Politically Correct Stoics

Politically Correct Stoics:

In the opening pages of Dr. Lara Denis' "Kant's Conception of Virtue, we find an interesting account of the Stoic position on happiness.

No matter how poor, ill, or hated the virtuous person is, Stoics claimed she is happy.
I would love to see the citation for any Stoic writer who "claimed she" would be happy.

I understand that the idea behind this sort of locution, and I realize that it's probably the editors of the journal applying a "standard" to the author's text. Nevertheless, in the interest of making female readers feel good about being included, or perhaps making the point that women should always be included, they have introduced an inaccuracy into the text.

You might say that's a small thing, but philosophers have written papers over whether "London is pretty" and "Londres est jolie" can be said reliably to express the same belief. Not only does substituting "he" and "she" fail to express the same proposition, one of the propositions is true and the other is false.

Aside from the political correctness that bedevils academic writing these days, the piece is a good one; it offers a brief history of how the concept of "virtue" has evolved, at least as far as Kant. However, I think she misses the real truth about these different visions of virtue: they aimed at producing different kinds of people. Particularly with the ancients, it won't do to say that Aristotle thought X was virtuous, and St. Thomas Aquinas added Y to the concept. Aristotle was trying to create a man who was a Homeric hero, with a love of wisdom ("Cunning as the gods in council," as they said of Odysseus), personal courage, friendships and magnificence. St. Thomas Aquinas was ready to dispense with magnificence in the Homeric sense of the term, defined wisdom completely differently, and in addition added Christian charity (caritas), faith, and hope.



'If the EPA gets no budget... if HHS gets no budget...'

Well, actually, that would be a revolution in and of itself.

Should we defend Israel?

Should We Defend Israel?

I don't mean, "Should America defend Israel?" with this question. It's plain enough, under this administration, that America won't.

What I mean is, should we? We remember the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and the Lafayette Escadrille: so we could consider the option of an independent military response by American fighting men, who act as free citizens without reference to our government.

Is this something we should consider? American Jews might well do so, for reasons of religion and community; but what of the rest of us? If so, why? If not, why not?

Benvenuto Cellini

Benvenuto Cellini:

I have a few more pictures of the Met, thanks to Dellbabe, that I will post up over the weekend. Today I wanted to put up something a little different. Italian artist Benvenuto Cellini produced some of that type of Renaissance sculpture that once fired the world's imagination. It combines heroic realism with the ancient myths, as in this statue of Perseus with the head of Medusa.

In addition to his sculpture, painting, and goldwork, he wrote an autobiography that an email group I read has been discussing this week. It's a fascinating piece, which has seventy-nine mentions of the word "sword" and fifteen more of "dagger," including here:

Walking with all haste, I passed the bridge of the Exchange, and went up along a wall beside the river which led to my lodging in the castle. I had just come to the Augustines—now this was a very perilous passage, and though it was only five hundred paces distant from my dwelling, yet the lodging in the castle being quite as far removed inside, no one could have heard my voice if I had shouted—when I saw four men with four swords in their hands advancing to attack me.
It's a remarkable piece, more like The Three Musketeers than any work of nonfiction. There are duels and murders, revenge and brawls, necromancers calling forth demons, vanished lovers. There is also a description of the business of making art, especially certain medals of steel that were desired by the Pope.
Go get 2 big mirrors.

Put them opposite one another.

Stand between them and look into one.

Seems to go on forever, right?

That's sort of the feeling I get when I read articles like this.

Music for a Thursday

Music for a Thursday:

Let's start with an interesting piece, not exactly like anything you'll probably have heard lately.

And now a Spanish piece:

Just right for spring, I'd say. Perhaps a cup of sangria would go with it, in the long afternoon.



