From time to time when I stake out pluralist positions on the Internet, I am accused of relativism. It took me a little while to articulate how pluralism does not necessitate relativism, but I think the more interesting point is that many morally absolutist worldviews in North America today are minimally pluralist. Conservative forms of Christianity offer some of the best examples. That’s what I want to outline in this post; in part, I hope to direct people here if I ever get into such an argument again. If you find this argument compelling, you can use it in this way too.
(If you prefer “moral realism” to “moral absolutism,” feel free to swap them in your head. I’ll be using “absolutism” because “realism” has way to many meanings, depending on the specific philosophical argument at hand, than I care to deal with here.)
Source: Lawrence OP at flic.kr/p/kxTYRQ
I can give an abstract case for a pluralism compatible with an absolutist view of what’s good for humans: Imagine there are sixteen types of people in the world, but there are thirty-two ways of doing something (earning a living, say). It might be the case that for each type of person a different way of doing something is best. Nonetheless, it does not follow from this that all thirty-two ways of doing something are good. A full half of them might, by objective standards of value, be bad for people at the same time that many of them are legitimate. Moreover, it may be objectively the case that for people of any given type, one way of doing something is best. However, I think this abstract case too readily allows a person to project their ideas about pluralism onto it. Specific and unexpected examples, I suspect, will work best to drive the point home. The examples I want to use are vocations and complementarianism. Continue reading
I have mentioned W. Paul Jones’s theological worlds construct more than a few times here. It is one of the constructs I use to help me understand why other people believe and assume the things that they do. But I’ve also expressed concern here about two potential problems that arise out of Jones’s very Christian emphasis: a) how useful is it to apply Jones’s construct to non-Christians and b) how comprehensive is his set of Worlds?
To an extent that last question is an empirical one which will be difficult for me to answer; Jones’s method involved surveying hundreds of people and I do not have the resources to do the same. But there is another way to attempt to answer the question about comprehensiveness which, I have discovered, might also help make his constructs more useful for non-Christians. After a bit of thought I think I have been able to schematize his Worlds so that they do, or at least might, cover all possible sources of anxiety and obsession about the human condition.
Stephane Lollivier at flic.kr/p/DnhB8H; I spent a while trying to find a Creative Commons image of a garrison town with a wooden palisade in boreal forest, but no such luck.
Let’s start with that human condition: human life is characterized by a) individual humans with their own internal dynamics b) embedded within and enmeshed with an environment which includes, but is not limited to, the facts of time and space, of the Laws of Thermodynamics, and so on, and c) associated with other individual humans (even if only their own parents) in ways more or less organized. The internal workings (understood both physically and psychologically) of any given human, which I will call human nature, has various requirements (ie. sustenance, medicine, narrative), some of which that person can only attain from the surrounding environment; when humans organize themselves into institutions, they usually do so with the purpose of making it easier for themselves to meet these needs through collective action. These organizations are necessary because it is often difficult for people to meet their needs either within themselves or through interaction with the environment. Even when it is not difficult to meet these needs alone, there is no guarantee that it will remain easy.
Therefore there are three places where crises may arise for any given person: in the environment (which, again, includes all contingent and all necessary features of existence, such as time and space and the laws of physics), in the person’s own internal workings (which might be generalized human nature or a specific person’s unique nature), or in human organization. Indeed, while all problems must necessarily involve elements of each of these three aspects of human existence, an individual person may experience one of these as being more responsible or more ultimately responsible in comparison to the other two.
