Random Thoughts: June 2023

A Preposterous Prediction

Perhaps the Bible story that is the most incomprehensible to modern people is that of Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac as described in Genesis: 22:1-19.

And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

As Sam Harris might have said, this is a superstitious bronze age religious story that makes a preposterous prediction by the grifters who wrote it about 2500 years ago. A prediction as likely as the tiny Pyrenees mountain principality of Andorra becoming a world power. Yet not only are the Jewish people still around, but Christians and Muslims as well.

Foreign Influence

The premise of Russiagate is that it is unconscionable to have foreign influence of any kind in US elections. Yet with no sense of the gross inconsistency of it, the US government and its subservient NGOs are openly active around the world in virtually every country to influence elections. Even more absurd, to initiate regime changes if their election interference has failed. Recently the US lost the election in Turkey and won the election in Thailand.

On Thinking

New technologies, while giving human beings more overall power, reduce individual capabilities. Automobiles give the power to cover great distances, but in turn decrease physical endurance. Electronic calculators are very practical but now most people cannot do arithmetic. Now that we are in the new era of artificial intelligence, I wonder what it will mean to be human. Descartes marked the beginning of the modern human era by stating “I think therefore I am.” Now with AI we don’t have to think, maybe we will not be allowed to think. So in the postmodern, post-human era it is “I don’t think therefore I am not.”

Geopolitics Mafia Style

My vague memory of the end of The Godfather, Part II was a series of violent attacks by the Corelone family against their enemies while packing up to leave the East to go West to Las Vegas. This came to my mind when Russia attacked Ukraine and essentially packed up economically and diplomatically to finally leave the West and to go East.

Our own crime family in Washington, the leader of the free world, sends its representatives around that world (think of the tough guys Victoria Nuland and Samantha Power) to whisper in the ears of our friends, “It is a nice country you have here. It would be a shame if something happened to destroy it and you.”

What is the Munich counterfactual?

Whenever there is any hint of a diplomatic solution to a controversy, especially to avoid war, the gaggle of neocons gather to cackle “Munich, Munich, Munich…never give in to dictators.” Yet I wonder what the Munich counterfactual is? That is, if Chamberlain said no way to AH in 1938 what would have happened? Do they think timid AH would have spent years hiding up in his mountain lair near Berchtesgaden. Who gained by delaying the war just one year? Many think Britain did.

Recently Alexander Lukashenko has essentially made the Munich argument for Russia.  That is, in the Minsk agreements Putin was duped admittedly by Merkle of Germany, Hollande of France and Poroshenko of Ukraine. they took the AH role of making agreements that they did not intend to honor. But is Lukashenko correct? I think the diplomatic and economic victories of Russia that occurred in 2022 would have been questionable in 2015. So no, diplomacy should always be the first option.

Not that I am in thrall of the political wisdom of John Lennon, but I think Give Peace a Chance…and if necessary, prepare for war, makes the most sense.

Prayer Revision

I proposed a prayer for our time.

Dear Lord, in this world of palpable evil, give all people of goodwill the wisdom, the courage, and the means to resist and overcome it.

I have revised it.

Dear Lord, in this world of palpable evil, give all people of goodwill and our enemies the wisdom, the courage, and the means to resist and overcome it.

A Loving Philosopher

I recently attended a small conference in my town Meudon on the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain and his poet wife Raissa, where they lived from 1923 to 1939. The essential element of Maritain was his love, love for his wife, love for his friends, and love for the Catholic faith.

The love story of Jacques and Raissa can be appreciated in counterpoint to Abelard and Heloise, both occurred in Paris with passion and philosophy; but one lasted for decades in happiness while the other was cut short in tragedy. Jacques was from an anti-clerical protestant family. Raissa was a Russian jew. They met while studying at the Sorbonne. In 1901 they both felt the weight of nihilistic, scientific modernism to such an extent that they made a suicide pact; if they could not find meaning in life in one year they would end their lives together. Through the philosophy of Henri Bergson they realized they could critique the modern age and then found meaning in the old Catholic faith. They were baptized together in 1906 in the church Saint Jean in Montmartre. Ironically, this was a very modern church at the time (completed in 1904), decorated on the inside in the Art Nouveau style and the structure of reinforced concrete was revolutionary in its time.

The Maritains’ friends were a diverse (in the old sense) group. Léon Bloy was a reactionary, Catholic writer who is quoted as saying about the Eiffel Tower, “But I love Paris, which is the place of intelligence, and I feel Paris threatened by this truly tragic lampstand sprouting from its belly, which will be visible at night from twenty leagues away …” On the other side of letters, the extreme, avant garde artist of all disciplines Jean Cocteau, an out of the closet homosexual, was also very close. A similar dichotomy of friends was the American revolutionary Saul Alinsky and the Italian Pope Paul VI (though, perhaps he was also revolutionary).

Jacques was a world renowned philosopher, but always deferred to Raissa. She died in 1960. He spent his last years editing and publishing her diary and living a quiet life waiting to join his beloved. When Jacques died 13 years later he was literally buried beneath her. To her gravestone was added simply “et Jacques, 1882-1973” in the bottom right hand corner behind the flowers.

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