Category Archives: Uncategorized

This is for all the lonely people

Ripped from the comments:

Hundreds of fellow species of insects, birds, even a handful of primates. But at our level, only us. We want a companion species, something or some entity to be our equal, our make. If the Neanderthals or the Denisovans had survived as separate human species, and there were two or three of us humans on the planet, I think matters would be different.

As it stands, I think we want intellectual children and AI is that hope: like us, but different, so we’re no longer alone in a world full of non-human animals. It’s the same impulse that makes people treat their pets as children, as blood members of their family, and unironically refer to themselves as “mommy and daddy” to a dog or a cat that is their “baby”.

I think we’re even worse off than that. We’re definitely lonely, but it’s because we’re in denial about the potential companions that already exist.

What if the Neanderthals had survived to the present? Since they’re able to interbreed with humans, aren’t they really just another race? What difference would it make to have Neanderthals in addition to whites, blacks, Asians, etc? We already don’t know how to deal with having all these races which are visibly different (and here I’m only speaking to the skin-level, nevermind any deeper differences). How much worse would we be if Elves showed up who were our superiors in every measurable way?

The truly alien minds are in our own homes: men and women. We are quite different, sometimes in large and sometimes subtle ways, and we cannot do without the other. Currently, we respond to this with denial, to the point where it took me years of living with a woman to unlearn the idea that we were just different skins slapped on the same basic mind template.

So yeah, we’re lonely, in the same way that Burke and Wills were starving; we’re misusing the resources that are there to fit the need. The trouble is that our current conception of “equal” does not allow room for “different,” so we just deny difference entirely. After all, in any reductionist materialistic view, a different thing is not equal. The Pauline view of equality as “valuable, yet different, parts of one body” is much more workable.

A babied toy dog is a clear case of parental instinct gone haywire because it has no baby to lavish its attention on. Encourage everybody to delay marriage and treat women as men-with-boobs, and it is any surprise that the craving for interaction with someone truly other manifests in more unusual ways?

Private Law

Today, I flew on an airplane. As is dictated by the rituals, I prepared to unpack all my computers, remove my shoes, empty all drinks, let them take naked pictures of me, and just generally have my travel made much less pleasant.

But not this time. This time somebody else purchased our tickets for us using their frequent flier miles. This time we got to go to some special security line where they all but waved us through. I didn’t unpack anything, remove any articles of clothing, I carried a whole 8 ounces of milk right in, and I only had to pass through an old-fashioned metal detector. It was exactly as things had been before 9/11.

I always knew that the politicians who assure us of the necessity of these measures would never in their lives have to endure them. I didn’t realize that the whole upper echelon of society got to opt out. If somebody lets you sidestep a security measure in exchange for money, they don’t actually believe in that measure. They’re just keeping out the riff-raff.

The word “privilege” is derived from the phrase “private law,” specifically referring to laws passed for the benefit of a single person. With the TSA, laws were passed that do little other than harass people who are not rich enough, and then everybody at the top exempted themselves from it. I like the old corruption better.

Youth aren’t children

Today I am a
man. Tomorrow I return
to the seventh grade.

Haikus for Jews

For the past few weeks I’ve been down with the Youth group, teaching them almost exactly the Church History curriculum I put together for their parents a few years back. Last week, we discussed matters of church and state. The week before that, the Trinity. When I mention this, people act surprised that we would touch on such weighty topics with such a young group.

I think this is absurd. In any other age, the “kids” I am teaching would have already formed their own households and be responsible for at least one child of their own by now. That we choose to infantilize them is to our shame, not theirs. It’s all the more absurd that we hold them back so long from becoming adults in the name of educating them, and then hold back the education as well because they aren’t adults. If you can’t teach them now, at the peak of their educational career, when exactly do you expect to be able to?

Jews historically considered their children to pass into adulthood at 13, becoming responsible for their own actions and sins. Jonathan Edwards entered Yale at that same age, where he had no difficulty absorbing texts like “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.” High schoolers are way past those milestones. If they act like children, it is because we insist that they do so. If they are unable to handle meaty topics, it is our failure as teachers, not their insufficiency as students.

