Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Teleology of Coitus.

Note to the Atheists. Advance warning. This is a religious post.

Of all the encyclicals issued by the Church in the Twentieth Century Humanae Vitae was probably the most controversial. From the moment of its promulgation it was immediately met with opposition and controversy. Sociologically, it seems to have split the faithful and adherence to it is teaching being a litmus test of orthodoxy.

The other impression I've gotten from my years of looking at the issue is that while the Church's hierarchy is convinced of the documents "rightness", there does seem to be quite a lot of private consternation at the effect it has produced. There almost seems to be desire for some type of solution to be found.  People felt that if only the document could be be "better explained' then the faithful would be drawn back to the fold.

I think this why JP II pushed the phenomenological approach, especially when it came to "contraceptive" matters. Now, maybe because of my retardedness, I've never understood the phenomenological argument against contraceptive sex. The idea that the contraceptive sex was a typed of "reservedness" when it came to love could as just as equally be applied to sex deliberately chosen when a woman is infertile. i.e. NFP. Choosing to have sex when a woman wasn't fully herself (i.e. fertile) could also be construed as a type of "rejection" of a woman's totality and a violation of "true" love.  The conflation of sex and love made it all a bit vague as well.

My own view of Humane Vitae, taking a Caritas approach, is that it is fundamentally correct. Any act which violates the telos of sex is a privation of the act and therefore intrinsically wrong. Just to be clear about this matter, this rubs me against my natural inclinations as well but the arguments are clear and convincing. As a servant to the truth I have to submit to them.

But whilst I think Humane Vitae was right in principle, I've had the growing conviction that it was wrong in what it considered contraceptive, much like the Church in the Middle Ages, which regarded all forms for interest bearing lending as usury--the Church may have banned too much.

The problem, I think, lays in the Church's understanding of the telos of sex, which it views as being intrinsically fecund. In other words, the sexual act, when non-privated in any way, shape or form is intrinsically fertile.  Or to put it another way, an infertile sexual act is one that is privated in some way, either voluntarily or involuntarily. To put it a third way, the perfect sexual act, considered in itself, always produces babies.

Now, this does not mean that the Church expected every sexual act to be fecund. It understood that privations of various kinds were beyond the control of sexual persons and therefore the sexual act was not illicit when performed under involuntarily privated conditions.(Though there was opposition to this notion) The Church never banned couples from sex whilst a woman was in menopause or after a hysterectomy. They key concept here, though, is that these though the participants in these sexual acts incurred no negative moral imputation, the acts themselves were considered privated and not teleologically complete. 

I imagine that this traditional understanding came about because of the primitive understanding of the physiological mechanisms of conception. The Ancients thought thought that the failure conceive following a sexual act was due to a "fault" in the system. Natural lawyers, drawing from animal analogies, determined that the "purpose" of sex was reproduction. Combined with an Augustinian view of sexuality, which saw the "fleshy desires" as corrupting, a view sexuality took hold which saw sex as only legitimate within the context of reproduction. Both veneration for tradition in the Church and its "anti-fleshy" tendencies meant that this view was very difficult to change.

So, it was interesting to see that conundrum that Catholic confessors were put in when the mechanism of ovulation began to become elucidated. Catholics, as they became aware of the fact that women were fertile only for a limited period in their cycle, began to start timing intercourse during the periods when a woman's fertility was least. This put confessors in a bind. The traditional teaching was that sex was for conception and therefore having sex simply for pleasure was morally dubious. According to Noonan, there was a wide range of opinions on the matter ranging from outright condemnation to qualified support of the practice.  Confessors, seeking advice, petitioned to the The Sacred Penitentiary who advised them to leave the faithful alone. The Church sat on the fence.

It was not until Castii Connubi that the Church officially declared that it was not sinful to deliberately have sex when a woman was not fertile. I don't think people really realise what a revolution in Church morals and repudiation of 'tradition" that this document represented. Still, the document saw sex as the "secondary" end of coitus and persisted with the notion that the sexual act was intrinsically fecund.

 Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.

On deeper reflection, however, this view is problematic. A normal woman's menstrual cycle ensures that she alternates between periods of fertility and infertility, the question then needs to be asked: Is a sexual act performed during the infertile phase of a woman's cycle intrinsically privated in itself?

