Archive | December 2013

My Answer to the Problem of Evil

This is a polished version of the text I sent to everyone who was interested. I have received some wonderful feedback and criticism, which is shifting my views on the subject; this, however, is where I stand at the moment. 

It has been noted by a particularly wise and insightful thinker that this is more an answer to the problem of IMPERFECTION, rather than an answer to the problem of EVIL- it addresses why God would allow there to be pain in life, rather than why God would allow individuals to behave evilly. This is true, and so far as it is true my title is misleading; but, as it seems that “Evil” generally connotes not only personal evil but social and political evils, and in general all things of this universe which cause suffering, I have faith that the general public will sufficiently understand and agree with my points and naming.

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The Problem of Evil says that God cannot exist because there is evil in the world, and an all-powerful, all-benevolent god would not allow evil to exist in a world of his creation. Therefore God cannot exist. It has historically been thought of as the most powerful argument against the existence of a god. Essentially, if God is perfect, why did he not create the universe perfect?

At one level, he did. The Laws of Nature, the basic principles which move the universe, are unbreakable. Everything that exists is subject to them, and nothing is outside their dominion. That sounds fully consistent to me, and if perfection were to be defined merely as consistency in following the rules, then this universe would indeed be perfect. But we humans, possessing a moral sense, see clear imperfection in the world, in that those perfect laws result in a cracked and brutal universe where poverty exists beside affluence, war beside peace, chaos beside order, evil beside good. If one were to analyze solely by material mechanistic values, the world would be perfectly run; but as we humans invariably analyze by sentimental values, and see mortality as an imperfection, we clearly perceive a higher standard than simple mechanism.

Why, then, would an all-powerful, all-loving god create a universe who inhabitants perceived it to be painful and imperfect?

That little slice of heaven within us which sees the evil alloyed with good and strives to right it drives us to action. Driving us to action, it impels us to improve, to make cracked entities less cracked, more perfect. And thus you have the various drives for personal improvement and social improvement that have characterized human civilization over the ages, at times becoming formalized into religious, ethical, and philosophical systems. Are these at times based less upon a will to improve and more upon sheer practicality? Certainly. We do live in the physical universe. But practicality does not necessarily eradicate all possible sentimentality.

So seeing imperfection, people strive to improve. They work on their various faculties, improve their moral sense, strive for greater harmony, seek higher knowledge and deeper happiness, drive to create, drive to preserve, and drive to conquer the eternal questions of mankind. In short, they strive to become more like the omnipotent and benevolent god who created them, though not necessarily consciously. But by striving to become the best possible versions of themselves, they attain higher and higher levels of consciousness and self-realization, clear marks of a greater understanding and higher quality of life.

It should be noted that none of these accomplishments are eternal. No one can solve a single problem Mankind faces forever. Everyone can alleviate Mankind’s problems some small amount; everyone can make advances in their personal life, or in the lives of others. But those advances either die with them, or die with the wear of time. Those which do not die and instead contribute to something truly progressive (such as advances in governance or technology) are invariably two-sided swords, with both good and evil characteristics. The person does not liberate mankind by becoming the best possible version of themself.

But they do free themselves- they do attain a higher understanding of life- they do live life to the fullest- they do die with fewer regrets- and, it would seem, they do use their god-given gifts upon this earth, and become individuals with higher chances of entering the kingdom of heaven, for they have known what life is about.

Therefore, I’d say the purpose of the world’s imperfection is simple- it creates a necessity for improvement, which drives individuals to become the best possible versions of themselves, which is ultimately what god wants them to become. It is not pretty- the history of the world is steeped in blood and tears- but there has forever been opportunity for individuals to improve themselves, help others, and attain higher understandings.

Just as loving parents employ both discipline and rewards to help their children grow, so a loving god provides challenges as opportunities for his children to flourish.

It is very much like the Forbidden Fruit- before it had been consumed, humans lived in a perfect world, where they were nothing more than mindless tools content to live as they were programmed. They were like the cells of the body, each with a specific purpose but no will of its own. When the Forbidden Fruit was consumed, Adam and Eve learned of evil, and evil entered their lives, with all its pain and sorrow; but so, too, came the possibility of knowledge, of improvement, of redemption. The serpent was right- in consuming the Forbidden Fruit, and attaining the full humanity of those who live in a world alloyed with good and evil, Adam and Eve entered the race to become the best possible versions of themselves, and therefore became like God.

tl dr, The universe is imperfect and evil exists to present a necessity for improvement, which, as humans strive to fulfill, causes them to become the best possible versions of themselves, which is what God wants us to become in this life.

