Thursday, October 22, 2009

Politics: Front Porch Republic

A few weeks back, a friend of mine introduced me to the Front Porch Republic after I'd mentioned I was interested in localization. Front Porch Republic is a group of folks (at least some of them trained political theorists) writing about localization, communitarianism and distributivism. 

I just started reading some of their posts, and while I obviously haven't read everything they've written, this has to be one of the most awesome blogs ever.

At the very least I recommend checking out their about section and reading 'A Republic of Front Porches' and 'What Our Hands Have Wrought'. 


Monday, October 19, 2009

Politics/Theology: Conservative Bible Project

Some time ago, I wrote an article criticizing Conservapedia for deciding to rewrite the Bible "conservatively". I still think this is absurd. However, I just read something written by Slacktivist on the same topic, and I think his diagnosis is (as often) horribly wrong.

Fred thinks what's going on with the "Conservative Bible Project" is just a result of their conservative outlook. They're conservative and don't want to change, the Bible is liberal, so of course they have to change the Bible. In a way this is right, what's being done does relate to their conservatism, but that's not simple enough. Ultimately, what Fred is doing is saying that conservatism=idolatry. This is absurd. What's going on here is idolatry, the folks at Conservapedia have made ultra-conservatism their god, and the bible has to give. This isn't exclusive to conservatism though, liberalism can do this just as easily. Mostly Fred doesn't do this (though I think he gets close at times) but it can easily be seen in the likes of Bishop Bruno of the Episcopal Church, who will always choose whatever his ultra-liberal agenda dictates. A perfect example of this would be the joint Hindu-Episcopal service he put on.

Of course, we all do this to some extent, taking our own biases and bringing them to the Bible. I think for this we just have to thank God for his grace, which applies not just to our acts but our thoughts. Nevertheless, we have to try not to do this as much as possible, and we should avoid making either liberalism or conservatism, or any number of other things our god.

 I would say that one thing Christians should notice was how Jesus worked out his agenda in the world. He didn't work at a political level, but on a personal level. There are plenty of rational reasons to avoid trying to use the government to change the world to our image, but there is also a very good religious one - the imitation of Christ.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Philosophy: The Role of Law

I have desired for some time to write up a summary of my basic conception of the role of law, and intend to lay it out in this post1. This conception is, essentially, that law functions to create an environment that allows for the flourishing of human life2. Note that this is distinct from creating the flourishing of human life, which I take it to be impossible for law to do.

I come to this conclusion first from the position that the aim of human life is not mere survival but flourishing3 and that part of this flourishing is to be a morally good person. Thus, the life of a murderer would be one that falls short of what it is to be a flourishing human.

Further, I understand that law (and the power that enforces it) cannot make a person good. Essentially, a person is good only in so far as the impetus for their action is an internal (good) motive. Thus, a man who walks around wanting to murder everyone in sight, but is prevented from doing so only by the power of an external force, cannot be said in any real sense to be good. Given a situation in which the law is strong enough in its force that people become mere automata acting rightly only through power of law’s command, no one would have the freedom to actually become good. Thus, no one could fully flourish.

In contrast to this, I also take it that absent any governing law there is no room for individuals to be moral. Survival itself becomes the only reasonable end for any individual because being a good person in such an environment could only lead to death. Thus, those who aimed for a flourishing life and thus behaved morally would die (in terms of that society, cease to exist) and those who aimed for survival would act immorally and thus not flourish.

Given these two understandings, a general rubric presents itself for how law should function. Essentially, law should only exist in such a degree as to create the bare minimum environment necessary for individuals to aim at the flourishing life and still survive. Laws are thus to be the bare moral scaffold of a flourishing human life. Anything more than this restricts the freedom of individuals to achieve the real moral goodness necessary for the best in human life, and anything less would not allow for them to even aim for this4.

1. This is an outline and not necessarily a full argument. You can naturally question me on any of the points I make, but arguing each of the points is outside of the scope of this post.

2. I get this term from the neo-Aristotelian ethics of one of my current professors, but it expresses an idea I have had for some time now.

3. This can be conceived of either religiously, and I would obviously take the religious position that the flourishing of human life is dependent on being what a human is meant to be, which is to be the Image of God. It does not necessarily have to be conceived of religiously, however.

