Monday, June 30, 2008

The Sounds of a Culture

Here is an interesting article on the sounds of the Aztecs and Mayas. In the article it is observed that archeologists tend to treat ancient cultures as if they were "deaf ad mute." Indeed, we tend to forget a lot of the daily goings-on in now-dead cultures -- even with the current interest in daily life among historians. In a poetry discussion group, the ignorance about the importance of poetry in older cultures is astounding. They seem ignorant of wandering bards and raconteurs, that the first poetry was sung and acted as a way to carry cultural and religious beliefs from place to place, and across time. This, too, was part of the cacophony of life in the past.

What will future archeologists understand about our sounds? What could we now say about them?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Limited Government and the Rule of Law

If you want to know what is good for society, you first have to know what is good for the individuals which make up that society. What is good for individuals is a life of virtue (Aristotle), and the purpose of society is the perfection of the individual. This is why we need a free society: because freedom makes it possible for us to flourish and to become excellent.

The Church, by definition, limits the state, because it (and God) requires loyalty -- meaning the state cannot have our full loyalty. The presence of other institutions that require our dividing our loyalties is known as "subsidiarity." UNder this idea, a community of higher order should not interfere with the internal life of a community of a lower order except to aid in the true common good. We have loyalties to ourselves, to our families, to our churches, etc. Of course, those in favor of large, strong governments know this, which is why those in favor of big government (the Left) are anti-religion, anti-family, and anti-individualism. Totalitarianism sees Christianity as an obstacle. This is not only because the church requires a certain level of loyalty, but also because the Church proclaims that whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State goes against Christian theology. Those in favor of utopian states also go against Christian theology. Humans are good, but fallen, and we therefore need to deter and punish people, meaning we need to implement justice (but also use mercy -- the Left is all too happy to impose justice, but avoids mercy). If we recognize that people are not and can never be perfect, then attempts to create utopias will always fail, and create Hell on earth. There is no such thing as a "right person" to rule, since any ruler we get will also be an imperfect person. That being the case, it is best to decentralize power to allow for more natural social bonds to form. More often than not, big government breaks as many social bonds as possible, to make sure all loyalties are to the state. But we need society, community, social order, and love to flourish and live a life of virtue. Government can supply none of these things -- but it can break the bonds that contribute to love, order, and virtue. Under totalitarianism, we lose the freedom to be responsible. This is devastating to the human spirit.

The state must obey the same laws as the individual citizens. When a government creates laws it does not have to abide by, either 1) the law for the citizens is unjust, or 2) the lack of law for the state is unjust. An unjust law is no law at all (Aquinas and Augustine). Thus, the law should not be arbitrary. We should have rule of law, not rule of men. Just laws include due process, enforcing of contracts (voluntary agreements), and consistency within the law, meaning the law has equal application and is predictable. Further, the state should contribute to the common good. The common good does not mean that the state should do everything (or even that it should do much of anything). No government can know everyone's hopes, dreams, needs, wants, etc. So no government could ever run a society and culture efficiently -- even if efficiency were the only issue (and who wants a dehumanizing "efficiency"?). The common good are those social conditions which allow people to reach fulfillment fully and easily. The foundational conditions of this are life and freedom. On top of the founding conditions must be laid such things as a proper economy, proper foreign policy, etc. The proper end is the creation of virtuous people. Human vice is what causes social problems; social problems are not the cause of vice (though social problems may encourage vice in a vicious circle). We have the kind of society we have because of the virtue or vice of the people in that society. The society then, in turn, encourages or discourages vice or virtue. If we are not creating more virtuous people (or the unvirtuous are growing), then there is something wrong with the society and the government (the church especially is guilty of having fallen short in it mission too, it seems). State control prevents loving personal concern and is therefore dehumanizing. You cannot expect a dehumanized people to be virtuous. Of course, it is well known that virtuous people need less government, so the fact that the government has programs, like welfare, that make people less virtuous, should give us pause. Why should a government want its people to be less virtuous? Well, if you want more power, and a virtuous people need less government, the easiest way to get more power is to make the people less virtuous.

