Empathy Is Such a Stupid Basis For Morality

If you’ve spent more than a few minutes arguing with atheists on the internet, the subject of how they justify morality will have come up and they will have tried to justify it by saying that “they have empathy”. Usually, though not always, in very self-satisfied tones. It is curious that they are oblivious to how stupid this is. And not just in one way.

The first problem, of course, is that empathy doesn’t inevitably lead to treating people well. It’s very easy to lie to people because one doesn’t want them to suffer, to give too much candy to a child because you can’t bear to hear them cry, to give alcohol to an alcoholic because he feels miserable without it, etc. Empathy also provides no check against suffering that cannot be seen. It’s hard to shoot a man standing in front of you, and not so hard to shoot him when he’s 200 yards away, and not nearly as hard when he’s inside of a building that you’re bombing. It can be downright easy when it’s giving orders to people who don’t feel empathy to execute people in a camp hundreds of miles away.

For that matter, empathy can even lead to being cruel; if two people’s needs conflict and one feels more empathy for one person than another, that empathy can lead one to harm the other for the sake of the one more empathized with. Parents are notorious for being willing to go to great lengths for the sake of their children, even to the point of doing all sorts of immoral things to spare their children far less suffering than the harm they cause to spare it. I can testify to the temptation. If I were to consult only my feelings and not my principles, there’s no limit to the number of people I would kill for the sake of my children.

Which brings us to another problem: empathy is merely a feeling. To claim that the basis of morality is empathy is to claim that the basis of morality is a feeling. In other words, “morality is based on empathy” means “do what you feel like.” That’s not morality, that’s the absence of morality. Moreover, human beings demonstrably feel like doing bad things to each other quite often.

(Unless, of course, the atheist is trying to claim that one should privilege the feeling of empathy over feelings experienced more strongly at the time, in which case there would need to be some rational argument given, not based in empathy, for why it should be thus privileged. But if one were to try this, one would run into a sort of Euthyphro dilemma—if empathy is good because it conforms to the good, then it is not the source of goodness, and it is a distraction to talk about it; if good is good because it conforms to empathy, then to call empathy good is merely to say that it is empathy, and there is no rational basis for preferring it to other feelings.)

The fact that people feel like doing bad things to each other really gets to the heart of the problem for the atheist. It’s all very well for the atheist to say “I prefer to harm no one.” He can have no real answer to someone else replying, “but I do.” Indeed, he has no answer. If you ever suggest such a thing, the atheist merely shrieks and yells and tries to shout down the existence of such a thing. His ultimate recourse is to law, of course, which means to violence, for law is the codified application of violence by people specially charged with carrying that violence out.

(It’s hardly possible to arrest someone, try, convict, and imprison them all without at least the threat of force from the police; if you don’t think so try the following experiment: construct a medium sized steel box (with windows), walk up to some random person while manifestly carrying no weapons, and say “In my own name I arrest you and sentence you twenty years inside of my steel box. Now come along and get in. I will not force you, but I warn you that if you do not comply I shall tell you to get in again.” Do this twenty or thirty times and count how many of them the person comes along and gets in.)

Of course, when the atheist appeals to the laws which enforce his preferred morality, we may ask where his empathy for the transgressor is. Where is his empathy for all of the people in prison? It must be a terrible feeling to be arrested by the police; where is the atheist’s empathy for them?

If you go looking for it, you will find that the atheist’s empathy is often in short supply, though he credits himself in full.

Contingency and Space

The natural theology argument for the existence of God from contingency and necessity rests on the existence of something contingent. This is remarkably easy to supply, since any telling of this argument is, itself, contingent, and supplies the necessary contingent thing. However, explaining why it is contingent sometimes confuses people, because the non-existence of the contingent thing at some point in time is most typically used.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this, but it can accidentally mislead people into thinking that the causal chain that must be finite (since there cannot be an actual infinity) is a temporal chain of causation. E.g. I’m here because of my parents, who are here because of their parents, and so on back to the Big Bang, which is here because of God. This can be helpful to illustrate the concept of a causal chain, but it’s not the kind that’s actually used in the argument, since it’s not the sort referenced by “actual infinity”. What’s discussed is why the contingent thing is here, now, as in, what is giving it the power to exist this moment. It cannot be something that doesn’t exist, because things which don’t exist have no power. So it must be something that also exists right now. That thing which exists right now can either be contingent or necessary, and if contingent, it too must be dependent for its existence on something else which also exists right now. And so on; this is what must terminate in something necessary because there cannot be an actual infinity.

Something that my attention was drawn to by a commentor asking me a question in one of my videos is that one can use the existence of a thing in one part of space but not another as a demonstration of contingency. If a thing were necessary and not contingent, it would exist at every point in space, since a particular location cannot cause a necessary thing to not exist. Thus anything which is someplace but not another must be contingent. The advantage to demonstrating contingency in this fashion is that space is simultaneous, and a temporal sequence will not be suggested. It is possible, then, that a person will not be accidentally led astray into thinking of a temporal sequence of events where the argument about how an actual infinity cannot exist is less clear, since the moments of time don’t exist side-by-side. (From our perspective; all moments are present to God in His eternity, of course.)

New Religions Don’t Look Like Christianity Either

To those familiar with religions throughout the world, new religions like environmentalism, veganism, wokism, marxism, etc. are pretty obviously religions and are causing a lot of damage because that’s what bad religions do. People who are not familiar with any world religions beside Christianity frequently miss this because they think that all (real) religions look like Christianity but with different names and vestments.

I suspect that the idea that all religions look like Christianity was partially due to the many protestant sects which superficially looked similar, since even the ones that did away with priests and sacraments still met in a building on Sundays for some reason. I suspect the other major part is that there is a tendency to describe other religions in (inaccurate) Christian terms in order to make them easier to understand. Thus, for example, Shaolin “monks”. There are enough similarities that if you don’t plan to learn about the thing, it works. It’s misleading, though.

You can see the same sort of thing in working out a Greek pantheon where each god had specific roles and relationships and presenting this to children in school. It’s easy to learn, because it’s somewhat familiar, but it’s not very accurate to how paganism actually worked.

All of this occurred to me when I was talking with a friend who said that the primary feature of a religion, it seemed to him, was belief in the supernatural. The thing is, the nature/supernature distinction was a Christian distinction, largely worked out as we understand it today in the middle ages. Pagans didn’t have a nature/grace distinction, and if you asked them if Poseidon was supernatural they wouldn’t have known what you meant.

Would the ancient pagans have said that there things that operated beyond human power and understanding? Absolutely, they would. Were they concerned about whether a physics textbook entirely described these things? No, not at all. For one thing, they didn’t have a physics textbook. For another, they didn’t care.

The modern obsession that atheists have with whether all of reality is described in a physics textbook is not really about physics, per se, but about one of two things:

  1. whether everything is (at least potentially) under human control
  2. whether final causality is real, i.e. do things have purposes, or can we fritter our lives away on entertainment without being a failure in life?

