Scurvy

I just realized that although I’ve been eating enough vegetables in Toronto, there’s a solid chance my diet is varied enough to include all the vitamins I need. Since there’s little chance of my diet becoming more varied, I should probably consider taking a multivitamin. This is where I’d ask for suggestions, if I had readers.

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Awake, experiment

Last night I was unable to get to bed. I could say it was because Rawls’ “The Law of Peoples” was simply to riveting but then you’d know I was lying, wouldn’t you. I did finish it though, and I’m mostly through Paul Collier’s “The Bottom Billion”. Trouble is, it’s 11 am and my brain is turning to very thoughtful mush. I can read Hegel, but just barely. The concepts are clear, but my speed at articulating a difficult thought I have noticed has slowed considerably.

My plan is to remain up for the entire day, or at least till 8 pm or so, and then sleep. I really enjoyed being up at 8 am, the day holds such a huge draft of possibilities at that point. I truly am a morning person.

Coffee, effects of: (by experience, particular) calming. Some lost motor skills. Would not operate motor vehicle.

Why does Rawls fail to inspire?

Today I’ve been reading Rawls’ “The Law of Peoples”. This work is differentiated from his other two main works, “Theory of Justice” and “Political Liberalism” by it’s scope: no longer how to rationally arrange the liberal state in a just manner, nor to justify the liberal conception of the good, but rather to discuss how liberal states should relate to each other, and also to non-liberal states.

Generally the account is nicely comprehensive, is well intentioned, and deduces out of his conception of liberalism (*so long as one doesn’t take T.O.J. to justify radical egalitarianism). However, the whole project rests on this notion that states will want to give up their sovereignty as states. Specifically, he thinks they will give up the right to wage war when it is in their self-interest. It is difficult to see how a state can give up this right, because it isn’t a right, it’s a descriptive claim about what states do. International agreements impose conditions on states, and breaking the agreements can have consequences – this alters, sometimes severely, when it would be in the best interest of the state to engage in an offensive war. However, it is unclear why a state would neglect to prosecute an offensive war when it was in its interest, even if it had claimed to have given up this “right”. One can talk all one wants about sanctions and UN military intervention, China can still invade Taiwan, and will, if China really believes that the invasion, along with all its consequences, is in its best interest. Now, China is not a modern liberal democratic nation, but it is unclear why a democratic China would act differently given the situation.

One might say that the specificity of the situation with Taiwan cashes out of the kind of regime China is – authoritarian fascist under the guise of communist rhetoric. But that simply means that states won’t engage in offensive wars because the kind of government they ought to have will produce in people none of the feelings or desires that take countries to war. If it really were possible for a state to cultivate the lack of such feelings, so that it never would be in the best interest of the state to go to offensive war, it is still unclear why the “right” to go to war has been given up – it seems much more that a duty has been imposed to avoid the conditions in which the duty to go to war would be invoked.

There is a larger point to all this war talk – international agreements do not exist in perpetuity, they exist only as long as the parties in them have it in their best interest not to break the treaty. Rawls can make it a duty all day long for states to cultivate the internal general feeling that the Law of Peoples is of value, and that citizens of the state are also citizens of the world. However, whether the state can maintain these feelings is contingent, and Rawls himself admits that “the institutional process [of the Law of Peoples] may be importantly weaker when allegiance to the Law of Peoples is also weaker”(18).

Inasmuch as the ability of states to maintain allegiance to the Law of Peoples (i.e. the Utopian version of the UN) is contingent and imperfect, the Law will break down, states will act in accordance with a set of interests which come into conflict with the autonomy of other states, wars will occur.

Schelling, Pantheism, and the British Church

I will begin this post with Richard Dawkins – a strong believer in atheism, who believes in the disenchanted view of the modern world, and that arcane mythic belief poisons the enlightenment project, and kills innumerable black Africans.

However, if we examine is argument with a mere hind of closeness, it falls on its head. Dawkins says: I believe only in things for which there is evidence. There is no evidence for the Christian god, nor any other god, therefore I do not believe in God/god/gods.

