First Principles Working List

I humbly submit my very rough working list of First Principles. It is ironic that since Elon Musk said he thinks in first principles the Interwebs are all aquiver with folks publishing list that generally have nothing at all to do with fist principles – usually, their list do not comport the requirements of real first principles, which are:

  1. First principles are true
  2. First principles are necessarily true
  3. First principles are indemonstrable

And most importantly, generally these lists do not derive from First Causes.

My beginning work:

The same thing cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time

Nothing comes from Nothing

There is/are a creator (G)god(s)

Natural Moral law exists and is written into the spirit of all men in all times

Imperfection Abounds

There exists a Transcendent Order

Social Continuity is Good

Variety is Good

No fear if you are reading the above and think I have become a transcendental theist or polytheist even. I personally believe in one God, the Christian God. My effort with this is to build philosophical proofs into a list of first principles that argue against atheism, secular humanism and metaphysical naturalism and to articulate the foundations that bias my opinions on other subjects. In fact from the above I infer:

Inferences, Deductions and Syllogisms

11. The God of the Bible is most likely the true God

I. There is a God that created the universe (3 a.-d.), Christianity presents a system supported by evidence that aligns with natural law and is supported by reason, therefore, the God of the Bible and Christianity must be true.

II. The God of Christianity is God and the Creator of the Universe, the text of the Bible is provably accurate and authentic and states it is the word of God, therefore, the Bible must be an accurate testimony of God’s word.

Creating New Math

Last evening, the wife and I had a dinner date that included attending a performance of Silkroad Ensemble at the Maxwell Theater over at Augusta University. I am always game for musical entertainment that may perhaps broaden my perspective a bit so a hybrid fusion ensemble of talented musicians seemed like a nice evening event. I am not a musical expert, let us establish that up front. However, I do not believe I actually heard anything that could pass as actual music last night.

Silk Road Ensemble
Silkroad Ensemble

Let me explain.

At one point early in the presentation one of the performers mentioned how the group was formed some twenty years ago to bring together all sorts of musical styles, put them in a pot and cook them into what Silkroad produces. They mentioned that 2+2 could be 5. As a metaphor, I could accept the premise. Concerning music and what music actually is, I cannot. Good music in all places, times and cultures has followed certain mathematical rules.

At another point the musicians stood on stage, essentially silent for 45 seconds, perhaps two minutes, I do not know for certain, doing ma. Ma is Japanese for a pause or gap in a sequence. I looked about the crowd in attendance and it seemed to me folks thought this was the most brilliant thing possible. I saw seven people standing on stage not playing music.

I actually had to stop the wife from laughing out loud at this point.

Music in all paces and in all times has been based upon certain mathematical certainties. (Well that and the obvious requirement to actually play your instrument and not stand silent – actually playing something is a requirement for music also I think.)

You can look anywhere, across history, and find that some cultures added 20+20 to get 40 and others 200+200 for 400 and others 5+5 to arrive at 10, etc., but all followed what can be clearly interpreted as mathematical rules to produce actual music that humans enjoy. Good music follows a mathematical ratio, the golden ratio, that all humans everywhere recognize. Tempo, style, instrumentation all vary, but real music always follows this rule. In fact, all art, architecture and even what we perceive as beauty in other humans is related to how closely something aligns with the golden ratio. It is almost like this is the mathematical basis of beauty that God wrote into the universe when he created it and we all intrinsically recognize it even for those that do not recognize a Creator.

When one of the performers stood up and told the crowd that 2+2=5 they actually meant it. Each performer clearly had talent in playing various instruments, but what they did on the stage was not at all music. It is not that I did not like it, that is not relevant. I can dislike a style of music but still, accept that it is actually music. My radio dial is filled with music that I dislike but that I still accept as actual music. It is not that I am an ignorant creten that simply cannot appreciate art. I may, in fact, be such, but as a human, I am attuned to the universal law of math and the golden ratio, I can easily discern noise from art.

The question I ask is why would otherwise talented people travel the world performing noise rather than music? Why would educational institutions such as Augusta University spend money to bring talented people to the school so that they can perform noise? Why would a small audience sit and pretend that they “get it”? Well, the answer to those questions are not very pretty I am afraid.

If one looks at the description of Silkroad it seems innocent enough:

Silkroad creates music that engages difference, sparking radical cultural collaboration and passion-driven learning to build a more hopeful world.

