Category Archives: Logic

Symbols mean things

I’m a big supporter for formalism/”New Criticism.”  I always forget who said which, but often, when writers are asked what things in their books “mean,” they say things like, “I wrote a poem, not a puzzle,” (pretty sure that’s TS Eliot) or “If I wanted to write an essay, I’d write an essay.  I wrote a story” (Flannery O’Connor, paraphrased).
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Racism, Hatred and Bulverism

I read a cartoon twenty-some years ago: Two guys are sitting on a bench. One is reading a newspaper and says, “African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans; I’m glad to be a simple White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant.”
Guy #2 says: “You look more like a Jute to me.”
In the US, we group “Hispanics” or “Latinos” into one category, yet the term “Latin America” was coined by the French to counteract the Monroe Doctrine, arguing that American countries/colonies predominated by Romance-language, Catholic peoples. Even the predominantly Spanish-speaking cultures in “Latin America” see huge differences among themselves.
On the biology side, there are really only three “races,” a distinction the Bible suggests with the three sons of Noah. I read an article once about the biology of “race,” and how the similarity of Asian/Semitic peoples—modern anthropology having proven that Columbus wasn’t too far off in identifying Native Americans as “Indians”–is evinced by the existance of a relatively isolated tribe of cannibals in southern Africa who descend from Asians who migrated back into Africa about 10,000 years ago or so. Their language categories two kinds of animals–“food animals,” and “people”. They have no other categories of zoology or race/ethnicity. When they see people of Asian, North African or Native American descent, they recognize them as “people.” When they encounter darker-skinned Africans or Europeans, they categorize them as “food.”
One of the motivations behind “White Privilege” seems to be a desire to refuse to acknowledge that the so-called “WASPs” have brought suffering to lots of people they consider “Other”; not just darker sinned peoples. But to point this out is itself called “racist.” I keep seeing preemptive comments by angry African Americans about how the don’t want to hear about the suffering of the Jews, the Irish, the Italians or whomever, that “their” suffering is all that matters.
Suddenly, it’s “white privilege” because most “white” ethnic groups supposedly have more acceptance in mainstream American culture, or do not suffer the kind of persecution that “blacks” do. Nevertheless, as I noted in my previous post on this topic, this has not been the case in my own family’s experience. The upper class “whites” and the “minorities” of all socioeconomic levels tend to look down on us. Some people see freckles as a disease–there is a _Barbie_ book called _Freckles_ (1997), in which Barbie “helps” a little girl who’s embarrassed about having freckles by teaching her that, essentially, freckles are something to be ashamed of. People would be justly outraged by a book about how a darker skinned woman could be prettier if she made herself look more “white”, but if a “ginger” points out such kinds of bigotry and discrimination, that’s still somehow considered “racist” or a distraction.
We’re told that “white privilege” matters because of a “racist system” that is resulting in the violent deaths of thousands African Americans around the country a day, but pointing out that the minority of those are at the hands of officers, and the vast majority are at the hands of other African Americans, that’s dismissed as “racism.”
I’m told that if I check my car locks or clutch my wallet when somebody walks by, even though I do that when almost anybody walks by, I’m being a “racist,” if the person who walks by happens to be black.
I’m told that if I insist on overcoming racism by not being racist, that makes me a racist.
“Racism” is a perfect example of the logical fallacy C. S. Lewis calls “Bulverism,” a kind of ad hominem which he exemplifies by a scenario where a man says, “1+1=2,” and the woman says, “You just say that because you’re a man.” Person B doesn’t care whether the proposition is true or not, factual or not, but whether it fits the preconceived ideology, so some psychological or ideological presumption about Person A.
Bulverism is an offshoot of moral relativism. The most objective truth can be dismissed by saying the other person is delusional, or, in this case, “racist.” Emotion overrides logic. Logic itself becomes part of “white male patriarchal hegemony,” or whatever.
That is essentially the entire narrative of postmodernism.
And it doesn’t fix anything. It just perpetuates the cycle of hatred and violence, as the assassinations of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos this weekend demonstrates.
True racism involves hating people because of their skin color. It involves doing violence or oppressing people because of their skin color. What is the point of labelling a person’s every action, thought or word as “racist” just because of, well, the person’s race? How does that build community, understanding and love?

On Melancholy: the Physiological aspects of depression and bi-polar

Last night, I posted a semi-defense of certain controversial comments made in the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide and a general suggestion of how Matt Walsh, Rush Limbaugh, Bryan Kemper and others might have done better.

Part of Matt Walsh’s appeal is that, like the early Limbaugh, he uses sensationalistic packaging to get people’s attention to pieces that are usually very thoughtful. In this case, which backfires horribly because his piece isn’t as thoughtful as he thinks, he emphasized the notion that “Robin Williams didn’t die of a disease; he died of a choice.” At one point, he says, “First, suicide does not claim anyone against their will.”

