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Please email me at matt@wmbriggs.com before sending books to be reviewed.

August 9, 2018 | 31 Comments

Despite What You Heard, The Death Penalty Is Legitimate. Feser and Bessette’s “By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment”

Because, very oddly, there has been a changing of the catechism from the constant and ancient teaching (“the pope is distracting the world with fresh meat for the spirit of the age. He tinkers with words for applause…”), it is important to revisit this topic. See also Feser’s older very strong comments on the subject, and then read his newest even stronger words.

Sometime in the mid-1990s in Colombia, Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos lured a 6-year-old boy into an isolated spot and sodomized and murdered him. There were bite marks and other evidence of “prolonged torture” found on the boy’s body. The boy’s head was discovered some distance from his torso; the boy’s penis was severed and stuffed into the corpse’s mouth. This act might have occurred while the boy still lived.

Cubillos, unaffectionately known as La Bestia (The Beast), confessed to the crime.

He also confessed to a second crime where he sodomized and tortured a young boy to death. And then a third. And a fourth. And fifth, sixth, seventh, …

Altogether, La Bestia admitted to sodomizing, maiming, torturing, and murdering 147 boys, but he admitted his memory was hazy, and some say the real total approaches 300.

Cubillos was arrested, tried, and found guilty of murdering (only) 138. Colombia’s constitution says “The right to life is inviolable. There will be no death penalty.” That same merciful attitude is responsible for the country forbidding lifetime imprisonments, too.

In 2006, the Superior Court of Bogotá reduced Cubillos’s sentence from 30 years to 22 because of a technicality. He is due to be released in 2021, though, if I understand correctly, with good behavior he can be out by 2018. La Bestia will be 61 in 2018.

Many Catholics would say that the mercy shown to Cubillos represents a true “pro-life” position, and that those who say Cubillo should be executed say so only because they themselves are “eager to kill” and are “bent on maximizing killing no matter what”.

The official stance of the Catholic Church, however, as reinforced by some 2,000 years of teaching, is that the death penalty can be, has been, and continues to be, a just punishment. In the case of Cubillos, it is surely his due. Scheduling his execution, offering him the sacraments, and then speedily carrying out the sentence is the best chance La Bestia has to save his soul. As it now appears (though only God knows), Cubillos is on a blood-greased slide to Hell.

I do not want to make light of this, but it is better than a good bet that unless Cubillos after his release is restrained by illness or circumstance or he is not killed or otherwise incapacitated by vigilantes, La Bestia will kill again. That blood, if God forbid it should flow, will be on the heads of those authorities who refused their Christian duty.

Why Capital Punishment?

Enter By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment by Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette, a book so thorough and so relentless that it is difficult to imagine anybody reading it and coming away unconvinced by the lawfulness and usefulness of capital punishment.

Whether to hang any man is in each case a matter of prudential judgement, because the circumstances surrounding any crime always varies. Two Catholics can disagree whether Cubillos should be executed, but that execution might be a just punishment is a question long settled. Which makes you wonder why some, including members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), say things like “human life is sacred…[which] compels us as Catholics to oppose…the use of the death penalty.”

Capital punishment is a theorem of the natural law, a philosophy which the Church “strongly affirms” (and which is well examined in the book). “Moreover, since it arises from a natural inclination, the tendency to punish is a virtue, so long as it is motivated by justice, say, rather than hatred,” a position held by inter alia St Thomas Aquinas, who (as quoted by Feser and Bessette) says, “Vengeance is not essentially evil and unlawful”.

Punishment should fit the crime—the legal phrase is lex talionis—which flows from the principle of proportionality.

The restoration of what Aquinas calls “the equality of justice” by inflicting on the offender a harm proportionate to his offense is known as retribution, and it one of the three traditional purposes of punishment, the others being correction or rehabilitation of the offender and the deterrence of those tempted to commit the same crimes the offender has. Other purposes are incapacitation…and restitution.

To “deny proportionality is implicitly to deny desert, and thus implicitly to deny the legitimacy of punishment.” Cursed be he that withholdeth his sword from blood (Jer 40:10).

Aquinas says “the death inflicted by the judge profits the sinner, if he be converted, unto the expiation of his crime; and, if he be not converted, it profits so as to put an end to the sin, because the sinner is thus deprive of the power to sin no more.”

Steven Goldberg makes the latter point in his When Wish Replaces Thought and Fads and Fallacies in the Social Sciences, pointing out the non-negligible frequency of murderers (including of guards) that take place in prison, and of those committed by criminals released who otherwise might have been executed. This argument is usually ignored by those who offer lifetime imprisonment as an alternative for executions.

Feser and Bessette acknowledge this argument. In one harrowing section, they list the gruesome crimes committed by the forty-three murderers executed in 2012 in the USA. Many are recidivists.

Take Robert Brian Waterhouse. In 1980, he beat a woman severely with a “hard instrument”, raped her, “assaulted her rectum with a large object, and stuffed her bloody tampon down her throat” and then drowned her. This was after he was released from prison for the murder of a seventy-seven-year-old woman; he served only eight years before being paroled. While in prison for the “twenty-one years and tens months” awaiting his execution, he “committed sexual battery on a cellmate”.

