The Death of Egalitarianism

So, to recap:  We would like to acknowledge your extraordinary work, which has brought untold benefit to countless people.   However, we are devoted to the concept that no one is better than anyone else.  Your extraordinary accomplishments therefore disqualify you from speaking.

Move along.

Jackson and Jefferson

Major Leggett dropped by in the comments below to direct our attention to this article.  It's really about Jackson and his claim to prominence for the TEA Party movement, but there are strong lessons from Jefferson as well.
In his first message to Congress, Jefferson vowed to abolish all internal federal taxes and reduce federal expenditures and personnel. He attacked a system in which, "after leaving to labor the smallest portion of  its earnings on which it can subsist, government…consume[s] the residue of what it was instituted to guard." Hamilton was aghast. He said this attack on Federalism should "alarm all who are anxious for the safety of our government…" But John Quincy Adams, whose father had just lost the presidency, understood the force of Jefferson's proposals. They are, he lamented, "all popular in all parts of the nation." 

Jefferson governed as he had promised. He eliminated internal taxes, cut the size of government, reduced the national debt. He brushed aside Hamilton's concept of selling federal lands at robust prices in order to fill government coffers for federal infrastructure projects. Jefferson sold the lands to ordinary Americans at modest prices based on his vision that the West would fill up with independentminded farmers reveling in their land ownership and opportunity for self-betterment. He was confident that these yeoman folk would build up the nation from below, thus obviating the need for elites to build it up from above.
Now that's right in line with my own ideas even today:  a government that is structured to help individuals achieve the individual ownership of their own means of production (to put the matter in Marxist terms, in a way that would choke a Marxist).

Jackson inherited the populist wing of Jefferson's party, and led a revolution particularly directed against the Second Bank of the United States -- an organization devoted to 'stability in the currency,' which was the supposed intent of the Federal Reserve system we use today:  it was established during a series of panics around the turn of the last century.  The panics were real enough, but the system instituted to provide stability turned into a system for bankers to provoke, and profit from, boom-bust cycles.  Something similar was going on in Jackson's time.
State banks in the Northeast, where the war [of 1812] was unpopular, were protesting the war by hoarding the country's meager reserves of specie (gold and silver), forcing banks in other regions to rely on printed money. That unleashed a menacing wave of inflation and considerable economic dislocation. 

Thus, the Second Bank was established in 1816 in the country's financial center of Philadelphia. Immediately it slipped into corruption as its first president promiscuously violated terms of the charter, speculated in the bank's stock, and exploited the venal practices of the bank's branch members. Jones was forced out, and his successor sought to clean up the mess by calling in unsound loans, foreclosing on overdue mortgages, and redeeming overextended notes from state banks. The result was the Panic of 1819 as local banks slipped into bankruptcy, prices collapsed, unemployment soared, and a general economic malaise gripped the country. (Sound familiar?)
Unhappily, there is no Andrew Jackson on the ballot for next year.  We may, though, find useful principles in his example.  Those who form our political class today may need to be led to those principles by the nose, rather than leading from the front; but if we are to save the Republic, which to me seems less sure than once, it must be done.

Fall near the Hall

Today I went to the "Fall Festival" in a small Georgia town just a few miles away.  What did I find there?

1)  Several vendors had Gasden flags, and Gasden flag lapel pins, both apparently good sellers.

2)  The sound system played this Johnny Cash tune, and this Hank Williams Jr. tune.

It was all very familiar.  The pulled pork barbecue sandwiches were good, and if you ordered a hot dog you got two of them, on one big bun, for a dollar flat.  There were funnel cakes and lemonade, too.

Politics and Principles

Elise has been discussing the polygamy question at length, and has raised a point that really deserves a separate treatment.  The question has to do with the importance of principles, as opposed to emotional certainty, in politics.  It happens to be something that our friends on the Left are discussing as well, apparently due to the fact that their new avatars Occupying various things don't have any obvious principles.  An interesting and, I think, an argument worthy of consideration has appeared on the Left about why principles shouldn't be important.

