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Nov 26 2013

The pope urges everyone to be passive and blank

I thought I couldn’t hate popes and their bullshit any more than I already did, but pope Frank really knows how to push the right buttons. He did a “homily” the other day shitting all over curiosity and saying it’s the opposite of god. (He’s right, but for the wrong reasons. Or for the right reasons, but he doesn’t weigh them correctly.) It’s truly disgusting.

The spirit of curiosity generates confusion and distances a person from the Spirit of wisdom, which brings peace, said Pope Francis in his homily during Thursday morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta. 

The hell with peace (of that kind). We get that when we’re dead; while we’re alive we should make the most of it.

That which God asked of Abraham—‘Walk in my presence and be irreproachable’—is this: this peace. To follow the movement of the Spirit of God and of this wisdom. And the man and woman who walk this path, we can say they are wise men and women… because they follow the movement of God’s patience.

Nonsense. Word salad.

In the Gospel, the Pope underlined, “we find ourselves before another spirit, contrary to the wisdom of God: the spirit of curiosity”.

“And when we want to be the masters of the projects of God, of the future, of things, to know everything, to have everything in hand… the Pharisees asked Jesus, ‘When will the Kingdom of God come?’ Curious! They wanted to know the date, the day… The spirit of curiosity distances us from the Spirit of wisdom because all that interests us is the details, the news, the little stories of the day. Oh, how will this come about? It is the how: it is the spirit of the how! And the spirit of curiosity is not a good spirit. It is the spirit of dispersion, of distancing oneself from God, the spirit of talking too much.”

Terrible. Awful. Anti-human, anti-life, anti-thought. All that peace and union is just nothingness, it’s stagnation, it’s stasis. It’s death. The church claims to be pro-life but that he’s recommending right there, that’s death.

“The Kingdom of God is among us: do not seek strange things, do not seek novelties with this worldly curiosity. Let us allow the Spirit to lead us forward in that wisdom, which is like a soft breeze,” he said. “This is the Spirit of the Kingdom of God, of which Jesus speaks. So be it.”

No.

46 comments

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  1. 1
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    On the other hand,…

  2. 2
    ludicrous

    Wait … diffrunt story today. Check out:

    http://news.firedoglake.com/2013/11/26/pope-francis-slams-neoliberalism-in-first-major-writing-of-papacy/

    He goes after rapacious capitalism. This may be a different kind of pope than the usual.

  3. 3
    Gordon Willis

    Because if we just do as we are told, we won’t have to worry about the ethics of this or that: dear Mother Church will take care of it all, intercede for us, forgive us for asking all those silly questions, and assure us that as we lie dying of disease or genetic malfunction it’s just god’s will and all we have to do is bear the agony. Thus we will know perfect peace. Curiosity has done more good to the world than ever religious quietism did — but then, the Church doesn’t care about “the world”.

    There is a garbled message: if surrender to god’s will means anything, it can only mean a personal surrender, and it can only be a matter of discovery, not of dogma; but the Church thinks it can dictate the terms and impose them on everybody. Otherwise it would lose all its authority. It is anti-discovery, anti-personhood, anti-science, anti everything that lives in the world. It desires only power and conformity.

  4. 4
    Gordon Willis

    The Kingdom of God is among us

    Luke 17:21: the Kingdom of God is within you. The Greek word is entos, “within”. It does not mean “among” or (a frequent translation) “in your midst”. Catholics and Protestants don’t like the implications, so they change the translation. If the Kingdom of God is within me, then it is not a Kingdom one can inhabit, but a Kingdom of the heart and soul: not a world to come but the present reality of personal life. This is not something that the Church can control, so it lies even to its adherents.

  5. 5
    Al Dente

    If people get curious then they start asking questions. The Catholic hierarchy hates questions like “why do a bunch of celibate old men think they know about sex?” and “why does the Church promote the spread of AIDS by condemning the use of condoms?” and “you really think Jesus infests a wafer if the right words are said over it?” The obvious answers to these and similar questions can result in people leaving the Church.