The first one is basically an enlightenment-era myth. Anyone with a quarter of a brain knows that human life is not even potentially under human control. That it is, is believable, basically, by rich people while they’re in good health and when they’re distracted by entertainment from considering things like plagues, asteroids, war, etc. Anyone who isn’t all of these things will reject number 1.

Regarding the second: ancient pagans didn’t tend to be strict Aristotelians, so they wouldn’t have been able to describe things in terms of final causality, but they considered people to be under all sorts of burdens, both to the family, to the city, and possibly beyond that.

If you look at the modern religions, you will find the same thing. Admittedly, they don’t tend to talk about gods as much as the ancient pagans did, though even that language is on the rise these days. In what sense the Greeks believed in Poseidon as an actual human-like being vs. Poseidon was the sea is… not well defined. Other than philosophers, who were noted for being unlike common people, I doubt you could have pinned ancient pagans down on what they meant by their gods even if you could first establish the right terminology to ask them.

As for other things, environmentalism doesn’t have a church, but pagans didn’t have churches, either. Buddhists don’t have churches, and Hindus don’t have churches, and Muslims don’t have churches. Heck, even Jews don’t have churches. Churches are a specifically Christian invention. Now, many of these religions had temples. Moderns have a preference for museums. Also, being young religions, their rites and festivals aren’t well established yet. Earth day and pride month and so on are all fairly recent; people haven’t had time to build buildings in order to be able to celebrate them well. (Actually, as a side note, it also takes time to commercialize these things. People under-estimate the degree to which ancient pagan temples were businesses.)

Another stumbling block is that modern environmentalists, vegans, progressives, etc. don’t identify these things as religions—but to some degree this is for the same reason that my atheist friend doesn’t. They, too, think of religions as basically Christianity but maybe with different doctrines and holy symbols. They don’t stop to consider that most pagans in the ancient world were not in official cults. There were cults devoted to individual gods, and they often had to do with the running of temples. Normal people were not in these cults. Normal people worshiped various gods as convenient and as seemed appropriate.

There is a related passage in G.K. Chesterton’s book The Dumb Ox which is related:

The ordinary modern critic, seeing this ascetic ideal in an authoritative Church, and not seeing it in most other inhabitants of Brixton or Brighton, is apt to say, “This is the result of Authority; it would be better to have Religion without Authority.” But in truth, a wider experience outside Brixton or Brighton would reveal the mistake. It is rare to find a fasting alderman or a Trappist politician, but it is still more rare to see nuns suspended in the air on hooks or spikes; it is unusual for a Catholic Evidence Guild orator in Hyde Park to begin his speech by gashing himself all over with knives; a stranger calling at an ordinary presbytery will seldom find the parish priest lying on the floor with a fire lighted on his chest and scorching him while he utters spiritual ejaculations. Yet all these things are done all over Asia, for instance, by voluntary enthusiasts acting solely on the great impulse of Religion; of Religion, in their case, not commonly imposed by any immediate Authority; and certainly not imposed by this particular Authority. In short, a real knowledge of mankind will tell anybody that Religion is a very terrible thing; that it is truly a raging fire, and that Authority is often quite as much needed to restrain it as to impose it. Asceticism, or the war with the appetites, is itself an appetite. It can never be eliminated from among the strange ambitions of Man. But it can be kept in some reasonable control; and it is indulged in much saner proportion under Catholic Authority than in Pagan or Puritan anarchy.

Mr. Rudyard Kipling and World Travel

In an essay about Rudyard Kipling, G.K. Chesterton commented on what the globe trotter misses out on:

Mr. Rudyard Kipling has asked in a celebrated epigram what they can know of England who know England only. It is a far deeper and sharper question to ask, “What can they know of England who know only the world?” for the world does not include England any more than it includes the Church. The moment we care for anything deeply, the world–that is, all the other miscellaneous interests–becomes our enemy. Christians showed it when they talked of keeping one’s self “unspotted from the world;” but lovers talk of it just as much when they talk of the “world well lost.” Astronomically speaking, I understand that England is situated on the world; similarly, I suppose that the Church was a part of the world, and even the lovers inhabitants of that orb. But they all felt a certain truth–the truth that the moment you love anything the world becomes your foe. Thus Mr. Kipling does certainly know the world; he is a man of the world, with all the narrowness that belongs to those imprisoned in that planet. He knows England as an intelligent English gentleman knows Venice. He has been to England a great many times; he has stopped there for long visits. But he does not belong to it, or to any place; and the proof of it is this, that he thinks of England as a place. The moment we are rooted in a place, the place vanishes. We live like a tree with the whole strength of the universe.

The globe-trotter lives in a smaller world than the peasant. He is always breathing an air of locality. London is a place, to be compared to Chicago; Chicago is a place, to be compared to Timbuctoo. But Timbuctoo is not a place, since there, at least, live men who regard it as the universe, and breathe, not an air of locality, but the winds of the world. The man in the saloon steamer has seen all the races of men, and he is thinking of the things that divide men–diet, dress, decorum, rings in the nose as in Africa, or in the ears as in Europe, blue paint among the ancients, or red paint among the modern Britons. The man in the cabbage field has seen nothing at all; but he is thinking of the things that unite men–hunger and babies, and the beauty of women, and the promise or menace of the sky. Mr. Kipling, with all his merits, is the globe-trotter; he has not the patience to become part of anything. So great and genuine a man is not to be accused of a merely cynical cosmopolitanism; still, his cosmopolitanism is his weakness. That weakness is splendidly expressed in one of his finest poems, “The Sestina of the Tramp Royal,” in which a man declares that he can endure anything in the way of hunger or horror, but not permanent presence in one place. In this there is certainly danger. The more dead and dry and dusty a thing is the more it travels about; dust is like this and the thistle-down and the High Commissioner in South Africa. Fertile things are somewhat heavier, like the heavy fruit trees on the pregnant mud of the Nile. In the heated idleness of youth we were all rather inclined to quarrel with the implication of that proverb which says that a rolling stone gathers no moss. We were inclined to ask, “Who wants to gather moss, except silly old ladies?” But for all that we begin to perceive that the proverb is right. The rolling stone rolls echoing from rock to rock; but the rolling stone is dead. The moss is silent because the moss is alive.

There is nothing inherently wrong with travel, or even travel for amusement. But Chesterton is fundamentally on to something when he takes issue with the people who think that traveling enlarges the soul. What travel does is it broadens the soul. The problem is that there are not merely two dimensions but three; travel broadens the soul but it tends to make it shallow. It makes it shallow because it is seeing life from the outside.

Life seen from the inside is love and all that that entails—labor and suffering and hardship and patience. Life seen from the outside—especially when you’re paying to see it—is all triumph and success. It would seem that this is getting the best of bargain—all of the rewards without any of the work, but it fails for the same reason that going to a trophy shop and ordering yourself an extra large trophy is not nearly as satisfying as earning it in a karate tournament, despite all of the bruises and sore muscles. It fails because we were not put on this earth merely to enjoy, but also to help build it up. Or to use a less extreme example, it is a much more rewarding things to make a decent wine than to drink an excellent wine.