Now, while we certainly want a society which encourages virtue, does that mean that law should forbid all evil? Certainly the law should not condone nor encourage bad behavior -- but it should tolerate such behavior. Why? A forced virtue is no virtue at all. Still, the claim that "You can't legislate morality" is nonsense on the face of it, since all law is legislation of morality. What we have to decide is what laws will make for a more truly virtuous people. The law should never be a burden, and mercy should always be part of the calculation.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Supreme Court's Wrong Decision

I find it more than a bit odd that the Supreme Court declared that the rights recognized by the U.S. Constitution apply to non-citizens/residents. What other country would have the audacity to declare that their Constitution's laws extended to include the citizens of other countries? The Constitution applies only to "We the People of the United States . . ." The Constitution makes it clear that the Congress is supposed to pass treaties. The international treaties we have agreed to abide by make it clear what we should do with the captives at GItmo. The Supreme Court should have declared what is in fact the case: they have no jurisdiction to decide anything about the citizens of other countries or about treaties we have signed.

I do think they were right about the 2nd Amendment, though. And while I'm against the death penalty, I do sometimes find the Court's understanding of "cruel and unusual" to be a bit odd.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Which is the best course: "Don't just sit there, do something," or "Don't just do something, sit there (at least for a while)"?

The first is termed "priority of praxis" -- praxis being "right action." WIth a philosophy of priority of praxis, what matters is what we do, and what we do affects what we think. If this is true, then it leads naturally to relativism. This is to be compared to the idea that what we think affects what we do. When we put thought before action, we first ask "why are we doing what we are doing?" This is a question not important under priority of praxis.

If action is what matters, then what we see is history just working itself out, and what we think doesn't matter. More, we should think at all about what we're doing. If action is all, and history is action, history is all, and we're not responsible for our actions. THe priority of praxis attitude leads to such catch-phrases as "Don't just sit there, do something," and "What's important is that you do something." As a consequence, what is important is one's good intentions, not the outcome of one's actions. It doesn't matter if you're on the right path or not, so long as you are moving forward. The problem is, with such an attitude, all one is going to do is get lost.

Good intentions don't matter. But neither do the ends justify the means. Virtuous action means first doing things for the right reason, then second knowing how to actually achieve the ends desired. If you intend to help someone, but you harm them instead, you should not be praised for good intentions. A good example would be if someone is having a heart attack, and you don't know CPR, but you administer it anyway and end up breaking the person's ribs, making it impossible for someone who does know CPR to save the person's life. You may have had good intentions, but the dead man's family would be right in being angry with you. They are right, because you acted unethically in attempting to do something you were not trained to do. Piety is no replacement for proper methods.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Few Thoughts on Reason

Reason was an important topic at Acton U. A few observations about reason that were made there:

ratio is empirical reason. It is scientific reasoning
Intellectio is reasoning about deeper things. It is philosophical, religious, and artistic reasoning, or reasoning in the humanities.
The two were split in about the 1300's, with the decisive split made by Descartes.

Faith without reason leads to fanaticism.
Reason without faith leads one to a scientistic denial of human liberty.
Faith (the subjective, feelings) and reason (the objective) are both necessary to have a full, complete, holistic human being.

Freedom for excellent is more reasonable than freedom for indifference.

The freedom to choose means that you have both rational and irrational choices. SInce many people today try to avoid judgement, many theorists have denies that we in fact have freedom to choose. If we don't believe in choice, we don't believe in freedom. When we don't value human freedom, we look to government to solve all our problems.

If we are to be balanced, whole human beings, we need to embrace feelings, experience, and reason. All three simultaneously. Those who want to deny reason are doing so because they don't want to be judged, they don't want to be responsible for their actions. They are selfish and immoral, which leads them to discarding reason and freedom to justify their actions. Why are we allowing selfish, immoral people to tell us what the world is like?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Against Nominalism

One of the issues that was raised in the talk on Christian anthropology was that of nominalism. Nominalism says that universals don't exist outside the mind, and that things with similar names but which are different objects have no connection to each other. For the nominalist, physical particulars are what exist, and that universals and concepts are mental constructs. This has resulted in the postmodern ideas that we only name things, and that things have no real outside reality, and that there is no such thing as natural inclinations in humans. A consequence has been the gradual abandonment of reason and the elevation of the will -- meaning that nominalist freedom is freedom to choose absent reason. Freedom is freedom of the will to do what it pleases. The idea of nominalism was first suggested by William of Ockham, and has gradually evolved to the philosophy of Nietzsche (where the speaker stopped) and, more so, to postmodernist theory.

