Catholic Match Post on a World without Manners

My latest post is up on Catholic Match, discussing the pitfalls and solutions of dating in a world without set manners:

For an example; just the other day I read a woman claiming that it is inappropriate behavior for a man to compliment a woman on her looks if they are not dating. Not long after, on a different site, I read a man recounting how he did just that in a (successful) bid to cheer up an evidently unhappy stranger.

Now, suppose a man who thinks it is an act of kindness compliments a woman who believes that such behavior is inappropriate. We immediately have a conflict in which one thinks she is being mistreated and the other thinks he is being rebuked for an act of kindness.

The immediate point isn’t which one is right; the point is that neither can justly claim the other did anything wrong, as far as this little scenario goes, because they were each following what they believed to be appropriate. Only there is, at present, no objective and exterior standard which both may be expected to know and to which both can appeal.

To make matters worse, the same man may receive a completely different response from a different woman, meaning that even his own experience cannot serve him as a guide.

Thus, the answer often given when this problem is brought up—“Just don’t act inappropriately”—misses the point entirely. The problem isn’t so much that people behave inappropriately, it’s that the word ‘inappropriate’ in this circumstance has no content.

To say ‘act appropriately’ is meaningless unless there is an agreed upon, objective standard for ‘appropriate’ that both parties can be expected to be aware of and to which both sides can appeal. We simply do not have that in modern Western society (we are not discussing here obviously aggressive behavior such as physical grabbing or open solicitation).

Now, the obvious solution is “then we need to establish new standards!” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. No one sits down and says, “our society shall have these manners and these norms for this reason.” These things develop over time, born of ethics, custom, common beliefs, and so on. All that’s mostly been torn up and thrown out of our culture, and restoring it is beyond the scope of any one of us.

No, my point is much less ambitious; it is simply to encourage charity. Being aware that the other person is operating under such uncertainty ought to make us more patient and less quick to judge when he does something we consider inappropriate. This alone would smooth out many if not most of the friction that occurs in such cases.

Read the rest here.

UPDATE: I realized that I put in the wrong link in both cases. It’s been fixed.

Memento Mori at Catholic Match

My annual Halloween piece is up at Catholic Match:

If you ever explore some of the old churches in Europe, or look over art from the old days, you’ll notice quite a few skulls.

Some of which are even attached to skeletons. They show up in some of the most unexpected places: on clocks, or in Cathedrals, for instance, or in the famous painting ‘The Ambassadors’, which features a distorted skull that only comes into perspective when viewed from the lower left. These are often supplemented by various grotesqueries and monsters decorating the church façade or capering about the pictures.

The message of all of this is the same; “don’t be complacent, but remember your death and what might await you beyond. That night of death is full of terrible things just waiting to grab hold of you, so take care before you find yourself venturing out into it.”

In other words, Christians have been doing Halloween, and doing it properly, for a long time. The macabre is as much a part of our heritage as anything else; it is the other side to the hope we have in Christ.

Therefore, the common call of Christians of the past was Memento Mori: Remember Death. As the prophet wrote in his book, “In all thy works, remember your last end, and thou shalt never sin,” and “Remember that death is not slow.” (Sirach 7:40, 14:12).

Read the rest here, and Happy Halloween!

Talking Climate Change at ‘The Federalist’

Another post is up at The Federalist: in this one I give some reasons why I’m skeptical of what is now called ‘Climate Change:’

You see, I can’t judge from what I don’t know (e.g., climate science), but I can judge from what I do know. I know something of history, something of philosophy, and something of human nature. I can observe what people are doing at the moment and listen to what they actually say.

Doing so, I note that the vast majority of people, including the cause’s most vehement advocates, are no more qualified to judge it scientifically than I am. Does anyone really believe that any of those people marching in Washington have the knowledge and ability to interpret data from a global climate survey? Have they sunk the necessary hours of study and objective research into this subject to be able to say what they say with any certainty, assuming they could ever be certain?

Of course they haven’t. They are going entirely off of what certain experts have told them — namely, a specific selection of experts who have come to their attention because the media has elevated them and political groups have championed and funded them. These climate change apologists are in no position to critically examine these expert claims.

