What’s Wrong with the World

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Cowards, the Lot of Them

by Tony M.

Who, you may ask, are The Cowards?

I would counter with a question in return: who isn’t?

Well, perhaps that’s not entirely fair. Not everyone. But the tendency is there, we all feel the pressure. Many give in, generally without even realizing it.

I would not say that the besetting sin of our modern / post-modern western culture is cowardice. More than likely, lust is the leading candidate. But not just sexual lust, although that’s the most obvious form of it: All of the lusts of the sensual appetites, including for food and drink and physical pleasure and physical satisfactions.

Yet this overarching evil allows cowardice to be a major player in the vices anyway, because cowardice is a concomitant vice in those given over to the vices of pleasures of the body: the softness of the life of lust encourages the cowardice of shying away from _anything_ physically difficult, including exercise, getting out of bed or off the couch, refraining from eating that last cookie, etc.

As a besetting condition of our culture, the moral effects of this sort of physical “softness” it extrudes itself even into what otherwise would be neutral territory: those whose jobs are mental rather than physical, are more prone to various forms of cowardice because of the general cultural pressure. And because there are now so many whose jobs are entirely mental rather than physical, (even 80% of baseball is half-mental!), so many are pressured by and beset by cowardice that is secondary to the vices of lust – even when they themselves are not giving in to lust directly. They are still being bent by the cultural pressure toward softness, toward giving in, toward going along with the crowd.

Here is a clear and obvious sign of what I am talking about: so many people no longer even understand corporal punishment. A great many people believe that using pain of any sort as punishment is inherently wrong. (Some go so far as to believe that punishment ITSELF is inherently wrong!)

But this is absurd. Indeed, it is a kind of insanity, a way of being walled off from reality. The appropriateness of using pain for the sake of punishment is one of the manifest truths of morality. But because the whole culture is given over to softness, they shy away from even those forms of physicality that are naturally known as necessary. And corporal punishment is one of them. So, we have associations which make it their business to eradicate “permission” for parents to spank their children. We have state and federal legislatures that cannot stomach prisons being physically uncomfortable. We even have the idiocy of federal appellate judges who that think that because a form of execution is painful, it is therefore an illicit form of execution, as if putting someone to DEATH is “supposed to be painless” for some weird reason. Or, more likely, because they harbor an irrational fear of pain of any sort under any circumstances.

This is all nonsense, of course. But you already knew that. You already knew that parents don’t need “permission” from the legislature to spank their children, it’s in the natural law, and legislatures have no authority to take it away. You already knew that corporal punishment is part of the natural law, and that the pain of execution is not a form of irrational cruelty. That was always obvious. And it REMAINS obvious to a large portion of the population of the US, especially the portion that works with its hands, sweats and gets dirty, that hurts at the end of the day from being on hands and knees, from lifting and carrying, from being in the sun doing manual labor. It’s the white collar types, mostly, that have managed to put this knowledge aside. It’s the college-educated elite, who have the desk jobs or otherwise DON’T get their hands dirty, their shirts sweaty, their work shoes muddy, who also shy away from any kind of painful activity (with the sole exception being at the gym, but only because it is at their own discretion, on their own schedule, when they are in gym clothes, they can stop any moment they feel like it, and they can shower right after). And, by and large, the farther away someone is from manual labor as a job (e.g. the more college degrees he has), the worse it gets.

Sadly, this describes much of the clergy and most of the bishops: they can’t stand the idea of capital punishment, (or any kind of corporal punishment) and at least partly it’s because they are affected by the soft culture. Catholic bishops all have post-graduate degrees (usually theology or canon law or both) from large universities, and these universities are the breeding grounds of the cultural softness. The professorial class never gets its hands dirty, and the professorial class in theology, philosophy, and canon law never gets its hands ‘dirty’ with even the pragmatics of dealing with a clientele that has to make a living by running a business. They moreover spend all day every day dealing with adults, and where even so much as a raised temper is considered gauche.

So here is a second sign of it: in spite of the fact that so many bishops have degrees in canon law, many of them never use any of the canons on punishments, and indeed they assiduously avoid those canons as if they were tainted as holdovers from medieval torture.* To be recited in a southern drawl: “What we got, here, is a faillluurre to excommunicate!

They fail to understand punishment as an integral part of law, and in effect they also fail to understand how law itself (and obedience to law) is part of the good life lived happily and joyfully.

[*And, by the way, nearly all of those canons on punishments are – as you would expect – the sorts of punishments a voluntary organization can apply to a voluntary member: loss of authority, withholding of benefits, exclusion or expulsion. Not prison.]

But other parts of society have not yet fully succumbed to the spineless softness of
luxurious lust. By and large, police departments and the military retain some backbone – though these are under severest attack by the feminists and have already given way far more than they should have.

We must recognize the illness for what it is. The drivel of the post-modern liberal is that of post-modern secular humanism. It precludes any mention of an end or purpose outside of this life, as if even raising the possibility poisons the discussion. All goods are goods of this life, and pain as such is THE ROOT EVIL. Indeed, to this way of thinking, all immorality is reducible to causing someone pain that might have been avoidable.

The whole program is anti-Christian. But for this present purpose, note that the program effectively entails a pervasive cowardice: fear of pain or difficulty drives all sorts of pernicious evil theories and practices. Fear of shame or a difficult life drives abortion, fear of pain drives assisted suicide, fear of inflicting pain drives avoidance of corporal punishment. Because they view pain as an evil of a worse order than “mere sin,” inflicting pain, or even merely not relieving pain, becomes the only “real” sin.