If we assume that God's intention can be revealed through our "design", then the period of fertility privation that occurs during the menstrual cycle would be a feature and not a bug of the system. In other words, did God intend sex to be infertile during a portion of a woman's menstrual cycle? Because, if he did, the telos of sex during this period is not fecundity because by its very nature the act is sterile by divine design. This is at odds with the Church's teaching. The only way you can square the circle between tradition and our understanding of physiology is to assume that the the infertile period of a woman's menstrual cycle is some sort of privation. But that of course leads to the conclusion that God deliberately produced a faulty product. (There's a whole host of theological problems with that.)

Given the coitus is possible during all stages of the menstrual cycle, what the design of the cycle reveals is that coitus can only achieve its telos of conception during a small portion of it. The rest of the time coitus is intrinsically infertile by design. It would appear that the telos of coitus varies with the stages of the menstrual cycle and the Church's insistence that the coitus is intrinsically orientated towards procreation would appear to be at odds with the findings of physiology.

A sexual act performed during this infertile period is meant to be intrinsically infecund by design. The problem with the idea that sexual activity achieves it telos when conception occurs would mean that woman is intrinsically privated during her infertile period. This would mean that God either deliberately designed a fault (mistake)in women or that he deliberately intended sex to be infertile during this period. i.e. a sexual act performed during the infertile period is teleologically complete and not ordered towards procreation.

Then again, there is the issue of menopause. Did God make a mistake? Is menopause a disease or a deliberate state intended by God? If it is intended by God, then intercourse during this period is teleologically complete and intrinsically not orientated towards children.

Then there is the issue of the suppression of ovulation by lactation. Now, this is either an intended or unintended feature of the mechanism. If unintended, it means God made a mistake: if intended, it means coitus is not intrinsically fecund during this period by design. On the other hand, if we assume that coitus is meant to be intrinsically fertile, then the deliberate use of this method to suppress ovulation--a method approved by the Church--is deliberately of malign intent since it aims to private a woman's fertility. The fact that the mechanism is endogenous in no way absolves it of its evil.

The idea that a coitus is meant to be be intrinsically fecund is not just a statement of morals but of physiology as well. It implies that that an infertile woman (either temporarily or permanently) is a privated one. Or, to put it another way,  the ideal, non-privated woman (with respect to traditional sexuality) is meant to be fertile all the time: something which our understanding of physiology refutes. The idea that sexual activity is meant to be intrinsically fecund is the "traditional" understanding of physiology being "front-loaded" into morals by Natural Law philosophy.*

FWIW, my own view on the teleology of coitus is that the coital act achieves it telos when sperm is deposited in the vagina. This approach squares up with all the physiological findings and does not result in us thinking of menopause as a disease or the infertile periods of the menstrual cycle as being some form of privatory state. It also squares up with a lot of traditional morality.

Finally a word about NFP. (Natural Family Planning)

Over at Zippy's blog there has been some criticism of the critics of NFP who tend to see similarity with the practitioners of NFP and contraceptors.

Now, an act's morality is determined by the act, the intentions and the circumstances. All it takes is for one of these elements to be morally wrong for the act to assume a negative moral character. If, for the moment, we push circumstances aside, we see that while the NFP crowd and contraceptors clearly act differently their intentions are the same.

If coitus is mean to be intrinsically fecund then the intention of both parties is to instantiate a privated form of it (the desire for the privation of a thing) is morally wrong. The idea that NFPer's are "open to life" is contradicted by the fact that they are timing coitus for periods when the capability of generating life is apparently non-existent. It's like saying you want to go to Church but then deliberately turn up when you know that Mass is not on. This type of cognitive dissonance is usually found amongst the idiotic left who say one thing and do another. The problem of intentionality is solved if the intention to pursue infecund sex as an end (through licit means) is seen as morally legitimate.

Note: Anyone who wants to comment should remember that post is about the telos of sex and not contraception.

*I'm doing exactly the same thing except that my understanding of the telos of sex comes from an updated understanding of the biology of it, not some Galean understanding of sexual physiology.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Gatekeepers.

I don't like writing about Jewish related issues. Not because I don't have any opinions on the matter, rather, it's when a discussion does start on some relevant issue it rapidly degenerates into accusations of philo or antisemitism.  The other problem is that the discussions tend to draw in all the crypto-Nazi's and their opposites, the rabid Zionists. Both sides tends to assume that if your not kissing their arse then you must obviously must want to slash their throats. It really isn't a subject that lends itself to objectivity.

