Sunday, July 19, 2009

On delays, morality, and other ponderables...

Okay, this time I truly do have a few excuses for waiting so long to update this blog (yet again):

1) The following events happened, in order:
a) phone service went out for 1.5 days
b) computer #1 (of 2) crashed (still picking up the pieces)
c) computer #2 (of 2) crashed (through my own bone-headedness--it's not fixed)
d) 3 day silent retreat with the Cistercians (excellent, and badly needed!)
e) currently immersed in a "Calculus refresher course" online (long story)

2) I'm trying to be better at helping my wife around the house, and not putting things off until she gets disgusted enough to do it for me. (For moral relativists out there: this is a *bad* thing to do, and I've since repented... though it took a Cistercian monk to kick me in the back-end [graciously and charitably] and get me to repent of it! Lesson: you don't have to be perfect to be a Christian; you just have to refuse to be stupid enough to persist in a sin when it's conclusively pointed out to you.) As such, my oft-neglected blog has been bumped even further down the priority list. :) Them's the breaks.

3) As a general rule, I'm just naturally bad at updating my blog on a regular basis.

Now, that confession time is out of the way... back to the (long-delayed) topic at hand: discerning good from evil. How, exactly, is that done reliably and correctly? How can we separate true "good" or "evil" from our mere opinions, feelings, sentiments, or other such will-o-wisps? I can feel horrid about going in to get a tooth drilled, though I know it's a good thing to do; and someone else can feel quite fine about using someone else as a sexual "object", though that's gravely evil. (Other examples abound.) So an objective standard is rather important. How does one find it? When faced with a choice to do [x] or not to do [x], how is one to decide the moral gradient of that choice (and to discern which of the two choices, if any, are in harmony with "goodness")?

There are several candidates for the "discernment assistant" job:

1) If your feelings are correctly calibrated to reality, they're one of the fastest and most energetic ways to discern good from evil; but again, that requires a correct calibration of those feelings, and that sort of calibration is hard to acquire... especially in this day and age, where we're conditioned (by advertisements and other social pressures) to calibrate our feelings toward the gratification of our bodily and emotional passions.

2) If you belong to an organization whose laws are unanimous in their derivation from reality (i.e. the objective moral law), then following and studying such laws is a good way to discern whether particular cases are good or evil; but that would also require that the laws' "derivation from truth" is verifiable--which can be a challenge, even if you find a candidate for an "all-good laws" group.

3) If you're under the authority of someone whose character is unimpeachable (and itself calibrated to the objective moral law), then you can follow the directions of that person--but this has the same caveat as does #2 (i.e. how do you know that your spiritual guide's character is unimpeachable?).

You may notice that all of the above (three) candidates share the same weakness: they all beg the question of, "How can we know that this 'guide' is a true and sure guide toward goodness?" Feelings can be askew, corrupt laws can be enacted, and vicious people can ascend to positions of [ersatz] moral authority. How can we diagnose such "diseases" in our potential leaders?

The answer, though wearying to many (especially nowadays), is one I've mentioned many times: our first resort must be right (or "sane") reason. We know the following:

  • No true thing will contain a true contradiction within itself.

  • No real thing will be completely vacuous and useless (i.e. a tautology, like "x = x").

Beyond this, there are several good "rules of thumb" which, though not infallible, can be used as good day-to-day guides:

1) If a moral principle is self-defeating by its very nature, it cannot be good.

Example: "Sex without producing children is more desirable than sex that produces children." (a.k.a. the "contraceptive mentality") This idea, if allowed to progress without bound, will tend to destroy the very population which seeks to enact it--"I'll have sex without having kids; let the *other* people have the kids, and pay the bills, change the diapers, etc.". Any tendency toward pervasive selfishness must necessarily be corrosive to any civilization (which must have laws restricting the selfishness of its members, in order to survive).

2) If a moral principle is designed to work only under artificial restrictions (e.g. only a privileged few are exempt from it), it cannot be good.

