Saturday, October 27, 2018

Violence in word and action

Bernard Wuellner’s always-useful Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy defines violence as “action contrary to the nature of a thing.”  Readers of Aristotle and Aquinas will be familiar with this usage, which is reflected in their distinction between natural and violent motion.  Some of their applications of this distinction presuppose obsolete science.  For example, we now know that physical objects do not have motion toward the center of the earth, specifically, as their natural end.  Hence projectile motion away from the earth is not, after all, violent.  But the distinction itself is not obsolete.  For example, trapping or killing an animal is obviously violent in the relevant sense.  It is acting contrary to the natural ends of the animal.
Violence is not per se bad.  When a lion kills a gazelle, it acts violently insofar as it frustrates the natural ends of the gazelle.  But it thereby fulfills rather than frustrates its own natural ends.  It is good for the lion to do this, even if it is bad for the gazelle.  Indeed, to prevent the lion from acting violently toward other things would itself be an act of violence toward the lion, insofar as it would be preventing the lion from doing what its nature prompts it to do.  This violence toward the lion can itself be a good thing – for example, if you’ve got a pet gazelle you want to protect.

Notice that there is nothing special about animals here, even if the violence they inflict and suffer is especially vivid.  Even herbivores act violently when they eat plants.  After all, to eat a plant is to frustrate its natural ends.

You might ask: “But doesn’t natural law theory say that it’s always bad to act contrary to nature?”  No, that’s not what it says.  It says that it’s bad for human beings to act contrary to their own nature.  But like a lion, a human being can do something good by acting contrary to another thing’s nature, as we do any time we kill a plant or animal in order to eat it and thereby nourish ourselves.  What is good for a thing is determined by its own nature, not “nature” in some larger abstract sense. 

Having said that, since human beings are social animals, what is natural for other human beings is part of what is constitutive of any one human being’s good.  For example, parents realize their own natural ends precisely by helping their children to realize theirs.  The human race is a kind of extended family, and part of what is good for us is to act in a way consistent with everyone else’s realizing what is good for them (though our positive obligations to help others flourish are in general less strong the farther removed they are from us, as I have explained elsewhere).  Hence it is contrary to natural law for us to act toward other human beings the way we might be permitted to act toward plants and non-human animals.

Now, chief among our natural ends are those that follow from our being rational animals, possessing intellect and free will.  Hence, killing or otherwise physically harming other human beings is not the only way of acting violently toward them, in the sense of acting contrary to their nature.  There is also a kind of violence involved when we act contrary to their rational nature, by refusing to engage them at the level of rational discourse or frustrating their lawful free choices.

Hence, as rational, social animals, it is constitutive of what is good for each of us to engage with other human beings in a way that respects their intellects and free wills.  When dealing with other human beings, there is a moral presumption that when we want them to think or to do something, we have to secure this outcome by persuading them rationally rather than resorting to force, threats or other kinds of intimidation, psychological manipulation, or the like.

This presumption can be overridden.  For example, children often do not want to do what their parents tell them to do, even when what the parents are asking of them is perfectly reasonable and good for them.  Such children are acting contrary to reason, and parents have the authority to coerce them or punish them for disobedience by reasonable methods (verbal rebukes, spankings, taking away privileges, or whatever). 

An insane person may also be coerced, precisely because he is incapable of rational action and may be a danger to himself or others.  Those guilty of crimes have also thereby forfeited their rights to certain goods, which might include their property, their liberty, or in some cases even their lives, and they may be coerced accordingly.  Indeed, as Aquinas argues, our inclination to punish evildoers is itself a natural and good human inclination, necessary for our well-being as rational social animals.  (See chapter 1 of By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed for a detailed explanation and defense of the natural law account of punishment.) 

So, punishing wrongdoers is not a morally objectionable form of violence – and indeed, in one sense it is arguably not really a form of violence at all, since their nature as rational social animals entails that they can be punished for wrongdoing, so that to punish them is not to act contrary to their nature.  In fact, to prevent lawful authorities from ever inflicting just punishments would itself be a kind of “violence” in the sense we are considering, because it would be contrary to what the natural law requires them to do.

One of the implications of all this is that blanket condemnations of violence are muddleheaded and, indeed, immoral.  Some violence is bad, but not all of it is, and sometimes it can even be morally required. 

