Friday, November 26, 2010

Scott LaFaro 1961

If you are interested in traveling to the site of LaFaro's death on the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, July 6, 2011, please contact me via email (see my blogger profile for email address.) It would be good to pay tribute.

LaFaro changed jazz bass playing before he died at 25. Through his innovation, he made my life as a bass player immeasurably better. I can hear the melodies and harmonies that I want to play and I can play them because he showed me how. The least I can do is to lay some flowers at the site of the accident.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Leftist Dogma and its Derangements

The left loses every time on philosophical principles and on historical and economic facts. This is why they usually offer nothing more than imaginative and deranged expressions of antipathy towards conservatism. They can't disprove that Man has unalienable rights to liberty and property. They can't disprove that big government devolves into wasteful kleptocratic bureaucracy. They can't disprove that some ways of life are better and others worse. Because these things are demonstrably true. And yet the falsehood of these truisms is the core of leftist dogma.

If the core of your dogma were demonstrably false and yet you were unfailingly committed to it, you would be deranged, too.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Crap You Believe

You actually believe this stuff:

FDR ended the Great Depression with extensive regulation and high spending.

Democrats care about the poor and non-whites, not corporations. Republicans care about corporations, not the poor or non-whites.

If you tax at lower rates, you get less revenue. If you raise taxes, you get more revenue.

Republicans are the party of No. They have no policy ideas.

Democrats pushed the Civil Rights Act through against Republican opposition.

Barack Obama is an intellectual who is very smart.

The Democrats under Reid, Pelosi and Obama saved us from sliding into a depression. The evidence is that they said so. That unemployment skyrocketed after their stimulus program - which they promised would reduce unemployment - is not evidence to the contrary.

Social Security and Medicare are great programs, not ponzi schemes. They just need to be funded properly with higher taxes on the wealthy.

The Democrats' spending will get us out of the recession. It's several trillion, and it's been two years with no results but we need to be patient.

It is not the case that the Secretary of the Treasury said this in 1939:
We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises ... After eight years of this Administration, we have just as much unemployment as when we started. ... And an enormous debt to boot!
You actually believe all that crap. What the hell is the matter with you?

Friday, November 05, 2010


You're a leftist, not a liberal. Liberalism died 100 years ago.

Leftism is not so much a political philosophy as psychological attitude composed of a contempt for the poor and a hatred for conservatives. This is why it flourishes unencumbered by the facts of history and economics and by the lack of philosophical basis (cf. the conspicuous failure of Rawls's attempt at proof.)

Why would someone embrace such an impoverished political stance? Because of his discontent with himself, his lack of love for himself, and his envy of certain others: those who love themselves and flourish in this world as it is. For someone who is lost in these ways leftism provides an immediate semblance of complete moral redemption. The sickness - the contempt for the poor and hatred of conservatives - become sanctioned as the very redemption of the lost soul, the substance of his righteousness. They disguise themselves as pity and compassion for the poor and righteous moral indignation for conservatives, thus becoming psychologically almost impossible to overcome. This is why we have old, foolish leftists in their 50's and 60's or older, pathetically oblivious to their deplorable situation.

The poor become the tools of the leftist's political designs, the conservatives his political enemies.

If he is smart or ruthless, he will become one of the powerful. If neither smart nor ruthless, he will become one of their useful idiots.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Patient Stirs

The patient is in a stupor, the victim of a malicious poisoning.

He tries to wake up, his only chance at survival. Stirring, he opens his eyes - glazed, pleading, panicked, a fire burning deeply in each one, yet only partially focused on what lies before them. A leg jerks. A hand grasps. Some sounds are heard, sincere and urgent, yet garbled and muddled. The eyelids narrow once more, the pupils still gazing out from between them. The poison courses through the veins toward the heart, half of the body still, accepting, at peace. It won't be long. The throat emits moans, a fist clenches, the chest strains.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Kekes, On the Human Condition II

Your well-being depends upon fulfilling the values you hold dear, and this fulfillment depends upon your being in control of yourself. You must correct the beliefs, motives, and emotions which do not map appropriately to this set of values. This is the control of yourself which you must have.