So free your kids from their playdough and safe spaces and teach them some advanced theology already. Sink their teeth into a classical education. They can handle it, if you’ll just let them.

Papal Probability

This article contained some numbers which led me off on a tangent.

Pope Francis is the 266th pope. There have been 37 false popes.

Therefore, 37/(266+37) = 12.2% of papal claimants are antipopes.

The average Pope serves for 7.3 years (John Paul II, it turns out, had the second longest reign in history).

Now, the average US life expectancy is 79.8.

Therefore, on average, an American will see ceiling(79.8/7.3) = ceiling(10.93) = 11 popes in their lifetime.

So, given an antipope rate of 12.2% and 11 popes in a lifetime, what are the odds that you will see an antipope in your life?

My probability is very rusty, and I wasn’t exactly great at it back in school, either, but I’m pretty sure this boils down to a classic Probability Mass Function

f(k;n,p) = Pick(n k)(p^k)(1-p)^(n-k)

So, the probability of exactly one antipope in a lifetime:

f(1;11,.122) = Pick(11 1)(.122)^1(1-.122)^(11-1)
= 0.36534

In other words, the odds of you living through exactly 1 antipope are a little over 1 in 3.

But wait, there’s more!

What are the odds of at least 1 antipope in your lifetime? At this point, the maths get pretty long and repetitive, so let’s cheat using the internet:

Probability of success on a single trial: 0.122
Number of trials: 11
Number of successes (x): 1

The answer?

The power of Apostolic Succession and the great Tradition of the Catholic Church assures you of a lifetime of legitimate spiritual leadership 1 time out of every 4.

In other words 76.1% percent of us will live under an antipope (and very likely more).

So there you have it: mathematical proof that Martin Luther was probably correct. Happy Reformation Day!

The Telos of Wall-E

KILL ALL HUMANSHot on the heels of my Platonic eulogy and Brian Mattson’s definitive Noah review, he gives us a Wall-E review which is all about telos:

There is a particular term in the script that sounds like run-of-the-mill fancy “robot” jargon, but is actually a key to the film. When WALL-E first meets Eva, they have what is basically a one word conversation, asking each other:

“Directive?”

What’s your purpose? Why were you made? What are you supposed to do? Almost all of the characters in the film have a unique “directive.” WALL-E picks up and packages trash into cubes. Eva searches for organic life forms. Mo cleans up skid marks on the floor, et cetera.

The Earth needs somebody to look after it. That is the unique human calling and responsibility. Nature needs humans. That is not an example of Hollywood’s war on humans; it’s a sensational exception to the rule.

Deconstruction of Sesame Street monsters

Sunny Days would make a good name for a mental institution. Coincidence?Big Bird is schizophrenic. Elmo is a narcissist. Grover’s a megalomaniac. Cookie Monster is a binge eater. Oscar is a hoarder, Bert has Asperger’s, Ernie has ADD, The Count has OCD, and Aloysius Snuffleupagus is severely depressed (probably because his parents divorced).

Every Sesame Street monster embodies some form of personality disorder. But why would we choose such a cast for a beloved children’s show?

To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, “Fairy tales do not tell children monsters exist. Children already know that monsters exist. Fairy tales teach children that monsters can be killed.” Haven’t you ever wondered why it is that a children’s show stars monsters? Monsters aren’t generally considered to be cute and cuddly; if your child says that there is a monster under the bed, they think it wants to eat them, not sing the ABCs.

Sesame Street episodes are our modern day fairy tales. And the monsters are a warning.

They weren’t always monsters, you see. They used to be children.

The mental age of your average Sesame Street monster ranges from 3 to 6. Haven’t you ever wondered where their parents are? Sure, we often hear them speak of mommies (and very rarely daddies), but we almost never see them.

Every one of these characters has some terrible flaw that they let grab control of their life. It ultimately grew so large that it drove a wedge between them and the rest of their families, and transformed them into something other than human.

Fairy Tales teach us that we can defeat external monsters. Sesame Street teaches us that we need to watch out for the monsters inside of us as well.

Confessions of St. Augustine – Chapters 3-4.5

Monica and Augustine“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” – I Corinthians 1:25

Now a young adult, Augustine travels to Carthage for what would be a rough equivalent of college. There, he discovers his love of philosophy, so it is fitting that this section ended up giving us several different things to ruminate on.