(Gandhi is reputed to have defended an ethic of nonviolence by saying that taking an eye for an eye would make the whole world blind.  It seems he may never actually have said it, which is a good thing for him, because it is a pretty stupid thing to say.  The lex talionis principle does not hold that you should inflict on just anyone a harm proportional to the one he has inflicted.  It holds that you should inflict on wrongdoers, specifically, harms proportional to the ones they have inflicted on the innocent.  But lawful authorities who inflict harms on the guilty are not wrongdoers, so a consistent application of the lex talionis principle does not entail that they too should be harmed.  Hence, if the pseudo-Gandhian quote were rephrased in such a way that it was not aimed at a caricature, it would instead say something like “Taking an eye for an eye would make blind everyone who has unjustly taken both of some other person’s eyes.”  Or, since most defenders of lex talionis don’t think that literally gouging out eyes is a good idea all things considered, a better paraphrase would be “Inflicting proportional harms on wrongdoers would leave all wrongdoers proportionally harmed.”  But then the obvious response to this corrected pseudo-Gandhian one-liner is: “Yes, it would.  That’s the point.”)

What has been said also casts light on why torture is morally objectionable.  The problem with torture is not that it involves inflicting pain or something otherwise unpleasant.  A child can deserve a spanking or the loss of some privilege, and a criminal can deserve much worse, and inflicting such punishments is not wrong.  The problem with torture is also not that it involves coercing the will.  When a parent threatens a child with punishment, or a policemen threatens to shoot a bank robber if he does not lay down his weapon, or a victim punches an attacker in order to get him to stop the attack, the will is coerced, but entirely justly.

The problem with torture is that it involves completely subverting the intellect and will altogether, essentially attempting to reduce the rational animal to a non-rational animal.  In that way, it is contrary to the victim’s nature in a way that merely inflicting pain or coercing him is not.  (I would tentatively suggest that it amounts to the perversion of a faculty.  For it is essentially a matter of trying to get someone’s intellect and will to a certain result by means of a method that subverts the proper functioning of the intellect and will.)

Yet another implication of the analysis of violence given above is that to respond to an opponent who attempts to engage with you in a rational way with vituperation, ad hominem attacks, intimidation, and the like is also a morally objectionable kind of violence.  For it involves acting contrary to the person’s rational nature.

Notice that I am not saying that polemical engagement with just any opponent is necessarily wrong.   As I have argued several times over the years (e.g. here, here, and here), it can be legitimate to respond to an opponent with polemical harshness – in particular, when the opponent is himself hell-bent on flinging vituperation and the like.  There is no inconsistency whatsoever in responding with rhetorical harshness to those who are rhetorically harsh, any more than there is in police firing back at bank robbers who fired first.  In both cases, self-defense or the defense of others can justify a harsh response.

What I am talking about is the case where your opponent is not being vituperative, but is trying to present you with rational arguments, and instead of responding in kind, you fling abuse at him, attribute bad motives to him, mock him, and otherwise refuse to treat him as a fellow rational agent.  This is a kind of violence in the sense I have been describing, insofar as what is by nature good for him, for you, and for the community of rational social animals to which you both belong, is for you to engage with one another at the level of reason, and you are acting in a way that is contrary to that.

Now, blog comboxes, Facebook discussion threads, Twitter feeds, and the like are often snake pits of violence in this sense of the word.  In many of them, rational arguments, where they are given voice at all, are met with little more than attributions of bad motives and other ad hominem attacks, mockery, and other forms of sophistry.  The irony is that it is often precisely those who most loudly profess to be rational and/or non-violent who are the most prone to this kind of verbal violence.  For example, the staunchest opponents of capital punishment and other advocates of non-violence often evince an appalling inability to construct rational arguments, to restrain their emotions, or to refrain from heaping abuse on those who disagree with them.  New Atheists and proponents of other forms of self-congratulatory pseudo-rationalism are often guilty of the same.

Further irony can be seen in those prone to accusing others of “micro-aggressions.”  If someone calmly attempts to give a rational argument for some conclusion, even a politically incorrect one, that is precisely the opposite of “aggression” or violence, because it is an appeal to reason.  And if someone attempts to shut down rational debate because of hurt feelings, that is itself a kind of aggression or violence, precisely because it is contrary to reason.

Then there is the irony of those ostensibly committed to peace and human dignity whose favored tactics are publicly to harass those who disagree with them, to prevent them from speaking, to stir up mob violence, and otherwise to disrupt the law and order that are the precondition of calm and rational discourse.