Of course, mistakes will be made. You might change attitudes in a direction from bad to worse, such as when you move from over-eagerness about an endeavor that was good for you to depressive dejection about it and a mistaken belief that it is not worthwhile or possible for you.

Kekes raises the point that the ways of self-control are too varied to be distilled into one summary gist. In this regard, kinds of compatibilism other than his are mistaken for ignoring the variation in beliefs, emotions and motives which are the objects of self-control. Also, libertarianism is mistaken for denying that there is a satisfactory sense of self-control that does not appeal to a transcendence of the natural world and its laws. Hard determinists are incorrect in denying the reality of self-control. Kekes tries in this way to carve out a unique approach to the issue of the age-old question of free will.

there are peculiarities of your character to which you must pay attention in resolving the way to increased self-control. You have either mistaken beliefs, inappropriate emotions or conflicting motives which must be ferreted out and changed. There are no simple recipes for this.

The critical reflection upon your attitudes which enables you to increase control of yourself occurs within you. It has special significance for contributing to your well-being and not for existing outside the natural causal order. It has causes prior to it in your genetic makeup and your upbringing but these do not eliminate its importance. Therefore, Kekes's compatibilism is not committed to the standard objections which incompatibilists may raise. Also, his view is different from simpler forms of compatibilism in that it does not either equate freedom and responsibility to this critical reflection or reduce critical reflection to and specific formula.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Case Against Premarital Sex

This is to say, while one is in the courting and childrearing age, to have sex with a person before deciding that he is a good marriage choice for oneself. Of course, it is a matter of consenting adults not harming anyone without his full understanding and enthusiastic concurrence. So, the way this act is wrong is by being a very bad choice for oneself, not by being a matter of harming another by doing something to him to which he hasn't given consent. Because this fact is not obvious, we can know that there are people being harmed due to their failure to understand the significance of this fact. If a man and woman have premarital sex, they harm themselves and harm each other.

Let's see if I can muster the case. There is a certain window in time when the human being searches for a mate. This window must not be wasted on a poor choices, which may occupy us for several years or even many years. While dating or being married to someone with whom one ought not to be married, one wastes precious years of the mate-choosing period. But engaging in premarital sex seals this deal. One begins a potential multi-year endeavor the likely success of which one has insufficient evidence. One hopes that the love and the depth and harmony of the interface of characters in a certain pair of lives will grow while one enjoys the sex. But it may not grow. One may find years gone and no satisfactory mating relationship.

Therefore, abstaining and waiting many years in which one searches for an appropriate mate and builds a relationship of depth may be the prudent way of looking for a mate. How else will one be able to ferret out the true characters of sufficient numbers of candidates by whom one finds oneself smitten? It's a roll of the dice unless one follows the contours of human nature as it in fact is. We do better abstaining from premarital sex because (a.) bringing sex in early in a relationship with a potential mate is consistent with bringing it in early with many poor mating relationships, and (b.) bringing sex in early radically elongates the duration of those poor relationships because we prefer fewer sexual partners when we are in mating mode. So, (b.) reminds that we don't want to hop from bed to bed every couple of weeks and we want a single, lengthy relationship. And (a.) reminds us that we are more likely to frustrate these preferences if we have premarital sex.

It's simple math: If you're going to go to the bedroom with someone, it better be someone one is well justified in preferring as a mate; otherwise, one either bed-hops amongst scores of mates or has a high risk of having some lengthy and unsatisfactory mating relationships.

This is a case against premarital sex. The wrongness of premarital sex is not piquant; it's subtle. It is less reprehensible than it might be if its wrongness were more obvious. And it's not a terrible wrong because it doesn't completely prevent anyone from having a good life. But it may indeed be a wrong to oneself and to others for the reasons I've given.

To put a finer point on it: One may end up unhappy, when the mating season is over and nature has closed its door, for having engaged in premarital sex. This normally involves having done things which brought others to this unhappy fate along with oneself. Premarital sex is a serious matter, though not a terrible wrong. It is like laziness, a vice which can seriously damage a life, but it's worse than that for it involves bringing another along with oneself.

