Consilience: Shannon & Lit Crit

Shannon’s discussion has been remarkably fruitful. Several contemporary scholars in fields influenced by evolution have noted the inconsistency she describes; rather than rejecting Darwin they have applied his insights, ones honed in evolutionary psychology, to the humanities. Harold Fromm’s “The New Darwinism in the Humanities” (Hudson is a useful introductory bibliographic essay. This link to Hudson Review includes both Part I: From Plato to Pinker from Spring 2003 and Part II: Back to Nature Again from Summer 2003. Fromm spends much time on Pinker’s The Blank Slate which was then climbing the best-seller lists.

Fromm begins his argument with a provocative context:

Platonic idealism—the view that Mind is more real than Body—may have been an epochal contribution to the lifting of mankind a few notches above the savagery of the flesh, inspiring Christianity with the sense of a “higher” and less carnalized reality that led to the Cartesian establishment of Mind as autonomous and supreme. But after twenty-five hundred years of grand, self-flattering illusions about the “spirituality” and autonomy of man’s unconquerable mind, a case could be made for spirituality as another, more genteel, covert form of savagery and control, another sort of narcissistic power-ploy.

Indeed, as he later observes:

Although the amazing hominid brain took billions of years to evolve from the beginnings of life, human narcissism, both religious and secular, has tried to cut it loose, as Mind, from its material origins and treat it as a magical self-sustaining faculty with few predispositions.

One of the lessons that Pinker’s discussion most brought home to me was how culture – most especially Western culture, most especially religious culture – found ways to “tame” the savage who was hardly noble. I love his bar graph comparing homicide rates in primitive societies to those safer times in the West–especially in the not-so-bloodless 20th century. And he observes that homicide rates in European societies have declined a hundredfold since the Middle Ages. (Obviously, western culture has been good for us–and we are reminded of the Puritan belief in the liberty that comes through restraint, of the great paradox that in submission lies freedom.) This was markedly true in the quite constrained reign of Victoria, a time during which all improved their lots–especially women but also men and children. The documentation of this increasingly domestic and increasingly law-abiding culture is documented by Martin J. Wiener in Men of Blood: Violence, Manliness and Criminal Justice in Victorian England.

These works may signal changes to come. But Fromm has clearly spent much time around people to whom the “blank slate” is not some extreme hypothesis but rather central to their vision; indeed, it is a meme that underlies most of their interpretations of reality. (Not, I suspect, when they look at their own little ones and say, ah, he has my smile and your eyes. . . but, then, this mind/body dichotomy cloaks them as they return to their desks and ponder theories and interpret their theoretic reality.) And they aren’t kidding.

Fromm points to earlier works than Pinker’s in this field. One is a collection of essays, The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture, published in 1992. The central theme of these essays, Fromm argues, is the “Standard Social Science Model” (SSSM) which assumes the “blank slate.” As Fromm sums up the editors’ (Cosmides and Tooby’s) argument:

The appeal of the SSSM is that it provides a rationale for social engineering and political correctness, for promulgating such egalitarian absurdities as the doctrine that there are no substantive psychological differences between the sexes, a doctrine that has finally run its course. Or as Cosmides and Tooby put it, “A program of social melioration carried out in ignorance of human complex design is something like letting a blindfolded individual loose in an operating room with a scalpel—there is likely to be more blood than healing.”

Unfortunately, it has not run its course. My second daughter’s boyfriend forwarded this link to a Swedish account. The government cannot acknowledge, can not publish, any work that indicates a difference between men and women. (This is not, of course, banning – but certainly makes a difference in the availability of opposing views.) This may appear Utopian to Nancy Hopkins but some of us have our doubts.

Fromm argues that

Pinker and E. O. Wilson are virtuoso science thinkers who have mastered the basics of contemporary humanistic culture. To accuse them of not speaking with the more subtle and complex voices of critics and theoreticians from inside the humanities would be unfair—they aren’t insiders. They speak as super-intelligent polymath outsiders, and they do a pretty good job of it.

He argues that while “we don’t have to accept their aesthetic judgments as the last word” they “do a much more impressive job with the humanities than any humanist I know has been able to do with the sciences. They practice the consilience they recommend to others.”

