Monday, March 05, 2007

Cicero on Man, Society, and Nature

Cicero’s moral philosophy had a profound influence on Western philosophy and he was a major influence on our founding fathers. Yet he is almost completely ignored by professional philosophers today. His best thoughts were absorbed by other philosophers. Here’s a small sample of the ideas in his once widely-read treatise on ethics: De Officiis.

Following the Stoics, the core driver of ethical concerns was self-preservation. “Nature has endowed every species of living creature with the instinct of self-preservation.” … [T]he most marked difference between man and beast is this: the beast, just as far as it is moved by the senses and with very little perception of past or future, adapts itself to that alone which is present at the moment; while man — because he is endowed with reason, by which he comprehends the chain of consequences, perceives the causes of things, understands the relation of cause to effect and of effect to cause, draws analogies, and connects and associates the present and the future — easily surveys the course of his whole life and makes the necessary preparations for its conduct ...”

Society offers opportunities to flourish. One can’t possibly produce all of one's needs. Trade is the cornerstone of a just and prosperous social order. “Why should I recount the multitude of arts without which life would not be worth living at all? For how would the sick be healed? What pleasure would the hale enjoy? What comforts should we have, if there were not so many arts to master to our wants? In all these respects the civilized life of man is far removed from the standard of the comforts and wants of the lower animals. And, without the association of men, cities could not have been built or peopled. In consequence of city life, laws and customs were established, and then came the equitable distribution of private rights and a definite social system. Upon these institutions followed a more humane spirit and consideration for others, with the result that life was better supplied with all it requires, and by giving and receiving, by mutual exchange of commodities and conveniences, we succeeded in meeting all our wants.”

Cicero also notes a dark side of human society. As we’ve seen in the 20th century, the state can be the greatest source of human suffering. While we join societies to increase our mastery over the elements and further our personal well being, Cicero notes that the state has been a greater source of pain and death than any natural disaster. “He was a famous and eloquent Peripatetic, and he gathered together all the other causes of destruction — floods, epidemics, famines, and sudden incursions of wild animals in myriads, by whose assaults, he informs us, whole tribes of men have been wiped out. And then he proceeds to show by way of comparison how many more men have been destroyed by the assaults of men — that is, by wars or revolutions — than by any and all other sorts of calamity. Since, therefore, there can be no doubt on this point, that man is the source of both the greatest help and the greatest harm to man, I set it down as the peculiar function of virtue to win the hearts of men [that] the cooperation of men, on the other hand, prompt and ready for the advancement of our interests, is secured through wisdom and virtue [in men of superior ability].”

While celebrating the human potential, Cicero, a man of action and a public intellectual, writes as the Republic disintegrates. Corruption seems more certain than regeneration. Once a great liberator of mankind, Rome’s disintegration leaves Cicero despondent: “And so in Rome only the walls of her houses remain standing — and even they wait now in fear of the most unspeakable crimes — but our republic we have lost for ever.” As our Founding Fathers looked across the Atlantic, they described Europe in similar language. The Roman Republic stood in their minds as an object lesson.

66 Comments:

Anonymous cubed said...

Jason,

I am jubilant over your enthusiasm for Cicero! He was such a phenom! I'm copying this post for my "Jason on Cicero" collection!

Even though Cicero's basic apprehension over Octavian's goal of taking over where Great Uncle Caesar had left off was well-founded, he probably shouldn't have made the comment about "getting rid of the kid" (Octavian) after the dust had settled when all the power-grabbing was finally finished after Caesar's murder.

That comment cost him his life; in a political deal with Antony, Octavian agreed to allow Cicero to be killed. The soldiers chased him down the road as he attempted to flee, and it took them three good whacks with their swords to behead the poor old man.

When I was a kid, I fell madly in love with the Prima Porta Augustus (that was a statue of Octavian after he acquired the title of "Augustus,") and then figured I'd better find out more about that guy before continuing my crush.

It was a real disappointment to find that he had converted the republic into the empire, and had permitted the murder of Cicero. If only he hadn't done that, he would have been worthy of my affection!

Just the same, as emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty went, there was no doubt he was the best.

I still think it's a great statue, and he really was handsome. Could have been a little taller, though...

3/5/07, 6:25 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Cubed, I’m glad you enjoyed what I wrote or more exactly, the quotes I selected from Cicero’s writings. I waited until I had read a substantial portion of Cicero’s philosophical works since I didn’t want to Cherry-pick what I’d enjoy finding; I believe the above quotes convey his general sentiments. Note that they are surprisingly familiar! I came with modest expectations but was pleased with the quality of thought of this great man. I hope to write more … I mean select more great quotes.

I’m still surprised how few history of philosophy books deal with his writing. There are a few reasons but chief among them is that Cicero claimed he was reviewing the work of others and not writing original philosophy. However, most of the works he refers to have been lost. Several experts who study Hellenistic philosophy cite Cicero as the most important source of many of these schools. He was critic of their foundation but often believed they had insight that could be supported by a better foundation. But that needs explanation and I’m still formulating my thoughts.

The Hellenistic schools created many of the false dichotomies that still plague Western thought. In ethics the deontological/duty/honor school (found in the Stoics) and the consequentialist/utilitarian schools (found in the Epicureans) were a rejection of the integrated eudaemonist approach of Aristotle. Cicero is partial to the integrated approach and argues there is no dichotomy between honor and utility.

Cicero groups Aristotle with Plato. Cicero is nominally part of the new Academy but he respects the Peripatetics. He considers himself a student of Plato as Aristotle is a student of Plato. De Officiis was written to his son who was studying in Athens with a Peripatetic. His high regard for Plato confused Jefferson and Madison; they latter two finally read Plato’s Republic and couldn’t believe what “passed” for a Republic!

I gather that Cicero is concerned that his son may be “partying” too much and not hitting the books. This must surely upset the old man. Of all the schools of thought, Cicero is most critical of the Epicurean “hedonistic calculus” of pain-avoidance. At least the Greeks had a name for “partying too much” (actually Epicureans complained that they got a bad rep in that regard; they were for quite retiring pleasures!)

