carpe opportunitatem

The coward imagines that every calamity has been staged for his benefit. The truth of the matter is that every calamity has its reasons, but reasons do not suffer mastery by men. The lesson of the moment is nowise beholden to its designer. It belongs to the men who best realize its advantage.

“Il n’y a point d’accidents si malheureux dont les habiles gens ne tirent quelque avantage, ni de si heureux que les imprudents ne puissent tourner à leur préjudice.”
“There are no accidents so terrible that the able cannot profit from them, nor so happy that the fools cannot turn them to their disadvantage.”

—François de La Rochefoucauld, Maximes, 59

no respect

Kwame Anthony Appiah derives his honor code from a universal right to respect wherein he presupposes all normal human beings to vest:

Some people think only hierarchical forms of the right to respect should be called “honor.” There’s a reason for this, beyond the insistence of a committed defender of social hierarchy like Edmund Burke: many of the most noticeable forms of honor from the Iliad to the Pashtunwali are, indeed, hierarchical. The issue here is not just a matter of a terminological stipulation, though: I think that much is to be gained by thinking about hierarchical and non-hierarchical codes that assign the right to respect together. The argument for that view is this book.
    What is democratic about our current culture, then, is that we now presuppose all normal human beings, not just those who are especially elevated, to be entitled to respect. But granting everyone recognition respect is perfectly consistent with granting greater appraisal respect to some than to others, because these are different forms of respect. From now, I’ll reserve the term dignity for one species of honor, namely, the right to recognition respect. So now we can say: Honoring some especially is consistent with recognizing the dignity of everyone else. Such dignity does not require the comparative forms of appraisal that go with more competitive forms of honor. It’s not something you earn, and the appropriate response to your dignity is not pride so much as self-respect; after all, if your humanity entitles you to respect, then it entitles you to respect even from yourself!

—Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, p. 130

A fundamental problem with this approach to honor stems from the fact that honoring rational beings entails a recognition of their beliefs about God and life, right and wrong, good and bad. In our current democratic culture, this recognition involves an accommodation of what John Rawls calls the citizen’s comprehensive moral doctrine. One such doctrine subsumes the Christian articles of faith spelled out by Paul of Tarsus in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which counts homosexuals amongst the unrighteous (adikoi), debarred from inheriting the Kingdom of God. Elsewhere Appiah boasts of having reconciled with his homosexuality as a Christian before he eventually stopped being a Christian. But a Pauline Christian needs must discount this reconciliation of an arsenokoites with the Christian doctrine, as proceeding pursuant to a honor code of a congenital contortionist. Notably, Appiah makes an effort to acknowledge some congenital attributes as “relevant bases for partiality”, while altogether disclaiming their suitability as grounds for moral and social superiority:

The struggle to break the tight connection between honor and birth is nearly as old as the connection itself. Recall Horace—son of a freed slave—addressing Maecenas, the richest and noblest of the private patrons of the arts in Augustan Rome, some two millennia ago. Maecenas “says it’s no matter who your parents are, so long as you’re worthy,” but Horace complains that most Romans take the opposite view.6[6. Horace, Sermones, I.6, II.7-8.] Anyone who offers himself for public office, the poet grumbles, gets asked “from what father he may be descended, whether he is dishonorable because of the obscurity of his mother.”7[7. Ibid., II.34-37.] This is the feature of the old system of honor that we have rejected, as we have grown suspicious of the idea that some people deserve better (or worse) treatment on account of identities they did not choose. Social status—class, if you like—should grant you no moral rights, people think; nor should your race or gender or sexual orientation.8[8. Ascriptive identities to which one is assigned by birth, such as family membership, can, I should insist, be relevant bases for partiality. You are entitled (indeed, sometimes required) to treat A better than B solely because A is your sister and B is unrelated to you. But recognizing something as a form of partiality is recognizing that there is nothing intrinsically superior about those to whom one is partial: if there were, one’s reasons for favoring them could be impartial. See Appiah, The Ethics of Identity, Chapter 6.]

Op. cit., pp. 185, 245

For the purposes of Appiah’s argument, his moral gerrymandering is impotent in its extravagance. It is extravagant because rejecting the old system of honor based on the idea that some people deserve better (or worse) treatment on account of identities they did not choose, would leave our society with no means of legitimately honoring the fast runner or the brilliant mathematician. It is impotent in virtue of leaving room for the Christian pastoral policy of requiring that “homosexuals must certainly be treated with understanding and sustained in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties and their inability to fit into society”, while asserting “the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of”. And notwithstanding Appiah’s insistence on “granting everyone recognition respect” irrespectively of their sexual orientation, no such granting can take place between himself and and his fellow citizens of the Pauline Christian persuasion. Within the liberal bounds of Rawlsian reasonable pluralism, these latter cannot advocate the use of coercive political power to impose conformity with their views upon non-believers. But they have every right, not only to withhold respect from their fellow citizens whom they find morally wanting, but also to subject them to public displays of contempt.
    To those who object to the incorporation of religion into the range of doctrines subject to recognition by a democratic culture, let it be pointed out that moral objections to homosexual behavior can be and have been made on rational secular grounds, from Plato and Aristotle, to Immanuel Kant and Jean-Paul Sartre. And to those who would carve out sexual orientation from the purview of moral discourse capable of grounding human entitlements to respect, let it be pointed out that secular objections of comparable gravity attach, within comprehensive moral doctrines recognized as legitimate by our democratic society, to a spectrum of divisive issues ranging from abortion to welfare. While a democratic society may warrant the security of abortionists and welfare recipients, it cannot ensure their freedom from disparagement by reasonable citizens whose moral views equate welfare with theft and abortion with murder. That is why any reasonable pluralistic society whose citizens uniformly presuppose all normal human beings to be entitled to respect, is bound to harbor no end of disagreement on the scope of this presupposition, depending on the disparate construals of normalcy within its citizens’ comprehensive moral doctrines. In short, no democratic entitlement to respect can emerge from the mere fact of humanity. Democracy is the right to shame and shun the unrighteous through faith and reason.