The technical term for this is secondary causation, though I prefer to call it delegation. God could have created the world without anything for us to do but to enjoy it, but instead he delegates part of the act of creation to us so that we can become part of his creative act. When we give someone food, we become part of his act of creating the body. When we teach somebody something, we become part of his act of creating the mind. When we labor to help create something within creation it is not the suffering, in itself, which brings us fulfillment, but rather the taking part in its existence. The work brings suffering because we are in a fallen world and do not work right; the work is suffering because we aren’t strong enough for it.

This gets to what Chesterton said at the beginning of his essay on Kipling:

There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.

We are bored by things while God isn’t not because our intellect is stronger than God’s, but because it is weaker. It is natural enough that as a man’s capacity to enjoy something good which he has already experienced diminishes, that he will seek a stronger stimulus to make up for his weakness, just as the weaker a man’s legs, the more he looks around for stairs instead of a ladder, and a ramp instead of stairs, and ultimately an elevator instead of a ramp. And such a man may well look on at someone who is still climbing the ladder and look on him with pity, who only knows this one, difficult way of ascending, while he has sampled all of the means of going up that mankind has ever devised. And he will keep feeling this pity even as he struggles to reach the button to make the elevator go up.

One of Chesterton’s great themes was paradoxes, and indeed there is a Chestertonian paradox in the fact that the most interesting people lead the least interesting lives. This is so because unhappy people seek variety while happy people seek homogeneity. To the man who loves something, even if it is a beetle, that beetle is as big as the world, because that beetle is a world. To the man who loves nothing, the whole world is as small as a beetle. Of the two, it is the man who loves the beetle who is right, and you can tell that he is right because he is happy.

After all, God is inordinately fond of beetles.

It’s Curious How Many People Want to Use 19th Century Philosophy

G.K. Chesterton once observed:

The best reason for a revival of philosophy is that unless a man has a philosophy certain horrible things will happen to him. He will be practical; he will be progressive; he will cultivate efficiency; he will trust in evolution; he will do the work that lies nearest; he will devote himself to deeds, not words. Thus struck down by blow after blow of blind stupidity and random fate,
he will stagger on to a miserable death with no comfort but a series of catchwords; such as those which I have catalogued above. Those things are simply substitutes for thoughts. In some cases they are the tags and tail-ends of somebody else’s thinking. That means that a man who refuses to have his own philosophy will not even have the advantages of a brute beast, and be left to his own instincts. He will only have the used-up scraps of somebody else’s philosophy; which the beasts do not have to inherit; hence their happiness.

I’ve noticed a surprising number of people who seem to want to pretend that we are in the 19th century so that they can apply 19th century philosophy, unmodified. The real problem with that is not the 19th century philosophy part, per se (though there was a notably large amount of bad philosophy in the 19th century), but the unmodified part. This is directly related to what Chesterton said above, that a person who will not do philosophy for himself will end up with the used-up scraps of somebody else’s philosophy.

A lot of people who have never done any philosophy for themselves think that doing philosophy for oneself entails being original. This is the opposite of the truth. To truly study philosophy has, as its only legitimate goal, to be entirely unoriginal. At least in content. A philosopher may be forced by circumstances to be original in expression, though the true philosopher will usually try to avoid that whenever he can.

If a man is a philosopher, that is, if he is a lover of wisdom (philos = love, sophia = wisdom), his entire goal is to come to understand what is; that is, he conforms his mind to what pre-exists him. God understands what he creates, so the wisdom of God is creative; man loves what he did not create, so the wisdom of man is purely receptive.

Philos, though, is not any old kind of love—it is the love of friends. This has something of a dual meaning when it comes to philosophy: a man seeks to be a friend of Wisdom, but also to be the friend of other men who love wisdom. As such, the true philosopher will read other philosophers to see what his friends can tell him about what they both love. This is not harmed by the minor detail of their friend having died after writing, not even by them having died twenty four hundred years ago. But as with all true friends, their goal is not a meeting of the ears, but a meeting of the minds. That is, they want to understand the whole truth in what their friends have written, not merely to pick up a few bits and pieces of it.

Every man, by using language, communicates by using the things around him, because they are the things to which the symbols called words point. When we read things written by people long dead, to understand the contents we must know to what the words pointed when they were used, so that we can see the relationships between the things the words pointed at. When the world changes, the words no longer point to the same things, so we cannot read the words today the same way they were written. More importantly, though, things themselves change. A horse is replaced by a horseless carriage. Telegrams are replaced by telephones. Sometimes the relationships persist, sometimes they do not. This is inconvenient. It takes work to be able to separate the relationships between things from the things themselves, that is, to separate the idea contained within the expression from the expression. And here we come to the title of this post, because human beings are lazy.

It is work to read someone carefully and to separate the ideas from the expressions. It is far less work to pretend that the world has not changed, and so there is no separation required. Since we live in a profoundly lazy time, we see a great deal of people trying to pretend this very thing. It is much easier to pretend that people are still forced by grinding poverty (caused, everyone now forgets, by the collapse of the price of food grown on farms) to take the few jobs available in factories which routinely kill and main the workers, who are quickly replaced because of the legions of unemployed fleeing unprofitable farms. If one does that, then one can take a whole host of 19th century writers and apply their writings unmodified. (This does extend into the early 1900s, btw.)

Why don’t people do this with, say, medieval philosophers, or ancient Greek philosophers, or Chinese philosophers? I think that there are two main answers:

  1. The further back in time one goes, the harder it is to pretend that nothing has changed.
  2. The further back in time one goes, the less familiar is the expression of the philosophy.

I don’t mean to suggest that people have actually read Das Kapital, or even that they routinely quote Karl Marx. Far more common is for the process to be iterative, where people much closer in time to Marx rephrase his ideas, often updating the terminology but not otherwise changing the expression, and these again get rephrased a few decades later, and so on, so that what people get is a modern phrasing of the antiquated expression. Along the way, they may easily get updated to things which no longer had the original relationships. People who are starved for ideas because they don’t do much thinking may be very tempted to not care, because starving people are not picky.

This explains rather a great deal of modern discourse.

Subjectivists Don’t Really Meant It

Bishop Barron recently put out a video on the suffocating quality of subjectivism:

He’s entirely correct that one of the problems with subjectivism is that without objective value, people cannot talk to each other, they can only ignore each other or try to subjugate each other by force. It is only by appeal to transcendent truths to which human beings are morally bound to conform themselves is it possible to try to persuade someone (because persuasion is by pointing to the transcendent truths, upon the perception of which the other will voluntarily conform himself because it is the right thing to do).

In practice, though, Subjectivists never mean it. Once they have convinced someone else of subjectivism and thereby gotten the person to stop trying to persuade anyone, the very next move is always to try to smuggle objectivism in again, but only as available to the original Subjectivist.

The normal technique for trying to smuggle objectivism back is through innovations in language. You may not call art good or bad, because that is implying objective evaluation of it. But you can call it subversive or conventional, which are objective, despite just meaning good or bad. You cannot say that a person wearing immodest clothing in public is bad. That’s horribly patriarchical and body-shaming of you. You are free, however, to call it problematic.