Shannon’s post has argued from a scientist’s perspective and we without that perspective can be pleased by the unity and logic she offers. And we can see the applications of such unity in several works that arise from a Darwinian perspective. Probably the best practitioner of this in terms of literary criticism is Joseph Carroll, especially his Literary Darwinism: Evolution and Literary Theory. Fromm notes Carroll’s point is that “artistic representation is a natural extension of an adaptive human capacity for creating cognitive models.” He then quotes Carroll “I would argue that the primary purpose of literature is to represent the subjective quality of experience.” So, Carroll notes

They correspond to the world not because they “construct” the world in accordance with their own autonomous, internal principles but because their internal principles have evolved as a means of comprehending an actual world that exists independently of the categories.

As a young scholar, Joseph Carroll took as his subject Matthew Arnold and he is clearly grounded in Victorian fiction. This character-rich, ethics-rich, multi-level genre implicitly made an argument for the importance (and pleasure) of studying human nature. Not surprisingly, a modern novelist and critic who appreciates the Jamesian ambiguities is David Lodge, whose Consciousness and the Novel acknowledges that such approaches are likely to meet with some criticism, but, in the end, offer a real truth about what we are.

Back to Fromm: He goes on to note two collections of essays which have reinforced and applied Darwin. The first was Biopoetics: Evolutionary Exploration in the Arts, (1999) which was edited by Brett Cooke and Frederick Turner. Fromm describes their introduction:

“The evidence is steadily mounting . . . that if we wish to understand our profound and long-standing impulse to create and enjoy art we are well advised to attend to our evolutionary heritage. . . . Even if art is for art’s sake, it follows that we seriously consider what that purpose means in Darwinian terms. Not for nothing, we assume, as have many before us, is art found in every society, living or dead.” Thus the origins and rationale for the production and consumption of art are represented here by a wide, if uneven, range of essays, all of which have some connection with Darwinian adaptation and its physical and cultural consequences.

While this bibliographic essay does not dwell on what would seem the obvious similarities and differences that arise from the biological needs of the sexes, he notes how Cooke (whose discipline is Russian literature) uses insights he gained from his interest in evolutionary theory to better explicate Pushkin:

Many of the underlying drives behind reproduction and nurturing may seem to be “common sense” or “logical,” but evolutionists find their pervasiveness across cultures to be more than just a funny coincidence. Of course, it is possible for people “to buck the often obsolete trends of biological adaptation, but they usually will pay an emotional price for doing so,” given the lingering power of atavisms

The second collection is edited by Nancy Easterlin as a special issue of Philosophy and Literature (Vol. 25, No. 2 October 2001). And Fromm concludes with a discussion of the work of Dissanayake, who is concerned with the biological basis of aesthetics. Her works include Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why and What Is Art For?,

Certainly, like everything in this essay, I find these interesting. I will now offer the appropriate apologies: I haven’t taken a science class in forty years ago and have not absorbed contemporary literary criticism (we can leave talk of different roads for different people and the mommy track some other time – though, of course it is not unrelated to this discussion). But I believed a post that gave another context (and appreciation of) Shannon’s arguments needed to be made. And for those of you who think that the blank slate was/is a straw-man, all I can say is you don’t know how revolutionary the works that Fromm discusses are. Nor do some of you seem aware of how they are seen in social science departments today.

This approach, like such others as Freudian or Marxist or deconstructionist, may be applied too literally and too often in the future. It will not be richly generative if it is narrowly and dogmatically used. But it offers those of us from the old school a new way to reach what many of us went into literature to find: a better understanding of human nature. It helps us understand what makes us human, implicitly what the good life is, what is tragic and what is comic about human experience.

And of course there are complexities. Many of us feel that man is not merely body, not merely animal. For now, we have seen what is wrong by dividing these as if they had no relation to one another. But we also know that problems lurk in seeing only the body, primarily the body, as well.

I can certainly see my more religious friends deeply offended by the conclusions Fromm draws and admit I’m not completely comfortable with his conclusion myself. But I come from the state in which all the old bones were dumped as the glaciers began their slow retreat. We were the state of William Jennings Bryan, but also of the Children’s Zoo in Lincoln. As I remember, the sign beside the drawing of a dinosaur noted that as it had become extinct, so, too, we may be superseded by another, higher being. This never seemed to me all that comforting to children. Nor perhaps does it seem true to adults–although I can imagine faiths that might accept that thought. This vision does have some advantages in terms of realism; it is not a perspective that posits the noble savage. And it does, indeed, bring us closer to religious humility, a humility I find quite a bit more attractive than that of the twentieth century’s Engineers of Human Souls.

So, I will use Fromm’s last words to conclude this essay – and you can see how far he, if not the critics he discusses, go.

