The Difference Between a Fact and a Truth

Arguably one of the best human beings at present, Greta Thunberg wears a face any parent would recognize. Our best selves know that it won’t do to be impatient with the truth of things.

The Difference Between a Fact and a Truth

                Addressing a transfixed multitude at Nuremberg, Adolf Hitler declared that ‘What is expected of youth today is different from that which was expected in the past.’ Such a statement is so general as to be hopelessly vague, but Hitler was aiming for abstraction on the grandest scale. He failed to achieve it not because the science of his day didn’t support it but rather because his idea of ethics was hopelessly narrow. Eugenics was considered a serious department of scientific discourse worldwide during much of the first half of the twentieth century and beforehand. The National Socialist Democratic Action Party harnessed a respected body of work that in turn had the direct support of much of the applied science community, especially physicians. No other profession could boast as many party members, which is a sobering thought even today.

                Climate science is supported by about 97 percent of peer reviewed publications inside its broad field. For all intents and purposes, this discourse has the facts of the matter well in hand. There is virtually no serious debate surrounding climate change and its sources. And this state, something of our own time, indeed charges youth with a very different expectation from what previous generations of young people, including my own, were facing. But what is this expectation, and how does it differ in principle from what any self-styled ‘visionary’ might imagine the future to be?

                If there is a difference, it cannot be understood along either factual lines or from those who resist them. In the 1930s and before, ‘The Jews’ were demonized by their persecutors, and were held up as examples of the failure to heed the facts of science. Today, those who resist climate change tend to demonize themselves. They often hail from neo-conservative bastions, are reactionaries or resentfulists, or are simply those who have been paid to shill for vested interests in the energy sector. It is these last who are the most cynical, and we might be forgiven if we at first imagined that it is these folks who are most like the Nazis. We would be incorrect, not that those aforementioned resistors are the best humanity has to offer. Indeed, the fact that most public voices critical of climate science and the environmental movement are people stumping for a moribund politics makes the former forces shine all the more brightly.

                To our peril, I think. Why so? On the one hand, public resistance to climate science is seen as a form of ignorance of enlightened empirical discourse, just as were those who resisted eugenics, including the ‘lower forms’ which were the results of such ignorance. Not only ‘The Jews’ of course, but the Romani people, homosexuals, and the mentally ill to name a few. The brush strokes broadened, the canvas widened, and, befitting of someone who would have preferred to leave politics and ‘devote himself wholly to art’, Hitler eventually included the Slavic peoples, non-whites worldwide – though the Japanese were always exempted from this at least publicly; it was handy to have an ally which, at the time, had never lost a war – indigenous peoples or ‘primitives’ and many others. Once again, at the time, the science of these propositions went unquestioned even in serious circles and the ethics was left to be dragged along behind it.

                Therefore it is only along ethical lines that we may begin to distinguish the climate-saving movement of today from the culture-saving movement of the pre-war period. Hitler attempted to assuage his would-be follower’s native skepticism by assuring them that he would rather do anything else, but that this had to be done and he was the only one who could do it. This too should sound uncomfortably familiar, as Canada’s own Green Party leader declaimed much the same sentiment in a recent interview, stating that she did not want to enter politics but that she felt she had to ‘save the world’. This appears as a noble sentiment, as it did for those who would later worship Hitler and only later still regret so doing. Though she remains my favorite young person simply because of her guts, Greta Thunberg urges us to ‘unite behind the science’, which also bears a too close resemblance to such calls that hauntingly echo down the unkempt corridors of recent history. In truth, we cannot unite behind any science. Not because it is not in possession of the facts, but rather because the facts and the truth are not the same thing. The facts of eugenics stated that miscegenation would destroy the human race. The truth is rather different, as any cosmopolitan person understands. The facts of climate science tell us that we ourselves are destroying the world and thence the human species as well. The truth is that we are asking the vast majority of people on Earth to remain beholden to a lifestyle hierarchy that favors those who are already at the top. It is claimed that wealthy populations stand to lose the most in the new order, which is why we resist the facts. But the Earth worlds on with or without us, and if other creatures could talk, perhaps 97% of them would tell us what we already know; that the Earth would be better off without humans upon it. Any humans. Vermin would be our only supporters, and it is sage to note that these very animals were used as metaphors for the ‘sub-humans’ in eugenics-inspired pre-war propaganda.

                The saving grace of the environmental movement rests along its inclusive ethics. All inclusive, as we have but one planet upon which to reside. Where National Socialism was narrow, ‘climate socialism’ is broad. This is its truer nobility, for it is the first movement in human history that is more fully cosmopolitan and seeks ultimately to redress the global imbalance of access to resources and the disparities of power that come from the current allocations therein. This is the only argument in its favour, and at once we understand why the voices for this movement do not argue along these lines. As did the Nazis, the environmentalists desire us to believe in facts rather than consider truths. That said, we wealthy citizens are after all culpable along the lines of the truth of things, and this in itself may be uncomfortable enough to dissuade us from peering to closely in the mirror. Even so, the climate ‘issue’ remains a decoy; a way in which to avoid the truth by trumpeting the facts. It is a treatment of the symptoms and not the disease, to use a medical analogy also well-used during the 1930s. The facts alone tell us that there needs to be less humans living on Earth, which also resonates with the former facts of eugenics. Once again, the ethics of say, the anti-natalist movement, do not appear to favour one ethnic group above any other one. Yet we can call into question any motive that cites only the facts and skirts interrogatives that ask after the cultural and political backdrop of such statements. China’s former one child policy was an exercise in factuality alone. India’s recent legalization of gay relationships reflects nothing of the truth of local culture and everything of what Michel Foucault referred to as ‘bio-power’. Russia’s disdain of gays the same. Whether cast as progressive or regressive, policies, movements, positions, and persons occupying such are at risk for covering over the always ambiguous truth with the stolidly stoic concrete of fact.

