What is it with Conservatives and the Police?

Conservatives are supposed to be all about keeping the government out of your business, right? Limited state power? Ambition checking ambition? If this is so, then why is the reflexive conservative response to police brutality generally to defend police officers who have killed innocent people? If we hold to Lord Acton’s dictum, that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” then we should probably be a little bit more wary of the boys in blue. They’re human, just as we are, and they are just as capable of evil as anyone else.

I think the reason for the generally pro-police attitude among conservatives is that their thinking is grounded less in the principles of limited government than in a pre-existing belief that a certain subset of people are good and the rest are bad. The good people should be free from government interference, but the bad people should not. Moreover, the good people should be free from the effects of the bad people. Predisposition to such a belief would be linked to high orderliness and disgust-sensitivity, which are aspects of the big five trait conscientiousness.

We can offer a similar explanation for why radical SJW-types, who are ostensibly concerned that our institutions are tools of the white cishet patriarchy used to subjugate minorities, are often eager to use bureaucracy and courts to crush their opponents. They don’t have a problem with power per se, they just want to make sure that power is being used for their desired ends. As long as power is used against the bad people (white cishet Christian men), there is no problem.

What the radical SJWs and reflexive police-apologists have in common is a highly black-and-white moral worldview. In this worldview, there isn’t much doubt about who is good and who is bad, and therefore, there isn’t need for checks and balances against power, as long as it is exercised only by the good people. This is authoritarianism. It is bad, and it exists happily on both sides of the political spectrum.

If small-government conservatives want to be consistent with the principles they claim to uphold, then they should stop excusing police brutality, which constitutes abuse of governmental power in its purest form. The state is a monster that needs to be restrained if we are to be safe from it. It doesn’t make sense that we’d apply this to healthcare and taxation, but not to life itself.



Short Response to “X is a social construct” Arguments

The mere fact that something is a social construct does not mean that the thing has no essential features. Construction of all kinds is constrained by rules. For instance, the construction of a stable building requires taking into account the law of gravity. You can point at any given building and say “it could have been otherwise,” but you cannot say that “all ways of erecting a building in this spot are equally correct,” as many of the ways of building the structure will result in said structure collapsing.

Likewise, you can point to our understanding of gender and say “it could have been otherwise,” but you cannot say that “all ways of understanding gender are equally valid.” A good account of gender cannot ignore human sexual dimorphism or the reproductive function of sex, which is why a binary understanding of gender has been so common across cultures. It has prevailed because it has been useful.

Language is another example of something socially constructed that is bound by rules. Just as an understanding of gender which does not meaningfully account for sexual dimorphism is unlikely to be useful, so is a language without some sort of grammar unlikely to be useful. There are differences between the grammars of different languages, but they all have grammars, because the grammar is necessary for the language to serve its function, i.e., facilitating communication.

The fact that buildings, gender roles, and language are made by humans does not imply that the construction of buildings, gender roles, and language is constrained by nothing except the boundaries of our creativity. There are rules that we can’t just wish away unless we plan on doing away with the things themselves. The constraint of being useful for communication is constitutive for language, for example. Without such a constraint, there would be no language. And insofar as the things themselves are useful, as buildings, gender roles, and language certainly are, we should not discard the constraints from which those things derive their being.


On Dumb Questions

I’ve heard people say that there are no dumb questions. In some circumstances, this is true. In particular, if you’re a child who can’t reasonably be expected to know much of anything, then there are, in fact, no dumb questions. However, most of us are not children. We can reasonably be expected to know some things, or at least we ought to have the capacity to figure those things out, especially in the age of Google.

These thoughts are prompted by a Twitter exchange I had with the person replying to David French in the image below:

dumb questino

David French here is tweeting about Laura Loomer’s obnoxious interruption of the Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar, which has been criticized for depicting violence against someone that looks like Trump. The criticism is mostly stupid. But even if it weren’t, charging on stage to interrupt a theatrical production you don’t like is unacceptable for the same reason that interrupting a controversial speaker you don’t like is unacceptable. Free speech, yes. But also, time, place, and manner. Spew your uninformed criticism all you want, but get your own venue to do it instead of stealing the stage from those who own it/have been invited to it/have some other right to it.

