Category Archives: Philosophy

A Political Thought From H.G. Wells (with a footnote from Tocqueville)

I have thoroughly enjoyed three of H.G. Wells’ science fiction novels in the past few weeks: The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, and just today, I was completely enraptured by his telling of The Time Machine.  Admittedly, there’s some decidedly communistic analysis of both present and future conditions in The Time Machine that frankly is just wrong.  However, I think Wells himself was somewhat disenfranchised with the Communist/Socialist utopia embodied by many intellectuals of his day.  I gathered this from the insights of the Time Traveler regarding his experience with human civilization in the year 802,701 A.D.

During that year, (spoiler alert), the Time Traveler finds two classes of men co-existing.   One class, the Eloi, live in a naive and childlike daze above ground.  They frolic in the daylight sun, eat fruit off the trees, bathe in sparkling streams of water, and have no economic, rational, or otherwise laborious concerns that would cause stress.   The other class, the Morlocks, lives in a brutal sub-world underneath the earth’s surface.  Their lives are run by machines and they are scared and bedazzled whenever confronted with light.  Their long existence underneath the earth has transformed them into hideous and bleached creatures with enormous and dilated eyes.   Nevertheless, they are humans–degenerate, ugly, and barbaric–but still humans.

As the Time Traveler spends his first days in this future world, he theorizes that the Eloi are in a state of communist perfection (not knowing of the existence of the terrible Morlocks yet).  To him, the Eloi live a life of no worries, no labor, and no danger, just perfection and utopia.  However, when he discovers the existence of the Morlocks, he hypothesizes that the Eloi are remnants of the capitalist overlords, which is why they live in wealth.  Meanwhile, the Morlocks are leftovers of the proletariat, living in misery.  But when the Time Traveler actually descends into the nest of the Morlocks, he discovers that it is they that hold the power over the Eloi.  They make everything above the world easy and peaceful for the Eloi until the time comes to eat.  At that point, the Morlocks capture and kill the fatted Eloi that they’ve been harvesting for the purposes of consumption all along.  In other words, the human race has degenerated into two groups–one that is lazy, non-intelligent, frivolous, and cripplingly innocent; and the other that is savage, brutal, and cannibalistic.  I truly appreciated this because it seemed to me to show that that Wells, at least at the time of this writing, might have believed there was a pitfall behind the coming revolution of the proletariat as predicted by Marx and other communists.  Wells seemed to acknowledge that such a revolution would create an illusion of utopia, but otherwise continue to perpetuate the use of force by one group to dominate another group.

And so, in chapter 10, the Time Traveller takes time to contemplate this miserable state of the human condition in the year 802,701.  His thoughts were to me extremely prophetic, and at the same time, highly sobering.  Although we do not face a future tomorrow of barbaric Under-World Morlocks and idiotic Upper-World Eloi, it is the kind of direction we should not want to take.  We obviously don’t want to be like the Morlocks, but just as importantly, we do not want to be like the Eloi.  At this, let’s see what Wells had to say through the eyes of the Time Traveller as he gazes over this new world (with my emphasis added):

“Here was the same beautiful scene, the same abundant foliage, the same splendid palaces and magnificent ruins, the same silver river running between its fertile banks. The gay robes of the beautiful people moved hither and thither among the trees. Some were bathing in exactly the place where I had saved Weena, and that suddenly gave me a keen stab of pain. And like blots upon the landscape rose the cupolas above the ways to the Under-world. I understood now what all the beauty of the Over- world people covered. Very pleasant was their day, as pleasant as the day of the cattle in the field. Like the cattle, they knew of no enemies and provided against no needs. And their end was the same.

I grieved to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been. It had committed suicide. It had set itself steadfastly towards comfort and ease, a balanced society with security and permanency as its watchword, it had attained its hopes – to come to this at last. Once, life and property must have reached almost absolute safety. The rich had been assured of his wealth and comfort, the toiler assured of his life and work. No doubt in that perfect world there had been no unemployed problem, no social question left unsolved. And a great quiet had followed.

To me, these are clearly the words of a man who recognizes that, despite the wonderful predictions of a utopia brought about through the overthrow of the capitalists, there is something more sinister in its victory than anything that the previous civilizations had to offer: the death of the intellect and the nullification of the human soul.

