Sunday, October 24, 2010

On heresies that aren't even realized

I teach at a Catholic university. And, I was raised and educated in a very Catholic milieu. And, whatever my beliefs about God—and they fail to be orthodox in a number of ways, veering from the Stoic to the Kierkegaardian/Wittgensteinian—I have a deep respect for the Catholic tradition. This is in spite of the ways in which many representatives of that tradition feel and argue about my kind.
In any case, I am often surprised—or am I just saddened?—when student of mine report in papers and essays and reflection pieces on their own beliefs. I am not surprised that they believe what they do; generally, discovering what they believe only saddens me, being a mishmash of conservative ideology on some points with MTV-morality on others and New Age spirituality with the name "Jesus" thrown in here and there, but I am always surprised that they think that what they believe falls somewhere within the Christian or Catholic tradition.
For instance, in several reflections I was reading this evening in which students were supposed to set out and respond to Aristotelian teleology, students began paragraphs with some variation on "Coming from the Christian perspective" followed by things that only Joel Osteen would think were Christian ideas, such as that God just wants us to be happy and there are all sorts of ways to be happy and that happiness is really just subjective. 
When I read these things, it becomes clearer to me just why discussion of the various strains in the Christian tradition is so troubling to them; many of them have no real idea of anything like Christian thought (or any thought) before about 1960. 
Of course, for fairness' sake, their ignorance of Christianity is more than matched by their ignorance of science. I also had several students claiming that "from a biological perspective" humans have only the purpose to survive and reproduce, losing sight of the fact that purpose is a necessarily normative and teleological concept that doesn't make much sense from an evolutionary perspective. Though drives might be drives toward something, it is still more than a little sketchy to talk about them as purposes of whole organisms.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Not everything need be preserved

My grandfather was raised by two German speakers in a largely German-speaking community. His family had been in the United States for just under a century when he was born. They came in 1830, he was born in 1923, but they were still speaking German at home and they weren't embarrassed by being German speaker or having come from Swabia.
I am proud of my family and proud of our heritage—to the degree that anyone can be proud of those things for which he is not responsible—but I am also proud that my grandfather, unlike this ass from Ohio who wishes to sit in Congress knew the difference between valuable parts of German culture and the Nazis and the SS. Just to be clear, the Waffen-SS were not common soldiers, they were part of an incontrovertibly evil movement. And, among other things, they were responsible for killing off Jews and Roma and Slavs and other "undesirables" in occupied areas. No matter how many endorsements his website may have claiming that he is "pro-Jewish"—how many people who respect or value either Judaism or the Jewish people spend any time in SS uniforms, for enjoyment? isn't the claim that he is "pro-Jewish" just an effort to make this go away? and anyone who has read the excellent Nazi Doctors of Robert Jay Lifton should be aware that even the most adamant Nazis thought there were one or two decent Jews—he clearly has some of the worst judgment possible. Should I want someone who pretends to be someone who was responsible for killing undesirables like me to be sitting in Congress? I think not, for some reason. Call me silly.
And, as my partner reminded me this evening, one cannot receive a visa to visit the US without disclaiming any relation to the National Socialist Party—65 years after their defeat—so one probably ought not to be sitting in the House if one finds it this important to understand the SS experience. Would acting out the death camps help?

Perpetual Peace and Neoconservatives

A friend and former student of mine used to like to argue with me that Kant's work supported the American "intervention" in Iraq and the more general neoconservative project of "exporting" democracy around the world, because only in such a world would peace be possible. Of course, I'm no Kantian, so I wasn't precisely sure why that was supposed to convince me of anything.
Today, in reading Kant's "Perpetual Peace" to prepare for class, I was reminded of how strange and silly it is to think that Kant's sketch of peace could be used to justify war—particularly inasmuch as he is concerned in this essay to undermine the very notion of a just war. Kant does think that perpetual peace is only possible in a world of republics—not democracies, of which he is not particularly fond, thinking them naturally despotic—but he is adamant that there can be no justification in invading another country in order to change its internal structure, no matter what that structure may be—no overthrowing Husseins or Allendes—except in a very few cases. And, one of his most stringent conditions is that there be no relations of debtor and lender between states. Combined with his claim that the inability of sovereign states to put themselves under another authority is one of the highest bars to peace, it is hard to see exactly how he can be drafted to this particular cause.

Saturday, October 09, 2010


By the time I'm done listing my own faults, I don't have time to consider yours.