There is an old expression, “Talk is cheap.” Coupled with another old expression, “Actions speak louder than words,” we are introduced to a profound philosophical insight brought by Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) in his The Acting Person. That insight is that people are understood through their actions, not their words. Metaphysically, that is, in the nature of every man, we say that man is a rational animal; he is an animal that can think, know and know that he knows. But in a sense, this truth is much too vague. Even though we all share this nature, each of us is very different in many respects. Wojtyla’s book is a phenomenological reflection on the actual lived experience of real human beings.
In human life we experience not only sense impressions (the British empiricists would agree) but also things and people (so many philosophers from Descartes onward would actually quibble with this.) The things and people make up two different aspects of the world. The very fact that we developed language demonstrates that we are meant to disclose or share our experiences, thoughts and feelings with others. We, i. e., the human person, is the subject of action. We reflect on our own experiences and what we actually do, but also we act as an objective monitor of our own actions, which means that man is the object of his own cognition. This means that we have the ability to judge the rightness, wrongness and even the prudence of our actions, given the amount of understanding we have accumulated during our lives. The implications of this is earth-shaking: we and no one else is responsible for our own actions.
This responsibility comes from that fact that God has given us three qualities that flow from our participation in His likeness:
a) Self-possession—the person’s actions flow from the point of authority over himself;
b) Self-governance—the quality that allow a person to order his actions to fulfill his “existential ends,” that is, to fulfill what he was created to be;
c) Self-determination—the outcome of self-possession and self-governance is that we determine how our personhood develops in the real world, and not in some theoretical construct.
For the sake of this article, let us examine self-possession more deeply. Wojtyla points out the origin of the word possession as coming from the Latin potus, meaning, to be able and sedere, to sit. In property terms, I sit on my own property. This demonstrates that it is mine, and I am responsible for its upkeep and output. Since a person is in possession of himself, his actions flow from his own authority over himself. Therefore, Wojtyla says that flights of fancy, imaginary utopias or living in the past or the future, inoculates a person against self possession. “Not living in the real world” means to abandon one’s responsibility over one’s actions, which do not accord with reality—the very definition of truth. Catholics today are especially prone to this tendency. There are many Catholics who imagine that they can remedy the ills of society by returning to a more primitive lifestyle, where all work is done by hand and there are only simple machines and no companies. Not only do those who fall for these utopian schemes wish to have everyone live in squalor and work themselves to death, but they say that this is what the Church teaches. They forget that sin comes not from social institutions, but from the very heart of man, and no tweaking of a system will make that evil disappear. Ultimately, all of these well-meaning Catholics are, as Wojtyla says, inoculating themselves against self-possession.
Examine life in the West today. So many people see themselves as victims. While some are truly victims, most of those folks, are really abrogators of self possession. Even the real victim of say, crime or hurricane, must face that reality in a self-possessed manner, and go on as best they can. They, while not responsible for the crisis in their lives, are responsible for dealing with it to the extent possible, and then turning to God and neighbor for assistance. But anger, revenge, self pity, and the like are losses of self-possession. The constant running to the government to legislate everything, is also a loss of self-possession—a common practice of our diocesan “Peace and Justice Committees.” We feel no responsibility for our brothers and sisters in trouble, and we turn to the government for force others through taxes to do what we ourselves should be banding together to do.
The entrepreneur is a person self-possessed. He is willing to take risk, even with other people’s money that they loaned him because he inspired them with the vision of a concrete project. He fully understands that failure occurs because he did not take all circumstances into account, and that what most of us call failure is actually a learning experience for the future. The fact that he is working with other people’s money is an extra incentive to be diligent. He doesn’t say that they owed it to him. He sees the loans as a favor which he will repay with the earnings from the project.
This is true in other areas as well. College students are studying on other people’s funds. They need to be self-possessed and not waist that time and money goofing-off. The self-possessed student studies hard and gets the degree for which other people gave him the money. Having a job is a gift of God, for which He expects diligence. How many of us lack the self-possession to give an honest days work?
The Church has been pleading that we Catholics be self-possessed in our Faith, that we realize that many, many people have not come to our Faith because we did not take responsibility for its spread. We live a comfortable, middle-class, Catholicism, which focuses on our own spirituality to the neglect of our brothers and sisters. If the world is not Catholic, it is our (collective) fault. Just as God will not save us without our co-operation, he will not save our non-Catholic brothers and sisters without our co-operation. This requires self-possession.