First, the good part of the argument is the lack of evidence for one god over a different god. He is right to chastise the Christians for not believing in Zeus. However, for Dawkins, believing in Zeus would be rediculous, so we have different stances on the general picture.

Which brings to the main point. Those who believe in God/gods/divine presence, do not need evidence that God exists. God is not a being like other beings, he is at minimum, a radically different sort of being, an absolute being. There could be no evidence for the thing that put the world into motion, and there could be no scientific evidence for a thing which changed the course of the world, as s/he could simply make it so as her hand was natural law, or appeared as natural law. It would in fact be – natural law- because he had created the form of law as such.

It is this absurd for an atheist to argue with a theologen on the existence of God. They merely believe the world operates according to two incommensurable sets of rules.

But Dawkins is smarter than this – he aims squarely at the essential aspect of God – the moral aspect. One thing Gods all have in common is a kinship with humans, a moral relation. “Moral” just means acting akin to the beings we ourselves are, acting in accord with our being, acting appropriately. As liberals we might limit the sphere of moral action to be something quite limited (as in, not infringing on others rights to liberty to conceive and execute their own conception of the good), but they still believe that this limited sphere of ethical judgments is appropriate to the kind of being we are (in their case, the kind of being which determines its own conception of the good). If God is to be God for us, he must bear the moral relation to us that he claims to have. Thus, while no arguments for the existence of God are valid, many arguments against the moral relation born between god and us are valid. The problem of Evil is one such argument.

It is my contention that the problem of Evil is so great that it cannot be solved within normal Christian theology. Any theology which does not call God “infinitely good and infinitely powerful and infinitely knowing” will not necessarily fall to this contradiction. However, if the Christian God exists, and can find me a parking space, and “the winds and seas obey him”, then there is manifest more violence in the world caused by natural causes than any solution could mitigate (except perhaps Spinoza’s, but that is too cold – if God is to have a moral relation to us he cannot sit completely outside the temporal condition).

Thus, rather than be Atheists, I propose, along with a wonderful English Vicar, pantheism. “What if God didn’t do things at all? What if God was in things”. The vicar proposes a notion of God not as an agent but as presence, the “indwelling presence” of things which begs “strict attention” and “love”.

Advantages of taking up a pantheistic view are many folded. Firstly, “God” is equivalent to “Being” (as presence). Sure, presence has specific characteristics because it is God, but these are provable or unprovable, and they are appealing. Also we get to stop believing in heaven if we like, utter rubbish. Most importantly though, we can no longer use dogma to justify any moral judgment whatsoever. The only guide to our moral judgements is ourselves – as presence (as “little gods”).

In other words, pantheism cashes out as whichever moral view you wanted to hold as a humanist, and you can confront with your non-nihilistic humanism any theologian on his own ground. Do you believe in God? Of course! God is what allows things to be as things, god is the character of thinghood – the indwelling presence that things bear. Want to see God? Open your eyes to not merely how things manifest themselves, but the inner conditions of their manifestation. Become attentive to the manifestory character of things. There is God.

A tribute to a friend

My friend will likely never read this post, because for reasons I don’t myself fully understand, I am not telling anyone about this blog. (If there is an obvious reason – it is because no one who matters reads blogs anyway, so a blog “for no one” is the logical extension of the very idea of blogging).

I have a friend who is not a close friend. In fact, she is much “cooler” than me. But despite this, whenever I hang out with her, or speak with her on the phone or MSN, she has the uncanny ability to (unconsciously I think), make me feel witty and “with it”. Clever even. It’s not simply a matter of compliments, its more about the way she draws coolness out of people. And that makes people happy, or at least, it makes me happy. So, thanks friend.

International Justice

The position is roughly this: if international trade is a coercive practice in which countries which lose from it can not actually withdraw, is there an imperative to create a coercive institution that can regulate the practice of int. trade such that it benefits the least well off, or at least redresses some of the relative depravity it produces. If this is the case then the imperative is for States to give up their sovereignty to a foreign (meta-national) body, in other words, form a coercive world state.

