Friday, October 18, 2019

Violence or Love


René Girard did a five-part series of interviews with the CBC in 2011.  Each part was one hour long, so this represents a very nice overview of his thoughts.  I will begin here with Part 3. As always, with audio or video interviews and discussions, quoted items are as close I as I can get them. 

Parts 1 & 2 offer a good introduction; I will not detail these here as the information is similar to an earlier post I wrote on Girard.  I only offer the following, from the earlier post:

Girard was a twentieth century philosopher.  His fundamental concept is ‘mimetic desire’.  This is more than imitation.  Students of Plato understand that humans are the species most apt at imitation; per Girard, we also imitate desire and this can sometimes lead to conflict as we desire the same things.  My focus will specifically be his views on the scapegoat and the victim, and how this mechanism was used to reduce conflict in early societies and how this evolved via Christianity.

For those still confused about what any of this has to do with liberty, might I suggest that liberty has a chance to be sustained in a peaceful society; it stands no chance in a society consumed by conflict.  Property rights, let alone life, stand no chance against a societal mob.

Now on to comments from the interview.  The general theme of Part 3 is that sacrifice would no longer work as a method of reducing conflict via the sacrifice of a scapegoat.  This change was seen even during the time of the Hebrew prophets:

The prophets offered that sacrifice no longer works; a new way had to be found.  The new way was through Jesus.  Instead of dealing with risk of escalating violence, we are to turn the other cheek.

It was the message of the Cross that put the exclamation point on this new way:

Regarding the Cross, when you see the truth of that violence, suddenly that violence repels you. 

The word Girard uses is “repels”: the violence of the Cross repels you.  It isn’t the Cross, but who was on the Cross, what He is, what He has done.  That He could have removed Himself from this violence with just a word; Herod was almost begging Him for this.  But He knew what had to be done if there was to be hope of ending the violence without further sacrifice.  So, He did not offer a word to Herod. 

Before the Cross, every violence is portrayed as heroic, epic, even tragedy – justifying the casting out of the victim. Only the Bible doesn’t do that. 

There were hints of the change to come in the Old Testament.  Elsewhere Girard has noted hints of this in the Cain and Abel story, or in the brothers casting out of Joseph.  In these stories, the violence was not heroic; it was condemned.  Jesus brought this change – hinted at in the Old Testament and in the prophets – to completion:

Jesus’s teaching is a teaching of escalating violence when the old sacrificial order is undone.  The injunction to love your enemy is the way of dealing with certain, critical situations. 

What does Girard mean by this?  Without the old sacrificial order, the choice is either escalating violence or love.  There is no third way.

Jesus destroys the whole concept of sacrificial violence by accepting it – even when forsaken by God and abandoned by Peter. 

The most perfect and innocent sacrifice was offered.  If this wasn’t sufficient to end the escalation of violence, it would mean the apocalypse.  By apocalypse, Girard doesn’t see God throwing down lightning bolts from heaven or any such thing as this; instead:

If we increase the violence, we are going to kill each other; the apocalypse is right here.  The apocalypse is not some invention; if we are without sacrifices, either we are going to kill each other or we are going to die.  We have no more protection of our own violence.  Either we are going to follow the Kingdom of God, or we are going to die.

I recall from something else I had seen or read of Girard.  He believes that what is written in the Bible about the apocalypse is a warning: this is what man will bring on himself if he does not move toward love.

It would seem that this is where we are.  We no longer have a community that will coalesce around a common scapegoat; we certainly are not following the Kingdom of God and love.  This is clear within the West.

We may also get the version of Armageddon as desired by Christian Zionists, but it won’t be God’s doing.  Per Girard (and it is also my view) mankind is perfectly capable of destroying itself without any help from God.

Conclusion

Therefore, we owe so much to the Bible – yet we cannot recognize our debt.  When we criticize the Bible, we can only criticize it with the Bible – we cannot criticize it with The Iliad, not with Greek philosophy. 

This is the farce of modern society.  Many believe that without the Bible, there will be peace.  But it was only through the Bible that we are able to criticize violence; violence was accepted as normal – even desired – outside of the Biblical tradition. 

We have assimilated it so much that we cannot even recognize that what we have assimilated comes from the Bible: violence is ugly, and not heroic.

Not that peace totally ruled the land after the Cross – even among Christians.  Human behavior does not change so quickly.  But when we look back at our history today, we condemn wrong that which was previously accepted.  We criticize, but we are looking through the wrong end of the telescope.  We have the luxury of looking backwards on institutions such as slavery with a more refined ethic; but this ethic has only been refined thanks to Christianity.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Meaning Making and Liberty


In Episode 38 of his pursuit to develop a religion that is not a religion, John Vervaeke has come to the heart of it.  In the search for meaning, he has come to agape!  All quotes are from Vervaeke (paraphrased, given the source is video), unless otherwise noted:

Agape is to love for its own sake the process of meaning making and the process of meaning making is the process of being a person.  This is agape.  The sense of being connected to other people, agape-ly.