3/5/07, 9:07 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

That should have read "they were for quiet retiring pleasures."

3/5/07, 9:10 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Actually that might have been Adams and Jefferson's reaction to Plato. Here is Prof Pakaluk with the juicy quote of Jefferson writing about Plato. (Sorry Farmer John, ole Tom wasn't a Plato enthusiast; not that you should let that cramp your style.) ;)

3/5/07, 9:16 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

I'm well aware of the correspondence and it doesn't "cramp my style" at all. When it comes to American philosophers, I'm a "Franklin" devotee. ;-)

3/5/07, 9:38 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

I'll take the writings of the Editor over his copyboys anyday.

3/5/07, 9:39 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Franklin is second to none!

3/5/07, 10:13 PM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

For class discussion:

The American political figure most similar to Cicero is Hughie Long

3/6/07, 3:22 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

1 cannot equal 1, for the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. And if one is not, then nothing is.

;-)

3/6/07, 8:09 PM  
Blogger Always On Watch Two said...

Okay. I admit it. Probably due to my background in Chistian schools, I don't know much about philosophy.

I'm trying to remedy that deficit. I recently opted to get a free copy of The Objectivist Magazine.

This is why I woke up on 9/11:

T]he most marked difference between man and beast is this: the beast, just as far as it is moved by the senses and with very little perception of past or future, adapts itself to that alone which is present at the moment; while man — because he is endowed with reason, by which he comprehends the chain of consequences, perceives the causes of things, understands the relation of cause to effect and of effect to cause, draws analogies, and connects and associates the present and the future — easily surveys the course of his whole life and makes the necessary preparations for its conduct ...”

I do, of course, know a bit about the historical background of Cicero and that period of Roman history--and, of course, as to how our Founders looked at the Roman Republic as an object lesson.

PS: LOL at Beak's comment!

3/7/07, 8:57 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Cicero represents the best of the Roman culture. Of course, Locke and the Founding Fathers went further but I was surprised at how much Cicero knew. He was a significant defender of private property and would lambaste demagogues who plundered the wealthy (or plundered foreign allies) to shower the masses with free gifts. He was a fighter against the Huey Longs and of his day.

3/7/07, 9:07 AM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

I do not know much about mereology, but it seems to me that when it draws conclusions about reality, it makes the same error as do other scientists, logicians, and philosophers. That is, rather than take an anthropocentric view of reality, for judging science, it takes a scientific view for determining human reality.

Consider some statements in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mereological_nihilism:
“all of reality does not involve any whole items, even though we may think it does…living beings exist, but there are no other objects with parts, and all other objects that we believe to be composite—chairs, planets, etc.—therefore do not exist…There Are No Ordinary Things and I Do Not Exist.”

Here, what may make sense from a scientific perspective is employed to conclude that our human perspective is mistaken. I submit that it is our human perspective that is the desideratum for gauging whether a scientific perspective is mistaken. So, I know that I exist, and if science concludes otherwise, it is the science that is mistaken. I know that bees can fly, so when an aerodynamics expert proves otherwise, his equations are wrong. I know that I can raise my right hand or my left, so when a determinist claims I lack that choice, it is his theory that is faulty. I know that the present precedes the future, so when a logician proves otherwise, his method is contradictory. Science must determine why our experience is what it is, rather than provide arguments that show that our experience is not what it is.

This does not deny that *science can demonstrate a flaw in common sense thinking, but when it does, this can only be validated by other aspects of common sense*. Thus relativity, which changed our notions of simultaneity and time, set the clocks on satellites different than we would have expected, but make matters come out right. Similarly, it changes our notion of measurement of the size of a spinning planet. To deny its veracity would require us to deny that when we see a measuring dial, we know the difference between reading a 0 and a 1.

Ayn Rand said “something exists which one perceives, and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists…these are the irreducible primaries…it exists and that you know it... An axiomatic concept…requires no proof or explanation, but [is that] on which all proofs and explanations rest.” Thus she takes an anthropocentric view, rather than employing science to refute our axioms.

In sum: science can be correct within its framework, but that does not refute our human judgments; when our human judgments are false, this can only be proven by reliance on more fundamental human judgments; this is worth mentioning at a time when the most evident of truths are denied by "experts".

3/7/07, 11:16 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

O/T Response.

Nietzsche, WTP

488 (Spring-Fall 1887)

Psychological derivation of our belief in reason.--The concept "reality", "being", is taken from our feeling of the "subject". "The subject": interpreted from within ourselves, so that the ego counts as a substance, as the cause of all deeds, as a doer. The logical-metaphysical postulates, the belief in substance, accident, attribute, etc., derive their convincing force from our habit of regarding all our deeds as consequences of our will--so that the ego, as substance, does not vanish in the multiplicity of change.--But there is no such thing as will.-- We have no categories at all that permit us to distinguish a "world in itself" from a "world of appearance." All our categories of reason are of sensual origin: derived from the empirical world. "The soul", "the ego"--the history of these concepts shows that here, too, the oldest distinction("breath", "life")--
If there is nothing material, there is also nothing immaterial. The concept no longer contains anything. No subject "atoms". The sphere of a subject constantly growing or decreasing, the center of the system constantly shifting; in cases where it cannot organize the appropriate mass, it breaks into two parts. On the other hand, it can transform a weaker subject into its functionary without destroying it, and to a certain degree form a new unity with it. No "substance", rather something that in itself strives after greater strength, and that wants to "preserve" itself only indirectly (it wants to surpass itself--).


Ever hear of a "psychic break" weingarten? They happen over the course of one's lifetime... and we usually characterize the "last" of these in a normal human's lifetime as a midlife crises. Freud identified the "early" breaks... oral phase, anal, genital, Oedipal.