Anyhow, my main concern is not the stupidity of the criticism leveled toward the play so much as the stupidity of Mr. Bronxilla’s tweet. Anyone who is remotely familiar with David French’s work should know that he speaks out against left-wing speech restrictions pretty much all the time. He’s also a First Amendment lawyer. This is not difficult to learn. All you have to do is go to French’s page on National Review.

I quoted the stupid question and said that it was stupid, and afterwards had the pleasure of exchanging some words with Mr. Bronxilla:


It’s not like being sincere exempts you from being dumb. I didn’t accuse Bronxilla of insincerity, but of a combination of ignorance and intellectual laziness. Sincerity is enough if you’re in 4th grade, but not if you’re a grown-up trying to discuss grown-up things. That requires a little something extra.

And I really do mean a little something extra. It would have taken literally ten seconds for Bronx to search for David French on Google, click the first search result, and skim his author bio. But he couldn’t be bothered to do so. Instead, he made it everyone else’s job to inform him of the obvious.

There is an absurd amount of information at the tips of your fingers. If you’re not willing to look for it, then how much can you claim to care about being informed? And if you don’t really care about being informed, then why do you ask these questions?

Dialogue is supposed to be an exchange of meaningful ideas. As such, you should come to it prepared to say something meaningful. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions, but it does mean that you should familiarize yourself with the subject you’re discussing to a degree sufficient for you to recognize the difference between good questions and dumb ones. Otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone else’s time.

Our War Against God

We have always been at war with God, fighting him at every turn, in everything we do. We commit sins, yes, but it’s not as if we’re otherwise innocent. No part of our lives is untouched by this war. Just as the whole of the United States participated in World War II, whether through fighting or growing food, our whole being is tangled up in the war against God, whether through willful acts of sin or through the mundane acts that take up the majority of our time and energy. Were it not for God, every part of us would be wholly against God.

But God has defeated us, is defeating us, and will defeat us. The war we fight is a losing one, and thank God. He will capture us as prisoners and then make us into citizens, and even into his heirs. He has forced us to surrender and submit, and we are better for it. And after he has done so, we wish only that we had surrendered sooner.

Some Book Recommendations

I am back at my computer again. This week I read some really good books, some of which I would like to recommend to everyone who cares to read this blog.

Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier

This is an Odyssean novel about a Confederate soldier journeying home to the woman he loves. The narrative shifts back and forth between the two main characters, Inman and Ada. Their stories are wildly different from each other; Inman is journeying through the South trying to avoid being caught by the Home Guard, while Ada is learning to run a farm. Frazier does a good job at weaving these together. His description of the southern landscape is also beautiful.

A Curse on Dostoevsky, by Atiq Rahimi

When I first started reading this book, I expected it to be mediocre at best, but I was pleasantly surprised. The novel transplants Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment into Kabul, Afghanistan. Whereas Dostoevsky focused on the internal sense of turmoil felt by Raskolnikov after he commits his murder, Rahimi highlights the indifference of war-torn Afghanistan to his main character’s murder. When daily life is characterized by violent tribal warfare, personal morality is of less concern than tribal membership.

A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway was a genius. Every time I read him, I’m amazed. In this particular work, his dry sense of humor comes through. I found myself laughing out loud while reading it. One thing I love about Hemingway is how his novels describe life as an expatriate American. The main character in this story is an American serving in the Italian army. As an American who grew up overseas, I enjoy stories that resemble mine, even if the resemblance is minimal.

Past and Future in Augustine and Heidegger

I recently read through Augustine’s Confessions in its entirety for the first time. While in school, I read excerpts, but there were parts of it that I never got to. The part that most struck me was the part during which Augustine discusses time. In particular, reading Heidegger at the same time led me to question Augustine’s analysis differently than I otherwise would have.

Augustine argues that only the present exists. The past was, and the future is not yet, according to Augustine. When we think of past or future, what we are really thinking about is our memories of the past and expectations of the future, both of which are present to us in our minds. In this way, Augustine equates being with presence, effectively defining the past and future out of existence.