The technique is always the same, because it has to be. First there is a move to shut down all criticism that a person doesn’t like by universally disallowing criticism. Once that is achieved, criticism becomes re-allowed using different language, which initially only lends itself to criticizing whatever the putative Subjectivist wants to criticize.

The Subjectivist’s victory tends to be short-lived, though. Semantic drift inevitably sets in. Whatever new word the Subjectivist has introduced in order to have a monopoly on the right to criticize quickly becomes adapted to all criticism and the Subjectivist is back to seeing criticized the things he was trying to protect. If he still has the energy for it—after a certain age, criticism tends to sting less—this begins another cycle of subjectivism.

Vox Day’s Socio-Sexual Hierarchy

Back in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2011, Theodore Beale, under his pen name Vox Day, posted his selectively famous socio-sexual hierarchy (famous in some corners of the internet). It was, in those places, hailed as a revolution over the far more reductive alpha-beta hierarchy of males that had dominated those sorts of conversations before. I got into a conversation about it recently and want to relay a few things that came up in that conversation, but I suspect I need to go over a little background, first.

Why do such things exist? Well, we live in a culture where a great many young people aren’t raised past some basics like being trained to eat with tableware or washing their hands after going to the bathroom, so people don’t have any sort of operating model of the opposite sex—or even of their own. Yet they still have basic human desires, such as finding a mate and having a family and fitting into the society in which they live. How are they to go about these things? All that’s on offer (outside of traditional homes) are non-answers such as, “you can be anything that you want to be,” “you are special just the way you are,” and “just be you.” (For the record, I don’t think that these things are as much based in trying to raise children’s self-esteem as much as they are in the fear of telling things to children because children believe what they’re told, which means that you need to be very confident in what you say to them; people who don’t believe in anything have nothing, therefore, to say to children. But silence is awkward.)

So for a young man, if he concludes that finding a young woman to pair up with is part of the path to happiness, how is he to go about making this happen? Even if he happened to come across traditional answers, they tend to only work with women who have been raised traditionally, and women who were raised traditionally won’t be interested in men who weren’t because of the deficiencies in character caused by the deficiencies in their upbringing. (Note: young men can learn and improve themselves and make up for the deficiencies in their upbringing, just as young women can. It’s just not the statistical norm for these victims of Modernity.)

So what are these poor souls to do, given that they literally haven’t heard of the good options? How is someone who was raised to believe that genitalia are for fornication and pregnancy is a type of cancer supposed to navigate male-female interactions, especially when they were also raised to believe that there are absolutely no differences between males and females except purely accidental ones that shouldn’t be talked about lest anyone mistake them for essential differences?

As a side note that is relevant, it’s helpful in understanding a lot of the frustration that one sees that given the modern assumptions about how fornication is a meaningless act which is only about pleasure—as binding as shaking someone’s hand or riding a roller coaster next to them—the phenomenon where women say ‘no’ to offers of sex from most men makes absolutely no sense. There’s no way, under these assumptions, for refusing sex to be anything but selfishness. If it is rude to refuse somebody at a dance, why should it not be rude to refuse a quick trip to the lavatory? Yet women, for some reason, are not considered rude for saying ‘no.’ The real answer, of course, is that people cannot become as completely debased as their theories, so they cling to some shreds of reality, but this cognitive dissonance must be painful, and that pain explains a lot.

So, from the secular male perspective, women are basically defective, since they constantly don’t do what—according to the generally accepted theory—they should be doing. (Generally accepted except among traditionalist Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and other religious wackos.) One can cry out to the empty heavens about how unjust the world is, of course, but there is no one to hear these wails, so it does no good. The alternative is to figure out how to work around the defects of this broken world, which is most of what one has to do anyway. Hence is born the Pick Up Artist.

Pick Up Artistry is best understood in theory as an attempt by broken males to deal with the few bits that aren’t broken in broken females. In practice, it consists of a sort of practical psychology for figuring out how to manipulate women into wanting to fornicate with the man in front of them. Unless the man has STDs and intends to fornicate without using a condom, there is precisely no reason for her to not want to do this, which is the key to understanding why PUAs do not understand themselves to be predatory. PUAs are not, however, the really interesting group, here.

There are people who are not quite so far gone—that is, not quite so secular—who still think that there could be something more than the sum of its parts in a man and a woman sticking with each other for a prolonged period of time. They typically were raised in the same way as the pick up artists, but just didn’t believe it quite as much. In consequence, they have no idea how to make their goals happen. Looking around for some ideas, PUAs are nearly the only people who aren’t religious wackos who are willing to make definite claims about the nature of reality, rather than give nice-sounding non-answers like “do what brings you joy.” (Parenting tip: if your life lessons could be the slogans of credit card companies, rethink your life and do it quickly before your child grows up and it’s too late.)

It’s true that the PUAs are secular wackos, but that’s much better than being religious wackos, so maybe they have some insights, and that’s better than nothing.

The problem is that the PUA model of reality is more than a little… anemic. PUA models vary with each person writing a book or blog post (much as gnosticism varied with each gnostic teacher), but there are some broad strokes that are very common: according to the PUA model women have one trait, physical beauty, and it can be rated on a scale of 1-10. (Some permit the use of rational numbers (fractions), turning this into a continuum, while others reject that individuals are so unique.) Men also have one relevant quality, attractiveness, which is not quite the same as beauty, but its distribution is simpler: men are either attractive or unattractive. The former is called alpha, the latter called beta. (This is in somewhat explicit reference to the well-known characterization of feeding patterns among unrelated wolves who are strangers to each other but forced to occupy the same place, such as a pen in a zoo.)

Women want to fornicate with alphas and not with betas. This is presumably for the superior genetics for their offspring which alphas offer. (Secular people always make up evolutionary just-so stories when they need to explain anything about human nature.) Since the invention of contraceptives, sex is no longer about reproduction, so this is only relevant insofar as it gives insight into how to be attractive to women: the key is to identify the external traits by which a woman identifies alphas, and then to mimic those. (Again, it’s important to realize that since the woman isn’t going to have any offspring, this is a maladaptive trait and so fooling it is more akin to how glasses fool an eye with an astygmatism into presenting an accurate image to the retina. Women come in only two varieties: hoes and unhappy women, just as men come in only two varieties: players and unhappy men. The goal of the PUA is not to make a woman do what she doesn’t want to, but to make her want to do what the PUA wants to do. Pick Up Artistry is 100% about obtaining consent.)

As I said, this world view, even in the dim vision of a mostly secular person, is more than a little bit anemic. It obviously leaves a lot of even the secular world out of account. Still, when it’s the only thing on offer, beggars can’t be choosers.

Into this near-void comes Vox Day’s socio-sexual hierarchy. Instead of dividing males into just two groups, he divides them into six. Right away, we can see that this is at least three times better. His groupings still use Greek letters (though not in alphabetical order): alphas, betas, deltas, gammas, omegas, and sigmas. (Technically there is a seventh classification, lambas, but that’s for men who have no interest in women, so it’s irrelevant to his audience.)