For the record I'm Eusemitic, i.e., I'm neither philo or antisemitic. Jews are not the villains that so many paint them nor are they the saints that Zionist element of the Cathedral would like you to think. Not belonging to any one camp seems to make me a traitor to both. Still, I like to think that I'm fair and try to be as objective as possible.

Objectivity, when it comes to Jewish issues, tends to be a rare thing and that's why the movie, The Gatekeepers,  is simply extraordinary.  Directed by Israeli Dror Moreh and done in the style of Errol Morris's Fog of War,  the film deals with the recollections and reflections of six former leaders of the Shin Bet, Israel's equivalent of MI5.  From a cinematographic point of view,  the film is nothing special but it power lays in the considered testimony of its six subjects.

The first thing that struck me was the "top notch" quality of the men who were speaking. Unlike the blathering goyim politicians and their technocrats, these were men who were clearly intelligent, humane and patriotic to their country.  By humane, I mean these men all seemed to want to wage war as "cleanly" as possible. Not that there was some sort of saintly concern for the Palestinians, rather, they all seem to recognise that the use of violence brings its own associated evils and thus should be minimised. The Vietnam war, a close analogue, caused huge damage to the Vietnamese but deeply wounded (and transformed negatively) American society as well.

All the speakers have blood on their hands, in the sense that all have organised the execution of terrorists but what's also apparent is that their actions seem more motivated by a desire to protect Israel rather than a hatred of the Palestinians. In fact, the overall impression I got from watching the movie was that the leaders of the Shin Bet were rather understanding of the Palestinian plight. As one of them wry observed, "One man's freedom fighter was another man's terrorist."  What really amazed me was the comment of Avraham Shalom, perhaps the most hawk like and morally "flexible" of them all, who compared the conduct of the state of Israel in the occupied territories to that of the Germans in the Second World War. I kid you not.

Their view is one from the "trenches". Despite their different perspectives and personal histories--they don't even like each other-- the speakers seem to realise that the occupation is having a blow-back affect on the state of Israel and want a deal to be cut with the Palestinians. It's not because they feel some moral duty towards the Palestinians, rather, they see the ongoing occupation as a corrupting influence on the Israeli state, eating it away from the inside. They are all disillusioned with their political masters whom they feel have no real desire to reach a compromise despite all their public pronouncements. I certainly got the impression that their willingness to speak on film came from a desire to have their side of the story heard and a collective feeling that the Israeli state has gone in the wrong direction. All of them feel that if the course doesn't change then the future will be bleak.

The film has had very little publicity here in Australia and is being shown in the smaller cinemas only. I'm not sure what its publicity is like in the rest of the Anglosphere.  If you have the opportunity I urge you to see it. Not for the cinematic experience but for the compelling testimonies presented. Outstanding. Note, the film needs to be understood not only as a Israeli-Palestinian thing, but seen in the wider context in terms of the limits of military power and of the corrupting nature of war.

Here is an interview with Droh Moreh about the movie. The really interesting part starts at the 3:00 minute mark.

Regular posters to my blog no know my commenting policy. I will delete at will any comments that misconstrue my position or are idiotic in any way.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Cogntive Miser: I Want to Know What Love Is.

One of the things about cognitive misers not only do they "think" in terms of heuristics but also interpret data through them as well. Incoming data is "simplified" into broad impressions conforming to per-concieved notions rather than precise representations, bypassing System Two thinking.  Idea's tend to be grouped according to their similarity and are "best fit" into preconceived categories. The problem with this approach,is that the cognitive miser is apt to make certain predictable types of errors,  and one of the most significant type errors is that of conflation.

A conflation error occurs when two or more separate things are categorised as the same on the basis of a superficial semblance. To quote wiki.
Conflation occurs when the identities of two or more individuals, concepts, or places, sharing some characteristics of one another, seem to be a single identity — the differences appear to become lost. In logic, it is the practice of treating two distinct concepts as if they were one, which produces errors or misunderstandings as a fusion of distinct subjects tends to obscure analysis of relationships which are emphasized by contrasts. However, if the distinctions between the two concepts appear to be superficial, intentional conflation may be desirable for the sake of conciseness and recall.
The conflation error is of particular importance to religious conservatives since it is responsible for a great deal of moral destruction in Christianity.  The particular conflation in question is the mixing up of "good" and "nice" and "love".

As mentioned in my previous post, the Christian notion of love is different to what mainstream notions of love are. Caritas, the specific type of Christian love, is rooted in the will and expressed as a desire to do good to others, irrespective of  one's emotional response to the other.  Christian love, Caritas, is essentially above emotion. You do good to the other regardless of how you feel about them.