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Man as an Analogue to the Universe, the Reason for the Imperfection of Man and the Universe, and the General Purpose of Life

“For Gold is tested in Fire…” -Sirach
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When posed the question “Why is this Universe imperfect? How could a perfect God do such a thing, as create an imperfect Universe?” I must first refer back to my thesis expressed some years ago, that the selfsameness of our universe implies a series of fundamental principles by which it runs, writ by some divine hand for purposes unknowable to Man. 

And what might have been that purpose?
 
Quite succinctly, to become the best possible version of oneself. To discern purpose in life, to balance the various faculties and impulses, to fulfill one’s tasks vigorously, to obtain greater and greater understanding til at last the Maker takes us to him.
 
To do this, our meager wills require challenges.
 
Challenges worth conquest, problems worth fixing, only exist in a Universe- and a person- which we perceive need to be fixed.
 
Therefore there is a dichotomy between perfection in the principles laid out by the Creator, discernible by philosophy and science, and perfection as that nebulous seed of the eternal implanted within us compels us to see it. And thus, though the eternal principles which command this universe are iron in their will across time and space, we humans nonetheless look upon the results- the world we inhabit, and the civilization we build- as imperfect, requiring solution by some sort of perfect scheme reflecting the principles we see in our heads, which when we practice amongst each other cause us to be good and wise. We see that the eternal principles we wish followed go entirely unfulfilled. 
 
The bold among us strive to right these wrongs, improving ourselves and attempting to improve the world. Yet it has been obvious to the generations that the world never becomes more improved other than in a few certain methods in a few certain spots, which inevitably slide back to decay in due time. And these cannot even be called anything like perfection as the eternal seeds within us see it, for these (as all temporal things) are “good[s] alloyed will ills*” fraught with both good and evil, and might at best be called either gray or checkered.
 
Even the self, it seems, can only be improved to a degree, as is evidenced by the fact that what outstanding individuals there are nonetheless possess critical flaws and, in the last measure, grow old and die. 
 
But that final fate beclouds what can be done in a lifetime. Indeed, it is an immense dichotomy, that the individual can become a balanced, progressing whole, whereas the world must ever remain torn asunder by the various factions of men and the precipitous vicissitudes of nature.
 
If the Universe truly were an analogue for Man at large, and vice versa, would it not be true that the Universe, too, could progressively improve itself, or that Man would lie in split chaos for the duration of his pitiful life?
 
Let us begin with the basic structure before proceeding to the question of command.
 
It seems that Man, like the Universe, is composed of various and diverse entities, competing and cooperating at different times, each seeming to have its perfect place but none truly inhabiting that place entirely. In the Universe, these entities include the various levels and factions of men, the races and nations, empires and individuals. More broadly these include the various forces of nature contrasted to each other, and the iterations of man’s and nature’s power expressed through broad movements and trends. In Man, these entities include the various cells and organs which compose our bodies, and most importantly those three broad classes of often-clashing impulses which correspond to the ancient dictum of Body, Mind, Spirit**: the Instincts, the Reason, and the Passions. As men compose the human world, which is indeed a part of the universe, it seems that the iterations of these among the masses of men- Need, Thought, and Passion- are indeed similarly driving forces in the world at large.
 
And what happens in the Universe beyond the human individual? So far as concerns the human political world, and indeed the world of nature, that is easy- chaos and order, war and peace, poverty and wealth, virtue and license. The organizing principles are apparent, but never do they rule justly. Fickle are the ways of men, and the ways of nature. The story of things seems to be endless tumult and undulation. What civilization or ecosystem arises invariably falls, and what replaces it is fundamentally no different- for there is nothing new under the sun, as prescribed by the ancients. All resembles what has been, in the largest structure of things and within the human breast.
 
The same is true of the human individual, with a single exception. While the above is true of the Universe at large because God rules through his eternal principles and, for whatever reason, allows what the eternal spark within us sees as chaos to flourish, we humans possess a free will to direct our own fates to a certain degree***. And at another level, while the chaos-yet-order of the Universe at large is caused by the presence of various clashing factions and wills and a God who stands back and allows them to clash for his own purposes*4*, the human being can, through discipline and patience, bring all the clashing impulses within him under the command of a single will. Perhaps in that way we are somewhat like God, though vastly inferior to his power and goodness.
 
