The Book!

Monday, October 30, 2006

To Hume It May Concern

Many philosophers offer proofs of the existence of God: Aristotle, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Leibnitz. Atheists, however, rely on David Hume, who, they commonly claim, has refuted these proofs. This seems to be something like an article of faith to atheists.

But has he? This would come as a surprise to David Hume. He himself claimed to be a theist and a Christian, and, specifically, to accept the proof from design as conclusive. It is hard to believe that he did not understand his own philosophy.

The passage the atheists commonly point to is Hume’s piece on miracles, chapter ten of the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Here Hume defines a “miracle” as a violation of the laws of nature, and then argues that this is so intrinsically improbable that no report of any such thing can be taken as sufficient proof.

But there are several problems with this argument. First, as noted, Hume did not himself consider this a disproof of God. And why would he? It is, if correct, a disproof of miracles, not of God.

Does the argument for the existence of God rely on miracles? It does not. None of the philosophical proofs do; and neither does Christian teaching. Jesus says “Blessed are those who do not see, and yet believe”: expressly, a faith based on miracles is not true faith. And Hume himself states this; and he himself notes that bishops tend to be skeptical of such things.

Christianity seems to share this view with other religions: Buddhism, for example, considers miracles a rather tasteless sideshow, not something to be emphasised.

But it seems to me that Hume has not even disproved miracles. For, even if Hume’s argument holds, that no testimony of miracles can be persuasive, it is really epistemological, not ontological. That is, it only addresses our ability to know whether a miracle has happened—not whether it really has or not. It demonstrates, in other words, only that we cannot prove a miracle; but, by the same token, neither can we disprove one. For all Hume knows, miracles may be happening all the time.

And even to get this far, Hume seems to me to have played a few tricks. For one thing, Hume’s definition of a miracle is not quite the dictionary definition. He defines it as something that defies the laws of nature. Oxford defines “miracle” as “an extraordinary and welcome event attributed to a divine agency.” There is a wide gulf between being “extraordinary” and “violating the laws of nature.” The burden of proof is much lighter to prove that a thing out of the ordinary happened than that something happened that broke the known laws of nature.

Moreover, is Hume right to reject anything that violates the known laws of nature as too improbable to be true? Because if he is, it is not just miracles which are disproved. So is science. For science progresses by observation—observations that seem to contradict the laws of nature as thus far recognized. Thus, Newton’s proposed model of the universe was superseded by Einstein’s when it was realized that the observed data did not properly conform to Newton’s thesis, albeit in a small minority of cases. Similarly, Copernicus’s model succeeded Ptolemy’s on the observation that the observed data did not conform as well to Ptolemy’s system. But given Hume’s principle, any such deviation would merely be dismissed as too improbable to be true; Ptolemy and Newton would still rule.

In one striking example, Hume rejects all prophesy as obviously impossible, despite any evidence to the contrary. We cannot, he avers, know the future.

But can’t we? If so, science does not work, Science is based on reproducible results, which is to say, on its ability to foretell future events.

As this suggests, Hume’s claim seems to depend on circular logic, on tautology—a fault to which Hume seems prone. He dismisses all testimony of miracle as too improbable to believe. But how does he know the probability, unless through observation? And how can his observations be accurate, if he is dismissing some of them? And aren’t those he has not dismissed then logically just as likely to be inaccurate? So how does he know the probability of anything in the first place?

Hume has been called a philosophical dead end. He is, for atheism. They need to find another champion.

More Six-Word Epics

Okay, I’m on a roll.


A Tale of Two Cities in six words:

Better me than him. It’s a—


On the Road in six words:

The road has no end. Satori.


The Titanic in six words:

Boy meets girl. Boat meets iceberg.


Every Hollywood sports film ever made in six words:

Underdogs win in overtime. Roll credits.


Oedipus Rex in six words:

To do: kill Dad. Marry Mum.


Moby Dick in six words:

Where’s that damned whale? Oops. Here.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Six-Word Epics

A fun piece from Wired magazine: various well-known writers take up Hemingway’s challenge of writing a novel in only six words. Hemingway's magnum opus: "For sale: baby shoes. Never worn." He called it "the best thing he ever wrote."

It seems to me a very pleasant art form; as valid, say, as a haiku. The trick is to evoke a narrative, ideally an interesting narrative, without using more than six words. Extra points, I think, for natural-sounding diction.

Here are a few I’ve come up with:

A six word romance:

I came. I saw. She conquered.