It is sad to see so many Christians buying the lies of the secular humanists on these points. They are hoodwinked into a false picture, one that cedes some kind of moral high ground to those who would loudly declaim on the “barbarity” of corporal punishment, and who repeat as a mystic mantra that “violence breeds violence”, as if corporal punishment were the same species of act as violent aggression (it certainly is not). We need to take back the high ground. The Bible is clear on this point: punishment is for the good. Corporal punishment is part of the natural law. Capital punishment is a necessary and critical linchpin of penal theory and practice. Those who would altogether cast these down are cowards, not just in error.

And the cowardice flows downhill. It affects all the other “hard” things that need to be done that are not done. To wit: to call out the heretics and declare them heretics, all of those with the “new” theology that is nothing more than modernism and obscurantism and relativism prettied up with lipstick and eye shadow. To call out the apostates who promote abortion, and declare them apostate. To throw out the bums who experiment with the liturgy without permission. To close down the seminaries that house the reprobates that teach this nonsense. To shine a spotlight on the pink mafia, and sweep the queers out. To say no to trans nonsense in a definitive way: to declare them sick and disordered and - when they insist on being called whole - insane.

Indeed, even the preparedness to “stand and fight” against a long period of trial and temptation is lacking: cowards give in at the prospect that they will face a period of adversity. Even when the main “adversity” is merely that of being called names by the secular humanists, of being thought of as “not one of us” by the progressive “in” crowd (as is the only ‘penalty’ for upholding the truth that capital punishment is truly moral). Thus socially pervasive physical cowardice and softness gives rise to other forms such as moral cowardice.

Comments (28)

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you on painful methods of execution.

On the general softness of the age, I heartily agree, and of course as regards the desire to criminalize corporal punishment of children. (That has already taken place in Delaware, by the way, and functionally in various other states where the process is the punishment and CPS will harass on the *assumption* that corporal punishment is illegal even.)

The connection to assisted suicide and euthanasia is spot-on. The mercy of the wicked cruel. They would kill the innocent to avoid pain. Indeed, they will say the same of infants and the unborn. If they are going to have an unhappy life or be in pain, they ought to be put down.

And it's a terrifying thing is that in the midst of all of this the most vile and cruel video games, p*rn, and other "entertainment" are flourishing and being consumed in large quantities, inter alia by people who would bump off a grandmother or a child to avoid their suffering pain! The very culture that is terrified of pain as it arises naturally (though of course sadly) in the course of life in a fallen world is sickly fascinated with pain when carried out deliberately and (supposedly) acquiesced to "voluntarily" or when graphically portrayed in fictionalized contexts.

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you on painful methods of execution.

I was not referring to torture and death versions of capital punishment, such as drawing and quartering. I was referring to the pain attendant on just plain putting someone to death, where the objective is "death" and not "extreme and extended pain and death" as such.

Although we have perfectly simple, sure, and easy means of making someone unconscious and THEN killing them after - a good dose of morphine will do - for some reason which I have not discovered, there seems to be a sort of disconnect between the parts of the state apparatus in charge of designing the means of ensuring death in capital punishment, and the part of the state apparatus that can't stand the thought of using a means that has pain of any sort. If you are a state system that has decided, for whatever reason, that execution must be painless, why morphine and then lethal X (any of 20 methods) would not be the way to go, I can't guess. It's not that hard.

On the other hand, frankly I suspect that for the purposes of reform and deterrence, AND for the purpose of human dignity itself, a perfectly painless death is contra-indicated. A human being is a rational agent, and it behooves us to leave the person rational and able to choose until the last possible moment - ESPECIALLY if they have not yet repented of their evil: they should retain the opportunity to repent of their own evil. Particularly if a short period in pain itself might help them repent.

On related grounds, it is in a sense natural that anything that we do to a human body that cause would be capable of causing death would be painful, because the body rebels against what would destroy it, and pain is a perfectly normal reaction mechanism. It is, then, at least in some sense "ordinary" or connatural that a person actually experience the event that is going to satisfy justice in their person, rather than be insensate as if they were a mere instrument. This is more suited to treating them as a rational being responsible for their choices.

Taking those together, I doubt that putting someone to sleep (or otherwise artificially insulating them from the experience) before killing them is actually the ideal plan of execution.

I'm afraid this may get gruesome and am trying to avoid that. But to pick one example, I gather that beheading with a very sharp sword is bloody and graphic but also extremely quick. Whereas using a dull axe would be torturous. A history factoid I haven't checked out is that Elizabeth, before she was queen and while she was imprisoned by her sister Mary, wrote to her sister requesting that if she was to be executed it would be quickly and cleanly with a sharp sword rather than an axe. This on the basis of her having heard tales of the varying humaneness of the execution of different wives of Henry VIII. It would be silly to call beheading of a conscious person strictly painless, no matter what, but it could be sufficiently quick that the whole idea that the dying process itself would give someone time to rethink his life during the process would be incorrect. And the same for the form of hanging that breaks the neck instantly. I've read in a somewhat unreliable source that during the British empire they used to send around tutors to teach executioners how to be "quick on the drop" so as to hang people humanely. Even if that isn't true, it draws attention to the fact that hanging can be done in such a fashion as to be a very quick death.

