Show them without being angry

“How cruel it is not to allow men to strive for the things which seem to them suitable to their natures and profitable! Yet in a way you are not allowing them to do this, when you are vexed because they do wrong. For they are certainly moved to do things they suppose to be suitable to their natures and profitable to them. ‘But it is not so.’ Teach them then, and show them without being angry.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Ch. 6, para. 27, trans. by George Long.

This struck me as pertinent to the present atmosphere of intolerance of certain political views, even to the point of violence and destruction; though the anger certainly arises on both sides.

Who are the modern fascists?

I had a discussion recently about the “protests” designed to prevent conservatives from speaking on college campuses; specifically the Berkeley riots that shut down Milo Yiannopoulis’ scheduled talk, but there have been many others as is well known.

I contended that the tactics of the “blackshirts” at Berkeley were fascistic tactics. My opponent scoffed at that notion saying, “Armed leftists are fascists. Right.”

This is partly a question of what it means to be a fascist. Does “fascism” refer to the tactics used, or to the underlying goals? Fascism is generally understood to be nationalistic, whereas leftism is supposed to be internationalistic, as in, “Workers of the world, unite!”

But clearly nationalism doesn’t complete the definition of “fascism”. For one thing the original fascists, in Italy and then Germany, were socialists, which is a leftist ideology. Each of those regimes was also characterized by a “centralized, autocratic government“, whereas the modern, American right favors de-centralized government.

But I think what stands uppermost in people’s minds when thinking of the fascism of Germany and Italy is their “forcible suppression of opposition“. This is what is most commonly meant when one is accused of acting like a fascist, for example when police officers in riot gear are criticized for using overly aggressive tactics for purposes of crowd control. When “fascism” is used to criticize behavior, that’s generally what is meant. It may be a fair critique of the Trump administration that it has nationalistic sentiments, but so far as I can tell it has not engaged in fascistic tactics in the form of forcible suppression of opposition. (They couldn’t even push through the travel ban, for pete’s sake.)

I’m not sure what is bad about nationalism per se, though maybe someone can enlighten me. To me it seems the problem with German and Italian nationalism was the way it was implemented, with violent suppression of opposition. And of course, the fact that nationalism was conflated with racism in the notion that the only true German was an “Aryan” German. To the extent that anyone asserts that the only true American is a white American, I condemn that notion unequivocally. But to the extent that “nationalism” simply means “loyalty and devotion to one’s own nation above all others”, I’m all for it in Americans, and fully expect it (and respect it) in citizens of other nations. In my view promoting nationalistic sentiments through persuasion and the democratic process is not fascistic.

Whereas the “protests” are primarily about forcible suppression of ideas. Such force is justified on the ground that the ideas being expressed are wrong (see last sentence of linked article).

This is what the Inquisition is purported to have done. The difference is that the Inquisition would give you a trial in which you could defend yourself, before pronouncing you a heretic and forbidding you to express your ideas in public. Whereas the “protesters” go directly to the suppression of ideas, often using violent and destructive tactics. This fits the definition of fascism as well as anything in modern American life.

[EDIT: I was reading an article on the Crisis magazine website and came across this:

“According to Jonah Goldberg writing in National Review, ‘Seemingly every day there’s another story of a college campus caving into the notion that free speech and unhappy facts are racist.’ Radio and television political commentary are also popular venues for the new Inquisitors who zealously search out these sinners and brand them guilty of crimes against society. At least medieval heretics were given a trial.”

For the record, I said it first! : ) ]

Ruminations on transgenderism

Just some random reflections on this topic, arising out of a comment I posted on another blog.

The very notion of “gender” is meaningless without the concepts of male and female. Aside from that, what could gender possibly mean?

So-called “third genders” are either a supposed neutral ground between male and female, or a boy raised as a girl or vice versa. But the notion of raising a boy as a girl depends on there being an external concept of femaleness to conform to, either innate femaleness or socially constructed femaleness.

If one who is biologically male identifies as a female, which femaleness is he identifying with? Innate, objectively existing femaleness, or socially constructed femaleness? If the former, where does it objectively exist? If only in his mind then it’s subjective, not objective, by definition. If not only in his mind, and not in his body either, but existing objectively nonetheless, then where is it?

If the femaleness that he is identifying with is socially constructed femaleness, then it can’t be something he was born with but must be learned as he grows up. In which case it’s hard to understand in what sense femaleness constitutes his true, objective identity as opposed to something he chooses to identify with.

Possibly what they’re saying is that something within the person makes the socially constructed femaleness he observes more congenial to him than socially constructed maleness, and maybe whatever quality within him causes that congeniality comprises the objective thing within him which we call identification with that gender. Possibly so. But it doesn’t follow from the fact that a man has something in him which causes him to identify with socially constructed femaleness, that this person is “really a female”. In order to draw that conclusion, you would have to assume that socially constructed femaleness is objective femaleness; but that’s a contradiction. If it’s objective then it’s not socially constructed.

If gender is socially constructed and not objective, then we have no basis for saying that the socially constructed femaleness of our time and place, to which the transgendered man feels drawn, is true, objective femaleness. It could be (according to the theory that gender is a social construction) that the socially constructed femaleness of our time and place, if transposed to some other time and place, would be considered maleness.