What does this have to do with a search for liberty?  We will come to the intersection of the meaning crisis and the root of Natural Law, as the two are grounded in exactly the same place.

First, some expansion on the word agape; from Wikipedia:

Agape is a Greco-Christian term referring to love, "the highest form of love, charity" and "the love of God for man and of man for God". … it embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance. It goes beyond just the emotions to the extent of seeking the best for others.

Although it is a Greek word, “There are few instances of the word agape in polytheistic Greek literature.”

Next, from a Christian source:

The word "agape" is used 106 times throughout the New Testament. … the Greek word agapē which is supposed to be the highest expression of love—a pure, selfless, unconditional thing.

Recall beatitudo, the end or purpose of man.  In English, we translate this word as “happiness,” but it is much deeper than this:

Beatitudo: (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.

And here is the connection to Natural Law, and hence the foundation for natural rights which then can withstand assaults on liberty.  I cannot give you a theological or academic explanation of the subtle differences between the words agape and beatitudo.  The best I can do: we must act with agape in order to achieve beatitudo; we must act with unconditional love in order to reach the proper end or purpose of man – happiness.

Returning again to Vervaeke:

That exists independently of me, you, us, a group. Because agape precedes, permeates and follows us. 

It seems it is not something that each of us, as individuals, can create or invent.  It exists, we must discover it and mature it in us.

Whatever machinery we craft together for addressing the perennial problem has to be integrated and grounded in an agapeic way of being.  We have to care about the conditions that make any caring possible.

It points to caring about something that is inherently transjective and has a value independent of my valuing of it.  I emerge from it and participate in it; I am not the source or maker of it.

Well, you ask, then who – or what – is the source?  No, in this lecture it will not be the answer that comes naturally.  But more on that later.  I had to look up transjective.  This is a new term in philosophy, revising the subject-object definition:

…it is the subject-mind and material body of which it has an inner sense. It is the subject and the subject’s body together. You are the only being that can describe yourself as a transject. You can only describe yourself as being transjective.

Returning to Vervaeke, he will use third generation cognitive science to address this.  Apparently, it is OK to ground this in – or have resonance with – Buddhism.  It is, apparently, not OK to ground it in Christianity – the only religion that has offered us the archetypical example of agape and beatitudo. 

Vervaeke then presents the four “E”s of cognitive science:

The first E, can be represented by these four words: embodied, embedded, enactive, extended.  It undermines the way that Descartes severed everything: the mind and the body are not disconnected – they are in a deep continuity; the mind and the world are not disconnected – they are in a deep continuity of embeddedness and enactive processing.

Next, emergence: This means we are starting to get a vertical dimension back to our ontology: not a two-worlds vertical dimension, but the idea of emergence through complexification.  It is self-organizing (fire, combustion, a tornado, evolution, all are self-organizing).  Not just self-organizing but self-making.  These can then become self-identifying things.

So, no two-worlds (heaven and earth?  God and man?).  Self-organizing and self-identifying.  I must be in control – mind, body…and soul?

It is self-transcendence.  A normative order is being given a metaphysical backing. 

I am the metaphysical backing for my self-transcendence.  (Toward the end of the series he will discuss this bottom-up emergence, and if it needs to be complimented by the metaphysical idea of a top-down emanation.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Peak Wokeness


This is really a gift that just keeps on giving….

As a reminder, Daryl Morey – general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets – tweeted a few days ago: “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.”

All hell broke loose: the NBA makes a lot of money in China, NBA teams were playing in China, the Chinese government cancelled various promotional events and tore down banners.  It may be the most expensive tweet in history.

Then we had the most outspoken woke leaders of the NBA either silent or wishy-washy: Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich, and the many over-sized personalities to be found amongst the ranks of the players.  None of them ever shy to criticize something of America or Trump – but never the important stuff like war, empire, or all spying all the time (in fact, these same people are found praising one or more of these).

No one from the contingent of the woke said anything of substance…until now.  Following is from an interview with Lebron James; his team – the Los Angeles Lakers – was one of the teams in China when all hell broke loose. 

LeBron said Morey was ‘misinformed’ about the ramifications of his tweet, and not ‘educated’ about the situation.

He then said ‘so many people could have been harmed, not only financially, but physically, emotionally, and spiritually.’

