Monday, March 30, 2009

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

"Is there any way to know what's really going on in Mexico?" asks Wretchard. Matt Beck opines with the following:

"Perhaps some useful information may be gleaned from watching the currency exchange rates and the commodity price indices in Mexico. It would be even more useful to watch Mexican leading economic indicators like trade patterns and orders, but these are probably well-doctored and well-laundered in order to conceal corruption, and we simply don’t have the economic intelligence-gathering apparatus. The exchange rates and indices, however, are public information, and to the discriminating eye might offer grist for analysis. Once we factor into account the effects of official changes in Mexican monetary policy, any discrepancies will serve as a rough indicator of the degree of leverage exerted by non-state actors.

"Should the peso strengthen relative to the dollar without a rise in commodities prices, it probably means the situation isn’t that bad. In that case, remittances are likely to be steady and the level of corruption tolerable. Should the peso strengthen and commodities rise, that means aid is being back-channeled to Mexico and corruption is on the march. If the peso weakens however, we know that the dollar influx has dried up and the Mexican fief is firmly in the hands of a narco-diocletian keiretsu. The hyperinflation of Mexican money will be the most obvious outward sign that something is wrong."

North Korea as the Pan-Asian Osgiliath; The Two Small Clouds of Lord Kelvin

A little background on this posting. Wretchard over at the Belmont Club compiles these meditations about North Korea's upcoming missile launch and America's response to it (or lack thereof), in which he cites this Voice of America article which quotes Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as saying the following:

I think if we had an aberrant missile, one that was headed for Hawaii or something like that, we might consider [intercepting it], but I do not think we have any plans to do anything like that at this point.

I had to blink twice to make sure I read this correctly. Robert Gates, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, said that if an aberrant missile were heading for Hawaii (one of the 50 states, for those of you who went to the Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Geography), we might consider shooting it down? This is outrageous. A lack of moral conviction of this magnitude ought to be grounds for dismissal. Perhaps Gates himself already foresees that the whole thing won’t be his problem very much longer.

On the larger subject, the lack of political will to deal harshly with North Korea is an ossified feature of the post-war geopolitical order which probably will not change until many other things do as well. Uncorking the malice behind the DMZ would be ruinous to millions unless America was prepared to militarily defend South Korea and Japan, which would mean an air-and-sea battle with China over the surrounding oceans. This scenario would quickly escalate into WWIII; and although it may perhaps be inevitable at some point, it could be prudent to defer it for now.

The resulting stalemate has enabled the Kim Dynasty to achieve something very few ever have: the successful resistance of encroachment by Western world powers. For this reason alone does the regime still enjoy the support of its longsuffering subjects. For this reason alone is it tolerated by the Chinese and even the Russians. It functions as a garrison of hope for Maoist sentiment; a sort of pan-Asian Osgiliath arrayed against the forces of the West. Implicitly, we know (and they know) that we cannot take North Korea without taking the continent, which is impossible.

Therefore, North Korea is a purely symbolic, not a strategic, thorn in our side. The U.S. has no strategic interests on the Korean peninsula any longer; but, like the “two small clouds” of Lord Kelvin, it represents a recalcitrant lump in our otherwise smoothly functioning imperium. The conflict is ideological in nature, and we all know what happened when those two small clouds were investigated.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Gained in Translation

The account of how God confused the tongues of man at Babel tells us, as its primary object lesson, of a punishment for hubris. Man had endeavored too arrogantly to reach heaven by his own labors; and God, seeing as how the entire race was united in this conceited purpose, forthwith confused his language so that no such projects would again be possible for him. Thus we learn what folly it is to gratify ourselves with monuments to our own greatness. The choice of punishments in this case was not arbitrary, for it was primarily the unity of man’s speech—and his consequent inability to escape from the world of his own ideas—that blinded him to his creaturely status. Locked away safely in his castle of thoughts and words, man, in an unfortunate partaking of the pride of Satan, began to feel himself as a power; and no longer did he think he owed any deference to those eternal things which his Creator had established for his own good. Man’s disrespect for an appropriate pathos of distance, his wanton attempt to violate the sanctity of God’s heaven, brought down this humiliation upon himself: that no longer could he claim a share in the free and easy company of his brethren. Forever confused of purpose, forever wary of his fellows, he would now draw swords against himself, and rend with desperation his own flesh. It was a second Fall: a second exile from that communion for which he was made and which alone can make him happy. At Eden he had lost his God, and now he had lost his friends. Alone and broken, with nowhere to lay his head, what now was man to do?

God’s mercy had not forsaken him. It is said of God that He always gives back with His right hand whatever He has taken away with His left. Therefore we are justified in seeking out a deeper meaning in the confusion of tongues, in the transformative power of which we may glimpse, at the center of it all, the depth of His loving concern for His little ones. It is not far to seek, for we have ourselves already given the clue: God has severed us from those who were our partners in hubris, so that we may find each other again in charity and humility. Without the unity of language to spellbind us in a web of common delusion, we are forced to see one another as creatures in need of assistance. In other words, we are obliged to recognize the truth about ourselves. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

It is a good exercise to watch the peoples of foreign lands going about their daily business. In this way, we get some sense of how we ourselves must appear before foreigners, and an inkling of how we all must appear before God. When we do not speak the language or understand the customs of the folks whom we are observing, we remain outside whatever particular cultural spell obtains over their land, and we behold them in their basic humanity: gregarious, ignorant, often cowardly, and forever fascinated with the petty and the absurd. But in beholding them thus, there awakens in us also a deep sense of compassion. This is the compassion of the saints, the holy men and women of God’s elect, before whose penetrating eyes for truth even their own countrymen appear as naked newborns. We men will also recognize it as the passion with which we have always loved women (a passion which seeks to remedy a need, but intends no disrespect), when the beauty and receptivity of such a one causes us to rise from our bed of bestial slumber and awaken to a sense of husbandly care. “I stand for her: For her I will exist,” it says (for existence is simply the Latin word for ‘standing out’). Both these loves, the compassionate and the husbandly, feel a real sense of anxiety for the wellbeing of their beloved. Both intend nothing less than her perfection, and both are ready in a stitch to risk everything for her safety. There comes now an irrepressible desire to enter in to what we have found, to descend (if I may use that term) into the world of the beloved. Just so did God empty Himself of His glory and was pleased to dwell among us as a man, therefore to perfect our redemption and bring to us the fullness of holiness.