There is no clearer manifestation of respect for the human dignity of a person with whom one disagrees than to reason with him – and no clearer insult to that dignity than to try to shout him down, intimidate him, or otherwise treat him as something incapable or unworthy of rational engagement.  Such are the Orwellian times we live in that those who most loudly claim to be against violence are the ones most likely to resort to it.

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  1. The human race is a kind of extended family, and part of what is good for us is to act in a way consistent with everyone else’s realizing what is good for them

    Professor, I wonder if sometime you would tackle how "natural" fits into man's picture when, on the one hand, original justice was a not-natural condition for man, and the condition of universal original sin is also not natural for man. I raise this because there seem to be two competing errors about man. One says that man is by nature in competition with other men, and one nation with other nations, and this implies that while seeking the common good for your own nation may be natural for men, seeking the common good for those of other nations is beyond that natural order. The other seems to be the notion that because man was originally intended to live in perfect harmony with each other in the state of original justice, there should be no borders, no distinct nations, no "us" vs "them" in any sense at all, all economics based on "mine" (i.e. private property) instead of "ours" (all goods held in common) constitutes violence to others. My sense is that what some would like to see a distinction that allows for a condition of man in which he has neither original justice nor original sin, but such a state of affairs was never intended by God and thus could never obtain in real life. Is it possible to reference such a state conceptually in order to understand what is "natural" to man, or does that introduce a third error?

  2. "For it is essentially a matter of trying to get someone’s intellect and will to a certain result by means of a method that subverts the proper functioning of the intellect and will.)"

    I have asked a number of people if the "sport" of boxing is moral or immoral and why.

    The intent of the boxers' actions seems to be to "subvert[] the proper functioning of the intellect and will", and I would add - body. That is, in effect, to "break" (amongst other things) a God-given faculty - consciousness - in order to win a prize even though both competitors agree to so do.

    I do not know how to further address this question. Can someone help me?

    1. Is that really the intent of the boxers though? I'm not old enough to remember it, but there was a time when they had boxing in high schools. It seems to me that a boxing match could be won without breaking the body or affecting consciousness (although the means for winning a match will often end up with that as an effect.)

    2. I think that this does not apply to competitive combat sports (such as MMA and boxing). The intention of a boxer is to cause his opponent to submit by force. However, the settings are controlled, there are rules, each boxer can quit at any moment. Therefore there is no opportunity for an opponents intellect and will to be completely subverted. In fact, in many ways, combat sports strengthen the intellect and will by testing them through duress. If you can remain calm while being punched in the face, you should be able to remain calm while being called a name. Controlling aggression and the flight-or-fight response is this one way to help the intellect rule over the passions. This is why contact sports can be particularly beneficial to men, who are typically more naturally inclined to aggression than women.

    3. The specific version of boxing that is "prizefighting" was always condemned by the Church as doing unjustified violence to the opponent, the goal being to win either on points or by knocking the other guy out, indiscriminately. The latter seemed even in the past to be inherently disordered, and now that we know more about concussions it is very much more clear that it is likely to be permanently damaging to a person's mind - all for a prize of money.

      Amateur boxing, with (a) larger gloves, (b) padded headgear, and (c) limited to 3 rounds, and virtually always won on points, is not clearly in the same category and was not similarly condemned. Sports that entail painful and physically challenging fighting against the other guy do encourage the virtues of patience, fortitude, etc - as long as they are ordered to a good beyond mere bragging rights and such.

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  4. Thank you very much - I'm becoming a fan of your work, having started your book and seen you on Ben Shapiro's show. I wonder how you would assess the response to the shooting of that ape in a zoo when a small child fell into its enclosure. Some people seemed to place apes above humans. I liked the correction to 'Gandhi' as well - one of the most overrated people of the 20th century.

  5. One question to ask about torture is, why do people often regard it as worse than death? For example, many supporters of capital punishment (myself included) would regard certain types of torture as not a legitimate means punishment. Let’s define these “certain types of torture” as any coercion that totally subverts the intellect and will of a conscious subject. I say conscious, because otherwise, anesthesia might be considered torture. Of course that would seem silly for reasons I will expand on below. I also say “totally” because I think certain types of infliction of pain, in a controlled environment, could be a legitimate punishment in certain circumstances.

