Saturday, May 29, 2010

Nietzsche on Marriage

A friend recently directed my attention to the 20th chapter of Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which pertains to marriage and children. I reproduce it here in its entirety because it is that interesting:

I have a question for thee alone, my brother: like a sounding-lead, cast I this question into thy soul, that I may know its depth.

Thou art young, and desirest child and marriage. But I ask thee: Art thou a man ENTITLED to desire a child?

Art thou the victorious one, the self-conqueror, the ruler of thy passions, the master of thy virtues? Thus do I ask thee.

Or doth the animal speak in thy wish, and necessity? Or isolation? Or discord in thee?

I would have thy victory and freedom long for a child. Living monuments shalt thou build to thy victory and emancipation.

Beyond thyself shalt thou build. But first of all must thou be built thyself, rectangular in body and soul.

Not only onward shalt thou propagate thyself, but upward! For that purpose may the garden of marriage help thee!

A higher body shalt thou create, a first movement, a spontaneously rolling wheel--a creating one shalt thou create.

Marriage: so call I the will of the twain to create the one that is more than those who created it. The reverence for one another, as those exercising such a will, call I marriage.

Let this be the significance and the truth of thy marriage. But that which the many-too-many call marriage, those superfluous ones--ah, what shall I call it?

Ah, the poverty of soul in the twain! Ah, the filth of soul in the twain! Ah, the pitiable self-complacency in the twain!

Marriage they call it all; and they say their marriages are made in heaven.

Well, I do not like it, that heaven of the superfluous! No, I do not like them, those animals tangled in the heavenly toils!

Far from me also be the God who limpeth thither to bless what he hath not matched!

Laugh not at such marriages! What child hath not had reason to weep over its parents?

Worthy did this man seem, and ripe for the meaning of the earth: but when I saw his wife, the earth seemed to me a home for madcaps.

Yea, I would that the earth shook with convulsions when a saint and a goose mate with one another.

This one went forth in quest of truth as a hero, and at last got for himself a small decked-up lie: his marriage he calleth it.

That one was reserved in intercourse and chose choicely. But one time he spoilt his company for all time: his marriage he calleth it.

Another sought a handmaid with the virtues of an angel. But all at once he became the handmaid of a woman, and now would he need also to become an angel.

Careful, have I found all buyers, and all of them have astute eyes. But even the astutest of them buyeth his wife in a sack.

Many short follies--that is called love by you. And your marriage putteth an end to many short follies, with one long stupidity.

Your love to woman, and woman`s love to man--ah, would that it were sympathy for suffering and veiled deities! But generally two animals alight on one another.

But even your best love is only an enraptured simile and a painful ardour. It is a torch to light you to loftier paths.

Beyond yourselves shall ye love some day! Then LEARN first of all to love. And on that account ye had to drink the bitter cup of your love.

Bitterness is in the cup even of the best love: thus doth it cause longing for the Superman; thus doth it cause thirst in thee, the creating one!

Thirst in the creating one, arrow and longing for the Superman: tell me, my brother, is this thy will to marriage?

Holy call I such a will, and such a marriage.

Hat tip to for posting this and other passages and to Paul Heimann - who is himself getting married today - for recommending it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Des hommes et des dieux

The winner of this year's runner-up Grand Prix at Cannes was Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux), a French film directed by Xavier Beauvois, about seven Trappist monks who were martyred in Algeria in 1996. The film also received the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, composed of Christian film makers, film critics and other film professionals.

Alas, there seems to be no trailer floating about the internets. There is, however, the clip above which presents, in simple fashion, the monks' dilemma. Here too is another clip, in which we see the life these Trappists were leading in Algeria. And if you know French, you may find this short bit with interviews from the film's creators interesting.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Rhetoric of Torture - Part II

Continued from Part I

Using Alan Dershowitz' concept of a torture warrant to overcome the "ticking time bomb" argument raises important ethical questions about how we seek to persuade others regarding torture. Is it permissible for one who is wholly opposed to torture to utilize Dershowitz’ warrant as a rhetorical tool against advocates of a wider policy of torture, even if it means implicitly accepting torture, at least for argument’s sake, in certain cases? Whether Dershowitz’ torture warrant is advocated as an actual policy or as a rhetorical device, “there is, of course, a downside: legitimating a horrible practice that we all want to see ended or minimized” (Dershowitz 267). Though this danger clearly exists if the policy is implemented, does it also exist even at the rhetorical level? Do we debase human dignity by suggesting, even if only for argument’s sake, that torture should be legal? Do we desensitize ourselves to its horrors by debating it like we might any other policy matter?

