Thursday, February 24, 2011

Of no great relevance

I could be asked why I dislike so much the present POTUS.

I could mention many ideological reasons. But the simplest answer is this:

I love America, as she was. Now he is trying to change her into a kind Western Europe.

Whatever one may think of Western Europe, by resembling to it America would no longer be America.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A doubtful foreboding of democracy

I know I am at fault. I should be more diligent and prompt in coming to this page. Otherwise the five readers of this blog might get discouraged and forget to click it.

Important things are happening of a very complex character which should require some comments.

In Egypt and Tunisia, autocratic leaders of long standing have been overthrown by popular protest, also extending to other Arabic and Berber countries, from Algeria to Yemen.

Is it a good thing? A foreboding of democracy? Hard to say.

To add trouble to trouble, I ain’t sure there is much of a clear view of the situation with those who, on our side, should be governing it.

I wrote to a friend of mine living near Boston about the troublers we are having in Italy, where the left wing opposition and non elected officers in the administration of justice are trying to overthrow the legitimately elected government, on the excuse that our rich Prime Minister from time to time enjoys evenings at his mansion with friends and beautiful girls. Things perhaps made known by the NYT.

It is the usual double standard of the left, he remarked. And who are we to judge others, he added, if “a man of no accomplishments--not too much intelligence and no skills in foreign diplomacy (Egypt)--is (still) deemed by the left media as the messiah” (too bad, I say, that he is unable to restore the kingdom, and instead works at its demise). “What a joke – my friend adds – I live in hopes that he is a one-term president”.

In the meantime such a man stumbles along.

When he could have made pressures on Mubarak for more democracy in Egypt, he instead delivered the Cairo speech, where he stated that democracy can’t be imposed from outside. And now it looks like it was him who wanted Mubarak’s head, so to pass himself as the defender of democracy, being though the same man who a couple of years ago stayed silent before popular protests in Iran.

Better our women loving PM, than that man and his wife, so insensible to the American people’s demands. Poor man in the White House, who looks confused by a reality he doesn’t understand.

Not easy to understand as a matter of fact for any of us – but we aren’t presidents of the United States.

It looks to me we are living under his (non)guidance the Munich syndrome (you remember, when Chamberlain gave in to the Nazis, thus preparing the Second World War?).

In Egypt, the same populace that seemed to be fighting for democracy, sexually aggressed the American journalist Lara Logan at the cry of “Jewish, Jewish”.

On the background of the so called Egyptian “revolution” looms the shadow of the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, there are pundits in the MSM and in academia who think of it as a kind of moderate group. It would be as if in the French Revolution one thought the Jacobins were moderates.

I know I didn’t write anything particularly original. Such could only be a reflection on revolution, and what it could be in the life of different peoples, coming from different traditions. The irony, for example, in the 1978 Iranian revolution, is that while opposing the West it made its own precisely a most Western category of political thought such as revolution.

The trouble is that we haven’t been able to make instead the notion of democracy penetrate the Muslim world.

Perhaps because not even we do know what it is – as it shows the division of right and left, up in arms one against the other, about which I discussed with my friend.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Thoughts on LiveAction

I had hoped to avoid the debate surrounding the moral status of the Live Action investigators' behavior toward Planned Parenthood.

In private correspondence I have to the best of my ability answered a series of questions touching basic principles of moral theology, as well as their general and specific applications.

Rather than abating, however, requests for a more public engagement have increased, as have the attacks on the moral character of Live Action and the LA Actors, who have a right to their good name.

Then, there is the matter of the POTUS, who, apropos the uproar over PP's MO in a central NJ office, has praised PP as, "[Having] done good work in the past," and dismissed the concern as "manufactured."

I wonder whether the President knows that, in the past, Planned Parenthood was founded by a racist eugenicist (links to NYU's Sanger Papers Project page - let Sanger's damnatio memoriae come by her own words, as sympathetically presented as possible) for the express purpose of making it as unlikely as possible that people who look like the POTUS ever make it to the world.

That question will have to wait.

The real issue arising out of the President's remarks is whether there be anything to the charge of "manufacturing" outrage.

There are, therefore, three broad areas of conern in the following reflections:

  1. The question whether Live Action's tactics are morally licit;
  2. The question whether the accusations against Live Action, which come from sources opposed to Planned Parenthood, are founded;
  3. The question whether the claims against Live Action, which come from certain of Planned Parenthood's supporters are meritorious.

Before engaging directly, allow me to engage in a little throat clearing.

I) Is lying always wrong?

Yes, lying is always wrong.

Nevertheless, not every deception is a lie.

