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Monday, June 16, 2008

Thoughts on Human Dignity (Sirico)

In my recent posting I hinted at the first point Sirico made, which is that in an argument, we should try to find the source of disagreement so that we can discover truth. We should do this because we should love truth rather than our own opinion. Indeed, the importance of truth was emphasized throughout the conference. The truth discussed was truth as correspondence rather than truth as alatheia, as one would expect at a conference focusing primarily on economics. Why support free market economics? Because it is the true source of wealth, value, and liberty.

Central to the question of truth is the question of anthropology. Do we know who we are? "Who is man that thou art mindful of him?" (8th Psalm). We need to have a clear understanding of who and what human beings are -- what is the truth of human nature? The Christian perspective is, of course, that man is imperfect, having fallen from grace after eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. (The irony here being that by becoming more like God, in knowing of good and evil, we fell from grace with God.) If man is not perfect, then utopia is not and can never be an option. We cannot have heaven on earth. Indeed, every attempt to create a heaven on earth has in fact resulted in the creation of hell on earth. One doesn't need Christian theology to tell you that -- the empirical evidence is in.

Sirico observed that we typically have a misunderstanding of our nature. He observed that we are not spirit inside of flesh (the dualist perspective), but spirit-flesh. There are several implications to this. One is that rules are not arbitrary and are not imposed from above, but rather emerge from the full truth of who human beings are. "Is implies the ought." Further, this means that human beings all have integrity -- that is, a unified behavior which we can apply to multiple places. Postmodern thought has emphasized our lack of integrity, much to our detriment. We expect people to act differently with different people, and so they do. My parents expected me to act the same way no matter where I was, whether I was with them or not -- and I did, for the most part. The fact of the matter is that, of course, we act somewhat differently in different situations and with different people, but we also should have enough integrity that we can and do live by a set of core values and morals.

This anti-dualism also helps us to understand that the material and the spiritual are related. Yes, we are material beings, meaning we are, like animals, bound to things by instincts, but we are also spiritual beings, meaning we are bound to things by reason as well. Indeed, it is reason which gives rise to property in the human sense (I have also observed in a previous posting that instincts equally give rise to property -- the combination of the two only strengthens the idea of private property). As spiritual beings, man related to the material world through universality/permanence. Property comes about when people place value on things and give them purpose. Labor combined with nature gives rise to property (remembering that, in a factory, the workers are selling the property created by their labor to the company they are working for). A river, for example, is just a body of water. But a river combined with human reason and purpose makes a river into a transportation route to improve lives. As a result, the right to property makes possible the protection of human dignity and liberty.

Central to what the Acton Institute is trying to emphasize, though, is the primacy of the human person. A great deal of economic science was criticized for ignoring this very thing, for seeing humans as a sort of dehumanized "economic man" -- something all socialists in particular are guilty of. We have to remember that a person is a thing, while "people" is an abstraction -- something Marxists, socialists, and welfare statists all forget. Part of realizing that the person is a thing, and that we need to consider the primacy of the human person is realizing that the free economy has to be tied to virtue for the society to be virtuous. Free markets spread good and bad equally. To free markets, what matters is what people want -- a free market is just as willing to distribute pornography as Bibles. Thus, it is best that one have a moral populace when one has free markets (we will see later that regarding some activities, markets do actually make us better people, while in other activities, we have to be good first). If we take liberty as license and also get rid of truth (as the postmodern Left does), we get decadence and oppression. So what is the end of Freedom? LIving a life of dignity and virtue. RIght is the moral implication of the truth. Truth (is) implies right/morals (ought).

If the goal is economic prosperity, the facts are in: that is achieved only by allowing people to engage in free enterprise. This results in the sharing of intelligence across society, which is only interrupted by government interference. This is the truth of economics. Thus, it is only right and moral to support free market economics and to oppose Marxism, socialism, and the welfare state. No small reason for this opposition, though, is the fact that the state simply cannot love. This is far more important than people believe. Without love, help and charity is dehumanizing. This is why welfare programs are as devastating as they are to the morals, psychology and material well being of the people on welfare. They take away and offend the dignity of those receiving welfare, whose lives are rendered meaningless and dehumanized, driving them to offend their own dignity even more in drunkenness (whether with alcohol, drugs, or power), delusion, ignorance, and the acceptance of bribes (which includes the bribery they receive from government in the form of welfare). What they need is the kind of authentic love which helps to get them out of their desperation, a desperation which makes it hard for some to have the authentic hope (not the platitudes of a Barack Obama, but the real thing) necessary to see possibilities and to get out the trouble and problems they find themselves in.

The complete talk can be heard here

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