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EMP Episode 2: The Star Wars Movies

The primary subject of the second episode of the Epic Meta Podcast (“EMP”) was the nine movies that made up the three Star Wars trilogies. But before we got into that discussion we talked about our second, failed attempt at a podcast.

The Art of Podcasting Continued

The subject of that failed attempt was an analysis of two time travel related stories. The first being, “The Man Who Folded Himself” by David Gerold and the second, “Predestination,” a movie staring Ethan Hawk. Interestingly, in our first episode we discussed talking about these two time travel stories (as it seems the topic of any future podcast in our series will be based on some piece of a topic discussed in the previous episode) but we had no idea that the plots of both stories shared such striking similarities. Most notably, both stories involved a protagonist who went back in time, interacted with a previous version of himself and in the process became his own father. It is unclear whether both stories individually arrived at this as a natural consequence of taking the time travel phenomenon to its logical conclusion or whether one story was based on the other. Unfortunately, although the conversation was an interesting one, the audio on my end did not record properly and we had to scrap the episode. This disappointment associated with loosing content for technical reasons is an experience I suspect is likely experienced by many pod casters.

There were a few aesthetic problems with this pod cast I noticed when I listened to it. First, I have a few pet phrases and words that I repeat too often including you know, sort of, certainly and um. There were background noises as well including my chair creaking, some kind of crackling sound I will attribute to Thang and a bird chirping. I also noticed at least one time where our dialog repeated itself. This is something I have noticed on other podcasts and think it has to do with corruption during the upload. As for the pet phrases, the only thing I can do is try to be more aware of saying them. The creaking chair can be replaced. A closed window will muffle the sound of any bird. Although, I do not mind the sound of the bird all that much. Everything else is part of Thang’s domain.

Star Wars

The original trilogy of Star Wars movies (Episodes IV, V and VI) were very important to me in my youth. They were important because they seemed to satisfy every desire I had in terms of entertainment. The movies were a cut above other sci-fi as to realism and story telling. Other science fiction movies at the time seemed sterile and fake looking by comparison. The Star Wars universe, however, was “lived in” with dirty, dented ships and hardscrabble moisture farmers. The original trilogy also possessed compelling characters with developmental arcs. After seeing Episode IV, I impatiently awaited the release of V and VI. For the most part I was not disappointed. One might argue that the Ewoks were a poor choice but I did not mind them as much as other people did and on the whole, I found the trilogy immensely satisfying. This satisfaction was evidenced by my vast collection of “action figures” and trading cards which have since vanished over time.

By contrast, the prequel trilogy (Episodes I-III) seemed to violate many of the qualities that made the original trilogy great. One violation was in the area of dialog. In the original trilogy, the characters (for the most part) spoke in a formal, almost Shakespearean tone. Whereas in the prequels there were many moments when the characters spoke casually in a manner that broke my immersion. Child Anakin saying, “that’s a good trick” and young Boba Fet calling Jengo Fet “Dad” rather than “Father” come to mind. Another violation was the reduction of the force to metachlorines in the blood. This violated the brilliant wedding of science fiction and mysticism of the original trilogy. Jar Jar Binks goes without saying.

From a high perspective, the prequels were ambitious. They set out to describe the fall of the ancient Galactic Republic and Jedi Order, the rise of the Emperor and the Sith, as well as the transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. They accomplished this in an extremely flawed manner but they managed to do so in a way that still kept me invested me in the characters (most of them).

By contrast the sequel trilogy (Episodes VII-IX) did not even do that. The hope of Episode VII was to redeem the series after the flawed prequels. Taken on its own Episode VII accomplished this by introducing new characters, bringing back older beloved characters, setting up a framework for a heroic journey and doing so in a manner that did not violate the feel of Star Wars too egregiously. After seeing Episode VII, I questioned the dramatic choice of having a new version of the Empire replace the old, thus undoing all the work of the original trilogy. But at that point I had faith that by the end of the trilogy all would be explained and set right. Unfortunately, the subsequent episodes did not justify this faith. By the end of the trilogy I was no more invested in the new characters than I was prior to Episode VII. This was largely because they remained the same from beginning to end. Nor were any of the dramatic choices brought to a conclusion in a satisfying way.

In short, Star Wars started out as an important, powerful and beautiful creative presence in my life. As it aged, it became tainted and corrupted. A portion of this might be a function of my own age. I was a young child at the time of the original trilogy. Perhaps I was more open to wonder and less critical in terms of details. At the time of the prequel trilogy I was a young man and at the time of the sequel trilogy I was a middle aged man. But I believe the corruption lies not only with my more refined sense of literature and aesthetics. I truly believe that the writing and the ideas in the latter trilogies were of lesser quality. Perhaps all things become corrupted over time. But I do not want to believe that that is necessarily so.

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Inquiry Into Consciousness Part II – The Internal Experience of Thoughts

In the previous post, I began my self-inquiry into consciousness wherein I made the following conclusions about consciousness that I believe to be true:

  1. The experience of my individual consciousness (both internal and external) is transpiring at this moment. That is, I know it to exist because I have a first hand experience of it.
  2. On the surface, it appears that there is an external world inhabited by myself and other people who appear to have the experience of individual consciousness.
  3. I do not know with authority how the experience of my individual consciousness came into being or to what extent it is separate from the external things it experiences. That is, I do not know with certainty that the things I perceive to be external things have an existence independent of my consciousness.

In this blog post I want to explore with greater specificity those things I perceive to be an internal experience. The “internal” experience appears to be populated by thoughts (in the forms of language, images, intent and desire and urges), emotions, bodily sensations and attention. I will now discuss each in detail.

Thoughts in General

Thoughts carry with them the illusion of agency but with examination are revealed to be largely (if not entirely) outside of conscious control.

Thoughts in the Form of Language

Thoughts in the form of language are experienced (i.e., not heard) as a disembodied voice. This voice can give expression to general information, creative ideas, advice, commands, criticism and all the forms of verbal communication that I could experience from another person.

I can say with authority that thoughts in the form of language exist because I experience them first hand. It is unclear based on the experience just how these thoughts are generated. There seems to be an implicit assumption that “I” am responsible for my own thoughts but the fact that I cannot control or predict them consciously seems to undermine this assumption. If I pay attention to my thoughts (e.g, through meditation) I can directly observe my inability to control them. On the other hand it may be that I control or create my thoughts on a subconscious level. Or perhaps these thoughts are generated by some external source.

Thoughts in the form of Images

Thoughts in the form of images are similar to thoughts in the form of language in that they appear to be outside of my control or prediction. Images can be still like photographs or dynamic like movies. Often they are memories of events I previously experienced that seem to be triggered by present events that are connected in some way, or by suggestions from external sources (e.g., a person tells me to think of an elephant and I picture it in my mind). Other times they can appear without a readily identifiable trigger. It seems reasonable to assume that there is some reason or triggering event for their existence that transpires on a subconscious level. Curiously, these thoughts seem to be more easily attributable to external causes than are thoughts in the form of language.

