Saturday, June 28, 2008

Points to Ponder:

Tradition may be defined as the extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes: our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking about.

All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion,
even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father. [G.K. Chesterton: From Orthodoxy (circa 1908)]

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Miscellaneous Threads and Musings:

I have time to touch on a few threads at the moment so here goes...

Is France America's New Best Friend?

I would be curious to know the views of any the French readers of this weblog about their current president having made my views on President Sarkozy known on this weblog in the past. Is the election of Sarkozy representative of a paradigm shift for the French people or will the next election be back to more of the recent past status quo??? That is something I would be interested in finding out from any French readers of this humble weblog.

Europe struggles to keep reform plans alive after Irish reject treaty

There is something to be said about the Irish being a stubborn people :)

McCain attacks Guantánamo ruling

Senator McCain earns some brownie points for taking the stand he did against the latest round of judicial activism by the Supreme Court.

Though overall the Roberts Court has pleased me greatly compared to its predecessors of recent decades; nonetheless, the occasional decision such as this reminds us all that there are still some on the court whose vote essentially is tied to a lack of solid judicial philosophy and thus subject to personal inclinations. I may go over that in detail another time{1} if so inclined but for the time being that is all I intend to say on it.


{1} I will only note here briefly that the role of a justice is to interpret the law and not invent law. This may well mean rendering a ruling that is opposed to the individual justice's personal views on a matter.

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On Coercion, the War on Terror, "Torture", and "Fantasy Situations":
(An Attempted Dialogue With the Words of Mark Shea -Part I of III)

[Prefatory Note: This material was primarily written last October but for various and sundry reasons remained incomplete until recently when I had a bit of time and decided to make some minor revisions and complete it. I have also decided for easier viewing to divide the thread into multiple parts.-ISM]

When I see people actually stop shrieking and come across as trying to be calm and rational -for whom experience of their failure to conform to basic strictures of a rational discussion/authentic dialogue has told me to ignore them- I must admit of a degree of surprise. As one of those parties (Mark Shea) did this some time ago in a couple of postings to his weblog, I will actually interact now with what he had to say in them.

I am not sure what it is -maybe it was an approaching birthday when the bulk of this post was drafted and reflecting on the knowledge that I am a little bit closer to the grave{1} as a result. Either way though, I have been critical of the man for taking "drive by" approaches to subjects which are much more complicated than he cares to admit and that is hardly going to change anytime soon when he takes that approach on issues that I believe are serious ones.

However, out of principle and as he appears in the material to be covered to be making an attempt to muse calmly, it seems appropriate to give some due notice to it as the issues are more important than personalities that express them. Without further ado (his words will be in dark green font) here is some interaction with those threads starting with the first of the two...

I notice in my comboxes that people are playing "What if?" games. It's a happy pastime sometimes. It's the birth of all stories. "What if a little girl rode a tornado to a land beyond the rainbow?" "What if you could travel in time?"

However, it can also be the birth of sin and, in this particular case, I would warn against it, since the topic under discussion is the umpteenth iteration of "Okay, so when *would* it be okay to torture somebody?"

When the term in question is not given a definition, it is subject to a variety of applications some proper and some improper. I could say more but readers need to remember that at the outset because the rest of Mark's comments in this thread build on that premise -not to mention those of the people he is responding to -presuming for the moment that he is not misrepresenting the people he is responding to of course.{2}

The game works this way: Propose some incredibly unlikely scenario. Your son is kidnapped and buried in a box and you have the guy who did it, but he won't tell you where you kid is. What do you do?

The reason such scenarios are sinful to contemplate, I think, is not because of the story idea itself, but because of the larger cultural context in which such fantasizing occurs.

Let's change the scene. You are from a family of multiple divorce and remarriage. Most of your friends are the same. Your own marriage is a bit rocky and your secretary is hot and sending out the signals that she is available and not terrible concerned about the integrity of the sacrament of marriage.

At this point, do you a) make it clear to the secretary that you are a Catholic and such things are absolutely off-limits and will not take place in this office or b) have long, leisurely lunchtime conversations with friends in which you speculate over and over and over about whether we can really know if our marriage is a valid one, if there is room in the Church's teaching for the concept of open marriage, and what you would do if a nuclear holocaust left you permanently separated from your wife (alive but on another continent) and still bound to try to repopulate the earth with the hot secretary who was one of your few fellow survivors.

An impartial observer would get the sense that there is a certain unhealthy agenda at work here.

In the same way, these preposterous ticking bomb scenarios say very loudly, "We are indulging the spirit of fear." The counsel of the gospel is "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself." Hypotheticals are fun and all, but, when they feed the spirit of fear (meaning not, "Healthy fear of God" but "servile fear of suffering") the wisdom of the saints is, "Crucify them!" Find something else to talk about and Be Not Afraid.