                It is our collective duty to work within the truth of things insofar as our consciousness can apprehend it. No region of truth alone is enough. Personal truths are often shrouded in subjectivity, those historical penned from the perspective of the times, past or present, and those scientific are too narrowly defined to offer a vision of truth that can claim to understand the human condition in whole cloth. What is left is thought itself, and this condition has remained unchanged for close to three millennia in the West, perhaps even longer elsewhere. Therefore it is incumbent upon us to think our way through the challenges of our times and not rely on the facts alone, whatever authoritative suasion they may possess. It is we who are in fact possessed by the idea that someone else can do the thinking for us. The briefest glance at recent history is enough to remind us that this way portends death alone.

                Social Philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty-five books in ethics, education, health, art and social theory, as well as metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades in Canada and the United States.

A Caution Concerning Gender

A Caution Concerning Gender:

            The question ‘why do we need men?’ has likely at least been framed on the lips of every Western woman post-war. Today, more globally, it has become a question that can at last be asked by all. Barring the advent of a human parthenogenesis, the basic function of men, reduced to their physical substrate by one sense of such a question, would be to help continue the species. But downloadable consciousness of the type Raymond Kurzweil is predicting would obviate even that biological fallback. We might not need men at all, which would certainly suit the tastes of E. Jean Carroll, for one. Just so, we wouldn’t need women either.

            Though journeying with a dog named after a man – this namesake was also a plausible child molester – Carroll travelled the United States in as precise avoidance of everything ‘men’ as she possibly could. And though we are not made aware if she drove on this or that street named after men, she did manage to shop only at stores that were either neutral – were they yet owned by men? – and visited only towns named after women or bearing women’s names, etc. This seemed a cunning enough stunt, and those words are used advisedly, that she must needs write a book about it, itself bearing the title of a close version of the question in question.

            Here instead is a slightly immodest proposal: get rid of gender entirely. I am a person and a human being far before I am a man, white, middle-aged, heterosexual. But such ‘persons’ as I also am are themselves a category, and one fashionably much disdained. Yet I too have been solicited, assaulted, and stigmatized by women seeking to impose a toll upon my imagined sexuality or libidinal availability in order that I might further my career. That I have refused all such approaches, sometimes deftly, sometimes not so much, marks me as indeed less of a man, because a ‘real man’ would have simply either shouldered these opportunities as ‘notches on one’s belt’, so to speak, or fully taken advantage of them. What must I have been thinking?

            I could simply say ‘#somethinguncouthmetoo’ and leave it at that, but my social role and the ethical dignity that both comes from it and is necessary to it does not allow me such a pat and narrow response. Instead, it would be more constructive to flesh out the viable and ethical critique of masculinity that is part – but only part – of the wider culture critique in which all of us must engage. ‘Toxic masculinity’ actually hurts men more than it does women. Women, of late, have been able to walk away from it, though not entirely and not without some consequence. But men cannot do so. It is a manifest danger, not only to the continuation of the species but to the Earth and its wider nature, to the future, to ethics, and to the nascent trust necessary for the extant genders to get along with one another as human individuals. Masculinity might itself be defined as wholly toxic if one generalized the archaic conceptions of loyalty, honour, dignity, rationality, and socialized for a more even distribution of lesser things such as the ability to read maps and not get lost in the woods. Femininity too has a compendium of aspects which are better left behind and thus there must also be present a ‘toxic femininity’ – though one never seems to hear of it – that also should be expunged from social and cultural relations.

            And E. Jean Carroll and other writers in that vein are part of that other set of toxins. With a seething irony, these women ally themselves with the worst of their ’gender’ as they become most like ‘we’ men. She suggests war would end if men as we know them today were gone, masculinity overcome. Margaret Thatcher was a woman after all. Greed? Imelda Marcos. Torture and abuse? The members of the SS auxiliary units and the guards of the women’s camps. Domestic violence against children? Check out all the internet threads advocating use of physical assault against children under the guise of ‘discipline’, populated in the main by mothers. And so on. The problem in fact is not men, but the power relations of present-day genders and families and politics themselves.