This ties into the question about false consciousness, where Cassandra wanted to defend 'a large grain of truth.'  Elise gets to what is probably the core of any such grain:
I think perhaps the underlying question is, "What constitutes an argument based on principles?" I'm not going to claim that my emotional certainty polygamy is a bad idea is a principle but my conviction that a dyad is the best form for marriage may be.
I'm seriously out of my depth here but what about the case of a woman who asserts that she has no problem being married to a husband who beats her?
A principled argument is a kind of demonstration, in which you give an account of a thing that goes upwards from particulars to the core truths that give rise to those particulars.  In chemistry, a demonstration of this type would go from particulars like ice and water and steam to a higher truth -- the structure of H2O -- which explains why those particulars arise in given circumstances.  When you can give a demonstration of this type, you are arguing from principles.

You may still be wrong, of course.  Aristotle had a system of elemental chemistry that was quite principled, and succeeded in giving an account of why ice changes into water; but the principles gave way, on further evidence, to better principles that offer a fuller account.  This is important, because principled arguments are only as good as the principles underlying them.  It is important to return to the principles, and re-examine them carefully in every generation.

So, in terms of the argument that Elise offered about the dyad in marriage, it is indeed a principled argument:  the principle is that the convenience of the courts is an important feature of the marriage contract.  Because non-dyadic marriage is more legally complex, she argues, polygamy is impossible in a society like ours.

There are a couple of good things about principled arguments in politics.  The first one is that they give you standards that can prevent you from being led astray by a charming or persuasive politician.  This has been a problem since at least ancient Greece, where the complaint against Socrates (more properly aimed at the Sophists) was that he offered teaching in how to 'make the weaker argument appear the stronger.'  Utilitarian philosopher Neil Sinhababu, the first of our gentlemen of the Left, praises this aspect particularly.

Lots of people in politics want to get you excited in a way that'll get you doing what they want, so they'll work to create the right emotions in you. Given your psychology and their interests, it may be most effective for them to develop or manipulate your emotional attachments with a particular tribe or politician, either loving them or hating them. 
What's of fundamental importance in the world, and what good people are really trying to advance through involvement in public life, doesn't have a proper name like "Obama", "Bush", "Reagan", or "the Republican Party." It's described by more general terms like "the greatest happiness for all" or "helping people" or (according to views I think are wrong) "obeying God" or "property rights" or "the revolution." If you don't try to sort out what you care about at this level, the emotions that tie you to politics may attach to politicians and tribes and not the things that are described in well-reasoned principles. And then the things that motivate you won't be the things of real value.
The first benefit, then, is that you can be sure you are not swept off your feet.  One can certainly appreciate why this is a question of particular interest to thoughtful Leftists in the wake of 2008.

It is not only clever politicians that can sweep you off your feet.  Far more dangerous for most people are strong emotional reactions.  One can imagine a case in which a helpless girl child has been brutally murdered, and the wrong man is pinned with the crime.  How hard will it be for the jury to give him a fair hearing, given their fury at the crime, and the finger of authority pointing at him?

Not impossible, to be sure!  Yet the reason it is possible at all is that we have a strong principle about the importance of a fair trial.  We trust in that principle to cause the jury to put aside its anger and desire to punish, and demand of themselves that they hear the evidence fairly.

The other good thing about principles is that they give us grounds for addressing questions like Elise's: "What about the case of a woman who asserts that she has no problem being married to a husband who beats her?"  Is it really the case that there is no principled argument here?

If all we have is emotional certainty, we have to admit that other people are just entitled to theirs as we are to ours.  They have exactly the same standing to say, from their own unique perspective and position, "This seems right to me."  In order to say, "But it isn't right," we have to be ready to give a demonstration from principles.

