Eight Minutes on Why Stoicism Won’t Make You Happy

Friday, 07-07-2023


Hear me talking for eight minutes about Why Stoicism won't make you happy on the Catholic Culture Podcast.  (Interviewer Thomas V. Mirus.)


Elites, Deplorables, and Political Style

Monday, 07-03-2023


Allow me to update a post I wrote in 2020 about Donald Trump and social class, because the topic is broader than Trump.  Let me begin with what I said then. 

There is a lot to dislike about him.  Mr. Trump was a sneerer, mocker, boaster, and person of bad character -- and he still is.  But then-president Obama, and his then-vice president, Joe Biden, were are also sneerers, mockers, boasters, and persons of bad character.  “Why is the reaction to them so different?”  I asked.  The political classes adored Mr. Obama, liked Mr. Biden just fine, and still put up with Biden despite his obvious dementia, corruption, and incompetence.  By contrast, they despised Trump so intensely that they were willing to pull down the republic to get rid of him.  The instrumentalities of justice were weaponized against him.  Their entertainers openly made jokes about assassinating him.  The war shows no sign of ending; new assaults are launched daily.

Of course part of the difference in the reaction to these politicians is ideological.  Biden, like Obama before him, does things the political classes love, like promoting abortion, removing rules that protect the consciences of medical workers, distributing patronage to industries the political classes like, and expanding the regulatory apparatus.  By contrast, Trump appointed pro-life judges and did other things that they hate.

But that explains only part of it.  The political classes didn’t cast a hold-your-nose vote for Obama, or even for Biden; they didn’t put up with them despite their personality, vices, or bad manners.  They admired them for these qualities.  Biden has become embarrassing to them, but not because of his crudity.

I suggested in 2020 that “it’s a class thing.”   A certain kind of oafishness is considered lovable by the political classes, and not even recognized as oafish because it is their sort of oafishness.  Another kind of oafishness is considered lovable by those whom they disdain.  Obama was a smooth rich fellow who flattered the elites.  Biden is a coarse rich fellow who sneers at the common people in the same breath as he boasts of his humble origins.  The elites think this kind of talk is merely telling it like it is.

Trump is a coarse rich fellow who flatters the common people.  Since he sneers at the elites and adopts a popular tone in doing so, it enrages them.  Though all of these rulers claim to look out for the “little guy,” the difference is that Obama and Biden styled themselves as their patrons, and viewed the “little guys” as their clients.  Trump styles himself as their benefactor, and views them as his constituents.

Some people react viscerally to one kind of oafishness, some to the other.  Very little of the reaction is about the respective vices of these politicians, though much could be said about them.  Most of it is about the respective styles of their vices.  It is very hard to wipe the smear of class from the window of judgment to see clearly.

So much I wrote then.  But there is more to say, because the “class thing” is much bigger than Donald Trump.  Let’s put it in context.

The same people who used to love the Republican and despise the Democratic Party have now flipped, for the wealthy and professional classes used to be mostly Republicans; today they are mostly Democrats.  The biggest change is that “old money” doesn’t count for much any more, because the power has shifted to new money, high-tech money.  Progressivism, understood as the ideal of rule by managerial elites who “know better,” has doubled down.  Contempt for the blue collar and middle white collar classes, otherwise known as the “deplorables,” has intensified.  People can be arrested for peacefully complaining at school board meetings, or surveilled for being religious.

Several facts have obscured the reversal in the parties’ roles.  One is that although the Democratic Party is now the party of the privileged, it still positions itself rhetorically as the defender of the marginalized.  This, despite the fact that the actual effect of its policies is to increase economic dependence rather than reduce it, establishing all sorts of classes and underclasses of governmental clients.  The second is that it retains the support of the most powerful unions, although these are no longer trade or industrial unions.  The baton has now shifted to public employee unions – who strive to make their employer still bigger, and whose officers fully accept the managerial ethos.

There is no longer any place in the Democratic Party for the deplorables to go.  However, the Republican Party bosses adhere to a milder version of the same progressive ideology that the Democrats accept.  So the deplorables have no home there either.

No wonder the deplorables are resentful.  And no wonder so many of them still admire Mr. Trump.  It’s not that they like thugs.  But if they have to be ruled by them, they would rather be ruled by their own thugs.



What’s Happenin’ Now

Monday, 06-26-2023


For your perusal, a compilation of the latest tidbits from the newspaper of what’s happenin’ now.

Self:  Actually, it is all about me.

Reality:  Thinking and saying it make it so.

Truth:  See Reality.

Sex:  Okay if it doesn’t hurt anyone.  Never hurts anyone.

Existence of God:  Doesn’t matter anyway.