Seems innocuous enough, after all, who can really be opposed to a “more hopeful world”. There is, however, I suspect a lot of imagery and code in that simple sentence. When a person tells you who they are, you ought to actually believe them. The 2+2=5 statement at the beginning of the show was not merely a metaphor for perhaps thinking differently. It was a statement that these folks believe that the foundation of what has come before is not worthy of their time or effort. It is essentially a statement that the rules of the universe, created by God, are not relevant to them. It is a bold statement of rebellion against tradition. They might as well have stood on stage and stated that the Earth is flat and gravity does not exist. There is a palatable ideological bent to this group.

In the free market I would say let these folks make what ever noise they want and try to sell it as music. In a truly free market they would be on the side of the street with a bucket accepting donations for supper. However, the market this ideology exist in is not free. It is supported by funds from large endowments and educational institutions.

Make no mistake, the profit this group took from their performance on Saturday was not based upon ticket sales. Augusta University paid to have this group here under the guise of providing an enlightenment opportunity for students (I saw few students in attendance by the way). As a public institution, this means that ultimately two groups paid for this, the taxpayers and students out of their tuition and fees. Imagine that some student will pay some small amount of interest on the cost of this for the next 30 years in the form of repayment of student loans – all in the name of allowing a few eccentrics the luxury of declaring that they are smarter than all of the world’s great composers and musicians to come before them and smarter than God himself.

This performance was nothing more than another expression of the supremacy of man, a self-centered secularism that seeks to dispense with all that has proven good and acceptable through centuries of human history. It was not just the innocent act of a few otherwise talented musicians banging on drums to produce noise that three eight-year-olds running amuck in a music room might similarly produce.

I enjoyed the evening, dinner was nice, accompaning the wife was nice and watching this event was informative, but I am left to shake my head at what passes for art and enlightenment.

Jus Bellum Justum

Today I was listening to Mike Church on his network Veritas and was struck by a topic he covered.

I have heard Mike talk about what is a just war and why America is involved here or there before. I have heard him mention that others have accused him of not being “conservative” or being anti-American and all that because of his stance and suggestion that perhaps we ought to think about these things a bit more. These are tired arguments I saw hurled at other conservative and moral voices beginning back in the mid-2000’s. Justin Raimondo received the same sort of reception for some of the same reasons.

In the legal world there is this notion of standing, essentially having an interest in something before one might be party to or bring an action. In Mike’s case, his standing is upon centuries of doctrine codified into church teachings and that eventually found there way into international law. Numerous treaties related to how nations conduct war and when are based upon the Christian doctrine of jus abellum, first theorized by Augustine of Hippo and fleshed out by Thomas Aquinas.

Mike has never “been there” and “done it”, he has almost certainly read something about it and talked to a few people that may have been there but his standing to make the case that many of America’s military engagements are unjust is based not upon personal experience, rather upon church doctrine and quite obviously Western tradition as manifested through laws, treaties and customs we have developed based upon the foundations of those teachings over centuries. That plus the fact that he is a tax-paying American citizen give him standing to have an opinion on these matters.

Still, there are the moans and groans from the crowd of “traitor”. It seems that historical facts are not enough of standing for some to accept these arguments.

If one is Protestant rather than Catholic and if you attended a more fundamental or evangelical church it is highly likely that you have never heard Augustine mentioned within the confines of your church. So why do you care what this Augustine guy said?

One might argue that this is America by God and we will not be hamstrung by international law, even if such law is buttressed by foundational principles of Western Culture itself. So why care about international law developed over decades based upon the Western tradition?

Perhaps you served an enlistment as a young Marine years ago and still puff out your chest when telling boot-camp stories to folks that will listen. I will not deny you that. Perhaps your grandfather served in WWII and after almost 80 years since that event he only tells the good stories – that is his prerogative and I would listen to his stories. Maybe still you knew or know someone that came back from Vietnam and spent much of their life with a sadness that they could not explain, a feeling of betrayal – perhaps you feel a little guilt and sadness about that. I have seen that, I understand it and I hate what was done to those men.

However, none of that should matter when talking about what is truly just and what is unjust, what we should do and what we should not do. Some of the above is based upon ignorance, others pride and the last shame. These are vices that ought not direct us to an understanding of right and wrong.

If, you are still in the camp that says a guy like Mike has no standing to speak to these issues and that his Catholic Saints have no say in how America dictates to deals with the world. What say you of me? Do I have standing to speak to this issue?