Thoughts in the Form of Intent

These thoughts are decisions made in order to accomplish a task or achieve a result. There seems to be some agency involved with decision making. However, as Alan Watts pointed out:

We feel that our actions are voluntary when they follow a decision and involuntary when they happen without decision. But if a decision itself were voluntary every decision would have to be preceded by a decision to decide. An infinite regression which fortunately does not occur… – The Way of Zen

The fact that I do not experience a decision to decide (in any obvious or conscious sense) also undermines the notion of agency with respect to decisions.

Thoughts in the Form of Desire and Urges

Thoughts in the form of desire or urges can manifest themselves in language such as “I want this or that” or can be simply a non verbal impulse to engage in some behavior or a longing for something that I do not have immediate access to.

At its most basic level, I desire to survive, to not suffer, to experience good things, and my existence to have meaning. These desires seem to be prioritized in that order. That is, I seem to be able to be interested in satisfying a desire only if the preceding desire has been satisfied. There might be some wiggle room there but I think that is essentially correct.

Incidentally, as I write this I am conscious of a desire to have this blog post read by other people. I desire these people to “like” it and to comment on it (so please do if you have made it this far). I suspect this desire is connected to the desire to experience pleasure (as I receive a dopamine hit when this happens). It may also be connect to the desire for my existence to have meaning. That is, if I create through writing and that writing has an impact on other people then it suggests that my existence is meaningful in an objective sense.

Desires seem to precede and perhaps inform any agency that I might have. That is, my actions seem to be designed to satisfy my desires.


Emotions or feelings seem to operate independent of my will. Often they are a reaction to a person or situation I encounter in the external world. They can also be triggered by memories or subconscious processes. Like desires and urges, emotions also seem to precede and inform agency.

Bodily Sensations

Bodily sensations are the physical feelings I have in my body (e.g., heat, cold, pain, pleasure, pressure, etc.). Like emotions, bodily sensations also operate independently of my will. This makes sense in that bodily sensations are caused by external and internal physical causes.


Attention seems to be the one internal process that seems to be most likely under my control. I can choose (although I don’t know how I do this) to focus my attention on various things within both the internal and external experience. However, the fact that I do not know how I choose to focus my attention (deciding to decide) also undermines the notion that I have any agency in this process.

In summary, the internal experience of my consciousness carries with it an assumption of agency, however, the more my internal experience is examined the more the assumption of agency becomes undermined. It seems possible that there is no agency at all. Or perhaps thinking of this in terms of agency is the wrong way to go about it because it fundamentally misunderstands the dynamic in some way. As such, I believe the logical next area of inquiry should be the idea of agency as it relates to the self.




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Wildly Failing to Make an Assertion

I asserted in my previous post that I found it unclear whether the contributors and commentators on the anti-liberal blog the Othosphere all defined liberalism in the same way. Terry Morris (a regular commentator on the Orthosphere and of late my blog), claims I “wildly failed” (somehow) to make this assertion. He expressed this in a brief exchange of comments following my previous post. I found this exchange interesting because it illustrates an unfortunate, adversarial dynamic I have experienced repeatedly in the comment sections of many blogs. This dynamic is characterized by two commentators ostensibly arguing the merits of a disagreement when they are actually (typically by means of passive aggression) trying to humiliate the other person because they feel the other person has offended them in some way.

Terry Morris began this exchange by taking issue with a passage from my post. In this passage I referenced a post entitled The Sexual Left Devours Itself made by Othosphere contributor Kristor. Specifically, I wrote:

If [Kristor] is talking about political liberalism then the counter example of myself refutes his assertion that political liberalism necessarily leads to sexual liberalism all the time.

Terry Morris reacted to this passage by exclaiming:

That isn’t Kristor’s assertion; it’s *your* assertion about what he wrote.

I can see why Terry Morris reacted this way although I think he misunderstood the point I attempted to make. It is true that a plain reading of my comment could lead one to believe I asserted that Kristor asserted “political liberalism necessarily leads to sexual liberalism all of the time.” To clarify, (1) the word “If” which begins my statement should have keyed Terry Morris into the fact that I did not know whether Kristor was in fact making this assertion and (2) the whole point of my post was that I found it unclear what exactly Kristor was asserting because I did not know what definition of liberalism he was using. Terry Morris is right, however, that I could have worded this specific sentence with greater clarity.

Proceeding with his misunderstanding Terry went on to say:

Having followed Kristor’s posts for years, dating back to our old VFR days, I can assure you that Kristor would *never* assert that “political liberalism necessarily leads to sexual liberalism all the time,” your counter-example and any number of others you might cite (or the lack thereof) notwithstanding.

Two things are interesting here. First, we see Terry Morris speaking for Kristor based on reading his prior posts. I find this interesting because it demonstrates Terry Morris’s readiness to speak with authority as to the mental states of others. Another example of this behavior that readily comes to mind comes from a comment from another post where Terry Morris asserted with (apparent) authority that God could not get bored. Putting aside the question as to why Terry feels the need to speak for other people, I get the sense that he is motivated not so much out of a desire to set the record straight but rather to put me in what he perceives to be my place because what I have written has offended him in some way. Second, notice the passive-aggressive parenthetical phrase “or lack there of” he uses to describe my counter-examples. This reinforces the sense of offense I perceive as to his motivation.

Terry Morris goes on to say:

Concerning what definition of liberalism Kristor is working off of, yes, he would agree with Zippy’s definition. He would also agree with Zippy’s definition of what a liberal is further down Zippy’s post.

Again we see Terry Morris speaking on behalf of Kristor by stating with authority the definition of liberalism that Kristor would use. I admit that I have not been reading Kristor’s posts for as long as Terry Morris claims to have read them. I can only state that based upon my own experience have have not seen convincing evidence that Kristor  agrees with Zippy’s definition as Terry Morris asserts.

I then asked Terry Morris what I thought to be a reasonable question based on his comment.

So you are saying that Kristor’s post is discussing sexual liberalism only and that sexual liberalism is not necessarily related to political liberalism?

I thought this question to be reasonable because if political liberalism did not necessarily lead to sexual liberalism all of the time then it makes sense that they would not necessarily be related. That is, political liberalism could lead to sexual liberalism but not necessarily. Terry Morris apparently did not agree that this was a reasonable question to ask as indicated by his response.