When they happen, one typically becomes a "different person". They can be induced through "brain washing" or traumatic experience as well. Reality and our perceptions of it is not a constant, even within an individual. For the mind is continually struggling to "surpass" itself....evolving... growing... making new connections... performing new calculations of differences.

There is no consciousness as a "whole"... there are only parts. What I "perceive" to be the whole is only the "part" upon which my attention is focused in a parking spot within my brain we call the Ego. I "think" that I am "one". But am I [there's a parallel parking spot called the SuperEgo in the right hemisphere of my brain - that I'm NOT conscious of (and who rules the roost of my body when I sleep) and who likes to withhold certain types od data from me]? And is any one like any other? Will I be the same two minutes from now as I was two minutes ago or as I am now?

If everything is in flux, can anything "exist"? Panta Rhei!

3/7/07, 12:22 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

...or am I constantly becoming? Is there motionless motion. Is there anything that never changes... and remains "fixed". Or is fixedness merely an illusion? A "philosopher's stone"? To Plato, "The Good" was that "constant". G_d. The universe was a "generation" from an "opposite". The universe is "mixed" but it/He is "pure". He is "Unlike". Capisch?

3/7/07, 12:34 PM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

Is there motionless motion.

------------------------------
Farmer, Einstein demonstrated that motion is relative. If you are at rest you have to ask the question relative to what.

If I say you're in motion, you're in motion. Something like that.

3/7/07, 12:56 PM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

Hmm, Cicero was never allied with the popularae. Live and learn.

3/7/07, 4:03 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Speakin' of the popularae, it seems that D'Souza's thesis is finding some resonance in the anti-homosexual laws currently being voted upon in Nigeria. It seems the world is getting fed up with the UN trying to shove homosexual faux-human-rights down their throat. It will soon be against the law in Nigeria to read a gay book or even advocate for a gay cause. Evidently the Moslems aren't the only ones getting sick of the neo-liberal progressive crap the UN peddles.

3/7/07, 8:57 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Farmer, what Muslims hate more than Planned Parenthood and Gay Rights organizations is Christian proselytizers. They chase Planned Parenthood out of their nations but they kill proselytizers.

The worst thing for a Muslim is leaving the faith. The punishment is death. Those that aid apostasy, i.e. Christian proselytizers, are seen as killers who encourage a decision that leads to death. They hate devout conservative proselytizing Christians far more than decadent hedonistic slobs.

Now if D'Souza and his dhimmi Conservatives want to "win the hearts and minds" of devout "traditional" Muslims they should stop spreading the gospel as Jesus demanded. Remember the Priest killed in Turkey? Did he have it coming? How about the nuns killed in Nigeria? Did they have it coming? Or East Timor? I see more Christians killed than condom-spreading secularists pushing "Heather has Two Mommies." Where does D'Souza stand of the hatred of missionaries who follow the Gospel of Matthew to "Go to all the nations ..."? Should they stop being Christians, which they belive requires missionary work?

Of course, I believe true jihadi Muslims should hate us just as communists should hate us. Would we want to be the kind of country Castro could love (i.e. the USSR?) Would we want to be the kind of country bin Laden could love (i.e. Taliban Afghanistan?) The problem isn't that they hate us but that they don't fear us.

D'Souza advocates appeasement and that just makes us look weak. He is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

3/7/07, 9:50 PM  
Blogger Always On Watch Two said...

Jason,
Mark Alexander has posted some videos about homosexuality in the Middle East--Egypt and Iran, I think.

I wonder what D'Souza would have to say about those videos?

3/8/07, 8:34 AM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Jason notes that 'Christian proselytizers, are seen as killers' so that if 'D'Souza and his dhimmi Conservatives want to "win the hearts and minds" of devout "traditional" Muslims, they should stop spreading the gospel'. One might add that even when Christians do not proselytize, Muslims view their religion as an affront that warrants an attack, so to appease the Muslims they should no longer practice Christianity.

I agree with Jason that "The problem isn't that they hate us but that they don't fear us." Why would they fear us, when our response to their aggression is to enable and reward them?

3/8/07, 11:50 AM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

For Class Discussion

3/8/07, 1:23 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Sorry Jason, but Islam mandates that ALL homosexuals be put to death... not so with "ordinary" Christians. They are "tolerated". Homosexual "proselytizers" are now finding similar laws being imposed against them (Nigeria)... for more and more people are beginning to realize that many forms of secularism are worse than religion. Bin Laden is telling the West to "shove" their freedom if it means secularism.

And D'Souza is NOT advocating appeasement. He's doing anything BUT. He's simply connecting the dots between what's going on in the ME, and what's going on in America, and telling Conservatives that they need to fight a TWO front war.

And always, I find Khomeini's attitudes towards the transgendered remarkably "enlightened".

And ducky, what's with the painting of Reagan w/Rand? I don't get it.

3/8/07, 2:08 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

...and please, Jason, Planned Parenthood? Islam has few issues w/contraception or modern medicine.

Now unrestricted abortions... that's another issue entirely. It isn't simply a matter of "choice".

3/8/07, 2:37 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

btw - The abortion doctor killed in Africa isn't going to get the same headline a priest gets. It's likely to get recorded by posterity as a "sensless murder" for "unknown" reasons.

3/8/07, 2:47 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

You miss the point FJ. There are no gay organizations or abortion advocacy organizations that are trying to do missionary work in Islamic countries. But there are Christian denominations that see missionary work as part of the calling. It's not odd that you don�t hear complaints about hedonistic pagans but you hear calls to arms against the Crusaders � i.e. those that spread the domain of Christianity. Yes, gays are put to death but so are Christian missionaries. If D�Souza is saying "let's not offend them" then he is saying "let�s not be Christians" since spreading the "good news" is seen to be an integral part of Christianity for some.

Of course, he only complains about what he finds "intelligible" in their grievances. This is true across the board. We hear that "globalization" is the problem from the left, and "interventionist foreign policy" is the problem according to libertarians, and "supporting dictators" is the problem for democracy advocates while "imposing liberal democracy" is the problem according to so-called realists. Supporting Saddam in the 1980s was the problem until boycotting Saddam in the 1990s became the problem and removing Saddam in this decade became the problem.