And bringing ourselves under such self-control, we can improve ourselves, and work to improve our world. It is an interesting negative feedback loop, that when striving to improve the world according to our vision, we worsen it to others’ vision, and breed greater conflict and animosity, further drawing out the chaos.
 
Now, were the Universe we inhabit perfectly run, WITHOUT these imperfections, it is quite likely that we would be but mindless tools, consigned to perform brainless, will-less tasks in service of the broader whole, from birth til death. We would be no more mindful than the individual cells composing our bodies, each of us born to a very specific purpose, and to be cast aside and left to die when our usefulness had ended. The Universe, and the human world, would be perfect- perhaps even painless. But there could be no freedom, nor purpose in life.
 
Free will is somewhat a curse, then, as it brings us pain and establishes human and worldly imperfection. But it is a beautiful curse in that it is simultaneously a blessing, endowing us with the power and responsibility to rise permanently above the level of the mindless cell to new heights, improving our faculties, adjusting our world, and discerning a purpose in this grand Universe God created.
 
And by doing this- by accepting the mantle of freedom, and all the good and ill it brings with it- by living life- human beings have the capability to become the best possible versions of themselves, pursuing purpose as they see fit and growing in understanding and wisdom. The world is in chaos around them, yet those who understand the purpose of life are unfazed. In fact they relish the chaos, and flourish in the imperfection, for such great fissures in the fabric of reality offer problems for human beings to manage, to create solutions to. And how better can Man imitate God than in the act of creative creation?*5*
 
The identity of Man is molded and carved by many things which he, once born to, cannot change. But the primary identity of Man is defined by he over the course of life, in what he does and what he chooses. It is fortunate that challenges exist for us to conquer, however temporarily- for if they did not, we would all be far too same indeed! And more, it is well that none of us are capable of even collectively establishing a perfect world- for if we did, how drab would be the lives of all our posterity, inhabiting that “gray twilight which knows neither victory nor defeat*6*” sure to becloud a world without challenge!
 
Therefore, complain not of the imperfection of the Universe, or of the Problem of Evil*7* as prime evidence for the impossibility of God! A God who loves his creations is as a Father who loves his children- he gives them what they need, but forces them to grow on their own. Were this world and universe entirely good, it would be impossible for us to grow, to develop, to become better and to understand more. And thus the seed of the eternal (our view of Heaven) within us assumes a new purpose- were our minds structured only by the principles by which this universe runs, we would more readily adapt to it, and see no imperfections- only slight malfunctions. But as we see evils which, truth be told, are endemic to the system we inhabit, as they are made inevitable by the eternal principles running the universe, we possess within us a desire and will to bring such perfection to our world, to spread Heaven unto Earth! Yet it is all folly, for such can never be. But there IS one crucial particle of importance in this situation.
 
For from that desire for a perfect world, we find in ourselves a new energy which causes us to vigorously strive to improve ourselves, and to improve what we see around us. And so long as we continue to do so over the course of our lives, we become ever more the wonderful beings God intended us to be.
 
I am of the opinion that God would prefer for us to be the greatest possible version of ourselves rather than anything less when we approach St. Peter’s gate. A greater maturity on Earth might lead to a better soul in Heaven, more aligned with those principles of prudence and vigor which bring success in this world, yet those truths of goodness and wisdom which bring a slice of Heaven to it.
 
Yet even if there were no God, and the great majority of my analysis and thought were in vain, is it not entirely true that it is better to live life to the fullest than to anything less than that? Is that not the proper way to spend such a short allotment of time in this glorious temporal world, with naught but the silence of death awaiting? Are those who live in such a way not more pleasant to be around than those who go with the flow and wait for life to happen to them? Are not their lives, by some objective measure, better lived?
 
_____________
 
I have dallied far in the present exploration. I must reiterate a crucial point.
 