4. I think this presents a very strong argument for the need of more localized government. Just how much law is necessary for moral flourishing is dependent on the needs of a given community, and this can only be determined by those with direct access and understanding of that community. A body of the size of the entire United States, for example, ceases to be a community, but becomes rather a beast driven by forces of sociological momentum stoppable only by totalitarian measures. 

Saturday, October 3, 2009

TV Review: Stargate Galactica: Voyager

I've always liked Stargate. Sure, the storyline might not be as dense as some modern audiences like, but it's fun, the characters are great and the shows did a wonderful job of remembering and using concepts they'd introduced in the past. Understandably, the arrival of a new Stargate (called Stargate: Universe) show carried with it both excitement and a certain amount of concern on my part. I love me my Stargate and my science fiction, but promises of dark and gritty had me worried. Mind, I can actually appreciate dark and gritty in my fiction, but it needs a balance, and all too often old franchises that try and go that direction end up in some murky middle between dark and gritty and what they were good at. On the other hand, a dark and gritty spin on an old franchise can sometimes result in the  best of the best. Deep Space Nine was, in my opinion, the best Star Trek had to offer. 

The overarching plot of SGU is nothing new - a group finds itself far from home and must find its way back. If I'm not mistaken this idea is as old as the Odyssey, but was more recently told in Star Trek: Voyager, and the spin-off nature of SGU couldn't help but start comparisons with Voyager in my mind. Well, it turns out this was the wrong comparison.

Last night I got myself over to my best friend's house (I don't have cable) and we sat down to watch.I enjoyed it, but my concern is not entirely lifted. The plot was interesting, and definitely more about character and environment than previous shows, and it had nothing in common stylistically. Indeed, SGU is spot on Battlestar Galactica in style and tone. The color pallet, the cinematography, even the music were all taken straight out of the BSG book. More importantly than the look, SGU has that dark heavy feel, punctuated with moments of terror and chaos. They've even set up for the military/civilian tensions of early BSG (though on a smaller scale). Also, there's selfish scientist character with a British Isles accent who has definite shades of Baltar, but with more balls. 

I'm not really the biggest fan of Battlestar Galactica, finding it far too dark and gritty. Certainly, the show was pretty and had a cool story, but the almost total lack of likable characters, the absence of any sort of nobility (outside of Helo) and the dearth of humor meant I found the show to be something of a headache. Watching BSG felt a bit like what I imagine being clinically depressed feels like. Also, as Will over at Secure Immaturity  pointed on in his review of Caprica, BSG was really just as preachy as Star Trek, just with a darker hammer. Naturally then, the similarity gives me some concern, but I'm not too worried. I don't think SGU is going to sink to the depths of dispair that BSG did - we've already seen genuine compassion, nobility and humor in this show, and it certainly doesn't seem like it's going to be preachy. So, I'm going to stay tuned in to Stargate: Universe, and I think you should do the same. 

P.S. One of the things I found refreshing about Stargate was the lack of gratuitous sex. SGU has already blown it on this account. 

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Philosophy: Our Lack of Moral Imagination

In the thought experiments we create for the purposes of ethics, we show a disturbing lack of moral imagination. Indeed, this utterly famished faculty might itself be called immoral, and it certainly has the potential to lead to horridly evil acts on our part. Let me give an example. 

One question that gets brought up to challenge any moral system is rather, if given the chance, you would kill Hitler as a child to prevent the Holocaust. Now, apart from any consideration of the grim consequences that might arise from this act, this simply shows a disturbing trend in our philosophy. Note that the question does not say "What would you do if you had access to Hitler as a child?" No, it simply asks would you kill him. The thought experiment jumps straight to murder. The problem creates a dichotomy, a strict dichotomy, and teaches us to think in fixed terms, making it out that there are only two, utterly grim options. But how often does life really boil down to this kind of simplicity? How often are there really only two choices? I suggest, that with a better developed moral imagination we might think of far richer solutions.

So what if you had access to Hitler as a child? Why not redeem him? Why not do the things necessary to make the man Adolf Hitler grow up to be a good man? A man of justice and equity. Imagine a man of Hitler's charismatic powers working to make the world a better place. Now, you might think this impossible, you might say that evil was Hitler's innate nature, and that he could have been nothing other than what he had been. That may be the case, and I'm not going to get into an argument here about determinism, that's beside the point. What is the point is that we didn't even think of it, and that is a moral problem on our part.