The Bridge at San Luis Rey in six words:

The bridge broke. Five fell. Silence.


A murder mystery:

December snows: no corpse until spring.


A Hemingwayan novel:

We saw Niagara together. She jumped.


Slice of life: the story of every marriage:

Honeymoon: the lady, or the tiger?


Melodramas, the sort that become made-for-TV movies:

She aborted before the DNA results.

“Darling,” she whispered, “I have AIDS.”


A boy’s book in the grand old tradition:

“Lost. No water.” His last entry.


A psychological thriller:

I conquered Europe. Why this straightjacket?


An end-of-the-world sci-fi epic:

Stalemate? Checkmate. Bombs fell. Bloody hell.


Anyone else want to try?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Two Keys to Power in Canada

Warren Kinsella, who is not always wise, said some wise words on his web site recently. He noted that the Liberal Party of Canada traditionally has two unique selling propositions which kept then in power for so many years. As I reinterpret them, these are:

1. Managerial competence; and
2. National unity (more specifically, ability to handle the Quebec brief).

This strikes me as spot on. Moreover, it may be the key to political power in Canada for anyone. Canada is a conservative country; Canadians do not like the boat rocked. Hence managerial competence is important to us. And what is more important to any country than national unity? Take these two overriding considerations, and I don’t think ideology plays the same part in Canadian politics that it does in many other countries.

Let’s theorize, then, that Canadian governments succeed or fail with the public to the extent that they deliver on these two goals. Diefenbaker’s government failed on 1, collapsing into infighting; but also to many did not seem to understand Quebec. Mulroney’s failed on 2, by putting the nation through the crises of Meech Lake and Charlottetown to no effect, and also developed more than a whiff of corruption. Martin’s inherited Liberals failed on both 1 and 2 with the Quebec corruption scandals. Turner perhaps failed on 1, with the appointments scandal and by, generally, appearing bumbling. And, by contrast with Quebecker Mulroney, his ability to handle the Quebec brief did not look that formidable.

Given all this, the task before Stephen Harper is clear, and simple—and just what he has been doing so far. He must maintain a coherent Quebec policy, and he must run a tight ship. Moreover, the scales may have tilted somewhat in the Tories’ favour on issue 2. Keeping Alberta happy is becoming significant as well, as its population and economy burgeons. On that, the Tories have the historic advantage.

Now let’s look at the prospective Liberal leadership candidates by these measures. Bob Rae’s baggage would be a big problem on managerial competence—he did nothing to burnish his managerial reputation in Ontario. Kennedy runs into problems on the Quebec front, because of his low party support in that province.

Either Dion or Ignatieff, however, look promising in terms of this mandate.

Kinsella thinks Ignatieff has hurt himself on 2 by saying that Quebec is a “nation.” I don’t think so. This might have been so twenty or thirty years ago, but I don’t think it’s that controversial an idea now. If we can talk of “First Nations,” as we commonly do now, then the currency of the term “nation” has been debased enough in Canada that it can readily refer to what elsewhere might be thought of as an “ethnic group.” And how can we refuse “nationhood” to Quebec when we readily give it to small Indian bands?

Ignatieff does run the risk, with his political inexperience, of putting his foot in his mouth. This may or may not concern Canadians; I have some hopes that we are politically mature enough not to take this too seriously. Either he or Dion will have to come up with a coherent and saleable Alberta strategy, and do their best to surround themselves with what looks like a competent managerial team.

If so, we should have a very interesting fight on our hands next time at the polls.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Coming Soon to a School Near You

The chickens are coming home to roost. All of the following were national headlines today:

From BC:

Teacher testifies he had sex with students

From Ontario:

UCC denies that it knew of boy's rape

From Quebec:

Quebec private school sued over abuse allegations

Did anyone really think it only happened in Indian residential schools, or among Catholic clergy? Not at all; surveys always suggested it was no more common there than anywhere else.

We'll be seeing a lot more of this in future.

The good news is, if the government compensates us all at the level it's been compensating natives who attended the residential schools, we'll all be rich.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Works of Heartbreaking Genius

I found somewhere recently on the Web a proposed listing of the greatest artworks of the Twentieth Century.

This got me thinking—in my own readings and travels, what would I select for my own list of the greatest artworks of all time?

I use the term “art” in its broadest sense here—I’m thinking in terms of works of culture generally. In case of doubt, my criterion was: did it or could it bring tears to my eyes with the sheer beauty of the thing?