  6. 6
    Pablo Flores

    @2 (ludicrous) – Not really. The economic stance of the Church has historically been corporatist (hence their support for fascism), and in this specific case the Pope is just pandering to his conservative/populist fan base in Argentina and elsewhere. The former archbishop of Buenos Aires has well-known Peronist sympathies (Peronism, like Fascism, goes for the so-called Third Way, being both anti-liberal and anti-socialist). The socioeconomic model the Church likes is one where everyone knows their place and no-one makes a scandal about it. Of course, this harmony is upset when people are too brutally exploited, whence the need to tone down capitalism a bit.

  7. 7
    aziraphale

    “He goes after rapacious capitalism. This may be a different kind of pope than the usual.”

    The last pope, in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate, had some harsh words for rapacious capitalists:

    “In recent years, a new cosmopolitan class of managers has emerged, who are often answerable only to the shareholders generally consisting of anonymous funds which de facto determine their remuneration,” he writes. “Profit is useful if it serves as a means toward an end. Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.”

    Previous popes also wrote on such topics as the dignity of work, the right to form a union and the necessity for the state to protect the weak and the poor.

    Admittedly, it would be more convincing if some prominent bankers had been excommunicated. We can still hope, I suppose.

  8. 8
    Pablo Flores

    In the 1990s’ Argentina, Catholic bishops were often very critical of so-called “neoliberal” policies. There’s a tradition of celebrating a Te Deum with the president and other high government officers at the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral on May 25, which is the anniversary of the emancipation from Spain, and the Archbishop of Buenos Aires usually gave the president an earful. The president 1989-1999 was Carlos Menem. The Menem administration privatized all utilities and opened up imports, bringing unemployment and poverty to unprecedented levels. Menem received a decoration and lots of gestures of special attention from Pope John Paul II for, among other things, enacting a “Day of the Unborn Child” and shutting down all legislative discussion about abortion. Argentina had an excellent diplomatic relationship with the Vatican and aligned with it in international forums (together with theocratic Muslim states, mainly) on reproductive rights and the like. Menem was a fervent Catholic, notwithstanding the fact that he had illegitimate children, was divorced and remarried, and had once forced his wife to have an abortion in secret.

    All of this is to say that I don’t buy it. The bishops’ babble goes on and on, but it achieves nothing, and it’s not supposed to. The bishops and the Pope will turn around and shake hands with the very ones they have just criticized as responsible for poverty and socioeconomic disintegration.

  9. 9
    Eamon Knight

    Yeah, from what I’ve heard, Catholic social justice teaching sounds great. On paper. And fair number of nuns and parish priests and laity believe they really mean it, and go out and do it, in places like inner cities and Latin American barrios and so forth. And get shit on by the Vatican for their pains. Just ask the American Women Religious.

    Frankie *sounds* different from his predecessor. So far, he hasn’t *been* much different.

  10. 10
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    @2 (ludicrous) – Not really.

    Yes, really. Read the extracts in my post at my link @ #1. Even on the most cynical reading of his motives, there’s no going back on these statements. It’s a public indictment of capitalism and neoliberal ideology, and a political opportunity for social justice movements.

  11. 11
    Ophelia Benson

    To join hands with the pope and the Catholic church? No thanks.

  12. 12
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Yeah, from what I’ve heard, Catholic social justice teaching sounds great. On paper. And fair number of nuns and parish priests and laity believe they really mean it, and go out and do it, in places like inner cities and Latin American barrios and so forth. And get shit on by the Vatican for their pains.

    The proponents of liberation theology have been harassed and murdered, with the active or passive support of the Vatican.

    Recently, rightwing Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles had a meeting with the pope and asked for his intervention in Venezuelan politics. The Right in Honduras expects the Vatican to back its neoliberal and authoritarian projects. Even if we assume the worst motives on the part of Francis, the days of easy papal support for the Right are over. This is a fundamental change, and a huge opportunity for the Left.

    Of course, many of the horrible policies and ideas of the RCC persist, including in this document. But it would be a shame if people failed to recognize the good and the possibilities in it.