For the nominalist, freedom is the power to affect things. Will is determined by nothing (it is neither external nor internal) -- as it is neither connected to PLatonic universals nor to human nature. The result is that autonomy is freedom -- autonomy from nature, law, God, etc. One does not gain truth through rational discourse or reason-driven investigation, but by will, resulting in a clashing of wills as the driving force of history.

Now, it's not that nominalism rejects reason outright, but that it sees reason as being slave to the will. Of course, nominalists do use rational arguments to forward their nominalist philosophy, so one could easily argue that nominalism is self-refuting. The rejection of reason would be reason enough for Catholic theologians to reject nominalism, but the fact that nominalism also holds that divine revelation is not rational (meaning God is therefore not rational) should make Christians concerned with the dominance of this philosophy. Yet, I have had discussions with professed Christians who believe that nobody receives divine revelation (at least, not anymore -- they solve the problem of what the NT says by saying that divine revelation and miracles had its time and place, but that we're no longer in a time where those things happen). A Christian who denies divine revelation is in fact a nominalist. This is perhaps why we see more and more people seeing God as arbitrary and willful rather than as being a loving God.

Nominalism leads to a deterministic world view (which includes historical determinism, like Marxism). Since we are determined, we are not responsible for our actions. Since we are water atoms in the river of history, we are being moved rather than moving anything -- so how could we be responsible for our actions? This being the case, nominalism leads to a lack of virtue (or vice) in action. It further leads to a view of the world as being only empirical -- that the senses provide the only evidence for reality.

The speaker talked about how nominalism leads us to the philosophy of Nietzsche, a claim I could spend a lot of time discussing. On one hand, it most certainly does. It certainly leads to the postmodernist conception of Nietzsche's philosophy, at least. In fact, what we see in Nietzsche is an attempt to first take nominalism to its logical conclusion -- nihilism. Nietzsche then tries to develop a philosophy on the other side of this critique. Unfortunately, Nietzsche uses some of the same language as nominalism -- things like will, like in his Will to Power -- and this can cause a great deal of confusion. Nietzsche sought to resolve many of the problems of nominalism, while retaining the critique of universals. It seems clear that while we do indeed look at many different things and subtract the differences to get the concept, at the same time, it seems that there is in fact a similarity there to notice. This seems to be resolved with the idea of strange attractors, which brings back the idea of there being universals "out there" -- outside the human mind -- without them being quite Platonic Forms. I'm of the opinion that Nietzsche was in fact groping toward this idea with his ideas of the Will to Power and the Eternal Return. The real result of nominalism, thus, is not Nietzsche per se, but the postmodernists.

In the end, nominalism is wrong. Strange attractors theory shows how there can be universals in a physical sense. Further, determinism has been greatly problemitized by quantum physics, systems, complexity, and emergence. Emotions or will may in fact precede reason evolutionarily, but that does not mean it rules reason. What comes later often rules what came before. Reason is one of those things. Further, a great deal of biological research has shown that there is in fact a human nature and, more, that we have a set of natural ethical drives. So science -- biological science especially -- has proven the intractability of nominalism. It may not return us entirely to ancient Greek and Medieval Christian ideas, but it is remarkable how far toward those positions things like emergence, systems, and strange attractors have pushed us. We do not have to accept nominalism's end result of nihilism. The world is in fact meaningful and full of value. Meaning, value, and virtue are what make us free, not nihilism and anarchy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What is Freedom For?

Too often we take for granted that freedom is something we should want to have. Thus, we take it for granted. Further, we treat it as an end and not a means to something. Thus, we don't even understand what freedom is.

