Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Thomas on the Vices 02

Of the effects of sin, and, first, of the corruption of the good of nature

This week we read question 85 of the second part of the second part. My comments here will focus in Article 2: Whether the entire good of human nature can be destroyed by sin?

Initially, we might wonder what "entire good of human nature" in that question is supposed to mean. I know what it means if someone says, "Have the entire contents of that milk carton been poured out?" Do we imagine the "entire good of human nature" as something contained in us when we examine this question?

Thomas takes up that challenge. As he notes, we could understand this in two ways. If I keep pouring out milk to fill my glass and my glass contains 200 ml then I will empty the carton by drinking five glasses of milk. Alternatively, we could approach the problem as a species of Zeno's paradox: If I keep taking out half the contents of the carton it will never be empty. (This is not crazy because here is a sense in which there is a very hard to remove adhesion layer of milk on the inner surfaces of the carton that is very hard to remove. I can keep rinsing out the carton, getting more and more but can I get it all?)

Thomas's reply to this is fascinating:
"But this does not apply to the question at issue, since a subsequent sin does not diminish the good of nature less than a previous sin, but perhaps more, if it be a more serious sin."
That's a fascinating response. Our first inclination might be to dismiss it as it is a non sequitur. To use my earlier example, suppose I had a whole bunch of different-sized drinking glasses from 1 ml to 450 ml. The carton would be still be empty, at least according a certain purpose, once the total volume I poured out equaled the total volume that had been in the carton to begin with.

On the other and, he's right. Thinking of "the entire good of human nature" in terms of volume is just wrong. Yes, we use metaphors of volume and weight to speak of matters of good and evil as, for example, when we speak of weighing our sins. No one, however, actually weighs sins. In modern terms, we would say that to speak of "the entire good of human nature" as if he analogy between it and volume corresponded in every way is to make a category mistake.

So Thomas is right to say the concerns raised about diminution of the volume of goodness do not apply even though he does not give a good argument for reaching this conclusion. (A committed Straussian might ask whether he means us to take this argument entirely seriously. I'm not a Straussian myself but I'm open to the possibility that Thomas knew where he wanted to go but didn't know how to get there so he inserted an argument that otherwise would not have satisfied him.)

He then restates matters in different terms. The "goodness of nature" is "the natural inclination to virtue". That inclination is "the middle term between two others". The two others are 1) rational nature and 2) the good of virtue. When the goodness of nature is diminished by sin it is because sin places obstacles between rational nature and the good of virtue it seeks to obtain.

I'm not entirely certain I know what that means. As I read Thomas more more, it becomes clearer that everything in the Summa is connected to everything else. We come at what seems like a separate question here but understanding it correctly requires us to understand a technical vocabulary with is defined and analyzed elsewhere.

When we, as moderns, come to this text, we are looking for information we can apply to problems. But the text requires extensive cross-referencing to fully understand. Can we pull out part, what he says about the vices, and just use it?

For now, I'll just consider an epistemological issue. Thomas is a very much a rationalist. He will, for example, claim
"Sin cannot entirely take away from man the fact that he is a rational being, for then he no longer would be capable of sin." (Article 2)
Reason, as Thomas understands it, seems to require some sort of "union" between the knowing subject and the external object. So, I look at the demi tasse on by desk and I grasp what it is. The fullness of demi-tasseness is understood by my rational soul. Or not. I can be in error. I might think, "Look, someone has put a miniature coffee cup from a child's toy collection on my desk." But to get it right, I must grasp the fullness of what it is to be a demi tasse.

So, Thomas will go on to say that sin can diminish the good of nature but that it cannot entirely remove it because reason cannot be removed. The good of nature consists of two parts: "rational nature", the root, and "the good of virtue" as the end at which it aims. Sin puts obstacles between rational nature and the good of virtue it is aimed at. It does not diminish the rational nature.