There is a big panic about the recent failures of Lehman Brothers, and the bail out of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and lastly about the bail out of AIG.
I find that very few people in the media have the first clue as to what is going on (not to mention politicians and the ordinary people). One pundit, who I have criticized in past writings, was almost in tears because the government did not foresee the crisis coming and protect us from it. But it was that very government, in the persona of the Federal Reserve Bank, that brought on the crisis in the first place, by its never-ending creation of money and credit.
When the Fed creates credit out of nothing, which banks suck up like there is no tomorrow, it gives banks more money to lend out and make a profit without any additional saving. This drives interest rates down, and also reduces credit requirements. If the banks do not reduce the requirements for getting a loan, they will not be able to lend out all the extra money, and money sitting on the books is not earning interest from borrowers. So, loans are granted to folks who might not be able to pay them back.
Now the Federal Reserve has come up with $85 billion to lend to AIG, obviously created out of nothing as usual, in return for an 80% equity stake in the company. This means that the Fed is now the owner of AIG. I remember that the very definition of socialism was that the government owns the means of production. Gee!
Now comes “moral hazard.” In economics, moral hazard occurs when one tries to prevent something in a way that actually encourages the very behavior one wants to discourage. Normally, banks which make a lot of bad loans will go out of business when people begin to default on those loans. The possibility of widespread non-payment is an incentive not to make those loans. But if someone, like the government for instance, promises or even demonstrates, that it will save a company if the ill-considered loans fail, the company now has an incentive to continue to take the risk of making bad loans. Government bail outs will only encourage the situation.
Lastly, the pouring of vast amounts of money into the economy by the credit creation of the Fed to bail out the companies will further reduce your purchasing power by watering down the value of the dollar more than it has been.
It should be pointed out that neither presidential candidate is saying anything like this. Why do so many people think that the president is our savior? The president does not have the power to control this because the Federal Reserve operates independently of the elected officials. I am not recommending that the elected officials control the Fed. I think we have enough evidence that they would not be able or willing to do this—remember our national debt plus unfunded mandates to the tune of $55 trillion? The only solution is to get rid of the Federal Reserve Bank!
I am a great fan of “back to basics.” This is because the general population does not know what the educated person of my youth knew. Let’s take college education. The undergraduate university I attended had a heavy core curriculum. In philosophy alone there were five required courses in sequence. I would minoring with 21 credits. In theology there were four, again in sequence. In history there were three—two in sequence and one of the student’s choice. In political science there were two in sequence, same each with math and science. There were five in English, again in sequence. Today it is very rare to find such a core. Nowadays, a typical student is usually required to take an English writing course and then maybe one or two courses in each major area, not in sequence, but of his own choosing. The result is that the student’s knowledge is a hodge-podge, rather than a sequential building from a foundation. So the foundations are missing or shoddy.
I was a critic on panel at a scholarly conference in Texas once. I was assigned a person’s paper to critique, and the jist of my argument was that the whole argument was founded on Nominalism. Since the other person had a doctorate as well as I, I assumed that we would have a fruitful discussion over the very foundation of the professor’s paper and research, where she would have to defend the nominalist basis of the paper. But, instead of addressing my critique, she discussed another person’s paper, which was not her job. After the panel ended, I asked another person on the panel who had been a former student of mine, why this happened. He threw up his hands and said, “Philosophically illiterate?”
This is exactly my point. This person’s knowledge base was very flawed such that she did not know a very basic concept that all students (even those with only a B. A.) in my generation who had attended at least Catholic universities would be familiar with.
So what I am going to do now is discuss in the following series the fundamentals of man’s nature and how it plays out in everyday life.
The big point to remember here is that both society and the market are sui generis: that is to say, self-generating. They come from themselves. No one created society except the people who live in it. And they did it by there multitudinous interactions. They did it by the interactions of a free people, exercising their freedom. Adam Smith correctly called this the system of natural liberty. It is natural because God gave all human beings a free will, just like his. God created the universe absolutely freely, and gave his creatures a free will. He also gave us reason, similar to His, but his reason is so far above his, it is not that similar. Hnece, our free will is more like God’s than our reason. As God tells Job,
Who is this who darkens my council
With words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man
I will question you
And you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Tell me if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
Or who laid its cornerstone--
While the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy.
Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!
