Thursday, November 08, 2018


For some reason, this week's election has proven more disheartening for me than recent past elections. Not that any particularly terrible candidate won or anything, but the post-election complaints seem to be less about the results and more about the process of representative democracy. It's the system of self-government that more people want to change. I don't like where this leads us.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Proof of Life

Should I post a video of me with today's newspaper? I'm still in my 10-week hermitage. This is Week Seven.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Serendipity Now!

I read a blog post this week that was all, "Wonderful things fall into my lap because I started a blog and a podcast. Ya know, NBD."

Halfway through the 10-week hiatus. By the end of November, I'm going to have to rename my blog "Everything's Coming Up Milhouse!"

Monday, October 15, 2018

Different Last Words

I know I'm only done with four of the 10 weeks I told you I would be on a bit of a hiatus, but the longer my last blog post is about Brett Kavanaugh, the more I think, "If I died right now, my last blog post for the rest of FOREVER would be about Brett Kavanaugh." So here's a blog post about something else. Now I can die happy.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Adam Smith on Brett Kavanaugh

American politics is terrible. Any longtime reader of this blog will know that, 10 years ago, I was much more political than I am now. It's not that I no longer care about those things; I just no longer have any hope for a successful conclusion to the problem.

This is why I have had nothing to say about Brett Kavanaugh. But I thought of the criticisms he received for his forceful denials when I read this from Adam Smith:

Unmerited reproach, however, is frequently capable of mortifying very severely even men of more than ordinary constancy. Men of the most ordinary constancy, indeed, easily learn to despise those foolish tales which are so frequently circulated in society, and which, from their own absurdity and falsehood, never fail to die away in the course of a few weeks, or of a few days. But an innocent man, though of more than ordinary constancy, is often, not only shocked, but most severely mortified by the serious, though false, imputation of a crime; especially when that imputation happens unfortunately to be supported by some circumstances which give it an air of probability. He is humbled to find that any body should think so meanly of his character as to suppose him capable of being guilty of it. Though perfectly conscious of his own innocence, the very imputation seems often, even in his own imagination, to throw a shadow of disgrace and dishonour upon his character. His just indignation, too, at so very gross an injury, which, however, it may frequently be improper, and sometimes even impossible to revenge, is itself a very painful sensation. There is no greater tormentor of the human breast than violent resentment which cannot be gratified. An innocent man, brought to the scaffold by the false imputation of an infamous or odious crime, suffers the most cruel misfortune which it is possible for innocence to suffer. The agony of his mind may, in this case, frequently be greater than that of those who suffer for the like crimes, of which they have been actually guilty. [TMS, III,2,11]

I'm not passing judgment on the validity of Dr. Ford's or Justice Kavanaugh's claims. I'm merely noting that Adam Smith says we should expect the falsely accused to respond forcefully.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Adam Smith's Constant Conscience

In reading Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part III, Chapter 2, paragraphs 1-9, I came across an argument that I think is wrong. Smith says we desire praise because our even-deeper desire is to be praiseworthy, and that being blameworthy is even worse than receiving justified blame. But what is praiseworthiness without praise? Smith says in III,1,3 that someone raised in isolation would have no way of forming the impartial spectator needed to assess one's own conduct. So we can't develop an idea of praiseworthiness without receiving or not receiving the praise of others. Only after some experience with the praise of others can we evaluate the hypothetical praise necessary to support the idea of praiseworthiness.

Smith says praiseworthiness is more desirable than praise. "Men have voluntarily thrown away life to acquire after death a renown which they could no longer enjoy" (III,2,5). Since he'll be dead, he can't be expecting to receive utility from that praise, so he must be receiving the utility from the knowledge of his praiseworthiness. But what about a praiseworthy action of which no one will ever learn, so there is no expectation of future praise? Do people still value that?

Smith says they do, and I agree, but he says they do naturally because praiseworthiness can be separated from praise and is more desirable than praise. I say such a martyr is motivated by the desire not to be praiseworthy in his own mind, but to receive the praise of God. Would an atheist raised in society (to allow for III,1,3), but later stranded indefinitely, still have motivation to be praiseworthy? I don't think so. Smith says yes, when he says that someone guilty of terrible crimes, "though he could be assured that no man was ever to know it, and could even bring himself to believe that there was no God to revenge it, he would still feel enough of both these sentiments [detestation and resentment] to embitter the whole of his life" (III,2,9). Thus, says Smith, blameworthiness is even worse than blame, because of the conviction by the impartial spectator. So Smith anticipates a sort of Hemingway Code Hero, doing right for the sake of right, and eschewing wrong because he would know his own failure if he didn't.