This is the kind of thing that breaks a man's heart:

Where does morality come from? The modern consensus on this question lies close to the position laid out by the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher David Hume. He thought moral reason to be “the slave of the passions”. Hume's view is supported by studies that suggest that our judgements of good and evil are influenced by emotional reactions such as empathy and disgust. And it fits nicely with the discovery that a rudimentary moral sense is universal and emerges early. Babies as young as six months judge individuals on the way that they treat others and even one-year-olds engage in spontaneous altruism.... I predict that this theory of morality will be proved wrong in its wholesale rejection of reason. Emotional responses alone cannot explain one of the most interesting aspects of human nature: that morals evolve.
That would be a shocking, revolutionary idea except that Aristotle came up with it. The process is called phronesis.

Constitutional Convention Roundup

Constitutional Convention Roundup:

The idea that the states should call a constitutional convention -- supported here, as regular readers well know -- is apparently starting to pop up in a lot of places. Here are a few places that are talking about the idea.

The Wall Street Journal

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein (opposed, naturally)

The Epoch Times: "In South Carolina, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer is asking state lawmakers to support a resolution calling for a constitutional convention to amend the Constitution and overturn 'socialized medicine.'"

Politics at Gather.com

FOX News

See also this piece on "the Virginia Plan," which demonstrates that the Founders considered and rejected the idea that the Congress should be able to overturn state legislation.

An Oakeshott Type XVI:

This sword type is the kind Ewart Oakeshott classified as a XVI.

Albion Swords makes several modern versions of this type, including this one. You can see all the plates from the I:33 manual that they mention thanks to ARMA.

Trial by Ordeal

A Defense of Trial by Ordeal:

I was interested by this paper on trial by ordeal (h/t: Instapundit). The author uses economic theory to suggest that trial by ordeal actually sorted outcomes correctly. The concept is that belief in the reality of miracles would cause innocent men and women to choose the ordeal; guilty men and women would refuse. Priests would judge whether the person choosing an ordeal was sincere or cynical, and then manipulate the ordeal so as to ensure the correct outcome.

Several counterarguments arise immediately in one's mind, but he seems to offer an explanation for all of them as you go through the piece. Are they sufficient explanations? I'll leave that as an exercise to the reader.

What I would like to add is that the idea of priestly manipulation of justice goes very well with our debate from last year about trial by combat. One of the reasons that priests would have objected so strongly to being forced into trial by combat was that it put justice in the hands of the warrior class, instead of in the hands of fellow priests. One of the reasons that the warriors might have been so staunch in their insistence on trial by combat as a final appeal was to preserve their independence from such manipulation.

This works if warriors are cynical about priestly manipulation of the ordeals, but also if they are not. An innocent warrior might reasonably prefer to fight than to carry a hot iron bar, trusting God to protect him in either case, but being more comfortable in his vocation. A guilty warrior, expecting God to convict him, might reasonably prefer to die with honor than to be burned by boiling water, and then disgraced by execution. With cynical warriors of either type, the odds of success must seem higher in trial by combat, where they need only do what they have spent their lives training to do.

An interesting piece. Good work.

Discussion Plutarch.

Ok, I hope everybody has had a chance to read the lives mentioned here.

So, what do you all think? Was Plutarch's comparison apt?

Discuss. Support your arguement.

UPDATE: Bumped to the top by Grim because of the importance of the discussion; newer posts below.
The Met, IV:

An opinion on Iran

An Informed Opinion on Iran:

Michael Totten has an interview with a CIA agent from Iran's Revolutionary Guards. He has an opinion on the subject of why Iran wants nukes.

MJT: So do you think if they acquire nuclear weapons they will actually use them?

Reza Kahlili: They will.

MJT: Against Israel?

Reza Kahlili: You have to look at the parallel projects that they're working on, the missile delivery system and the nuclear project. Currently they cover part of Europe. Their goal is to cover all of Europe. They're not going to announce they have a bomb unless they have overcome the glitches of putting together a nuclear bomb and a nuclear warhead. But once they do that, they will make enough bombs so that all of Europe is under their coverage. Then they will begin their most aggressive behavior in trying to control the Middle East, moving toward the goal of destroying Israel, bringing the imperialistic system of economics to a halt, creating chaos, and waiting for the Mahdi to appear. It's all right out in the open. Just look at their Mahdi philosophy.
What does he think we should do about it?
Immediately, the Western countries should cut off all shipping lines and air lines, and deport all Iranians who work in offices connected to the Iranian government. They're Quds Force members. They're intelligence guys. Deport them. And stop sending refined oil to Iran. They rely on that.