How great was the disappointment in hell at this turn of events! How infuriated the demons must have been when they realized this had been His plan all along! They had thought to mar God’s finest handiwork; to introduce a poison into the bloodstream of His beloved sons and daughters that would be a sickness unto death for them, and an everlasting triumph of rebellion flung in the face of Him. But this was not to be. In an act at once so astonishing and yet so simple in its purity as to be worthy of the King of Kings, God abided the travails of man until the appointed time had arrived. Then a knowing wink was exchanged among the Persons of the Trinity, and this decree went forth from the high throne: “Now I myself will go down to complete what I started.”

You might have heard a pin drop in heaven. “Himself,” the angels whispered to one another. “But we heard Him say that that the son of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. And did not we ourselves carry the prophecy to Isaiah that said ‘a virgin shall conceive and bear a son’? But that must mean…”

“Yes,” God answered. “I am to be born as a man. In my own image were they created, and now I will take my place among them in expiation for their sins.” The glory of God, which the angels had always beheld according to their own abilities, was at that moment magnified and deepened by an incalculable amount. Something about the work they had been performing for numberless ages was now revealed to them which they had never imagined before. God was preparing to enter the world; to bring his creatures into perfect and intimate communion with Himself. From that moment on, all estrangement was ended as heaven and earth interpenetrated one another in love, not hubris. The uplifted wood of the cross took the place of the mud-and-straw towers by which man had labored to reach his lost Lord: grace after grace descended freely from the mighty turrets, and soul after soul was lifted upwards to enhance the joys of eternity.

But God’s healing will for man was still not exhausted. Not only did he mean to restore us to Himself, but to reunite us in community with each other. The enmity between man and man resulting from the confusion of languages, which was the fruit of Babel, was to be mended by living in accordance with the Beatitudes, the language of love itself. Here is that charity and humility which transforms men into partners in salvation rather than confederates in crime; or worse, mutual victims in a never-ending turnabout of violence. In the context of our discussion, the charity wrought by Christ teaches us to see every man in his essential humanity, which collapses the old word-based categories we had previously assigned to him. The black speech of this world dissolves in the paradox of the cross, leaving the infinite value of every human being as the sole surviving truth.

Consider a teaching like “Happy those who mourn: they shall be comforted.” The mournful man is the stranger of all he meets. He tastes the full bitterness of Babel, for there are none to understand him in his pain. Extreme bereavement is an unutterable blackness: there are no words that can convey it, and no words seem to reach into it. The Christ, however, promises not only to comfort him in his suffering, but assures him that even now he is being drawn closer to God. At the same time, we who have had our hearts torn open in compassion by the love of Christ, see the mourner as our kindred spirit, and would fain take his suffering upon ourselves to the extent we are able. The community that was once destroyed by scrambled speech now has its prayers directly carried from heart to heart through its unity in Christ. And furthermore, we recognize this as being not our own love, the love we have for our fellows who really are admirable (or who, at least, really belong to us in a special way), but as the love of Christ himself, applicable especially to the stranger, the outcast, and the enemy. The reunion of man with man affected by God in Christ is far greater than anything man achieved on the basis of speech alone; for Christ came to restore to us the lost language of Eden, with the surprising corollary that, after much patience and humility, we come to recognize it at last as our own native tongue.

-Matt Beck
Faith and Courage

Two Walks through the Valley

For the past eleven years, my sole surviving hometown newspaper, The Denver Post, has hosted a symposium of guest editorialists known as the Colorado Voices. I applied for inclusion in the group this time around and was rejected. I can't say I am surprised, as the paper takes a notoriously liberal point of view and I had made it clear in my cover letter that I intended to argue from a conservative and specifically Roman Catholic perspective. My two contest submissions, however, I believe to be of general interest; so what better way to take revenge on the Post than publish them here on my blog. Take that, mainstream media!

The two columns in question recount experiences had by me while walking around the local environs, observing and pondering. They are not altogether pessimistic, but they left me with the impression that Something Ought to be Done. To wit:

My first submission: In which I describe a walk taken around my neighborhood, and my meditations on the state of the children therein.

It was growing hot late one summer morning when I found myself walking along 96th Avenue just east of Federal Boulevard; a highly patched and pounded stretch of roadway surrounded by mobile home parks, and home to the very same Federal Heights Elementary School which I had attended some 20-odd years before. Clumps of children could be seen departing from there, the recipients of some summer school lunch program, I surmised. They all appeared too cynical for their tender years and not at all attired as children ought to be. Looking homeless and joyless, they scattered their separate ways. Failed social policies, I thought to myself. What on earth are these kids going home to? A pair of older girls dressed in gangster regalia walked stiffly away from me to the east; but my path headed west, toward the looming Westminster water tower and the familiar peaks of the Rocky Mountains, their grandeur diminished by the spiritual lowliness of that vantage.

By a design not my own I found myself walking abreast of one such clump, a ragamuffin trio looking orphaned on the pale sidewalk. The oldest girl seemed to be about 11, a surly creature who already had the look of a survivalist. I winced in pain when I thought of the experiences the next few years would bring her. Astride her was her younger sister, probably 8, a happier and bouncier girl about whom there was still wrapped many tendrils of childish innocence. Behind them a little boy of 3 bumbled along. Largely ignored by the others, he looked the most homeless of all; the eagerness with which he tried to keep up spoke forcefully of both tragedy and hope. He wants so badly to be relevant, I thought. I was seized with compassion, but also with the wish that I had never come that way in the first place.

It would have been too awkward to turn around now. My legs, on autopilot, had already bourn me into their midst. Not knowing what to say, not wanting to say anything at all, I simply tried to smile and be pleasant; but the younger two children were glad of my companionship. The boy entwined himself around my feet like a cat while the middle girl chattered on to me about things I cannot now recall. They clearly have no decent father-figure at home, I said to myself. It is my duty to do what I can. The older girl, though, was plainly offended that I was there. Many times along the way she drew her sister aside by the elbow, admonishing her to have nothing to do with me.