Umm, no, that’s not what I’m saying and you know it. I’m merely pointing out that Kristor isn’t saying (in the post you cite) what you claim he said. Namely that political liberalism *necessarily leads to sexual liberalism all the time*. And I’m working off of your (sketchy) definition of what constitutes sexual liberalism at that. Hint: that you (or I, or anyone else for that matter) haven’t groped another woman in the 20 odd years you’ve been married does not make you a sexual conservative, or non-sexual-liberal if you like.

The phrase “and you known it” suggests to me that Terry Morris thinks I was being willfully ignorant or perhaps intellectually dishonest. This further reinforces my suspicion that my original post offended him in some way and that he sees our interaction as adversarial. He then goes back to the claim (I did not intentionally make) in my previous post as to what Kristor asserted. This is a great example of how adversarial comment section exchanges can easily go off the rails as both sides do not fully understand each other and are not motivated to do so. Rather, the primary motivation seems to be to punish the other either by demonstrating to them they are wrong or by making them look foolish to the viewing audience.

Terry Morris then asserts that he “is working off of [my] (sketchy) definition of what constitutes sexual liberalism.” This further illustrates that we are not really communicating because to my knowledge I never attempted to define “sexual liberalism” anywhere in my post. My point (once again) always was that I did not know what definition for liberalism Kristor was using in his post and I attempted to articulate this in my response:

I don’t use these terms. There does not seem to be an agreed upon definition which was the point of my post.

To which he replied:

Agreed upon definition of what? Liberalism, Political Liberalism, Sexual Liberalism, Moral Liberalism? What? You’ve made distinctions that certainly exist on a case-by-case, moment-by-moment basis, but what has that to do with anything Kristor said in his post?

I am not sure what he is accusing me of here. In my mind I have been clear that I do not know if the writers on the Orthosphere are using a common definition of liberalism. As such, I cannot be sure which definition Kristor is using. In my analysis of Kristor’s post I attempted to document my thought process as I parsed what he had written.

Interestingly, Terry Morris followed with this comment:

I don’t presume to understand what your overall point in the post was/is, but I’ll take you at your word and also say you’ve wildly failed to make it!

This statement leads me to believe that when Terry Morris’s emotions got the better of him. He was obviously attempting to be insulting. But even more interestingly, he immediately refuted his own assertion that he did not “presume to understand [my] overall point” in his next statement.

That *you* don’t see general agreement amongst traditionalists about what constitutes liberalism, is a failure on your part. 

If Terry Morris really did not understand my point then how could he clearly articulate my point in his next sentence? As to the failure on my part to discern a general agreement amongst traditionalists I can only say that this agreement Terry Morris asserts to exist is not apparent in the posts that I have read. Perhaps he can point me in the right direction.

In the final comment I wrote:

I think my point was clear but I take you at your word that you don’t understand it.

Obviously (to me anyway), this was a bit passive aggressive on my part. I do not take Terry Morris at his word (i.e., that he does not understand my point) based on his own articulation of my point. But whether we understand each other was not really the point of this exchange especially as it reached its conclusion.

I cannot speak with authority as to Terry Morris’s mental state (as he can apparently do of others). I can only say that the tone of his comments suggests to me that my post has offended him in some way. Of course, interpreting motivation and mood behind writing (especially in internet comment sections) is always an inexact science. This is why I always couched my interpretations as to his mental state by saying “I suspect” and the like. In some ways it is a shame that most adversarial exchanges in internet comment sections devolve in this way. On the other hand there is a certain joy that one experiences in doing it even if he refuses to admit it to others or to himself.


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The Sexual Left’s Ambiguous Definition

In a recent Orthosphere post entitled “The Sexual Left Devours Itself” contributor Kristor commented on the recent rash of sexual harassment charges being lobbed at public figures. He begins his piece by writing,

The Great Sex Harassment Witch Hunt of 2017 is mostly hitting liberals. It is leaving conservatives largely unscathed (at least so far). Why should this be?

My first reaction after reading this assertion was to think of two prominent examples of sexual harassment charges hitting conservatives. The first is conservative Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore who has been accused by numerous women of sexually assaulting them when they were minors. The second is the Republican and self described conservative President of the United States, Donald Trump who’s own voice was recorded describing his penchant for grabbing women by their genitals. Despite these two rather glaring counter-examples, I must admit that there is nothing factually incorrect about his statement that most of the the accusations seem to be directed towards liberals when viewed generally.

The real problem is in trying to know what definition of liberalism Mr. Kristor is using. This is actually a common problem on the Orthosphere. It is very clear that the contributors and most commentators on the Orthosphere are anti-liberal in their political philosophy. But it is most decidedly unclear whether they are all using a common definition of liberalism. In some cases it is clear they are not.

For example, contributor Alan Roebuck wrote in his post “A Basic Guide to Liberalism and Conservatism, Part I“:

There is no need here to give a full definition of liberalism. Like the famous quip about pornography, we know it when we see it. We know liberalism because its message is everywhere.

Obviously, leaving liberalism undefined as such makes it a convenient punching bag because it can mean anything a person wants it to mean. But not defining liberalism also makes it very difficult to have a meaningful conversation about liberalism because although there might be a meeting of the minds in terms of one’s dislike for liberalism, it is unclear whether there is a meeting of the minds as to the reason for this dislike.

Another Orthosphere commentator and blog writer in his own right Zippy Catholic provides a more concrete definition of liberalism on his blog. In a post entitled, “Definition of Liberalism,” Zippy defines liberalism as:

…the political doctrine that securing individual freedom and equal rights is a primary legitimate purpose of government.

Zippy’s definition seems to be a reasonable one in that it is not inflammatory on its face, nor is it vague. It also largely accords with the standard definition of liberalism one might find in a typical dictionary. For this reason I will proceed with my analysis of Kristor’s post with this definition of liberalism in mind even though I do not know if this is the definition he is using.

After making his original assertion, Kristor went on to say:

Conservatives typically and generally labor under and prosper by a strong sense of traditional morality, under which it is not just perverse, but wicked, horrifying, repellent, and so rather inconceivable, to behave ignobly or impolitely toward women or other lessers. Most conservatives, I think it fair to say, would never even think of groping a woman or boy, any more than they would think of torturing a cat. They’d rather rip out their own guts.

At this point it is conceivable that Kristor believes a correlation exists between a belief that government should secure the freedom and equal rights of its citizens with a belief in sexual depravity. I suppose an argument could be made that if a person believed in freedom as a general political proposition that this belief in freedom would naturally translate into a free sexuality. I have no doubt it can be true that political freedom and sexual freedom correlate to a certain extent. But this certainly does not hold true for everyone. Take myself as an example. I consider myself to be a liberal according to Zippy’s definition but I have also been married and faithful to my wife for almost 20 years. I certainly have not sexually assaulted a woman during this time period. All this is to demonstrate that it is possible for a political liberal to not also be a sexual liberal. I am not sure that Kristor makes this distinction.