Thomas uses a very telling metaphor for this:
"An example of this may be seen in a transparent body, which has an inclination to receive light, from the very fact that it is transparent; yet this inclintion or aptitude is diminished on the part of supervening clouds, although it always remains rooted in the nature of the body."
Okay, but does a transparent body have an inclination to receive light? I don't want to beat up on Thomas by using our more advanced physics against his. What I am trying to get at is the function of the mind. Is it like a clear pane of glass through which we see the world? if we leave aside the infinite regress objection,  glass doesn't seem to contribute anything. Is reason like that? Could it fully grasp the good of virtue so long as there were no obstacles? That makes reason a fairly passive thing.

It seems to me that the visual metaphor for rationality is like the volume metaphor for goodness. It helps us talk about these things but we make a giant mistake if we take the metaphor as a map to the mechanism. Is Thomas making that mistake? I don't know but I do think there is sufficient evidence here to keep that question in mind going forward.

Monday, January 28, 2019

What's in it for me?

I've been thinking about that question. I've been trained to reject that question all my life.

One of the things that used to frustrate me back when I taught sailing was the way kids would never try force as a way to solve problems. They'd try all the non-force alternatives they could think of and then give up. I'd show up and push or pull hard on the obstacle and it would be overcome. I used to say to them, "Brute force shouldn't be the first option but it should always be an option."

I'm starting to feel the same way about, "What's in it for me?" It shouldn't be the only question but it should always be a question.

Sometimes we act in a self-sacrificing way. Always?

To be sure, the contempt was for the man who "Only wanted to know what was in it for himself. But that "Only", like a lot of qualifications wasn't really qualifying anything. The message that was being sent was that it wasn't ever appropriate to ask what was in it for me.

Friday, January 25, 2019

A selfish question about FaceBook

I stopped reading FaceBook from the 23 of December until the 7 January. I did this for nostalgic reasons. When I was a kid those days were for close friends and family and for God. We cut out distractions and focused on what matters most.

Anyway, it had an unexpected benefit. I suddenly found myself with a whole lot of free time. I was able to get stuff done. More importantly, I was able to get solitude. Solitude matters a lot to me and I have had a hard time getting it lately. I found myself resenting people I should be caring about because they would seek me out when I was craving solitude. That all disappeared when I stopped being on FB.

The problem social media presents me is that I can never get away from it. I feel like I have to be ready to respond to whatever might come up so I worry about what might be happening when I'm away. So I log on to check and that leads to the second problem. FB is designed so as to make it difficult or impossible to rejoin the conversation you had yesterday. It keeps giving you an endless stream of distractions whole burying the stuff you looked at just an hour ago so deep it takes a long time to find it. That isn't an accident; they've intentionally designed the site to function that way.

When I logged in again on January 7, I did so with enthusiasm. I had a whole lot of notifications, many more than I've ever had before. I looked forward to it figuring here are dozens of things that actually will be of interest to me! Well, not so much. There was not a single thing of actual use to me.

Since then, I've taken to logging in on Friday and Monday only and checking only notifications. I don't scroll the feed. And the selfish question I have is this: What's in this for me? I know, what about others. That was the justification I used in the past. I'd think, okay, most of what's here is of no interest to me but it's a way of staying in touch with people I care about; it will give me opportunities to learn about stuff they're doing and to show support. Unfortunately, that didn't work out. People don't self-reveal on FB. What they do is try to co-opt you into things they care about.

And so up crops the selfish question. What does this service offer me? I've been checking before the weekend in case there are things I want to go to. All I get is a bunch of things other people want me to go to. On Monday, I check to see if anything happened that I may want to look into in the future. So far, nothing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Thomas on the Vices 01

This is the first in a series of posts regarding the way Thomas Aquinas discusses vices. It is related to a course I am taking. If you wish to see all the posts in this series, please click here.

