Monday, April 29, 2019

Self-Defeating Victory

The concept of victory is rooted in the way we talk about experiences arising from literal, physical warfare. Victory is clear and flows naturally from battle. Battle involves killing people and driving them away from their position. It involves a mustering and expending of force. When the force is spent and all the opponents have been driven out or killed, then you have a new piece of land for your territory and you can feel expansive on the inside, invincible and triumphant.

This concept can be applied metaphorically in ways that don't describe literal, physical warfare. For instance, in political or ideological warfare, or in spiritual warfare. One example is in the political slogan "Love Trumps Hate". Another is in the idea of conquering sin in order to become holy.

The idea of "Love trumping Hate" produces a strange mental image of Love having slaughtered Hate, or having it at its heel, gloating over it, expansive, invincible, and triumphant. There's something odd about that kind of Love. Love itself is at angles to the practice of trumping, probably both obliquely and acutely at the same time, in different ways. Whereas Nationalism (for instance) is closely aligned with trumping.

Perhaps the way that "Love Trumps Hate" can actually serve Love is for it to rouse people to action. And then, in the process of action, people who were aimed at trumping Hate will end up truly loving, and in the process trump Hate -- but at this point will be uninterested in trumping Hate, caught up rather in Loving itself.

This is a process of self-transformation, whereby a person is led from one motivation to another which they do not have or do not fully have at the outset of the process. In Eastern thinking, the goal is to deny the self. People generally like selfless people and like themselves when they are more selfless, and so they start down the path. But the end state is nirvana -- non-existence. Surely this does not make sense to most people as a desirable aim. But I can see how, having progressed long enough down the path of becoming more selfless, someone might come to welcome non-existence, as the ultimate selflessness. Someone starting down the path may think "I love selflessness and someday will love it enough to die for it."

The aforementioned ideas may help in understanding or making practical the concept of overcoming sin in order to become holy. The person who seeks holiness is ambitious -- but ambition is at angles to holiness. Perhaps we might think that the ambition to be holy is the problem and try substituting the ambition to love -- but ambition and love are at-angles.

It's relatively easy to picture Self-Control trumping Sin -- slaughtering Sin or having it at its heel, gloating over it, expansive, invincible, and triumphant. Or perhaps Self-Control would shut down its own gloating, would have a cold and tight grip on Sin's neck. But some sins are immune to Self-Control, or involve a kind of Self-Control, and we have a horror or disgust of them, or a fear of them. The desire for holiness connects to the ambition for holiness which connects to the ambition for self-control which connects to an amplification of all the sins that self-control does not address. Whenever you make yourself more trustworthy, people trust you more, and you are then able to betray them in the ways that you are not trustworthy. (As with Fr. Clérissac). So through self-control you can make yourself into an attractive image that ultimately will betray. All this helps explain why holiness is not a popular aim.

Corruptions of Love turn people off from making Love an aim as much as corruptions of Holiness do, but there's nothing inherent in desiring the end of Hate (or Sin) which means that you have to go down the path to the corruptions. The process of self-transformation can mean that you start out wanting Love or Holiness and in the process get caught up in the Power it takes to move yourself or the world toward them, or the Victory that's promised at the end of the process. But the genuine desire for Love or Holiness is hard to fault, will correct you sometimes in itself, and involves occasions on which the Victory in you is frustrated. If you love Victory first, you will seek the easier victories and will abandon the path of Love or Holiness, but if you truly desire the two of them, you will endure far more defeats and madnesses than you ever would have imagined or signed up for, and ... you will overcome.

This kind of overcoming might be a transformed version of Victory. So then when the pursuit of Love has defeated you first, then you can conquer (but maybe no longer "trump") Hate, and likewise with Holiness and Sin. We shy away from being defeated by our values, but we don't have to.

Inherent Danger of Trustworthiness

Father Clérissac was the trusted spiritual director of Jacques and Raïssa Maritain. At some point, he got into Action Française, a right-wing political movement, and attracted the Maritains toward it. They eventually moved away from Action Française, repudiated it.

Because Fr. Clérissac was trustworthy overall, he was able to introduce currents into his friends' lives that they came to regret later on. So there is a warning in this for anyone who seeks to become more trustworthy, that they might be creating the conditions to mislead other people.

Also there is a warning in this for anyone who considers themselves trustworthy and wishes to avoid being ambitious in becoming trustworthy. Whether you want to be trustworthy or not, you are, to some people and in some ways. So the untrustworthy aspects of yourself that you don't do anything about may betray those people.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Prosocial Emotions, some limits

Prosocial emotions (empathy, gratitude, humility, etc.) are appealing to feel. They give us energy and help us feel connected to other human beings. It is very tempting for us to make them into gods, that is, into beings we propitiate and place as highest.

