The recovery of property rights

It has become trendy these days to say “it’s just property,” when malefactors engage in organized theft. After all, there’s insurance! Is property worth a life?

When you attempt to homestead, even to the small extent I’m doing it, you realize that this is the wrong way to put it. Property is life. It’s the way in which I’m getting my food, and if you came and took it from me, you’d be stealing my food, which is another way of stealing my life. This may be less evident in the modern deracinated economy, but it’s still true. The 5th and 6th commandments are connected.


Points of View or Thoughts

“People should not have points of view, but thoughts!”


–Nietzsche, Friedrich


Do you have points of view? Are you part of a team, following an ideology, thinking the same way that everyone else on your team thinks? If this is the case, it’s likely that you aren’t thinking at all. You aren’t trying to reason from true premises to a true conclusion, but are adopting conclusions of people you like. Cialdini remarks in Influence that people will follow authority because, for the most part, it’s a more efficient way to live than to think. It usually works pretty well. But it’s not thinking.

You are familiar with the NPC meme, right? The crowd of grey people who say the same things at the same time? Don’t be too hard on them, since this is the way most people act throughout most of life. It’s like tying your shoes. You don’t stop to think about it because that would be inefficient. You just do it the same way every day, rather than reasoning out the best way to fasten the laces on your shoes.

Why would you do the inefficient act of thinking? According to Aristotle, it’s because of wonder. For Socrates, it’s because of eros. Some of us love wisdom, are philosophers, who find joy in understanding the truths of things, the causes, even the first causes. But such people are rare. Most of us just have points of view.

Artificial Intelligence got you down?

Everybody’s thinking about AI these days. What’s it going to mean for the world? Imagine a world where millions of middle managers and e-mail writers are out of work. Where will they go? What will they do? This is a real problem. Most people don’t work real jobs. By this I mean that they don’t work jobs that contribute to the material well-being of their fellow citizens. They don’t grow food, they don’t build houses, they don’t make sure the water is clean. What they do is arrange words in electronic files for other people to read and respond to, conduct zoom meetings, or create “content.” How can such jobs survive predictive language models?

In fact, how can any human activity survive? This is why AI is a completely different thing than the car replacing the buggy whip. Everyone will bring up that the car put buggy whip manufacturers out of business. This is true, but the car was not a decision tree. The car did not design its own replacements. It was still relatively close to the human decision maker. The car is still a tool of a human user. The AI will soon replace the user.
What is the distinctive human activity? Is there something that humans can do better than these predictive language models? I don’t think there really is. Since they are predictive language models, they are using a probabilistic approach to the grand total of human experience and knowledge. What human doctor is going to do better than an AI doc that can compare symptoms and diagnosis across millions of cases. I don’t think there’s any function that is necessarily done better by a human. We’ve already seen this in chess. Stockfish can beat every single human in the world.

The problem is trying to find worth using the function, as if humans are valuable because of something they can do. That’s wrong. The human is valuable simply because of what it is, simply because it’s human. We don’t need any other reason. If we’re going to start the Butlerian Jihad, we don’t need any reason except that humans are what we prefer. If you are a religious person, you can get a justification for this from the verse about humans being made in the image and likeness of God. If you are not, just admit that like prefers like, and that you are a human and therefore prefer humans.

More Greek Treasures

Today is, for some of us, the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. Not the Republican. A publican is a tax collector, one who makes sure all the fees are collected for the government. The story is short: the Pharisee stands in the front of the temple bragging about how good he is. He probably is pretty good, actually, but the bragging seems to be the part that is frowned upon.

The publican stands in the back, eyes down, and says: ” Ὁ θεός, ἱλάσθητί μοι τῷ ἁμαρτωλῷ”, usually translated as “O God, have mercy on me a sinner!” This is fine, as far as it goes, but the verb ἱλάσθητί is not in the present tense. It’s an aorist/past tense imperative. Something like “O God, may you have had mercy on me already, a sinner!” It’s very hard to do in English. “O God, already have mercy on me a sinner?”

How does this change the meaning? I don’t know. Perhaps the publican is giving thanks for mercies already received?

(It’s also not the verb for “have mercy”, but rather the verb for “appease”. “O God, already be appeased on my sake, a sinner?”

Pretty neat, huh?

UPDATE: I looked into the aorist imperative, and found some help on the wonderful website textkit. Greek verb tenses express both tense (the time it happened) and aspect (how it happened–was it completed or not?). An aorist imperative tells the person “Do it once!”, while a present imperative would mean “do it and keep doing it!” In this text, the publican is telling God to be appeased once, not to keep being appeased. Make of this what you will. Perhaps it’s a sign of repentance that he doesn’t expect to need continual mercy.

Original Languages: Why Bother?

This post isn’t about biblical theology, but about language.