Good:  What I want.

Evil, meaning 1:  What I don’t want.  Must not be done.

Evil, meaning 2:  What you don’t want.  May be done for good.  See Good.

Rights:  I get to do what I want.

Duties:  You have to let me do what I want.

Wisdom:  Knowing how to get what I want.

Justice, meaning 1:  Abolishing police. 

Justice, meaning 2:  Punishing political opponents.

Justice, meaning 3:  See Duties.

Privilege:  What I should have and you shouldn’t.

Equity:  See Privilege.

Violence:  Mostly peaceful, when committed in my cause.

Racism:  Thinking every race should be treated the same.

Voting Rights:  What dead people have in elections.

Promises:  Meaningless words that sound meaningful.

Commitment:  Not being married.

Love:  Sexual desire.

Family:  Any group of people whatsoever.

Matrimony:  Any group of people whatsoever, but with sex.

Children:  Lifestyle additions, like flatscreen TVs.

Day Care:  The golden key to childhood development.

Mothers:  Ought to be working.

Fathers:  Are dispensable.

Parents:  Need supervision by villages.

Boys:  Ought to be more like girls.

Girls:  Better version of boys.

Gender:  Whatever I want you to call me.

Women:  Some have penises, some don’t.

Men:  See Women.

Respect:   Saying what I tell you to say.

Affirmation:  See Respect.

Virtue:  Signaling that you hold the currently approved opinions.

Extremist:  Someone not holding the currently approved opinions.

Disruptive:  See Extremist.

Intolerant:  See Disruptive.

Artificial intelligence:  Soon to be the only kind.

See also:

Newspeak Dictionary

Doubleplusgood Ducktalkers

Politics and Language, Revisited

Our (Non) Racist and (Non) Sexist Constitution

So Called Inclusive Language



“Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?” II

Monday, 06-19-2023


Why can't a woman be more like a man?

Men are so honest, so thoroughly square;

Eternally noble, historically fair;

Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.

Well, why can't a woman be like that?


Why does every one do what the others do?

Can't a woman learn to use her head?

Why do they do everything their mothers do?

Why don't they grow up -- well, like their father instead? *


We associate the deplorable idea that women need to be more like men with male chauvinists like Professor Higgins, who sings this song in My Fair Lady.

But the song is sung by women too – especially from women who compete in historically male fields.

Consider the strange remarks of a female scientist in her letter challenging a newspaper’s interpretation of some research she had published on women in science.  The Wall Street Journal had lauded her findings that that women who apply for grants, submit journal articles, and ask for recommendation letters do just as well as men, and that women who apply for tenure-track jobs have even greater success than men.  Opining that “Women in Science Are Doing All Right,WSJ considered this good news.

The author whose findings were reported, however, replied in the Letters column that although all that was true, women are less proportionately likely to apply for tenure-track jobs in the sciences in the first place.  She complained,

“Some may conclude, ‘That’s their choice.’  But the literature says that the major reason women Ph.D.s don’t apply to tenure-track jobs is that they look ahead to the four or five years of postdocs required in many fields and the six-year deadline to amass a tenure dossier, compare it to their biological clocks ticking away, and instead choose industry, government or nontenure-track academic jobs.  That is not ‘all right’ if we want our best and brightest, men or women, to be the ones running university research labs and educating the next generation of Ph.D.s.”

Women, you have been warned.  Accept your discipline.  It isn’t all right for you to heed your biological clock.  It isn’t all right for you to prefer a career that doesn’t foreclose the possibility of becoming a mother.  Bright scientists are so much more important than bright mothers.  Educating the next generation is so much more important than bringing it into being.

The lady’s objection is to women thinking -- like women.  Why can’t they be -- more like men?

You didn’t think feminism was about respecting women, did you?


* “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?”, a.k.a. “A Hymn to Him,” music by Frederick Loewe, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, My Fair Lady (1964).


“Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?”



Is Inconsistency Really Just a Hobgoblin of Little Minds?

Monday, 06-12-2023


In a previous post I commented on the attack on Aristotle’s Law of Excluded Middle – that a meaningful statement is either true or false, with no in-between.  Today I’d like to comment on the related attack on his Law of Non-Contradiction, that no meaningful statement can be both true and false, in the same sense, at the same time.  At stake is whether reality can be inconsistent.

Some claim that the possibility of inconsistent realities is proven by Schrödinger’s cat.  I am referring to a famous thought experiment in physics, in which a cat is locked in a box with a tiny bit of radioactive matter, along with a vial of poison gas, connected via a relay with a Geiger counter.  If a radioactive nucleus decays, the vial of gas is shattered and the cat dies.  If it doesn’t decay, no gas is released and the cat lives.  The claim of the contradiction-mongers is that until the box is opened and the condition of the cat is observed, the cat is both dead and not dead.