If a man finds the socially constructed femaleness of our time and place to be more congenial, to match up more closely with what he feels himself to be interiorly, that simply means that he has qualities within himself that the society of our time and place considers effeminate. It doesn’t follow from this fact that he is objectively a female.

Confusion or order?

“The universe is either a confusion, an intermingling of atoms, and a scattering; or it is unity and order and providence. If it is the former, why do I wish to tarry amid such a haphazard confusion and disorder? Why do I care about anything but how I may at last become earth? And why do I trouble myself, for my elements will be scattered, whatever I do. But if the other supposition is true, I revere, I stand firm, and I trust in him who governs.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Ch. VI, para. 10, trans. by George Long.

What’s interesting to me is how this illustrates the fact that faith is a choice, an act of will. We don’t know with scientific certainty which of the two options is the true one, therefore we’re free to choose to believe that the universe is aimless, or that it’s ordered. If it’s the former, then why care what happens? In fact, why not leave this life as soon as possible? The fact that we don’t, perhaps betrays us.

Prayers you don’t hear anymore, Part 3

“King of virgins and lover of chastity and innocence, extinguish in my frame, by the dew of Thy heavenly grace, all flames of unlawful passion, that I may thus for evermore bide before Thee in innocency of body and of soul.  Mortify in my members the sting of the flesh, and repress in me every dangerous emotion. Together with all other virtues (each Thine own gift and, in sooth, well-pleasing to Thee), clothe me with true and abiding purity, that, unsullied in body and clean in heart, I may this day offer unto Thee the sacrifice of praise.”
Devotions in Preparation for Mass and Communion, prayer for Monday, in The New Roman Missal (Fr. Lasance), 1956.

(See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)

Why sexual sins make you stupid

Almost everything Edward Feser posts is worth linking to, but I think this topic is especially in need of clear explanation in today’s world. It’s a wonderful analysis and explanation of why sexual sins are “such a big deal”:

[One of the] morally significant aspect[s] of sex, … that the unique intensity of sexual pleasure can lead us to act irrationally, is perhaps less often discussed these days. So let’s talk about that.

*  *  *

[P]recisely because sexual pleasure is unusually intense, it is even more likely than other pleasures are to impair our ability to perceive what is true and good when what we take pleasure in is something that is in fact bad. In particular, habitually indulging one’s desire to carry out sexual acts that are disordered will tend to make it harder and harder for one to see that they are disordered. For one thing, the pleasure a person repeatedly takes in those acts will give the acts the false appearance of goodness; for another, the person will be inclined to look for reasons to regard the acts as good or at least harmless, and disinclined to look for, or give a dispassionate hearing to, reasons to think them bad. Hence indulgence in disordered sexual behavior has a tendency to impair one’s ability to perceive the true and the good, particularly in matters of sexual morality. In short, sexual vice makes you stupid.

*  *  *

[I]in contemporary intellectual life most people know nothing of, or at best know only crude caricatures of, [the general metaphysical framework underlying traditional natural law theory]…. Hence they fail to understand the rational foundations of traditional sexual morality.

But the Thomist is bound to judge that mere intellectual error is not the only problem. For it’s not just that people in contemporary Western society commonly disagree, at an intellectual level, with the natural law theorist’s judgments about what is disordered. It’s that they commonly act in ways that natural law theory says are disordered. And if such behavior has a tendency to impair one’s capacity to perceive what is true and good, especially where sex is concerned, then it follows that widespread rejection of traditional sexual morality is bound to have as much to do with the sort of cognitive corruption that Aquinas calls “blindness of mind” as it does with the making of honest intellectual mistakes. That people who don’t behave in accordance with traditional sexual moral norms also don’t believe that these norms have any solid intellectual foundation is thus in no way surprising. On the contrary, that’s exactly what natural law theory itself predicts will happen.

*  *  *

And thus it is no surprise that Christian theologians have traditionally emphasized the dangers sexual sins pose to one’s immortal soul. This is not because such sins are the worst sins — they are not — but rather because the pleasure associated with them makes them very easy to fall into and, if they become habitual, very difficult to get out of. (Churchmen who want to downplay the significance of sexual sins in the name of compassion are thus acting in a way that is in fact anything but compassionate.)

I highly recommend reading the whole thing, as these excerpts come nowhere near doing it justice.

Edward Feser, “What’s the deal with sex? Part II“, Edward Feser blog, February 6, 2015.

Prayers you don’t hear anymore, Part 2

“Guard me around about with the loving and watchful care of Thy holy angels: and before their most sure defence may the enemies of all good, flee in confusion. For the sake of this dread mystery and by the ministering hand of the holy angel of the sacrifice, do Thou, O Lord, preserve me and all Thy servants from that obstinacy of spirit wherein lies pride and vain-glory, envy and blasphemy, uncleanness and wrong-doing, doubt and mistrust. Let them be confounded that persecute us. Let them perish that are bent upon our ruin.”

Devotions in Preparation for Mass and Communion, prayer for Sunday, in The New Roman Missal (Fr. Lasance), 1956.

(See Part 1 here.)