The middle girl didn’t listen. “Will you put him on your shoulders,” she said to me at last, referring to her little brother. “Sure. Come here buddy,” I said, hoisting him up. I had not gone twenty paces when I caught the acrid smell of urine: he had peed down the back of my neck. I was a gentleman about it, and said nothing to the boy or the others; I did, however, take him off my shoulders.

The eldest was getting restive, and I asked her why she disliked me. “You’re weird,” she said, “and your cologne really stinks.”

“I’m not wearing cologne,” I told her, repressing the urge to tell her what her brother smelled like. Realizing that she must have smelled my deodorant volatilizing in the summer sun, I began to wonder if anyone at her house was ever clean.

We reached the entrance to their neighborhood and the surly girl flatly informed me that I had to leave. She grabbed her sister and they departed without another word. I watched them go, for the boy was tottering along many yards behind them. Suddenly he stopped, ran back, picked a dandelion out of the median and gave it to me. I thanked him and continued to watch them all until they turned out of sight.

Later, as I was scrubbing my neck red in the shower, I did not need to wonder why God led me into such a circumstance. I was there so that a fatherless boy could give me a flower. By His grace, my heart was properly disposed that day to be Christ to him. The chief danger facing such children is not (as we imagine) the possibility of meeting a very different kind of man on the road; the danger is the godless world of despair in which they are already enveloped. “The dreadful,” said Martin Heidegger, “has already happened.” Do you know where your children are?

My second submission: In which I describe “free walking” through a prairie dog town and the meditations that follow.

There is a sport known as “free running” wherein the participants try to reimagine their relationship to urban spaces by performing acrobatics about the city’s infrastructure. I am conducive to the idea insofar as it implies a livelier inhabitation of the urban scene, but not in its postmodern implications as a form of kinetic graffiti. The first is like a kitchen garden planted in the backyard, while the second is an abandoned lot full of weeds. Can a city remain fecund without being mulched into its surroundings? To answer that, we might begin by examining how nature interacts with the city in its own terms.

To wit, I have often engaged in an activity I like to call “free walking,” which is to say that I stroll through an urban environment deliberately ignoring the strictly semiotic component of the experience while confining my attention to living forms, physical boundaries, and the forces and substances of the natural world. I have found that nature is in very truth primitive; that is, both persistent and pointless. The prairie dog towns of Thornton have been particularly instructive in this regard.

Prairie dogs always bark at interlopers like me. Thus, one of the first things you learn about them is that their separate communities all have their own local dialects. The pitch and cadence of barks vary from town to town, but are recognizably similar within a town. I have concluded from these data that each community is relatively isolated, for the asphalt roadways that divide them from one another are crossed only reluctantly and at great peril; and while the slow trickle of more adventurous prairie dogs have managed to colonize nearly every available space (right down to the medians on I-25), there remains little commerce between towns.

The attrition rates from these crossings are impressive. There is in the vicinity of 90th and Washington two small fields that I used to walk through, each one not more than a quarter acre in size, subdivided by a single two-lane road. During the summer months the death toll among prairie dogs from automobile rundowns on this road usually amounted to at least one per diem, and on one noteworthy occasion I counted six. I marveled at how these small communities could remain viable under the pressure of such repeated decimations, especially when considering that they sustain themselves on nothing more than the sparse, dry vegetation that grows thereabout. The desperate struggle of these little lives played out before my eyes: endless, tedious, immensely wasteful, devoid of all justice and proportion—animal life seemingly disclosing itself as a temporary extravagance of soil. Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

I took one of the dead creatures and laid him amongst some tall weeds where he was unlikely to be disturbed. Over the course of the next two weeks I returned to watch his final dissolution into the earth. The maggots came first. Small, translucent beings, barely visible in the beginning, they presently grew into the familiar corpulent grubs whilst consuming almost all the available meat. Black ants came next, picking over the cartilage between the joints, and finally some unidentified beetles extracted the last drops of oil seeping out of the bones. I noticed then that prairie dog incisors actually grow from the back of the jaw, like elephant tusks. I speculated on the possibility of some long-distance relationship between them while realizing that the flesh, the play of feature, everything that holds any emotional content for us, had melted away. The skeleton stood as a monument to the futility of all yearning, an empty skull beholding a cold sky.

“You want to live ‘according to nature’?,” Nietzsche mockingly asked the stoics. It was a rhetorical question designed to show the emptiness of that sentiment. Is not human life the very endeavor to be otherwise than this nature? The popular psychologists and anthropologists of the modern era have it backwards when they disregard the billions of human beings living in cities and set up the relatively few denizens of the remote jungles as somehow typical of the race. It is not in human nature to be “natural.” We need our cities and our laws as much as we need our fields and our freedom. To preserve both fecundity and order, we need the social lordship of Christ the King. A neo-pagan attachment to naturalism simply will not do.

Just ask the prairie dogs.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Libertarianism as Ornament

Comment on The Long View, "The Obamarama..."

HopefulCynic68 wrote:

It's a myth that most businessmen love the free market, they're as human as anyone else and government-guaranteed profit appeals to them too.

The saccharin libertarian attitudes embraced by many business-types seem to issue not from any metaphysically-inclined picture of the workings of an ideal economy, but from the purely practical need to avoid any moral or political friction at the point of sale. The businessman cares not whether his customers are conservative or liberal, black or white, straight or gay; he simply desires as much patronage as possible. Therefore, he envelopes his market operations in an atmosphere of inclusivity, affecting for his part a studied and principled aloofness from all distinctions made on the basis of blood and history. Do not underestimate the impact these attitudes have on our contemporary sexual harassment and racial quotas policies. Multiculturalism—the deliberate attempt to obliterate the realities of creed, race, gender, and class, and to enthrone the concept of libertarian agency as the sine qua non of personhood—reveals itself here as the "politeness" of the trading floors; the theatre mask of embalmed civility that all who wish to buy or sell are required to don.