But that's just called having a conscience. Can someone ever remove his conscience completely? Not like Pinocchio, where it comes back later, but like a grittier, noir version of Pinocchio where he kills Jiminy Cricket and feeds his carcass to a pig. Smith assumes that he cannot, but I disagree. A conscience is not constant, but can be enhanced or muted, and even deadened. The Book of Mormon calls it being "past feeling" (1 Ne. 17:45, Moro. 9:20), and says "the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man" (2 Ne. 26:11).

Smith says, "Nature, accordingly, has endowed him, not only with a desire of being approved of, but with a desire of being what ought to be approved of; or of being what he himself approves of in other men. The first desire could only have made him wish to appear to be fit for society. The second was necessary in order to render him anxious to be really fit" (III,2,7). While this is true of most people, it is by no means necessarily true. The conscienceless only retain the first desire. Smith says evidence of the superiority of praiseworthiness is shown when a man neglects or despises public praise: "and he is never more apt to do so than when he has the most perfect assurance of the perfect propriety of every part of his own conduct" (III,2,8). But how would a man receive such perfect assurance? The impartial spectator is enforcing our imagining of the regard of others (III,1,5), so either I must receive universal praise or I must have access to Capital-T Truth--that is, know the mind of God--to have that perfect assurance. Since Smith says I don't need the praise of others to be praiseworthy, then it can only be that I have Truth. This is what Joseph Smith meant when he (or his ghost writer) wrote in Lectures on Faith that (paraphrasing, since my copy is at home and I am at work) a man must have an assurance that his course of life meets God's approval to have faith (Lecture 3, I believe). But Smith says a man who can "bring himself to believe that there was no God" (probably mid-18th-century speak for "even if there is no God") still values praiseworthiness more than praise, but I don't think such a person retains an idea of what praiseworthiness even means.

Notice the connection to what I call anthrotheism: in the absence of God, I need to acknowledgement of all of humanity. If I'm not praiseworthy in the sight of God (because God doesn't exist anymore), then I can only have "perfect assurance of the perfect propriety of every part of [my] own conduct" if I receive universal praise. Otherwise, according to Bayes's Law, the presence of a differing opinion would leave me less than perfectly assured. Which is why it's not good enough for you to allow me to live immorally; I have to remove from your mind the idea of immorality to be comfortable in my conduct. Like when Homer Simpson gets the crayon removed from his brain and goes to see a movie and the audience turns on him because he's not laughing. Anything less than Groupthink is a provocation.

Smith says being praiseworthy is superior to receiving praise. I say praiseworthy is meaningless without the reception of praise. If I'm not receiving praise from others, it must be from God. Smith says that an isolated atheist would still seek to be praiseworthy. I say only if he's a Code Hero sort. The Code Hero requires a conscience, so Smith must be assuming a constant conscience. Otherwise, a conscienceless isolated atheist would not value praiseworthiness. In our modern world of conscienceless atheists, praiseworthiness is dependent on universal praise. Public opinion becomes God's replacement in the moral code. This is what I call anthrotheism.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Self-Interest and Altruism

My dissertation is about the different views of economists regarding economic inequality. My motivation for this is my underlying interest in understanding how the laws of economics and the creation of Zion can both be satisfied.

I am reading a book that was strongly recommended by an economist I know. It is How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne. So far, it's underwhelming. Browne argues for an Ayn-Rand-like, balls-to-the-wall self-interest. However, he also recognizes that I might define my self-interest as being tied to the benefit of others. So he says I shouldn't sacrifice for my kids if I feel like there's some moral code that requires me to do so, but it's fine to sacrifice for my kids if I do it because I like my kids.

Adam Smith argues in The Theory of Moral Sentiments that affection is habitual sympathy, and the reason we have limitations on our altruism is because we have limitations on our time, so we can't sympathize with everyone enough to treat everyone with perfect egalitarianism. Perfect sympathy for all others would require immortality. This could be the connection that would explain why William Godwin claimed in the first edition of Political Justice that achieving perfect sympathy for others would lead to immortality.