In Vox Day’s description, alphas are the most attractive, but betas are men who are also attractive, but not enough to be alphas. They tend to hang around alphas. Alphas get 10s while betas get 7s, 8s and 9s. Deltas are ordinary men and make up the bulk of males, and can only get 6s and below, but frequently do get them if they’re not fixated on getting 7s and above. Gammas are socially inept men of typically moderately above average intelligence who aren’t able to be as attractive as ordinary men despite thinking that they’re above them. They don’t tend to get women because they are too much in their own head to be attractive. Omegas are ugly, socially awkward men who either can’t get any kind of woman or maybe luck into an ugly woman who will deal with them. Sigmas are exceedingly unusual—men who are uninterested in society but who end up with 10s anyway. (I suspect that this is mostly just Vox Day himself, who was a semi-nerd who got wealthy at a young age and who has a wife of noted beauty; he may possibly be over-generalizing from his own experience, rather than taking this counter-example as a defect in his approach.)

This is vastly more satisfying to a secular man who wants to figure out how to get a girlfriend than is the PUA model, since it’s got more recognizable parts. It’s not as easy to think of exceptions (in the very limited experience of a secular man) and these exceptions will be closer to one of the categories, if for no other reason than that there are more categories.

As a side note: there is probably an optimal model sizes for superficial plausibility, where any smaller and it seems too reductionist and any bigger and it’s too hard to keep track of. If so, I suspect that Vox’s socio-sexual model is near to that ideal size.

The problem with this model, of course, is that it still leaves out most of life. It carries over from the PUA model the idea that a woman can be rated on a scale of 1-10, though it expands the male side to a scale of 1-5 from a scale of 1-2. Even if we stick to numerical scales which oversimplify things for the sake of simplicity, though, there are still far more traits to a human being that are important in a wife, or even in a girlfriend, and these traits tend to be uncorrelated with physical beauty (I mean that they can be coincident or not, I don’t mean that they are negatively correlated). There are traits that matter in choosing a mate such as honesty, loyalty, courage, prudence, wisdom, temperance, piety, etc. The idea that an alpha male should choose a woman who is a 10 for physical beauty without any regard for her other traits is absurd on its face, even if secular people will leave off piety. Further, since these traits are uncorrelated, and if we assume that the alpha can attract the best mate, he might well have a mate who is only a 6 for physical beauty but a 9 for honesty, a 10 for temperance, an 8 for courage, a 9 for prudence, etc. But this will depend, to no small degree, on his own wisdom, prudence, and temperance.

There is a further issue that if you read the original, he describes each group with an estimated number of lifetime sexual partners. Alphas have 4 times the average number of sexual partners or more. Betas have 2-3 times the average number of sexual partners. Etc. But the only way for a man to have more than one lifetime sexual partner is via tragedy—either the tragedy of his first wife dying or the tragedy of sin.

The entire thing is predicated on going about life all wrong. It’s a bit like a guide to golf that measured success by the number of spectators that the golfer hit with a golf ball. It could give tips on how to lull the spectators into a false sense of security or how to aim out of the corner of one’s eye. Someone who followed it might really hit quite a few more spectators than someone who didn’t. Such a guide would be internally consistent, but it would be missing the entire point of the game.

Chemical Composition, or, Substance and Accidents

The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation means that in the Eucharist, when the priest speaks Christ’s words of consecration (“this is my body”, “this is my blood”) over the bread and wine on the alter, the power of Christ is invoked, by the authority he gave to his apostles and they delegated to their successors and they delegated to the priests whom they consecrate, and it changes the bread and wine on the alter to become the body and blood of Christ. (This is sometimes called the “real presence.”) Much difficulty arises over exactly what is meant because the bread doesn’t turn into muscle tissue and the wine doesn’t develop red blood cells.

The Eastern Orthodox basically just say “it’s a mystery” and leave it at that. (I liked the styling I saw someplace, “eeeet’sss aaaaa myyyysssterrrryyyyy”.) The Catholic Church says that it’s a mystery, but it gives a few helpful details. You can actually see this in the word “transubstantiation.”

“Transubstantiation” is derived from two words: “trans” and “substance”. “Trans” meaning “change” and “substance” being that part of being which is not the accidents. Accidents, in this case, not meaning “something unintended” but rather the properties a thing has which, if they were changed or removed, would not make the thing something else. A chair might be made out of wood, but if you made it out of plastic it would still be a chair. The ability to hold up someone sitting is the substance of a chair, the material it is made out of is an accident (again, not in the colloquial sense of accident but in a technical sense). You can also do the reverse. You can take the wood a chair is made out of and rearrange it into a collection of splintery spikes protruding up. It has the same accidents (the wood), but the substance has changed. “Transubstantiation” just means that the accidents (the gluten, starch, etc. in the bread and the water, sugar, alcohol, etc. in the wine) remain the same but the substance—what it is—is what has changed.

Or, to put this more simply: in the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ has the same chemical composition as bread and wine. Something to consider, when trying to understand this, is that a living human being has exactly the same chemical composition as a human corpse.

If Real Socialism Has Never Been Tried

One sometimes hears the claim that real socialism has never been tried. The many things that have claimed to be socialism—German National Socialism (Nazism), Italian Fascism, Soviet Communism, Chinese Communism, East German Communism, North Korean Communism, Vietnamese Communism, etc. etc. etc.—were not socialism, they were authoritarianism. I’m not, here, interested in debating the point, though I can’t help but note that defining socialism to be, roughly, “a system where people voluntarily share things rather than selling them” makes it not a political system but just a free market with impressively effective preachers of the gospel and extraordinarily receptive listeners to it (since it would be pretty much exactly how the early christian community operated in the pagan world, as described in the Acts of the Apostles, before the church expanded much outside of Jerusalem).

No, what I propose to do in this post is to just grant the proposition that no one has actually tried real socialism and see what follows from it. If we grant this premise, we come to some pretty strange conclusions. Well, perhaps not so strange.

The first question we must ask ourselves, if no one has ever tried real socialism, is: why did all of the people who set out to try real socialism fail to try it?

This is a very important question. We have had many people in many places throughout the last 100 or so years who have tried to set up socialism. People like Vladimir Lenin, Adoplh Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Mao Zedong, Kim Il-Sung and Hồ Chí Minh, were not joking. They thought that capitalism was evil and that the government and the economy should exist to benefit the people, not a rich minority or the well-born or an elite of any kind. There are plenty of others who thought the same thing, too. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg formed the Communist Party of Germany, which merged with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (itself a merger of other, earlier parties) to form the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, which was the ruling communist party of East Germany. They weren’t kidding. Hugo Chavez formed the Movimiento V República, which went on to join with other socialist parties to become the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. He wasn’t kidding. Does anyone think that Fidel Castro was joking?