    One objection to torture is that it psychologically and even spiritually harms the one inflicting the torture and for that reason is imprudent. However, while this is a legitimate argument, it is also not wholly satisfactory. For example, it could be set up so that the torture process is automated, anonymous, and removed from the persons responsible for the torture in a way that no one will really know whether they are causing a particular person to be tortured at any moment. While this is an unlikely scenario, it still seems that most people would object to torture on the grounds of it being inhumane to the person being tortured and not simply imprudent for the enforcer.

    The objection that it is bad for the subject or even immediately disproportionate also does not hold water. Temporary torture, even to the point of disfigurement, cannot be seen as a greater privation than life itself. Therefore, any opposition to torture on those grounds would also require opposition to other punishments.

    I think the true reason that torture is regarded as so evil is similar to the reason that rape is considered to be so evil. People typically do not regard rape as evil simply because it is physically unpleasant. If most people were given the choice, it seems they would prefer to endure a little pain over being painlessly sexually violated. Furthermore, rape is not seen as evil merely because it is emotionally troublesome as it is taking place. This is essentially just a different type of pain, emotional pain, that is a temporary negative consequence of rape. The true perversity of rape is that it reduces the victim to an object of mere sexual pleasure (or as something to be possessed). The result of that privation is that it makes a lasting impression on the psyche of the victim. Because of the traumatic nature of the event, it is something readily accessible to the brain, hence someone may be diagnosed with PTSD. But that constant reminder of the event through mental images causes the intellect to make an abstraction and a judgement about the traumatic event. Due to the diminished intellect during the recalling of extremely troubling memories as well as the recollection of the attitude of the rapist, the victim is more susceptible to drawing the extremely dangerous and faulty conclusion that he or she deserved to be raped, or that rape is a good thing, or that she is in fact merely an object. I think that this manifests itself frequently when victims become abusers themselves or engage in risky or suicidal behavior after a traumatic event. It is no secret that these are common responses to traumatic events such as rape and that it requires a great deal of work and patience in order to restore a victim to relative spiritual, physical, and mental health.

  6. Now torture is similar except that instead of considering oneself as an object, one may be prone to considering oneself as sub-human or not worthy of rational intellect and free-will insofar as their intellect and will has been so radically subverted. These lasting psychological consequences could be dire for the victim as well as society at large (who must associate with the victim in various ways). Of course they may also manifest themselves in dangerous ways. One may call to mind how it is not uncommon for serial killers to have abusive childhoods.

    Now, from an atheistic perspective, it could be that death is the worst of all things, although some atheists may argue that the privation of a certain good is worse than the loss of all goods (death) because death, while it is a loss, is not subjectively experienced as a loss. However, from a Christian perspective, death is certainly not the greatest possible privation. Rather, damnation is the greatest possible privation.

    Therefore, the particularly grotesque portrayal of rape and torture is justified because its effects can have eternal consequences insofar as they corrupt the intellect and will of the victim. This corruption can lead to attitudes that will more readily predispose someone to reject God (although I am not saying that this is a deterministic cause and effect relationship). Obviously this corruption is not insurmountable, but the fact that it exists at all, in a way that capital punishment cannot cause similar corruption, is why rape and torture are so appalling, even if proposed as a means of punishing the severely guilty.

    I would like to hear everyone’s thoughts on this.

    1. Raping a rapist is not wrong due to the lack of proportion in offenses, it is wrong because it perverts the sexual faculty of the one enacting the punishment.

      In the case of torture, I must admit that I don't follow the Professor's argument. It certainly seems common opinion that torture is wrong (whatever "torture" means - it's not so clear, is it), so I hold the same opinion, but the arguments don't seem so great. If we can frustrate the natural ends of another person by killing him, why can we not frustrate lesser ends (like comfort) to procure some positive good which both aids the common good and the soul of the one tortured? Yes it subjects their intellect to the passions, in a way, but so too does normal punishment, as it forces the intellect to consider such unpleasant consequences in the future. There is certainly a difference (of the nature of the deliberation) but I'm not convinced that it's such a great difference as to render torture intrinsically evil. But I'll follow common opinion all day long - I'll just call it that.

    2. Scott, it is my sense that truly and fully "successful" torture leaves the victim effectively not-free as regards choices of action, and thus fundamentally not culpable in actions like rejecting God or acting as if there is no God. The will is subverted to the extent that the victim has ceded control over it to the torturer, and given up on themselves as an independent personality with their own person, their own will, their own free actions - they become merely an extension of the torturer. This damage to the free will surely would void culpability for any intrinsically wrong actions that they do in response to orders from the controlling torturer. And even (though less obviously) to bad actions they do not through orders but even in mere imitation or otherwise through lack of real separate identity and personhood exercised.