Okay, I agree with the substance of what Mark appears to be saying -at least with the analogy he supplies. The problem is, he is context switching and comparing areas where Catholic principles are solid and indisputable (i.e. committing adultery which is a defined concept and is always wrong period: ditto with the Catholic understanding of the indissolubility of a valid marriage) with areas which are not so solid and indisputable (i.e what is "torture" and what does it consist of).

I wish I could say I was surprised but when you have people unwilling to define the terms they use, this is the sort of stuff you are left with. I wish I could say Mark was contributing to greater understanding and a fruitful dialogue on these matters but alas, history does not support this presumption.

Mark has on some issues the very bad habit of presuming the worst in other people without warrant to do so. He also presumes with equally less warrant that those who disagree with him on matters where Church doctrine or its applications are not an open and shut situation that if they disagree with his interpretation that they are somehow less than concerned for Church doctrine, lack of concern for Catholic principles of human dignity, lack of concern for people in general, the supporting some enthroning of Caesar about Christ, etc. There is a common thread running through all of these presumptions and it is intrinsically alien to a proper Catholic temperament.This is a serious problem but it is also not Mark's alone but instead is a product of the modern media culture.

As I will note should a dialogue on atomic weaponry and its usages in 1945 be undertaken at some point as previously planned{3} that the joint statement of principles that my dialogual partner and I have both given our concurrence to will contain among other things this passage:

[A] problem of modern life is the loss of a habit of mind that allows differentiation of arguments from quarrels with the result that disagreements or attempts at correction tend to be destructive rather than constructive.

There has been a lot of that both at Mark's site as well as other places. Mark does not seem to understand that this presupposition on his part is what fuels a lot of the vitriol against him -well that and his presumption that he has found some Rosetta Stone to interpreting the rationales behind those who disagree with him and being unwilling to consider the possibility that his lack of charity on these matters is the sin that has made him "stupid" to paraphrase one of his favourite slogans for a moment.{4} Let us now consider the follow up thread he wrote to those who apparently took issue with what was covered above.

Several people objected to my Be Not Afraid post for various reasons yesterday. HokiePundit, who apparently originated the discussion thought I was making fun of him. Seamus pointed out the analogy I used is flawed (which I grant). Others have other objections.

It is good to see that Mark acknowledges that his analogy in the previous material was to some degree problematical -I for one pointed out some of the problems with it above. But enough on that for now -his admission is appreciated.

First things first, my apologies to Hokie for hurting his feelings. It was not my intention. I was running around yesterday and only glanced in to see the discussion was in progress. I didn't pay attention to names, merely to the basic idea being kicked around. So I was not making fun of him (or of anybody else). (I'm not sure why, but when I'm being serious, I often find readers think I'm being either facetious or flippant and when I'm being silly, they take me seriously.) At any rate, I was trying to address something quite serious.

The reason I chose to interact with these threads of his is because I sensed Mark was actually doing more than his usual flippant modus opperandi on these kinds of subjects. And as one who has written posts on the fly which were not as sharp{5} as the ones I have taken more time and greater precision on, I will certainly extend to him leeway that his above thread was one of those "write on the fly" sorts of blogs that anyone familiar with this medium knows can happen from time to time.

The purpose of my analogy was not to say that hypotheticals about extremely desperate situations are intrinsically sinful. They are, as I say, the basis of a thousand really good stories. Indeed, the Greeks *loved* these sorts of moral conundrum: Do you bury your dead brother in defiance of the king's mortal decree and die as a result or leave him to rot and incur the wrath of the gods? Nor was it to say or suggest that the questions being asked were not asked in good faith. Nor was it to say that temptation to torture is the same sort of temptation as the temptation to sleep with the hot secretary, as though somebody is suggesting it would be fun.

My point was simply this: Temptation is temptation. And temptation *always* looks like a good thing at the time and we can *always* find ways of explaining to ourselves how this temptation is different then the temptations of Those People Over There.

Point taken.

Now the readers of this blog are not, I presume, living in a situation where they are contemplating adultery. But we are living in a situation where we are bombarded continually with another sort of temptation: the temptation to servile fear of death and suffering. All you need to do is click over to Drudge to get the latest terrifying visions of World War III to know that. And when you are tempted to be terrified, you tend to base your thinking on your fears, just as when you are tempted sexually you tend to base your thinking on your desires. That's what concupiscence means. It is the darkened intellect, disordered appetites, and weakened will that results from the fall. As a result, we often don't think clearly, act sensibly, or do the hard thing God demands. That's the human condition. And it's why revelation and grace are necessary.

