Social Distancing: from The Natural World? Part 1
September 22, 2020
This first part of this discussion is largely a digression taken deliberately by me so as to help clear up some questions that otherwise might arise and interpose, and so throw us off-kilter, were they not addressed beforehand here, somewhat to the level of my ability.
These are questions about value and about how we as humans derive goodness as a value and a name, and experience it, and apportion it; and about how our doings in this field of appreciating value tend to lead us by means of some straightforward reasoning on this topic and on our sense of value, to (maybe?) acknowledging that implicitly in our instinctive and hardly self-aware behaviours we acknowledge freely the existence of an object; being objective, absolute, and good, and all importantly – loving – I mean of course God, and in my particular case I mean Our Lord Jesus
I ask you to look back – just on today’s conversations - and on any broadcasts, podcasts etc, that you have digested in this period. Try to call to mind how many opinions on current topics you have heard expressed. On (inevitable) Coronavirus and its social, economic, collateral; on Brexit, on – not much else is there?
The point I’m trying to make is that opinions are plural, are what common people would have called once ‘two a penny’. And further – authorities, or better, claims to authoritative speaking, are being pushed from a broad and various spectrum of points of view, of organisations, of factions, and of course we can all spot in some of these those that have ‘axes to ground’.
But propagandist bias, and the diversity of sources of opinion per se, are peripheral to what I want to say here as being the chief item of note. The chief item is that so many different people with their mix of opinions claim authority upon us– sometimes deliberately so, but sometimes by the weight in time and attention allowed to them to voice their issues - by media in particularly; but also by common consensus in local, and in larger, broader, communities.
I would like to make a (perhaps unpopular) statement which undoubtedly is true to all thinking persons’ minds; and this is that - everyone is entitled to express an opinion; however this does not mean that all opinions are equal – in their truth value – in their evidences – in their weight of authority – in their cogency and connected flow - so as to suggest equal likelihood of validity.
Again there are those who are orators, certain legal persons for instance, whose work involves convincing others on a basis which does not necessarily demand that their convincing words be wholly and soundly truthful. Our politicians also study and put to use on us, their hearers, oratorical tactics and stratagems which aim at, and have succeeded in, in some cases, convincing us of their words’ validity or of their importance for our general welfare. Few doubt this; although many pay their allegiances to certain of such opinions because these are the opinions which suit their current situations and desires for their own usage. And any such allegiance made on such a premise is therefore an allegiance made in bad faith.
I shall come back to this point and its bad faith later on. It fits better there and has importance also.
So I’m not talking here about convincing people by sheer effronteries, cajoleries, articulate fireworks with words. I’m trying to go a to a more solid level of understanding so as to claim for any conviction grasped an amount of assimilation into a considered mental outlook having been voluntarily agreed to by their self-volition in the hearer or the reader.
Not so many people as it would be good to have, will know The Parable of The Sower as it is given by The Lord Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. If you are not aware of it, go read it – it will take you one minute - Matthew 13: 1–9, 18–23. This Parable gives a selection of ways for hearing an argument and the several ways in which such arguments heard are ‘lost’, or else are retained.
The ‘bottom line’ is that good words, as given in a figure by them being ‘seed sown’, become held by some hearers in the way that “Some seed fell on good soil and the plants produced corn.”
Thus The Lord’s good words were made their own and internalised by members of just one certain specific group of persons – as The Parable tells it, “the seed sown fell onto good ground and gave much corn harvest in just that kind of soil”
Now I expect some of the people who decide to read this present item of mine will jump in here and claim quickly so as to counter my drift that ‘truth is manifold and various”, and that this being so means that ‘truth for one person might well be falsehood for another’. In simple terms expressing an argument for the subjectivity and relativity of truth.
The person interjecting at this point with this kind of argument would go on to claim that there is no single and non-subjective anchor to which to attach such a thing as objective truth. They would follow by through saying that this conclusion means that the idea of objective truth is an untenable one, and so those hearers of The Lord’s words whose allotment of ‘seed’ fell not on good ground and so ‘did not have much corn spring up and thrive’, had their ‘sown seed’ fall onto ground which was equally as valuable-as-ground, as was the ‘good’ ground.
Maybe brownfield? Good for building on? Or concrete? Good for parking lots? If you see what I am getting at?
Let’s take a look at this interjection and try to show how it might be handled satisfactorily for my readers to want to carry on and see whereabouts this writing of mine is heading?
