Sunday, December 21, 2008

Opening the Heart

Human beings would like to be unburdened of their resentments and anxieties. These militate against the nobler and heartier elements of ourselves and push upon us nihilism and despair to replace the profound contentment we would otherwise attain. We find ourselves buffeted about between these two forces (the angry and desparate vs. the peaceful and content) and we seek salvation. The way to find it is to open the heart through the right kind of meditation. Failing that, under duress, we seek temporary relief of the burden by using drugs, sleeping all day, or succumbing to hypnotic states produced by experts who, like drugs, are able to cause a facsimile of the opening of the heart during the hypnosis so that the experience is highly pleasant and the recipient returns for more when the effects wear off. Rather than becoming hypnotized by one's conscience, one's heart, or by one's gratitude for living in this world, one becomes hypnotized by something which is frequently taken away: the hypnotist. The cult of personality, which is an essential element of fascism, preys upon the human aspiration to salvation. By the way, this is why those who see through the facade find the speech of the fascist unpleasant, rather than pleasant.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bah Humbug

I'm a Scrooge and an atheist. At this time of year I wish we had no Christmas trees or ornaments (although I admit the Christmas lights on houses are gay.) I don't want any presents and I don't want to give anyone any presents. No one needs anything, anyway, and everyone's spoiled. Bah, humbug. You all can take your Christmas and stuff it in a sock!

I just wish that this Christmas, and every other, all people could find the profound peace and joy of God in their hearts and be released from hatred and resentment. Imagine that! If not a single tree or present or plate of Christmas cookies could be seen one Christmas but instead everyone had this experience of God - now that would be a Christmas!

But instead, Christmas is supposed to be all about family and loved ones and giving and sharing and all that other stuff that has nothing to do with Christmas at all. Humbug. Cancel it and make it a work day.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Two Points in Favor of Libertarianism

1. I've argued on this blog that libertarians are wrong to maintain that it is in principle unjust for the government to take money from the able and give it to decent people who through no fault of their own have become unable to look after themselves. I still believe that. However, it may be that it is in practice wrong-headed to give the government this authority because it pushes us along the road to the oblivion of big government. In other words, it may be that human nature makes it unlikely that a lean welfare net can be maintained without its growing unwieldy, fat and oppressive. I think this is right. If it is, then abolishing government welfare is not an injustice to the unfortunate because they don't have a right to society ruining itself. They have a right to simple assistance, however, and it should come from non-governmental sources. So, I agree with libertarianism, though not in principle but only in conclusion.

2. Libertarians do not necessarily take rugged individualism to the absurdly extreme point that it entails the position that no one should ever need any help. At least, sensible libertarians do not do this and libertarianism doesn't entail it. Rather, libertarians countenance a society in which people need and receive help from one another without the involvement of government.

So, there is wrongheadedness in some strands of libertarianism, for example, the viewpoint that no one has a right to help unless he contracted for it and the opinion that an ideal society is one in which no one needs or receives anyone else's help. The first is essential to libertarian theory and the second is not. But the point is that neither is utterly fatal to libertarian political views.
Spiritual, but Not Religious

In the old days this meant you didn't go to church, you liked crystals and Buddhist meditation, and you believed God was "a force, like an energy" or similar gobbledy-gook.

Never mind that. Try this. If you have a profoundly powerful disposition to feel grateful that you are alive as a human being in this world and this disposition makes it easier for you to pursue the moral virtues, then you are spiritual. If at the same time you don't cotton to churches, rituals, dogmas and everything else associated with religions, then you aren't religious.

If, in addition, you shrug off the criticism that you are a fool to eschew the wisdom of one of the organized religions and go off on your own, then you are unabashedly spiritual-but-not-religious. If you are aware of the manifold foolishness partaken in by the organized religions, then you are also well-armed. If you acknowledge much that is good in organized religions, as well as the foolish, then you are level-headed, as well as well-armed.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Human Nature and Morality

In view of the last post's little sketch of the way in which it is important to keep human nature in view when setting purposes for ourselves, we can see that M. Stanton Evans's view of the role of God in a deriving morality from human nature is not a necessary role. Indeed, it may not even be helpful in view of what I said about nihilism in the aside.

Still worried? Keep your oughts close to your ises. The reason you ought to set purposes in harmony with observations, wisdom and lore about your nature is that you will be unhappy and unfulfilled if you do not. Also, in many cases you will go well enough astray to end up with an immoral way of life which disposes you to do wrong by others.

There is a link between what is right and human nature, though it is not a direct logical entailment of the former by the latter or any simple identity of what is right and what human nature bids us do. It is rather a loose tethering between the two, though a tethering just the same. There are cases in which we ought to disobey what nature bids. There is no need for a God to fix morality with the cement of human nature. Right and wrong would be what they are regardless of his choice.

If you're still worried, then go ahead and have your God. It's a beautiful thing to do and one more profound than words can say. It may make sense to believe in Him even while recognizing that his existence isn't necessary to morality.

Anyway, all that is not the point. The point is what human nature and morality are and what their relation is. Here is another bit of the linkage. Human nature equips us with benevolent or altruistic inclinations: desires that others fare well. Human nature also, of course, equips one with strong regard for one's own welfare. Observations, wisdom and lore about your nature allows you to understand the coherent meshing amongst benevolent and self-interested desires that may be attained. The manifold and complicated ways in which they coalesce in a set of values are a culture which reflects human nature. There will be more than one reasonable culture, where "reasonable" refers to internal coherence and degree of consistency with human nature and various other relevant facts about the way the world works. The attainment of a character in harmony with this coherent meshing of desires is virtue.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Human Nature and Conservatism

Jonah Goldberg quotes M. Stanton Evans:

The conservative believes that ours is a God-centered, and therefore an ordered Universe [and] that man's purpose is to shape his life to the patterns of order proceeding from the Divine center of life.

So all conservatives are theists? Not so. Evans expresses a very popular conservative belief, but there are conservatives who do not hold it.

Ours is a universe devoid of purpose and without center. There are patterns of order in it that generate a human nature, but there is not the slightest evidence of the existence of a God.

Human nature is the cluster of dispositions which we human beings usually have. We set purposes for ourselves, an activity which ought to be informed by observations, lore and learning about human nature. You can set a purpose for yourself but miss the mark and find yourself unhappy in fulfilling the purpose because it grates against your nature, the set of dispositions you ignored or of which you were ignorant in setting the purpose. You can also set purposes well suited to your nature. Happiness is the fulfillment of such a purpose.

The conservative view expressed by Evans is often beautiful and noble (and is only not so in the hands of perverse religion.) Taken as a metaphor it expresses my atheistic conservatism perfectly. Taken at literal value, it isn't true. But either way, I admire decent conservatives' embrace of it. Some of them have contempt for my conservative view of human nature, but that misdirected contempt is their problem, not mine.

[An aside: Let me reprise a former refrain regarding nihilism. If you suspect nihilism lurking in this atheistic view, you should not. There is nothing that I would take as evidence that nihilism was true. The conservative of Evans's stripe, on the other hand, would have to embrace nihilism if he discovered that there is no God. This is a precarious position, in view of the fact that there is no God.]

Our series on conservatism and human nature continue, overlapping at times. There is much more to say.