In reading Thomas, I seek to learn from him. In confronting Thomas, we are confronting something monumental, a theology of immense importance.
On the other hand, I could, of course, ignore him. Most Catholics these day do. Kuhn says somewhere that when a new paradigm arises, the people who follow it don’t refute the old paradigm so much as they ignore it. Thomas and Thomism is today, an ignored paradigm because, as I say, most Catholics pay little attention to it. Oddly, then, Thomas Aquinas seems immensely important and yet not at the same time.

In doing this course, I am going to operate on the assumption that Thomas is of immense importance. If we really want to understand our faith and how it got to where it is, some knowledge of Thomas, Bonaventure, Dun Scotus is useful. More than that, though, it seems to that a Catholic theologian must engage with Thomas at least to be able to place their own views in relation to his. 

It seems to me that, at his best, Thomas is a linguistic philosopher. He is very good at getting clear about how we use language and what that implies. For example in the Reply to Objection 3, of Question 49, Article 2 in the First part of the Second Part of the Summa Theologiae, Thomas concludes a long discussion of “habit" and “quality” by saying, “From this it is clear that the word “habit” implies a certain lastingness: while the word disposition does not.” This is good and sound conclusion. We will need to specify a bit. I think we may have lost some nuance in translation for the word “disposition” in English does imply a certain lastingness. Otherwise we couldn’t talk about dispositions in the first place. We could say that what Thomas really means is that habits are more deeply rooted than dispositions. 

And here, someone might say, “I want more than that. I want to be able to say, “This is a habit and that is a disposition because they are clear different things!” Behind this is a fear that there is a grey area: things are dispositions up to a certain point but it’s hard to say where the dividing line would be. This is a very old problem in philosophy. 

One famous formulation of the problem goes as follows. If I put a grain of sand on a table and ask you if it is a heap of sand, you will say it is not. If I add one more and ask you if that is enough to make it a heap, you will say that it is not. “Aha," I say, “then adding one grain is not enough to make it a heap.” You agree. I then continue adding one grain at a time until you agree that there is enough sand to constitute a heap. And then I pounce and say, “But where is the dividing line? I’ve been adding one grain at a time and you agreed that adding one grain cannot be the thing that makes this thing a heap.” And yet, it makes sense to speak of some things being heaps of sand and others of being just grains of sand on a table.

Behind this sort of argument is an implicit claim that a vague definition is no definition at all. That is plainly nonsense but why? One answer is because we can talk about heaps of sand and do so in a coherent and consistent way. I like that answer but I rather suspect that Thomas would not and that is why he uses terms such as “quality" and “species of quality”. 

If we jump ahead to Question 51, Article 3, Thomas asks, “Whether a habit can be caused by one act?” It is immediately obvious that we have a problem like the heap of sand. 

The temptation is to say, "It seems clear that one act isn’t enough to cause a habit.” But Jane told me that she is starting a habit of getting up at six in the morning every morning starting tomorrow. Suppose she succeeds. It’s not difficult to imagine, the world is full of people who are capable of such resolve.

But this doesn’t seem enough. We want to say that we are not willing to accept that once is enough to establish a habit. On the other hand, Jane did it. She said she was going to establish a habit and then she did it and she had it right from the beginning. She didn’t fail! And we might ask ourselves why it's important to know what "causes" a habit. Is it going to help us form good habits to get clear on this?

The real point point here, I think, is about the use of the word. When can we say Jane has established her habit? Consider a counter example: we would not say she lost that habit if she failed, after a late night at a party, to get up one morning. No, to use the word, we want to see consistency. But we do not, thereby, come to know the essence of “habit”. We only learn to speak correctly.

If we jump back to Question 49, Article 1, Thomas asks, “Whether habit is a quality?”

Well, the question might be put this way, “Do I have a habit of drinking coffee in the same way that I have height?”

He makes a distinction between qualities and predicaments. Predicament: something that can be predicated. “Michel is wearing a red sweater today.” does not seem to be the same sort of statement as “Michel has a bad habit of putting things off until the last second.” I can just take the sweater off. It takes more effort to change a habit. To change my sweater, I just take it off without, it seems, changing myself. To change my habits seems to require changing me.