If our goal is to give the person time to repent, I would think that (to paraphrase Dr. Johnson) the knowledge that one will be executed in a fortnight would be sufficient for the purpose, regardless of the method (up to and including knocking the person out with a painless shot prior to death). And, conversely, if the method of death itself were thought of as an opportunity for repentance, this could have the unfortunate effect of causing the state to prefer *not* to hang people by the quickest and most humane method, etc.

P.S. I'm glad you didn't mean drawing and quartering. You had me worried there for a minute. :-)

"The professorial class never gets its hands dirty, and the professorial class in theology, philosophy, and canon law never gets its hands ‘dirty’ with even the pragmatics of dealing with a clientele that has to make a living by running a business. They moreover spend all day every day dealing with adults, and where even so much as a raised temper is considered gauche."

I am not sure you understand the current situation in higher education. More and more professor positions are part-time. Tenure is going away. If you attempt to discipline a student, you risk being fired. College administrations don't care about morals. They care about law suits. The first time you speak harshly to a student is likely to be the last time you speak to students. It is not the professorial class that is at fault. It is the administrators.

The Chicken

Even though tenure is going away, I'm not sure how many part-timers are *not* part of the class Tony is talking about. A part-timer *might* work as a plumber or building contractor the rest of his time, but it's more likely that he adjuncts at several different schools to piece together his living. It's true that he still might not have the "luxury" of giving poor grades, and that would be the fault of administrators (if he was trying to give poor grades reasonably). And in a sense, being a struggling part-timer already introduces some element into one's life of not being in the ivory tower. But from an overall cultural standpoint, even a part-timer is fairly likely to be part of the clean-hands class.

Now, Tony introduces the interesting theory that being part of the clean-hands class makes one (substantially?) more likely to be politically and culturally progressive, to be against corporal punishment (e.g., parents spanking children) and the death penalty and general toughness on crime, to lack a concept of tough love, etc. If that is true, it might be true for those without tenure just as much as for those with tenure.

What I myself see in part-timers is more often a surprising determination not to work at anything other than an academic type of job. I have yet to see a part-time college teacher say, "The heck with this. I'm going to get my qualification as a welder." On the contrary, one is more likely to hear, "But all I want to do is teach. I want a job that is meaningful to me," and then it just continues forever--living with several roommates in a house, no health insurance coverage, no ability to afford to marry, etc.

The comment I hear from professors is that many would like to discipline a certain portion of students, but they can't take the risk unless the situation is at the point where the police must be called in. In business schools, the scandal of cheating is epidemic. They don't discipline because they get no support from the administration. I have known people, highly talented people, to quit over this. I once caught 3 students cheating on a final exam. It was so obvious that even my department chair could tell who cheated off of whom when I showed him the papers. One student even confessed to my face. Because I did not witness them in the act, they got off scott free. I mean, that was not my fault. What more could I do - monitor everyone a like prison guard? Even in large lecture halls, when I was a TA, we could, at best wander the room, but that is distracting to students.

Still, I know many teachers, and my feeling is that in many cases, they would like to do more, but their hands are tied.

As for part-time faculty working other jobs, that may be a practical necessity, but nevertheless, it is a loss. A vocation is not just a job. It is part of the means of ones sanctification. The idea that a job is just a job is contrary to the idea that each man has a unique purpose and that work is a part of that purpose. One of the things I see a lot are really talented musicians who have to work at something else to make ends meet. What a waste - a first-rate musician working as a second-rate baker. Sure, it puts food on the table, but it is, in a sense, giving God less of a return on his investment.

Most of this is greed-driven or fear-driven. Electronics has made live music a dying activity. Broadway is slowly switching to electronics so they won't have to pay pit musicians. Has music, suddenly, become something foreign to man? Is it no longer a skill that makes man unique? Especially, with the rise of AI systems, finding something else to do to make ends meet is going to become a lot harder for many people, very soon, and it is all greed.

The Chicken

finding something else to do to make ends meet is going to become a lot harder for many people, very soon, and it is all greed.

I'm afraid this is taking us OT from Tony's post, but I can't *in general* agree that the need for people to do things that they don't love is "all greed." I can speak more to the educational field than to the musical field, but IMO the rise in teaching jobs was largely an artificial economic bubble, fueled by federal student loans and hence exploiting students' and their parents' economic naivete and landing students with a world of debt for their whole lives, and was unsustainable. In this unsustainable situation, which persisted over decades, too many people got the idea that they had a right to work at a teaching job because that was what they felt satisfied doing. Now the bubble is bursting, and many of these are having to face what most of mankind throughout all history has had to face: The prospect of earning a living by doing something you don't find intrinsically lovable and enjoyable.

I'm afraid that we are going to agree to disagree (hopefully agreeably) about the idea that this gives God a poor return on investment. The idea of a dream job as a human right or as the normal situation and as the correct meaning of human vocation is, I believe, an artifact of the artificially wealthy world of the modern West and in that sense part of the artificiality that Tony's main post deplores. It would be absurd to suppose that all the things that have to be done in the world--roads that have to be paved, holes that have to be dug, fields that have to be plowed, plumbing that has to be fixed, books that have to be balanced--are going to be done by specific people who are individually designed by God to *enjoy* that particular kind of labor and to find it innately satisfying. Or that, if that isn't happening, something has gone wrong. For the most part and in most instances, the vocation of a man is supporting his family. *Sometimes* this takes the form of a day-job that is *also* a vocation in its own right. But that is a privilege, not the most common situation, and most people are not that privileged. Nor is its rarity per se a result of evildoing on the part of someone or other. Holding out for that situation can cause a lot of dissatisfaction, not to mention envy and the tendency to blame others for the fact that one doesn't get the supposed right to put bread on one's table by doing innately enjoyable work.

