Mensch and Ubermensch

January 31, 2007

Often I get the feeling that there are too many people in the world. I’m not talking about overpopulation. (There are 7 kids in my family. If I get married, I plan on having roughly the same amount. I don’t think the earth is overpopulated in the conventional sense of the term. No; for there to not be “too many people”, the population of the earth would have to be several orders of magnitude smaller.)

What I mean by “too many people” is that there seems to me to be too many people alive for any one life to really matter. Or at least, for any particular life to have much of a chance of mattering. Let’s do some quick math and see why. Say that out of everyone you have ever met, you are the most intelligent person. You’ve probably met a few thousand people (at least enough to judge whether they are your intellectual equal). So I’ll be generous – of a random group of ten thousand people, you are the Best. Of this group, the rest are mere mortals, but you are a Nietzschean Overman.

There are around six billion people in the world. 6,000,000,00 divided by 10,000 is 600,000. Even if you are the most intelligent person you have ever met, there are roughly six hundred thousand people who are at least your equal. Probably most are your superior. Not so Ubermensch now, are you?

Six hundred thousand people is a helluva lot. And only a very small number of them – at most, a handful of thousand – will actually be able to have a meaningful effect on the world. By this I mean something like write a book, or discover a scientific theorem, or prove something in mathematics, that will actually be remembered a hundred years from now. Even the most intelligent person you have ever met is unlikely to actually have an effect on much of anything.

That’s a kind of depressing thought.

And that’s what I mean when I say it sometimes feels like the world has too many people. If there were more like a few thousand, a few hundred thousand – then it might be bearable. It would then be within the apparent realm of possibility for someone to actually make a difference, if they merely had the skills – intellectual, physical, 1337 haxxor, whatever – to actually do so. As it is, though, the difference between an individual person’s circle of acquaintance and the size of the actual world is just too great. At least, it sometimes feels that way.

What should the response to this be? I really don’t know. Intellectually, the response is somewhat clear – but that doesn’t make it any less disconcerting.


Kristin Lavransdatter

January 24, 2007

Well, things seem to be picking back up again. We have senior projects, QB tourneys, Math Club contests… and an English research paper. I’m reading Kristin Lavransdatter.

I haven’t finished it yet (I’ve read 1.1 out of 3 books, ~300 pages per book), but here’s some comments on it from what I’ve read so far:

  1. The author is clearly Catholic. (Well, actually, she was a convert and had not yet officially converted when she wrote the books – but she was in essence Catholic already.)
  2. She is also fairly orthodox, from what I can tell.
  3. And very much in the spirit of Opus Dei – that’s a good thing. Everyone I know who is in OD loves the books.
  4. It is set in Medieval Norway. ‘Nuff said. That’s +1 points right there.
  5. The author is female, and she is writing about a strongwilled woman in the Medieval Ages, but she is not making a feminist argument or anything like that. She actually was against women’s “emancipation” – she wrote in the early 1900’s.

So – this book has basically everything going for it. Anyone with the same worldview I do will go into this book with a lot of goodwill towards it. And rightfully so, I think. It is indeed a very good book.

Except… it is a book that is in a large part about relationships. Romantic love. The failure of romantic love when it is without real love, “agape”. Sexuality. Etc. All of this is stuff that I am not particularly interested in. It also deals with other issues, of course. But these are a key part of it. And they’re a part I don’t care all that much about.

Kristin Lavransdatter, then, seems to me to be an almost perfect book – but not for me, because the questions it raises and answers are not the most important to me (though they are to some other people). I will enjoy the book a lot, don’t get me wrong – but I know that many other people would enjoy it more.

I advise these other people to read it.

A Liberal Arts Education

January 15, 2007

I am probably going to end up attending a ‘liberal arts’ university (most likely the University of Dallas). There are several different reasons I want to do this. What I want to focus on right now is the idea of knowledge and wisdom, how they are related, and why they are desirable.

Knowledge, as I use it, does not mean mere information. It means an understanding of a particular realm. For example, there is scientific knowledge. This does not mean “knowing” that an object on earth falls with an acceleration of 9.8m/s^2. It means knowing why this is – understanding the laws that make up the physical universe. The same is true of literary knowledge, mathematical knowledge, theological knowledge, etc.