In this perhaps there is something to commend it, for never has Kant's Categorical Imperative been given a more focused and energetic expression. Unfortunately however, multiculturalism proceeds from an incorrect picture of humanity, and in its excesses becomes repressive and demonic. Blood and history really do matter; or at the very least, they are not dispensable. The pulse-side of man wants to advance his own family and policies and visions. This, presumably, is why he goes to market in the first place.

The extreme alternative to this ultra-utilitarian civil ethics is to turn business itself into a political weapon, such that the buying and selling of wares is restricted between preferred parties. This is the principle that governs international trade, and also the labyrinthine intrigues of every dusty Silk Road bazaar. Libertarianism can only flourish within a political horizon; it cannot condition interactions between competing horizons. This is why the dreams of globalization, the attempt to transform the entire earth into a single free market, will never be realized. Political considerations will always intrude, then become paramount. We can only expect that as our political life becomes more fragmented, our economics will become more "Asiatic." Ironically, the anarchy of libertarianism is nothing but the ornament of an overrefined civilization, as OEH has pointed out.

The great trick is to preserve the free market as engine of opportunity, but to so distribute property such that the interests of every agent lie comfortably close to home. This can only be achieved by elevating moral principles above the unrestricted operations of the market; hence capitalist ideology has a fatal flaw too often overlooked by conservatives. The optimality we seek is attained not through unbridled competition, but through the security gained by having each agent permanently related to some productive private property. The "ownership society," properly understood, is an essentially distributist ideal which has been rendered complete by admitting the distinctions of blood and history which libertarian capitalism ignores.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Herbert's Future

(Note: Here's a brief exposition of points that I will assuredly touch upon again and again as the blog develops. It concerns the interplay of technology and the future of the West, which I foresee progressing along a decidedly Herbertian trajectory.)

Comment on Belmont Club "Save the Newspapers"

I think the argument that the internet, by virtue of its ability to collate and disseminate content virtually without limit or price-point constraint, will become the new matrix of news-gathering and -sharing in the new world order, is subject to some fatal criticisms, among which are these:

1) There is the argument that newspapers, requiring costly brick-and-morter concomitants like printing presses, paper pulp, and labor and technical staff, are too capital intensive to hold their own against the free-wheeling internet. This argument utterly ignores how capital intensive the internet itself is. All those PCs, monitors, cell phones, data satellites, broadband networks, server banks, programmers, and IT people don’t come cheap. In fact, the internet is a flagrant exigency to a much greater extent than the humble print media were, and as a result of its complexity is subject to greater systemic risk. The vast technological accomplishment stands atop a teetering tower of social, economic, and political stability which is by no means guaranteed.

2) What, then, will become of the internet if its supporting physical infrastructure cannot be maintained? What is the use of a computer without a constant reliable supply of electrical power? Perhaps someday soon, due to the economic downturn and other related problems in the Western world, a growing number of people will decide to ditch their expensive phone/cable/internet packages. They’ll be working harder anyway, trying to salvage a meaningful standard of living, and will have little time for websurfing. Sales of PC hardware and software slump, disincentivising continued investment in the IT sector. Corporations as well as individuals begin to scale down their web presence. Various server banks are taken offline, and link rot becomes a pervasive problem. These factors combine to create an environment of positive feedback which accelerates the abandonment of the net. For many intents and purposes, large sections of what was previously cyberspace becomes a cyber ghost town.

3) Society adjusts to the dwindling supply of internet capacity by demanding subsidization. Basic internet availability begins to be looked upon as a public utility, the usage of which is both obligatory and metered. E-mail, shopping, identification, and registration for government services are the only online tools available to most people, while the wealthy and the government have access to a “higher order internet." This spawns a craft-guild a highly skilled specialists devoted to producing a suite of ever more inventive web-based applications for the well-to-do, while widening the digital and cultural divide.

4) Finally, the majority of people come to regard the internet with the same mixture of disdain and paranoia usually reserved for the East German Secret Police, and it ends up collapsing in the wake of a popular uprising like a virtual Berlin Wall. The entire course of events takes only 30 to 40 years to play out, after which the future becomes very different than what we often imagine it to be like.

It’s not that the print media reestablish themselves; it’s that society begins to focus on the development of those personal, uniquely human talents and attributes that far excede the scope and performance of mere machines. The West flowers with “mentats” and “bene gesserites” who knit the great forces unleashed by modernity into the warp and weft of their own personalities. The future of the West, far from being a Kurzweilian techno-utopia, becomes a Herbertian neo-feudal Holy Roman Empire.

This, at any rate, is my best-guess blueprint for the next half century. I find the broad outlines compellingly likely. Thoughts, anyone?

UPDATE: Let us also remember in this connection that journalism itself, far from being a natural feature of the human race at all times and places, is really a quasi-political activity appropriate only to the world-cities of late-stage civilizations in the Spenglerian framework. (An upcoming post on Oswald Spengler's influence upon my own philosophical outlook is in the works.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Beginnings and Endings

Comment on Belmont Club "Beginnings and Endings"

Wretchard wrote:

Maybe at the end of the rainbow, the one [Barack Obama]’s been chasing all his life, was the thing that had been pursuing him.

This has been exactly my assessment of Barack Obama’s character for some time now. It amazes me that it is not more widely apparent. He has always been an angry, bitter man; a man with a grudge to nurse and an unbounded appetite for destruction. He jumps Jim Crow in front of the successful white liberal Kennedy set. Knowing that he cannot ascend to their ranks through his own qualities, he has become their courtesan, fluffing their egos and indulging their prejudices, all the while resenting them and seeking to cut off the sources of their attention-grabbing power. Likewise, he garners the sympathy of the many ignorant and gullible voters of the land who harbor secret sentiments not greatly differing from his own: resentment towards all that is good and beautiful, all that is high and hale, all that is noble and free. His presidency is destined for tragedy. He has attained the highest office in the land and already he realizes that it will do nothing to satisfy his empty self. Already he grows tired of the burden: nihilistic, aloof, and fell.

I pray for him. I offer up my own anxieties as a penance for his soul, and I ask that some of his burden be shifted unto me before he really loses it. For there are millions of people in this country and around the world who do not know their right hand from their left; people whom Barack Obama and his policies will lead to ruin if he is not prevented from carving the signs of his torment across the face of the country.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Ambiguity, the enemy of life, has too often been seen as the friend of philosophy.