Example: "Let the government manage the details of all families, and make the decisions about how many children to have, how they are to be schooled, what religions are good to adopt, etc." Perhaps modern times have forgotten Huxley's "Brave New World", but it's obvious (to anyone with sense) that the ones doing the managing will get to choose the rules of management... and the question of "How/where did the managers get their formation, and from where/whom did they claim to get the god-like authority by which they micromanage the lives of countless people who are no less human than they?" really get lost in the shuffle. Appeals to expediency (e.g. "Well, *somebody* has to run their lives, because they're doing things we find abhorrent!") are horribly ill-suited as a defense, since nothing could stop such an oligarchy from ruling the people on the basis of their personal tastes (e.g. "we need to euthanize the handicapped, since I find them troublesome to behold!", "we need to mandate abortion for poverty-stricken families, since I find the idea of low-income children repugnant", etc.), rather than by right principles.

N.B. If someone raises a defense of, "But we can be sure that the ruling class will abide by their own rules, too!", I will reply with:

a) "Oh really? And how would you enforce that, save but through the agreement of the ruling class?" What if the ruling class decides that it's in 'the country's best interests' for the "privileged caste" to be free of the "restraints of the common folk"? Look to the former Soviet Union, to China, to North Korea, to Cuba, and to any totalitarian regime which claimed to "bring about equality and prosperity to all, by governmental fiat", if you'd like real-life results of that idea.

b) the very idea (of the "ruling class") being bound by its own governance is self-contradictory; if you try to imagine "a ruling class making rules--quite apart from its own opinions and preferences--to govern itself", I think you'll find that you're imagining nothing at all. It's a bit like asking someone to choose to disobey every choice they themselves make; in disobeying, they're also obeying!

3) If a moral principle does not acknowledge that the individual person is of greater value than any organization, governmental structure, or civil institution, then it cannot be good.

My father is very fond of deriding the oft-repeated saying, "Our [county, town, city, etc.] and our people have paid enough; let the state [of Illinois, etc.] and the federal governments pay their fair share!" He usually replies with something like: "Let the state pay its share? Are you talking about some other state? Because if you're talking about our state, then you're talking about US! The "state" doesn't have one thin dime; the *people* of the state have all the money!" This is just one problem with the "promote the state over the individual" idea; since the only possible reason to promote the "state" is in ORDER to promote the welfare of the individuals WITHIN that state, yes? What other abstract "state" could possibly benefit? Will the hills of Missouri smile with appreciation with each tax increase? Will the sands of Nevada shed a tear of gratitude with each revenue increase? Perhaps the map-border of Massachusetts will re-sculpt itself into a grin when its governor signs another tax increase into law? Come, now. Strip away all the titles and the artificial structures, and you have people, under the God Who created them... and that's it.

Given the above, perhaps you can see how many of the principles advanced by our current regim... ahm... "administration"... cannot be good. Mandatory taxpayer support of abortion (in D.C. and/or elsewhere), a legal system which can mandate the deaths (by dehydration, so as to allow cover for the executioners who can disingenuously say, "We didn't kill her! No bullets or knives or injections here, thank you! We just 'let her die', you see!") of the disabled when they're judged to be too burdensome, and other person-denigrating policies and actions are immoral at their core, and the only right choice is to flee from them with all speed.

As for personal discernments about right and wrong--well--next time, I think. :) (Browse the earlier articles on "cooperation in evil", for tid-bits about it, if you're anxious until then.)

8 comments:

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

It is hard to find a perfect government. Even the best are imperfect. Even Plato's Utopia would have killed half my children and all my grandchildren (read it carefully; it proposes the elimination of anyone with birth defects).

So, I guess we have to do our best to keep our governments honest and moral and safe and fair. Perfection may not be possible.

paladin said...

Hi, Elizabeth!

