Yeah, I’ve not been posting, have I?

And I was doing so well a few months ago! I guess it kind of comes and goes for me.

I’m sorry the Silmarillion project just stopped in its tracks so suddenly. I haven’t abandoned the idea (I’ve got the next post mostly written), but clearly I’m not doing it all at once now.

I should have two new book reviews up fairly soon – one up as soon as I’ve written it, the other one I’ve still got a hundred pages or so to read. I’ll also finally get the next tranche of TV show reviews up in short order.

In other news: the government continues to be insane about house prices. Even insaner, even. Cutting spending for the poor in order to give more money to rich people in a massive subsidy? The criticism that the scheme will just be a way of subsidising second homes seems to be missing the point, which is that if you subsidise 25% of the asking price for every house, the asking price for houses will simply increase – all it accomplishes is a transfer of money from taxpayers to housebuilders. I suppose the theory is that by increasing the profit they make on each house they incentivise housebuilding. That assumes, however, that a) there’s enough demand for more houses, b) planners actually allow more housebuilding, and c) that the suppliers of labour and materials to housebuilders don’t just increase their prices to match the increased demand from the housebuilders (and from the public at large, who will feel wealthier due to the house price inflation). Surely the concept of ‘inflation’ isn’t too hard to understand? Giving everybody in the country more money doesn’t make everyone richer! In fact, it makes poor people poorer in this case, because the subsidy is a percentage of house price, so the rich get more than the poor. In order to do this, cuts in spending elsewhere have to be made, further harming the economy (are world economies now being run by orders of zealous flagellants? It seems that people are so obsessed with saving money and avoiding debt that they’re willing to spend a lot of money and go into a lot of debt to meet these targets. It’s like a man who owes money and decides to pay it back by quitting his job because the rail fares are too high – if he (and we) aren’t making money, we’ll never pay debt back, no matter how much we ‘save’. That’s not to mention that in the case of the UK in particular we have historically high levels of demand for our debt, to the extent that we’re virtually being paid to borrow money. And for long terms! A decade from now, when every penny we borrow costs vastly more than it does today, we’ll be cursing the lunatic strategy of ‘paying off’ debt when interest is low and taking it out again when the interest returns to being high…). Anyway, in the long run, it still supports a schizophrenic policy attitude toward house prices, whereby more houses must be built to drive down prices to allow higher levels of homeownership, while at the same time house prices must be artificially inflated because if ever house prices actually DID decline we’d all go bust because so much of our ‘wealth’ is the number of zeros gradually accumulating on top of our chimneys. Bah humbug.

In other other news: well, Francis seems to be making a lot of good sounds, in style at least. We’ll have to wait and see on substance. A renewed emphasis on poverty can only be good (for the world and for the church). Some people are worried about his hardline stance on liberty issues… but this is missing the point a bit. The Church has been so hijacked by the last two popes that there was never any chance of sanity prevailing in that department. There are no Martinis anymore. But we don’t need there to be. “Victory” for the liberals with this pope needn’t mean the pope reversing existing policy… but simply not putting sex top of his list of priorities. Not coming down hard on anyone who mildly speculates about slightly adjusting emphasis. Not continuing trying to make his opinions ‘infallible’ through fallacious backdoors like the ridiculous wheeze JPII/Benedict pulled over women’s ordination [Short version: “There’s no biblical evidence supporting my position, nor evidence from the history of the church, and lots of people disagree with me. So I can’t declare it infallibly. But I can declare that the church has already been teaching it infallibly! And no, that declaration itself isn’t infallible… but I have sufficient authority to prohibit all discussion or consideration of the topic, even though my opinion isn’t infallible. I’m not infallible, i might be wrong, but you’re not allowed to think that I might be wrong. Absolutely agreeing with all my opinions in all matters regardless of the bible or church teaching or what the theologians say is the only way that you can exercise the primacy of your personal conscience!”]. And, most importantly of all, not blacklisting the more speculative candidates for cardinal. Cardinals decide the next pope. If popes were to select cardinals based on merit – on being holy and godly, or just on being good at administration for that matter – rather than for political-ideological reasons, enough liberals could slip through that they could select a more moderate pope next time, and so on.