Social theorist Slavoj Zizek believes such debate is indeed dangerous, contending that “essays… which do not advocate torture outright, [but] simply introduce it as a legitimate topic of debate, are even more dangerous than an explicit endorsement of torture” (quoted in Levinson 30). Likewise, in his essay, “The Prohibition on Torture and the Limits of the Law,” Oren Gross argues that “even attempting to conduct a rational conversation about torture may be deemed wrong, as it can undermine the commitment to a general absolute prohibition” (230). However, both Dershowitz and Scarry appear to argue just the opposite, that “it is generally more possible to end a questionable practice when it is done openly rather than covertly,” and that we ought “relentlessly to document instances of torture that have taken place, to make a public record, and through that record, to bring public pressure to bear on stopping the acts of torture” (270, 288).

There is a further ethical question posed by Dershowitz’ warrant: is the nature of evil such that we can tacitly accept it, while we work to limit it? Or does supporting something like a torture warrant amount to assisting in that evil? Is Dershowitz’ distinction between the fact “that torture is being practiced” and his claim “that [torture’s] use should be reduced” a valid one (Dershowitz 274)? Or is the wrongdoing of others – the fact that torture will be done – simply a smokescreen legitimizing that for which few people would directly argue – the legalization of torture? Once again, the issue at stake is not Dershowitz’ intention, but the rhetorical possibilities of his argument. From here one might reasonably argue that we should also focus on learning to torture more efficiently, so we have to do less of it; but is torturing well (in a functional sense) the same as doing good (in the moral sense)? Do we want to walk down this Machiavellian road, potentially conflating these two?

To some, this concern with the mechanics and ethics of the rhetoric of torture may seem like intellectual gymnastics, a contorted and even impressive process, but of little practical concern. If, however, ideas have consequences, if people take seriously the things we say – and why are we saying them, if not on the assumption that someone is listening? – we must be willing to think of our arguments as more than parlor games.

Hat tip to James Burk, who made me write this essay for his War, Democracy & Society course.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Rhetoric of Torture - Part I

Arguments may be considered in two ways: philosophically and rhetorically. That is to say, they may be analyzed either with regard to their pursuit of the truth of a given matter, or with regards to their persuasive qualities. While the problem of torture is usually considered philosophically, the essays of Torture: A Collection, edited by Sanford Levinson, can also be considered from the rhetorical perspective. How are arguments about torture made? Perhaps most notable in this regard is Alan Dershowitz’ suggestion in “Tortured Reasoning,” that warrants should be issues for the application of torture, a provocative and highly contentious argument which makes regular use of the ticking bomb scenario. Elaine Scarry, in her essay, “Five Errors in the Reason of Alan Dershowitz” seeks to refute Dershowitz’ argument in favor of such a warrant; in so doing, she too considers the ticking bomb scenario, even though she contends that “an accurate understanding of torture cannot… be arrived at through the ticking bomb argument” (281n). This essay seeks to understand some of the scenario’s uses as a rhetorical device, the ways in which it may be rhetorically undermined by Dershowitz’ torture warrant, and some of the ethical difficulties in arguing about torture.

Dershowitz, a self-described “civil libertarian” begins his proposal for a torture warrant with the ticking bomb scenario, “in which saving a city from a nuclear, chemical, or biological bomb might depend on torturing the terrorist who placed it there or knew where it was hidden” (Dershowitz 258, Scarry 281). He does not argue that torture ought to be used in this situation, but writes, “I… believe that it would certainly be employed if we ever experienced an imminent threat of mass casualty biological, chemical or nuclear terrorism” (257). His goal, then, is to provide some sort of limitation and transparency for an undesirable practice which will inevitably take place.

Though Dershowitz himself does not say it outright, his torture warrant proposal could be used to call the bluff of many torture advocates. The proponents of torture see in the ticking bomb scenario a powerful rhetorical tool: few people would be willing to trade the lives of thousands of innocents simply to uphold the human dignity of a single terrorist. Though torture advocates rarely state as much, the implied argument is that if torture is permissible in extremis, it should be accepted generally, even in less extreme cases. Stated so baldly, the argument’s poor reasoning is clear; however, when presented in a more subtle and emotive way, the ticking bomb scenario makes a powerful case, even for the broad use of torture. But Dershowitz’ warrant threatens this line of argumentation by conceding the permissibility of torture in extremis, while still insisting upon judicial review for all instances, great or small. Dershowitz’ sidesteps the torture advocates’ strongest case – the ticking bomb scenario – by granting it, allowing him to then confront far more dubious applications of torture, “the thousands of cases that actually occur,” unlike the once-in-a-lifetime ticking bomb scenario (Scarry 282). As the Supreme Court of Israel notes, “there are [those] who argue that even if it is perhaps acceptable to employ physical means in most exceptional ‘ticking time bomb’ circumstances, these methods are in practice used even in absence of the ‘ticking time bomb’ conditions” (169). Dershowitz’ warrant would force us to take closer note the distinction between such cases.

