the past have protected this right, but that the right will continue to exist in the future. A right is not a transitory thing. In this view, the super power of Casey lies not in the Court's intent to make it a "superprecedent," but in the soundness of that reasoning. Judge Luttig's opinion has nothing to say about that.
With respect to Althouse, I think there's an error here. Luttig raises the point that the court's ruling has been questioned for nineteen years, suggesting that 1) this law is in fact far from sound and, 2) that there exist boundaries that make it a real challenge to alter the law. If the cost of fighting the law is reasonably high, we cannot reasonably take the view that our rights "hang by a thread." Each person has to decide if the questioning of a ruling has merit or not and if they decide that it is lacking, then there is an obligation to act against it and to bear the costs of doing so. There is bound to be a degree of conflict in a society with an ongoing discussion of Natural Right taking place and we should not back away from it. The alternative is to create a desert and call it peace. The debate - the ongoing conflict, if you will - refines and refines and refines our thinking about what justice is. How could we ever hope to create a just society without it?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

2005 Blog Awards

My Blahg is running The Canadian Blog Awards again this year. I know that last year I said I would have nothing to do with them in 2005. That was after Robert was particularly nasty and threatening to a US blogger. Two things have made me decide to ease off on Robert a tad. I've been nominated in a new category this year - Best Religious Blog and I think it's good to have Canadian religious blogs recognized. There are seven blogs in that cateogory thus far and maybe you have never heard of them, and maybe this is a chance to find and recognize new talent and new efforts. There's quite a variety so far. A couple of Christian blogs including a Lutheran minister and one that looks like it might be quite left. There's also a cynic and I must add that I'm quite pleased to see him in this category. My money's on Kathie Shaidle to win. She probably is the most well known of the bunch and she's certainly prolific. The whole thing runs until December 11, and the best of good luck to all of the bloggers who will be nominated.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

"a weekend-long orgy"

Derb on parents and proms:
Exhibit B: The parents of Uniondale, N.Y. This middle-middle-class Long Island suburb has a Roman Catholic high school whose principal has canceled this year's senior prom on grounds of excess. Says he: "Twenty years ago, seniors went to the beach after the prom and then to someone's house for breakfast. From that, it's turned into a weekend-long orgy..." He blames the parents, who are apparently willing to bankroll $1,000 formal-wear outfits, limos, after-prom house rentals and booze cruises, and the like. Wow. We didn't even have proms in England back when. School ended, everyone went home. That was it. The whole prom thing seems as weird to me as some New Guinea mating ritual. My first real impression of a school prom was the one in Carrie - probably not the best impression to have. Anyway, these parents ought to be ashamed of themselves. What are they thinking of? Probably something like: "If I don't do this for Kyle/Ashley, I won't be his/her pal any more."
I'll tell you a secret. I went to two proms, and not because I had to redo the last year of high school. I was dating a younger woman at the time. And we don't call it a prom here, it's Graduation. It's even a verb among the grammatically challenged, which leads a person like myself to ask, "Why are you 'gradding' if you can't spell, speak or write?" Oh well, the person I have in mind is probably on the short list to be the next Governor General by now. Anyway, the secret is that Graduation is one of those utterly forgettable events. Do not expect solemnity or sobriety. You can dress them up but you cannot take them out, if you know what I mean.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Freedom that thinks

A small snip from Ratz's Introduction to Christianity:
For Christianity, the explanation of reality as a whole is not an all embracing conciousness or one single materiality; on the contrary, at the summit stands a freedom that thinks and, by thinking, creates freedoms, thus making freedom the structural form of all being.
I think that's terrific but I also read the two pages that lead up to it. Perhaps it looks like so much air to you, dear reader. It evades the pits of material determinism (a form of being that can't know itself can't be free; freedom that is the product of accident also cannot be free) and ideal determinism (a form of being utterly determined by another cannot be free). It posits that reality is self aware and, being self aware, is capable not only of exersizing freedom, but of granting it to its creations such that they are "made in God's image." An important caveat is that freedom cannot here be understood to mean "anything at all," but rather fulfilling one's nature in a way that is unique but still subject to the laws of creation. Just curious - is anyone else enjoying these posts from Ratzinger's book? Am I wasting my time typing them up?

Sperstitious Minds

Good bloggers are golden. I hope Bill Vallicella has plans to write for a long time. Bill on Superstition:
Is there a difference between religion and superstition, or is religion by its very nature superstitious? There seem to be two main views. One is that of sceptics and naturalists. For them, religion, apart perhaps from its ethical teaching, is superstitious in nature so that there could not be a religion free of superstition. Religion just is a tissue of superstitious beliefs and practices and has been exposed as such by the advance of natural science. The other view is that of those who take religion seriously as having a basis in reality. They do not deny that there are superstitious beliefs, practices, and people. Nor do they deny that religions are often interlarded with superstition. What they deny is that religion is in its essence superstitious. Indeed, a philosophically sophisticated religion such as Roman Catholicism specifically prohibits superstitious beliefs and practices. One way it does this is via the prohibition of idolatry which derives from the First Commandment's prohibition on 'false gods.' It should be noted that a sophisticated religionist can turn the tables on the sceptic and naturalist by accusing the latter of idolatry. Some sceptics appear to worship Doubt Itself, or else the power of their minds to doubt everything — except of course the validity of their own sceptical ruminations. Others like Carl Sagan appear to worship science. Humanists often enthrone Humanity, as if there were such a thing as Humanity as opposed to just a lot of human beings. Futurists expect great things from the Future: does not that smack of idolatry? Our human past has been wretched; why should we think that our future will be any better? The quasi-religious and idolatrous nature of Communist belief has often been noted. Environmentalists often appear to make a god of nature. One thinks of Edward Abbey in this connection. Naturalists can be found who attribute divine attributes to nature such as necessity of existence and supreme value. Superstition, in the form of idolatry, therefore, can be found in the opponents of religion as much as it can be found in its proponents.
Bill on Minds:
There are certain data that no one will dispute, whether materialist, dualist, or idealist. Among these data are the various correlations... : stimulate this portion of the visual cortex in such and such a way and the subject experiences phenomenal blue, etc. Intelligent dualists have always been aware of such basic facts as that drinking alcohol alters the quality of one's qualia, that a blow to the head can cause unconsciousness, and the like. It is important to realize that dualists are not in the business of denying obvious facts. The questions are not about the gross facts, but about their interpretation, about what they mean and what they entail. Hence dualists cannot be refuted by citing any obvious facts. Indeed, if dualism could be refuted by citing empirical facts, it would not be a philosophical thesis at all. I stress this, because many don't understand it. They think that substance dualists deny facts that are well-known or scientifically established. One commenter, for example, compared substance dualists to flat-earthers -- which of course shows total misunderstanding. "Why is this the case, if our minds aren't simply something the brain is doing?" Because it could be the case even if our minds are not simply something the brain is doing.
Vallicella has a knack for expressing complex ideas clearly. So often in the comment boxes here and elsewhere, it's plain that the person I'm dealing with does not grasp the point of a critique and hence the 'flat earth' charge, albeit sometimes more diplomatically phrased. Philosophy is spooky; it will ask you to realize that the mental platform you're standing on is not as sturdy ("obvious") as you might think. Boo!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

God of Faith and Philosophy

The separation of Truth and Piety Ratz's book continues to have my attention:
Early Christianity boldly and resolutely made its choice and carried out its purification by deciding for the God of the philosophers and against the gods of the various religions. Whenever the question arose as to which god the Christian God corresponded, Zeus perhaps or Hermes or some other god, the answer ran: To none of them. To none of the gods to whom you pray but solely and alone to him to whom you do not pray, to that highest being of whom your philosophers speak. The early church resolutely put aside the the whole cosmos of the ancient religions, regarding the whole of it as deceit and illusion, and explained its faith by saying: When we say God, we do not mean or worship any of this; we mean only Being itself, what the philosophers have expounded as the ground of all being, as the God of all powers - that alone is our God... The choice thus made meant opting for the logos as against any kind of myth; it meant the definitive demythologization of the world and of religion. ... There are quite amazing paralells in chronology and content between the philosophers' criticism of the myths in Greece and the prophets' criticism of the gods in Israel. It is true that the two movements start from completely different assumptions and have completely different aims; but the movement of the logos against the myth, as it evolved in the Greek mind and in the philosophical enlightenment, so that in the end it necessarily lead to the fall of the gods, has an inner parallelism with the enlightenment that the prophetic and Wisdom literature cultivated... in favour of the One and only God. For all the differences between them, both movements coincide in their striving towards the logos... The ancient religion did eventually break up because of the gulf between the God of faith and the God of the philosophers, because of the total dichotomy between reason and piety... The Christian religion would have to expect just the same fate if it were to accept a similar amputation of reason and were to embark on a corresponding withdrawal into the purely religious... Christianity put itself resolutely on the side of truth and turned its back on a concept of religion satisfied to be mere outward ceremonial that, in the end, can be interpreted to mean anything one fancies.