Human nature doesn't make it only pleasant to do the right thing. It is rather less carefully designed than that. There are conflicting motives, dissatisfactions, such as the desire one has at age twenty for fulfilling sex. These dissatisfactions are not written out of the script; the script isn't that tight. Get your kids used to it and able to adapt to it. They might be more likely to find a fantastic spouse by age 25.

But while human nature isn't perfectly swimmingly easy to adapt to, one can increase one's ability to thrive under its set of dispositions. Doing so, one notices a certain ease increase and a struggle subside. This is where virtue and depth of character lie. The disposition to abstain from premarital sex may be included amongst the virtues.

I'm not sure that this case is sound. But it's the first case that has occurred to me in many years of thinking about the matter. I find it highly compelling. It may admit of exceptions, as the viciousness of laziness has exceptions under certain circumstances.

UPDATE: Clarification: If you sleep around, you aren't meeting likely mates but people who are interested in sleeping around. Some of these might be interested in doing both at once, and so may you. But you will be unlikely to make such a match, let alone one that is good marriage material. On the other hand, if you are having premarital sex with one person as boyfriend or girlfriend over time, then when you find out he or she is not an appropriate mate for you, it will be difficult to extricate yourself from the tangled web linking you together. They say that breaking up is hard to do, as Neal Sedaka said. You will hope things change into a wonderful engagement and marriage, but they won't. The other option is to shop for mates without having sex. Get to know candidates very well. This option has neither of the drawbacks of the of the two options which include premarital sex. It will take time, of course, but it will probably take less time and be more accurate in picking out an appropriate mate.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Kekes, On the Human Condition II

There is an enormous world of brute physical events and objects, having no significance or value in themselves and independently of what any conscious being thinks or desires. In this midst of this there is a tiny place we carve out in which events and things matter to us because we are beings who have preferences that things to go one way for us rather than another. There is no larger story. Death is the end for each of us. Some of us have undeservedly bad lives, and there is no balancing of the scales afterward. There is a set of values by which we can guide ourselves to fulfilling lives if we are in sufficient control.

Such is the secular view of the sort Kekes describes. If this seems unsatisfactory, then you are committed to the position that if there is no supernatural backdrop to the cruelty and contingency of life which redeems it for its shortcomings, then life is not worthwhile, there are no genuinely good lives worth aspiring to, and there is no right and wrong but only, as Euripides said, dreams of these things. This is an untenable position. It is conceals an inevitable commitment to despair.

However, religion, in its decent and good varieties, of which there are many, is a beautiful complement to life. And God, if he exists, would be disappointed in the covert commitment to despair. Look at it in this way. He loves you. He is in your heart. Upon death, you cease to exist.

A second point, about what I've called "Humean realism." It may also be called "subjective realism." Do not confuse it with Kekes view of moral facts, which we will endeavor to discern as we go. But to make it clear, consider the taste of sugar: sweet. It really is sweet, is it not? You might convince yourself otherwise as a freshman in Intro to Philosophy class, but only for a moment, and only with the giddy knowledge that you are playing with the facsimile of belief. Sugar is sweet. It has this property, as a matter of fact. Now, this property is not one it has independently of the subjective states of human beings and other animals, any more than "70 miles from Charlottesville" is a property Richmond has independently of Charlottesville. Similarly, the various moral values we hold dear are genuine and real, but they do not exist independently of the set of desires which beings like us have by nature and by cultural and individual persuasion. Think about these things a little more and you will begin to get an idea of subjective realism, at least of the variety I espouse.

We'll turn to Kekes's chapter two next, in which he fills in his picture of control.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Kekes, On the Human Condition I

We continue our series of looks at John Kekes’s books. His A Case for Conservatism is required reading. You can tuck into the archives for other posts in this series. These posts aren’t reviews or summaries, although they briefly describe the books chapter by chapter. Rather, they are my own musings. This year On the Human Condition appeared. Let’s take a look.