I must repeat: this rhetorical use of Dershowitz’ torture warrant to undermine the ticking bomb scenario is a potential interpretation, and not explicitly in his essay. However, as Aristotle points out, rhetoric is not so much about making persuasive arguments as it is about finding the persuasive qualities in a given situation. The makings of good rhetoric are here to be found. Moreover, Derschowitz’ freely claims that his goal is to “provoke debate,” so considering his suggested torture warrant as a rhetorical thought experiment rather than a literal policy proposal is not entirely out of character (267).

Continued tomorrow in Part II...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Silly Question: A Baroque Free Bird?

I just listened to this recording by the London Baroque of Pachelbel's famous--and overplayed--canon and gigue in D major. The musicians on this recording play it at a quicker tempo than the plodding pace you normally hear at weddings.

Given the ubiquity of the piece, I have a silly question to ask: When these big-time baroque musicians like Andrew Manze give concerts, do rowdy spectators shout "Pachelbel's Canon" the same way rowdy spectators at rock concerts shout "Free Bird"?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Learning from the Free Imperial Cities

I have been known to write about Christian political mythology before. The whole notion might be considered problematic for a number of reasons (as the comments on the above post suggest). However, I find myself continuing to desire some sort of framework for thinking about Christian political philosophy precisely because Scripture provides so little.

To be sure, Scripture tells us a great deal about how to treat our neighbors: we are to love them, give them our coat, pray for them (even if they are our enemies). But Scripture does not tell us what form of government to have or how society should best serve the least among us. There are good reasons for this paucity of policy prescriptions: Scripture is primarily a theological account, not a political one. While Christianity has political implications, it is a religion, not a political party. Moreover, Scripture provides no single blueprint because there is more than one way to organize a just society. Still, I would like a little more to hold onto...

In the medieval era, many thinkers argued that the state should be organized as a monarchy, in imitation of the divine order, wherein Christ is King of the universe. This makes good sense: man is made in the divine image (Gen 1:27), is called to divine perfection (Mt 5:48) and love in imitation of God (Jn 13:34). Why, then, should man not also organize his polities in imitation of the divine?

There are, however, any number of problems associated with monarchy, as America's Founding Fathers pointed out. But does republican government necessarily undermine our understand of ourselves as subjects of Christ the King? I think not. The Cristeros of Mexico, though animated by a keen sense of divine kingship - best exemplified in their battle cry, "¡Viva Cristo Rey!" - were not bent on establishing a monarchy in Mexico. Instead, they wanted a republic that would accord with God's law and His Church.

A medieval model may here prove useful. In the Holy Roman Empire, there were free imperial cities, cities which received their charter directly from the Emperor and owed their allegiance to no intervening lord or margrave. Such cities were often governed by a municipal council. While conditions varied considerably from one city to the next, these councils usually had some sort of republican character, representing the leading families and guilds of the city, frequently through elections. Though they enjoyed extensive privileges, usually including exemption from taxation, such cities were essential to the Emperor, facilitating trade in his Empire and providing loans and other financial services to his imperial administration. Similar cities could be found throughout medieval Europe, sometimes called communes; in England, London enjoyed a similar status.

It strikes me that the notion of a "free imperial city" is a good way for Christians to think about how we organize our polities. On the one hand, the insights of republican government, checks and balances and other modern (and frequently secular) insights should not be discarded. On the other hand, we should never forget that our ultimate allegiance is to our Sovereign, from whom our charter for free government comes. In this light, there is a certain medieval flair to the Founders words: All men are created equal,... endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.... To secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Contemptus Mundi

A contempt of the world, which is dominated by fear of weariness and of sorrow, of disease and of old age, is but an asceticism of the blasé, born of disillusion and of satiety. It has nothing in common with religion but its terminology.
--Johan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages

Josef Pieper, in In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity, writes that true festivity is based upon an affirmation of the ultimate goodness of the world. However, just as one might mimic festivity in a perverted way, such as by overindulging in alcohol, so too one might mimic asceticism in a perverted way, such as by overindulging in tears. True asceticism, just like true festivity, is based upon an affirmation of the ultimate goodness of the world.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Bumper Stuck

Note: The following is a guest post by our friend Philip Blaxton; he originally posted it at his blog, Arrows in Our Quiver.