Books have arrived

My books arrived today. Here are my selections and why I chose them:
  1. C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church, by Joseph Pearce. Pearce seems to be making a career out of literary biographies. I read and enjoyed his book on Tolkien when Lord of the Rings movies were out. This one examines how it is that Lewis was a high church man and yet was never Catholic (unlike Cardinal Newman, for example, who famously jumped from the Anglican ship). I am also looking at his book on Chesterton.
  2. The Fourth Crusade, by Jonathan Phillips. The fourth Crusade never actually made it to the Holy Land. For some reason or other, they sacked Constantinople instead. This is one of the major reasons for the first split in Christian history, the one between East and West. There simply has to be a story here.
  3. A Mighty Fortress: A History of the German People, by Steven Ozment. There's a lot of German and germanic culture in my family. I'd like to understand it in a wider and broader scope.
  4. The History and Future of the Roman Liturgy, by Denis Crouan, S.T.D. The Mass is filled to the brim with meaning and history and I really want to get to know it better. I'm considering Ratzinger's book on the liturgy for a future purchase.
  5. A History of Philosophy, vol. 2: Augustine to Duns Scotus, by Frederick Copelston. You didn't think I would stop this series after only the first volume, did you? I've read a history of philosophy in six volumes that was good enough for me at the time, but now I think I'm ready for a deeper look. This series is well regarded and the author is a Jesuit to boot.
  6. A History of Philosophy, vol. 3: Ockham, Bacon, and the beginning of the Modern World, also by Frederick Copelston
This ought to keep me out of trouble for some time.

Comments

Bill has a post about his commenters and comment policy. I liked these points especially:
4. Disallowing comments from a particular person, or editing or deleting an offensive, off-topic, or otherwise substandard comment, has nothing to do with censorship. People who think otherwise confuse censorship with lack of sponsorship. I am under an obligation not to interfere with anyone's exercise of legitimate free speech rights. But I am not under any obligation to aid and abet anyone's exercise of free speech rights, legitimate or illegitimate. To make the latter point perfectly clear: I am under no sort of obligation to provide anyone with a forum. 6. Some undesirables: The skimmers, those who cannot read but only read-in. The sophists who, abusing argument, argue for the sake of argument. The ideologues, those who are out for power, not truth. The uncivil. The illogical. The politically correct. Worst of all, perhaps, are those who exemplify the anti-Socratic property: those who think they know what they don't know. If Socrates was famous for his learned ignorance, these types are marked by their ignorant unlearnededness.
I think I've seen all of the types Bill IDs, but not to worry. When NWW gets flooded by commenters, I'll let you know. For the time being, I'm still looking at getting a large enough reader base to allow comments to take off. Maybe if I wrote better and less obtusely? I also don't mind people who disagree with me - even those who disagree with me rather fundamentally are of course welcome, provided they're civil to me and to others, and respect that I reserve the right to ignore them if I choose. Finally, I have to admit that I'm not always clear why some posts get a lot of attention and others disappear, never to be seen again. Newsworthiness is always a plus, as is a certain degree of brevity and a topic that isn't too out there. On the other hand I've always had something of a "zig when they zag" persona, and not just when I'm in the editor's chair either. I must tell you I was relieved to see that NWW was not nominated for a moonbat award on the Small Dead Blog Awards.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Gmail

I am toying around with Google's Gmail service. I think web based e-mail has some advantages over app based mail. The first web based e-mail that I used was Hotmail, which I only left when I began blogging. I wanted one interface where I could get my personal and blog mail and Hotmail didn't seem to offer a way to do that, but Mozilla's Thunderbird did. Now I'm messing with Gmail and wondering the same thing. Is the only way to do this to create a second Gmail account and have all of the mail from it sent to the first account? I know I can send mail from the designated main account using a number of "from" and "reply to" addresses. Getting it all to arrive in one place looks trickier. Is there a simpler way than what I'm suggesting? It is getting to be a challenge to keep up with all changes the tech world is sending out way. As I'm trying to figure this mail thing out, I am just beginning to "get" the RSS feeds thing. I'm using Google's Desktop 2.0 (beta, of course) to see a constant feed of headlines from sites I've visited recently. It's a neat idea, allowing me to peek at some blogs and news sites that I don't frequent every day and some that are new to me. If you don't yet have an RSS feed on your blog, you may want to reconsider. This is an easy way to get onto someone's desktop, and that's a big step in getting them to drop by. Like I was saying, as I'm trying to keep from being left in the dust I am also trying to teach my parents about computers and the internet and in a year I think we have finally got to the point where Dad can get his pictures off of his digital camera. Thank goodness for Adobe's free photo viewer, which makes that job a great deal easier than Windows does! Speaking of Windows, isn't it neat the way that Google is slowing taking over the Windows desktop? It's like they're building a windows shell by stealth. Honestly, I always thought that was Netscape should have done. Google isn't perfect but they seem to have a really big edge on MS in that they understand the Zen of tech, which is to say that simpler is better. MS never seems to spend enough time on keeping things smart and simple and fast. They always seem to take the shovelware route, carelessly gobbling memory, processor speed, and customer's time and patience. I have also been pondering the day I'll trade in the system I'm using now, which is getting long in the tooth. I get by on it because my demands on it are slight. The HD however, is getting full and I have to guard my swap files in order to keep it from crawling. And it seems like there's always a new TSR program taking up space in my RAM. I have been very curious bout Macs ever since Apple came out with OS X. The iMacs are absolutely gorgeous. Does anyone have any experience with them? Are they worth the extra money? Or will a newer and faster Intel machine running a "Google" desktop be the way to go? Not that I'm about to pull the trigger on a new machine. That would have to be in well after Christmas. I'm just... curious.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Rejuvenate and ramble

I've been mucking about with my template a bit of late, trying to tidy up and add some new content. You probably noticed the new masthead last week, as well as the new avatar for myself. Today I added two new sections on the right hand column: "Art and Media" and "Quicklinks." Quicklinks isn't actually new, although it's got different stuff in it and a higher profile now. It's stuff I like that doesn't fit anywhere else. Art and Media is for sites that have, or are about... well, Art and Media. That means film, photography and artistic images. I've always tried to incorporate visuals into NWW and I'm hoping maybe now I'll have more at my fingertips to choose from. The image above is from Flickr and I think it's terrific. Kudos to the photographer, Yolise. While I'm giving credits, I should also mention that the masthead uses wallpaper from Vladstudio, where you can get some neat wallpaper for your computer. The avatar is from Giornale Nuovo, a blog that is always worth a visit if you like odd, old European art. The motivation for some of these changes lies in the fact that my blogroll has gotten larger than I'd like. Despite pruning away from time to time, it just grew, and I'm no longer sure how to approach it. Maybe I should just let it grow. If I go that route, the new categories I've made might allow me to keep a few things in easy reach. This issue was also the catalyst for collapsing the NWW blogroll and hard coding approximately ten blogs that I do visit with some regularity, which I did a little while back. I added a new blog to that section today, Althouse. I really like Ann's blog. She's smart, she updates regularly, and the subject matter has a lot of variation even if the blog as a whole centers on the law. If I could be around my computer during my workday, NWW might read more like that. As it is, I only have evenings and since I don't know the law that well, philosophy will have to do for my area of "expertise."
Speaking of bloggers that I like, Francis turned out a hum dinger yesterday. You have to give him credit for being able to say what is on his mind. I asked my wife to have a look at it after I read it, just to see if she thought it was fair. I thought it was, with the proviso that the phenomenon Francis describes is not limited to women. Witness all the slather over the "metrosexual" and now there's some new junk called an "ubersexual". Certain media and fashion companies have been dying to find a way to get mainstream men under their spell in the same way that they have (regrettably) too many women. They've had less success with men, I think, because men often are less afraid to go their own way and / or men sometimes don't clue into the disapproval that is supposed to propel them into being good little identity consumers. On the whole, though, we thought Francis was onto something. I'm curious to know what others think so if you have an opinion, let's hear it. Do you think we are being pulled in many contradictory directions today, women more so than men? If yes, why is this happening now? Why is it hard for the victim to see this happening and how do we reach them? Has Francis overstated the case? The post is a bit long but I assure you it's not dull.