You don’t want no drama

Augustine was quite taken with the theater in his younger days, but looking back he views it as a great waste of time. He cannot seem to figure out why we would enjoy watching something that stirs up feelings that, in real life, we try to avoid:

But what kind of compassion is it that arises from viewing fictitious and unreal sufferings? The spectator is not expected to aid the sufferer but merely to grieve for him. And the more he grieves the more he applauds the actor of these fictions. If the misfortunes of the characters — whether historical or entirely imaginary — are represented so as not to touch the feelings of the spectator, he goes away disgusted and complaining. But if his feelings are deeply touched, he sits it out attentively, and sheds tears of joy. Tears and sorrow, then, are loved.

In our discussion, none of us were able to come up with an answer to this, even though none of us shared his dim view of the entertainment industry. Some did theorize that movies provide us with a release for some of our more negative emotions, preventing us from bottling them up, although this didn’t seem to quite cover things. If true, though, the ideal movie would run through all of the emotions.

The simple complexity of scripture

Reading Cicero gave Augustine a thirst for knowledge, and he turned back to the Bible to learn more. However, as a teacher who specialized in rhetoric, he found the language somewhat crude.

When I then turned toward the Scriptures, they appeared to me to be quite unworthy to be compared with the dignity of Tully [Cicero]. For my inflated pride was repelled by their style, nor could the sharpness of my wit penetrate their inner meaning. Truly they were of a sort to aid the growth of little ones, but I scorned to be a little one and, swollen with pride, I looked upon myself as fully grown.

One of the important features of Scripture is that it is accessible to even the simplest people; everybody is able to comprehend what is necessary for salvation. It’s interesting that Augustine actually viewed this as a mark against it; he was too proud to want to be part of something that was so accessible to even the uneducated. At the same time, looking back, he realizes that Scripture also went over his head. Underneath the simple message, there is more than enough meaning and wisdom that even two thousand years later people still haven’t finished penetrating its depths.

Unsaved loved ones

At this point in his life, Augustine had turned to Manichaeism, which caused extreme distress to his mother:

My mother, thy faithful one, wept to thee on my behalf more than mothers are accustomed to weep for the bodily deaths of their children. For by the light of the faith and spirit which she received from thee, she saw that I was dead.

This stood out as a rebuke to most of us, who have unsaved members of our own families, but not a similar level of distress. Augustine’s mother was eventually rewarded with a vision assuring her that he would rejoin her in the faith, a prophecy that took almost a decade to come true.

Baptism and death

One more incident stood out to me in this section. Augustine’s best friend falls sick. Augustine had previously converted this friend to Manichaeism, but while he was unconscious and near-death, his presumably Christian family has him baptized. Surprisingly, this has a very marked effect on the friend when he temporarily revives:

For when, sore sick of a fever, he long lay unconscious in a death sweat and everyone despaired of his recovery, he was baptized without his knowledge. And I myself cared little, at the time, presuming that his soul would retain what it had taken from me rather than what was done to his unconscious body. It turned out, however, far differently, for he was revived and restored. Immediately, as soon as I could talk to him — and I did this as soon as he was able, for I never left him and we hung on each other overmuch — I tried to jest with him, supposing that he also would jest in return about that baptism which he had received when his mind and senses were inactive, but which he had since learned that he had received. But he recoiled from me, as if I were his enemy, and, with a remarkable and unexpected freedom, he admonished me that, if I desired to continue as his friend, I must cease to say such things.

All of which raises for us the issue of just what baptism is. Modern Protestants don’t usually take it very seriously, but historically baptism has been a very contentious issue. Lancaster itself was settled by the Anabaptists, who were regarded as heretics in large part because they felt that people should not be baptized until they were able to understand their creed. While many of us now regard baptism largely as a rite we undergo because God commanded it, previous ages viewed it as having almost mystical powers, a view that seems supported by this story.

The friend died not long after, plunging Augustine into a great depression. Everything “looked like death” to him now, and seemed pointless. Augustine continues to delve into this in the next section.

