Saturday, July 22, 2017

Let's Read: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (Ch.7)

Now that our protagonist has gained an immense amount of power through trickery and bullshit—just like a modern day politician!—what does he do? Start a campaign to eliminate unjust economic conditions? Nah. He, in true White CisHet standards, complains about his diggity-dog-gone living arrangements.

As for conveniences, properly speaking, there weren’t any. I mean little conveniences that make the real comfort of life. […] There was no soap, no matches, no looking-glass—except for a metal one, about as powerful as a pail of water” (47).

                He goes on like this for a while complaining about a whole host of things. And though I sympathize with him about his dislocation, I also find him extremely whiny. Trust me, bro, others have it far worse than you in this century; though you can say that about many people in many different times, considering that the sixth century is supposed to be an extremely violent and turbulent place, I find it particularly annoying that Protag-man is complaining about creature comforts.

I saw that I was just another Robinson Crusoe cast away on an uninhabited island, with no society but some more or less tame animals, and if I wanted to make life bearable I must do as he did—invent, contrive, create, organize things; set brain and hand to work, and keep them busy. Well, that was in my line” (48).

                I was wondering when the Crusoe reference would inevitably emerge. But still, check out that elitism—he’s even more of an asshat than I imagined! Believing that those around him are, literally, tamed animals. Now, we are, of course, all animals, but Protag-man is not referring to humans in the evolutionary sense, rather, in the derogatory Speciest sense.

                But Protag-man does have an otherworldly air about him. I guess that is why people start coming from all corners of Britain to see him; evidently, magicians are this epoch’s celebrities.
I had to go out a dozen times a day and show myself to these reverent and awe-stricken multitudes” (49).

                The burdens of being famous! Protag-man should get together with Eminem and compare notes on the poverty of being famous, shitty cock-heads. Perhaps they should start a charity to help make their inane whining more palpable? Or maybe they should just jump from a cliff and do the world a favor. Regardless, they should in the very minimum shut the fuck up.

                But I digress.

But the poor, deluded masses begin clamoring for another miracle… or, well, a miracle which wasn’t a threat at global extinction. So Protag-man must, I know, do shit and shit and conjure about another moment of BS.

Next, Clarence found that old Merlin was making himself busy on the sly among those people. He was spreading a report that I was a humbug, and that the reason I couldn’t accommodate the people with a miracle was because I couldn’t” (49).

                Merlin really is a dick-wad. But, I guess it is as Highlander argues—‘there can only be one [bullshitter]!’ Merlin: sixth century Trotskyist wrecker.

                So Merlin gets thrown in prison, as he rightfully deserves; Protag-man doesn’t take kindly to his subversive words. He now occupies the same cell that Protag-man occupied, how quaint! With that detail locked up, Protag-man is now free to work out his master plan—blow up Merlin’s tower by way of science!... well, lightening and stuff, but you get the idea.

                Since Merlin’s tower is a massive, four-hundred year old Roman fortification, Protag-man takes it upon himself to create some ‘blowing powder’ to help along the process. He plans on putting it throughout the tower so as to have it ignite when the lightning strikes, thus blowing the whole thing to Timbuctoo. How’s that for a miracle‽

                But the time comes for the ‘miracle’ to be performed. Protag-man has Merlin brought up and dares him to counter-act said miracle: he draws some fancy air circle. It does nothing.

I made about three passes in the air, and then there was an awful crash and that old tower leapt into the sky with chunks, along with a vast volcanic fountain of fire that turned night to noonday, and showed a thousand acres of human beings groveling on the ground in a general collapse of consternation. Well, it rained mortar and masonry the rest of the week. This was the report; but probably the facts would have modified it" (52).

                I’m surprised that this works. I mean, that it quite the feat, to make all that explosive powder, connect it with the proper materials, and then connect that material to a lightning rod and hope that the charge is enough to set off the whole thing. Sounds like there is a lot of room for it to go bad.

                I love, though, that final sentence about the facts. At least Protag-man is very much aware of his duplicitous nature; that is what makes him readable, that he is a cipher for the colonizing ape. If he was not aware of his scheming nature, then he would be totally insufferable, but as he is knowledgeable of his asshat quality, he is fun to read.