It's not important that we should always do so.  To a large degree, many important questions really can be decided based on what 'seems right,' provided that we have a mechanism for making space for those who disagree.  This brings us to our second gentleman of the Left.
I’m sympathetic to Arendtian concerns about the mismatch between absolute principles and the intensely particular world of human affairs....   The reason I care about all of this gets back to the very beginning, when I was mentioned the possibility of being “uninterested” in principles. More to the point, I worry about those whose principles are not strongly enough held to entice them into political action, because I do share what I see as Madison’s concern: that it’s one thing to establish a republic in which all citizens are empowered to act equally, and quite another to figure out how to entice them to actually get involved. That’s the crisis of 1787; not just that the mechanics of the Articles were broken, but that republicans had always assumed that only a virtuous people could make a republic work, and as 1776 gives way to 1787 it’s increasingly clear that the people were to be corrupt, not virtuous. In my reading, Madison’s leap is to essentially jettison the assumption of virtue and try to use self-interest to entice people back into public action. That’s why Madison’s Federalist essays are so radical: he’s overturning not only centuries of assumptions about the mechanics of republics, but far more critical assumptions about the citizens of republics. Madison makes self-interest — not well-argued principles — the entryway for political participation precisely because he’s seeing all around him the lure of private happiness, rather than the appeal of public happiness. 
I think that's a really interesting claim about Madison.  I'm not sure it's right, but let's grant it for the sake of argument.  It surely is the case that our democracy intends to involve as many people as reasonable in at least the voting process, because the United States claims that its legitimacy depends on consent of the governed, as proven by their representation in government.  Thus, the more of the governed who vote for representatives, the more legitimate any action of the Federal government must seem.

So what if people are 'uninterested' in principles, and just want to live the way they think is best?

Arendt, as it happens, has a model for this:  it is based on Kant's approach to aesthetics in his third critique, the Critique of Judgment.  There is an immediately obvious sense in which a model like this is appealing.  Political questions are fundamentally questions about justice, and the language of justice is very often the language of beauty.  We say that a just decision, like a beautiful thing, is "balanced" or "harmonious" or "fulfilling" or even "stirring."  It is an emotional reaction rather than a scientific one; to put it in Arendt's terms, justice is a question about meaning, not a question about fact.

Justice isn't chiefly about exactly what happened, but about what would make it right.  Determining the facts is at most a preliminary condition.  I say "at most" because we very often set the facts aside if we determine that they were arrived at in a wrong way:  say by violation of 4th amendment rights without due process.  Nor is this particular to the American system:  we can see a similar setting-aside of facts in, say, Sir Thomas Malory's account of the trial of Guinevere.

So, to a degree I think we ought to try to make room for different emotional certainties about justice.  Fortunately, we have been provided with a way of doing that in very many cases:  the 10th Amendment.  In the wake of the 2004 elections, I wrote:
We should remember that they felt all the passion and concern that we did ourselves, and found that doing everything they could only led to the defeat of their cause. That kind of defeat can weaken the Republic, which many of us are sworn to uphold. It weakens it by undermining faith and confidence in the institutions. We must take care to be sure they find fair hearing of their concerns in the institutions that conservatives now control. The government must serve them as well. We should take care to observe the tenets of Federalism, and not use the power of the Federal government to try and influence liberal states according to a general will. We should erect new walls in that regard, so that our disappointed neighbors can still live the lives they want to live in what is also their country. 
This still seems right to me.  If we can restructure the American system along originalist lines, we can more readily ensure that 50 different systems of 'emotionally certain' ideas of justice can flourish alongside.  The 10th Amendment's push of almost all authority to the state and local level is the health of our Republic, especially as it becomes more diverse with age.

However, there are some questions that have to be decided for everyone.  I think these are questions that have to be decided on principle, precisely because otherwise we are enforcing our will on others whose moral standing is just as strong as our own.  Such enforcing will provoke a revolt, and more than that, it ought to provoke a revolt.

Since principles can be wrong, we still have plenty to argue about at the Federal level.  A principled argument is open to two different kinds of arguments, actually:  that the principles are wrong (modern v. Aristotle's chemistry), or that the application of the principles can be handled differently than posited (that legal ease can be achieved for the most complicated polygamy if they are organized legally as a sort of corporation or trust).

