iSoul In the beginning is reality.

Category Archives: Relating

Relating as persons: psychology, society, politics

Fact, value, and science

The modern distinction between fact and value goes back to David Hume who argued that “is” does not imply “ought” — there is no way to get from facts to values. This contrasts with the Aristotelian philosophy in which everything has a nature so that what something is and what it ought to be is defined by its nature. For example, the nature of an acorn is to become an oak tree; if allowed to, that is what will happen — and that is what ought to happen because that is its nature.

It is commonly said today that science discovers facts whereas values come from ethics, politics or religion. This is the basis for Stephen Jay Gould’s concept of non-overlapping magesteria dividing science and religion. But do scientists and leading scientific organizations actually respect this divide?

It is often forgotten (or purposely suppressed) that leading scientists and scientific organizations promoted euthanasia before World War II. During the Cold War the Union of Concerned Scientists, founded in 1969, advocated for disarmament and other policies while promoting its scientific status. Climate scientists have been openly political, shrouding their policy advocacy with the mantle of science. The social sciences and psychology have openly thrown their lot in with the political Left.

Scientists are entitled to their personal views but the fact is that scientists and scientific organizations do not respect a fact-value distinction and avoid policy matters in their science.

 

Politics Left and Right

The political Left and Right began with the French National Constituent Assembly of 1789. The Left supported the revolution and democracy, the Right opposed the revolution and supported the aristocracy, and the Democratic Royalists supported a constitutional monarchy. Today there is no aristocratic Right to speak of, at least not in countries such as America. In Britain a constitutional monarchy holds sway in tradition but is politically irrelevant to their democracy. In effect only the Left and democracy remain in the Western world.

The terms Left and Right have evolved over time. The Left came to be identified with socialism, Marxism and organized labor, supported by the social gospel. The Right came to be identified with free enterprise and patriotism, supported by traditional religion. The New Left that arose in the 1960s and 1970s emphasized libertinism, pacifism, and egalitarianism. Non-Left political positions are more varied today: from libertarian to “minitarian” (anti-big business/government) to “corporatarian” (pro-business of any size) to traditionalism.

The basic Left-Right political axis is between egalitarian and libertarian. Political equality cannot be achieved without some loss of liberty, and liberty leads to unequal distributions of wealth and income. So they tend to be trade-offs. The Left is also pushing for extreme equality in which differences such as sex are socially denied. The Right has yet to mount a counter to this extreme egalitarianism.

There are cultural differences between Left and Right, too. The Left is more open to a feeling, people-oriented view while the Right is comfortable with principles and precepts. This works in a negative way, too: the Left attacks people who hold “politically incorrect” views whereas the Right attacks principles that are unrealistic or antitraditional.

Authorizing legislation

Congress passes a bill to authorize a government program and expenditure of funds before passing an appropriations bill to approve the expenditure of funds. Authorization bills cover multiple years (such as 3 or 6) whereas appropriations are usually annual. Some programs such as so-called entitlements do not follow this process.

One advantage of periodic authorizations is that they allow Congress to make changes to programs. While they can always do so, the difficulty in passing legislation makes it unlikely to happen unless a bill must be passed because an authorization is about to expire. I wrote about a similar situation with the difficulty of repealing legislation here.

I suggest a Constitutional amendment to require authorization bills at least every 12 years. This would ensure that Congress revisits every program at least that often. Without this requirement it is difficult to end programs that no longer are needed; they continue because the process of repealing them is too difficult. But if an authorization expires, there is nothing for Congress to do but to let it expire.

Trust and know

Augustine of Hippo wrote crede, ut intelligas, “believe so that you may understand” (Tract. Ev. Jo., 29.6), which contrasts with what many want to do, that is, understand so they may believe. Both of these have their place but the point of Christian faith is to trust that we may trust more.

Christian faith is in the first place trust in Christ. This trust is like the trust that people can have for each other. As one way this is expressed is by trusting the words of the other person, so Christian faith trusts the words of Christ. Christians trust that Christ came from God the Father and expresses God’s will so they trust the Word of God expressed by and in Christ.

How do we trust someone? Don’t we have to know them perfectly first in order to trust them? Some people are very suspicious of others and seemingly cannot trust anyone. For them trust may begin with very small steps. They can start by trusting someone on a very minor manner and find out if the person is worthy of a little trust. If the person is worthy of a small amount of trust, they can gradually increase their trust more and more.

