Tag Archives: battle of ideas

The War of The Cliche

There are so many cliches in our lives, idioms, and standard responses that go unconsidered; they are said without thought, and often they are evil. I know, it is perhaps considered incendiary to call something as simple as a cliche evil. But when good people repeat over and over little phrases or aphorisms that are kernels of bad thoughts and wicked philosophies, I think they are propagandizing themselves without even realizing it. They are teaching themselves to accept a certain set of ideas, that in its completion, is evil. For every evil saying however, I think there ought to be a good one. In many cases they already exist, it is just that in the modern world only a few old people still say the good ones. Here are the ones that brought this subject to mind.

Let us start with a stupid one: ‘That worked like a charm.’ Well, it just sat there making you feel psychologically better and perhaps a little smug? Did it have no effect, purpose or utility beyond merely placebo? Then it worked like a charm… as in, it did nothing. Even in this merely stupid idiom, there is a hint of the perverse. Superstition causes all manner of issues, and to speak as if charms work is for barbarians, not for either Christians nor atheists. Perhaps we could replace it with something like ‘Well that worked like gas chromatography!’…

220px-Gaschromatograph

Gas Chromatography… it really works!

Here is another questionable cliche: ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder.’ I could make a double case for this. In the short term, the desire to see someone or something makes a person fonder of that someone. However, in actuality, absence leads to, well more absence. Separation generally tends to making people grow apart. So… absence makes the heart grow… absent?

Ok, I said evil before, and now I will deliver. The cliche ‘The ends justify the means.’ and all of its counterparts, variations and modulations should be cut out of the vocabulary of every person and sent to hell. The belief that is the end is good enough, or desirable enough that it can justify any means is perhaps the leading excuse of all evil ever. For instance, communism claims to have a way to building a utopia, an earthly paradise. They just have to reorganize society, by force. And if you happen to be a kulak, well, ‘you have to break some eggs to make an omelet’.  Or if you are a Maoist, recall the 18-45 (Wikipedia numbers) million people who died in the ‘Great Leap Forward‘ to reorganize society. Or perhaps another example would be good. ‘You should have wisdom and understand good and evil (desirable end) so rebel against God (unjustifiable means).’ The opposite side of this cliche battle is perhaps ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ However, no one really says that, and it isn’t a terribly pithy saying. I think something like ‘evil means breed evil ends’ is better… but I don’t get to just make up sayings, its not like I am Ben Franklin.

Another evil one is used mainly by simpering fools who have never either physically or intellectually encountered any real violence. They say that violence begets violence. (A plethora of variants exist like: ‘War is not the answer.’ ‘stop the cycle of violence’) The constant harping on this from shows like Dr. Who makes me almost ready to give up the show entirely. In the episode ‘A Town Called Mercy’ the Doctor almost realizes his tragic flaw: his simpering inability to be Just. For the few people who may stumble upon this and not know Dr. Who, the Doctor has several enemies but I will just mention the Master. Over and over the Doctor spares the Master’s life, and over and over the Master commits genocide, slaughter, and all sorts of wicked crimes. (Which in a TV show, the villain should do bad things, that’s not the problem.) The problem is that the Doctor is culpable for letting a pure evil entity go, simply because he thinks that violence breeds violence. In reality, human nature breeds violence. I read an article recently about the warring in Congo. The author seemed utterly at a loss as to why the roving bands of men committed such horrific rapes: they serve no tactical purpose… The answer is simply that they do such things because there is no one to stop them. In reality, the only thing ever proven to stop a violent evil man is a good one willing to also commit violence. Think of the Waynes. (Dr. Who, the Congo, and now Batman? Deal with it, it’s a blog 🙂 )

Bruce’s parents were murdered because his dad was either unwilling or incapable of anything other than talk. Violence (shooting the criminal or just attacking him physically) might or would have stopped this violent act.Compare that ‘Throw me your wallet’ scene with the one from The Shootist (about 0:45 into this clip)

The only way to stop the horrors in the Congo is if large numbers of decent men (preferable an army) hunt down the bands of barbaric wicked ones, and do violence. I think this cliche was invented to make cowardice fashionable. Something I seem to recall Lewis talking about in The Screwtape Letters, how they (the devils) had not yet succeeded in making cowardice acceptable. I think, though the world view that gives up such idioms as ‘violence begets violence’, they (the devils again) rather have. As for the other side in this little battle, there is the cliche often attributed to Edmund Burk. ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ Again, not very pithy is it? I don’t have any suggestions for alternates though.

Well, my rant is over, and I only talked about four cliches. Oh well, feel free to bring up good or evil cliches in the comments.