                But the miracle is effective and it satisfies the people, all of whom scamper back to their hamlets after the tower is blown to high heaven. Protag-man shows Merlin mercy and takes him on as an underling, even rebuilding his tower at government expense (the protagonist’s words, not mine), though Merlin never thanks Protag-man for said mercy. I guess con-men stick together.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Anselm on Divine Attributes (Notes:64)

On the basis of the ontological argument, what else can we know about God? According to Anselm, a whole host of ideas as they relate to goodness and justice and the like; and yet, this knowledge about God’s divine attributes leads to seemingly contradictory ideas (God being just, as an example, yet still retaining unlimited power; if God can’t lie, therefore, but he still has unlimited power, then he can lie.). So, if one of God’s attributes contradicts another, then is it not likely that God’s very existence is in doubt? Would He not be akin to a round square? If so, then Anselm’s task is to defend the consistency of the divine attributes.

What does the ontological argument tell us about God other than the divine attributes? Well, since we know that God is that which nothing greater can be thought, we know that God is greater to be than not to be: so, what does God need to be in order to be that which nothing greater can be thought?
From this basic principal, Anselm derives a great deal of information about God, such as what philosophers call ‘Oscaity’, or, the Latin ‘Osay’, or ‘himself’. So, when this is applied to God, it is meant to indicate that God exists from himself, not dependent on anyone else for his existence. How do we know this? Let’s go back to the ontological argument and presume that God does not possess Oscaity; this would mean that God is dependent on something other than Himself in order to be what he is. But if God is dependent on something other than Himself in order to be Himself, then we can think of something greater than God. Namely, a being which is not dependent on anything else. But we can’t think of anything greater than God because God is that which nothing greater can be thought. Therefore, God must possess Oscaity.

Secondly, God is characterized by the flip-side of Oscaity. God is characterized by what professor Williams dubs “Ultimacy”, for lack of a better word. This is used to indicate that everything depends on God in order to be what it is, that God is the ultimate explanation for everything other than Himself. Meaning, everything depends on God to exists, to be what it is, to continue to exist, and so forth.

God has unlimited power; if we can think of a God with limited power than we can think of a being greater than God. So God can’t be limited in power because he is a being which no greater can be thought. Similarly, God is unlimited in knowledge and is omniscient. God is just, merciful, truthful, and on and on. And so, the ontological argument here works as a sort of divine attribute generating machine.

But, this single argument cannot do all of this by itself. The argument allows us to say that God is greater or better to be than not to be, but how to identify which characteristics those are? In some cases, Anselm appeals to fundamental judgements on value, arguments which bring out the Platonic and Augustinian character of Anselm’s thinking. In other cases, though, Anselm provides individual arguments on the given characteristic and why it is better to possess such a characteristic than not possess it. 

To demonstrate Anselm’s method, Williams goes into a discussion of three of Anselm’s arguments. The first is God’s impassibility, the second is God’s Eternity, while the third is God’s simplicity.
With impassibility, for example, God is invulnerable to suffering. Nothing is able to act upon God, God simply acts. God does not, therefore, feel any emotions; emotions are states which one undergoes and things which happen to you rather than actions which one performs. Anselm does not actually argue why he feels that impassibility is better to be than not to be as he feels it should be obvious why it is. Why it is obvious to him is because of his shaping from the Platonic-Augustinian tradition which harkens back to the idea that the best of things are stable, uniform, and unchanging. 

Since Augustine took it over wholesale from the Platonists, which, in part, extend this argument to the eternal. Plato’s definition of time as a moving image of eternity, of a shadowy reflection of the ‘really real’, something Augustine and others would push to extend as temporal beings expressing their existence as piecemeal; a stable creature, therefore, would be stable and unchanging, one whose existence is not always slipping away from them into nothingness. Therefore, if God is to be nothing which nothing greater can be thought, he must be outside time itself. If God were in time, he would have parts, which is a problem since something which is composed of parts depends on those parts in order to exist, so because God possesses Oscaity, God depends only on himself, not his parts. 

