Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Blindness of Power

This 2017 power causes brain damage article from The Atlantic keeps popping up in my FB feed. Not a bad article by any means. But what it documents is a more general phenomenon.

Have you ever noticed that our sensory organs are among the most weak and easily damaged? They are among the first to fail as we age. Have you ever noticed that the poor and the weak are usually the most affected by any sort of change, and usually in a way that hurts them?

These are manifestations of the difference between agent and patient, between activity and receptivity. The powerful and active are better at effecting an internally determined goal, whereas the weak and receptive are sensitive to external conditions.1

A son of privileged like Ted Kennedy can drive a car off a bridge and fail to report it for nine hours, leading to the death of his female passenger, without suffering any consequences, whereas a poor schmuck like you or I would rightly be forced to acknowledge the injustice of his actions, in body if not spirit, in the penal system.

The Philosophy of Power that has prevailed since the Enlightenment emphasizes knowledge through active means. It grows from the nominalist philosophy that teaches an act of the will precedes knowledge of the world.2 Power has always been a strong motivation in politics, but today's politics is amped up on the philosophical justification of power for its own sake. When human desire becomes the principal justification of actions and policies, truth is the casualty.

This unseemly reality was on display in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. The leftist media was so busy promoting their "inevitable" candidate, that they failed to listen to broad swaths of the electorate telling them she wasn't inevitable. They created an echo chamber for themselves and swallowed their own propaganda. In short, power caused blindness. (None of this is to deny that the winner of that election has his own blindness.)

Leftists begin their considerations from desire. Whereas true conservatives and traditionalists begin their considerations from what already exists: nature and tradition. So it makes sense that leftists use bullying tactics. The result of making desire the principle is a political philosophy of Power. Decisions are made based purely who's will has the most power; might makes right. In such a regime, there is fundamentally no respect for truth. It can only breed a civilization of death.

So it should come as no surprise when dissenters are fired purely based on the positions they take, e.g.,

Gender Dissenter Gets Fired .

Some academics (mostly leftists) have recognized how bullying tactics are corrosive to finding the truth (or at least that version of the truth that's the object of the game in academic philosophy), e.g.,

Philosophers Should Not Be Sanctioned Over Their Positions on Sex and Gender .

As Solzhenitsyn put it:

And he who is not sufficiently courageous even to defend his soul—don't let him be proud of his “progressive” views, don't let him boast that he is an academician or a people's artist, a merited figure, or a general—let him say to himself: I am in the herd, and a coward. It's all the same to me as long as I'm fed and warm.

But, given the current regime of mind (which has no time for qualms about the soul or eternal reward), such protests can at best prevail in the short term. In a longer term, the regime of lies prevails.3

Western society is locked into a downward spiral. How far down the spiral do we have to descend before we bounce back?

Man when he prospers forfeits intelligence: he is one with the cattle doomed to slaughter. (Ps 49:12, cf. verse 20)

There are two ways: the "Philosophy" of Power, which leads to death, and the Philosophy of Love, which leads to life.


1. For creatures only. God paradoxically combines omnipotence with omniscience: infinite power with infinite sensitivity.

2. This error has a basic truth at its kernel: that before we can see reality truly, the will must exercise a desire for openness to reality. And, given our fallen nature, this act of the will must be continuously reaffirmed.

3. Take comfort. In the longest term, only God and truth can prevail.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, "Live Not By Lies" (Letter published Feb. 12, 1974).

Monday, July 08, 2019

How Do We Rebuild Culture?

What if the best way to rebuild Western culture was not to rebuild culture, but rather to praise God?

Here is an excellent blog post by Rachel Fulton Brown that powerfully makes that argument. It quotes the famous passage from the "Letter to Diognetus" about Christians being in the world but not of the world, and also quotes an amplification of that same point from Remi Brague's book Curing Mad Truths: Medieval Wisdom for the Modern World (2019):

For instance, there is in Judaism a Talmudic cuisine, based on the rules of Kashrut; there are Christian cooks, but there is no Christian cuisine. There is in Islam a so-called prophetic medicine, based on the pieces of advice given by Muhammed in some cases and summarized in some collections of hadith which have this name, prophetic medicine; there are Christian physicians, but there is no Christian medicine. There is in Islam an Islamic dress code, the Islamic veil for each grown-up female, the commandment that each adult male let his beard grow and trim his mustache; there are Christian tailors and hairdressers, but there is no Christian fashion.

The post links to a speech by Pope Benedict that is insightful along the same lines (and beyond). Here are the last couple sentences:

A purely positivistic culture which tried to drive the question concerning God into the subjective realm, as being unscientific, would be the capitulation of reason, the renunciation of its highest possibilities, and hence a disaster for humanity, with very grave consequences. What gave Europe’s culture its foundation – the search for God and the readiness to listen to him – remains today the basis of any genuine culture.

H/t to Dr. Scott Hahn, who posted a link to the blog post on FB.