A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Make an Ash of Yourself

Ash Wednesday
Today is the most subversive day on the revolutionary calendar.  It is the day when we become fleetingly aware that maybe Nietzsche was not right and the will need not be triumphant.  Recall that ol' Crazy Fred told us in Will to Power
Through Christianity, the individual was made so important, so absolute, that he could no longer be sacrificed. ... All 'souls' became equal before God: but this is precisely the most dangerous of all possible evaluations.
Crazy Fred
Hence, the fierce determination of the Late Modern to deny the very existence of soul.  In Latin, this is anima, and is the same as "life."  So what follows from soul-denying is necessarily life-denying.  We also see the root of the Late Modern determination to subordinate the individual to the group, replacing individual human natural rights with state-granted group-entitlements.  And in that rejection of all souls being equal, we wound up with some lives being less equal than others, the lebensunwertes Leben, or "life unworthy of life," a pig which we sometimes tart up with the lipstick of "quality of life."  And those who fall too far down the "quality" scale may be denied life by their betters. 

Fred also wrote:

Life itself recognizes no solidarity, no ‘equal right,’ between the healthy and the degenerate parts of an organism. . . . Sympathy for the decadents, equal rights for the ill-constituted—that would be the profoundest immorality, that would be anti-nature itself as morality!

If we cast a look a century ahead and assume that my assassination of two thousand years of opposition to nature and of dishonoring humans succeeds, then that new party of life will take in hand the greatest of all tasks—the higher breeding of humanity, including the unsparing destruction of all degenerates and parasites.

We cannot deny that a century and more after Nietzsche at least some aspects of the search for the superman are well on their way.  The concept of "quality of life" is well-entrenched, the non-life status of certain human beings is taken for granted, and most importantly we have been acculturated to the use of human beings as mere raw materials. 

In the first paragraph, Fred goes way beyond Chuck Darwin, who while he acknowledged that humans should not allow their "worst animals" to breed, at least balked when it came to denying "sympathy" and "equal rights."  But then, in The Twilight of the Idols, Fred had a bit to say about the English so-called atheists, who insisted on maintaining Christian morality:
When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one's feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one's hands. ...

When the English actually believe that they know "intuitively" what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality, we merely witness the effects of the dominion of the Christian value judgment and an expression of the strength and depth of this dominion: such that the origin of English morality has been forgotten, such that the very conditional character of its right to existence is no longer felt.
Hence, Nietzsche's contempt for Anglophone atheism, and even for science and other reputed replacements for Christianity.  All of them, he claimed, were hopelessly contaminated with Christian attitudes of equality and dignity.  Bummer. 

Unfortunately, we've been working on that. 
+ + +

Triumphing over the
triumphant Will
What makes Ash Wednesday subversive is that it stands athwart the Juggernaut of the Triumph of the Will crying "Halt!"  The Will is not prior to the Intellect.  Rather, the Intellect is prior to the Will.  The Will is the Intellective Appetite, the desire for the products of the Intellect, just as the sensitive appetites are desires for the products of the senses.  Since you cannot desire what you do not know, the desire cannot precede the knowledge. 

(And when you do not know completely and fully, the will is not completely and fully determined toward its desire, and hence is "free" in the sense proposed by the medieval theologians who worked all this out.)

The nature of the human being is the rational soul.  Therefore, for man, what is good is what is in accordance with reason, which makes moral virtue inseparable from intellectual virtue.   The intellectual virtues are habits of intellect and the moral virtues are habits of appetite or will. They are are not the same, nor can one be reduced to the other. 
A. The intellectual virtues.  
  1. Understanding is the habit of principles;
  2. Knowledge ["science"] is the habit of proximate causes;
  3. Wisdom is the habit of ultimate causes.

The difference between 2 and 3 is best explained by the tomato.  Science (#2) tells us that a tomato is a fruit.  Wisdom (#3) tells us not to cut one up into a fruit salad. 

But it is not enough to think well, we must also act well; that is, act according to reason and not blind impulse or passion.  The principle here is not the intellect, but the will, more specifically the end the will seeks.  There must be a fourth intellectual virtue:
4. Prudence, which puts reason into a state to determine the means to that end.
As prudence is the culmination of the intellectual virtues, so is she the root of the moral ones:
B. The moral virtues.
  1. Justice regulates our acts independently of our dispositions as regards what is due or not due to another.
  2. If we are drawn by passion toward an act contrary to reason, we must call upon temperance.
  3. If we are impeded by fear or sloth from acting as reason says we ought, we must call upon courage.
The moral virtues perfect the will just as the intellectual virtues perfect the intellect. No one is blameworthy for being a bad scientist or a bad artist; but very much so for being an extortioner, a drunkard, or a coward. 

Lent can be seen therefore as a sort of set of free weights for the will, to train the will to the intellect, to determine whether we shall be rational creatures or creatures of our appetites.  Hence, the usual custom of "giving up" something for Lent.  Reason tells us that we cannot eat anything we want and not harm our bodies.  If we are drawn by a passion for food to act contrary to this reason, we must call upon temperance.  For Lent, we might exercise our temperance repeatedly, making it stronger. 