Cosmopolitans often oppose the world state, but this position is untenable because if states do not give up their autonomy, their membership in international treatise doesn’t move past the stage of unenforced contract law. States appear internationally as individuals who cannot found a state because their interest is not to actualize themselves in the league of nations, but rather to promote their own interests as a whole, represented by a leader or delegation.

So, the question is, twofold. On the one hand, is it even coherent for a state to give up its sovereignty – doesn’t this mean its dissolution? Or, the other hand, if it is possible to create a coercive world state, should we as philosophers tell states that they ought give up their sovereignty, and be completely ignored because it will never be in the best interests of individual states, but only, and only potentially, in the interests of the least well off in states as a whole.

Snow

Today is the first day of snow in Toronto, for winter 2008. (It’s still 2007). I called Cate, and I think some others, to say “Welcome to Toronto”, in the sense that what Toronto really is is a blizzardy wasteland. Which is of course false (Toronto is also smog, 40 degree summers, and a lake you can’t swim in).

I love snow, but why? I mean, we all love snow. Except those who hate it, because they have to work in it, and through it, and it makes life more difficult for the same paycheck. The best situation is you learn to drink coffee (and watching the clock is worse than being a garbage man).

I’m a philosopher, so I should be able to come up with at least a convincingly complex and arduous answer to why we love the snow. Walking in it, I decided to start from the most immediate relation to snow – Danger. Snow makes the world harder for humans to live in – walking is an exercise in not falling down. If it weren’t for clothes and shelter, we’d all be dead before morning. But that doesn’t seem like a good reason to like snow, that sounds like the reason people hate it. People usually give an explanation that sounds like “I like snow because its picturesque, but as the winter drags on, I hate it, because I associate seeing it with the arduous labour it brings to daily life”. And that’s fine, it’s a perfectly coherent description of someone’s feelings towards the snow. But what is picturesque? We might also say “aesthetic” and by it mean the pleasant affectation of feeling by nature or art. Let’s bracket this notion, and move to a different one.

Take as a potential proposition: Snow is universal. I mean universal in the sense of a unity, it’s a concrete extantiation of monism: it coats the world in a layer of the same. It dulls particularity (all bikes look pretty much the same covered in snow), even in sound (particular noises are deadened by its absorption). As snow itself becomes heterogenous, as it hardens and breaks up, it loses its unity, and fails any longer to absorb particular sounds, but rather reflects them. Broken, hard, icy snow amplifies particularity. No one finds that snow romantic – that’s the snow of noisy rush hours. But even a noisy commute is made serene by a fast and deep snowfall.

Back to Danger – the more serene commute is a result not only of the quietude in terms of noise and sight (particularity is covered up in a sheet of one-ness along the side of the road, even on the road!), but also because the commute itself is Dangorous! You drive home, on the thin edge of traction, and slowly, aware of immanent disaster (sometimes witnessing it, or participating).

This brings me to my point – danger is not something apart from serenity, or from aesthetics. We value unity as eternity, and what is greater eternity than death? The death drive is the drive to universality, not to extermination.

So, Snow is beautiful, snow is dangerous, but these are not two separate qualities it has, but rather two manifestations of the way it extantiates universality in concreteness.

(I could have argued more clearly from the serenity of commuting in the storm to the universality of eternity and death, but it’s cold and I’ve got other things to do).

A new Blog

I’ve decided to start a new blog. I’m not going to tell anyone about it. Presumably some will find it using Google, presumably maybe even someone that I don’t know. This is beside the point.

The blog is going to be dull. It is merely an excuse to force myself to write about what I am reading. Don’t expect long series of connected arguments. Don’t expect to agree with what I have to say. Don’t expect to hear about current events. In turn, I won’t expect you to read my blog, and yet, I will have something (however ephemeral) to show for thinking over time. Also, writing is good practice for writing.