At Acton U., freedom was connected to virtue. The aim is not liberty as libertinism, as license to do whatever you want. The aim is to allow people to have liberty so that they are able to chose to do right. Virtue is not coerced. If I hold a gun to someone's head and make them do something immoral, that person is not culpable for their actions. Conversely, one is not to be praised for being forced to do what's right. Both vice and virtue must be freely chosen. Love, too, must be freely chosen to be love. In the end, the aim is to have a virtuous liberty -- but to have that, you have to have the option of choosing vice.

It was observed at Acton U. that in the Old Testament, the jews connected the obeying of the Mosaic law with liberty. This showed a deep understanding of the connection between rules and liberty. For Jews, liberty was liberation from servitude -- and this included the servitude of sins and the base appetites. If you are a slave to mental sickness, you are not truly free. The same is true of immoral behavior. Indeed, those who are slaves to immorality are more easily enslaved to people and to governments. So following good rules in fact allow you to have more freedom, not less. A child banging on a piano demonstrates only a very primitive kind of freedom. No rules are involved. However, as a child learned to play piano, that child goes through certain stages toward developing freedom. First, the child has to have discipline. This leads to rote playing. Mastery follows, which then leads to the child being able to create their own musical compositions. This helps demonstrate the connections among liberty, good, and truth. One has to learn the true way to play piano to become good, which then leads you to creative liberty. (This same approach should be taken in poetry and the other arts -- why do we not take a pianist who hasn't learned how to play the piano properly seriously, but we will take seriously artists and poets who won't learn their arts in the same way? -- people think because they can speak, they can do poetry, though they would never think they could compose music just because they can hum.)

With the advent of Christianity, though, you have the introduction of Christian freedom. Rather than merely having prohibitions, you are now free to do good. For the Christian, freedom is a call to be holy; freedom is liberty in Christ.

For St. Thomas Aquinas, reflecting the influence of Aristotle, freedom was freedom for excellence. Free choice was oriented toward human happiness and excellence and was therefore connected to virtue and reason. For Aquinas, there is a connection among happiness, love, and truth. Freedom comes about through a rational inclination to truth and happiness. Reason leads to truth, while will leads to goodness.

Humans are free and in control of our actions because of our rational inclinations to truth and happiness, not in spite of these things. Reason and virtue lead to freedom which leads to a more human life of choice and happiness.

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

Sunday, June 15, 2008

On Universities -- Markets and Egalitarianism

The crisis in the universities has come about because of two influences: egalitarianism and markets. As universities have embraced an egalitarian ethos, they have lowered standards to let in more and more students. In turn, this has resulted in a market for those students, which has further driven down standards across the board. This also happens in no small part because most universities receive government funding, and so do not want to be seen as "discriminating" in any way, shape, or form. Of course, this, too, is part of the egalitarian ethos. This helps explain why universities, when exposed to market forces, have gotten worse and worse. We don't see this in things like grocery stores, for example. The grocery stores are not controlled by people with a singular ideology. Some grocery stores want to serve the poor, others want to serve middle-incomes, and other grocery stores want to serve the wealthy. The result is that the poor get cheaper food, though they may have to spend more time looking through the produce to find good tomatoes -- while the wealthy have to pay more for the privilege of not having to look through the produce at all. The rich can have boutique grocery stores, while the poor have more affordable food. If the universities weren't run by egalitarians, we could have the same thing in higher education, based on abilities. The smartest could go to boutique universities, where they would be faced with the most challenging education possible, while those with average intelligence could go to Wal-Mart University. One could argue that we have this with community colleges, state universities, and the Ivy League schools (and their equivalents), but the fact is that the last two are increasingly dumbing down. I have taught at a state university that was not giving any better an education than was the community college I taught at. I have also taught at a state university that was offering a better education overall, though local companies still complained that the graduates couldn't write.