      Some might CLAIM that fear of death in DP would have similar effects, but this is clearly not true. First, because (a) if the criminal truly does not believe in an afterlife, they should not have an overwhelming and mind-deadening fear of loss of being, but merely a strong regret - one tempered by the fact that we must all undergo the same loss eventually. And (b) if one believes in an afterlife, one has sufficient opportunity to repent and CHANGE the outcome for that following condition: if one fears after-life punishment, one should be well-motivated to do something about it, and this is not to be deer-in-the-headlights frozen but to be repentant. To lose free will in fear of death is to respond irrationally to a limited loss, not to respond "appropriately" to an ultimate evil condition that admits of no way out but catatonia.

    3. Tony,

      I would like to clarify that I do not think that a victim of torture is going to be culpable for actions committed while being tortured. What I was saying is that the post-traumatic effects of torture can lead victims down a dark path that will ultimately help lead them to rejecting all graces from God. This rejection is still free, but that does not mean it was not assisted (just as our Fll was assisted by the Devil). That is why Christ said it is better to be thrown into the sea than to corrupt a child. I believe torture can corrupt people in this way.

    4. When you say 'free, but assisted' I can't help but think that it would be more precise to say "not fully free". If factors outside your control are pushing you in a direction or obscuring your ability to see the truth, then how can you truly call that freedom?

      -Matt H.

    5. Scott, without taking into account extraordinary grace (like the kind that can remove decades-long habituation to vice in an instant, just for example), it seems implausible that a person who has been subjected to thorough-going torture for the purpose of subordinating their will to the will of another should be described as simply FREE if they later reject grace. They may be, indeed, partially free, but "not fully free", as Matt H suggests. Or, in extreme cases, they might be so far from simply "free" as to be better described as "constrained", or "un-free".

      This is a different situation than that of our first parents in Eden, when the Devil persuaded them to sin: they had the grace of original justice, and had NO defects in the will (in terms of either prior bad habits or in terms of inclination to sin, nor even any inclination to satisfaction of goods other than upon determination by intellect and will that it is good). They also had the benefit of being perfectly pleasing to God in each and every action, and up until the Devil's temptation they in no wise would have been encumbered even with a venial defect of will in which they loved God's will slightly less earnestly than perfectly. Nothing internally presented any hindrance to right action, and in the Garden nothing externally (except Satan) hindered right action either. Satan's only "power" in the situation was that of persuasion, confusion, and deceit, and of a form not assisted by internal weakness (like in us). This is "free" simply, without any needed qualification.

    6. Well we are now getting into discussions on free will, which is a bit off topic.

      But I would offer one scenario as an example.

      If I hand you a gun and say, “Go rob the liquor store”, you are free to reject that proposal. Now if you do it, you did it freely, BUT, even though you freely robbed the liquor store, had I never told you to do it and given you the means to do it, you probably would not have done it. Therefore I assisted you and influenced you in freely choosing to sin, and thus I am guilty of corruption.

      Rape and torture is similar in that it can present the victim with destructive ideas about himself. The victim is sometimes sufficiently stressed to not be culpable for these ideas. But it is likely that after a long enough time, the victim will be sufficiently free to reject these ideas on some occasions. In those instances where they freely decide to embrace destructive ideas, they will be doing so freely, but the initial rape or torture will still be the source of the temptation. Of course one must analyze culpability in these manners on a case by case basis, and only God can truly know the culpability of any person in a given circumstance.

    7. I don’t see how the Church today can object to torture, since she has used herself. If it is illegitimate for the reasons mentioned, why did the Popes not notice ? They had power to prevent the Roman Inquisition using torture, for it was they who called it into being. But they did not prevent the use of torture. Vives, von Spee & Beccaria were opposed to torture - but we do not read of mediaeval or early modern Popes, that they opposed torture. On the contrary, a Pope introduced it into the practice of the Inquisition:

      “B4. Pope Innocent IV, Bull Ad Exstirpanda (May 15, 1252). This fateful document introduced confession-extorting torture into tribunals of the Inquisition. It had already been reinstated in secular processes over the previous hundred years, during which Roman Law was being vigorously revived. Innocent’s Bull prescribes that captured heretics, being "murderers of souls as well as robbers of God’s sacraments and of the Christian faith, . . . are to be coerced – as are thieves and bandits – into confessing their errors and accusing others, although one must stop short of danger to life or limb".33”

      How does the Papal approval of torture not count as fallible moral teaching ? And how does get from Papal approval of torture, to Papal condemnation of it in the CCC ? How is that not a reversal of Papal teaching ?