Perfect Candidates

One of my many issues with Ron Paul is that he is treated by his supporters as the exactly right leader for the exactly right time. However, believing as the founders did that men are not angels, I do not believe that the perfect leader exists. To think this way is to philosophically cede the political argument to statists before the debate even begins. This topic is so well dealt with over at PJ Media that I will let you read it there. This is the conclusion which summarizes how I think about Romney, and I think every non-statist should think about every candidate they support. Ultimately, we cannot abdicate our authority to rule ourselves no matter how effective or good the candidate is.

Is he perfect? Oh, goodness, no. Is he exactly what we need? Probably not. Who is? Do you know the trouble we’ve got ourselves into by trusting presidents for this long? It’s a big hole. No one man can get us out of it. Only we can. And it will take time.

But that’s fine. He won’t be anointed by any gods. There will be no halos and no Greek columns. Instead, he’ll be the elected by the people and the people — the sovereign people of this free land — who are now awake will stand ready to make sure he knows it.

Perhaps we will once more save our democratic republic for another generation. Perhaps we’ll turn the tiller and start the long way back from deep blue statism.

In the end, as someone said, perhaps we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. No hero will ride to the rescue — we will.

We’re Americans. We don’t need emperors. (If that’s what you want, to quote Romney, “you must vote for the other guy.”) We don’t want lords and masters. We’re free and at last aware that we must work to stay that way.

Eliot and Moral Decay

Where to lay the blame for moral decay? Over at Penllyn Studio there is an excellent article, Fidelity and the Cultural Shift, but I wanted to disagree a bit on the location of the blame 🙂  Whenever people have desired to have consequence free sex, they have found a way. And (at least according to my new favorite exposition on culture: How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too)) People desire to have sex and no kids when their culture has arrived at despair. This feeling is really evinced in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Here is a portion: (long portion… but worth reading and thinking about.)

II. A Game of Chess

The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne, 77
Glowed on the marble, where the glass
Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
From which a golden Cupidon peeped out
(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)
Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra
Reflecting light upon the table as
The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,
From satin cases poured in rich profusion.
In vials of ivory and coloured glass
Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,
Unguent, powdered, or liquid – troubled, confused
And drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the air
That freshened from the window, these ascended
In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,
Flung their smoke into the laquearia, 92
Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.
Huge sea-wood fed with copper
Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone,
In which sad light a carvèd dolphin swam.
Above the antique mantel was displayed
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene 98
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king 99
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale 100
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
‘Jug Jug’ to dirty ears.
And other withered stumps of time
Were told upon the walls; staring forms
Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.
Footsteps shuffled on the stair.
Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair
Spread out in fiery points
Glowed into words, then would be savagely still.
‘My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
‘Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
‘What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
‘I never know what you are thinking. Think.’
I think we are in rats’ alley 115
Where the dead men lost their bones.
‘What it that noise?’
The wind under the door. 118
‘What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?’
Nothing again nothing.
‘Do
‘You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
‘Nothing?’
I remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
‘Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?’ 126
But
O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag – 128
It’s so elegant
So intelligent
‘What shall I do now? What shall I do?’
‘I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
‘With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?
‘What shall we ever do?’
The hot water at ten.
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess, 138
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.
When Lil’s husband got demobbed, I said –
I didn’t mince my words, I said to her myself,
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
Now Albert’s coming back, make yourself a bit smart.
He’ll want to know what you done with that money he gave you
To get herself some teeth. He did, I was there.
You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set,
He said, I swear, I can’t bear to look at you.
And no more can’t I, I said, and think of poor Albert,
He’s been in the army for four years, he wants a good time,
And if you don’t give it him, there’s others will, I said.
Oh is there, she said. Something o’ that, I said.
Then I’ll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
If you don’t like it you can get on with it, I said.
Others can pick and choose if you can’t.
But if Albert makes off, it won’t be for a lack of telling.
You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
(And her only thirty-one.)
I can’t help it, she said, pulling a long face,
It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
(She’s had five already, and nearly died of young George.)
The chemist said it would be all right, but I’ve never been the same.
You are a proper fool, I said.
Well, if Albert won’t leave you alone, there it is, I said,
What you get married for if you don’t want children?
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot –
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.

From: http://eliotswasteland.tripod.com/

Now that was a lot of quote, but the direction of the current is clear, even though the poetry is dense and often intentionally inscrutable. From the opulence of the room to the woman who has withered herself in order to avoid having more children to the ADHD-like interruptions at the end; whenever a culture makes the Ecclesiastes discovery – that everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind – they throw out their morals and they discard their hope for the future, the latter of which is most visible in childbearing. Without God, as I touched upon last post about the Higgs Boson, everything is meaningless, hopeless and nothing: so why have to deal with children just to experience a few years of sexual activity? So I think that the Pill, the laws, the media: it all sells a nihilistic culture what it wants.