“Back to Nature, Again” is, of course, sheer irony. You can’t return to something you can’t leave. Siamese twins, although they may not be an ideally viable life form, are as “natural” as you and I, produced by the same “laws” of chemistry, biology, and physics. There aren’t any others. All of “us” who survive are “mutations” who have been turned into members of a species because of the serendipity of “our” adaptability. I envision a cartoon in which a group of chimps, our closest cousins, behold the first Homo sapiens and exclaim, “WOW! Like weird, man!” The view that we are not, in some respect, “weird” but that everything else is—as they all strive to evolve into paragons like us—is simply human arrogance and blindness. All life forms are the most natural of freaks. And our own particular freakishness is the raw material of the arts and humanities. Because they are so aware of all this, the Darwinians strike me as more “religious” than conventional religions, lacking the narcissism and hubris that can for a moment suppose that fifteen billion years of the universe and quintillions of creatures born and dead—millions at this very moment crawling all over my exterior and interior, without whom I wouldn’t even exist—were produced in order to immortalize my “transcendent” little soul. (Does the universe really need my soul around forever? Do I need it?) Everything is “nature,” produced from the finite materials of our planet and shaped by an aimless history with no favorites. Culture is just nature in artful and elaborate drag. In reminding us of our origins, in connecting ourselves and our arts to our biological development instead of to the heavens, the Darwinians, for me at any rate, are engaged in a long overdue hubris-crunching mission of natural piety.

End of Post.
Update: Ridiculously long and not necessariliy well-informed answer to Michael Hiteshew that I am putting here because our system won’t let me put it in comments. Perhaps Jonathan has programmed it so we aren’t constantly inundated with incest sites. (Exactly how do you know if you are looking at incest or merely a regular porn site? Does anyone out there know? If you do know, can your comment be cleared?) If so, good for Jonathan. But Michael you may think this doesn’t answer your comment but I can’t figure out what is obscene.

(sorry it’s so long; I always get carried away.)

First of all, I don’t think anyone arguing here (and probably anywhere in 21st century America) wants to bar women from these fields. I can partially understand the fear, but there is a catch. If we don’t acknowledge that women are different, we can’t fix the things that make it harder for women while still keeping the playing field equally challenging.

Indeed, people ignore the third aspect Summers would like to weight: how mis-matched are the rhythms of the academic hiring/tenure/research world and that of women’s lives? If mis-matched, how can both the needs of good scientific research and such women’s rhythm be better matched? It is easier for women who do not wish to pursue child-raising now get hired (and stay hired). Perhaps there is no other way. But as long as that third factor is ignored, the dialogue will not include others. And that is a loss.

I do not disagree with your point about deaths at the hands of religious believers (we call them fanatics but this is an understandable if unattractive byproduct of strong belief in an absolute). I probably put it too strongly, still I suspect religion has had a strong influence on the fact that murders have gone down a hundredfold since the medieval era. And, remember, the noble savage meme has been firmly if illogically linked the blank slate; I overstate out of irritation. (This is Pinker’s argument but one that has permeated the assumptions my students bring from high school & social science courses.)

Perhaps the post-medieval death rate has also gone down because variety has made it harder to accept a vision as absolute or the religious wars of that period wore everyone out. This is not something I could argue about intelligently. But that the rate decreased is interesting and – I believe – important.

Also, I suspect religions (at their best–or what I perceive as their best) that see others as potential believers and also as endowed by their God with souls work against seeing the “other” as so “other” as not to be human. Of course, I agree with you – that laws that bring order must transcend the particulars, the tribal. How many of us come from groups that at one time had one word for our own that could be roughly translated as human and another for others that could be roughly translated as non-human? I think that is your argument and I agree with it. However, religion at its best works against that. (At its worst, of course, it works towards that. But my impression is that it was more pagan tribalism than Christian beliefs that drove the Germans to want to destroy the whole gene pool of Jews and Gypsies and to have their rather unattractive attitude toward Slavs. Certainly, the genocides in Africa appear more often tribal than religious.)

Sure, the Swedish position is dogmatic. You see it as different in what way from the debacle at Harvard followed by the reparations and apologies?

I agree with your fear of dogma, although few teachers would be honored by having others know they taught me math. (Every math teacher I ever had was a woman – but if you go to the kind of school where the same person teaches all four levels of high school math and you never have to take another math class, that doesn’t say much. The fact that I did okay on the math GRE says something about the low math standards in this country.)