Therefore, God cannot be a composite. The belief that God has no parts is called the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity and was seen in Boethius’s argument that God is not merely the source of goodness, but of goodness itself. Here, Anselm is connecting simplicity to eternity—whatever is in time has parts, God has no parts, therefore, God has no parts. He is eternal. So, of all the attributes generated by this doctrine of divine simplicity, none are different, rather, they are all God himself; it is only humanity’s limited comprehension which forces a distinction between these attributes. So, God is wholly one.

Are these listed attributes consistent with one another? They must be for if they turn out to be inconsistent, then God turns out to be impossible. It does certainly seem like there is contradictory pairs of attributes on Anselm’s list. To look at a few: (1) Mercy and Impassibility, (2) Justice and omnipotence, (3) Justice and Mercy. To get a fuller understanding of Anselm’s understanding of God and his divine attributes, let’s take a look at these apparent contradictions.

As Anselm notes, Mercy seems to imply feeling compassion. But impassibility implies feeling nothing. How can God be merciful if God does not experience any emotions? Anselm explains that we must differentiate between the effect of mercy and the emotion of mercy. When God acts mercifully, God does not feel the emotion of mercy, that which is regulated to us by the effect of his action, so what we feel God is merciful, but according to what God feels, he is not merciful because he does not experience any emotions of compassion for those whom he helps.

Concerning the apparent conflict between justice and omnipotence, it seems that there is things which God cannot do; for, if God is perfectly just, as Anselm argued, he cannot lie or break a promise—how can he able to lie and not able to lie? Anselm explains that omnipotence does not actually mean the ability to do everything. Instead, it means the possession of unlimited power; the so-called ability or power to lie is not really a power, it is a kind of weakness, but in being omnipotent, God has no weaknesses. So God cannot lie precisely because he is omnipotent. Therefore, God’s omnipotence guarantees his justice and his justice guarantees his omnipotence. (This also answers the so-called ‘Stone Argument’ which I will not go into detail here.)

But, of the three apparent contradictions, that which exists between God’s mercy and Justice, this one has no easy resolution.

If God is just, then he will surely punish the wicked as they deserve. But, if God is merciful, he spares the wicked and does not punish them as they deserve. How then can God be both merciful and just? Anselm attempts to resolve this contradiction by appealing to God’s goodness; that God, in other words, must be so good that it is impossible to even think of a being that must be better than God. God’s unsurpassable goodness extends to both the wicked and the good. He chooses to show his goodness, in one manner, by choosing to punish them, while another way to exercise his good is to spare them from punishment. So, if God is to be an unsurpassable good, then he must show His goodness in both ways when dealing with the wicked, in choosing to punish them as well as not punish them, so that both aspects of his goodness may be revealed. Anselm wishes to show, however, that God’s justice requires him to show mercy, and not simply be good.

This argument is like the following: we have thus far thought of God’s justice in relation to sinners. In this conception, it is required that God punish them. But God, Anselm reminds us, is so just that we cannot even imagine a being who would be more just, and so God’s justice must have the widest possible scope; one aspect of this justice includes God itself. It is God’s justice to himself that requires him to exercise his supreme goodness in sparing the wicked. In other words, God owes it to himself to exercise mercy by sparring the sinners. Even so, however, there is a bit of mystery in that we do not know why God spares some sinners and condemns others.

These techniques display the dialectic at work. Anselm solves a problem by distinguishing two different senses of an expression. By his noting of two different ways which a statement might be true. God is merciful in the sense that he helps those who are suffering; but he is not merciful in the sense that he does not feel any emotion of compassion; omnipotence does not mean the ability to do everything, rather, it means the possession of unlimited power. This attention to the meaning of language is characteristic of the dialectic and Anselm uses it frequently.

This usage of dialectic goes hand-in-hand with Anselm’s other defining characteristic, that of his exploration of faith. Since Anselm is convinced that Christian teaching is rational, and since we are rational beings, we can use the technique of reason to understand, defend, and clarify Christian teaching. To Anselm, mystery and the supposed incomprehensibility of God is not an attractive idea. Same for ineffable. This stance has made Anselm’s ideas, specifically, that of God as that which nothing greater can be thought, still fashionable today among religious thinkers.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Let's Read: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (Ch.6)

So, can Protag-man save himself? Honestly, if you don’t know the answer to this yet, then, seriously.

