Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Name Your Poison

There is not one way to look at history or an event in or era of history.  What might be deemed progress when viewed through one lens could appear as decline when viewed through another.  This is most certainly true regarding the topic that has occupied a good amount of my reading and writing over the years:

Thus, if we value the emergence of the individual from ancient confinements of patriarchal kinship, class, guild, and village community, the outcome of modern European history must appear progressive in large degree…. From the point of view of the individual – the autonomous, rational individual – the whole sequence of events embodied in the Renaissance, Reformation, and Revolution must appear as the work of progressive liberation.

A valid view of the history, but not a complete view.

If, on the other hand, we value coherent moral belief, clear social status, cultural roots, and a strong sense of interdependence with others, the same major events of modern history can be placed in a somewhat different light.

The changes have brought on moral uncertainty, confusion in cultural meanings, and disruption in social contexts.  In other words, changes that seem to move society away from a possibility of freedom.

As you know, it is my view that since man cannot be reduced to a mere economic being, he will find social contact where he can.  This has been found in the state, as all other social contacts have been made less and less relevant.

The changes can be summarized in the transition from medieval to modern Europe.  Nisbet offers, regardless of one’s view of medieval society, a few characteristics cannot be dismissed: first, the pre-eminence of small social groups such as family, guild, village and monastery; second, the centrality of personal status.

The reality of the separate, autonomous individual was as indistinct as that of centralized political power.  Both were subordinated to the immense range of association that lay intermediate to individual and ruler….

The patriarchal family, church, and guild were such intermediating institutions.  But if one accepts that someone or something will be in charge around here, which of the two is preferable: centralized political power or decentralized intermediates?  And, I guess, if one does not accept that someone or something will be in charge around here, finding examples in history are like finding needles in a haystack.

Medieval law is incomprehensible if one ignores this decentralized reality: property belonged not to the individual but to the family; law could not penetrate the threshold of the family.  Even the relatively “freer” air of the towns was a model of corporate association: one can consider guilds (or associations of merchants and tradesmen), for example, as controlling institutions; on the other hand, one can consider guilds as a form of decentralized governance.  Those in the guild were expected to live within its customs as sure as the peasant was on the manor.

Law and custom were virtually indistinguishable, and both were hardly more than the inner order of association.

Imagine if the laws of the west were nothing more than generally accepted custom – even our custom of today, distorted and abused by decades and centuries of subsidized destruction.  We (libertarians) will often say that most people live in a manner consistent with the non-aggression principle in their daily activities and relationships.  This is custom.  What if this was also the law?

Although there were both “Pharisees and Protestants in the medieval Church…the ethic of religion and the ethic of community were one.”  This unity of ethic came under assault both from decay within and from reformers without. 

In Wyclif we find an almost modern devotion to the individuality of conscience and faith and a devotion also to a political environment capable of reducing the powers of the religious and economic institutions in society.  He was opposed to ecclesiastical courts, to monasteries, to hierarchy within the Church, to all of those aspects of Christianity that hemmed in, as it seemed, the right of individual judgment. 

Ultimately, this “devotion” was used by political leaders to wrest authority from the Church and monopolize authority in themselves – the beginnings of the modern State.

Not without cause has Wyclif been called the morning star of the Reformation.

The modern economy is certainly a contributing factor to this lack of functionality in traditional governance institutions and decentralized authorities, yet Nisbet does not see it as the primary agent in the transformation:

For with all the recognition of the influences of factors, technology, the free market, and the middle class, the operation of each of these has been given force only by a revolutionary system of power and rights that cannot be contained within the philosophy of economic determinism.  This system is the political State.


Nisbet offers:

The affinity between extreme religious individualism and allegiance to central national power…is an actual historical affinity.

I think history cannot be ignored on this point.  There may be more causation than correlation, given that the rise of individualism and the decline of competing governance institutions are two sides of the same coin.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Memorial Day

My version of Memorial Day: remembering some of the non-combatant victims of war during the last century or two:

The American South at the hands of Lincoln and Sherman.

Filipinos at the hands of the Americans.

Koreans at the hands of the Japanese.

Up to 1.5 million Armenians of Eastern Anatolia during the First World War, at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.

Anyone who live in the lands between Russia and Germany during the first half of the twentieth century…at the hands of the Russians and Germans.

Countless millions of Ukrainians at the hands of Stalin’s forced famine.

Hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens, victims of Stalin’s Great Terror.

German victims of Allied bombings of civilian populations.

