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Friday, May 30, 2014

How not to argue.

Or: Spotting Godawful Arguments: A Short Primer.



As a public service to readers of the blog, I am happy to offer my nearly eighteen years of experience as an attorney to help you, the Reader, spot and understand a Bad Argument.

Bad Arguments are the scourge of civilized discourse, making for a corrosive effect on reasoning as a whole. 

Fortunately (?), we received a recent example in the comment box, just teeming with fallacies, perfectly useful for examination. It was offered in response to this post. Note that my post is about the Kasper proposal to allow divorced-and-remarried-without-annulment Catholics to receive communion, and the Pope's enthusiastic praise for and preclearance of it.

So, how does the counter-argument go? Here's the first part:

Actually the Church has a legitimate doctrinal way to make Cardinal Kasper’s alleged liberal policy on marriage a reality.

According to the current pastoral practice in the annulment process it is the Church’s policy to assume a disputed marriage is valid till proven invalid. There is no dogmatic reason why this must be the case. The Church can assume all formally disputed marriages are invalid till proven valid which is a high bar to climb and would make Annulments even more wide spread & granted with more ease.
Now would that be a pastoral disaster? It could likely be since the abuse of it will undermine the Church’s teaching on marriage on the practical level. Not that under the current policy historically it hasn’t been abused especially in America.

Would it be an example of detectability or Fallibility? Not at all. 

The opener is an instant sleight of hand. Does the arguer address the actual post itself, or the Kasper proposal? No, he does not. Instead, he changes the subject to an entirely unrelated proposal not under discussion--a classic red herring. This enables him to sidestep entirely the problematic Kasper proposal--one whose awfulness has been noted by men of no small theological erudition. Thus, instead of engaging with the actual problematic proposal, he can propose something different and use that to derisively attack his opponent. 

Note also that it is question-begging of a staggering order: his argument assumes--without bothering to prove--that it is the equivalent of the Kasper proposal. It also assumes that such would not touch upon indefectibility. Why? Because he said so. Ipse dixit, quod erat demonstrandum. Might as well throw in e pluribus unum while we're at it.

In any event, his devastating riposte--the question-begging red herring--is a proposal that he admits would be a probable "pastoral disaster."

Well, I stand refuted. Or not.

Now, does he address the notion of sacramental intent--ex opere operato? That longstanding Catholic teaching is that sacraments are presumptively valid, not invalid, if the proper form, matter and intent are involved? Even if more than one competent, conscious person is needed to confect the sacrament--see also, penance, confirmation, holy orders? No, he does not. 

One might be forgiven for thinking his argument was clouded by animus against his interlocutor. Here's the remainder of his argument:

You know Price rather then undermine people’s faith in the Church & Christ’s promises by extension, you might try learning some theology before getting hysterical and believing every radtrad conspiracy rumor mongering twit?

Ya Think?


Oh.... all righty then! Ah, the ever-popular Chest-Poking Tough Guy! Closer. Apparently, his argument isn't so air-tight that he can dispense with the troweled-on well-poisoning: I'm some kind of hysteric (paging Dr. Freud) pied piper who leads people astray, cavorting with with idiot rad-trads in the process--run, children!



Yes, folks--BEWARE.


I just like this one.

As you can see from the third link, some very capable and decidedly non-rad-traddish people are appalled by the Kasper proposal endorsed by the Pope. But Tough Guy! would rather try (and fail) to put me in my place than square off with them. Invoking his own alleged theological authority in the process. 

And that, folks, is darn near the Platonic ideal of a Bad Argument.


Apologies for the inconvenience.

But a recent commenter has prompted me to tighten up the comments procedure. You're now going to have to sign in in some way to post something. 

What can you do? 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What the "Power of Hashtag" says about us.

Kevin Williamson guts, fillets and rolls in panko bread crumbs the mortifying narcissism of our social media bubble, and the supposed grownups who embrace it:

Slavery in Nigeria, the occupation of Ukraine, whatever: It ain’t about you, Sunshine.