Or how about William Gerald Mitchell? He was “on parole…for the stabbing murder of a woman” when he brutally raped and murdered another woman, by “[running] over his victim several times with his car”. You could go on and on. Our authors do.

And this brings up a pretty point. We have all heard the media report upcoming executions, giving full voice to anti-death-penalty activists who usually attend these events. These reports go something like this (my summary, but the quotes are genuine):

Critics of the death penalty gathered outside State Prison to protest the upcoming execution of Luis Cubillos. Longtime prof-life advocate Father Mercyme, a priest in the Catholic Church, pleaded with the governor that the death penalty is “a violation of the sanctity of human life”, and that the state “is usurping the sovereign dominion of God over human life”. Cubillos was accused of a 1995 murder.

The media never gives the details of the crimes committed, because this, they rightly suspect, would lead listeners to conclude the criminal is getting what he deserved. (This is the same argument against showing the results of abortion victims.) Righteous anger is fled from, and effeminacy embraced. John Crysostom: “He who is not angry, where he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but even the good to do wrong.”

Common pro and con arguments

The death penalty is racist and discriminatory. It is. Whites are disproportionately executed over blacks (this knowledge may cause some to support capital punishment). (Blacks commit violent crimes at rates about eight times higher than whites.) But, I hasten to add, those on death row earned their punishment.

The death penalty does not deter. Please, no statistical arguments. I have yet to see any statistical evidence, for or against, that was not wrong-headed. Of course the death penalty deters. Everybody knows increasing the severity of a punishment leads to greater abatement of a crime. Why would not moving to the ultimate penalty prove the strongest deterrence (Goldberg makes the same argument)? Our authors supply anecdotes—which are perfectly acceptable evidence—of men who would have killed except that they were worried about getting the chair. Even just one instance of this is sufficient empirical proof of deterrence; fancy models are not needed. The penalty would do a greater job of deterrence were it not common knowledge that even for the worst crimes, the legal systems lets men stretch their day of judgment out for decades or forever (as it were).

Why not life imprisonment? For one, if “mercy” demands the cessation of executions, why does not mercy also demand, as in Colombia, the cessation of life imprisonment, or the cessation of any punishment at all? For another, violent (even demonic) men in prison who would otherwise be executed commit crimes. And see the next point about rehabilitation. The subject of how often the innocent are wrongly executed is a tangle, made so on purpose by those who want to exaggerate this rate. The authors delve into this thicket and clarity does emerge.

What we do not know is whether any innocent person was executed during this period. From 1977 through 2014, thirty-four American states executed 1,386 convicted murderers and the federal government another 3. Were any o these 1,389 actually innocent of the crimes for which they were sentenced to death? Although there is no way to know this with certainty, it seems likely that at most 1 or 2 innocent persons—and very possibly none at all—have been executed since the Furman decision of 1972…

In Wish Goldberg (p. 29) says “even the opponent of the death penalty who emphasizes wrongful executions is willing to sacrifice thousands of lives each year for the social advantages of motor vehicles.” And he reminds us that if the death penalty deters it saves lives.

The death penalty does not rehabilitate. Does it not? As everybody quotes, a hanging wonderfully concentrates the mind. In a wonderful section, the authors tell the story of repentance of several of the murderers on death row. Repentance, I say, the most important thing in any man’s life. All of us stand in need of it (at times), but those guilty of the worst crimes stand in greatest need. Concentration of the mind encourages salvation.

The death penalty encourages vengeance. Does all punishment encourage vengeance? If not, why not? The authors give a nice history and derivation of vengeance, incidentally, contrasting its old and new uses, and its distinction between retribution. In another terrific section, the authors write of the family members of victims, of their satisfaction of the punishment of the criminals, and of their forgiveness, too. The feeling that a debt has been paid, not only by the family members, but of the criminals and members of society, is great. When that feeling is missing, there is often despair. And vigilantism. When people lose hope of the government doing its job, they often take vengeance into their own hands.

The Church

There is no decent argument that the Church does not authorize use of the death penalty. It is true authorities lately have emphasized “mercy”, but mercy does not obviate capital punishment. And don’t forget “forgiveness and mercy presuppose that the offender really does deserve the punishment we refrain from inflicting.” What follows here is only the barest, briefest sketch of the vast wealth of material in the book. Experts on this subject may be assured that Feser and Bessette have covered every facet with the same assiduity of a lawyer preparing a Supreme Court brief.

First is scripture. God, you will remember, has warned that the potential punishments awaiting unrepentant sinners is far worse than the early shuffling off of this mortal coil. The threat of punishment (as we saw above) deters. And God said, “He who kills a man shall be put to death…” (Deut 19:11). And far from repudiating this law, Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets…I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Mt 5:17). “Then there is Romans 13:1–4, traditionally understood as a straightforward affirmation on the right of the state to execute criminals”.