            In defining ourselves apart from our persons, in joining up with a category, we lose a vitally important aspect of our humanity; our self-understanding. We imagine we act ‘because’ we are a man, or Caucasian, or part of this or that demographic, and these ‘structural life variables’, as social scientists refer to them, are not simply to be denied. They do have a powerful influence over us. Indeed, it is these that need be overcome on the way to mature being. The person, as individual; self-responsible, attending to the call of conscience, being-ahead-of-itself in that it is future-oriented and is concerned about the world as it is and given its present, as it might become, this is a person who bears no allegiance to gender of any kind. The fact that one of Canada’s major chartered banks has no less than nine categories under gender should tell us that the move toward the dissemination and dissolution of the binary model of gender relations is entirely missing the point. Institutional acceptance is never reflective of revolutionary change, rather quite the opposite. What it tells us is that gender, however it is defined or redefined, does not matter.

            In one sense, this is a good thing, as we are well past the point of needing to adhere to archaic social norms and esthetic forms. Even so, we must be cautious regarding our replacement values. Choosing an alternative gender does not exempt one from confronting the human condition, most especially, one’s own. The premise of vanquishing the dominant gendered definitions and their inherent toxins holds within it no promise of overcoming what are human frailties through and through. Yes, there is more than one ‘human nature’, and I would be the last to subscribe to the unthinking and wholly irresponsible response that the ‘person in the street’ oft gives to the challenges of our time. But no, it is not men per se who are the source of this patent unthought. Rather it is simple ignorance on the part of some persons, simple dishonesty from others, and a rather less simple calculation on the part of those with the most to lose if we actually did overcome such things.

            To begin to do so is to ask the question with the greater critical and reflective leverage: ‘why do we need gender?’ Its interrogative is fully portable to ethnicity, class, nation, creed, poverty and war, amongst others. Given that we have already asked that same question about God, long ago, one would think we would have the simple and unassuming courage to ask it of ourselves.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty-five books in ethics, aesthetics, social theory, social psychology and religion, as well as metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades.

The New Decalogue

The New Decalogue

This is a DIY/ASAP kind of list, to make present our predicament to ourselves:

1. All children must be raised without violence or threat of any kind.

            2. All formal or home schooling just take place in a safe environment where violence and threats are non-existent. No official or institutional bullying will be tolerated.

            3. All processes of production and consumption must occur within the parameters of a sustainable eco-system.

            4. All damaged eco-systems must be repaired.

            5. All weapons systems must be of a defensive character.

            6. All national and local governments must either submit to citizen reviews every three years or become fully democratic with elections every four years.

            7. All nation states will work pragmatically toward world government.

            8. All tax systems will guarantee basic income for all respective citizens.

            9. All forms of government shall be based upon the rule of contemporary rational legal rubrics without reference to previous worldviews or belief systems.

            10. The greater good shall be defined as if the world is each one’s beloved.

Ultimately to be found at the end of the Kristen-Seraphim saga…

The Larger Lure

            The Larger Lure: on the decoy effect of latter day ‘child-saving movements’

            There is such a surfeit of public service articles regarding the dangers young persons face in the world that it behooves the reflective person to take a step back for a moment and examine, not so much their claims, but the manner in which they are presented. A typical piece, in slide lecture format, begins here:

https://www.msn.com/en-ca/news/missingchildren/ten-most-common-lures-used-by-child-abductors/ss-AAxvXYk?ocid=spartandhp

            Like any Decalogue, the practical advice on how to educate one’s child to become more savvy to strange adults – and this in a world where over 95% of violence against children is perpetrated by intimates; those who children know and trust implicitly – contains a kind of Mosaic dictum: ‘Do this and avoid that’. As well, this list of ruses apparent child absconders use would at first seem to fool no one but very young children, though I may be naïve. We are also told that the lures differ according to age and gender, yet we are never quite told what the purpose of such behavior is. There is an elliptical character to all such pieces, as if the very thought of child molestation should remain unsaid, even unthought. No doubt there are varieties of villains ‘out there’, some of whom would merely profit from children displaying themselves in some lurid context without themselves affording any personal pleasure to the prurient marketeer, for instance, but no matter. The key to this kind of piece is that it hides its propaganda beneath its public service, not unlike the State itself.

            In other kinds of media, more reportage-oriented journalism tells us of the trials faced by those who track and prosecute child abusers. These are noble officers of the law who are nevertheless aware of the temptations such cases present. At one time, hanging above the Toronto office for the investigation of pedophiles hung a small placard with the incompletely quoted epigram ‘Those who fight with monsters must take care not to become a monster’. Nietzsche immediately adds ‘And those who stare into the abyss will find that the abyss also stares into them.’ In other words, one cannot entirely remain aloof to the darkness if one elects to tread its succubic sanctuary. Misquoting philosophers is a commonplace event – and one that in a perverse manner I sometimes envy; at least it shows you that you’re famous! – but it too hides something of interest. In this specific case, the officer, embarking on what is in fact a dangerous mission, is only told to beware of becoming like the person he or she is after, but not that in fact he or she will become at least a little like them after all is said and done. The amount of stress leave granted to these special unit officers is testament to this other truth.