The “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, directed at the fanatical Islamist slavers in Nigeria, has inspired selfies fromU.S. senators and the wife of the president of these United States, while State Department spokesman Jen Psaki, the Pippi Longstocking of the diplomatic world, took to Twitter to photograph herself with a “United for Ukraine” placard. To confront the heinous crimes of Boko Haram, a U.S. senator has many options — for example, introducing an authorization to use military force against said terrorist franchise. The U.S. State Department has many tools at its disposal for confronting the expansionist tendencies of Vladimir Putin.

The selfie is not among those tools.

Imagine, if you can, the abjectly juvenile state of mind necessary to contemplate the hundreds of Nigerian girls taken into slavery by a fanatical Muslim anti-education militia — whose characteristic activity beyond slave-taking is setting fire to children— and, in the face of all that horror, concluding: “You know what this situation really calls for? A cutesy picture of . . . me!” Bad enough when your cousin Caitlin at Bryn Mawr does that — but senators? State Department officials? These are men and (disproportionately, I think) women of power and influence, who have the ability to engage with the world and change it. But they are enchanted by the unique witchcraft of the age of social media, the totemic power of the digital expression of the self.

Read it all--a few times at least. 

Then ponder how far we've fallen.

Is this something?

I sure think it is.

Further proof of Francis’ trust in Kasper came in February when the pope tapped him to deliver a lengthy talk for a meeting of all the world’s cardinals who had gathered to discuss updating the church’s policies on a range of hot-button issues.

The meeting, or consistory, was the first in a series of discussions that Francis has planned to jump start long-stalled talks on contentious topics — one of them whether divorced and remarried Catholics can receive Communion; it’s not the sexiest topic but it is a huge pastoral crisis given that so many Catholics have remarried without an annulment and are barred from the altar rail. Even a murderer can confess and receive Communion, as Kasper likes to note.

“I told the pope, ‘Holy Father, there will be a controversy afterward,’” Kasper said. The pope laughed and told him: “That’s good, we should have that!”

. . .

Despite the pushback, colleagues describe Kasper as rejuvenated by the reform Francis has launched.

“I do not know if my proposals will be acceptable,” the cardinal said with a shrug. “I made them in agreement with the pope, I did not do them just myself. I spoke beforehand with the pope, and he agreed.”

That seems to be a kinda big something, really--getting it pre-cleared with the Pope.

You might not agree--but that's ok. It's a still free-ish country. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

If the GOP nominates this guy...

[Editorial disclaimer--I've been on the receiving end of Trott & Trott's legal activity, so I'm a bit biased. Nevertheless, permit me to comment anyway.]

...they deserve every second of the shellacking they're going to get.

Look, David Trott has every right to earn his money the way he does. If he hadn't done it, the banks would have found someone else to be their hired gun. And let's admit that you don't have the right to stay in a home you're not paying for. There's another party at the end of the contract, and they have rights, too.

It's the way the system works. Which, of course, prompts the question of whether that system is as just as it should be, or if it is governed by certain crony imperatives, distorts and warps markets and manages to screw the vulnerable while leaving the financial sector in high cotton, but let's bracket that for another day.  

Mostly.

He also has the right to spend his money--obtained in lawful business activities--in pursuit of political office. I'm not someone who thinks Citizens United was a bad decision.

However....

When he can't bring himself to identify his business in his campaign ads, you know there's a problem. A serious problem. In fact, it's quite reminiscent of the deflections abortion supporters go through to avoid discussing just exactly what choices they're defending.

The bottom line is that Trott has made millions foreclosing on people and booting them out of their homes. Which is perfectly legal--and at some level necessary--but that doesn't mean he's who you want to represent the interests of 700,000+ people. In fact, if you're trying to shed the image of the cold corporate Romney technocrat, you could hardly do worse than the guy behind the operation that led to this:

 Mark Rozier sometimes stares out the window of the lower flat of a decrepit duplex where he lives on Burnside Street in northeast Detroit. Some windows in the other flat are boarded up with plywood, the lawn is patchy and brown. Across the street sits a once-tidy, cream-colored house.

He once owned that house. Built a second story. Added a bedroom and a bath. Renovated the kitchen, carpeted the porch, tended the flower beds. And raised a family there, despite the rapid deterioration of one of Detroit’s most blighted neighborhoods.

