Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Science Is Dead...

It may have been accidental, it may have been cold-blooded murder - but one way or another - the corpse is laying bloody and broken on the filthy floor of our public discourse.

We have two gifts, each of us.  We have gift for thought - for starting with things that we think to be true, and then deriving other true things from them - that is, we have the capacity for reason.  We have a gift for feeling - for having deep, passionate drive for a variety of things - freedom, love, the empowerment of others, to name some.

Reason and passion interact in very complex ways.  With reason we seek to understand the world around us and how it could be different - with passion we drive ourselves toward making those changes.  With reason we choose our path - with passion we move along it.

In the short term - it can become difficult to discern whether passion or reason leads us.  If we reverse things and allow ourselves to choose our path with our passion and then try to follow up with our reason, we can land ourselves in a world of hurt.  Passion - while energizing, if it isn’t directed intentionally with our reason, can switch from end to end rapidly, ensuring that we make little progress in any direction.  Or worse, since passion can be stirred by many things that are not in our own best interest - without reason to act as the guide - it is likely that we will end up doing things that harm both us as individuals and as a broader society.

Over the centuries we have discovered habits and systems that have helped us to keep the relationship between reason and passion in the right arrangement.  For many years most governing authority in many countries was placed into the hands of a single individual, with minimal check in place for short term passions that, by the power that the individual held, could lead to very wide-spread but very unreasoned changes in direction.  Around the time the US government was being framed, we as a race were beginning to understand the necessity to check the passions of the individual by building systems - governments with the particular end in mind of making passion subordinate to reason.  

On the smaller scale, the discipline of subordinating our passion to our reason is the idea of faith.  We convince ourselves rationally (either empirically or through the word of a trusted advisor) that the stove is hot when turned on, then we have the faith that that continues to be true, no matter how tempting it might be to lean on it with our hand on the surface.  Or maybe to illustrate passion a little more carefully - we prove to ourselves that imbibing large quantities of pizza and soda doesn’t do good things for our pant size.  And no matter how good that pie looks and how passionately I may want to eat the whole thing - I subordinate that sense to my previously arrived at conclusion.

To get back to the unfortunate death of science - lets make a quick, simple definition of science.  It is the act of discovering things through observation and reason.  And again to connect all of this - reason is what gives purposeful direction to our passion.

So how did this murder take place? 

Well it was cooperative in part - to start with, we find it very difficult when things are of the utmost importance to continue to lead with reason.  Passion jams its way to the front, and can drive to conclusions that have no real logical connection to the facts that lay around us.  This can be seen in public debates about climate change, abortion, and equality of sexes, races, etc. 

The second part is that we have fallen prey to abstraction when it comes to science.  We come to believe a thing, based on a rational analysis of the facts, and we have the faith to continue in that - and when we begin to engage with other people we make the argument, “you should believe this because it’s science”.  But we fail to actually speak to facts and the reasoning that carries those facts to the conclusions that we’ve reached.  We’re using science in the way that those in years past used religion - to manipulate, to control, and to get our way without doing the hard work of thinking and reasoning with others.   We’re accomplices.  We have the bright red blood of science dripping from our shaking fingers.  


Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Societies exist under three forms sufficiently distinguishable. 1. Without government, as among our Indians. 2. Under governments wherein the will of every one has a just influence, as is the case in England in a slight degree, and in our states in a great one. 3. Under governments of force: as is the case in all other monarchies and in most of the other republics. ... It is a problem, not clear in my mind, that the 1st. condition is not the best. But I believe it to be inconsistent with any great degree of population.

- Thomas Jefferson

He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants…He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves…and in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves...

- I Samuel, Ch 8.

There is a singular challenge that we face as human beings, living, working, and being together. A challenge that, as Mr. Jefferson points out, starts as soon as there is any degree of population. Or probably to be more accurate, any degree of sufficiently dense population.

The challenge is that we want to (rightly) optimize for freedom – the latitude of control over their own existence that a given individual has. This optimization needs to be balanced against the potential for this given individual to encroach on the freedom of any other individual. It’s not immediately apparent for a small number of people in close contact, but tends to become more and more obvious the greater the number and proximity of individuals are within a population.

In the time of Samuel, prior to choosing its King, Israel began asking for a government “like everybody else has”. They wanted to have a consolidated point of control – a single individual actually - since that was the hip thing to do at the time. In my view, this really shows the immediate pressure they felt to have a government that they could readily see and put their faith in. God’s design for them was a minimal human government – with him as the ultimate authority. This lines up with Jefferson’s idea of a perfect situation, but carried with it the caveat that it required a degree of faith that Israel was ceasing to measure up to.

That’s not to say that God is making the same offer to us today. But he was to Israel at that time. And in a way Israel was and could have “cheated” a bit – having very sparse government (and thus high degree of individual freedom) due to the fact that the one who had his eye on the ball was actually omniscient.

Looking back at that quote from Samuel – we see that a King will “take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves…” Undoubtedly, autocratic rulers for a very long time have been enriching themselves at the expense of the people they are charged to rule. Jefferson and the other founding fathers understood this paradox – that in order to provide freedom and latitude for a dense group of people, it is necessary to consolidate power to a certain extent. But at the same time, consolidating power almost inevitably creates corruption in the individuals that hold it (in the case of human beings anyway). That is – the Freedom and Safety that we want usually come at a price in terms of both Freedom and Safety.

The wisdom and genius of our founders was in creating, under some serious pressure I might add, a system that was controlled enough to distribute authority as widely as possible while at the same time consolidating it enough to keep things from flying apart.

The thing for us to remember in our time – is that this isn’t a static system. We are ruled by ourselves and the more we forget that or rely on others to rule us, the more consolidated power becomes. The more consolidated power becomes – the more corrupt we are. The more corrupt we are, the worse our lives get, but more importantly, the further from God we become.

The responsibility of participating in our government isn’t just a platitude that our grade-school teachers talk about to help us honor the long-dead geniuses that built the foundations. It’s a moral imperative that we all must square ourselves with.

To ignore the state of our own freedom is to create the corruption that would destroy us.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


“Virtue…I find you at last but a shade” - Euripides

We’re caught in a trap that we’ve inherited from our forefathers.  It’s an unquenchable hunger - a desire so deep, so intimately woven into the fabric of our souls that we have no hope of ignoring it.  No hope of medicating it.  No possibility of deceiving ourselves that we’re of the caliber of person to meet it, or that it doesn’t exist.  We are without hope, damned to starve in this barren wasteland of our own moral creation.

What are we to do?

Are we to strive to cover up our own perception - with drink or sex or stronger things?  It won’t work - we can’t outrun our own conscience - even our biology will adapt to the sensory distraction - such that we will need ever increasing doses to provide the same limited relief.

Are we to strive to live up to our understanding of virtue - using every last bit of our strength - denying ourselves anything that could possibly distract us from our singular goal?  No matter how focused we are and how valiantly we strive - we will fail.  Every violation of virtue will remind us of our utter inadequacy.

Every appetite that we suffer is meant to be combined with our reason - to lead us toward the future that we were meant for.  When we are hungry - it drives us toward the food we need to survive - though combining that with our reason we can also  choose to not eat things we’ve learned to be poison - or we can ration food for the future if we find more than our immediate hunger seeks. 

The obvious conclusion here, that shouldn’t escape our intellectual capacities, is that this particular appetite should drive us toward virtue but further than that, it should drive us toward the only One with whom we can meet our inbuilt desire.

Your Friend,