One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was the Colossus of Rhodes, an iron-framed and brass-covered statue of the titan and sun god Helios, which stood in the harbour of Rhodes, Greece. Built in 280 BCE, it was the tallest statue of its time at 70 cubits high (about 33 metres or 108 feet). Contrary to popular depiction, it likely did not straddle the mouth of the harbour. Nonetheless, it would have been an impressive sight to any sailors approaching the city. Greek myth animated another bronze colossus in Crete named Talos: either Hephaestus or Daedalus made the automaton on Zeus’s behalf in order to defend Europa, queen mother of Crete. He had one vein in his metal body, which ran from his neck to his ankle; it was fastened shut with a single nail. When the Argo approached, with Jason at the helm, Talos tried to repel it and Medea used her sorcery to dislodge the nail. His ichor ran out of him like molten lead and he died. The Cretan word talôs is equivalent to the Greek hêlios, meaning the Sun, which is the subject of the Colossus of Rhodes. Much later the Romans made further bronze colossi: the Colossus of Barletta, the Colossus of Constantine, and the Colossus of Nero.
I feel like I live inside a colossus of this type: a brazen image of myself, physically idealized, well-proportioned and gargantuan. It is hollow, and I stand inside it with the clear understanding that I am supposed to grow into it. I am supposed, somehow, to fill this statue so that it is merely my own skin. But I have no sense that this thing is possible, nor how to achieve it if it is. Instead I try to operate the colossus and speak from it like a puppeteer. Relying on the full extent of my scant ingenuity I try to create the illusion that I have done what I am supposed to do, or at least that I am in the process of growing into it. But I know better. I have made no gains in that direction. From within, the colossus rings as empty as it ever has.
Amod Lele of Love of All Wisdom, in the comments of my second to last post, “A Partial Apology for Liberalism,” recommended that I read Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. Though I was skeptical for the first few chapters and I found some of the prose unclear, I wound up quite enjoying it. I’m not convinced of the demonstrative half of his argument, but I will discuss that in greater length later. Right now I want to focus on his discussion of Sophoclean tragedies.
Source: UCI UC Irvine at flic.kr/p/dp67Vf
Let this first sentence serve as a content warning for an extended discussion of suicidal thoughts and depression. If you are here looking for the undiluted saccharine, try this instead. Still, there will be pictures of and there will be affection for bunnies.
In the summer of 2015 I graduated from my MLIS program at UBC and, as you may already know, went to live with my brother and his wife in Toronto, Ontario. They owned–indeed, still own–two rabbits who I was excited to spend more time with: a bedraggled and affectionate cloud named Delphie and a distrustful half-dwarf named Baxter. To my great surprise, they had a third rabbit living in the bathroom when I arrived: a tiny starved white-and-caramel lop with outsized ears and feet.
Aswan as a bathroom bunny. Picture copyright Christian Hendriks, 2015.
My sister-in-law had been walking home from her studio and found someone giving her away on the street, with a carrier and a bag of pricey rabbit pellets. Concerned that she would wind up in a stew pot or with some family incapable of caring for her, she took the little rabbit home. According to that previous owner, who could not bring her with him to his new condo, her name was Aswan. Continue reading
Before I begin, a note is warranted: I will be dropping a lot of names in this piece and I want to put you at ease before you have to deal with them. I don’t expect that any of my likely readers will be familiar with most of the people I mention and I am trying to write specifically so that you can still understand what’s going on without knowing who they are. Anything I need you to know about them, I will tell you myself. I will also provide links should I fail in this endeavour or should I succeed in piquing your interest, but I do not intend for you to rely upon them. That said, let’s begin.
The Goddess of Democracy at UBC. Source: Carl Mueller at flic.kr/p/5cNvQY
A few weeks ago I found Love of All Wisdom, the philosophy blog of Amod Lele. There’s a lot going on with Lele’s work that I find interesting and compelling. An academic philosopher with a PhD in the subject, he describes himself as working in the Aristotelian, Buddhist, and historicist traditions and his work is wide-ranging, bringing a huge variety of both Western and non-Western philosophers to a problem. (His header has pictures of his major influences: Santideva the Indian Buddhist philosopher, Aristotle the ancient Greek empiricist, Hegel the German historicist, Confucius the traditionalist communitarian, and Martha Nussbaum the contemporary academic philosopher.) He also uses a few different categorization schemes for philosophies, two of which he’s organized into a quadrant system that I am thinking of adopting: integrity vs. intimacy and ascent v. descent. (If I was still at my old blog, I’d add it to my Taxonomies of Religions list.) His thought is new to me, but I admire his precision, erudition, creativity, and seriousness–a rare combination of traits in a thinker.