On the other hand;  Eros, Agape, Philia and Storge are types of love which are fundamentally hedonic in nature, the nature of the pleasure being contextually dependent upon the perception of the other. It's easy to do good to people we have positive feelings for and this is how the pagans (and moderns) understood love. You did nice stuff for people that you liked and put the hurt on those you didn't.  The relevant passages from scripture can be found here.

Where the trouble begins is when your realise that there is actually an overlap between the two concepts. It is possible to express Caritas to people we like, thus it is possible to conflate Caritas with the positive feelings which we associate with sense of love.

The problem is further compounded by the fact that the English language has a rather limited vocabulary when it comes to expressing the different notions of love, they all tend to get lumped together.  Eros becomes erotic love, Storge becomes a sort of familial love and so on.

Finally, sloppy translations of the Bible don't help either, where the specific Greek words for types of love are lumped together under the English common word.

Peter Kreeft, in a good essay, explains the problem;
The old word for agape in English was charity. Unfortunately, that word now means to most people simply handouts to beggars or to the United Fund. But the word love won't do either. It means to most people either sexual love (eros) or a feeling of affection (storge), or a vague love-in-general. Perhaps it is necessary to insist on the Greek word agape (pronounced ah-gah-pay) even at the risk of sounding snobbish or scholarly, so that we do not confuse this most important thing in the world with something else and miss it, for there is enormous misunderstanding about it in our society.
Perceptive readers will see where this is going. Love, in the Christian tradition is a specific thing, and a fair amount of discernment is required when tackling the subject. The problem arises when the subject of love gets tackled by the cognitive miser. Love is likely conflated with its associates. Recently, the Prime Minister of Australia quite spectacularly demonstrated an example of a cognitive miser tackling the subject of the New Testament in the context of gay marriage. (The fun stuff starts at the 3.00 minute mark)

According to the Australian PM, the central tenet of the new Testament is all about "love." Now being a Catholic, I'm allowed a bit more latitude in interpreting the Bible, but even with a very liberal reading I'm hard pressed to find anything less than a condemnation of homosexuality.  But you see, it doesn't matter according to our cognitive miser, as long as you "wuv" then you're in God's good books. You've got to admit that he is typical of a lot of modern "Christians".

Christian cognitive misers are prone to conflate the subject of love, because they interpret biblical teaching to their preconceived love heuristic. In their minds, Christian love morphs from a desire to do good (Caritas) to the other into a desire to have benevolent feelings for the other. Jesus is thus transformed from a moral law giver into a "nice feelings type of guy". Nice guy Jesus doesn't make any demands, he doesn't judge, rather, he is accepting non judgmental, he's always helpful and so on. He becomes like a mother who can see no fault in her son because she "loves" him.  Our Lord overlooks everything because he wants everyone to be happy.

The conflation error doesn't follow any set pattern rather is influence by the presence of other heuristics. The high Anglicans (Episcopalians) with their traditions of gentlemanly class and behaviour, in the current liberal climate, through cognitive miserliness, will morph Jesus into a type of nice guy with good manners, who would never dream of giving offence.  Ergo, modern liberalism. Amongst Catholics, the conflation error is also responsible for the "gospel of life" crowd being against the death penalty and the embrace of militant pacifism and open borders.

Likewise, the conflation error is a strong enabling mechanism for the whole gay marriage push. Amongst the half-wits, their "understanding" of marriage needs to seen not as an understanding but more as an associative heuristic. Hard arsed theologians will point out that marriage is a spiritual union between two people, cognitive misers associate it as an arrangement of two people who love each other living together. Thus marriage becomes morphs from a sacrament into a "loving union" in the hive mind. Love, not the blessing of God, becomes the sole determinant of its validity. In the hive mind as long as it looks like a marriage it is a marriage.

Catholicism is less prone to conflation errors simply because Catholicism does not permit the faithful to think, their job is to follow. Therefore the quality of thinking is better, but this is no guarantee against the clergy being dumb. Where the conflation error has wrecked the most harm is in Protestant countries. In Protestant culture, the cognitive miser is given special privilege because "filled with genetically influenced intuitive emotion "the Holy Spirit" he is inerrant in his interpretation of the Bible.  That's not to say that Protestants are incapable of good theology, rather their system has no check upon the bad.