That still leaves lot of room for things you believe intensely, even if you can't say quite why.  Those things are good too, sometimes:  at least, they should be if they truly are aesthetic principles.  For aesthetics looks to the beautiful, and the True and the Beautiful finally prove to be only the first division of the Good.

Fire Is a Tree Running in Reverse

Photosynthesis converts sunlight into chemical bonds; a fire converts the stored chemical energy into heat and light. Really fast.

Other fun facts about fire here. I had read about the Peshtigo Fire in Wisconsin in 1871, which started on the same day as the Chicago Fire but got little publicity though it killed 1,200 people, but I hadn't heard about either the Sultana steamship fire of 1965, which killed 1,500 recently released Union prisoners, or the Great Dragon fire of 1987, which consumed 20 million acres of forest in China and the Soviet Union.
I am sure that everyone reading this has heard about these 'occupy whatever' protests. I saw the one in Philadelphia (for some reason clustered around city hall, instead of say, the stock exchange). And the protesters were the usual middle class socialist brats.

You could not make this stuff up if you tried:

Occupy Philly is on the 15th Street side of City Hall. If you wish to make donations, the food station is on the JFK Boulevard side. They need disposable plates, cups, napkins and cutlery. Food donations of non-perishables like rice, beans and grains are appreciated; also fruit with skins, like apples and oranges. They don’t need any more salad greens at this time.

Salad. Greens.

I can't stop laughing.

Harry Reid Goes Pseudo-Nuclear

I thought, if he was going to do it, he'd do it to pass Obamacare. For reasons I can't fathom, the Senate Majority Leader elected earlier this evening to set a precedent permitting a majority to change a critical Senate procedure, by-passing the usual requirement for a super-majority. This is not quite an elimination of the filibuster, but could be used to achieve the same result.

Reid set this startling precedent, not to pass a crucial bill, but to prevent the Republicans from forcing a vote on the President's jobs bill. Why? Apparently to avoid having to admit that the Democrats do not have enough votes to pass the bill even by a majority vote. Why is that important? Apparently because the election theme for the next year is to be that the economy would have improved if the jobs bill had passed, and the only thing preventing passage of the jobs bill was Republican "no" votes.

A high-stakes play for a body that may be controlled by the other party after the November 2012 elections.

Mr. Williams goes to Washington

I don't usually post so many videos in one day, but this campaign ad is rather amusing.

I'd say this is a pretty good representation of the perspective of the small farmer -- say a guy just slightly bigger than the yeoman farmer, the kind of guy who could employ a few people on his farm.

Perfidy by the Police and the Department of Justice

What makes this case outrageous is not merely that the motel owners are accused of no crime.  It is not even that the basis for the case is a small fraction of one percent of the guests they have had, or that these few arrests of guests are stretched over twenty years.

The real outrage here is that the government would have prosecuted the motel owners if the owners had engaged in the kind of invasion of privacy necessary to prevent the arrests.  If they had gone snooping in on their guests' privacy, listening to their phone calls, and otherwise undertaking the steps necessary to be sure that absolutely no illegal activity was happening there, they would be guilty of violating numerous laws.

The Federal government here is acting as what would -- if anyone but government did this -- be a criminal racketeering operation, allowing the local police to avoid state laws preventing this practice.  For the local police, the sin is perfidy.  They are flying the flag of state and local laws, which they have taken oaths to enforce.  In fact, they are intentionally sidestepping those laws for their own profit.

Tempus Belli

The Italians have the best sports.

The website of this group is here; it promises that this year's reconstruction held to rigorous standards of historical accuracy for the period of the wars from 1360-1410.  Clearly the Republic of Geona was a major plot element for the event, given the heraldry.

These things remind me of an old discussion of ours, which sadly is not available currently because of the loss of the old comments system.  The posts that inspired it were here, here, and here.  They start with the Laches, an early Socratic dialogue, in which Socrates and his companions explore whether the sport of fighting in armor is useful for developing the virtue of courage.  They end with Miyomoto Musashi, the great Japanese duelist.

Steve Jobs, R.I.P.

