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Tag Archives: Society

Cherchez les hommes

Cherchez la femme is a French expression from the 1854 novel The Mohicans of Paris by Alexandre Dumas, which means “no matter what the problem may be, a woman is often the cause. Look for the mistress, the jealous wife, the angry lover… there is a woman at the root of each problem.” The alternative cherchez de l’argent (look for the money) is something detectives, journalists, and Marxists are prone to do.

A different approach is better when trying to find or explain social and political change: cherchez les hommes, look for the men. The power, prestige, and influence is where the men are because men much more than women seek power, prestige, and influence. And that also leads to power, prestige, and influence following men.

Steven Goldberg wrote two books, The Inevitability of Patriarchy (1973) and Why Men Rule (1993) with the central argument that:

Specifiable hereditary psychophysiological differences between males and females engender in males a more-easily-released tendency for dominance behavior. This is observed by a society’s population and is incorporated in all aspects of socialization that mediate the psychophysiological and the institutional. As a result all societies, without exception, exhibit patriarchy, male status attainment, and male dominance.

The fact that men rule is not popular today, but it is a fact whether anyone likes it or not. Why it should be true is another matter. The point I’m making here is that this fact enables us to find and explain some social and political changes.

Cherchez les hommes means look where men are leaving and where they are going because power, prestige, and influence are headed away from where they are leaving and toward where they are going. Where are men leaving? Men are leaving universities.

Women accounted for 55 percent of undergraduates enrolled at four-year colleges in the United States as of fall 2014, according to the most recent data available from the federal education department.

It’s not a new phenomenon. Women have outnumbered men on college campuses in the US by a widening margin since the late 1970s, and the gap will continue to grow in coming years, according to some projections. Boston Globe, March 28, 2016.

“Women in the UK are now 35% more likely than men to go to university and the gap is widening every year.” BBC News, May 12, 2016.

Men are leaving universities so we conclude that universities are losing power, prestige, and influence in contemporary society. Men are less welcome and less interested in today’s egalitarian universities. Egalitarianism may have served men well in the past, but no longer.

Where are men going? In the U.S. there are more men than women in the Western U.S. The cities with the largest gender gap are high tech centers such as Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Austin, and Seattle. In the 2016 presidential election, the gender gap helped the winning candidate (see here and here).

This shows that high tech is gaining and universities are losing power, prestige, and influence. Politics continues to be dominated by men, though a different kind of man than before, younger, more western, and less tied to tradition.

Separation of society and state

On the face of it, the separation of society and state makes no sense. Society provides the framework for the state, whether a hierarchical society leading to a kingdom or an egalitarian society leading to a democracy. And there would be no state without a society, whether it is the people who assemble to establish the state or the people who the state rules over.

But there can and should be an institutional separation of society and state. For example, Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution includes this paragraph:

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

Nobility is an aspect of some societies. The Constitution excludes the national government from the granting and acceptance of nobility – i.e., it separates nobility and state. The First Amendment begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” which separates the state from religious institutions.

Societies have their own dynamic of who is most honored, most respected, most influential, and so on. The state should not interfere and attempt to pick who will fill these roles. Societies have their own ways of making marriages, of raising children, of connecting the generations. This is not the business of the state.

The state should be concerned with defense against foreign adversaries and domestic malefactors, with taxation and commerce, with political rights and responsibilities. Some people want the state to change society, but that uses the coercive power of the state for ends that are not proper to the state. Let society change in its own way.

The political sphere is different from the social sphere. The two should be kept apart. The separation of society and state should be a bedrock principle of every nation.

The Right tries to make society rule over the state and the Left tries to make the state rule over society. This principle ensures that society and state will be on equal footing. It is a principle of the Center.

Constitutional authority undermined

I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but those who are have been sounding the alarm over the actions of a Supreme Court and President that are extra-constitutional. I write to point out that an official under a constitution who officially acts outside that constitution has undermined their legitimacy. The constitution remains but the official who sets it aside lacks legitimate authority.

As background let’s look at a few excerpts from the dissenting opinions in the Court’s Obergefell same-sex marriage decision: from Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissent:

[T]his Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be. The people who ratified the Constitution authorized courts to exercise “neither force nor will but merely judgment.”

The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent.

From Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent:

“Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.”`

“[W]hat really astounds is the hubris reflected in today’s judicial Putsch.”

Here are some excerpts from a report on extra-constitutional actions of the President:

President Obama has said repeatedly that he would take unilateral executive action whenever necessary to achieve his political ends if Congress and the courts did not acquiesce to his demands. He declared openly and repeatedly that America “cannot afford to wait” on Congress or the courts to act on his agenda, and he made good on his threat to bypass the Congress and ignore the courts numerous times in his first term, as we documented in this report. After he was re-elected to a second term, Mr. Obama became even more brazen.