            And ‘mission’ is a term one can use advisedly for such a caseload. It represents the most official guise of the latter day child-saving movement which has once again appeared on our domestic landscape. One must question ‘why so?’ at this juncture, but I will put that off for just a moment. Another word must be confronted first, and that is ‘monsters’. Nietzsche is usually understood as speaking about the urges that lie within ourselves, and not some other actual physical person, but presumably the Toronto police force must indeed confront both kinds on a regular basis. At the same time we are told, and by the same agency, that people who lure children are ‘like us’; fellow police officers, teachers, members of the military, coaches, parents et al. Given that all of us must work to live, is the resemblance to the rest of us built only along those lines or is there something more profound, and more uncomfortable, once again beneath the surface, lurking like the aviator-glasses-wearing-child-molester-van-driving-older-overweight-male, cliché ridden as he is?

            I would argue yes, there is more to ‘like’ than meets the eye. Indeed, I would suggest that these persons are not so much like us but rather are us. They have exceeded their capacity to restrain their local desires – opportunism of all kinds breeds contempt; for norms, laws, one’s own conscience, philosophical ethics and so on – in this one specific arena. The case of the pediatrician in Alberta is an example of someone who, otherwise greatly respected in society both professional and community, nevertheless sought to fulfill his desires at others’ expense.

            Note now that we come face to face with the larger lure on the adult end of things – more about that facing children in a moment. We are on a mission to avoid confronting the facts of our geo-political world. Though it may be reasonable to suggest that each adult has, globally speaking, a local duty to protect their own children, should it be the case that we are only so responsible? The internecine dangers – in the case of pedophiles and the usual like suspects, mostly fictitious; their presence in media coverage far outweighs their actual presence in our community – our own society presents us with has the effect of turning us inward, as does most media. Sports and entertainment coverage construct a fantasy environment, we follow only the politics of our own nations and that sporadically, and ‘personal’ stories of self-help or heroism are of interest insofar as they prevaricate the new mythology that our culture celebrates the dark horse, the underdog, the one who suffers. Celebrates perhaps, but only to a point supports. This trope is borrowed directly from Western religion but today is used on the surface mainly to sell commodities and more deeply, in its own monstrous abyss, to sell our society itself.

            And this is now the moment when we come face to face with the larger lure that decoys our children away from both reality and human freedom. We are told that those who lure children have one paramount thing in common: they are ‘master manipulators’. Surely not. Given the ten ‘most common lures piece’ above, any doorknob would have thought of these, and they are transparently ridiculous besides. Surely the true masters of manipulation are those who work in advertising firms, the spin-doctors contracted to political regimes, the people who write curricula for our schools, and the parents who lie, day in and day out, to their children about where the real risk is. Statistically at least, it is overwhelmingly in the home and as such, pieces about child predators and those who fight with them have the deeper purpose of allaying suspicion regarding what is going on behind those suburban doors, gaily painted on the outer frames, perhaps often casting a darker hue once one has had the misfortune of stepping over their thresholds.

            But we must return to the question breaking in earlier, the ‘why’ regarding the presence of more of these decoy articles appearing now than in previous decades. What are their wider meaning, and what are their wider effects? The ‘moral panic’ serves the advertiser and retailer well. Shilling risk allows one to shill security in that consuming – and less so, but also present, producing – goods feels more like a sure thing. Not merely products that make households ‘safer’ – the software that disallows young internet acolytes access to ‘mature’ content (now there’s a misused term if ever there was one) and contrasting, perhaps, with the fact that there are plenty of everyday objects sold that could be used to beat one’s kids (and indeed  are so used in countries like the USA where the laws regarding assault against children are soft) – but also the idea of contract itself is shilled. There are terms and conditions to all social dynamics, and it is precisely the lack thereof within the underside of sociality that is most radical to us. The villain eschews any contractual language once you are in his or her thrall. While any upstanding citizen decries this moment, when will we begin to apply the same standards to our own behaviors, behaviors which result in the world being precisely as it is today? In my latest non-fiction work, due out this summer, I write:

            “The general bad conscience of living in wealth and freedom when most do not has this effect as well. It might lead to a critical anxiety if it were not covered over and distracted, entangled by all of the web of consumer society which in part gives us the appearance of both wealth and freedom alike. It is a hard slogan – ‘third world blood fuels your lifestyle’ or the like – but it is yet not an entirely accurate one. It is, in effect, not hard enough, for what that blood actually fuels is our notion of freedom and even relative health. But one cannot, by definition, attain freedom based on unfreedom. One cannot be free on the back of the one who is unfree. Every historical human ethics acknowledges this moral fact. Therefore we allay our anxieties with the appearance of freedom, which would have to include such characteristics as some social mobility and physical movement, consumer choice without regard for either season or more glaringly, climate, and even serial monogamy or its guises. What we other aristocrats actually possess is not human freedom but the velvet unfreedom and supple unthought of those who are idle in the face of collective responsibility and thus ill-suited to explain to the rest of ‘them’ why and how this is going to continue to work as it does.”

            The parent who loses their child to disease or yet hunger in some marginal place might well call me a child predator. A most powerful one who can kill at a distance and remain unseen and untouched. Is the collective revenge of the developing world coming down the pipes as we speak? We might just be at the cusp of adding to our list of anxieties and even neuroses – a list whose numbered items far exceed any latter day Decalogue – the nascent realization that the villains are, after all, simply and slyly, ourselves.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty-five books on ethics, education, art, health and religion, and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades.