Your humble writer is but a hypocrite of sorts. I spent 33 years in the Amy, 23 on active duty. I knew perhaps as early as Somolia and for certain no later than Bosnia that something was wrong – yet I still served, still took a paycheck and today I draw retirement.

I was pretty certain we had won, as best as one can win, the war in Afghanistan just a few weeks after it started. We had punished and diminished the folks that did us harm and that should have been that. We should have gone home and let them sort out the rest. And yet I still served.

I questioned why we should invade Iraq. I had been part of planning to “finish the job” way back in the mid-1990’s, we were just waiting for a reason. I saw through the WMD nonsense. Yet, still, I served.

One might ask why if I knew and believed these things as early as the mid-1990’s I continued to wear the uniform. That is a complex answer.

Robert E. Lee is quoted as stating a truism that I came to understand more and more as my career progressed.

“It is good that war is so horrible, or we might grow to like it.”

I did not spend each and every deployment safely ensconced on some well-bermed FOB perhaps taking an “adventurous” ride over to BIOP or some other well-fortified location. I spent much time embedded with, living beside, training and fighting with foreign forces.

I have seen people die, I have feared for my life and I have rejoiced at the countenance shown upon me when I escaped unscathed.

Lee’s quote could not be truer. Wrapped up in what real war is one finds a breadth of emotions more intense than I suspect is possible to replicate in any other way. All of the senses, all emotions and all of a person’s being can and does transcend into a hypersensitive, acutely alert and devastatingly feeling and acting being. Fear, anger, hate, love, compassion, confusion, surety, exhilaration, exhaustion, all in one moment’s breath felt more intensely that it seems possible. And after, nightmares, memories (fond and foul), hypervigilance, distrust, fear, anger and more. Sherman got only one thing right in his deplorable life, war is hell, but Lee got it more right, there is something appealing to the terribleness.

All of the above coupled with the fact that from a young age I knew that I was born to be in the military – there was never a question. I was once idealistic about it. Ronald Reagan did much to stoke my enthusiasm and encourage me to pick up a rifle and stand a post.

Once in, I decided that I would do as much good as possible. Perhaps for those I served with or those I led and maybe for those people who’s country I was occupying.

I recall in 2011, while a peon on a staff planning an operation in (or shall we say against) Libya I was one of the few that questioned if we even had the right to enact regime change based upon the limited scope of the UN resolution (and a clear understanding of first principles). Some of the lawyers said the same thing before they were replaced. In my own way, I tried.

I cannot recall the number of times, late at night over tea and pretending to smoke a proffered cigarette, I had a conversation about Christ with a Muslim I served beside. They always initiated it and it was always their attempt to convince me to convert – but in my way I thought my presence and those conversations had a purpose.

I even once tried to proselytize my profession.

There is more – my personal story is not the point. My point is I do have standing to talk about just and unjust wars if you will not accept Mike’s explanation. I picked up a rifle and I stood a post.

God created us all for a purpose, my life and my career were my purpose. Much like the Centurion in Mathew 8, I was a man under authority, doing what God created me to do.

Honor the servant but chastise, rebuke and hold the master accountable. It is simply not un-American to ask that our government engage in a less bellicose form of diplomacy. It is not anti-conservative to look at war as the last and perhaps least best option in most cases.

It is perhaps the converse. The most conservative and American thing we can do is ask why we make war and hold those actions to a standard accepted by the Christian Church and Western Culture in general for centuries.

There is a real cost to war and military action and it ought not be undertaken lightly.

I am not referring to mere dollars and cents, although considering that actions and expenditures today will burden our children and grandchildren, that in and of itself is not small concern.

Consider.

It was the first week of November 2004. My team and I hunkered down in an apartment complex just north of the railroad tracks on the outskirts of Fallujah. The presidential election results were just in back in the States, Bush had won reelection which meant the operation to retake the city was a go (could not have casualties or collateral damage pre-election you know). Beginning near sundown, just after the election results were received, the entire city was engulfed in fire from all manner of ordinance. It made a million-dollar minute look like a small fireworks show, and it persisted for hours. I recall all the mosques in the city actively calling prayers all night throughout the barrage. I wondered what sort of folks would stand and fight in the face of such terrifying firepower.

We had a mission the next morning and knew the next days (it turned into weeks) would be grueling, therefore we needed a rest plan and sleep. We took turns sleeping in the various bedrooms. The apartment was that of a family of four. There were two children, they appeared to be perhaps eight or nine years of age. The bedroom I selected was that of a little girl. The family had left almost everything as they evacuated before the operation. The US had dropped leaflets for weeks telling the civilian population to leave, 300,000 or so left.