  13. 13
    Pablo Flores

    Not meaning to derail things here. I’m basing this argument on my personal experience in Argentina. For ten years we had an annual “public indictment of capitalism and neoliberal ideology” shot at the president and his ministers by the archbishop of Buenos Aires, to their faces, on national TV, and precisely nothing happened because of it. It could have happened if liberation theology had not been anathematized and the left-wing movements of the Latin American church had not been gutted by the Church and the military dictatorships acting in concert, with John Paul II smiling over the whole process with his pet theologian Joseph Ratzinger by his side. Believe me, this is the same circus, only the clowns have changed their act a bit.

  14. 14
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    To join hands with the pope and the Catholic church? No thanks.

    To promote social justice.

  15. 15
    John Morales

    So much for the parable of the talents.

  16. 16
    John Morales

    [meta]

    I note that, after the first comment, all subsequent ones refer to a different pontification to that mentioned in the OP.

    (Interesting, perhaps, but utterly irrelevant to the actual topic)

  17. 17
    John Morales

    [sigh]

    OK, not all of them. Sorry.

  18. 18
    Pablo Flores

    SC, maybe you should read something about Peronism and how its ideas relate to Church doctrine on economy and development. It is significant that the Pope is both Argentinian and a Peronist, really, and we’ve been through it in Argentina: seemingly going from left to right and back left while staying in the same place. Church social doctrine is ideological quicksand.

  19. 19
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    For ten years we had an annual “public indictment of capitalism and neoliberal ideology” shot at the president and his ministers by the archbishop of Buenos Aires,

    This isn’t a local archbishop. This is the pope. And there’s no need for the quotes – this is a public indictment of capitalism and neoliberal ideology.

    It could have happened if liberation theology had not been anathematized and the left-wing movements of the Latin American church had not been gutted by the Church and the military dictatorships acting in concert, with John Paul II smiling over the whole process with his pet theologian Joseph Ratzinger by his side.

    Yes, I’ve been writing about it for years. But think about what you’re arguing: if the indictment had been supported by the Vatican, it could have happened. Now it’s being publicly supported by the Vatican. The actions aren’t meaningless, but the words have tremendous power.

    Believe me, this is the same circus, only the clowns have changed their act a bit.

    What I’m saying is that even if it were (and I don’t believe it is, and possibly no one is more cynical than I about the Vatican), that’s in some way irrelevant. The statement from the pope is out there, global, on the internet. Things have changed fundamentally.

  20. 20
    Pablo Flores

    John is right. Sorry.

    On topic: this is fairly common Christian thought; not so much Catholic thought, it seems to me, or at least I haven’t heard such things from bishops often. Coming from a Jesuit, the supposedly more scholarly ones, it’s rather curious. I’m wondering why Frankie didn’t go all the way and called the “spirit of dispersion” by its proper name (he likes to do that).

  21. 21
    sailor1031

    Only a lifetime of indulging one’s curiosity is likely to lead to true wisdom. However it wouldn’t be conducive to being religious.

  22. 22
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    SC, maybe you should read something about Peronism and how its ideas relate to Church doctrine on economy and development.

    And maybe you should stop condescending to me, and read my post about political opportunities.

  23. 23
    John Morales

    SC @19, possibly, my own cynicism about the Vatican exceeds yours; after all, “For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

    The Pope’s purported priorities are not yours, and the enemy of your enemy is just that.

    (Besides, this was not a ruling ex cathedra — rather, I think it’s just convenient PR du jour)

  24. 24
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    John, you can also read my post about political opportunities. :)

  25. 25
    Pablo Flores

    SC, I’m not trying to be condescending. I’m suggesting that you may benefit from information you may not have at present. On the Pope’s true motives neither you nor I can do more than guess. On the possible effect of his words, if any, we’ll have to agree to disagree (for the moment), and then wait and see. I’m pesimistic and I’ve given my reasons.

  26. 26
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    From my post:

    Third, we can consider these admissions or announcements of changed ideas in terms of political opportunities: what do they mean in terms of changed possibilities for the movement? Or better, since opportunities can be missed, how can we use them in pushing for further change?

    There is absolutely no sense in which this public document is not an opportunity for movements of the Left. Discussions of motives and specific past actions are valid and useful, but we shouldn’t lose sight of this tremendous opening.

