Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mormon Dialectics

icon I was extremely disappointed with Connor Boyack's "Latter Day Liberty." I had hoped to read a book like Skousen's "5000 Year Leap" which made a compelling defense of liberty. Boyack's work was dragged down by an excessive focus on group identity and oppositional dialectics.

I would not recommend the work to anyone interested in learning about philosophy of liberty. However, the read provides a good example of how oppositional dialectics undermines freedom.

Connor Boyack's goal in writing Latter-day Liberty is not simply to argue liberty from a Mormon perspective. It is to make the claim that LDS Church is privy to the correct the definition of liberty and virtue and that fellow travelers in the age old pursuit of liberty (such as the US Founders) were deficient in their knowledge of liberty as they were not part of the political hierarchy of the LDS Church.

Latter-day Saints are blessed with an increased understanding of who we are, why we're here on earth, and what consequences our mortal actions have. This knowledge can and should inform the laws and policies we support in earthly government.

As a non-Mormon living in Utah, this claim that one's group identity gives people an increased understanding of liberty and virtue comes off like the pigs of Animal Farm claiming that the pigs are more equal.

Mr. Boyack goes on to explain that this increased understanding is "due to the revelations that we have been given regarding God's plan of salvation and the War in Heaven." (page 17).

Much of this revelation came from a collection of essays by Joseph Smith called "The Book of Moses. The essays are often bundled with "The Pearl of Great Price." This particular work was supposedly translated from Egyptian papyrus purchased from a traveling mummy show. The documents associated with this event were later determined to be common Egyptian funery.

The "Book of Moses" tells us that man had a pre-existence in the Heavenly Kingdom. In his divine plan for the earth, the Heavenly Father set up a conflict between Jesus and Satan and that this War in Heaven is reflected in the war on earth (The Culture War).

BTW, the idea that the heavens are filled with gods and that life on earth is reflexive of the war in heaven is not new. This idea is called "polytheism." It has been common throughout history.

This plan for salvation is that there would be a conflict between the righteous (the members of the LDS Church) and the Servants of Satan ... the people not in the hierarchy also known as gentiles or non-Mormons.

The plan for salvation depends heavily on the concept of "free agency." The Heavenly Father gave man free agency so that they could make the choice between joining the righteous in the political hierarchy of the LDS Church and obeying its command. Those whose hearts are hardened by Satan and who do not use agency to join the political hierarchy of the church and do as they are told are cast out. Mormon free agency is a paradox. You are given free agency to see if you willing do as you are told. Joseph repeats multiple times that those who do not are to be cast out.

Boyack quotes an Elder Bruce R. McConkie on the Mormon Doctrine of Free Agency in a work titled Mormon Doctrine published in 1979: [I added the HTML OL formatting]

Four great principles must be in force for their to be agency:
  1. Laws must exist, laws ordained by an Omnipotent power, laws which can be obeyed or disobeyed.
  2. Opposites must exist—good and evil, virtue and vice, right and wrong.
  3. A knowledge of good and evil must be had by those who enjoy the agency, that is they must know the difference between the opposites; and
  4. An unfettered power of choice must prevail.

It just so happens that I read Hegel (1770-1831) before I read Joseph Smith (1805-1844). When I read the writings of Joseph Smith, I was struck by the similarities between Mormon Dialectics and Hegelian Dialectics. This is not surprising. Hegel was the rage in the 1820s when Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon.

How did German thought penetrate American conservative circles?

Hegel was a product of the German University system which was largely funded by the Hanoverian Kings of England (King George I, King George II, King George III). The Kings of England sought intellectual support for the monarchy. Hegelian dialectics was, was very much, a reactionary effort to present monarchist views as progressive. This dialectic process presented centralization and nationalization as progressive.

To a large extent, Hegel was simply rewriting the "Divine Right of Kings" in pseudo-philosophic speak. Oppositional logic reaches back into antiquity.

The three key elements of Hegelian dialectics are: The use of a conflict driven version of history, The use of oppositional logic, and a paradoxical definition of freedom (sublation).

Mormonism follows this pattern it creates a fantastic conflict driven history of the world: The Book of Mormon tells the story of the Nephites who were pitted against the Lamanites (servants of Satan). The Nephites strayed from the path of righteousness and were eventually pulled into a war of extermination. The children of the conflict were reduced to the "red-savages" now known as native Americans.