There are, then, many types of knowledge. But there is only, I think, one type of wisdom. Wisdom is “knowing about knowing”. It is the highest pursuit imaginable. It is also very hard to define. “Philosophy” in one sense is wisdom, but philosophy is a broad term. Depending on the type of philosophy, it can also constitute a type of knowledge. I would phrase it like this: Wisdom is knowledge of the fact that all knowledge, taken together as a whole, implies God. That is not a particularly satisfying definition though.

The goal of a “liberal arts education”, then, should in my opinion be to guide people towards this wisdom. This must be done by teaching them knowledge. The more knowledge, the better. Knowledge is of God. By increasing our knowledge, we glorify God. we should, I think, have at least a fairly good grasp of all the different types of knowledge. Even if I am not going to be a theologian (and I’m not), we should understand theology enough to discern whether a theological argument is nonsense or not.

A friend of mine has argued that all that should be required in a liberal arts education is study of literature and phillosophy (plus probably theology, though he has not mentioned this). I do not deny that those should be involved. But I argue that mathematics and science also have a place.

To see why, let us look at these five different areas and what they are really about. I will from this say how much knowledge of each is required to be really wise – and thus how much should be required of a liberal arts education. The latter part of this will of necessity turn rather practically-minded.

Theology is knowledge of God. Without it, we cannot know God. If we do not know God… well, things would not be pretty.
So: We should learn enough about theology to have a more than rudimentary understanding of God as revealed through Tradition and the Scriptures. I suspect one semester on Church History, one on interpreting the Bible, and one on theology proper (based primarily on readings of Augustine and Aquinas) should be sufficient.

The Arts give knowledge of the human person. Without them, we could not understand emotions, which are the root of how we can possibly be rational beings when we often act so irrationally. They are also aesthetically pleasing, and studying them helps refine our sense of beauty. That’s a good thing. Practically speaking, “art” generally constitutes study of the great works of art and analysis of them.
So: Art is fundamental for our understanding of humanity. Even those who do not want to be writers, artists, or musicians need to study it. As for specific numbers, I am not sure, but it is clearly important. Several semesters of literature, at least one semester of art, and at least one of music, plus a few on history, too…

Everyone agrees, I think, that these two need to be studied by anyone who wants to be wise. But what of the other two areas?

Mathematics is knowledge of what is universally true outside of God. Mathematics are more than just universal. What would it even mean, after all, to say that 2 + 2 != 4?
It is also the bastion of logic. Axioms, theorems, proofs, etc, which are needed for philosophy, are best explained through math, where the proofs are incontestable – they either work or they don’t.
So: The problem with teaching mathematics to everyone is that many see mathematics as mere “number crunching”. There are set, unchanging rules, you follow them, and you get answers. Now, I realize mathematics is a challenging subject for many. Not everyone can be expected to complete two years of calculus and go on to higher math. But I think it is important for everyone to at least take one year (two semesters) of calculus.
Why? Calculus, as my teacher has said, “turns all the rules upside down”. Learning calculus should, ideally, teach people that math is more than just a set of arbitrary rules that are followed – there is a deeper logic behind it. Everything up to calculus is basically the same, and it is never asked why those are the rules. Calculus forces you to actually think about what math really is, not just about the superficial rules.
I would not object to a “math for non-math-majors” course, for those who simply find calculus too difficult. But there are two things I will not accept. The first, that a math course will not be required. The second, that the course, if it is required, will focus on the “practical applications” of calculus. That’s just stupid. Calculus simply isn’t relevant to everyday life. People don’t need to be taught ways to approximate numbers that they will never have need to approximate. They don’t need to be taught how to implement Simpson’s Rule for finding integrals; they need to be taught why Simpsons’s Rule works.
So, such a “math for non-math-majors” course would be a calculus course, but it would focus more on the aesthetics of math than on the particulars. People find taking integrals hard and frustrating. Fine – don’t make them take integrals, but make sure they understand what an integral is.

Science is knowledge of the physical world around us. It is purely natural. It deals with the laws of the universe as we know it. But the universe could be different. Why do we need to know the specifics of our own universe? Mainly because, well, we live in it. Science is a very practically-minded field of study, the most so of any of these. It (unlike mathematics, though math has been accused of this as well) is purely quantifiable. Somewhat boring, really.
So: Why do we need to study it if we aren’t going to be scientists? Because even if we aren’t going to be scientists we need to know something about how our world works. It wouldn’t do for us to go around saying the world is flat because we’ve never been taught otherwise.
But all of the basic facts of science would be taught before one gets to the university. So what else does one need to study science for? Well, science also has philosophical implications. Neuroscience and free will, quantum physics and randomness… it would be a good idea to educate people on these things. But I’m not sure what else science is needed for… a few sciences courses should be required, but not many.