  27. 27
    John Morales

    [OT + meta]

    SC, I’ve tried but failed to post a comment on your blog, so I here note that I can’t dispute your claim that “this pope is not going to serve as a mouthpiece for capitalism”, since I agree that it’s the position upon which he has staked his Papacy.

    I also can’t deny that it presents a political opportunity, but I’m nowhere as sanguine as you as to the weightiness of its significance.

    (I beg your indulgence for this, Ophelia)

  28. 28
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    On the possible effect of his words, if any, we’ll have to agree to disagree (for the moment), and then wait and see. I’m pesimistic and I’ve given my reasons.

    But a good part of my point, which I might not have stated clearly enough, is that the effects of his words aren’t something out there beyond our capacity to influence. An opportunity is just that – it’s what we make of it.

  29. 29
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    SC, I’ve tried but failed to post a comment on your blog

    Dammit. Sorry about that.

  30. 30
    Marie-Thérèse O'Loughlin

    The spirit of curiosity generates confusion and distances a person from the Spirit of wisdom,

    The RCC has never wanted its flock to be ‘curious’, hence the handing out each Sunday the Sermon and the like to be read at mass. The church has never encouraged in general its parishioners to be bible savvy. Could the causation factor be, for fear of the worshippers becoming too ‘curious’ about what they may discover therein? I’ve never seen a bible, not even the ‘Good News’ displayed anywhere on the benches in churches in the past. The Spirit of wisdom must be bestowed on them by none other than the RCC church. One mustn’t allow their brainwashed minds to be confused with hedonist stuff from the bible. We can’t have them converting to other religions. They must receive their pearls of ‘wisdom’ from the one true and holy Catholic church. Nothing else will suffice.

  31. 31
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    You know… I was legitimately hoping this pope was different. He blasted the Church for spending too much time on abortion and homosexuality and not enough time helping the poor, the sick, and the dying. I loved that.

    But then, he kept talking… and he keeps talking…

    And I no longer like him…

  32. 32
    Erin (formerly--formally?-- known as EEB)

    Well, shit. Turns out the Pope is Catholic. And I was really starting to like him…

    In all seriousness: I can say that I vastly prefer Pope Francis’s version of Christianity to Pope Palpatine’s version of Christianity, while still realizing that, at the end of the day, it’s still a version of, y’know, Christianity. And, therefore, pretty much entirely dependent on stifling intellectual curiosity. And sacrificing truth on the alter of Faith and Tradition.

    If I were to boil the guiding principles of my life down to their most bare essentials, it would be: 1) Seek Knowledge, 2) Total Honesty, 3) End Suffering. All three of them are equally important to me. (And yes, Bertrand Russell was one of my most influential authors when I was developing my post-Christian philosophy.) So I lean both ways in this discussion, I think.

    As long as Pope Francis, Catholics in general, people of faith even more generally, and hell, just people, are willing to work with me–or, more realistically, allow me to work with them!–to end suffering and oppression in the world, I am there, and at that moment, their metaphysical framework is way down on my list of cares. But when it comes to the spread of knowledge and truth, those who interfere are no longer my allies (in that fight, at least), and I will oppose them on that field as passionately as I joined with them before.

    But I think this is just the flipside of (one of) the big debate(s) we’ve been having in the atheist/skeptic community. For me, I can respect and use some of the scientific and philosophical contributions of people like Richard Dawkins, or even Michael Shermer, while acknowledging that other writings, speech, actions, advocacy, etc. they’ve engaged in have been illogical, incorrect, dishonest, harmful, dangerous, and/or even criminal. And that acknowledgement will of course cause me to look more skeptically at what they’ve produced (or will produce). Which is the same attitude I take with folks like Pope Francis or institutions like the Catholic Church. Vehement disagreement with some teachings or actions doesn’t mean that I have to reject it all, or refuse to ally myself with those who are fighting for causes that are important to me.

    On the other hand, to stay with the same analogy: there are those who feel that the words and/or actions of individuals like, again Dawkins or Shermer (or Harris or Hitchens or Krauss or Grothe or…), and institutions like, say, JREF, have crossed lines so fundamental that it is wrong to work with them or use them under any circumstance. And the same could be said of the Catholic Church, certainly. As I said, that isn’t my personal position, but it’s one I understand and respect.

