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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

On Sean Spicer Being Uncool



What all the cool kids are wearing.

A very odd piece appeared the other day in the National Post. It argues, almost without explanation or justification, that it was simply wrong, in some moral sense, for Stephen Colbert and the administration of the Emmys to allow Sean Spicer to appear onstage during the ceremony, even though he was doing so essentially to poke fun at himself as White House Press Secretary. Worse, Spicer was actually invited to some of the Emmy parties after the broadcast. This is unacceptable!

This is a classic example of bullying, of a familiar and pernicious high school variety. Some kid or kids are designated uncool, and to be part of the cool in-group it is necessary not to be seen hanging out with them. You must shun them. Why?

No good reason is offered. This is not a moral act. Because they have been designated by the “popular” crowd to be uncool. You show your supposed superiority by knowing, without it being explained, that they are uncool. If you challenge this, if someone has to explain it to you, you are just showing you are uncool. The matter could be completely capricious; but it is necessary to show membership in the herd of the cool.

It is all terribly nasty and immature. But kids are cruel. It is very like the choir in Lord of the Flies, with Spicer here in the role of Simon or Piggy. It is especially ugly to see this sort of thing in a national newspaper.

But it is the tactic now of the left as a whole. No arguments are presented for why Sean Spicer is somehow as a human being beyond the pale of polite company. Indeed, no arguments are given any more for most leftist positions, You must either passionately subscribe to them without question, or you are revealing yourself as uncool.

In this case, there are a few vague mentions of supposed sins: “being caught in multiple lies, exaggerations and, of course, the time he tried to make a worse than Hitler comparison to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.”

Only one example is given, then, of supposed lies and exaggerations. The reader is supposed to accept this all as so, or reveal themselves as uncool. This is a reference to Assad—being the only example given, we have a right to assume it is the worst thing Spicer has ever said.

What he actually said was “someone as despicable as Hitler didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons [in World War II].” On the face of it, this is perfectly true, and a common observation.

Some at the time protested that this was not true strictly speaking, because Hitler indeed used sarin gas in the concentration camps.

I think it would be fair to dispute whether an execution technique counts as a “weapon,” especially when the context was given as war. It is not assumed to be such in common speech.

If all press secretaries are all to be held to this standard, all of them would appear to be at least as lying and deceitful as Spicer.

As would any one of us.

In other words, the bill of indictment against Spicer is objectively nuts. He is just a designated scapegoat, an uncool kid. It does not matter what he ever actually said or did.

A Twitter twit is quoted as saying he “passionately advocated against human rights, health care, & American values.” Again, with no examples.

This is obviously untrue. You are just expected to accept it as true without evidence, or reveal yourself as uncool.

This attitude, standard on the left, is suicidal.

Spicer was the official spokesperson for the US President, elected by roughly 50% of the American people. It follows that what he advocated reflected the views of fifty percent of the American people. Half the population of the US and their opinions is here being branded beyond the pale of polite society, “against human rights, health care, & American values.” Americans’ values are against American values? Who gets to say so?

How long are the majority of the student body—continuing the high school example—going to continue to support a group that thinks of them this way? Or continue, for that matter, to read a newspaper that does? The proportion of Trump supporters might be lower in Canada. On the other hand, this newspaper, the National Post, has traditionally been seen as on the right.

This is why the mainstream media is dying; and it is why the left as we now know it will die. They think of themselves as the popular and admired in-group at school, and of the general public as humble supplicants who crave but do not merit their approval.

This works only so long as everyone buys into the illusion. It helps if you have all the hunky athletes and the pretty girls in your group. Sex appeal, at a certain age, works wonders. The modern left cannot claim this to be so. They are sitting high on a branch unconnected to any tree.

They should have noticed that the illusion is evaporating. Trump got elected. Rolling Stone Magazine was just sold for one dollar. Movie attendance is cratering.

Yet they are so self-absorbed and unaware they think they have the power to socially shun the elected head of the student body.

It is a quick drop from this position to one of general ridicule.

History will not mourn them, this modern left.




Friday, September 15, 2017

Religion is Truth



Pythagoras advocating vegetarianism.
Back in the late Neolithic when I was in grad school, I was asked a question on a comprehensive exam, “What is religion?” This is a live question in the field of religious studies. Is Marxism a religion? Is scientism? Is secular humanism? If they are not, why is Confucianism? Is Taoism? What about Buddhism? After all, it says it has no god. Freemasonry?

This is also a live question in jurisprudence. We recognize a right to freedom of religion. What if I say my religion requires me to use mescaline and marijuana as a sacrament? What if it requires human sacrifice? Do you have the right to make that criminal? What if I say my religion means I cannot serve in Vietnam? But then, nobody wants to serve in Vietnam. Can’t anyone say so? What makes their claim a religious one?

At the time, it being a relatively relativistic time, I ducked a dogmatic answer. I suggested there were generic similarities we could use to classify: is there a regular worship service? Are there rules of conduct to follow?

At the time, I thought this was satisfactory; given the implied truth that there was no clear and definite answer. My grad supervisors thought so too.

It has taken me more or less a lifetime, but I now suspect I can do better.

Here is the definition I propose: a religion is a truth claim. Short and sweet.

Seems almost too simple, but I think it works.

We are all here to seek truth. Every once on a million kalpas or so, someone stumbles upon one. Bound to happen.

And so a religion grows and extends around this precious pearl.

To be clear, I am not talking about, for example, what we call the truths of science. That is a misnomer. There are no truths in science. There are properly only hypotheses that have not been disproven. Popper, rightly, says that to be scientific, a statement must be hypothetically capable of being falsified. But to say so is also to say that it is not a decided truth. If a thing is indeed established as true, there is no longer any possibility of disproving it.

If, on the other hand, you come up while strolling on life’s beach with some shiny thing, something you, even if you alone, are utterly convinced cannot be disproven tomorrow, that exists of its own authority and is absolutely true, then, Bob being your near relative but a little beyond your nuclear family, you have a religion.

Other things follow from this core of truth, but it is in truth the core. With it, you must have a religion. Without it, you cannot have one.

So: let’s go through the list of proposed religions.

Buddhism is a religion. The contention that it does not believe in God is not the point. It is founded on the Four Noble Truths, which are absolute truths about human existence.

They are, roughly,
To exist is to suffer.
Suffering is caused by ignorance.
Ignorance can be overcome, and suffering ended.
The following techniques end ignorance: to wit, Buddhist practice. “Skillful means.”
It is worth noting that these truths are entirely compatible with the truths of Christianity, or the other monotheistic religions, or probably any religion. There is no question of the one negating the other; there is no question of claimed truths being in contradiction.

Confucianism is a religion. It does not clearly enunciate the point, but it is founded on the absolute reality of moral right and wrong, and on the contention that the good, if known, must be followed. It shares this conviction with the ethical monotheisms: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. No conflict here. Other religions may not share this truth, of the absolute nature of right and wrong; but no notable religion in our sense denies it. Again, Confucianism is perfectly compatible with the other religions.

Marxism is not a religion. By its own terms of reference, it is a scientific theory, open to being disproven. As such, moreover, it has been disproven. So it is bad as science, and worse as religion. Some people, many people, have erroneously elevated Marxism to the status of a personal religion. They are simply in error. Their claimed truth, the hypothesis of dialectical materialism and the value of labour to production and the succession of classes and ideologies in history, and so forth, is false.