First of all I have to recall to your minds that we agreed (tacitly at least) earlier on in this piece of writing that “everyone is entitled to express an opinion; however this does not mean that all opinions are equal – in their truth value – in their evidences – in their weight of authority – in their cogency and connected flow - so as to suggest an equal likelihood of validity”
How now do we reconcile this statement which we agreed on earlier with the statement that all the ‘seed sown’ actually fell on some sort of good ground or other? Or put it a different way, a way having different concatenations; how do we say that the ‘seed sown’ in the ground in which it thrived, how can this ground be the only ‘good ground’ among so many other and valid types of ground?
It’s come to a bit of a contradiction here hasn’t it?
Concede that the ‘good ground’ which provided much ‘good grain’ was the only ‘good ground’ and we have an absolute anchor for truth and value. Contest that we have many ‘good grounds’ but no ‘seed sown’ grows well enough to have provided much ‘good grain’ excepting on the one type of ground, and we have to answer the objection: why should we call ‘good ground’ any ground which did not produce much ‘good grain’?
We answer – growing grain was not the right use for the other ‘good’(?) grounds, which yielded no grain.
The reply to this is that – these several grounds - of which just one produced good grain - were being tested for their use and value in producing good grain, and were not being tested for their use and value in building car parks, or in erecting housing. The item (ground which grows grain well) was being tested for goodness; this idea is an inescapable and necessary part of the setup of The Parable, and also of the setup of any comparison or test of the same kind, whether it’s a test done in ancient days, or one done today or yesterday or tomorrow.
If you go to the toolshop and ask for a chisel and the dealer offers you a cold chisel useful for chiselling metal, and also offers a wood chisel for carpentry work, you do not choose a cold chisel if you want to do carpentry, nor do you choose a wood chisel if you want to work with metal? Each chisel type has its separate and own use.
You make the judgement and buy accordingly.
Let’s look at The Parable from this angle. That ground which is concrete and good for making car parks; and that ground which is brownfield and is good for erecting houses on; would you accept a deal for building houses, were any one of the two types of ground to be allotted to you at random,; or else accept the deal being that one of either of the types of ground is to be alloted to you at random again, for building a car park on?
Given that it’s a lot more work time resources and cost for you to rip up concrete and haul it away before you can begin building houses, so that if you were building houses you’d prefer to have the brownfield, wherein house foundations can go more or less straightaway. So you don’t want the allotment of your ground type to you, to be made randomly.
Likewise with the person who wants to make a car park – she would much prefer land alloted to her that is concreted over already since it saves so much time money effort and resources to have the ground as it were readied already.
The concrete ground is in our case good only for making car parks; and our brownfield in our case is good only for building upon. One usage: one good use.
In this case of ours there is no way in which one type of ground is useful for more than one purpose.
And our case reflects perfectly the case of Our Lord when He was telling that Parable. And so The Lord is justified in calling ‘good ground’ the ground which produced ample corn from sown seed; and he is justified also in dismissing all the other types of ground he mentions - as their being ‘not productive’ and therefore not ‘good ground’.
This appellation ‘good ground’, in its context as it is used in ‘The Parable of the Sower’ is unqualified. It is ‘good’ absolutely; and just as in the same way that all other types of ground in The Parable were unproductive and so ‘not good’ absolutely. Only were any of Our Lord’s ‘good ground’ to be compared to other uses than ‘growing much corn’ would this ‘good ground’ of His become (perhaps?) unsuitable as a valuation and so no longer able to label ‘good ground’.
But within its denominated usage (growing much corn) , and when set beside the other types of (useless and not good) ground mentioned by The Lord, the ground is good ground – period.
Let’s forget about widening the boundaries of argument and suggesting that The Lord’s ‘good ground’ could have been even better ground were he to have had His Sower sowing a little further up the lane.
The criterion for goodness that we have discussed is called ‘fitness for purpose’. The brownfield land fit for housing; the concrete fit for car parks; the good ground of The Parable fit for growing much corn.
We call a shabby person sometimes a ‘good-for-nothing’, and this is a turn of phrase which assumes ‘fitness for something’ in people in general. You will say – its just and only that – a turn of phrase. But don’t we make judgements of this kind all the time. The Lord Jesus Himself talks of ‘salt having lost its saltness being good for nothing”. In the same vein we value items which we have or desire to have, almost wholly upon their utility value to us. Utility might include ‘entertainment value’ and ‘ prestige value’ and ‘ aesthetic value’ etc, were I to be comprehensive here.
But do we value other people,our friends and family members simply based on their utility value to us – even in the broadest sense of ‘utility value’ as a term meaning a desired, fulfilled, or expected, fitness for purpose to us?