The Wall Street Journal collected a number of Mr. Jobs's sayings over the last quarter of a century. Here are his thoughts in 1985 about the future role of the Internet:
The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it to a nationwide communications network. We’re just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people––as remarkable as the telephone. [Playboy, Feb. 1, 1985]
Eleven years later, on the optimism that leads people to suspect a conspiracy:
When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth. [Wired, February 1996]
Six years ago, on death:
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. [Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]

You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.


Almost every morning my Bing search engine greets me with a stunning image. This morning it's a cypress swamp in the George L. Smith State Park, Georgia. I thought at first those were forest fire flames in the background, but apparently it's just superb fall color.

Say it Ain't So, Bo.

Hank Williams Junior is socially unacceptable, now?

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When did that happen?  I'm thinking about 1979, during the last Obama administration.

The next thing you know David Allan Coe won't be thought presentable in polite company.

Pinker and Violence, Continued

John Gray undertakes to criticize the study we discussed earlier.

The idea that a new world can be constructed through the rational application of force is peculiarly modern, animating ideas of revolutionary war and pedagogic terror that feature in an influential tradition of radical Enlightenment thinking. Downplaying this tradition is extremely important for Pinker. Along with liberal humanists everywhere, he regards the core of the Enlightenment as a commitment to rationality. The fact that prominent Enlightenment figures have favoured violence as an instrument of social transformation is—to put it mildly—inconvenient.
Say Mao, for example.  To Pinker's assertion that 'we take it for granted that war happens in backward parts of the world,' Gray notes that this requires us to think of the entirety of Asia, post 1945, as backwards.

It's a pretty humbling and intense criticism, which is exactly what the argument merits.

For the Wall Street Protestors

'Of all the trades in Ireland, the begging is the best; for when a man is tired, he can stop and take his rest.'

I learned the song from Harry O'Donoghue, native born Irishman who these last few decades has made his living around Savannah.  I can't find his version of it online, but here's an appropriate song sung by him.  Like Savannah, the song is at least as American as Irish; in fact, it's a Bing Crosby tune.

My Father Sends

What Do [Those People] Want?

I see that, while I was gone, a number of "Occupy Wall Street" protests have been going on. This morning I ran across a Daily Caller article comparing the protest unfavorably to yesteryear's Tea Party rallies. I was amused to see that some Tea Partiers are mystified by the new protesters:
The “Occupy Wall Street” protest movement . . . has been described as the left’s response to the tea party. But do the two movements share any common ground?

According to Tea Party Patriots National Chairman Mark Meckler, the answer is an emphatic “no.”

“These are law breaking people,” Meckler told The Daily Caller. “We have nothing in common with them other than we are all American citizens. My read on the news is that they do not even know what they are protesting.”

Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips agreed. “I see very little in the way of commonalities between the two groups,” Phillips told TheDC. “The Occupy Wall Street protesters act mostly as a mob, without any real coherent explanation of their grievances."

I hear more than a faint echo of the constant complaint against Tea Partiers: that they were mindlessly angry and didn't have any coherent notion what they wanted. After all, no one could seriously want smaller government, right? Because most of these people held on to their Social Security and Medicare benefits for dear life. And who doesn't want highways and firemen? So what are they doing in the street? They must simply hate black people. The National Journal sniffed, "The current movement seems more against things than for something. They seem short on data and practical recommendations and long on venting." A NY Times blogger charged that "the Tea Partiers are overwhelming Republican or right-of-Republican — they are the same angry, ill-informed, overwhelmingly white, crypto-corporate paranoiacs that accompany every ascendancy of liberalism within U.S. government." A LaGrange citizen asked his local newspaper editor, "The Tea Partiers say they don’t like what the progressive movement has done to our country. What are they talking about?"

For that matter, I'm reminded of the time-honored question, "What do women want?"