The Fathers and Doctors of the Church supported the death penalty. Among the others, “Saint Jerome…says that ‘to punish murderers, the sacrilegious, and poisoners is not the shedding of blood, but the duty of the laws.'” The First Vatican Council decreed that “it is not permissible for anyone to interpret Holy Scripture…against the unanimous consent of the fathers.” And

…even those among the Fathers who were largely or wholly opposed in practice to capital punishment—and who thus had every incentive to try to find in Scripture or Tradition a warrant for an absolute condemnation of the practice—affirmed that capital punishment in principle morally legitimate…It is inconceivable that they could have been mistaken about this matter of moral principle, given the authority of the Church has always attributed to them…

The Catechism agrees on the licit nature of capital punishment, “not only in order to ‘protect the innocent’ but also to ‘punish the guilty’ and ‘avenge…crime'” (ellipsis original). And so do the popes agree—including even Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Francis. Yes, even Pope Francis, about whom our duo says, “Given the obscurity and lack of precision in some of Pope Francis’ remarks…” which is all the quotation I believe this audience requires, except to add that Francis’s words are “plausibly read as having rhetorical rather than doctrinal import.” Whether plausible or not, that’s the way they have to be read to keep his thoughts in line with the constant teaching of the Church.

Now it’s true that the USCCB has waded into the debate implying that the “‘values of the Gospel’ are contrary to the use of the death penalty” (where have we heard that language before?), but these good men forgot to mention the possibility of Hell. Feser and Bessette show that “every element of the bishop’s case against the death penalty fails, including their scriptural interpretations, their moral and philosophical arguments, and their understanding of the practical effects of capital punishment.”

The End

The authors are correct when they say “we now find ourselves in the rather odd situation in which the majority of churchmen appear to be against the death penalty but Catholic teaching is not. This is a recipe for massive confusion among the faithful.” Worse, if we do not execute our worst criminals,

Society will lose sight, first of the idea of proportionality, then of the idea of desert, and finally of the idea of punishment itself. And when the idea of punishment goes, the very idea of justice will go with it, replaced by a therapeutic or technocratic model that treats human beings as cases to be managed and socially engineered than as morally responsible persons. Nothing less is at stake in the death-penalty debate.

And so let us remind ourselves, as do the authors in their last word, of Genesis 9:16, Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

July 25, 2018 | 2 Comments

Trading Places: Aleksandr Dugin’s Putin vs Putin — Guest Post by Ianto Watt

I used to subscribed to The Jerusalem Post. Then I realized that I could get the real news a lot quicker by buying subscriptions to the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal. Those two publications represent the real heart of the Labor/Likud dichotomy that governs Israel, and much of the rest of the world. After all, there is a war going on within the heart of Israel. A war that has been going on since Masada in 73 AD, and then Simon Bar Kokhba in 132 AD. And all of it started with the golden calf of Aaron in the Sinai desert.

This war has been going on ever since. The war between Rabbi’s Hillel and Shammai. Between the liberal version of the Talmud versus the conservative (for want of a better word) edition of the Talmud. This is a war of words. A war of meanings. A war of technique. But at heart, they both agree, because the stated goal of both sides is Tikkun Olam, i.e. ‘the repairing of the world’.

Both sides have always agreed that the way to ‘repair’ the (Gentile) world is revolution (war). Therefore, the real issue between Hillel and Shammai has always been, what’s the proper dosage? War, or more war?

Now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with anything today. And especially as it relates to Emperor Donald. And especially to my claim, in my first post on 21 July 2016 that Donald would win. And that he would then deliver the keys of the Empire to Vladimir Putin, the Emperor-in-waiting.

We know Donald won, of course. But is he actually trying to deliver the Empire to our ‘enemy’? And what does this have to do with Hillel and Shammai? Everything, Komrade.

Once Mosaic Judaism died with the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, it was replaced in the hearts of the remaining (that is, un-repentant) Jews with the disputations of the remaining Rabbi’s. These disputes (friendly or otherwise) between the Rabbis (exemplified by Rabbis Hillel and Shammai) were later codified into what we know as the Talmud. The Old Testament was replaced by the Oral Tradition. OT, replaced by OT. Here’s the beginning of the semantic twists that have befuddled the world unto today. The world where the Talmud corrects the Torah. Funny thing, that’s exactly what the Koran purports to do as well. But that’s another story.

These Talmudic disputations are played out before our very eyes still today, on the opposing op-ed pages of the NY Times (Hillel) and the Wall Street Journal (Shammai). Each side claims it will ‘repair the world’. Each side says “If only I ruled the world things would be better”. And this logic always leads to war. This dialectic clash is at the heart of the Talmud. The heart of every Empire.

Both sides, Neo-Con and Still-Left, agree on the root of the problem: Russia. And both sides are pushing for a war to eradicate ‘the problem’. The problem of Russia.

Let’s make a few basic assumptions and see if they can lead us to somewhere besides where we are today. And where we have been for a few thousand years. I’m not just speaking to the West. I’m speaking to the East as well. Both sides have been locked into their respective Imperial paradigms for at least a thousand years, and far more so in the West. The question now is this: must there be a war?