The phenomenon that is the bumper sticker is marked usually by over-stated positions, over-generalizations, or over-used clichés; perhaps they become a cliché having been a bumper sticker first. Am I the only one who flirts with the limits of the posted speed to catch a glimpse of the owner of a slogan I find particularly thought provoking or enraging? The entire goal of an automotive posterior decal is to catch the eye of the other drivers, make a point, be witty and memorable, and do it all at 70 mph. Given these criteria, I have recently witnessed two very successful pieces of car flare that I, obviously, deem worthy of comment.

The first bumper sticker, stuck cock-eyed next to the classic "KEEP YOUR LAWS OFF MY BODY" was blue with white lettering and read "IF YOU CAN’T TRUST ME WITH A CHILD/ YOU CAN’T TRUST ME WITH A CHOICE". I had to inch closer to read it again, since at first glance I wasn't able to grasp the point. The intended message, as far as I perceive it, sets in contrast the "sacred choice" a woman has as granted from her reproductive freedom against the sacred duty of parenthood. Given more space, it may read thus: "the choice I have to continue this pregnancy or not is a fundamental right that I have; if you cannot trust me to make this first, fundamental choice, how can you, then, trust me to make all the rest of the choices I will need to make as a result of not making this first." The argument makes sense from the pro-abortion point of view only, however. Why is it that any one person can be "trusted with a child?" Even more than raising them to know right from wrong and to always put forth their best effort, at the most basic level, a person can be trusted if that child will be kept safe while under said person's care. The stark truth is that this "choice" with which the woman is faced is whether or not to KILL the child. This can hardly be compared to the parent’s choices of pets, schools and ice cream servings he will make for his children until they are freed of his supervision. The bumper sticker has it backwards: "You cannot trust me with a child because you cannot trust me with this choice." Because ultimately, the baby may end up dead.

The second is perhaps more poignant. Its companion on its unkempt car read, "War is terrorism on a bigger budget," which could itself find an entire post dedicated to it. Our focus, though, will be on the yellow one that said, "Just say NO to sex with pro-lifers". My first thought, as I tried to decipher the meaning, was that the author (do bumper stickers have "authors"?) was pointing to the irony of future demographics in which all the pro-abortion people have chosen themselves out of contention, while all the pro-lifers keep producing rodent-sized broods and command the political/cultural sphere. But the conclusion is much more sinister. Historically, abortion has been, so to speak, the last line of contraception/birth control. The sexual revolution failed to account for the consequences of "freeing your inner sexual being", so if condoms didn't work, an abortion was the final solution so as to continue a sex life as one wishes. Abstinence only sex education will never be effective, we are told, because people are simply unable to control themselves—or at least shouldn’t have to. This bumper sticker elevates the abortion lobby to a new plateau; no longer is it about exercising one's libido consequence-free, but it plainly is about killing babies and nothing else. In other words, the sticker is admonishing us to make sure that every pregnancy has the opportunity, or potential, to be terminated. Sex with pro-lifers leads to babies who are not aborted.

It is the same dark, poisonous ideology in operation here as that at whose hands countless millions died in Europe not so long ago at all; one in which man is sacrificed for the sake of morality.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Letter to a Former Altar Boy

Dear former altar boy,

You've made it abundantly clear to me that you don't believe what the Catholic Church teaches. In fact, you've stated that you don't even believe in God.

I don't agree with you, but since you obviously want to discuss religion, I'm willing to listen to you. I hope you're willing to listen to me.

But please--please--do not begin our discussion with "I used to be an altar boy." If you start out that way, I will stop listening.


Because it shows me that what you're really trying to do is to forestall any criticism of your opinions. You're trying to impress me with your credentials, rather than engaging in an honest dialog. You're setting youself up as some kind of an authority, when you never got past a child's understanding of the Church.

Do you realize, by the way, just how ridiculous you sound when you claim to speak authoritatively about the Church just because you were an altar boy twenty years ago? That's like claiming you're an expert on the theory of relativity because you won first prize in a science fair in grade school.

I see that falling away from the Church must have been traumatic for you; otherwise, you wouldn't insist on talking to me about the Church. But, I want you to realize that having been an altar boy doesn't make your word the last word on the Church.