But Rozier, like tens of thousands of other Michiganders, lost his home to foreclosure during the housing crisis. After a three-year legal battle with Trott’s law firm and the bank, the notice arrived last Christmas Eve. He was evicted in January and moved his wife, who is on kidney dialysis, his bedridden mother, and his uncle, who has Down syndrome and is in a wheelchair, into a neighbor’s empty duplex across the street.

With the neighborhood in decline, his former house was only worth $10,000 when the foreclosure was filed — even though Rozier, 49, owed $48,000 on the mortgage, money taken out in part to fund the improvements. He’d started missing his $634 monthly payments in 2009 when his wife, Nomora, a nurse’s aide, went into kidney failure and could no longer work.

Rozier said he scraped up $8,000 to try to keep it.

The bank, through Trott’s law firm, refused that offer, and spent three years and thousands of dollars in legal fees, taking the home away from him, Rozier and his attorney said.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. spokeswoman Amy Bonitatibus said the bank tried to work with the Roziers early on but that Rozier made the cash offer too late, after the house had been foreclosed upon. The bank spent little on legal fees because the case stalled after a judge halted the eviction for a year, she said.

“We worked hard to keep the customer in his home,” she said.

The home is now for sale for $4,900. Most of the $8,000 Rozier said he had saved up at the time of the foreclosure went to other bills, including medical payments for his sick wife.

“I hope someday we can go back home,” Rozier said wistfully in a recent interview. “That maybe somebody will let me buy back my house.”

The home that Rozier put his heart and earnings into has since been stripped by vandals of its copper wiring, plumbing and kitchen cabinets. The front door and side doors have been kicked in, and it is taking on the look of all the other homes in the neighborhood — one of despair.

Attorney Angela Howell, who helps low-income families fight foreclosures and represented the Roziers in their battle, said there were government programs that could have helped the Roziers refinance, if Trott’s law firm and the lender had agreed.

“Why does Trott, the bank, want to spend $20,000 in attorney fees fighting to throw this family out of a home they won’t be able to resell?” she asked. “It makes no sense.”

The political ads write themselves. If he beats Bentivolio (an OK freshman representative who won only because of the McCotter staffer scandal), then you know the business wing of the GOP is really running the show. Like the French Bourbons, they've learned nothing and forgotten nothing. They always lose the big battles, but they have all the answers.

Which is why I so rarely bother with political commentary these days.

Historical Cleansing.


Reminders of Jahiliyyah can be quite stressing to the hothouse flowers of jihad.

Tom McDonald directs our attention the newest outburst of piety, the destruction of priceless Assyrian artifacts in newly-ruined Syria.

Of course, the phenomenon is also imposed on the holy places and objects of other "Abrahamic" religions, too. Like the Aya Sofia church in Trabzon (formerly Trebizond) Turkey. There's a court battle over this one, with an initial injunction, but the Age of Erdogan means that this is likely to be a temporary speed-bump.








"America's Colleges and Universities: Where Our Future Leaders Take Hideously-Expensive Vacations from Reality, Common Sense and Adult Responsibility."

University's "weapons policy" bars fencing club from campus: 

[North Dakota State University's] Police and Safety Office Director Ray Boyer cited the school's policy manual and Code of Student Behavior, saying sabers and swords are prohibited on campus:

"They are deemed weapons, and as such, possession or use on University owned or controlled property is prohibited," he says.


Club members who are trained to properly use the equipment say they don't think an epee is much worse than a baseball bat. "In fact, I think it's less dangerous. If you look up like statistics, fencing is an incredibly safe sport," says the club's President Winfield Brand.


Glenn Reynolds puts the culture of academic idiocy into a handy nutshell:

 As Twitter wag IowaHawk japes: "If I understand college administrators correctly, colleges are hotbeds of racism and rape that everyone should be able to attend."