It must start with self-realization and self-mastery. That is what makes a Man different from the Universe- we can bring together all our faculties and cause them to serve a single purpose, whereas (so long as God continues what he has been doing) no mind will ever command the Universe with equal vigor. And vigor is necessary in our case! “Fortune favors the bold,” said the Machiavel, and the person without it lives not life. Prudence, too, counsels us the proper proportion of everything, and is an excellent rudder for the sail of Vigor. In Earthly things, these are paramount. Yet Man is not simply a physical and social being, but a spiritual one; truth is not only discerned by experience, reason, passion, and instinct, but by that “spark of celestial fire*8*” ever-whispering to us in the silence of our hearts, called conscience. And thus virtue, too, must be cultivated and maintained, not solely for ease of transaction but also in cases when transactions are not at ease- for the sole purpose of goodness is goodness. And to understand the callings of the spirit tying us to the eternal, it is crucial to understand wisdom- for it is by methods discernible by wisdom alone that God’s work is done on this Earth.
 
The pursuit and observation of these goods, critical to a decent life, necessary for the bringing out of the best possible version of one’s self, ought to be the highest aim of every breathing individual- excellence in the eyes of God, excellence among men, excellence to oneself. And from this cultivation (though from other means too, but best from this cultivation) spring all those other goods- patience, service, discretion, good sense, honesty, happiness, judgment, courtesy, intelligence, creativity, passion, empathy, fortitude- critical to a saint, and excellent in a Man. 
 
The situation is prime for anyone to be great- there are any number of problems to be solved, and everyone is born and remains as cracked and imperfect as is the world, yet possesses the spark of internal fire requisite to conquest. The only thing necessary is to choose to improve, and bear through with that choice til the touch of death.
 
The Man who dies without so striving cheats himself, and forsakes that greatest gift called Life.
 
 
 
*”‘Tis the portion of Man, assigned to him by the eternal allotment of Providence, that every good which he enjoys shall be alloyed with ills, that every source of his bliss shall be a source of his affliction, save Virtue alone, that only unmixed good permitted to his temporal condition.” -Alexander Hamilton
**Though what we call “Mind” and “Spirit” have been scientifically proven to be manifested by physical bodily chemicals, they are not merely of the body- the form a thing takes does not necessarily prove its nature, and we are not beings merely seeking dopamine and serotonin bursts. This is another discussion.
***Of course this is not a full endorsement of free will over determinism- both have their parts and both must be taken in proper measure. Yet another discussion.
*4*Being all-powerful, it is assumed he would stop this if he wished.
*5*Perhaps by love; but that is another discussion entirely.
*6*”Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, though checkered by failure, than to take rank among those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, for they inhabit the gray twilight which knows neither victory nor defeat.” -Teddy Roosevelt
*7* An ancient philosophical argument for atheism: If God were all good and all powerful, would he not design a universe which was all good, out of his omnipotent benevolence? Why, then, is there evil in the world? Is God crazy? Or does he not exist?
*8*”Never let die in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.” -George Washington

A Paradox in American Politics and Society

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I have been reading much more on domestic structural politics these days, and in many ways, things are looking grim. Yet every problem brings with it countless opportunities, and in many more ways, the future of America looks to be brighter than ever before, should the American people rise up to the challenge.

 

But there is one particular set of challenges which boggles my mind, appearing resolutely unsolvable. Two trends are speeding up in American political and social life, and two old ways of life are ending. It appears as though they may be joined at the hip; but the supposed policy solutions for them are quite contradictory, and it seems that nothing but the greatest amount of political creativity could bring them to workable solutions.

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First, the old blue social model is breaking down and decaying. In a nutshell, this is a hybrid of what conservatives would call “Big Government” and what liberals would call “Big Business:” that sacred bond between regulatory agencies and government, and monopolistic national corporations, that for decades since the Great Depression has ensured the relative stability and tranquility of American life. Now of course, there have been tumultuous times this century, most famously in the late 1960s; but for the most part, the combination of ever-increasing wages and perpetually secure jobs, and generous entitlements and social safety net countermeasures, kept Americans enjoying a reasonably high standard of living for the better part of the Twentieth Century.

 

http://www.the-american-interest.com/articles/2012/01/24/the-once-and-future-liberalism/

 

Now that model appears more at risk than ever before. Obamacare and the Stimulus Package, by some measures, represented the blue model’s dying furthest reaches, and prompted its dying gasps. For quite some time now it has been obvious that American demography cannot sustain the current design of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Most Americans reading this essay will not receive benefits from more than one of the above-listed programs, if that. Subsidized corporations and institutions have failed and failed again- witness the car companies of Detroit and the banks which fell in 2008- and while the sluggish titans of the last century fade into irrelevance, sustained only by public support, new, entrepreneurial upstarts competing with dozens of others are driving the advancement of civilization. The trend is clear- an almost libertarian spirit overtakes American politics as social programs shrink and private business booms, and corresponding political movements like the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party attain power they’d never known before. The old system’s fundamentals will be kept, but its spirit will die.