By hypothesis, all of these people—and others—failed to try real socialism. They tried to try real socialism but just couldn’t succeed enough to actually give it a try. So what is so difficult about trying socialism that, so far in human history, every single one of the many people who have tried to try it have all failed? And they didn’t just fail a little bit, either. They have generally produced the worst hell-holes that the world has ever seen. Some of that is, undoubtedly, owing to the more advanced state of technology in the world when all of these people tried to try socialism and failed to try it. Still, they didn’t try to try socialism and end up trying multi-party democracies with thriving free-market economies. A bit like trying to catch a bullet someone shot at you with your teeth or riding a unicycle over a rope stretched across the grand canyon, failure has a pretty high cost.

So we must ask the person suggesting that we give real socialism a try because it’s never been tried before—how does he know that he’ll actually be able to try it, unlike all of the other people who have tried to try it and plunged their nations into misery when they accidentally tried something else instead? Has the world simply been waiting around for someone as great as this kindly intentioned person, that finally the human race has produced the pinnacle of evolution, with all of the multitude of powers required to actually try real socialism?

Now, supposing that the answer is yes, a further question arises—and I don’t mean how can we find out if this lovely soul is correct that they can do what so many others failed to without giving them the power necessary to try to try real socialism—supposing this wonderful fellow is right and has that rare combination of qualities necessary to try real socialsm, what happens if trying real socialism doesn’t work? The human race has finally produced a member great enough to succeed at trying real socialism—what if he really tries it, but fails to achieve it? I can really try to throw a three-point shot in basketball, but most of the time this very real attempt fails to succeed in actually putting the ball in the net. What if really trying socialism and failing is even worse than trying to try real socialism and failing to try it?

Let us, however, assume that this greatest human being ever is sufficiently great not only to try real socialism, but even to succeed at real socialism. What if real socialism is awful? Remember that, by hypothesis, real socialism is completely untested. What happens to the millions of souls who would live under the result if it turns out that, say, real socialism is even worse in practice than fake socialism, or whatever you get when you try to try real socialism but fail? No one’s ever tried real socialism, so how on earth do we know what will happen if that attempt were to actually take place?

Another curious problem is introduced by the fact that it requires the pinnacle of human evolution to succeed in trying to try real socialism—in order for this attempt at an attempt to work, we’re going to have to put this most magnificent achievement of our species in charge. If they shared responsibility with anyone, they, being inferior, would drag them down, and then how would we possible succeed at trying to try real socialism? I suppose that the magnificent one could be so great that even as one among a large group of his inferiors he would lift them up to the heights required to succeed at trying to try real socialism. That seems like asking a lot of evolution, though. We so far haven’t produced one human who can bring about real socialism and all of a sudden we have one that can turn a group of people who can’t try real socialism into a group that can? How could that much incomparable magnificence possibly be achieved in just one generation?

There is a further problem, though, even if we just assume for some reason that real socialism, if attempted, will be good instead of even worse than fake socialism—and I, for one, would much rather drink fake poison than real poison—and that this pinnacle of evolution is so magnificent he doesn’t need to be a dictator but can, by his magnificence, make an entire parliament of people who cannot, on their own, succeed even at trying to try real socialism not only succeed at trying to try real socialism but actually achieve real socialism, too. If we assume all this, what happens when this pinnacle of evolution comes to die? It happens to all of the descendants of men, after all. How are we to replace the greatest human being the world has ever produced? And if we can’t, what will happen to this real socialism now that it is run by people who, left to themselves as they now are, could not succeed even in trying to try it? Are we to suppose that this thing which is so difficult that no one has hitherto succeeded even in trying to try it will go along merrily when run by ordinary people who, in the whole course of history, have never gotten anything right until now?

And, if so—if we are to suppose that real socialism is so difficult to get going that no one has yet succeeded in trying to try it but so easy to keep going that anyone can do it—can I interest the person claiming this in buying a bridge? It’s a real nice bridge. Very popular. Tons of people drive over it. I hate to part with it.

He doesn’t even need to keep the tolls for himself. He can use the money he’ll get from it in order to fund his local socialist party.

Determinism as a Fairy Tale for Philosophers

I was recently speaking with a friend of mine who’s a Franciscan friar and retired philosophy professor. During a discussion of Spinoza he mentioned that he tends to take determinism in philosophers not literally but as a metaphor for the limits of philosophical argumentation. This is a very interesting idea.

The basic problem with determinism (other than it being false) is that, if taken seriously, it would result in complete paralysis, or at least complete philosophical paralysis. If determinism is true, there is no purpose in telling anybody anything because there is nothing he can do with it. His thoughts are all predetermined. There isn’t even a point in telling him that there is no point, because even that cannot change what he will do—even to help him to make peace with being a slave. Of course, the same applies to the philosopher himself, so he can always say that he’s engaging in pointlessly telling people they are not free because he is predetermined to do so. Determinism means never having to say you’re sorry. Unless you have to.

Even so, determinist philosophers do not, as a rule, tend to acknowledge that everything that they write is pointless. Why is that? The utter pointlessness of telling a man that he has no more choice than does a rock is obvious. So obvious that we instinctively know it about rocks. Never yet has a man preached to the rocks that they cannot do other than what their nature and circumstances foreordain them to do. Not even to rocks which someone has carved ears into. Why, then, if one’s philosophy dictates that men are no more free than rocks will the philosopher preach this bad news to men?

(If it be objected that they do not preach to rocks because rocks cannot hear, I answer that this is irrelevant. There is no practical difference between something that cannot hear and something that, though it can hear, can do nothing with the words spoken to it. A man who speaks only Russian can still hear English, but we do not waste our time preaching to him in English. To object that he cannot understand changes nothing; we do not preach things a man cannot do even to men who understand. No one walks around in their native language telling men that it would be exhilarating to jump to the moon or very convenient if they were to grow thirty feet tall. It is the usefulness of the words which governs whether they leave our lips, not the intelligibility of them.)

So why on earth do determinist philosophers preach determinism? The answer, suggests my friend, and I suspect he’s right, is that they don’t mean it. What they actually mean is a metaphor for how little philosophical argumentation sways people, even the philosopher himself. As Saint Paul complained, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Determinism is, thus, a metaphor for the fallen state of humanity. And, in practice, it does seem to be a popular idea more with men who have difficulty restraining their passions. I can’t think of any extremely virtuous men who were determinists.

That said, this probably is more about how little philosophical argumentation sways the masses than about the philosopher himself. When the philosopher sees things clearly which seem to him momentous and the ordinary man shrugs his shoulders if he takes note at all—this requires some sort of explanation. There are better explanations than determinism but determinism does have a sort of superficial appeal. “Men do not care about the thoughts of the gods because they are mere beasts” is an explanation that does, to some degree, explain. That’s an important quality in an explanation—one that is missing in far more explanations than it should be.

Speaking of explanations which explain, I think that this idea makes sense of determinism, and especially why it is that its proponents never seem to take the idea seriously. They do take it seriously, just as a fairy tale to comfort them for why no one listens to them.