With his kitchen cabinet of czars in place a broader strategy to expand presidential power by executive fiat is unfolding. Obama’s “new normal” promises rule by executive fiat, plain and simple. On the issues of gun control, illegal immigration and fiscal policy, Obama has sneered at Congress and the judiciary.

Those who are called President and Supreme Court justices hold their offices by virtue of the Constitution they have sworn or affirmed to uphold. If they act extra-constitutionally, to that extent they undermine their claim to such an office. In short, their acts are not official acts, despite any outward appearance.

Time and memory

Is it possible to reverse time? Yes, in a sense. It is possible to reverse thermodynamic time by a local decrease in entropy. Cooling down, metabolism, and memory are examples of decreases in entropy.

Memory may be described as an information model: it compresses experience for storage. The information in memory is not all that happened; something was lost or not perceived.

As memory grows, it is necessary to do maintenance like that done with computer systems, such as defragmenting isolated memories and consolidating them into coherent storage. This, too, may decrease entropy. It is also necessary to review memory, to restore weak memories. This remembering, this return to the past, is a form of reversing time.

Time for us is memory. Without memory, there is no time–we are like children focused on the here and now.

Weekly and annual cycles of remembrance renew our memories and help integrate them into an existing framework. The cycle of the week is the cycle of creation and rest. The cycle of the year is the cycle of reviewing the history of God’s people. Other cycles give us a rhythm for life–cycles of the tides, of the school year, of national holidays.

The Greek word chronos describes these regular cycles, whereas the word kairos describes a progression. Chronos is measurable, predictable, cyclic time. Kairos is experienced time, which flows and grows in unpredictable ways. The experiences of kairos are turned into the cycles of chronos by memory.

Political liberty still lacking

We in the United States like to consider our nation “free” and even the leader of the “free world”. Compared with totalitarian and authoritarian regimes of the past and present, yes, we are free. But that should not be the standard of comparison. The standard should be full political liberty, and there we are still lacking.

What are we missing? Let me list some:

(1) We lack a full vote. In an election for public office with more than two candidates, we can only vote for one candidate. After we have voted for one candidate, we cannot vote for any other candidate. So we have a partial vote, and this can lead to candidates with the largest plurality but without a majority being elected. This can lead to the least-preferred candidate in a three-way election being elected. All because people are only allowed to vote for one candidate.

Voting is an up-or-down decision but that decision is about each candidate for public office. People have a full vote only if they can vote for every candidate of their choice. This is called approval voting because voters can vote for every candidate they approve. Essentially, they are putting candidates into two groups: those they approve and those they don’t. That is a full vote and it is missing today.

(2) We lack the right to freely form political parties. Instead, the two major parties have rigged the system to make it difficult to establish a political party and get on the ballot. And political parties are regulated by the State instead of having freedom to conduct their affairs as they wish. For example, political parties do not have the right to determine membership in their party. We have primary elections in which voters can choose any ballot, so members of one party can vote in the primary for another party and determine their candidate.

While basic accountability for political parties should be enacted, political parties should be free to conduct their affairs as they wish. Let the voters decide whether they like them or not.

(3) We lack the right to freely contribute to political candidates. There are limits on what individuals can give, what parties can give, what campaigns can give, and what unaffiliated organizations can give. This gives an advantage to incumbents and those who can get free media attention. It undermines a free and open political process — contrary to the claims of those who promote these limits.

All that is needed is that the public is informed in a timely manner as to where each candidate’s finances are coming from. Publishing contributions over a specified amount can easily be done today. Then we can let the public decide if they like what they see or not.

There are other ways in which our liberty is unjustly restricted. The Institute for Justice among others is working on them: economic liberty, educational liberty (school choice), First Amendment defense (freedom of religion and speech), and private property defense.

In some ways the United States is free, but in other ways we still need to fight for freedom. The struggle goes on!

 

Alcoholism and homosexuality

Some people are born with alcoholism, that is, they are inclined toward alcohol dependence. Others acquire it over time or a combination of both is the cause. Alcoholism is a disease, also called alcohol dependence syndrome. It can cause people to behave in unhealthy ways such as engaging in risky behavior. Whether alcoholism can be cured or only controlled is controversial. In any case alcoholics deserve our compassion.

Something very similar can be said about homosexuality, the desire and practice of sexual relations between members of the same sex. Some people are apparently born with such desire whereas others seem to acquire it. Homosexuality can cause people to behave in unhealthy ways such as engaging in risky behavior. Whether homosexuality can be changed or controlled is controversial. In any case homosexuals deserve our compassion.