But consider this: I have a glass of wine with dinner everyday. One day I read that the studies that convinced me this is healthy were badly done and there is new evidence suggesting it’s bad for me. So I stop drinking. Another person in the same predicament finds it hard. Yet another, can’t do it. We call what I have a practice, what the second person has a habit and what the third has a disease, that is to say an addiction. How do we make this distinction?

We don’t say of a red ball that it “has redness” in ordinary language use. Philosophers say things like this but they are just abusing language when they do so. It tells me nothing at all to say a red ball has redness.

There is a real puzzle here. We don’t talk the same way about these things and that tells us something important about the beliefs we operate on. But does it tell us anything about the things themselves.

Suppose I meet someone who thinks that “that ball has redness” and “that house has a car is parked in front” are equivalent uses of "has". This implies that just as the parked car can be moved, the redness can be taken away from the ball. One response would be to say, well, try it, try to take the redness away from the ball. Now, he might succeed in that. The ball might be painted red and that paint could be removed. But what if the ball is made of some red material? In that case he will fail. Would we, on that basis, say that “redness” was a predicament not a quality? No. The difference between these things is functional. Our language reflects what we can do but also what we do do. We use the term quality when we are operating in a certain way and predicament in another. (It is telling, perhaps, that in English the many uses of predicament have been reduced to only one: to be caught in a dilemma or quandary.)

We are discussing the way we use the word habit and concluding that we use it more like the way we talk about qualities than the way we talk about than things hat we can simply take on or off. But we aren’t pointing at anything about the things themselves, simply about how we talk and behave regarding them. There are cultures that recognized slavery as an evil but took it to be an evil that could not be removed, a quality of human life to be deplored but accepted. This went on for centuries. Does anyone seriously think that all that had to be done was to explain to them that they took as a quality what was only a predicament and the problem of slavery could have been done away with? I suppose there are such people but they seem rather stupid to me. I can’t just tell the person with a bad habit that they can just stop, can I? Well, sometimes this works—Miles Davis just decided to stop using heroin—but usually not.

Moral habits are going to matter to the degree that we can change them."To have" or "to not have" in this context is determined by performance.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Crypto-Catholic Libertine

A post about coming out.

Here's Isabel from Le divorce again:
I gradually came to understand that Edgar was religious, at least officially, believed in God and the Catholic religion, in a not preoccupied but nonetheless sincere way.

At first I was shocked by this. In California, you wouldn't go out with anyone openly religious, because someone who talks about God automatically comes across as a hypocrite. But there was also the French hypocrisy, if that is the word—or inconsistency is a better one—in believing in a religion and conducting this rather unconcerned adultery.
That "inconsistency" can't be proven. It's not a factual claim. There is sufficient variation within any group that you could easily find Americans who perfectly embody the French attitude and vice versa, pun on "vice" very much intended.

We might say that the Frenchy American would count as an outlier in her culture while the Française à l'americaine would likewise be seen as really French and yet different in hers. I don't know if that holds up; it's just an idea I'm trying out.

It's time for a confession: I lied. Not to you so much as to myself. I've done this twice lately. The first time was on Facebook a year or so ago. A cousin of mine put up a picture of me from my early teen years. I'm not sure exactly how old I was in the picture but probably 15 or younger. It caused much comment among my friends because I had a style in that picture that was very far from what I adopted just a few years later at 18 and have kept more or less, with a few short side excursions, ever since. By way of explanation I said that I identified with Keith Richards in those days. I believed what I wrote on Facebook when I wrote it but it wasn't true. That was brought home to me rather bluntly last summer when I found a box of stuff I had collected as a teenager that had come from my parents' house. What was painfully obvious was that I had actually identified with Mick Jagger. To be blunt, my entire personality was based on my understanding of him.

