MBD loves dogs, and hates extreme, unfeeling rationalism. He’s right on both counts.
Just a few idle thoughts from Christian ethics, with Patheos going through a server update.
The transcendent and unique dignity of human nature, and concommittantly the instrumentality of the rest of Creation, and our duty/right to “rule it” (albeit in stewardship) is a constant teaching of Christianity. And in deracinated form(?) these ideas were carried over into the Enlightenment, and are necessary to the foundations of our civilization. Which is why I am intensely troubled by the animal rights movement, as a symptom of our total forgetting of humanism, religious or secular. The cretinous pseudo-utilitarianism which rates the moral worth of an entity by how much subjective feelie-feels it experiences is a special kind of moral illiteracy. When they write the history books on our culture, the shorthand way to denote our barbarism will be to say that you could get locked up for beating a dog, but got a subsidy for murdering a child.
Ok. With all that being said, however, we shouldn’t be too strictly formal about it. Fellowship with animals is a time-honored way to express gratitude for God’s creation, and as long as we don’t draw the wrong moral inferences, thinking of an animal as a kind of proto-moral agent, with something akin to rights, is a way of modeling supererogatory (ie Christlike) love. In other words, no, Christian ethics says you don’t have to love a dog, but it’s precisely because you don’t have to do it that it glorifies God that you do it.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that MBD is right to stand athwart a literal-hot dog in every pot. But if I’m in a place where dog is traditionally eaten and I’m offered, my curiosity might get the better of me, and I won’t feel bad about it.
Another thought I had watching the film: Top Gun makes a lot more sense if you look at Iceman as the hero. I found him so much more likable and even-keeled than Maverick. I would so rather hang out with him than Jerky McAsshole, and it’s not as if there’s a charisma deficit between the two actors. (If anything, Kilmer is better-looking and more charismatic than Cruise.) But it says much about how Scott and the filmmakers saw the world that the smirky, cocky asshole who puts people’s lives in danger is depicted as the awesome, kickass hero, and the reasonable, responsible, even-keeled guy who’s way nicer and more sympathetic than Maverick is the arbitrary antagonist.
In his post, Bruenig gleefully vindicates my points: that his “legal realism” theory has for him normative and prescriptive consequences; and that he believes the state to be justly empowered to distribute, confiscate and translate property totally however it sees fit. Let it be noted.
I also hope he will take the time to learn something about natural law & natural rights theory, which he is clearly unfamiliar with.
As for the rest, I am quite content to let it stand.
This is like a bizarre wonk’s version of screwball comedy. I got into a blog-fight with his wife, so the always-lovely Matt Bruenig, in between condescending to me and insulting me, writes the most banal thing ever: various economic institutions obtain at various times; some of them lead to more flourishing than others; so we (read: Bruenig) should choose the best ones.
Of course, the problem there, the problem that has been my problem from the start, is that to pose the question this way is to skip a teeny tinsy step, which is the step I call attention to and the step that always, but always gets skipped by the Burenigs, which is that we should choose the best arrangement “what belongs to who” consistent with respect for the rights of actual existing humans. In many places, people have decided to rearrange “what belongs to who” based on grand designs for human flourishing while paying no attention to the small matter of the rights of the actual people owning the things, and as a result lots of suffering happened (no, Sweden doesn’t count). This is the problem from the start, and has always been the problem. If you do not have a step in there that says “…btw, people have human rights, lol" you are, by definition, inviting totalitarianism. And Bruenig keeps being invited to put that step somewhere, and he keeps declining. And he keeps saying the reason he declines is "legal realism"—even though it’s only a descriptive theory, you understand.
I don’t think Bruenig is quite that derpy. I think he is just dishonest and understands very well what’s up and is quite consciously laboring at the edge of the Overton window. But because he still has a (much) less subtle mind than his wife’s, it’s a lot easier to trace the steps.
After explaining that legal realism is of course only descriptive, he writes:
All of these institutional sets involve the systematic allocation of pieces of the world to individuals and non-individual corporate entities. All of them successfully allocate out the stewardship of pieces of God’s creation, one way or another.
The normative question for us is: which stewardship institutions are the best ones? If we are going to allocate out the stewardship of creation (instead of allowing everyone to steward everything in common, as in Eden), then we have to decide which system we are going to use to do that. Of all the possible sets of economic institutions, which ones should we legally impose in order to govern the pieces of creation within our society?
So for Bruenig, there is clearly a straight line between the descriptive and the normative. The descriptive provides the premise that clearly animates the normative here, the one that I have been complaining about from the start, which is that because property is a creation of the start, no one has an inherent, natural, human right to their property, and the allocation of property is wholly at the discretion of the sovereign.
"If we are to allocate out the stewardship of creation". Are we? Is there a "we" that just allocates property? Yes, because legal realism! And ergo, Bruenig clearly believes, “we” (meaning: him) are clearly entitled to rearrange the pieces just however we may feel like.
Similarly, “of all the possible sets of economic institutions”, since all of them are “legally impose[d]” by the state, (IOW: none of them are natural or more consistent with human rights than others), “we” just decide among the various options what is “impose[d]” by the state. If it happens to respect people’s rights, good, if it doesn’t, oh well. Can’t make the omelette of the people’s paradise without breaking a few eggs.