Chicken, there are nice, very rich people, like Richard Branson among others, who are dead keen to give us free money in order to make ends meet. Why does it strike me that this money will not come without preconditions? In order to eat you will have to sign up to agreeing to same-sex 'marriage', to use countless novel 'gender' pronouns and much other evil insanity.

I am not sure you understand the current situation in higher education. More and more professor positions are part-time. Tenure is going away.

Chicken, you are right that I was not considering the situation of adjunct professors. Which is kind of funny, since I have done a stint or two myself - odd job extra income for a semester here and there.

Lydia is at least partly right about who is in that category for more than a few semesters. But regardless of the extent to which the full-time tenured profession is going the way of the dodo-bird, it remains true that TO THE EXTENT that a college teacher approaches to the model of the full-time tenured professor, just to that extent he also sits in the cross-hairs I painted. It's perfectly OK to point out that many who teach in colleges are in those cross-hairs less than perfectly. They still tend to be subject to the pressures I mentioned to the extent they are there. (And, mostly, they don't teach graduate classes, do they?)

And to be more explicit: being a (full-time, tenured) college professor is NOT proof that you are given over to the kind of cowardice I was mentioning. It is an indicator, and a direction of tendencies. Each individual person gives in to pressures differently: some not at all, many "to some extent".

And, I would comment that the response you described of professors who cave in to the administrators is at least suggestive that they are giving in to the pressure toward the cowardly response. But I will heavily caveat that with the observation that in any given instance of the sort, ceding to the administrators MIGHT be the most prudent (and therefore, right) thing to do - and therefore not cowardice at all.

I wold also comment that it seems, from the trends you describe, that the (roughly) 120 year experiment of re-making higher education into "job-training" instead of being directed to making educated men, will have the effect in the long run of eradicating the job of college professor. Talk about ironic justice.

About music: there is one (small) bright spot: the recording industry moguls, with their lock on who gets noticed and who gets promoted, (and their lockstep promotion of consumerism) is going away. The internet is showing experimental new ways of supporting the arts, including volunteering contributions, to subscriptions, to whatever. Try patreon.com .

And for just a quick contrary note: when I was an adjunct teacher (lo these many years ago), I gave a kid a D on a class he need a C on for credit for his degree. (Never mind that it was remedial - 8th grade - Math, and it was utterly unconscionable for a university department to count it as math credit for a degree). Not only did the kid argue with me about the grade when he bombed the final exam and had hardly shown up for class, something like SIX YEARS LATER the administration tracked me down to try to get me to bump it to a C-. At the time I was several removes from needing their good will, and I told them (roughly) "nothing has changed about the conditions upon which the grade was assigned. Furthermore, the kid had the last 6 years to do something about it - like take a make-up class. Let him pound sand. "

Admittedly, if I had been still working for them, I would have phrased that last differently.

Any born teacher worth his salt is willing to teach for little, if anything, more than his basic upkeep.

I myself teach a course on Ethical Theory to a very mixed bag of students at a little Jesuit school right in the middle of flyover country.

And I do it for $2550 per class.

And it's the best Ethics course in the world today.

Steve, teaching is indeed a calling, not just a job. And anyone who is called to teach "for a living" ought to love it more than "just a job".

Nevertheless: normally a full-time teacher - especially a teacher of Ethics - must be professional enough and responsible enough to justify compensation coordinate with raising a family.

That is to say, you wouldn't want to be employing someone who all day is in charge of young persons, and in charge of forming their minds (to some extent), and who is held to have the judgment and knowledge requisite to discuss difficult questions of ethics, and then turn around and say "these demands I make on him are not at all comparable to the demands and responsibilities of raising a family." They are comparable, very much so.

For that reason, then, the pay ought to be generally comparable to the demands of raising a family. More or less, generally, within the give and take of a variable society. It is a matter of justice that he be paid in a manner that is suited to the entirely normal calling of raising a family which is by no means incompatible with being a full-time Ethics teacher. One ought to assume that the large majority of men are called to be family men even more definitively than they are called to being teachers.

(Unless, for some reason, we wish to propose that "teaching" as a calling ought to be set aside for those called by God to be celibate for the Kingdom. I have trouble seeing why a religious order - even a teaching order - would propose that if they cannot attract enough vocations that they don't need to hire lay teachers. Something off about that kind of picture. For which reason, I would suggest that while this "Any born teacher worth his salt" of yours should be willing - for his own sake - to teach for little more than his upkeep...but for his family's sake insist on their upkeep too.)

I don't claim a way to convert that into what ought to be a matter of justice for a part-time teacher, other than SOME sort of sliding scale.

Just a small aside: I get frustrated with trenchantly liberal Catholic organizations which preach without stint on the obligations to the poor as part of "social justice", but who turn around and underpay teachers by 30% to 40%. I wonder if you should remake a portion of your Ethics class over into a discussion of just pay? Naaaahhhh, they wouldn't get it.