He anticipates this response a few paragraphs above, but that is precisely the problem. Mental health issues, addiction, etc., reduce or remove culpability. Now, the mentally ill person may remain culpable for what is done while sane, but the question–which none of us can answer in this life–is whether the person who commits suicide truly has control of his or her will.

People like causes. They like to have someone or something to blame, especially if it isn’t themselves. “He was depressed because his career was in the tank” is an easy target versus “He was depressed because he had a genetic condition that made it difficult to control his emotions.” That gets into a mess of problems about free will versus determinism. Then there’s the controversial, “He was post-abortive,” which I want to discuss in a separate post, but while guilt, financial troubles, or frightening medical diagnoses may contribute to mental health issues, we cannot deny that there are physiological components. Matt Walsh is right that there are spiritual components, but wrong to dismiss “chemical imbalances” as modernist mumbo jumbo. Physiological understandings of depressive disorders are nothing new at all.

It is precisely “He was depressed because of XYZ” that is “modernist mumbo jumbo,” originating with Freud’s era.  Back in the old days, instead of “chemical imbalances,” people talked about “humors.” Melancholy is usually associated with depression, though the “melancholic temperament” would be what we now call “bipolar” and possibly include even autism. The melancholic is concerned about the troubles of the world, prone to mood swings, etc. Literature’s most notorious melancholic is perhaps Prince Hamlet from Shakespeare’s eponymous play. Three major movies made of the play within a decade demonstrate different psychological interpretations of the character:

The Zeffirelli/Gibson film (1990) depicts Hamlet as bipolar, mostly manic or “rapid cycling.”  
The Branagh/Branagh (1996) version depicts Hamlet as almost sociopathic (choleric), with the melancholy a complete facade.
The Almereyda/Hawke (2000) version depicts Hamlet as straight-up clinically depressed.  

Either way, all effective writers are natural psychologists and write their characters so well that they can be readily diagnosed (always baffles me that people insist you can’t “diagnose” fictional characters because a particular health problem or mental health issue wasn’t named: people still had problems).  Shakespeare drew from the psychology of his day and also left the character open to interpretation because he was aware of the debates that existed even then.

One of the concerns Walsh, and many others raise in critiquing a biological interpretation of mental health, is the spiritual component.  Fr. John Corapi would compare it to any physical disease: you might have a genetic predisposition to something. Then you add in the component of an actual physical trauma, poor nutrition, etc. Then bacteria come into the wound and infect it.

With mental health, you may have a genetic predisposition to bi-polar, depression, schizophrenia, autism spectrum, etc. You experience traumas that other experience but they hurt you more because of your predispositions. Things that might cause a brief situational depression for anybody are devastating (or, conversely, one thrives in a crisis). Then the demons, like bacteria in a wound, come along and whisper “You’re unworthy.” They infect the emotional wound and refuse to leave.  That certainly needs to be dealt with, and most treatment programs acknowledge it.  

“Madame has moments of melancholy,” says Max in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950).  Norma Desmond, also clearly bipolar (mania demonstrated by her literally insane, rambling “script” that she’s been working on for years), has made several attempts on her life, and Max has removed all the doorknobs in the house, as well as all knives and razors (“Madame got the razor from your room, and she cut her wrists!”)

If Robin Williams had shot himself, certain people would be calling for restricting the ability of mentally ill people to own guns. They cite statistics on gun deaths in America, more than half of which are suicides.  It is noteworthy that these same people objected to “politicization” of his death when some pro-lifers pointed to his status as a post-abortive father (post-abortion syndrome contributing to many suicides), or when Rush Limbaugh, ironically or inadvertently “politicized” his death by complaining about the media politicizing it.  Yet the same people would have readily “politicized” it if it had been a gun suicide.

That’s another easy cause, though, that  people look for.  They try to say, “It’s guns,” except when it’s not guns.  Nobody is talking about legal action to restrict ownership of ropes, or belts, or plastic bags, or knives or razors by mentally ill people.  The real issue there is why people must rely on the government for everything. 

A desperate person will find a means.

One last observation under this topic is the question of medication.  Some people will say, “See?  This proves meds don’t work!” or “This proves meds make things worse!”  One of the reasons it’s important to nail down the right diagnosis is that the wrong medicine really can be disastrous.  Someone with bipolar needs to be on bipolar meds, not necessarily anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds, which can cause a horrible mania and, in turn, drastic behavior.  

Accurate diagnosis is so very important, as are accurate treatment methods.  

False convictions and DNA: “Guilty until Proven Innocent”?