I lie there trying to sleep, listening to the prayers and the explosions and looking at the pictures, dolls and essentially the stuff of this family’s life sitting just as they left it. I imagined that they had perhaps a bag of small items each and did not know if they would ever see their home again. It was a difficult night as I imagined how I would feel as that father.

Were terrible things occurring in Fallujah? Yes! There was were torture houses, makeshift courts and execution rooms and all that. It was all terrible. The thing is, the people we fought in Fallujah came from around the world, they had migrated there for months and saw the city as the start of a great caliphate. They were there to fight us. The civilians were just caught in the middle.

Did retaking the city change the future history of Iraq for the better? You can judge that for yourself, but considering ISIS eventually established a caliphate much larger than just Al Anbar province I say no.

There are many other stories from other places The one above is sufficient I think to tell of the true cost.

Cost to young US troops, many who joined because they simply had no better options, some out of idealism or a sense of duty and others as a way to better themselves. These were young folks under authority doing what we, The American people, asked.

Cost to civilians in lands where we wage these wars.

Cost to the young ideologically motivated on the other side with conviction in their faith and a belief fighting the US is a holy thing.

Cost to spouses and children left alone temporarily or permanently because their military parent is deployed and/or killed.

Cost the the soul of our nation for waging wars willy-nilly without debating the temporal and eternal cost.

I picked up a rifle and I stood a post. I have standing to say there is a cost and we ought to think and pray more diligently before rushing into any war anywhere.

The Freedom to be You

One of my objectives in retirement was to stand up a nonprofit corporation with the intent of “enhancing scholarship, education and critical thinking related to matters of first principles”. Additionally, the purpose of the organization is to encourage the study of the works of John C. Calhoun and to defend that which is good of his legacy.

Last night my wife lovingly looked at me and said people would not understand and that somebody, somewhere would eventually call me a racist just because Calhoun was involved.

Heck my daughter attends the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson, on the grounds the Calhoun family gave to found that orange covered place. When I was a youngster in school I was taught Calhoun was the greatest statesmen to ever come from SC and one of the greatest from the US generally.

This perplexed me. I am a chauvinist for certain, in a loving, paternalistic sort of way. I cannot help but be who I am and believe that women are the fairer sex and that men were created to leave the cave and protect them. I do not apologize for that. I am perhaps a curmudgeon of sorts in training in terms of cultural, social and moral values – I cannot hide nor deny that.

But a racist because I think there is still great value in the political philosophy of John C. Calhoun? Do some of his words offend modern sensibilities? Certainly. Can the same be said of many other men of his time and after, Abraham Lincoln comes to mind? – certainly!

The thing most people seem to have forgotten or were never taught in history courses is that everything must be taken in context.

I thought deeply about what she said. Shame on anyone that ever or eventually paints me with such a brush. I also resolved to come to the conclusion that I do not care. If one can find anyone that I ever worked with or for or that worked for me that would honestly call me a racist then I would say they had traveled to a parallel universe to find said person.

There is no truth to it.

As a benefit to my efforts with this new organization, I have been dialoguing with a man whom I have read and respected for years. In the next couple of weeks, I will sit with him and have lunch. He is perhaps the most accomplished scholar alive, perhaps ever to live, related to the life and works of Calhoun. This man, since retiring from his professorship at the University of South Carolina has been called a racist in many places on the web. He is a curmudgeon, he is old school, but I have read most everything he has written and I have never seen anything that would qualify as racist.

It is a sad state of affairs in a society that claims to love freedom where an individual can be denigrated based upon spurious and unfounded accusations simply because they support elements of truth that are uncomfortable to someone else’s narrative.

The beautiful thing is. I am free to do what I believe and I need not care what anyone that would spread such filth might say or believe.

Part of finding purpose is knowing where you stand and not being afraid to be present in that spot.

A Blessed Life

I am continually struck by one inescapable fact, that being that I am blessed far beyond anything I have ever done to deserve or earn such a bounty.   I look around at my life, past and present, and I can only arrive at the conclusion that I have been given more than I could ever repay.  There is no logical, physical or spiritual explanation for all the goodness I have now and have enjoyed throughout my life.

It has not always been apparent to me that I was blessed.  Certainly, there were hard times in my life, there were failures and failings, disappointments, let downs, anger and sadness.  There was even a moment around 2009 when I was depressed and wanted to end it all, I wanted to walk into the desert and never return.   I, just like so many of other Soldiers and veterans almost succumbed to the darkness and depression of deployments, failing marriages and a sense that perhaps we were the failures.