In the book The Covenant by Tim Ballard, we learn that The American Revolution was staged by the Heavenly Father and the Constitution was revealed specifically to create the conditions necessary for the restoration of the church which came to Joseph Smith a decade after Hegel. The new revelation came as "The Book of Commandments" which created the United Order of Enoch. Joseph Smith's followers rebelled on and Smith rewrote the Book of Commandments as The Doctrine and Covenant.

Joseph Smith's paradoxical definition of freedom is that people were given freedom as a test to see if they would follow whatever the LDS Church declared to be divine law. Those who do not follow the divine law are to be "cast out." Both the Book of Commandments and the Doctrine and Covenant demand multiple times that those who do not adhere to the dictates of the the Church hierarchy be cast out and denounced as evil.

Mormons actively practice the casting out of people. The lost boys who are thrown out of the FLDS community provide a sensational example of this ideology, but one finds more subtle examples of people caught in double binds in the LDS community.

Mormon dialectics allows the politically powerful to abuse people while declaring themselves the self-righteous defenders of liberty and all that is good.

The dialectics is compelling. People are drawn to it like flies. By employing conflict and paradox, dialecticians can create a sense of ideological impenetrability for a political group. On the whole, history shows that dialectics tends to divide society into warring groups that are completely incapable of communicating with others.

A prime example of the divisive effects of dialectics happens with the paradox of unity. When community organizers use dialectics to unite half a community against the other half, the organizer ends up creating deeper division despite the use of the rosy language of unity.

The Left is notorious for dialectics. The Left routinely labels people and groups "oppressors" then engage in a struggle against their targets without realizing that targeting and struggling against people is oppression.

Classical logic, on the other hand, sought to avoid paradoxes. The classical liberal approach to liberty sought to avoid the freedom paradox. The freedom paradox is easy to see in the simple question: Is a person free to take others as slaves? Classical Liberals, employing classical logic, concluded that one's freedom must stop when it imposes on the freedoms others. My personal freedom cannot include the freedom to enslave you.

The reactionaries to the American Revolution sought to preserve the social order of the monarchy and to preserve the peculiar institution of slavery. These groups flocked to Hegelian dialectics. Hegel was the rage in the early 1800s because his dialectics provided a mechanism to justify the behaviors and desires of the politicians of the day.

The dialecticians of the 1800s claimed that the classical liberals (the US founders, et al) had a naive definition of "liberty."

It was the dialecticians of the day who had the bad definition. These intellectual rogues simply built on all possible versions of the freedom paradox.

Anyway, I ended up reading Boyack's book twice. I book left me feeling heart broken. The author is clearly trying to advance liberty, but he is caught in the same binds that philosophers created for us centuries ago.

As for myself, I find that I am stuck here in Utah feeling helpless. I believe that I have things of value to contribute to the freedom movement. When I go to meetings, there is always some shrill voice that has bought into Mormon Dialectics that denounces the thoughts of people outside their group as Servants of Satan.

What is happening to this nation is terrible. The reason we are losing our freedom and devolving in a third world nation is because the intellectuals (left and right) are so mired in their particular versions of Hegelian dialectics that people have lost the ability to talk to each other.

To repeat Mormon dialectics. This doctrine says that Heavenly Father gave free agency through the Constitution and Divine Law through a Book of Commandments (The Doctrine and Covenants) as a test to separate those who willingly obey the dictates of the church. Those who do not are to be cast out. The Mormon definition of freedom essentially boils down to: You are free to obey.

And the pigs are more equal.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Moral Relativism

Moral Relativism is not the simple belief that anything goes. Moral relativism is a belief that morality is relative to one's cause.

In Latter Day Liberty, Connor Boyack presents a view of history in which truth and history are relative to the Mormon cause. He then turns and begins attacking people outside his group for moral relativism.

This quote about education on page 205 is quite interesting.

Textbooks and curricula often contain historical revisionism, where influential literature is sanitized to be made "politically correct," important figures from American or world history are denigrated or excluded from lessons altogether, and other, less important individuals are elevated to near demigod status by the arbitrary selection of the textbook publisher.

This quote is in a book that has numerous quotes from LDS Leaders who are simply unknown outside the LDS Church. The book has quotes and recounts experiences of characters from the Book of Mormon. There is no evidence, outside claims of Joseph Smith, that these characters even existed. If Joseph lied, then Mr. Boyack is quoted fictional characters and cited fictional events.