Corner the country and give them a deadline. And if the Iranian government doesn't give up its program, take it out. Do not allow this country to become nuclear armed. Sanctions are not going to work.

In the worst case scenario, if there is a military confrontation, do not invade the country. Do not destroy the country. Take the Revolutionary Guards out. If you take the Revolutionary Guards out, this government can't last 24 hours.

We know all their bases. We know all their officers. We know all their buildings. If they move in convoys, take them out. And that will be the end of this government.
Predictions like that are common: often it proves that an enemy you expect to destroy quickly and easily proves much more dangerous than you expected. Collapsing central authority with no ground forces to restore order would be, essentially, the same core mistake made in Iraq when we disbanded the Iraqi army and put nothing in its place.

Could the Iranian people restore order themselves? It's possible. It's also possible that different factions could spark a civil war that would consume the lives of thousands or hundreds of thousands.

While I have no desire to wage war with Iran, though, I do believe he's right about their penchant for confrontation. There is no doubt that Iran has been hip deep in supporting every kind of terrorism and insurgency, and their weapons -- planted by insurgents they trained -- have killed many American soldiers and Marines. Why wouldn't they use a nuclear weapon, when they've never hesitated to use any other weapon that came to their hand?

Zen and Racism

Zen and Racism:

The National Post sent someone to attend an anti-racism seminar, at which some remarkably bad advice was given.

Sandy, Jim and Karen work at a downtown community centre where they help low-income residents apply for rental housing. Sandy has a bad feeling about Jim: She notices that when black clients come in, he tends to drift to the back of the office. Sandy suspects racism (she and Jim are both white). On the other hand, she also notices that Jim seems to get along well with Karen, who is black. As the weeks go by, Sandy becomes more uncomfortable with the situation. But she feels uncertain about how to handle it. Test question: What should Sandy do?

If you answered that Sandy's first move should be to talk to Karen, and ask how Jim's behaviour made her feel, you are apparently a better anti-racist than me.

That, for what it's worth, was the preferred solution offered by my instructor at "Thinking About Whiteness and Doing Anti-Racism," a four-part evening workshop for community activists, presented earlier this year at the Toronto Women's Bookstore.

My own answer, announced in class, was that Sandy should approach Jim discreetly, explaining to him how others in the office might perceive his actions. Or perhaps the manager of the community centre could give a generic presentation about the need to treat clients in a colour-blind manner, on a no-names basis.

The problem with my approach, the instructor indicated, lay in the fact that I was primarily concerned with the feelings of my fellow Caucasian, Jim. I wasn't treating Karen like a "full human being" who might have thoughts and worries at variance with the superficially friendly workplace attitude.

Moreover, I was guilty of "democratic racism" -- by which we apply ostensibly race-neutral principles such as "due process," constantly demanding clear "evidence" of wrongdoing, rather than confronting prima facie instances of racism head-on. "It seems we're always looking for more proof," said the instructor, an energetic left-wing activist who's been teaching this course for several years. "When it comes to racism, you have to trust your gut."
A number of problems with this approach leap to mind, especially the idea that we should dispense with due process before throwing around charges of racism; but let's focus on just one specific problem. If I go to Karen in the way the speaker suggests, I am forcing her into a role that is based on her being black. Far from treating her as a "full human being," I'm treating her as an explicitly black human being. After all, why am I assuming that she has "thoughts and worries" about Jim, with whom she is apparently friendly and on good terms? Because she's black. Why should she be the person I go to, instead of the person who is exhibiting behavior that may (or may not) be racist in motivation? Because she's black.

My own answer to the test question would have been more along the lines of, "Mind your own business," but I imagine that was not an option on the quiz. If Karen is indeed a "full human being," however, surely she ought to be trusted to handle her own problems -- if indeed she has problems, which she doesn't seem to have; and if indeed she is worried or secretly angry at Jim, which she shows no sign of being.