Shannon and I (clearly coming from quite different worlds) have blasted the opposition to Summers. The men on the blog may have hesitated out of chivalric deference. Nonetheless, I chose this battle in part (I can’t speak for Shannon) because I am a woman. I’ve always respected Richard Rodriguez for his style, his thought, his wit, his emphasis upon what we all have in common while celebrating his gay, Catholic, Indian/Mexicanness uniqueness. Such values led him to reject the road he felt was being smoothed for him because of his color, his factionalism. I don’t want people to pat me on the head and say, nice, that’s good for a woman. I want people to engage with me as an equal. And I want that for my daughters. People like Nancy Hopkins want to take that right away from me – and them.

20 thoughts on “Consilience: Shannon & Lit Crit”

  1. Natural Law is getting an honest airing, finally! Thank you CBoyz. It makes me giddy to know that Shannon and you, Ginny, in Fromm’s words, are “…engaged in a long overdue hubris-crunching mission of natural piety. ”

    It’s interesting, and related, to note the alliance between pacifistic religionists, like the Pope, or Anglican Church officials, and modern leftists in opposition to free market capitalism.

    Michael Chrichton complains, “Man does not live in Nature anymore.” Coincident to Shannon’s conclusions, these groups that are the most divorced from “Nature” are the primary proponents of a generous welfare baseline and illogical pacifism; in short, of abolishing the “laws of the jungle.”

    In contrast, America’s (mostly) free market capitalist system attempts no such perversion. Instead it channels the “Laws of the Jungle” into a productive, competitive economy that is the envy of the world.

    Keep up the great work, you rebels! And thanks again.


  2. Steve, You sure poured a lot into that comment. I am certainly willing to see a providential guiding force that leads to these cultural adaptations that help us as a whole. And I’ve come more and more to find my quite Catholic friend’s (who adores the Pope) and my husband’s arguments, both of whom are grounded in natural law, persuasive. I do not think it is an accident that while both are quite religious both are hawks and in general in favor of a free market.

  3. As is usual with your posts, you’ve covered so much ground I hardly know where to start. And so, feeling my task to be futile, I’m tempted to just move on. But I won’t. It draws me in.

    One of the lessons that Pinker’s discussion most brought home to me was how culture – most especially Western culture, most especially religious culture – found ways to “tame” the savage who was hardly noble.

    I’m a little uncomfortable with that statement. There have been (and are existing) many different religious cultures, not all of them making their practitioners less violent. The Catholicism of the Middle Ages was a force of tremendous violence: from the victims of the Inquisition to the ‘pagan savages’ and ‘infidels’ slaughtered by Pizarro in Peru. One could call this Fundamentalist Christianity at its worst. I’ll leave out the Crusades, which is another discussion altogether. Fundamentalist Islam is every bit a violent.

    One can argue, and I wouldn’t disagree, that religious teaching can lie at the foundation of law and society. The teachings provide an ethical foundation on which we may evaluate right and wrong. For those not easily persuaded by mere ethical argument, the Commandments of God and threats of eternal damnation provide a necessary deterrent.

    However, it is not until we raise our law beyond a particular religion’s axioms that anything beyond a small homogeneous group can exist as a peaceful society. That much is self evident from even a cursory browsing of history.

    My second daughter’s boyfriend forwarded this link to a Swedish account. The government cannot acknowledge, can not publish, any work that indicates a difference between men and women. (This is not, of course, banning – but certainly makes a difference in the availability of opposing views.

    Further evidence (as if it were needed) of the low level of intellectual debate to be found these days in Europe. Since the end of the Renaissance, continental Europe has lurched from one form tyranny and fascism to another. This is just the latest manifestation. The thought police are out in force on the Continent.

    It will not be richly generative if it is narrowly and dogmatically used.

    And there you hit on it. That which drives the fear of truth. That generally genetic differences will emerge as dogma, perhaps legally defensible dogma. Women are not suited to Supreme Court judges, they’re too emotional. She wasn’t promoted because everyone knows women can’t x, y or z.

    Of the eight or ten teachers or mentors I’ve had in the maths and sciences and engineering who had a profound impact on my understanding, three were women. If we say that women are less interested as a group in these subjects, does that then imply these women should have been denied education and professional positions? Can’t we simply acknowledge a group tendency without putting up roadblocks or prejudging those individuals who buck the trend?

    We’re all products of both nature and nurture. We’d be foolish to deny it. Or appreciate it.

