When not to go with the flow

The task of identifying the line between good and evil is like infinitesimal calculus. Mere intuitions are insufficient, which is why "going with the flow" so easily ends in evil. Many marriages fail this way, as sincerely innocent intentions to "make friends" or enjoy "a rich private life” all of a sudden become adulterous affairs or irrecoverable distances. To keep innocence from turning to guilt requires strict and formal tools, just as one cannot eyeball the derivative of a curve, but when it comes to good and evil the objects of analysis are typically difficult to measure. This is the genius of socially conservative Christian norms around sex and marriage, which are often seen as stupidly strict prohibitions, e.g. never having alone time with a member of the opposite sex. Secular cosmopolitans today laugh at this norm, but are the scoffers and mockers really doing so well? In the context of this particular example, marriage, one error on the side of adultery does more damage than several errors on the side of foregone other-sex friendship experiences. As a result, some educated cosmopolitans run around with many "friendships" and failed marriages, scoffing at the paranoia of Christian family values, although the latter include some superior, evolved formalities to deal with overly complex identification problems we are incapable of solving intuitively "in the moment." Whenever a fatal point on a map is hard to detect, it makes sense to prohibit any entrance into the smallest definable region around the undetectable point. Unconditional prohibition may be the most sophisticated rule in contexts where many hidden chutes toward the netherworld are known to exist, even if a sizable range of perfectly innocent and desirable experiences must be forgone.

Algorithms and prayers

The mild-mannered socialist humanist says it's evil to use algorithms to exploit humans for profit, but the articulation of this objection is an algorithm to exploit humans for profit. Self-awareness of this algorithm may vary, but cultivated ignorance of one's own optimizing functions does not make them any less algorithmic or exploitative. The opposite of algorithmic exploitation is not moralistic objection, but probably prayer, which is only — despite popular impressions — attention, evacuated of instrumental intentions. One point of worshipping God is that, by investing one's desire into an abstraction of perfection, against which all existing things pale in comparison, one may live toward the good and still live as intensely as possible. Secular "good people" often makes themselves good by eviscerating their desire, de-intensifying their vitality to ensure their mundane algorithmic optimizing never goes too far. But a life of weak sin is not the same as a good life. Prayer, the practice of de-instrumentalizing attention, does not feign superiority to the sinful, exploitative tendencies of man (like socialist humanism). Prayer is code. Prayers have never hidden their nature as exploitative algorithms — "say these words and it will be Good" — but they exploit our drive to exploit, routing it into a pure and abstract circle, around a pure and abstract center. Secular solutions to the problem of evil typically involve lying about human behavior, whereas a holy life is the application of one's wicked intelligence to the production of the good and the true.

Pathologies of Secular Cosmopolitanism with Ben Sixsmith

Ben Sixsmith (@BDSixsmith) is a British writer based in Poland. He has a new book out, called Kings & Comedians: A Brief History of British-Polish Relations. His work has appeared in The Catholic Herald, The Spectator US, and Quillette, among other places. I find Ben interesting because he writes sympathetically of religion, although he's not religious. We talk about this, being immigrants, Brexit, and other topics relating to the pathologies of secular cosmopolitanism. Find Ben's website at bsixsmith.wixsite.com/home.

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Crypto-Current Religious Becoming with Jacob Lyles

Jacob Lyles works in the Silicon Valley crypto space. He was raised a Jehovah's Witness, went secular, then went Christian. We talk about  Silicon Valley, the problems with secularism, and why the pull of religion is more rational than people think.

Jacob is on Twitter: @cryptochamomile. Jacob hosts the podcast Unchartered Life and the Youtube show Conversations with Chamomile.

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The Devil Is in the Denial

The religious, who possess only tacit knowledge of the pragmatic truths inhering in religion, should be forgiven their occasional intellectual backwardness, for the same reason we forgive the idiocy of someone who recently suffered brain damage in a car accident. The religious today are still in a state of cognitive whiplash from the scientific revolution.

A great deal of what the devout feel is no longer expressible in terms they can justify, but this is because science updates fast and wisdom updates slowly. Wisdom is a crystal leftover from that which goes fast and fails. The scientific revolution is a supernova that is still exploding; religion, as encoded wisdom, will never "keep up with" what is explosive, even if — for all we know — it turns out to be vindicated after the dust has settled.

In their whiplash, those who insist on the truth of religion despite modernity are often guilty of misdirection. Rather than give science all of its due and admit the consequences, the religious often insist despite their rational conscience (telling themselves this is the meaning of "faith"). It seems to me that if, despite everything, there remain honest religious people today, then they would have to admit that the epistemic character of their own religiosity is itself an utter mystery. Obviously, it was never justified by science but now it no longer even enjoys the social conditions for its traditional functioning as an extra-rational social-pyschological structure. It's hard for me to see how religious experience today could be something other than the experience of making no sense, which does not mean there do not still exist real religious people or that one should not be religious—it only means that if a religious person today makes too much sense, I doubt them. One may believe in God, but this belief is weak indeed if one cannot also admit that God is dead. These cognitively aligned religious types, these blessed souls who make good sense to themselves, it is as if they have closed their eyes to the empirical phenomena that can be summarized as the murder of God, which would mean their faith is little more than willfully out of date information.

Mary punching the devil in the face (13th century). Credit: ChurchPop, Public Domain via the British Library.

Insisting that God is not dead in a world in which God has been killed, tends to manifest as a neurotic dissimulation of unstated instrumental motives (and it often is). The religious are correct to be religious, I believe, but they tend to dissimulate on the grounds that only the human folly of overzealous science has made them wrong, and so it is just and true for them to ignore human follies as if they have not occurred, even if those follies have in fact taken over many national majorities the world over. The stubborn dedication of the devout is impressive but unfortunate, because it contributes to the impression that science is "right" and religion is "wrong," at best a dubious symbolic game that's not exactly up front about its real cognitive-emotional character, probably serving some ulterior purposes. Faith that does not confront the death of God is a signal that falls beneath the noise-gates of all modern communication.

The devil is winning, and the religious are failing to update, because the religious are too devout to let themselves be as wrong as they truly are. Allowing oneself to be wrong is a necessary precondition for updating; coming to terms with the degree to which science has rendered religion wrong, is a precondition for religion to determine how its truth might once again be correctly expressed.

Catholicism as Nomad War Machine (Deleuze and Chesterton)


Oddities do not strike odd people. This is why ordinary people have a much more exciting time; while odd people are always complaining of the dulness of life.

Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom.

Chesterton on smooth space:

Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion…

Chesterton on the refrain:

If any human acts may loosely be called causeless, they are the minor acts of a healthy man; whistling as he walks; slashing the grass with a stick; kicking his heels or rubbing his hands. It is the happy man who does the useless things; the sick man is not strong enough to be idle. It is exactly such careless and causeless actions that the madman could never understand; for the madman (like the determinist) generally sees too much cause in everything.

A man cannot think himself out of mental evil; for it is actually the organ of thought that has become diseased, ungovernable, and, as it were, independent. He can only be saved by will or faith. The moment his mere reason moves, it moves in the old circular rut; he will go round and round his logical circle, just as a man in a third-class carriage on the Inner Circle will go round and round the Inner Circle unless he performs the voluntary, vigorous, and mystical act of getting out at Gower Street.

As we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness, we may very well take the cross as the symbol at once of mystery and of health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out.

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