One thing that was emphasized over and over at Acton U. was that the market will give the people what they want. This was seen as both a blessing and as a potential problem (markets are most efficient at distributing both food and pornography). But what if the ones providing the service have a unifying ideology that ultimately results in a cartel, as we see in the universities? That's when we get market failure. We need more education entrepreneurs who can open universities that are bereft of egalitarians so that high-quality education can be provided for the best and brightest. The cartels need to be broken up -- they are standing in the way of true market forces, which can release the latent talent, creativity and energies of this country.

On Facts and Opinions

Last night I heard an objection I have often heard in various guises: "Why should I listen to you or anyone else? Everyone thinks they're right." The assumption behind this is one of the basic problems we find in the U.S. -- the inability to differentiate between fact and opinion. Involved in this is an inability to understand the relationship between fact and opinion, and the differentiation between true opinion and mere opinion. But let's start with the first distinction.

For the most part, people aren't typically going to challenge what you say about scientific facts at the physical, chemical, geological, meteorological (unless they're an ecotheist), biological (unless they're a creationist), or ecological (see ecotheist comment) levels -- but if you start talking about human things, like human nature, psychology, culture, social behaviors, economics, politics, or the arts, then you run into the objection that everyone thinks they are right. Here the assumption is that there is no such thing as human truth/facts, but that it's all nothing but opinion. But there are facts about humans we have to take into consideration. Humans are social, but also individuals. Humans have a large number of instincts which express themselves as universals. Humans have moral minds, which lead to ethical universals. One could go on and on. Of course, there are variations on these universals, giving them somewhat fuzzy edges, but just because something has fuzzy edges doesn't mean it doesn't exist. This being the case, there are in fact things one can say about humans that are in fact right, and it doesn't matter if you think they are right or not. Facts don't care a whit about your opinion of them.

Thus, if there are facts about human beings, one can develop opinions based on those facts that are more or less correct. The more of these kinds of facts on takes into consideration, the more likely your opinion is going to be right. The result is the development of a true opinion. Those who rely only on how they feel about something, not taking facts into consideration, have a mere opinion. They may discover that the facts do happen to agree with them, at which point it becomes true opinion, but i have discovered that when it comes to human things, especially economics, this is rarely the case.

I try to avoid mere opinion. If I do not know something, I admit the fact. I also try to learn what is actually the case about human nature, and make fine adjustments in that light. So when I give someone advice, it is because I have a fairly high level of confidence in my knowledge about human beings in that area. It doesn't mean I'm absolutely right, of course. There's plenty out there we still must learn about human beings. But it does mean I have true opinion rather than mere opinion on those things I am willing to venture to talk about. In other words, I have actual reasons to believe I am right -- it's not all mere opinion.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Acton U. -- A Brief Summary (and Table of Future Contents)

Today I have returned from the Acton Institute's Acton University. It was a lot of fun, I learned a lot, clarified some thoughts, and met some interesting people. On Tuesday, the day we all arrived, we heard the welcome address by the president of Acton, Rev. Robert Sirico, titled, "Thoughts on Human Dignity," where he introduced many of the ideas that would be developed in the conference sessions we would take. Keep in mind that the Acton Institute is primarily interested in the moral foundations of the free market, Christian morality especially, and Catholic moral teachings most especially. Truth, morality, and economy were emphasized -- but I will go into more details later. I plan to post something on each of the sessions I attended and then to give an overview when I'm done. That being said, let me list everything I attended:

Session 1: Christian Anthropology: Freedom and Virtue by Dr. Samuel Gregg

Session 2: Christianity and the Idea of LImited Government by Mr. Michael Miller (don't let the "Mr." fool you -- he has a M.A. in International Development, a M.A. in Philosophy, and a MBA in International Management)

Session 3: Economic Way of Thinking by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

Session 4: Myths About the Market (well, we got 3 out of 8, anyway) by Dr. Jay Wesley Richards

These were all required for those who were attending for the first time, and were all on the first full day, at the end of which everyone watched the Acton-produced documentary "The Birth of Freedom." The next two days were sessions of my choice.