But Mr. K might not really be referring to political liberalism at all as it relates to sexuality. When he uses the term “liberalism” in his piece he might just be referring to sexual liberalism and nothing else. The point is that I am not sure as to this point and I question whether his is sure as to this point as well.

He continues:

Almost all the pathetic gropers who have been brought to shame in the last few weeks, on the other hand, are liberals, who have long loudly proclaimed their allegiance to liberal moral nostrums. As liberals, they think there is nothing inherently, absolutely wrong. They think that what we construe as wrong is – like everything else in human life whatsoever – no more than a social construct; which is to say, a pure fiction.

Here we see the author painting all liberals with a rather broad brush, asserting they all must hold (perhaps by definition) a belief in moral relativism. Again, for myself I have to point out that I am a political liberal but also believe in absolute right and wrong. Although I have no doubt that some liberals believe in moral relativism this is certainly not the case for all. So to say that moral liberalism (or relativism) and sexual liberalism are the same is questionable in my mind. However, I am not at all sure this is what Mr. K is saying, because I do not know what definition of liberalism he is using. You might say he is being liberal in his use of language.

Insofar then as the scandal truly attaches to some putative conservative, he must be conservative in name only. He must, i.e., be at heart a liberal. He must not at bottom really believe in the traditional morality he publicly espouses, or therefore form his acts according thereto.

Acts betray convictions.

Here, I think we see that in the eyes of Mr. K a conservative is by definition a person who acts sexually according to a conservative morality and a liberal is a person who acts sexually according to a liberal morality. This seems to be true to him regardless of whatever political philosophy the conservative or liberal might also hold.

But again, the problem here is that I have no idea whether Kristor makes any distinction between the terms political liberalism, sexual liberalism or moral liberalism. If he is talking about political liberalism then the counter example of myself refutes his assertion that political liberalism necessarily leads to sexual liberalism all the time. If he is speaking only of sexual liberalism then it seems like he is attempting to make a point that is obvious on its face. That is, sexual liberals are sexual liberals. If he is talking about moral liberalism it is unclear whether Kristor can see the possibility of a person acting morally in one situation (like speaking the truth) and acting immorally in another such as groping a woman against her will. Non moral relativists can differ in terms of what they believe morality to be. Would a person be considered to be moral if he acted morally but believed in divorce? Reasonable, moral people can differ as to this point. And just because a person is a moral relativist does not mean that they would go about committing murder and rape. Again, I doubt Kristor is making this distinction.

Liberal “morality” leads logically, and so inevitably, to boundless wickedness. It removes the ontological (and therefore ineluctable) limit of right action, that cannot be swayed by any means whatever; so then any act that can be rationalized… The result is not limited to a parade of petty personal pecadilli [leading to] things like the Katyn Forest Massacre, or the Holodomor. Or, indeed, Lidice, the Holocaust, the Terror, the Purge.

There is a certain logic to the notion that if political liberalism leads to moral liberalism then atrocities are a possible or perhaps probable outcome. However, the examples of the massacres in the Katyn Forest, Holodomor, Lidice and the Holocaust all occurred in un-free police states and as such, arguably illiberal regimes. If free societies lead to massacres the same argument could be made against hierarchical police states as well and if both arguments can be made then it is hard to make the case that liberalism has anything to do with it.

I have made this argument before and it does not seem to make any impact on a person who has committed himself to believing that the political philosophy which holds that the freedom and equal rights of citizens can actually be the exact opposite. Anti-liberals by definition are against liberalism. This sentiment is only reinforced by having no clear definition of liberalism because it creates a boogeyman that can then be blamed for anything one finds disagreeable.

Kristor concluded his opinion piece by stating:

If sexual predation is wrong, it is *wrong,* period full stop. And in that case, the moral relativism of liberalism, and with it the sexual libertinism of liberalism, is … absolutely wrong. In which case, feminism is dead.

To this I would clarify that the objectionable portion of the term “sexual assault” is that an “assault” (or predation if you prefer) occurs against the will of the other. I believe this is what the feminists primarily take issue with and not so much the sexual aspect of it except to the extent that a sexual assault is generally considered to be a higher degree of assault. Accordingly I think Kristor has exaggerated his report as to the death of feminism. I also think his anti-liberal tirade would be made stronger by clearly defining the term.


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My Experience With Stand Up Comedy – Thoughts on Misdirection

For a long time I have wanted to try stand up comedy. People have consistently told me that I have a good sense of humor and I experience pleasure and satisfaction when I make people laugh. I recognize there is a lot of ego and perhaps insecurity behind this motivation. There is very little that is altruistic about being on stage commanding the focus of the room’s attention, with my voice amplified by the only microphone in the room and speaking the words of my creation in the hopes that the people observing me will not only approve but will also be moved to laugh. I suppose an argument could be made that there is some aspect of altruism in the desire to make people laugh but (if I am being honest) any altruism involved would only account for a minute portion of my motivation. Altruism is there, I suppose, but it is vastly overshadowed by the ego in my estimation.

Anyway, recently I had the opportunity to perform stand up comedy in an actual comedy club. My performance went well enough for a beginner and the experience of facing my fear of standing before an audience, making myself vulnerable to their judgment and then coming out the other side unscathed was exhilarating. Although, the entire experience of developing material and seeing it through to its performance was not exactly how I had envisioned it, the process was satisfying. It was also educational in a lot of ways. One of the most interesting concepts I learned through this process was that laughter often results from a misdirection of the audience or by presenting the audience with an unexpected idea or take on an idea.

Making people laugh is to varying degrees both an art and a science. It is an art because effective comics have the ability to read an audience and react to them intuitively. I notice this both through observing experienced comics but also through my own experience. Indeed, some of the biggest laughs I got were in response to off the cuff remarks I made in the moment which were completely unplanned. On the other hand, making people laugh is also a science in that there are specific techniques used by comedians all the time to elicit laughter from their audience. Misdirection or surprising the audience is one of these techniques. What I mean by this is that a comedian will set an audience up by making them think he or she is going in one direction but will then surprise them by taking them in a completely different direction. The classic example of this is Henny Yongman’s “Take my wife… please!” line. By this line the audience is first led to believe that Mr. Youngman is making a point using a his wife as an example but then he takes the audience by surprise when he says “please” which changes the meaning of his original statement to mean, “please take my wife away from me.”

The question as to why misdirection produces laughter is more complicated to explain. As far as I know, there is no definitive answer to this but I think it has to do with creating a “vacuum of cognitive dissonance” which the mind must fill with something. In other words, the misdirection creates a void of confusion in the mind which compels the mind to come up with an explanation to dispel the confusion. The simple answer the mind comes up with to explain the misdirection is that the comedian is trying to be funny and the realization of this creates laughter which then breaks the tension caused by the confusion. Of course breaking it down like this sort of takes the funny out of the experience. But then again, observing comedians work their craft with this in mind can make their material funny for a different reason.