  33. 33
    permanentwiltingpoint

    > And the spirit of curiosity is not a good spirit. It is the spirit of dispersion, of distancing oneself from God, the spirit of talking too much.

    Ah, back to the roots. Where did I see this already? Oh yeah …

    “For it is written, I will destroy the wisedome of the wise, and wil bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
    Where is the wise? where is the Scribe? where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisedome of this world?”

    Paulus, 1. Corinthians 1:19-20

    “Hence men go on to search out the hidden powers of nature (which is besides our end), which to know profits not, and wherein men desire nothing but to know.”

    Augustine Confessiones 10.35.55

    “We don’t want to split ourselves equally between Christ and the world. Rather than lapsing and ephemeral goods, eternal bliss shall be ours.”

    Hieronymus, Epistulae 107, 4.9

    “After Jesus Christ, we have no need for inquiry. If we believe, we don’t desire anything beyond belief.”

    Tertullian, De praescriptione haereticorum 7.14

    Pope Francis fits quite well into this collection.

  34. 34
    brucegorton

    SC

    “The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. ”

    Actually violence isn’t particularly rising, it peaked in the 90s. Respect for others is about the same as it has always been it is just that people have better means of communicating their contempt, and you will note he doesn’t say that inequality is increasing, he says it is increasingly evident.

    This is because one of the things that divides rich and poor nations is communications infrastructure – in other words the ability to communicate need. This gap is shrinking with increased internet and cellphone coverage – inequality appears to be growing because it is actually shrinking.

    How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?

    Because when you get right down to it one of the major drivers of the stock market is pension and retirement funding. The stock market losing two points may be part of the reason why that elderly person was homeless and died of exposure.

    Slamming news media for reporting on the markets instead of personal tragedies (which frankly we do enough of most of the time) ignores the larger story contained within the numbers.

    When markets go down it doesn’t just mean an afternoon’s earnings lost for Warren Buffett. When the US housing market crashed it wasn’t a brief inconvenient to the jet set, people lost their homes.

  35. 35
    brucegorton

    Sorry, formatting fail.

    “The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. ” is a quote, as is “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”.

  36. 36
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Actually violence isn’t particularly rising, it peaked in the 90s.

    I’d like to see a citation for this claim – one that includes all forms of violence including structural violence (which Francis has in mind, except of course for the violence resulting from sexism and homophobia, which he endorses). You should also include violence toward other animals, which he doesn’t include, but which has grown to almost incomprehensible proportions – we live in a giant slaughterhouse. Oh, and violence to future generations of humans and many other animals caused by AGW and environmental destruction and overexploitation.

    Respect for others is about the same as it has always been

    The policy evidence from most of the world doesn’t support this view. And, again, if you include nonhuman animals your case is destroyed.

    and you will note he doesn’t say that inequality is increasing, he says it is increasingly evident.

    I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make here. The gist of the section is clearly that he believes inequality is increasing: “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.” This is quite correct.

    Because when you get right down to it one of the major drivers of the stock market is pension and retirement funding. The stock market losing two points may be part of the reason why that elderly person was homeless and died of exposure.

    Slamming news media for reporting on the markets instead of personal tragedies (which frankly we do enough of most of the time) ignores the larger story contained within the numbers.

    Thank you for providing an illustration of the problem he’s talking about.

    I have writing to do and I’m going out for lunch and dinner today, so I won’t have time to continue with this. Carry on with your sad capitalist apologetics.

  37. 37
    brucegorton

    SC

    You mean you haven’t read Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature?

    Anyway for another source on this for 1992, to 2005 dealing with war violence:

    http://books.google.co.za/books?hl=en&lr=&id=M7ZJiRaKlGwC&oi=fnd&pg=PA75&dq=global+violence+declining&ots=ZLDdDtrrDB&sig=HySjNqx78HSfK5qNwZ41XAODoUM#v=onepage&q=global%20violence%20declining&f=false

    There is also the highly reported drop in US homicide and violence rates:

    http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/06/11/12170947-fbi-violent-crime-rates-in-the-us-drop-approach-historic-lows

    As well as similar in the UK:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/9411649/Graphic-how-the-murder-rate-has-fallen.html

    And RSA (which is a very violent society)

    http://www.bdlive.co.za/national/2013/10/31/index-shows-crime-in-sa-at-15-year-low

    And I note the pope’s statement did not get a ‘citation needed’ when it agreed with your ideology.