This can be done with the words of Christ, too. One can start with a single sentence and trust it as one trusts the words of a faithful friend. This is a small step, not a leap. It should not be a leap in the dark or blind faith if one has at all heard the claims of Christ and how they have been defended.

Experience is a teacher though not the easiest teacher. It is best if one can trust the words of a teacher without trying to discover everything on one’s own. However, some experience is valuable in order to fully understand and remember a lesson. That is why teachers use exercises to get their point across.

It is sad that so many attack the Christian faith by attacking blind faith or a leap in the dark. They are wasting their time. Christian faith is never blind, never a leap, but always a step, and a step that is not alone but accompanied by the Spirit of God and the prayers of the faithful.

The result is knowledge, not of abstractions or practicalities but of a person, Jesus the Christ who presents the Father who sent him and the Spirit who is sent by him. This is a great mystery on the outside but a great friendship on the inside. Come join us.

Word to the wise

This is not intended to be a political blog, but sometimes a warning message needs to be given about where things are going. We don’t like to think our lives will be interrupted by national or international events, but that has happened to many if not most people in the past and there’s no reason why we should be exempt. I see three great dangers now and in the next several years:

1. Terrorism. In a way this is obvious since it gets much news but two aspects make it especially dangerous now: (a) The reluctance of political leaders to tackle the root causes, and (b) the continual morphing of the means of terrorism. These ensure that a half-hearted effort will fail, which is what we continue to see as politicians focus on their domestic agenda. Another 9-11 or worse is all but certain.

2. Dictatorship. We in America have thought we were immune from dictatorship but it is happening before our eyes. This is not a Left vs. Right or political party issue. It is a Constitutional government vs. Dictatorial government issue. It started with the judicial usurpation of politics which has been going on for decades. See here. Now we’re seeing the executive usurpation of politics with the Obama administration taking advantage of — and promoting — legislative stalemate in order to justify stepping in without legislative authorization. And they’re getting away with it.

3. Nuclear war. I grew up during the Cold War when it seemed that mutually assured destruction (MAD) was all that kept the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. from nuclear war. It didn’t happen that way and one reason was that the Communists were rational people, even though they were immoral. But the rise of Vladimir Putin is different: he has no ideology but only his own instincts and desire for power. If he thinks he can win a nuclear war with Europe or the U.S., he is the kind of man that might risk it. That and the proliferation of nuclear weapons makes the likelihood of nuclear war higher now than during the Cold War.

The prudent person sees trouble ahead and hides, but the naive continue on and suffer the consequences. Proverbs 2:23

You have been warned.

Capitalism and socialism

Wikipedia notes: The initial usage of the term capitalism in its modern sense has been attributed to Louis Blanc [a socialist] in 1850 and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon [an anarchist] in 1861. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels referred to the capitalistic system (kapitalistisches System) and to the capitalist mode of production (kapitalistische Produktionsform) in Das Kapital (1867). The use of the word “capitalism” in reference to an economic system appears twice in Volume I of Das Kapital, p. 124 (German edition), and in Theories of Surplus Value, tome II, p. 493 (German edition). Marx did not extensively use the form capitalism, but instead those of capitalist and capitalist mode of production, which appear more than 2600 times in the trilogy Das Kapital.

In short, socialists invented capitalism, which is to say, they invented an ideology as a foil for their ideology. Once we step outside the ideology of socialism we do not find the ideology capitalism but instead economic liberty and attempts to deny economic liberty. Socialism is an ideology which (among other things) attempts to deny economic liberty and in its place implement an ideology called socialism.

Ideologies are inherently idealist in the philosophical sense of asserting that reality is mental or immaterial. Most ideologues are idealists as the words would imply, but some – notably Karl Marx – claimed to be materialists. Either way, ideologies are inherently anti-realist.

Realists (at least as realists) do not promote ideologies but instead independent realities that are discovered, not invented. Economic liberty was gradually discovered and matured into modern markets and finance. Over time it is inevitable that some people will accumulate more wealth than others as long as economic liberty allows people to express their talents and inclinations. That can cause social problems which may legitimate state intervention.

That is not an endorsement of the ideology socialism but a recognition of the complementarity of liberty and equality in society. A realist response on how to reconcile these two priorities would follow a dialectic of complementarity to find a satisfactory mean between the extremes. Instead what many societies are dealing with is a dialectic of contradiction which tries for an extreme of liberty or (more often) equality alone. This is a prescription for instability, unsustainability, and worse.