The idea of a dream job as a human right or as the normal situation and as the correct meaning of human vocation is, I believe, an artifact of the artificially wealthy world of the modern West and in that sense part of the artificiality that Tony's main post deplores. It would be absurd to suppose that all the things that have to be done in the world--roads that have to be paved, holes that have to be dug, fields that have to be plowed, plumbing that has to be fixed, books that have to be balanced--are going to be done by specific people who are individually designed by God to *enjoy* that particular kind of labor and to find it innately satisfying. Or that, if that isn't happening, something has gone wrong. For the most part and in most instances, the vocation of a man is supporting his family. *Sometimes* this takes the form of a day-job that is *also* a vocation in its own right. But that is a privilege, not the most common situation, and most people are not that privileged. Nor is its rarity per se a result of evildoing on the part of someone or other.

Lydia, I completely agree: we don't have a right to just that best career that we love most. And it is a big, big bonus to land in it - even for part of your life. Before 1800, 90% of humanity had to devote themselves to agriculture, whereas in the West now some 4% does. Even if we were to re-balance the current with wholesome methods of growing, it would not be above 20%. Nobody can imagine that the difference - some 70% of humanity, all of a sudden BECAME more suited personally to non-agriculture jobs.

Nevertheless, God puts everyone into the circumstances He expects to work for their own eternal welfare. In the conditions of today in the West where many people have SOME control over their job training and sought-after work, many people have sufficient freedom (if they manage their time well) to _eventually_ shoot for a job that is not exceedingly distasteful to them, and holds some rewarding aspects for them.

More importantly: virtually EVERY job (that is legal) holds the promise of doing something of value to the human family at large (that's why it pays). Everyone ought to be pleased and happy to serve the good of others in doing that job well. I have been a dishwasher, and a janitor (several times): these are of service to God's children, and done well they are humanly rewarding - even if they are grimy, sweaty, dirty, and tiring - because they do something that people need to live well. That in itself is a reason to take satisfaction from the job.

So, quit whining about that job that isn't fun 100% of the time: take joy in being in the place God wants you to be, doing good things for others, and pray for a change if that's God's will. This too is a derivative issue of cowardice (at 2nd or 3rd remove): unwillingness to tackle the smelly jobs not only because they don't pay well (some of the pay OK), but out of fear of the grit and grime and smell and (should you admit it) the poor social standing.

but out of fear of the grit and grime and smell and (should you admit it) the poor social standing.

An enormous part of our economic problem in the U.S. today is the low esteem in which "dirty jobs" (to channel Mike Rowe) are held. This social stigma affects well-intentioned parents, who then pass on these vain prejudices to their kids through stereotyping and shaming. A son is going to find it harder than it would be otherwise to take any satisfaction in a plumbing job (applying his mind to diagnosing and solving problems, helping the customer out of a crisis, etc.) if his parents are ashamed of him, believe he's wasting the education they sacrificed to give him, etc., etc.

Too many parents would rather their child were an insolvent part-time white collar worker (of some kind or other that they can mention to their friends and feel proud of) with a mountain of college and/or grad school debt he'll never get out from under than an HVAC technician with an account book in the black who is supporting his family.

I am sorry, but the notion of working out of necessity, while needful for general living, is, at best, God's permissive will. I spent a lot of time not doing what I should have in life to have the scars to prove it. Why not, then, just take any job, since a job is a job? Yes, one must be grateful for having food on the table, but, again, people are not swappable parts. This notion of any job for any person (or close enough) reduces people to a uniformity that is dangerous to contemplate. I have done my share of dirty work (and suffered health consequences because of it) and I do believe in the concept of honest work having an intrinsic dignity, but, let's face facts, there is a range of human variations such that I could take a dirty smelly job that I would be mediocre at best doing. Should I take that job and deny someone else the right to do much better? I have quit jobs because I knew my performance would not be as much of a benefit as letting someone else do it. A man has got to know his limitations. This is not a matter of fear, but prudence, and the virtue you are discussing with regards to jobs is not fortitude, which opposes fear, but pride, which opposes humility.

I suppose I have more to say, but I am too tired, right now. It has been a long day.

The Chicken

This notion of any job for any person (or close enough) reduces people to a uniformity that is dangerous to contemplate.

I wouldn't endorse any job for any person. But I do endorse having a *much* more flexible notion of the jobs for which one is suited or potentially suited than is usual in the United States at this time.

It's a bit like marriage. There's a whole range of ideas that from "You could be just as well-suited married to any person of the opposite sex, it doesn't matter, because it's all about will" (which is ridiculous) to "There is just one person in the world who is your perfect soul-mate, and you have to find that person or it would be better to remain unmarried."

Both of those extremes are false.

Our current attitudes in the U.S. toward work and jobs are way too much like the "one and only one soul-mate in the whole world" idea concerning marriage. We need a correction in the other direction, which doesn't have to mean adopting the idea that all people are swappable parts. We *especially* need such a correction because so much of this is driven by vanity and pride (sometimes that of the individual and sometimes that of parents who push mere prejudice and confusion on the individual) that gets mislabeled as a search for vocation.

I think Tony's comment about shooting for a job that is not exceedingly distasteful and has some rewarding prospects is a wise one, and I would add only that at that point people's mentality needs to be such that they don't think that there is only some incredibly narrow set of rare jobs that would not be exceedingly distasteful for them!

And when I say "people" I especially mean "men," who should be looking to be providers. I've found it interesting to see how often in a couple (not always, but often) the man is seeking some higher vocation while his wife works as a bank teller (or whatever) to support his search, put him through graduate school, etc. At the risk of overgeneralizing, my experience has been that women are more realistic about this kind of thing, perhaps because they are ultimately aiming to focus their vocation in their children. So a job is just a job--hopefully temporary--undertaken because the family needs the extra income.