And so forth. God’s reason, while similar to ours, is inscrutable, because his reason is infinite. We cannot figure him out, but we can know what he tells us, or reveals to us. St. Paul says: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise ; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1 Cor 1: 18-21)
Maybe we concentrate too much on the evil in the world which is a result of the weakness of men with original sin, than the actions of everyday life. Maybe harping on sin and crime makes us feel better about our own sins and crimes. Be that as it may, the real way to find out about man, is to look at man in his everyday operations—doing the things natural to him as man. So we are going to look at man in his nature, first. We will do this by examining the famous book by Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II, The Acting Person. By examining this book, we will fill in the philosophical details of that which makes the market.
To be continued . . .
(Yes, this article has to do with economics)
Recently, my wife and I went to visit some relatives of hers who are generally Catholic, and some of those are seriously practicing Catholics. One of the latter said that she was in favor of Obama, the radically pro-abortion candidate; the one who also voted against the prohibition of partial-birth abortion, perhaps the most barbaric procedure done in the recent West.
So, how can this relative, and so many other rank-and-file Catholics, support radically pro-abortion candidates. Well, excuses abound. One of the most commonly heard is the one about not being a one-issue voter. But abortion is different than whether we should put this million dollars into road construction or into Medicare. This is because those kinds of issues are prudential, and different people can have differing views on these, both of which are moral.
When I was in Catholic grammar school, I learned, and again many more times, that one is not permitted to perform an evil act, even if it would save the whole world. The fact that abortion is clearly evil has been explained in countless Church pronouncements and written about by numerous theologians. The bishops themselves have issued statements and booklets like Faithful Citizenship, which explain the moral obligations of Catholic citizens rather well. But much of this presumes that the faithful actually read. The people in my true example read only regular newspapers. To my knowledge, they never have even brought home a diocesan newspaper. The only books in the house are on the subject of music. This means that the teaching of the Church on abortion must come from the pulpit. Ordinary Catholics must be told what to do, because the do not read!
In many dioceses, however, this subject, and many other controversial subjects with moral implications, are never mentioned from the pulpit. It is easy for priests in liberal areas to tell people to love God, or help the poor, or pray. But if a priest tells them that they can’t support a pro-abortion candidate, or that they should not use artificial birth control, or have pre-marital sex, or if they are divorced and remarried outside the Church, they cannot receive communion, there would be a rebellion.
(Here’s the economics part)
Many diocesan priests see their assignments as a sinecure. They will do anything required of them—give sacraments; explain the gospel, which after all, does not discuss many of the 21st Century controversial issues; run a soup kitchen, etc. All of these are good and part of their calling. But rocking the boat; fulfilling a prophetic function when the congregation might complain to the bishop, give the priest a hard time, or, God forbid, decrease the collection money; out of the question. They are making a cost-benefit analysis: what is the benefit to me if I go over the line and preach what the parishioners refuse to hear? The cost will surely be greater that the benefit to me. One of the reasons for this is that the priest is not sure of the support of the overly-sensitive-to-bad-publicity bishop, who would punish the loyal priest by ending the sinecure. While priests are not usually “fired,” they can be demoted in a way by being sent to parishes in bad neighborhoods, or dying parishes, or very rural ones. A St. John Vianney would welcome such a thing, but many diocesan priests would not. I am not picking on diocesan priests, but order priests, Dominicans, Franciscans and the like, can be transferred anywhere at any time, and are somewhat used to this. Being a priest requires courage. Standing up for the truth, though in a prudent way, requires the desire to preach truth even when it is not popular, and be ready to take the losses. A follower of Christ can do no less.
The remedy for the rank-and-file Catholic support for pro-abortion candidates is for the bishops to insist that the subject be preached frequently from the pulpit, according to a paradigm issued by the bishop, and an assurance from the bishop that he will not listen to the complaints that come from angered parishioners. The cost-benefit analysis then will be that the benefit to the priest will be a commendation from the bishop for the courage of the priest, even if the parishioners complain and the collections decline. Priests cannot be judged on the amount of money they bring in, or on the level of complaints due to their orthodoxy.
As a last example, a friend of mine was a new principle at a Catholic grammar school. He insisted that the teachers teach the Catholic Faith in its entirety. The pastor was encouraging but timid. When the subject of divorce and re-marriage outside the Church came up in religion classes, all the parents who were in this very condition were furious at the nerve of the teachers (with the principle’s support) who taught the truth. The pastor kept his mouth shut and my friend was fired by the diocese. I rest my case.