That sums it up pretty well. Though the claim that one in five women on campus is sexually assaulted is pretty clearly bogus — as Bloomberg's Megan McArdle notes, it includes things like sexual touching over clothes, which hardly constitute rape — it's widely repeated, and that surely makes young women a bit less enthusiastic about attending. Then all the responses — involving, basically, kangaroo courts that strip male students charged with sexual assault of all due process protection — don't make campuses more appealing to male students, who are already an under-represented minority on most campuses.

Then there's the race hysteria. Just last week, students at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota canceled a "Hump Day" celebration featuring a camel because someone thought the camel signified racism against Muslims. (Yes, Muslims aren't a race, but that doesn't matter, apparently.) We make fun of Victorians for substituting the term "limbs" for the too-racy word "legs," and for supposedly covering table legs with cloth, but our own era is prone to similar over-delicacy, and campuses — supposedly centers of critical thought — seem to be the worst offenders.

Dartmouth cancelled a charitable fund-raising "fiesta" because one student complained that the word "fiesta" was racist. And going beyond race, commencement speakers, ranging from Condi Rice at Rutgers to Christine LaGarde at Smith, have been turned away by rabid student protests, mocked here by Yale Law's Stephen Carter.

From the economics to the politics, colleges and universities are looking less like serious places to improve one's mind and one's prospects, and more like expensive islands of frivolity and, sometimes, viciousness. And that is likely to have consequences.

Can you say "bursting bubble"? 

I knew you could!

Well, maybe not after four years of college, but you get my drift.





Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Clericalist Mindset.



My favorite Cardinal has it. And he just revealed it today in imitation of the Hagan Lio style of his boss:

"That’s a real problem. I’ve spoken to the pope himself about this, and he said he believes that 50 percent of marriages are not valid. Marriage is a sacrament. A sacrament presupposes faith."

Leaving aside the ridiculous imprudence of Kasper revealing such, there's another serious problem. Namely, that statement is wholly, purely clericalist. Yet neither Commonweal's interviewer nor "Best-educated laity ever!™" commenters even noticed it.

How so? 

"Oh, so it's only the sacrament confected by the *laity* that's invalid half the time--but you *clerics* nail it every single time? How happy for *you*!"

Really. I mean, if we're going to indict the laity for defective sacramental intention, then we'd better worry about the clerics that the same frivolous, dork laity have produced, right? They didn't emerge from some pristine dimension unsullied by the culture, correct? If you're not willing to consider such, then why not? That's one of the places that unfortunate assumption leads. 

Yet another problem with this mindset is that it's an assault on natural marriage, as commenter Danielius points out below:

Hilarious. There goes the tradition that natural marriages are real marriages. Then what about amending the Canon Law, to make some additional rules about entering a marriage? Because if indeed 50% are not valid then how is that not a mockery of the Holy Matrimony to allow this to continue? Oh well, that would be unmerciful, wouldn't it? So instead, lets delegate the power of annulling marriages to the same priests that didn't bother to check if all is in order in the first place. That will work.

The last is crucial: nowhere in Kasper's meanderings is there a hint of clerical negligence in the marriage crisis. If you genuinely believe half of marriages are invalid, that should prompt serious soul-searching on your part, a mea culpa and admission of gruesome failure. But, nope. Vague waving at "bureaucratic" presentations, and that's it. 

Again, how convenient.

No. Half of marriages being null also suggests that this is not exactly the golden age of the church we're told it is, nor is all remotely well. A 50% failure rate is only spectacular in the batting box. And a true church of mercy shouldn't be so sanguine with souls.

Sorry, but that doesn't cut it. At least it shouldn't.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Just a reminder: Make sure to check the batteries on your smoke detectors at least once a year.

On a related note, two Church-y items:

Item No. 1.

The Walter Kasper Victory Tour is in full swing, touching down in New York yesterday for some riotous fun, starting with hot new cuts from his latest opus, Jesus, What's With All These Rules?:

First, he undercuts his German confrere in the CDF:

“If you have a problem with the leadership of the women’s orders, then you have to have a discussion with them, you have to dialogue with them, an exchange of ideas,” he said. “Perhaps they have to change something. Perhaps also the Congregation (for the Doctrine of the Faith) has a little bit to change its mind. That’s the normal way of doing things in the church. I am for dialogue. Dialogue presupposes different positions. The church is not a monolithic unity.”