Whereas alcoholism is classed as a disease, it has become controversial to categorize homosexuality as a disease, much less a sin. Those who promote extreme egalitarianism disparage any significant social distinction between the sexes or any ontological difference between the sexes. And yet many homosexuals today are proud of their condition, as if sexuality were a significant characteristic of one’s ontology.

We can’t have it both ways: either human sexuality is ontologically significant or is not. If it is not, then there is no need for approving of it or according it special status. If it is, then we need to ask what is the ontological status of sexuality.

The place to start is with language. Every human language has different references for male and female: he/she, him/her, his/hers, etc. This shows the deep-seated character of sexuality: our very personhood is bound up with our maleness or femaleness. No one is suggesting that we call people “it” so this gendered speech will continue.

Sex is ontologically significant and the roles for men and women that societies develop are something to defend rather than tear down. Changes, if any, should be incremental and carefully considered. Unfortunately, the global West is rushing headlong into a social experiment in sexual equality without due consideration of the consequences.

The necessity of philosophy

The contemporary world is characterized, among other things, by the cult of the expert.  It is widely and officially accepted that the expert and only the expert can speak authoritatively on a given subject.  So extensive is this cult that once someone has become a certified expert in one field, they are often assumed to be experts in other fields, whether or not they actually have the qualifications.

How do we know who is an expert on what subject?  The experts tell us!  As long as the experts support one another’s claims to expertise, they constitute a closed system and everyone else is supposed to accept them all.  But if some experts disagree with other experts, no end of problems can result.  This is such a disastrous possibility that it is often suppressed.  If an expert disagrees with the predominant expert option, their expert status must be taken away.

So the cult of the expert becomes an all-or-nothing proposition.  Either one accepts all the certified experts or one rejects the whole idea.  And this basic proposition must be decided by people who are not experts.  That is the irony of the cult of the expert.

But it was not always this way, nor must the cult of the expert necessarily continue.  Let us briefly consider what life would be like without the cult of the expert.  That is, what if people were encouraged to think for themselves?  Would civilization crumble?  Or would it flourish in ways that no-one can predict?

The starting-point for this project must be something that is available to anyone that is close at hand, that is within the grasp of anyone who wants to think for themselves.  There must be no expertise required!  Sometimes it is called “common sense” although that is an ambiguous term.  I prefer to all it high-level thinking in contrast to the detail-level thinking that requires special education or experience.

One of the problems that experts are prone to is seeing the trees but not the forest – missing the larger picture because they are focused on details.  Of course, they can retort that the amateur sees the forest but not the trees, meaning they make mistakes by overlooking important details.  Agreed; there are potential problems either way.  In taking a high-level approach, we shall have to take care to avoid hasty generalizations and mistaken identifications.

This is the task of philosophy.  With nothing more than a love of wisdom and a curious mind, we launch out to gain sufficient understanding to live wisely – that is, to gain wisdom.

One method to approach a question is to look at extreme answers in order to frame the issue.  In common experience, extremes are rare so we make expect to find answers somewhere in between.

2009

Social libertarianism

The term “social libertarian” is an ambiguous term.  Some have used it to mean a political philosophy that is socialist on most issues except certain matters which are considered private (e.g., a candidate for Minnesota Governor, Scott Raskiewicz).  That is a primarily socialist position.

Here the term “social libertarian” indicates someone who is primarily libertarian but who acknowledges the importance of social institutions and the role that government can play to strengthen them without controlling them.  It might be called social framework political philosophy.

Libertarianism is considered the opposite of political authoritarianism.  Its basic principle is “the obligation not to aggress against anyone.”  This is the Harm Principle of J. S. Mill.  It is a purely negative principle that says little about what libertarianism would do in practice other than repeal laws.

The social framework position says that the purpose of government is to establish and maintain a framework for society.  This framework consists of legal structures, judicial rules, and policies designed to promote the welfare of the society as individuals and as a whole.  The state should not usurp the functions of society; it should support them.

There are only a few roles that are proper for the state: justice, defense, and diplomacy.  Beyond that the state should develop frameworks that society can use.  For example, instead of the state directly building and operating schools, the state should provide a framework in the tax structure so schools can afford to exist and parents can afford to send their children to school.  Instead of the state directly building and operating health care facilities, the state should provide a legal framework so hospitals can afford to exist, health insurance companies can stay in business, and people can afford to pay for health care.