Of course, my list is only partial—I have only read, seen, and done so much, and must have missed some worthy things. And forgotten others.

Here’s my list:


The Book of Law

- The British parliamentary system
- The American Declaration of Independence
- The Ten Commandments
- The (US) Bill of Rights


Unclassified

- Chess
- Baseball
- tea


Stories—The Book of Myths

- Krsna Gopala cycle
- Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky
- Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll
- Animal Farm, Orwell
- 1984, Orwell
- Shakespeare, MacBeth
- Shakespeare, The Tempest
- Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound
- Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrranos
- Life of the Buddha
- Book of Genesis
- John 1


Wonders of the World:

- Jiu Hua Shan – one of the four sacred mountains of Chinese Buddhism. I expect the other three are as magnificent; this is the one I’ve seen.
- Kyoto, Japan.
- Sinulog (annual celebration of the Feast of the Child Jesus, Cebu, Philippines)
- Sigiri, Sri Lanka—for the architectural feat of the castle on top of a sheer mountain, plus the magnificent gardens, plus the Sigiri Maiden frescos, plus the poetry of the mirror wall.
- Sistine Chapel


Book of Wisdom:

- Analects, Confucius
- Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu
- Anselm’s Ontological Proof of the Existence of God
- Plato’s cave analogy
- Pascal’s Wager
- Occam’s Razor
- Descartes’s Meditations
- Sermon on the Mount
- Catechism of the Catholic Church


Book of Songs:

- Ryme of the Ancient Mariner, Coleridge
- Kublai Khan, Coleridge
- Frost at Midnight, Coleridge
- Li Bai, corpus
- Sailing to Byzantium, Yeats
- The Second Coming, Yeats
- The Circus Animals’ Desertion, Yeats
- Lapis Lazuli, Yeats
- Ash Wednesday, Eliot.
- Goodnight Irene, Huddy Ledbetter
- 1 Corinthians 13
- “Oh Westron wind, when wilt thou blow…”


Visual Arts:

- Michelangelo, Pieta
- Vermeer, Girl with Pearl Earring
- Blake’s miniatures
- Van Gogh, Starry Night


Music

- Beethoven, Ode to Joy
- Si Bheag, Si Mhor

Your results may vary.

Monday, October 23, 2006

One of the Worst Scandals of Our Time

Michaelle Jean, as Canada’s Governor-General, has come out against violence against women, calling it “one of the worst scandals of our time" (“Rising tide of violence against women ‘intolerable,’ GG says,” CBC News, Oct. 22).

Why only violence against women? Doesn’t violence against men matter?

The Governor-General was speaking at a conference in Montral dedicated to Athanasie Mukarw. Mukarw’s claim to this distinction? That, sixteen years ago in Rwanda, she was threatened with rape and death.

I have no doubt that such a threat must have been deeply traumatic for her, too. But I wonder why no similar thoughts are spared for her husband, who was tortured to death.

Threatened violence against women, it seems, is much more memorable than actual violence against men.

To cap it off, representatives of Fathers for Justice buttonholed Jean as she left the conference, asking for a hearing. She would not even agree to speak to them.

Is it proper for a Governor-General to so openly prepresent the interests of only half the Canadian population?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Bodyguard of Lies

Whatever everyone thinks is true, is probably wrong. This seems to almost always be the case.

Most people seem to believe that the existence of the spiritual realm is dubious; while the existence of the physical is unquestionable. Philosophically, the opposite is true: the existence of the word of thought is unquestionable and self-evident: cogito, ergo sum. The existence of the physical world, on the other hand, ultimately cannot be logically demonstrated. It is an act of faith.

Most people think the existence of God is an open question. It is not. Philosophically, it is about the strongest certainty available.

Most people think that science has some special handle on truth. It does not; science is a process, and its conclusions change as long as it still lives, internally consistent but without ever arriving at anything properly called “truth.” The philosophy on which science is primarily based, moreover, that of Sir Francis Bacon in Novum Organum, has been conclusively refuted.

Most people think that science and religion are at loggerheads. The opposite is the case: science began as an effort to demonstrate the proof of God’s existence from design, and the fact that science works at all continues to buttress this contention.

Most people think life is freer in the developed world, in North America or Europe, than in most of the Third World—say, in China or Iran. In practical terms, the opposite is the case: there are far more restrictions on what the average person can say or do in America than in China.