Sorry to neglect your comment; I'm in the midst of waiting for a new computer to replace the one which died (as per my post)--which replaces my *first* replacement (which had a nonfunctional keyboard, no modem, and the like). I'll try to be back in a few days (or whenever NewEgg gets the computer here, and I get it set up properly)!

Anonymous said...

And the Catechism is also a great guide as well if there is any question left after following your reasoning to do list:)
God Bless
Melinda T

paladin said...

:) Amen, alleluia! Definitely, the CCC is a God-send! Thanks, Melissa, and God bless you and yours!

Anonymous said...

Being a Justiciar Knight is not for everyone. You are normally required to plan absolutely everything alone; fight alone to see your mission through and you are likely to die alone with half of your city’s system protectors hunting you. However, I have never in my life felt that I have done anything more meaningful than what I am doing now regardless of the lack of moral support from my founding brothers or other armed resistance fighters. Support from our extremely distributed and anonymous “non-hierarchy” out there would be nice but I have managed to cope through mental discipline to become what I am today; a self driven and highly effective manifestation of an independent resistance cell.

Between Unemployment said...

Was at Jill Stanek's blog, but wanted to be direct. Ron Paul supporters do not see a choice. They will not back Romney. Some call this un-Republican and that may very well be true. Republicans have had to swallow their true beliefs and settle. "Oh, well, maybe next time." I am certainly not willing to wait another 4 (Obama) or 8 (Romney) years for next time. The U.S. does not have the time or the money. $20 Trillion deficit under Obama and $23 Trillion deficit under Romney based on their latest budgets (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7BVYqhAjRc&feature=channel&list=UL).
His rallies attract THOUSANDS ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYFWOyCevYA). Mitt can barely get a few hundred. Why isn't it translating? Because the media is scared to cover him. They wouldn't be getting gov't subsidies under a Paul administration so they feed us what we want to hear: "Romney is the presumptive nominee." We've heard this since 2008. If Romney gets the nod, Obama will win ( http://newsok.com/poll-romney-tied-with-obama-paul-leading-obama/article/feed/370215)

Regarding states rights, you have to understand his message as a whole. The federal gov't has extremely limited, enumerated powers. Everything else is left to the states and to the people. In what universe do you think Romney would institute a federal ban on abortion? He couldn't. No President could. If it went to the states at least some states that have your ideals might ban it. Roe v. Wade would be overturned. You say we have to settle, shut up and back Romney...if you back Paul, you wouldn't have to settle. You'd win...at least in some states.

His comments about 9/11? YouTube Ron Paul and literally Hundreds of Thousands of videos come up, all from his c-span and other speeches. On the House floor he predicted the Housing Bubble in 2001 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KONpt9a6HrI) and the endless wars in 2002 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifJG_oFFDK0) and you want to pick apart a random comment he made about 9/11? He said we didn't get the full story (before the full report came out). Do we ever get the full story? Yes, there are, unfortunately, some conspiracy theorists among the Ron Paul supporters. Guess what: we have ex-Obama supporters, ex-Neocons, ex-Romeny supporters, ex-Santorum supporters, ex-Bush supporters, people who are for and against gay marriage, people who are pro-life and pro-choice, etc., etc.

I'm not going to shut up and get in line to vote for someone who just MIGHT be a little better than Obama. Not only because we have no idea since he flip flops so often, but because in all likelihood, he'll lose. The left HATES him...just not as much as Santorum and Gingrich. But, more than half of my Obama-supporting friends like some of Ron Paul's message. Why? Are they all of a sudden Republicans? No. They understand his message: THE ONLY ROLE OF THE FEDERAL GOV'T IS TO ENSURE OUR LIVES, LIBERTY AND PROTECTION OF OUR PROPERTY.

You talk about holding your nose as you did for McCain. How did that work out for you? There are men and women literally dying (either abroad or coming home and committing suicide in record numbers), getting limbs blown off, getting PTSD, etc., etc. For what? So you can hold your nose when you vote for your representative? Ron Paul gets twice as many contributions from active military than all other candidates (including Obama) combined. Obama and Romney's biggest donor is Goldman Sachs (Romney http://tinyurl.com/7t5xny3 Obama http://tinyurl.com/3l8ve8m Paul http://tinyurl.com/6wpn8az); Paul's is active army, navy airforce).