I end this with (as the title of this post promised) a footnote from Alexis de Tocqueville, the author of Democracy in America.   Tocqueville’s greatest fear for the future of America was that it would turn into a nation of sheep, governed by shepherds who only pretend to care about the sheep on the outside.  So Tocqueville feared that they would keep the sheep very happy and content with themselves, allowing the shepherds to do as they would in the shadows (sounds just a bit like the Morlocks and the Eloi, doesn’t it?).  The nature of this power is that it,

“does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.” (Democracy in America, p. 662, Mansfield and Winthrop translation)

So it appears to me that Wells’ Morlocks and Eloi, upon closer examination, are just Tocqueville’s concerns carried to very extreme conclusions.  However, the principle is the same.

Tomorrow, we will not literally be the Eloi cattle to feed the Morlocks, but I ask you: are we becoming the timid and industrious animals that are content to allow our political masters to make us fat and happy while they work their schemes and systems upon society?  Are we becoming like the Eloi in that we don’t know (and don’t care) about the fundamental things of life and the expansion of our intellectual capacity and the strengthening of our moral fibers?  Do we just want comfort and ease under a seemingly benign slavery to bureaucrats, congressmen, and presidents,  or do we want to hardship, sacrifice, endurance, and liberty under the sovereignty of God’s power?

Just a thought from my reading of H.G. Wells (with a footnote from Tocqueville).

"Like the cattle, they knew of no enemies and provided against no needs. And their end was the same." - H.G. Wells, "The Time Machine"

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No Gas Day = No Brains Day

[If anything, be sure to scroll to the bottom of this post to read some back and forth between myself and some of the individuals who will be “attending” No Gas Day.]

When oil prices are high, it's much more rational to blame government rather than oil companies (Copyright: Jim Hubert 2002)

Recently, I received an invite on Facebook to attend an “event” entitled “No Gas Day.”  According to the event’s description, the purpose of “No Gas Day” is to “see if we can organize an event to reach as many people as possible to have a day designated to boycott all gas stations across the planet.”

Once I read that purpose statement, I already knew where this was going.  This was going to be another one of those futile attempts to stick it to the oil companies and their greedy, price gouging CEO’s.   In other words, it was another economically illiterate individual who doesn’t understand simple supply and demand, but who was mad about recent spikes in the price of oil.

Sure enough, the description continued:

“I know this has been tried before, but not since Facebook has become the phenomenon that it has. So, send this event to everyone on your friends list, and let’s see if we can start our own revolution, by letting these oil companies know we aren’t going to stand for these prices!  Simply avoid all gas stations on March 31, 2011. And if you can go one step further, don’t even drive that day. […]  We’re mad as h—, and are tired of watching the big oil companies laugh all the way to the bank while we all suffer. Let’s do this!”

With great enthusiasm, the masses (1,457, 867 as of the writing of this post) have come out in droves to click a button that says, “Attending.”  Somehow, this will demonstrate their solidarity in standing up against the outrageous greed of oil companies.   Somehow, this will send a message to the oil companies that says, “We’ve had it with the price gouging!”  Somehow, this will have some kind of unknown effect that will result in something.  It has to, goshdarnit!  It was organized through the power of Facebook!

Excluding the fact that the individuals who claim to participate in No Gas Day probably won’t have to buy gas on March 31st anyway (Think about it…how many people fill up their gas tanks on a daily basis?), those who do will make up for their lack of consumption on the 31st by purchasing more gas on March 30th or April 1st.  This will make absolutely no impact on the oil companies whatsoever.

But beside that small practical detail, I was more concerned with the economics of the boycott.  To be clear, I don’t have a problem with the fact that those participants in No Gas Day have a right to organize their boycott, but I do have a problem with the ignorance behind it.  Specifically, I was concerned with the highly questionable assumption that “price gouging” exists, let alone that it is a bad thing.  Beneath that, I was also concerned with the notion that the recent rise in prices was due to the greed of oil CEO’s and the accompanying notion that “profit” is an evil thing.  I was also concerned with how people couldn’t understand the links between potential oil supply disruptions due to conflicts in the Middle East, anticipated demand levels, and the price of oil.  And lastly, I was concerned with how individuals were so eager to practically crucify the oil companies when steady increases in government taxation, government-caused inflation, and government restrictions on drilling have been much more significant in increasing the cost of gasoline over the long run.