Second, he compares Elizabeth Johnson to the Angelic Doctor (ISYN):

Asked about Johnson and another feminist theologian, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, whose views have also been disputed by the hierarchy, Kasper said that he has known them both for years and added: “I esteem them both.”

Kasper — often a sparring partner with his fellow German theologian, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Benedict XVI — said that critiques are part of academic discourse but said that the CDF sometimes “sees some things a little bit narrower.”
He said that the criticism of Johnson “is not a tragedy and we will overcome,” and he noted that St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval theologian now considered one of the greatest minds in the church, was condemned by his bishop and lived under a shadow for years.
“So she is in good company!” Kasper said of Johnson.
Esteem for Dr. Schussler-Fiorenza's work is also...fascinating...because of the, how shall I say it...ah, yes: the WTF Factor.

But don't worry--as he correctly notes, he has the Pope's Seal of Approval:

In many ways, Kasper may better reflect Francis’ outlook than the crackdown on U.S. nuns launched by the Vatican’s doctrinal office. Just as Francis has downplayed the focus on rule-following and hot-button issues in an effort to widen the church’s appeal, Kasper has pushed the importance of pastoral flexibility and realism in walking with Catholics throughout their imperfect lives.
Kasper is in the U.S. to discuss his book, “Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life.” It includes a blurb from Pope Francis, who has made mercy a cornerstone of his ministry since he was elected last year.
On Monday, Kasper told the audience that after Francis praised him by name just days after his election, “an old cardinal came to him and said, ‘Holy Father, you cannot do this! There are heresies in this book!’ ”
As Francis recounted the story to Kasper, he said, the pope smiled and added: “This enters in one ear and goes out the other."
Oh, and the Cardinal may have just done the following to Humanae Vitae:





Item No. 2.

Or: Jesus, What's With All These Rules? Vol. II.

The guy the Pope appointed to be Secretary General for the Synod on the Family is stoked for some big changes:

In an exclusive interview with the Christian weekly magazine Tertio which appears this Wednesday, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, says it is time to update church marriage doctrine, for example in connection with divorce, the situation of divorcees and people who are in civil partnerships.

"The Church is not timeless, she lives amidst the vicissitudes of history and the Gospel must be known and experienced by people today," says Baldisseri.

"It is in the present that the message should be, with all respect for the integrity from whom the message has been received. We now have two synods to treat this complex theme of the family and I believe that these dynamics in two movements will allow a more adequate response to the expectations of the people", says the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops.

Which should be a surprise to precisely no one, as he loudly hinted at this last year. Timeless Church? Nah. It's the Church of What's Happening Now, and we have to take our cues from the zeitgeist. 

Eh. It's probably OK.







Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Cheering for the jersey.



Michael Brendan Dougherty launches one into the cheap seats today, weaving together with considerably more verve and skill themes I've taken at a scattershot level. Before you dismiss him as a hater (as about 50% of his commenters have), note the respectful tone and careful framing of the issues (emph. added):

Pope Francis has a funny way of naming and shaming certain tendencies in the church, using insults that are inventive, apposite, and confounding. His ear is finely tuned for the way the Catholic faith can be distorted by ideology. And I'd like to imitate his example when I say this: Most Catholics are completely unprepared for a wicked pope. And they may not be prepared for Pope Francis either. They are more loyal to an imagined Catholic party than to the Catholic faith or the church....


The near omnipresence that the modern papacy achieves through media makes me worry that the institution of the papacy would have already hit upon a grave crisis if it weren't for the unusual theological ability of Joseph Ratzinger, first as cardinal and later as Pope Benedict XVI, acting as a ballast. Modern media, especially the modern Catholic media, has brought the pope into our homes, across the radio, in television, and into our niche media world. He's in the browser of many Catholics every day. And conservative Catholic media relies heavily on the inflated imaginative role of the papacy, just like British tabloids rely on the royals. The pageantry, mystery, and fame attached to the office are a great way of selling magazines, getting clicks, or raising funds. He is the worldwide celebrity that represents "us." He's the reason the Faith gets talked about by others. 