Consensus science

Michael Crichton, a well-known scientist and author, delivered the Caltech Michelin Lecture on January 17, 2003. He entitled it “Aliens Cause Global Warming” which criticized what is called “consensus science” starting with SETI. A few excerpts:

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled.

He went on:

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

Read more →

Midocracy

The problems with the two extremes of government are well known. Monarchy, oligarchy, aristocracy, plutocracy, and the like are all forms of government in which one person or a small group of people have almost all the authority, land, power, wealth, etc. The problem is that either they are not necessarily wise or competent or benevolent so that the resulting government is generally corrupt and serves the self-interest of the few rather than the interest of the many.

On the other hand the problems of democracy are also well-known, even if they are forgotten or over-shadowed by ideals of egalitarianism or libertarianism. As the ancient Greek democracies show, people exploit the public purse for private purposes, until bankruptcy ends the game. Unfortunately, poor people are inclined to vote for those who give them the most rather than consider the interest of the whole.

The solution to this lacks a word, so I’ll invent one: midocracy, rule of the middle class. The richest and most powerful people should be excluded from voting and ruling since their self-interest is too much for perpetuating their dominance rather than considering the welfare of the whole. The poorest and least powerful people should also be excluded from voting and ruling since their self-interest is too much for undermining the higher classes and impoverishing the whole.

The solution is to let the middle class alone vote and rule. Their interests are balanced between maintaining stability while allowing some change and using of the public purse for some public purposes. The middle class is the most balanced between stability and change, spending and saving, private and public interests. A healthy middle class is the best guarantee of freedom and justice, peace and prosperity for the long term.

Repealing legislation

The Founders did “better than they knew” when writing the U.S. Constitution. They wisely separated the legislative, executive, and judicial powers. They also wisely made the legislature bicameral with an executive veto to make new laws difficult to enact. However, now that many, many laws have been passed, we can see that the difficulty in enacting legislation makes it difficult to repeal legislation, too.

A case in point is the Affordable Care Act (ACA), officially the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare. This was passed by a thin margin in March 2010 and immediately became an issue in the 2010 Congressional elections. In November the electorate spoke and many Representatives lost their seats. In January 2011 the newly-elected House of Representatives voted to repeal the ACA. However, the Senate did not agree and the President would have vetoed it anyway.

But the fact remains that after the electorate changed the make-up of Congress, the ACA would not have been enacted. In short, the electorate was denied the opportunity to repeal a law once enacted. Why? Because a repeal of a law is treated as a law and laws are difficult to enact. One result of this is that laws accumulate on the books and are modified but rarely repealed.

The solution to this is to make repeal of a law less difficult than enacting a law in the first place. This is consistent with making new laws difficult to enact, so the status quo is privileged over change without a consensus for change. However, a law enacted years ago may have led to many things that would be impossible to undo so there should be a limit to how long a law may be repealed without passing a new law.

A simple amendment would be to allow either chamber of Congress to repeal a law by majority vote within two years of its enactment. That would allow one Congressional election cycle for the electorate to speak. New laws would effectively have a two-year probationary period, something that is often done in other situations such as new employment.

Sex and marriage

Human beings certainly have a greater variation of behavior than other kinds of organisms but that should not obscure the existence of norms. The norm for human beings is monogamy: a marriage of one man and one woman. The existence of variations from that norm and failures to adhere to the norm do not invalidate the norm. Monogamy is rooted in biological, social, historical, legal, religious, and moral realities. There is nothing unfair or unjust about monogamy. It is fully justified, rational, and moral.

‘Sexual’ is a biological term that refers to the way a species reproduces. Sexual reproduction means reproduction by two members of a species who are of different types (called sexes), one male and one female. Other animal species also reproduce sexually. Some plants are asexual, meaning each member has the means to reproduce alone.

The term ‘heterosexual’ is a redundancy. ‘Hetero’ means ‘other’ or ‘different’ but that is just what sexual reproduction means so ‘heterosexual’ means the same as ‘sexual’. The term ‘homosexual’ is a contradiction in terms. ‘Homo’ means ‘same’ so ‘homosexual’ would mean reproduction by two members of the same sex, which is not sexual reproduction. So it is self-contradictory or means something like ‘anti-sexual’.

Polygamy is a primitive form of marriage that allows more than one man and/or more than one woman in marriage. So-called same-sex marriage is thus a form of polygamy. This is not progress–it is a turn toward primitive ways. Since marriage is foundational for societies, this indicates that modern societies are betting the farm on sexual tomfoolery.