Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lewis on Friendship (Pt. II)

Here are a couple more quotes from C.S. Lewis' chapter in The Four Loves devoted to Friendship:

A Friend will, to be sure, prove himself to be also an ally when alliance becomes necessary; will lend or give when we are in need, nurse us in sickness, stand up for us among our enemies, do what he can for our widows and orphans. But such good offices are not the stuff of Friendship. The occasions for them are almost interruptions. They are in one way relevant to it, in another not. Relevant, because you would be a false friend if you would not do them when the need arose; irrelevant, because the role of benefactor always remains accidental, even a little alien to that of Friend. It is almost embarrassing. For Friendship is utterly free from Affection's need to be needed. We are sorry that any gift or loan or night-watching should have been necessary - and now, for heaven's sake, let us forget all about it and go back to the things we really want to do or talk of together. Even gratitude is no enrichment to this love. The stereotyped "Don't mention it" here expresses what we really feel. The mark of perfect Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will) but that, having been given, it makes no difference at all. It was a distraction, an anomaly. It was a horrible waste of the time, always too short, that we had together. Perhaps we had only a couple of hours in which to talk and, God bless us, twenty minutes of it had to be devoted to affairs!

In most societies at most periods Friendships will be between men and men and women and women. The sexes will have met one another in Affection and in Eros but not in this love. For they will seldom have had with each other the companionship in common activities which is the matrix of Friendship. Where men are educated and women are not, where one sex works and the other is idle, or where they do totally different work, they will usually have nothing to be Friends about.

More tomorrow. See here for Part I.


Emoting About Justice

Heather watched a couple of the sessions in Professor Michael Sandel's class on Justice at Harvard and came away a little underwhelmed. She has some very perceptive comments on the vacuousness of much contemporary ethical discourse, and I thought others might appreciate what she wrote:

Surely no one can fault Sandel's class for being uninteresting. I enjoyed watching the first two classes, examining the situations he posed, and hearing the students' opinions. There is, however, a sense in which his class was empty, not for lack of students, rather, in the absence of concrete standards by which to measure the rightness of one choice over another, their discussion of justice was unsubstantial.

In his class, Sandel presented his students with the case of Queen vs. Dudley in which a captain, in order to save himself and two other men, killed Parker, an orphaned cabin boy, for their consumption. Students were asked to articulate their opinions on the case and their views were many and varied. The two students who were called on to defend their belief that murder is objectively wrong were particularly interesting because, though they wanted to say that murder is always wrong, they were hesitant to claim that the other students, who argued that this cannibalism was justified, were objectively wrong. "I think murder is always wrong, but that's just my opinion," claimed one student. When a like-minded student was asked, after declaring his belief in the categorical immorality of murder, if he though his opponents' beliefs were wrong, he responded with a weak "Yes" only when pressed.

Herein lies the problem: the students wanted to say that the murder of Parker was wrong, but they had no basis for doing so. One student tried to argue that the killing was wrong because humans have rights. Though not a bad answer, it was a meaningless one without an indication of why humans are endowed with rights. Without belief in God, black and white merge into a murky grey moral paint whose pigments cannot be separated.

Perhaps the most perceptive response was that offered by a student who thought that Dudley's murderous act was justifiable. This character said, in essence, that "It's all about survival and you have to do what you have to do." In the absence of belief in God, this is the most logical answer. Why should the captain have concerned himself with Parker's happiness when his own life was at stake? Let the captain eat his breakfast in peace.

Rather than calling his class, "Justice: What's the right thing to do?" Sandel should name his course "Opinion Exchange Hour." Philosophy not built on the foundation of belief in God is nothing more than the distribution of human sentiments. The arguer who is "right," then, is the one with the best rhetorical skills.

Heather is exactly right. What happens in so many of our ethical discussions is what philosophers call "emoting." All that happens is that people share their tastes and feelings. It's like having students get up in an auditorium and declare their preference between Coke or Pepsi. It's absolutely inane unless those opinions are grounded in some transcendent foundation, but for the modern secular student there is no such ground so all they can do is emote.


Death of a Movement

Walter Russell Mead rather colorfully, and perhaps prematurely, issues a death certificate for the late movement to reverse global climate change:

...the movement to stop climate change through a Really Big and Comprehensive Grand Global Treaty is dead because there is no political consensus in the US to go forward. It's dead because the UN process is toppling over from its own excessive ambition and complexity. It's dead because China and India are having second thoughts about even the smallish steps they put on the table back in Copenhagen. Doorknob dead.

As the Post story shows, the mainstream media is now coming to terms with the death. Environmentalists are still trying to avoid pulling the plug, but the corpse is already cool to the touch and soon it will begin to smell. As the global greens move from the denial stage of the grief process, brace yourself for some eloquent, petulant and arrogant rage. Tears will be shed and hands will be wrung. The world is stupid, uncaring, unworthy to be saved. Horrible Republicans, evil Chinese, demented know-nothing climate skeptics have ruined the world and condemned our grandchildren to lives of sorrow and pain. Messengers will be shot; skeptics will be blamed for asking questions and the media (and the internet) will be blamed for reporting the answers.

This storm will have to blow for a while; there's a lot of emotion and conviction in the 'climate change' community. A year ago they were the last, best hope of the world, a shining band of brothers (and sisters) who were saving the planet and taming the excesses of self-destructive capitalist greed. The Force was with them and the world lay at their feet. They were going to be greeted as liberators by a grateful world desperate to be saved.

Now they are just another piece of roadkill on the heartless historical highway...

Mead goes on to place the lion's share of the blame on Al Gore:

I think Al Gore failed the climate change movement and that his negligence and blindness has done it irreparable harm. If the skeptics are right and the world isn't warming - or if natural causes are responsible for climate change - it doesn't matter much. But if Al Gore and the climate change people are even half right about what is happening to our world, the cost of Mr. Gore's failures are incalculably great. He was the one world leader who had the standing inside the climate change movement to lead it onto a more sustainable path and, as far as we can tell from the facts now before us, he didn't really try.

One reason for the rapid collapse of the movement, if indeed it has collapsed, besides the obvious fraud and appalling sloppiness that's been uncovered at East Anglia and elsewhere, is that global climate change became a left-wing political cause and thus a tool with which to undermine capitalism. This came at a time when people were growing increasingly impatient with attempts to destroy the American way of life. The shame is that if climate change really is man-made and environmentally threatening, the world will have been poorly served by those who substituted ideological propaganda and deviousness for calm, disinterested science.