Tuesday, October 1, 2013

from Infinite Jest

Where was the woman who said she'd come. She said she would come. Erdedy thought she'd have come by now. He sat and 
thought. He was in the living room. When he started waiting one window was full of yellow light and cast a shadow of light 
across the floor and he was still sitting waiting as that shadow began to fade and was intersected by a brightening shadow from a 
different wall's window. There was an insect on one of the steel shelves that held his audio equipment. The insect kept going in 
and out of one of the holes on the girders that the shelves fit into. The insect was dark and had a shiny case. He kept looking over 
at it. Once or twice he started to get up to go over closer to look at it, but he was afraid that if he came closer and saw it closer he 
would kill it, and he was afraid to kill it. He did not use the phone to call the woman who'd promised to come because if he tied up 
the line and if it happened to be the time when maybe she was trying to call him he was afraid she would hear the busy signal and 
think him disinterested and get angry and maybe take what she'd promised him somewhere else. 

She had promised to get him a fifth of a kilogram of marijuana, 200 grams of unusually good marijuana, for $1250 U.S. He 
had tried to stop smoking marijuana maybe 70 or 80 times before. Before this woman knew him. She did not know he had tried to 
stop. He always lasted a week, or two weeks, or maybe two days, and then he'd think and decide to have some in his home one 
more last time. One last final time he'd search out someone new, someone he hadn't already told that he had to stop smoking dope 
and please under no circumstances should they procure him any dope. It had to be a third party, because he'd told every dealer he 
knew to cut him off. And the third party had to be someone all-new, because each time he got some he knew this time had to be 
the last time, and so told them, asked them, as a favor, never to get him any more, ever. And he never asked a person again once 
he'd told them this, because he was proud, and also kind, and wouldn't put anyone in that kind of contradictory position. Also he 
considered himself creepy when it came to dope, and he was afraid that others would see that he was creepy about it as well. He
sat and thought and waited in an uneven X of light through two different windows. Once or twice he looked at the phone. The 
insect had disappeared back into the hole in the steel girder a shelf fit into. 