Why did I lie, first to myself and then to the rest of the world? Mostly shame. And by "shame" I mean I was mostly scared to admit it. Telling the whole world the truth about your aspirational self just opens you up to mockery. Anyway, I said in an earlier post that I identify with Isabel but the truth is I identify with Edgar Cosset.

As a rule I would advise against ever revealing your aspirational self—the sort of character you aspire to develop—except to a few very trusted friends who you think might have useful things to say to you about it. Otherwise, don't talk about the person you want to be just be it. I feel safe breaking my own rule in this case because Edgar is only a type and I can cop to the type. Indeed, it's hardly a secret. Twenty-five years ago the art department of a company I worked for showed me the mock up for my business card for my approval. As a joke, the designer had put "poète et bon vivant" where my title should have gone. I have a type and it's not a secret: my entire office was in on it. Except to me who is sometimes ashamed of something that is not even a secret.

Which brings me to the name of this blog. Back when I started I called it "Crypto-Catholic Libertine". I shied away from that mostly out of fear of what we Catholics call "scandal". I was worried that someone might see it and that the implied hypocrisy in that name, which is not erased by the intended irony, might disturb them. So I ditched what was probably the best name the blog ever had.

Why am I going back to it now? Well, here's the continuation of Isabel's thoughts from above:
I brought up this issue in a rather general was with Mrs. Pace, without mentioning Edgar and me.

"Well, their piety is more evolved," said Mrs. Pace. "In America we have only two forms, as Matthew Arnold said: the bitter and the smug. In France, it appears, there is a third type, the wordly."

"The genuine?" I wondered.

"I suppose they are all genuine. Bitterness is always genuine. And there is nothing so fervently genuine as as the sense of being right. Smugness, autrement dit. Why not world but genuine?"
That point about all pieties being genuine is a deep one.

In any case, "Crypto-Catholic Libertine" is back.

Monday, January 14, 2019

"... protected from the consequences of their ...."

In discussing the novel, Le Divorce, I am commenting on something very few people have read or will read. And, while I love it, I wouldn't put it forward as something everyone ought to read. It's a novel that speaks to me because the heroine, Isabel Walker, and I have a lot in common but, precisely because it is so well-suited to me, it will not appeal to everyone. It also has a rather silly ending.

I don't think the silliness of the ending is entirely the author's fault. Much like Huckleberry Finn, the novel deals with larger social issues that the author cannot solve by herself just as Twain could not solve the the racist problems that still beset the America he wrote for. There is a huge difference between the two books in terms of moral import as there is no racist hatred underlying the cultural conflict in Le Divorce but there is a cultural conflict.

That conflict exists at two levels. First of all, there is the obvious cognitive dissonance that Isabel stirs up in herself. Like a heroine from a Henry James novel, she is attracted to the very different culture she finds in France. This culture operates on different values. That is not the problem, the problem is that it succeeds by operating on these values. Indeed, it is a very attractive culture to Isabel and she wants to spend some time inside it and that means she has to spend some time living with contradictory value sets.

The particular bit I wanted to discuss in this post concerns a struggle over a painting of Saint Ursula. Isabel's sister Roxy took a painting that meant a lot to her with her when she moved to Paris after he marriage. And now she's getting divorced. The painting is part of the communal property that must be divided between the she and her soon-to-be-ex husband. Further complicating matters, it seems the painting may have considerable financial value.

To further complicate this already complicated and tense situation, Isabel is having an affair with Edgar,  the uncle of her sister's estranged husband. Oh yeah, Isabel's sister has also attempted suicide, a situation she and Isabel are trying to keep secret.

