Monday, July 16, 2018

Mark Shiffman vs. Cartesian Gnosticism

I’ve read First Things for years, but somehow I missed Mark Shiffman's brilliant 2015 takedown of transhumanism “Humanity 4.5”. The essay aims particularly at transhumanist Steve Fuller, but is strong and concise enough to be considered almost a manifesto.

For decades, even since high school in the 1980s, I've been deeply suspicious of our culture's tendency to see science and technology as means of transcendence. For many years, not surprisingly, I was unable to articulate my unease. (If I learned anything in my twenties, it was how deeply all of us are enculturated, virtually incapable of thinking outside our own culture's categories.) Nonetheless, I kept following that unease, always remaining something of a half-Luddite. And I don't regret it, because now I see the demons I previously only suspected.

What's great about Shiffman's essay is that it puts a lot of my half-formulated inklings (re: Nominalism/Descartes/techno-gnosticism) into nutshell form. Thus, again, something like a manifesto.

Interesting to contemplate, for me at least, is the question of why certain of us (like myself) feel repulsed by the technological vision, almost as a matter of disposition, while others (clearly most of my contemporaries) embrace it wholeheartedly. If I'm flattering myself, I might attribute it to intellectual depth, a better bullshit detection system, whatever; but really--it may largely be temperamental. Or is it perhaps, as I sometimes think, the gift of grace, a whispering of sorts, to steer me clear?

I know I'm no genius, so it must be either temperament or grace. Which then?


Kudos to Rod Dreher for posting on Shiffman's piece at TAC.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018



他很吵,一直吵:一樓吵,二樓吵。晚餐時他都大談白目的計畫。我們覺得很好玩。衣服丟在這裡,煙蒂丟在那裡。有一天我的皮夾不見: 非常有趣。

過 了一個月我們開始覺得麻煩:啤酒罐在這裡,衣服丟在那裡。鄰居一直抱怨,警察每天來問。我們決定把罪犯退回。不過店家不願意退錢;我們只能換別的罪犯。店 裡有一個很矮的,看起來很聰明的罪犯;有一個禿頭打著太極拳的罪犯,也有一個穿深藍色睡衣,慢慢地搖晃身體的女罪犯。我想我們的罪犯比那三個好,所以我們 決定不要退,就帶他回家。



半年過了。他都沒有聯絡。我查網路「比利時」和「設計」,可是找不到他了。 我太太說他可能已經改名,但我不這麼覺得。



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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Kafka’s Joke Book, Bis.

Three guys go into a bar, an Italian, a Pole, and an American.
     Such courage is forever beyond my reach.

Everyone says that in life you must follow your dreams. Once I dreamt I was at the dinner table and I spilled some tea. Father went to get the big fabric shears and began to cut off my fingers, one by one. This is the dream I follow.

How many of me would it take to change a light bulb?
     Even if I had that many, I would not change it today.

If only our ears were keener we could hear the butterflies howling in terror at the approaching night.

My fortune cookie: “As you read this, the tumor grows.”

Three blondes are arguing about which comes first, February or March. The first blonde says.…
     But I didn’t hear what she said. When they noticed me at the next table, they took up their drinks and moved to the other side of the cafe.

Why did the chicken cross the road?
     The road was wide; it stretched before him like a vast plain. The burning sun beat down on his feathers, which he began to shed from exhaustion and hunger. Eventually he forgot that it was a road he was crossing, or why he had even set out on this journey. Was it a journey? He looked down at his feet—gnarled, alien appendages. What did they have to do with him?

Yesterday I told Max that if he didn’t burn my manuscripts I would return to haunt him. “All the more reason to burn them,” he said. “Having you next to me as a ghost will be just like old times.”

“Knock, knock.”
     “Who’s there?”

[To audience:] Sometimes you laugh at my jokes, you guffaw, you slap your sides. And here I stand in infinite sorrow.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Which will only give them the opportunity to demonstrate all the ways they can beat you.

For John McNamee.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Rod Dreher and Natural Law: Bathwater and Baby?

Perhaps a couple times a year Rod Dreher, whose work I admire, manages to weigh in on the “uselessness” of the natural law tradition. It’s disappointing to watch, and this time, quoting a frequent gay commenter on his blog, “Matt in VA”, I think Dreher has gone overboard in his dismissiveness.