Update: When you go over to read the Penllyn Studio article, do look at the artwork for sale: a fantastic example of artwork as a physical visual presentation of wholesome and true philosophy (and it is quite beautiful too…).

Cult-like Thinking

The fundamental characteristic of cult-like thinking is the belief that the members of the group have some amount and kind of secret knowledge: something that most people cannot see or refuse to recognize. Thus, the affected person goes around behaving as if everyone not in is dumb or unenlightened, and therefore not worthy of respect or consideration. It almost never occurs to such a person that the people they deign to talk to who disagree with them have given the topic plenty of critical thought and have come to a different conclusion. This type of thinking leads to some distinct characteristics, that I think are indicators of cult-like thinking. Some of the ones I can think of are:

1. Believing everyone else doesn’t see: Typical remarks would include ‘Wake up people!’ ‘Open your eyes!’ ‘How can everyone be so blind!’ and ‘Don’t you people see?!?!?!’ (Note the exclamation point after each… almost always these are exclamatory remarks.)

XKCD interlude:

2. Since the affected person is irrationally convinced that they have secret and ultimate knowledge, they do not feel the need to treat other opinions, ideas, or people with respect. Hence, when their belief is criticized or questioned, they usually resort to insults and ad hominem attacks.

3. Condescension: Since everyone not in doesn’t know, when affected people talk to others they speak as if they are addressing someone of low intelligence who can barely put two thoughts together.

4. Belief in many, many, conspiracy theories. I think this is caused by the desire to be more and more and more in the know. So, once a person has swallowed one conspiracy theory, the others go down with more and more ease.

The last point has a tragic societal side effect. Since there are indeed real, actual, and dangerous conspiracies, but nut jobs talking about Chem-trails or Illuminati make talking about real conspiratorial scandals very difficult. For example, the Operation Fast and Furious, where apparently the sitting President is now covering for the Attorney General of the United States who apparently is much more involved in a scheme to sell weapons to Mexican drug cartels than he claims. No one wants to sound like a crazy nut-jub ‘vaccines are more dangerous than the disease’ person. And yet, people do sometimes work in secret for their own ends regardless of the danger and cost to others. Hundreds of Mexicans have died by weapons that the Federal Government forced gun shops to sell to known gang members with no real plan on tracking the guns, except when they show up at crime scenes, as in when people had already died. But to suggest that President Obama might be involved in this would have been considered lunacy until today when the President basically admitted involvement since executive privilege only extends to the president, his correspondence, and state secrets.

So, how do we deal with people who think like cult members… I don’t know yet, so far I am usually a fan of ignoring them… anyone have better ideas?

(Book about the scandal, I haven’t read it though)

Amoral Society

No, I will not be discussing the fact that large numbers of Americans feel morally ok with things like abortion, nor is this about anything else that is usually discussed when people talk about amoral societies. This is for one simple reason. I think that people who believe that killing an infant before it is born (or as it is born) is morally acceptable usually tend to be people suffering not from a lack of morals but from moral inversion. Thus, smoking cigarettes, and eating animals (or kosher slaughter in which the animal is not unconscious) is evil and wrong, while abominations like abortion are acceptable. This seems to be not a lack of morals, but an inversion of them. I do think that this moral inversion is a product of the actual amoral society, and so they are connected, but an amoral society is one that does not make decisions based on what anyone thinks is right or wrong. (Leftists usually use different words, but it amounts to the same thing.) A society that makes decisions based on what it (or a majority, or even a reigning minority) thinks is right and wrong is fundamentally based on morality. Of course that is not the same as a righteous society, which is a moral society based on true morals.

Unfortunately, what I think best describes much of the world is the amoral society. Let me illustrate with the example that got me starting thinking about this. A few months ago, I was listening to the radio (890 WLS out of Chicago) and I caught a little bit of a debate about putting a strip club next to a convent, and naturally the nuns were trying to keep that from happening. (I am a little fuzzy on the details.) The argument of the man being interviewed basically boiled down to this:  ‘The nuns have no right to object to this because the strip club will pay taxes and the convent does not.’ That is amoral, and it is a direct result of over sized overspending government which encourages people to think, not in terms of what they believe is right, but in terms of what can be taxed.