This is kind of off topic, but I’ve been thinking about this for a while. We often hear, especially in reference to the death penalty, that people convicted of crimes and later “exonerated” or “proven innocent” by DNA evidence. The following statistic gets to what I’m thinking:
“In almost 50 percent of DNA exoneration cases, the actual perpetrator has been identified by DNA testing.”
This is a perfect example of phrasing. One could just as easily say, “In less than 50 percent. . . . ”
The only way to “prove someone innocent” is such “Perry Mason” type situations: DNA cannot “prove someone innocent” unless it proves someone else guilty. Showing that DNA samples found at the crime scene do not match the suspect doesn’t mean he or she wasn’t there; it just means they found no samples to verify his presence. I read somewhere that, at any given time, there are probably hundreds of DNA samples on a shoe. DNA evidence is based upon matching up the random samples of hair, skin, bodily fluids, etc., to the suspect. A lack of DNA or other evidence means legally “not guilty”; it does not mean “innocent.”
However, on the other hand, it speaks to how the theory is supposed to be “innocent until proven guilty,” but in practice most of us think the opposite.

Why “Gay Marriage” Matters

Even many who profess faith in Christ insist that “gay marriage,” even as a civil entity, doesn’t hurt anybody.  Examples like “husband” and “wife” being changed everywhere to “spouse 1” and “spouse 2” should be enough for starters.  Then there is the increasing persecution of those who oppose the homosexualist political agenda: CEOs being fired from companies they co-founded,

Brendan Eich, who helped invent Java and Firefox, fired from Mozilla for a $1000 donation made 6 years ago.

and nuns being persecuted by the Church.

Should be speaking everywhere, not silenced

Of course, the latter was justified by “Catholics” bearing false witness against the Holy Father by saying his statements that homilists must talk about more than a few disjointed moral teachings means that none of us is supposed to talk about the specific examples, ever.

It all goes back to my old saying that we lost the Culture Wars before they began, at the 1929 Lambeth Conference.   The slippery slope that  led us to the current gay marriage debate started when the Anglicans became the first Christians to permit birth control, as Pius XI and Paul VI predicted.  Anyone who has tried to teach Catholic morality even in CCD, much less Catholic school, in the past generation or two knows how awkward it is to tell kids divorce and remarriage is a sin when their parents are divorced and remarried, that swearing is a sin when even their mothers cuss like sailors, or that birth control is a sin when everyone else uses it.  I went to high school with kids whose parents were NFP instructors, and even *they* would say things like, “It’s a sin for us but not for other people,” or “It’s better to tell teenagers to use birth control than to have them get pregnant or STDs.”

I think the persecution of Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel, OP, STD, has as much to do with her speaking about the negative consequences of divorce as anything else.  Indeed, the claim of Aquinas College that Sr. Jane is outside her academic credentials by talking of anthropology negates the traditional hierarchy of academic disciplines that a Dominican should be the first to recognize.

Soon-to-be St. John Paul II, who doesn’t mince words in Evangelium Vitae about the Conspiracy of Death, writes in Theology of the Body that the entire of Catholic anthropology is based in the Creation Account: indeed, that is the whole point of TOB.  From man being made male and female in the image of likeness of God and to be “one flesh” to the fact of Original Sin, JPII’s explication of the first three or four chapters of Genesis and Jesus’ teachings on marriage shows how everything else in theology stems from those passages.  He argues that the danger of Darwinism, and its importance to secularists, is that without a Creator, without teleology, without man being a soul/body hybrid, without Original Sin itself, then man is not a moral creature, and ultimately anything goes.

Something similar is at work in the Culture Wars in the contemporary West.  From contraception at one end to “marriage equality” at the other, advocates of “most favored sins” tend to promote each other’s cause: nobody wants to be perceived as a “hypocrite,” after all.  If some “bossy” Thomistic nun wants to start talking about sexual morality, then so much for “voices of women in the Church”!

And that’s the ultimate agenda of the Culture of Death (and, yes, Pope John Paul himself states repeatedly in Gospel of Life and elsewhere that it’s a conspiracy).    It’s even the agenda of those who, in the name of preventing child abuse, expose children to graphic “sex education.”  Obviously, Satan wants everyone in Hell, and Satan’s agents, whether they realize they are or not, need to encourage others to sin so they can feel justified in their own filth.

The 1988 Don Bosco film that used to run on EWTN before the 2004 version came out has subplots involving a brothel next door to St. John’s Oratory.  In one scene, there’s a commotion outside the brothel: two prostitutes get into a “cat fight.”  The boys stop their play and study to see what’s going on.  The Saint cuts through the crowd and pulls the two hookers apart.  “You people can drown in your sins, if you want!” he cries.  “But if a single one of my boys is lost because of you, not one of you can be saved!”

Harsh, you say?  Remember Our Lord calls for anyone who causes a child to sin to be drowned (Matthew 18:6).

That’s what’s at stake in “gay marriage.”

