Jan 30

"But they don’t really believe in freedom — freedom to. They believe in freedom from.”

(positive vs. negative liberty, yay)

Dec 14

I’m not the person to comprehend the emotion associated with the typical communal social reaction to events like today’s. …We “feel”, but none of us “comprehend”. But, hopefully, I can offer suggestion as to what could (again — “hopefully”) come next.

A discussion.

I don’t think I have a stance—a coherent one—on gun laws. There should be laws, but we do have that looming Amendment in the room. I think I like the Swiss model (of lots of things), but I’ve never really debated it. I’m pro-… something, but I haven’t really defined it.

We need to have a discussion about something. About what it means to “keep and bear arms” and form “militias” because it’s “necessary to the security of a free state”. And we need to talk about what it means when one side says it’s about the Constitution and the other side says it’s about… today.

We need to be able to come back from this vapid, partisan posturing—as soon as that’s over—and start talking again. Because there are some pretty important things that we are apparently getting wrong. There are, quite frankly, other things on our agenda.

Because… well, today happened.

Nov 13

sword and sworcery

Here is a paradox: two men’s beliefs can be equally true, but not equally valuable, even though they are beliefs about the goodness or badness of something. […] The sick man dislikes what he tastes, and will be glad when the doctor, as we should say, restores his normal appreciation of good food or, as Protagoras would have it, makes his unpleasant food both seem and be pleasant to him. But with moral values the case is different. If what a city thinks just and fine is just and fine for it so long as it thinks so, it will not want its views or its laws changed nor, one would have thought, ought they to be changed.

Earlier, Guthrie discussed the “might makes right” natural laws (physis) of Callicles and Antiphon. And I see unity at this point, for if natural “good” triumphs (as, by might, it most presumably would) then it would expand its hold, its influence, it’s societal base.

Ah, but society isn’t swayed by the sword alone. Enter the sophists, in all their hubris. When Protagoras (and pretty much anyone who has or will ever quote him) says that man is the the measure of all things, suppose we consider it contextually. Suppose we take it to mean, as is fairly obvious, that what a man considers good is good for that man — not simply that “I like candy; candy is good for me” but more “I value truth, even though I hurt myself by lying”; a long-term moral system, regardless of whether the man is virtuous enough to stick to it. (For bonus points: this is also perfectly existentialist.) Protagoras, as a sophist, was in the business of teaching rhetoric; apart from Plato’s dialogues, we don’t have much of an idea as to the degree of Protagoras’s use of rhetoric. Specifically, I’m curious as to his use of rhetoric with his students.

Because if you’re teaching morality and then equipping your students to do the same, that’s some serious proselytization. Protagoras was very clear as to whence ariseth “good”, and he was well equipped to promote his “good” in just this way — without the sword.

Consider cultural assimilation — if you have a democracy next door to a monarchy, there will be an interchange of ideas such that one or both will be undermined. Or perhaps there’s some equilibrium wherein the democracy is full of strong leaders and informed citizens, and the monarch is strong and backed by competent loyalists. But if that’s disturbed — by a cycle of elections or successions or the like — that cultural interchange will pressure a change.

Or, even more bluntly — look at the US military in the Middle East: it was a pretty decisive victory. At least, by the sword. But, culturally, it’s been a complete mess.

It seems pretty clear to me that, on that next level, a “good” system is one that propagates and solidifies (as in “solidarity”, not… “brittle” and “rigid”) its ideals, its morals, its “good”. And it must be able to stand the test of both physics and ideas. You can’t have a “good” society that’s physically weak (think “health”); it can’t be morally weak either. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not interested in silencing dissension — I’m interested in answering it, in building a system that is increasingly unassailable. …Er, not militarily.

Of course, “morality” is vague… and I think that, in my exploration, maybe I’ve evolved it to the point where I should just abandon that word for all its ambiguity. But I haven’t found another just yet. Maybe it’s just “order” — the lack of contradiction. Or “justice” — order with some degree of explicit rules, “fairness”, etc. I don’t know.

And it drives me… misanthropic… to not hear everyone wondering the same.

Oct 21

Emily Bazelon is back on the Colbert Report. She discusses the possible future of Affirmative Action with Stephen in a humorous and thoughtful way…. There should be much more of this.

Oct 18

Ms. Freeland discusses the plutocratic/neoliberal view that individuals spend their money more effectively than “the government”, also mentioning how globalization has led to the subjugation of the global “99%” as the new source of industrial labor. She addresses how our “winner-take-all” culture has turned affluence into a rival good, directly undermining the social webbing of our society.

Oct 15

The only words which Aristotle here ascribes to Lycophron as a description of law are ‘a guarantor of men’s rights against one another’[….] The limitation of the law to the negative role of protecting the citizens against each other had been put forward earlier as an ideal by Hippodamus[….] In his ideal state he would allow three indictable offenses only, which may be translated as insult, injury (to person or property) and murder. […] Lycophron and Hippodamus  would have agreed with J. S. Mill that the only purpose for which law could rightly be enforced against a member of the community was to prevent harm to others; his own good, physical or moral, was not sufficient warrant. In Aristotle’s eyes this ignores the real purpose of political association, which is to ensure not simply life but the good life. He would have sided with Lord Simonds, who in 1962 pronounced it ‘the supreme and fundamental purpose of the law to conserve not only the safety and order but also the moral welfare of the State’, and his general conception would be close to that of Lord Devlin, that ‘what makes a society is a community of ideas, not political ideas alone but also ideas about the way its members should behave and govern their lives’.