-Matt Beck

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Evangelical Collapse?

Michael Spencer at The Christian Science Monitor lays out the reasons for The Coming Evangelical Collapse. Brief and worth a look. My thanks to Duane J. Oldsen for drawing this to my attention.

As a former Pentecostal turned Roman Catholic, this issue resonates with me from both sides. Spencer is probably right in forecasting difficult times ahead for evangelicalism, but the reasons he gives for this seem a little scrambled. It is not the attachment to conservative social goals which threaten the movement, for conservatism is quite healthy and will only increase as the material situation worsens in the years to come. Far more fatal to evengelicalism is its weddedness to the Prosperity Gospel, which will seem increasingly shallow (not to mention unattainable for most) in the face of widespread social unrest.

Spencer is certainly right, though, in condemning the lack of doctrinal rigor and basic Christian formation among the generic Protestant denominations. He sees this as a boon for orthodoxy, and again he is right. There is no doubt in my mind that hordes of the newly downtrodden, looking for an authentic Christian experience, will soon make the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and Episcopalian churches rather popular places to be; but once more, his reasoning seems a little screwy. He first bemoans that people are abandoning evangelicalism because it's too socially conservative, and then he announces that this will benefit the catholic churches....who are supposed to be less conservative?! I can only conclude that this man doesn't understand what orthodoxy really means, nor the social forces driving people to embrace it.

The "pragmatic, therapeutic" megachurches will be the first victims of the turning tide, not the exceptions to it. The newly faithful congregants at the orthodox churches--hardboiled and distinctly intolerant of BS--will demand that the priests look and act like priests, that the sacraments be respected, and that the Gospel be proclaimed without embarrassment. The future will belong to orthodoxy as the prevailing cultural attitude becomes more conservative, not less.

Spencer again reaches the correct conclusion in describing what will be left. Pentecostalism is perhaps the only serious alternative to the sacramental/liturgical system of apostolic Christianity, as it retains Trinitarian baptism and a pronounced emphasis on the Cross; however, its premillenial dispensationalism is a stumbling block to determined Scriptural scholarship.

Of course, I am biased in favor of a Roman Catholic future. But I think that, in the last analysis, this is more than just a bias: it is a prophetic hope.

A Leibnizian Rebuttal to Kurzweil's Singularity.

(Note: This post was written by me approximately a year and a half ago in order to refute certain computational theories of mind that had arisen in another discussion forum. Also refuted here is the related notion that the universe tends inevitably towards an "Omega Point," Teilhard de Chardin's vision of a pole of maximum integration and connotation which draws all things unto itself. Ray Kurzweil, the director of MIT's Media Lab, has argued for decades that this Omega Point {or "Singularity," as he prefers to call it} will be brought about by an ever-accelerating advance of computational power and neural nanotechnology. Obviously, this mistaken understanding is predicated on several false metaphysical presuppositions: 1) That the universe in its basic essence is composed of wholly knowable and predictable digital components. 2) That the mind of man is an epiphenomenon arising from physical interactions among these components. 3) That this mind is a physical structure mirroring the funtion of a von Neumann stored-program computer, and amenable to physical manipulation on that account. I have argued here that not only are these metaphysical notions erroneous, but the Omega Point itself is a corruption of the Christian idea of the Eschaton, which cannot occur within history but only beyond it. Hence, all Omega Point theologies are in fact millenarian heresies with an element of the anti-Christ about them. The Church, while ever striving to perfect all aspects of earthly life as much as possible, must be on her guard against such thinking.)

Since addressing the “theories of consciousness” problem adequately would require stipulating to certain ontological facts that have not really been mentioned here, I think I should begin with a theological examination of the concept of the singularity, from first principles.

Is there an End of History? Are we to seek for a temporal manifestation of the ideal of unbounded liberty? Do such transhumanistic notions spring from a genuine mystical imperative, and are they capable of becoming the object of Man’s ultimate concern? Are these the “Kingdom Come” that our Lord instructs us to pray for? Or are they something else perhaps – something less desirable?

It may not have escaped notice that all proposed actualizations of the omega point involve constructions which are essentially mechanical in nature, whether they be computers made from folded space or artificial neurons made from nanomachines. Nor has it gone unmentioned that this transformation of Man’s physical and mental environment into an all-inclusive, controllable machine has been a distinguishing feature of Western millenarianism whenever the latter has broken out. It is quite possible to doubt the plausibility of such constructions, but that would leave the underlying philosophical problem untouched: With what reason do we regard such a world as being superior to the one we actually inhabit? Or in other words: Why is this necessarily the pole toward which “progress” progresses?

The question goes to the heart of the subjective nature of progress. Among the singularity champions, of course, it is never even asked. The assumption that all progress moves inevitably toward the singularity is the implicit justification of their entire program. By examining carefully the nature of this assumption, we obtain a key as to the theological significance of the singularity. Let us begin by dissecting its aforementioned mechanical nature.

Mechanics, be it noted, is thoroughly positivistic. A technical artifact receives its meaning, and therefore its form, entirely from the purposes it was constructed to fulfill. Its existence is intentional, and as a result its relevant attributes are strictly limited and capable of exhaustive quantitative description. This very purposefulness is the hallmark of all artifacts; there can be accidental discoveries, but there are no accidental technologies.

This immediately sets the artifact apart from the matter from which it is constructed, as the latter always possesses additional attributes that are incidental to the intended purpose of the artifact. These attributes it must possess, if for no other reason than that it was capable (through some sort of physical manipulation) of being transformed into the artifact in question. Any “perfect technology,” as it were, would utilize the full spectrum of attributes of its constituent material, and by definition could not be further transformed into anything else. Nor could it have been transformed from anything else, as this would assume the existence of some mode of action by which the constituent material could be affected, but in which it had no inherent ability to participate – a contradiction. A machine is an orchestration of incidents; mechanical properties of its constituent materials are defined, abstracted out from their carriers, quantified, and recombined in exact ratios in order to produce the intended result. We have shown that a perfect machine must possess at least all the qualities of its material, but also that it cannot possess more than these. In other words, it would be identical in all respects to the material from which it was made. It would seem then, that the only “perfect technology” is reality itself, the unmolested matter, plain and simple.