Perhaps when you were growing up you were disappointed in the character of an authority figure, such as a priest or your parents. Indeed, you probably had every reason to be disappointed. It's never easy finding out that a role model has serious flaws. But please don't pretend that you're the only person who has ever suffered in this way, because you're not. Others have suffered through the same thing; some have lost their faith too, but others have not. There's more to the Church than what you encountered as an altar boy.

Another possibility is that you never really believed, but were simply brought up in a Catholic family and expected to believe. Once you realized that you really didn't believe, though, you felt bitter that your parents had imposed this religion on you. This is the problem of "cultural Catholicism." What it means is that young people grow up in a residually Catholic culture without ever learning much about the Catholic part of their culture. Many young people who grew up this way leave the Church once they reach adulthood because she never really meant anything to them; they view outgrowing the Church as part of growing up. For most of these people, being an altar boy is just another childhood experience that they all have to go through, and one more reason they dislike their parents.

Whatever the reason you fell away from the Church, though, simply having been an altar boy doesn't make you an expert on religion.

Once you get that into your head, we can begin our discussion. Who knows, we might even come to some kind of better understanding.



P.S. Former altar boy, I know that what I just wrote sounds harsh, and I don't mean to insult you, but please try to understand my position. Lots of journalists, it seems, have been interviewing random guys on the street about the current scandal, and announcing that these guys used to be altar boys but no longer practice their faith, as if that was incontrovertible evidence that the Church is evil. The next time that happens, I'm going to throw my shoe through the screen--but I'd rather not wreck a good TV.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Further Comments on Immigration

My newspaper, the Financial Times, has carried two interesting columns on immigration, a topic I addressed last week.

The first, from Christopher Caldwell, points out that
opponents of [Arizona's new] law promise to resist it through boycotts and court challenges. It may indeed be overturned. But such action is unlikely to be decisive. Challenges to its constitutionality focus only on a handful of policing elements that could easily be purged in replacement legislation. The bill is long, detailed, carefully crafted and extremely popular.

Caldwell is skeptical of the grounds on which a legal challenge might be fought:
The nub of the constitutional questions surrounding the bill is that the federal government, not the states, sets immigration policy. Does this bill usurp federal authority? At the most basic level it does not – it leaves to Washington the determination of who is and is not legally in the country.

He also points out the strange twists some protests have taken:
Democratic congressman Raúl Grijalva has backed an economic boycott of his own state. His district has a Hispanic majority. Only 34 per cent of his constituents are non-Hispanic whites. (Which makes it hard to see how singling out Hispanics for racial profiling would be possible even in theory.)

The second, by Clive Crook, notes that the Arizona law does not differ so widely from the federal statues it seeks to support:
Federal law already requires non-citizens to carry their documents at all times. It is an offence not to. The law’s arcane and sometimes surreal provisions impose many other demands, some more onerous than others. These rules are so weakly enforced that few legal immigrants are even aware of them.

His description of the current system is scathing - and accurate:
A moronic compromise has been struck, one that has achieved the worst of all worlds. To satisfy public opinion, the federal government promises to exert tight control of immigration – then fails to, because it is unwilling to enforce its own laws. And it is right not to enforce them. Apprehend and deport more than 10m illegal immigrants? That would require totalitarian powers and cripple the economy into the bargain. But voters then feel they have been lied to, which they have. Their distrust of Washington increases year by year, making an intelligent solution to the problem ever more difficult.

This pathological bargain has also skewed the pattern of immigration. Illegal unskilled immigrants pour in and fuel a grey, tax-evading, sub-minimum-wage economy. Immigrants with skills, willing to pay taxes but disinclined to evade the law and the border patrol, are shut out.

Ask any US high-technology company how this crimps its productivity – and forces it to send jobs abroad. (Let those workers pay taxes to other governments. It is not as though the US needs the money.) The shortage of highly trained people pushes up the US wage premium on skills, so economic inequality worsens as well. Yes, they thought of everything. I defy anyone to propose a regime more stupid than this.

Finally, he notes what elements are needed for a successful reform package:
The three essential components of the needed reform are easy to see. First, more effective enforcement at and especially inside the border, including credible policing of companies that hire illegal immigrants. Second, wider channels for legal immigration, including a guest worker programme that allows temporary migration sufficient to meet the country’s needs. Third, conditional amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the US.
Without laws that are enforceable and enforced, most voters will oppose amnesty, because they will suspect – and in this case it really will be a reasonable suspicion – that the next amnesty will not be the last.

It is a rare day that I can read not one but two pieces in the London-based FT about my home state. Let us hope that all this media attention and the growing debate will finally lead to some comprehensive, workable and just immigration reform.