I suggest that that phrase normally means something like, "I have a hard time imagining how anyone could seriously propose such a program, so I'm going to affect not even to be able to identify the program proposed." It's not an approach that will help us solve disputes among ourselves. In fact, the Tea Party's Mr. Phillips immediately contradicts his inability to understand the "Occupy Wall Street" agenda by complaining that the "protesters are upset about bailouts but they want to see that money used on more social programs" -- an agenda that I join him in opposing, but that nevertheless seems comprehensible enough. Tea Party Express co-founder Sal Russo did a better job, I think, of uncritical listening. He noted that the "Occupy Wall Street" protesters, like Tea Partiers, objected to crony capitalism:

“I think you find that the left and the right come together on that, kind of for different reasons, but come to the same conclusion that government ought not to be picking winners and losers.”

The Truth of Russia

Lars Walker's co-blogger Phil provides us with a story of the true and honest Russia.
Gumilyov had—like many of his peers—become enamored with the female poet Cherubina de Gabriak, and Voloshin stood in his way. It was soon discovered, however, that de Gabriak did not actually exist in corpus, and was instead a pseudonym manufactured by Voloshin and a then-unknown schoolteacher named Elisaveta Dmitrievna. The two had concocted the exotic alias in order to get two dozen poems published. Gumilyov, publisher of some of these poems, wound up penning amorous letters to de Gabriak, and he began receiving equally amorous responses. The offense could not go unpunished. This time, both duelists survived unscathed.
There is so much right with that description of the place, and the spirit of the people who live in that place.

Memories of Summer

Another summer is gone.  I did not much enjoy this last one, but that is a failing of mine; I should have done better with what I was given.  I did my best.  A son of Georgia does not love the summer as much as those further north in any case.

Yet it is gone, and with it that part of our lives that shall never return.  The autumn lies ahead, and for Southerners that is a fine thing:  cold cider and warm fires, and the turning of the leaves.  Still, for what I should have done and have not done, should have thought and have not thought, should have felt and have not felt, I pray thee mercy, Lord.

Requiem for a Sow

The great bears are, for reasons best known to scientists, given the adult names normally used for pigs -- boars and sows -- even though their kit are known as cubs.  Tonight one was put down:
A grizzly bear that fatally mauled a hiker in Yellowstone National Park was killed after DNA evidence linked the animal to the scene of a second hiker's death a month later, a park official said Monday. 
The decision to euthanize the 250-pound female bear was meant to protect park visitors and staff, Superintendent Dan Wenk said. 
However, the investigation remains open, and officials might never know definitively whether the same bear that killed California hiker Brian Matayoshi on July 7 also took the life of John Wallace of Michigan in August. 
Evidence showed multiple bears, including the sow, were near Wallace's body but not if the sow made any contact with Wallace. The bear was allowed to remain free after Matayoshi's death because park officials said it was reacting naturally to defend its two cubs.
They did not grasp the truth behind what Edward Abbey said:  "If people persist in trespassing upon the grizzlies' territory, we must accept the fact that the grizzlies, from time to time, will harvest a few trespassers.”

These are not dangers to be mitigated, but dangers to be celebrated.  What's the point of a life of easy mastery, without terror or danger?  These are our great friends and allies, who call us to be what we might be:  and if we die, what of it?  We were going to die anyway.

Firebrand on Polygamy

Elise has posted her promised piece on polygamy, which is part of a series she has kindly named after me.  At least, I hope she is intending to be kind.

She ends this way:

"I do not object to gay marriage. However, I do not consider those who do object to it to be stupid, ignorant, bigoted, shortsighted, ridiculous, not worthy of response, or crazy. Instead I respect their position, acknowledge the validity of their concerns, and couch my position in terms of my own preferences and my opinion that legalizing gay marriage will not undermine the role marriage plays - or should play - in holding society together. This leaves me free to oppose legalizing polygamy when the time comes. I realize full well that when I do argue against legalizing polygamy, I will be denounced as stupid, ignorant, bigoted, shortsighted, ridiculous, not worthy of response, or crazy. I’ll have to put up with that but I don’t plan to give anyone grounds to also denounce me as inconsistent."

