Tuesday, July 23, 2019

An Interesting Conversation


A discussion between Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro, just posted but presumably recorded several months ago – as Peterson refers to his (as of then) upcoming discussion with Slavoj Žižek “on April 19th.”  This post will not be in the form of a narrative; just some observations about some of the points raised.  Where I offer quotations, these really are approximate as I have no text from which to draw.

Let’s get some of the easy targets out of the way, although some of these will recur throughout the discussion.  Immediately in the discussion, they laughingly dismiss the idea that “Jews” might work on hidden agendas that are beneficial to Jews.  I need not elaborate here.

There are several comments and refences by Peterson to Christian tradition, Mary and Jesus, etc.; Shapiro often states agreement.  “The bringing down of the divine to earth,” as Peterson describes the Christian art of the Virgin and Infant.  This, I merely found interesting – Shapiro apparently does not find such references as anti-Semitic.

There is, of course a significant criticizing of tribalism…well except for one type of tribalism.  Shapiro suggests that “the greatest tribalism I am seeing in today’s world has nothing to do with religion but is anti-religion, whether on the radical intersectional left or the alt-right.” 

OK then…. So much for the “shooting fish in a barrel” part of this post.  There was some very good discussion – reflective of the dialogue at this blog.  They discuss the idea and meaning of reason, and how reason absent some foundation can lead to any action and any conclusion – even leading to the worst atrocities known to man.

It is noted that those like Steven Pinker over-value the Enlightenment and devalue the historical epochs that produced the axioms upon which and from which the Enlightenment emerged.  Shapiro offers: Pinker writes 450 pages about the Enlightenment without mentioning the French Revolution even once.  “I don’t even know how that is possible.” 

I know how it’s possible.  It is possible if one has an agenda of removing pre-Enlightenment Christianity from the discussion…that’s how it is possible.

Further, they offer that reason cannot generate its own comprehensive axioms that can be justified on rational grounds.  Reason has implicit moral biases that you cannot reason your way to.  Faith undergirds reason; you have to take this on faith. You have to have a starting point. 

On this, I am reminded of C. S. Lewis:

It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles.  If you see through everything, then everything is transparent.  But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world.  To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.

Peterson and Shapiro agree with Rothbard: there is such a thing as objective truth.  We cannot get to objective truth through evolutionary biology; evolutionary biology can get us to the objectively useful, but this doesn’t make the objectively useful also objectively true in any meaningfully useful sense.

Shapiro makes an argument that comes very close to Hoppe’s argumentation ethics, within the framework that Judeo-Christian assumptions undergird the concept of reason: we use a willful process predicated on the assumption that the other person’s opinion is valuable – otherwise why not just club them over the head and take their stuff. 

Shapiro encapsulates something that I have been thinking about recently: If you collapse reason you end up with theocracy; if you collapse religion, you end up with nihilism.  My thought is that this shouldn’t be considered in the way of a “balance”; like we must balance reason and religion.  Both must be maximized – given what I see as the road to liberty.

Peterson offers as the most important concept he has found in his study of the Bible: God used truth and courage to create order out of chaos.  Shapiro offers his, which is second for Peterson: Man is created in God’s image – in other cultures, it was only the king who was made in God’s image.

I have often noted that many cultures and religions have some version of the Golden Rule.  Yet Shapiro points out that the idea of man (all men and all women) made in God’s image exists only in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  I think that it is this idea that puts some teeth in the Golden Rule.  Why do unto others as you would have them do unto you (in love), absent this belief?

Peterson relays the story of Abraham arguing with God regarding the potential destruction of Sodom, in order to entice God to be not more destructive than necessary if there is any goodness to be found.  Abraham is quite successful in his argument.  The whole time, Shapiro is saying “right…right.”  This is an example where reason and revelation can perfectly co-exist.  “This is exactly right,” replies Shapiro.  This is quite consistent with the idea of man made in God’s image and that guilt should be individualized.

Further, Shapiro criticizes the idea of using cruelty in favor of a higher human good: “that was the case for communism; you had to break a few eggs…”

I know…it is easy to call out Shapiro’s hypocrisy on this: he was lambasted – rightly – for his call to bomb Iran (his video on this is currently running almost ten-to-one dislikes over likes – with about 12,000 dislikes).  But we can understand when tribalism gets in the way of using reason when applying the idea that man is made in God’s image.

Shapiro notes that “Israel” means “struggles with God.”  Peterson relays the story of Jacob, wrestling with God and therefore given the name Israel.  He offers: “I don’t know how to reconcile this to the idea that Israel is the chosen people, when anyone who wrestles with God is chosen.”  Shapiro: “It’s a beautiful idea.”

Wow!  I give Shapiro some real credit here.  He has said that all who wrestle with God are God’s chosen.  It is a very New Testament idea – that’s how Peterson can reconcile it.  I know the ways one can explain why we shouldn’t believe that Shapiro truly believes that this is a beautiful idea, but there you go.

Shapiro offers that it is the social fabric that will decide the character of the country.  Absent some unifying social fabric, the vast majority of people will disagree on the meaning and contents of the term “human flourishing.”