No:  Until the box is opened and the condition of the cat is observed, we simply don’t know whether it is dead or not dead.  True, the possibility that the cat is dead coexists with the possibility that it is not dead, but this in no way suggests that the dead cat coexists with the live cat.  It turns out that this was Schrödinger’s own view too!   Although the predictions of quantum theory have proven highly accurate, the notion that they show that the principle of non-contradiction can be violated is nonsense.  Unfortunately, the more outré interpretations of what is going on with the cat receive more attention from science popularizers than the sensible interpretations do. 

If we understand truth as correspondence – if the thought expressed by the proposition “Snow is white” is true if, and only if, snow is white in reality – then it is difficult to imagine what anyone who says “Snow is white, and also snow is not white” thinks he is asserting.  In fact, the statement that propositions can be both true and false would itself be both true and false.  What is one to make of that?

Moreover, it has been known for centuries that from a contradiction, literally anything can be shown to follow.  For example, if snow is white, and also snow is not white, then it follows that God exists.  And that fairies like ice cream.  And that God doesn’t exist.  And that fairies don’t eat at all.  And that it isn’t true that snow is white.  All possible inferences can be made.  This calamitous result is sometimes called “explosion.”   Given the principle of explosion, it would seem that whenever there is an inconsistency in a system of propositions, the game is up.

But can we give up the game so easily?  Sometimes, when we are dealing with enormous systems of propositions, we know that there are probably some inconsistencies in there – and we will try to get rid of them when we discover them – but in the meantime, we don’t know what they are.

This being the case, it might be helpful to develop a way to insulate the rest of the system from so-far-undiscovered inconsistencies – to cautiously keep using the system while we are trying to find them and root them out.  This is something like what computer programmers do when they try to develop programs that won’t crash every time, even though the programs inevitably still contain some bugs.

Now some people who talk about such “paraconsistent” logics speak as though they thought a proposition really could be both true and false in the same sense at the same time – which requires believing that a thing can both be and not be in the same sense at the same time.  This is called dialetheism, and to call it “badly confused” seems generous.

But sometimes people who talk about paraconsistent logics speak more as though they are trying to develop coping strategies of the sort that I mentioned in computer programming.  Their thought is merely that we may have to tolerate contradictions provisionally, while we are trying to find out what they are.  This may not be insane, and may even be important -- although perhaps it is misleading to call the development of coping strategies “logic.”  It might be more accurate to say that the goal is to protect logic from the illogic we haven’t yet caught.


Copyright © 2023 J. Budziszewski


Fuzzy Logic Is Fuzzy Thinking

Sunday, 05-28-2023


Aristotle famously said that a meaningful statement is either true or false; there is no in-between.  This is called the Law of Excluded Middle.  However, a great many people say there can be in-betweens, and even try to axiomatize the idea.  Sometimes this is called “fuzzy logic.”  I think it’s fuzzy thinking.

Superficially, the idea is plausible.  After all, don’t we say that there are half-truths?  We do say that, but only figuratively.  The expression “half true” never means literally that a meaningful proposition can be something other than true or false, or that a state of affairs can be intermediate between reality and unreality.  It may mean quite a number of other things, for example:

1.  Someone might call the statement “Shale is a sedimentary rock” half true because he has only 50% confidence that it is true.  Yet irrespective of how sure he is, the statement that shale is sedimentary is either true or false -- and irrespective of what kind of rock shale is, the statement that he has only 50% confidence about it being sedimentary is also either true or false.

2.   Someone might call the statement “The cloth is white” half true because its actual shade is halfway between white and black.  Yet what he means is that the cloth is gray, and the statement “The cloth is gray” is 100% true.

3.  Someone might call the statement “Calico cats are even tempered” half true because the description applies to only half of all calico cats.  Yet the more precise statement “Half of all calico cats are even tempered” would in this case be simply true.

4.  Someone might call the statement “We have here a heap of sand” half true because the term “heap” is vague; there is no fixed number of grains above which an accumulation becomes unambiguously a heap.  But by choosing to call a certain accumulation of sand a heap, he is using a noun as an oblique way to express a matter of degree – he is choosing to emphasize how much sand there is rather than how little.  So saying “We have here a heap of sand” is like saying “Gee, what a lot,” or “There sure seems a lot of it to me.”  And either there does seem a lot of it to me -- or there doesn’t.