When you add to this the fact that the cultural formation of most engaged Catholics is primarily the ideological combat of political and cultural factions, they tend to treat the pope as their "party leader," and to treat "the world" as an opposing party.

Dougherty also notes that the rhetorical "defensive crouch" is a real problem, given the facts on the ground:

The Catholic Party eclipsing the Catholic Church has a distorting effect on the world's perception too. If the loudest and most prominent orthodox members of the church in the media treat the pope like a party leader and are so quick with clever-dick rationalizations of the massive changes to the practice of the Faith over the past 50 years, why should they be surprised that the world conceives of the doctrines and dogmas of the Faith as mere party planks or mutable policy, to be exchanged, updated, or abandoned as the times change?

And why should they be surprised that even their co-religionists fail to understand the Faith? In truth, the most salient fact of contemporary Catholic life in the West is the way it is pervaded by the pattern of saying things and then acting as if something else were true.

Catholic parishes teach their catechumens that people must be absolved from their mortal sins in sacramental confession before presenting themselves for Holy Communion, yet priests serve communion to packed churches just hours after tiny lines for confession. They say one thing, but act another way. Catholics teach that the Holy Eucharist becomes the body and blood of their Lord, yet the ad-hoc nature of their revised liturgy, the disappearance of genuflection as a Catholic gesture (it's now Tebowing!), and the behavior of priests and extraordinary ministers says that we are as unmoved by consecrated host as Pentecostals.

That about stretches fair use to its limits: tolle, lege--and ponder it. I will just add a huge "AMEN!" to the historical amnesia which fails to inform our discussions and thinking these days. We relish the Newman quote that "to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant," deploying it with saturation-bombing frequency in spats with the sons of the Protestant Reformation. But how many of us--self-included--really have a passable grip on the entirety of Catholic history? I don't. Yet most of us readily appeal to that history without really knowing it.

I think that may be some of the fuel for the infighting. We're in the eternal now--this present moment--without any but the most tenuous grip on the past, save for apologetic sore-spots that require regular applications of topical (rimshot!) cream. That leads to lazy thinking, slogans and catchphrases that substitute for thought. I really need to do better on that. 




Thursday, May 01, 2014

As the wind builds to a gale.



Ches offers some sage spiritual advice, suggesting St. Francis' example. If nothing else, he certainly captures the mood:

 So, what is the relevance of all this? Only that I sense that so many of my readers are probably feeling a little like Theoden at the moment. Hardly a week goes by currently without yet another crazy papal phone call, yet another nutty cardinal promising more madness, and yet another kick in the teeth for simple people of faith. I read today of the suppression of Protect the Pope by the Bishop of Lancaster. Paradoxically, the news arrives twenty-four hours after we read of the rehabilitation of Fr Sean Fagan, a priest whose views were so embarrassingly unCatholic his order bought up remaining copies of his nastiest book. The medicine of mercy would appear to be available but not for the likes of Deacon Nick Donnelly. How did it come to this?

The Fagan release would have been unremarkable had it come with a recanting of his errors. I mean, it was just five years ago that he was deriding and dismissing church teaching. Apparently, "mercy," too, means never having to say you're sorry. 

St. Francis is never a bad example, but I'm not sure the times are analogous. Francis (and Luther, whom Ches also discusses) faced venial clerical corruption, not an attempted revolution from above. Don't get me wrong--I think proposals like Kasper's are objectively-corrupt attempts to reach a concordat with debauched modernity, to hell with the consequences. You can assign him points for good intentions if you like, but recall:




My point is not to deride his advice--it is excellent--but rather to suggest that medieval/Renaissance analogues don't quite fit. The one that does fit best is the post-1965 hurricane, which much of our leadership seems to want to reboot. (And I thought we were going to get a reform of the curia--oops.) I don't think we've canonized anyone yet who offered a counter-example to the clerical ineptitude (and worse) of that era. Nor are we likely to, either, as long as nostalgia for that time of discord and confusion remains strong. 

But I think seeking out a Saint and emulating the way he or she imaged Christ is a good idea. 


As is having him or her help you batten down the hatches before the red-and-black square flag goes up.