In the next paragraphs, Connor Boyack sets out to denigrate individuals that he dislikes. The individuals are Sigmund Freud, John Dewey, Charles Darwin, and John Maynard Keynes.

Speaking of Freud, one of Freud's favorite topics was projection. Freud saw psychological projection "as a defense mechanism in which a person unconsciously rejects his or her own unacceptable attributes by ascribing them to objects or persons in the outside world" (Wikipedia drawn 2/2014).

I dislike Sigmund Freud, but I think he hit the nail on the head when he explored psychological project. I've found that projection is extremely common in political discourse. In political projection, pundits attack their opponents for the weaknesses of their own positions while trying to lay claim to their opposition's strengths. It is foolish to assume that the first politician who denounces an opponent of lying is telling the truth. Projecting lies onto others is one of the most common ways to protect one's own lies.

We see political projection regularly. It is common for legislation to bear a title that is opposite of the consequences of the legislation. For example, the "Patient Project and Affordable Care Act" threw many patients into a state of health insecurity while raising the overall cost of health care. That PPACA would increase cost was apparent to anyone who read the bill.

Projection is often effective because many decisions are morally relative to the situation. For example, if you shoot a person who is wielding a knife and trying to stab you, people will call your act self-defense. If you just up and shot another person to see what it feels like, people are likely to see your act as murder.

Common decisions are relative to the situation. If I pulled an apple off a tree and ate it, the morality of my act is based on the ownership of the tree. If I owned the tree or have permission from the owner, then my act is fine. If a farmer owned the tree, then I am stealing from the farmer.

Political correctness is a terrible thing in which people judge an act on whether it advances or impedes a political cause. For the politically correct, the truth value of a statement depends on whether the statement advances a cause or impedes a cause. Many on the left do not see Obama's statement that "you can keep your insurance" as a lie because the truth value of the statement is determined by whether or not the statement advanced the cause. They do not see the truth value of the statement as an objective assessment of whether or not people would get to keep their insurance after the new health care law.

Just as progressives judge the truth value of Obama's statement on whether or not the statement advanced the cause, the truth value of many of Connor's Conundrums are relative to the truth value of the Book of Mormon. Many of Connor's conundrums are only true if the Book of Mormon is true.

Classical thinkers from Socrates onward discovered that many questions of justice are relative to the situation and that we need to understand the circumstances that led to a judgment in our evaluation of a decision. Before we evaluate the decisions of others, we need to research and understand the perspectives and set of ideas that led to the decision.

Personally I believe that there is value in pursuing universal truths. Yes, what we call universal ethics is ethics relative to what one considers to be universal. The pursuit of universal ethics encourages people to look beyond themselves or their own little group.

When we come across ideas that benefit one group at the cost of another, we should question the morality of the ideas. However, we must also be aware that, in our pursuit of universal truths, it is unlikely that we will come across clear absolutes. After all, what may appear to be a universal truth from one perspective may appear differently from another.

As for the moral relativism of the politically correct, the problem here is not that things appear differently from different directions, the problem is that politically correct moral relativists are basing their judgments on political effect. The politically correct, by their very nature, approach the world with a biased version of truth and partisan goals. The moral relativism pushed by the politically correct invariably devolves into a corrupt system with the politically powerful rewarding friends and punishing enemies.

The politically correct often push moral relativism as a way to mask the underhanded nature of their personal philosophy. Such people need to be called out for their corruption and not for the fact that we live in an changing world. The fact that the morality of actions may be relative to conditions should not drive us to distraction. It should inspire us to learn more about the condition of man.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Latter Day Liberty

icon I bought a copy of Connor Boyack's Latter Day Liberty. As the title implies, the book talks about liberty in the language used by members of the LDS Church sprinkled with quotes from LDS leaders and a Libertarian interpretation of LDS Theology.

I've read books by left leaning Mormons who interpret Mormon Theology with a social progressive spin. There is also a sizable library of people presenting Mormonism with a conservative spin. As a non-Mormon I have no ideas which of the spins is true. It seems to me that Mormonism, like most religions, is a collection of beliefs and historical trends that can be interpreted in any number of ways.