Here is another example of this framework approach, this time concerning a very contentious issue: the state and marriage.  In the U.S. and other Western nations a religious dispute is taking place about marriage.  The focus is the issues of same-sex marriage but it also has to do with divorce.  It is a mistake for the state to step in and “solve” this religious dispute.  It will only exacerbate a religious conflict and undermine political cohesion.

The solution is for the state to step back from deciding who is married and who is not and let religious and social organizations take care of that.  Apart from minimal requirements of age and not being married to another person, the state should merely be the official recorder of marital status.  The marital status is condition of being single, married, or divorced and, if married, the person to whom one is married to.  It also includes the disposition of children and property if there is a divorce.

The transactions of marrying and divorcing should rest with religious and social organizations recognized by the state who have basic characteristics such as these: (1) they have written criteria and procedures they follow for making changes in the marital status of anyone; (2) they notify the state within 10 days if they make a change to the marital status of anyone; (3) they obtain if possible the consent of all parties involved to make a change in their marital status.  All changes in marital status include the disposition of children and property if there is a divorce.

Every time the state is informed by a recognized organization that they have made a change in the marital status the state records the change and the organization that informed them of the change of marital status.  This gives that organization jurisdiction over the marriage should there be any issue that arises.  If a married couple wants a different organization to have jurisdiction over their marriage, they may do so at any time if there is mutual consent.

The state does not recognize a marriage which involves anyone already married unless the state has been informed that there has been a divorce.  If the state is informed of a divorce by a different organization than the one that informed it of the marriage, the state informs the first organization of the change in status and the change in jurisdiction, too.

If both spouses want a divorce, the organization with jurisdiction is available to determine the matter.  The organization must follow its own written procedures but apart from that is under no legal obligation to grant a divorce.  If only one spouse wants a divorce, the organization with jurisdiction is available to adjudicate the matter.  If and only if the written procedures of the organization at the time the couple were married allow for contested divorce, may the organization perform a divorce and then only by following said procedures.  There is no appeal of the organization’s decisions unless there is flagrant disregard of their own written procedures.

The purpose of all this is (1) to get the state out of the business of deciding who is and who isn’t married, and (2) to strengthen the role of non-governmental organizations in society.

2010

Hegemonic scholastic Darwinism

Science historian John Schuler speaks of “hegemonic scholastic Aristotelianism” during the Middle Ages – lets unpack this a bit:

hegemonic – it dominated society and excluded opposition

scholastic – it resided in the schools, the universities that arose in the Middle Ages

Aristotelianism – it is related to Aristotle’s writings

Hegemonic scholastic Aristotelianism declined with the growth in modernizing movements – the Renaissance, the Reformation, modern science – and alternatives arose – mechanistic thought, scientistic philosophy – until the 19th century when universities increasingly became science-based, government-funded institutions as science became professionalized and grew in prestige.  Latin gave way to the vernacular as education was increasingly democratized.

There is something about universities that inclines them toward a common mindset.  Who will criticize you if you teach the conventional wisdom?  Universities are bastions of academic conformity which today means Darwinism, evolutionism, naturalism, and increasingly atheism.

So in the late-modern/post-modern era we have hegemonic scholastic Darwinism:

hegemonic – it dominates society and excludes opposition

scholastic – it resides in the schools, the universities in particular

Darwinism – it is somehow related to Darwin’s writings

This brings to mind the French saying, translated as “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

June 2014

Academic conformity

It seems that when science in the 19th century separated from philosophy and joined the university curriculum on its own that science came to be subject to the same pressures that other academic subjects deal with.  That includes the pressure to conform.  Why conformity?  If you’re a knowledge institution, there are two things you don’t want to say to your students: (1) we don’t know or (2) we can’t agree with each other.  If either of these are true, the academic institution will lose credibility.  (You also can’t write a dissertation that concludes we don’t know.)

So every academic institution says “we know” and (to a great extent) “we agree with each other” and presents a united front to the students and public.  Of course academics have their squabbles but they mostly concern who gets credit and arcane matters that no one else cares about.

Can this lead to a stultification of knowledge?  Yes, and there is precedent for that — Scholasticism.  The Scholastics became dogmatic Aristotelians (Aristotle would not have approved).  They did some wonderful things especially in logic (specialists are still trying to figure out their fine distinctions).  But they became dogmatic and wouldn’t allow different approaches so much that the early modern scientists rebelled and became rabid anti-Scholastics (they over-reacted in my opinion).

The same thing is happening today.  It may also be related to political correctness in general but the pressure to conform is strong in all academic subjects, including the sciences.  Hence Darwin doubters, global warming doubters, etc. are unwelcome in academia.

Outside the academy there is still freedom of thought.  For now.

July 2014