This argument is also frequently used by Ron Paul fans when advocating legalized drugs. ‘The government could then tax and regulate them, so it is a good idea!’ Unfortunately, being the brokest nation in history, being epically broke, and living in a world where it seems like every other government is also in debt, (strangely to each other… like the US is in debt to Japan… how does that work?) encourages everyone to think in terms of how they can collect money instead of what they believe is good and right. The deep flaw here is obvious, if it is something people are paying money for, you can justify anything. Imagine an important looking man in a suit on CNN telling you that child pornography and prostitution should be legal because then this state or that could collect x millions of dollars in taxes, which it needs because otherwise firefighters will have to be laid off… Yes, every disgusting thing that immoral people will pay for (which is anything…) can be legitimized this way.

The solution to this, I think, is fiscal sanity. Only in a fiscally sane world can people converse about what they think is right and wrong without the incessant distractions and threats of closing government which does provide necessary and useful services that individuals cannot (or should not) do. That is why a social conservative who spends like a socialist should not be tolerated even though his stance on things like abortion is sound. A society based on mercenary decisions, an inevitable effect of the welfare state, is a society that ultimately must tolerate any perversion, even the most despicable.

Instead, I think a local community should be able to say what kind of businesses they think are morally wrong and not allowed in that community. That is the glory of localized self-rule. If the people think it is indecent to have a strip-club next to a convent, they should be able to keep that from happening. If all the people in the area think it is acceptable to have a strip club anywhere, that is their decision, and we don’t have to move there. But if we do, we should be able to try to convince those around us that is it improper and immoral, instead of constantly be lectured on the monetary value of the institutions.

National Identity

One of the interesting events on my trip to Greece took place sitting in a coffee shop. This activity seems to be the national sport of the Greeks. These coffee shops are not at all like American ones; not just because they are mostly outdoor seating which is an accident of climate, but because while you go to a place like Starbucks to grab coffee on the way to work, or go to places like the local coffee shop my wife and I like to go to wherein most inhabitants come to buy tasty coffee and write papers and do schoolwork; Greek coffee shops are about talking. Everyone is sitting around talking.

So, my wife and I discussed national character with two of her Greek friends. Among the subtopics of this wide ranging several hour conversation was: Whether the accretions of culture you are exposed to from the country you are born in is accidental to your personality or essential, What is the key element that makes a nation unique, and of course, Whether America is really exceptional with some sort of claim on being the greatest country in the world. While all the opposing arguments I encountered were not new to me, what was new was discussing them with someone who actually believed them.

Since there were Greeks and an American and a half 🙂 at the table, for the purpose of argument we decided to try and discuss what makes Greeks, Greek, and Americans, American and see if that could help show us what parts of these things were essential to one’s person or accidental. Interestingly enough, this is a very difficult issue, and the core of the issue comes down to, can you say anything different about what makes one person Greek and what makes another Turkish. The first answer to what makes Greeks Greek was the answer that has always been given from tribal societies to the Third Reich: Greeks are Greek (and therefore unique and special) because they were born to Greeks, they are ethnically, genetically Greek. This of course fails, because Turks, French, Italians, Spaniards, Arabs, nearly every nation and tribe in the world will give the same answer varied for their own ethnicity. There is actually nothing particularly special about being Greek, except for the fact that there are fewer of them than the Han Chinese and so it is a more ‘exclusive club’. So we moved on to culture, to religion, to language, all but religion being accidental to a person.

On the other side though, and the ultimate proof of at least the uniqueness of America is what I think makes Americans, American. America is a series of ideas, and anyone who believes some to most of them is American. Being American cannot be founded on race, we have a pretty fair sampling of them all. For instance, I am (probably) descended from Germans, Englishmen, Irishmen, Scots or Welsh, etc. My children, should the Good Lord give me any, will be half Greek. Being American also is largely independent of culture, we have bits and pieces of culture from everyone who has come here. However being American does mean something. There is something different between Americans and Frenchmen and Turks and Arabs and Chinese. And that can be found in ideas.

This is what makes America a unique country, it is a country not founded upon race, not divided upon culture, and only mostly connected by language. Honestly, if 200 years from now, all Americans spoke Chinese or Spanish, but believed in, and fought with votes (and guns if need be) for the same ideas, they would be just as American as I am, and even just as American as George Washington was.