Jesus again Himself says that we do not – and who can disagree with Him in this?
“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?
“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same?”
These words of His implicitly acknowledge that even the least and worst of us sees those close to him or her as being more, much more than mere utility-value items. “Do not even tax collectors do the same?”
So do we need another, a different criterion than ‘fitness for purpose’ for judging their ‘goodness’ when we are considering how we look on (at least some) people? Inevitably so, you have to agree, yes?
‘Fitness for purpose’ is a criterion directed towards ‘means’ as opposed to it being a criterion directed towards ‘ends’. ‘Fitness for purpose’ is about usefulness, usefulness for doing things that help us achieve our satisfactions. Those satisfactions are an example of a type of ‘ends’ - they go no further and are valuable because of way they are themselves – just as our family members are valuable to us, and good friends are also. The buck stops with ends, and (speaking academically and theoretically) there is nothing above or beyond any mundane end to which such an end needs to be referred up (although in practice ‘ends’ can be dreadful and so not worthy of being called ‘good’ ends)
But the natural disposition of men and women and children, is to consider those persons of whom they are fond, and whom they care about, as ends in themselves and not as means. Now what is a criterion of goodness in regard to an end? In other words, why are people valuable to us simply because they are people and for no other reason?
What might we say fulfills this role of ‘why’? Well, it means that even were we to dismiss any idea of a Divine nature subsisting in people, we would still have to concede that people, even when delimiting this ‘people’ to close friends and family, are absolute goods since they are ‘ends’ and the reason for this, is that their value to us – if we dismiss God and Divine things - cannot be referred upward or beyond or higher to a further greater means or end.
One might call this the ‘humanist’ position. It admits of an objective good; the objective good being a person, persons, humanity, people, men, women, children etc etc.
Some of us would include as ‘ends’ animals, and some add into that plants, and some others go for the whole of what I term (Divinely) Creation.
But all of us in this camp acknowledge an absolute good being embodied in persons, living things, the cosmos variously. Absolute because its magnitude in theory can be illimitable and it depends on nothing else as its object or for its existence
This absolute good here is ‘portable’, which seems to me to be contradictory. I mean that all living things die and pass away, and our science pundits have it also that the cosmos falls into this set, and so this objective absolute value placed by us on (let us say for convenience) persons, is what I term ‘portable’. Its objects shift – come into being – go out of being – and so we have an absolute objective value which is directed at items not permanent themselves. This is odd.
It appears consistent to me to say that a thing referred to as being an objective absolute good should itself be permanent and always in being. To fudge by calling ‘humanity’ this thing, and by use of a collective noun, is not acceptable. Each individual person has potential in another’s mind and heart to be, to become, an absolute objective good; thus to use the word ‘humanity’ to collectivise and so secure to reason that absolute objective good of an individual, misses clearly the point of death’s sting and its inevitability, and its bereavement and grief to a lover – for yes - this is what this absolute objective good is all about – Love.
We have a situation now wherein we cannot but acknowledge love as the indicator of the existence of an objective absolute good, and yet the existent object beloved passes away, and that love is then grieved and over time is calmed and quelled and quieted, into a fond memory. And besides, love for another person is able to wax greater, as it is also able to dwindle, and so lessen. Few of us feel the same way about one another all the time, even among those of us in love, or who love loved ones.
Again we have an absolute objective good which vacillates in our day-to-day apportionments of, assessments of, in our day to day judgements made on it, and in our awarenesses of, its presence. Even between a parent and a child this variation can and does occur; and this is a bond which is one of the strongest sublunary bonds of love there is, or which probably can be on earth.
Surely, to fulfill our natures, and to bring these inconsistencies into harmony, we need, require, should assume that, and accept that, we have somewhere, there is somewhere, somehow, a fit object which is an absolute objective value love, and which does not pass away, or die, and which is constant, and in its emanation, display, behaviour, giving, of its love, is always true to its own constancy and abundance?
This kind of object is the one kind of object only which is fitting to have attributed to it an assured objective absolute value love. Further, there is no reason to suppose, and it is unreasonable to assume, that there should be more than one such object; since ‘absolute’ as a term, must, if it means anything, mean ‘having all of that objective value love with itself’. Remember the difficulties we had with attributing to individual persons their ‘absoluteness’ when it always ends in death
Only an object which corresponds accurately and precisely to the qualities demanded of, referred to by, an objective absolute value love, a value to which we have agreed that we experience in little from day to day in the relations between one another as human beings - only such an object as God fits, can fit, the bill.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth...”