Can we agree that there is an actual Evil Empire? Let’s make assumption (as I have done in my book) that at this time in history there are actually two evil empires. This would not be unusual. Any quick review of history will show that there have been plenty of instances where there have been two (or more) empires at a given time. Rome and Parthia, for example.

If empires are made up of formerly independent kingdoms, then ’empire’ is another word for subjugation. Thus, according to my thinking, any empire is in this sense evil, as it is a negation of the freedom of subjected nations. Subjection to the rule of the Emperor, who has no particular care for the rights of his subject nations. Nations are legitimate entities. Empires are not. But that’s not to say God can’t use them for His purposes. Which, by the way, generally involves chastising errant nations. Like Israel. Like us?

Next, in spite of the MSM, let us assume another seemingly startling possibility, that the people of one empire are not necessarily hostile to the people of another empire. I’m referring to the little people, not their rulers and their apparatchiks. Do little-guy American really want to kill little-guy Russians? Do little-guy Russians really want to kill all Americans? No, but can they be led to do this? Yes, unfortunately, they can.

How does this unfortunate situation occur? Well, let’s make a further assumption, that there can be good men on each side who have been blinded to the difference between Man and God. In the West, let’s take Pat Buchanan as an example of a good man who faithfully served Emperor Nixon (although in all fairness, Pat has awakened to the duality of evil). Everything Pat said in the past about the Western Empire’s nemesis (Russia) was veritably true. His problem was that (until recently) he never looked into the proverbial mirror.

Let’s assume Buchanan has an Eastern counterpart. Let’s call him Aleksandr Dugin. And let’s attribute the same accomplishments (and failings) to him. He is, after all, the apparently close advisor to Vladimir Putin, the Eastern Emperor. Dugin is a man who has unfailingly pointed out, in his many books and articles, the hypocrisy of Western Emperors. Again, like Buchannan, almost all that Dugin says about the Western Empire is also very true. But he too is averse to mirrors.

Here is a funny thing about these two advisors to the opposed Emperors: they both embrace the true faith. Neither of them will shrink from the words ‘one, holy, catholic, and apostolic’. At least, as long as we don’t capitalize all four of these words. Alexander won’t go for that yet. But three out of four ain’t bad, eh? So far, at least.

Having said that, I think it behooves us to look more closely at Aleksandr Dugin. Because he has not had his epiphany yet. I’m not sure he will. Nevertheless, he is right in many ways as he tells the story as seen through Eastern eyes.

What is this story that Mr. Dugin recounts to Vlad? Never mind that the basic core of the story is true. And never mind that Vlad listens only because it satisfies his desire. His desire for Russia to rule all the world. Regardless of whether you believe Vlad sees himself as Tsar or Commissar, the result would be the same. Hegemony, writ large. Yes, this is the same desire any Western Emperor has. But I’m not yet convinced Donald really wants to be an Emperor. Plenty of his henchmen do. Likewise his political opponents.

The primary tale Dugin recounts is one that was first sung by a Westerner, Sir Halford Mackinder, the father of Geopolitics. The man who saw that all of Imperial history has been the struggle of the Sea People versus the Land People. Coastland versus Continent. Mackinder saw that the struggle between the two would be waged in the intermediate ‘Rimlands’ that separate the two. Think of Germany as it tried to fight both Empires in WWII.

Dugin, to his credit, understands this theory, and applies it to the historical perspective that he serves up to Vlad, in his attempts to get Vlad to act decisively in response to Western pressure. My only question here is this: is Vlad the freshman, or is Dugin? It will become clearer in time. In my mind, Vlad is no puppet of Dugin. Maybe somebody else’s puppet, but not Dugin’s. Vlad’s no saint either. Not yet, at least.

If you accept these thoughts of equally-evil Empires, served by equally devout good men who don’t realize they have been blinded by the evil of their opponents, you will have no friends left. But you will have an ecumenical gathering of enemies. And isn’t that what today is all about, Komrade—ecumenism? For a good example, look at how the mainstream Republican and Democratic operatives have all, in unison, denounced Donald for his refusal to call Russia ‘our enemy’.

Let’s look a little closer at Dugin, and his portrait of Vlad in his book Putin vs Putin. Focus on Dugin’s portrayal of Vlad as a man who is (or has been) indecisive. Yes, you read that correctly: indecisive. I know it’s a ridiculous assertion from a Western perspective. But bear with Dugin as he makes his uniquely Russian case.

Look back at Mackinder’s epiphany about the Land and the Sea, and the peoples thereon. Where else does this comparison occur in history quite a bit farther back in time? Well, pilgrim, who are the original Land people? And who are the original Sea people? Look no further than your Bible. For all of the ancient Fathers have taught that the Jews were the people of dry land, while the inchoate (Red) sea was representative of the Gentiles. The continent, versus the incontinent. The restrained versus the libertines. In the mind of all little Russians, who would Israel be today?