She'd promised to come at one certain time, and it was past that time. Finally he gave in and called her number, using just 
audio, and it rang several times, and he was afraid of how much time he was taking tying up the line and he got her audio 
answering device, the message had a snatch of ironic pop music and her voice and a male voice together saying we'll call you 
back, and the 'we' made them sound like a couple, the man was a handsome black man who was in law school, she designed sets, 
and he didn't leave a message because he didn't want her to know how much now he felt like he needed it. He had been very 
casual about the whole thing. She said she knew a guy just over the river in Allston who sold high-resin dope in moderate bulk,
and he'd yawned and said well, maybe, well, hey, why not, sure, special occasion, I haven't bought any in I don't know how long. 
She said he lived in a trailer and had a harelip and kept snakes and had no phone, and was basically just not what you'd call a
pleasant or attractive person at all, but the guy in Allston frequently sold dope to theater people in Cambridge, and had a devoted 
following. He said he was trying to even remember when was the last time he'd bought any, it had been so long. He said he 
guessed he'd have her get a decent amount, he said he'd had some friends call him in the recent past and ask if he could get them 
some. He had this thing where he'd frequently say he was getting dope mostly for friends. Then if the woman didn't have it when
she said she'd have it for him and he became anxious about it he could tell the woman that it was his friends who were becoming
anxious, and he was sorry to bother the woman about something so casual but his friends were anxious and bothering him about it
and he just wanted to know what he could maybe tell them. He was caught in the middle, is how he would represent it. He could 
say his friends had given him their money and were now anxious and exerting pressure, calling and bothering him. This tactic was 
not possible with this woman who'd said she'd come with it because he hadn't yet given her the $1250. She would not let him. She 
was well off. Her family was well off, she'd said to explain how her condominium was as nice as it was when she worked 
designing sets for a Cambridge theater company that seemed to do only German plays, dark smeary sets. She didn't care much 
about the money, she said she'd cover the cost herself when she got out to the Allston Spur to see whether the guy was at home in 
the trailer as she was certain he would be this particular afternoon, and he could just reimburse her when she brought it to him. 
This arrangement, very casual, made him anxious, so he'd been even more casual and said sure, fine, whatever. Thinking back, he
was sure he'd said whatever, which in retrospect worried him because it might have sounded as if he didn't care at all, not at all, so 
little that it wouldn't matter if she forgot to get it or call, and once he'd made the decision to have marijuana in his home one more 
time it mattered a lot. It mattered a lot. He'd been too casual with the woman, he should have made her take $1250 from him up 
front, claiming politeness, claiming he didn't want to inconvenience her financially over something so trivial and casual. Money 
created a sense of obligation, and he should have wanted the woman to feel obliged to do what she'd said, once what she'd said 
she'd do had set him off inside. Once he'd been set off inside, it mattered so much that he was somehow afraid to show how much
it mattered. Once he had asked her to get it, he was committed to several courses of action. The insect on the shelf was back. It 
didn't seem to do anything. It just came out of the hole in the girder onto the edge of the steel shelf and sat there. After a while it 
would disappear back into the hole in the girder, and he was pretty sure it didn't do anything in there either. He felt similar to the 
insect inside the girder his shelf was connected to, but was not sure just how he was similar. Once he'd decided to own marijuana 
one more last time, he was committed to several courses of action. He had to modem in to the agency and say that there was an 
emergency and that he was posting an e-note on a colleague's TP asking her to cover his calls for the rest of the week because he'd 
be out of contact for several days due to this emergency. He had to put an audio message on his answering device saying that 
starting that afternoon he was going to be unreachable for several days. He had to clean his bedroom, because once he had dope he 
would not leave his bedroom except to go to the refrigerator and the bathroom, and even then the trips would be very quick. 
He ad to throw out all his beer and liquor, because if he drank alcohol and smoked dope at the same time he would get dizzy and ill, 
and if he had alcohol in the house he could not be relied on not to drink it once he started smoking dope. He'd had to do some 
shopping. He'd had to lay in supplies. Now just one of the insect's antennae was protruding from the hole in the girder. It 
protruded, but it did not move. He had had to buy soda, Oreos, bread, sandwich meat, mayonnaise, tomatoes, M&M's, Almost 
Home cookies, ice cream, a Pepperidge Farm frozen chocolate cake, and four cans of canned chocolate frosting to be eaten with a
large spoon. He'd had to log an order to rent film cartridges from the Inter-Lace entertainment outlet. He'd had to buy antacids for 
the discomfort that eating all he would eat would cause him late at night. He'd had to buy a new bong, because each time he 
finished what simply had to be his last bulk-quantity of marijuana he decided that that was it, he was through, he didn't even like it 
anymore, this was it, no more hiding, no more imposing on his colleagues and putting different messages on his answering device
and moving his car away from his condominium and closing his windows and curtains and blinds and living in quick vectors 
between his bedroom's InterLace teleputer's films and his refrigerator and his toilet, and he would take the bong he'd used and
throw it away wrapped in several plastic shopping bags. His refrigerator made its own ice in little cloudy crescent blocks and he 
loved it, when he had dope in his home he always drank a great deal of cold soda and ice water. His tongue almost swelled at just 
the thought. He looked at the phone and the clock. He looked at the windows but not at the foliage and blacktop driveway beyond
the windows. He had already vacuumed his Venetian blinds and curtains, everything was ready to be shut down. Once the woman 
who said she'd come had come, he would shut the whole system down. It occurred to him that he would disappear into a hole in a 
girder inside him that supported something else inside him. He was unsure what the thing inside him was and was unprepared to 
commit himself to the course of action that would be required to explore the question. It was now almost three hours past the time 
when the woman had said she would come. A counselor, Randi, with an i, with a mustache like a Mountie, had told him in the 
outpatient treatment program he'd gone through two years ago that he seemed insufficiently committed to the course of action that 
would be required to remove substances from his lifestyle. He'd had to buy a new bong at Bogart's in Porter Square, Cambridge 
because whenever he finished the last of the substances on hand he always threw out all his bongs and pipes, screens and tubes 
and rolling papers and roach clips, lighters and Visine and Pepto-Bismol and cookies and frosting, to eliminate all future 
temptation. He always felt a sense of optimism and firm resolve after he'd discarded the materials. He'd bought the new bong and 
laid in fresh supplies this morning, getting back home with everything well before the woman had said she would come. He 
thought of the new bong and new little packet of round brass screens in the Bogart's bag on his kitchen table in the sunlit kitchen 
and could not remember what color this new bong was. The last one had been orange, the one before that a dusky rose color that 
had turned muddy at the bottom from resin in just four days. He could not remember the color of this new last and final bong. He 
considered getting up to check the color of the bong he'd be using but decided that obsessive checking and convulsive movements
could compromise the atmosphere of casual calm he needed to maintain while he waited, protruding but not moving, for the 
woman he'd met at a design session for his agency's small campaign for her small theater company's new Wedekind festival, while
he waited for this woman, with whom he'd had intercourse twice, to honor her casual promise. He tried to decide whether the 
woman was pretty. Another thing he laid in when he'd committed himself to one last marijuana vacation was petroleum jelly. 
When he smoked marijuana he tended to masturbate a great deal, whether or not there were opportunities for intercourse, opting 
when he smoked for masturbation over intercourse, and the petroleum jelly kept him from returning to normal function all tender
and sore. He was also hesitant to get up and check the color of his bong because he would have to pass right by the telephone 
console to get to the kitchen, and he didn't want to be tempted to call the woman who'd said she would come again because he felt 
creepy about bothering her about something he'd represented as so casual, and was afraid that several audio hang-ups on her 
answering device would look even creepier, and also he felt anxious about maybe tying up the line at just the moment when she 
called, as she certainly would. He decided to get Call Waiting added to his audio phone service for a nominal extra charge, then 
remembered that since this was positively the last time he would or even could indulge what Randi, with an i, had called an 
addiction every bit as rapacious as pure alcoholism, there would be no real need for Call Waiting, since a situation like the present 
one could never arise again. This line of thinking almost caused him to become angry. To ensure the composure with which he sat
waiting in light in his chair he focused his senses on his surroundings. No part of the insect he'd seen was now visible. The clicks 
of his portable clock were really composed of three smaller clicks, signifying he supposed preparation, movement, and 
readjustment. He began to grow disgusted with himself for waiting so anxiously for the promised arrival of something that had 
stopped being fun anyway. He didn't even know why he liked it anymore. It made his mouth dry and his eyes dry and red and his 
face sag, and he hated it when his face sagged, it was as if all the integrity of all the muscles in his face was eroded by marijuana, 
and he got terribly self-conscious about the fact that his face was sagging, and had long ago forbidden himself to smoke dope 
around anyone else. He didn't even know what its draw was anymore. He couldn't even be around anyone else if he'd smoked 
marijuana that same day, it made him so self-conscious. And the dope often gave him a painful case of pleurisy if he smoked it for 
more than two straight days of heavy continuous smoking in front of the Inter-Lace viewer in his bedroom. It made his thoughts 
jut out crazily in jagged directions and made him stare raptly like an unbright child at entertainment cartridges — when he laid in 
film cartridges for a vacation with marijuana, he favored cartridges in which a lot of things blew up and crashed into each other, 
which he was sure an unpleasant-fact specialist like Randi would point out had implications that were not good. He pulled his 
necktie down smooth while he gathered his intellect, will, self-knowledge, and conviction and determined that when this latest 
woman came as she surely would this would simply be his very last marijuana debauch. He'd simply smoke so much so fast that it 
would be so unpleasant and the memory of it so repulsive that once he'd consumed it and gotten it out of his home and his life as 
quickly as possible he would never want to do it again. He would make it his business to create a really bad set of debauched 
associations with the stuff in his memory. The dope scared him. It made him afraid. It wasn't that he was afraid of the dope, it was 
that smoking it made him afraid of everything else. It had long since stopped being a release or relief or fun. This last time, he 
would smoke the whole 200 grams—120 grams cleaned, destemmed — in four days, over an ounce a day, all in tight heavy 
economical one-hitters off a quality virgin bong, an incredible, insane amount per day, he'd make it a mission, treating it like a 
penance and behavior-modification regimen all at once, he'd smoke his way through thirty high-grade grams a day, starting the 
moment he woke up and used ice water to detach his tongue from the roof of his mouth and took an antacid — averaging out to 
200 or 300 heavy bong-hits per day, an insane and deliberately unpleasant amount, and he'd make it a mission to smoke it continu-
ously, even though if the marijuana was as good as the woman claimed he'd do five hits and then not want to take the trouble to
load and one-hit any more for at least an hour. But he would force himself to do it anyway. He would smoke it all even if he didn't 
want it. Even if it started to make him dizzy and ill. He would use discipline and persistence and will and make the whole 
experience so unpleasant, so debased and debauched and unpleasant, that his behavior would be henceforward modified, he'd 
never even want to do it again because the memory of the insane four days to come would be so firmly, terribly emblazoned in his 
memory. He'd cure himself by excess. He predicted that the woman, when she came, might want to smoke some of the 200 grams 
with him, hang out, hole up, listen to some of his impressive collection of Tito Puente recordings, and probably have intercourse. 
He had never once had actual intercourse on marijuana. Frankly, the idea repelled him. Two dry mouths bumping at each other, 
trying to kiss, his selfconscious thoughts twisting around on themselves like a snake on a stick while he bucked and snorted dryly 
above her, his swollen eyes red and his face sagging so that its slack folds maybe touched, limply, the folds of her own loose 
sagging face is it sloshed back and forth on his pillow, its mouth working dryly. The thought was repellent. He decided he'd have 
her toss him what she'd promised to bring, and then would from a distance toss back to her the $1250 U.S. in large bills and tell 
her not to let the door hit her on the butt on the way out. He'd say ass instead of butt. He'd be so rude and unpleasant to her that the 
memory of his lack of basic decency and of her tight offended face would be a further disincentive ever, in the future, to risk
calling her and repeating the course of action he had now committed himself to. 