5.  Someone might claim that the statement "The unborn child is a person" is half true on grounds that the unborn child is only a potential person (in fact, this claim is rather common!).  But although the unborn child has some unrealized potentialities – as a toddler does, or as the reader of this paragraph does – still, if the child weren’t already wholly a person, the child wouldn’t have these potentialities.  A bone cell doesn't have such potentialities; a gamete doesn’t have them either.  But from the moment the zygote comes into being, the zygote does.

6.  Someone might claim that the statement “This theory is true” is half true because the theory consists of a number of different propositions, and not all of them are accurate.  But taken one at a time, each of these propositions is either true or not.  Rather than saying that the theory is half true, we should say something like “Half of its claims are true.”

7.  Or take Objector 1’s statement, “Every intellect is false which understands a thing otherwise than as it is.”  Someone might call it half true because it is true in one sense but false in another.  But to say so is to admit that in each sense it is either true or false – not something in between.

None of these possibilities shows that there are values of being between true and false.  Moreover, each of these possibilities needs to be handled in its own way.  Unfortunately, a system of inference which calls them all “half truths” treats them all the same.  For as we see,

●  Possibility (1) doesn’t show that there are degrees of truth, but only that I may be more of less sure about what really is true.  Instead of speaking of degrees of truth, we should speak of degrees of confidence.

●  Possibility (2) doesn’t show that there are degrees of truth, but only that some things are more or less.  Instead of speaking of degrees of truth, we should speak of degrees of qualities.

●  Possibility (3) doesn’t show that there are degrees of truth, but only that some facts concern fractions or proportions.  Instead of speaking of degrees of truth, we should make use of our arithmetic.

●  Possibility (4) doesn’t show that there are degrees of truth, but only that some ways of describing how much of something there is are indirect.  Instead of speaking of degrees of truth, we should pay closer attention to oblique modes of description.

●  Possibility (5) doesn’t show that there are degrees of truth, but that our grasp of personhood is defective.  Instead of speaking of degrees of truth, we should clean up our careless metaphysics.

●  Possibility (6) is something like possibility (3).  It doesn’t show that there are degrees of truth, but only that there are fractions.  Instead of speaking of degrees of truth, we should distinguish among the propositions in the theory.

●  Possibility (7) doesn’t show that there are degrees of truth, but only that some statements are ambiguous.  Instead of speaking of degrees of truth, we should say what we really mean.

Other examples besides these seven can be suggested.  For example, someone might call a proposition half true because it resembles the truth, because it figuratively expresses the truth, or because it could have been true, but isn’t.  Someone might call a classification half true because an object is difficult to classify, because fits into more than one classification, or because no suitable classification for it has been devised.  Someone might call the statement that Pegasus is a winged horse half true because Pegasus exists only in the story and not in reality.  Someone might call the statement that a child is an adult half true because the child has traversed half of the distance toward being an adult.  Someone might call the description of a patient as “still alive” half true because the patient is dying.  And, of course, someone may call affirmations about God half true for all sorts of fuddled reasons.  But in no cases whatsoever do we actually encounter states of being which are neither true nor false but something in between. 

So the figure of speech “half true” is merely an amusing, ambiguous shorthand for things that more clearly be said differently, and does not describe what is actually the case.  The fact that we can devise formal systems of inference for so called half truths does not show that there are, in fact, states of affairs that are half so -- any more than the fact that we can formulate syllogisms about things that taste like the number seven shows there are, in fact, things that taste like the number seven.


Copyright © 2023 J. Budziszewski


Antipasto II

Monday, 05-22-2023


More quick thoughts to stimulate the intellectual digestion.  (See Antipasto I.)

+++  +  +++

A poster in my campus’s business school building is emblazoned with the slogan, "Leading at the Edge of Disruption."  Yes, I understand about innovation.  But how did breaking things become the preferred metaphor for the sorts of things accountants and managers do?

Hierarchies can be egalitarian, if they give equal treatment to those who are equal in merit, and if they treat only unequals unequally.  Egalitarianism can be authoritarian and punitive, if it treats those who are unequal in merit as equal.

Terrorism is contagious, and some terrorist theories actually count on the fact.  Their idea is that in order to fight fire with fire, the government will become so oppressive that at last the population will turn against it.  And then the terrorists have won.

Social scientists often construct vast models with causal arrows spearing off in all sorts of directions – that influences this and that, and this influences that and this.  I wonder:  Haven’t those who construct these models noticed that social structures change constantly?  Even if all the causal relationships really could be sorted out and measured, by the time the researchers finished doing so the relationships would all be different.  This is why political philosophy does best when it focuses on what has been called the permanent things.