Crossposted to [info]larvatus and [info]philosophy.

resumption of public protests in menlo park and santa clara

Dear city authorities of Menlo Park and Santa Clara,

Please be advised that starting on 27 September 2010, my associates and I will resume open-ended peaceful public protests last held in 2009 in front of NEA, 2855 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025 and Cisco/WebEx, 3979 Freedom Circle, Santa Clara, CA‎ 95054. The purpose of our demonstrations will be to protest Subrah Iyar’s employment by Cisco/WebEx, Scott Sandell’s employment by NEA, and the association of these individuals and their employers with Min Zhu, as explained at

My associates and I are pledged to abide by all applicable laws. We exercise our right to free expression on private property readily accessible to general public pursuant to the rulings in Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74 (1980) and progeny. We assert that the strip of private property directly in front of the main entrances to 2855 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025 and the plaza in front of 3979 Freedom Circle, Santa Clara, CA‎ 95054, both fall within the purview of Pruneyard in virtue of housing several unrelated businesses and being readily accessible to the general public. Additionally, owing to police and hotel management misconduct at our first public protest in San Francisco, and death threats received in the past and recently renewed in the matter at issue, we shall exercise our right to bear arms pursuant to the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and all applicable federal and state laws, by carrying exposed, unloaded firearms, legally owned by my associates and me in the state of California, accompanied by loaded magazines, bandoleers, and speedloaders, subject to the definitions of People v. Clark (1996), 45 Cal.App.4th 1147, 53 Cal.Rptr. 2d 99. None of the firearms in question will qualify as assault weapons under California law, as listed or described in Penal Code Sections 12276, 12276.1, and 12276.5. My associates and I agree to Section 12031(e) inspections of our firearms on demand by police officers. Please note recent incorporation of the Second Amendment protection of the right to keep and bear arms as “fundamental” to the American scheme of ordered liberty, in McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. ___ (2010).

We will not interfere in any unlawful way with the operation of NEA, Cisco/WebEx, or any of their employees, clients, associates, or visitors, including, but not limited to, Subrah Iyar and Scott Sandell. At the same time, we shall vigorously enforce our right to speak out against the knowing collusion of big business in your jurisdictions with a violent child rapist, and seek redress for all wrongs consequently visited upon us, by resisting in all lawful ways and publicly denouncing in all appropriate venues, any private or official attempt to interfere with our rights. Please take note of case law, beginning with Florida v. J.L., 529 U.S. 266 (2000), to the effect that detaining a man observed as openly carrying an unloaded firearm in public violates the Fourth Amendment. Please note further ACLU of Nevada v. City of Las Vegas (ACLU II), 466 F.3d 784, 790 (9th Cir. 2006) and progeny holding various local ordinances prohibiting street expression, solicitation, and entertainment, in violation of the First Amendment. Lastly, please be aware that litigation over infringement of fundamental Constitutional rights is subject to a mandatory award of attorneys’ fees and court costs to the prevailing party intent on exercising them, typically in the amount of a multiple of the actual fees and costs. Our costs in mounting these events are considerable, and we shall seek court orders for their manifold reimbursement by any perpetrators of unlawful interference.

We are pleased to point out that our prior events in San Diego, Milpitas, Menlo Park, and Santa Clara were unmarked by any disturbances. We hope that the same will be the case on this occasion of scaling up our activities within the bounds of legitimacy sanctioned by the authorities of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the United States Supreme Court. Owing to substantial gains in our quest for remedies against Min Zhu and his confederates, our protests shall henceforth include topical artistic performances by bagpipers, clowns, rappers, and a brass band. It is our position that these performances are protected under the First Amendment, and therefore are not subject to local permit requirements. However, as an accommodation provided in the spirit of courtesy, we shall abstain from erecting free-standing signs and using amplification equipment, and will consider requests for additional constraints on our performances on a case-by-case basis. Lastly, we continue to claim the right protected by the First Amendment, to hold press conferences at the site of our protests and to film all passerby there being questioned as to their opinion of big business knowingly getting in bed with a violent incestuous paedophile. We hope to forestall futile litigation bound to be costly and disappointing to your taxpayers by giving you this advance notice of our plan.

Concerned parties may address their communications to my lawyer David W. Affeld <>, Affeld Grivakes Zucker LLP, 12400 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1180, Los Angeles CA 90025, phone: (310) 979-8700, fax: (310) 979-8701. I may be reached at the number listed below.

Michael Zeleny@post.harvard.edu— 7576 Willow Glen Road, Los Angeles, CA 90046 — 323.363.1860
All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. — Samuel Beckett