Most people think that Nazism or Fascism was extremely efficient. It was not; it was chaos. Most people think that people’s lives were far more regimented under Fascism. The opposite seems actually to have been the case: soldiers could buck orders, for example.

I could go on—but a pattern is clear.

Why should it be so, that the common consensus should be so consistently not just wrong, but the opposite of truth?

I suspect it is because the average person has something to hide. As soon as anyone has something to hide, they have a vested interest in steering as far wide of the truth as possible. So, by common consensus, we work to promote convenient lies; not just because they are convenient, but sheerly because they are lies. A lie, for being a lie, is more valuable to us than the truth.

This is why the devil is called “the father of lies.”

A prophet, by contrast, is merely someone who speaks truth.

Truth is in this sense the essence of all morality. This is an insight shared by creeds as far dispersed as Christianity and Confucianism. English uses the word “honest” as a shorthand for morality generally. Jesus says “the truth shall set you free.” John the Baptist says his task is “to make the ways straight for the Lord.” Confucius, in turn, asked what he would do if ever in power, said that the first task would be “the rectification of terms”: that is, making sure words meant what they were supposed to mean.

Friday, October 20, 2006

B.S. No Bitch, Liberals Insist

Bourque Newswatch headlines its current story about Peter McKay “Pissy Pete’s Hissy Fit.”

That, apparently is within the realm of civil discourse. Indeed, it is tossed off by what is supposed to be a neutral source.

In the story, McKay reputedly—he denies it—referred to Belinda Stronach as a dog.

That, apparently, is outrageous and beyond the pale. Even when said in partisan debate.

What’s the difference?

Could it be simply that Stronach is a woman? After all, if a man called another man a “dog,” let alone “Pissy Pete,” would anyone get upset? Or if a woman called a man a dog? Or a pig?

But let a man call a woman a bitch...

There’s an interesting double standard here. If women must be given such special consideration in debate, is it fair to men?

I say Fuddle Duddle.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Poverty is Freedom

A leftist friend claims recently that the left is more moral than the right. Whatever else might be said about the right and “values,” she points out, the bottom line is that the left cares more about the poor. She quotes Matthew 25 as her text:

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

But in fact, are leftists giving money to the poor? Or clothing them, or visiting them in prison? They are not. Instead, they are asking government to do it for them. This could instead be seen as a desertion of duty. If we, ourselves, give food to the hungry, clothes to the needy, care to the sick, comfort to prisoners, or money to charity, that is one thing. It is a very different thing to demand that everyone else be forced to instead.

Worse, such giving to the poor is expressly not supposed to be a political act:

Matthew 6:1-2: “Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

So there is zero value, morally, to the modern left as a political position.

Of course, one might suppose that the means of giving is less important than the goal, of ending poverty.

But is this even possible? Marx thought so. But not the Bible. And Marx has been proven wrong.

Jesus says, “The poor you will have always with you.” If he is God, he ought to know. Poverty is apparently a permanent part of creation, barring the Second Coming.

Which, logically, it is. Poverty is relative to wealth. You cannot have one without the other. Nobody would realize they were poor except in comparison to someone else who is richer. Without that, the concept would have no meaning.

That being so, there is no way ever to get rid of poverty. The issue is to do our best personally to give when we see someone in need, no more or less.

And, for that matter, is it even desirable, beyond that minimum, to eliminate poverty? Jesus says, after all, “"Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20).

Again, we should assume he means what he says. The poor are ultimately more fortunate than the rich.

The reason is simple: as Jesus himself explains, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”’ (Matthew 6: 19-21). The poor will find it easier to make it into heaven.

Wealth does not obviously bring greater contentment—this is more than a maxim, it has been tested scientifically and broadly been found to be so. At the same time, is a source of worries and care.

The wise, therefore, in all times, have tended to actually avoid great wealth—from Diogenes through the Buddha. Many religious take their vows of poverty today. Poverty is freedom.

Friday, October 13, 2006

WASPS need not apply

So Ban Ki-Moon is the new UN Secretary-General. I trust he will do a fine job. But I note this bit from the CBC’s report:

“Diplomats had generally agreed the next secretary general should come from Asia because of a tradition that the post rotate among regions. The last Asian to hold the post was Burma's U Thant, who served from 1961 to 1971.”

Another quota system in operation. This I find terribly offensive, as a violation of human rights, which the UN ought to be there to uphold, and a violation of the merit principle. Like all other employees, UN Secretaries General should not be chosen for the colour of their skin or where their parents came from, but for the content of their character.

