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Saturday, September 15, 2018

Thinking Of Robin Again

I never saw "Mork and Mindy". It was before I was born, and "goofy space alien lost on Earth" isn't exactly a timeless premise. It introduced us to Robin Williams, though, and he managed to do roles that really mattered after this, dramatic and powerful roles. He's an Oscar winner, you know, and long enough ago that you can't brush it aside. Anyway, I saw a clip remarking that Mork and Mindy debuted 40 years ago, and I got to thinking.

"Hook" means the most to me, and I don't care what people think. Spielberg himself disavowed it, but all that means is, even a legendary director might not know what he's talking about. That movie is about fathers and their kids. It's about learning to value what's most important. One character says to Peter, "I wish I had a dad just like you." Me too, kid. Me too.

"What Dreams May Come". I have never seen or felt the reality of grief at sudden loss portrayed so accurately. It affects me so much, I can't really watch the movie. But Robin's character gives a eulogy at a funeral, and I hope when I die, I'm remembered similarly. Other people get hung up on the theology of the film. I get that, but you need to let it go.

"Good Will Hunting". Robin plays a psychologist helping a brilliant young man deal with the trauma of abuse in his youth. They absolutely nailed that part, and Matt Damon should have won a statue for his performance, if he didn't. I would thank Mr. Damon for that, if I could get the words out.

"Dead Poets Society". Even if the underlying philosophy is Epicurean or something, I think a lot of men in my generation have that one teacher who inspired us, who changed our view of the world. Late teens and early twenties is a dangerous time for us. We can become self-involved, and very cynical. Williams's John Keating wouldn't allow it.

I guess I just miss him, like a lot of people.


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Basis For A Public, Universal Morality

The ground of a public universal morality is the inherent dignity of the human person. This dignity cannot be given or acquired; it is recognized, facilitated, appreciated, and deepened. If it were conferred as the result of some action, the person would be a mere instrumentality, whose utility to someone or something would merit special rights or privileges. No, this cannot be correct, for the dignity of people is not subject to some valuation of their capacities in some technocratic sense. In another sense, the human capacity transcends illness, misfortune, and defect. It is the capax Dei, though the State concerns itself primarily with the natural end, both individual and common.

The basis for legitimate government as such is this common good, and the end for which government exists. If the very definition of public life presupposes the community, then the legitimacy of the State cannot be subject to the consent of any individual, even a great many individuals. Consent indicates the willingness to participate in the common life; it is not a veto power over the moral law itself, or of the State's moral legitimacy as such. Therefore, it is foolishness to assert that morality has no place in politics; politics is morality; it is public morality. The unstated premise of keeping morality out of politics is that there actually exists some aspect of public life that has no moral dimension. This, in fact, I deny. The State, in taking actions proper to the end for which it exists, is illegitimate only when it violates the moral law, or denies the right of people to choose how to best honor that moral law in their individual circumstances, given the moral justice of all available choices. Pluralism is the reality of disagreement about humanity's end, and how to reach it. If sought as an end in itself, it becomes a celebration of confusion, error, and disunity. Humanity is so bound to this moral law that it is immoral in some sense to withhold consent from a government acting legitimately, as surely as it would be a duty to oppose a government acting illegitimately. The pursuit of happiness is variously understood, but it is not variously defined, in reality.

There is a hierarchy of truth in this moral law, or a hierarchy of truths, as they are considered individually. This, however, does not mean that only the gravest moral questions are a matter for public concern. It does mean that we cannot be agnostic on the most grave questions. It is interesting that most people agree that what is currently legal does not exactly coincide with what is morally acceptable. Oddly enough, no one--even those who think morality should be kept out of politics--fails to miss the connection between politics and morality when you try to make something he cherishes illegal. All politics is morality, and if I didn't think my politics was better than another one, I wouldn't offer it as an alternative.

Our problem today is that we're really good at rejecting someone else's public morality--their politics--as morally deficient, without taking each issue seriously as a moral claim, comparing it, and our own philosophy, to the moral law. We're better at pointing out hypocrisy than we are at taking politics seriously. And that's odd, considering how passionate we are about politics. That person over there isn't any more governed by feelings than you are; he might be wrong about some moral question--that is, a public moral question--but he's aware when you or I change the subject. It might turn out that his overall outlook might even be out of balance with respect to the hierarchy of moral truths, but if we're talking about environmental policy, I'd better be talking about the environment. Before we get to the possible answers to a problem, we ought to acknowledge a moral claim when we hear one. Displaying the exact positions of the knobs, dials, and switches--so to speak--on the sound board of my public morality without meaningfully engaging others is worse than a waste. You hate when people do it to you; you call it "virtue signaling".

Politics is literally life and death. Not only ours and that of others alive now, but those yet to be. We need a more serious public space, because public morality is a serious subject. Civility is not an end in itself, but creates the space for serious reflection on the questions of public morality, and even the personal space to correct errors in judgment. We owe all of this to one another, because our ends in this life are inextricably bound together.

Monday, September 10, 2018

One Obvious Problem With "Differently Ordered"

As you may know, the Catechism says that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. Fr. James Martin, SJ, proposes this paragraph say, "differently ordered". We'll take Father at many of his other words that he backs this change in order to avoid causing unnecessary hurt to all the people who experience sexual attraction to people of the same sex. It's not a small point; we are not generally known at the moment to be the fond home of such people.

The big problem is this: (wait for it)

"Differently ordered" implies moral neutrality with respect to the acts themselves.

Notice that this paragraph refers to acts, and not to persons, as well. That's because the philosophical language does suggest that our sex organs have an end or purpose for which they are designed.

[You can almost hear the affirming Mom going, "Sweetie, it's not bad; it's just different!"--ed.]

We're talking about two separate questions: 1. The moral liceity of particular acts, and 2. Evangelical outreach to people who experience same-sex attraction. One can certainly think we have done a bad job of the latter, without changing the Church's stance on the former (as if the Church could change it). Woe to those who intentionally conflate the two.