The same with Scientism. Scientism is a fundamental misunderstanding of science, thinking that it establishes truths. This is wrong as religion, and wrong as science. First of all, science makes no warrant that its hypotheses are true; secondly, science keeps disproving them; so accepting them as truth in the proper sense is simply, again, a mistake.

The first to commit this error was probably Galileo. Not incidentally—this is why he ran into conflict with the religious authorities of the day. Put simply, the inquisitors were right on this, and Galileo was wrong. The most recent obvious example is “climate change” alarmism, which puts too much faith in the latest scientific hypothesis. Not that it ought to be ignored, but it is not a dogma or a certainty.

Science, on the other hand (very much not the same as Scientism), if not itself a religion, is properly seen as an extension of the Christian religion or monotheism generally: it is founded on the realization that the universe is ordered, that it makes sense and follows laws. This presupposes a Creator. There is a reason science arose where it did. It is based on the perceived truth of the existence of God. This does not mean that any specific product of science, any scientific hypothesis, is true.

It is not just that science, like Confucianism, is fully compatible with monotheism. It is that science presupposes monotheism, is an expression of it. Without the truth of monotheism, there is no science. So it is not in itself a religion. Any more than is, say, going to Communion.

Secular humanism is also religious in its foundations, but not itself properly a separate religion. It is founded on the assertion of human rights and of essential human dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.” Properly speaking, this is again a form or branch of monotheism, compatible with and historically deriving from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It requires belief in the Creator. Conversely, belief in the Creator requires it.

Taoism is a religion. It believes in an absolute reality, the Tao, which it believes is ineffable—that no words can possibly describe it. Nevertheless, it can be directly experienced. It is not really in disagreement with Judaism or Islam or Christianity; the reality it perceives may well be the same. Judaism and Islam agree that it is ineffable. There is a conflict with Christianity if this ineffability is past of the fundamental revelation; if it is considered part of its truth that truth cannot be spoken. But then, this assertion is almost an automatic self-contradiction in any case: if truth cannot be spoken, then the truth that truth cannot be spoken cannot be spoken. Yet that is what you just said. So it cannot be true.

So it cannot itself be a part of the truth. Rather, it is a strategy, a way of conveying the truth. Leaving Taoism fully compatible with other religions.

Paganism, shamanism, is not a religion. It does not believe in any absolutes; it is empirical, simply dealing with what works and what seems helpful. Did the dance make it rain? Did the god accept the sacrifice? It believes in the reality of the spirit world, but even this, I think, only provisionally: it is what appears to be so. The reality of the physical world, similarly, is provisional. Real or not, I do not want to stub my toe on that rock. Shamanism in practice is not compatible with any of the religions, with a few exceptions. It can get along with Taoism, because Taoism makes no definite assertions.

Is mathematics a religion? Yes, it is, to my mind. I believe, like Plato or Pythagoras, that mathematical truth is a priori: the Pythagorean theorem is true in the absence of any triangles. If you believe with some Aristotelians or with Hume, that all we really know is that so far, in all the examples we have looked at, 2 + 2 has equalled 4, and next time, golly, it may not, then it is not a religious matter to you. Pythagoreanism, indeed, is a religion, and is founded on mathematics as an essential truth. For Christians, mathematical truth is a part of the Logos—the fundamental truth of the universe. It is part of the effable nature of God.

And the same is so for logical truths; things like Aristotle’s Law of Non-Contradiction. Yes, they are by their nature religious, and are incorporated into Christianity as part of the nature of God.

The essential truth of Islam is of course contained in the simple formula: there is no God but God, and Mohammed is his prophet. From that, everything else deduced.

Similar declarations of truth, longer or shorter, simpler or more complex, can be isolated for any other religion.



Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Chalk Circle




Stomer, The Judgement of Solomon

We were speaking of examples of bad parenting in the Bible a few days ago. There is one important passage we have not yet mentioned.

It is a well-known story of the wisdom of Solomon. The king judges a case involving two mothers:

16 Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17 One of them said, “Pardon me, my lord. This woman and I live in the same house, and I had a baby while she was there with me. 18 The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.
19 “During the night this woman’s son died because she lay on him. 20 So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. 21 The next morning, I got up to nurse my son—and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t the son I had borne.”
22 The other woman said, “No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.”
But the first one insisted, “No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.” And so they argued before the king.
23 The king said, “This one says, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead,’ while that one says, ‘No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.’”
24 Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword for the king. 25 He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”
26 The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”
But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”
27 Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”
28 When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice (1 Kings 3: 16-28).

Solomon’s solution was not reliable if the objective was to find the biological mother. It did not settle that question.

Instead, it was to define “true motherhood.”

The true mother is the one who cares for the child, for the child’s real interests as a separate individual soul. This is not necessarily the biological mother. But the biology is irrelevant.

The story also gives us a vivid and useful character sketch of a bad parent. The false parent is driven by envy or jealousy, as Burton hinted in Anatomy of Melancholy. She (or he) will steal or violate any other moral obligation if she thinks she can and it is in her interest. She or he is kept in check only by fear of punishment; and in such a case, the cloak of privacy over parenthood and the family gives the perfect opportunity to indulge such avaricious tendencies. To such a parent, the child is a possession, and without her ownership has no further value. She will kill it before she will allow it independence. She, figuratively if not literally, “smothers” the child to death.

This passage in the Bible is the first known record of this story; but almost the same story is known in other cultures. It obviously says something of universal importance. Hugo Gressmann has located 22 similar stories in world folklore and literature.

One is a Jataka tale, Jataka #546. Jataka tales are the stories of the historical Buddha’s previous lives, a core document of Buddhism.

A rakshasi (a malevolent spiritual being), grabs a mother’s child while she is bathing. The mother gives chase. They run past the Buddha’s ashram.

“As they wrangled they passed by the door of the hall, and the sage (the Buddha), hearing the noise, sent for them and asked what was the matter. When he heard the story, ... he asked them whether they would abide by his decision. On their promising to do so, he drew a line and laid the child in the middle of the line and bade the goblin seize the child by the hands and the mother by the feet. Then he said to them, ‘Lay hold of it and pull; the child is hers who can pull it over.’ They both pulled, and the child, being pained while it was pulled, uttered a loud cry. Then the mother, with a heart which seemed ready to burst, let the child go and stood weeping. The sage asked the multitude, ‘Is it the heart of the mother which is tender towards the child or the heart of her who is not the mother?’They answered, ‘The mother’s heart.’ ‘Is she the mother who kept hold of the child or she who let it go?’ They replied, ‘She who let it go.’ ‘Do you know who she is who stole the child?’ ‘We do not know, O sage.’ ‘She is a goblin,—she seized it in order to eat it.’”
A rakshasa, South India

On its face, the story does not seem to make complete sense, because the Buddha has spiritual second sight. He is able to perceive that one of the alleged mothers is a rakshasi. Rakshasis are shape-shifters; they can look just like a human being. But they are really ravenous creatures who live on human flesh. They resemble the vampires of European folklore.

So the Buddha already knew, without the demonstration, who the true mother was in a biological sense. A rakshasi is not human and cannot bear a human baby.

The point must be to demonstrate to his disciples—then and now—what true motherhood means. It is not the biological tie, but the emotional tie, that matters; for this is what the demonstration shows. And there are false mothers, who will claim to care, but will not. They want a child only to devour it, physically or spiritually.

The classic Chinese play “The Chalk Circle,” wrtten by Li Quian Fu in the Yuan Dynasty, 13th century, ends with the same story. A judge draws a chalk circle, places the child in the middle, and proposes that the true mother is the first who can drag the child over the chalk line. This, supposedly, demonstrates the depth of her attachment to the child. When one of the two women cannot bear to hurt the child and refuses to pull, she is found to be the true mother. 