So Isabel can't discuss the situation completely freely with her love, the uncle-of-her-brother-in-law-who-is-divorcing-her-sister. She does, however, feel she can safely discuss it as an abstract moral issue:
I continued to sting and seethe as much or more than Roxy about the total injustice of them taking Saint Ursula. Her enhanced value introduced a new element of cupidity and greed into the normal rancor of divorce. This I could mention to Edgar, though I still had not told him about Roxy slitting her wrists.
Edgar gives an answer that seems both sexist and profound:
"Women are too protected from the consequences of their actions," he said. "It always shocks them when there are consequences."
We are discouraged (assuming we're paying attention) from simply brushing off this answer as sexist by the staggering self-deception in Isabel's response:
He meant, Roxy must have known that by taking a piece of property to France, she was subjecting it to French law. But this doesn't address the total wickedness of he Persands ignoring that it was in our family, that it belongs to more people than just Roxy, that it means a lot to us and nothing to them, and so on.
I love that, "and so on." As I'm sure most readers have already figured out, the staggering thing is that Isabel is busy shielding Roxy from the consequences even as she attempts to analyze the situation: that is, she knows that Edgar is right.

And before anyone gets upset, the charge is that women are "too protected" as in protected by others.

Since the facts are against her, Isabel argues the law:
"You make a moral argument about Bosnia but deny the force of a moral argument in the family."
Edgar makes this response:
"What I say about Bosnia is a pragmatic argument from history," he said. "We are not going to quarrel, you and I, chérie, about Roxanne's canapé and an ugly saint."
A common definition of pragmatism is to take it as the opposite of principles. By that definition, Edgar does whatever works while hypocritically evoking moral principles which is exactly what Isabel meant to accuse him of. But it is not Isabel who introduces pragmatism into the discussion but Edgar. He clearly thinks this, incidentally, very American, notion serves him well. What is this pragmatism? Well, it's not the first dictionary definition I mention above as the a common understanding of the word. Rather, it is the philosophy that says beliefs have consequences and that they should be evaluated in terms of these consequences. Edgar endorses a strong moral stand on Bosnia (the action in Le Divorce takes place in the 1990s) because he believes that failing to stand up against ethnic cleansing will have negative consequences.

He doesn't explain w he does not favor a strong moral stand in family matters but form his answer would take is implicit in what he says; either he does not believe that what is at stake is worth taking a string moral stand or, more likely, he he does not believe that taking a strong moral stand will change anything, that neither the outcome nor the people involved will be improved by insisting on moral principle.

I think Edgar is right but I think there is something more. Beliefs have consequences! And we tend to shelter the people we love from the consequences of their beliefs. It's not that Roxy must have known that taking her painting to France she was subjecting it to French law, as Isabel thinks. The problem is that she never thought about that because she believed that everything was going to work out. It never occurred to her that it would come up. Indeed, Roxanne's beliefs about just about everything are that it will work out. A poet, Roxanne picks her beliefs for aesthetic reasons. "Isn't it pretty to think so."

And Isabel? For narrative reasons, Isabel tends to miss the significance of what is going on. She paints scenes without grasping the implications. She wants experience and she does things, mostly take lovers, because she believes these will give her rich experiences. I operated on that principle from age 19 to 29 myself. The problem here is not that Isabel is shielded from the consequences of her beliefs and subsequent actions (she lets us know there have been unwanted pregnancies and abortions) but that she doesn't seem to learn much from them. 

Two thoughts: 1)Pragmatism! 2) How would Henry James have wrapped this story up? Whatever he might have done, he wouldn't have resorted to the melodramatic mess that this novel ends with.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Yeah, I changed the name again

The old title, "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion" wasn't doing it for me anymore.

I cut my alcohol consumption way back twelve months ago. It was affecting my sleep. Only after I stopped did I realize that it also had quite an effect on my spending. A friend of mine in university once said, "The biggest problem with giving up drinking is figuring out what to do with the ten thousand dollars you'll save." He meant that as hyperbole and it is but you really have no idea how much money you spend on somethings until you quit.

My new approach to alcohol is less of better quality.

So much for a blog name that starts with "Rum" then.