    As to my point with the markets – it may surprise you to realise I am not in fact a free market capitalist but favour a balanced system with state control over natural monopolies such as utilities, strong social safety nets and strong market regulations to avoid boom and bust cycles.

    That is without even getting into my views on environmental legislation.

    The IMF’s general free market approach has repeatedly failed to achieve its stated aims – because that approach generally ends up leaving economies highly vulnerable to shocks.

    But that doesn’t stop the fact that I was a business journalist for about three to four years and picked up a bit of what the numbers mean. Sneering at people for caring that their shares lost value doesn’t solve economic injustice, it perpetuates it because when you get right down to it those numbers mean something on a much wider scale than simply being about the rich.

  38. 38
    Pliny the in Between

    Thanks for the link to this appalling set of statements. It makes for a good cartoon opportunity at least.

  39. 39
    brucegorton

    SC

    My comment with a bunch of links is currently in moderation but as to this:

    The policy evidence from most of the world doesn’t support this view. And, again, if you include nonhuman animals your case is destroyed.

    Citation needed.

  40. 40
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    OK, I have a few moments…

    Citation needed.

    Well, it’s not exactly an argument that could be supported with one or two citations. I had in mind primarily the austerity programs in Europe (and around the world), the slashing of the already ridiculously meager social safety net in the US in a time of growing poverty and need, the continuing destruction of the conditions for human life on the planet, and the callousness and meanspiritedness with which these projects are being carried out. And again, the systematic exploitation and killing of tens of billions of other animals which isn’t just accepted but celebrated. And more. Mass structural disrespect in action.

    ***

    I was just thinking about some of the statements Francis makes in the exhortation and how contrary they are to the ideas expressed in the homily. He’s making supportable empirical claims about economic and political realities. In fact, what follows the sentence I quoted in my previous post is: “In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

    Isn’t seeking out the facts and using them to confirm or disconfirm arguments and then planning based on the evidence pretty much the essence of “worldly curiosity”?

  41. 41
    brucegorton

    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Look if we are going to take violence under that definition – we are coming off a base including real politik and colonialism. It is off a very low base but, we’re still better there.

    The thing about the idea of we are getting worse is that it rests on the idea that we were better.

    Now why this matters to me despite the fact that my politic views are very much like your own – we actually agree on most things I have noticed – is that I despise the romantic past.

    I despise this idea of some past period in which we were better than now – because it devalues the hard work of those who improved the world, and has a bitter taste of despair about it.

    It begins to sound like no matter how hard you try things will not get better.

    The way I see it however is that we can look to figures of the past, recognise that the past was a shitty place to be, but also recognise that people managed to make it better.

    Our current issues are not those of our ancestors, we have it much better than our ancestors ever did thanks to their hard work, and that means that the things which are wrong with our world right now?

    The people of the past surmounted worse with less, I think we can handle them.

  42. 42
    Dan L.

    brucegorton@41:

    Now why this matters to me despite the fact that my politic views are very much like your own – we actually agree on most things I have noticed – is that I despise the romantic past.

    I despise this idea of some past period in which we were better than now – because it devalues the hard work of those who improved the world, and has a bitter taste of despair about it.

    It begins to sound like no matter how hard you try things will not get better.

    What’s interesting to me about this is that it’s essentially an admission that you believe things are better now because it feels better to you to believe that things are better now. This is a completely values-based ideological argument.

    And like most ideological arguments it’s forcing a false dilemma; this time between “things were better in the past” vs. “things are better right now”.

    I think the truth is more complicated. I’m sure Pinker’s argument has some basis in reality but I suspect the effect isn’t as strong as Pinker implies (in my experience, Pinker always overstates his case). Does “Better Angels” take into account the fact that the de facto government of northern Mexico for the last few years is a violent drug gang with a tendency to behead critics? Or that this violent drug gang gets its drug money laundered by the wealthiest banks in the US?