  4. Michael, Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
    I was blocked from entering my comment to you, so I put it at the end of the post. Of course, as usual, I go on too long and perhaps the reasoning is at fault, but I gave up trying to find whatever word or phrase set it off.

  5. Ginny! Cool post.

    The Fromm quote you use at the end is basically paraphrased from Spinoza (not Ethics… one of the other two tracts). Another interesting source is Bacon’s Novum Organon.

    I’m actually reading Umberto Eco’s, “The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas”, which I’m comfortable recommending although I’ve a few sections to finish. I find his ability to filter the large quantity of Scholastic dross out in his commentary very helpful (if not for Eco, I’d never have struggled through Ockham).

    This all said… I think it’s difficult for us to see how problematic Evolution (as a general biological theory) is for most metaphysical and epistemological systems. For example, if mutation and change are an axiomatic and necessary part of our understanding of natural systems, what becomes of Plato’s “Forms”? What becomes of the Pythagorean assumption there exists a perfectly quantifiable universe? Likewise with Kants Categories, which faced with Hume and Evolution can never be extended into the future and pretend to represent Universal Propositions. With Evolution it should be obvious that biological progress and Hegelian and Marxist progress are tautologically opposed, and that the “perfectability” of a species is defined purely by that species Evolutionary death. Evolution is great for Epicurius and Democritus, and purges Aristotle of his weakest subjects… but consider this:

    How can any sincere believer in a “Universal declaration of Human Rights” honestly reconcile such a beast with the Theory of Evolution? If by “Human” we mean “homo sapiens sapiens”, isn’t it odd that a species of animal that didn’t exist in the distant past, and which is unlikely to exist in its current form in the distant future… should be able to make any universal declarations whatsoever? How can those who pretend to support Evolution reasonably adopt secular humanism as the foundation of their moral philosophy without blushing at the hypocrisy?

    Lovely topic.

  6. Michael, you unfortunately perpetuate the common misconceptions about the Middle Ages and the Colonialization of America. Deaths during those periods (and during the even more deadly wars of religion of the 17th Century) had little to do with religion itself and lots to do with the ambitions of secular leaders using religion as their weapon, often aided and abetted by religious leaders. For example, Martin Luther wrote AGAINST THE MURDERING, THEIVING HORDES OF PEASANTS to justify the the brutal repression by the German noblemen of the Peasants Revolt that had been inspried by Luther’s own revolt against Rome. (BTW, 130,000 peasants were slaughtered during that revolt — 1524-26. That’s 65 times more victims that during the first ten — and most violent — years of the Spanish Inquisition.) Still, I’d rather have lived in Torquemada’s Spain or Luther’s Germany than Stalin’s Russia. My point is that religious people — fanatics like bin Laden aside — tend to have a lot more scruples about killing than do atheistic blank slaters. Finally, for a more balanced (read truthful) discussion of the two periods you mentioned I recommend, respectively, THE SPANISH INQUISITION: A HISTORICAL REVISION by Henry Kamen (Yale University Press, 1997) and 1492 AND ALL THAT: POLITICAL MANIPULATIONS OF HISTORY by Robert Royal (Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1992).

  7. Ginny, you challenge me to expound.

    It was not my intent to imply that all religious people are pacifists. In fact, I deliberately qualified the religionists as “pacifist” specifically to avoid that insinuation. It seems I failed in this. I take a pluralist approach in any discussion of religion, and that tends to confound anyone indoctrinated in a monotheistic tradition.

    In her post, Evolution and the Left, Shannon said, “Your average leftist is every bit as clueless about evolutionary theory as any stereotypical bible-thumping hick with an 8th-grade education.” Confirming my view that somewhere, together, these two factions have “jumped the tracks” of rational thought. I call it “discorporation” to denote the seperation of head from body.

    My comment to your post attempted to build on this connection between Leftists and other religionists by stating their “alliance” against U.S. military intervention, and liberal capitalism. An excerpt from an essay by Anne Klejment entitled, The Radical Origins of Catholic Pacifism: Dorothy Day and the Lyrical Left During World War I, shines some light on this alliance. Dorothy Day was a socialist, a creationist, and a pacifist religionist.

