Saturday, May 25, 2019

Beda Venerabilis

Today is the feast of St. Beda, also known as the Venerable Bede, Doctor of the Church.

The Pelagians were unwilling to believe that the whole mass of the human race was corrupted and condemned in one man. It is the grace of Christ alone that cures and frees from this corruption and condemnation. For why will the righteous be saved with difficulty? Is it a labor for God to set free the righteous? Far from it. But to show that [our] nature was rightly condemned the Omnipotent himself does not wish to set [us] free easily from so great an evil, because sins are easy to slip into and righteousness is strenuous, except for those who love; but charity, which makes them lovers, is of God.

[Bede, Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles, Cistercian Press (Kalamazoo, MI: 1985), p. 113.He is commenting on 1 Peter 4:18.]

Friday, May 24, 2019

Dashed Off X

This ends the notebook completed April 11, 2018.

photography & the decisive moment (Henri Cartier-Bresson)
- candid photography and images à la sauvette
- 'Il n'y a rien dans ce monde qui n'ait un moment decisif.' (Cardinal de Retz)
- "Photographier: c'est dans un même instant et en une fraction de seconde reconnaître un fait et l'organisation rigoreuse de formes perçues visuellement qui expriment et signifient ce fait." (Cartier-Bresson)
- the 'creative fraction of a second' in choosing the time to click the camera

"Error always begins with the use of our will." Rosmini

Occasionalism naturally slides toward idealism because (1) it complicates the relation between mind and world and (2) already treats the world as if it worked like a mind.

Perhaps the principle of union for Purgatory is not receiving signs (sacraments) but receiving being a sign.

Asceticism is proto-purgatory; thus the elements of asceticism linked to 'being like the angels' are clues about what purgatory is like.

Cp Adams on self-delusion 29 Aug 1768 with Butler

"Without local institutions, a nation may give itself a free government, but it will not have a free spirit." Tocqueville

the people as a civil service

To confine the monarch too much to the merely ceremonial leaves the Crown looking like a decorative expense, even if the ceremonial functions are, in fact, necessary.

A supreme court's primary function is not to decide but to persuade -- to give a widely acceptable set of reasons for a certain way of organizing society, in a form to which people may practically appeal.

"All the passions fatal to republics increase with the extent of the republic, while the virtues that sustain them do not increase at the same rate." Tocqueville
"An idea that is clear and precise even though false will always have greater power in the world than an idea that is true but complex."
"Despotism often presents itself as the remedy for all ills suffered in the past. It is the upholder of justice, the champion of the oppressed, and the founder of order....Liberty, in contrast, is usually born in stormy times."
"Despotism can do without faith, but liberty cannot."

"The jury teaches men the practice of equity." Tocqueville
"...the jury, which is the most energetic form of popular rule, is also the most effective means of teaching the people how to rule."

Standing parties are as dangerous to liberty as standing armies.

Fregean tone as reserve meaning

"A completed poetic action is a whole unto itself, a technical world." Schlegel

I like my ideas to jumble, intermingle, tumble,
thick as sprouting jungle

interjections as labeling

Note Republic 475e on the spectacle of truth // Bendideia

Photography is not a bare picture-taking event but a practice of finding, pre-selecting, taking, post-selecting, presenting.

Social contract theory inevitably leads to the sovereign citizens movement (taking every matter to be one of individual consent).

State Shinto was proposed in Meiji as an education form based on the tradition of the Imperial house, as something explicitly distinct from religions like Buddhism or Christianity. (Note that PropFi accepted this explanation even despite some points at which it functioned more like a religion.)

Kant confuses 'end in itself' with 'end from itself', in se and a se.

laity as spiritual militia

Kant's ethics is an ethics of avoiding slippery slopes.

Slippery slope arguments are not about slopes so much as about principles.

Hutcheson recommends a tax for not being married, as well as mandatory military service (apparently for eight years).

Aristotle gives us the word 'monopoly': Politics 1252a.

pusillanimity as "the Want of a just Indignation against Wrong" (David Fordyce)

We can think of the passions as vectors extending out and ask, "Is there something that can be posited as the point, or at least the region, on which all of these converge?" In an irrational life, the answer is no (think of the many-headed monster in the Republic); in a rational life, the answer is yes, and the region is called eudaimonia.