It is interesting that the pleasurable experience of laughter is elicited through misdirection or surprise. This suggests that there is something pleasurable about not being in control or by not being aware of what will happen next. This reminds me of Alan Watts’ description of human consciousness. As he described it, human consciousness is a divine self-delusion. That is, the omniscient, immortal divinity became bored always knowing what is going to happen next and devised a plan whereby it could be surprised. This surprised state of mind is the predicament in which we currently find ourselves according to Watts. Of course, if this were true that would make humans God with which I assume some people might take issue. However, all this is to say that there is something entertaining about  being surprised especially when contrasted with a regular experience of not being surprised. Just as there would be something comforting about resting in an unsurprising existence if one is constantly being surprised.

Here is a video of my most recent performance. I find it interesting to observe what lines actually elicit laughter in the audience. Some of this is explained by the idea that laughter is elicited when the audience is misdirected. Of course this does not entirely explain it because there are times when the audience is misdirected and they do not laugh.

Of note: The “Matt stole all my ashy skin material” remark in the beginning is an example of an off the cuff remark that got a good reaction from the crowd. This was in reference to a comedian who preceded me named Matt who is African American and talked about how his skin gets “ashy” when the weather turns cold. Anyone familiar with this would know that my being white is part of what makes this remark funny. It can be thought of as a misdirection because it was probably an unexpected thing for me to say.

Perhaps the misdirection has to be clever enough in some way in order to be funny. Perhaps it all depends on the state of mind of the audience and if enough people can relate to what is being said in order for it to be funny. Obviously, there are a lot of variables at play and what will or will not elicit laughter in any particular audience is a bit of a mystery.

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Is it Freedom or Ego that is the Problem?

There has been much discussion on various anti-liberal blogs that freedom (i.e., the idea behind liberalism) is the cause of all society’s ills. There is the notion that if only liberalism could be abolished then something better would take its place and all the social problems of modernity would be solved. I suppose the thinking is that anything is better than liberalism therefore there is no need to come up with a replacement for it. Or perhaps the reluctance to come up with a replacement reflects the subconscious knowledge that liberalism really is not the problem and that the same issues will come to exist under any type of regime.

One theory I see over and over again is that liberalism leads to evil and specifically mass murder because it is “incoherent.” The theory that liberalism is “incoherent” is based upon the premise that a government action is by its nature restrictive. Even if a government acts to promote the rights of one person or group of people it will necessarily restrict the rights of another person or group of people. Therefore, it is “incoherent” to say that a priority of government should be to protect the freedom of its citizens (as Western governments typically do) because in actuality a government cannot protect the freedom of one group of people without assaulting the freedom of another group of people. For example (the argument goes) if the government protects the right of one group to speak freely it will necessarily assault the right of another group to not have to listen to what the first group has to say.

Let us assume this analysis actually proves the incoherence of liberalism (and not the balancing of competing priorities). Does this incoherence really lead to mass murder as is claimed by the anti-liberals? The anti-liberal’s “go to” example of modern day mass murder is abortion. They argue that because liberalism is incoherent it can be used to justify abortion just as it was used (they argue) to justify the killing of Jews by the Nazis in World War II, the nuking of Hiroshima and the execution of opponents to Communist reform in the Soviet Union under Stalin. This justification arises under the “principle of explosion” apparently because under a contradictory logical construct such as is (supposedly) liberalism anything can be logically inferred to be true.

There are a few problems with this line of thinking. First of all, understanding the “principle of explosion” requires more than a bit of formal logic theory under one’s belt. It is not a theory that is readily grasped by the general public without this education. Therefore, to say that this principle is somehow used by liberals to justify their actions seems to be a bit of a stretch on its face. However, the argument might be that although expressing the principle of explosion in formal logic requires an education in logic that most people do not have, the principle itself is sound because most people on some intuitive level appreciate it to be true and use it to justify their beliefs psychologically. This too I think is a stretch because the intuitive level is governed more by emotion and ego than obscure rules of formal logic. But let us also assume this to be correct.

So then, we are now assuming it is correct that the belief in incoherent doctrines can lead to mass murder. It seems to me that from the perspective of the orthodox Christians who believe this this theory there is an obvious flaw they are ignoring. That is, the belief that incoherent doctrines lead to mass murder not only condemns liberalism (assuming liberalism is actually incoherent) but it would also condemn Christianity itself. There are many tenets in Christianity that are incoherent on their face (arguably). For example, the doctrine of the Trinity is logically incoherent. The belief that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man is logically incoherent. The belief that the Eucharist is actually transformed into the body and blood of Christ during the Roman Catholic mass is logically incoherent. The theodicy question suggests an incoherence to Christianity as well. These are but a few examples of arguments that could be made to demonstrate the incoherence of Christianity that are far more convincing (in my mind) than the argument that supposedly demonstrates the incoherence of liberalism.

All that being said, I do not consider either liberalism or Christianity to be incoherent. Nor do I believe that an incoherence of a doctrine logically leads to mass murder. So then the question arises what does give rise to these incidences of mass murder than take place in modern times? I think a far more logical explanation for the existence of mass murder in modern times is the modern technology that makes it possible.

The anti-liberals will argue that these acts of mass murder have only occurred under liberal regimes. But the fact that these events have (arguably) occurred only under liberal regimes does not prove that only liberal regimes are capable of committing acts of mass murder. Indeed the same people who argue only liberal regimes can commit mass murder are the same people who argue there are only liberal regimes in modern times. I think it is clear that this line of thinking easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy because if there are only liberal regimes in the world then any crime committed in the world can be blamed on liberalism. Moreover, examples of illiberal regimes committing acts of mass murder (albeit on a smaller scale) can be pointed to in the Inquisition and the Crusades. It is easy to conceive that these acts of cruelty could have been much more extensive had the perpetrators had access to modern technology.

I use these examples not to attack Christianity. I am a Christian. I use them to demonstrate that any political philosophy or belief system is capable of mass murder given the right circumstances and therefore to believe that the supposed incoherence of liberalism is responsible for these acts is a fallacy.

But modern technology is not the whole explanation. So what then is the discriminating authority that causes one person or group of people to commit an act of violence on another person or group of people? Might I suggest that it is ego. It is the voice within the self that says I am right and he is wrong. It is the voice within the self that says I am different than him (or her). It is the voice in the self that says I am better than him or her. It is the voice within the self that says if you disagree with me you must lack the capacity to understand me. It is the voice in the self that says you are my enemy. In my mind (and I would think most reasonable people would agree) this is the real problem.