Climactic scene of Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle

This story was retold by Berthold Brecht in 1945 as “The Caucasian Chalk Circle.” It includes the same climactic scene. However, Brecht lets the audience know that the woman who refuses to harm the child, and therefore is awarded custody, is not the biological mother. The biological mother had abandoned him. She wanted him back now only because he was tied to an inheritance.

Brecht thous makes this moral clearer. Not every biological mother is a mother in the true sense.

Think of this in reference to St. Paul’s injunction that reverence is due to one’s parent “in the Lord.”

The true mother is often the fairy godmother.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Empty Soul



According to medicine, there is no cure for any mental illness. Sometimes, unpredictably, people get better. But that is true of any physical illness, too, without any kind of medical intervention. In general, though, all that medicine can do is offer a pill or a treatment that will alleviate the symptoms for a time. But once you have had one depressive episode, they say, the odds of getting another go through the roof. And the episodes are supposed to get worse as you get older.

This is just what you would expect from many untreated chronic illness.

And the prognosis is worse for any of the more severe “mental illnesses”: schizophrenia, bipolar.

In sum and in simple, psychiatry does not work.

The key is the fundamental error of treating a psychic or mental phenomenon as if it were a physical one.

Mental illness should not be dealt with by doctors--physicians. They lack either the training or the inclination. It is like asking the nerds to play football, or the jocks to do the programming. You might as well send someone with TB to a voodoo doctor. It might alleviate the symptoms for a while, might make the patient feel better, giving an illusion that something meaningful has been done. But is not going to do anything to cure the disease, because its underlying causes are physical, not spiritual. Similarly, treating mental illness as a physical illness is not going to help much, because its underlying causes are mental.

TB or not TB: that is the question

Yeah, granted, there is some crossover. A better attitude can lead to better outcomes in illness, and no doubt physical pain can cause emotional effects. But how efficient is it to just pray on the riverbank for a boat, instead of ever building one?

The area of human knowledge that deals with the soul of man, with the mental realm, is firstly, religion, and more generally, the humanities: the cultural complex, philosophy, religion, and the various arts.

I will go further than that: the cause for the current growing epidemic in mental illness is at least in part a general and growing lack of grounding in the humanities.

The whole point of a culture is to give its audience or human constituency the tools they need for a good and happy life. Starting, of dire necessity, with the basic questions: why are we here, and what is the goal. But beyond that, the culture gives us the tools we need to live properly, most definitely including the tools to avoid psychic dangers and to handle the psychic shocks that may come.

Beginning with the nursery rhymes, animal fables, and fairy tales we traditionally tell our children, which are full of necessary wisdom. And which, of course, in recent generations, have been largely abandoned.

If you have read the recent post on my blog “By Their Fruits You Shall Know them,” you will recognize, if not agree with, my point that the reports of Jesus and the apostles casting out demons in the New Testament were really about curing depression and other mental illnesses.

Jesus actually gives this bit of theory at one point:

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation” (Matthew 12: 43-5).

That would logically be the result of taking only palliative treatments, over time.

Demons, depression and mental illness can occupy our psyches because they are empty. Most vitally, of course, they need to be filled with religious direction. We, most of us, more and more, are walking around like little robots, thinking of ourselves as no more than robots, machines to eat and breed. Our lives are empty, meaningless. The medical model assumes and positively encourages this. And so the demons come to party in our empty minds.

We need the humanities to furnish our souls.

One reason—the usual reason—people give for not studying the humanities any more is that there is no money in it. There are no jobs. Especially on the right, these days, there is much mockery of the humanities as a self-indulgent easte of time and resources. But it is at least as bad on the left, which has replaced the humanities, while retaining only the name, with Marxist “social science.” Which is entirely mechanistic, and meant to be on the model of physical science, only viewing humans as, again, little empty robots.

The argument that the humanities are of no value for finding or doing a job is circular. There are no jobs because we have decided to do without the humanities, without culture. If people decided they did not need houses, and could sleep as well outdoors in the rain and snow, there would be no jobs in house construction. But that would not mean house construction is a useless skill. It means people are misguided and are causing themselves unnecessary suffering.

All schoolteachers through to the end of high school should be trained in the humanities. That is what education is—the transmission of the culture. That should be their area of expertise, and that is what they should be teaching.

The specialized skills needed for this or that job? College or university is time for these. Otherwise, you are wasting kids’ time with things of no use to them. How many times have you heard someone complain that they never used any of the chemistry or algebra they had to so painstakingly study in high school? When did you last have to figure out the length of the hypotenuse of a triangle?

And if you did, didn’t you just have to learn it again on the spot anyway?

And wasn’t that easy enough to do?

Perhaps most destructive of all is the teaching of science in the schools. It conveys the impression that science is a body of known facts about the world that we should know: fish breath with gills, water is made of hydrogen and oxygen, and so forth. But that is not what science is at all: science is a method for questioning and finding out about the world, and the assumption that some things are simply known and determined is its opposite. People leave high school with the belief that they “know” all kinds of things that, over their lifetime, science will discover to be untrue. Putting their education in science at cross purposes to science, and filling them with falsehoods.

The schools that everyone goes through should stick to subjects and skills that everyone will need. That means mostly the humanities: the meaning and purpose of life, the skills for life, the skills to learn, the skills to acquire and to evaluate new information or arguments. And, sure, reading and writing and basic arithmetic—what is sometimes called numeracy. The rest is useless or harmful.

And then, the second essential sphere of the humanities is to fix what has gone wrong in a soul. They are the necessary training for anyone working in the field of “mental illness.” This is when you need a doctor—a doctor of philosophy. The knowledge acquired in a medical school is useless here.

Art therapy, cognitive therapy, music therapy—lots of studies show they work. But we are only doodling around the edges here. “Cognitive therapy,” for example, is an absurdly primitive and inadequate version of the full arsenal of philosophy.

And all of it is hollow and unlikely to work until we have the core and foundation in place: the meaning and purpose of it all. And that is religion.





Tuesday, September 12, 2017

White Privilege




Evidence of white privilege on display at Auschwitz

The dogma of “white privilege” seems to have fixed now hard as cement on the left. It can be used, of course, to justify any sort of discrimination against someone with white skin.

Are we all aware that this tactic has been used before, many times?

It is, in fact, the alibi for most historical genocides. They are usually represented as a matter of “getting our own back,” of evening the score for supposed past harm or discrimination. This almost has to be so, for some such alibi is needed to quiet the human conscience. No massacre is ever presented as unprovoked.

Here are a few notes on the Jews from a Nazi party monthly for propagandists, circa 1936:

“There are still Jewish lackeys today who attempt to disrupt our storm attack on the Jewish world rulers, trying to stop us or even cause us to fall. The following hints show how one can reply to these arguments by our opponents, or even turn their arguments against them.”

Note the Nazi claim that the Jews ruled the world. Just as “whites” are claimed to today. This is what the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were all about: the supposed Jewish hegemony. The system had been rigged in their favour, and to oppress poor ordinary Germans.

“Even if a few hundred Jewish families in Germany really did have to go hungry, what is that against the many millions of German families that the Jew murdered over the course of centuries through wars, revolutions, and civil strife, not to mention those ruined through usury and fraud.”

Reparations were due. Yeah. What about slavery? What about European colonialism? You know the drill. “White” people are responsible for all of history’s wars, not to mention raping the world through capitalism, through “usury and fraud.”