Fordyce EMPp65: number, weight, measure

the three caves of Empire Strikes Back

Attacks on cultural appropriation tend toward the extinction of the cultural elements they are supposed to protect, like bottlenecking an already shaky population.

Tensive and restive modes of emotional mediation of experience make different things salient.

the modes of Holy Saturday: rest, victory, eternity

Science fiction works by overlay.

Genres are genealogical and governed by a principle of precedent.

world-building extrapolation and future-building extrapolation

The kind of good there may be depends on the kind of beings there may be.

Anything that did the work of 'credences' would have to be inquiry-relative.
- probabilities are relative to method of measurement
- would also follow from a broadly Lewisian approach to Sleeping Beauty and the recognition that what counts as evidence is inquiry-relative

three kinds of tolerance: based on common good, based on negotiation, based on functional good

Under socialism, those who produce social benefit do not have full right over the means of its production; they must trade their labor for it, for their freedom and livelihood, as protection fees to the state, which legislates the alienation of their work to subserve the benefit-preferences of those who control the state.

the occasional causes of error: likeness and inclination

"Where there is devotional music, God with his grace is always present." Bach (annotaiton in Calov)

If logic is only about the way one says things, one may change the logic just by changing one's manner of speaking. If it just involves rules for signs, one may make it anything one wants just by changing the kinds of signs.

(1) well-poisoning
(2) option-biasing
--- (a) example (cherry-picking)
--- (b) division
--- --- (1) incomplete division
--- --- (2) misclassifying division
--- (c) description

option-biasing by division, by implicature, by translation
insinuated allusion corrosive to fair assessment

Rule of law rather than men means, at least, that citizens should not be mere suppliants, in the normal course of society.

The difference between an academic and everyone else is primarily infrastructural.

probable inference as inference from premises plus residual (yet to be specified)

Appearance-as always implies resemblance.

the pleaching of cultures

test-balloon believing & doxastic voluntarism

sophistry as a confusion of argumentative true good with argumentative goods of fortune

internal sense theory as a way of organizing everyday aesthetic concepts (e.g., messiness and neatness with order, mind-blowingness with sublimity, etc.)

The modal logic of laws of nature seems often to be treated as an M/T or higher logic, Box implying True. But (cf. Cartwright) idealization seems to make them D or weaker.
-- a related issue is how one would handle strings of operators, laws of laws

Otium sine litteris mors.

The Virgin's submission at the Annunciation parallels Christ's submission in Gethsemane, but Mary submits as handmaiden and Jesus as Son.

the hint-of-sublime vs the sublime itself

the melammu of the gods

All morality taken seriously tends to take on a religious tone as it approximates a general system, symbolically expressed, of general compensators.

Bayesian accounts of belief usually fail to distinguish fullness of assent and nonprovisionality of assent.

"Effective union between many individuals is brought about by means of courtesy and tolerance in the midst of varying opinions." Rosmini

"Intelligence, cut off from the divine loses its human quality." Rosmini

"The laws of nature are the laws of natures." Oderberg

Even sound arguments need regular refreshment, because arguments are not words but understandings.

infinite regress, the external world, and the need for an unsimulated simulating cause even in a simulation

Thursday, May 23, 2019

John Wick

Having had a very wearying end of term, and having finally, finally, completed everything for it, I took some time today to see the third John Wick movie. Overall it's a very interesting franchise.

Imagine an urban fantasy, a spiritual thriller, with something like this plot. The world is dominated by demons, or fallen souls, or some such, that manage to keep themselves just out of hell, and walk the earth maintaining their various fiefdoms, some rough order kept between them under a cutthroat council of the most powerful, all owing fealty, based entirely on power, to one above them all, as they strive to keep out of hell. One of the lesser demons, almost legendary as an enforcer, met an angel, or a good soul, or some such, and fell in love, and decided he wanted out of it all. He performs an impossible task and gets out. But the one he loves is taken away from him, and in a sense doubly taken away from him, and he returns in wrath to get his vengeance -- but once he does, he finds himself dragged further in, and becomes a fugitive from the powers that be.