 

http://www.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2011/12/06/the-age-of-hamilton/

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Yet simultaneously, the income divide and wealth gap are strung further apart than ever before, and rising levels of inequality threaten the institutions of our republic. It is not mere rhetoric to lament the influence of big money upon politics; ever since the reforms against corrupt political bosses made in the 1960s and 1970s, the time-old tradition of patronage has been subverted in favor of the ultimately more fair system of campaign fundraising- a fairness which has resulted in the victory in politics of consistently the most ideological candidates, who have in turn granted favors and concessions to those elites whose funds put them in office. The quality of statecraft has receded as the stain of money blotted out entirely the smear of favor.

 

http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/roots-government-shutdown

 

But it is not only in high politics (and correspondingly, policymaking) that the ascendency of the elite is felt. For politics and policymaking tend to exert influences upon every aspect of society, from education systems to banking trends to zoning to foreign investment to civil rights, and there are those who dedicate themselves (wrongheadedly in my opinion) to seeking out all the invisible strings implicating the ultra-rich in the degradation of the environment, the erosion of civil liberties, the contamination of justice, and any number of other important and emotional issues. With these, I am not particularly concerned. What worries me is the increasing clarity that American politics grows more tumultuous, less predictable and homogenous; it is in periods of great tumult that new eras are forged, and with one faction of Americans demanding the heads of the rich, another singing the praises of elitism, the prospects are not good for the old middle-class lifestyle in which we all grew up. The problem is not so much that some Americans have very much and is getting more, while a great majority have less and are losing some. This is a basic fact of life. Rather, the problem lies in the fact that, as Madison counseled, these two kinds of factions are ever at arms against each other, to the detriment of the state and society as a whole.

 

The ensuing chaos must be managed so that class warfare does not spiral out of control. And it is quite clear how governments have, in the past, managed tensions between declining middle classes and decadent elites- through government interventions which some might call social engineering.

 

http://www.the-american-interest.com/articles/2013/04/12/the-political-roots-of-inequality/

 

What a paradox, then! Let’s recap: On the one hand, an old way of doing things- the blue model- is ending, and the forces of innovation are rising to fill the gap. On the other hand, one of the results of that old way of doing things- the middle class- is also declining and being replaced by an incredible polarization of wealth, a problem which the government is best fit to remedy. Government activism must shrink to allow natural forces to do their work; government action must grow to prevent natural forces from upsetting the system. What madness hath Man wrought!

 

Truth be told, I have no idea how this paradox might be resolved. It will take a generation in office with greater political creativity than we have seen in any since the beginning of the Cold War to lay down a sufficient domestic strategy to overcome these challenges.

 

This is an example of our need to transcend bipolarity in politics and establish another bipartisan coalition or single-party dominance upon principles of vigorous, efficient government in pursuit of economic growth and physical security. America has seen her greatest eras of expansion under such governments, and the problems presently facing the republic would seem best resolved in that time-tried method.

 

Perhaps I ought not be so shocked that a paradox is evident here. For paradoxes and contradictions can, at times, be the most certain truths. The Paradox of Balance and Progress comes to mind; it is a truism that all things must be in their proper places and proper amounts, balanced each against all others and against itself, for the universe to know harmony; yet it is equally a truism that time wears down all things, including all orders, and that this process of continuous change is at work upon all things and against all things. Thus balance is eternally upset by progress, while progress is eternally contained by balance. These forces- forward and to the sides- counteract each other obviously, yet both exist in each other’s universe, in fullest harmony.

 

Just as the master priest- the prudent statesman- the wise individual- must invariably harmonize these opposing forces in his life and work in order to maximize success, so the statesmen of the upcoming generation must work with a reforming society with less a need for the institutions of the blue model, and a shrinking government, yet a polarizingly unequal society with a need for greater management and regulation in an uncertain era. This is one of many great dilemmas they will have to resolve, as they lead our country into its next exciting chapter as a nation.