(Quotes from Kurt Hilmar Eitzen, “Zehn Kn├╝ppel wider die Judenknechte,” Unser Wille und Weg 6, 1936, pp. 309-310).

Alfred Rosenberg, Nazi chief of ideology, wrote,

“It is almost a miracle that absolutely nothing has happened to Jews in Germany, but rather that only gradually the rights they stole from the Germans in politics and culture have been restored.”

Nothing sinister here. Just poor exploited Aryans finally getting their own back.

The same dynamic gave us the Rwanda genocide of the 1990s. The Tutsis had been dominant in Rwandan politics before and during the colonial period. And so, the Rwandan Patriotic Front spread the notion that the Tutsis were oppressors.

In the end, when they came to power, 70 percent of the Tutsis in Rwanda were massacred.

The same claim of “getting our own back,” if not “reverse racism” specifically, is of course always behind the Communist genocides: in the Soviet Union, in China, in Cambodia. Collectively, these are probably the worst the world has ever seen. The bourgeois have, according to Marxist doctrine, been exploiting the workers. And so they ought to all be put to death. Just evening the score.

This is the road down which we travel. This is the ideology Antifa is attempting to enforce by violence in the streets.

Don’t pretend it isn’t.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Food in the Fifties







My memories are mostly of the Sixties rather than the Fifties, but this list still looks mostly right.

We did have curry, or something we called curry. It was an awful thing you did to leftover meat to make it seem edible. You can also get curry in Korea, or Japan. But you cannot find it in India.

We could get pizza in Montreal, but there was no such thing as pizza in my hometown, population 5,000. Pizza was still a rarity in Korea when I first moved there. It is everywhere in the Philippines—but just try to get one without pineapple.

I remember a great uncle used to order a crate of oranges shipped from Florida for Christmas. But I think we always had bananas. Bananas are not a seasonal crop. Banana trees produce year-round.

Cubed sugar was posh, and you dropped it in your cup using special little tongs. Ideally silver plated.

I still remember the first time I saw “chicken fingers” on a menu. I laughed. What could that be? But actually, chicken fingers have always been popular in the Philippines. Real. Chicken. Fingers. With the nails on.

I remember yoghurt being discussed on some fifties TV show. A teenaged girl was trying it to be sophisticated, to impress her friends, and get to hang out with the college crowd. It was supposed to look like an absurd affectation. Of course, she hated it.

We certainly did have kebab, and called it that. “Shish-kebab.”

There is still no such thing as a real pineapple in Canada. They do not travel well. To discover what they are supposed to taste like, you have to go to the tropics. The canned stuff probably tastes more like the real thing than the whole ones that make it to Montreal—soft and sweet!

I certainly do remember laughing at the idea that anyone would actually pay money for something, like water, that you could get free by turning on the tap. Surely nobody could be that stupid. I resisted for years. But when you move to Asia….

I also remember how we used to laugh at how crazy the Japanese were to pay a few dollars for a cup of coffee. I mean, coffee was coffee, right?

I remember buying a cookbook of Southeast Asian food, which advised that there was really no chance Thai food could ever be popular back in North America. Too much fish sauce.

I also remember thinking Loblaws was pretty foolish to start marketing a special line of “organic” produce. Really, do people have money to throw away? Are they really going to fall for that “organic=healthy” stuff? As if “organic” really meant something?

Yup. People have money to throw away.




Sunday, September 10, 2017

By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them



Like the Greek myths and legends, the Old Testament seems full of dysfunctional families and appalling parenting. Starting, of course, with the first family, that of Adam and Eve.

You might have heard of Cain and Abel. But what about Noah, who curses one of his sons? Abraham tries to kill one, and abandons the other in the wilderness. Lot sleeps with both his daughters. Isaac grossly favours one son, Esau, over the other, Jacob. So does Jacob, driving his children to try to kill one another. David and his son go to war.

These are not attractive polaroids for the family album.

Yet there is a difference, and it is a disturbing one. The Greek myths and Greek gods are amoral in principle. One might expect Biblical patriarchs, on the other hand, to be models of righteousness. These, after all, are supposedly the men chosen by God for their moral fibre. Noah was the only man worth saving from the deluge.

So does the Bible endorse child abuse? Is child abuse righteous?

Surely not. For there are many other sins that can also be counted against the patriarchs. And not trivial ones. Moses was a murderer. Abraham’s marriage to Sarah was incestuous (Genesis 20:1-11). Everyone had concubines. Everyone had bonded servants—some would say “slaves.” Solomon put his brother to death, for no decent reason. David killed Uriah to take his wife.

Surely the Bible does not endorse any of this. It is simply honestly reporting things as they were. No sugar coatings.

The proper lesson to take away is surely that everyone is flawed. The upright man is not the one who never sins; he is the one who at least acknowledges God’s ultimate authority. If he sins, he at least understands this as a failure, an error, a flaw, not something he is entitled to do. When a prophet scolds him and points this out, he feels bad about it. He does not have the prophet beheaded. Anything more than this is probably unrealistic, dealing with actual human beings.

If there is to be hero worship of the patriarchs here, it is not sanctioned by the Bible. One is to worship only Yahweh, remember?

When Elijah, hiding out in fear for his life, experiences depression, the Bible reports:

“He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’” (1 Kings 19).
Elijah in the wilderness.

 This suggests a certain lack of awe for ancestors. None were all that admirable. None were purely worthy of emulation. They actually all deserved to die; and we deserve to die if we are no better.

In their defense, this was a rougher, less civilized time, a tribal time, with fewer restraints on human self-will. In a simple tribal culture, the head of each family and tribe is more or less a law unto himself. Absolute power does funny things to people.

If the Bible is an accurate account—and it has no reason to exaggerate the patriarchs’ transgressions—the next lesson to learn is that child abuse is a natural part of family life. Most parents, with nothing to stop them, will treat their kids as chattels, and will abuse. They will play favourites. They will sacrifice the child’s interests to their own. We see it, after all, in animals: most critters will, with little provocation, eat their young. Maternal or paternal instinct only gets you so far; it is not something that can be relied on.

The pressing issue of the time when the Old Testament was written was actual child sacrifice, of a brutal sort: burning children alive. Except among the Hebrews, Moloch, in his various versions, was lord of the land.

The prophets were solidly in opposition to the clear and present temptation he represented. But that moral fight was probably about as much as they could manage in the climate of opinion. Even Abraham perhaps had to go through the motions of sacrificing his child, or nobody, including him, was going to take his newfangled God seriously.

Ezekiel cites it as a common saying, a proverb, among the Hebrews, that “The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2). Jeremiah cites the same truism (31:29). Job seems to refer to a similar aphorism: “You say, 'God stores away a man's iniquity for his sons.'” (Job 21:19). Repeatedly, God himself, Yahweh God, is quoted as saying “the sins of the father are visited upon the son”:

“He punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (Numbers 14:18). “He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7; Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 5: 9-10).

This is obviously unfair. Our conscience tells us so, and the ancient Hebrews had the same innate conscience we do.

So is God unjust?

Surely the Bible did not want to believe so. It was simply, again, reporting the obvious truth of the world: some children suffer for the sins of their parents, suffer brutality, loss, and permanent harm from their upbringing, through no fault of theirs; while other children benefit unjustly from their parents’ generosity or hard effort. It is the problem of evil: there is evil in the world. Necessarily, if there is evil in the world, God has permitted it. One may ask why, but this a given.