Of course, Islam is the problem. I explained it here. It's very simple. Whenever one is dissatisfied one can act rationally or irrationally, morally or immorally. What determines one course of action: one's beliefs! Islam readily lends itself to underwriting an illiberal regime and justifying violence to further its ends.

3/8/07, 3:19 PM  
Anonymous cubed said...

Jason,

"I’m still surprised how few history of philosophy books deal with his writing. There are a few reasons but chief among them is that Cicero claimed he was reviewing the work of others and not writing original philosophy. However, most of the works he refers to have been lost."

Thank goodness for those later admirers who preserve the thoughts of those who have gone before. I keep hoping that many of the "lost works" will turn up folded into stiffeners for the backs of prints to hang up on Aunt Tillie's parlor wall or something, or at the very least, be resurfaced for some later, less important work to be written on, and still lie hidden in the damp basement of some museum or private home, just waiting to be discovered.

All the work involved in disentangling the valid stuff from the invalid stuff, and refining the valid stuff takes a lot of effort and a long time, and it is precisely this kind of work that the Muslims have never done. It's why they lag so far behind. You can't build Rome in a day, nor can you work out the concepts embraced by the Constitution of the U.S. in a day. The very idea that Bush thought he could offer the Muslims a civil society like ours on a silver platter, and that they would rejoice, shouting "Free at last, free at last," and singing "Kumbaya" is stomach-turning.

AOW,

Wow. I am so impressed! For sure, there are things that you won't agree with, but there is stuff that you will like, and that's hard to find easily elsewhere. Do pay particular attention to Lisa VanDamme's articles.

Philosophy journals are like medical journals, they do have things in them that don't trickle down to the daily paper, and even if you don't agree with everything, you can use a lot of it.

3/8/07, 3:23 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

You are also wrong about D'Souza. The internet gives one an excellent way of assessing the cash-value of someone's ideas. I have talked with many who read his book and almost to a man (or woman) they come out in favor of Islam of the most fundamentalist kind. They have clearly accepted the viewpoint that Sharia is not so bad if that is what they want. They see kindred spirits among the most devout Muslims. D'Souza is clearly leading people into the enemy's camp.

Maybe these people do not understand the book but I do not think that D'Souza is an incompetent writer; this consequence must be what he desires. He is really a straight forward writer so I believe his fans get the message whether it is explicit or they are reading between the lines. D'Souza is an Islamist sympathizer who like the Communist sympathizers on the left claim they do not advocate or would not personally choice this kind of regime but they spend their time arguing with the critics to undermine our resolve.

Of course, D'Souza is against the left but for the wrong reasons. It is not because the left is against fighting the enemy (so is D'Souza) but because he sees the left as provoking the enemy. That is just silly.

3/8/07, 3:33 PM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

But Jason, you offend me and what happens when push comes to shove?

I have heavy weaponry, money and a better education.

Shouldn't you just stop antagonizing me before I bankrupt you and have you sewing garments with a bunch of Guatemalans?

3/8/07, 4:17 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Well I have read his book, and it is no way sympathetic to Islam or does it advise Christians to change in any way, shape, or form EXCEPT to assert/defend their moral values more vociferously. That means against Islam. That means against the Left.

You conflate criticism of the Left to criticism of America and acceptance of dhimmitude. And it isn't Christians that are telling Christians in America to submit and pull back against Islam. It's progressive Democrats and their secular "tolerate any and all immoral behavior/ values" that are the ones raising the white flag of dhimmitude! The Left must love you! ducky's laughing his *ss off!

3/8/07, 5:05 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

What you’re saying about the left is true; but D’Souza claims that conservatives are the true friends of “traditional” Muslims. He sees a distinction between “traditional” and “radical” Muslims.

Odd, today on his blog he says he sees no religious distinction between Sunni and Shiites. Thus, he says there is no religious war between them. Yet he sees a difference between "traditional" and "radical" Muslims.

He picks isolated facts and builds his own world around them.

The fact remains that his readers aren’t as sophisticated as you are. They see D’Souza’s respect for “traditional” Islam as respect for Islam and even respect for Sharia which D’Souza speaks about in positive tones.

3/8/07, 8:15 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

I have not read “THE ENEMY AT HOME, The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11”
by Dinesh D’Souza.” However, “None (but Me) Dare Call It Treason” by ALAN WOLFE,
January 21, 2007, provides a book review for the N.Y. Times.

I reference it, not because I claim it is sound or not, but because it supports its statements. I submit it would be helpful if those who discuss the book would similarly provide quotes to support their positions.

Following are excerpts from the review, which is found on: http://www.nowpublic.com/new_york_times_book_review_none_but_me_dare_call_it_treason

D’Souza…finds bin Laden to be “a quiet, well-mannered, thoughtful, eloquent and deeply religious person.” Despite being considered a friend of the Palestinians, he “has not launched a single attack against Israel.” We denounce him as a terrorist, but he uses “a different compass to assess America than Americans use to assess him.” Bin Laden killed only 3,000 of us, with “every victim counted, every death mourned, every victim’s family generously compensated.” But look what we did in return: many thousands of Muslims dead in Afghanistan and Iraq, “and few Americans seem distressed over these numbers.”

He finds Ayatollah Khomeini still to be “highly regarded for his modest demeanor, frugal lifestyle and soft-spoken manner.” Islamic punishment tends to be harsh — flogging adulterers and that sort of thing — but this, D’Souza says “with only a hint of irony,” simply puts Muslims “in the Old Testament tradition.” Polygamy exists under Islamic law, but the sexual freedom produced by feminism in this country is, at least for men, “even better than polygamy.” And the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that the West has a taboo against questioning the existence of the Holocaust, while “pooh-poohed by Western commentators,” was “undoubtedly accurate.”