He had never been so anxious for the arrival of a woman he did not want to see. He remembered clearly the last woman he'd 
involved in his trying just one more vacation with dope and drawn blinds. The last woman had been something called an 
appropriation artist, which seemed to mean that she copied and embellished other art and then sold it through a prestigious 
Marlborough Street gallery. She had an artistic manifesto that involved radical feminist themes. He'd let her give him one of her 
smaller paintings, which covered half the wall over his bed and was of a famous film actress whose name he always had a hard 
time recalling and a less famous film actor, the two of them entwined in a scene from a well-known old film, a romantic scene, an 
embrace, copied from a film history textbook and much enlarged and made stilted, and with obscenities scrawled all over it in 
bright red letters. The last woman had been sexy but not pretty, as the woman he now didn't want to see but was waiting anxiously 
for was pretty in a faded withered Cambridge way that made her seem pretty but not sexy. The appropriation artist had been led to 
believe that he was a former speed addict, intravenous addiction to methamphetamine hydrochloride1 is what he remembered 
telling that one, he had even described the awful taste of hydro-chloride in the addict's mouth immediately after injection, he had 
researched the subject carefully. She had been further led to believe that marijuana kept him from using the drug with which he
really had a problem, and so that if he seemed anxious to get some once she'd offered to get him some it was only because he was 
heroically holding out against much darker deeper more addictive urges and he needed her to help him. He couldn't quite 
remember when or how she'd been given all these impressions. He had not sat down and outright bold-faced lied to her, it had 
been more of an impression he'd conveyed and nurtured and allowed to gather its own life and force. The insect was now entirely
visible. It was on the shelf that held his digital equalizer. The insect might never actually have retreated all the way back into the 
hole in the shelf's girder. What looked like its reemergence might just have been a change in his attention or the two windows'
light or the visual context of his surroundings. The girder protruded from the wall and was a triangle of dull steel with holes for 
shelves to fit into. The metal shelves that held his audio equipment were painted a dark industrial green and were originally made 
for holding canned goods. They were designed to be extra kitchen shelves. The insect sat inside its dark shiny case with an 
immobility that seemed like the gathering of a force, it sat like the hull of a vehicle from which the engine had been for the 
moment removed. It was dark and had a shiny case and antennae that protruded but did not move. He had to use the bathroom. His 
last piece of contact from the appropriation artist, with whom he had had intercourse, and who during intercourse had sprayed 
some sort of perfume up into the air from a mister she held in her left hand as she lay beneath him making a wide variety of 
sounds and spraying perfume up into the air, so that he felt the cold mist of it settling on his back and shoulders and was chilled 
and repelled, his last piece of contact after he'd gone into hiding with the marijuana she'd gotten for him had been a card she'd 
mailed that was a pastiche photo of a doormat of coarse green plastic grass with WELCOME on it and next to it a flattering 
publicity photo of the appropriation artist from her Back Bay gallery, and between them an unequal sign, which was an equal sign 
with a diagonal slash across it, and also an obscenity he had assumed was directed at him magisculed in red grease pencil along
the bottom, with multiple exclamation points. She had been offended because he had seen her every day for ten days, then when 
she'd finally obtained 50 grams of genetically enhanced hydroponic marijuana for him he had said that she'd saved his life and he 
was grateful and the friends for whom he'd promised to get some were grateful and she had to go right now because he had an 
appointment and had to take off, but that he would doubtless be calling her later that day, and they had shared a moist kiss, and 
she had said she could feel his heart pounding right through his suit coat, and she had driven away in her rusty unmuffled car, and 
he had gone and moved his own car to an underground garage several blocks away, and had run back and drawn the clean blinds 
and curtains, and changed the audio message on his answering device to one that described an emergency departure from town, 
and had drawn and locked his bedroom blinds, and had taken the new rose-colored bong out of its Bogart's bag, and was not seen 
for three days, and ignored over two dozen audio messages and protocols and e-notes expressing concern over his message's 
emergency, and had never contacted her again. He had hoped she would assume he had succumbed again to methamphetamine 
hydrochloride and was sparing her the agony of his descent back into the hell of chemical dependence. What it really was was that 
he had again decided those 50 grams of resin-soaked dope, which had been so potent that on the second day it had given him an 
anxiety attack so paralyzing that he had gone to the bathroom in a Tufts University commemorative ceramic stein to avoid leaving 
his bedroom, represented his very last debauch ever with dope, and that he had to cut himself off from all possible future sources 
of temptation and supply, and this surely included the appropriation artist, who had come with the stuff at precisely the time she'd 
promised, he recalled. From the street outside came the sound of a dumpster being emptied into an E.W.D. land barge. His shame 
at what she might on the other hand perceive as his slimy phallocentric conduct toward her made it easier for him to avoid her, as 
well. Though not shame, really. More like being uncomfortable at the thought of it. He had had to launder his bedding twice to get 
the smell of the perfume out. He went into the bathroom to use the bathroom, making it a point to look neither at the insect visible 
on the shelf to his left nor at the telephone console on its lacquer workstation to the right. He was committed to touching neither. 
Where was the woman who had said she'd come. The new bong in the Bogart's bag was orange, meaning he might have is
remembered the bong before it as orange. It was a rich autumnal orange that lightened to more of a citrus orange when its 
plastic cylinder was held up to the late-afternoon light of the window over the kitchen sink. The metal of its stem and bowl was 
rough stainless steel, the kind with a grain, unpretty and all business. The bong was half a meter tall and had a weighted base
covered in soft false suede. Its orange plastic was thick and the carb on the side opposite the stem had been raggedly cut so that 
rough shards of plastic protruded from the little hole and might well hurt his thumb when he smoked, which he decided to 
consider just part of the penance he would undertake after the woman had come and gone. He left the door to the bathroom open 
so that he would be sure to hear the telephone when it sounded or the buzzer to the front doors of his condominium complex when
it sounded. In the bathroom his throat suddenly closed and he wept hard for two or three seconds before the weeping stopped 
abruptly and he could not get it to start again. It was now over four hours since the time the woman had casually committed to 
come. Was he in the bathroom or in his chair near the window and near his telephone console and the insect and the window that 
had admitted a straight rectangular bar of light when he began to wait. The light through this window was coming at an angle 
more and more oblique. Its shadow had become a parallelogram. The light through the southwest window was straight and 
reddening. He had thought he needed to use the bathroom but was unable to. He tried putting a whole stack of film cartridges into 
the dock of the disc-drive and then turning on the huge teleputer in his bedroom. He could see the piece of appropriation art in the 
mirror above the TP. He lowered the volume all the way and pointed the remote device at the TP like some sort of weapon. He sat
on the edge of his bed with his elbows on his knees and scanned the stack of cartridges. Each cartridge in the dock dropped on 
command and began to engage the drive with an insectile click and whir, and he scanned it. But he was unable to distract himself 
with the TP because he was unable to stay with any one entertainment cartridge for more than a few seconds. The moment he 
recognized what exactly was on one cartridge he had a strong anxious feeling that there was something more entertaining on 
another cartridge and that he was potentially missing it. He realized that he would have plenty of time to enjoy all the cartridges, 
and realized intellectually that the feeling of deprived panic over missing something made no sense. The viewer hung on the wall, 
half again as large as the piece of feminist art. He scanned cartridges for some time. The telephone console sounded during this 
interval of anxious scanning. He was up and moving back out toward it before the first ring was completed, flooded with either 
excitement or relief, the TP's remote device still in his hand, but it was only a friend and colleague calling, and when he heard the 
voice that was not the woman who had promised to bring what he'd committed the next several days to banishing from his life 
forever he was almost sick with disappointment, with a great deal of mistaken adrenaline now shining and ringing in his system,
and he got off the line with the colleague to clear the line and keep it available for the woman so fast that he was sure his 
colleague perceived him as either angry with him or just plain rude. He was further upset at the thought that his answering the
telephone this late in the day did not jibe with the emergency message about being unreachable that would be on his answering 
device if the colleague called back after the woman had come and gone and he'd shut the whole system of his life down, and he 
was standing over the telephone console trying to decide whether the risk of the colleague or someone else from the agency 
calling back was sufficient to justify changing the audio message on the answering device to describe an emergency departure this 
evening instead of this afternoon, but he decided he felt that since the woman had definitely committed to coming, his leaving the 
message unchanged would be a gesture of fidelity to her commitment, and might somehow in some oblique way strengthen that 
commitment. The E.W.D. land barge was emptying dumpsters all up and down the street. He returned to his chair near the 
window. The disk drive and TP viewer were still on in his bedroom and he could see through the angle of the bedroom's doorway 
the lights from the high-definition screen blink and shift from one primary color to another in the dim room, and for a while he 
killed time casually by trying to imagine what entertaining scenes on the unwatched viewer the changing colors and intensities 
might signify. The chair faced the room instead of the window. Reading while waiting for marijuana was out of the question. He 
considered masturbating but did not. He didn't reject the idea so much as not react to it and watch as it floated away. He thought 
very broadly of desires and ideas being watched but not acted upon, he thought of impulses being starved of expression and drying 
out and floating dryly away, and felt on some level that this had something to do with him and his circumstances and what, if this 
grueling final debauch he'd committed himself to didn't somehow resolve the problem, would surely have to be called his 
problem, but he could not even begin to try to see how the image of desiccated impulses floating dryly related to either him or the 
insect, which had retreated back into its hole in the angled girder, because at this precise time his telephone and his intercom to the 
front door's buzzer both sounded at the same time, both loud and tortured and so abrupt they sounded yanked through a very small 
hole into the great balloon of colored silence he sat in, waiting, and he moved first toward the telephone console, then over toward 
his intercom module, then convulsively back toward the sounding phone, and then tried somehow to move toward both at once, 
finally, so that he stood splay-legged, arms wildly out as if something's been flung, splayed, entombed between the two sounds,
without a thought in his head.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Unit 1 Study Guide