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Essentialism and Egotism


From what I gather reading the Orthosphere and other related anti-liberal blogs, anti-liberals believe essentialism and anti-liberalism go hand in hand. To aid my loyal readers who may not be familiar with this term, Essentialism is a philosophy holding everything has a set of characteristics that define it and that this essence has an existence logically prior to the existence of the thing itself. For example, a dog has a set of characteristics that make it a dog and not a cat. In other words, there exists an essence of “dogness” that all things we call dogs possess which is why we refer to them by the same name. Put another way, the label “dog” is indicative of a pre-existing truth.

Essentialism is typically contrasted (by anti-liberals) with nominalism which is a philosophy holding that these essences are only labels or intellectual concepts without any actual corresponding reality and that only things (not the essence of things) exist prior to the labels man applies to them. For example, a dog is a thing man calls a dog because it makes it easier for man to conceptualize a grouping of similar things. In other words, the things man calls dogs exist but this label “dog” is a just a creation of man. Moreover, man could just as easily contrived some other labeling system that did not segregate dogs into a discrete category the way man is used to thinking of dogs.

I can see different appealing aspects to both philosophies. The appeal of essentialism is that it presumes a reality and truth that exists independent of the mind of man. The universe has an order to it and it becomes man’s job (if he chooses) to seek after this pre-existing truth of reality. By contrast, the appeal of nominalism is the presumption of a universe in which man is free (to a certain extent) to define and shape as he sees fit. Whether a person identifies as an essentialist or a nominalist depends upon their view of the world which is in turn determined by their culture, religion, education and psychology. I imagine most people do not consciously identify as either. Interestingly enough, I have observed that anti-liberals tend to use nominalism as a pejorative term.


There also seems to be a link between what anti-liberals consider to be orthodox (small “o”) Christianity and essentialism. This link has to do with there being one true definition (i.e., the essence) of the good which is reflective of God’s will and exists independent of man’s speculation or opinion of the good. Among essentialists there does exist some degree of agreement on at least part of the definition of the good. One can certainly look to the Bible and to the magisterium of the Catholic church (if one happens to be Roman Catholic) for guidance on this subject. Of course, not everyone happens to be a Roman Catholic or even Christian and so in this general sense there does not exist a universal agreement as to the definition of the good. Essentialists believe this definition exists none the less despite the fact that even they do not possess one hundred percent clarity as to what is in fact the definition of the good.

Even Saint Paul laments, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33). Based on this passage it seems to me to be extremely arrogant for a person to presume to know the mind of God which is the vault in which resides the exact definition of the good. I accept, certain aspects of the good can be discerned from various secondary sources but the entire picture remains (as Saint Paul accurately points out) inscrutable in part.


I am not convinced that liberalism (defined as the political philosophy espousing that the freedom and equal rights of citizens should be a nonexclusive priority of government) has a special relationship with nominalism. Perhaps one could argue that the very notion of freedom implies a rejection of the tyranny of labels. But one could also conceive of a person being “free” within a specific set of rules or parameters. It has been my experience that most educated and reasonable people understand the notion of freedom as used in political discourse to refer to Western political structures which are relatively more free than dictatorships, police states and authoritarian polities and not the non existent, straw man society where every citizen is absolutely free. As such, the “freedom” liberalism espouses is not a total rejection of authority and labels by any means and is therefore not incompatible with essentialism as far as I can see.

I am also not convinced that the essentialism / nominalism dichotomy is an accurate reflection of how people generally look at the world. Essentialism holds that a definition of the good exists independent of man’s conception of the good. Nominalism rejects this pre-existence of the definition of the good and thus leaves it up to man to make this determination. But I can certainly conceive of a person believing in freedom and a pre-existing definition of the good at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive. I can also think of a third category where there is a pre-existing definition of the good that man does not have one hundred percent clarity as to the exact nature of the good so therefore there is room for speculation. I can even think of a fourth category where essentialism is true for some things but not others. I suspect, however, that the rejection of this dichotomy would be seen by an essentialist to be a symptom of nominalism.


Based on my admittedly limited experience the impression I get from many essentialists is that they have convinced themselves that they have clarity as to the exact nature of the good. The process of convincing themselves may have been augmented by their tendency not to converse with or take seriously anyone who might hold a different perspective or challenge them in any way. One can see how easy it would be for a person believing himself to have clarity as to the exact nature of the good to judge and criticize those with a different perspective.

It would make sense that an essentialist who truly believed his own dogma to be true would also have to believe that anyone who disagreed with him was either dishonest or lacked the capacity to understand his particular position. He might very well view the ability to see things from different points of view as smacking of the heresy of nominalism.

It seems to me that a true essentialist would be humble because he would know there are truths greater than the self and the mind’s ability to conceptualize. As Saint Paul reminds us, God’s ways are inscrutable. But for a man to have convinced himself of his own hold on truth and goodness seems to me to be closer to nominalism than essentialism. If given temporal power who knows what cruelties he might inflict on those he would condemn from his lofty perch. This (it seems to me) is the true danger of arrogant egotism combined with essentialism.





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Reductio Ad North Korea

For sometime now (much to the chagrin of some) I have been using North Korea as an example with which to compare the United States in order to demonstrate that some countries can indeed be “more free” than others. In my mind this comparison clearly makes the point that if one country can be more free than another, then prioritizing the freedom of citizens (i.e., liberalism) is a coherent aim for a government to pursue.

I would think most reasonable people would be in agreement as to this point but apparently a certain small population of people are not. One person (who goes by the name Zippy) sticks out in particular. Not only does he stubbornly reject the notion that North Korea is less free than the United States but he does so in an arrogant and condescending manner.

He often refers to my argument as reductio ad North Korea. Specifically he stated recently in a comment section:

Your reductio ad North Korea has been dealt with extensively and repeatedly in multiple venues. You’ve never demonstrated an adequate understanding, let alone mounted an actual argument against, the repeatedly demonstrated incoherence of liberalism. Any pretense to symmetry here is just that: mere pretense.

Notice the sneering tone he adopts. I have often wondered why he seems incapable of simply discussing the logic of the argument rather than resorting to ad hominem attacks. In my mind this calls into question his true motivation behind refusing to see what most people would consider obvious. It seems very clear that he has some other ax to grind.

He then attempted to refute my argument in greater detail:

The rhetorical method is obvious to
anyone not stuck to the tar baby:

1) Observe that two actual countries are different.

2) Observe that some of the features of one country are preferable to some of the features of the other.

3) Label those preferable features – and only the preferable ones – “freedom”.

4) Completely ignore the substantive reality of what liberalism actually is. Discount the fact that both countries profess liberalism. Etc, etc.

5) Completely ignore the substantive criticism of liberalism itself. Avoid at all costs actually addressing the argument.

6) Fog up the discussion with maximum virtue signaling and ad hominem.