What made this striking to me is how it makes such a good example of what Heidegger criticizes in Being and Time. Because Augustine’s definition of being is too narrow (i.e. he equates being with presence), he has to claim that certain things which clearly are, in at least some sense, are not. Instead, we end up with a purely psychological account of past and future, which is hardly satisfying.

I’m not okay with saying that the past exists only in memory. Likewise, I’m not okay with saying that the future exists only in expectation. Both past and future seem to have some kind of phenomenal reality that does not depend on memory or expectation. While it is true to say that past states of affairs no longer are and future states of affairs are not yet, the past and future are not equivalent to the sum total of all past or future states of affairs. Phenomenologically, they are something entirely different.

To use Heideggerian language, I think past and future are existentiales. This means that the past and the future are essential features of Dasein’s being, which can vary in their character but are always “there” in some form. Other existentiales include the World and Being-in. Every Dasein has a past and a future, otherwise it is not Dasein at all. I’d say that the past is related closely to Dasein’s facticity, while the future is tied to Dasein’s potential for being.

“Facticity” is a somewhat obscure Heideggerian term. As such, it is hard to provide a definition for it. But I will try. Heidegger uses the term specifically to describe Dasein’s being, and not other kinds of being. The merely factual does not demand action, as facts are not always relevant to what one does. But the factical does demand action; its very existence is necessarily of some concern. Dasein’s being is factical. By the very fact that Dasein exists, Dasein is required to act, and he is required to act within the factical World in which he exists.

The past is connected to facticity in that the past has a partial role in producing the World in which Dasein is. The particular factical conditions that demand Dasein to act at any given moment are products of the past, even if that past is unremembered by Dasein. Moreover, Dasein’s own response to the factical situation in which it always is must always be shaped by the past, as well. This, too, does not depend on memory, however. Much of what Dasein does is habituated; we incorporate skills into our being until we exercise those skills unconsciously. I do not remember learning how to speak English, and yet I speak.

The future, on the other hand, is that upon which Dasein projects its possibilities for being. Heidegger is fond of saying that Dasein is its own possibilities. Thus, Dasein has a peculiar relationship with the future such that the future as such exists for Dasein, even if future states of affairs themselves have no being. Whereas the past partially creates the factical conditions of Dasein’s being, the future is what allows Dasein’s possibility to be realized. A possibility which cannot be realized is no true possibility. Thus, without the future, Dasein can have no possibilities for being, and thus cannot be Dasein.

As the future conditions of the World will always be relevant to Dasein’s being, the future has a bearing on the World’s possibilities, as well. However, the World does not project its own possibilities in the way that Dasein does. Rather, when Dasein projects its possibilities, it always projects the possibilities of its World as well. Dasein needs its World in order to be Dasein. While the possibilities for Dasein’s being, along with the possibilities for the being of its World, are not present, they certainly are, in some way. And the future is a necessary condition for the being of possibilities.

I like my Heideggerian account of past and future above better than Augustine’s account, mostly because it avoids Augustine’s psychologism. Because Augustine claims that there is no such thing as the past or the future, he has to offer an account of why it seems that such things exist. And his account relies purely on memory and expectation, which I take to be insufficient to explain our experience. The past conditions our existence even when we are not consciously aware of the past. Likewise, even unexpected future possibilities are possibilities which have implications for our being. A phenomenological-existential account allows us to say that past and future exist without making the clearly false claim that past states of affairs and future states of affairs are present.

The Anti-Thrasymachus

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates and his interlocutors discuss the meaning of Justice. What is it? According to one character, Polemarchus, Justice is giving to each what he is owed. This probably sounds about right, to most people. Another character has a much more controversial opinion. Thrasymachus believes that Justice is the advantage of the stronger. In other words, might makes right.

It’s easy to see why we might not want to adopt Thrasymachus’s view. But I think another view of Justice has become pervasive in our day which is just as pernicious—we instinctively regard Justice as the advantage of the weaker; conversely, we regard Injustice as the advantage of the stronger. Whatever benefits the weak is good, and whatever benefits the strong is bad. Nietzsche referred to this kind of morality as slave morality, and he hated it because it rewards weakness and hobbles mankind’s potential for self-improvement. I hate it because it’s wrong.