They are both very positive about ethnic and spiritual diversity within a population with a common purpose.  But they make no connection to the idea that a “common purpose” devoid of a common ethnic or spiritual bond (a “social fabric”) is a dead end; the idea of a propositional nation has been tried and has failed each time.

Conclusion

Shapiro comments on natural law to be found even in Aristotle and Plato.  Unfortunately, without Christ, man is left to grasp at putting a meaningful foundation under natural law – we have Plato without Aristotle.  In other words, the Judeo-Christian foundation that undergirds the natural law and liberty that we desire is pretty useless without the “Christian” part.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Search for Liberty; Chapter Fourteen: Natural Law: the Complication


NB: All previous chapters can be found here.

Natural Law offers both a foundation for and complications to libertarian theory and the non-aggression principle.  In this chapter, I will summarize the issues as presented until this point.

For any of this to make sense to the reader, one must buy into this idea that all beings are made with a purpose – an end, a telos.  One must buy into the idea that man has an end – an end he cannot choose, but must discover; inherently, this means an objective “end” – objective values for which humans are to aim. 

If you don’t buy into this even after what has been presented thus far, that’s fine.  But then quit talking about the objective value of non-aggression: don’t hit first; don’t take my stuff.  Without buying into the idea that there are objective values for man which we are to discover, there is no reason to buy into this objective value as one that is absolute.  Just accept that the left (including self-contradictory left-libertarians) has won (ethical values are subjective), and go home quietly.

For those who remain…it is worth spending time summarizing what has been covered regarding man’s end or purpose, the objectives that must be kept in focus when one is looking to discover natural law.  This was identified through several sources.

Aristotle and Aquinas point to happiness as the ultimate end to which human beings are to aspire.  It seems superficially silly, unless you understand what was meant by happiness: 

…There is one single ultimate human good that provides an ordering of all other human goods as partial in relation to it, namely, happiness or better in the Latin beatitudo.

This is not the modern understanding of happiness: “if it feels good, do it; I’m in it for number one.”  Instead:

Beatitudo: (happiness or blessedness). The happiness that comes from seeing the good in others and doing the good for others. It is, in essence, other-regarding action.  Think of it as the Golden Rule.

Beatitudo is about as high a purpose or end as humans can aim for.  There is an even higher end, beyond human reach: Sublime Beatitudo: (sublime = "to lift up or elevate"). It encompasses a reach for fullness and perfection of happiness. The fullness, therefore, of goodness, beauty, truth and love. We recognize in this category, those things that are, in a sense, beyond what we are capable of doing purely on our own.  Call it the Form of the Good, Plato’s perfect – disembodied – triangle.

Melissa S. Atkinson offers: “Like Aristotle, Aquinas believed that human beings live for a telos or end, which is eudaimonia.”

Eudaimonia…is a Greek word commonly translated as happiness or welfare; however, "human flourishing or prosperity" and "blessedness" have been proposed as more accurate translations.

Etymologically, it is made up of two words: “good” and “spirit.”  It appears to be something much deeper than material happiness, or “if it feels good, do it.”  It is connected to the ideas of virtue and excellence, and a body that embodies this good spirit. 

Where will man find this example, this target at which to aim?  I suggest that in Jesus we find the singular example of Sublime Beatitudo, this “good spirit.”  Here we have the ultimate Form of the Good made manifest – Plato’s God to be found in Aristotle’s physical being.

I will repeat here what I offered for thought in chapter 6:

So say this is so.  It is all in us – just as these philosophers suggest.  It is natural for us to want to act on such a basis and in such a manner.  It makes one wonder: if this is how we are intended to act, can you imagine the tension in us and in society when we purposely act otherwise – when we set our own ends, in defiance of our nature?

Take any other being on earth – say a lion, or a bee.  Condition it, through propaganda, public education, cultural Marxism, or whatever – to act toward ends and purposes contrary to its nature, in defiance of its nature.  Could you look at such a being and label it “free,” as having achieved liberty?

Consider the state of man today – certainly in the West.  In the best case, we are told that meaning – our proper end – is to be found in the accumulation of material goods: more stuff; he who dies with the most toys wins  in the worst case, we are offered unconstrained individualism – no limits on gender identification, personal expression, self-control, exhibitionism, physical satisfactions, etc.

Sure, it might sound like liberty.  But this seems quite superficial, and a superficial definition of liberty.  It is also unsustainable – what being can constantly and continuously go against its natural ends or purposes and survive as the being it was intended to be?

On the right, it is the liberty of material accumulation in place of all else; on the left, it is the liberty of the unconditioned life, any lifestyle must be allowed and acceptable otherwise freedom is being crushed.  But would you look on a lion or a bee in such a condition and consider it free?  How long would you expect lions or bees to exist if such freedom was achieved?

I am reminded here of C.S. Lewis, from The Abolition of Man:

They are not men at all.  Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void.  Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men.  They are not men at all: they are artefacts.  Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.

Freed from the being of humanness.  Certainly freed from aiming at beatitudo.  It is not a road to freedom; it is a dead end.