Unlike President Bush, who once said he could not understand how anyone could hate America, D’Souza knows why Islamic radicals attack us. “Painful though it may be to admit,” he admits, “some of what the critics or even enemies say about America and the West ... may be true.” Susan Sontag never said we brought Sept. 11 on ourselves. Dinesh D’Souza does say it.

3/8/07, 9:47 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Wow! I had no idea that D'Souza was so horrible. If that review is an indication he's far worse than I imagined. Thanks, Weingarten. I don't think his average readers misunderstands him.

3/8/07, 10:30 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Kakistocrat said...

The most damning criticism I've seen of D'Souza has been his knack of going well on out of his way to demonstrate that he knows not a damn thing about Islamic history and warfare. Particularly in his own birthplace of India.

I can get that level of scholarship from Paris Hilton.

3/9/07, 4:43 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

D’Souza relies on anecdotal evidence of a self-selected group of Muslims who didn’t join the devout in establishing the state of Pakistan (and East Pakistan now Bangladesh.) Being in the minority in Bombay (a very British city) they obviously follow the example when Mohammad was in the minority in Mecca: they preach the tolerance they need. But this tells us little about Islamic societies when Islam is in full bloom.

D’Souza is a right-wing version of Ducky. He meets a few then infers what Islam must be like without actually reading about the ideology – or only reading apologetics. I used to share an office with a card-carrying member of the Communist Party. He was a polite hard-working man who never lifted his fist in anger. Should I ignore the 150 million that were killed by Communism?

As a matter of fact, Communists used to be dedicated disciplined hard-working members of a collectivist cause (just like Islam.) The old stereotype was a grim nose-to-the-grindstone puritan. Commies used to damn the West as decadent (just like Islamists.) Their dedication and sacrifice won them respect from those who shared their values – the D’Souzas of the left.

Of course, this joyless life lent itself to comedy. One can remember Garbo in Ninotchka as the puritan Commie who meets Melvyn Douglas, the decadent Frenchie. My favorite line: “Suppress it!” (See the movie.) “From Russia with Love” is another grim-true-believer meets life-loving Brit and melts. I remember my college roommate had an issue of National Lampoon with a mock Russian Playboy layout with “Olga on a tractor.” After several pictures of Olga and tractor came the centerfold … of just the tractor.

Burka jokes should be the rage. Also, exploding Muslims lend themselves to humor. Remember the cartoon of a jihad-instructor with bomb-belt as he instructed the class “Now watch carefully; I’ll do this just once.” Humor is the best weapon. We need more Danish cartoons.

3/9/07, 9:23 AM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

Ah, Ninotchka. A flawed comedy but what can you say with Garbo on the screen. What passes for a screen goddess these days? Disgraceful.

What I find very amusing, Jason is your complete ignorance of what is happening in muslim culture. Let me make some suggestions.

"Men at Work" directed by Mani Haghighi. Four middleclass Iraninas are heading for a ski weekend (right away you get real disonance for Western audiences and they come upon this stone monolith and decide to knock it over.

The goings on are hilarious and it's an excellent comedy. The director was asked if the monolith represented the Iranian fundamentalist council and he commented that maybe he just wanted to make a film about four guys pushing over a rock.

Anyway, the cinematography is gourgeous and the interactions of the four with male and female passerbys is informative. So muslim cultures can supply their own humor and commentary. Or you can stick with infantile crap like the Danish cartoons or even Borat.

I was proud of one of the kids in my class who deconstructed the jump cuts in Borat and demonstrated what a manipulative fraud the whole thing was but that's for humor impaired Americans.

Next you can try "Day Break" directed by Hamid Rahmanian. It is a look at the death penaly under sharia. Not what you expect but I doubt you want to be open to dialogue.

Quite a bit out there, Jason. People trying to deal with complex subjects. Lot of good work coming out of China and Taiwan looking at the one child polict, stress on the family from urbanization and the failure of economic reforms to get to the rural population. Try a few, Cafe Lumiere, Yi-Yi, Platform. Most of them are homages to Ozu and better than any crap coming out of America these days.


Life is large Jason. Be open to it.

Did you ever ask the communist why he held his views? "A polite hard-working man who never lifted his fist in anger." Sounds like a person of substance. I can't believe you had nothing to learn from him. Such a missed opportunity.

3/9/07, 12:07 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Gee, there's a shocker. The New York Times didn't like D'Souza's book, and neither did "The Nation" magazine. I'll bet Iran's book reviewer gave it a "thumbs down" as well.

Let me give you gentlemen a tip about "quotes". If there are two or more in the same sentence, chances are the person's words are being misrepresented.

Now go back and look at those quotes.

3/9/07, 3:24 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

btw - You do realize that Khomeini came to power in '79 and died in '89 and the Iran-Iraq war went from '80 to '88.

I doubt Khomeini had much time to attack Israel.

How disgraceful of people to point that out.

Yes D'Souza is a "bit" naive... but not nearly as much as his critics attempt to point out.

3/9/07, 3:29 PM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

I can't stand d'Souza because the book just states the obvious.

The American left and fundamentalist Islam have joined forces to destroy the Ayn Rand Institute.

Hell, everyone can see that.

3/9/07, 3:44 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Jason, you shared an office with “a card-carrying member of the Communist Party.” Actually, as much as I have heard of it, I have never seen such a card. Is it red or black or yellow? (Perhaps after 1950, they stopped handing them out.) They seem to be like baby pigeons, whom you believe in, but never encounter. Similarly, I have never seen a “party-girl” who induces or seduces naïve young men to join the party; perhaps someone might find one in an old age home (I’ll continue to look). It is the only rational argument I know of for communism; perhaps they also give out free (laminated) cards.

You mention the commonality between the communists and the Islamists, and might have added the fascists and social-democrats. The issue with these types is rather simple. The first question is whether people should only receive what they earn, or what they steal. Our founders believed in the former, while the aforementioned types justify theft, whether directly, or by vote. The second question is the method used to influence the world. Our republic believed in suasion, equality before the law (and implicitly NIF), while the aforementioned types advocate coercion and collectivity. For freedom, a government should be dedicated to protecting the rights of the individual, while totalitarians abrogate these rights, so as to permit theft.