If you can imagine a story like that, the best way to describe the series is that it is not this story, but it is almost this story. It is not a supernatural thriller, but the symbolism of one is all there; the criminal underworld of assassins, which is the outer face of the story, is blurred in words and in symbols with the actual underworld. In the first movie this is muted and can be missed, although it is undeniable once you see it -- the actual idea around which the script was built was that John, having found salvation, had the source of it ripped from him, and he returns to 'hell'. It becomes much more explicit in Chapter 2, which is structured by two lines: "Do you fear damnation, John?" ("Yes," John replies) and "Now you begin your descent into hell, Mr. Wick." The religious elements become much thicker, in part no doubt for the aesthetics, but also thematically -- learning about the High Table, we get Rome, lots of angels, and religious art, as well as a museum exhibit called 'Reflections of the Soul'. The punishment for breaking one of the unbreakable rules, spilling blood on the grounds of the Continental Hotel, is to become Excommunicado. Chapter 3: Parabellum pulls back from this in some ways and advances it in others: John's ticket for passage is a rosary with a Slavic cross, and his trip to Morocco, where he meets the Elder (the one above the High Table, who quite clearly corresponds to the Devil), is explicitly characterized as a descent into hell in an allusion to Dante, the assassins explicitly use more religious terminology (deconsecrated, penance, etc.), and so forth. The 'demons', that is, assassins, frame their world in Catholic terms, but from the mirror-image side. We also get references here and there to the Greco-Roman as well as the Christian underworld.

All of this could be done very pretentiously, and in most attempts probably would, but the reason for the popularity of the franchise is that it doesn't, not really; indeed, you can watch the movies without catching any more than an occasional metaphor. It's all there, but it's all there in symbolism and background aesthetics and very, very occasional explicit references. The movie itself focuses not on this more 'literary' aspect to the series but on its cinematic strength: spectacle, with a lot of very different fight scenes, excellent semi-realistic fight choreography (liberties taken -- nobody could actually survive what Wick does, but everything done makes some kind of sense in context), in visually stunning environments. Very, very violent, but violent in the way a Jacobin revenge play, or a Greek tragedy, or, for that matter, the Inferno, is violent.

There's a John Wick: Chapter 4 in the works. Given how John's descent into hell goes, the thematic next step would be the ascent of purgatory; although it's very difficult to imagine offhand what a John Wick version of the Purgatorio would be (and even more difficult to imagine any Paradiso, or even any Earthly Paradise, at the end), the three movies we have do set up for something like it. But they've also set things up for a War in Hell, continuing the mirror-image aspect of it: John Wick as a demon rebelling against the devil, the god of this world. And we'll see, but I suspect that we will see John's wedding ring -- symbol of the possibility of salvation -- again.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A Poem Draft

Indian Blankets

The Indian blankets
by the side of the way
bow low in the wind
and flicker like flame;
they mirror my heart,
for my heart is now free
with the holiday-dance
of the sweet summer breeze.

Indian Blanket flowers

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Place in the Ranks Awaits You

by Adelaide Anne Procter

Rise! for the day is passing,
And you lie dreaming on;
The others have buckled their armor,
And forth to the fight are gone:
A place in the ranks awaits you,
Each man has some part to play;
The Past and the Future are nothing,
In the face of the stern Today.

Rise from your dreams of the Future, —
Of gaining some hard-fought field;
Of storming some airy fortress,
Or bidding some giant yield;
Your Future has deeds of glory,
Of honor (God grant it may!)
But your arm will never be stronger,
Or the need so great as To-day.

Rise! if the Past detains you,
Her sunshine and storms forget;
No chains so unworthy to hold you
As those of a vain regret:
Sad or bright, she is lifeless ever;
Cast her phantom arms away,
Nor look back, save to learn the lesson
Of a nobler strife To-day.