Although I would love to just list the things I’ve learned from Lele, what I want to focus on for this post is where his ideas intersect with those of other people whose thought I’ve encountered lately, who explicitly reject the anthropology, and therefore politics, of liberalism.* Continue reading
As I mention in my posts on his A Passionate Balance: The Anglican Tradition, Alan Bartlett leans heavily on the common idea that Anglicanism has three streams. In Bartlett’s understanding these are the Catholic, evangelical, and liberal streams. Each emphasizes, without monopolizing, one of the legs of the Anglican tripod or stool (another common metaphor): tradition, Scripture, and reason, respectively. Looking around a little online, I saw other people mention these three streams or strands of Anglicanism, especially when referring to the Church of England.
Source: Historic Images – Lancashire at flic.kr/p/H95WLR
But more often than this configuration, I saw American Episcopalians discuss a different three streams: the Catholic, the evangelical, and the charismatic. (Here is one example.)
Why replace the liberal stream with the charismatic stream? Continue reading
Jon Wong has asked me to write a post about my understanding of libertarianism, and I agreed to do it.* In retrospect, this was maybe foolish: I can’t think of anything interesting to say which hasn’t already been said by others. So rather than write 3000 words that have already been written, I will introduce those already-written words which best represent my understanding of libertarianism.
Source: Tom Wardill at flic.kr/p/yFx8a
A Minor Experiment in Gender
While shopping for my mother’s Christmas present last December, I was in one of those seasonal pop-up stores that appear in malls in November and saw Katerina Plotnikova‘s 2017 Enchanted calendar, pictured here:
Reader, I wanted it.
I wanted it, but I felt foolish for wanting it. I wanted it, but I hoped no one would catch me wanting it. I wanted it, but I thought that if someone knew I wanted it they’d think I wanted it out of some sort of sexual deviancy: maybe I have a thing, they’d think, for pubescent girls with animals. I wanted it, but I knew that I wasn’t supposed to want it. This sort of thing was for women, and only certain kinds of women.
Let’s sit a moment with those thoughts I was having. For a man to want this calendar, for a man to exit his clearly defined gender roles so much as to purchase this calendar, would mark something more than the mere gender failure I mentioned in the last post. Only the most preposterous and heinous kind of mentality could explain it: possibly bestiality, probably pedophilia, certainly hebophilia. I don’t think I was wrong to feel that such an attitude exists outside myself, in Fort McMurray or in the Western world broadly. But it’s ridiculous! I wanted a calendar, nothing more, but certain arbitrary rules about taste meant that expressing this want would bring down on my head a set of questions which, although triggered by my violation of a gender norm, far exceeded those gender norms in scope and severity.*
I bought the calendar.
A Warning to My Younger Self
After a very stressful day at work this summer I sat on the bench at the bus stop with my face in my hands, cradling a headache. Then a horn honked and I looked up to see the driver shout “Loser!” from his passing pick-up. I had assumed that he assumed I was homeless and hung over or something of the sort; at any rate, it had been such a long time since anyone had called me a loser that I’d forgotten how one was supposed to feel about it.
A few days later I told one of our summer students, who has chosen the pseudonym Avicenna Nightingale, about it as I happened to be on the same bus as her after work. She suggested he didn’t take me for drunk.
“It was probably because you were waiting for a bus,” she said. She was a local so she probably knew this sort of thing better than I did.
“Yeah, like, ‘Where’s your truck, son?’ Was he driving a souped-up pick-up?”
“Was he wearing a black t-shirt a size too small to show off those guns?”
“Don’t you know only losers take the bus?”