Mystery solved

Speaking of children, here's a German book for kids that shows where they come from. It's pretty, um, thorough. My question is, is allowing kids books like this a good thing? I see a pro life angle here is what I'm getting at... Tip: Althouse

Like a child

From the conclusion of Chapter One of Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity:
Christian faith is more than the option in favour of a spiritual ground to the world; its central formula is not "I believe in something", but "I believe in you ." It is the encounter with the man Jesus, and in this encounter it experiences the meaning of the world as a person. In Jesus' life from the Father, in the immediacy and intensity his converse with him in prayer, and, indeed, face to face, he God's witness, through whom the intangible has become tangible, the distant has drawn near... He is the presence of the eternal itself in this world. In his life, in the unconditional devotion of himself to men, the meaning of the world is present before us; it vouchsafes itself to us as a love that loves even me and makes life worth living by this incomprehensible gift of a love free from any threat of fading away or any tinge of egotism. ... Christian faith lives on the discovery that not only is there such a thing as objective meaning but that this meaning knows and loves me, that I can entrust myself to it like a child...

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The bog of uncertainty

I fear I will be plucking a lot of quotes from Ratzinger's book if he keeps up this level of exposition. From the pages of Chapter One, "Belief in the World Today":
Man does not live on the bread of practicability alone; he lives as man and, precisely in the intrinsically human part of his being, on the word, on love, on meaning. Meaning is the bread on which man, in the intrinsically human part of his being, subsists. Without word, without meaning, without love he falls into the situation of no longer being able to live, even when earthly comfort is present in abundance... meaning is not derived from knowledge. To try to manufacture it in this way, that is, out of the provable knowledge of what can be made, would resemble Baron Munschausen's absurd attempt to pull himself up out of the bog by his own hair. I believe that the absurdity of this story mirrors very accurately the basic situation of man. No one can pull himself up out of the bog of uncertainty, of not being able to live, by his own excertions; nor can we pull ourselves up, as Descartes still thought we could, by a cogito ergo sum, by a series of intellectual deductions. Meaning that is in the last analysis self made is no meaning. Meaning, that is, the ground on which our existence as a totality can stand and live, cannot be made but only received. ... To believe as a Christian means in fact entrusting oneself to the meaning that upholds me and the world; taking it as the firm ground on which I can stand fearlessly. Using rather more traditional language, we could say that to believe as a Christian means understanding our existence as a response to the logos, that upholds and maintains all things.
A simpler way of saying what the Pope is getting at (and he wrote this book back in 1968, long before he was even a papal contender) is that a few rules make a game possible. They give meaning, direction and purpose to all of the actions that take place within. If we get rid of them we do not have more freedom; we have in fact nothing at all. Importantly, he is also saying that God does not merely make up the rules arbitrarily because truth and rightness and existence cannot exist in anyway apart from him. From the Catechism #2465:
The Old Testament attests that God is the source of all truth. His Word is truth. His Law is truth. His "faithfulness endures to all generations." Since God is "true," the members of his people are called to live in the truth.
They are, in other words, called to recognize the universal objectivity of the Truth, the recognition of which is crucial to restrain the human will to power.

Friday, October 21, 2005

blogworthy

I'm glad to see this settle the question at last.


My blog is worth $264,204.72.
How much is your blog worth?

It's based on this.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Doomed

Cinematical on the video game based movie, Doom:
Doom isn’t operatically bad; it’s just derivative, inert and dull – it feels like the third sequel to a film that never existed. Even The Rock – a screen presence (I’m not going to hurt myself by stretching to call him an actor) who’s proven he has the goods in films like the far superior action-burger The Rundown – can’t bring things to life, even with the relish he brings to saying nonsense like “[expletive deleted]!” Books may tell us something; movies may show us something, and games may let us do something – even if “something” is nothing more than twitching fingers on the keys to plug monsters in their hideous heads and pausing to reload. But Doom is the worst of both worlds – all it offers us is shooting and shouting, while strapping the audience firmly in the passenger’s side with nothing to do but watch and yawn. Pop-culture observers have been explaining for years that videogames now make more money than movies; with movies as dull and dead as Doom, that piece of analysis starts to seem more and more like a self-fulfilling curse.
This should be no surprise to anyone. Mix and match media at your peril. The only way this could have worked is if the creators were allowed to create a more interesting back story than the game could ever allow. But if you're going to do that, why not make your own brand, rather than piggy back on this franchise? Game fans beware.

Verum est ens

Still on the first chapter of Raztinger's book, but I want to stop and share this. It's a bullseye, I think:
The Italian philosopher Giambattista (1668 - 1744)... was the first to formulate a completely new idea of truth and knowledge and who... coined the typical formula of the modern spirit when it comes to dealing with truth and reality. Against the Scholastic equation verum est ens (being is truth) he advances his own formula verum quia factum. That is to say, all that we can truly know is what we have made ourselves [ie. what we can see: seeing ~ making. -ed.]. It seems to me that this formula denotes the end of the old metaphysics and the beginning of the specifically modern mind... For the ancient world and the Middle Ages, being itself is true... apprehensible, because God, pure intellect, made it, and he made it by thinking it. To the creative original spirit... thinking and making are one and the same thing. His thinking is a creative process. Things are, because they are thought. In the ancient and medieval view, all being is, therefore, what has been thought... Converesely, this means that since all being is thought, all being is meaningful, logos, truth.*
There is a footnote here as follows:
This statement is of course only fully true of Christian thinking, which with the idea of the creatio ex nihilo attributes to God the material too; for the ancient [pre Christian -ed.]world, this remained the a-logical element, the universal matter alien to the divine... and the limit to which reality could be comprehended.
Ratzinger continues:
Vico advances the diametrically opposite thesis... he asserts that real knowledge is the knowledge of causes... all that can be known is the factum, that which we have made ourselves. [Being] is not [a subject] for the human mind... Man did not produce the cosmos, and its bottommost depths remain opaque to him... The factum was discovered as the dry land on which man could try to build a new existence for himself.

Feministiskt Initiativ

A link from NRO's The Corner. I'm lost for words. ROFL! Sweden's Feminist Party (yes, that's right) is imploding:
Susanne Linde, a former member of the liberal Folkpartiet, left on Monday, accusing Feminist Initiative figurehead Tiina Rosenberg of being an inflexible hard-line bully who is attempting to purge the party of more liberal voices. “One is not worth very much if one is a white, heterosexual, middle-class woman, in her eyes,” said Linde about Rosenberg, a professor of gender specialising in “queer studies” at Stockholm University, who has reportedly said women who sleep with men are betraying their gender. Linde was followed on Wednesday by Helena Brandt, party treasurer, who accused the leadership of obsessing over homosexual, bisexual and trans-sexual issues. She claimed that ordinary members have no say in decisions and that men are discriminated against by being limited to 25% of leadership positions. Brandt said she felt “conned” by the way the party had moved away from its initial promise of being a broad church, and accused the leadership of being much worse than the patriarchal organisations it seeks to overthrow. It was the third high-profile departure in as many weeks...