If the Bible is simply describing the obvious reality, that children suffer when their parents are bad, surely what it is referring to primarily is child abuse. That, at least would be the most extreme and obvious example of the saying.

The Bible does not accept this as just. Ezekiel, for example, after citing the proverb, goes on to prophecy a better time:

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18: 3-4).
Jeremiah says, of the coming time,

“In those days people will no longer say,
‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge” (Jeremiah 31: 29-30).
Jeremiah

This is also what God demands by the Mosaic law: the child must not be punished for the sin of the father. And Proverbs writes: “Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his death.” (19:18). Apparently, then, a familiar temptation.

The prophet Malachi makes a similar prediction of a time to come:

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction” (Malachi 4:5-6).

This is a fallen world: kids with bad parents suffer through no fault of their own. That is the point, and it is to be lamented. Is that not the essential idea of original sin?

The New Testament assumes the same dynamic:

“And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man who was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, ‘Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?’” (John 9: 1-2).

The Bible does not clearly and straightforwardly show that child abuse leads to mental illness. But that is largely because it has a different conception than we moderns do of what mental illness is.

Saul in his depression

In the Bible, mental illness is caused by the action of evil spirits. It is demonic possession. The clearest example is that of Saul in the Old Testament, who pretty plainly suffered from what the DSM would call depression:

“Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. Saul’s attendants said to him, ‘See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.’” (1 Samuel 16: 14-6).
“ … Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him” (1 Samuel 16:23).
In the New Testament, Jesus comes upon two men whom we would today surely call schizophrenic or manic, living in a graveyard:

“When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones. Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; and shouting with a loud voice, he said, ‘What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!’ For He had been saying to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’” (Mark 5: 2-8).
The Gadarene demoniacs


The Pharisees at one point say of Jesus himself, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” (John 10:20)

This evil spirit idea may sound alien to modern ears, weaned on Freudian psychoanalysis. But it is an obvious and almost a self-evident interpretation. Even some of the terminology of psychiatry (“obsession” is really a lower-grade version of “possession”: being besieged by some outside force) implies the activity of evil spirits.

Consider the facts: you hear an internal voice telling you that you are worthless, and you ought to go jump off a bridge. Surely it is forced and an unnecessary complication to call the invisible speaker anything but an evil spirit: an independent consciousness or will acting upon you. It takes a mental contortion worthy of a circus side show to suppose or say instead that it is a part of yourself of which you are “unconscious,” otherwise unaware, a part of your will that has an independent will that works against your own.

How much sense does that make? Isn’t it clearer to simply see it as an independent entity? Only a doctrinaire materialism, surely, would deny this.

Very well; so please accept for a moment that mental illness is the action of evil spirits.

Modern Catholic authorities usually make a distinction here between garden variety mental illnesses and demonic possession. But this looks like an attempted modus vivendi with modern psychiatry. In the Bible, there is no clear concept of any “mental illness” apart from demonic possession; unless, say, you want to include anger as a mental illness.

But then what makes one person subject to the actions of evil spirits, and not another? Is their action simply random?

The Bible assumes not. Nothing is random in a world governed by God.

So the evil spirits may come to test us, or to open up to us our need for God. Job experienced this.

“Amid disquieting dreams in the night, when deep sleep falls on people, fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face, and the hair on my body stood on end. It stopped, but I could not tell what it was. A form stood before my eyes, and I heard a hushed voice: ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?’” (Job 4: 13-7).
Job being scourged by the devil.

Jesus experienced this too, being tempted in the desert.

In the case of Saul, however, the spirits are sent as a punishment for sin.

If they can come as a punishment for sin, again, as we have seen, said sin need not be on the part of the sufferer: it may be a sin of the parents. This may, for that matter, be the usual case.

In other words, mental illness is or can be caused by child abuse: the Dymphna Complex.

The New Testament seems to confront the issue of mental illness, of demonic possession, face on, almost as its dominant theme. The first miracle recorded of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the first act by which he announces himself and his mission to the world, is the casting out of a demon; the healing of a mentally ill man.

“They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!’
‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.’ News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee” (Mark 1: 21-7).
The possessed man in the Capernaum synagogue.

“That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons” (Mark 1:32-4).

This is clearly the new dispensation that Ezekiel foretold.

Luke more or less says so, and isolates the issue of child abuse:

“And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17).
Next, we note the Beatitudes. They are Jesus’s description of his intended audience, those for whom he has come and for whom he will shed his blood.

They read almost like a standard diagnosis of depression.

“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.
He said: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You are the salt of the earth...” (Matthew 5).

Beatitudes 1, 2, 3, 4 are right on target: symptoms of depression, and specifically depression caused by abuse, include “low self-esteem,” that is, meekness and poverty of spirit, and a pervasive sadness. As we have seen in the literature, in the hero legends, and Oedipus Rex, and Hamlet, depressives also hunger and thirst after righteousness, after justice. They are, like Hamlet, especially disturbed by hypocrisy, by attempts to manipulate, and by double-dealing; they are, in other words, “pure of heart.” The word translated as “peacemakers” may refer to anxiety: the depressed crave peace and quiet. Soon after in the same speech, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus indeed gives specific advice on how to handle anxiety (“Consider the lilies of the field...”; Matthew 6:25-34).

And as to being persecuted, and spoken against, surely here Jesus is giving the Dymphna diagnosis for where these other symptoms come from: from being abused; and emotional abuse is the worst sort.

Jesus, it is often said, is primarily a healer; that is the essence of his ministry. People come to him for healing. Some of their ailments are physical; but most often his sphere of operations seems to be psychiatry: the healing of the psyche. Even some of the physical ailments sound like things Freud said were commonly symptoms of “hysteria”: blindness, paralysis, uncontrolled bleeding.

Charcot displays a hysterical patient.

Jesus himself describes this casting out of demons (read: healing depression and mental illness) as his signature, the core proof that he is who he says he is:

“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12: 28).
According to St. Paul, this remains the core of the Christian mission:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
Clement of Alexandria sees exorcism, as much as the forgiveness of sins, as the point of Christian baptism:

“I would have you know for certain, that everyone who has at any time worshipped idols, and has adored those whom the pagans call gods, or has eaten of the things sacrificed to them, is not without an unclean spirit; for he has become a guest of demons, and has been partaker with that demon of which he has formed the image in his mind, either through fear or love. And by these means he is not free from an unclean spirit, and therefore needs the purification of baptism, that the unclean spirit may go out of him, which has made its abode in the inmost affects of his soul” (Clement, Recognitions, Book 2 Chap. 71).
Saint Clement of Alexandria

A formal exorcism remains part of the Catholic baptismal rite today.

This ability to cast out demons—to cure depression and mental illnesses—may account for the rapid success of Christianity, a despised and persecuted foreign sect, in conquering the Roman Empire. It seems more recently to account for the rapid spread of Christianity among the native peoples of the Americas, and in Africa. In A History of Exorcism in Catholic Christianity, Francis Young writes,

“Exorcism was a defining feature of early Christianity. Peter Brown described exorcism, without exaggeration, as ‘possibly the most highly rated activity of the early Christian church’. Whilst exorcism was not unique to Christianity, it found an unprecedented flowering in the new faith” (Young, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, p. 28).

It may not be coincidental, then, that Jesus also makes a special point of warning against harming children.

“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!’” (Matthew 18: 2-7).
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:10-14).

This passage is commonly read as referring to parenting that causes children to sin; and the “lost sheep” of the passage are taken to be sinners.

"Suffer the little children come to me..."