I guess it's good to avoid inconsistency, exceptis excipiendis.  I do not support "gay marriage," for reasons explored in great detail in the comments here, but which largely boil down to my sense that marriage is wrongly thought of as a contract, and rightly thought of as a kinship bond.  The idea that any two people should be free to marry is part and parcel of the idea that marriage is just a contract between two individuals, which exists for their pleasure and convenience and can be dissolved for the same reasons.  Only when we see marriage as the institution that it really is -- the formation of a kinship bond that unites bloodlines across generations -- can we correctly account for the duties arising from it that are owed to both previous and subsequent generations.  These begin with not divorcing, but certainly include structuring marriage so that it has at least the theoretical potential of producing a subsequent generation.

So, I have never been a supporter of this concept called "gay marriage."  However, one argument against it that I never found convincing was the slippery slope argument that gay marriage might lead to polygamy.

The problem wasn't that the argument might not be in some sense accurate, but that the argument was unprincipled.  By this I mean that it did not have a grounding principle for marriage that could explain what the institution was, or what it was for.  All it was doing was trying to use a less-popular change to undermine support for a more-popular change.

If marriage really is -- as Elise says -- just whatever we decide to call by that name, then there is no foundation for the institution at all.  If it is, as I say it is, a kinship bond that unites bloodlines across generations, then polygamy at least preserves the core of the institution in a way that "gay marriage" does not and cannot.  The slippery slope argument doesn't work, because "gay marriage" is already the bottom of the slope.

Which, I suppose, is reason for hope in a sense; once one has reached the bottom, at least things won't get worse.

I've been reading St. Thomas Aquinas on the subject, whose arguments are sometimes very good and sometimes quite dodgy; we'll take a look at his lengthy piece on the subject in a bit.  Let's talk about Elise's ideas first.


Goodness knows there's a lot going on in the country that merits a protest of some sort, but this ought to be embarrassing to everyone involved.  InfoWars, a site well known for conspiracy theories, is the voice of sober reflection here.
The ignorance displayed in these interviews knows no bounds. The protesters just don’t get it. They are calling for the government to use force to impose their ideas, all in the name of bringing down corporations who they don’t realize have completely bought off government regulators. Corporations and government enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship – getting one to regulate the other is asinine and only hurts smaller businesses who are legitimately trying to compete in a free market economy that barely exists.

The zeal for totalitarian government amongst some of the “protesters” is shocking. One sign being carried around read, “A government is an entity which holds the monopolistic right to initiate force,” which seems a little ironic when protesters complain about being physically assaulted by police in the same breath.
That sign represents one of the worst ideas ever to come out of the academy; the entire history of free societies speaks against it.  Every instance of liberty flowering is an instance of the exercise of that right, not by the government of the day, but in its teeth.

Fixing Memories

I'm back and (nearly) unjetlagged from my longish trip to France. I saw wonderful things but, unfortunately, learned that my sister and I are not congenial travel companions. I feel more strongly than ever that it's a mistake to take a lot of gadgets on a trip. It's too easy to get lost in the gadget instruction manual, or its malfunction, or its location, so that a convenience intended to facilitate fixing memories of striking views or events instead distracts us just when we should be looking at what's in front of us. Or a device intended to help us navigate instead monopolizes the conversation with irritable observations about its inconvenience or inadequacy. Or an invention that might keep us in touch with important news or information about travel arrangements or the history of important sites instead tempts to us stay head-down in a small screen, indoors, ignoring the actual purpose of the travel. It's possible for conversation to be entirely spoiled by topics like "Where's my camera? What happened to the memory card? Why won't it stay charged up? How do I turn off the flash function?" Within a few days I was tempted to throw all the gadgets out the window. All the pictures in this post are stock photos from the net, better than I could have snapped, anyway, and perfectly faithful images of what I saw.

My sister having managed to arrive without her driver's license or most of her credit cards, there also was far too much time given over to finding the offices of credit-card companies and attempting to obtain replacement cards from them. What's more, I would not willingly enter any tourism bureau or souvenir gift shop, but these were catnip to my companion. For ten days, I felt that anything and everything threatened to interpose itself between us and the things we had come to experience.