Do you read texts in their original langauges? Most people don’t. I understand why—it takes a long time to get reading competency in a language. Not as long as you think, but longer than you’re probably prepared to study. But, if you do, treasures are revealed to you.

Today in some churches is the Sunday of Zacchaeus, the short tax collector who climbs a tree to see Jesus as he passes by. Jesus has dinner with him, and everybody complains because he is a sinner, etc.

But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”

This is the translation approved by the US Catholic bishops. After this, Jesus says that salvation has come to his house. Seems straightforward, right? Bad guy repents and gets saved.

But let’s look at the Greek for verse 8:

Ἰδοὺ τὰ ἡμίσειά μου τῶν ὑπαρχόντων, κύριε, τοῖς πτωχοῖς δίδωμι, καὶ εἴ τινός τι ἐσυκοφάντησα ἀποδίδωμι τετραπλοῦν.

The verbs are bolded for you convenience. The first one (pronounced something like “didomi”) means “I give”. It’s present active indicative, not future or subjunctive as the New American Bible has it. “Behold I give half my possessions to the poor. . .” It’s the same with the second verb, “apodidomi”, “I restore” or “I repay”. Zacchaeus is literally saying that right now, this very moment, that’s what he does, not that he will do it in the future.

So, it could be interpreted differently, not that he was a bad man who repented, but that he was a good man. What to make of “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham?” It could be his eagerness to climb the tree that is the key, couldn’t it?

I don’t know the answer. As I said, this post isn’t about the Bible as theology. But because I can read a little Greek, I can see that the text itself is not the same as the translations. The translation is an interpretation. At Online Great Books, we encourage people to read the original texts (in translation) rather than commentaries on the text, because we want you to interpret it for yourself. Translations often contain hidden interpretations, and if you can read something in the original langauge, you probably should.

I know it takes time and effort, but imagine how many languages you could learn if you quit Netflix.

Briefly on the gods

Everyone’s first instinct when reading the ancient Greeks is to think that the gods are merely personifications of natural forces. The story is that the ancients would see things happen, and then, being dumb primitives, would say: “That thing there, that was done by a god!” Pretty silly, right?

But I don’t think that’s it. I don’t even think modern people think this way. When we are hit by natural forces, we feel like we percieve something personal in the attack. Stand outside in the storm, and you will know that Zeus exists, and just might hit you with a thunderbolt. Yes, I know that as a Christian I am not to believe literally in the Greek gods, except perhaps as demons. My point is that your experience of the powers of the world is every bit as personal as the ancients.

Consider the god Apollo, the god of light and music, but also the destroyer. He is called, in the beginning of the Iliad, “Farshooter Apollo”. ἑκηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος. It might be better translated as “crack-shot Apollo.” Deadeye Apollo? Sniper of snipers, Apollo. Whatever he aims at, he hits. But what does he shoot? In the beginning of the Iliad, it’s plague. He sends disease, unerringly to you. When you get sick and die, it’s because the gods have targeted you.

The modern equivalent: consider the way people think about cancer. It’s not a merely natural misfortune that happens, but rather a malevolent force that steals away life and loved ones. People even say “Cancer is a bitch,” personifying the disease as a goddess.

One of my rules of reading is that the ancients were not morons. If they believed something, they had good reason to believe it. Your job as a reader is to figure out what they believed and why. Victor Hugo says somewhere the job of history is to understand, not to judge. Now, beware of Eagle-eye Apollo!

The will of Zeus is being accomlished

The imperfect tense. If you think of verb tenses as determining just the time of an action (future, past, presesnt) you are missing something important. Tense tells also the way in which the action happens. The most common distinction is between a perfect tense and an imperfect tense. The perfect tense tells you that the action has been completed. Imperfect means that the action has not been completed, generally in the past. Let me give you an example.
Iliad line 5:

Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή

“And the will of God was being accomplished.”

Look at the word τελέω: it is pronounced “teleo” and means “fulfill, accomplish, execute, perform.” If you read Aristotle, you see him talk of the telos, which is the good toward which actions are directed. Here it is the verb whose subject is the word “will.” But it’s not present or simple past. It is the imperfect tense. So, it means that while everything else happens, the rage of Achilles, the heroes being thrust into Hades, the will of Zeus is not yet accomplished, but is in process of being accomplished.

So, when you read the Iliad, the whole thing is the working out of Zeus’ will. He wants it all to happen. Troy must fall, but so must the Acheans who die in front of the city. Zeus wants it all, and is continuing to want it.

About heroes

A continuation of our tour through Homer.