The Chasm of Dark Sarcasm

The Chasm of Dark Sarcasm

            The human past is mostly worthless. The culture that has been bequeathed to us over the millennia represents a drop in the bucket of action that made up the rest of history and prehistory alike. Certainly, the tears of billions made possible the glories of the species; the arts, philosophy, science and religion. But that suffering, in and of itself, was nothing, and the time has come for our species to be rid of it, for it is that very lexicon of loss which now seeks to destroy us.

            And it is the youth of our time that will see to it that the past is vanquished. The past itself, that is, for the very concept is the Ursprach of delay, of nostalgia, of the clinging, clawing, clasping hand that lunges at life from beyond the grave. Let the dead bury the dead, yes, but one has to kill them first.

            Two seemingly unrelated movements, that seeking to protect GSAs (gay-straight alliances) in the schools and the FFF (Fridays for the Future), seeking to alter our planetary fate – as its founder stated, ‘climate change is an existential crisis’ – are wondrous signs of life that youth is indeed alive at all. In spite of being force-fed ideology, consumerism, ‘commodity fetish’ and fetid entertainment, in spite of being surveilled by mindless homework, mindless parents pretending to be mindful, in spite of being physically assaulted in some regions yet, in spite of their naivety and inexperience, youth have begun to speak.

            And what is this tongue that falls upon the dead? It has no name, for it is the language of the future, the very concept that seeks life and the fore-having of the beings that we are. It dares to open the unopened, it desires to write the unwritten, it disavows the grammar of grade and gradation, graduation and the gravel of groveling servitude. It senses that human freedom is poised upon unknowing, but that this state will be knowable in all its noble blessing.

            But forgive me now; ask the sharpest of questions: will twenty minutes change the world, or one day a week? No, shut down the schools entirely, indefinitely, and worldwide. This will in turn disrupt the workplaces and adults will have to respond. Most of us will eschew violence against our children and will censor those who do not. There are simply not enough police to stop you. Use the power that you are.

            It doesn’t matter what started it. Some of us don’t believe that climate change is due to human action. Who cares? What matters is the effect – the present – and the result – one possible future – which is threatening us. Another young person aptly stated, ‘why study about human history when there won’t be a world in which humans can live?’ Very nice. To the point. We also no longer live in a world where one’s sexual inclinations matter a jot. Again, who cares? Property will still pass on, gay or straight etc.. People will still love and fall out of love, there will be the bliss of wedding and the misery of divorce and your desireful tongues will finally fail you.

            Your critics speak of ‘ideology’. Climate change is a ‘socialist plot’, GSAs ‘promote a sexual politics’, the classroom is about ‘learning’ and could not possibly be political. No one older than eight could ever be taken in by such bald-faced hypocrisies. Lying abortions of bigots. What of the ideology that the schools reproduce? What of the war fought daily in which the billions of poor take too casual casualty? What of the politics of straight-laced pig-faced bourgeois sex? What of the pearls before the swooning swine?

            Now is the time to think. Action will come. Question everything before you, for it is actually behind you, rearing up, ready to crush your spirit in its vicious vice. It is the dark sarcasm of a world-species history, learned in the classroom, taken into the world and making it but a hobbling hobby of itself. You can do better, and indeed, you must. Young people of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but our past.

G. V. Loewen is the author of over thirty-five books on ethics, education, religion and aesthetics, and recently metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades.

The New Mythology is Demythology

The New Mythology is Demythology

     “Life as a whole appears as a fragment insofar as each particular piece of it is naturally only a splinter relative to its form as perfected in autonomous creativity. From this comes the further fact that we can speak of defective art in two entirely different senses. There is defective art, insofar as the work is indeed entirely formed for the sake of the artistic invention and remains within the strict bounds of autocratic artistic forms  – but does not satisfy that immanent demands of art, and is uninteresting, banal, and powerless. And there is defective art, when the work, though perhaps not showing the latter impairments, does not yet fully free its artistic forms from their existence as means to their existence as values in themselves has not yet taken place in absolute measure. This is the case where a tendential, anecdotal, sensually excitative interest resonates as one somehow decisive in the presentation. Here the work may be of great psychic and cultural significance, since for this it need not be bound to the conceptual purity of a particular category. However as art it remains imperfect as long as its formative elements still display something of that significance with which they fit in with the currents of life – however deeply and comprehensively they may have assimilated these currents.” (Simmel 2011:48 [1918] italics the text’s).

            Kristen-Seraphim is defective art. That is, the second of Simmel’s categories. It is so because it does not, and cannot, stand alone as a work of art or as an aesthetic object. Nor was this ever my intent. On the one hand, the conceptual impurity of the work – falling as it does across the fantasy, science fiction, adventure, quest saga, thriller and even romance genres – was only what was necessary, not for the sake of literature, certainly, but for the sake of what Simmel refers to as ‘psychic and cultural significance’, however great or nominal. And second, my sense has always been that adventure fiction can never be art. By definition, because even the idea of adventure itself is bound to content and does not elevate its form beyond itself. Long before I ever sought to become a writer I knew this given my own youthful reading, Enid Blyton, John Buchan, Robert Louis Stevenson, Conan-Doyle, C.S. Forester, Jean le Carré, Arthur Clarke, H.G. Wells, Kurt Vonnegut and others. Excellent writers all, but not artists. Then again, matriculating a little later later to Balzac, Dickens, Lawrence, Twain, Stendhal, Cervantes and de Sade et al, I didn’t really understand why these guys were somehow better than their middle-brow cousins.