(I should note that I think this works synergistically with what has seemed to me to be the primary motivator of determinism: it simplifies the world. If one has to take into account many origins of causation, the world will not fit inside of one’s head. Determinism is appealing, then, because it eliminates a great deal of complexity. Even where the determinist is not an atheist, I think it functions as a sort of vicarious solipsism.)

Money: What Is It & Why Is It?

Money is an often misunderstood subject, especially because there are so many accidental things which grow up around it that are common and often mistaken for its substance. In this video I look at the history of how money develops as a medium for intermediating barter between people where only one person has something the other wants and how that develops into the sorts of monetary systems we have now. This also leads to what properties are essential to money and which are merely accidental, as well as what conditions are necessary for money to work and what conditions destroy money’s utility.

The Wages of Cynicism?

I’ve come to wonder about a trend I’ve seen in baby boomers that they tend to be very cynical but then have a streak of unbelievable credulity. It’s not all baby boomers, of course; no generation of people is homogeneous. This is merely a surprisingly large number of them, in my experience, and I’m wondering if it points to a more general human tendency (rather than merely being a strange product of the times in which it came to be). In particular, I’m wondering if, in general, being extremely cynical has a tendency to produce a sort of pressure-valve of credulity in some one thing.

The thing I most notice this in is the absurd credulity that many of the baby boomers in my life have towards news, especially newspapers. News, so they will tell me, is a bastion of the people and our one safeguard of liberty and all sorts of other nonsense, and all this in the face of things like newspaper articles which one can tell are lies simply by looking up the actual sources that the article references.

To give an example of what I mean, I read an article (sent to me by one of these boomers) which justified a claim of the Obama administration begging a heard-hearted republican congress for expanding PPE stockpiles by linking to an article which actually said that Obama’s refusal to compromise on the budget triggered automatic across-the-board 5% cuts to everything (a provision in the previous budget), that no one wanted. The most charitable interpretation of this event is that Obama wanted unlimited money and with it would have increased the budget for everything. This still gets nowhere near what the original article was trying to say, and if we limit ourselves to non-silly interpretations, Obama was clearly willing to take a 5% cut to the budget for medical stockpiles so that he wouldn’t have to compromise on things which were a higher priority to him. This is, literally, the opposite of what the source was invoked to claim. Unless one invokes the insanity defense, the article was, simply, lying. It didn’t matter, though. No matter how many lies an article tells, it is still the bullwark of the people, our sole preserver of liberty, etc.

(Oh, and the putatively supporting article also mentioned that even had the medical stockpiles seen a funding increase, they would have spent the money on rare drugs, which is their top priority, because (under normal circumstances) PPE is cheap and plentiful and easy to get more of on short notice. I did start to wonder if I was the only person who actually clicked through to verify the claims about the cited source. The degree to which it destroyed the article it was linked from was shocking, even to me.)

The more general human fault that I suspect this is an example of is the difficulty in living with ignorance. As human beings we necessarily do live in ignorance; we know very little about the very large world in which we live. The only real solution to this problem is to trust God, to whom the world is small and known. Since we are fallen creatures, however, this is hard. To be uniformly cynical to flawed sources of knowledge requires that we be able to repose in trust in God. This suggests that human credulity is, approximately, a fixed quantity; however much we fail to trust in God, that much will we be credulous. The only question is whether we will concentrate that credulity narrowly, trusting a few things far too much, or whether we will spread it out and trust many things a bit too much.

And to bring this back to the baby boomers with which this started (who are, by definition, American). I suspect that this is where history shaped the particular outcome. Having grown up during the civil rights era, the Vietnam era, and to a lesser extent the Watergate era, they learned to be cynical toward leaders and more generally the people that society normally trusts (priests, elders, etc). So they contracted their credulity towards a few sources like university professors and newsmen. Thus they were generally cynical, but with a few glaring gaps of credulity.

As I said, this is by no means all of the baby boomers, and my interest is at most only partially in the baby boomers I’m describing. Far more interesting is what general human weaknesses this is an expression of, and how to avoid them, even with different expression.

The Danger of Finding Your Meaning in Another Human Being

In this video I talk about the danger of finding one’s meaning in another human being.

(It has been pointed out, correctly, that this would constitute idolatry, but it’s a specific kind of idolatry which is somewhat easier to fall into because it doesn’t involve casting gold jewelry into statues, and bears some specific investigation.)

Why Do Moderns Write Morally Ambiguous Good Guys?

(Note: if you’re not familiar Modern spelled with a capital ‘M’, please read Why Moderns Always Modernize Stories.)

When Moderns tell a heroic story—or more often a story which is supposed to be heroic—they almost invariably write morally ambiguous good guys. Probably the most common form of this is placing the moral ambiguity in the allies who the hero protagonist trusts. It turns out that they did horrible things in the past, they’ve been lying to the protagonist (often by omission), and their motives are selfish now.

Typically this is revealed in an unresolved battle partway through the story, where the main villain has a chance to talk with the protagonist, and tells him about the awful things that the protagonist’s allies did, or are trying to do. Then the battle ends, and the protagonist confronts his allies with the allegations.

At this point two things can happen, but almost invariably the path taken is that the ally admits it, the hero gets angry and won’t let the ally explain, then eventually the ally gets a chance to explain (or someone else explains for him), and the protagonist concludes that the ally was justified.

In general this is deeply unsatisfying. So, why do Moderns do it so much?

It has its root in the modern predicament, of course. As you will recall, in the face of radical doubt, the only certainty left is will. To the Modern, therefore, good is that which is an extension of the will, and evil is the will being restricted. It’s not that he wants this; it’s that in his cramped philosophy, nothing else is possible. In general, Moderns tend to believe it but try hard to pretend that it’s not the case. Admitting it tends to make one go mad and grow one’s mustache very long:

(If you don’t recognize him, that’s Friedrich Nietzsche, who lamented the death of God—a poetic way of saying that people had come to stop believing in God—as the greatest tragedy to befall humanity. However, he concluded that since it happened, we must pick up the pieces as best we may, and that without God to give us meaning, the best we could do is to try to take his place, that is, to use our will to create values. Trying to be happy in the face of how awful life without God is drove him mad. That’s probably why atheists since him have rarely been even half as honest about what atheism means.)

The problem with good being the will and evil being the will denied is that there’s no interesting story to tell within that framework.

A Christian can tell the story of a man knowing what good is and doing the very hard work of trying to be good in spite of temptation, and this is an interesting story, because temptation is hard to overcome and so it’s interesting to see someone do it.

A Modern cannot tell the story of a man wanting something then doing it; that’s just not interesting because it happens all the time. I want a drink of water, so I pick up my cup and drink water. That’s as much an extension of my will as is anything a hero might do on a quest. In fact, it may easily be more of an extension of my will, because I’m probably more thirsty (in the moment) than I care about who, exactly, rules the kingdom. Certainly I achieve the drink more perfectly as an extension of my will than I am likely to change who rules the kingdom, since I might (if I have magical enough sword) pick the man, but I can’t pick what the man does. And what he does is an extension of his will, not mine. (This, btw, is why installing a democracy is so favored as a happy ending—it’s making the government a more direct extension of the will of the people.)