    To explain this convergence, Ms. Klejment writes, “Catholic pacifism invoked the protection of the Christian law of love on everyone, “Jew, Gentile, black and white” and “our enemies as well as our friends.” But at the same time that Day recognized the supremacy of the law of love, she had not forgotten the need for labor solidarity. “It is yours to say,” she reminded workers, “whether the United States shall dip its hands in the blood of European workers…You can proclaim to the world that at long last the workers are refusing to be the pawns of capitalist and imperialist gain.” Among the sources for Day’s inspiration the author lists “Papal and episcopal pronouncements of the thirties, and later Pius XII’s encyclical Mystici Corporis (1943)…”

    In relation to your post, I repeat your quote from Fromm: “Although the amazing hominid brain took billions of years to evolve from the beginnings of life, human narcissism, both religious and secular, has tried to cut it loose, as Mind, from its material origins and treat it as a magical self-sustaining faculty with few predispositions.”

    And I compare it with this one from Pope Pius XII’s Mysitici Corporis: “61. In a natural body the principle of unity unites the parts in such a manner that each lacks in its own individual subsistence; on the contrary, in the Mystical Body the mutual union, though intrinsic, links the members by a bond which leaves to each the complete enjoyment of his own personality.”

    Fromm observes this discorporation, and Pius XII’s dogma prescribes it.

    My comment laments that this discorporation is most evident when the voices of pacifist religious organizations converge with those of vocal Leftists on the consequential issue of war. To illustrate this convergence I tallied the recent pacifist cant from three prominent religious organizations: the new secular religion, Environmentalism, as represented by Greenpeace, and the archaic religions as represented by the Anglican Church, and the Roman Catholic Church.*

    At Greenpeace International’s “No War” campaign page they state, “[The war in Iraq] would result in devastating human and environmental consequences, and set a dangerous (not to mention illegal) precedent.” This is a set of predictions divorced from any empirical data, aimed at organizing opposition to our rational military action. Incidently, the Green Party of Iran agrees.

    On August 15, 2002, The American Anglican carried this moral declaration from the Archbishop of Canterbury across the pond to us lawless Yanks: “[I]t is deplorable that the world’s most powerful nations continue to regard war and the threat of war as an acceptable instrument of foreign policy, in violation of the ethos of both the United Nations and Christian moral teaching.” American Anglican goes on to report, “Williams has said that it would be immoral and illegal to support an American war on Iraq without authorization by the United Nations.” After 9/11, spare me, please.

    Lastly, the vatican equivocates**:
    “The capture of Saddam Hussein may help bring peace to Iraq, but it does not change the fact that “the war was useless, and served no purpose,” a top Vatican official said.” The National Catholic Reporter adds this under the headline, Vatican will not support American war on Iraq: “A growing chorus of Catholic bishops from around the world, including five senior Vatican officials, has spoken out against the possibility of an American-led military campaign against Iraq.”

    In general, though, it can be said that left-leaning religionists opposed our enforcement of UNSC Resolution #1441. The Institute on Religion and Democracy sums this up in this article. “…left-leaning religious officials, led by the National Council of Churches, [are] demanding that fidelity to Jesus means opposition to any U.S. military action against Saddam Hussein.”

    Ginny, you didn’t need to jump to the defense of your Catholic friends and husband. You wrote, “I do not think it is an accident that while both are quite religious both are hawks and in general in favor of a free market.” Yesterday’s research taught me that within Roman Catholicism for instance, there are an infinite number of competing interpretations and uses of scripture. It is the public figures who pronounce their leftist pacifism as gospel to the global media, at a time of great reckoning, that have earned my ire.


    *I’m not Christian-bashing. I’m calling out prominent Christian organizations that are reflexively pacifist, leftist and anti-American. The Anglican Church and Vatican officials come from establishments that I respect, yet they were, after the Left, the most vocal opponents to American enforcement of UNSC Resolution #1441. That ticked me off and explains why they got stuck in my craw.

    **In support of the Vatican’s positions on War, it’s literature is conveniently equivocal, and even clairvoyant: Point #2308 in the Vatican’s Catechism, Avoiding War, says, “All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.” Except for when, “…the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.[GS 79 § 4.]” Absent a competent, forcefull U.N. (seen Hotel Rwanda?), America had to step in.

  8. Michael you may think this doesn’t answer your comment but I can’t figure out what is obscene.

    Maybe that we’re all blog members and part of the CB family. Responding to one another apparently qualifies as being intellectually incestuous.

  9. Steve,
    Actually I screwed up my tone – I thought what I was saying was, yes, I understand and you are right because, while I had none of the rich theory you bring to this second comment, what you said was true of my experience of believers who actually thought twice about natural law. I didn’t mean to be defending them from you but rather to point to rather martial exceptions that proved your rule.

    I’m glad I screwed up because your comment gave me much food for thought and specific examples that helped me understand what I had felt but not thought through.