I'm still a Catholic but I'm much less inclined to defend "Romanism" than I used to be. The Church thinks of authority as something given to her by God. As a consequence, while popes, bishops and priests usually (but not always) recognize that their exercise of authority is flawed, they can't imagine that they would ever lose that authority. The rest of us live in a world where authority is earned and must continually be re-earned or else it's lost. Given the appalling events of the last year, I am not willing to defend my church's claim to moral authority right now.

That leaves "Rebellion" and that was always ironic. I'm not a rebel by inclination or belief.

So I'm went with "Jules' Search for Virtue" which was the first title I came up with years ago when I started. It wasn't my first choice and I've never been really happy with it. It was the first option that Blogger didn't reject as already taken.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

"The populist pundit couldn’t be more wrong"

That's what Timothy Sandefur thinks he is saying in a post at Reason that purports to debunk a recent monologue of Tucker Carlson's.

Sandefur's argument is interesting, and not in a good way. He starts with a lot of gesturing: "If there were any doubt of the direction the Trump-dominated GOP is taking," and "... the speech wasn't original, but it reveals the degree to which Republicans have embraced the populist authoritarianism they once condemned." and "Carlson began with several swipes against "bankers" who exploit the working class to line the pockets of spooky elites." Gesturing, as opposed to making actual arguments, is not necessarily bad. It plays a role a little like small talk; it eases us into the topic. But what Sandefur does isn't neutral. There is a lot of sneering: "Trump-dominated," "populist authoritarianism," and "swipes against 'bankers'." No actual argument has been made in any of this. A reasonable person could ask also sorts of questions that are being ruled out of court by this sneering; for example, is populism necessarily authoritarian?

And note this quote from Carlson and Sandefur's response:
"Does anyone still believe that cheaper iPhones or more Amazon deliveries of plastic garbage from China are going to make us happy? They haven't so far." This is a time-worn rhetorical technique of freedom's enemies, who sneer at material standards of living in order to elevate abstract social goals over the needs of actual people.
Does Sanderfur even notice that saying, "This is a time-worn rhetorical technique of freedom's enemies," is nasty little ad hominem wrapped in a time-worn rhetorical technique? It seems to me that asking if cheaper iPhones are making us happier is a perfectly reasonable question to ask and it does not make anyone an enemy of freedom to be asking it.

And it gets worse.
Consider "cheap iPhones": nobody can calculate the hours saved thanks to driving-directions features, the lives saved through quick access to 911, or the millions of simple, happy conversations that screentime or text messaging makes possible for families separated by long distances. To deride this as materialism is to scoff at simple, even beautiful human joys. Imagine the consequences of eliminating smartphones (you can't) and you get a sense of the inhumane sentiments that anti-materialistic slogans conceal.
Just a minute Mr. Sandefur, where did Carlson say he wanted to eliminate smartphones?  The answer is easy: he didn't. And accusing Carlson of deriding something in a post that is simply dripping with derision is a bit rich.

Sandefur never actually engages the argument that Carlson makes. He argues against a straw man and, as if that wasn't pathetic enough, he argues poorly against that straw man. If you can't even beat the bogus arguments you put into the mouth of your opponents, it's time to start worrying.

If it were up to me (it isn't), I'd suggest that we start worrying about the assumptions behind the following claims from Sandefur: "Freedom—economic or personal—is not 'created by human beings.' It's the rightful, natural state of all persons. It can unjustly be destroyed, but never transcended." There are a whole rash of questions I'd want to ask.  If freedom is really the rightful, natural state of all persons, then why have so few people had it? Why did the notion and culture of freedom spring up in a certain place at a certain time in history? Why does freedom adapt to certain cultures better than others? Why do so many people lose their freedom not by having it taken away from them by others but as a consequence of their own free choices?

I think those questions all point towards one big question: What exactly is a "liberal education"? Originally, the expression meant the sort of education fitting for a free person. Over time, though, it acquired a different sense, the sense that perhaps certain kinds of education prepare us for liberty, which is a thing to be taken and not simply the natural state of things. That, it seems to me, is the deep meaning of "the freedom to pursue happiness".