In my particular case, my walk in the desert was a direct challenge to God himself.    I prayed before setting out on what I intended as my last journey with an angry prayer. I challenged my Creator to find a way to lead me out of that dark place and show me I had a purpose, else I was not coming back.   Three days later, somewhere along the Mojave trail, out of water and exhausted, an Army helicopter found me.  My first thought was to escape and evade, to hide and run.  A mere second later it dawned on me.  Despite all the precautions I had taken not to be found and no matter how large the desert was the fact remained there was a helicopter filled with folks looking for me.

I realized at that moment that my prayer had been answered.  There was no good reason they should have found me, but they did.  I assumed at the time that I must have been saved for my children, perhaps I was supposed to live to ensure they got through college.   My fear that my marriage would not improve and would eventually end proved true but I came away from that event believing that I had one more mission.

I was blessed last month to run into my old boss from that time.  Back in 2009, once I was recovered and brought back in (and after the San Bernadino County sheriff deputies determined I was not a crazed armed madman) my boss was there to hug me and tell me it was all going to be ok.  They had looked for me to save me.  It was good to see him again, we hugged more, he smiled big and I expressed the love and thanks I have for him and what he and the Army did for me in my dark time.

Much has happened in the last nine years.  There were other deployments, I finished out a military career and retired.  At times and in some positions after that event, while I was still in the Army, I found an inner freedom to do and say what I thought was right without fear, after all, what was left to be afraid of?  I had been to the abyss and looked down upon it already.

Later, I got divorced and then met a girl that needs and loves me as much as I need and love her.  My children are in college, my son is about to graduate.  That event changed me, it freed me to see things differently and it put life, troubles and difficulties in perspective and it made me cognizant of how precious the gift of life is.

Slowly, I have come to realize there must be more to why I was found and saved.  Much of the way I treat people that I encounter and work with stems from my perspective formed on that hot desert trail.  Life is too short for drama – kindness to others, a smile, a good word and showing love to others has meaning and importance.

My relationship with my Creator has improved since that moment.  Perhaps not miraculously and not overnight.  I am and remain a sinner saved by grace, an imperfect man.  However, I have a constant awareness and understanding that there are things bigger than me that are unseen.  I talk to God freely now, give thanks and understand that I do not know everything and do not understand everything.  I am certainly not perfect and I do not always outwardly show what is in my heart, but I am changed.

In retirement, I have been blessed with the opportunity to pursue three different career options.  I am thankful to Augusta University for the chance to work there as a project manager.  To be certain we were never going to mesh culturally and I realized this long before they did that but they were kind and welcoming to me. It was, in retrospect, a good experience.  I am likewise thankful for the opportunity to perform defense contracting work, to see what that world is all about.   The money was nice, the salary I was offered to stay was flattering and the chance to go back to the desert and do real work was exhilarating. I am also thankful for people within the Department of Defense that called me one day whilst I was at Lowes trying to be a retired guy to offer me a GS position.  It is rewarding to know people think well of you and want you on their team and it will be an interesting journey to see what the civilian side of government service is all about.

I have a beautiful home, I love it so much I do not really like to leave and vacation has something of a diminished flavor to it.  My wife is my best friend and partner. I have all of the material things I could ever need.   My retirement check is more than sufficient to pay the bills and extra money is just that, extra.  I am healthy and happy.

I have done nothing to deserve this.   I am blessed.

At times, when I feel particularly blessed and thankful I wonder how I will ever live a life that justifies my bounty.  I am still working to figure that out.

What I will say, is that in the world right now it seems we need to collectively and individually find a way to connect and reconnect with our Creator and with real and permanent things.  If I could do one thing for my profession it would be to articulate that ethics must be tied to true morality and true morality can only come from the writer of Natural Law,  I made a feeble attempt to state that argument a couple of years ago in a paper called “The Moral Underpinnings of the Military Profession” . In reality, the same principles apply to our culture in general, I wrote about that in “Manifesto of Old Men and Simple Preachers“.

Those, however, are just my meager words.  If you are struggling through life, seeking purpose and wondering why you are here and what it all means I challenge you to read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity“.  Lewis does fabulous work of demonstrating in an almost inarguable fashion how connected we are to an obvious Creator.  If you lack and are seeking purpose, Lewis is a good first step toward finding answers.