Assignment

Read through page 90, which will take you most of the way through Book 5. The first half of this section departs from autobiography and delves more into theology, dwelling particularly on how even good things like friendship can distract us from God. He also discusses the first books he wrote (he finds them foolish now), and we learn more about his interactions with the Manichaeans.

They prefer irrational creatures

Giraffe“Although keeping parrots and curlews, the [pagans] do not adopt the orphan child. Rather, they expose children who are born at home. Yet, they take up young birds. So they prefer irrational creatures to rational ones!” -Clement of Alexandria, head of the first Christian seminary, ca. 190AD.

With that quote in mind, I point you to two stories of the past week. In the first, the latest on the woman beloved by the left solely for her pro-abortion filibuster. The tldr is that she wasn’t so much a single mother as she was a mother who ditched her kids and husband the day after he finished paying off her student loans.

Meanwhile, we have a zoo receiving death threats for killing a giraffe.

On the bright side, Wendy’s position is already evolving.

Douthat on Sexy Soma Slaves

detroit theaterI’m not saying Ross Douthat steals his ideas from me, but I will say that you heard it here first. His latest column is especially insightful, and raises a particularly disturbing prospect: the American “elite” class hanging on to marriage for themselves as a way to ensure their own success, while discouraging the lower classes from it. I call this particularly disturbing, because I think it would be both a fairly stable, and a terribly unjust system.

If the heart of your social analysis, the core of your conclusion, is the idea that the homogamous new elite’s social behavior is essentially (if perhaps unknowingly) self-interested — that the pursuit of meritocratic success has led the mass upper class to “walk away without a care … from people who in other circumstances, even in the not so distant past, would have been our friends and coworkers, lovers and spouses” — then perhaps you need to apply the same cold-eyed perspective to that elite’s cultural assumptions and attitudes as well, and to the blend of laws and norms those attitudes incline its members to support. Is the upper class’s social liberalism the lone case, the rare exception, where our self-segregated, self-interested elites really do have the greater good at heart?

If we’re inclined, with Waldman, to see our elite as fundamentally self-interested, then we should ask ourselves whether the combination of personal restraint and cultural-political permissiveness might not itself be part of how this elite maintains its privileges. If the path to human flourishing still mostly runs through monogamy and marriage, who benefits the most from the kind of changes that make that path less normative, less law-supported, less obvious? Well, mostly people who are embedded in communities that continue to send the kind of signals that the law and the wider culture no longer send.

When we legalized abortion and instituted unilateral divorce, we helped usher in a sexual-marital-parental culture that seems to work roughly as well for people with lots of social capital as it did sixty years ago, while working pretty badly for the poor and lower middle class. It is still a reality of contemporary life that when anyone can get a divorce for any reason, the lower classes seem to get far more of the divorces, and that when anyone can get an abortion for any reason, the poor end up having more abortions and more children out of wedlock both. And it is still a fact that if you tallied up winners and losers from the sexual revolution, the obvious winners would tend to cluster at one end of 1975’s income distribution, the obvious losers at the other.

Remember your Fredrick Douglass, who was intimately experienced with such a system:

Slavery does away with fathers, as it does away with families. Slavery has no use for either fathers or families, and its laws do not recognize their existence in the social arrangements of the plantation. When they do exist, they are not the outgrowths of slavery, but are antagonistic to that system.

In completely unrelated news, 4 out of 5 children in Detroit are born out of wedlock.

Everywhere there be dragons

Raphael's Saint George Fighting the DragonIf you’re either a literary geek or a regular geek, io9 has an excellent piece on Tolkien’s view of dragons.

Dragons are a curiosity to me, mostly because they’re another of those things that, for no apparent reason, can be found across cultures. Europeans and Asians both have ample tales of dragons. Even Australian aborigines tell of a creature that could fairly be considered a dragon. It’s enough to make you wonder if some dinosaurs managed to hang around into human pre-history long enough to inspire a few legends.

Even more interesting, European dragons were not always the giant lizards they are today. They used to be much more serpentine-very much like Chinese dragons. One distinction does hold strong, though: Asian dragons are benevolent; European dragons are evil. Smaug, obviously, is a European dragon.