But this interpretation is not theologically tenable. Note that the passage makes the point that these are “little” children. Children below the age of seven or so, below the age of reason, cannot sin. Their consciences are not sufficiently developed to make this possible. Moreover, nobody can ever make another sin: for something to be sinful, it must be done with consciousness, understanding, and intent. To the extent, therefore, that a parent ever “causes” a child to sin, that sin is always simply the parent’s, and not the child’s.

Accordingly, Jesus must here actually be referring to child abuse: to a more literal “stumbling,” to a more literal child abandonment, and to a more literal and physical “perishing.” Granting that such abuse, and perhaps the worst sort of such abuse, is teaching the child falsehoods, “gaslighting,” modeling and advocating a false morality. But as we have seen, that is a usual and even an inevitable part of child abuse. It is almost always required to shield the actions and intent of the parent. Polonius has a forked tongue.

There are, of course, other themes in the New Testament; but this theme of casting out demons seems to be central. In Luke, Jesus announces his mission in the synagogue as
“good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:33).
That sounds a good deal broader than just the issue of mental illness.

But immediately after this, he casts out a demon, as if to illustrate by this what he means.

And Jesus’s sermon on not mistreating children seems to mesh with another element of the New Testament which might otherwise seem strikingly odd.

The Old Testament includes, as one of the Ten Commandments, “Honour your father and your mother.”

Yet Jesus, it must be noticed by anyone who actually reads the Bible, has little patience for “family values.” Besides not forming a family himself, he sends out his disciples with this instruction:

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10: 34-7).

He tells a prospective disciple not to bury his father:

“Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’” (Matthew 8: 21-2).

When his own mother, Mary, asks him for something, he answers “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” (John 2: 4). When he is told that she and his brothers have come to see him, but cannot make it through the crowds, he answers “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Luke 8:21). As an adolescent, he disowns his parents in the Temple (Luke 2: 48-9).

Family values indeed.

The calling of St. James and St. John

When he calls James and John to be his apostles, they are out in a boat with their father Zebedee:

“When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1: 19-20).
Is this not odd? They maroon their aged father at a word. Is it not making a point?

What then, you may ask, about the Old Testament commandment to “Honour your father and your mother?”

St. Paul parses it carefully:

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6: 1-4).
The phrasing suggests that the commandment requires an explanation. You are to honour your parents as repayment of a debt: they looked after you when you were young, so you look after them when they are elderly, and then you have a right to expect your own children to look after you when you are elderly in turn, “so that your days may be long in the land.” This is a social contract. It follows that without a tit, there is no tat: the parents have a responsibility, not to exasperate their children. If they do not do their part, the contract is broken, and the child is released from the obligation. Note too that Paul adds the phrase “parents in the Lord.” Not everyone who is a biological parent, then, qualifies. Only those who act in the Lord.

To clarify, the New Testament is not saying families are evil. Neither is it, in condemning scribes and Pharisees, saying that writing and education are evil. All are good and necessary. Yet there is also and always a great danger that an educated elite, or a parent, will abuse the abundant power each gives them. The danger is comparable in either case. And this should always be taken into account.

In sum, both the New Testament itself, and Jesus speaking in the New Testament, represent their teaching as being there expressly or primarily for the mentally ill and for the depressed.

This, to be clear, is apparently a quality it shares with the other great world religions. Both Judaism and Islam have similar reputations in earlier times of being effective at casting out demons. The Buddha makes the same point in the first of the Four Noble Truths that Jesus does in the Beatitudes, that his teaching is for those who mourn: who experience life (correctly) as “dukkha,” “ill-being.”

It was the key proof of the superiority of the ethical monotheisms and universal religions to paganism; this ability to overcome mental illness.

How does this work? Not, surely, by convincing parents to truly love their children. Certainly the New Testament makes exactly this call; love, it says, is the answer. But this still leaves the sins of the father with at least some sons. It may have reduced the incidence of mental illness for the last few hundred generations, but it can hardly account for a sudden cure of an existing possession, as described in the Bible itself.

Jesus gives a hint of an explanation in this passage:

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation” (Matthew 12: 43-5).
In other words, demonic possession requires a soul that has somehow been “emptied.” It must, to prevent possession, be “filled” with something else.

There are obvious possibilities here. It can be filled, for example, as we have seen with our heroes, with a drive for the good, the true, and the beautiful—for the Logos, in Christian terms. It can be filled, many Christians would say, with the personal presence of Jesus. It can be filled with faith, hope, and charity, or knowledge of truth, or meaning—and then the demon must stay away.

This could indeed be nearly instantaneous: a sudden insight as to the meaning of it all, like the instant when one solves a puzzle. A revelation on the road; the moment of dawn on a mountaintop; an insight while sitting under a tree.

Saul gets the picture


Again, there is a need to clarify. There is no doubt some danger here that some might conclude that people are mentally ill or depressed because they are lacking in faith. If they had more faith, surely, they would not be mentally ill.

This would be true in cases when the evil spirit came of their own fault. But the Bible is insistent that the sins of the father are visited on the son. In that case, it would not be the son (or, of course, daughter) who “lacked” faith. It is rather that they have a greater capacity and a greater need and craving for faith, or meaning, or righteousness, than others, due to their upbringing.

It almost sounds like a cure.

What might Robert Burton have to say to that?

Old Democritus Burton, in The Anatomy of Melancholy, for all that he is trying to make out that the world and its every idea are folly, is surprisingly weak in dismissing this religious option. Of which, of course, he had to be aware.

“A gentleman in Limousin,” he reports at the end of one chapter, “saith Anthony Verdeur, was persuaded he had but one leg, affrighted by a wild boar, that by chance struck him on the leg; he could not be satisfied his leg was sound (in all other things well) until two Franciscans by chance coming that way, fully removed him from the conceit. Sed abunde fabularum audivimus,—enough of story-telling.”

Burton here ends the chapter (Subsection III: Particular Symptoms from the influence of Stars, parts of the Body, and Humours).

If this report is true, it is a compelling example of a religious cure. But Burton can only dismiss it by calling it “story telling”--at the same time conceding that such reports are “abundant.” But the fact that he offers no further rebuttal is itself telling.

St. Francis Borgia performing an exorcism

Further along, he reports,

“The papists on the one side stiffly maintain how many melancholy, mad, demoniacal persons are daily cured at St. Anthony’s Church in Padua, at St. Vitus’ in Germany, by our Lady of Loretto in Italy, our Lady of Sichem in the Low Countries: … twenty-five thousand in a day come thither; ... our eyes and ears are full of her cures, and who can relate them all? … Read but ... Coster and Gretser's Tract de Cruce, Laur. Arcturus Fanteus de Invoc. Sanct. Bellarmine, Delriodis. mag. tom. 3. l. 6. quaest. 2. sect. 3. Greg. Tolosanus tom. 2. lib. 8. cap. 24. Syntax. Strozius Cicogna lib. 4. cap. 9. Tyreus, Hieronymus Mengus, [a fine example of Burton’s painstaking scholarship here] and you shall find infinite examples of cures done in this kind, by holy waters, relics, crosses, exorcisms, amulets, images, consecrated beads, &c. Barradius the Jesuit boldly gives it out, that Christ’s countenance, and the Virgin Mary’s, would cure melancholy, if one had looked steadfastly on them. P. Morales the Spaniard in his book de pulch. Jes. et Mar. confirms the same out of Carthusianus, and I know not whom, that it was a common proverb in those days, for such as were troubled in mind to say, eamus ad videndum filium Mariae, let us see the son of Mary, as they now do post to St. Anthony’s in Padua, or to St. Hilary’s at Poitiers in France. In a closet of that church, there is at this day St. Hilary’s bed to be seen, to which they bring all the madmen in the country, and after some prayers and other ceremonies, they lay them down there to sleep, and so they recover. It is an ordinary thing in those parts, to send all their madmen to St. Hilary’s cradle.”

