Jun 6·edited Jun 6Liked by Damir Marusic

Ok, let me see if I can eff the ineffable in a reasonably short comment.

First, let’s set the stage with the recognition that we live in a galaxy of over 100B stars in a universe of over 100B galaxies. Any transcendent concept needs to be workable in this context.

So with that said… let’s talk about god! The Abrahamic traditions were deeply influenced by Plato and Neoplatonic philosophy. What Plato brings to the table is a principle of ultimate transcendental Oneness. That idea is deeply resonant with the Abrahamic god--but it allows an allegorical or esoteric reading that goes beyond “guy in the sky” notions. Interestingly, this transcendent One-god belief has often been held *in parallel* with a a “guy in the sky” belief.

Pope Theophilus I of Alexandria is a great example--he wrote a letter mocking those who believed that god had actual arms or legs or eyes. But, when the Christian monks started rioting, Theophilus recanted. His shift from an incorporeal god to an anthropomorphic was driven by popular demand -- and ultimately led to the massacre of 10,000 Christian believers in a more esoteric god (Origenists). Brutal history but here’s the takeaway: in all Abrahamic traditions, there has been an uneasy but parallel belief in an esoteric god (see Kabbalah in Judaism) and an Anthropomophic god.

If you want a transcendent idea that fits across those 100B galaxies, the esoteric reading has a lot going for it. (Assuming that oneness is more universal than anthropomorphism). If you dive into the Platonic and Neoplatonic tradition, you will see how this idea influenced Islam, Christianity and Judaism. I recommend the SHWEP.net podcast!

In closing, let me briefly reflect on natural law and justice. The classical idea of “the harmony of the spheres” is the belief that harmonies in immaterial mathematics manifest in the material world. That’s a big idea that helped triggered the scientific revolution (eg, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Galileo, etc) and continues to influence modern science. Most physicists don’t think the world is made of “stuff” but rather some kind of immaterial mathematics (see Nobel Laureate Roger Penrose’s “Road to Reality”).

Following Adam Smith, Bastiat’s magnum opus “Economic Harmony” talked about the natural way that markets form structures the same way planets orbit lawfully around the sun. We readily talk about economic and social equilibria, but perhaps we should talk more about economic and social harmonies. Harmony is a dynamic equilibrium--some destabilizing forces can actually lead to greater system stability. “Out of discord comes the fairest harmonies.”

The concept of harmony is one of the oldest and most venerable ideas in Western (and eastern!) society. Worth investigating!

(Sorry this post got long, it’s proportionate with how long my 4 year old took to fall asleep :)

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It's interesting how you talk about vengeance being a moral impulse. How do you think that works practically in foreign policy for instance? Should there be a necessary demand for vengeance to be mitigated? One prominent example would be the Allies firebombing of some German cities in 1945 widely believed to be militarily unnecessary which was surely done because in the words of Churchill Germany had "sowed the wind now they shall reap the whirlwind" A more modern example could be the US war on terror widely seen as a mission of vengeance.

I was also wondering how does recognising our own limited place in the world contrast with the fact that we all live inside our own small melodramas? Does that not create a tension between a more idealised spirituality and our own unfortunate ego's? Maybe that means any kind of functioning politics predicated upon strong ideals becomes difficult to manufacture or at least sustain.

One final thing, it is interesting about prison being more unpleasant than the death penalty. That's precisely why J.S. Mill supported the death penalty as he saw a life behind bars as almost too cruel. Is there perhaps an argument for the death penalty in the sparing of suffering if nothing else?

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Jun 6Liked by Damir Marusic, Shadi Hamid

Nice take. I don't think I have much of substance to contribute, but I'd like to mention Rob Henderson's recent post, which has a different topic, audience and angle as such but discusses some concepts from socal sciences that partly map to some of Damir's here in an interesting way. Even Lord of the Flies, at least as far as you conceive it being about conflicting human impulses toward civilisation and social organisation – living by rules, peacefully and in harmony – and toward the will to power, roughly. That said, for an account of "primitive human society" (a dubiously *static* concept), I'd rather read, e.g., Christopher Boehm's Hierarchy in the Forest (mentioned by Henderson as well).