So, theology, history, literature, art, they should all be studied. We agree on this. But I think that to gain wisdom, you must also study mathematics, at least somewhat, and science, though even less. So they should be required in a liberal arts education.

Quicumque vult

January 11, 2007

The Athanasian creed:

Quicumque vult salvus esse, ante omnia opus est, ut teneat catholicam fidem:
Quam nisi quisque integram inviolatamque servaverit, absque dubio in aeternam peribit.
Fides autem catholica haec est: ut unum Deum in Trinitate, et Trinitatem in unitate veneremur.
Neque confundentes personas, neque substantiam seperantes.
Alia est enim persona Patris alia Filii, alia Spiritus Sancti:
Sed Patris, et Fili, et Spiritus Sancti una est divinitas, aequalis gloria, coeterna maiestas.
Qualis Pater, talis Filius, talis Spiritus Sanctus. Increatus Pater, increatus Filius, increatus Spiritus Sanctus.
Immensus Pater, immensus Filius, immensus Spiritus Sanctus.
Aeternus Pater, aeternus Filius, aeternus Spiritus Sanctus.
Et tamen non tres aeterni, sed unus aeternus.
Sicut non tres increati, nec tres immensi, sed unus increatus, et unus immensus.
Similiter omnipotens Pater, omnipotens Filius, omnipotens Spiritus Sanctus.
Et tamen non tres omnipotentes, sed unus omnipotens.
Ita Deus Pater, Deus Filius, Deus Spiritus Sanctus.
Et tamen non tres dii, sed unus est Deus.
Ita Dominus Pater, Dominus Filius, Dominus Spiritus Sanctus.
Et tamen non tres Domini, sed unus est Dominus.
Quia, sicut singillatim unamquamque personam Deum ac Dominum confiteri christiana veritate compelimur: ita tres Deos aut Dominos dicere catholica religione prohibemur.
Pater a nullo est factus: nec creatus, nec genitus.
Filius a Patre solo est: non factus, nec creatus, sed genitus.
Spiritus Sanctus a Patre et Filio: non factus, nec creatus, nec genitus, sed procedens.
Unus ergo Pater, non tres Patres: unus Filius, non tres Filii: unus Spiritus Sanctus, non tres Spiritus Sancti.
Et in hac Trinitate nihil prius aut posterius, nihil maius aut minus: sed totae tres personae coaeternae sibi sunt et coaequales.
Ita ut per omnia, sicut iam supra dictum est, et unitas in Trinitate, et Trinitas in unitate veneranda sit.
Qui vult ergo salvus esse, ita de Trinitate sentiat.
Sed necessarium est ad aeternam salutem, ut incarnationem quoque Domini nostri Iesu Christi fideliter credat.
Est ergo fides recta ut credamus et confiteamur, quia Dominus noster Iesus Christus, Dei Filius, Deus et homo est.
Deus est ex substantia Patris ante saecula genitus: et homo est ex substantia matris in saeculo natus.
Perfectus Deus, perfectus homo: ex anima rationali et humana carne subsistens.
Aequalis Patri secundum divinitatem: minor Patre secundum humanitatem.
Qui licet Deus sit et homo, non duo tamen, sed unus est Christus.
Unus autem non conversione divinitatis in carnem, sed assumptione humanitatis in Deum.
Unus omnino, non confusione substantiae, sed unitate personae.
Nam sicut anima rationalis et caro unus est homo: ita Deus et homo unus est Christus.
Qui passus est pro salute nostra: descendit ad inferos: tertia die resurrexit a mortuis.
Ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis: inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos.
Ad cuius adventum omnes homines resurgere habent cum corporibus suis: et reddituri sunt de factis propriis rationem.
Et qui bona egerunt, ibunt in vitam aeternam: qui vero mala, in ignem aeternum.
Haec est fides catholica, quam nisi quisque fideliter firmiterque crediderit, salvus esse non poterit. Amen.

So here it is. I’ve mentioned it a few times in the past, and I’ve finally provided a copy of it.

In Latin, of course. Go Athanasius. (Though he probably didn’t write it himself. Whatever.)

January: Who Shall I Be This Month?