Important implications follow. If reality is more perfect than any possible machine, then naturally it could not be simulated by any machine – so much for the idea of a computer reconstructing the universe at the end of time. Furthermore, since we now see that any machine must be less than the sum total of its own materials, no computer could even simulate itself, let alone the universe. But it is possible to make an even bolder claim. If reality is more perfect than any possible machine, then it can never be perfectly decomposed into mechanical units by mechanical processes. There can be no completely quantifiable, fundamental building blocks of reality, and consequently no “Theory of Everything” to account for them. No machine, no matter how large, could adequately simulate any bit of reality, no matter how small. Ultimately, the universe is not amenable to technological description. We cannot use physical processes to explain themselves.

Additionally, to make the same point with another argument, we recall from an earlier definition that all technologies are intentional. For the entire universe to assume the properties of a technology then, we would have to enlarge our circle of intentionality to the point that it covered the whole of physical reality. But we have already seen that reality can not be quantified. The furthest advance we can make in this direction is to apply the concept of intentionality ex post facto to the events as they occur. With this, the intellect has dissolved itself and violated its own necessity. Just as a perfect machine would be identical to reality, a perfect intention would be identical to actuality. The theoretical limit of pure, mechanical ideation could only will that the world be exactly as it is anyway. To attempt further alteration would assume the existence of knowledge concerning reality that could not be derived from reality – a contradiction. And since we can only intend that which we have defined, and reality can not be totally defined (see above), it stands to reason that reality is more perfect than any intention.

This being the case, no Theory of Everything can be forthcoming. Furthermore, since no mechanical intention can include all the attributes of a given material, no act of mechanical ideation can even perfectly encapsulate the properties of the very machine it was intended to produce. The bolder claim again follows naturally. Since reality is more perfect than any intention, it could never be decomposed by quantitative means into exactly definable thought-units (for if it could, these thought-units could be reassembled into reality by some larger theory, violating the perfection of reality). No theory, no matter how grand, could adequately explain any bit of reality, no matter how tiny. The universe is ultimately not amenable to technical description.

Neither the physical world nor the spirit who perceives it is explicable in terms of itself or of the other. They must radiate from a source that transcends them both and this source we call God.

We are now ready to get to the crux of the problem, and examine what is implied by this particular notion of progress. Man’s will to technical self-extension is natural and healthy, but it is not perfect. Every act of mechanical ideation must by definition involve a denial of the unrealized attributes. As a result of this, machines not only fail to emulate reality, they also break down and decay. This is the basis of that which, in physics, is known as entropy. Theologically speaking, entropy is the “judgment” of God that brings justice to the unrealized attributes and denies the property of ultimacy to man’s creations. In the will to technical self-extension, Man takes the judgment upon himself sacrificially, and receives in return his “dominion” over the Earth.

But this communion breaks down when the will to self-extension becomes the will to technological transcendence. Ontically, matter exists in a state of created perfection. The will to mechanicalize the entire world must involve the act of denying this created perfection in totality. What once was sacrifice has become hubris. By denying the perfection of created being, we exalt the principle of non-being to supremacy in our minds. The will to technical transcendence is Satanic; the singularity is the Antichrist. It is the form in which the idea of “mammon” receives a logical maximum of connotative weight. It is that which is continuously overcome within the stream of history by the very nature of being itself; by its infinite superiority over non-being, by the eternal operations of divine Providence.

Thus, there is no End of History.

The bearing this all has upon theories of consciousness may not be obvious, but it is nonetheless logically direct. If we take all the proceeding to be true, then it is plain that human consciousness can neither reach matter nor result from matter – and most assuredly can not be replaced by matter. In fact even “matter”, as we commonly use the term, can not be reduced to purely material units.

The Western intellect has come full-circle. The journey out of secular night and into the light of revelation is underway. Due to the very ferocity of our particular style of technical ideation and the self-negating tendencies inherent in it, we have prepared our collective consciousness for that day when the reality of God will once again become a persistent, pervasive, and vivid experience.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Portentous Times

(Note: This post was written to address a discussion concerning Strauss and Howe's cyclical theory of Anglo-American history, which has arisen on John Reilly's bulletin board. Click here to see it in context.)

HopefulCynic68 wrote:

IMHO the thing about 911 is that it didn't come at the right time. I disagree
with S&H about the time scale, IMHO it would be more accurate to say that
the 1T in American ran from about 1945 to 1965. The 2T ran from then to the

My thinking is coming into alignment with yours on this matter. 9/11 was, in retrospect, smack-dab in the thick of a third-turning weltanshauung. Only now are the cracks in that world picture beginning to widen and ramify; and the most insidious dangers are coming from inside America, not outside it.

The first month-and-a-half of Barack Obama's presidency has been a momentous disaster outstripping even my own pessimism, which was often condemned as excessive before the election. The economy is in tatters, millions of jobs have been lost, and everywhere the freedom and moral standards instituted by America's founders are under assault. The will of the Obama team is now made manifest: his intention is to destroy as much goodness and beauty as he can lay his hands upon. This is no exaggeration, for the facts speak for themselves. All we have to do is list his policies and decisions so far in order to judge the motive behind them.

1. Barack Obama wants to destroy as many innocent human beings as possible. Firstly, he wants to maximize the number of abortions performed around the world by releasing federal funds for abortion mills abroad, and also by his surreptitious support of elements of the FOCA legislation here at home. Secondly, he has recently decided to fund the mining of human embryos for scientific research. Thirdly, his proposed massive overhall of the healthcare system will result in the application of financially motivated triage to people suffering from grave medical conditions. Not only that, but it will also strangle the federal budget, will federalize medical records under a central Washington authority, and will pave the way for systematic violations of human privacy and dignity too malignant to predict ahead of time. In effect, the practice of medice in this country will be subverted.