Guthrie, The Sophists

Oct 07

At the end of the 20th century, outside the U.S., age of consent laws were expanded to include same-sex acts, due in part to growing tolerance of homosexuality and desire to reach those at risk of AIDS. In the first half of the 20th century, all the European nations, other than Italy and Turkey, that had followed the Napoleonic code in treating heterosexual and homosexual acts alike had recriminalized homosexual acts, either establishing a total ban or an age of consent higher than that for heterosexual acts. In the last quarter of the century, arguments that boys developed later and needed to be older to appreciate the social consequences of homosexual acts began to fade.

Stephen Robertson, “Age of Consent Laws

We can educate people about causal relationships — that’s why, at some point, we accept that a child can cross the road by himself… successfully. At some point, we let children use knives. Etc. etc.

In many countries, sex isn’t a normal topic of conversation. It’s not “taboo”, it’s just “mature”. Which is shit, obviously. I posit that we trust ourselves so little in the face of pleasure vs. restraint, we pass on that insecurity. We societize that insecurity, much as many places have societized homosexual stigmas.

We shit in these recesses of society. We try not to talk about those piles of shit. They don’t get cleaned up in any respectable length of time. And then we legislate around them.

Oct 02

That there is a difference of mood and emphasis between the two poets no one could deny. It cannot be explained on chronological grounds, yet in a way they do stand for two generations, because Euripides was so much more attracted that Sophocles to the modern, sophistic currents of thought. Like Protagoras, he knew that there were two sides to every question, and he enjoyed as much as Hippias the ‘contest of words’ in which his characters indulge. The debate between Theseus and the herald as to whether the dead warriors should be buried develops into a set piece on absolute monarchy versus democracy. Although it is clear where Euripides’s sympathies lie, the herald is no caricature of a bombastic tyrant’s minion, but an accomplished sophist and orator. My city, he says, has no use for mob-rule. No one can sway it this way or that by playing on its vanity, pleasing it for the moment but in the long run harming it. Since a whole demos cannot judge arguments correctly, how can it direct a city? Education takes time, and even if a labouring man is no fool, his work prevents him from giving proper attention to public affairs. (Why have these arguments a familiar ring? Is it Socrates in the Gorgias who complains that orators in a democracy lay theselves out to flatter the demos rather thna tell it what will be for its good, and Socrates again who said, like Hume, that ‘poverty and hard labour debase the minds of the common people’ and unfit them for politics, which was a matter for trained experts.) Failure (continues the herald) to comply with Creon’s demands means war. You may hope to win: hope has been the cause of many a conflict. Everyone thinks that its misfortunes will fall on others, not himself. […] If, when the vote is taken, each citizen could visualize his own death in battle, Greece would be safe from war-madness. We all know how much better peace is than war, yet we renounce it in our lust to enslave one another, as men and as cities. A wise man thinks of his children, his parents, and the safety of his country. A rash leader is a danger: true courage lies in forethought.

Guthrie, The Sophists

Sep 12

It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.

- Mitt Romney

The news is abuzz with partisan posturing and commentary about partisan posturing and feelings about the commentary about partisan posturing. What he said, what she meant, and the like. People are dead. And these United States are still at war with… well, reality.

I can’t imagine Obama sympathizing with the attackers. Not just from the perspective of “bad politics”: beyond that, I don’t gauge him to be interested in sympathizing with the type of people we hold responsible.

But I will.

I will sympathize with their ignorance. I will sympathize with their lack of direction. And with their confused, objectless rage. With their knuckle-dragging hatred. Their backward convictions. Their narrow view of life.

We must listen. We must learn. And, in time, we must teach. What else can we do? Kill?

How well has that been working for us?

Sep 06

In Hershey, Pennsylvania, a woman in her late thirties approached us. She asked for the names of some people she could talk to, because she felt alone and isolated. Her neighbors have been polarized by politics masquerading as values. She cares about the well-being of the people in her community. She wishes they, and the rest of the nation, would listen to one another with kindness and compassion. Listen to one another rather than yell at each other. I told her then, and I tell her now, that she is not alone.

- Sister Simone Campbell

That’s not politics, sister. That’s partisanship.

That’s what we’re left with when we forget that the thing that makes values so goddamn important in the first place is our investment in them. When we forget that values aren’t something that you’re handed; they’re not some list scrawled on a note card that you pass around. They’re something you develop.

And regardless of whether they’re rationally grounded (or even understood), they’re personally felt. They inform our feelings. They define who we are. They are the basis of politics. But for now, we’re left with those note cards. And we’re left with the yelling. And we’re left with those inauthentic feelings, that ignorant indignation at non-realities that’s perpetuated in an external haze that suppresses the apparent need for individual thinking.

And for individual feeling.