Thus, I wrote a short post on the event’s wall after promptly confirming my non-attendance.  Specifically, I wrote:

Oil companies do not “price gouge” in order to make exorbitant amounts, causing us to suffer. Changes in oil prices are mainly affected by outrageous levels of government taxation (which make up as much as 1/4-1/2 of gas prices) and also potential disruptions in supply that force oil companies to raise prices in order to ensure that oil is properly rationed so that they don’t run out of it. Economically speaking, the concept of price gouging doesn’t exist, let alone make any sense.

Sure, in the end, they make a profit, but that’s what any good business does. Should we stop buying computers until Microsoft and Apple just learn to cover their costs?

I strongly recommend those of you in this group to read two books: “The Law” by Frederic Bastiat and “Economics in One Lesson” by Henry Hazlitt.

By no means was anything I wrote groundbreaking or worthy of a new economic treatise.  I also recognize that there’s a whole lot more that impacts the price of oil then the factors I mentioned in my wall post.  That said, my point wasn’t to make the perfect argument.  I just simply pointed out to the people in the event that, economically speaking, the entire basis for the boycott was fundamentally flawed.

This political cartoon demonstrates the common but unwarranted beliefs about "greedy" oil companies

However, since so many people posted on the event wall so quickly, my original post sank into oblivion within minutes.  So I decided to get a little militant.  In doing so, I definitely broke the unspoken rule that says that one should not be concerned with the fact that another person is wrong on the Internet.  In complete violation of this principle, I decided to re-post my original post several times in order that more people could read my thoughts.  A few of these re-posts received responses, but only one of the responses was intelligently phrased.   I plan to present that response in my next post where I discuss the economics of price gouging and other related concepts with a little more depth than in this post.  However, I thought it would be good to wrap up this post by posting some of the back-and-forth from the replies which suffered from less intellectual fortitude.

REPLY ONE: “[BS]. You sure swallowed that ‘economics’ line, or have stock in the oil companies. Rationing has nothing to do with it, getting as much as possible from the consumers who have to buy gas is the reason for raising prices whenever there is a ‘potential’ disruption.”

My Response: “If that’s your assertion, then why aren’t gas prices at $100/gallon? Why don’t oil companies have armed guards at gas stations forcing people to pay $80, $90, $100/gallon? If their entire goal is to “get as much as possible from the consumers who have to buy gas,” then this is what should be happening according to your premise.

Moreover, gas prices have fluctuated in the past. It’s never been a constant rise. In fact, there have been times where gas prices have actually fallen quite far in the past several years. Your warrantless assertion provides no rational explanation for any decline in prices.
I have no stake in the oil companies (though I find it amusing that you immediately charge me with such an association as if it was a heinous sin to be an oil investor), nor am I an economist, properly speaking. Yet, I have studied and read enough economics to know that those who get riled up over price gouging essentially get riled up over nothing.Moreover, the only true way to stop this fictitious notion of price gouging (I can assure you, starting a group on FB to boycott gas for a day won’t do anything) is to institute price controls which set a limit on the price of gasoline. However, this can only result in shortages since the price will not be allowed to fluctuate towards the equilibrium point. This sets the price at a level too low, causing it to intersect at the demand curve at a point where demand will grow and supply will shrink. This is the definition of a shortage. 

Here’s two very brief, but informative articles on the subject by Walter Williams, Ph.D. and professor of economics at GMU:

http://www.capitalismmagazine.com/economics/price-controls/4492-gas-prices-and-price-controls.html?print

http://www.capitalismmagazine.com/economics/price-controls/4683-price-gouging-opportunity-costs-and-the-economics-of-prices.html

REPLY TWO: “There has not been a supply issue in many years. It’s a big line of crap to make us think there is.  I strongly recommend for you to start looking at the economy and ask yourself, why is it like this? It’s because the elite powers in this world have decided that they are taking control, and want billions of slaves. Why have the U.S. been borrowing money like crazy and not paying it back is a better question. If you think that this is rightful profits, you are sorely mistaken”

My Response:That’s a wonderful assertion (“Its because elite…billions of slaves”), but until it is backed up with some kind of actual evidence, then it means nothing to any rational individual.

As far as the U.S. government’s proclivity for borrowing money without paying it back, I am strongly against that. If you’re somehow hinting at the fact that our economy is built up on a system of credit instead of sound money and real savings, I am against that too, particularly because government monetary policy has crushed out real savings and sound money. Unfortunately, that doesn’t have anything to do with the present issue of oil companies selling gasoline to consumers in a voluntary transaction.”