Is there anything else that needs to be examined (about fascism, communism, Islam, and social-democracy) or would that merely obfuscate what is important?

3/9/07, 4:21 PM  
Blogger Always On Watch Two said...

Jason,
D’Souza is a right-wing version of Ducky.

Ewwwwww! What a thought!

3/9/07, 9:58 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Kakistocrat said...

FJ,

I'd like to think that D'Souza cast his latest batch of gasoline on the fire to get more exposure for the Robert Spencers and Daniel Pipeseses he decries (Spencer's Islamic history-based responses have quite efficiently and effectively reduced D'Souza to a caterwauling blowhard, IMO), but I think the focus D'Souza desires is towards himself.

In the litany of all of the debates of West vs. Islam that have been made, even centuries before Samuel Huntington was an itch in his daddy's drawers, D'Souza's latest has the appearance of a troll post.

3/10/07, 5:05 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

As much as I appreciate the work of the Spencer's and Pipe's, their work is entirely critical has offers no practical solutions. And as soon as anyone tries to offer up something practical, they're attacked.

Sorry, but we're aren't going to exterminate 1.3 billion Moslems. We've got to fiigure out ways of dealing with them short of extermination. G_d forbid we should try to understand that three ARE "moderate" Moslems... and they're aren't a monolith of extremists seeking to blow themselves up in America's shopping malls.

3/10/07, 11:16 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

And G_d forbid someone should point out to the f'n LIBERALS that marriage is necessary for survival in a 3rd world land and that "our ways" don't work in regions where there isn't a cop on every corner or a Starbucks on every corner. So human rights sounds all well and good until they begin to destroy traditional family institutions. At that point, people have a right to say "get the 'F out of here!"

3/10/07, 11:20 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Just look what the "liberals" approach to AIDS has done to Africa.

I'd of rounded up the first identified cases and put them into quarantine.

3/10/07, 11:23 AM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

Farmer, may I please ask for a clarification.

Why is everyone so upset with D'Souza. Myself, I haven't paid much attention to it but the theme seems to be that radical Islam hates liberal (N.B. Not leftist) culture.

Why would you disagree?

3/10/07, 1:16 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

D’Souza believes that "traditionalist" Muslim's repulsion to Western liberalism is pushing them into the "radical" camp. He believes the moderates who aspire to tolerant Western ways (usually social democrats with a smattering of pro-classical liberal types) are not our true allies in the Muslim world. Thus, we should “break bread” with the fundamentalist Muslims against the liberals everywhere. Is that right Farmer?

I’m not interesting in helping anyone in the Muslim world; nor am I interested in killing them (if we can avoid it.) I argued long ago that we need to stop helping them and establish a deterrent. No one advocates this today.

3/10/07, 1:30 PM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

So he has presented you with a true dlemma.

Which group , liberals or muslims, do you hate most.

I can understand why this would make you uneasy.
Myself I just laugh watching neocons dangling in the wind.

3/10/07, 2:10 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

When it comes to the Islamic threat, moderate social democrats are our ally (when they come to their senses.) The far left, is too consumed with hatred for America to an ally and they have formed an “Unholy Alliance” with the axis of Islam. But the moderate left-liberal can join the battle.

Thus, the left-liberals are also in a quandary. They either support their country or form a alliance with the most oppressive force in the world today.

It’s time to let Noam Chomsky and Dinesh D’Souza sit on the sidelines while the rest of us have a sane discussion.

3/10/07, 2:20 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

What Islam hates are the immoral and degenerate spects of liberal culture...that threaten to overturn traditional family structures... that are being dictated to 3rd world people from the UN and through the illiberal non-Islamic regimes in the region.

"Nature has endowed every species of living creature with the instinct of self-preservation"

"Society offers opportunities to flourish" (and I would add... perish)

"Of all the schools of thought, Cicero is most critical of the Epicurean “hedonistic calculus” of pain-avoidance."

from the D'Souza book:

The Left would rather use the United Nations and other international groups to promote its agenda. Liberal enthusiasm for the UN seems rooted in a belief in ethical universalism. "The emphasis on patriotic pride is morally dangerous." the philisopher Martha Nussbaum writes. "We should give our first allegiance to... the moral community made up of all human beings." Another prominent thinker, Richard Rorty, pines for what he terms the parliament of man, the federation of the world." But do not for a momentm think that Nussbaum, Rorty, or anyone on the Left would trust the world with genuine legislative power. The main problem with "world government" is that it would place a chastity belt on the Left's social agenda. By Western Standards, most people in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East are very conservative. On issues like feminism and homosexuality, they are likely to be to the right of Pat Robertson. They are likely to impose far more restrictions than now exist in the West on birth control, divorce, homosexuality and abortion. I doubt that Rorty and Nussbaum would want to live under the moral rules enacted by a truly representative world government. For these reasons the left should be very relieved to be spared world government and to have the United Nations instead. As a self-styled surrogate for the world community, the UN enables the Left to espouse the ideal of world government without having to actually live by that ideal.

To many conservatives, the level of trust the Left places in the United Nations seems ridiculously naive. How can the UN, which does not command an effective fighting force, resolve conflicts that may require the use of force?...Is it credible to expect this international agency, half of whose members are governed by dictators, to be an effective instrument for the promotion of democratic values? This criticism of the Left is itself naive. It presumes that the Leftists expect the UN to do these things. In reality, the Left has entirely different goals for the United Nations. From this point of view, the UN and its various agencies function well as an inetrnational Leftist Legislature, proclaimer ever new rights and then enforcing them in countries that would never themselves consider passing such laws.