    While I agree that modern US and European culture is probably more pacifistic than at pretty much any time in the history of European civilization, that culture of peace applies only to individual human beings. It does not apply to the abstract system of governance that has been built up by and around those human beings. Because it is labyrinthine the modern economic system allows for great crimes to be committed with no easy way to assign moral or legal culpability. BoA laundering money for Los Zetas is a fine example. SC’s example of factory farming is also an interesting example. In the 19th century, dog fighting in the US was a popular “sport”; now it is morally reprehensible. At the same time, US livestock is treated much less humanely in modern farms than it was in the 19th century. Because the mistreatment is part of an industrial process rather than a result of the wishes of particular human beings, however, moral and legal culpability cannot be assigned. The complexity of the modern world allows for violence with no (obvious) perpetrator.

    It is completely logically possible (and I think rather plausible) that despite all the great efforts of people to make the world better that it isn’t actually qualitatively or quantitatively better. First of all, as respectable as the efforts of reformers, etc. are we can bear in mind that the phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” was coined for a reason — those working to make the world a better place often end up doing the opposite unintentionally. Even when they don’t, there are plenty of humans with selfish or otherwise base motives who will happily work against or undermine those that are trying to do good. Finally, even if the world has become better in some ways there is no contradiction in pointing out that it may have become worse in other ways. Whether it’s actually better or worse “overall” is going to depend on one’s personal values more than any particular facts about the world.

    We can consider Jared Diamond’s observation that, judging by the evidence of paleontology, prehistoric hunter gatherers were physically healthier than the prehistoric agriculturalists who supplanted them. The agriculturalists seemed to be subject to a great more and a great deal harder physical labor than their hunter-gatherer forbears and we can guess that they suffered greater political oppression as well. Based on this, we could try to argue (as Diamond suggests) that civilization in general was a huge mistake and we should have remained a population of a few million hunter gatherers scattered dilutely across the face of the earth. But this tack also suggests that all art — graphic art, sculpture, literature, music, film, architecture — was likewise a mistake (as little of it would have been produced without civilization) or at least making the best of a bad situation. In reality there is no strict definition of “better” that will tell us whether civilization is better or worse than life as tribes of hunter gatherers. We can view civilization as the foundation for art and science or as a justification for thousands of years of political violence. Or both simultaneously. Or neither. That’s down to us and our personal moral commitments.

    Sneering at people for caring that their shares lost value doesn’t solve economic injustice, it perpetuates it because when you get right down to it those numbers mean something on a much wider scale than simply being about the rich.

    1) It’s arguably false that being a business journalist gave you any special insight into what stock prices indicate about the general economy.
    2) It’s generally arguable what insight stock prices provide about the general economy.
    3) It’s not particularly arguable that money in the stock market, even when nominally owned by little folks with 401Ks, is controlled by the very wealthy and is largely indicative of the concerns of the very wealthy as a result.

  43. 43
    brucegorton

    Dan L.

    Does “Better Angels” take into account the fact that the de facto government of northern Mexico for the last few years is a violent drug gang with a tendency to behead critics? Or that this violent drug gang gets its drug money laundered by the wealthiest banks in the US?

    Well it is a good thing that the other study I linked to involved outright wars, and found a massive decrease in them following the cold war. I suspect the BoA’s actions weren’t exactly without precedent during that period.

    And while my viewpoint is partly informed by ideology it is also informed by fact – the fact of the matter is the past isn’t some rosy wonderland.

    One could pretend things were better when Catholic schoolboys had too much respect to talk about the priest who raped them, but were they really?

    Were things so rosy and peaceful in the American South when racism meant getting lynched for being black?
    Were things better back in the 1980s in South Africa when being black excluded you basically from having political rights?

    The world is less violent than it has been for a long time. We are in a fairly peaceful period. Look at how far you have to stretch to try and make it look more violent – you have to define AGW and sub-optimal economic policies as violence.

    It wasn’t all that long ago when if you talked about violence it meant people getting shot.

    1) It’s arguably false that being a business journalist gave you any special insight into what stock prices indicate about the general economy.

    I am not talking about the general economy when I talk about stock prices, I’m talking about the impact they have on investors and who those investors actually are.