Kekes thinks he needs to defend a secular view of the human condition, that is, to explain and defend the way in which we ought to conceive of human well-being and to do so without appealing to a supernatural realm. I disagree. I think there is no need to dwell on the secularity of a view of human welfare. One need only state and defend it. Critics may object that it suffers for leaving out the supernatural, and one may defend the view against them. In any event, Kekes does not dwell long in the beginning of the book. After distinguishing his view’s secularity from that of others, which assume the perfectibility of Man, the supremacy of science in human reasoning, or the universalism of moral judgment, he notes that any secular view must respond to the concern voiced by Euripides long ago that Man may be so completely tied by natural contingency to the chance or luck of physical forces and natural events, that to aspire for him to aspire to a good life may be delusional. In other words, either we have control over our lives and may fulfill our hopes or we are completely at the mercy of brute forces which have no intention at all of fulfilling them and may fulfill them only by chance.

The first step Kekes takes in the book is the break down this dilemma. We have a little control, and we may get more. There is no dilemma but only an opportunity for the individual to move from the one extreme of being at the mercy of luck toward the other extreme of complete control. The means of this progress are the large array of values which we inherit which enable us to choose lives suitable to producing our well-being, cooperation with others, success in competition with them, and the power to use practical reason to reflect upon the other means to determine how to refine them.

It is good that Kekes brings control, or, as he has called it in previous books, self-direction, to the foreground in the beginning of the book. Your best high-level strategy for improving your life is to try to increase your control. You ought to decide to do this if you have not. I decided to do this when I was about 13 years old, and the depth and happiness in which it has resulted in my life have been enormous. It is central. It is the lynchpin. You will have otherwise only luck to count on. Control entails determining a set of mutually consistent goals for your life which fit your aptitudes and inclinations well and then relentlessly putting these goals above less important concerns in your actions over time. This involves practical reasoning about which goals these are to be. It involves reflection on the large set of values you have inherited which enable you to do more than just to fulfill your basic animal needs. It involves disposing yourself to cooperate and compete well with others.

Naturally, this might seem for a moment like it goes without saying. But think for a moment about the many people you have witnessed in lack of control, in drift. This may include yourself.

Enough of that. One other point of interest: that for Kekes our values are fallible. You might find ones that are not good. These are values which do not get it right about us. He says,
Our values and attitudes are fallible and we continually revise them in the hope of making them less fallible. They are also unavoidably reflexive, because we are both the valuing and the attitude–forming subjects and the objects of our evaluations and attitudes. Our fallible and reflexive attitudes and our forever changing values are genuine characteristics of the law-governed world. Although we have made them and we are perpetuating them, they really do exist.
Quite right. But there are questions to answer about this (tuck into the archives on this.) The status of moral facts is a tough nut to crack. The subjectivist position holds that these facts are not real. It is incorrect. The objective realist position holds that these facts are independent of human desires. It is incorrect. There is nothing that would count as evidence that the Manson murders, Stalin’s murder of millions of Ukrainians, or the whichever paradigmatic case of brutal evil you would like to summon from your local newspaper were not, as a matter of fact, very wrong. And there is nothing that would count as evidence that there is a set of determinations of right and wrong which hold true even though they are deeply abhorrent to and inconsistent with the various desires human beings have, the fulfillment of which makes their lives worth living to them. Subjectivism and objective realism, then, are both untenable. My own view, which you can find in the archives, is a revised and extended version of Humean realism. What is Kekes’s view? We shall see.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident

Human nature being understood, and moral language being understood, one can make some observations.

Human beings are more likely to thrive under conditions of liberty. The chances of fulfilling a person's preferences by coercing him are much lower than his own chances of fulfilling his preferences by his own discovery of those preferences, decision as to how to fulfill them, and freely undertaking to act on his decisions. If his betters have wisdom on the matter he can seek it out by inquiring of them. If someone decides to control and coerce him, it will unlikely be his better and even if it is, it will unlikely be a man who could fulfill the preferences of his subjects as well as they could fulfill their preferences.

This is pretty close to self-evident. Anyone who understands human nature and history sees that this is so. This is part of the reason why it makes sense to say that it is self-evident that we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.