If one can look past his sneering comments, his six point analysis is actually quite helpful for me in that it demonstrates the specific parts of my argument that he seems to be incapable of understanding. This allows me to provide him with the information and reasoning he seemingly lacks.

As to point 1 – We are in agreement that the United States and North Korea are different countries specifically as to the amount of freedom each country allows its citizens to enjoy.

As to point 2 – Yes, the first amendment of the United States constitution states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

To my knowledge, the citizens of North Korea (with the possible exception of the elite class) are not allowed the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press nor the right to peacefully assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Yes, I believe the situation in the United State is better and so does everyone else (I suspect including Zippy). Why else would people flock to the United States and not to North Korea?

As to point 3 – I agree that the situation in the United States is preferable, but not for some arbitrary reason as Zippy seems to imply. We are talking about the basic freedoms that all people aspire to. This is proven by the petitions made not only by the European and American revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries but also by Tienanmen Square and the Arab Spring movements. It is not as if one could equate the freedom of speech with the right to eat ice cream while walking on one’s hands. I suspect any reasonable person would agree as to this point.

As to point 4 – North Korea does not have the rule of law. It has the rule of Kim. Therefore it does not matter that it’s laws or official statements profess it to be a liberal regime. It’s laws are meaningful to the extent the Kim regime wishes to enforce them. For this reason we cannot look to its laws in order to determine whether it is liberal or otherwise. We must look to the way the state acts. For this reason it cannot be said that North Korea is a liberal regime even though it professes to be so because in action it clearly does not prioritize the freedom and equal rights of its citizens.

As to point 6 – Zippy was the first one to cross the ad hominem line. It seems that Zippy wants to present the fact that I have called him out on this to be a worse ad hominem than his original ad hominem which started all of this. To me this seems like the whining of an adolescent rather than a man taking full responsibility for his actions. I don’t doubt that his echo chamber will view it otherwise.


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The Legitimate Liberal Process

There is value in questioning basic assumptions just as there is value in adhering to a set of beliefs that have been tested by logical experiment and examination. The value of course is that these assumptions and beliefs are reflections of the truth. And the truth is valuable in its own right. In fact, it might be said that all value is based ultimately in the truth.

Over the past few months (as reflected in my blog entries) I have been engaged in a dialogue with a group of people who could be described as extreme right conservatives or simply anti-liberals. In my mind this dialogue has been a process of determining the truth as to whether liberal government is essentially good. For the purposes of this discussion I am using the term “liberal government” to mean a type of government that values and prioritizes the freedom and equal rights of its citizens before the law. When I first began this exploration I can honestly say that I never actually questioned whether a liberal government could possibly be a bad thing. Having grown up in the United States this was never presented to me as a viable option. For this reason, the exploration has been a useful and informative means of questioning this basic assumption for the purposes of determining its veracity.

As an aside, much of the dialogue with these extreme right wing individuals has been civil and respectful. Some of it has not. This is not surprising as people tend to take their politics personally. It has always been my strategy, however, to be respectful but if met with rudeness to respond in kind. Bullies (especially the kind who hide behind the anonymity of cyber space and echo chambers where their opinions are rarely challenged) should be stood up to. As one of the right wing commentators rightly stated:

…to properly deal with an actual “bully” one must at some point respond in kind and let him know – good and hard! – that he has met more than his match.

It has been my experience that people of this sort are either unaware of or do not want to admit their true motives while at the same time characterizing their intentions as intellectual, philosophical and virtuous. Accordingly, making them aware of their real motivations is also in service of the truth.


With that out of the way I would like to turn to the main purpose of this blog post which is to explore a topic that came up in the comment section of my last blog post entitled “A Controvertible Case“. In the comment section one person argued that freedom cannot properly or logically be a priority of government because if a government acted to protect the freedom of one citizen it would necessarily work to detrimentally affect the freedom of another citizen. Specifically he argued:

…in order to protect a certain citizen’s right (let’s say to freedom of speech), another citizen’s right (let’s say to freedom of religion) may be compromised. Even if the legal precedent provides for a way to resolve such a case, it cannot provide for a case where one’s freedom of religion clashes with another citizen’s freedom of religion; the government must protect the freedom of religion for one of the party’s at the expense of another’s, or it will protect neither party’s freedom of religion. What is the final principle to resolve such a case?

My response was that “[t]he process is the final principle” by which I meant the legal process is the final principle. I would now like to take this opportunity to elaborate on what I mean by this assertion.

First of all, when we speak of a liberal government prioritizing the freedom of its citizens what we are really talking about is a government that restricts its own authority over its citizens. In this context the term freedom refers directly to limited government. A liberal government such as the government of the United States is limited by its constitution which defines its legal process and the structure in which the process takes place. This structure is comprised of various entities which check each other. Specifically there is a representative legislature to make laws, an independent executive branch to enforce the laws and an independent judiciary to interpret how those laws should be enforced. The government is further divided between the Federal and State governments. All these (and more) divisions act to check one particular part of the government from becoming so powerful so as to act outside the legal process. The federal constitution itself further limits the power of the federal legislature as to what types of laws it can or cannot make. It is through this legal process that freedom and equal rights are made priorities in our liberal system.

My extreme right wing colleagues often argue that governments are essentially “discriminating authorities”. That is, governments by their very nature act by discriminating in favor of one party’s interest over another. As such, to say a government can act to preserve the freedom of its citizens is a logical impossibility. However, I would argue that it is precisely because governments are discriminating authorities by nature that the liberal notion of freedom must entail a limited government. This is why the process (i.e., the legal structure or constitution) has to be the organizing principle. This is also why adherence to this organizing principle (i.e., the rule of law) is necessary for a legitimate, free and liberal society. This is also why a government without the rule of law such as North Korea, Nazi Germany or Stalinist Soviet Russia cannot properly be described as liberal regimes in this sense because under a dictatorial system without the rule of law there is no process in place to make sure the process is adhered to.


One extreme right wing individual argued that the legal process cannot be a final operating principle because any process might lead to immoral results. Specifically he argued:

So as long as the right process is followed, pitchforking babies is perfectly liberal.

Unless ‘the right process’ is defined as a process which produces good results. In which case the process isn’t actually the final principle at all.

By now you ought to be able to see the question-begging incoherence in your own attempts to defend liberalism.

It is said that Winston Churchill once stated, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Whether or not he actually said this I believe there is some truth to this statement. If the legal process (i.e., the embodiment of liberal freedom) is the operating principle then it is true that immoral results can result. However, the liberal legal process also allows for citizens to object to the pitchforking of babies through free speech and elections (for example). In non-liberal (i.e., top down) systems as North Korea, Nazi Germany, Stalinist Soviet Russia or whatever the non-liberal utopia exists in the mind of my extreme right wing colleagues, this cannot be done. In those systems of government a citizen must hope that his top down government happens to be one in which the pitch forking of babies is frowned upon. King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents comes to mind as a non-liberal government which pursued this policy. (MT 2:16-18). So unless my extreme right wing colleague can offer an alternative to a liberal government under which he could guarantee that babies will not be pitchforked I do not find his counter argument to be particularly persuasive.