Up to 14 million Germans forcibly relocated (and up to 1 million killed) after World War Two, at the hands of the victorious Allies.

At least 200,000 Japanese at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  And here.  And here.  By you-know-who.

Millions of Palestinians (and counting) at the hands of the Jews.  And here.  And here.  And here.

There are many more examples: Chinese at the hands of the Japanese; Koreans in the 1950s and Vietnamese in the 1960s and 1970s – both at the hands of American; pretty much everyone living in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. 

I just haven’t written much about these yet.  Look, don’t blame me: you try to keep up with all of these atrocities.


Anyway, that’s my Memorial Day.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Making America Irrelevant Again

It is easy to say that Trump is failing on the one thing I thought made him a better candidate than most others two years ago and that is on the issue of war and empire.  Well, that and he was a great stick in the eye of those who work hard to control the narrative.

I must admit, in many ways he is turning out even better than I had hoped…well, if we all (literally) survive his time in office.

Internationally, can you think of a time in your lifetime when the United States government so consistently and widely – and openly – made itself a pariah?  For the Europeans, it is the Iran nuclear deal; for East Asians, it is North Korea; for Arabs not associated with the Kingdom…well, that’s pretty much the same as always, but Nikki Haley has a way of putting an exclamation point on it, doesn’t she.

On trade it’s the TPP, NAFTA, China dumping, etc.  Every action drives allies away and drives all players to find ways to circumvent or avoid US markets, the US Dollar, US technology, etc.

Nationally…the election itself made clear the divide in America – the red counties vs. the blue counties; the deplorables vs. the “civilized.”  We have the NFL and the flag – America, love it or leave it has come back in vogue.  All thanks to the Donald.

Trump is doing more to accelerate the decentralization of the empire and the decentralization of the country than any other president in my lifetime.  As libertarianism in theory is decentralization in practice – and as I suggested a year ago – I think Trump is the most libertarian president of my lifetime.

Does this end with the end of his presidency?  I don’t think so.  These trends are all inevitable; we can only thank God that the right man showed up at the right time to accelerate the process.  Whoever comes next won’t matter (although if the deplorables don’t get what they want this time, the civilized might look longingly back on the days of Trump), because the direction is inevitable and won’t be reversed.

Speaking of the end of his presidency, it seems to me that Trump is setting up for a smashing victory in the upcoming mid-terms.  I have suspected for quite some time that he (along with a subset of republicans in congress and some in the administration) are lining up their investigative actions and news leaks to come exploding full-tilt on the scene about four weeks before the November elections.

We know the news already and that it will be bad for the democrats.  Trump is merely orchestrating the timing.  Talk about tearing the country apart, I think we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Like I said, the most libertarian president of my lifetime.

Monday, May 21, 2018

This Will Be Entertaining

I don’t mean my post (as I leave this to you to decide), but the comments section….

Still holding fresh the memory of our little Jordan Peterson slugfest in the comments, I offer a tidbit from a discussion between Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro.  As it is a video, I will do my best to capture the dialogue; I will only paraphrase it as the two speak very rapidly, sometimes jamming several thoughts into one.  You can hear the dialogue directly, beginning at the 42:00 minute mark. 

Shapiro asks about the meaning of the Tree of Good and Evil from the Garden of Eden; what did man do wrong by eating from the tree?  He constructs his arguments and then answers his question as follows:

1)      The rules for behavior are embedded in the object, and God made these rules in Creation.
2)      What makes a man good is what makes a man unique – his reason.
3)      Acting in accordance with right reason is what makes an action good.
4)      God makes the universe along these lines of right reason; natural law is the human attempt to understand the lines along which God created the universe.
5)      Where humans went wrong is when they decided to separate values from the universe – humans decided that values are a completely separate thing from how God made the universe.
6)      We believe that we can construct the rules arbitrarily; we can depart from natural law.
7)      So eating from the Tree changes the nature of good and evil, from nature coming with God’s rules to humans believing they can use their own intuition to supplant God’s rules with their own rules.

Peterson replies:

1)      That’s associated to some degree with Milton’s warning in Paradise Lost; Milton portrays Lucifer as the spirit of unbridled rationality – which accounts for the Catholic Church’s antagonism of rationality.  (I will touch on the second part of this comment later.)
2)      It is the same idea in the Tower of Babel: human beings have a proclivity to erect their own dogmatic ethical systems and then to expand them into a grandiosity that challenges the transcendent – and that is a totalitarian catastrophe.
3)      For Milton, Satan was the spirit that eternally does this, believing “everything I know is enough.”  This supplants what I don’t know, the transcendent.
4)      How that is associated with the Knowledge of Good and Evil, well you’re making some headway toward sorting that out.