Anyway, Henderson gets to the morality—competence axis only quite briefly here at the end, but the other stuff is interesting and useful if you want to take a closer look at the terminology of the framework (which is pretty common-sense stuff as such):

"Here we come to what some studies have called the 'Big Two': Communion and Agency. They have been described as the 'cardinal axes along which we chart the course of our social lives.'

Communion is about getting along with others. Being understanding, cooperative, helpful, and so on.

Agency is about getting ahead of others. Being assertive, confrontational, direct, imposing, and so on.

People want to fit in and stand out. These two concepts capture these motivations.

Two related concepts are morality and competence. Roughly, morality is similar to communion, or the willingness to suppress selfishness and promote social cohesion. Competence is similar to agency, or the desire and ability to achieve."


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I think you’re right that justice is rooted in vengeance, and that’s why I’m wary of politicians calling for justice and empathy. In a polarized time when sides don’t just oppose but hate each other, such injunctions are rarely meant to help everyone who may deserve justice or empathy, only the people the politician sympathizes with because they are on his or her side. Though they are ostensibly made to heal society, such calls make polarization worse.

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Jun 6·edited Jun 6Liked by Damir Marusic

Two points that this makes me think of, as a practicing Muslim:

First, God says in the Quran, in reference to the Taurah/Old Testament:

{ وَكَتَبۡنَا عَلَيۡهِمۡ فِيهَآ أَنَّ ٱلنَّفۡسَ بِٱلنَّفۡسِ وَٱلۡعَيۡنَ بِٱلۡعَيۡنِ وَٱلۡأَنفَ بِٱلۡأَنفِ وَٱلۡأُذُنَ بِٱلۡأُذُنِ وَٱلسِّنَّ بِٱلسِّنِّ وَٱلۡجُرُوحَ قِصَاصٞۚ فَمَن تَصَدَّقَ بِهِۦ فَهُوَ كَفَّارَةٞ لَّهُۥۚ وَمَن لَّمۡ يَحۡكُم بِمَآ أَنزَلَ ٱللَّهُ فَأُوْلَٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلظَّٰلِمُونَ }

[Surah Al-Māʾidah: 45]

Sahih International:

And We ordained for them therein a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds is legal retribution. But whoever gives [up his right as] charity, it is an expiation for him. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed - then it is those who are the wrongdoers.

So this is the vengeance that you speak of. And the Prophet SAWS and Muslims always tended towards giving up their right of vengeance, choosing instead to favor expiation. It's important to understand that this verse applies on the individual level, but it applies more so to leaders and society as a whole, whereby, "And whoever [among the leaders] does not judge by what Allah has revealed - then it is those who are the wrongdoers."

The Arabic word for wrongdoers is also often translated as oppressors.

Secondly, to elaborate on Shadi's faith in God, we as Muslims know God by His speech (the Torah, Bible, Quran, Zabur, etc.), and thereby we know God by His Names. He is Al Rahman, Al Raheem, Al Ghafir, Al Ghafoor, Al Khalaq - the Most Merciful, the always Merciful, the Most Forgiving, the always Forgiving, the Creator - etc. So God has at least 99 names for Muslims. The name Allah encompasses all of these names, and we connect to God and know God and how He acts upon the universe by way of these names.

{ قُلِ ٱدۡعُواْ ٱللَّهَ أَوِ ٱدۡعُواْ ٱلرَّحۡمَٰنَۖ أَيّٗا مَّا تَدۡعُواْ فَلَهُ ٱلۡأَسۡمَآءُ ٱلۡحُسۡنَىٰۚ وَلَا تَجۡهَرۡ بِصَلَاتِكَ وَلَا تُخَافِتۡ بِهَا وَٱبۡتَغِ بَيۡنَ ذَٰلِكَ سَبِيلٗا }

[Surah Al-Isrāʾ: 110]

Sahih International:

Say, "Call upon Allah or call upon the Most Merciful. Whichever [name] you call - to Him belong the best names." And do not recite [too] loudly in your prayer or [too] quietly but seek between that an [intermediate] way.

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