            I do now. After having completed a work which ran through five thousand pages, none of them literary – there may have been a few good paragraphs here and there – it is precisely Simmel’s distinction that may be applied. If the agency in one’s work is to address the world, then once again by definition it cannot be art. Yet the older and seemingly very dated wisdom ‘art for art’s sake’ is not quite what Simmel is getting at: “Art is our thanks to the world and to life. After both have fashioned the sensory and spiritual forms of our comprehension, we thank them for it as we create a world and a life with their help.” (ibid:164 [1920]). This realization helps immensely with the at first puzzling issue that is contained in great literary works as the discourse defines them. For they too, including all of the authors mentioned in my second list above, sought to address, redress, expose, explain or even resolve worldly problems and contents. Dickens, for example, is famous for it, but so is Lawrence. And when I had the privilege as an illiterate human scientist to teach Cervantes, Shakespeare, De Sade and others in a Great Books Canon program in the USA, I haltingly gained the understanding that while at once did the work hail squarely from within its historical epoch it also overleapt the ‘bounds’ of its respective period, and in so doing, enacted the incipience of what was to come. No more so than Cervantes, whose ‘errant’ hero invented the picaresque, a genre type that lives on today in popular culture protagonists such as Don Draper of Madmen. It would be a stretch, for example, to call Oedipus ‘picaresque’.

            It’s stock to have stand-up characters juxtaposed with dubious ones, a greying of the simpler design of hero and villain. Even the most ruthless of the heroines of Kristen-Seraphim, Seraphim herself, is in love with more than one other person, balancing out her narcissistic love for herself. More current is the idea of having standpoints; asking the question, ‘who is standing for what, where and when and why?’, and so on. Can this character be relied upon in this situation, under these conditions, in the company of these others versus those? The answer must be given situationally, and in this the work is a refraction of the world at large. In adventure fiction, the heroes are inevitably larger than life, as they exist in their own world, the one we have created with the help of the factical life of the world as it is, as Simmel stated. But this alone does not make them party to the aesthetic object. Their fictional lives, in other words, are no closer to art than are our own.

            Critics speak of the ‘identification factor’, suggesting that a good read allows a reader to identify with the hero or someone important within the narrative, at least some of the time. The response to this for those like myself who do not and likely cannot write literary art is to have many characters, some forty plus in Kristen-Seraphim, so that one can cover the bases regarding the widest plausible readership. Even so, the principals in any narrative must be polymythic enough to appeal to anyone who has lived just enough to understand that, as Goethe noted, ‘the devil is quite old’. Another formulaic trick is to extend the narrative over a goodly portion of the life course in order to chart the career of the characters through different phases of their own created existence. In this, the work takes on a life of its own, but it still does not approach art. But unlike in Gogol or Faulkner, for instance, we do not need to repeat indefinitely generational conflicts and lineage bigotries, cultural customs and the unending circuit of the peasant. Could it be that what once was art descends, given historical prejudice, into mere story, mere image, mere content, ‘mere’ history? The general argument runs that ‘once art always art’ but this is clearly not necessarily so, given the discursive careers of figures such as Vermeer and much of contemporary art from the impressionists onwards. And though it is no doubt correct to levy against philosophy and related work that it so seldom ascends the other way, becomes art in itself, one must resist the inevitable resentment that, as a social philosopher myself, for instance, one feels against the defining character of great art. But if the novelist has the daunting task of facing up to Middlemarch or Don Quixote, then writers like myself have the equally intense gaze of Thus Spake Zarathustra or Being and Time eyeing us and finding us more than wanting.

            What can one do in the face of such works, the work itself, world, life, and an understanding that art is once from the world and yet overcomes that very world to herald the new and to grasp the as-yet-unknowable, just as science is charged with doing the same to the as-yet-unknown? Simmel again:

     “…that one seeks to give his own life a value such that this value may be something subjective, without any real or ideal connection back to the Ego. This is the practical application of the purely spiritual fact that man can make himself into his own object. When we first regard ourselves objectively, we reach the bridge by which to extinguish the Ego altogether and to exist only for the object. The highest intensification of this is creativity. Here, the Ego has not only repressed and forgotten itself in order to exist in and live from the object, but it is metamorphosed into an object. Its powers have themselves become the object – it is now no longer Ego and yet has left nothing of itself behind. In creative achievement, spiritual objectivity has overcome its opposition to the subject – it has absorbed the subject into itself.” (ibid:172-3).