It takes some gall to feel entitled to list the ideas that make the soul of America. Yet, fortunately I only draw on the thoughts expressed by others from our founding, and so I plough on. First, America was founded by Christian people fleeing the persecution of state churches who claimed (and believed) that their people were the new chosen people of God. And so the American government was based on the assumption that every individual is in a personal relationship with God. Hence, there are many rights that the individual has that neither government, other people, or anything else can take away. These are the unalienable rights of the Declaration. I would say that this is the central idea of America. The others include ideas like the idea that people should control their government, that if people do not like what their government does, they have the right to replace it, and that people have every right to pursue their own interests and happiness as long as it does not come at the expense of other people. These ideas engender the desire to feel and be free, to indulge in liberty and to chase one’s dream.

So, I argued that being Greek is not necessarily part of a person’s essence because it (as defined by the Greek Friends) consists of a large collection of accidents, like language, genetics, and cultural upbringing. However, being American can be part of a person’s essence because it is at its core a set of ideas and a worldview, which, though it can change, is part of a person’s essence.

For a fantastic discussion of culture and this topic (and how these ideas confront modernity) read the ill titled, yet excellent How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too)by one of my favorite commentators David P. Goldman (pen name Spengler).

Other things I will likely write about that came from this conversation are: Who has a better claim on being descended from ancient Athenian democracy, the ridiculous notion that America is too young to talk about these ideas and probably other things as I think of them. Also, I promise there will be a sonnet before tomorrow night; I refuse to lose to Thalia!

The Greater Good

I used to be open to the idea that the greater good existed: that theoretically, there was some course of action in any situation that would result in the greatest good for the greatest number. This is one key part of the theories of collectivism from Marxist states to global liberalism. The second lynchpin is, of course, that some person (or group of persons) can know what that collective good is, and implement it regardless of the will and desire and even good of any number of individuals.  It was always this second assumption I found repulsive.

Consider the following. Under this theory, collectivists can justify any actions whatsoever by claiming that those actions saved (or will save) an even greater number of hypothetical people at the expense of some very real injury to some number of very real people.  If the critic says ten thousand people will lose work, homes, and the very meaning in their lives; the collectivist points to the million hypothetical people whose lives have been improved. The misery always affects real people who can suffer, starve, and die, while the good always seems to turn out to be for people who will never exist. (Other than the collectivist leaders who always seem to make good like every communist dictator ever.)

The argument can always be made, and is indeed always made by those who advocate modern statism or fascism or communism, that those who made the decisions in the past just weren’t the right people. The idea is never wrong. This insistence leads me to think about the very idea of ‘the greater good’.  What if there is no such thing. What if, ultimately, there are only ever individual goods, just as there are only individual rights, and individual responsibility.

And I guess this question hinges upon the very nature of man. If you believe that man is merely a fancy pack animal, then you might well agree that the nebulous ‘greater good’ exists, and it is worth looking for. If you believe that people are unique, whether due to creation by God in His image, or due to the humanist argument that man’s reason makes him unique, then it must be the case that the only good things are those done by individuals for individuals. Things done by people uncoerced by government or other people.

So why does this idea of the ‘greater good’ persist? It is recurs because the men in charge like being in charge, and the best excuse of onerous unpopular government laws, regulations, and wars is that such-and-so is for ‘the best’. (It also certainly has appeal to people who do not wish to be sovereign moral entities, and be therefore responsible for their own actions… another topic for another time. Today, we rant about government. 🙂 )

This is the talk of an oligarch: I am an American, how I feel about governing elites is somewhere between distrust and disgust. This is especially true when people with fancy degrees try to tell me what kind of toilet I can have, what kind of light bulbs I can buy, what the mileage of the car I drive has to be. What do they know about me, my needs, my life, my goals, my dreams, my family, my desires? Why should they be empowered to decide for everyone what is best for them? I believe than God made every man and woman unique and individual, that we form societies, not so that we can give up our God-given personhood to a collective whole, but so that we can interact and love other individuals. I think that as such, there is no ‘greater good’. There is no set of conditions that is good for me and the man down the street uniformly. It is the right of the individual (every human being) to pursue his own good as long as it does not harm another. It is also the right of the individual to sacrifice his own good for who and what he chooses, and no man or woman or government or council of academics has any authority or right to demand that an individual sacrifice his good, his rights or his individualism for anyone or anything. Otherwise they are enforcing their idea of morality on people. Otherwise, we are not free men, but slaves.

Note: For fun with ‘The Greater Good’, do watch Hot Fuzz a truly hilarious film with Simon Pegg…

Another Note: There is certainly one universal good for all mankind. It is from the outside, and only an Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent God could know and do it… The redemption from sin brought about by Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. As it turns out, this one universal good theologically belies all others. Everything people dub ‘the greater good’ actually takes away from the individual and thereby drains people of their personhood. The Cross restores every man, woman, and child’s personhood to them, each in an individual relationship with the Creator and Redeemer of the universe.