Rise! for the day is passing;
The sound that you scarcely hear
Is the enemy marching to battle : —
Arise! for the foe is here!
Stay not to sharpen your weapons,
Or the hour will strike at last,
When, from dreams of a coming battle,
You may wake to find it past!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Cassam on Conspiracy Theories

There is an excerpt from Quassim Cassam's book on conspiracy theories at at IAI. Like much of Cassam's work on this topic, I think it is both interesting and seriously flawed. A good way to see the problems with Cassam's argument is to look at one of the examples he uses to try to pin down what conspiracy theories are:

Suppose that a conspiracy theory is defined as a theory about a conspiracy. History books tell us, for example, that Guy Fawkes and his colleagues plotted to blow up the English Parliament in 1605. The plot was a conspiracy, and historical accounts of the plot are therefore conspiracy theories....

...Unlike well-documented historical theories about the Gunpowder Plot, Conspiracy Theories are highly speculative. They are based on conjecture rather than solid evidence, educated (or not so educated) guesswork. After all, if a conspiracy has been successful then it won’t have left behind clear-cut evidence of a conspiracy. This leads to the idea that the only way to uncover a conspiracy is by focusing odd clues or anomalies that give the game away.

The fundamental problem is that, while there was a genuine conspiracy to blow up Parliament, the genuine conspiracy was also a seed-crystal for what was undeniably a conspiracy theory, according to which a much larger population of Catholics were involved in a conspiracy to undermine the peace and laws of Britain, despite the fact that most of them had nothing to do with it. Thus we have a conspiracy theory built around an undeniable conspiracy. And Cassam in general tends not to graps that conspiracy theorists themselves do think that the evidence of the conspiracy they are talking about is clear-cut; they think the conspiracies are succeeding not because they are always successful in leaving behind no evidence but because they are successful at obfuscation. An English Protestant who thought that the Catholics were engaged in a conspiracy to subvert the kingdom could literally point to things that showed it -- particular plots, actions of Jesuits, and the like. The evidence was clear and obvious; it's just that Catholics were good at lying, and would be able to do it all in secret if not for divine providence and the work of vigilant people like himself. The odd clues and anomalies are not proof of the conspiracy itself; they are proof of the desperate cover-up as the conspiracy attempts to hide its failures. The conspiracy itself is taken to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt; everyone would believe it if it weren't for all the obvious lies that people are believing instead. The conspiracy theorist focuses on odd clues or anomalies not because it is the foundation of his belief that there is a conspiracy but because the conspiracy theorist has to show other people that they are in fact only believing a cover story that can't possibly be true. How do you prove to somebody that something is a lie? You show them the inconsistencies. And once you've made people realize that they've been lied to, the conspiracy theorist thinks, the evidence will speak for itself.

Cassam is here, as most people are, confused by the name 'conspiracy theory'. This makes it sound like it's just about there being some sort of conspiracy. But we could just as easily call it 'cover-up theory'.

This is the reason why Cassam's later conclusion, "Conspiracy Theories are first and foremost forms of political propaganda", is in one sense on the right track and in another simply not useful, because the conspiracy theorist is someone who sees himself as countering political propaganda. Cassam, in his view, would be the propagandist -- after all, in a sense Cassam has effectively just admitted it, by saying that the reason he opposes conspiracy theories is that they put forward dangerous political views. Of course, Cassam doesn't think that he is propagandizing; but neither does the conspiracy theorist. Conspiracy theorists are not putting out propaganda; they are trying to oppose what they see as propaganda. It just so happens that what they see as propaganda, put out by an elite with political incentive to lie, Cassam sees as reasonable report, put out by experts with political incentive to seek the truth, and what he sees as propaganda, the conspiracy theorist sees as critical thinking that shows that the so-called experts are in fact active propagandists.

Conspiracy theory in the sense Cassam has in mind does not begin with an intent to propagandize; it begins with political discontent when it takes on the idea that the opposed political faction, whatever that may be, is fighting dirty and trying to hide that fact. Take, for instance, one of the popular conspiracy theories of the Enlightenment period, the theory of priestcraft: a bunch of priests have made alliance with a bunch of politicians to benight society throughout the ages, encouraging superstition and backing it with police power in order to make the people more pliable to both priest and politician. This is the kind of conspiracy theory that only arises in the context of an already-existing dispute about the role of religion in political life, from people who have come to think, for whatever reason, that their religious opponents are fundamentally liars concerned only with their own political position and their dupes who don't bother to think through the religious propaganda because they have a political reason not to do so.