And, like other quotas inevitably are, this one too is made to discriminate against someone. It was Asia’s turn, since there had not been a Secretary-General from Asia since 1971? Right. Can you name the last Secretary-General from North America?

Here’s the full list so far:

Trygve Lie – Europe
Dag Hammersjold – Europe
U Thant – Asia
Kurt Waldheim – Europe
Javier Perez de Cuellar – South America
Boutros Boutros-Ghali – Africa
Kofi Annan – Africa
Ban Ki-Moon – Asia

That’s two for Africa; two for Asia; three for Europe—Germanic Northern Europe, specifically; one for South America; and none for either North America or Oceania. What gives?

Other than, perhaps, that those last two regions are overwhelmingly English-speaking?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Islam and Freedom

Nobody speaks for all Islam, even to the limited extent that the Pope speaks for Christendom. Islam is like Protestantism: it’s every theologian for himself.

Nevertheless, the following quotations are interesting. They come from a very respectable source: the Gulf Times, a responsible newspaper of record in a responsible, modernizing country, Qatar. This is Wahhabi Islam, specifically, but at least this is Islam presented by Islam itself, in an Arab society, and so is presumably undistorted by prejudice. It may help illuminate the current clash of cultures.

The editorialist writes:

In a country ruled by Muslim authorities a non-Muslim is guaranteed his freedom of faith. …. Muslims are forbidden from obliging a non-Muslim to embrace Islam, but he should pay the tribute to Muslims readily and submissively, surrender to Islamic laws, and should not practice his polytheistic rituals openly.

This is freedom of conscience in Muslim terms: non-Muslims are free to follow their own religion, but Muslim law must apply to all, non-Muslims must still financially support the Muslim religion, and all non-Muslim observances must be behind closed doors.

There are further limits to freedom of conscience:

“Apostasy from Islam is a grievous crime punishable by death.”

“The Muslim must charge idolators, Jews, Christians, atheists and magians with unbelief.”


Apparently, a Muslim is obliged to speak out against other religions.

But may non-Muslims speak against Islam? No:

“Allah ordered the Muslims to … restrain those who call people to [false opinions]from committing this grievous sin. Such a system based on respecting the opinions of others so long as their opinions are not violating the law of Allah is most magnanimous… Opinions contrary to the laws of Allah result in nothing but corruption and falsehood, therefore these should not be communicated.”

Freedom of speech does not extend to any statement that contradicts Muslim beliefs.

It is possible, then, for Wahhabi Islam to coexist peacefully with the doctrine of human rights? Can we all just get along?

The question is important to me, at least, since I am both Catholic and Clear Grit. As a Catholic, I must admire the Muslim insistence on truth and on centring life around religion. But then, as a liberal, in the proper sense of that word, I cannot see Islam as respecting human rights here, or as following the basic precept of morality, to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

It seems to me that, when two systems both claim universal applicability, and contradict, one or the other must be wrong. And I must cast my vote with the notion of inalienable human rights, and with the Golden Rule.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Argument from Beauty

A bird sings outside my window.

We perceive bird song as beautiful, do we not? Indeed, we perceive nature as a whole as beautiful, don't we? This aesthetic response is recognizably the same response we get from a great work of art, which is to say, of designing intelligence. Indeed, what is beauty but the perception of an intelligent pattern, a design, in an object?

I submit that, if there were no design in nature, it would not be beautiful. It would appear to use like random noise, or random paint splotches on a wall.

Each sparrow is a message from God.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Amish School Shooting

Reflecting on the recent massacre in an Amish school in Pennsylvania, Warren Kinsella writes:

“What has feminism made me think about? In the past 24 hours, mainly about pure expressions of evil, like this. And how the common denominator always seems to be the same: violent men. Men attacking, or killing, or hurting, women. Over and over and over.”

He represents this as a personal reaction, not an established fact. But is it really true? Is violence by men against women the story of our times, or all times?

Isn’t it bosh, and isn’t it dangerous, malicious bosh? Isn’t it on the same level as “Jews poisoning, cheating, or swindling Christians. Over and over and over”?

Any quick check of crime stats shows that violence by man against women is only a small proportion of violence committed. Violence by men against men is far more common. Violence by men against women is the shocking exception. Shocking enough to get big play in the papers. It is on the order of “man bites dog.”