Cringe Inducing

This is the meanest, stupidest, most cringe inducing thing I have read in a very long time. Shame, Mr. Morford, Shame. Morford is mortified that people have more children than he thinks is OK. He's also peeved that those who have many children don't agree with him about many things.
Where is, in other words, the funky tattooed intellectual poetess who, along with her genius anarchist husband, is popping out 16 funky progressive intellectually curious fashion-forward pagan offspring to answer the Duggar's squad of über-white future Wal-Mart shoppers? Where is the liberal, spiritualized, pro-sex flip side? Verily I say unto thee, it ain't lookin' good.
I'll tell you where, Mr. Morford. She does not exist. She and her serial husband squad chemically neutralized or aborted their kids so there'd be money for a Bimmer in the garage. So they could have the latest computer. And, yes, so they could have the latest clothes and the latest haircut you nincompoop. Hey, it's a about priorities, right? And, perhaps because they made those prophylactic choices - and choices are all good, aren't they? - they don't need to stop by Wal Mart from time to time, which as we all know, is close to the worst Sin there is. Don't sugarcoat this into enviro twaddle and third world hand wringing. This is about material greed, sexual lust, and a stunningly trendy lifestyle killing your future. But at least you have the satisfaction of knowing you're cool and that you've done your bit to keep on the trend treadmill (wanker!). Whah! Maybe you can force the latina maids to carry your kids in exchange for a green card. There oughta be a law, eh? Feel that progressive love... Mr Morford is self described as a "yoga teacher and fiction writer and an outstanding parallel parker and fervent wine devotee and former smoker and former LA rock-god wannabe" who writes for the SF Gate. You don't say?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Legal foundations

Stephen Bainbridge, on the Miers nomination:
Roe is a morally significant but jurisprudentially minor aspect of the broader problem that has preoccupied conservative legal thinkers for the last several decades. The really consequential questions go not to issues like the right to privacy, but to more fundamental institutional issues such as the respective roles of courts and legislatures. I've said it before, but it bears repeating, that Wickard v. Filburn matters a good deal more than Roe. Put another way, Roe is a symptom. In order to treat the underlying problem, a judge needs to know more than just whether she thinks abortion is good or bad. She needs a developed and thoroughly worked out constitutional philosophy. ... In short, even if Harriet Miers votes to overturn Roe, she could easily still turn out to be a disaster for conservatives if she fails consistently to adhere to the triad of originalism, textualism, and traditionalism that should properly constrain judicial decision making.
Bainbridge seems to be worried about Miers not seeing the forest for the trees, and I am beginning to fear it as well. Robert Bork weighs in on Miers and Bush here, giving voice to a lot of frustration with domestic policy. Both writings raise the issue of failing to sift an issue down to the nitty gritty and, as a result, winding up with something other than what was intended.

The Book habit

Ann Althouse writes, and I concur:
I'm very aware of the reasons given for the importance of reading novels, and I've been influenced by this sort of thing for most of my life. I've never snobbily turned up my nose at novels, like Mr. Collins. I've always had the impression that the best people read novels. That has motivated me to try to be the sort of person who reads a lot of novels. Great mental powers, knowledge of human nature, and wit and humour are also displayed in well-chosen language in works of nonfiction and even in blogs or in live conversation. And novels also contain plenty of foolish notions, tedious observations, phony depictions of human nature, and awful writing. I'm most interested in learning about things that are true and hearing great ideas, and I have never found novels to be a particularly rich source. Of course there are the emotion-stirring stories, but for that, there are so many movies to see, nearly all of which are fiction. But I find I don't have much interest in stories -- all those personal problems with relationships! Even for a film, I'd rather see a documentary.
Well, documentaries I can do without, especially pretentious ones (and they're all pretentious it seems). My book reading advice is to stay away from best seller lists; stick to books that have been in publication for a very long time. I was happy to get an e-mail from Amazon yesterday, telling me my latest six pack was on its way. What's in it? Well... I'll tell you when it arrives. At the moment I'm reading Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity. My wife bought it and I swiped it from her in order to have something to read until my order comes, and voila! This book is great. (That's where the new quotes in the sidebar are from) And I'm only about ten pages into it... Still plugging along with Aubrey and Maturin, but The Marturius Command is probably the most boring of the bunch so far. It's a shame, it started off so well. There are not a lot of novels on my horizon, but I can see taking a look at Chesterton's The Man Who was Thursday because I haven't yet tried any of his fiction. The other thing that looks promising is C.S. Lewis' space trilogy, which I've heard good things about.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

An open mind

Fun with hermeneutics Here's a little conceptual mind game for you. In this excerpt from Francis Beckwith's article in Touchstone, replace the word "scripture" with data and the word "Church" with science.
[John Paul] is saying that biblical scholars and systematic theologians who think they can extract doctrine from Scripture unaided by the resources of philosophical analysis are kidding themselves, and are not doing a service to the Church. There are two reasons for this. First, such a scholar, whether he knows it or not, approaches the biblical text with a cluster of assumptions—a philosophy—about the accessibility of theological truth as well as about texts and their meaning not derived from the biblical text itself. Second, when reading the Bible, he is confronted with scriptural truths that call for a philosophically informed and coherent theology by which to understand and make sense of them. ... An interpreter of Scripture must be conscientious in ensuring that he is approaching the text with sound philosophical principles. As he notes: “Those who devote themselves to the study of Sacred Scripture should always remember that the various hermeneutical approaches [reading methodologies] have their own philosophical underpinnings, which need to be carefully evaluated before they are applied to the sacred texts.” ... [It is a] mistake thinking that one can do theology without any reference to, or understanding of, philosophy. On this point, John Paul is absolutely correct.
It seems to me that what JPII is saying ought to be obvious to anyone who hopes to write or think at more than a basic level - ie. educated people and people who hold positions of authority, like lawyers, politicians and scientists. It is the need to be aware of one's methodology in reading texts and the world. Fred puts it in simpler terms in this essay on the drama surrounding Darwin in the classroom. From the hubbub we can get the idea that there are a number of politcians and scientists who do not get it (and the lawyers feed on them both). First principles matter, and they can't be extracted from data alone, whether that data is scripture or the day to day material of our lives. Our confusion on this issue has implications for our democratic responsibilities. Beckwith continues:
what John Paul will teach [us], and what will appear novel to some... is the careful manner in which he shows that the moral principles found in Scripture are consistent with a reflective understanding of the order and nature of things that one can know apart from the biblical text.

Some Christians will find that perplexing, even troubling. They needn't; finding sound moral principals without reflecting on the Bible is very hard going. It took 6,000 years for the wisdom gathered in that book to take shape and we are fooling ourselves if we think we can do better "on our own." JPII's approach has two strengths to it. First, it offers a way of reaching out to those who do not accept the Bible as being especially wise and also to those who bring interpretations that are a little too creative. What JPII is alluding to is not pantheism but the presence of the Natural Law that runs through all of creation, including us. The money quote in Beckwith's article is the conclusion:
For example, John Paul teaches that the Bible and Christian tradition affirm that human beings have intrinsic dignity because they are made in the image of God and that we ought to treat each other justly, and that this affirmation and obligation, grounded in the nature that God gave us, ought to be reflected in our laws so that the state may advance the public good. Although he believes we can find these truths in Scripture, he also believes that these truths may be found in natural moral law, accessible to—and therefore binding upon—all human beings, even those unacquainted with the Christian Bible or its teachings. One way by which John Paul seeks to show that we have an intuitive awareness of this natural moral law is in his critique of the self-defeating argument for liberal democracy that embraces moral relativism, as is often done in the name of pluralism or tolerance. He shows that this argument is philosophically incapable of sustaining liberal democracy, a political regime that claims that the purpose of its laws is to protect human equality and dignity. Writes John Paul: It is true that history has known cases where crimes have been committed in the name of “truth.” But equally grave crimes and radical denials of freedom have also been committed and are still being committed in the name of “ethical relativism.” When a parliamentary or social majority decrees that it is legal, at least under certain conditions, to kill unborn human life, is it not really making a “tyrannical” decision with regard to the weakest and most defenseless of human beings? Everyone’s conscience rightly rejects those crimes against humanity of which our century has had such sad experience. But would these crimes cease to be crimes if, instead of being committed by unscrupulous tyrants, they were legitimated by popular consensus? According to John Paul, a democratic regime, whose purpose is to do justice by treating all human beings under its authority with equal regard, cannot do so without embracing certain fundamental moral truths as foundational to its institutions and laws: “the dignity of every human person, respect for inviolable and inalienable human rights, and the adoption of the ‘common good’ as the end and criterion regulating political life.” This means that governments that permit (much less encourage) abortion-on-demand and suicide, and do not protect (much less undermine) the institutions of marriage and the family, do not advance the cause of liberal democracy, because they are in fact violating its essential principles. For abortion-on-demand and suicide are inconsistent with the dignity of the person, and marriage and the family are necessary for the common good.
The text I bolded in the first paragraph seems to me to be a part of any sound beginning to a discussion of politics and laws, which we always hold to apply to all, secularist and theist alike. We could not do so if we did not think that our proposals had merit for both the governed and the governing, not unless we embraced the sort of dicatorial governing ethic that has been out of favour in the west since at least the end of World War II. JPII is not dictating policy here, only suggesting a methodology we can use to come up with any number of policies that do not overturn the Natural Law values that western democracies still claim to uphold. John Rawls' "original position" is a similar endeavor - a proposed method, not a set of policies itself - that many liberals hold dear. What philosophy should do is enable us to compare and discuss the merits of such proposals by bringing them to the surface, where they can no longer be asserted unthinkingly and unreflectively as true, and where those who differ are engaged instead of vilified.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Weigel on the Cube