The book might have some value to a member of the LDS Church who are looking for ways to support Libertarian views in politics and free market positions in economics. As a non-Mormon, I simply felt that Mr. Boyack was cherry picking quotes to frame LDS Church thinkers as leaders in Libertarian thought. The convoluted thoughts are apparent in this quote about education on page 202:

"Fourteen years before he said it, the National Commission on Excellence in Education agreed with President's Hinckley's characterization of social mediocrity ..."

Yes, the author just stated that the National Commission on Excellence in Education was influenced by a statement made fourteen years after the commission's report.

In the linear thinking of the classical liberal tradition, causes usually come before effects, and the sentence does not come off well.

Mr. Boyack pulled many other tricks that I disliked. For example he summarily dismisses the United Order of Enoch which was clearly an attack on property rights. Boyack mentions numerous confrontations between Joseph Smith and mobs, but fails to acknowledge that, more often than not, the mobs were disgruntle followers.

The sequence of the Order of Enoch was as follows: Joseph Smith wrote tome called "The Book of Commandments." The "Book of Commandments" demands that the faithful surrender all of their property to the Church. The church would use the funds to build a new Zion and distribute as it saw fit.

Joseph Smith's followers rebelled and destroyed copies of the book.

Joseph Smith rewrote the "Book of Commandments" as "The Doctrine and Covenants." After facing the angry mob, Joseph Smith was slightly more supportive of property rights.

The sequence of events matter. Boyack's version of history attempts to frame Smith as a wizened leader who brought property rights to an ignorant following. In my opinion, the linear order of events provides a more pertinent version of history. In linear history, Joseph Smith was as an ambitious leader attempted to take the property rights from his followers. His followers protested and forced Smith to take a more liberal approach to property rights.

BTW, I know the real order of events because social progressive members of the LDS Church interpret the fall of the Order of Enoch as follows: They say that Joseph Smith was a great progressive leader who sought to bring forth a brave new socialist order. In their spin, a greedy right wing mob rebelled against social justice and forced the prophet to capitulate on property rights.

The fact that social progressive and libertarian forces in the LDS Church have diametrically opposed interpretations of the same series of events makes me dubious of the different claims related to the rise and fall of the Order of Enoch.

Oddly, while Mr. Boyack failed in providing an accurate view of different interpretations of LDS scripture and history, Latter Day Liberty includes some excellent insights into the ever changing nature of the left/right split as the parties routinely change position on key issues. In partisan history one finds that conservatives are routinely supporters of economic and political centralization and there have been rare moments in history when the left supported decentralization of power. Unfortunately, Boyack presents this quality research in a way to create the illusion LDS History has been steadfast and true when its positions have been almost as fluid as the world at large.

In conclusion, the work Latter Day Liberty should have some value to members of the LDS Church seeking to argue free market positions. The work does not provide much value to people who are not in this church. icon

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Paternal Rights in Utah

Utah is a very perplexing state. The LDS pretend to be champions of traditional families. Oddly, the Beehive State is the only state that denies paternal rights in adoption cases.

To make matters worse, LDS Child Services and local adoption agencies aggressively market the loose paternal laws to draw single women into the state to adopt out babies without the paternal father's permission. and others reporting on this peculiar practice approach it as typical backwoods state allowing human trafficking for money.

But I ask, why is a cultural on preserving a patriarchal family structure so keen on giving up paternal rights?

The answer is obvious: It's to get the babies for the state's religious cult.

BabySelling is about the effort of a Mister Cody O'dea to stop the adoption of his child. In this case, the mother was moved between jurisdictions to find a jurisdiction likely to lock the father out of the adoption process.

I find it interesting that Cary L. Shelton, The Agency Director of LDS Family Services, immediately attacks the motives of Mr. Oden for trying to assert paternal rights:

"Many putative birth fathers will say similar things but do so out of attempts to manipulate the birth mother or to save face, and ultimately they don't seem to care much about the child"

Having projected false intentions on Mr. O'Dea, the Utah Child Trafficking machine launched into a deception and intimidation campaign where they hid the baby and misdirected the father until the father was financially exhausted.

The Utah Child Trafficking machine is not simply against paternal rights. They will gladly trod on maternal rights as is often the case of women trying to escape from polygamous cults. Women trying to escape are left destitute and homeless and lack the resource to extract their children from the powerful collectives.

I've lived in Utah since 1976. This is not an unusual case. The people who run this state are corrupt to the core. I applaud Cory O'dea for standing up against the monstrosity that rules Utah.