Dreher frequently says he is personally “likes” natural law arguments, but then acknowledges he isn’t very deeply read in the tradition, and in the end the result is he posts things under titles like this:

It's disappointing. The thread that followed the piece wasn’t all that enlightening in rejoinder either. I’m not very versed in natural law theory myself, but still, I know enough to recognize hamminess and flailing when I see it. I don’t think 80% of the commenters have background enough to make the arguments they make. (NB: I do think Dreher's blog often draws a sharp range of commenters.)

But how should the Christian writer, though he may not himself be a serious student of natural law, write about the place of natural law philosophy in the culture and in relation to the Church? This is my main concern. I think Dreher is off track with pieces like this one.

Below are my own comments on the post, condensed.

Eric Mader writes:

“Style is everything.”

I say: “Meh”. Matt in VA is just making an argument Nietzsche made much better. It’s the same argument that, via French post-structuralism, underpins the whole postmodern thrust that birthed our current hyper-individualist hordes, especially the SJW hordes. Yes, I agree with Matt to the extent that he’s making a diagnosis of sorts, but don’t at all agree with his stance that “the law is dead”. It remains alive as long as it is seriously pursued and articulated by only a few. We should support those few, Rod; we should do what we can to convey their arguments, and the need for philosophy generally, whenever we have the chance.

What’s more, the fact that here again, Rod, you underline 1) the intellectual difficulty of getting into the natural law tradition and 2) that people are no longer disposed to accept it--that you point to these almost as arguments--I want to say: “So what?” Are these valid grounds to post yet another piece more or less throwing water on the remaining flames of the natural law tradition? Because that’s what you’re basically doing by featuring Matt/Nietzsche in this way.

Every third piece you’ve written over the years--specifically those stressing the deep wrongness of most LGBTQwerty initiatives--was ultimately premised on natural law arguments. You cannot argue that a boy is a boy because he was born as such, you cannot argue that boy is a coherent essence, without the natural law. Why is it a surprise to you that such arguments aren’t accepted by a culture whose intellectual being is a mash-up of cheap scientism, Lady Gaga aesthetics and a religion of the Desiring Self?

Matt may think Scalia matters because of his verbal wit, but that, I’d say, is a minority position. Scalia’s verbal wit is just an added feature on the man’s a serious intellect, without which intellect Scalia might as well be Stephen Colbert--this time lucky enough to get on the Supreme Court.

If this culture is indifferent to natural law arguments because of 1) their difficulty and because 2) Lady Gaga wouldn’t agree, do you think they’re more open to arguments from Scripture? Maybe they’re a little more open, those who have been touched by grace, or those who have been horrified by the void that now gapes, but that doesn’t mean throwing in the towel on natural law, does it?

The only element in this piece I can get firmly behind is the call for artists, especially writers, to allow the insights of natural law to guide their work. Flannery O’Connor, though not even a very serious reader of Thomism, was on the right track.

I think commenter @RealAlan is right:

*If* the new Leftist order collapses, people are going to look back and ask “What went wrong?” Natural Law will be there to answer that question. Society owes a great debt to folks like Professor George and the other exponents of the “new” Natural Law. When Western Civilization regains its senses, an established philosophical tradition will be there to be recovered.

And so, if a Christian public intellectual is going to blog on natural law, how about this as a more helpful rough tack: The natural law tradition is hard, it requires a conceptual apparatus that is somewhat counter-intuitive for us moderns, but natural law arguments have convinced some of the most brilliant minds in our history and remain vital and necessary. So go hit the books, why not. Start with Edward Feser’s short volume Aquinas (A Beginner’s Guide), and God speed.

Just sayin’.

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Sunday, July 8, 2018




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Monday, July 2, 2018

嘿! 去台中念大學的台北男生—要小心! 叔叔警告 (English)

Dear Howard:

Maybe you think it’s a little strange to get a letter from your Uncle Tony. But I’m writing to give you some important advice. You probably know that, like you, I also finished high school here in Taipei, then went to study university in Taichung. But you don’t know some of the things that happened to me there. In fact I experienced some terrible things, and I don’t want the same to happen to you.