Well, I don't think that Lydia or I were trying to assert what you are objecting to, here. Sorry if I misled you to mistake the point.

A man should generally hope in the long run to attain a job that is at the same time (a) at least somewhat suited to his skills and capabilities, (b) in some measure suited to his temperament and preferences, and (c) pays him sufficiently for his vocation and station in life. This general kind of hope should also make him willing to WORK FOR that as a goal, work for the skills necessary for it, work to achieve the mental good habits (industriousness, cheerfulness, obedience) that are more likely to make it achievable.

However, a man should also, in the concrete here and now (when the above is not readily available), accept work that is less happy than the above, at least in the sense of being God's temporary will for him. During the while that it IS God's will for him temporarily, he should try to be content that it is so for the moment, and aim to achieve it well (so far as he can), and to serve others in it even if he knows he does so less than perfectly.

Nobody is a mere unit of labor, everyone is a person. JPII spoke about this in Laborem Exercens. Everyone can participate in God's development of the world by labor that advances the human condition a smidgeon, even if it is merely that of serving (again) a meal that will have to be repeated many more times: for the moment, that serving that meal is serving PEOPLE, serving their needs, which is (or can be) an act of love in itself. If every hour of your work is an attempted act of love for someone(s), it is a good thing.

In the ideal world (which we will never have this side of the eschaton), everyone finds their best job and gets it. In this world, especially in the west, many people have a reasonable shot at achieving a job that, even if not at the top of their list, is somewhere in the second group of jobs they are good with. A great many can (with effort) at least achieve a job that is something they have the skills for and is not entirely opposed to their temperament and preferences. This is neither "hell on earth" nor "getting less than they have a right to", it is rather the current state of our corner of the vale of tears.

There are a lot of virtues being alluded to above, and humility is just one of them. I would not have pulled out which job you have as a prime ingredient in today's examples of courage, at least not in a leading sense. (Though it is quite true that at least in some places, those who refuse to TRY for better jobs, that they could probably achieve, do so (partly) out of fear and lack of fortitude, but also out of other factors.) The jobs issues came up rather as a side-light to the main point.


I did not mean to side-track the discussion on the subject of work, in general. It is a subject worthy of its own post, since there are issues of the loss of hope embedded in there. More and more I see young people with no sense of reality, either over estimating or under estimating what they can do and losing the striving for that excellence which is within their grasp. This is most painfully obvious with regards to the acquisition of the moral virtues, since that is a form of work.

Since this is a post about fear (and I fear my power on this tablet might run out before I finish), I might as well don my rooster cap and start the show.

Hello...my name is The Masked Chicken and I will be your guide through the Land of Fear. What makes me so qualified to act as the leader of this expedition? Well, I am yellow, through and through, a chicken, if you will and not only a chicken, but a masked chicken, who not only is a chicken, but one who hides his chickenhood behind a mask. Fear is where I live, so it seems only fitting that I should show you the sights of our little place.

What is fear? I'm glad you asked. There are several definitions, but the two I especially like are one from St. Thomas Aquinas, the Summa Theologica, I.II Q. 43 and 44 and II.II. Q 125 to 143 and the other from the Book of Wisdom (which has the best discussion of idolatry known to man, since fear and idolatry go hand-in-hand). The two definitions are related by the notion of rationality, but more on that, later.

Before I give the definition of fear, let me say that, in essence, there are three levels of fear: fear of God, fear of Nature, and fear of Man, corresponding to the three levels of laws: Divine, Natural, and Human, since, as St. John points out, fear has to do with punishment and punishment has to do with the breaking of a law. Thus, a man falling off of a cliff is afraid because, while he is in free-fall, the law of gravity has, apparently, been broken. He is no longer afraid once he is on the ground, because the effects of gravity have been restored. Maybe rather than gravity, it might be more correct to say the law of connectedness to objects, but that is a quibble. All fear may be classified according to one of these three categories.

What is fear? According to Aquinas, fear is a disturbance of the mind caused by the thought of a threatening evil difficult or impossible to avoid. Likewise, according to Solomon (Wisdom 17:12), "For fear is nothing but surrender of the helps
that come from reason; and the inner expectation of help, being weak,
prefers ignorance of what causes the torment."

More, later. Battery low.

Now, the virtue opposed to fear is fortitude and the vices connected to fear are daring and fearlessness (or recklessness).

All rightly ordered conduct must be rational and there is a form of fear which is rational, but is better expressed as prudence. Thus, one may fear to stick one's hand in the fire, but it is better expressed as prudence, since prudence, "is the knowledge of what to seek and what to avoid." (ST. II.II Q 47). As both the definitions from Aquinas and Solomon show, fear, by contrast, is a disturbance of the mind strong enough to cause one to surrender reason, either partially or, in extreme cases, wholly. Fear, in general, does not cause a loss of prudence, but is does weaken its access.

Fear results from the idea of the possible loss of something that one loves, the threatening evil, that Aquinas talks about. Since the objects of love come in a hierarchy of goods, again, one is led back to the notion of the three levels of fear, since God, Nature, and Humanity form the three basic classes of possible goods. It is moral to fear upwards, so the fear of losing God's love, the highest fear, controls actions at a lower level, just as the fear of losing one's life controls actions about losing some material comfort (it is okay to give a robber your money), etc.