Average Voters Cannot Verify Climate Change Claims

Now, if there is, for instance, a genuine international crisis (e.g., Venezuela), then people have resources to verify it. They can read testimonies and see photos and video of the event, and in the last resort, they can go there to see for themselves. If it is a question of domestic policy, people can consider their own experience and knowledge to judge which approach to, say, taxation seems to be the best.

People cannot do this with climate change. The signs of the crisis come down to weather and to intensely complex reams of data that require specialized knowledge to interpret. The latter is out of reach for almost everyone. The former could be used to justify just about any theory since it is a proverb for unpredictability and changeableness.

If you tell people the earth is getting warmer, they will remember all those hot summer days and snowless winters they experienced and say that warming is very likely. If you tell them it is getting cooler, they will remember the mild summer days and bitter winter nights and say cooling is also very likely.

The fact is, the average voter has no way to adequately judge the question of climate change. Yet he is assured that it is an existential crisis that must be dealt with immediately and by any means necessary. Politicians and media activists are thus urging him to favor certain actions to combat a crisis that he has no way to verify. Worse, this message tends to be directed toward impressionable young people — that is, those with the highest emotions and the least ability to examine these claims.

That is an extremely dangerous state of affairs for a representative government.

Read the rest here.

Catholic Match Piece on Why Fighting is Good For You

My latest piece is up on Catholic Match, wherein I advise people to get into fights:

Our Lord says, “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

Unfortunately, we have a tendency to confuse ‘peace’ with simply the avoidance of conflict. But there are two ways people avoid conflict; the first is by presenting their differences in an atmosphere of mutual respect and goodwill and working out a solution based on higher, shared goals. When successful, this indeed brings about peace.

The other way is by ignoring a problem and hoping it goes away. This is the method favored by professional pacifists and armchair demagogues and never results in actual peace (though it does sometimes bring Peace Prizes if you’re into that sort of thing).

So, when it comes to the conflicts that will inevitably arise in our relationships, I’m recommending the first option, right? Sitting down, working out a mutually beneficial solution based on shared goals and values? Absolutely.

But the trouble is, that takes a lot of practice, a lot of virtue, and a lot of genuine love and self-sacrifice. It’s probably going to take you a while to reach a position where this is anything but an elaborate show version of the second option for one or both parties.

But wait! If there are only two options, one bad, the other often out of reach, where does that leave us?

Where most such efforts end up: just having the fight after all.

Because let’s be honest here, you will have fights in your relationship. There are always differences between two people (especially when one is a man and the other is a woman), and sooner or later this will lead to disagreements that will have to be settled or at the very least acknowledged.

Ready? Fight!

Talking Dying Franchises at ‘The Federalist’

First article in a while is up on The Federalist, talking about why dying franchises matter:

The imaginative power of Star Wars’s IP has been systematically stripped away into a confused and contradictory mess loaded down with contemporary politics. The simple, yet rich story of the originals (and even of the prequels, for all their faults) now suffers from a soulless and pointless tumor that grinds the rich characters of the originals into the dirt in order to set up hollow new ones.

“So what?” you might say. “Why does this matter? It’s just a fantasy film franchise. There are other, more important things in the world. Who cares?” Evidently, quite a few people care. But here is why it matters.

We’re Losing Wholesome Entertainment

In the first place, in practical terms, this means the loss of yet another source of wholesome and uplifting entertainment. Not much of that remains in mainstream American culture. This is important because the stories we tell and listen to affect how we see the world. They are part of how we communicate values and ethics. They are part of how we pass on our understanding of life and humanity. And they are an essential element in the continuity of culture.

A hopeful tale of good triumphing over evil, leavened by rich characters driven by familial love, courage, and decency, and bounded over by a mystical power delineating good and evil, cannot but have a positive effect on its audience as a whole. It isn’t the best story possible, nor the only such source, but in terms of mainstream media, there are precious few such stories left, and they grow fewer every day.

“Star Wars” was an atavism in its own time, a throwback to an earlier, more hopeful trend in Hollywood in contrast to the grim, nihilist fare that was all the rage in the late 1970s. It sparked a renaissance of that kind of storytelling, but now we are in an arguably worse state of affairs.