We have seen how this process works. The Left relies on multilateral treaties and international conferences to adopt Leftist priorities and declare the "universal rights". Then human rights groups like Amnesty International and other Leftist NGO's use leverage against the liberal tyrants to force them to comply with the Left's agenda or to be fopund in violation of international law. Recently the Left won a big victory in Morocco when, after a decade of pressure from international NGOs, King Mohammed VI agreed to replace the country's Islamic Family Law with a Western-style code. In one sweep, Morocco abolished polygamy and established something close to no-fault divorce. The Left was jubilant: here was an obliging tyrant taking his orders not from the Moroccan people but from Huamn rights Watch. Now Regan ralph, executive Director for HRW, says the "true test" for the king is to abolish the country's personal status code, which stipulates that the husband is the head of the family. In a similar vein, the European Union is pressuring Turkey to liberalize its divorce laws and adopt a nondiscrimination provision on homosexuality as a condition for being admitted into the European Union. The EU demonstrates how political and financial leverage can be used to armtwistMuslims into setting aside their religion as the basis of law and adopting secular and liberal laws instead.


...no wonder the Left went ballistic over "John Bolton".

...and no, he's not asking us to embrace the fundamentalists... he's asking us to empower the people in the region with democracy... and take the "legislative authority" out of the hands of Leftist Liberal proxies like the UN. THAT is why the Left doesn't want Iraq to succeed. The Left wants to change the world via the ACLU and Supreme Court, not through the "will of the people"... cuz the people don't want abortion and homosexual marriage and would never accept it otherwise.

3/10/07, 2:48 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

People have an "instinct for self-preservation". I say we trust their instincts to determine when their countries are ready to become "metrosexual" and not let New York impose it on the people of the Sahara.

3/10/07, 2:54 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Morality is not universal. It changes to suit different "environmental niches". For people of one ennvionment to impose their morals people of a different environment is to condemn those people to death.

3/10/07, 3:00 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Islam is the perfect morality for desert nomads. Once it hits an "urban center", it should be dropped like the plague it is.

3/10/07, 3:02 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

Rich American and Europeans with modern medicine and santation can afford to be promiscous sodomites, but please don't sell that to Africans. The result is an AIDS epidemic.

3/10/07, 3:04 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

The notions of “ethical universalism” and “the moral community made up of all human beings” that infuriates D’Souza go back to Cicero. It is in Cicero that we see the doctrine of natural rights – rights all humans have by their very nature – and what Cicero (inspired by the Stoics) calls the brotherhood of all human beings. This notion was absorbed by Paul when he takes the teachings of a Jewish reformer and makes them into a universal religion. The Greek word for universal (Paul spoke Greek) is καθολικός i.e. catholic. D’Souza is rejecting essential tenets of Western Civilization.

The right used to proclaim that the left’s subjectivism started when the notions of a fixed human nature and natural law were discarded. Instead people create laws as the pleased and human nature could be molded to fit any ideal. This relativism means “morality is not universal. It changes to suit different ‘environments’”. It looks like you and D’Souza are multi-cultural relativists after all.

I’m not interested in liberating the world and reforming other cultures. That doesn’t mean I’ll applaud the backwardness of savage cultures. I argued our concern should be self-defense and self-preservation. We need to establish a deterrent. Establishing a deterrent doesn’t involve changing their values; but given their belief in using force to further their ends it involves discouraging them from acting on their disposition.

3/10/07, 11:04 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Kakistocrat said...

Sorry, but we're aren't going to exterminate 1.3 billion Moslems. We've got to fiigure out ways of dealing with them short of extermination.

We don't have to exterminate 1.3 billion Moslems. For a small poll tax, I'll let them worship their pet rock as long as they do not disparage Americanism or its prophet.

3/11/07, 3:42 AM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Universalism is first seen in the Bible, where all people are descendents of Adam & Eve. Similarly, the morality applies to all peoples, whether to Cain & Abel, or to all that follow. The notion of a perfect God does not demand different moralities, but only one; this contrasts with Greek and Roman gods who have different moralities, and even immoralities.

For morality to differ by people is akin to saying that truth differs likewise; i.e., for Christians John was born in 1900, while for Muslims he was born in 1950.

3/11/07, 10:04 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

there is only one "universal" truth. Will to power. And truth is relative. Some things are 50% true. Some, like Einstein's, was 99.99999999999% true. Newton's truth was only 99.9999999998s% true. (btw - neither of their truths apply to physics inside a quantum singularity) The truth of any proposition depends upon the feeling of "power" it lends to someone. And, btw, the truth lives in the human brain in the form of language and words/names...

Plato, "Cratylus"

Whether there is this eternal nature in things, or whether the truth is what Heracleitus and his followers and many others say, is a question hard to determine; and no man of sense will like to put himself or the education of his mind in the power of names: neither will he so far trust names or the givers of names as to be confident in any knowledge which condemns himself and other existences to an unhealthy state of unreality; he will not believe that all things leak like a pot, or imagine that the world is a man who has a running at the nose. This may be true, Cratylus, but is also very likely to be untrue; and therefore I would not have you be too easily persuaded of it. Reflect well and like a man, and do not easily accept such a doctrine; for you are young and of an age to learn. And when you have found the truth, come and tell me.

3/11/07, 10:29 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

...and an effective deterent could include changing their values. In fact in the long run, it could prove to be the most effective deterrent.

3/11/07, 10:33 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

The "catholic" ideal is great for an "expanding" civilization. It gives a form of "moral certainty" to its' adherents that allows it to justify acts of aggression against those who resist this precept. It puts "will" into their "will to power".

3/11/07, 10:37 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

...although the catholic ideal does just the opposite. It precludes the use of "force" to spread it's message. Hence it creates a "mental tension" that forces westerners to "think more" as to how it can achieve its' aims without violating this fundamental (and thought to be universal) moral precept of men having been granted "free will". This "universal catholic" precept is absent in non-western cultures.

3/11/07, 10:43 AM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

...and our "faith" as to the validity of these moral precepts wax and wane depending upon our levels of "success" and "power" achieved.