The point of all this is to show that cognitive errors are more than just objects of academic interest but are powerful forces shaping our culture.  Liberalism's malignant variant is a direct product of hive mind that is characterised by the  dominance of the cognitive miser. The legitimisation of the opinion of the hive mind brought about by universal democracy has not only brought about a corruption in governance but a corruption in religion and culture  as well.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Conservatism and the Cognitive Miser.

Back to regular programming.

One of the concepts I've been trying to get across to my readership over the last few posts is that of the "cognitive miser" or mass man. I really can't emphasise enough just how important this concept is, since in my opinion, the phenomenon of the cognitive miser goes a long way to explaining the societal uptake of ideologies which are ultimately destructive.

Indeed, one of the great omissions with regard to sociological analysis of the 20th Century has been the failure recognise the cognitive limitations of the average man and the subsequent consequence of this fact on sociological events. One of the reasons why Fascism, Socialism and modern Materialism have been so triumphant is because the ideas they espouse are so easily grasped by the weak mind, and in an age of "democracy", its no surprise that these stupid ideologies would find such fertile ground amongst "the people".

The point I'm trying to make is that the trajectory of the 20th Century makes a lot of sense when you  look at it from the perspective of the cognitive miser.  Simply by weight of numbers, it is he who determined the course of 20th Century history and has been its motor. Nazism, Socialism and Liberalism were harmless ideologies as long as they were confined to the parlor discussions of the philosophers. Cultured people saw the ideas for what they were and rejected them, their fertile ground, however, was amongst the cognitive misers, i.e the people.

Historians still wonder, how a civilised and advanced nation such as Germany could fall under the spell of the Nazi's. William Shirer, writing in the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich wondered how could the people that produced Beethoven, Goethe and Planck embrace Hitler? It's a difficult fact to reconcile until you realise that the in the age of Beethoven the average German had no say in public affairs, but in the age of "democracy" stewardship of the nation was passed to the cognitive misers of Germany. Hitler would have been impossible in the Kaiser's Germany, but he is possible in a modern Democracy. I think it is the neglect of this fact that has seriously hampered historical understanding of the rise of such poisonous ideologies. Societies change not only through the uptake of new ideas, but also upon the mob's perverted understanding of them. Note, I'm not having a swipe at the Germans here.  I imagine that under different circumstances Americans and Australians would have behaved in the same manner.

Historians tend to think that the average man is swayed by ideas when in reality he is swayed by emotion.  Fascism and Socialism appealed less to the mind than to the blood. Ideas which resonated with an individual's disposition and prejudices are far more powerful to the mob than reasoned discussion and factual evidence. Less taxes ( no matter how inappropriate) initiate just as Pavlovian a response amongst the unthinking right as do calls for "social justice" on the Left. The point is that democracy elevates the unthinking man into a position of power. It is therefore no surprise that when the wise and considered are pushed aside, governance ceases to be a considered subject but becomes an exercise in mob power in pursuit of the satiation of its hindbrain appetites.

In a democracy, the intellectual "center of gravity" drifts from a society's best and brightest and, instead, finds its home amongst in the mind of the cognitive miser, who forms the bulk of humanity. The net effect is that there is an inevitable "prole drift', not only of political debate, but of culture and morals, everything eventually gets vetted by the people (within their cognitive limitations)  But there is another factor that needs to be considered here, namely economic democracy, i.e the free market. In a free democracy, cognitive misers do not just exert their malign effect through political power, but through economic power as well. Elitist activities--activities which represent the high point of civilisation-- such as opera, classical music and and art, esoteric academic disciplines, and libraries struggle to survive economically in a market where the proles do not appreciate their intrinsic worth.  The is not an argument against the free market, but an argument against the notion that everything has to pay for itself, it's this latter notion that ensures that prole economies of scale overwhelm  everything which eludes their comprehension.

The Victorian critics of democracy were acutely cogniscant of the incompatibility between universal democracy and the notions of virtue, good governance and liberty. They also recognised the the notion of universal democracy itself was profoundly anti-conservative.  They based their criticism on the observed fact that the average man's mind is incapable of the complex cognition necessary for good governance. I think one of the reasons why mainstream western conservatism (particularly its American variant)  has been so completely sideswiped by the left is that it has lost sight of this fact. Instead, modern political conservatism has internalised one of liberalism's enabling principles and proclaimed it as a core value.  Modern conservatism is, in effect, sawing away at the branch it is sitting on by supporting one of the enabling principles of liberalism. The liberal infection is deeply seated.