Session 5: Economics and Human Action by Dr. Carlos Hoevel

Session 6: The Catholic Social Encyclical Tradition by Mr. Kishore Jayabalan

Session 7: Private Property: Scriptural, Moral and Economic Foundations by Mr. Michael Miller

We then had discussion groups, where we could go to talk about various topics. I was invited to go to the "Globalization: Africa" discussion group, where there was lively discussion about the relationships among Africa, the West, and globalization. After dinner we heard Lord Brian Griffiths, who was a special advisor for Margaret Thatcher (and who knew Frederick Hayek), give a talk on the Theology of Capitalism in a Fallen World. He was brilliant and funny.

Session 8: The Ethics of Capital and Interest by Mr. Jeffery Tucker (you will hear much more about this talk, since it dealt with peoples' time preferences, and I'm very interested in time. In fact, I'm very interested in pursing some of the ideas he talked about further, and combining them with other things I have read about children's time preferences in relation to education)

Session 9: Business as a Moral Enterprise by Mr. John Beckett (he's a corporate chairman)

Session 10: Economic Liberty in Catholic Social Teaching by Mr. Kishore Jayabalan

That night we had the final dinner lecture, Piety and Technique, give by Rev. Robert Sirico. I unfortunately didn't have my notebook handy, so I couldn't take notes. But the gist of the talk was that we should not replace good intentions (piety) with good technique and truth. A lot of people have a pious interest in helping people, and think that their piety is good enough. But the real question is: is what you are doing actually going to have the results you are after? Piety is no replacement for technique. While piety may help you decide to do good things for people, it is equally important that what you do will have the desired results. Thus, is and ought are deeply connected. To have true moral action, one must both have good intentions and good results.

I met many, many, many wonderful people. Who could list them all? Even if the sessions weren't as great as they were, it would have been worth going just to meet all the people I met.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Truth, Morals, and the Market

It's been a lot of fun here at Acton U. so far. I have heard a lot about the relationship between ethics and free markets and it has really helped me to synthesize some of my own ideas on the connections among ethics, economics, justice, truth, and beauty (I'll get more into this later). A lot of emphasis has been made regarding the importance of having moral people in a market system, since it was observed that markets themselves will provide either moral or immoral services with equal efficiency. Still, markets affect actions, and their presence or lack affect moral choices -- oftentimes making moral choices easier.

I also came to realize much more clearly (though I understood this in a vague sort of way) that those who wish to abandon the idea of truth are doing so precisely for political reasons -- precisely to make it easier for them to argue against free markets. If they have to acknowledge there is truth, they have to acknowledge the fact that markets are the best provider of freedom, wealth, and other values of any economic system in the world. That is simply a fact. Thus, to undermine markets, you first have to undermine truth.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Acton U.

I am currently in Michigan attending the Acton Institute's Acton University. I will be posting all about everything I learned while here, so stay tuned.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Japanese Rebellion Against Conformity Leads to Egalitarianism

Please, somebody get to Japan and let them know what bully-parents have done to the U.S. It has turned this country into a bunch of wimps who are so fragile that they cannot survive the smallest criticism.

I do find it funny that in these parents' rebellion against conformity that the result was egalitarianism -- which is really a kind of conformity. You cannot have a story without hierarchy of characters, people! Nor can you have a play without a hierarchy of actors playing the hierarchy of characters.

Japan is taking on the worst characteristics of the U.S. It's doomed.

Friday, June 06, 2008

A Society of Sociopaths

Every person who did not stop to help this man is a dangerous sociopath and should be removed from society. This is what the radical individualism of postmodernism that tells you to mind your own business lest you get sued or distracted from your own navel-gazing gets you.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Is "Sin" Being Out of Alignment with Obama's Values?

We really need to get to know who Barack Obama really is.

In 2004, he gave an interview to Cathleen Falsani who was the religion reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times. Here's a very interesting part of it:

CF: Do you believe in sin?

BO: Yes

CF: What is sin?

BO: Being out of alignment with my values.