For my freshmen, this is the study guide I've put together for their first test on "Sacraments and Sacramentality."  There's a funny fusion of somewhat amorphous theological jargon from the required curriculum (e.g., "sacramental dullness") and other, somewhat less obscure catechetical notions.  Comments welcome.



Sign - anything that points beyond itself or has a meaning

Symbol - a sign that brings together several meanings, or a sign that represents something especially complex or abstract

Ritual - a series of symbolic actions performed in a prescribed order which together direct our attention to an overarching meaning or truth

Sacrament (Augustine) - a visible sign that conveys invisible grace

Sacrament (Catechism) - an efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church by which divine life is dispensed to us.

Sacramental Awareness - an openness to grace that moves us to find God in all things and to participate in the life of the Church

Sacramental Dullness - being closed off to grace because of sin, pride, or doubt, so that we lose a sense of how creation points back to the goodness of God.


1.  Faith -- "The fullness of the Christian Faith is in the Catholic Church."  Because of the three pillars of the Catholic Faith: Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium, the Church has a unique promise of fidelity to the truths God has revealed to us in the prophets, scriptures, and through Jesus Christ.

a.  Scripture -- The Bible is passed down through the church, in the mass and by being carefully protected and taught from one generation to another.  The Church makes sure that the Scriptures we read are the authentic scriptures, inspired by God and authored by Historians, Poets, Apostles, and Prophets to convey Divine truth.

b.  Tradition -- The Catholic tradition stretches in a continuous line from the Apostles to the present day.  In each generation we receive and preserve what the previous generation was taught, and make sure to distinguish between the authentic tradition and new ideas that don't come from God.

c.  Magisterium -- (Magister = "teacher";  "Magisterium" = teaching office) The Faith of the Church is watched over and defended by the Bishops and the Pope, whose job it is to make sure that, as we find new ways of understanding and explaining the truths of Divine Revelation, we don't misunderstand it or change the Gospel from what Jesus taught.  As Catholics, we believe that when the Bishops and Pope are gathered together and speak for the Church, God keeps them from making mistakes about doctrine.

2.  The Sacraments -- The sacraments are the main ordinary tools God uses to bestow grace on us.  By being Baptized we are joined to the Church and receive the Divine Life that Jesus Christ came to offer us.  In Holy Communion we are spiritually nourished, and the love for God that draws us to him is strengthened.  Each sacrament strengthens us spiritually so that we can more fully love God and seek him out in our daily living, in preparation for Heaven.

3.  Friendship/Community -- What makes two people friends is that they want the best for each other.  But in order to want what is really best for another person, you have to have a sense of what's actually best for them.  (E.g. thinking cocaine is great for someone wouldn't really be compatible with friendship.)  So the best friendships will be based on a shared love of the absolute best thing for a human being.  That absolute best is being united with God in knowledge and love.  In the Church many people are gathered together to help each other find God, get closer to him in love and knowledge, and understand/live the Gospel more deeply.

4.  The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ -- The Church is like a massive vine, that receives all its life from its root, Christ.  When we are baptized, we (like lifeless branches) are grafted onto the vine, and receive nourishment through the vine.  If we cut ourselves off from that nourishment, we wither spiritually and die.  But if we remain attached to it and stay open to that nourishment (grace), we will grow and become healthy and bear fruit.  Another way of thinking about this is that we are organs transplanted into a body.  The life-force of the body (the grace of Christ) that nourishes all its organs needs to flow through us in order for us to survive.  Otherwise we will rot away from inside.


Who is God?  God is utterly perfect, eternal, and unchanging.  He is the source of all goodness, because he himself is pure and perfect goodness.  Together the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rejoice in their sharing of supreme perfection.  God's goodness is so great that nothing can be added to make him better.  He is perfectly happy in the act of knowing and loving himself, because there is nothing better than God.  But God wants to share his perfect goodness with others.  He does this in three ways:

Three ways God shares his goodness:
- By giving things EXISTENCE
- By giving things LIFE
- By giving things GRACE

GRACE is God's freely offered gift of himself to us, that elevates and perfects us so that we can share in his happiness in heaven.

How to understand Grace:
--We love things because we recognize that they are good.
--It is very easy to recognize the goodness of visible things: family, friends, food, fun, etc.
--As a result, it is easy to get wrapped up in the goodness of created things and forget the Supreme Goodness of the one who created them.
--Adam and Eve's sin in the garden was a deliberate choice to have a world without God, in which they could enjoy created things without thinking about their creator.
--After Adam and Eve, it is more difficult for us to look for God.  Our instinct is to avoid him.
--But God loves us so much that he wants us to come back to him, and is always offering to forgive us for hiding from him and disobeying him.
--The way God helps us to return to him is GRACE.
--In Grace, God plants a seed of his own life in our hearts, and that seed tugs at us and gives us the desire to move past the good things of the world and find God reflected in them, and ultimately beyond them.
--We can reject grace or nurture it.  As long as we have it, it moves us to love God and neighbor, and to go after him.
--The ultimate goal of that Grace-filled quest for God is union with him in Heaven, where we will share in his goodness and love.

Once you think you have understood "Grace", go back to the definitions of "Sacrament".  Do they make more sense now?  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

As in the Prose of Gertrude Stein

 Recording taken from PennSound.  This is from a reading by Kenneth Koch of his poem "One Train."

Monday, July 15, 2013

The New Marriage, Society and the Law

1. “America” is no longer a Christian state.