Fortitude, the virtue opposed to fear, moderates both fear and its opposite, daring, which "is the presence in the imagination of the hope that the means of safety are nigh, and that the things to be feared are either non-existent or far off." (ST I. II. Q 45) Fortitude rightly assess a situation and orders actions according to the reasonable hierarchy of goods, whereas daring imagines a state to exist whereby one's hopes overcome reason.

Fearlessness is the complete loss of the sense that anything can harm a man, be it the loss of God or a natural good. It is irrational, since it denies the existence of evil, in a sense.

Now, physiologically speaking, fear is moderated by the amygdala, which is the locus of flight-or-flight behavior, which correlates with fear and daring. It has reciprocal connections to the pre-frontal cortex, thus, both fear and daring can inhibit the use of foresight and planning, leading to Solomon's definition that fear is a surrender or inhibition of the helps that come from reason. The amygdala is also connected to the pleasure center associated areas, such that doing things that one fear can lead to a type of pleasure which we call thrilling. Thrill-seekers are those people who experience pleasure from the vice of daring. In general, pathological excitation of the amygdala due to illness (such as in panic attacks) is not sinful, since fear, to be sinful, must involve an exercise of judgement.

Fear can be a learned response where the foresight and planning activity of the pre-frontal cortex is used to trigger the amygdala. This is seen in abuse cases, where one learns to see the beating coming and respond as if it were already present. Likewise, the association of past action with fear is the basis for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, where the amygdala has become so sensitized that it can activate the memory centers (the amygdala is near the hippocampus) in a feedback loop. Learned fear has a diminished capacity to it, so the fear associated with it is, usually, venial.

Fear may, likewise, be an animal response, as there is an instinctual fear among all animals, man included, of fire. This type of fear is, obviously not sinful, unless it violates the hierarchy of fear by making one prefer a lower good to a higher good.

Fear, as it involves the thought of the loss of some object of love, may be an intensifier of other passions. Thus, a greater or lesser fear of losing one's spouse may make jealousy more or less pronounced, for example. The fear of never seeing a loved one, again, may lead to idolatry, as Solomon points out (Wisdom 13: 12 - 15):

"For the idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication,
and the invention of them was the corruption of life, for neither have they existed from the beginning nor will they exist for ever. For through the vanity of men they entered the world, and therefore their speedy end has been planned. For a father, consumed with grief at an untimely bereavement, made an image of his child, who had been suddenly
taken from him; and he now honored as a god what was once a dead human being,
and handed on to his dependents secret rites and initiations."

How did the wide wonderful world morph into the Land of Fear in the Twentieth-century, which is the subject of this post? That is quite a sad story.

First, we like to thank our sponsor of this tour, ChickenAnonymous, for providing the free refreshments for this afternoon's tour. More, after this break.

Not everyone starts out life as a coward. Little children are quite often fearless where old men will cower in fear. That is because children have a natural trust that old men often lack, but innocence can be stolen and one of the worst ways to loose innocence is through war.

Every war causes men to be afraid, but the wars during the Twentieth-century were unlike any in the past. Battles that formerly took days to even get the combatants together and weeks to fight could now be decided in a matter minutes. Many of the new weapons, such as gas clouds, carpet bombing, and tank attacks have made the two World Wars into breeding grounds of fear. That much is obvious.

What is not so obvious is what happens when that fear is withdrawn. The pattern played out in both cases in both Wars is eerily similar, so much so that one cannot, often tell if one is reading a description of 1920 or 1960, if the titles are removed. How did we become a society of cowards? Well, technically, we did not. We became a society of the amygdala, of fight or flight.

The youth who were part of the Wars, essentially, has their fight-or-flight responses so sensitized that when they returned from the War, those senses stayed on. For some, it was the agony of shell shock, which we later renamed, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For others, it was the thrill of progress, the daring to consider the unconsiderable. We were, after all, the victors. What could hurt us? Neurophysiology has discovered that there are neural correlates for extreme conservatism and extreme liberalism corresponding to the fight-or-flight response, with conservatives being more risk aversive and liberals being more risk takers or thrill seekers. Both of these reactions manifested immediately after the Wars. In the 1920's the fear of the Red Scare in the old contrasted with the shortened skirts of the Flappers in the young; in the 1950's, the fear of Communists among the old contrasted with the sexual revolution in the young. The patterns are quite striking when considered as part of a bipartite history.

Not surprisingly, since both fear and daring are deviations from reality that tend to self-focus, the advent of the Great Depression marked an end to the era of the amygdala in the mid-1930's. Liberals became more moderated and Conservatives became more daring. People had no choice. The Depression was the slap in the face for both the coward and the braggart. The excesses of youth and the worries of the old melted away into a generalized consideration of only the present moment.

That didn't happen in the 1970's. Thus, the period of pathology has been considerably extended. In general. the types of excesses seen in the 1920's have only grown, so we now have free sex, free of commitment. Birth control was suggested in the 1920's, but went underground during the WWII era, only to resurface in the 1950's and come to perfection with the Pill. The divorce rate began to rise just after WWI, fell during the Depression, and began a slow, then accelerating rise after 1960. Experimental art forms flourished during the 1920's, became much more conservative during the 1940's and invaded colleges during the 1960's. Any area not anchored by Nature was fair game. The areas most affected by this were the Humanities. It is there that one will find the greatest concentration of risk takers, of liberal, who subvert the natural order for the sake of being noticed. By contrast, science has to play by the rules, since it must be responsive to the fixed rules of Nature.