(Why do I care? Four reasons. First, the positions of the Catholic Church affect the world greatly. Even just a change in emphasis that suggested that giving a fatal disease to your partner was a comparatively greater sin than putting a bit of plastic around your penis could make the world a better place. Second, despite not being religious myself, I’m not overly enamoured of secular materialist consumerism either – religious voices can be powerful counterbalances to popular nihilism, and I’d rather those voices actually be on my side, rather than it being a choice between nihilism and conservativism. Third, I was raised Catholic, and have a residual feeling of loyalty much as many people have toward the local football club where they grew up – I may not actually care too much about them as an organisation, but it’s still not nice to watch them getting thrashed. And, fourth, Catholic theology is one of humanity’s greatest philosophical edifices, and although I have some big problems with its assumptions, and hence with some of its conclusions (mostly in the areas concerning the significance of the genitals), on a great many issues it makes a lot of sense, and more importantly approaches questions in a very admirable way. [There are a lot of militant atheists whose skill with logic would be greatly enhanced by studying thomistic philosophy!]. So I approve of anything that allows sane people to use that theology for positive ends, and disapprove of it being hijacked by ad hoc rationalisations for evil policies.)

In additional news: I’m excited by the kickstarter campaigns for the new PS:T successor game and for the Veronica Mars reunion film (though I’m also a bit worried about that last one and not expecting too much).

4 thoughts on “Yeah, I’ve not been posting, have I?

  1. PapushiSun says:

    The key to letting house prices fall in the UK is to loosen planning regulations. Instead Osborne’s decided to inflate a housing bubble, and Mark Carney’s the perfect person for that.

  2. But we can’t let house prices fall, because that’s our whole economy, and since it’s the one thing everyone’s invested in the political ramifications would be immense.

    Besides, I really don’t think building more houses is going to achieve much. Homebuilding has outstripped population growth for decades. In the next ten years, we’re planning to build more than one entire house for each new baby born or immigrant arrived. There’s only a housing crisis (on the national scale) if we think that households of more than one person are a bad thing. There are housing problems on a local level, of course. In particular, too many people want to live in london and the south east. But building more houses won’t deal with that problem, because a greater supply of housing will just make it even more attractive to move to london and the south east, further increasing the north-south divide. Paving over the whole of the south until the north is entirely empty hardly seems like a sustainable policy.

    Looking internationally, very few developed countries have been able to match our level of homebuilding – and the ones that have, like Ireland and Spain, have also seen housing price bubbles, not housing price declines.

    [Of course, living near several areas of outstanding natural beauty may give me a conflict of interest in this regard!]

    What is the solution? Sodomy non sapiens. But I think we’ve got a complex of unhealthy attitudes toward housing in this country: everyone must own the home they live in; home ownership is a financial investment; having to live with family or friends is a hardship that no one should have to endure [there’s a lot of talk about immigration, but since immigrants have larger families on average a shift from native birth to immigration actually means a reduction in demand for houses – and indeed for years now pretty much the entire increase in demand for homes has come from the increase in one-person households]. None of these three things seems particularly healthy to me, but put all three together and they just don’t go. People are going to have to change their minds about things.

  3. Katie says:

    Thanks for that bit on Benedict re: women’s ordination. That made me so ridiculously angry when it occurred. So unnecessarily close-minded.

    I’m cautiously optimistic about Francis too. I think you’re right that expecting a complete about-face on social issues would be unrealistic at this point, and I’m happy that Francis seems to be concerned about issues surrounding poverty.

    And A+ for giving some credit to medieval intellectual thought.