Now, this means either one of two things: 1) Sin is completely subjective and relative, or 2) He thinks that only his values are the correct ones, and that for a person to not be in alignment with his values is for that person to be in sin. The first one belies his statement that he believes in sin -- at least, anything one could reasonably call sin. The second one suggests that he has a Messiah complex. This would be very much in alignment with his being a Leftist, since Leftists to a person do not believe that there is anyone greater than themselves -- which is why they believe they should be put in control of everyone's lives and decisions. The first would make him a moral relativist -- which should disqualify him as President, since you have to be able to recognize some sort of right and wrong to be able to make reasonable judgments as a President, especially in relation to foreign leaders (though this might explain why he thinks it's possible to talk with Iran's President). The second possibility would make him a very, very dangerous, delusional person. Too many already think of him as a Messiah figure -- enough that they might convince him of it, if he's not already convinced. I do not want someone like that in any sort of political office.

Online Radio Interview for The Emerson Institute

I will be on a blog talk radio show Monday to talk about The Emerson Institute. More information at Grizzly Groundswell. Hope everyone comes by and listens!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Fun With Power Laws (and City Populations)

Power laws state that there are few large things, many medium-sized things, and a whole lot of small things in any kind of system. It further predicts exactly how those sizes will be distributed. Consider:

City Rank City Predicted Pop. Actual Pop.
1 New York City 8,250,567
2 Los Angeles 1/2 NYC = 4.1 million 3,849,378
3 Chicago 1/3 NYC = 2.8 million 2,833,321
4 Houston 1/4 NYC = 2.1 million 2,169,248
5 Phoenix, AZ 1/5 NYC = 1.6 million 1,512,986
6 Philadelphia 1/6 NYC = 1.3 million 1,448,394
7 San Antonio, TX 1/7 NYC = 1.14 million 1,296,682
8 San Diego 1/8 NYC = 1.07 million 1,256,951
9 Dallas 1/9 NYC = 0.92 million 1,232,940
10 San Jose, CA 1/10 NYC = 0.83 million 929,936

It may seem to break down after a while, but if we take the other aspect of power law distribution into effect, we get a somewhat different picture:

City Rank City Predicted Pop. Actual Pop.
1 New York City 8,250,567
2 Los Angeles 1/2 NYC = 4.1 million 3,849,378
3 Chicago 1/3 NYC = 2.8 million 2,833,321
4 Houston 1/4 NYC = 2.1 million 2,169,248
5 Phoenix, AZ 1/5 NYC = 1.6 million 1,512,986
6 Philadelphia 1/6 NYC = 1.3 million 1,448,394
6 San Antonio, TX 1/6 NYC = 1.3 million 1,296,682
6 San Diego 1/6 NYC = 1.3 million 1,256,951
6 Dallas 1/9 NYC = 1.3 million 1,232,940
9 San Jose, CA 1/9 NYC = 0.92 million 929,936

I made San Jose 1/9 because San Diego and Dallas are practically identical in population as to be able to include them together. In fact, if we continue on, we see the following:

City Rank City Predicted Pop. Actual Pop.
9 Detroit 1/9 NYC = 0.92 million 918,849
11 Jacksonville, FL 1/11 NYC = 0.75 million 794,555
11 Indianapolis 1/11 NYC = 0.75 million 785,597
11 San Francisco 1/11 NYC = 0.75 million 744,041
11 Columbus, OH 1/11 NYC = 0.75 million 733,203

We start seeing small groupings of similarly-populated cities, as we would expect from a power law distribution. Of course, these are rough equations -- more accurate ones would give more accurate predictions, but I'm no mathematician. However, this should tell you a lot about the natural distribution of population in a system like human population dynamics. We self-organize in very predictable ways.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Don't Believe the Media -- Obama Hasn't Won Anything Yet

In one of the worst cases of media irresponsibility I've seen in a long time, the AP and NBC are reporting that Obama has finally won the nomination. WIth Clinton winning South Dakota, and Obama not having enough delegates from the states to clinch the deal, the superdelegates are still going to be the ones to determine the outcome of the race. They are basing their declaration that Obama won on a report that enough superdelegates have declared for Obama for him to win. Big deal. That means nothing. A declaration that you are going to vote one way or another in two months amounts to nothing. There were several states where Obama was polling better than he actually did in those states. Further, a lot can happen between how and August. Does anyone really think the Clintons are going to sit around for two months and wish for the best? Of course not. They are going to work to find some major dealbreaker to encourage the superdelegates to vote for her instead. And they will be working all the superdelegates the whole time as well. Obama hasn't won anything yet.