            The idea of a ‘legacy’ is the lesser part of this process. Minkowski (1933) has reminded us that to dwell within the ambit of the creative work, once concluded, is to kill both it and ourselves. One cuts off the future and with it the next world, the one that must come, for the old world now contains that which was once new to itself. ‘Moving on’ is the casual if not causal casualty of loss. Indeed, there must be art ‘out there’ that has as yet gone unrecognized, originating in any time period, coming from any culture. New worlds, in other words, are already extant even if their existence in the old world is as yet part of the radically unknowable. So one cannot truly refer to this or that work as ‘radical’ as well as being ’defective’ as art. Such works that address the world and have the fate of the world as their chief content are rather revolutionary, and not radical. The revolution in Kristen-Seraphim consists of the new mythology being in fact a demythology, which in itself can be radical only in the worldly sense. Not only do we find that the definition of fantasy departs from utility into principal – until now ‘fantasy’ has described means and not ends, for instance (the modus operandi of such adventure fiction never attains its own metaphysics, let alone threatens it; phantasmagorical means and characters alike are there merely to either defend or attack the good-evil spectrum) – and thus the ontotheology of the fantasy genre, from Lewis to Pullman, is overcome, we also find that the social order defended therein is itself dismantled. If metaphysics require of us radicality, then it is the lesser, revolutionary mode that is needed in the face of cultural institutions. Ideas cannot be killed in the same way. Demythology is the halfway house of revolution. Kristen-Seraphim brings home a new world and makes one at home within it, but it cannot claim to have utterly understood ‘nature’ or to have overleapt it. What it has accomplished is to have understood – and vanquished – the nature of morality as one literary genre has supplied it.

            The heroines and heroes of the new mythology are hardly upstanding in the usual sense. Their nobility is restive, their rest unquiet, their deaths equivocal and their resurrections awkward. They eventually triumph, but what is the true nature of their collective victory? “Who claims to recognize surely where the truth of my nature lies?” Simmel asks us. “Perhaps it becomes visible only in one single hour of my existence.” He is here speaking against the usual differences that are connoted by good and evil, and as Nietzsche before him, senses that our new world, and thus our new myths, must leave them behind: “This whole distinction is most problematic. The person is at one time thus and another otherwise, and only optimism or pessimism about our own value moves us to conclude merely from the more frequent appearance of a specific quality that one resides in principal in a different characterological or metaphysical layer than the other. That this possibility of life, to be really entirely good or really entirely bad, exists; that we are not inwardly divided into layers of different ethical-metaphysical depths of being so that one act falls unalterably into the fundamental, the other into the superficial – this is human freedom.” (ibid:132-133 [1918], italics mine).

            The new demythology is dedicated to human freedom in all of its uncertainty and aspiration, its doubts and its hopes. In book seven, the second Kristen reflects: “For life was not meant to be lived as such. Life not only wasn’t art, as many an artist himself had discovered over time, it also wasn’t meant to continuously be larger than itself, as many a politician and the like had discovered. No, life was meant only to be lived, but in that word ‘only’ lay the secret of the good life. ‘The demands of the day’, she quoted again.” Simmel interprets this proverb of Goethe’s to mean much more than whatever the material day brings to us. It ‘proceeds from the deepest inner life’  which tells us of the next step, and then the next, without revealing what is to come before this point (ibid:109). It is the ‘life of the Ought’, and in this all of us live like heroes. For the Ought is larger than our own life and directs if not our actions per se, then the obligatory nature of the meaning we understand from taking them. Early on in book six we find the same character given pause by her community’s potential complacencies: “The heroes themselves turn into those they destroyed because of their self-centered adoration of the unthought freedom of the present.” Like ourselves, the fictional characters are not always prepared to meet the demands of the day, either on the surface of the world or in the depths of being. Their own beings. Even so, one of the hallmarks of heroism is that when the bell is rung, they do respond because they know, if not the full meaning of their actions to come, horrifying as some of them turn out to be, where meaningfulness must be found in life. In book seven the first Michelle intones: “I can tell you this: we are here in Paris by happenstance, mimicking the great chain of non-being that has brought every one of us to live a human life. Deny that, in any way, shape, or form, and you are denying the basis of life itself, the essence of all life.” Just so, our birthright and our demise is of the moment, a demand of this day like any other. We neither ask to be born nor ask to die, Gadamer reminds us, and it is this combination, to which philosophers refer as being part of the essence of human finitude, that impels the heroic figure to impale herself upon the day, so that what is at hand can be taken into one’s human hands and given both form and meaning.

            If not, if we do not act heroically in spite of the fact that life can never be by itself either art or myth, we are left with musings alone, realizations that limit not only action but living as well. Life remains merely a dream, and as we read in book eight: “Not many people yet realized that the self who dreams is not the same self who then wakes and lives out the day, day after day. And in such dreams from which we do awaken – and indeed, there are those additional to the unconscious from which we never again emerge – what, perchance, remains of the days within which all dreams come to grief?” The heroes are, of course, about to find out, but what certifies their heroism is that they bear up the fear associated with ‘being the new’. This is also what takes them ‘beyond good and evil’ and into the truer, if still human, nature of freedom itself.

G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty-five books in ethics, religion, education, and aesthetics. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades in both the USA and Canada.

Is Religion Worth your Tax Dollars?

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bc-private-school-funding-explainer-1.5043035

Canada does not have a clear cut constitutionally defined separation of church and state, unlike our American cousins. This reflects our sense that a nation can be, or should be, more of a mosaic than a melting pot. It also reflects the history of our immigration, also rather different than that of the USA. There, Europe’s unwanted found new lives and often wished to dispense with the old ones. Here, disinherited second sons aped their European betters. More recently, there, marginal labor seeks to improve its lot, while here the developing world’s elites ramp up real estate prices.