But Burton is writing in England in the heat of the Protestant Reformation. He does not have the option of pilgrimage to Dymphna’s shrine. Indeed, as a matter of personal security, he is probably obliged to scoff at all such reports, or face trial for heresy. Burton’s Protestant response is to point out that there were similar pagan shrines to various gods and goddesses who supposedly healed diseases. Beyond that, “for their catalogue of examples, we make no other answer, but that they are false fictions, or diabolical illusions, counterfeit miracles.”

Possible, of course; but not evidence nor argument, just an assertion of opinion. It could hardly he a weaker response. There is, as he himself relates, a prodigious amount of evidence otherwise. As the title of his chapter suggests (“Memb. III. Whether it be lawful to seek to Saints for Aid in this Disease”), Burton’s legally obligatory Protestant faith simply requires him to say this.

This, on the other hand, the religious option, is an obvious possible content for Burton’s image of solitude, which he seems to advocate. When one retires to the wilderness, what is one going to think about? Game of Thrones?

Perhaps “get thee to a nunnery” is the best advice.



Nazis at the Gates



Life in the 20-teens? Fifties? Or Thirties?

Psst—wanna read an actual white supremacist tract? A declaration of Fascist doctrine? Want to know what the neo-Nazis are really thinking?

You will be appalled.

Apparently, just such a piece was recently published by the Philadelphia Inquirer, written by two U of Pennsylvania law profs. We are talking Ivy League here; the enemy is at the gates.

A group of their colleagues, thankfully, sprang into action, and quickly published a rebuttal, actually several rebuttals, with a call that they at least be prevented from teaching first-year law courses.

“Professor Wax’s statements amount to an explicit and implicit endorsement of white supremacy,” they write. “Silence in the face of such dangerous ideas is unacceptable.” “Professor Wax’s rants are also a textbook example of how white supremacy and cultural elitism are used to denigrate the poor and sustain and justify the gross wealth inequality that defines American capitalism.” Her views are “morally toxic” and “intellectually bankrupt.”

Odd that, in something so explicit (their word), I cannot see any actual reference to “whites,” let alone to the idea that they are “supreme.”

Yet this, apparently, is as explicit as “white supremacy” ever gets. We have their word on it.

Draw your own conclusions.

Wax and her colleague Larry Alexander are advocating a return to the “bourgeois” values that were dominant in America in the 1940s and 50s.

Yes, they are aware that there were awful things in the fifties too:

“Was everything perfect during the period of bourgeois cultural hegemony? Of course not. There was racial discrimination, limited sex roles, and pockets of anti-Semitism.”

The authors further disassociate themselves from any racial implications: “They (these values) could be followed by people of all backgrounds and abilities.”

As of course they could. This was the essential premise on which the American system, the American nationality, and these American values were founded: the melting pot.

Accordingly, we must necessarily conclude that the position of the left now is that one’s culture is genetically determined. And this is an indisputable fact; it is “racist” and “intellectually bankrupt” to question it. You are born with a genetic imprint to speak English, drink tea, or enjoy salsa. This is not something you could, or should ever want, to change.

What could be more profoundly racist than that? You may indeed, then, be judged by the colour of your skin. It supposedly reveals the content of your character.

So what are the genetic traits that the profs who objected to Wax’s editorial—not, please note, Wax—believe are inbred in people by white, Anglo-Saxon genetics?

From her essay—this is what she advocates:

“Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.”

It follows that anyone who is not a “white supremacist” must believe that all non-whites are genetically programmed to:

  • have children before they get married, 
  • avoid education, 
  • avoid hard work, 
  • prefer idleness, 
  • not work hard for an employer or client, 
  • have no feeling for their country, 
  • be bad neighbours, 
  • be selfish, 
  • use coarse language in public, 
  • disrespect authority, 
  • abuse substances and 
  • commit crimes.

And how is this not racism in its extreme form?

Among other things, it would mean that people have good reason if they redline neighbourhoods to keep out non-whites, refuse to hire African-Americans, or want to deport all Hispanic immigrants. They would be crazy not to.

Obviously, the Penn NLG claim that Wax’s views are “white supremacist” is a dodge. That is not their problem. They are the white supremacists. If they are serious, their claims are plainly hysterical. They have lost all contact with reality.

Something that seems to be seen on the left increasingly in recent days. As if a bubble is about to pop.

But their claims also presuppose something else—and this is their real problem with Wax’s views.

The problem is that they hate “conventional morality.” Any port in a storm: call it “racist” and hope that will make it go away.

They want for themselves the right, if they so choose, to have children without getting married ,and then divorce if the marriage no longer suits them. They do not want to feel any obligation to put out at their job or for their clients—students, in their case. They do not want to be constrained to not swear in public, to being polite and well-mannered, to avoiding drugs.

It is a neat smokescreen to pretend that their concerns are for others, and supposedly the oppressed, of some other race. It is for their own highly privileged selves.

If you are spoiled badly enough, you will see even the slightest constraint on your own conduct, even the constraints of morality, as Fascism.

And that is where all the Fascists and Nazis are suddenly coming from. Anyone who suggests there might actually be a smidgeon of difference between right and wrong is now a Nazi.

Ironically, because real Fascism was just such a free-for-all in which the constraints of morality were thrown off.

In just this fashion.

These are the racists. These are the white supremacists. These are the Nazis.

They are on the left.

I hope and suspect that the general public will see through their current hysteria, and we will not have to go through again the sort of thing we went through in the 30s. Or at other times in other places: the Cultural Revolution of the 70s in China, and so forth.





Saturday, September 09, 2017

The Socialist Response to Hurricane Harvey



Had a lengthy discussion with a bunch of leftists over on Facebook.

It was prompted by a post from Bernie Sanders arguing, in effect, that Hurricane Harvey was an argument for socialism. After all, can we expect free enterprise to clean up after the storm?



A reasonable point, if debatable. A lot of businesses actually are chipping in, on their own bat. Given a free market, it is actually in their interests to do so. Good PR, good advertising. There is a lot of talk too about the “Cajun Navy.” As at Dunkirk, private citizens do seem able to mobilize to help one another in a real crisis without government being involved. At least, they do in a relatively healthy society. Granted that government should be involved at such times, Hurricane Harvey has not been an obvious model of the efficiency of government over private approaches.

Then someone chipped in in the comments that free enterprise was responsible for the hurricane in the first place.

This seemed to me obviously delusional. So they never get hit by hurricanes in Cuba?

He actually replied, “but look at Canada! Look at Sweden!”

Indeed, there are no hurricanes in Canada or Sweden. There may, on the other hand, be something other than socialism that they have in common, that might account for this. Need a hint? Check a map. Moreover, one thing they obviously do not have in common is socialism. Canada is less “socialist” in even the “social welfare” sense than most of Western Europe. If Canada is “socialist,” essentially any country other than the US would appear to be “socialist.” Sweden is more or less indistinguishable from that pack. It is a quaint urban myth that Sweden is “socialist.” Sweden has been moving to the right for a generation or more.

But others chimed in, and in agreement with this first comment. Even granted that government cannot control the weather, they argued that the damage was far more extensive than it should have been, because Houston has poor zoning regulations, and a lot of people had built dangerously; and then not bothered with insurance.