The rest of the story is this. The terms of morality, "right," "just," "good," and so forth are defined in such a way that certain truths are self-evident, tautologies. "People have a right to the property they earn by labor." "People have a right to liberty." "People have a right to life." Also, "men are equal" in the sense that they are equal under the moral law is true because this is simply the statement that different moral evaluations require that there be relevant differences between the subjects of these different evaluations. If we judge person A's action to be permissible while person B's we judge to be impermissible, then we must be able to point to a morally relevant difference between their actions. In other words the concept of the moral law entails that all subject to it are equal under it. These truths are self-evident because there is nothing that would count as evidence that they were not truths. They are momentous tautologies subsisting at the core of the conceptual system of morality. Morality isn't about cheese or planets. It is about these things; they are the warp and woof of it.

This is why it is so that "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Some Points about Human Nature

But to get back. I just have a few points about human nature.

Human nature includes a set of desires. These are wired in, with various degrees of intractability and malleability. The set is a cluster: a set with a set of sensible connections amongst its members. By “sensible” I mean reasonable, told in a cogent story, fulfilled in a way that can be explained, told as a fulfilling life. By “fulfilling” I mean a maximization of the fulfillment of the desires in this set.

The intractability and malleability: There are many conflicting possible lifestyles which human beings have selected and found fulfilling. The ascetic lifestyle and the life of the American middle-class family man are a pair of examples. Both can be fulfilling lives. This shows that a narrow and partial fulfillment of the set of desires may be found satisfactory, as well as a broader net fulfillment. The ascetic fulfills only a few desires, the family man many. On the other hand, there are varying degrees of likelihood of achieving a good life amongst these alternate paths. The lifestyle which fulfills only a few of the desires most intensely is less likely to be good. The drug addict, the astronaut who leaves earth alone forever to journey to another solar system, and the ascetic are less likely to have good lives than the family man who has his social life, his hobbies, his religion, his career, his health, etc. So, there is a human nature which constrains the range of possible good lives, even though that range is not narrow.

So, there are ways of life which fulfill human nature in various styles - subsets of the fulfillment of the larger set of desires. Each subset is a structured cluster which may be explained as a life which delighted its owner by fulfilling a large set of his desires in a delightful way. A subset of human desires which hangs together by mutually abetting each other’s fulfillment relies on a set of practices for just that particular fulfillment. This is a culture. Culture is an enormous source of good lives for human beings because it is a way of enabling human beings to fulfill their desires as a large set, including the benevolent ones and the sense of justice. This set of practices emanates from human experience through trial and error, through interaction with the set of desires which is human nature. (Notice that the drug addict, the astronaut who leaves society forever, and the ascetic need little of culture.)

If you make a plan for society, and you are not deeply wise about human nature, you will come up with ghastly austerities which contort our preferences. Top-down social planning requires a grasp of human nature. The rub is that human nature doesn’t mix well with top-down social planning. Such planning is therefore self-undermining. No one is wise enough to create a social plan for the fulfillment of human nature. No one is smart enough to create a culture worth preserving. The set of desires in human nature is too complicated.

Aiming to preserve a culture is a different matter. Naturally, one loves one's culture. It is good because it is a source of human fulfillment. It enables a person to fulfill a large set of his deeply held desires. It gives him pathways which will enable him to fulfill many of them. Naturally, a set of values needs to have mistakes ferreted out of it. But this is perfectly consistent with a devotion to its preservation. People are well-suited to recognizing good cultures, to improving them in small, piecemeal ways, and to preserving them by practicing them, advocating them, and passing them down to the next generation.

There is one more thing which we can see here and which is unfortunate. Those who like to partake in top-down social planning are not likely to be concerned with planning in a way consistent with human nature. Those who are so concerned are not likely to be interested in taking a role in government. In other words, the one who would control and plan society is more likely to be one who doesn't understand that he must let culture take the lead and not try to replace it with his plan. People who want power are usually like that. Human nature is suited to limited government. Societies are fortunate which promote to leadership people who do not wish to replace their society's culture.

As the Declaration of Independence says, we have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What this means is that human nature is such that a person's life cannot be good unless he is alive and is free enough to pursue the fulfillment of a large subset of the desires which make up human nature. Since it is self-evident to anyone who understands human nature and the concepts of right and wrong that human beings have a right to pursue good lives, it follows that human beings by nature have rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (Notice that it is not strictly self-evident that we have those rights but follows self-evidently from a self-evident premise.)