Dissembling, equivocation, obfuscation, obtuseness, and many other forms of communicative dexterity are available to the person who would either keep the truth from one who would have it for sinful purposes, or to obtain the truth from one who would unrightfully conceal it.

The question is, therefore, whether LiveAction's was a morally licit use of deception.

II) Was LiveAction's deception morally licit?

  • General concerns: broadly and generally, moral science recognizes that the use of deception (dissembling, equivocation, obfuscation, obtuseness, inter alia -and even on to subterfuge), if it is to be licit, must be (1) accomplished with a view to protecting or achieving some important good; (2) practiced on someone whose rights to the truth (again, to have it or to conceal it) are attenuated.
Because deceptions like that of LiveAction can be licit in principle, the present analysis is specific: it concerns the moral quality of the project that exposed the Perth Amboy center of Planned Parenthood Central New Jersey (you can see the unedited footage here; transcript here).
  • The first thing to do is determine what kind(s) of deception is (are) being employed. There are two broad categories of deception: deceptions that use the truth or parts of the truth; deceptions that involve the telling of untruth. While moral scientists disagree about whether cases falling under the second category are ever licit, it is generally true that the more complex cases arise under the first category. On the surface, it would perhaps seem that the Live Action investigators tell untruths.

  • Having read the transcript carefully, however, I cannot find any utterance of the LA "pimp" and "prostitute" that could not have been, in some sense, true. NB, I do not mean that their statements could be rendered true, should they have availed themselves of the (sometimes, at least) morally problematic practize of mental reservation. With the exception of their claim, "we're involved in sex work," which is a classic case of equivocation, most of the other statements were simply too vague to be false. Only the circumstances and the expectations/assumptions of the PP office manager led this last to attach specific (and in the event, erroneous) significance to, and draw the conclusions from the statments of the Live Action investigators.
  • Their statements are definitely misleading. Similar deception could be - and often is - illegal, as when one deliberately misleads an agent of the civil authority who is conducting a legitimate investigation by legitimate means. Such behavior in such circumstances is often also sinful, for the duty owed such an agent in such circumstances is often one of transparent and fulsome (even if not necessarily cheerful) cooperation. Such a duty, however, is not comparable to the duty owed those who engage, under the aegis of law and with public financial support, in morally reprehensible practices, some of which are quite possibly illegal.
  • The citizenry have a right to know whether those who receive public money in support of their activities are really serving the common good in a manner consistent with the purposes for which they were awarded public money, in the first place; it were absurd to think that those, who receive public funding, should receive it in order that they break the law. Citizens certainly have the right to inquire into such organizations.The idea that either Planned Parenthood, or PP's employees should have a right to privacy while conducting business in public, is absurd.
  • Indeed, the LA actors relied on the PP employee's readiness to draw precisely the conclusions she did, in order to expose practices about which the larger public has an undoubted and invincible right to know.
The proper moral register in which to account for LA's conduct is therefore that of Socratic eironeia, for which, regrettably no adequate term in current, non-technical English is available, but which may nevertheless be sufficiently described as the wiley employment of one's own superior material knowledge, mental and verbal dexterity, in order to further the cause of truth.

In that register, the conduct of LA is most praiseworthy.

III) Manufacturing moral outrage

We must admit that the President's charge has some degree of merit, and so on its face: the public outrage - which must be sufficient to encourage even Planned Parenthood's staunchest supporters in the Federal legislature to put a freeze on PP's funding pending an investigation into their business practices - is the result of a dramatic contrivance.

The dramatizing of injustice will always involve some art. The question is whether the injustice is real, whether it is worth the cost in time and energy of the drama.

The question remaining is whether those, who oppose Planned Parenthood and hate abortion as they hate hell, can also bring themselves to think all the good they can about Planned Parenthood and the Planned Parenthood employees.

We are not called only to "think all the good [we] can" about the people with whom we agree. Indeed, it is most important that we follow the maxim in our dealings with people who do not share our opinions, our views, our basic understanding of fundamental moral principle.

This being the case, are we not - all of us - a little to quick to think the worst about the Planned Parenthood people in the video, and about Planned Parenthood in general? Do we want the terrible things exposed in the LA video to be generally true of the whole organization? Is not their mere involvement in the terrible sin of abortion enough to condemn them? Would you breathe a sigh of relief, if you were to discover that Planned Parenthood does not allow its branch offices to act as accessories to underage sex slavery, that PP conducts responsible oversight (I do not know that they don't in the first case, or that they do in the second. This is a hypothetical)?