When I arrived in Taichung, 18 years old, everything was new to me. I was ready to explore, ready for adventure. You’ll feel the same way when you start school. But you need to remember that Taipei and Taichung are different.

First, do not swear or be impolite to the local citizens, especially the ones who look like gangsters. Actually, don’t be impolite to ANYONE in Taichung, because many people who don’t look like gangsters have gangster relatives.

Second, do not go to the pub near the KFC near your university. The girls there are ugly and the drinks are too expensive. If you do go to pubs, do not end up in bed with every girl you meet. A lot of Taichung girls have gangsters for boyfriends, and the gangsters’ friends are always watching them. You know how I am missing one finger on my left hand, and how everyone says it’s because of a motorcycle accident? Well, that’s not how it really happened. And even after I lost that finger, I still didn’t learn my lesson. I just went to another part of town and other pubs. In one of those pubs, a really adorable bar girl seduced me. Her name was Carrie.

“Tell me the truth—do you have a gangster boyfriend?” I asked her.

She promised and promised that she didn’t. So I went to her little apartment with her. It was a really nice apartment. And then I went again, many times. Well, she wasn’t lying that she didn’t have a gangster boyfriend. What I didn’t know, however, was that she was an important gangster’s daughter.

What could I do? I thought that if I met the family and tried to convince them I was honest, things might be alright. Unfortunately, the next day after I left campus, two guys came up to me and smashed me up with a bat. You know how my right eye is a little funny, and that scar next to it, and how everyone says it’s because of the "motorcycle accident"? Well, it’s not.

But I still didn’t learn my lesson. I just decided to start chasing girls in other places, like at my school or at night markets. And I had many one-night stands. A lot. But let me tell you, there are disadvantages to having too many one-night stands. One is that if you don’t prudently use some security, I mean a condom, you might end up getting girls pregnant. Did you ever wonder why you have five cousins, Howard? Your aunt is a very understanding woman, and I am lucky I met her.

So these are some general things I hope you remember. Still, you probably won’t get in as much trouble as I did, because you are short, and Taichung girls don’t like short guys so much.

But also, when you go out in Taichung, always remember to lock your door. Check twice. And make sure your roommate follows the same rule. I lost an Apple computer and my Japanese DVD collection because I didn’t lock my door.

I want to say one more thing before ending this letter. One of my classmates, also from Taipei, decided that the best way to avoid trouble with gangsters in Taichung but also be able to chase hot girls in pubs was to just join the gangsters. He thought it was fun. He even got to do shooting practice with them. But where is he now? You know those cement tetrapods they use on the shoreline to keep the waves from eroding the coast? He’s in one of those, just south of Ilan, I think. So unless you want to end up being a tetrapod, be sure you never join with the gangsters there.

Keep your clothes clean, brush your teeth every day, and study well, even for classes you hate. When I had a class I didn’t like, I didn’t study for it, and it took me five years to graduate. Don’t make the same mistake. Call your parents at least twice a week or they’ll worry about you. Also: Don’t tell them I sent you this letter about Taichung, or they’ll worry about you even more, and they will yell at me too.

In fact, don’t tell anyone about this letter, okay? It’s just between us.

Best Wishes, 

Uncle Tony

[Compiled from compositions written by Howard’s classmates in my Friday class.]

Tetrapods: Don't end up in one



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Sunday, July 1, 2018

A Second Civil War? Mother and Son on the Coming Troubles

Trouble brewing?

What’s next for our deeply divided republic? Especially now that half of America, from what I can see, no longer even understands what a republic is.

My mother and I had a short email exchange on the powder keg we seem to be sitting on. She’s in her seventies, I’m just over fifty. We’re mostly on the same page. But that wasn’t always the case. I used to be on the left myself. I’ve learned things since then.