Okay, so violence by men against women is actually quite rare. The more common thing is violence against men. But it is still men committing the violence, right? Isn’t it at least fair to say that men are more violent than women, and that without men around, violence against women would be even less?

Probably not. Many studies have now shown that, in domestic situations, women are just as likely to be violent towards their partners as men. This probably accounts for the vast majority of “violence against women.” There is no reason to suppose that violence outside domestic situations is different; apparently men are no more violent towards women than women are towards men.

But even that is not the whole story. Kinsella, as a good Catholic, should not forget about abortion. Is that not violence of the most extreme kind, and is that not violence done by women? Add in these numbers, and all of the following statements are obviously true

1) women commit more violence than men;
2) women commit more violence against men than men do against women;
3) women commit more violence against women than men do.

This is true with unrestricted abortion. But even before legal abortion, abortion and infanticide was apparently fairly common. My wife, who grew up in the Philippines where it has always been illegal, says abortion there is nevertheless almost routine. And, when discovered, largely unpunished.

So Kinsella’s notion, and that of feminism generally, that men are somehow intrinsically violent towards women, is based on a profound sexism: if women do it, we don’t define it as violence. Women, to put it bluntly, have a license to kill.



And now, may I take this opportunity to give my own reflections on the Pennsylvania case?

The motive seems to have been sexual: the murderer-suicide was apparently haunted by desires to sexually assault young girls. It looked like the whole point of the exercise was to do this, but he panicked or lost his nerve or ran out of time. He was ready to both kill and die to fulfill this unnatural desire.

That early sex experience, then, must have held incredible power over him.

Doesn’t this illustrate graphically the folly of our current permissiveness towards premarital sex? What he did, he seems to have done at the age of twelve. These days, it is apparently very common for twelve-year-old girls to be sexually active.
If early sexual experiences are indeed that powerful, if they can imprint a person that strongly, it would certainly be wise to stay well away from them. Lives could be in the balance. It is surely reckless then to simply drop your knickers for the first boy or girl who shows interest.

Moreover, if the first sexual experience so imprints us, or even if it so imprints just a few of us, then it makes the most sense to reserve all sex for the confines of marriage. Otherwise one could be left with a craving that can never, throughout life, be fulfilled—because that first sex partner, to whom one has bonded, is long gone.


We used to understand this very well. We used, for example, to believe that fetishes in general were caused by early sexual experiences. Including homosexuality.

Surely this, on the evidence of the Pennsylvania case, is indeed sufficient to explain for the phenomenon. One early sexual encounter with a fellow man or fellow woman; and some people might be, like this man, imprinted for life.

By contrast, the currently popular explanation, that homosexuality is inborn, faces a serious logical problem: since homosexuals do not breed, old Darwin’s random God should have seen them and their genes packing within a generation. Even women with any genetic predisposition to gay children would have lost, over time, in the survival stakes.

But then, it would be highly politically incorrect to suggest that homosexuality might be contagious. Or that premarital sex is a very bad thing.

No, the lesson drawn by the powers that be will be something different. There will be more money for feminist causes, more laws discriminating against men, and more restrictions on guns.

And more children shot.

Friday, October 06, 2006

On the Immortality of the Soul

While the existence of God is more or less demonstrable to human reason, and not really open to debate, what about the notion of the immortal soul? Is there any reason to believe or not believe in its existence?

I think, indeed, its existence too can at least be considered likely.

What do we know of what happens at death? Without experiencing it ourselves, only one thing, really: that the body ceases to animate. It does not follow at all that the soul ceases to exist. The same result could just as readily be explained by supposing that the soul, that is, the animating “I,” or consciousness, and the body part company. There is no reason to choose one explanation over the other, on the evidence of watching others die.

There is, to be sure, some further evidence: reports by people who have been “clinically dead,” who actually do find that they remained conscious, when the body was inanimate, that their consciousness separated from their body, but continued to function. This is intriguing, although not proof—it is always possible to suppose that they were not really dead, but only appeared dead, and were experiencing something else entirely.

There is also the intriguing parallel of sleep, in which consciousness seems to manage well enough every night without the bodily senses—in dreams. If here, why not there? But then, the analogy might not hold.

But if we assume the soul, the animating principle, the self-consciousness, at any point ceases to be, isn’t this a novel idea? What evidence or experience do we actually have of things ceasing to be?