The boast of some of these models is that can “predict” the outcome of, say, every recent election, going back years.  They can, but only retroactively.  Whenever their predictions turn out wrong, the researchers go back and tinker with the parameters until they would have turned out right.  That doesn’t mean the models will predict the next election right.  What an exercise in futility.

Although deceiving ourselves is something like deceiving others, there is one great difference.  If I lie to you cleverly enough, you really don’t know that I am lying.   If I lie to myself, then no matter how clever I am, at some level I do know that I am lying.  So when I lie to you, I have to keep you from noticing -- but when I lie to myself, I have to keep myself from thinking about it.

A student told me there were no objective moral truths.  I mentioned a precept of the Decalogue, and asked “What about that?”  He replied, “That’s not morality, that’s justice.”  But if we take justice in the classical sense – giving to each what is due to him – almost all morality is about justice.  To my wife, I owe fidelity; to my parents, honor; to the child whom I sire, an intact family in which to enjoy the care of me and his mother.

Though I can never keep up with it, I am endlessly fascinated with slang and its origins.  People who know this often recommend to me the Urban Dictionary.  Unfortunately, its definitions are submitted by users, and it is transparently obvious that many users find it amusing to invent filthy definitions for every word and phrase they can think of.  The words and phrases may not have had filthy meanings before.  But thanks to this so-called web resource, they do now.

People tend to think of souls as something only humans have.  No, even a plant has a “soul,” just in the sense that its embodied life has a pattern.  The difference is that the plant’s “soul” dies with the plant -- but for us, not so.  The pattern of an embodied human life – which is a rational life -- persists even in the absence of the matter of which it is the pattern.  But the human body is a part of human being too, and so the Christian hope is not an eternal bodiless existence, but bodily resurrection.

One soon wearies of all the nonsense spouted about “spontaneous order.”  If taken to mean that the order we see does not entirely preexist, then yes, some forms of order are spontaneous – markets, for example.  But if taken to mean that no elements of order need to preexist, then no, because there has to be a lot of prior order before other order can develop.  Think how many shared understandings the development of a market requires.

Failure to distinguish the reasonable from the impossible sense of spontaneity leads to big confusions, like thinking that the theory of natural selection eliminates the need for a creator of the physical principles that make natural selection possible, or thinking that because the mind learns from experience it has no inherited structure.

Concerning that inherited structure, the mind is not pre-loaded with moral knowledge of good and evil – a toddler doesn’t know the Golden Rule.  So don’t talk about innate moral knowledge.  On the other hand, the mind does have the properties that allow it to recognize good and evil when it attains the age of reason.  Even a blank slate must be made of a material that can take on the forms of the letters; try to chalk words on the ocean.

Scholars sometimes say that different views of Constitutional interpretation are like different views of biblical interpretation.  Some people say sola scriptura, others say that the written text makes sense only in the light of the unwritten text.   There is something to this analogy, but it breaks down quickly.  I hope no one is insane enough to attribute allegorical meaning to the Privileges and Immunities Clause.

Sometimes people vote for persons who promote unconscionable views because they really believe in these views.  However, sometimes they vote for them for irrelevant reasons – for example, they may trade their pro-life views for lower taxes.  But in order to quiet the protests of their conscience, they may then try to talk themselves into believing in the evil views too.

Differences among interests and points of view within a shared moral framework is good for a polity, but where did we get the idea that radical divergence of basic moral outlooks is also good for it?

Social scientists have known for some time that conservatives understand what liberals believe much better than liberals understand what conservatives believe.  I notice, however, that a good many progressive voters don't even understand what their own opinion leaders believe.  When you quote these leaders, quite a few people of the progressive persuasion will say to you, “You’re making that up.  No one would think that.”

Or that no one would teach it to public school children.

When the republic is finally destroyed, it will be taken down in the name of saving it from its destroyers.

As a Christian, I believe in the Messiah.  That doesn’t mean I have to like political messianism, which we find both on the right and on the left.  The difference is that left-wing political messianism is usually utopian, trusting the hero to take us to a political promised land -- but right-wing political messianism is usually reactive, trusting the hero to save us from the crazies who believe in utopia.  The advantage here lies with the left, because unfortunately, most people are more impressed by lunatic visionaries than by persons with no vision at all.

Except for obscenity, profanity, and fighting words, I don’t believe in policing the words we use in public.  But I do understand the temptation.  If I could make a wish, I would wish that everyone who used junk words like “wellness,” “impactful,” “proactive,” and “mindfulness” felt a bit ridiculous.

A warning to intellectuals such as myself.  Supposing the existence of square circles, you can do a lot of things:  You can make syllogisms about them, you can develop theories about them, you can even prove theorems about them.  But that doesn't mean that they exist.