In this we see something interesting. Something that coincides with Dugin’s claim that Orthodox Russia has “been chosen by Divine Providence for a special mission. I do not draw a clear distinction between Orthodox messianism and the spirit of the Russian people; they are two sides of the same coin” (p. 61). Simply put, Russians like Dugin see Russia as the New Israel. Just as Buchannan used to see America as the new Israel.

Is Dugin unique to Russia? After all, he claims on the same page that “I am personally a strictly observant Orthodox Christian and wish you to be the same”. Earlier in the book he claims that Vlad was rumored to be (like himself) an Old Believer. That is, one whose beliefs are congruent with the times before Peter the Great. Who was, by their reckoning, the Anti-Christ. At least, as far as Russia was concerned. I contend that Dugin is correct: most (little) Russians see Putin as a man sent from God, to fulfill the Russian messianic role of saving all mankind.

What does Dugin say that ‘indecisive’ Putin must do in order to save Russia from the West? He says that Putin must quit dallying with social liberalism (from a marketplace perspective). And that he must fully embrace ‘traditionalism’ in both the values he espouses as well as the markets he rules.

Now we know all about the values Vlad touts. Pro-family, anti-gay. Pro-nationality, anti-cosmopolitan. Pro-local, anti-global. Pro-communitarianism, anti-individualistic. (No, I didn’t mean to write ‘pro-communism’. Vlad and Dugin both see communism as an aberrant Western form of individualism imported by Western revolutionaries. Starting with Peter the Great and ending with the Bolsheviks.)

Dugin sees Vlad as someone who has, indecisively, tried to straddle the fence, allowing the Church to flourish again (by promoting the values stated above), while still allowing a modicum of decadence and corruption in the marketplace. Clearly, to Dugin, these are antithetical positions. Dugin wants to see Vlad stop that silliness. And to stop it now.

Dugin understands that Vlad has been forced to straddle this fence because it is impossible to eradicate corruption and venality overnight. He says Vlad has decided to attack outside (Western) sources of corruption first, and then clamp down on internal sources later. Yet Dugin keeps harping that Vlad must do this sooner rather than later, or risk losing the people’s support. For the little people, after all, support all that Vlad has done. From Chechnya to Crimea to Ukraine. Why do they support him? Because he’s Making Russia Great Again! Sound familiar?

How does Dugin propose that Vlad should accomplish this task of unifying his message and his policies? Dugin, of course, is the apostle of ‘Eurasianism’. He says Vlad has embarked on the task of eradicating the uni-polar world he inherited from Yeltsin by creating a multi-polar world that frees Russia (and everyone else) from the globalist grip of Liberalism. In other words, from the grip of the Western Empire. And the way to do this is by turning Russia (again) towards the East. To China. To India. To Iran. To Turkey. To anything east of Jerusalem. That is what his Eurasian Union proposal is all about. He intends to establish marketplace power in markets that the West cannot dominate. In return, Russia will offer its partners preferred access to Russian energy and mineral wealth, and just as importantly, to her arms. Her loving arms.

Just as importantly, Vlad sees the advantage of making these same offers to the ‘Rimlands’ of Central Europe. A good example is the NordStream-2 gas pipeline that will increase Germany’s addiction to Russian gas. The price of the gas goes down as European resentment of Donald’s demands go up. The eventual goal is to establish one Eurasian power, from Lisbon to Vladivostok. While Russia is singing the song of ‘multi-polarity’ today, it is easy to see how this song might have a new refrain added as things progress. But forget that for the moment. Ask yourself this: if Vlad wants the headache of running the Eastern Hemisphere, why not let him?

Here’s how Dugin puts it: “Putin’s nuclear Russia is a great island…it is perfectly suitable for waging external revolutionary struggle. It is a wonderful base for training people who need to promote eschatological revolutionary activities on a global scale” (p280). Do you see the problem, Komrade? See those two words? Revolutionary and eschatological? We’re talking something much bigger than Communist grandiosity here, my friend. We are talking about the End Times, in the eyes of the Russians. Equally frightening is the apocalyptic vision of the Neo-Cons, (Hillel and Shammai both) in the now-atheistic West.

We’re approaching the showdown of the Empires. There’s only one way out of this looming confrontation. It takes two to tango, no? So if the existence of two antithetical Empires leads inexorably to an armed clash, the logical (and merciful) answer is simple. Subtract one Empire. Before they clash, that is.

Is this what Donald is seeing? Is this why he is willing to tell Europe Adios, amigos? Why he’s willing to refuse to risk nuclear war for new NATO members like Montenegro? Why he’s willing to tell Angland to choose between European sterility and American fecundity? Why he’s willing, even eager, to tell all of those who have ridden the American gravy-train for free for 75 years to start paying up or to get off at the next stop? And why he wants to defuse the artificially generated animosity between the peoples of Russia and America? Is this what he senses?

Let’s agree that indeed this is what Donald sees and desires. What then is the cost of subtracting one Empire from this equation of confrontation? What price must be paid? We know, based on the messianic writings of almost every Russian of note, from Monk Nestor over a thousand years ago, to Aleksandr Dugin today, that Russia truly sees herself in a messianic role as the savior of mankind. They will not yield in this vision. It is we who must withdraw if we are to avoid the clash that will most certainly involve the possibility (if not probability) of a nuclear confrontation.