When I can no longer watch Wheel of Fortune with my kids because of a contestant introduction like, “So you’re getting married? . . . You found some nice young lady to marry you?” “Gentleman, actually,” that affects my family.
When we’re watching The Middle, and an ad comes on for Modern Family with two men talking about “their wedding,” and a cake topper with two men, that affects my family.
“Why?” asks the person who actively or passively supports same sex marriage.  “Are you afraid of them?  They’re nice people.”
No.
“Do you think you’re kid’s going to be gay?”
No.
Every child at some point wants to know why boys can’t marry boys or girls can’t marry girls, and “because they’re not supposed to” is usually a sufficient answer.

If society isn’t going to back that up, and if “the Church” isn’t even going to back that up, then one is left stranded explaining Natural Law.  It’s hard enough having to gloss over other issues.

They do not think parents have the right to teach their children morality or even to protect their children’s mental purity at a young age.   Then there are the increasing accounts of children at young ages becoming addicted to porn or committing sexual abuse because of things they’ve seen online.

When that stuff is literally everywhere, there comes a point when parents are forced to explain certain things to children that are not otherwise age appropriate–and that’s exactly what these demonic perverts want.

People Don’t Understand the Point of Adjectives

It just dawned on me that many “misunderstandings” and debates arise from the use of adjectives: does the adjective make the noun more specific or emphasize a quality?
When a _Wheel of Fortune_ contestant says, “I am married to my beautiful wife [X]” [I sometimes wonder if they don’t have a kind of MadLibs script: pick a living situation, pick a family member, pick an adjective, pick a name.], does he mean, “my wife is exceptionally beautiful,” “All wives are by definition beautiful and I’m just emphasizing it,” or “she’s my ‘beautiful’ wife, as opposed to my ugly one”?
The thought dawned on me just now reading the current issue of the _Carmel Clarion_, in which an article refers to the famous quotation from St. Teresa of Avila, “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, Lord deliver us!” If she were alive today, the mainstream media promote the headline: “Mother Teresa of Jesus, foundress of the Carmelite Reform, calls Devotions ‘Silly’ and Saints ‘Sour-faced.'” Then many sour-faced would-be saints would start arguing in comboxes about what she “really meant,” or whether she’s a heretic, or a modernist, or whatever, when it’s perfectly obvious that she means “saints who are sour-faced,” not all saints, and that she means “devotions that are silly,” not all devotions (and, further, that she means devotions that are practiced in a silly manner).

It doesn’t just happen in the “new media.” T. S. Eliot has been forever labelled an anti-Semite because of one sentence in a book (which he subsequently refused to have republished) that referred negatively to “free-thinking Jews.” The media jumped on it and said that Eliot wanted Jews to be slaves, when he was clearly, within the sentence, within the paragraph, and in his responses to the media, talking about “liberal” or “progressive” Jews–in the context, he was speaking favorably of Judaism and criticizing Jews who don’t appreciate or follow their faith, comparing them to Christians who do the same thing.

The basis of the sedevacantist movement is the claim that Vatican II teachings on religious liberty contradict the condemnations of “religious liberty” by Pius IX and Leo XIII, yet each of then condemned “a kind of religious liberty that . . . ” then used very specific terms to describe what we call “wall of separation” or “freedom *from* religion.” You can read them as saying, “all religious liberty is like this,” or “some approaches to religious liberty are like this and we condemn those.” That’s what hermeneutics is about. The former is the basis for the “hermeneutic of rupture” (on both the “Right” and “Left”); the latter is the basis of “the hermeneutic of continuity.”

“I didn’t say you stole my money.”

Some people have their knickers in a twist over the fact that radical pro-death philosopher Peter Singer has been invited to speak at Georgetown. Now, the circumstances are very important: is he being presented as an “esteemed” philosopher? Is he being presented in some honorary fashion such as a graduation speech? Or is he being presented as a speaker whose views need to be heard, even though we disagree with him?

Pro-life Catholic Robert George is often pitted as Singer’s arch-rival because they both teach at Princeton. They are often presented on a “joint ticket” debating with each other.

The purpose of a debate in the fields of rhetoric or law/political science is to win over public opinion and possibly change the other person’s mind.
The purpose of a debate in the field of philosophy is to take an opinion and strip it down to the person’s first principles.
That’s why George says he ultimately doesn’t have much to debate against Singer about. Singer is at least honest that the entity in the womb is the same as the entity out of the womb. He only differs from us in *how* that entity is to be treated, so from a philosophical perspective, there is little to debate with him about. He is clear on the logical connections between his first principles and his conclusions. Changing his first principles is a matter for prayer. Other pro-choicers would do well to at least learn Singer’s consistency, and hopefully hearing his views will change the minds of people who think they’re “pro-choice” but fail to realize the implications of that viewpoint.
George says that Singer’s views *need* to be heard because they expose the truth of the “pro-choice” viewpoint that most “pro-choice” people are in denial about.