1.1 Despite its constitutional pretensions, for most of its history America has morally behaved like a Christian state, since everyone’s conception of the natural law (or “what is obviously right”) was more or less a Christian conception.

1.2 As the grip of Christian culture and moral formation has loosened and been replaced by [an amorphous epicurean beast], common sense no longer directs our moral reasoning along Christian lines, and progressively more groups of individuals find reason to challenge the weak moral consensus and open up space for new choices and pleasures.

1.3 The culmination of this process has been (or will soon be) a re-opening of the American mind to an awareness of the epistemological basis (or lack thereof) of traditional (Christian) moral norms. There is no longer a monolithic voice in our culture on ethical matters. The preacher cannot count on having Satan as his sole competitor.

1.4 In light of all this, it seems unreasonable for us to expect narrowly Christian ideas about marriage to be politically enforced. “Marriage” has taken on a life of its own, one oriented toward the aforementioned “new pleasures and choices” in a way that it has rarely been historically, as far as I can tell. Marriage apologetics basically miss this point, and this is probably the biggest logical reason why the pro-marriage side has lost the struggle for narrative supremacy.

2 The New Marriage belongs to a different genus of activity than (broadly construed) Christian marriage.

2.01 These names lend themselves to confusion on both sides.  There is nothing new about the New Marriage.  It has been practiced and preached in the United States for at least a century, in various forms.  There is likewise nothing specifically Christian about Christian Marriage as the term is used here: we are speaking of a social practice and not a sacrament.

2.1 The New Marriage has a narrative terminus, just like any other regular human activity (eating, drinking, sex, computer programming, baseball, reading, etc.). The terminus in this case is the sexually “fulfilled” life of two people together in a state of blissful emotional entanglement. Because of this, the New Marriage no longer has any intrinsic reason for being contractual. It is based on physical and emotional bonds, and is as dissoluble as those bonds. Any contractual character is merely a way of publicly declaring that the two individuals are emotionally entangled and sexually fulfilled and intend to stay that way.

2.2 Christian Marriage, by contrast, functions primarily through the interest of a pair in protecting and rearing their children, and has a kind of natural long-term contractual character to it (inasmuch as children take a long time to rear, and in the context of such a bond more children tend to appear).

2.3 Because it is easily and generally recognized that parents ought to care for their children, and that this duty implies an extended bond, which is ordinarily perpetuated by the begetting of more children, by bonds of friendship, and by material expediency, Christian Marriage has normally been not merely a spontaneous, individual activity, but one prescribed by and condoned by communities. It is not merely in the interest of the parents to marry, but also in the interest of the parents’ parents, and the general concern that this sort of behavior take place spreads out naturally among the members of a community, for the protection of the young and the edification of those who have children.

2.31 The New Marriage is to Christian Marriage as Evangelical Baptism is to Catholic Baptism: A sign, which effects nothing, binds nothing, but means to express something.

2.32 The New Marriage, by being “marriage”, being “official”, having a rite, a law, and, in short, a public aspect, gains an extra degree of dignity. It receives a social, quasi-communal mandate, analogous to that proper to Christian Marriage by virtue of its association with natural duty, but instead tied to the common will for neighbors in society to do well, to pursue friendship, and to find physical and emotional fulfillment in another.

2.4 We might ask, then, how the New Marriage came to be called “Marriage”, when it fundamentally a different thing. If Christian Marriage, in terms of the integrity of its social basis, can be compared to food, then the New Marriage might justly be compared to perfume. Many of the sweetest delights of food are present in perfume, but only in a society where the practice of eating had been largely obviated could a confusion arise between the two.

3 The New Marriage is practically dependent on certain features of a highly technological and wealthy society.

3.1 It’s not that New Marriage is impossible without birth control, a high degree of wealth, geographical mobility, and the possibilities for communication that come with advanced technology. However, it seems unlikely that anyone would bother to enshrine the New Marriage in a situation where these features of our society were absent.

3.2 A historical genealogy of the roots (in practice) of the New Marriage seems to confirm this. If the chief oddity of the New Marriage is its being named “marriage” in the first place, given the history of that term in our culture, then any decent explanation must show how the increased social emphasis on secondary aspects of Christian marriage enabled the primary aspects (which lie at the root, socially, of its institutionalization) to be displaced altogether.

3.21 We might ask how Thanksgiving came to be about eating turkey, when historically that word refers to something of a different genus altogether. The ceremonial aspects, which are the practice’s most salient feature, became its focus, and its former ratio was lost to history.

3.211 Many arguments against the New Marriage amount to "Thanksgiving is about eating turkey; how dare you mess it up by eating duck or stuffed squash."  Rather than understand the roots of marriage and its emergence as a contingent feature of Christian society, they stop at the latest possible conception of the New Marriage that suits their prejudices, and enshrine its features as essential.

3.22 All the common narratives about marriage for the past century have supported this transformation.

3.3 Given that Christian marriage has been displaced by something which shares only its secondary features, are the original social functions which led to the emergence of that genus of marriage being seen to? Are the rights of children being fulfilled?

3.31 By definition, it seems clear that the answer is “no”, unless the “New Marriage” in question functions additionally as a “Christian Marriage”. Thus in order to be just, mere New Marriages (which tend, on the whole, to be transient just like the emotional entanglements they are based on) must be sterile.

3.4 The rise of the New Marriage, because it has not been simply organic (the petrification of a decayed social function into an intricate ornament on the face of a more advanced culture) but has taken place through polemic and political struggle, has displaced not merely the practice of Christian marriage, but also the consideration of its primary object: since Christian marriage has been cast aside, the concern for one’s debts to one’s offspring has likewise been cast aside.

3.41 These debts, however, persist, and their neglect is to the detriment (materially, emotionally) of children, as well as (for lack of friendship, stability, and opportunities to develop virtue) their parents.

3.5 Only in a society awash with wealth, in which widely available emotional analgesia and material comfort are available, could such an arrangement be enshrined as superior to the alternative.

3.51 Doubts arise: old metaphors and gender issues in Christian marriage as traditionally practiced made it a potentially oppressive way of securing justice for Children. These need to be discussed, by someone not myself.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Thomism after Vatican II

The great Fr. Thomas Joseph White, OP, at the Dominican House of Studies last week:

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Twenty-one Random Movies in Two Sentences Each

1.  Daybreakers — Almost all of humanity having become vampires, the remaining humans are farmed for blood, which is increasingly scarce.  The film's chief merit is its attempt at a realistic portrait of how society would develop under the given conditions.

2.  Ken Burns' America: Huey Long — Ken Burns tracks the rise and fall of the Kingfish, who for a time ran Louisiana like his own private kingdom.  One of Burns's better documentaries.

3.  Swiss Family Robinson (1960) — A Swiss Family (not named "Robinson," the title being a reference to Robinson Crusoe) is marooned on a tropical island and must survive on the power of their wits and what they can scavenge from the wreckage of their ship.  Features the most epic treehouse ever.

4.  Lost in Translation — When a burnt out action movie star goes to Tokyo to star in a commercial for Suntory Whiskey, he encounters a depressed newly-wed woman, abandoned by her photographer husband in a hotel.  Through their insomnia, the two form a melancholy friendship based on mutual feelings of frustration with marriage, work, and purposelessness.