Let us confront the true cost of Empire: pride. We must shed ourselves of this grandiose vision of American Exceptionality that has led us to the subjugation of all that is not Eurasian. The current Western attempt to subdue Eurasia, that is Russia, represents the last step in our downward march towards destruction. Are we really willing to make that move?

What then is the alternative? How do we lay down this Imperial burden without laying down our lives? It’s simple, my friend. Let us simply be a nation. Let us be strong, but not be an Empire. A nation fortified, a nation satisfied, a nation gratified. Fortified with the strength we currently possess. Gratified with the knowledge of the blessings God has bestowed upon us, in spite of our past hubristic pride. And satisfied with the astounding resources He has already given us. What more do we really need?

June 21, 2018 | 1 Comment

Chapter 1 Excerpt from Uncertainty: The Soul of Probability, Modeling & Statistics

Buy the book!

Necessary & Conditional Truth

Given “x,y,z are natural numbers and x>y and y>z” the proposition “x>z” is true (I am assuming logical knowledge here, which I don’t discuss until Chapter 2). But it would be false in general to claim, “It is true that ‘x>z‘.” After all, it might be that “x = 17 and z = 32“; if so, “x>z” is false. Or it might be that “x = 17 and z = 17“, then again “x>z” is false. Or maybe “x = a boatload and z = a humongous amount”, then “x>z” is undefined or unknown unless there is tacit and complete knowledge of precisely how much is a boatload and how much is a humongous amount (which is doubtful). We cannot dismiss this last example, because a great portion of human discussions of uncertainty are pitched in this way.

Included in the premise “x,y,z are natural numbers and x>y and y>z” are not just the raw information of the proposition about numbers, but the tacit knowledge we have of the symbol >, of what “natural numbers” are, and even what “and” and “are” mean. This is so for any argument which we wish to make. Language, in whatever form, must be used. There must therefore be an understanding of and about definitions, language and grammar, in any argument if any progress is to be made. These understandings may be more or less obvious depending on the argument. It is well to point out that many fallacies (and the best jokes) are founded on equivocation, which is the intentional or not misunderstanding double- or multiple-meanings of words or phrases. This must be kept in mind because we often talk about how the mathematical symbols of our formulae translate to real objects, how they matter to real-life decisions. A caution not heard frequently enough: just because a statement is mathematically true does not mean that the statement has any bearing on reality. Later we talk about how the deadly sin of reification occurs when this warning is ignored.

We have an idea what it means to say of a proposition that it is true or false. This needs to be firmed up considerably. Take the proposition “a proposition cannot be both true and false simultaneously”. This proposition, as I said above, is true. That means, to our state of mind, there exists evidence which allows us to conclude this proposition is true. This evidence is in the form of thought, which is to say, other propositions, all of which include our understanding of the words and English grammar, and of phrases like “we cannot believe its contrary.” There are also present tacit (not formal) rules of logic about how we must treat and manipulate propositions. Each of these conditioning propositions or premises can in turn be true or false (i.e. known to be true or false) conditional on still other propositions, or on inductions drawn upon sense impressions and intellections. That is, we eventually must reach a point at which a proposition in front of us just is true. There is no other evidence for this kind of truth other than intellection. Observations and sense impressions will give partial support to most propositions, but they are never enough by themselves except for the direct impressions. I explore this later in the Chapter on Induction.

In mathematics, logic, and philosophy popular kinds of propositions which are known to be true because induction tells us so are called axioms. Axioms are indubitable—when considered. Arguments for an axiom’s truth are made like this: given these specific instances, thus this general principle or axiom. I do not claim, and it is not true, that everybody knows every axiom. The arguments for axioms must first be considered before they are believed. A good example is the principal of non-contradiction, a proposition which we cannot know is false (though, given we are human, we can always claim it is false). As said, for every argument we need an understanding of its words and grammar, and, for non-contradiction specifically, maybe the plain observation of a necessarily finite number of instance of propositions that are only true or only false, observations which are consonant with the axiom, but which are none of them the full proof of the proposition: there comes a point at which we just believe and, indeed, cannot do other than know the truth. Another example is one of Peano’s axioms. For every natural number, if x = y then y = x. We check this through specific examples, and then move via induction to the knowledge that it is true for every number, even those we have not and, given our finiteness, cannot consider. Axioms are known to be true based on the evidence and faith that our intellects are correctly guiding us.

This leads to the concept of the truly true, really true, just-plain true, universally, absolutely, or the necessarily true. These are propositions, like those in mathematics, that are known to be true given a valid and sound chain of argument which leads back to indubitable axioms. It is not possible to doubt axioms or necessary truths, unless there be a misunderstanding of the words or terms or chain of proof or argument involved (and this is, of course, possible, as any teacher will affirm). Necessary truths are true even if you don’t want them to be, even if they provoke discomfort, which (again of course) they sometimes do. Peter Kreeft said: “As Aristotle showed, [all] ‘backward doubt’ terminates in two places: psychologically indubitable immediate sense experience and logically indubitable first principles such as ‘X is not non-X’ in theoretical thinking and ‘Good is to be done and evil to be avoided’ in practical thinking”.