On a related topic it has been said that liberalism is in essence a rejection of authority. I find this assertion to be questionable at best. On the contrary, I see liberalism to be very much in favor of legitimate authority. One might say that liberalism legitimizes authority in order to make it an authority that is acceptable. This is not to say that all legitimate governments need to be representative democracies or even liberal. They do, however, on some level need to be a government that is acceptable to the people under its jurisdiction. Liberal systems are designed to demonstrate their acceptability and legitimacy.

It comes down to a matter of trust. That is, do we trust the people who embody the process to act in a way that will create good outcomes? Whatever form a government takes (be it liberal or non-liberal) there is certainly no guarantee that good outcomes will result. As such, it seems reasonable to put a process in place whereby a variety of voices can have a say so as to moderate any potential immoral voices that might steer a polity towards immoral outcomes. This outlook of course assumes that the majority of voices will be moral and knowledgeable. It requires a free and credible press to inform these voices. It also requires a respect for the rule of law. That is, there must be a respect for the legitimate liberal process.








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A Controvertible Case

Not long ago I found myself alone in a comment section debate amidst the various members of the Zippy Catholic echo chamber. For those who don’t know, the main point of adhesion for this community is their unwavering belief that liberalism (i.e., the political philosophy which holds freedom and equal rights of citizens to be a legitimate and primary goal for a government to pursue) is (1) incoherent (their description) and (2) necessarily leads to mass murder. In this blog post I would like to address the first point (i.e., the supposed incoherence of liberalism) as it relates to the aforementioned comment section debate.

One of Zippy’s zealots named JustSomeGuy became particularly motivated to get me to respond to his logical proof which he believes demonstrates the incoherence of liberalism. It is as follows:

P1: Political acts are about resolving controvertible cases between two (or more) parties.

P2: Controvertible cases are resolved by discriminating between the two (or more) parties at odds, and authoritatively restricting the freedom of (at least) one of them by imposing some substantive conception of how things ought to be done upon them.

∴ Freedom as purpose of political action makes freedom the purpose of intrinsically freedom-restrictive acts.

Before I get to my discussion of JustSomeGuy’s theorem let me first provide some background to the interaction. Ideally, this conversation should have been an exploration of the issues alone. But as with virtually all comment section dialogues this one devolved to a large extent into the realm of ad hominem attacks. In the defense of Zippy and his adherents their ad hominem attacks were apparently not meant to attack my argument but rather my character and intelligence alone. As such they can not be said to have committed the ad hominem fallacy. This is an important distinction to make as Zippy has accused me of committing the ad hominem fallacy in a previous post entitled The Fruit of the Spirit where I remarked on an underlying current of negativity in his and other’s posts which seems to me to be at odds  with the fruit of the spirit as described by St. Paul in Galatians Chapter 5. I suppose in my own defense I could also argue that I was merely attempting to describe the spirit behind the rhetoric and not the logic of the argument itself but this digression I think has run its course.

Let us return to the subject at hand. When I did not respond to JustSomeGuy’s theorem right away he and others became agitated. They accused me of ignoring their arguments. In my defense, the reasons for my delay were twofold. First, at the time I happened to be responding to a number of different people at once. So naturally I could not get to everyone as fast as I or they would have liked. Second, I had to formulate an answer before responding to any one particular point. Unfortunately, this situation was apparently not satisfactory to JustSomeGuy or Zippy. For that, I apologize and offer this blog post as the response they seemed to desire me to give.

First of all, I am not convinced that politics necessarily involves a controvertible case in all matters. As I mentioned in the maelstrom I could imagine a case where a political consensus could give rise to a political act that did not necessarily involve deciding in favor of one party and against another. This, however, did not seem to be the strongest of arguments. Certainly consensuses are not the norm in politics even if it is conceivably possible. Accordingly, let us proceed assuming that politics does indeed always involve resolving controvertible cases between two parties.

As to point two of the theorem let us also agree that controvertible cases are resolved by discriminating against one party in favor of another. The point of clarification that I would like to make is that liberalism as a political concept does not concern itself with freedom in an abstract sense but rather it concerns itself with the freedom of a polity’s citizens. This is important because when a government acts to preserve the freedom of its citizens it is discriminating or restricting itself. We see this in the Bill of Rights in the repeated phrase “Congress shall make no law…” So yes, it is true that the government is restricting its own freedom when it acts to promote the freedom of its citizens. But this arrangement is a perfectly coherent situation as far as that goes.

In this way I would alter the wording of JustSomeGuy’s theorem to more accurately describe the reality of the situation.

P1. Political acts are typically about resolving controvertible cases between two or more parties.

P2. Controvertible cases are resolved by discriminating between the two or more parties and authoritatively restricting the freedom of (at least) one of them by imposing some substantive conception of how things ought to be done upon them.

∴ Freedom of citizens as purpose of political action of government makes freedom of citizens the purpose of freedom-restrictive acts imposed upon the government.

I agree with JustSomeGuy and the rest of Zippy’s adherents that “abstract freedom in general” is an incoherent goal for a government to pursue. For one thing it is too vague. But also, a government (as the echo chamber argues) acts by making decisions which will naturally discriminate against one party in favor of another. This discrimination in theory restricts the freedom of one party as much as it promotes the freedom of another. We see this clearly in court rulings, for example. However (as I attempted to articulate), I disagree that “the freedom of citizens” is an incoherent goal for a government to pursue because a government pursues this goal by restricting its own action as is seen in the Bill of Rights to the U. S. Constitution. If we take the example of the freedom of speech, the government is restricting its ability to stifle specific kinds of speech (particularly political speech). In this case the government is discriminating against itself in favor of a particular freedom reserved for its citizens.

Another point I would make as to JustSomeGuy’s theorem is that although in a liberal society the freedom of citizens is a primary and legitimate pursuit of government it is not the only pursuit of government. For example, the maintenance of law and order is another primary and legitimate pursuit. Therefore, I disagree with JustSomeGuy’s theorem in that it assumes that freedom (in a general sense) is the goal behind every political act, which is not necessarily the case under the definition of liberalism.

Finally, I would like to say that while in the midst of the maelstrom I tried to explain my misgivings as to their core belief about liberalism. It was not my intention nor did I expect to change anyone’s mind in this debate. I was, however, (at least partly) interested in more clearly formulating my position. One effective way of doing so is to test it in the arena of debate. I was and am also open to abandoning my position if it has been sufficiently disproved. I have not reached that point yet concerning liberalism.


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