5.  Girl, Interrupted — After a panic-induced drug overdose, a recent prep-school graduate checks herself into a mental hospital for recovery and has various encounters with the patients and staff.  The movie is fairly disturbing, but has an exceptional cast, including Winona Ryder, Brittany Murphy, Whoopie Goldberg, Vanessa Redgrave, Angelina Jolie, and Elizabeth Moss.

6.  The Social Network — Socially mal-adjusted Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg makes a series of enemies while struggling to launch The Facebook.  Despite its unusual story, excellent writing, and fine acting, the final product is a little underwhelming, possibly for want of interesting social commentary.

7.  The Bourne Identity — Matt Damon stars alongside Franka Potente (Lola Rennt) in this fast-paced, trim action thriller.  Despite the rather far-fetched plot (which drags considerably in some of the sequels), it's difficult not to be absorbed in the harmonious execution of the story.

8.  Wait Until Dark — This terrifying film stars Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman who struggles to defend herself when a drug runner comes hunting for a misplaced package that has been left in her apartment.  The two things I remember most from the film are a teddy bear and a switchblade with carved ivory grip.

9.  Mission: Impossible — Tom Cruise plays a secret agent charged to do something or other (hack a computer, I think).  There's some betrayal, some weird explosive chewing gum, and that iconic scene where he's suspended in the white room with the computer and almost hits the floor.

10.  Return of the King: Extended Edition — This epic adaptation of the third part of The Lord of the Rings includes a large portion of the story that ought to have happened in The Two Towers, but which Peter Jackson (for reasons of stupidity) put off for the final installment, making it rather bloated.  There are some problems with the film, the most disturbing of which are as follows: (1) the increased role of the Army of the Dead, (2) the awful scene on the stairs of Cirith Ungol where Frodo tells Sam to "go home," (3) the absurd closeness of all the geographical locations (Mount Doom being essentially visible from inside Minas Tirith), but on the whole it's the strongest of the trilogy.

11.  Garden State — This was that Zach Braff movie with the hip soundtrack that everyone went crazy about.  It left me listening to Frou Frou for several years, which really isn't such a bad thing.

12.  American Experience: LBJ — Lyndon Johnson created the modern American welfare state.  Whether this was because he was a wicked human being, or in order to make up for that fact, the documentary doesn't tell us.

13.  The Black Stallion — I saw this when I was very young, and it's difficult not to confuse it with Black Beauty in my head.  The latter is told from the perspective of the horse, I think, but this one is just about a boy's friendship with a horse.

14.  Dr. Strangelove — At the height of the Cold War, Stanley Kubrick made this horrifying parody of nuclear politics, in which an insane general attempts to set off the destruction of the world.  One thing to take away: if you value the purity of your essence, of your precious bodily fluids, then never drink Fluorinated water.

15.  Monsters, Inc. — Not having seen either of the Cars movies, this is probably my least favorite Pixar film.  Billy Crystal and John Goodman co-star as workers in a monster power factory which harvests the energy of children's fears by sneaking into their rooms at night.

16.  The Rock — Former Alcatraz inmate Sean Connery helps sneak Jack Nicholson (haha, I can't believe I wrote this; it's Nicholas Cage, not Jack Nicholson) into the prison so he can defuse a chemical bomb colonel Ed Harris is poised to launch on San Francisco.  Connery does a delightful job, and the film is fun to watch.

17.  A Perfect Murder — Gwenyth Paltrow has an affair with artist Viggo Mortensen, who is then recruited by her husband, the financially distressed Michael Douglas, to murder her for money.  Things do not go according to plan.

18.  Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969) — Peter O'Toole stars in this musical remake about a schoolmaster's struggle to maintain discipline and rigorous academic standards in changing times.  He and his wife are beloved by (virtually) everyone.

19.  The Hobbit (1977) — Extremely faithful adaptation of the novel, including a terrifying, frog-like Gollum, huge noses all around, and creepy elves.  Much better than the Peter Jackson version, so far, and has the advantage of starring John Huston as the (unforgettable) voice of Gandalf.

20.  The Last Days of Disco — Whit Stillman's third film looks at the cruelty and degeneracy of New York social life for young adults at the end of the Disco Era.  You will dislike basically all of the characters, but possibly like the movie anyway.

21.  Shutter Island — Leonardo DiCaprio plays a crazy (or maybe not crazy?!?!?!?!) boston police officer with a patchy accent, on a visit to a prison for the insane.  The best part of the movie is recognizing Max von Sydow as the ex-Nazi psychiatrist; the worst is the pointless suspense and stupid ending.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The False Ideal of the Green City

[This is taken from a reply to a comment on that bloated movie review I wrote for Fare Forward last summer.  The originals can be found here.]

...The question about the green city is an interesting one. I think the ideal of the green city is a compromise between ecological soundness and capitalism that we should really question. Anyway, in my analysis I was mainly going for layered sets of metaphors. The city is capitalism, is alienation from nature, is tyrannical government. Given these associations, all clearly supported in the movie, the the city's dissolution is much more profound. Imagine if The Lorax had ended with an eco-friendly city instead. That would have totally killed the movie, no? The capitalist would still reign, the citizens would be just as alienated from nature, it would just be an accident of the products they were consuming that they didn't devastate the surroundings. In that situation, the people benefit the least. Anyway, as for blaming Christianity, I think that's incorrect. The abuses of nature are much more compellingly traced to modern philosophical thought. Beginning in the 16th century with the emergence of a new humanism during the renaissance and the enlightenment, europeans thought of human nature as fundamentally discontinuous with the natural world. The natural world was meant to be battered and subjugated and made useful for human ends, which were rational and intentional and (in a non-religious sense) super-natural. This idea of man as the rational spirit at work to bend nature to his will has lingered in the popular consciousness of the west for some centuries now, and it's done a great deal of harm. But it is not fundamentally a Christian idea. It's a humanist idea. Christian thought has a strong tradition of seeing the continuity between human nature and the natural world and understanding that man is charged with the task of governing the natural world, which means respecting and caring for it according to what it is.

The Ethics of Privilege

[I wrote the following a few months ago for Fare Forward's Patheos blog.]