There’s actually a more technical problem which comes in because one can only will what is first perceived in the intellect. In truth, that encompasses nothing, since we do not fully know the consequence of any action in this world, but this is clearer the further into the future an action is and the more people it involves. As such, it is not really possible for the protagonist to really will a complex outcome like restoring the rightful king to the throne of the kingdom. Moderns don’t know this at a conscious level at all, but it is true and so does influence them a bit. Anyway, back to the main problem.

So what is the Modern to do, in order to tell an interesting story? He can’t tell an interesting story about doing good, since to him that’s just doing anything, and if he does something reader is not the protagonist, so it doesn’t do him any good. Granted, the reader might possible identify with the protagonist, but that’s really hard to pull off for large audiences. It requires the protagonist to have all but no characteristics. For whatever reason, this seems to be done successfully more often with female protagonists than with male protagonists, but it can never be done with complete success. The protagonist must have some response to a given stimulus, and this can’t be the same response that every reader will have.

The obvious solution, and for that reason the most common solution, is to tell the story of the protagonist not knowing what he wants. Once he knows what he wants, the only open question is whether he gets it or not, which is to say, is it a fantasy story or a tragedy? When he doesn’t know what he wants, the story can be anything, which means that there is something (potentially) interesting to the reader to find out.

Thus we have the twist, so predictable that I’m not sure it really counts as a twist, that the protagonist, who thought he knew what he wants—if you’re not sitting down for this, you may want to sit now so you don’t fall down from shock—finds out that maybe he doesn’t want what he thought he wanted!

That is, the good guys turn out to be morally ambiguous, and the hero has to figure out if he really wants to help them.

It’s not really that the Moderns think that there are no good guys. Well, OK, they do think that. Oddly, despite Modern philosophy only allowing good and evil to be imputed onto things by the projection of values, Moderns are also consequentialists, and consequentialists only see shades of grey. So, yes, Moderns think that there are no good guys.



Moderns are nothing if not inconsistent. It doesn’t take much talking to a Modern to note that he’s rigidly convinced that he’s a good guy. Heck, he’ll probably tell you that he’s a good person if you give him half a chance.

You’ll notice that in the formula I’ve described above, which we’re all far too familiar with, the protagonist never switches sides. Occasionally, if the show is badly written, he’ll give a speech in which he talks the two sides into compromising. If the show is particularly badly written, he will point out some way of compromising where both sides get what they want and no one has to give up anything that they care about, which neither side thought of because the writers think that the audience is dumb. However this goes, however, you almost never see the protagonist switching sides. (That’s not quite a universal, as you will occasionally see that in spy-thrillers, but there are structural reasons for that which are specific to that genre.) Why is that?

Because the Modern believes that he’s the good guy.

So one can introduce moral ambiguity to make things interesting, but it does need to be resolved so that the Modern, who identifies with the protagonist, can end up as the good guy.

The problem, of course, is that the modern is a consequentialist, so the resolution of the ambiguity almost never involves the ambiguity actually being resolved. The Modern thinks it suffices to make the consequences—or as often, curiously, the intended consequences—good, i.e. desirable to the protagonist. So this ends up ruining the story for those who believe in human nature and consequently natural law, but this really was an accident on the part of the Modern writing it. He was doing his best.

His best just wasn’t good enough.

The Scientific Method Isn’t Worth Much

It’s fairly common, at least in America, for kids to learn that there is a “scientific method” which tends to look something like:

  1. Observation
  2. Hypothesis
  3. Experiment
  4. Go back to 1.

It varies; there is often more detail. In general it’s part of the myth that there was a “scientific revolution” in which at some point people began to study the natural world in a radically different way than anyone had before. I believe (though am not certain) that this myth was propaganda during the Enlightenment, which was a philosophical movement primarily characterized by being a propagandistic movement. (Who do you think gave it the name “The Enlightenment”?)

In truth, people have been studying the natural world for thousands of years, and they’ve done it in much the same way all that time. There used to be less money in it, of course, but in broad strokes it hasn’t changed all that much.

So if that’s the case, why did Science suddenly get so much better in the last few hundred years, I hear people ask. Good question. It has a good answer, though.

Accurate measurement.

Suppose you want to measure how fast objects fall. Now suppose that the only time-keeping device you have is the rate at which a volume of sand (or water) falls through a restricted opening. (I.e. your best stopwatch is an hour glass). How accurately do you think that you’ll be able to write the formula for it? How accurately can you test that in experimentation?

To give you an idea, in physics class in high school we did an experiment where we had an electronic device that let long, thin paper go through it and it burned a mark onto the paper exactly ten times per second, with high precision. We then attached a weight to one end of the paper and dropped the weight. It was then very simple to calculate the acceleration due to gravity, since we just had to accurately measure the distance between the burn marks.

The groups in class got values between 2.8m/s and 7.4m/s (it’s been 25 years, so I might be a little off, but those are approximately correct). For reference, the correct answer, albeit in a vacuum while we were in air, is 9.8m/s.

The point being: until the invention of the mechanical watch, the high precision measurement of accurate time was not really possible. It took people a while to think of that.

It was a medieval invention, by the way. Well, not hyper-precise clocks, but the technology needed to do it. Clocks powered by falling weights were common during the high medieval time period, and the earliest existing spring driven clock was given to Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, in 1430.

Another incredibly important invention for accurate measurement was the telescope. These were first invented in 1608, and spread like wildfire because they were basically just variations of eyeglasses (the first inventer, Hans Lippershey, was an eyeglass maker). Eyeglasses were another medieval invention, by the way.

And if you trace the history of science in any detail, you will discover that its advances were mostly due not to the magical properties of a method of investigation, but to increasing precision in the ability to measure things and make observations of things we cannot normally observe (e.g. the microscope).

That’s not to say that literally nothing changed; there have been shifts in emphasis, as well as the creation of an entire type of career which gives an enormous number of people the leisure to make observations and the money with which to pay for the tools to make these observations. But that’s economics, not a method.

One could try to argue that mathematical physics was something of a revolution, but it wasn’t, really. Astronomers had mathematical models of things they didn’t actually know the nature of nor inquire into since the time of Ptolemy. It’s really increasingly accurate measurements which allow the mathematicization of physics.

The other thing to notice is that anywhere that taking accurate measurements of what we actually want to measure is prohibitively difficult or expensive, the science in those fields tends to be garbage. More specifically, it tends to be the sort of garbage science commonly called cargo cult science. People go through the motions of doing science without actually doing science. What that means, specifically, is that people take measurements of something and pretend it’s measurements of the things that they actually want to measure.

We want to know what eating a lot of red meat does to people’s health over the long term. Unfortunately, no one has the budget to put a large group of people into cages for 50 years and feed them controlled diets while keeping out confounding variables like stress, lifestyle, etc.—and you couldn’t get this past an ethics review board even if you had the budget for it. So what do nutrition researchers who want to measure this do? They give people surveys asking them what they ate over the last 20 years.

Hey, it looks like science.

If you don’t look to closely.