Between Unemployment said...

I cannot stress enough that nearly every Ron Paul supporter feels the same way that I do. We're not trying to be a minority block to get Obama elected. Far from it. But, we will not simply toe the GOP line. He would destroy Obama in the debates. He would take half his base...you know, the optimistic, bright-eyed kids that elected him...their eyes have been opened.
Go to DailyPaul.com. Help us defeat Obama.

paladin said...

Hi, Between Unemployment,

I think we may have some confusion, here:

1) I am not a "GOP-or-die" type of person; I really could not care less (save for tactical and pragmatic reasons, though even these are subordinate to moral imperatives) about the party to which a given candidate belongs.

2) I have no problem with anyone voting for Ron Paul (as I said, explicitly, in my comments on Jill's blog).

3) I do not believe that anyone has a moral obligation to vote for Mitt Romney... especially given his tainted back-ground.

You wrote:

Regarding states rights, you have to understand his message as a whole. The federal gov't has extremely limited, enumerated powers. Everything else is left to the states and to the people.

I know that. I merely state that the right to life (which is recognised as self-evident by the founding fathers) cannot simply be left to the states; it must be safeguarded at every level.

In what universe do you think Romney would institute a federal ban on abortion?

He couldn't (and again: please do remember that I am not a Romney apologist... even *before* he inundated us with 5-6 "robo-calls" per day against Rick Santorum, in the days leading up to the Wisconsin primary (in which I voted for Rick Santorum). But he could sign legislation which Congress enacts, and he could cooperate with efforts to secure a personhood amendment (or some similar amendment), which is quite beyond the power of any given state (though they would need to cooperate, as well).

If it went to the states at least some states that have your ideals might ban it.

They might. And other states whose members had ideals opposed to mine could enshrine abortion as an iron-clad right, supported by state taxes.

Roe v. Wade would be overturned.

I really do think that we can work for that good goal, while not neglecting any others.

You say we have to settle, shut up and back Romney...

I'm sorry, but: where did I ever say anything of the sort? I think you may have confused comments from other members with my own; I do not believe that you have any obligation to support Mitt Romney (how could I, if I'm undecided about whether to vote for him, myself?), nor do I think that you have any obligation to surrender your support of Rep. Paul. I say only that I (personally) am undecided about what I'm to do with my vote. Perhaps (after examination), I might vote for Rep. Paul; perhaps not. Time and research will tell.

His comments about 9/11? YouTube Ron Paul and literally Hundreds of Thousands of videos come up, [...] and you want to pick apart a random comment he made about 9/11?

Come, now! Surely you realise that even 100,000 good videos do not excuse one bad one (and I do not say that Rep. Paul's comments were necessarily so bad; I'm still looking)? If I give 1000 speeches that are good, will it force people to ignore my one speech in which I refer to someone with, say, a foul racial epithet? I hardly think so.

I'm not going to shut up and get in line to vote for someone who just MIGHT be a little better than Obama.

No one--me, least of all--is forcing you to do so.

They understand [Rep. Paul's] message: THE ONLY ROLE OF THE FEDERAL GOV'T IS TO ENSURE OUR LIVES, LIBERTY AND PROTECTION OF OUR PROPERTY.

That would, in fact, support my contentions about the federal givernment's obligation NOT to leave abortion exclusively to the states... yes?

Re: your military comments: please don't let us get carried away, here. PTSD and combat deaths would happen whether the wars are justified or not; iit is not logically sound for you to say, "behold the carnage and trauma; therefore, the president who allows them into battle is wrong/evil/etc.!" The same sort of trauma was evident in the Civil Way, in WWI, and in WWII, among others; that says nothing at all about the justification of the war, one way or the other.