2. Barack Obama wants to destroy the American economy. The trillions of dollars of stimulus money either disbursed or promised to date have been met with unanimous skepticism on the part of the financial powers, who are resenting the intrusion of government into their businesses. The money comes with too many strings attached, imparting a burden which capitalism cannot bear. Meanwhile, from Citigroup to GM, the shares of corporation after corporation continue to waft moribund about the floors of the great trading houses like the detritus of cleared receipts, like the confetti from some forgotten party at West Egg. But what's worse, the inflationary holocaust and confiscatory tax hike released by such irresponsible disbursement will bankrupt my generation and that of my children before they're born, while the moral hazard created by the bailout of failed institutions and homeowners will make a mockery out of honest business practices which the free market will never recover from. After the crash, a third world system of bureaucratic bribes and patronage will be all that remains of America's post-war industrial keiretsu.

3. Barack Obama has already destroyed American standing in the world to a much greater degree than George W. Bush ever did. His proposal to essentially buy off the Taliban in Afghanistan will not work. Hillary Clinton's ridiculous "overcharge button" mistake has made our State Department look incompetent, while Obama's gift of videos to Gordon Brown is a shameful way to treat a foreign premier and ally. This is all quite juvenile: clearly the behavior of men and women who have spent too much time in a college dorm room setting. Remember Obama's "breakout groups" session with the Congress? Remember how somber he sounded when he laid out the itinerary? I'm sure even ardent supporters had to stifle a cringe at the sight of the boy-man Obama trying to look presidential while rattling off how the breakout groups were going to work like some marxo-feminist hippie commune house mother. This is not a safe occasion for schadebfreude however, as America's enemies are watching too. Does anyone think that Kim Jong Il or Vladimir Putin are the slightest bit afraid of Hillary Clinton?

4. Barack Obama has poisoned the gaiety and joie de vivre of American life through his constant ominous sermonizing and his radical expansion of federal powers. No one in America, except for a few academics and political mandarins like Hillary and Obama, really want a Washington Czar intruding into private decisions and business practices. Horrible ideas like Cap-and-Trade and Card Check are fundamentally inimical to the spirit of this country. The backlash, even among Obama's boosters in the press, is already quite strong.

All this bespeaks of growing, systematic tensions within the current situation that demand an existential solution. While conditions will not yet allow the outrage to break through, I cannot escape the conclusion that America is marching inevitably toward a condition of civil war. And not only in America, for all around the globe there are hotspots (Iran, North Korea, Pakistan) which are on the brink of collapse. Foreign powers will be drawn into any intra-American conflict in umpredictable ways. A generation of carnage will prevail, at the end of which a 'Congress of Vienna' solution will be enacted by the surviving remnants of the world's great powers. The pieces are moving into place for a sundering fourth-turning event.

The American Federation, that noble experiment, will not survive the next global conflict. It's great economy, the engine of the world's wealth, will have been dealt serious wounds. America will go on of course, but not as a single constitutional republic. We are building towards a situation in which all will be consumated. The fates of Israel, the Middle East, Europe, the Caucasus, and northeast Asia are very uncertain. Although this will not be the parousia, the literal end of the world, it will sure feel like it at times.

I must remark on this occasion how much I miss W. Even his infamous "mushroom cloud" speech now seems like a prophetic reality. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the lower New York harbor go up in plasma at some point during the next ten years; in fact I have an eerie premonition that it will happen. There are many dangerous forces in the world who would like nothing more than to permanently damage the power of the United States.

We are living in portentous times. There has never been a fourth turning wherein the potential for global nuclear conflict was a likely possibility. The next 30-40 years will determine the future history of the world for centuries. It's time to decide what you believe.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

Starring Ben Stein
Reviewed by Matt Beck

The world is changing.

No, that isn’t merely this reviewer’s melodramatic reference to The Lord of the Rings. There is in fact a change of epic proportions just beginning in the deep metaphysical currents of Western societies; a change whose full dimensions are so far apparent only to the very few, but one whose direction and causes will be no mystery to any who have sought the truth with sincerity and determination. Many intelligent people, from various walks of life, are coming around to the belief that there is something profoundly wrong with how the scientific dialog is progressing. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—yes, you know them: that menacing quartet consisting of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens—have been criticized by those both inside and outside the scientific establishment for their condescending tone and lack of philosophical rigor. It isn’t just that cracks in the Darwinian orthodoxy are being inexpertly papered over (and those cracks were always visible in any case), but that science itself no longer stands apart from the murky metaphysical debates in its pursuit of empirical truth. It is increasingly obvious—brutally obvious might be more accurate—that open inquiry, logic and criticism, reason and evidence have fallen out of fashion, to be replaced by a spirit of tribal warfare. Scientific shibboleths like Darwinian evolution now stand as proxies for a worldview that tolerates no dissent.

This is an encouraging sign, believe it or not. Any strong civilizational belief in a so-called objective science only builds up an impenetrable armor-plating against justified criticism which leads to tyranny. We are better off to be free of this baggage from the 19th Century. The debate has always been about worldviews, as the Christian opponents of Darwinism knew better than anyone. With the specter of an immaculate science now relativized down to the same human level as the rest of us, conditions are finally right for the debate to begin in earnest. However, the oversolicitous champions of scientism are not going to give up their privileged position without a fight.

In this 90 minute documentary, former presidential speech writer, commentator, actor, and humorist Ben Stein attempts to take the fight to them. One’s estimation of his success will no doubt be largely colored by one’s own opinions of the subject matter, but the film is well worth seeing despite its mixed results. It styles itself as a broadside for academic freedom (there’s even an online petition you can sign if you’d like to support the effort), yet it is primarily a not-so-subtle argument for the theory of Intelligent Design. Suitably, it begins with a series of interviews of prominent biologists who have seen their careers damaged or ended for daring to mention Intelligent Design in their classrooms or published papers. This is indeed most unfortunate, not to mention impossible to square with any reasonable interpretation of academic freedom. Think what you will about ID, the rights of free peoples to research and discuss it should be inviolate. Almost everyone can agree on that. What the scientific establishment does not agree on, however, are the rights of such people to public monies and to tenure at publicly funded institutions. The movie only hints at the bread-and-butter aspect of this academic debate, but it is safe to say that, for most working scientists, personal job security far outweighs ideology when it comes to determining why they believe and publish as they do.