This realization causes Peterson to perhaps reconsider his interpretation of the meaning of the story of the Tree and Adam and Eve.  Of course, if Peterson was a faithful reader of bionic mosquito, he would have come to see this long ago.

If he chases this to its logical conclusion, this understanding will end up causing Peterson – and maybe Shapiro, although I don’t know his thoughts as well – to reconsider his conclusions from the Enlightenment: individual good, group bad (which in his construct already causes some contradictions, as the “individual good” part really has no defense against the infinite number of gender pronouns – the fighting against which has made his fame).

What was the Enlightenment but the final nail in the coffin of supplanting God’s natural law for man’s reason – a coffin which first started taking shape with the Renaissance and Reformation (well, really Adam and Eve, but you understand my meaning) and took full flower with the Progressive Era?  Once man’s reason was no longer chained by an underlying ethic, every path was possible – and the Enlightenment offered us a complete range, from Jefferson to Rousseau.  And worse, but more on this shortly.

At shortly after the 20 minute mark, Shapiro introduces this topic of the wave in current politics of favoring the group over the individual.  He also wants to address divisions within the group of thinkers who are friends of the Enlightenment – of which he includes both himself and Peterson (and Peterson does not object to this label).

Shapiro points to the numerous differences amongst this group of thinkers who are sympathetic to the Enlightenment – to include people like Steven Pinker and Sam Harris.  So what is the possibility of revivifying Enlightenment mentality – because we see the rise of the rejection of the Enlightenment in favor of this group mentality?  We forget: if we toss out this Enlightenment in favor of old-style tribalism, things get ugly.

But tribalism was tossed out with the Enlightenment, and it resulted in the bloodiest century known to man.  How much uglier were things during “tribalism”?  Peterson has to deal with this contradiction as well, as he rightly points to the evils of communism without also reconciling from whence it came. 

In any case, to Shapiro’s statement Peterson replies: that’s the question: what [from the Enlightenment] do you toss out the window before things get ugly?


Nope, that is the wrong question. The question is: what is required to be reintroduced that the Enlightenment destroyed?

Tribes: a group of people formed around kinship, culture, tradition, religion.  Man will forever form tribes.  There is no possibility of individual freedom without such a generally accepted social structure.

Of course, there is “bad” in tribes.  But, to borrow Peterson’s take on patriarchy, that’s not all that there is.  Peterson himself recognizes the value of tribe over individualism – first of all, by valuing the patriarchy; second on his position on open borders.  Regarding open borders and immigration (and I paraphrase):

A complex system cannot tolerate extensive transformation over too short a time.  Arms-open-to-everyone immigration policy is rubbish.  It should not be assumed that citizens of societies that have not evolved functional individual rights-predicated polities will hold values in keeping with such polities.

[And in his dripping, sarcastic tone] Don’t assume that when they immigrate that they will have their innate democratic longings flourish.

What is this other than a statement of the reality of tribes?  Might not be your definition or my definition of a tribe, but it is a statement that recognizes differences in kinship, culture, tradition, and religion.

The only open question: around what values and characteristics will these tribes be formed?  Will it be tribes that humans naturally chose or those forced upon them by the same creatures intent on destroying their naturally chosen tribes?

That is the question, Dr. Peterson.


Regarding Peterson’s comment about the Catholic Church’s antagonism to rationality: I am certainly no expert on this matter, but have done enough reading about the Middle Ages and the Church to at least comment.  Everyone can point to an example supportive of Peterson’s view here or there on this matter, but all of it is without context and in any case ignores the larger trends.

Monasteries were the foundation of a medieval industrial revolution; law was based on the rational natural law; medieval society offered a true liberalization – of slaves, women, checks on absolutism, etc.; the Catholic Church stood against socialist sects; the Church played a key role in decentralizing governance and saving the west.  Is that enough rationality for you?

Finally, one last Peterson contradiction: for one who leans so heavily on myth, it seems strange to label the Catholic Church as antagonistic to rationality.  Both Peterson and the Church look(ed) to the Bible for rationality.

Man’s reason cannot explain everything nor understand everything.  Peterson both accepts this and rejects this.  This seems irrational.

P.S.  But I still find good aspects in his work.