REPLY THREE: “Then how come gas companies are making record profits?”

My Response: “Who cares? As long as they provide gasoline and don’t force anyone to buy it, they can make as much profit as they please. Profit is not evil. It is a symbol that people like the service that a company provides so much that they are voluntarily willing to pay for it.

Besides, because the oil industry makes profit, it creates jobs. Isn’t that good for the economy? Aren’t we trying to get out of a recession? The more profitable a company is, the more it can expand, and therefore, the more jobs it can create. Record profits are not symbols of price gouging, just symbols of consumers giving oil companies a big “thumbs up!” for their product.

You also have to take into account that populations are larger and that oil companies serve more people than before. If you have more people buying oil, then you might make more money. Nothing inherently wrong with that. In fact, it’s desirable that, as populations grow, oil companies can adapt to increase supply for more demand. If they make more profit for that, then I’m all for it!

Admittedly, there may be a few warning signs from record profits from oil companies, but they are not related to price gouging or CEO greed. The dollar is becoming less and less valuable, which is a result of the Federal Reserve pumping money into the money supply. This inflationary monetary policy causes an increase in prices since it reduces the value of the dollar. Therefore, part of the reason oil companies may be increasing their profits is because they are forced to raise their prices due to inflationary monetary policy by the Federal Reserve. But that’s not the oil companies’ fault…that’s the Federal Reserve’s fault.”

Such was the task of combating economic sophisms for the day.  As stated earlier, there was one responder whose comments illustrated a more adept understanding of the issue than those listed above.  But that will be a whole extra post in and of itself in which I explore the issues surrounding oil prices with more depth than in this post.

P.S. After I get off of my “price gouging doesn’t exist” rant, I plan to follow up on my original Rob Bell post with an actual review of Love Wins.  I now own a copy of the book and will be reading it soon.


Let Your Conversation be Seasoned with…Basil?

It’s very important to read the early church thinkers.   It’s even more important to read them with discernment in the spirit of the Bereans.  These Jewish believers were reported by Luke to have “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11, KJV).

While the Bereans’ sincere quest for truth is easily laudable, it might surprise some to know that they received “the word” directly out of the mouth of the Apostle Paul.  Therefore, despite having direct access to the preaching of a divinely inspired author, they still searched the Scriptures to confirm that Paul was teaching sound doctrine, lest they should fall prey to vain and deceptive teachings.  If it was fit for the Bereans to examine the words of Paul according to the Scriptures, then how much more should we analyze the words of any one else in light of Scripture’s authority, be he historical church leader or contemporary street evangelist?

With this thought in mind, I have a few thoughts about a document I came across recently entitled “Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature,” by St. Basil.  Some believe that the primary thrust of St. Basil’s argument in this address is directed at encouraging young men to accept the good while throwing out the bad of “pagan literature.”  So far, so good.

However, this is not the thesis of St. Basil’s address.  The thesis (and support) is much more controversial, and I would argue, not Scripturally sound.  Essentially, Basil’s thesis says that “since young men cannot appreciate the deep thoughts contained [in Scripture], they are to study the profane writings, in which truth appears as in a mirror” (Outline, pt. II).  I immediately became concerned with the direction of Basil’s address upon reading this at the very beginning of the document.  It contradicts Paul’s message to his young student, Timothy, in 1 Timothy 4:13, which exhorts Timothy to “devote [himself] to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”   If young men are too immature to understand Scripture, why did Paul encourage a young man to not only read Scripture publicly, but also to teach it?

Moreover, it’s patently demeaning to the power of the Holy Spirit for St. Basil to argue that immaturity prevents young men from understanding Scripture.  If the immaturity of young men is too great for the Spirit such that it cannot reveal to their minds the truths of Scripture, then perhaps the Holy Spirit does not share the omnipotence of God, and therefore, He cannot be a part of the trinity.  At this juncture, I find it simple and necessary to reject St. Basil on these grounds–his work logically suggests that the Holy Spirit is limited in power, and therefore, (by extension), not a part of the Godhead.