A man in the street might look at the scratchings of a mathematical truth and doubt the theorem, but this is only because he doesn’t comprehend what all those strange symbols mean. He may even say that he “knows” the theorem is false—think of the brave soul who claims to have squared the circle. It must be stressed that this man’s error arises from his not comprehending the whole of the argument. Which of the premises of the theorem he is rejecting, and this includes tacit premises of logic and other mathematical results, is not known to us (unless the man makes this clear). The point is that if it were made plain to him what every step in the argument was, he must consent. If he does not, he has not comprehended at least one thing or he has rejected at least one premise, or perhaps substituted his own unaware. This is no small point, and the failure to appreciate it has given rise to the mistaken subjective theory of probability. Understanding the whole of an argument is a requirement to our admitting a necessary truth (our understanding is obviously not required of the necessary truth itself!).

From this it follows that when a mathematician or physicist says something akin to, “We now know Flippenberger’s theorem is true”, his “we” does not, it most certainly does not, encompass all of humanity; it applies only to those who can and have followed the line of reason which appears in the proof. That another mathematician or physicist (or man in the street) who hears this statement, but whose specialty is not Flippenbergerology, conditional on trusting the first mathematician’s word, also believes Flippenberger’s theorem is true, is not making (to himself) the same argument as the theory’s proponent. He instead makes a conditional truth statement: to him, Flippenberger’s theorem is conditionally true, given the premise of accepting the word of the first mathematician or physicist. Of course, necessary truths are also conditional as I have just described, so the phrase “conditional truth” is imperfect, but I have not been able to discover one better to my satisfaction. Local or relative truth have their merits, but their use could encourage relativists to believe they have a point, which they do not.

Besides mathematical propositions, there are plenty other of necessary truths that we know. “I exist” is popular, and only claimed to be doubted by the insane or (paradoxically) by attention seekers. “God exists” is another: those who doubt it are like circle-squarers who have misunderstood or have not (yet) comprehended the arguments which lead to this proposition. “There are true propositions” always delights and which also has its doubters who claim it is true that it is false. In Chapter 2 we meet more.

There are an infinite number and an enormous variety of conditional truths that we do and can know. I don’t mean to say that there are not an infinite number of necessary truths, because I have no idea, though I believe it; I mean only that conditional truths form a vaster class of truths in everyday and scientific discourse. We met one conditional truth above in “x>z“. Another is, given “All Martians wear hats and George is a Martian” then it is conditionally true that “George wears a hat.” The difference in how we express this “truth is conditional” is plain enough in cases like hat-wearing Martians. Nobody would say, in a general setting, “It’s true that Martians wear hats.” Or if he did, nobody would believe him. This disbelief would be deduced conditional on the observationally true proposition, “There are no Martians”.

We sometimes hear people claim conditional truths are necessary truths, especially in moral or political contexts. A man might say, “College professors are intolerant of dissent” and believe he is stating a necessary truth. Yet this cannot be a necessary truth, because no sound valid chain of argument anchored to axioms can support it. But it may be an extrapolation from “All the many college professors I have observed have been intolerant of dissent”, in which case the proposition is still not a necessary truth, because (as we’ll see) observational statements like this are fallible. Hint: The man’s audience, if it be typical, might not believe the “All” in the argument means all, but only “many”. But that substitution does not make the proposition “Many college professors are intolerant of dissent” necessarily true, either.

Another interesting possibility is in the proposition “Some college professors are intolerant of dissent,” where some is defined as at least one and potentially all. Now if a man hears that and recalls, “I have met X, who is a college professor, and she was intolerant of dissent”, then conditional on that evidence the proposition of interest is conditionally true. Why isn’t it necessarily true? Understand first that the proposition is true for you, too, dear reader, if we take as evidence “I have met X, etc.” Just as “George wears a hat” was conditionally true on the other explicit evidence. It may be that you yourself have not met X, nor any other intolerant-of-dissent professor, but that means nothing for the epistemological status of these two propositions. But it now becomes obvious why the proposition of interest is not necessarily true: because the supporting evidence “I have met X, etc.” cannot be held up as necessarily true itself: there is no chain of sound argument leading to indubitable axioms which guarantees it is a logically necessity that college professors must be intolerant of dissent. (Even if it sometimes seems that way.)

We only have to be careful because when people speak or write of truths they are usually not careful to tell us whether they have in mind a necessary or only a conditional truth. Much grief is caused because of this.

One point which may not be obvious. A necessary truth is just true. It is not true because we have a proof of it’s truth. Any necessary truth is true because of something, but it makes no sense to ask why this is so for any necessary truth. Why is the principle of non-contradiction true? What is it that makes it true? Answer: we do not know. It is just is true. How do we know it is true? Via a proof, by strings of deductions from accepted premises and using induction, the same way we know if any proposition is true. We must ever keep separate the epistemological from the ontological. There is a constant danger of mistaking the two. Logic and probability are epistemological, and only sometimes speak or aim at the ontological. Probability is always a state of the mind and not a state of the universe.

