A Lesson for us All

Posted on September 12, 2001:

Of course the World Trade Center bombings are a uniquely tragic event, and it is vital that we never lose sight of the human tragedy involved. However, we must also consider if this is not also a lesson to us all; a lesson that my political views are correct. Although what is done can never be undone, the fact remains that if the world were organized according to my political views, this tragedy would never have happened.

Many people will use this terrible tragedy as an excuse to put through a political agenda other than my own. This tawdry abuse of human suffering for political gain sickens me to the core of my being. Those people who have different political views from me ought to be ashamed of themselves for thinking of cheap partisan point-scoring at a time like this. In any case, what this tragedy really shows us is that, so far from putting into practice political views other than my own, it is precisely my political agenda which ought to be advanced.

Not only are my political views vindicated by this terrible tragedy, but also the status of my profession. Furthermore, it is only in the context of a national and international tragedy like this that we are reminded of the very special status of my hobby, and its particular claim to legislative protection. My religious and spiritual views also have much to teach us about the appropriate reaction to these truly terrible events.

Countries which I like seem to never suffer such tragedies, while countries which, for one reason or another, I dislike, suffer them all the time. The one common factor which seems to explain this has to do with my political views, and it suggests that my political views should be implemented as a matter of urgency, even though they are, as a matter of fact, not implemented in the countries which I like.

Of course the World Trade Center attacks are a uniquely tragic event, and it is vital that we never lose sight of the human tragedy involved. But we must also not lose sight of the fact that I am right on every significant moral and political issue, and everybody ought to agree with me. Please, I ask you as fellow human beings, vote for the political party which I support, and ask your legislators to support policies endorsed by me, as a matter of urgency.

It would be a fitting memorial.

The kind of political commentary caricatured here unfortunately remains extremely common, and is utter hypocrisy.

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Political Parody

Mark Shea says that says that Fr. Peter West “has chosen to calumniate me,” and includes a screenshot of a Facebook post by Fr. Peter asserting that Shea supports Planned Parenthood, basically because Shea has argued that it would be better to vote for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. Shea responds:

This is precisely my position.  I *reject* Hillary’s support for abortion.  But since Trump (who holds exactly the same position on abortion that Hillary does) is certain to do much graver evil in addition to support for abortion, I believe that a Catholic can, in good faith, vote for her in order to lessen the evil Trump will do.  I will not, myself, be voting for her since I don’t live in a swing state.  But I have no problem at all defending somebody who lives in a swing state who does vote for her and would, in fact, urge people to do so (bearing in mind that some cannot, in conscience, do so).  The only thing I would argue is that support for Trump simply cannot be squared with the Catholic faith.

The irony of Fr. West’s despicable calumny is that Trump is on record supporting Planned Parenthood.  And therefore it is Fr. West, who is, in fact, supporting Planned Parenthood since his candidate does.

This is the intractable problem the “prolife” Trumpkin faces.  I do not, in fact, support a single evil Hillary supports–including Planned Parenthood.  And I have said so, repeatedly.  Fr. West, very simply, lies when he says I do support Planned Parenthood and should apologize and retract that lie.  I am acting in strict obedience to Benedict’s teaching.

But a Trump supporter like Fr. West really does commit himself to support and defend every evil Trump wills to do, since Trump agrees with Hillary on every evil she support, plus evils she does not advocate such as torture and the deliberate murder of women and children civilians.

As I stated in the comments there, this looks like a parody of political argument. Shea argues that he does not support Planned Parenthood, even if Hillary does, because he would only support voting for her in order to avoid Trump. But this does not prevent him from saying, “And therefore it is Fr. West, who is, in fact, supporting Planned Parenthood since his candidate does.” And likewise he says that Fr. West “support[s] and defend[s] every evil Trump wills to do,” while saying that “I do not, in fact, support a single evil Hillary supports.”

Obviously, Fr. West would be likely to say exactly the same things while changing the names involved. So it is not reasonable for Shea to accuse Fr. West of lies or of calumny, unless he is willing to be accused of these things himself, since as St. Paul says in Romans, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”

Some readers pointed out to Shea that the situations are identical, and that he is engaging in exactly the behavior that he condemns here. Shea responds by doubling down on his position:

A reader writes regarding Fr. West’s calumny:

All due respect, sir, but do you not commit the same error as he does by saying that your accuser supports Planned Parenthood, torture, abortion, etc. because his candidate does? In my opinion, you should remove those statements from this column to make yourself unworthy of any blame in this.