In our day, mainstream media is increasingly preaching a socio-political agenda. No hope, no uplift, no joy is permitted. Only instruction. Something that made people happier and better, something that helped communicate a healthy understanding of the world, has now been gutted for the sake of scoring political points. That matters.

 Read the rest here.

 

Whistling for Dogs at the Everyman

This week at The Everyman, I discuss the ‘Dog Whistle’ trope:

For instance, if a candidate talks about ‘States’ Rights,’ that is a signal to white supremacists that he’s secretly in favor of bringing back segregation, because back in the day segregation was partially justified on the basis of ‘States’ Rights.’ Therefore, any mention of ‘States’ Rights’ is code for segregation.

Basically, a dog whistle is a coded message embedded in a politician’s public statements.

It is disturbing how often contemporary discourse involves arguments that would be considered signs of mental illness in daily life.

But let’s not be too hasty. Just because there is such a thing as paranoia doesn’t necessarily mean the mailman isn’t trying to kill you. There is no essential reason why a politician could not signal his ideological fellow travelers by means of a coded message. I will even concede that he may have a reason for doing so—to maximize his results by appealing to mutually exclusive groups (though that would require at least one group to be convinced that what he says is a dog whistle while the other isn’t, and that the two groups differ enough that one would not vote for him if he appealed to the other directly, while being near enough that they wouldn’t be averse to voting for him at all, and that the issue being ‘dog whistled’ on is important enough to the one group that they wouldn’t be likely to vote for him if he didn’t signal them on it. And they would also have to believe he would act on a subject he is unwilling even to speak aloud of. As I say, not impossible, though I’m not sure what the real-life examples would be).

Evasion Through a Mirror Argument

There are, however, reasons why the ‘dog whistle’ trope is stupid.

There is an old argument that goes something like this: belief in God is obviously a matter of wishful thinking. Primitive man, faced with a hostile and seemingly meaningless universe, invented a benevolent supreme being in order to make sense of it and maintains the belief because it is comforting.

The problem with this is that you can just as easily turn it around by saying that non-belief in God is obviously a matter of wishful thinking. Men, conscious of their guilt, desirous of forbidden powers and pleasures, and fearful of the judgment of God, tell themselves that He does not exist in order that they may do as they please and maintain this belief because it is comforting.

I call this a mirror argument, and if you look you can find many examples. The issue isn’t that one side is clearly right and the other wrong; it is that from a logical perspective they are equally plausible and so cancel each other out. You can’t get anywhere with either one of them, except to confuse those in doubt or rally those who are already on your side.

Now, the dog whistle is a mirror argument. Say that Senator Smith (R) gives a speech where he promises to be ‘tough on crime.’ Senator Payne (D) then says “Aha! That is a dog whistle! Senator Smith is signaling to the white supremacists in his party, because ‘tough on crime’ really means ‘tough on black people’!” Senator Smith can then answer back, “Senator Payne is evidently trying to change the subject. He knows he doesn’t have a counter to my position, so he is pretending that it’s a racist code phrase so he doesn’t have to actually address it.”

Read the rest here.

CM Post on Breaking the Rules

My latest Catholic Match post is up, wherein I advise people to break the rules in dating:

You are a unique soul. The person on the other end of the screen is likewise unique. You are both looking for someone who might be the One. There’s no formula for that; no system, no instructions, no ‘right way’ to go about it. There’s only the aforementioned fundamentals and the question of what works.

So don’t be afraid to be creative, to do something bold, unorthodox, or seemingly insane. Again, there’s a person on the other end of the screen, and people tend to respond to things that are directly addressed to them and things that surprise them.

Just for example, the general rule for first messages is to keep it short, light, and mention something you have in common. This is generally good advice. Now say you think you’ve found the artist of your dreams. Rather than start off with “I like art too,” you might try actually drawing a sketch of her profile pic, scribble a greeting on it, and sending that to her (assuming, that is, you can find a way to send attachments. Or, you know, you end up meeting the old fashioned way).

She might find that creepy, or she might find that flattering, or she might start critiquing your art style. One thing she won’t be doing; she’s not going to ignore it.

I also get to compare online dating to virgin sacrifice (though probably not in the way you’re thinking). Go here to find out why.