In light of Sarah Ngu’s recent post on privilege, I’d like to offer some rough thoughts on problems we face in defining privilege and distinguishing between the moral qualities of different sorts of privilege. I’m still working through the issue, so comments on the view I’m presenting would be appreciated.
1.  In Sarah’s post, she cites Andy Crouch’s definition of privilege as the enjoyment of benefits on the basis of someone else’s past creative power.
2.  By this definition, privilege includes every aspect of human life.  I breathe today because of the exercise of creative power by my parents in the past.  I use this computer because of the exercise of creative power of its manufacturer, of the people who built it in a factory somewhere, of scientists in universities who developed the techniques necessary to make complex instruments like this one possible.  Everything we do participates in this dependence, this reaping of benefits.
3.  Clearly the sense of the word “privilege” normally used in moral discussions is narrower than all that.  It makes little sense to attach the normal moral weight associated with privilege (generally, guilt) to my ability to eat or breathe or sleep or think about chestnuts.  Dependence and debt do not imply abuse or injustice.
4.  So how do we sift out the different moral strata of privilege?  Instead of settling with “those benefits that result from the past use of creative power by others,” I’d like to outline two progressively narrower descriptions of privilege which help convey the moral relevance of the concept.
5.  First, there’s the privilege which forms a habitual, invisible element of our daily way of existing.  The privilege of having decent roads, of having a postal system, of being able to trust that no one will murder you in the night, of finding fellow citizens affable and open to discourse or friendship, of expecting to be cared for by your mother and father, of expecting your children to care for you in your senility, etc.  These are privileges (whether some of them are also rights—that is, things we owe to each other as basic conditions of social order—I will bracket) that are not universally shared, but which form and make possible the way of living that many of us enjoy.    Privileges of this variety—let’s call them customary privileges, since they depend on the stable customs of a society—are good to have and to share, and they are generally expressions of a kind of social excellence.
6.  The moral quality of these customary privileges comes chiefly from the way they form our habits of thought and expectations about the world.  Someone who comes from a socially well-adjusted and virtuous background may be less inclined to understand how defects in other sectors of society cause difficulties.  The comfortably employed republican may have moral scorn for the obesity of the urban poor, not realizing the ways familial breakdown, community violence, anxiety and poverty conspire to make obesity more common.  Likewise the trendy bourgeois university student may have a patronizing contempt for that same population, imagining that their lack of educational privilege makes them incapable of rational judgment and in need of intervention from the state and its cronies to run their lives.  (Variants of these two errors abound.)  Privilege can shape our expectations and lead to delusional prejudices and bad judgments about unfamiliar ways of living.
7.  Note, though, that just as privilege in general, by Mr. Crouch’s definition, has no intrinsic moral quality to it, what we’ve called “customary privilege” is likewise morally neutral.  Sometimes it leads us into error, but this is only an accidental consequence of what might otherwise be a positive moral good.  To be raised in a community with stable homes, good friendships, the influence of extended family, reasonable prosperity, work, and education is indeed a great thing.  That familiarity with such a world would lead to confusion about the precise conditions and mechanics of a situation which defected from that ideal is no sin.  Imprudent intervention in or unjust condemnation of someone else’s life on the basis of ignorance is, however, morally questionable.
8.  We divided off “customary privilege” from privilege taken generally by limiting it to those benefits that form a habitual (and therefore largely invisible) element of our daily way of existing.  Thus there are many benefits received on the basis of past exercises of creative power that are not “customary”.  The difference between customary privilege and non-customary privilege is thus essentially determined by the subject who receives the benefits in question: whether he is aware of their contingency and recognizes their dependence on the work of others.
9.  However, we can divide privilege a second way, not on the basis of the person receiving benefits, but on the basis of the “creative power” by which the benefits are won.  In the subject that receives the benefits of privilege, the moral quality comes most obviously through the ways privilege shapes that person’s understanding of the world and the moral character it encourages in the individual and his actions toward others.  But on the part of the person exercising a power to create benefits, the morality rests not in the shaping of his consciousness but in the rectitude of the act itself.  Thus, depending on whether the original act or set of acts by which benefits are won is morally good or corrupt, we can divide privilege accordingly.  In particular, we can specify “unjust privilege” as benefits accrued from a past act or set of acts which are unjust or broadly immoral.
[10.  Here the phrase "creative power" used in our original definition proves to be quite dubious, since obviously many benefits are won by the use of power that is not creative at all.  (Those of us accustomed to "checking our privilege" probably cringed when we read Crouch's definition, since it assumes moral positivity in past actions that are frequently dubious or evil.) ]
11.  Unjust privileges seem to lack the broad moral neutrality of customary privileges and privilege in general, because it is possible for privilege derived from evil acts to perpetuate an acceptance of that evil, or to make the original injustice habitual and invisible.  Possible, but not necessary.  It is likewise possible for unjust privilege to result in a basically normal and morally neutral way of thinking and behaving, but one that still bears the consequences of past sin.  The great great grandchildren of a usurper king may be just and godly rulers, though their line lacks historical legitimacy.  This fact of history need not morally taint their personal acts.  They are not guilty for receiving the benefits of their ancestor’s crime.
12.  So again it seems that even privilege based on past acts that are morally evil does not necessarily implicate the beneficiaries in that guilt.
13.  We are left, then, with two ways of thinking about privilege, neither of which necessarily carries with it any degree of moral fault.  So how does moral fault enter into privilege in general?
14.  Privilege is the reception of benefits on the basis of someone else’s past (or continuing present) actions.  Privilege becomes morally problematic when the acceptance of these benefits participates in a systematic injustice or evil act which deprives someone else of what is due to them or is morally corrosive of the one benefitting.  This is to say, if in accepting the benefits of privilege one is depriving another person of what is rightly theirs, and perpetrating or perpetuating some act of violence against them.
15.  Aside from such situations, privilege is morally neutral, and becomes significant in the moral life of individuals only insofar as it shapes their understanding of things and ability to make sound prudential judgments.  However, privilege is not unique in creating bias or prejudice, since the lack of privilege likewise participates in the formation of our understanding of the world, and just as often for the worse.
16.  This is to say that it is not privilege as such that has any particular bearing on someone’s moral status or credibility, but their honesty, prudence, justice, and general moral rectitude.  With privilege or without it, the same things make one a good person or a bad person.  Privilege itself has no intrinsic moral status, but acquires moral relevance only by association with some other act.  We might compare privilege to a hammer, which is ordinarily a neutral tool, open to being used in a variety of ways, but when misused for malicious intent or stolen from someone becomes implicated in that evil.
17.  Thus the rejection of any intellectual position on the ground of the privilege of the one holding it is prima facie ridiculous and, worse, unjustly discriminatory.  We should be as unwilling to tolerate discrimination on the ground of privilege as discrimination because of the lack of privilege.
18.  And, finally, the assignment of guilt (or praise!) merely on the basis of whether someone has received the benefits of others’ past actions is likewise reprehensible and unjust.  Privilege does not impart guilt any more than disadvantage and oppression do.  Instead it is always injustice, imprudence, officiousness, intemperance, cowardice and pride that create guilt.  And these are qualities to be found across all strata of society, regardless of one’s privilege.

Toward a Genealogy of Social Justice

[The following was the text for a talk I delivered this spring at a conference on Social Justice organized by ISI at Georgetown University.]

1 Justice is a condition of right order or equity in a relation between persons.

1.1 Justice flows from right or equity: the equivalence of the facts of a relationship with the demands of nature on that relationship.

1.2 "Nature" includes not only our inner tendencies, but also the dignity of things, their goodness, and their ends.  Because the natures of creatures are finite and determinate, the demands on those creatures are also finite and determinate, and deal with particular interactions between them.

2 Primarily, justice deals merely with individual-to-individual relationships.  (Parent-child, criminal-victim, conductor-passengers, etc.)

2.1 It is because of rights and debts that justice makes claims on individuals.  Justice does not govern ideals, but obligations.  What we ARE determines what we are bound to do.  A parent, qua parent, must care for his/her children.  The children are owed this by the parent.

2.2 The demands of justice are not infinite, in the case of creatures, but are fitted to the reality of the individuals.  Though a parent could in theory give a child everything in the universe, and benefit the child from doing so, the parent is obliged to do what is necessary for the rearing and education of the child, no more.

2.3 In a sense, then, love is a part of Justice: parents, for example, are bound to love their children inasmuch as this means they are bound to desire and help them to thrive.  But love can extend beyond justice.  They are not coterminous.

3 Justice becomes a question in the face of injustice: we notice what's important when it's missing or broken (Heidegger).

3.1 So, e.g., when a parent is faced with a disobedient child, they are forced to express (and figure out!) norms of behavior.  When some civil behavior creates disorder in the city (traffic, e.g.), the government creates laws to rectify things (traffic laws).  Etc.