However, that is not always a good idea.

If we take empathy very seriously, we will not allow ourselves to put distance between us and something horrible to think, like the idea that we will die someday. If we hear of someone else dying, we have to think that we ourselves will die.

If we have empathy for other people, or compassion, or pity, this can be a bad thing for them. We can communicate our lack of faith in them through our concern over their well-being, causing them to become unable to take care of themselves, or even to despair.

The feeling of sincerity is a prosocial emotion, the feeling of telling the truth to other people. If we are sincere and compassionate people, people will believe us more readily when we say things that are harmful or untrue, since we will really mean them and say them in a compassionate way.

In the name of humility, people destroy each other's egos, which doesn't really make them humble. Also we think that agnosticism is a good thing, and then agnosticism can be used aggressively to attack belief. But this agnosticism is not epistemically humble, does not really acknowledge that it too could be wrong.

In the name of humility, we become small-minded, fearful, or even apathetic.

Gratitude involves finding the way things are to be a good thing. If we do this when we ought to be changing something about the way things are, gratitude can deceive us.

Generosity is a prosocial emotion and feels very good. But it can lead to people continuing relationships too long (letting a scammer go from introduction to close, for instance, or covering over a relationship conflict until it's a major problem). Generosity can produce dependency in other people, and undermine their need and thus ability to take care of themselves.

Some say laughter is not an emotion but I'll include it. Laughter feels good and bonds people but shuts down epistemic and emotional empathy.

Guilt is a prosocial emotion. Not as pleasant as the others. We are anti-guilt but pro-having a conscience. Some guilt is good, but other guilt destroys us. Then we compensate for the destructive guilt by not feeling good guilt. Guilt is good if it leads somewhere good, bad if it does not. (Similarly with lack of guilt.)

Humble Statements, Plantinga Compliance

What can we really say about reality? We can say what we perceive, with 100% certainty. But we don't have 100% certainty that what we perceive does exist as we see it. In fact, we can never have 100% certainty of that.

Knowledge is justified true belief. Is any belief really justified? No. Beliefs can be true but we can never really know that they are true, at least not in a way that we can prove to ourselves with words.

So what is really safe to say? I think I can say "I honestly think X is true, but I could be wrong". We make statements that directly or indirectly make truth claims all the time, and sometimes it would make sense for us to rephrase them as "I honestly think X is true, but I could be wrong" but other times, it would undermine what we were trying to accomplish with our truth claim.

One example of the latter could be when people attack a belief, saying "But you don't really know that." If they stated that truth claim honestly, it would be "I honestly believe that you don't really know that, but I could be wrong". If this changes how the statement feels in the conversation such as to undermine the attacker, then there was something dishonest about the initial attack.

I got the form "I honestly think X is true, but I could be wrong" from reading Alvin Plantinga, so we could say that when a conversational act can be successfully rephrased as "I honestly think X is true, but I could be wrong", it is "Plantinga-compliant" and if not "not Plantinga-compliant" or "Plantinga-noncompliant".

Are there perhaps some statements that should not be stated so humbly as in Plantinga compliance? It does sound odd to say "I honestly believe if you step out into traffic you will die, but I could be wrong" in certain circumstances. That could impede a conversational act that was worth more than being epistemically humble or honest. And that could justify Plantinga-noncompliance.

Perhaps a test for when Plantinga-noncompliance is necessary is to say "Does the conversation end 'too soon' (in some sense of 'too soon') if an interlocutor doesn't violate Plantinga compliance?" An interlocutor dying or having to go to the hospital would interrupt the conversation.

The sentiment "I honestly believe if you step out into traffic you will die and although I could be wrong, I think it would be foolish for you to try.", if compressed into much fewer words, might combine humility with concern.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Guilt Implies Hope

Sometimes we wrong or harm others by making mistakes, by some lack of awareness, or inability to act in the moment, or something like that. Other times we knowingly and deliberately act or fail to act in a way that wrongs or harms someone else, and this can be called sin.

We may regret both sins and mistakes, but there is no guilt for those who only make mistakes. Guilt is for those who choose to do what they do, who were under no necessity to do otherwise.

It is not always under our power to not make mistakes, but it is always under our power to not sin. Therefore if we are guilty, then we certainly have hope, because it is in our power to do better. All we have to do is decide to do things differently. If there is no guilt, then there may not be hope.