Are we a society of cowards? I would say. more precisely, we are a society of responses to a War that never truly ended. We are a society either fighting or fleeing imaginary boggiemen. We have not had the slap from reality that would bring us back to sanity, so we wander on from fight to fight, from flight to flight - people dying over pieces of statuary. We have become a society of idolators because we cannot face the reality of loss, so we pretend that nothing is sin and differences do not exist. Male and female are no longer one in Christ - they are nothing in our imagination.

Only by a humble acknowledgement of a God beyond ourselves whose very own we are will we escape the cycle of fight or flight, for daring has turned into pride and fear has turned into despair. What we lack are humility and hope based on know who we really are. That type of self-knowledge is waiting for the slap in the face that will awaken it. I do hope it comes soon.

Thank you for you participation in our little tour. There will be questionnaires to fill out on your way out.

The Chicken

MC, that is a very enlightening explanation of fear. Very thoughtful and developed. Couple ideas:

The youth who were part of the Wars, essentially, has their fight-or-flight responses so sensitized that when they returned from the War, those senses stayed on. For some, it was the agony of shell shock, which we later renamed, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For others, it was the thrill of progress, the daring to consider the unconsiderable. We were, after all, the victors. What could hurt us?

I don't want to get into a lengthy debate about these wars vs prior ages, but isn't ANY protracted war going to invoke this in the soldiers? It is one thing for a soldier or knight to have 3 or 4 events to deal with, quite another (psychologically) that it be several dozen potentially lethal events scattered over several years. But that sort of thing is hardly new to the modern ways of waging war.

Or maybe it's also that it wasn't just "the soldiers", as in a small class out of society, but a whole generation of young men pulled in. But that, too, is hardly unique: a city under a long siege for example doesn't have a specially designated "soldier" class that bears the entire brunt of risk - every person in the city is under siege and may be killed (or raped or enslaved), and every young man is expected to be part of the militia.

Nor is it the fact of missiles falling from far off rather than facing your enemy at the end of a sword or spear: catapults and javelins were used for 1500 years before gunpowder.

I don't want to make light of the horror of the killing fields of the Somme, or the protracted bombing of London and Berlin. I just think that the instigation of having "their fight-or-flight responses so sensitized" is only part the story, and it doesn't answer to things like why the same stimulus results in such varied psychological structures in the children, the youth, the old, the daring and the shell-shocked, etc.

That didn't happen in the 1970's.

The question is, why hadn't it already happened in the 60's if not earlier? Certainly the teens and tweens coming of age in the late 1950's to 1975 had not themselves felt the present scare of WWII, and could only feel the "Communist menace" in a different way than those who had indeed lived WWII, i.e. at one remove. All men have lived their lives in the shadow of some bogeyman or other: the Amalekites, the Canaanites, the Persians, the Romans, the Huns, the Moors, the Redcoats, the Injuns, the Huns (oops, I said that already), the Communists. The Liberals. There is always a "they" who, if things go wrong, might "get me" and lock me up or worse. Or at least, that is far more the normal state of mankind than the state of peacefulness where I have no plausible fear of such.

Neurophysiology has discovered that there are neural correlates for extreme conservatism and extreme liberalism corresponding to the fight-or-flight response, with conservatives being more risk aversive and liberals being more risk takers or thrill seekers.
It is there that one will find the greatest concentration of risk takers, of liberal, who subvert the natural order for the sake of being noticed.

I have heard this idea mentioned several times in the last few months. I think it is bunk.

At least, it is bunk if the underlying theory is something at all similar to "what it means to be conservative is to be risk-averse" or "it is primarily due to being risk-averse that people tend to be conservative".

For starters, I would refer to this post
on conservatism, in which it is made entirely clear that what is foundational to conservatism is thankfulness for what we have received, and a recognition of obligation toward the social order that we did not ourselves create but received.

How is that gratitude generated by being risk-averse? Or by fear, for that matter?

My sense is that it is only in the minds of the liberal stupidigentsia that we are not born into families and societies, and thus we only have those obligations that we consciously choose to contract: in that mindset, choosing mainly to contract obligations such as to "go along with" the existing social norms is a form of risk-avoidance, springing from fear of the unknown.

But that's hogwash, of course. Or, another barnyard filth: bullsh*t.

If the preferential option for the good order that IS, is taken too far (i.e. beyond the right reason of virtue, into a vice), it can manifest as resistance to all change. And that might spring at least partly from an excess of fear of change. Or some other excess.

I would of course contend that taking "conservatism" to that extreme means you leave conservatism proper behind and embrace something that isn't even conservatism properly. That's because principled conservatism isn't an ideology, it is a virtuous behavior with regard to the social order. It is a part of the love of the good. And virtue excludes the unreasoned extreme - it ceases to be either love or of the good.

As a result, liberalism can almost be defined as being defective in the love of the social order. Thus it is not at all a mere accident that if you ask a liberal "do you love your country" or "are you a patriot", mostly you will get a refusal to answer, a non-answer that evades, or a queasy (or quisling) yes that is followed immediately by "but...". And since patriotism is a virtue and lack of patriotism is a vice, liberals mostly are situated in vice.


I would like to respond to your points, but my iPad was, literally, grabbed out of my hands this morning while I was reading the news at a picnic table near a building on campus. My access to the Internet is going to be limited for a while.

The Chicken

This sort of thing ought to make us very wary of claims about neurophysiology and politics:


That's pretty funny.

This link sheds more light on social science statistics, by a statistician:


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