St. Basil’s bias against the power of the Holy Spirit to speak truth to any mind (young or old) comes through in the 4th point of his outline where he says, “Since the life to come is to be attained through virtue, chief attention must be paid to those passages in which virtue is praised” (Outline, pt. IV).  This is nothing short of the articulation of works-based salvation, in which eternal life is attained through our virtue, which we can learn about in pagan literature before we even touch the Scriptures.  Instead of salvation being a miraculous process brought about by divine intervention of the Holy Spirit, not based at all upon human works (as Scripture teaches), St. Basil emphasizes that eternal life is attained by being virtuous, something we can learn from certain Greek and Roman heroes.  If this is the case, then why study Scripture at all?  Why not just study the pagans?  Why have a doctrine of the Holy Spirit?  Of regeneration?  Of redemption?  The questions continue as we realize that Basil treads in deep waters.

Basil further errs on this point when he says in the 10th point of his outline that “While this ideal will be matured later by the study of the Scriptures, it is at present to be fostered by the study of the pagan writers; from them should be stored up knowledge for the future” (Outline, pt. X).  However, I contend that it is a grave error to assign pagans the authority of establishing epistemology and metaphysics in the mind of a young person, leaving Scripture until later.  Scripture must be our prior foundation (2 Corinthians 10:4-5; 1 Peter 3:15) for all knowledge, whether held by the young or old minds.  To allow pagan authorities to mold the philosophical depths of young men’s minds is to make pagan authorities the prior foundation for knowledge and subordinate Scripture to their teachings.

Expounding on this point, in his actual address, Basil says, “Just as it is the chief mission of the tree to bear its fruit in its season, though at the same time it puts forth for ornament the leaves which quiver on its boughs, even so the real fruit of the soul is truth, yet it is not without advantage for it to embrace the pagan wisdom, as also leaves offer shelter to the fruit, and an appearance not untimely” (para. 6).  Using this metaphor, Basil contends that the pagan teachings shelter the ultimate truths of Scripture.  Yet, Scripture exhorts the believer to put on the “full armor of God,” in order to stand against the devil and protect our faith from error (Ephesians 6:10-20).  Christians (young and old)  are to be armed with truth, righteousness, and the Gospel.  We cannot know these unless we know what Scripture tells us about them.  In short, Scripture must be capable of guarding itself or else it loses its supreme authority and rests on the protection of the ungodly.

Ultimately, St. Basil’s understanding of salvation manifests itself to be completely in error when he says, “While he who unintentionally violates his obligations perchance receives some pardon from God, he who designedly chooses a life of wickedness doubtless has a far greater punishment to endure” (para. 17).  Here, Basil says that those who understand what it means to be virtuous may actually receive pardon from God, even if they do not know of Him.  Yet, Romans 1:20 explicitly says that all men are “without excuse.”  God has provided only one means of salvation, through the sacrifice and redemption of Christ, which can only cover those who receive the divine intervention of the Holy Spirit and become truly regenerated by His power alone.

Admittedly, the one bright spot of Basil’s address occurs when he says that, “When they recount the words and deeds of good men, you should both love and imitate them, earnestly emulating such conduct. But when they portray base conduct, you must flee from them and stop up your ears, as Odysseus is said to have fled past the song of the sirens, for familiarity with evil writings paves the way for evil deeds.”  Admittedly, there are many truths that we may discover in non-Christian sources and there are many lies that we must flee from, but non-Christian literature cannot supplant Scripture’s role in teaching truth and establishing epistemology.  All things must be analyzed in light of Scripture, not before or outside of Scripture. Unfortunately, this was not St. Basil’s view when he argued that it was good for young men to redeem the good from pagan literature while rejecting the bad.

Thus, the main thrust of St. Basil’s address to young men runs contrary to core Scriptural doctrines.  To blame immaturity as a reason for our inability to comprehend the truth of Scripture is to limit the power of the Holy Spirit in his ability to  reveal ultimate truth, leveling His omnipotence to nothing.  To articulate virtue as the means by which we achieve salvation is also an unbiblical doctrine.  To overthrow the epistemological dominance of Scripture with the folly of pagan authors is a grievous error.

It was not Plato and Homer to whom the Bereans compared the teachings of Paul.  It was not Aristole who Paul exhorted Timothy to teach from and to read in public.  Scripture was the final and ultimate authority for all, young and old.  As such, it seems to me that we should follow their example and not the erroneous advice of St. Basil.

“The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.” – Westminster Confession of Faith, Chap. 1, Part IV