      The Church is simply not to be trusted as a teacher, for what she says today, she may (in a few centuries’ time) reverse in the future. But if she may in due course reverse more doctrines, why should present-day Catholics believe the not-yet-reversed doctrines; or expect any other sane person to do so ?

      The Popes have been appallingly cavalier and frivolous with their reversals of doctrine. This is simply not good enough. It will not do,

  7. "Torture" needs to be defined - including in Dr. Feser's article above.

    Applying some level of pain to another in order to motivate them to tell the truth, reveal facts, etc., does not seem to me to be entirely subverting their intellect and/or will. Rather, it is physical coercion, and physical coercion is merely a form of violence which is, as Dr. Feser has said, legitimate in certain circumstances.

    In addition, I have a hard time taking seriously modern people who condemn "torture" whilst typically defending the nuking of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and the starvation blockades of countries during war (especially if it was naughty Germany), both of which tactics were specifically aimed at producing a psychological change in the affected populace (i.e. the will to end the war sooner). Such people (most of our contemporaries in the West) could not conceivably define their terms consistently and be left with a cogent argument.

  8. Should "intimate" in the last paragraph be "intimidate"?

  9. Dr. Feser, you suggest here that spanking is a reasonable form of punishment. How would you respond to empirical research that suggests otherwise? For example, see:

    I find most of what you say to be reasonable (so far, at least) so I'm a bit puzzled by your attitude toward spanking.

    1. Considering the link you gave itself points out that there are major flaws in the studies, I wouldn't be so puzzled.

      I'm more puzzled that you find it so puzzling for someone to deem spanking unreasonable. Being puzzled would imply that it appears so incredibly obvious that spanking is unreasonable, which is not the case at all.

    2. Anon, the APA is itself a fundamentally flawed entity at this point, and its decades-long crusade against spanking is a case in point. As early as the 1960s members formed an animus against spanking, regardless of the fact that scientifically the evidence wasn't there to determine it is "ineffective" or "bad", and they have pursued that agenda ever since.

      In reality, because the studies made no attempt to ascertain the difference between different levels or kinds of spanking (as Dr. Larzelere refers to, "severe" vs "conditional" (and, perhaps, several other criteria that are so far unrealized) ), the many studies are flawed. The article is also hopelessly uncritical in its use (and non-use) of qualifying words, in some cases using "may" or "can" (e.g. "can lead to increased aggression"), where in other cases it leaves them off altogether: "But spanking doesn’t work, says Alan Kazdin, PhD,". Really? It NEVER works? No children ever learn via spanking certain behaviors to avoid, who don't end up thieves and robbers and rapists?

      And another flaw in the studies (and the conclusions drawn from them) is the failure to address bad outcomes from NOT using spanking, which were not included as results. What about the negative psychological effects that we see in adults who don't understand personal boundaries? Or who have anxiety disorders? Or who are co-unable to take responsibility for their own welfare? Or who are co-dependent? Or...

      My own opinion is that if science is completely confident that we evolved from lower mammals, and that most of our behavioral constructs stem from evolutionary pressures, then we probably have enough similarity to lower social mammals in the structure of our innate behavioral patterns to learn from them what may be "natural" to us. Many animal parents use physical forms of conditioning to train their young to do or not to do certain things. It seems implausible that we somehow "got beyond" all that when we evolved larger brain cases and became humans, given that toddlers are notoriously not amenable to reason to the extent adults are. Maybe spanking before the age of reason and not after is just the sort of thing that is appropriate to human animals.

    3. Very nice reply. I had not thought of those points before.

  10. Sports is basically the spiritualization of cruelty, which the corporate golf drunks boost as a means to deflecting attention from their harvesting of humans through labor, in the hope that the masses won't kill them. Maybe we should teach infants to slap each other and smile when hit. Gotta teach "sportsmanship" as early as possible, while enjoying one person striking another, instead of oneself. "I want to see little things hitting each other!" as the Napoleon character joyously said in the film Time Bandits.