January 5, 2007

My personality tends to oscillate between different characteristics. This tends to happen every month or so. So, I like to label each month with a name that sums up my attitude towards life at that moment. Now, these different characteristics show up to varying degrees in the different stories I write. Last November, I was Alfhelm the Wise. December, I was Mal-Ravanal.

What shall I be this month, I wonder? Well, one of the defining characteristics of this month is going to be the death of Fiach Dubh. Those of you who frequent the Wesnoth forums will realize that this is a very sad event for many of us. What can you say – death sucks. (Well, this isn’t exactly my outlook on death – I may have more to say on this in a few weeks.) And a friend dying makes one think about one’s own mortality.

Another important influence will be the complete antipathy (not just apathy) I currently feel towards what is normally termed ‘a life’. All I want to do right now is sit down and spend a really long time working on Orbivm. I don’t want to interact with people. At all. I’m just really tired of acting like I’m less bored than I am. Going back to school yesterday was harder than I thought it would be, for that reason.

So… these sound like very Dwarven qualities to me. Fatalistic and autistic. I think I’ll be a Dwarf this month.

That means I’m either Thursagan or Rugnur. Which one, though? Not Rugnur. He’s naive, interested in the world… I suspect Thursagan. He’s a wise old sage who wants to just live in solitude in the far northlands and craft runic artifacts. That sounds exactly like me right now.

I am Thursagan, then. The January iteration of Túrin is Thursagan.

Hman Hnaupunt

January 2, 2007

‘All the same,’ said Ransom, unconsciously nettled on behalf of his own world, ‘Maleldil has let in the hnakra.’
‘Oh, but that is so different. I long to kill this hnakra as he also longs to kill me. I hope that my ship will be the first and I first in my ship with my straight spear when the black jaws snap. And if he kills me, my people will mourn and my brothers will desire still more to kill him. But they will not wish that there were no hnéraki; nor do I. How can I make you understand, when you do not understand the poets? The hnakra is our enemy, but he is also our beloved.’
– From Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

This is an interesting idea, and one I find very attractive. I am not quite sure if it is heretical or not. Is there really such a thing as good, pure combat, even between a man and a beast?

I would like to think there is. I do not like the idea that competition is an inherently flawed idea. If Hyoi (who is not a fallen creature, and thus apparently speaks for Lewis himself) is right, combat is not evil in itself, we have merely perverted it.

The way in which we have perverted it is apparently by turning our weapons on ourselves, not on the hnakra. But is the problem that we have attacked and slain other hnau (=rational beings), or is it that our motives are not pure?

According to Hyoi, battles with the hnakra are different because he “is our enemy, but he is also our beloved”. I would interpret this as saying that they do not bear the hnakra any ill-will, they simply kill him because that is how the game is played, and they accept the risk to their own lives as part of the game as well.

Can this apply to men as well? Is competition between men inherently evil? If you approach battle the way the hrossa approach the hunting of the hnakra, and love your opponent even as you slay him, can you stop from committing sin? It’s a nice idea. It would mean that the great heroes of yore were not sinning when they slew one another on the battlefield.

This is where Orcs come in. Orcs are an interesting concept, literarily. They can be used in a number of ways. They can represent evil, and imply that even men and elves can act like orcs. As Tolkien said,

“I am not a ‘democrat’, if only because ‘humility’ and equality are spiritual principles corrupted by the attempt to mechanize and formalize them, with the result that we get not universal smallness and humility, but universal greatness and pride, till some Orc gets hold of a ring of power–and then we get and are getting slavery.”

Orcs, for Tolkien, are merely corrupted men. And any man can, by sinning, become an orc.

But this is not how I want to use orcs. I use orcs to show that there is some good even in the most seemingly evil race of all. This is what the orcs of Orbivm show.

What “good” could there be in the orcs of Orbivm? I posit that it is the good of competition. Orcs understand, in a way that other races do not understand, what Hyoi is explaining to Ransom. They love competition for competition’s sake.

Yet, since they are a fallen race, they have perverted this (originally good) love. They have turned on the other races, and against themselves, fighting constantly, not because they hate the other races, but because they love to fight.

This means that even the “risen” orcs (=the ones who manage to act at least somewhat un-fallen) must have this intrinsic competitive outlook. And that this outlook is not fallen in and of itself.

So the Orcs of Orbivm are rather like the hrossa. Only fallen.

Oh, and happy new year everyone.

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