There is an interview with George Weigel in The Brussels Journal on the subject of his most recent book (which is on my hit hit list just as soon as there is a paperback available).
An interview with George Weigel Paul Belien: The title of your book – The Cube and the Cathedral – is a metaphor. Can you explain what these images stand for? George Weigel: The book began in my mind when I was in Paris in 1997. I visited the Great Arch of la Défense, this angular, rationalistic, stunning piece of contemporary design which imagines itself to be a human rights monument. Moreover I noticed that all the guidebooks boast that all of Notre Dame – tower, spire and all – would fit inside this cube. That popped a question into my mind: what culture is better able to provide the foundations for the human rights that this monument celebrates: the culture of the cube, rationalist, sceptical, relativist, secular, or the culture that produced the “holy unsaneness” of Notre Dame? I do not think the answer is necessarily an either/or proposition. It can be a both/and proposition as it is in the United States, as it was in Europe up until the past 40 years, until 1968 and the concerted attempt to create a Europe that is a genuinely secularized and, indeed, secularist public space. PB: In the book, however, you move back further in time, even to the First World War, to say where things went wrong in Europe. GW: I go back even further than that. I go back to the middle of the 19th century with what Henri de Lubac called “the drama of atheistic humanism.” I think you can make the case that the First World War was the first dramatic episode of the playing out in history of this utter forgetfulness of the God of the Bible and the moral reasoning that one learns in a Judeo-Christian world view.

GW: The single biggest event that created the present religious, cultural, political dynamics of the United States took place on January 21, 1973. PB: Roe versus Wade [the Supreme Court ruling that legalised abortion]. GW: Exactly right. What did that do? It created a hitherto unimaginable alliance between Evangelical Protestants, many of whom were not sure the Catholics were Christians, and Catholics who thought that these were the people who brought you prohibition and other bizarre things, such as the Scopes trial. Suddenly these people found themselves together in the front trench of a culture war. I think what has evolved in the United States, providentially, accidentally, necessarily – I would say it is providential – is a kind of common Christian social ethic, not dissimilar to C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, that has done what a hundred years of oecumenical dialogue could not do: brought Evangelical Protestants and Catholics together in a kind of cobelligerency in the culture war. Now in the course of that, the more intellectually sophisticated part of the Evangelical world (and that is not a contradiction in terms – there are some very sophisticated people in this world) have discovered that Catholics through the natural law tradition have a method of making public arguments that cannot be accused of being sectarian and Catholics have a developed social ethic from the social doctrine of the 20th century popes that is very impressive to people who have a set of policy instincts but are not quite sure how all of this fits together into a coherent vision of the free and virtuous society. So, I think you have a circumstance in which in addition to this cobelligerency there has been a genuine crossfertilisation of ideas that has been beneficial to both parties.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Three jokes

I thought all of these were great.
  • From The Maverick Philosopher: After knowing one another for a long time, three clergymen -- one Catholic, one Jewish, and one Episcopalian -- have become good friends. When they are together one day, the Catholic priest is in a sober, reflective mood, and he says, "I'd like to confess to you that although I have done my best to keep my faith, I have occasionally lapsed, and even since my seminary days I have, not often, but sometimes, succumbed and sought carnal knowledge." "Ah well," says the rabbi, "It is good to admit these things, and so I will tell you that, not often, but sometimes, I break the dietary laws and eat forbidden food." At this the Episcopalian priest, his face reddening, says, "If only I has so little to be ashamed of. You know, only last week I caught myself eating a main course with my salad fork."
  • Taken from De Civiatate Dei: Two priests were going to Hawaii on vacation and decided that they would make this a real vacation by not wearing anything that would identify them as clergy. As soon as the plane landed, they headed for a store and bought some really outrageous shorts, shirts, sandals, sunglasses, and etc. The next morning they went to the beach, dressed in their "tourist" garb and were sitting on beach chairs, enjoying a drink, the sunshine and the scenery when a "drop dead gorgeous" blonde in a tiny bikini came walking straight towards them. They couldn't help but stare and when she passed them, she smiled and said, "Good morning, Father" - "Good morning, Father," nodding and addressing each of them individually, then passed on by. They were both stunned. How in the world did she recognize them as priests? The next day they went back to the store, bought even more outrageous outfits-these were so loud, you could hear them before you even saw them-and again settled on the beach in their chairs to enjoy the sunshine, etc. After a while, the same gorgeous blonde, wearing a string bikini this time, came walking toward them again. (They were glad they had sunglasses, because their eyes were about to pop out of their heads.) Again, she approached them and greeted them individually: "Good morning, Father," "Good morning Father," and started to walk away. One of the priests couldn't stand it and said. "Just a minute, young lady. Yes, we are Jesuit priests, and proud of it, but I have to know, how in the world did YOU know?" "Oh, Father, don't you recognize me? I'm Sister Angela!"
  • Taken from De Civiatate Dei: A Jewish man happened to live in an Irish borough in New York City. Every Friday during Lent, he would be out at his grill cooking a big 2" thick Porterhouse steak. The smell wafted through the neighborhood, driving the Catholic locals batty trying to resist temptation. One of them brought the matter to Fr. O'Flaherty at St. Paddy's. "There really only one thing to do," said the priest, "you'll have to try and convert him.." Many years past with many Porterhouse steaks, and many conversations between this fellow and his Irish neighbors. Finally, the Jewish man decided he would become Catholic. The boys brought him to Father for instruction. After it was complete, Father said to the man, "You were born a Jew and you were raised a Jew….but now you are a Catholic." There was much rejoicing in the neighborhood as the next Friday was the first Friday of Lent, and the temptation appeared at its end.. Friday came, and sure enough, the formerly Jewish man was out at his grill cooking his big steak. The locals were up in arms, and as they came to remind the fellow of his Lenten obligations, they heard him talking to his steak: "you were born a cow and raised a cow...but now you are a fish.."

Action Philosophers, by Zeus!

Action Philosophers is a comic book series by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey. From what I can see in the previews, it's irreverent but true to history. Might be a great way to get the foot in the door as far as philosophy is concerned. There are previews on the website, including one on Augustine. Btw, there is an answer to the Greek kid's question (click to enlarge).