Monday, June 02, 2008


I don't think I have to say much more than to just give this quote by Ian McEwan regarding President Ahmadinejad of Iran:

" In Jamkaran, a village not far from the holy city of Qum, a small mosque is undergoing a $20m-expansion, driven forward by Ahmadinejad's office. Within the Shi'ite apocalyptic tradition, the Twelfth Imam, the Mahdi, who disappeared in the ninth century, is expected to reappear in a well behind the mosque. His re-emergence will signify the beginning of the end days. He will lead the battle against the Dajjal, the Islamic version of the anti-Christ, and with Jesus as his follower, will establish the global Dar el Salaam, the dominion of peace, under Islam. Ahmadinejad is extending the mosque to receive the Mahdi, and already pilgrims by the thousands are visiting the shrine, for the president has reportedly told his cabinet that he expects the visitation within two years."

Oh, . . . Barack Obama thinks we can reason with this person. Which should actually tell you something both about Obama's judgment, and his own level of theological belief (none). I say "none," because if Obama did actually believe in God, he would have some sort of understanding of President Ahmadinejad's beliefs -- and some understanding of whether or not one can reason with him in the way Obama thinks is possible.

Florida and Michigan, Unite Against the Two Major Parties!

So, the Democratic Party decided that the citizens of Michigan and Florida should only be counted as half a person. Slaves counted as 3/5 of a person. So I think we are seeing a degradation in the Democratic Party's attitude toward people: they once considered a certain group of people as 3/5 of a person -- now they consider a certain group of people as 1/2 of a person.

I'm not too happy with the GOP engaging in these kinds of shenanigans either (which they did, though the DNC had to catch up with the GOP, moving from complete unfairness toward the citizens of these states to partial unfairness). What difference should it make when states hold their elections? How is that the business of the parties? How can they be granted so much power over the voters as to tell certain voters whether or not their votes count? There is something seriously wrong with that. True, it's the party nominations, and one can argue that they get to make their own rules -- but these kinds of things discourage people from voting in the general election. I would love it if Michigan and Florida voters decided to return the favor and refuse to vote for either major party.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Dear Media: Bob Barr's Votes Belong to Him!

In the first news interview I saw with Bob Barr, the question that always gets asked, and will probably get asked over and over and over and over and over was asked: won't you just be a spoiler and take votes away from McCain. This question carries with it the assumption that McCain deserves rather than earns the votes he gets. Also, it exposes the media bias against anyone running against the two ruling parties -- primarily in the number of times anyone running as a third party candidate gets asked this question.

Also, I keep hearing people say that while some third party candidates have done well at times (Teddy Roosevelt on the Bull Moose Party, and Ross Perot with the Reform Party), no third party has won. That is historically inaccurate. Abraham Lincoln won the Presidency running as a third party candidate. Once upon a time the Republican Party was a third party. Lincoln had been a member of the Whig party, but joined the upstart Republican party in 1854. Within six years, the Republicans would elect a President, and replace the Whigs as one of the two major political parties in the U.S.

Of course, the Republican Party had one major issue they were concerned with: preventing the spread of slavery, with the intention of abolishing slavery. And that issue was so big and polarizing, that it catapulted the Republicans into the White House in a few short years. I don't really think opposition to big government to the extent the Libertarian Party is opposed to big government is popular enough this year to send Barr to the White House. But with the Republicans trying desperately to emulate the Demcorats, with McCain being the posterboy of that move, and the unpopularity of the war, there may be something there a charismatic leader could pull together and turn into a large enough voting block to win. But it will take some major strategizing. A typical Libertarian wouldn't be able to do it, but a successful former politician could. Bob Barr may not be the dream ticket for many Libertarians, any more than McCain is the dream ticket for many Republicans -- but Barr may be the best chance the LP has ever had.