    Blockchain-based prediction markets will give sports a run for its logical conclusions, however, by responding with a sport of lottery-based biological finality. Should be fun to watch, maybe even cheer. I may be one of the first blockchain cheerleaders, in fact. Let's all commit ourselves to injuring others in the spirit of sportmanship, whatever that is.

    1. machine, given that there are sports that don't involve contact at all (speed contests of running, ping pong, swimming, diving, etc), and sports that involve contact but not violence per se (baseball, basketball as originally envisioned), I am not sure why you would classify "sports" as a form of cruelty. Is the mere fact of competition the cruelty?

    2. Could be, dude, now that I think of it. Thanks for sparking that.

      Yes, it's like sugar, caffeine, and carbon-dioxide in drinks, the more general, subtle, and implicit the evil, the more powerful and effective that evil is in bringing about a quicker period of personal Hell and/or individualized End of Days.

      Any kind of damage to another, including diminishing of another in any sense, as a goal is basically the mentally of a corporate golf drunk, a master of the universe who never talks about politics or religion.

      But the isolated superiority, whether in Fetal Twin UFC or cigarette-smoking competitions at AA meetings, always necessarily gets somehow generalized to other virtues. Like hitting a ball is your son's ideal, a god of what he should strive to be, and so on.

      Of course the real sports competition should be for easy sex, which is the reality in most sports today, especially in grades 7-12. Add to that the implicit superiority thing, and the son will agree unctuously, and understand how sports can run interference for the easy and convenient sexual escapades that such idolization and virtue-imputing bring (and empirically verifiable, if you know what I mean).
      But to all the Little Sports Johnnys out there, I say: Don't worry. None of this will ever be copped to by the establishment golf drunks or your parents. Just play along and STFU. (Never again ask those “cause why” questions again if you want the cushy deal to continue).

      The wish to be in some sense better than another, that in itself seems to be a bit of cruelty with a good conscience.

      However, in the intrapersonal world, that may be the price of improvement in approximating various ideals.

      But as sports and sportmanship are currently defined, yes, competition seems to be cruelty with a fig leaf of unquestioned virtue-certification consensus at this point in my thinking.

      I would prefer to simply be more rational like the mind-god that reason itself functions as, than I was in my former wave-states in memory, especially since the rationally necessary is necessarily the real in all senses, even in its own denial.

      That requires, not cruelty, but a pleasant cheerfulness, in trying to destroy not only my bad self, but all those self-sabotaging claims and assumptions that have so-far have corresponding unchallenged or unrefuted outposts in my head---or my cloud drive inventory of them.

      I mean, whether we’re talking about reason or the good, that competition with one’s own negative and sometimes even willfully-self-contradictory self is already a kill-or-be-killed situation (if you carry it out to its embarrassing graveyard of conclusions), so sports may be a working out of something that is psychologically behind our own curtain, and we’re acting out a symbolization of what’s going on inside but is too much of a cognitive disco of jaded posturing consultants to have any clarity and resolve about.

      I also think that the rewards of victory in sports--which should be openly sex and money and cars etc., since the peer prestige comes automatically---should be the punishing of the losers. That would increase both the contrast and the incentive/motivation to become our future profoundly moral and courageous ideal heroes of physical and mental object manipulation.

      All this means that we must get Creative Stepfordism courses into the schools as soon as possible, or the pothead legalizers are going to destroy the sports, alcohol, and tobacco industries with their influences on the kids.

  11. It looks like Fr. Ray Blake no longer blogs. I've been wondering why he appears just under your blog spot intro? He apparently was a good guy working hard in inner Brighton who has been lampooned by the heatless local secular press.

    Ed R.

  12. I find myself often questioning the morality of eating meat in modern America. It would seem to me that committing violence of any kind is immoral when there are non-violent ways of achieving the end for which the violence was committed. At a minimum, it appears to me that on is morally obligated to choose the path of least violence. That, coupled with the idea that animal life (especially that of conscious animals) is inherently more valuable than that of plant life, would imply that in a place where it is possible to survive without committing violence towards animals it is morally obligatory to do so.


    -Matt H.

    1. Matt, what's your definition of "violence"? Is it the same as what Feser lays out above? If it is natural to humans to eat meat, then eating meat isn't a violence to our nature, even if means curtailing the life of a cow. If lions can kill a cow without violating nature, then so can humans if humans are meat-eaters as according to our nature.