You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.

– Leviticus 19:15

Lisbeth Salander is the Übermensch

Today I bought a copy of The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. It’s the third book in a series by the late Stieg Larsson, of which I have read the first two. The first book is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I’m not sure if I can recommend the books. There’s lots of sex and violence. But it’s a really good story, one of those books that’s hard to put down, and the main character (the girl referred to in the titles) is compelling because of her dark past, her cunning, and her unrestrained goodness.

(Spoiler alert)

Her name is Lisbeth Salander. She’s very small. But she can fend for herself. She doesn’t hesitate to lie, kill, or steal if it’s in her interest to do so. But she always pursues ends that are good when she does these things. She completely disregards the rules, but she is still bound by her own sense of morality, and she follows it without fail.

I see Salander as a literary instantiation of the Nietzschean übermensch because of this. The übermensch does not need to cling to the dead values of those who have already passed. Instead, she can create her own values to live by. This is exactly what Salander does. She decides what she thinks is good, and she does not let anything or anyone get in her way. Her pursuit of the good is relentless, and cannot be stopped by social norms and customs or even laws.

Characters like this are fascinating because the idea of an übermensch is kind of appealing, in some ways. What if we could pursue the good without being constrained by all these burdensome societal expectations? What if we could do evil that good may follow without a guilty conscience? It’s interesting to think about. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t make the world a better place. But what I appreciate about the idea of the übermensch is the idea that you have to own your values. Otherwise they’re not really yours. And if they’re not yours, then you’re not likely to care that much about them. Of course, you’re not free to create your values, because we can’t do that. But we must actively commit ourselves to the good, and not just passively acquiesce to it. Salander does that.

Mixed Motivations

Sometimes it’s hard to tell why I’m doing what I’m doing. Am I reading all these difficult books because I actually want to, or because I want to be able to say that I’ve read them and impress other people? To some degree, it’s both. I want knowledge for its own sake. But I also want it because more knowledge might make others think more highly of me. And I’d like that. There are multiple sources of motivation pushing me toward the same actions.

I think it would be better if I were motivated solely by the pursuit of excellence. Intrinsic motivation is generally more reliable than extrinsic motivation, as it need not change when your external circumstances change. But if the two line up and encourage you to do the same things, I consider that to be a good reason to give thanks. My surroundings are such that I am encouraged to do the things that I know I ought to by those around me. That’s great.

The primary motivation, however, should be the intrinsic one. Extrinsic motivators can complement intrinsic motivation, but they cannot replace it. When your sole motivation is extrinsic, you end up accomplishing something very different from what you otherwise would. For instance, if I were solely motivated by the prospect of impressing people about the breadth and depth of my reading, I would have little reason to actually engage with difficult texts like Being and Time. A surface-level understanding would be sufficient to make it look like I know what I’m talking about, especially to people who aren’t familiar with Martin Heidegger.

That excellence is often rewarded with honor is a good thing indeed. But excellence should be the goal, and not merely the means to the end of honor, which is a pleasant by-product of excellence, and not a worthy end in itself.

While I don’t think much of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, I do think that she gets this particular point exactly right. In her novel The Fountainhead, the main character is absolutely unwilling to compromise his vision of architectural excellence, no matter what the client or the architectural community may say. Public opinion is easily malleable, and does not necessarily correlate with the truth. Thus, it should not derail your pursuit of excellence when others think less of you for it. It is lamentable that excellence might not receive praise, and even more lamentable that mediocrity might receive it, but excellence is not worth pursuing for the sake of praise, but for its own sake.

When Rand extols the virtue of selfishness, this is what she means: When you act, act in pursuit of excellence, and not for the purpose of appearing excellent to your peers. It is the thing itself, and not the accolades that come with it, that are relevant. The Good is not determined by what the masses think is good. Therefore, orient yourself toward the Good, and not toward the masses.