    Take mineworkers for example, you wouldn’t consider them normally to be investors. They could hardly be termed rich by any stretch of the imagination, yet union federations such as Cosatu invest their pension funds with groups like Old Mutual. Old Mutual is one of the larger investors in South African mining – so when one talks of market knocks, one talks about knocks to those miners’ pensions.

    Whose interests are reflected by decisions on the stock market is secondary to the results that come out of it, and if the results are negative the impact tends to be much harder on those who are poorer than those who are richer.

    When the US stockmarket crashed a few rich people got burned, a lot of poor people got their homes repossessed.

    And while being a business journalist may or may not give one a good grasp of macro-economics, it does give one an insight into the human beings that are affected by the news.

  44. 44
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Ahem.

    http://www.zcommunications.org/steven-pinker-on-the-alleged-decline-of-violence-by-edward-s-herman-and-david-peterson

    http://jeffreymasson.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/pinker-animals-and-hitler/

    Now why this matters to me despite the fact that my politic views are very much like your own – we actually agree on most things I have noticed – is that I despise the romantic past.

    I despise this idea of some past period in which we were better than now – because it devalues the hard work of those who improved the world, and has a bitter taste of despair about it.

    It begins to sound like no matter how hard you try things will not get better.

    That has no connection to anything I’ve said here (or anywhere, for that matter). I do not romanticize the past, and the idea that there is a “bitter taste of despair” in anything I think or write couldn’t be further from the truth. As is the idea that people were better in the past than we are now – which, it should be noted, is merely the flip side of Pinker’s suggestion that (some) people are better today than those in the past.

    We’re precisely the same in terms of our moral capacities as any humans who’ve lived. Differences are found in the social structures in which we live and their capacity to shape – enhance or hinder – compassion, care, and respect. Our current world system is structured very badly; additionally, the technology for mass violence in many forms exists on a scale never before seen. Human beings aren’t going to fundamentally change, which is why it’s urgently, staggeringly important to understand and transform these systems, including the cultures they create to sustain them.

    Sneering at people for caring that their shares lost value

    I could probably stop after this mischaracterization.

    doesn’t solve economic injustice, it perpetuates it because when you get right down to it those numbers mean something on a much wider scale than simply being about the rich.

    What you’re not seeing is that a significant part of the problem is this: An economic system is supposed to serve us – both in the sense of allowing for the fulfillment of our needs and in the sense that we control it. You describe: “The stock market losing two points may be part of the reason why that elderly person was homeless and died of exposure.” That’s a bad system. The elderly person’s very life is at the mercy of a system he or she doesn’t control, and that is true of millions. People are then concerned about the condition of this abstract creation rather than directly with matters of basic human needs. People have created this thing which has then come to control us and to alienate us from one another, and we forget that these structures are no longer useful as soon as they become separated from or obstruct the fulfillment of needs. We need an economic system that is democratic, built on compassion and respect, and organized to serve our needs – not those of “growth” or “development” or profit or wealth.

  45. 45
    brucecoppola

    tl;dr – Curiosity kills the Catholic.

  46. 46
    brucegorton

    SC (Salty Current), OM

    What is really scary about the stock market is how much of it is controlled by computers – in other words automated trading.

    Computer errors – not human agency, just errors, can destroy lives.

    I think the thing is though that the market is a reality – and because of the power it has it is news worthy. Because the market system is in need of reform it is news worthy.

    And the thing is there is a certain amount that can be done to control and control for stock market crashes.

    Journalists don’t report on the market because they’re callous and selfish materialist bastards, which is what I read very strongly into the Pope’s words there, but rather because it has these consequences.

    And people who are concerned with the behaviour of markets aren’t either, the stockmarket has an impact in their lives.

    I strongly believe in the need for market reforms, and a planned economy. If you look at US market history under the more socialist leaning Democratic Party the stock market has done better under them than under the more economically Libertarian Republicans.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/adamhartung/2012/10/10/want-a-better-economy-history-says-vote-democrat/

    We shouldn’t fall for the Libertarian line of thinking that various things are anti-market because pundit says so. Often when people do well, the markets do well.

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