Dear Eric:

I have to say that I honestly don’t understand what is happening politically in our country. It has now become way too bizarre even to begin to understand. It is absolute lunacy to see what the different left factions are doing. I think they are becoming mentally deranged over the election of Donald Trump. And I think our president is doing a remarkable job. The entire left needs psychological counseling. It has gotten to the point where I could even envision serious violence. When that loon Maxine Waters loudly prods people to get in the face of Trump supporters and cause scenes, and when Fonda says Trump’s son should be kidnapped and put in a room with pedophiles… Whew, something is totally wrong here. The latest, that we should get rid of ICE and have totally open borders, could only be promoted by people who have no concern for our country. I am so disgusted with all of this that I can barely type my feelings to you.

It is a blessing that Kennedy is retiring from the Supreme Court, but there is going to be a huge battle over anyone Trump picks. I also imagine what could happen if that other old woman on the court retires. She’s a real relic and her leaving would be catastrophic for the Dems. This change in the Court’s conservative strength almost makes me feel that God has guided this retirement of Kennedy. I even think that the election of Trump could have been not only the people’s choice, but God’s choice.

In any case: God help this country! We desperately need it.



Dear Mom:

Me too, it struck me the other day that this coming change in the Supreme Court has almost a Divine Intervention quality to it. The timing is just right. But I agree with you: our left will soon be in hissy fit mode. Not that they ever leave hissy fit mode, but still. There's going to be special trouble around the nomination, and if a new conservative justice is appointed, and then, within a year, Madame Ginsburg either retires or falls asleep and doesn't wake up--if this happens, and the left sees that Trump gets YET ANOTHER justice to appoint, well then there might be more than just the usual screaming and whining. There might be serious violence. Because most of these people on the left, they'd be willing to break our constitutional system to get what they want. They now say it openly: "The Constitution is an OUTDATED document! It was written by white male slaveholders!” I hear that all the time. That's how dumb they have gotten. They intend to revoke our Constitution because they think they can replace it with something better. But to listen to them, their political naiveté, it’s clear they wouldn't be able to run a small town. They’d have set up a gulag in the high school gym before the year was out.

In any case, and thank God, at present the left doesn't have anywhere near the power needed to break America’s constitutional order. There will very possibly be violence, yes, and it could lead to counter-violence from the right, but if the violence from the left gets out of hand, I believe our government has force enough to put it down.

That “the left” wishes for revolution isn’t surprising, but what is surprising is that many people who are otherwise left-liberals (rather than actual Marxists) seem also now to wish for revolution. And some of them seem to believe that a left movement that isn't afraid to use force might actually succeed. Which is patent nonsense. If America got anywhere near civil war, the right would crush them. Who is armed? Who knows how to use their arms? The left could possibly take over some cities, but cities can't provide their own food. The right would control the countryside, and eventually the city enclaves that had been seized by the left would fall.

I don't think it's likely it would come to this, but I do think it's possible if things proceed as they're going. A recent poll finds that 31% of Americans believe a civil war is likely in the coming years. Clearly, we are now two countries. One America, which I support, wants America to stick with what has worked for the whole of our history. The other America, which has gone off the rails, is populated by utopian extremists and wannabe Stalins.

David Horowitz put it just right: "Inside many liberals is a totalitarian screaming to get out." He was long on the left himself, and knows whereof he speaks.

Here's the key question as regards what might be coming: On the one hand, we have a small cadre of avowed extremists ready and willing to use violence (Antifa and friends); on the other, we have a huge population of liberals who are still livid Hillary didn't win. These latter people were hoping that Trump could be impeached, but their bogus Russia thing didn't work out, and now that Trump's policies are actually succeeding, it's only pushing them closer to full-blown psychosis. So: If the Antifa extremists and their ilk can 1) foment widespread violence and 2) rally this huge swathe of angry Hillary liberals to support that violence, then we would have a serious civil crisis. I don't know if it would go that way, but it could.

Matt Walsh, a Christian commentator I follow, also made a good point. If the Supreme Court got close to overturning Roe vs. Wade, the left would opt for violence. Walsh: "They are not going to give up their right to kill babies without a fight." I think he might be right.

I'm hoping Trump nominates one of the more reliable conservatives, a constitutional originalist. I’m hoping he doesn’t try to appease the opposition. My personal favorite is Amy Coney Barrett. In any case, whoever he picks, if the left decides to revolt in any serious way, I suspect they will get what they deserve. And sad to say, but they're deserving it more each day.



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