For Bruenig mâle there is absolutely no doubt that the “descriptive” legal realism has very explicit and direct normative consequences, which is the absence of any natural human right of property. Of course it is dementedly stupid to believe that just noting that property is shaped and enforced by legal institutions it means it is wholly a thing of the state and (therefore! because derp!) to be shaped according to the whims of the state. It is like saying that because many varieties of family law have obtained across history and family law is only enforced by the state, I cannot complain if a cop comes tomorrow to take my child and place him with another family. It is third-rate undergraduate Polanyi-ism. I’ve been there. Then I turned 17.
But what child belongs to who? ‘All of these institutional sets involve the systematic allocation of children…all of them successfully allocate out the stewardship of pieces of God’s creation, one way or another. The normative question for us is: which family institutions are the best ones? If we are going to allocate out the children…then we have to decide which system we are going to use to do that. Of all the possible sets of family institutions, which ones should we legally impose in order to govern the pieces of creation within our society?’
Applied to children, this kind of talk sounds demented, but there is no principle Bruenig has ever described that would prevent total property redistribution, and that what is true for him about property would not be true about anything else we typically feel we have a right to (since, after all, all those rights are mediated by the state).
This is the talk we’ve always heard, and this is the talk we still hear. That’s why I charged Bruenig with totalitarian tendencies then and why I still think I was right. He keeps being invited with putting a limiting principle on his designs, and he keeps declining. After a while, one must be forced to conclude that the reason is that he has none.
Very relaxing version of the Creed.
A smart young person in the Valley thinks being a reporter is basically being a PR person,” says one tech journalist. “Like, We have news to share, we’d like to come and tell you about it.” Reporters who write favorably about companies receive invitations to things; critics don’t. “They’re very thin-skinned,” says another reporter. “On Wall Street, if you call them a douchebag, they’ve already heard 17 worse things in the last hour. Here, if you criticize a company, you’re criticizing the spirit of innovation.
This has always been the fundamental greatness of sports, the reason they’re so enduring and powerful: They turn a world of grey into one of black and white. If my team wins, I am happy, and if they lose, I am sad. Nothing in life is that simple but sports. Now, obviously, the world of sports is not exempt from politics: The exact opposite, in fact. But for two hours, that can be stowed. It is important to remember more difficult things when those two hours are over. But putting all that away during the game isn’t just acceptable: It is the point. It is the only sane response to a world of chaos.
Will Leitch, in maybe my favorite World Cup coverage this summer. I brought this piece back in lieu of half-assing a #SoccerSunday post (I’m short on time because I am working on a World Cup piece for tomorrow at TAC) because this is a summary of so much of what I love about soccer. I obsess over each game as proxy, as metaphor, as societal force as much as any other fútbol nerd, but in the heat of the game, it’s a lot simpler. It keeps me sane by letting me go a little insane. The cruel call that opium. Bah, humbug. I call that making friends everywhere I go just by breaking the ice with a jersey, invented solidarity leading to real camaraderie.
A beautiful tournament, a beautiful game.
I ask you, you as a Christian wrestling for the preservation of your greatest treasure, whether you hesitate, whether you incline toward intrigue, calculation, or procrastination in the hope that someone else will raise his arm in your defense? Has God not given you the strength, the will to fight?…Though we know that National Socialist power must be broken by military means, we are trying to achieve a renewal from within of the severely wounded German spirit.
I can attest from personal experience as a legislator that the practice of commercialized harvesting of young women’s bodies for eggs is protected with the full force of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, as well as the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. I can also attest that some pro life groups avoid the issue for fear of putting Republican legislators on the hot seat by forcing them to chose between their pro life commitments and these special interest groups.
I begin with a little girl’s hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization.
The quote goes on:
Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home; because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution.
Here’s another version I’d like to suggest:
Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home; because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a free market in housing so that supply is plentiful, prices are low and competition weeds away the bad landlords.
The point is that much of what appears as theological or philosophical or ideological disagreement, inside Catholic-world as well as outside is actually an empirical discussion about means rather than an abstract discussion about ends. (Take it away, Sane Paul Krugman)
Here’s another version:
Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home; because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, all housing should be owned by the government and distributed to each according to their need.
(I am well aware that the “redistribution of property” that Chesterton talks about is a, well, distributist redistribution, which has nothing to do with either technocratic social-democratic or communist redistribution. This is just for the sake of argument.)
The problem with this version is that when the government does own the housing, everyone gets the most usurious of landlords, and the “homes” end up being very unclean on every possible dimension. (I write here as one who spent some time living in public housing as a child, btw. (I even once lived in public housing, literally, IN SOVIET RUSSIA.))
This is something that, in re: housing, almost everyone now agrees with, but this was not the case at all for many decades, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
The problem that someone who opposes this version is often taken to oppose “a girl should have clean hair” rather than, you know, “totalitarianism.” (And in the American political context for decades, as well as in the French political context nowadays, opposition to public housing was written off as inherently racist.)
Again, Chesterton is right, and Shea is right. But I did want to make this point.