If that wasn’t enough, he went to twitter to clarify things:

My team and this league just went through a difficult week.  I think people need to understand what a tweet or statement can do to others.  And I believe nobody stopped and considered what would happen.  Could have waited a week to send it.

It is interesting that counsel for considering what a tweet or statement can do is offered only when Lebron’s personal safety or wealth are at stake.

Let me clear up the confusion. I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet.  I’m not discussing the substance.  Others can talk About that.

Consequences and ramifications…rarely stopped the woke thought leaders before.  And when has Lebron not discussed the substance on any social issue?  I guess only when his personal safety or wealth are at stake.

Regarding his comments, the hypocrisy is overwhelming.  As was the reaction.  You really should go to the link to read the many powerful reactions – from some pretty well-known people.  A few samples:

Isaac Stone Fish: This is just stunning. The Lakers LeBron James, one of the most influential people in basketball and an outspoken voice in support of rights issues in the United States -- sides with the Chinese Communist Party and criticizes the Houston Rockets GM.

Derek Hunter: There was no confusion, LeBron. You care more about making more millions than you do human rights. You are also happy to attack the country that enabled you to make millions, but not the one paying your league billions. You have your priorities and freedom isn't one of them.

Clay Travis: Ultimately @KingJames, the woke media's star athlete, is a hypocritical sell out. If you pay him enough money, he won't just shut up and dribble, he'll also kneel before his Chinese masters

You get the idea.  Meanwhile, in Hong Kong:

Protestors in Hong Kong cheered when a ball dropped into the basket after smashing into a photo of LeBron James' face that was placed above the hoop.

They also trampled on jerseys bearing his name and gathered in a semicircle to watch one burn.

And now today:

…James was asked whether he had a sense of how his own comments would be felt in Hong Kong among protesters.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Definitions are Everything


One last post (I think) from the Yvonne Lorenzo interview of the Saker.  This one will be quite different, as I believe that there is a bridge to be built between the Saker and at least one segment of adherents to Austrian Economics.

Lorenzo’s opening statement / question in her interview of the Saker included something on the generosity, or lack thereof, by Christians and others.  In his answer, the Saker made some comments on capitalism:

Modern “post-Christian pseudo-Christians” do not understand that. They somehow manage to delude themselves with the notion that capitalism can be compatible with Christianity. Truly, it is “either, or”. As Christ Himself said, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt 6:24). Ask yourself, what is capitalism at its core, as a worldview? Simply put, it is an worldview and ideology which claims that the sum of our greeds will result in an optimally organized society. What folly! Imagine what Christ or the Fathers would have to say about such demonically inspired nonsense!

“…[Capitalism] claims that the sum of our greeds will result in an optimally organized society.”  This does not conform to a definition of either capitalism or society that I comprehend.  Nor does it conform with ideas by advocates of capitalism from the Austrian School – as least those advocates of which I am most familiar.  “Organizing society” is not even in the job description of proper economists – despite the wishes of many economists and politicians.

The Saker further offers an extensive quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, much of which I agree with.  That the West is losing its religious essence – thought by many to therefore result in an increasing freedom – is, instead, enslaving us.  I have written too much about this to recount – including several cites from Solzhenitsyn expressing similar sentiments in the introduction to my book.

The Solzhenitsyn quote from the Saker includes the following:

Amid all the vituperation we forget that the defects of capitalism represent the basic flaws of human nature, allowed unlimited freedom together with the various human rights…


Now, definitions matter, and Saker will offer his more detailed description and definition of capitalism later in the comment section – as his criticisms of capitalism as being anti-Christian, despite being a small part of the interview, generated some lengthy discussion. 

I offer a description of capitalism by Ludwig von Mises, from his book The Anti-Capitalist Mentality (PDF) – the book cited by Lorenzo:

The characteristic feature of modern capitalism is mass production of goods destined for consumption by the masses.

This is the “characteristic feature”; certainly, there are other features, but Mises uniquely identifies this feature.

On the market of a capitalistic society the common man is the sovereign consumer whose buying or abstention from buying ultimately determines what should be produced and in what quantity and quality. (Page 1)

If one can find a “human right” in Mises’s definition of capitalism, I guess it would be this: that the consumer is sovereign – the consumer decides what he will buy, therefore what will be produced.

As one can see, this definition is not the one employed by the Saker, at least not to my understanding.  Please note what Mises also says in the same book:

Now, nobody ever contended that under unhampered capitalism those fare best who, from the point of view of eternal standards of value, ought to be preferred.

There is nothing about eternal standards of value in Mises’s description of capitalism.