      Even if humans can survive without eating animals, it is far from clear to me that we can thrive and flourish without eating animals, fish, birds, etc. So I doubt that it is correct to say where it is possible to survive without committing violence towards animals it is morally obligatory to do so. . If not eating meat means humans cannot thrive and flourish fully, doing without mean is not morally obligatory.

    2. I was using the same definition as Feser. Eating a cow is clearly violence to the cow. Not eating a cow is not violence to human nature. So why is it ok to eat a cow? I am highly skeptical of the notion that a human being cannot thrive without killing animals for food. On what basis would one believe that?

      I also don't understand the insistence that there is nothing bad or at least non-ideal about animals killing other animals. Death in all its forms is an enemy, not a friend of God.

      -Matt H.

  13. This discussion coincides with the discussions of "dignitary harm" in legal philosophy circles. I don't believe dignitary harm really is a legally enforceable category of harms. See Jack Balkin's "The Constitution of Status" or Girgis and Anderson's chapter in "Debating Religious Liberty and Descrimination"

  14. I was just writing something along these exact same lines! I will refrain from violent language for your having beaten me to it.

  15. Gives a different meaning to "the Earth was filled with violence" in Noah's day. (Genesis 6:11)

    "But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be." (Matthew 24:37-38)

  16. "You might ask: “But doesn’t natural law theory say that it’s always bad to act contrary to nature?” No, that’s not what it says. It says that it’s bad for human beings to act contrary to their own nature."

    I understand that it's okay for one thing to act against another thing's nature, and I get that morality doesn't apply to animals because they're not rational, but wouldn't it still be bad in an amoral way for an animal to act against its own nature? Its nature still determines what's good for it. (Or are you just saying that natural law theory specifically doesn't lead to that conclusion?)

  17. Dr Michael Huemer writes about the issue of eating meat.

  18. I've mentioned inferential causality before but how about this:

    An argument so strong, that if you believe the premises but reject their inferred conclusion, your higher brain functions lock up and you die.

    "Cannabis farmer Starfeather Jones witnessed the entire incident, and she described it this way: 'Well, I told him it was a strong argument, but he's stubborn and went ahead and studied it anyway. I knew this would happen at some point and told him many times, and that Blockchain was going to remove those intellectual crutches, but he would just laugh and keep plowing the fields. And now that Last Judgment Algorithm has apparently started executing. Sad, but hey, my whole family has read their Schopenhauer, so I think we're prepared for the comming winter. But I do think the elites should have a choice: either change certain assumptions, read the argument, or the prediction markets will find you. Sorry, I gotta finish this sorghum planting. . . . Have an anonymously distributed day!' "

  19. Ward, I think you were a little too hard on the Beaver, or whoever it was who said the thing about an eye for an eye making the whole world blind. If men were angels, we wouldn't need the lex talionis, and if the lex talionis were administered by angels, then it would only lead to wrongdoers being proportionally harmed as you say; but that's not real life. History has no shortage of feuds that spin out of control, even as each actor perceives himself as inflicting a just punishment, and that end up claiming dozens of lives as a result of one or a few original murders. And that's the small-scale version of this sort of social breakdown. The pseudo-Ghandian adage is best understood as applicable to situations--often but not always civil wars or other periods in which the state is not functioning properly--in which tit-for-tat violence has gotten to the point that if everyone pursued what he believed to be a just cause of vengeance, the killing would not stop until one side or the other triumphed through a sort of genocide. You don't have to think that the lex talionis is inherently unjust or that all violence is wrong to see that (1) this sort of thing does in fact happen and (2) when it does, tolerance is necessary and mercy is beneficial. In particular, the lex talionis cannot be the guiding principle for dealing with this situation. This is the context in which I have usually heard the adage. But maybe you hang out in different bars, where it also gets applied to fining shoplifters or something.

    Ed, you don't have to go far to find an example of this, just drive down the road to Compton. You'll find neighborhoods where people are very comfortable with the lex talionis than. Sure, maybe the gangland violence of Compton isn't "the real lex talionis", kind of like how the USSR or the Khmer Rouge weren't "real Communism." But we do have to ask what these things look like in practice. When the need for vengeance has a very prominent place in a society, rather than a muted place that is tempered strongly by other considerations, the result is not wrongdoers being proportionally harmed by incorruptible authority figures. It's, well, Compton.