I said to myself that my eclipse was sure to save me, and make me the greatest man in the kingdom besides; […] [I]n a business way it would be the making of me; I knew that” (40).

                It is still the most ridiculous thing imaginable—being transported back in time to King Arthur’s ‘day’, being sentence to die, and then betting your salvation on an eclipse that you just so happen to know will happen at the time of transportation, because of course you studied such things!

                Regardless, these semicolons are driving me up the wall. They appear in just the oddest friggin’ places. Though none of them are incorrect, per se, they just seem redundant. Maybe it is just the free version of the book I am using, I dunno.

                So, after some time has passed, the guard comes and announces that Protag-man’s execution time has been moved up to today; turns out that Clarence was responsible: he says that he lied about Protag-man’s power so that Protag-man would not need to do the sun any real damage; the idea being that by showing his power today, when it was supposedly weaker, would frighten Arthur into releasing him. Ah, don’t you love it when you are screwed over by well-meaning simpletons?

I choked out some words through my grief and misery; as much to say that I would spare the sun; for which the lad’s eyes paid me back with such deep and loving gratitude that I had not the heart to tell him his good-hearted foolishness had ruined me and sent me to my death” (42).

                Man, this bit of interior monologue is amusing as hell. I supposed, however, that it is a bit paternalistic in that these Early Middle Aged yokels care only about the sun going out while our big and strong Protag-man is purposely trying to subdue these people into a Robinson Crusoe type arrangement. But still, funny, partly because of the interplay of irony as found in the conflation and confusion of magic and superstition with life and death; the lines become blurred and in that blurring there emerges difficulties with subjectivity.

                So everyone is all stone-like and frozen. Very excusable as they are about to watch a man be killed; but methinks that they are more frozen over concern for the sun. Thankfully, though…
With a common impulse the multitude rose slowly up and stared into the sky. I followed their eyes, and sure as guns, there was my eclipse beginning!”

                It is moments like this that do make me think that Protag-man is simply dreaming being transported back in time. That would make since considering all of the historical inaccuracies and whatnot. The idea that the eclipse would start now, because, as it turns out, Clarence made a mistake in understanding the date, seems far too convenient. Though perhaps it is also a meta-commentary on Twain’s part which takes aim at narrative.

                So, the torch is about to be applied when Arthur forbids it and there is altercation; Merlin wants who is an obvious competitor eliminated but Arthur is scared to death of the sun going all explody.

’Stay where you are. If any man moves—even the king—before I give him leave, I will blast him with thunder, I will consume him with lightnings!’” (43).

                I’m actually surprised this works, but then again, this is not the postmodern age, so I guess it makes sense. It is not like there is hordes of people constantly tempting others with their petty will shit. The short version is that the crowd pleads with King Arthur to supplicate Protag-man and thereby ward off the oncoming disaster; this works, against the protests of Merlin, but it is a precarious position as Protag-man isn’t magic and the eclipse happens regardless, so Protag-man makes up some excuse. It is actually pretty boring. Though, there is plenty here if I wanted to do a psychological criticism. But the end result of this is that the absurd scheme works and Protag-man becomes the second most powerful man in the kingdom.

’but you shall appoint me your perpetual minister and executive, and give me for my service one percent of such actual increase of revenue over and above its present amount as I may succeed in creating for the state” (44).

                Protag-man is a capitalist pig in every sense of the word: he cares only for himself, uses then disposes of those around him, and manipulates his way to the top through cold, hard calculation and profit drives. What a dick. But still, it is fascinating all the while to see how his vision of transforming the sixth century will work out because it is a hastily grafted replica of an era which should not exist onto a period which could not possibly develop such ideas. Always fun to see the results—speculative imperialism, anyone?

Let's Read: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (Ch.7)

Now that our protagonist has gained an immense amount of power through trickery and bullshit—just like a modern day politician!—what...