  4. Yeah, let’s hope Francis keeps the spotlight on issues like poverty and away, as much as possible, from Other Issues. The great thing about unchangeable infallible divinely revealed holy magisterium that applies equally throughout all the ages to eternity, after all, is that if people keep quiet about it long enough it eventually goes away. Cf. the church’s position on usury.

    On mediaeval intellectual thought: yeah, my intellectual background (analytic philosophy degree) wasn’t very kind on the middle ages, which as far as philosophers are concerned basically didn’t exist [then again, most of time and space, intellectually speaking, didn’t exist for my degree. These things were taught, but you had to go out into the recondite optional courses (as I did for my Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein), and as far as the main stream went none of this stuff existed. History went Plato, Aristotle, Descartes… and to be honest, this isn’t wholly inaccurate. There’s very little actually interestingly original in mediaeval thinking, so far as I can see, and what there is is either theological in nature or else concerned with questions nobody is concerned with anymore (eg haecceity, which I like talking about purely because it’s a incredible word to spell). And, of course, to a philosopher enamoured of the classical thinkers, it’s intensely frustrating to it all forgotten for centuries at a time!
    But that shouldn’t blind us to what these people did have. Much like modern academia, philosophy in the middle ages was scholastic, an endless series of discussions on the same few starting points. Which isn’t an entirely bad thing to be. Philosophers in the more ‘exciting’ periods were always creating the universe from scratch, which is wonderfully thought-provoking, but isn’t conducive to rigour. The middle ages – to a layman like myself – seem a very rigourous, and hence a very practical era. In philosophy, it may be hard to appreciate any particular theory or school from the era, but it’s a lot easier to appreciate their way of addressing questions, their attempt to simultaneously address practical issues and find a way of maintaining continuity with other thinkers and other questions. It was a great time for fine distinctions! Accordingly, whenever a moral topic comes up and ‘the catholic view’ is raised, I have a look into it and invariably find that the ‘catholic’ (ie mostly thomist) view is actually far more nuanced, more full of distinctions and footnotes, than we give it credit for. Which is why it annoys me when I see people (whether popes or bloggers) just bellowing out the headlines and ignoring the fine print (regardless of whether I agree with the fine print either!). I see Thomism not so much as a body of theory, per se (because as a body of theory it has a lot of problems, and I don’t like it much), but as a set of tools for approaching problems, in which regard it’s far more admirable and comprehensive.
    I read recently (thanks to the wave of talking-about-jesuits issuing from the papal election) a quote by Joyce to similar effect: he said the Jesuits had taught him how “to arrange things in such a way that they become easy to survey and to judge”.
    My impression is that the same sort of thing is true in more practical sciences of the era. Little was actually invented, and abstract knowledge actually took a step back, but in the area of painstaking application of the principles they did know to actual practical problems, they were able to make a surprising amount of progress (particularly in engineering). (Whereas the classical world was terribly bad at application. The Romans mastered a lot of things, but could have done a lot more if they’d actually tried applying things they had more widely. Symbolic of this i’ve always thought is that story about Archimedes creating a mirror that could set fire to ships – ignoring whether it happened or not, the incredible thing is that nobody seems to have thought about doing it again! Likewise, the ancient world had watermills as sophisticated as anything in the middle ages, but only a few, and never seem to have thought of the immense potential they could harness by using them across their territory. They just stuck with what was good enough.)

    I guess how I would see things is that people don’t get stupider in particular ages (well, maybe they do) but for the most part just refocus their energies in different ways. Modern philosophy is all about sweeping clear the foundations, whereas mediaeval thought was a lot more interested in building the house. This unfortunately means that sometimes the house ends up wonky and looks like it could blow down in a brisk breeze, but that doesn’t invalidate the complexity of the edifice they’ve built…

    [Again, this is largely just a layman thinking out loud. I wouldn’t even consider myself qualified to talk about the philosophy authoritatively, let alone the rest of mediaeval thought]

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