None, really. No matter ever ceases to be: it simply changes state. This includes the body. So, if the body does not cease to be, and matter does not cease to be, why would we assume differently of the spirit? Can we assume such a thing is even possible?

We cannot.

It is philosophically virtually inconceivable that something can become nothing.

Ah, but then there’s more. Our actual experience of the intellectual realm is that it is much more durable than the natural one. Indeed, the defining characteristic of the physical world is that it begets, is born, and dies—this is what the word “nature” means--while the mental world seems permanent. The thoughts of Aristotle still live; as do the feelings of Homer. Memories endure long after the thing remembered has passed from view. We remember dreams from childhood as vividly as those last night.

And, as Eleanor Roosevelt once observed, we also cannot really imagine our own death, in the sense of our consciousness ceasing to be.

Ergo, life after death must be the default hypothesis. At a minimum, the onus is on those who believe the consciousness does not survive to make their case. But their case also seems to be an impossibility.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Trapped in the Bigger Leagues

Chatting with a couple of fellow academics. And fellow men. It seems there is a common story. White men have been largely driven out of the teaching profession, the academic profession, as they have of several other professions as well.

JB’s story was this: out of graduate school, he applied for a teaching job, and did not get it. The guy who got it was quite obviously less qualified than he was; but his skin was some fashionable shade of brown. Naively, he phoned up the Human Rights commission. He reported that he was pretty sure he had been refused a job because of the colour of his skin. The interest was immediate. He gave the details of the case. “And what is your ethnicity,” the woman on the other end of the line asked.

“I’m of European extraction,” he answered.

“This conversation is over,” she responded, and hung up on him.

At that moment, he realized he would have no fair chance to pursue his career in Canada. He left the country, and has never gone back. He has been obliged to make his life in exile.

RB, no relation, was listening. He then told his story. He was teaching in BC. Some female colleague got angry at him and threw a glass of water in his face. Naively, he went to his employer’s equity commission to complain. He felt he was the victim of sexism.

Big mistake. They went to the woman, and she promptly accused him of stalking and harassing her. His reputation was destroyed. He had to leave the job. He decided it was not safe for a man to work in Canada; he would have to leave the country to have a chance to pursue his career.

He has only been back briefly since.

There are a whole lot of Canadians living abroad. It is striking. Everywhere you go, in expat communities, you seem to find more Canadians than British or Americans. Mostly men, with Asian wives.

Most men dare not talk of their experiences until they know you pretty well. They know that if they open up to the wrong person, they will be immediately charged with racism and sexism. We living European males have frankly been cowed into silence, and submission. Most of us have learned to keep our mouths shut and our deepest thoughts to ourselves. It is as Richard Wright said about Bigger, the subject of his novel Native Son: it is risky for a nigger to get uppity. There is no telling what might happen to him.

It makes me suspect that something could blow here. When the change comes, it could come fast, and hard. A lot of people have been keeping things quiet for a lot of time. A lot of people have anger they do not know what to do with. It has reached the point of a plain breach between appearance and reality.

I am particularly fascinated that so many of us—including JB and RB—immediately after telling their stories, nevertheless endorse the current state of affairs, endorse the concept of "diversity" and the need for this sort of discrimination. The “Uncle Tom” phemonenon is endemic. It is the standard survival strategy. It may also have something in it of the Stockholm syndrome. As Martin Luther King Jr. observed, no man is oppressed without his own implicit acceptance of the fact.

JB goes on to tell of his experience at U of T Faculty of Education. He claimed that, because of racial quotas, there were two distinct groups of students there when he went through: European men in their thirties of forties with advanced degrees, seeking some form, any form, of academic employment; and women and “men of colour” in their early twenties, fresh out of undergrad programmes. He said that, because of the wide disparity in qualifications, the latter group was generally not able to participate much in classes. The discussions were well beyond their ability and expertise.

He went on to say that he heard from a friend of his working somewhere in the civil service that at one point a large group of white males in his office were fired from their positions. Then the positions were all filled with “visible minorities.” Then most of the white men were brought back again on contract to do the actual work. This all to meet “affirmative action” demands.

And yet, he concludes, it is all worth it, for "diversity."

I suspect he is a closet conservative, but is not ready yet to admit it to me. He is sounding me out.