In spite of all this, I fulfilled my goal of soaking in very old and beautiful architecture from Paris to Bayeux to Bordeaux to Nîmes. We were typical squealing tourists at the first few beautifully preserved medieval town centers, until we realized with some shock that they were completely commonplace. Every few miles we would stumble on another chateau or fabulous old church. We saw cave paintings more than 25,000 years old. The famous Gorges du Tarn looked just like a steeply hilly drive northwest of Austin, if you added a lot more annual rainfall, except that every ten miles or so the limestone canyon walls sprouted a little cluster of Cinderella castles. We finished up with the Pont du Gard and several other Roman ruins in Nîmes before taking the train back to Paris and flying home. It's hard to overstate the impact of such antiquity on someone who grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Small street markets were everywhere. I may have eaten enough first-rate cheese, sausage, bread, chocolate, and duck to last me for a lifetime. The one thing I hadn't enough time to get jaded about was truffles: I brought home a small jarful that we're looking forward to cooking up into something soon.

And I'm sure my sister and I will begin speaking to each other again before too long.

Gnostic Heretics

While reading Medieval News today, I came across a story that will be interesting to those of you who have been following our discussion on polygamy, and particularly the sub-thread of the discussion related to interpretation of the Gospel passages related to marriage.

The story relates to a recently-discovered, second-century set of gnostic inscriptions, which may be the earliest physical-culture aspect of Christianity that we have.  They seem to be directly related the bridal-chamber imagery we've been discussing.
To my bath, the brothers of the bridal chamber carry the torches,
[here] in our halls,  they hunger for the [true] banquets,
even while praising the Father and glorifying the Son.
There [with the Father and the Son] is the only spring and source of truth.
Now, this is a gnostic site, which means that from the perspective of the modern Christian tradition the inscription relates to a suppressed heresy.  Another recent discovery is the so-called "Gospel of Philip," which contains a number of the gnostic beliefs.  Scholars seem to be unsure what to make of these.
The mysteries of truth are revealed, though in type and image. The bridal chamber, however, remains hidden. It is the Holy in the Holy. The veil at first concealed how God controlled the creation, but when the veil is rent and the things inside are revealed, this house will be left desolate, or rather will be destroyed. And the whole (inferior) godhead will flee from here, but not into the holies of the holies, for it will not be able to mix with the unmixed light and the flawless fullness, but will be under the wings of the cross and under its arms... 
(Translation by Wesley Isenberg) 
"It's not quite clear what it [the bridal chamber] is, it's explained to some degree, but explained in cryptic terms in the Gospel of Philip, it's a ritual involving freedom and purification and union with the deity," McKechnie said.
You may wonder why the Gnostics were suppressed.  Gnosticism was the doctrine of salvation by knowledge, or as the Catholic Encyclopedia goes on to call it, "the dreadful sum of all heresies... a retrogression... the last throes of expiring cults and civilizations[.]"

Why?  Well, that's kind of hard to explain.  The core doctrines were these:

"[Gnostics] held matter to be a deterioration of spirit, and the whole universe a depravation of the Deity, and taught the ultimate end of all being to be the overcoming of the grossness of matter and the return to the Parent-Spirit, which return they held to be inaugurated and facilitated by the appearance of some God-sent Saviour."

That matter is a deterioration of spirit is a neo-Platonic view, though, which was a school important to many early Christian philosophers (and, actually, the very Christian and much-later philosopher Hegel ends up arguing something quite close to this view); that the whole universe is a depravation of the Deity is very similar to the writings of the neo-Platonist Plotinus, who nevertheless wrote a treatise against Gnosticism; and the desire to leave the fallen world and return to God the Father, led by the God-sent Savior, is of course the foundation of the entire Christian church.

Two core areas of dispute are the use of magic, and the evilness of the flesh.  Christianity is opposed to both doctrines, the first more obviously than the second.  Orthodox Christianity, though, expects the resurrection of the flesh -- and therefore is opposed to the idea that flesh, or body-dependent qualities such as manhood or womanhood, are wicked or undesirable.  Rather, they are part of the creation originally blessed as good.