  10. Steve,

    There is no denying that Vatican officials and the Pope himself opposed American military intervention in Iraq. One must not confuse, however, such opinions with Catholic teaching. No. 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states plainly that “[t]he evaluation of [the] conditions for [the] moral legitimacy [of war] belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.” In other words, decisions about war and peace belong to Presidents and Prime Ministers, not Popes and Cardinals. The latter may offer counsel, but the former (even if they happen to be Catholic) are under no obligation to take it.

    Two more points: First, I don’t see how anyone could take No. 2308 of the Catechism as equivocal. The first part is merely an affirmation of the traditional just war criterion that the use of armed force be the last resort. The second part explicitly rejects total pacifism, implying that there are times when states, as a last resort, must use armed force.

    Second, while I suppose it’s possible Dorothy Day may have found support for her socialism in Mystici Corporis Christi (the actual name of Pius XII’s encyclical), frankly, I find it unlikely. Mystici Corporis Christi offers a profound ecclesiology, i.e. theology of the Church. As far as I can tell it relates to social justice only tangentially, if at all. It’s far more likely, I think, that Day would have found inspiration in Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891) and Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno (1931). Both of these encyclicals have social justice as their sole theme, and I think it is fair to say the orientation of both is left of center (though not as far left as is generally believed).

    Finally, I really cannot fathom how the passage you quote from No. 61 of Mystici Corporis Christi “prescribes” “discorporation.” No. 61 of Mystici Corporis Christi reads in full: “In a natural body the principle of unity unites the parts in such a manner that each lacks in its own individual subsistence; on the contrary, in the Mystical Body the mutual union, though intrinsic, links the members by a bond which leaves to each the complete enjoyment of his own personality. Moreover, if we examine the relations existing between the several members and the whole body, in every physical, living body, all the different members are ultimately destined to the good of the whole alone; while if we look to its ultimate usefulness, every moral association of men is in the end directed to the advancement of all in general and of each single member in particular; for they are persons. And thus – to return to Our theme – as the Son of the Eternal Father came down from Heaven for the salvation of us all, He likewise established the body of the Church and enriched it with the divine Spirit to ensure that immortal souls should attain eternal happiness according to the words of the Apostle: ‘All things are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s’[1 Corth. 3:23], for the Church exists both for the good of the faithful and for the glory of God and of Jesus Christ Whom He sent.”

    In this paragraph Pius XII is contrasting the Mystical Body of Christ, i.e. the Church, from a human body. In doing so, Pius explicitly affirms, in good Thomistic fashion, the integral unity of the human person. To wit: “In a natural body the principle of unity unites the parts in such a manner that EACH LACKS, IN ITS OWN, INDIVIDUAL SUBSISTENCE . . . .” and “[I]f we examine the relations existing between the several members and the whole body, in every physical, living body, ALL THE DIFFERENT MEMBERS ARE ULTIMATELY DESTINED TO THE GOOD OF THE WHOLE ALONE . . . .” This hardly strikes one as an example of Fromm’s “human narcissim” both “religious and secular” that “has tried to cut [the Mind] loose . . . from its material origins and treat it as a magical self-sustaining faculty . . . .” Furthermore, I should think a document declaring that, though each member of the Church is bonded to every other member, each member is left “the complete enjoyment of his own personality” would be unlikely to inspire an impulse to collectivism.

  11. By the way, Steve,
    I am trying to understand the ambiguities in the church I have only returned to late in life (and because my 15-year-old wanted to go) the Presbyterian. Today, my daughter told me that the brother of her Sunday School teacher died in Iraq last week. In my Sunday School class are two men who were at Normandy and almost every couple in the class either has a career military child and/or the father was in the service for longer than a short hitch. One of the women, like my mother, was a WWII Wave. This is a pretty martial group. But the minister referred to “restoring” Iraq (to what? Saddam Hussein’s thoughtful control?) The national church is anti-war and they want to disinvest from Caterpillar because it sells to Israel (is that a crazy idea or what?).

    Generally speaking, I respect the people in my new-found church home, the classes are exhilerating in the close textual reading, the teachers hard-working and intelligent, the people are, frankly, good. Better than I and some of them seem to me wonderful role models of people who warmly do good. But I do not intend to join it, because that would be joining a national body I do not respect. And that is partly because they seem to have lost sight of what they are, what they have to offer, indeed what is embodied in those admirable people in my class. They seem to have lost the idea that some things – what the church represented historically – are important and worth sacrificing for in this life.