Most working scientists; certainly not all, and certainly not the leading lights of the ultra-Darwinian cheering chorus featured in the next segment of the film. For them, ideology is front and center. The publicly expressed sentiments of men like Richard Dawkins leave no doubt that their attitudes are informed by extreme antireligious and anti-Christian leanings. Such attitudes are often disturbing to hear spelled out in full clarity. Calm, highly credentialed scientists at the pinnacle of their profession, warmly discussing the elimination of religious belief from the world as if it were some kind of disease, are fearful things to behold. Their impenetrable egos, distorted logic, willful misreading of history and readiness to desacralize human life all bear an unmistakable Luciferian stamp. One of their number—the creepy Dr. Will Provine of Cornell University—even exhibits signs of demonic possession. If you don’t believe me, watch the film; he speaks about his own imminent suicide and his rejection of free will in tones that are positively hellish.

And in case anybody is still wondering, yes, the connections to Nazism and the eugenics movement are made. In the fourth segment of the film, Stein visits a former Nazi extermination camp for medical defectives. Amid stock footage of emaciated corpses, he asks his German guide if she thought the perpetrators were insane. “No,” she answered in broken English. “They weren’t insane because they had purposes.” Her simple answer was exactly to the point. The Nazi doctors of death wouldn’t have met any clinical definition of insanity. They were acting out the implications of their worldview with perfect logical consistency. A committed Darwinist can carry out crimes against humanity with an eerie impassivity, convinced of the rational underpinnings of his actions. After the war, a much-maligned Martin Heidegger tried to make this point to a world that had already decided not to forgive him. Ben Stein makes it for us again today. He sees the same evil implicit in our contemporary abortion practices, and it’s hard to argue with his conclusions.

But the film is probably most effective in its third segment, which highlights the thinking of various intellectuals for whom Darwinism does not compute. The crowning moment is Stein’s conversation with the well-traveled, highly accomplished David Berlinski. It serves no purpose to ask whether or not Darwinism is correct when the theory is not precise enough to be correct or incorrect. The fuzziness of Darwinian Theory has been noted by many before. In Berlinski’s words, it is like “looking into a room full of smoke.” I think the film will have served its purpose if it prompts viewers to seriously reflect upon one single question: What do we mean when we say “evolution”? If we mean a vague notion that life changes over time, virtually nobody would dispute it. But that is not the theory that Darwin advanced. Textbook evolutionary theory is committed to upholding the common decent of all life on earth from a single ancestor, origins unspecified, via speciation through random mutation and natural selection. It leaves no room for teleology of any kind, from any source, in any degree, at any stage. This stronger claim is impossible to defend with empirical evidence, and masks a deeper agenda which is fearful of being exposed. One of the scientists featured here admonishes us to “beware the sound of one hand clapping.” Whenever one side asserts that the debate is finished, that’s because it isn’t.

For my own part, I am no follower of Darwin, but I have little use for Intelligent Design, either. If living organisms have been designed, that means that there is some algorithm capable of exhaustively describing their capacities. Even if said algorithm is exceedingly complex, such that it could never be deciphered within a comprehensible timescale or written down within the observable universe, it remains nonetheless finite and unmysterious. Under this scheme, freedom is just as much an illusion as it is under Darwin’s. But if those dissenters had read Aristotle, or Aquinas, or Leibniz, or Goethe, they would have known there is another way; a knowledge as old as time, expressed in many settings and uttered in various idioms, but everywhere an expression of the same pure intuition, that life is the prime stuff of existence. It doesn’t arise from anything simpler, either by design or by chance. A living being is a monad, an atom of nature, a form inhering in matter, which, although limited, stands atop an infinite depth. We have a Creator to be sure, but his unsearchable Word cannot be reduced to a set of biomolecular Tinkertoys. Intelligent Design is perhaps a shallower version of Darwinism, an occultic explanation of life prepared from the same Cartesian fallacies as its antagonist. What’s missing from biology is an understanding of Being as it actually is. But now the world is waking up. Perhaps we will soon be ready for Intelligent Dasein.

Friday, March 6, 2009

So Stands the Tree

Hard up through the Cloven Stone a lonely Tree did spring
His Tempest-twisted Branches groan, his Roots to rubble cling
No Will of Wood did his surpass, no strength of Bough could best
The might with which he’d heaved in Half his first and Fateful Test
The sundered Stone through which he’d grown had seared a vicious twist
His Limbs were wrought by walls of Stone that Sunlight never kissed
The broken Boulder warped his pose, his Crown not Fair and Free
Like Leaflets through the Olden snows o’ Ground, so grew the Tree

But this was not to be an End, though Fate had bent his Bole
The ‘Love of Fate’ that Nietzsche preached was this Tree’s very Soul
Though cold of Heart, he made his start, and caught what Light he could
He reveled in the ‘would’ of Will, and showed the Will of Wood
As day by day the Rock did give, the Wrath of Fate he broke
The Destiny that Green things live no Scandalon can choke
For freer now he spread his Shade, and fairer grew his Glee
Twisted still, but tough and staid, so better grew the Tree

But bitter Winds now shook his Limbs, and blew him evil thoughts
“The other Trees have lives of ease, and you have gnarled Knots”
“You struggle for each breath of Air. Your friends are High and Hale”
“So why consent to be this bent? Wither, thee, and Fail!”
“Never”, spoke the tree at last. “I’ll not give up my Crown”
“The Will of Wood to Hope shall fast. I’ll have this Mountain down!”
The bitter Wind grew foul and grinned, and whispered hauntingly
“Twas said of Old that ‘As the Twig is bent, so grows the Tree’”

They struggle to this very day, though now the Tide is turned
When Skyward Hope bends Bough to grope, the Winds of Wrath are spurned
The Testing Stone beneath his Roots is now a wholesome Loam
Abundantly he bears his Fruits—this Tree has found his Home
He’s shed the Bark that once was dark, his face is now his own
His past with haste hath Time erased, his torture far outgrown
High and Hale his Limbs now Soar, His Crown is Fair and Free
A hymn to Hope forevermore—and sound—so stands the Tree