4 We do not naturally have a fully worked out sense of what justice is, in our relationships or in the state.  Rather, this is acquired through observation and dialectic.  No implanted concepts or automatic intuitions.  Rather, experience.

4.1 Experience comes through particular and contingent worldly experiences, and is colored by prejudices, desires, etc.

5 Because we are NOT born with an innate wisdom about political matters, but ARE born with an incurvature or deformity of the will (by which we tend to love ourselves above all else and love in ourselves particularly the satisfaction of our baser appetites), the average, everyday shape of political desires and reasons matches, in general, the average everyday shape of human desires and reasons: it is corrupt, power-driven, combative, ignorant, and tends toward disorder.

6 As a result, if it is possible to speak of a whole community, society, or state, not metaphorically but actually as an ordered and integral unit, then we should expect such units to display the tendencies of the human heart: murder, greed, ignorance, sluggishness, and an ever greater tendency toward perversity.

7 The concept of social justice becomes possible when we begin to think of societies as ordered integral units.  Social justice is not a characteristic of any particular relationship, but of the entire set of relations among all the parts of a whole society.

8 Social justice concerns a kind of equity, but not one based on rights or debts.  How can we see this?

8.1 It is possible for every individual in a society to fulfill his obligations and have his basic rights met, while the society as a whole suffers from serious inequity and "social injustice".  Factory workers are paid enough to get by, but a handful of industrialists live in luxury.  The laws are duly promulgated and enforced, but they place a disproportionate burden or benefit on some particular segment of the population. (E.g. copyright laws unduly deprive the general population of the free use of information to the advantage of the copyright holder, his estate, or his progeny.)

8.2 In these (conjectural) cases, no one is doing anything wrong, there are no particularly unjust relationships in society, but we judge the WHOLE to be disordered, though all its individual parts may fit together properly.

8.3 Because social injustice can, in theory, persist without the existence of actual individual injustices, we can see that social justice is not properly speaking "justice", but a kind of harmony sought for in the whole.

9 At the same time, there are individual injustices which contribute to social injustice.  When the industrialist denies his workers an adequate wage, or the sovereign legislates contrary to reason and nature (selling children into slavery by lottery, e.g.), these things aggravate social injustice.

10 However, as the concept is broadly employed, it opens up the concept of justice to something bound neither by nature nor by obligation, but solely by the ideal form of the Good.  Social Justice, in other words, has a platonic feel to it.  Social Justice as a concept is not ordered to a finite natural obligation, but an ideal end.

11 I would like to suggest, then that Social Justice pertains to an order which transcends positive law, one which positive law cannot capture.  How is this so?

11.1 Natural justice (parent-child, neighbors, friends) governs obligations between people on the basis of nature.  Civic justice governs obligations between people on the basis of positive law.  A violator of natural justice derogates from the ordinary demands of nature.  A criminal who breaks the law violates civic justice by disrupting the established order of the state.

11.2 But it is not necessarily an individual who acts in any concrete instance to create social injustice.  The guilt of social injustice lies upon the whole of society.  There is no obligation of nature or law to which individuals are held in the contemplation of social justice.  Instead they are held to an ideal, which concerns an aggregate.

12 Recall that justice becomes an issue when it is violated, and that this violation must be observed in order for the notion to occur to us.  In the same way, SocialJustice becomes available as a concept not just when we start to think of our society as an integral unit, but primarily when we begin to see that unit as deficient, malleable, and open to alternative possibilities.

12.1 Consequently, we can see that where ordinary forms of justice are based on equity and limited by the facts of nature, social justice is based on political imagination, on the understanding of what constitutes the unity and nature of a society.

12.2 More interestingly, though, the emergence of social justice as an important concept depends on the extent to which we understand society to be malleable: the extent to which individuals become or understand themselves to be social engineers.

12.3 The shift toward this kind of vision of society obviously coincides, in our case, with two developments: first, the expansion of the state to regulate more and more aspects of civic life; second, the rise of mass democracies, in which collective interests and political organization become a force by which the body politic perpetually redesigns itself.

12.4 Note, however, that inasmuch as the state ordinarily governs in abstract, far above the people, and the individual citizen's interests are ordinarily local and very particular, an individual encouraged to apply his interests to the constitution of the whole will draw the state ever closer to him and provide the power for it to reach down into his life in every way that seems convenient.

13 Backtracking for a moment, though-- the availability of the concept of social justice depends not only on the common conception of society as malleable and subject to reinvention at human hands, but also on the mechanics of individual observation of society as a whole, its defects and potential, and on the imaginary ideal against which it is compared.

13.1 Obviously, though, the public is not capable of observing society or judging its defects.  Even in a small town this would be virtually impossible.  Consequently the operative knowledge in the use of the concept of social justice is an actual knowledge neither of the deficiencies of society, nor of the particular faults blamed for social imperfection.  Rather, this knowledge must be constructed, whether through statistics or ideology or a mix of both.

14 So we are left with three presuppositions necessary for the emergence of a popular idea of social justice: first, the conviction that society as a whole is capable of being redesigned according to a plan; second, that some individual or group is capable of correctly discerning and implementing that plan; third, that such social engineering is capable of perfecting society and alleviating the mass guilt of social injustice.

15 All three of these notions are written into the fabric of American democracy are it exists today.  They are all more or less suspect, all the more because they rely on some implicit common understanding of what society is.  What is the nature of a society, what ought it to be?  How can society live up to the demands of social justice?

16 The question about the nature of society is basically an anthropological question, and consequently one shaped by the ethical commitments of the one answering.  If you understand society as a mechanism whereby humans are made happy and good, as the parent or sibling whose job it is to look out for and take care of you in every need and ensure that you end up well, then any society which leaves us unhappy is going to be tainted with social injustice.

17 As we said earlier, Social Justice is ordered not to a particular bond or obligation, but to an ideal.  It is not about the right order of a relationship between two, but about the harmony or beauty of a whole.  However, this is confusing, because justice is by its very nature about rights and obligations which follow from the nature of a particular relationship.  There is no earthly relationship which by nature causes me to owe ultimate perfection to someone else, and yet if we take Social Justice as an actual form of justice, it would seem that the duty of the state is to make us happy--something the state cannot do.

18 However, because Social Justice is only an operative concept insofar as an appeal can be made to the social-planning powers of the state to alleviate some imperfection or unhappiness in the population, this basic inconsistency in the practical notion of social justice goes unnoticed.  What we see of it instead is the rule: if the state can make things better, it should, because insofar as society consists of unhappy people, we are all guilty for it.

19 And this is how Social Justice operates on a political level: as interests shift and goods become apparent as possibilities within the reach of society, those who fail to reach for these possibilities are particularly guilty--guilty of social injustice--while those who strive to transform and overthrow the old constraints of civilization and make way for a better world, are moral heroes.

20 Note that this false reasoning need not be attached to any particularly liberal or statist political agenda.  It can be bent to any political agenda, and this is its most interesting feature: once social justice has been misconstrued as an imperative which governs by right the production of the laws and the ordering of the state, an imperative which compels the state to provide (whether by interference or by abstinence) ultimate happiness and satisfaction to the citizenry, the appeal to justice begins to cover many things which justice does not, by rights, include, and thus sweeps away the connection between justice and nature and merges the legitimate concept of right with any desire in the heart of the public.