Re-Opening the Schools

Saturday, 07-11-2020

 

Of course the schools need to re-open, but one of the arguments for opening them is ridiculous.  It’s true that kids who never see other kids will suffer “social damage,” but who made the rule that kids can’t see other kids unless they are warehoused in a school?  In some schools, they may suffer social damage just by being there.

While we were teaching our youngest daughter, she participated in several home-school co-ops as well as a variety of other activities.  She had far more numerous, healthy, and lasting friendships, and became much more mature, thoughtful, and independent, after leaving her cliquish school than when she was still in it.

 

If There Really Were a Natural Law

Thursday, 07-09-2020

 

“If there really were a natural law, then everyone would know it.”

But everyone does.  As to the idea that some people only fake it:  Some certainly do fake being moral, but even to fake convincingly, they would have to have some moral knowledge.  Occasionally I’m told that sociopaths merely imitate how moral people speak.  That would be like scientific illiterates faking how physicists speak; they wouldn’t get away with it long.  The problem with sociopaths isn’t that they don’t know even the most basic principles of right and wrong, but that they don’t care.

"If there really were a natural law, then everyone would obey it.”

That’s like saying that if there really were a traffic law, then everyone would obey it.  The natural law doesn’t tell us what will happen, but what needs to happen, for beings of our nature.  It isn’t like, say, gravity; the stone doesn’t have any choice about whether it will fall.  That, by the way, is why natural law thinkers don’t call gravity a “law.”  Why not?  Because they think it isn’t true?  No, but because a law, in the strict sense, is a rule and measure of the acts of rational beings – and gravity isn’t that.

 

Non-Hierarchical Leadership?

Monday, 07-06-2020

 

I confess to a bias:  Irrespective of what people believe or disbelieve about this or that, I like clear thinking and dislike mental fog.

A woman was quoted recently as saying about the disturbances in Seattle, “I am excited about the idea of non-hierarchical leadership.”  That’s fog.

Non-hierarchal leadership is like a sharp sponge or a high-density vacuum.  To have hierarchy is to have leaders; to have leaders is to have hierarchy.

Could the woman have meant that the leaders of the excitement she had in mind were chosen democratically?  No, because that was not the case.

Could she have meant that the excitement took place spontaneously, without any leadership?  That seems unlikely too.  Even so-called spontaneous order is not really spontaneous; for example, markets depend on the rule of law.

The appearance of non-hierarchy can even be a means of enforcing hierarchy.  Arranging the chairs in a classroom in a circle can be a way to encourage discussion -- but it can also be a way to intimidate dissenters by making them visible.

When someone speaks of “non-hierarchical leadership,” it means “I don’t know who my leaders are, and I don’t know where they are leading me.”

 

The Smartest Virus in History

Thursday, 07-02-2020

 

Some scientists claim that influenza is the smartest virus in history, because it is so good at fighting off everything that physicians throw at it.  Others make the same claim about the HIV virus, because it so cleverly hides from the body’s defense mechanisms, and about the Ebola virus, because it has so many ways to attach itself to cells.

These claims are obsolete.  The smartest virus in history is Covid-19.

Think of it:  A virus so sophisticated that it can tell the difference between a crowd having a street festival and a mob occupying the downtown sector of a major city.  One with such good taste that it can tell the difference between fishermen in motorboats and outdoorsmen in kayaks.  One so discerning that it can tell the difference between an assembly for worship and a gathering to tear down public monuments.

Quietly, unerringly, with constant consideration for the scruples of our statesmen, in each of the former cases it virulently spreads itself, but in each of the latter in courteously holds back.

Although this fact is not widely known among the public, the most sagacious public officials are fully aware of it, and take it into account in drafting their social distancing policies.

Think of it.  Already the virus seems smarter than we are.  In this humble and unassuming packet of nucleic acid, we may be catching a glimpse of the next stage of life on earth.

 

Our (Non) Racist and (Non) Sexist Constitution

Tuesday, 06-30-2020

 

Now the cancel culture has reached the United States Constitution.  A Con law professor writes in The Hill that it is time to expunge its “gendered and racist words.”

Some days in the classroom, I feel as though I am trying to stuff hot air back into a balloon.  I am not one of those who are angry with the language and wish to punish it, and I draw a line at the mass execution of innocent words.  I work hard to teach my students to read philosophical, literary, and legal documents as they were meant, rather than from the perspective of Newspeak language fads.

First the scholar writes that the Constitution “counts a slave as ‘three-fifths’ of a person.”  If I had a nickel for every time a propagandized student has repeated that one to me, I would be able to endow a chair in Constitutional law myself.

The number of a state’s representatives is proportional to its population.  Pro-slavery delegates wanted slave states to be able to count 100% of their slaves for purposes of apportionment so that they would have greater influence in Congress.  Anti-slavery delegates didn’t want slave states to be able to count slaves at all, because they didn’t think the barbarous practice of slavery should be rewarded.  The three-fifths compromise was the best they could get.  It wasn’t against the slaves, but for them.

There are two possibilities, both equally shameful.  One is that the professor does not know this.  The other is that he knows it, but conceals it.

Next the professor writes that the Constitution “tells us that men alone can be president, referring only to ‘he’ or ‘his’ when referring to the presidency.”

Contrary to what the language police may tell us, in English, the pronoun “he” has traditionally been understood to refer to a person of either sex, except where the context clearly indicates the masculine.  It is already inclusive.  If the professor chooses to speak and write differently, he may do so.  I wish he would extend the same courtesy to the Framers.

“Imagine how schoolchildren must feel when they read the Constitution in their basic civics course,” writes the professor.  “Some will be made to feel less than welcome in their own country.”

They will certainly feel that way if we keep telling them whoppers about what the language means.

 

Pagan Beauty, Biblical Brutality?

Monday, 06-29-2020

 

Writers often compare the beauty of the pagan myths with the brutality of the biblical story.  This is doubly wrong.  In the first place, the biblical chronicles are not trying to be beautiful.  They are saying this is how history is when we rebel against God.  You can find beauty in the Bible’s poetry, but you shouldn’t expect it in its history.

In the second place, the idea that pagan religion was all charm and light is quite misleading.  I suspect that those who say such things about it have read no further than the sanitized versions of Greek myths that are sometimes provided for children.  Along with, yes, great beauties, pagan mythology contains fathers who devour their sons, women who conceive passion for animals, and gods who enjoy nothing more than raping mortal girls.  What we find in pagan stories, we find too in pagan practice.  Human sacrifice.  Temple prostitution.

C.S. Lewis penned a better description of paganism:  “Gleams of celestial strength, and beauty falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility.”  The gleams of beauty are real.  So is the jungle.

 

A Note about Language

Thursday, 06-25-2020

 

Peaceful assembly to express opposition to an injustice is a protest.

Peaceful and public violation of an unjust law is civil disobedience.

Mass violation of just laws protecting persons, private property, and public property is a riot.

It is a disservice to the language to call a riot a protest.

It is a disgrace to the cause of honesty to call a disturbance “mostly peaceful” just because fewer than half of those involved are throwing bricks, stopping traffic, burning stores, brandishing assault weapons, or assaulting passersby.