The same can be done for other strengths: we might exercise courage by speaking up when someone is bullied; we might exercise justice by working to see that others get what is due them.*  And so on. 
(*get what is due them. The Catholic notion of social justice has taken an awful beating since the State took it over.  But social justice means that each element of society receives its due: the individual, the family, the Church, the group, and yes, even the State.  Couples with subsidiarity, which means that whatever can be done at a simpler level should be done at the simpler level, one comes up with a sane strategy.  Statists and libertarians want only one end of the spectrum to receive its due obeisance, differing only in which end.)

Now, I don't want to imply that Lent is no more than a stop-smoking or weight loss opportunity.  Human beings are hylemorphic unions of matter and form, of body and soul; and so some human goods are necessarily bodily goods.  We recognize the moral dimension when we say "that food is bad for you" or something like it.  But the point of the "Temperance Marathon" or the "Courage Calisthenics" is not the bodily good as such, but the strengthening of our own moral abilities to do good, the perfecting of our nature as both rational and animals
We know from science that indulgence of the appetites weakens to reasoning faculties by "vulcanizing" the neural pathways of the brain with primitive neural patterns originating in the brainstem.  This ought to be sufficient answer to a comment seen in passing regarding current foo-foo that surely we have gotten beyond the idea that we should not indulge the sensual.  We have gotten beyond it; and it has impaired our abilities to think rationally. 
Now it might be objected that taming the appetites to the rule of the intellect is a daunting task.  Indeed it is.  Especially so when the neural pathways are already vulcanized; that is, when we have already habituated the contrary behavior. 

So we have to call upon help. 

The Attack of the Hapless
Speaking of the Triumph of the Will, and the reduction of human beings to means rather than ends, Jonathon Alter, in a Bloomberg column wrote
At first, the Komen case looked like just another example of anti-abortion activists flexing their muscles against hapless women's health advocates. Then came a furious, highly effective counterassault fueled by liberal social media, a new counterweight to conservative talk radio in defining the terms of debate. The outcome of that flap, in which the Komen foundation [sic] reversed itself and apologized, shows that bashing Planned Parenthood may work in Republican primaries but will be poison in the general election.
It is not clear to TOF how Komen "flexed their muscles" against "women's health advocates."  We would assume as a matter of logic that there are a great many of these, many of them tightly focused on specific issues, such as breast cancer.  If pregnancy is a disease, then Planned Parenthood may also qualify.  Nor has it been shown me where Komen "bashed" PP or even that the fight against breast cancer is somehow a "right wing" thing.  That the conclusion in the last sentence does not follow from the premises is yet another indicator of the decay of rational thought. 

What happened of course is that the money Komen had given to PP to advance the fight against breast cancer had been used largely to refer women to breast cancer screening services provided by others.  Far more effective, they supposed, would be to cut out the middleman and provide the money directly to the screening services.  We do we suppose that PP needs a grant from anyone to tell a woman where to get breast cancer screening?  Why would they not simply tell them?  (Granted: that breast cancer is not PP's primary business.)

However, the interesting thing in the comment was the description of a billion-dollar industry as "hapless."  A billion dollars a year may be many things -- "worth going for the jugular over" comes to mind -- but "hapless" is not one of them.  The lesson we learned is probably more germane to the need for anti-bullying laws.  Oh, and from the threatened cancellations and withdrawals from Komen activities, we learned where women with breast cancer stand in the scheme of things.

On the Predictive Nature of Scientific Theories

The author/signatories of "No Need to Panic About Global Warming," an op-ed that appeared in the Journal on January 27, have responded to criticisms by Kevin Trenberth, et al.  In their response they included the following graph of global adjusted surface temperatures, 1989-2011, versus the IPCC projections from 1990, 1995, 2001, and 2007.  One is reminded a bit of Paul Ehrlich and his predictions of unavoidable global famine.  At least, Ehrlich eventually learned not to put actual numbers on his "science." Will IPCC eventually do the same? 

BTW, it is at least heartening that the projections have been growing lower, even if not monotonically so.  One does get the sense of successive tangents on a curve approaching an inflection point. 


  1. "And only where there are tombs are there resurrections" Nietzsche

    A blessed Lent to all!

  2. People had concepts of 'right' and 'wrong' before Christ.

    Hindus and others that do not believe in Christ also have strong notions on 'right' and 'wrong'.

    Hinduism and other religions were not options for Europeans in 19C but are now.

    So the West can reject Christ but still retain morality, even a more severe Muslim morality.

    1. Perhaps ... but one cannot *also* have "all souls are equal[ly worthy] before God" with those alien moralities.

  3. How could "hapless women's health advocates" have launched such a coordinated counterattack against Komen on an instant's notice? Is Alter such a shill for the left that he's not embarrassed to put his name on that drivel?

  4. "Liberals" have no shame: they'll say *anything*