  12. Alexander Crawford:
    I didn’t thank you earlier because, well, I don’t have any context for what you are saying. As someone who knows nothing about philosophy, I think I appreciate your point – but may not. I certainly appreciate your comment.

    Is it: If the sentimental social scientists who want to believe in the noble savage and the blank slate (contrary ideas that they balance somewhat awkwardly) and then want to swear to evolution have problems, so too do those on the other side. These people tend to be Great Books and History of Western Civ types; they like to see the universally human; they want to define human nature. (Carroll began as a Matthew Arnold scholar for instance.)

    If they subscribe to evolutionary thought to define human nature, they then have the problem of a theoretic imprecision between what comes before and what comes after. I suspect all of us have to decide there are more dimensions than we now understand – that the break with what came before (and perhaps what comes after) is a good deal sharper in some way (religious? brain? whatever) than any of our theories explain.

    (My middle daughter loves Umberto Eco, but all I’ve read – and I did enjoy it but realized I didn’t have the context – was The Romance of the Rose. I may try to tackle your suggestion, but also now have a gift idea for her.)

  13. Scotus,
    I wanted to do your cogent response justice, and it may take some time.

    For now, thank you for the tips: Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891) and Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno. I will follow your suggestions and look there to learn more about D. Day’s support for socialism.

    And if I may, two thoughts:

    1. In reading No. 61 of Mystici Corporis Christi, how might you construe the use of the words “on the contrary?” As in, “In a natural body the principle of unity unites the parts in such a manner that each lacks in its own individual subsistence; on the contrary, in the Mystical Body the mutual union, though intrinsic, links..”

    I don’t speak english good, but the syntax of the topic sentence uses “on the contrary” as a contradictory conjunction, linking two opposite ideas: Natural body, and Mystical body. This contrast, I argue (and I think Fromm’d agree), represents discorporation.

    2. You wrote, “There is no denying that Vatican officials and the Pope himself opposed American military intervention in Iraq.” Have they themselves, as you say, “confuse[d]…their opinions with Catholic teaching?”


  14. Steve,

    ‘On the contrary’ is a contradictory conjunction. Pope Pius is contrasting the union of the parts of a natural, physical body to the union of the parts of the Mystical Body of Christ, i.e. the Church. The Pope’s point is that, although the members of the Church are bonded to one another in a real though mystical way, they continue to remain separate and distinct integral persons. In refering to the Church as a mystical body, Pope Pius is using ‘body’ in an analogical sense. This particular analogical usage has a long and noble tradition in the history of Christianity, as the first person to employ it was Saint Paul in 1 Corithians 12. In fine, No. 61 of MYSTICI CORPORIS CHRISTI has nothing to do with “discorporation” or “cutting [the Mind] loose . . . from its material origins and treat[ing] it as a magical self-sustaining faculty . . . .”

    If the Church’s aim were to cut the mind loose from the body, then Her whole Sacramental approach to Grace would not make sense. In such an approach, Grace is dispensed through material things and actions — bread and wine (that is their appearances) or water and oil. And, then, there is the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, i.e. human redemption is not complete until the just rise in their bodies. The ones who tried to cut the mind loose from the body where the early heretics known as the Gnostics, whom Saint Paul opposed in 1 Corithians 15.

    Finally, regarding Dorothy Day’s socialism, I am saying that, to the extent that she was, in fact, a socialist, it was because she MISunderstood both RERUM NOVARUM and QUADRAGESIMO ANNO.

  15. Steve,

    I forgot to answer the question you raised in your No. 2. My opinion is that, in the case of some Vatican officials, the answer is ‘maybe.’ In the case of Pope John Paul, the answer is most definitely ‘no!’

  16. Ginny,
    I’m glad you screwed up, too, teach’.

    Scotus, I am fascinated by the interchangeability of religious mores with those of the Left. And I am a Libertarian that wants to understand the psycho-social roots of “progressivism” – its underpinnings, if you like – if simply to know my enemy.

    When the edicts of Greenpeace, the Vatican, D.Day Socialists, the Anglican Church, and coincide, its my job to stand up and shout.


  17. With respect, Steve, you paint with too broad a brush. Go beneath the surface, and you’ll see that the Vatican has little in common with Greenpeace,, or even the Anglican Church. Probe a little deeper, and you might find you have things in common with Catholicism. Finally, Dorothy Day was a Catholic, but, again, her opinions should not be taken for Church teaching.

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