Certainly revelation and grace are necessary. However, what is also necessary is proper respect and care of the natural faculties God gave us -the ones where we are made in His image. I refer to reason and logic and note as I have many times in the past{6} the importance of taking them seriously at all times. One reason people often do not think clearly is that they do not have a grasp of the proper meaning of the terms and concepts which they employ. Logic is an exacting discipline and when you do not have points of reference embodied in definitions which are "the tools of thought" (cf. M. Mentzer) you cannot reason at all. And on this issue, it is the lack of concern for clarifying the terms we use which creates a good chunk of the acrimony -well that and emotions tending to override reason which is a secular explanation of sorts for the theological concept of "concupiscence" that Mark mentioned earlier.

That is not to say that everyone who uses a term uses it in precisely the same way of course or even if there was an agreed upon universal meaning for certain nebulous terms that areas of disagreement would evaporate of course. But these matters cannot be hurt by greater clarity, only hindered and readers should consider the parties who strive for clarity of expression and those who not only do not but even mock in various supposedly "clever ways" the very notion.

When we are tempted, we do not help ourselves think clearly by rasping away at a raw nerve that is already overstimulated. Yes, kidnappings happen. Yes, 9/11 happened. Yes, there are desperadoes.

This is true; however we also do not help ourselves think clearly by muddling the meaning of terms and not concerning ourselves with precise meanings. We do not render a service to the discipline of the dialogue by such actions but instead it is made a mockery of. And those who involve themselves in the latter contribute to the degeneration of rational thought and become handmaidens to a kind of neo-fideism whether they realize it or not.

Does it follow from this that our thinking about interrogation and the rights of the human person before the law should be predicated on what we would do in some absolutely desperate hypothetical situation that is less likely than a lightning strike? I submit the answer is no.

Does it follow that our thinking about interrogation and the rights of the human person before the law should be extended to include no privations of any sort whatsoever for those subjected to interrogation to compel them to potentially valuable information to prevent other attacks such as what we saw on 9/11??? Shall we house them all in the Waldorf Astoria and try and pamper from them information that may save the innocent people from future attacks such as what we saw on 9/11??? I submit the answer is not only no but hell no.

I further submit that, in a time when the state has *already* arrogated to itself the power to take exactly these desperate measures against anybody the Executive chooses, it is unwise to, as Screwtape says, crowd to that side of the boat that is already nearly gunwale under or run around with fire extinguishers during a flood. We need to concern ourselves far more with limiting the power of the state than we do with what we'd do if somebody locked our son in a box.

I am all in favour of limiting the power of the federal government. How come though people such as Mark have no problem (or at least they express no problem with) the federal leviathan going into a whole host of areas where it has no explicit or even logically implied Constitutional sanction; however in areas where there is Constitutional sanction{7} all of a sudden there is a problem with "the power of the state" according to them??? It is nice to see Mark on this issue become a foe of the federal leviathan considering that folks such as myself have been one for decades now.

To be Continued...


{1} Assuming for a moment that I live at least as long as the national average: considering some of those I know who in recent years have passed on short of it by a bit, more than a bit, or even significantly so, this is not a presumption to make lightly.

{2} This is a presumption that based on his history stretches the bands of credulity past the snapping point but for the sake of this posting, I am going to make it nonetheless.

{3} It kept getting postponed and (unfortunately) as with anyone my non-blogging schedule dictates and takes precedence over my blogging one -particularly in light of the new year and certain factors (outlined here) which are more applicable now than previously.

{4} "Sin makes you stupid" is the slogan as he phrases it.

{5} I doubt the readers would generally know which of the posts in the archive I am talking about -suffice to say I know about them and that is all I plan to say on the matter.

{6} To note all the threads where I have covered this to some extent or another would be to make an unwieldy list. I will therefore confine myself to just what was posted this year last year and note a few shorter and a few longer threads where various facets pertaining to reasoning and the use of logic were treated on -first the shorter ones in order from newest to oldest:

A Fatal Rational Flaw in the Atheist/Agnostic "Empiricism Only" Weltanschauung (circa October 17, 2007)

Points to Ponder From Mike Mentzer on the Importance of Establishing Precise Definitions For Clarity in Thought (circa October 13, 2007)

On Why Reason and Logic Are So Indispensable (circa July 29, 2007)

And now a few longer ones where these matters are covered in some detail from oldest to newest:

On the Difference Between Objective Meaning and Subjective Intention (circa February 27, 2007)

On the Appeal to Authority and Distinguishing Between Valid and Fallacious Appeals Thereof (circa March 8, 2007)

More on the Appeal to Authority and Distinguishing Between Valid and Invalid Appeals Thereof --With Jonathan Prejean (circa March 24, 2007)

On Ad Hominem, Revisiting Argumentum Ad Vericundiam, and Considering the Core Principle That Is Behind Any Argumentation/Logical Fallacy (circa June 1, 2007)

{7} Such as areas pertaining to national security to note one example pertinent to the matter in question.

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