What the capitalistic democracy of the market brings about is not rewarding people according to their "true" merits, inherent worth and moral eminence. (Page 9)

There is nothing about “an optimally organized society” in Mises’s description of capitalism.  It is a task for other disciplines (philosophy, theology, ethics, and political science), not for economics.  I want to be clear: I expect that what the Saker describes as “capitalism” is that which he sees around him in the West.  Mises would not describe what he sees around him in the West as capitalism.  Mises would certainly see capitalistic elements, but not a system as he has described in his writings.

This is why definitions matter.

So, I will tackle one objection at a time.  By the time I work through this, it should be clear that the objections raised by the Saker are also the same or similar objections raised by Ludwig von Mises and many economists associated with the Mises Institute.

He offers (on October 04, 2019 at 5:26 pm EST/EDT):

FIRST AND FOREMOST: it is based on usury.

Also on this point (on October 05, 2019 at 1:00 pm EST/EDT):

Finally, modern capitalism is ALWAYS based on banking and modern banking is ALWAYS based on usury. Which God and His Church have declared sinful and evil. (Emphasis in original)

I will not pretend to get at the bottom of the usury discussion in this post; it is a discussion that has gone on for 2000 years and more, and will continue long after I am dead.  The concept of usury existed well before anyone dreamt up the idea of capitalism – however capitalism is defined.

What I will offer – which I believe will resolve the overwhelming majority if not all of the difference between the Saker and Mises’s vision of capitalism on this point – is that what exists today is not a feature of any capitalist system that Mises would advocate. 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Mind Over Matter


Just some notes from a video by Paul VanderKlay (PVK): Mind, Matter, Math and Secularism as Amnesiac Christianity.  He analyzes a video of a discussion between William Lane Craig and Roger Penrose.  Penrose is the agnostic, with a view that mathematics can explain everything and is the basis of everything; Craig offers an interesting – and a bit frustrating for Penrose – counter.  The video closes with some worthwhile snippets from Rene Girard.

Penrose describes three realms: the physical; the mental; and the abstract – being the mathematical.  From these, there are three mysteries: all physics is explained by math; how can consciousness come when these physical circumstances arise; how do we use our conscious experience to understand math – as math is discovered, not invented.

Craig offers some thoughts: first, he commends Penrose, as he is different from many of the materialists – understanding that there are non-material realms also at work.  But this raises questions: what is underlying these three realms?  Which realm is the source?

It can’t be math – it is both abstract and discovered; it can’t be physics, as this doesn’t explain consciousness.  This leaves the mental: I can will to get up.  But no human mind can be the source of the physical or math – it suggests an infinite consciousness.

Penrose, trying to absorb the implications of his own worldview as logically examined by Craig, replies: “you have the mental world as necessary; I have the mathematical world as necessary.”  But Craig reminds: math is abstract – abstract can’t create anything; it has no causal powers: man uses the mental to then use math to build bridges, etc.  Math doesn’t build bridges.

It is here where Penrose stumbles – he might be able to work with this if Craig considers it in the realm of philosophy, but not if Craig is implying some sort of religion.  “It’s not that I am unhappy about it; I just don’t know what to do with it.”

PVK moves to an interview of Rene Girard – I will probably have more from this interview in the coming weeks, but one comment is worth touching on now: atheists use Christianity in order to then beat Christianity.  It is easy to point to medieval atrocities, etc.  But these are only atrocities to us today because we are viewing these through a Christian lens. 

As Girard offers: if someone went to the Roman two-thousand years ago with some complaint of justice or past atrocity (e.g. the taking of native lands, demands for reparations, etc.), the response would be “Who are you?  You are not a citizen.”  After which, a death sentence would be proclaimed.

It reminds me of Gerard Casey’s examination of the history of slavery.  We look at slavery today with revulsion – like how could our ancestors have been so cruel?  But this is looking at history backwards – slavery was an improvement to being slaughtered after defeat in battle. 

It is also applying a Christian lens to history (all men created in God’s image and all that this implies).  Absent the Christian lens, what is the argument?

Conclusion

We want math to be on the top of the pyramid, because then we are on top: math can’t control us.  We don’t want mind (religion) on top of the pyramid, because then we aren’t in control.  Of course, when math is on top and “we” are in control, just keep in mind: the “we” that is in control will never be “you.”  There will always be a stronger “we” that you will never get to be a part of.

Until a few hundred years ago, no one would have considered anything other than the mind (religion) in control – not believing in God (or the gods) would be like not believing in gravity.  Kind of silly once you start walking down the stairs.

The Enlightenment is an easy marker in this change, but obviously the switch was a transition and not an event.  The conversation happening today – and the root of the social-cultural divide so prominently on display in the West – is all driven by this transition and the empty hole it has left in meaning.