No. I don’t. Because our positions are asymmetrical. Trump is, very obviously, the greater evil. He supports all the evils Hillary does and then some. My sole reason for saying it is legitimate to vote for her is to lessen evil and I have *facts* on my side to show that this is case. The “prolife” Trumpkin’s sole reason for backing Trump is that he is a Republican and Republicans are mystically less evil than Democrats Because Abortion (even though Trump’s views of abortion are identical with Hillary’s.) Because of this I am free to reject and denounce every evil thing Hillary supports–and I have done so repeatedly.

The paradox of the “prolife” Trumpkin’s position is that he must, to support this wicked man, remain silent about or defend every evil thing Trump says and does. This is exactly what Fr. West and countless other Trumpkins have done and will keep doing. Beyond a vague “he’s a flawed candidate”, Fr. West has been mum about Trump’s many outrages or has gone to bat for him, posting standard Muslim-hate boilerplate. And, of course, he has lied that I support Planned Parenthood when he knows perfectly well I have denounced PP times without number.

Of course, if Fr. West “has lied that I support Planned Parenthood when he knows perfectly well I have denounced PP times without number,” then Shea has lied that West supports Planned Parenthood when he knows perfectly well that West has denounced Planned Parenthood times without number, which is doubtless just as true; in fact he was denouncing Planned Parenthood in the very act of accusing Shea of supporting it.

“Our positions are asymmetrical,” in the sense that is relevant, is nearly completely false here. Of course West supports some things that Shea does not, and Shea supports some things that West does not. But in every relevant way, they will be prepared to make perfectly symmetrical statements; just as Shea says that “Trump is, very obviously, the greater evil,” West will no doubt say that “Hillary is, very obviously, the greater evil,” and so on.

In the end, Shea’s argument comes down to saying, “The positions are asymmetrical, because I am right and he is wrong.” But this itself is symmetrical, since West no doubt believes that he is right and Shea is wrong.

 

Language as Technology

Genesis tells the story of the Tower of Babel:

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

The account suggests that language is a cause of technology, as when the Lord says, “this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”

But is possible to understand language here as a technology itself, one which gives rise to other technologies. It is a technology by which men communicate with each other. In the story, God weakens the technology, making it harder for people to communicate with one another, and therefore making it harder for them to accomplish other goals.

But language is not just a technology that exists for the sake of communication; it is also a technology that exists for the sake of thought. As I noted in the linked post, our ability to think depends to some extent on our possession of language.

All of this suggests that in principle, the idea of technological progress  is something that could apply to language itself, and that such progress could correspondingly be a cause of progress in truth. The account in Genesis suggests some of the ways that this could happen; to the degree that people develop better means of understanding one another, whether we speak of people speaking different languages, or even people already speaking the same language, they will be better able to work together towards the goal of truth, and thus will be better able to attain that goal.

 

Little Things

Chapter 39 of Josemaria Escriva’s book The Way concerns the topic of “little things.” The whole chapter, and really the whole book, is worth reading. The text is composed in the form of a set of aphorisms, much like Francis Bacon’s work. I will quote two passages in particular from the chapter in question:

823. Have you seen how that imposing building was built? One brick upon another. Thousands. But, one by one. And bags of cement, one by one. And blocks of stone, each of them insignificant compared with the massive whole. And beams of steel. And men working, the same hours, day after day…

Have you seen how that imposing building was built?… By dint of little things!

826. Everything in which we poor men have a part — even holiness — is a fabric of small trifles which, depending upon one’s intention, can form a magnificent tapestry of heroism or of degradation, of virtues or of sins.

The epic legends always relate extraordinary adventures, but never fail to mix them with homely details about the hero. — May you always attach great importance to the little things. This is the way!

The second passage asserts that anything great in human life is essentially composed of “small trifles.” The first passage explains why this is so. The world is an ordered place, and one of the orders found in it is the order of material causality. Since the whole is greater than the part, it follows that great wholes are ultimately composed of little parts, or in other words, “small trifles.”

We often tend not to notice this in relation to human life, because we think of life as a kind of story, and it is normal for stories to leave out all sorts of detail, in order to concentrate on the overall picture. But all of that detail is always present: every day is made up of 24 hours, and everything we do ultimately is made up of individual immediate actions.

Thus Escriva says that we should “always attach great importance to the little things,” because there is no other way to accomplish anything. For example, someone might be assigned a paper in school, and find himself unable to write the paper, because he is constantly thinking of the need to “write a paper.” But “writing a paper” is not an action that can be chosen; it is just not a thing that can be done immediately. And unless it is first broken down into “little things,” it will never be done at all. This is one of the main causes of procrastination in people’s lives, namely failing to see that the larger goals that they wish to accomplish must be accomplished by means of little things, through individual actions. Thus someone might say, “I don’t know why, but I never feel like writing the paper.” But in fact he does not feel like writing it, because he has not yet presented himself with any option that can ever be chosen.