“Houston is famous for having virtually no city planning or zoning. Flood planes, build baby build. Insurance, who needs it. This is the free market loading up on risk. Well, the bets been called and it's time to pay up.”

The beauties of urban planning. 

Seems like a backwards argument to me. Surely this particular moral hazard is worse given more government intervention. Why indeed bother with insurance if you can be reasonably confident that, if the worst comes, the government will come in and bail you out with relief money? Wouldn’t people in fact be more cautious about such things precisely when their own money is on the line?

Ah, they replied, government is good for protecting people from things like their own greed.

“The government is wise, well intentioned and takes the long view. Therefore it won't let its citizens take unreasonable risks. It creates things like regulations, plans and standards to protect people from their worst desires, greed being one of them.”

Does that sound right? Wait a minute. Why should government be wiser at this, or less greedy, than the individuals involved? Surely only if we can confidently assume that government officials are significantly smarter than the general population, and significantly more moral. Not just a little smarter and a little more moral—a lot more. Because their special magical wonderfullness must overcome the probability that the individual has a better idea of their own wants and needs, and better knowledge of the immediate situation on the ground.

By what mechanism might this be possible?

In fact, it would seem that the risk of humans being greedy is exactly why the free market is the better approach, where it is practical. In a free market, if anyone gets greedy, they lose. People stop buying from them, or stop selling to them, or stop working for them. It with a socialist system, in which the government has enough power to reach in and tinker more or less at will, that greed gets free rein. Checked ultimately, in a democracy, at the ballot box, but that is a weak, infrequent, and very blunt method.

But, the leftists replied, civil servants are chosen by competitive examination, ensuring that they are in fact smarter than the general population.

I cannot quote them there. I find they later deleted this comment.

This is, certainly, the best idea in choosing members of a civil service. It is the old Confucian idea. But there are reasons why it does not work that well in practice—in China, it fell apart about as soon as it had to deal with the Western free market traders on its borders.

Not, mind you, that it is actually followed in Canada or the US in the first place. This “competitive civil service exam” seems to be a myth. I have several times been hired to essentially civil service positions, and there was no rigorous process involved. It seemed pretty ad hoc each time. Competitive exams may be used for some high positions, but not for civil service positions generally. And even when they are, I note that the current practice in the Canadian civil service, officially, is not to hire on merit. The requirement is only that managers hire someone who is competent for the position. Beyond that, if nothing else, “affirmative action” trumps merit. And that leaves a wide latitude allowing managers to exercise personal preferences, cronyism, or self-interest.

As a result, we can best assume that the average civil servant is of average intelligence. He or she is chosen more or less at random from the general population.

But even given rigorous tests and qualification requirements, as Confucianism used, there is an immediate and seemingly insurmountable problem: how do you qualify the people who wrote the tests in the first place? If they are themselves randomly chosen, just the guys who happened to be there, there is no telling whether the tests are meaningful. Confucians based theirs on the personal prestige of Confucius, who set at least the curriculum. You almost need to be able to appeal to some figure like that, and their own prestige is a matter of faith. Not that faith is a bad thing. But it is banned from consideration in the Canadian or US civil service apparatus.

Confucian civil service exam, Song Dynasty

The second problem—and this bedevilled the Confucian system—is that you have to be able to rely on the moral uprightness of those who give and mark the test. Without some supervision—and who then supervises the supervision?—they are entirely likely, in the natural run of human affairs, to cook results to help friends, those most like themselves, or those prepared to slip them something on the side. So that the qualification process is ultimately dubious on these grounds alone.

Confucianism assumed, to counter this, that Confucians would all have signed onto and would honestly practice a well-known code of ethical conduct. That was their defense against this; and that was the true core of the Confucian system. And it was not a strong defense, as it turned out. Not strong enough. But without a similar strongly shared sense of values and of honour, without a specifically religious mandate, no Canadian or American system can hope to do even as well.

Which brings us to our second problem: government will do better than the private sector only if we can assume that civil servants are more moral, less inclined to do things out of self-interest, less motivated by greed, than the general population. Otherwise, instead of tending reliably to the best interests of all, they will may exploit their powers to benefit themselves. If they are no more inclined to do so than the general population, they are still a worse solution than leaving it to the general population.

A leftist respondent replied, that so long as you pay civil servants an adequate salary, they will have no motivation to look to their own self-interest. They will do what is best for all.

A common socialist assumption, I guess. But surely the same assumption must then apply to businessmen, entrepreneurs, and corporate executives. They are already well-paid, the lot of them. So it stands to reason that they will always do what is best for everyone, and never act otherwise, without any need for supervision, checks, regulations, or balances.

So why have government regulation in the first place?

To be clear, there is a case for government regulation. Just not this one. An example: doping in sports. Given a completely free market, each athlete faces a cruel choice: either dope up, and risk their health, or not dope up, and risk their career against those who might. Accordingly, it is sometimes in everyone’s interest to have government, or some overseeing body, regulate.

But a more important issue is that it is always in the self-interest of those responsible for regulating to add more regulations. Each new rule increases their power, and their opportunities, if they are so inclined, for graft. Extra regulations will also find support among the regulated: for those already on the playing field, each new regulation increases the bar to entry, protecting their interests against competition.

Let me now point out that, without a strong religious mandate, any “Confucian” system of choosing the supposed best and brightest will actually work to produce a civil service morally worse than the general population, instead of one morally better. Making it that much more important to keep government out of any areas where it is not truly needed.

Because as soon as such a system, relying as it must on everyone behaving with strict morality in order to work, is morally breached, it actually selects for immorality. Once “everybody knows” within the organization that the selection process is bogus, or at least once those in charge of screening know it, as they would have to, it becomes in everyone’s interest inside the organization that any genuinely moral people, or at least any genuinely moral people of intelligence, be kept out. They could ruin everything! Everyone could lose their job!

We see this situation now, I submit, in our schools, in our universities, in our media, as well as in the civil service proper. I suspect it is common in the professions generally. It is only part of the awful price we pay jettisoning our traditional Judeo-Christian moral code. We started to do that in the late 19th Century, and it has been accelerating in recent years.

I’m afraid my friends on the left do not even have a case that government, unlike business or individuals, “takes the long view.” This is actually a fundamental problem with democracy. Each of us as individuals takes the long view: we are concerned about our own future for our natural life span, and, if we have children, for indefinite generations to come. This is the strength, too, of a monarchical system.

Democracy sacrifices that. While civil servants may count on job security until retirement, this still leaves them with less skin in the game, or no more, than the average citizen. And their political overlords, to whom and to whose interests they are largely answerable, have much less cause for forward thinking than this. For a US congressman, the natural horizon is the next election, in just two years. Granted, they may get reelected. Who knows? The president, chief of the civil service, has no reason to look more than eight years ahead—after that point, he cannot be reelected in any case.

By contrast, the typical corporate executive can count currently on holding his position for an average of 9.7 years. And most big corporations give executives stock options, ensuring substantial reason to tend to the longer future of the company.

For an entrepreneur, the horizon is a lifetime, plus descendants until Doomsday. That is where the real forward thinking will come. By comparison with a Steve Jobs, an Elon Musk, or a Jeff Bezos, government is always mired in the moment.

I hate to think of myself as "on the right." Ideology is a replacement for thought. I just want to find the best solutions to problems. But it seems to me that folks on the left, if sincere, must just be terribly naive. Or themselves in government.