One day, if it ever looks safe to speak out, the whole thing is going to blow. It's going to blow.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ignatieff Still Leads

The votes are still not all in, according to the Liberals' nifty Flash program. But Ignatieff is steady at just under thirty percent. More important, perhaps, is that four candidates now know for sure that they are not going to be Liberal leader: Brison, Volpe, Dryden, Findlay. Findlay barely even counts. For the other three, if they all went to Ignatieff, with his support among ex officio delegates, they would actually put him over the top.

There might indeed be a significant temptation there: why not do it more or less together, guaranteeing one another nice cabinet positions should the Liberals win the next election? After all, staying in the race now is just going to be embarassing.

If, on the other hand, any one of them has strong personal or ideological reasons to avoid Ignatieff, who's the alternative? Rae is second, but Dion and Kennedy are close enough that another endorsement by anyone else might make the difference, shooting them past Rae and badly hurting his chances.

Rae may be a tough one for Volpe or Dryden to bow before--after all, he's an outsider. They might feel happier going to Dion. But Dion, conveniently for Ignatieff, is back in fourth position. Brison? He's over towards the right, and Rae is a bad match ideologically. Ignatieff would actually be the best fit.

So there you go; the math still seems to favour Ignatieff. He only has to get a quarter of remaining delegates as others drop out, Paul Wells points out. Everybody else could drop out in favour of the very same alternate candidate, say Bob Rae, and Ignatieff might still very well get that number. Conversely, just one endorsement might be enough statistically to vault him over the top, at this point.

So the temptation might become enormous for these four third-tier candidates to go over to Ignatieff now. If one does, the other two are under even more pressure.

And now there are rumours that Brison is in talks with Ignatieff.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Call to Order

A priest I knew once observed that he anticipated two options at the Pearly Gates. With grace, we will be invited in. Without it, we will be told to break up into small groups.

I used actually to enjoy committee work. But that was with the Editors’Association of Canada. They all knew, and carefully followed, proper rules of order. That makes all the difference. Since, I have been trapped in too many committee rooms where nothing gets decided until the point of exhaustion, and the last person talking gets whatever he or she wants. It is maddening.

In a democracy like Canada, committee work is a glue holding us together. The average person with a desk job is going to spend a lot of his or her life in meetings. This being so, why on earth don’t we teach everyone proper rules of order in high school? Leaving aside its practical value, it is one of the most admirable and charming elements of our heritage.

For that matter, there are a few other vital matters that ought to be taught in high school, and rarely are. First, everyone should be versed in the standard logical fallacies. Everyone should be able to spot an ad hominem, for example, when they see it, and should know why it is not legitimate in argument. With all the time wasted on “media literacy,” this is the real way to ensure our people are not taken in by spurious appeals—if that’s what we really want.

Indeed, in trying to figure out why on earth these things are not taught in every school, I begin to wonder: is it because it would make us too capable of thinking and deciding for ourselves? Is that exactly the problem? I note, after all, that these things apparently are taught at the best private schools. Would the possibility of the average working guy knowing how to form a committee to get things done, and knowing a begging of the question when he heard it, be too much of a threat to the security of an elite?

After all, the true purpose of our schools really is indoctrination, isn’t it? Teaching people to think is not on the agenda.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Ignatieff Still Leads

At the moment, watching the Liberal stockticker, things are looking better for Bob Rae. He is now ahead of Dion, and by a reasonable margin—more than fifty delegates. At the same time, no other candidate looks quite strong enough to put Ignatieff over the top by delivering their support to him. This reduces the temptation to play kingmaker. Polls suggest that, if delegates are simply released by candidates lower down as they leave the ballot, Rae has an advantage over Ignatieff.

However, note how strong Kennedy is. He’s within striking distance of third place, just behind Dion. Less than a hundred votes currently separate those three, Dion, Kennedy, and Rae. This is good for Ignatieff. Any one of those three can hope to end up in second place on the first ballot, making them the natural alternative candidate. Even after the first ballot, there wil lbea temptation to hang on in hopes of moving up to the number two spot with second- or even third-ballot support. There are more than enough ex officio candidates who will be going uncommitted, or who could change their allegiances: a strong performance in the last lap could make up the difference. This means these three have reason now to struggle with one another, keep their candidacies going, and leave Ignatieff alone.

Another consideration: the convention is in Montreal. Quebec delegates are therefore somewhat more likely to actually make it to the convention than others. This helps Ignatieff, who runs higher in Quebec than his national numbers (so far); the more so since Dion leads Rae in Quebec, and so this makes the number two spot more questionable.

I’d say based on all this, Ignatieff remains by a slim margin the best bet to win.