Finally, are you willing to consider that the office manager, who has lost her job as a result of the Live Action exposure (she deserved to be fired, at least), might have been genuinely concerned for the health of the poor girls her prospective client was putatively pimping? Might she not have thought herself in a condition not unlike that of the bystander required to bind the guard and the bank teller, so the robber might commit his crime without adding to it the crime of murder? In short, might she not have been seeking to do what she understood to be the best she could for the girls supposedly enslaved by the putative pimp?

I am not saying this would make the erstwhile PP office manager's behavior less sinful, or less illegal. It would not. Nevertheless, it does speak to a discipline both moral and a spiritual, which those who would engage in and/or benefit from such behavior as Live Action has recently exhibited would do well to cultivate.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Believers and non believers

I join in – pray forgive me if a little belatedly – a point discussed in two previous post by the LD.

Since I started studying philosophy and theology about forty years ago, I felt ill at ease with the notion of "faith". I landed, coming from Italy, into an American university which was also a Methodist seminar: Drew University in Madison NJ. Which means that I found myself, Catholic, amidst Protestants, and I found them wavering between a notion of faith as something hanging on the air (a direct gift to you from the Holy Spirit, I suppose, for which you have no way to account) on one side, and blatant rationalism on the other.

I wasn't able to tell why, but I knew that it couldn't be was I had been taught since I was a child, when I heard speaking of faith.

I had to realize with my discomfort, as my studies went on, that faith talk among Catholic philosophers and theologians didn't differ so much from that which I found at Drew University.

Once a colleague in the school where I taught, un comunistone (blatant communist) I'd say in Italian, told me, well, faith is a gift, either you have it or you don't. I suppose that saying so was on his part a way to open a conversation with me, who should have agreed with him that he unfortunately hadn't received such a gift, so accepting that there was no way for me to talk about matters of faith in a reasonably acceptable way.

He tried, in other words, to bring me on his ground: of a world divided in "believers and non believers", in which believing is a kind of optional, to be excluded from the basic model conversation. But I refused to play his game, and pointedly remarked that this thing that he called "faith" I didn't have it, and neither had it, say, a Thomas Aquinas or an Augustine of Hippo.

I had to find, though, that this contraposition of believers and non believers was largely accepted even in the Church. While priests didn't show a real awareness of the confusion tied to the use of the word faith: that may be they said it meaning something, while their interlocutors would probably understand something totally different. To my making, or better trying to make them priest remark this, they usually answered with a countenance that said, we don't know what are you talking about.

In the meantime the archbishop of Milan instituted in his dioceses a "chair of the non believers", to give voice to people extraneous or estranged from the Church – as if they needed such a favor.

I was confirmed unfortunately of the insensitiveness of qualified Catholics on this regard, when I read recently the pastoral constitution of Vatican II Gaudium and spes.

There it was, the heinous expression, "believers and non believers", by which believers accepted to let non believers define them. As if faith were simply a belief that one may hold or not.

Belief is opposed to knowledge, that everyone should hold. But knowledge is thus understood as nothing more than technical competence. For example in building an atomic bomb, or manipulating genes. Independently of what we otherwise thought of nature at large, or of life. This would be a matter of belief, i.e. of opinion.

Hence the remarks that aroused the LD's protest: that abortion is against Catholic faith. Well, of course it is, but just because Catholicism is what the name says, universal, and sets no limits to the universal recognition of human life, refusing to make it depend on acceptance, personal and social – as the pro choice claim it to be when they defend the right to abort.

I was liberated from my perplexity concerning faith by the reading of s. Augustine's De vera religione, where he said that two things are necessary for man's salvation: authority and reason, the one bringing to faith, the other bringing to the intelligence of things.

This brought me back to my earliest study of law, before the aporias I found in it brought me to philosophy and theology. I remembered that, in the tradition of roman jurisprudence still pervading our treatment of legal matters, I already run into faith.

In the analysis of the elements of the contract, it was in fact included, besides the object and capable partners with valid motives, also the bona fides on their part. I remember that the book explained it as the attitude of the good father of the family – presumably knowing what that is. I take it now to mean the reliability of a man, the lack of cheating intentions that makes anyone a trustworthy person.

There I had already the true meaning of faith:
the trust that makes one believe what others say, or at least enter into conversation with them.

The simple conclusion to be drawn from such an understanding of faith, is that it makes no sense to oppose those who have it and those who don't: believers and non believers. Nobody can live without trusting others, believing what they say and holding it true. Only remains, then, the difference between believers, whom they trust and for which reason.

Let me add, to close, that exemplary reason for trust is a liberal way of being: meaning with this nothing political in the current sense of the word, but a magnanimous and generous personality, ready to give and receive from others – ready, in the most heroic case, to self-sacrifice.

I take this to be the core of what the LD called Adamsian conservatism.