Given that Zion requires we have "no poor among [us]," but our mortality creates limits to our altruism, how can mortal people create Zion? I am wondering about an idea of webs of affinity; I have some people with whom I would share gladly, and they have others with whom they would share gladly. I am not motivated to share with some rando, but I share with my friends, who share with their friends, who end up sharing with someone that I would consider to be just some rando. As long as we have some people with whom we are egalitarian, the differing circles of society would eventually equilibrate material possessions.

Browne, though, writes, "No one's self-interest is enhanced by the continual relaying of gifts from one person to another to another" (p. 50). Thus, he argues, if everyone were selfless, we would just shuttle gifts around endlessly, which he says is illogical, so we should let our selfishness flag fly, so to speak. But just because no one person benefits from a multi-stage transaction doesn't mean that each bilateral portion of the multi-stage transaction isn't beneficial to the two parties involved. I believe Browne is being inconsistent in recognizing that I want to share with people about whom I care, but that selflessness requires I lower myself below others, so a selfless society turns into everyone playing hot potato with material wealth. I believe equality would be an equilibrium in such a selfless world.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Ten Weeks

Starting today, for the next ten weeks, I'm going to be working intensely on my dissertation. Trying to align the rest of my life with this goal means that I will not blog non-dissertation things as much over this period. However, I will blog the work I'm creating, because, according to Fundamental Truth of Life #8, embarrassment is the mortification of pride.

Along the lines of "I sure hope God likes enchiladas," I sure hope you like analysis of differing theories of welfare, because (for the next ten weeks) that's what you're getting.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Great Moments in Cub Scout Planning

Our ten-year-old son, Jerome Jerome the Metronome, had to plan a Cub Scout meeting with one of his peers. Jerome called him on the telephone. The other boy kept suggesting that he could bring pancakes and everyone could eat them. Jerome kept pointing out that the meeting would start at 6:30, after all the boys had already eaten supper. The other boy then changed his idea to waffles. Jerome had the same objection. Finally, the other boy said, "I'll just make some breakfast food and we can eat breakfast for dinner."

Last night, we showed up for the meeting. The other boy came in with a bottle of vegetable oil and a carton of eggs. "I'm going to teach everyone how to fry an egg," he announced. This was not what had been discussed in the planning phone call. And, what's more, it's against church policy to cook food in the church, and it requires a frying pan, which he didn't bring.

He also brought his Nerf gun, even though they had decided the activity would be dodge ball.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

I Get Around to It

Joseph Smith said that his take-away from the lost manuscript incident was the lesson, "When the Lord commands, do it." I agree, but I need a ridiculous amount of time to get myself there. Imagine a group of boys who are going to jump off a bridge into a river. I'm the boy who ends up alone on the bridge, talking himself into it, trying the patience of his friends, before scooting to the edge, then lowering himself, then accidentally losing his grip and falling off. Hurray, I did it (technically). (Really, though, if I were in that actual scenario, I wouldn't jump--Fundamental Truth of Life #4: "If something is stressing you out, stop doing it." Jumping off stuff into water stresses me out, so I've stopped doing it.)

Anyway, in 2015 I had the thought that I should read the Teachings of Presidents of the Church series as my morning scripture reading. There were twelve past volumes at the time, and I figured I'd read one each month, then read the 13th one over the course of the year as we used it as the lesson manual. Easy.

Four years later, I am about to finish the project.

  1. Joseph Smith: 26 July 2015
  2. Brigham Young: 14 October 2015
  3. John Taylor: 20 November 2015
  4. Wilford Woodruff: 22 December 2015
  5. Lorenzo Snow: 21 February 2016
  6. Joseph F. Smith: 2 December 2016
  7. Heber J. Grant: 30 March 2017
  8. George Albert Smith: 16 June 2017
  9. David O. McKay: 18 March 2018
  10. Joseph Fielding Smith: 26 June 2018
  11. Harold B. Lee: 11 September 2018
  12. Spencer W. Kimball:
  13. Ezra Taft Benson:
  14. Howard W. Hunter: 11 December 2016
  15. Gordon B. Hinckley: 13 March 2018

In my defense, I also read Doctrine and Covenants twice during this period. But still. I take so long to do the things I'm supposed to do that, when I get done, everyone looks at each other and asks, "Is it even appropriate that we praise this effort?"