Limits

Via Cox and Forkum. Mark Steyn says it with words:
I underestimated multiculturalism. After 9/11, I assumed the internal contradictions of the rainbow coalition would be made plain: that a cult of "tolerance" would in the end founder against a demographic so cheerfully upfront in their intolerance. Instead, Islamic "militants" have become the highest repository of multicultural pieties. So you're nice about gays and Native Americans? Big deal. Anyone can be tolerant of the tolerant, but tolerance of intolerance gives an even more intense frisson of pleasure to the multiculti- masochists. And so Islamists who murder non-Muslims in pursuit of explicitly Islamic goals are airbrushed into vague, generic "rebel forces." You can't tell the players without a scorecard, and that's just the way the Western media intend to keep it.

Unlikely and delightful

Father Jim Tucker, who is a young priest and a libertarian, reflects:
I've found it interesting to notice the extremely divergent reactions provoked by what might (now) be called "over the top" elements of the Catholic religion. I'm not referring such extravagantly over-the-top dogmas as the Incarnation of God the Son or the General Resurrection, but rather of non-essential elements from the man-made periphery. Papal tiaras, for instance, or episcopal cappe magne, or birettas, or fiddleback chasubles. One could add, in addition to these sartorial extravagances (which, prior to our lackluster day, would once have hardly raised an eyebrow among Catholics), processions with holy relics, odd local customs, Trappist sign language, bone churches, Epiphany chalk, or blessings of animals on St Francis' Day. As far back as I can remember, I've always loved these things. And many readers have responded to the blogposts on these subjects in much the same way as one of our altar boys responded when I showed him the cappa magna photo collection, "That is SOOOOOOO cool!" A few others respond in precisely the opposite way with an earnestness that is a bit frightening. These things are seen as frivolities that are worthless at best, and perhaps downright pernicious. I suppose people feel as if they distract from the deadly serious project of not falling into the everlasting pits of fire and brimstone. Or they are gross indulgence in vainglory. Or they make religion seem to be out of touch with the modern world, which is far more interested in making money and other such important things. Or they symbolize the obfuscating power of the clerical elite. "Would Jesus wear a cappa magna?" some sour-faced reformer might ask. Why bother with birettas when little babies are being killed by abortion? Granted, none of these things will save one's soul, and if all one believes in is watered silk and choral evensong, one will probably lose it. But it's a false dichotomy to say one must choose between the external trappings of religion and the interior stuff that has eternal significance. There's no reason in the world why one can't have both, and Catholicism has traditionally kept them both together. To be unimpressed by a triple tiara certainly does not make one a bad Catholic, but I wonder whether zealously opposing all these little grace notes in the religious score might not. To my mind, at any rate, all these things speak of the magnanimity and exuberance of a religious spirit that spills out into the world in all sorts of unlikely and delightful ways. They knock us out of the prosaic and linear existence of everyday life and remind us that old-fashioned religion, in addition to being good, saving, and true, is also charming, merry, and even whimsical.
I share this view and would add that what these things do is attempt to recall in us that truth and beauty, properly understood, are related. There will be times when this will be hard to see, when our minds and our hearts will be challenged. Those are the times when we need to recollect. When the truth looks ugly, or when beauty looks false, then something is wrong with the way we are seeing and thinking. It's hard correct this, and even harder to accept the need for it.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Philosophic sock puppets

Quotable blogs Vomit the Lukewarm:
I don't ever seem to have the same idea of what "profound" means as the Philosophers I tend to converse with. Most of them seem to think that "profound" means "unanswerable". This has never been my experience. The profoundest things are usually the simplest things; the words we all know and use a thousand times a day. Something isn't profound because you can never find a reason for it- this is more typical of irrational and silly things. A question is profound because you can contemplate the answer forever, and always find new things to it. It is a sham profundity that can never begin to know- the true profundity is the kind that never ceases to know something new.
Burn Cells Brained Out is teacher in a private Catholic school:
I crave more in the way of discussion and debate than I get in my day to day life. I haven't yet resorted to making hand puppets for each of the Pre-Socratic philosophers and talking to myself, but it may come to that. On the other hand, I'm certain that I am performing a good and useful function right now, albeit a humble one. Forming young people in the Faith is necessary. Teaching them how to read critically and write well is necessary. My students need the help I provide. Would I be needed, really, in another field? Also, the sense that I am responsible for providing a good moral example for forty-odd souls keeps me on the straight and narrow (*cough* more or less *cough*). Would I be as good, elsewhere? Anyway. PHILOSOPHIC SOCK PUPPETS will make up for the lack of a philosophobabble fellowship. I'm designing a line of them. Hegel is particularly entertaining to animate, but his button eyes keep falling off.
Finally, check out Sicut Cervus: diary of a medical student:
As part of my anesthesia rotation I have been learning to do epidural and spinal blocks for women in labor. My first case yesterday morning was a C-section for a woman in her early forties, only 19 weeks pregnant. The average Joe knows that 19-week-old babies can't survive outside of mom. Nonetheless, I was informed that this baby had a "lethal fetal anomaly." So the baby would likely die before delivery, during, or soon after. The reasoning behind "delivering early," as far as I can guess, is to relieve the mother of the last few harder months of pregnancy - because the baby will die anyway. The Questions Now what is the point of continuing a pregnancy once you know your baby cannot live outside the womb? If baby will die on the day of delivery, why not deliver sooner and get the whole tragic ordeal over with and get on with life? Is there really a difference between letting the pregnancy go to term, and inducing early, when the end result is the same? The Answers There's a big difference - morally, psychologically, emotionally and even physically...

Whittling the truth

From Harvard via Burkean Canuck:
Conservatism is... closer to the mission of the university than liberalism is. Liberals, insofar as they are progressives, believe that it is possible to eliminate prejudice from society. When prejudice is gone, truth prevails, and there is no need to reconsider the errors of the past. Progress is irrevocable, and inquiry shrinks to whatever questions remain unsettled. Conservatives, believing that it is not possible to eliminate prejudice, are more tolerant than liberals; they expect society to be, and remain, a mixture of truth and untruth. Conservatives may be prejudiced themselves, or they may be just tolerant of prejudice in others. If society will always be a mixture of truth and untruth, it may be necessary to see what sort of untruth is politically compatible with truth, and what sort is not.
The truth is greater than the sum of its parts and together we are strong, even if we bicker a lot. Progressives whittle the truth back until it is just one thing, "diverse" in appearance but sounding much like sheep braying in unison. This is the opposite of humility. See? I can do short posts.

Hammers for the left handed

Archaic relic that I am, NWW does not use gender neutral phrasing. Or B.C.E. / C.E. in the place of B.C. / A.D. Changing established practices in order to curry favour with political trends is bad policy; tomorrow's new-niks will bury you with the same principle, ensuring that no text will be easily comprehensible a few generations into the future. Failure to distinguish between something that disagrees with you because it is an evolved artifact, and something that disagrees with you because it is the result of someone's intent to disagree with you, is seriously second rate. It's delusional paranoia, or it's pathetically cliqueish. Marxist conspiracy rubbish is a dress on a pig lamenting that there are no hammers for the left handed. But - the rules of the game seem to be changing. Rejoice, the establishment is being challenged (OK, it's being ignored). Or, mourn the coming balkanization of language and culture. Editorially, I don't answer to anybody here. I have no career ambitions to protect, no asses to kiss. Of course, that goes for a lot of other bloggers out there as well, many of whom will disagree with decisions that I make here. You know what? S'okay. Myself, I regret more that some feel they can't take advantage of that freedom. Pay any price, bear any burden? What are you, nuts?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Horatio