May 23, 2018 | 11 Comments

Atheists Will Have No Excuse

There is a class of the argument of God’s existence that depend entirely on your thoughts. The one that interests us is Joseph de Maistre’s “no excuse” argument. It is less well known than Saint Anselm’s “ontological argument”, which is worth a few moments puzzling over.

Anselm’s argument runs like this:

  1. You have some idea, even as an atheist, about who God is;
  2. God is “a being than which none greater can be imagined”; that is, it is impossible to think of a being greater than God;
  3. Beings that exist in reality are greater than those that exist only in the mind, because existing itself is a good;
  4. But we cannot think of a greater being than God;
  5. Therefore, God exist.

Everybody agrees with the first step in the argument. And there seems to be no real controversy in the second and third steps. It’s step four that makes us think some sleight-of-hand has been pulled.

It’s true existence is a good, and it seems to be true we can’t think of any being greater than God. So we can’t think of a being who actually exists greater than God. So it must be this being about whom none greater can exist must himself exist. Right?

Many think not. The argument seems to conjure God’s existence out of our thoughts, or even hopes. It’s hard to escape the notion that a circularity or flaw is buried somewhere, but it’s tough to finger.

But not impossible. Saint Thomas Aquinas said that since we cannot know the full nature of God, it is thus not possible for us to absolutely think of “a being than which none greater can be imagined”. This necessarily limited understanding of God is the reason Anselm’s argument fails to be completely convincing.

We can’t know all about the nature of God—we are, after all, limited creatures. But we can know some of God’s nature. What does that imply? De Maistre said it led to another argument of God’s existence.

Joseph de Maistre was a Catholic reactionary chased from France after Napoleon came to power. And not because he was a friend to the French Revolution. Nor was he keen on the then-fresh scientific materialism of Francis Bacon, which de Maistre perceived would lead to rampant atheism.

Bacon didn’t think much of Anslem. Bacon thought it “absurd” the claim that “men have found by reason the existence of a being of which they cannot form any idea.” (All quotes are from de Maistre’s An Examination of the Philosophy of Bacon in the chapter “Of God and Intelligence”.)

De Maistre countered “To maintain that we have no idea of God because we cannot have a perfect idea, and that it is absolutely the same thing not to know what he is, or if he is, is not only blasphemy against God himself, it is also a blasphemy against good sense.”

That’s step one of de Maistre’s proof. Step two is the truism “we can affirm nothing of what does not exist.” To affirm is greater than to state. Thus we can affirm facts about horses, but we can only make statements about unicorns. There is no way to affirm anything about unicorns, because they do not exist.

Now the man who says “I have no idea of God, contradicts himself without knowing it; for it is precisely as if he said that he has an idea of which he has no idea.” And “The very fool who says God is not affirms that he has an idea of him, for no mind can deny an unknown existence.” To deny God is to deny something.

De Maistre needs only one more step. “How could man receive a new truth if did not carry within him an interior truth, an innate rule by which he judges the other?” Any teaching, human or divine, is a revelation—a revealing. We must have inbuilt a (even if flawed) sense of which arguments work and which not. To deny that is to affirm it. This sense must be of divine origin. De Maistre of course does not say, but this sense could not be biological in origin and simultaneously trustworthy: you could never know if your genes were lying to you.

In a word, the goal of revelation is only to lead the human mind to read in itself what the divine hand has traced there; and revelation would be worthless if reason, after the divine teaching, was not rendered capable of demonstrating to itself the revealed truths, just as mathematical teaching, or any other human teaching, is only recognized as true and legitimate when reason, examining the theorems on the eternal rule hidden in the depths of its essence, says to the human revelation, YOU ARE RIGHT, that is to say, you are reason.

Finally:

God speaks to all men by the idea of himself that he has placed in us by this idea that would be impossible if it did not come from him, he says to us: IT IS I! Those who are called atheists reply: How could this be you, since you do not exist?

De Maistre concludes: This is why they will be inexcusable. This of course echoes St Paul: For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.

This bumps against St Thomas’s other rebuttal of Anselm: “No one can mentally admit the opposite of what is self-evident; as the Philosopher (Metaph. iv, lect. vi) states concerning the first principles of demonstration. But the opposite of the proposition ‘God is’ can be mentally admitted: ‘The fool said in his heart, There is no God’ (Psalm 53:2). Therefore, that God exists is not self-evident.”

That we cannot know God does not exist, given we can have some idea of God, is self-evident, says de Maistre. A fool can always reject a truth, out of mere stubbornness or petulence if nothing else.

Even so, it’s hard to escape the notion that de Maistre—besides his excellent point about partial knowledge—assumed what he sought to prove, here in the step where he asserted our reason must be God-given. This is surely true, but there might be a way to bring in CS Lewis’s famous argument against biological confirmations of reason to support de Maistre at his weak point.