Now, how about an answer to a better question: not, "How should I respond if I suspect racism in others?" but the real question these young activists should ask, "How should I respond if I suspect racism in myself?"
[M]ost were involved in what might broadly be termed the anti-racism industry -- an overlapping hodgepodge of community-outreach activists, equity officers, women's studies instructors and the like. Most said they'd come so they could integrate anti-racism into their work. Yet a good deal of the course consisted of them unburdening themselves of their own racist guilt.
Well, how should you respond to that? Ideas about race have been a factor in our society, with a deep and troubled history; and so many people remain focused on the notion that race is real and important that it's difficult to move about without rubbing up against someone who really wants you to be conscious of his or her race (as they define it, of course).

(Cf. with the person in this story who objects, in the strongest terms, to people attempting to be 'color-blind.')

So you're aware of race, because of the history and because it continues to be brought forward as relevant by people you meet. On the other hand, you wish to treat people as -- well, let's stick with the term "full human beings." So how do you do this?

Anyone who has done Zen-type meditation knows the answer. You can't really control what you think: conscious control of consciousness is surprisingly limited. For example, if I tell you not to think of a purple elephant, at once you are forced to think of one: there's nothing you can do about it. By the same token, learning to quiet you mind in meditation is quite hard, as thoughts continue to arise long after you've decided to stop thinking and breathe.

What you're supposed to do, to make it work, is just this: recognize the thought you're having, and let it go. Go back to doing what you're supposed to be doing, which in the case of zazen meditation is just sitting and breathing.

In a while, you'll probably have another thought, but it's no big deal. Just recognize it, and let it go. There's no penalty for failure, because there's no failure; we don't have perfect control over our thoughts. Just let it go, don't worry about it, and get back to what you're supposed to be doing.

Race is like that too. You know how you're supposed to treat people. Do that. If you find yourself having a race-oriented thought you don't want, recognize it... and let it go. Get back to what you're supposed to be doing, which is talking to and working with another human being.

Anybody who's been in the military understands all this. It's funny, because these same anti-racist/anti-capitalist activists doubtless consider us the worst kind of oppressors (and racists!). Yet the American military's actual behavior has stood as an example before the entire world of what true anti-racism looks like, and of practical friendship between peoples of different origin.


The Met, Part Three:



This is the first Easter that has found me at home in three years.

When I was a boy, Easter was not something about which we made a big deal. My family were Christmas-oriented, and it is easy to see the allure of Christmas over Easter: it is easy to celebrate the birth of a beloved child, which is a natural time for joy unmixed by sorrow. On Easter, we focused on the 'coming of spring' aspects, as I recall: hunting eggs, and white dresses for the girls.

Easter is far more problematic as a holiday. For one thing, it requires a different kind of faith: not faith that a particular child might have been engendered by God for some purpose, but faith that a given man, condemned as a criminal and put to death, rose from the grave as a living God. Yet it is a claim that has quite a history: the number of myths along these lines, with holy weeks about the coming of spring, is formidable. Why this one, among them?

I have nothing to add to the words of better men, who have written on the subject with greater wisdom. The best that I can do is turn your attention to an old book review, by the famous "Spengler," on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Children of Hurin.

Tolkien knew far more about the pagan past than [T. S.] Eliot; as the great philologist of his time, he produced the first readable translation of "Beowulf", as well as seminal editions of the most important Anglo-Saxon classics. He loved the material more than any man living.... Readers who enjoyed The Lord of Rings as a work of fantasy (which it most surely is not) will find the present volume tough going, for it comes out of the world of Anglo-Saxon epic. As the editor reports, Tolkien originally cast it as poem in alliterative verse in the Anglo-Saxon fashion.
What did he want to say in that poem? You'll have to read the rest of the review -- or the book itself, if you prefer.

Or you may listen to the sound of what might almost be angels, or faerie. The greatest truth lies in beauty, I have heard.

Happy Easter, and a joyous spring. May God save this merry company, and all mankind.