So, how do we properly seek as the proper ends which then point us to natural law.  Thomas offers reason as the tool man has been given to discover this law.

For Thomas, the answer is reason, and to the extent humans act according to reason they are partaking in the Natural Law.

How should we consider reason?  Is it also to be unconditioned?  In John 1:1, Jesus us referred to as the logos – the Word, reason.  To understand reason without understanding the author of reason offers a reason without foundation – a reason left to the Übermensch to decide for the rest of humanity.

Through reason conditioned by the logos, Thomas has identified four primary ends for humans:

·         Protect and preserve human life.
·         Reproduce and educate one’s offspring.
·         Know and worship God.
·         Live in a society.
 


According to St. Thomas, the natural law is "nothing else than the rational creature's participation in the eternal law" (I-II.91.2). The eternal law is God's wisdom, inasmuch as it is the directive norm of all movement and action. When God willed to give existence to creatures, He willed to ordain and direct them to an end.

Are we to believe that all other beings have an end, yet humans – the most complicated and advanced beings of creation – do not?  An acorn is gifted with an end to become an oak, but a human is left as a meaningless drifter?

Aquinas, like Aristotle, leaned on reason as the means through which ethics can be discovered; Aquinas, unlike Aristotle, places love in a higher place than reason when searching for ethics.  Jesus, being the embodied Form of the Good, offered:

Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment.  39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Aquinas leaned on reason; his foundation, however, was love: beatitudo – other-regarding action, the Golden Rule. It isn’t merely that love is higher than reason.  Reason, properly channeled, leads us to love: beatitudo.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Libertarian Movement II


I will meander a bit.  I think there is a common thread throughout this post, but I probably won’t spend too much time to try and tie it all together.  In some fashion, an idea buried in here might end up being a chapter in the book; perhaps your feedback will trigger something in me that will point to how and why.

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…this vicious attack on Dr. Paul from Nicholas Sarwark is really awful. Read it and weep for our movement.

-          Walter Block

My interest is not in Sarwark’s attack.  I haven’t bothered reading this most recent attack from Sarwark, as I have dealt with him in the past (here, then here); nothing surprises me here.  My interest is in Walter’s comment regarding “our movement.”  I have addressed this issue once before, but given the path I have walked since then I feel it is worth addressing again.

I will summarize my earlier comments: left-libertarians have more in common with the left generally than they do with conservative libertarians; conservative libertarians have more in common with other conservatives than they do left-libertarians.  In other words, the value we hold in our “libertarianishness” is small relative to the other values we hold.

On what basis would I want to form a movement with abortion-approving, LGBTQ+++ supporting, open-borders, universalist libertarians?  On what basis would libertarians who support such issues want to form a movement with me?

C. Jay Engel captures this well in his essay entitled “Libertarianism’s Place In Society”:

Libertarianism as a unifying spirit is only conceivable because we operate in a world that has experienced the imposition of a political society.

I have commented on his piece here:

Libertarians are connected to each other in their (varying levels of) anti-statism.  But this only means that libertarians see the problem only one way, through one lens, and with only one tool available to deal with it – and it is the state that has defined the way, the lens, and the tool that many libertarians choose to use.

How does one get a “movement” out of that?

(Engel continues his examination of these ideas here, looking at “… the differences between rightism and leftism and how libertarianism relates to these distinct frameworks of social interpretation.”)

If we think that liberty will be found at the end of the road called “libertarianism,” we are sorely mistaken.

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I must admit, I remain tremendously struck by Murray Rothbard’s comments on ethical absolutism (yes, he is in favor); citing Rothbard:

What I have been trying to say is that Mises's utilitarian, relativist approach to ethics is not nearly enough to establish a full case for liberty. It must be supplemented by an absolutist ethic — an ethic of liberty, as well as of other values needed for the health and development of the individual — grounded on natural law, i.e., discovery of the laws of man's nature.

“A full case for liberty” will be found on the road that includes “other values…grounded on [discovered] natural law.”

This really got me to thinking…how much have others – even his supporters – misrepresented Rothbard when it comes to libertarianism and liberty?  Or am I the only one that found Rothbard’s statement on what is necessary for “a full case for liberty” inconsistent with what some of his supporters (and many of his detractors) characterize as Rothbard’s views?

Libertarians inherently accept an absolute ethic regarding certain values: do not hit first, do not steal my stuff.  What makes these acceptable?  Why are these absolute?  Why do we accept these?  If these are absolute and acceptable, why do libertarians believe that these are the ONLY absolute and acceptable values for humans?  Why do libertarians not concede that there are other absolute and objective values for humans – and for human liberty?

Why, when some libertarians point out the necessity of other values – if liberty is the objective – are they the ones labeled “thick”?

Conclusion

When it comes to finding liberty, Rothbard certainly does not believe that these are the only absolute and acceptable values.  As is true for almost everything else I have written, I come to find that Rothbard already wrote the book.

Epilogue

I know that I have read this work from Rothbard before, long ago.  I think I must not have been mature enough to understand it.