So who are these heroes? The rage itself (not Achilles) sets many pains to the Achaeans, and thrusts down strong souls to Hades, of heroes. What is a hero? Let’s take a look at the lexicon. “Hero” is given as a translation, but what is that? There is an intriguing reference to Hesiod, to the “Fourth age of men” between δαίμονες and ἄνθρωποι. The heroes aren’t the same as you and me. Hesiod says that they are demigods, that fought before Thebes, that died at Troy. “But they received, apart from other humans, a life and a place to live from Zeus the son of Kronos, who translated them to the edges of the earth, far away from the imortal gods. And Kronos is king over them.” Hesiod Works and Days

The poet Hesiod laments that he is born too late, that his is not the time of heroes:

If only I did not have to be in the company of the Fifth Generation of men, and if only I had died before it [= the Fifth Generation] or been born after it, since now is the time of the Iron Generation. What will now happen is that men will not even have a day or night free from toil and suffering.

Heroes are greater men than we are. Perhaps they love more, feel more, suffer more? They certainly seem more real to me in Homer’s works. When you sit down to read the story or listen to it, you are entering a god-haunted time where the stories are not about mere men, about common mortals. These are giants and kin to the gods. These are Heroes.

Let’s read the Iliad

I have a little Greek. Not very much, enough to know the letters, some grammar, some vocabulary. I can poke my way through the text and figure out what it means, generally. It seems to me a shame, however, that I have not read my favorite author in his original words. I’m going to rectify this. Would you like to read along?

If so, you can get the Greek text at the Perseus Project. Here’s the first line:

μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος

It starts with a command to the goddess. Sing! (ἄειδε) It’s an imperative. Sing what? The wrath of Achilles. But Achilles isn’t seen until the last word of the first line. Literally (with a weird word order)

Wrath sing! Goddess Peleus’s Achilles’

Wrath and Achilles contain the whole singing, the whole epic, between them.

Let’s dig into the word μῆνις/wrath for a bit. The LSJ (Liddell Scott James) lexicon says it means the wrath of the gods. This is an interesting twist. Achilles isn’t just angry or wrathful, he’s angry with the specific wrath of gods. See Iliad 5:34 where Athena says to Ares “Let Zeus give glory to either side he chooses. We’ll stay clear and escape the Father’s rage.” (Διὸς δ’ ἀλεώμεθα μῆνιν;) (Fagles trans.) It’s the same word, but is used there to refer specifically to the anger of Zeus. Achilles is godlike in his wrath.

Right in the first line we are given hints that Achilles is not just an angry petulant soldier. His mania/wrath is different. As Ajax will say to him later, anyone else would take Agamemmnon’s money and let bygones be bygones, but not Achilles. I don’t think you’re reading this book right if you don’t realize this.

What makes it different? The fact that Achilles is half-divine, that he can taste an immortality that he can’t actually share. Doomed to die but knowing immortality. It makes it different. It’s harder for the human to die than it is for the antelope. We, being on the border of eternity, know what we’re losing.

Shall we keep going? At this rate I’ll be done in about fifty years.

My Strength Hobby: an Update

Have you ever taken up a new hobby? All of a sudden it’s all you care about. Homesteading, motorcycles, learning sign language? You watch a few episodes of the British Baking Show and now you want to bake all day?

I remember a time when I thought Scorpions were a really good rock band. I still like them, but I don’t think they are the band for our times. Enthusiasms fade. Churches know this: the new convert is very eager to do everything perfectly; the old members nod and smile.

About 12 years ago I became very enthusiastic about barbell training. I started lifting to try to cure back spasms. It worked wonderfully! In fact I don’t recall having back spasms at all since my first day of deadlifting. Your mileage may vary. I learned about the squat, bench press, press, and deadlift and pursued them with nearly religious zeal. I bought books, attended seminars, got a certification, went to conferences, started coaching, and made it a career.

This was no ordinary enthusiasm.

How is it going, after twelve years? I can tell you that my zeal has not faded very much. Unlike Scorpions, the value, the concrete goodness of strength training is still there, and it’s still good for you. If you give me a moment, I’ll tell you that you should deadlift. I’ll explain how it makes your life better. I’ll ask you to imagine being twice as strong as you are today. "How would that change your life?" If I’m in an apocalyptic mood I’ll go on about how physical strength will be much more useful to you if SHTF than a high VO2 max. Nothing has changed.

For me personally, it has changed a bit, but just because I have gotten older. We’ve had a stressful year with many changes here at Schudt Manor, and it’s hurt my training. My strength levels are down. But I still train, and I still try to get PRs. I just don’t get them very often. I’m 51 years old and very strong for my age, but unlikely really to get much stronger. I’m ok with that. I’m still almost certainly stronger than you, dear reader, and I know that you need to add strength training to your life.

I am a barbell coach, and I still love my job. You can find me at Barbell Logic if you want to get coaching. We give you 24 hour feedback on all of your lifting, intelligent programming, and nutrition coaching if you want it. It’s a very good service and I’m proud to be associated with it. You’ll get stronger!