It's true, of course, that conspiracy theorists can and do propagandize, like anyone else; but the mistake is not in recognizing this but thinking that the propagandizing is the core of the conspiracy theory. Cassam thinks that the basic function of a conspiracy theory is to advance a political agenda; but the basic function of a conspiracy theory is to stop the perceived advance of a political agenda. There is a fundamental sense in which all conspiracy theorists, regardless of whether they are right or left politically, are reactionaries. They exist to resist; they are in their own view the Resistance. The people in power are fighting with dirty tricks. The 'experts' have sold out. The proof of it is there to see, but the powerful are lying to try to hide it. And what you need to do is not persuade people of the conspiracy -- that's obvious to anyone who just thinks the matter through -- but to wake people up to the fact that they are being taken in by a lie. Now, of course, you can call their wake-up attempts propaganda if you like, but the point is that Cassam mislocates it: it is not to put forward an agenda but to resist one. To advance an agenda you just argue for it; but to resist one, you set out to debunk falsehoods, to uncover lies, to wake people up.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Voyages Extraordinaires #31: Le Chemin de France

My name is Natalis Delpierre. I was born in 1761, at Grattepanche, a village in Picardy. My father was a farm laborer. He worked on the estate of the Marquis d'Estrelle. My mother did her best to help him. My sisters and I followed our mother's example.

My father never possessed any property. He was precentor at the church, and had a powerful voice that could be heard even in the graveyard. The voice was almost all I inherited from him.

My father and mother worked hard. They both died the same year, 1779. God has their souls in His keeping!

Natalis Delpierre becomes a soldier and fights in the American Revolution, and then for the king, and then for the Republic. It is a time of great tension, as none of the other Powers trust the French Republic, and Germany in particular seems inclined to invade. Because of this, Delpierre takes two months' leave from the army to go to Germany and find his sister, Irma, who is servant and companion to a half-French family there, the Kellers, in order to bring her back safely. However, it turns out not to be possible to bring her back immediately, and war breaks out while he is there. This will lead Delpierre, Irma, and the Kellers to the journey that gives the book its title, Le Chemin de France (in English, The Flight to France).

The book is a light and easy read, with twenty-five very short chapters. The narrator is quite engaging. As with most of Verne's books, the backbone of it is a geographically precise journey, this time in the midst of war zone. That sounds perhaps more interesting than it is; the primary difficulty for the protagonists is not the war but the need to evade arrest when everyone is at the height of their suspicions; the armies affect their travel primarily by forcing them to go a long and difficulty road around in order to avoid them, which causes them to overstay on their passport. This is not to say that there is no excitement, nor does the story drag in any way (it is too short to drag), but aside from a couple of brief brushes with death and the urgency of a deadline, it largely ends up being a tale of a trip on which everything goes wrong. It's interesting, but in a way it's only very accidentally a war story.

I read it in English translation, in a cheap copy I picked up; although there was no indication of the translator, I believe that the translation was that by I. O. Evans, which, if so, means that the translation was probably usually so-so. Indeed, looking at the French, it's noticeable that the translation above strips out all the specifically Catholic references; what Delpierre actually says is that his father was a cantor, singing the Confiteor, with a loud voice that could be heard in the cemetery near the church, and could have been a priest, being a 'peasant dipped in ink', but his voice was about all that Delpierre inherited from him. The omissions are not essential to the story; that Delpierre's father was a cantor plays no role in the story, except that it makes sense of why he says that he only inherited his father's voice -- Delpierre is not the priestly or scholarly type, so his narrative will be rough and uneducated (in fact, Delpierre only starts learning to read and write in the course of the story he as narrator is setting down later in life). It's the kind of little value-adding detail that translations like this sandpaper away.