Turning a blind eye History.net looks back on Admiral Nelson, who figures as large as any absent figure can in the Aubrey - Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian, which I am currently reading (and will be for a while; there are twenty of them). This is amusing:
The vitriol abated in 1801 when Nelson, who had been appointed Vice Admiral of the Blue on January 1, again sailed into battle, this time against the Danes. At the Battle of Copenhagen Nelson turned a potential disaster into victory. His superior, Admiral Hyde Parker—whom Nelson held in low esteem—signaled the British fleet to retreat. Nelson, convinced he could win, is reputed to have put his telescope to his blind eye and said, “I really do not see the signal.” The story goes that from this act, the expression “turning a blind eye” entered the English language. What was of consequence was Nelson’s victory and the reward of promotion to viscount.
And this is important:
In 1805, Spain was allied with France; Napoleon was amassing thousands of troops in the French channel ports awaiting the arrival of the combined Franco-Spanish fleet to form an invasion flotilla. A successful invasion depended upon drawing off the protective British fleet. As a ruse, the Franco-Spanish fleet headed for the Caribbean, pursued by Nelson. The enemy fleet, ahead of Nelson, was prevented from reaching the channel ports and diverted to Cadiz, Spain. Viscount Nelson was again the hero of the hour because he had prevented the French from seizing Britain’s Caribbean possessions. Despite Napoleon abandoning his invasion of Britain, his fleet was still a substantial menace. The Franco-Spanish fleet left Cadiz on October 19, 1805. By 1 a.m. on the 20th Nelson knew its precise location, but delayed engagement because he wanted the ships to be farther from their bolt-hole. During the night, Nelson’s captains reflected on his last memorandum, known as the Nelson Touch, which finished, “In case signals can neither be seen or perfectly understood, no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy.” This was tactical excellence. All his captains, appointed by him on merit and in his confidence, knew the battle plan, but Admiral Nelson was allowing for unforeseen contingencies. The viscount’s plan was simple and bold. The British fleet would divide into two lines and cut the Franco-Spanish fleet in three; the van would be isolated from the action and Nelson’s 27 ships would attack the mid and rear lines—brilliant. Except there would be a period, perhaps 20 minutes, when the British ships would be unable to return fire. Nelson, confident as ever in his plan, courageously led the attack. In the final approach on the enemy fleet, Lord Nelson made the signal that is now synonymous with his name: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” Nelson was about to do just that. At approximately 12:35, HMS Victory came under fire and was unable to return fire until 1. At 1:15 Nelson was shot by a sniper from the rigging of Redoubtable. He remarked to Hardy, Victory’s captain, “They have done for me at last, my backbone is shot through.” Admiral Nelson was carried to the orlop deck where, to cacophonous roars, the shuddering of cannon recoils and the reek of smoke, cordite and fear, he was hopelessly nursed by surgeon William Beatty. At 3:30 Hardy told Nelson they had achieved a glorious victory. Nelson begged Hardy to kiss him, which Hardy did on the cheek and the forehead. Horatio Nelson died with the closing words, “Thank God I have done my duty,” having achieved his primary ambition: a glorious death in battle.
Why is it important? Like most "historical" events, its effects linger to this day:
Victory at Trafalgar also gave the nation of shopkeepers the confidence and arrogance to believe that their imperial ambitions were correct. It was the foundation and impulse for Britain’s colonial and industrial growth into a world-dominating power. This is epitomized in “Rule Britannia,” a powerfully rendered song reflecting Britain’s self-confidence, a song that Britons still passionately sing. Trafalgar also had a broader significance in world history. Nelson’s rout of the Franco-Spanish fleet, whose losses included 18 ships, 6,000 killed or wounded, and over 20,000 taken prisoner, so stung Napoleon that he never initiated another naval campaign. Admiral Nelson’s losses were zero ships and approximately 1,700 killed or wounded. For this, Nelson is credited with saving Britain from a Napoleonic invasion even though Napoleon’s geopolitical ambitions had changed prior to Trafalgar. For the Spanish, Trafalgar proved catastrophic. Spain was a hemorrhaging nation with domestic power struggles and a faltering economy. Defeat at Trafalgar exacerbated those problems. Without its fleet, Spain was cut off from its Central and South American colonies and their riches. Spain was also unable to send military reinforcements to sustain its hegemony in the Americas. Many of those colonies, today’s sovereign Latin American nations, can trace their independence movements back to Spain’s crushing defeat at Trafalgar.

Religion will make you stupid

The irrepressible Theodore Dr. Dalrymple, of no religious faith, eviscerates Gregory Paul's ballyhooed "scientific" study showing that religion will make you poor and stupid.
The Victorian militant atheist Charles Bradlaugh, who went on tub-thumping speaking tours, used to stride onto the stage, take out his pocket watch and challenge God to strike him dead in 60 seconds. His survival at the end of the minute was, for him, proof positive that God did not exist. Charles Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton, tried to prove the inefficacy of prayer, at least to his own satisfaction, by comparing the life expectancy of the British royal family--whose health was prayed for in churches throughout the land--with that of other members of the aristocracy. Finding no difference, he concluded that prayer was not an effective means of prolonging life. Very much in the same tradition, Gregory S. Paul, writing in the Journal of Religion and Society, attempts to prove that religious belief, far from contributing to the moral fiber of society, actually causes social disintegration. Mr. Paul is a paleontologist whose previous works have included "Predatory Dinosaurs of the World" and "Dinosaurs of the Air." He finds that highly developed countries with the lowest levels of belief in God also have the lowest levels of social pathology and the best physical health; and that the U.S., with its uniquely high level of religious belief, "is so inefficient that it is experiencing a much higher degree of societal distress than are less religious and wealthy, prosperous democracies." ... It is interesting that Mr. Paul's paper makes no mention of Russia, whose 70-year experiment with enforced atheism did not create a society altogether lacking in social pathology, to put it mildly, and where the life expectancy of men is now appreciably lower than that of credulous countries such as Guatemala.
Dr. Dalrymple doesn't say it, but surely what you have faith in is at least as important a question as whether or not you have it? There are many other factors not controlled for here either. Finally, those Victorian "proofs for the non existence of God" are so inane that I don't think they need any commentary from the likes of me.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Meet Pavlov