That's why the Arab world is falling back on Islam... it represents the Arab world at the height of their power and influence.

3/11/07, 10:45 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

I tend to see the pre-Christian-era Judaism as less a universal religion and more of a “way of my people.” It’s not that it lacks complete implications for the children of Noah (Noahide) but it is paternal in nature (laws given by an authority) and ethnic in focus. Judaism continued to develop and grow so that it can be re-read as providing universal guidance. But that shows its ability to be influenced by outside forces.

Michael Pakaluk traces the concept of natural law to the Greek dramatists prior to its appearance in Aristotle’s ethics (of which he is an expert) and the Greek and Roman Stoics (who moved the notion of natural law to the center of their concern.) It’s an interesting history.

In summation: the natural law and natural rights doctrines became an important part of the Western outlook – both in philosophy and religion.

3/11/07, 11:37 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

“That's why the Arab world is falling back on Islam... it represents the Arab world at the height of their power and influence.”

Well, yes, after the failure of fascist and socialist regimes, looking back to a time when Islam had conquered most of the known world is intelligible. Islam is an imperialist creed and defeat in battle or retreat is a crisis in faith. As I wrote on D’Souza’s blog:

Islam is a political ideology first and foremost. Obviously a 7th century political ideology would hold as part of its metaphysics the belief in the supernatural and hold as part of its epistemology the superiority of faith and dogma to reason. Thus, it is trivially a religion as well. Given the Islamic revival, one expects the political differences to re-emerge with a renewed vigorous practice of the religion. This we see today.

If we take a brief survey of the turning points in Islamic history we see a few milestones. In the 1st hundred years the conquest of most of the known world was seen as a sign of Islam's validity and vitality. However, as the expansion came to and end and Islam was turned back in France (and a continual failure to take Constantinople) a crisis of faith arose. Islam wasn't interested in conversion but the expansion of political power. (See Bernard Lewis [1]) It was primarily a political ideology.

As the Umayyads were considered insufficiently devout, the Abbasid rule was established in Baghdad. It is here Lewis argues that Islam was transformed from an Arab supremacist ideology to a common faith with equality for the Persian converts. All the major secondary texts come from this period (Haddith, Sira, major schools of jurisprudence, etc.)

Once again, with the Mongol slaughter of the 13th century, a crisis of faith gave rise to the Salafi revival of ibn Taymiyyah and the military failures after the retreat from Vienna led to the Salafi revival of al-Wahhab a century after. Today the Arab nationalist failures (against Israel) lead to the Islamic Revival we see today. Yes, it is politics ... but so is Islam. Generational political failures are a crisis in faith.

3/11/07, 11:46 AM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Kakistocrat said...

A small caveat, if I may.

You list all of these regenerating iterations of Islamic revival.

But in none of these cases was Islam rolled back to needing revival by a force specifically targeting Muslims for destruction.

Them weeds ain't getting out of the field by themselves.

3/11/07, 6:57 PM  
Blogger Farmer John said...

I suspect they're about to... by "other" Moslems. (Shi'a vs Sunni)

Nietzsche "AntiChrist" - on the differences between Christianity and Islam... for those who think one "religion" is just like any other "religion"...

Christianity destroyed for us the whole harvest of ancient civilization, and later it also destroyed for us the whole harvest of Mohammedan civilization. The wonderful culture of the Moors in Spain, which was fundamentally nearer to us and appealed more to our senses and tastes than that of Rome and Greece, was trampled down (--I do not say by what sort of feet--) Why? Because it had to thank noble and manly instincts for its origin--because it said yes to life, even to the rare and refined luxuriousness of Moorish life! . . . The crusaders later made war on something before which it would have been more fitting for them to have grovelled in the dust--a civilization beside which even that of our nineteenth century seems very poor and very "senile."--What they wanted, of course, was booty: the orient was rich. . . . Let us put aside our prejudices! The crusades were a higher form of piracy, nothing more! The German nobility, which is fundamentally a Viking nobility, was in its element there: the church knew only too well how the German nobility was to be won . . . The German noble, always the "Swiss guard" of the church, always in the service of every bad instinct of the church--but well paid. . . Consider the fact that it is precisely the aid of German swords and German blood and valour that has enabled the church to carry through its war to the death upon everything noble on earth! At this point a host of painful questions suggest themselves. The German nobility stands outside the history of the higher civilization: the reason is obvious. . . Christianity, alcohol--the two great means of corruption. . . . Intrinsically there should be no more choice between Islam and Christianity than there is between an Arab and a Jew. The decision is already reached; nobody remains at liberty to choose here. Either a man is a Chandala or he is not. . . . "War to the knife with Rome! Peace and friendship with Islam!": this was the feeling, this was the act, of that great free spirit, that genius among German emperors, Frederick II. What! must a German first be a genius, a free spirit, before he can feel decently? I can't make out how a German could ever feel Christian. . . .

3/12/07, 9:01 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Nietzsche’s romantic view of classical Islamic civilization tends to overlook the reality. But he’s right that in the Dark Ages, Christian Europe was more inhospitable to human prosperity. However, when you have to hold the bar that low to get a good comparison for Islam, surely that is the ultimate insult.

The problem is that Muslims used to allow a residue of Hellenic learning until they decided that religion is everything. Then they solidified the worse aspects of their culture and went downhill. It took 550 years from the birth of Christ to the closing of Plato’s academy in Athens by Justinian. It was around the year 550 in the Islamic calendar when Averroes work on Aristotle was put to the fire and Averroes himself was banished from Cordoba.

One can only be grateful that these religions didn’t overlap in time.

I do give Friedrich credit to pointing out that Islam is not a religion for pacifists. I have no qualms with the ability of Muslims to fight. I just object to what they fight for: Islamic oppression and domination. I worry that Jews (in Israel) and Christians (in Europe and America) can’t kill their enemies. I worry that Bush can’t let our troops fight a war. Or even better read this.

3/12/07, 10:22 AM  

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