Reciprocal Altruism and Catholic Social Justice I have casually mentioned in these Darwin posts - and probably in others as well - that a study of Darwin, and of sociobiology in particular, was one of many things that prompted me to take religious ideas seriously and investigate them instead of taking the cues and admonitions of the beautiful people that there was nothing to be seen there, at least not in the Judeo Christian tradition. Puzzlement ensues when I say that because Darwin is commonly taught to have "proven" that evolution is and can only be unguided. Darwin is "proof" that morals have no anchor in the real world and that life is so bloody that it can have nothing to do with any Christian God. Leaving aside the question of "random" mutation, which I've had enough of for the time being, the idea that Darwinism can have nothing to do with acts of selflessness - what used to be called altruism or virtue - has been behind the times since the 1970's. That was when Robert Trivers and others began to find ways of modeling how selfless acts can be a benefit. It turns out that living in a community in which individuals look out for one another can enhance your chances of having offspring that survive. Here is a Guardian article on Trivers:
Kindliness became part of human nature, Trivers argued, because kind instincts were rewarded and this happened because our ancestors lived sufficiently long lives in small stable groups to keep track of who owed whom favours. The great originality of the theory is not that it says that we are under certain circumstances naturally benevolent. Plenty of people had made that observation before. What no one had seen was that this benevolence requires a very strong sense of fairness if it is to become an established instinct. Fairness, or justice, has its roots for Trivers in the determination to see that other people are not cheating us, and taking favours without giving anything in return. From abstract notions about the flow of genes he had come up with concrete and testable ideas about the ways our minds work; and it turned out to be demonstrably true that we find it much easier to solve logical puzzles if they are framed as if they are about cheating rather than an emotionally neutral subject, even though the two ways of putting the problem are logically equivalent. The paper on reciprocal altruism, written before he had even gained a doctorate, has been enormously influential. Robin Dunbar, the professor of behavioral ecology at Liverpool University, says Trivers played a fundamentally important role in the development of modern evolutionary studies of behaviour and ecology. His four key early papers spawned (and continue to spawn) research in the study of both animals and humans. The importance of his contribution is beyond question. The modern field of behavioral ecology (the name under which sociobiology now travels) would simply not have been the same had he not written these papers. Trivers' early work set the foundation for a biologically based system of ethics, in which a preference for some sorts of justice was part of our nature. Matt Ridley, whose book The Origins of Virtue is largely an expansion and restatement of Trivers's argument, says that when he was a student at Oxford, and got a postcard from Trivers asking for a reprint of one of his papers, "It was like getting a postcard from God"; and the whole line of popularizing Darwinian books from Richard Dawkins all the way down to Steven Pinker descends from Trivers's insights. There is a paradox here. Ridley, a former science editor of The Economist, takes the moral of Trivers's work to be distinctly Thatcherite, and in general the attacks on sociobiology, as well as the defences of it, have taken it to be a Right-wing construction, and a way to defend power and privilege by showing they are part of human nature. Even fairly left-wing Darwinists like Daniel Dennett tend to discover from their study of human nature that the perfect way for humans to live is that favoured by professors at good universities on the East Coast. But Trivers, one-time friend of the Black Panthers, loathes the Bush regime more than most forms of authority.
Trivers' work, and work it has inspired, is absolutely fascinating. I do recommend Ridley's book, which is based in part on it. Trivers also deserves a tip of the hat for doing good science. His ideas are testable (at least in model form) and he has not tried to use them to advance his own agenda (that I'm aware of). Richard Dawkins uses his expertise to stump for atheism all the time and Richard Lewontin has said something to the effect that "good science challenges social structures." Trivers himself might tend left but the results of his ideas, and of those working in his wake, are a challenge to both sides of the spectrum. In The Origin of Virtue, Ridley writes about a computerized version of the game theory problem known as the Prisoner's Dilemma and how a solution that came to be called Tit for Tat seemed to solve it:
'Tit for Tat' is a mechanism for generating cooperation between unrelated individuals. Babies take their mother's benefience for granted and not have to buy it with acts of kindness. Brothers and sisters do not need to reciprocate every kind act. But unrelated individuals are acutely aware of social debts. The principle condition required for 'Tit for Tat' to work is a stable, repetitive relationship. The more casual and opportunistic the encounters between individuals, the less likely it is that Tit for Tat will succeed in building cooperation. ... However, there is a dark side to 'Tit for Tat', as mention of the First World War reminds us. If two 'Tit for Tat' players meet each other and get off on the right foot, they cooperate indefinitely. But if one of them accidentally or unthinkingly defects, then a series of mutual recriminations begins from which there is no escape.
Later in the book, Ridley describes what happened when a Vienese mathematician named Karl Sigmund set up experiments to see if 'Tit for Tat' could be improved on. In the new environment set up by his student Martin Nowak:
it was not 'Tit for Tat' [that came out on top] but a very near relation called 'Generous'. 'Generous' occasionally forgives single mistakes. That is, about one third of the time it magnanimously overlooks a single defection. To forgive all defections - a strategy known as 'Tit for Two Tats' - is merely to invite exploitation. But to do so randomly with a probability of about a third is remarkably effective at breaking cycles of mutual recrimination while still remaining immune to exploitation by defectors. 'Generous' will spread at the expense of 'Tit for Tat' in a computer population of pure 'Tit for Tat' players that are making mistakes. So, ironically 'Tit for Tat' merely paves the way for a strategy nicer than itself... But neither is 'Generous' the [solution]. It is so generous that it allows even nicer, more naive strategies to spread. For example, the simple strategy 'Always cooperate' can thrive among 'Generous' players, though it does not actually defeat them... But 'Always Cooperate' is a fatally generous strategy and is easily invaded by 'Always Defect', the nastiest strategy of all. Among 'Generous' players, 'Always Defect' gets nowhere; but when some start playing 'Always Cooperate', it strikes. So, far from ending up with a happy world of reciprocity, 'Tit for Tat' ushers in 'Generous', which can usher in 'Always Cooperate', which can unleash perpetual defection... it is the sort of untidy decision game theorists dislike...
More experimentation does lead to a better solution, one that will win the game and then remain stable. Meet 'Pavlov':
'Pavlov' is rather like simplistic gambler. If he wins on red, he sticks to red next time; if he loses, he tries black next time... This principle - that you don't mend your behavior unless its broken - underlies a lot of everyday activities, including dog training and child rearing. 'Pavlov' is nice, like 'Tit for Tat', in that it establishes cooperation, reciprocating in that it tends to repay its partners in kind, and forgiving, like 'Generous', in that it punish mistakes but then returns to cooperating. Yet it has a vindictive streak that enables it to exploit naive competitors like 'Always Cooperate'. If it comes up against a sucker, it keeps on defecting. Thus it creates a cooperative world, but does not allow that world to decay into a too trusting Utopia where free riders can flourish. Yet Pavlov's weakness was well known... it is usually helpless in the face of 'Always Defect'. It keeps shifting to cooperation and getting the sucker's pay off. So 'Pavlov' cannot spread until 'Tit for Tat' has done it's job and cleared out the bad guys. [It was] discovered, however, that ... in a more realistic game.. where each strategy rolled a die to decide what to do next, something very different happened. 'Pavlov' quickly adjusted its probabilities to the point where its supremacy could not be challenged by 'Always Defect'. It was evolutionary stable.
It might, at first glance, seem like anything that exploits 'Always Cooperate' can't be a good thing from a Christian, altruist position, but a moment's reflection puts us right again. In a fallen world, 'Always Cooperate' is not a good thing. It fails to recognize the world as fallen and is in denial about the existence of Sin, allowing it to spread. Pavlov, on the other hand, is "wise as serpents and innocent as doves." Even more impressive, when conditions improve, Pavlov becomes a lion that can lie with lambs. Pavlov's success can be seen as an indictment of left wing utopian pacifism and also free market capitalism (which could be likened to "any defection you can get away with is a 'rational' defection"). The conditions that allow 'Pavlov' and 'Tit for Tat' to thrive (self organizing, stable, repetitive relationships), can be seen as the fruits of Burkean little platoons allowed to do their work of policing minute social relations and debts that no police force or government could ever replicate without incurring prohibitive costs and distorting the social fabric in such a way that 'Always defect' suddenly makes sense. I see two main axes of social thinking are skewered by these results. The first is that 'the solution' to social problems lies in either strict welfare-pacifism or strict rebributive justice. The first is a left wing solution and the second a right wing one. Overzealous or injudicious use of either is no solution at all. The other axis is whether rights should belong primarily to groups (governments, unions, U.N.) or individuals. Again, the first is a left wing solution and the second a right wing one. The group solution, like the pacifist solution, does not give enough consideration to inadvertently creating situations that make defecting seem to be the best choice. The atomized individual that right Liberalism leans towards seems to favour the strong, (who can only be strong for a short time!) but by weakening the social web it causes even them to work harder than they need to in order to fulfill the needs of a fully human life. The constant warfare and competition it favours makes life hellish. By showing that human relations are always under tension (to give or take), Triver's work suggests to me that a healthy, prosperous society needs to constantly balance those tensions and resist the temptation to let adherence to one or the other warp and distort it. In a nutshell, Catholic social teaching seems to me to have found, in general terms, a reasonable middle ground that might fill this role. Here are a few Catechism entries that seem relevant:
1880 A society is a group of persons bound together organically by a principle of unity that goes beyond each one of them. As an assembly that is at once visible and spiritual, a society endures through time: it gathers up the past and prepares for the future. By means of society, each man is established as an "heir" and receives certain "talents" that enrich his identity and whose fruits he must develop. He rightly owes loyalty to the communities of which he is part and respect to those in authority who have charge of the common good. 1882 Certain societies, such as the family and the state, correspond more directly to the nature of man; they are necessary to him. To promote the participation of the greatest number in the life of a society, the creation of voluntary associations and institutions must be encouraged "on both national and international levels, which relate to economic and social goals, to cultural and recreational activities, to sport, to various professions, and to political affairs." This "socialization" also expresses the natural tendency for human beings to associate with one another for the sake of attaining objectives that exceed individual capacities. It develops the qualities of the person, especially the sense of initiative and responsibility, and helps guarantee his rights 1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good." 1884 God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.
Finally, two questions that are probably bound to arise: 1) If selfless acts are done for selfish reasons, are they still selfless? That depends on how the term is defined. I would argue that they are because there is never any guarantee that a selfless act will be repaid. The person doing the giving always bears that risk. 2) If morals are evolved, doesn't that cut God out of the picture? Now he doesn't even need to be the source of morality? If God created the world ex nihilo, then he is still the ultimate source of everything, including metaphysics. In fact, you could view evolved altruistic tensions built into human societies as evidence of the world being a hospital for sinners. We have opportunities to be humble aplenty.