And also start up private schools based on ethnicity and religious credos. What are we to make of the fact that the rest of us – the vast majority of us who neither send our children to elite wealth and network based private schools or to those ethnic or creed based – witness that the state helps pay for these institutions to exist? Without government funding, most simply would not survive. Those that are religious based have legal exemptions from certain basic human rights laws, which no other organization may flout. That apparently only ten of some 640 transparently use this exemption is beside the point. Or is it?

The article linked above seeks to explain this situation but in fact it merely describes it. Journalism doesn’t really have the mandate to explain things, because any explanation could be seen as being generated from a specific point of view. Even philosophy is grounded in both the experience of the tradition and our historical consciousness thereof and therein. It holds certain kinds of values to be inalienable much like religions do. And for those who send their children to private schools based on ethnicity and/or religion, this is the key issue. They want their values to be taught, alongside provincial curricula. It is interesting, to say the least, that while such schools have human rights exemptions they have no such out for curricula. One would think that the former supersedes the latter by some light years. This points to another kind of explanation, one that is only partly related to the cost-savings that private schools bring to the state. Indeed, one could see a rather simple solution to the face-value issue: absorb the added costs of those ten offending schools with the dubious policies, change the law and shut those ten down. The other 630 or so would be presumably unaffected, and the vast bulk of the 430 millions saved each year would be secure.

In fact this is not the essential issue. What of the definition of the state itself? What is it for? What does it do for its citizens? The mission of government in Canada is, as Dr. Weaver put it, not to favor one group over the other. No doubt he is thinking of Rwanda and many other such cases. Canada has at least a self-image of being a tolerant society, where one lives and lets live. We do not have overt ‘culture-wars’ here – the term has been quite rightly criticized by Sontag (2007) and others as being vacuous – and it is ironic that the constitutional separation of church and state in the USA has in part fostered this schism in that country’s social fabric. However smug we tend to be about comparing our land with theirs, the upshot of this current situation is that we show much of our vaunted tolerance to governments who, from some other vantage point, might appear nothing less than cowardly.

Though we are getting warmer, the needs of the state to preserve social tolerance by allowing various communities and other cultural groups to have some distance from the public education system and conveniently saving a lot of money while doing so, is also not of the essence. In fact private schools increase social division. Ethnic and religious based schools are not as dangerous to this regard as are the straight-up wealth-based elite schools, which, though they may receive correspondingly less public funding, nevertheless presume upon its continuation. Children are sent to these schools not for metaphysical or even cultural reasons but because they are the children of existing social and political elites. They need to find appropriate marriage partners so that the family and lineage wealth is not dissipated. They need to be ingratiated into networks so they can attain employment and thence authority suitable to their family status. Only in this way can both be maintained over the generations. Our tax system is supposed to mitigate the first, but nothing can alter the second, and it is through these networks that elites reproduce themselves over time, at our expense.

The credo and ethnic based schools attempt something similar, but insofar as it is a half-baked attempt they are not to be hoisted on the same ethical hook as are the class-based institutions. Given that private schools are essentially anti-democratic – simply due to costs; this is why we have a public system in the first place – the reality of general revenue tax dollars being used to officially ‘crowd-fund’ these organizations – also essentially helping the rich preserve their wealth and reproduce their networks at our expense – is yet closer to the key issue here. In turn, we must ask ourselves what kind of democracy are we content to live within. One in which class differences are exacerbated by publicly funded institutions which are not in fact public, or one in which there is a single system that teaches in its curricula everything one could ever want to know about ethnicity, religion, and class etc.. Wherein all children are given the same opportunity to develop and learn, funded by all tax-payers, share and share alike. This is my definition of a viable democratically inclined education system, and not one wherein social tensions due to wealth disparities, dissassociative trends due to social enclaving, and the simple issue of individuals existing in a society that is made up, not of their peers, but of a few superior beings and a great many inferior ones continues unabated. It is this final and fatal flaw of Western liberal democracies that allows for elites, or ethnicities, or soteriological acolytes to have the confidence – to express it diplomatically – to ask the rest of us to pay for their continued sense of betterness, of self-worthiness, of superiority, of elect status, not to mention the reality of better opportunities.

I have cited Paul Ricoeur (1993) on more than one occasion: ‘The love we have for our own children does not exempt us from loving the children of the world.’ Indeed, this is very much an ethic that descends to us via religion, specifically Christianity, but also Buddhism and Islam. That is, the historically more recent agrarian world systems. It is this idea and those like it which eventually led to democracy in the manner we idealize it to be. Caste-based world systems, ethnic based religions, social contract cosmologies, and cultures which maintained their wealth and limited citizenship through slavery – our much vaunted Greeks and Romans come to mind here – do not favor democracy in any essential form. You can do the math.

It is now time to respond to the question in the title: if the religious based schools are teaching about love your enemy, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, favoring the concept of the neighbour rather than that of the socius (the role based persona of modern society), and that all of us are children of some abstract creation whose actual cause can generally remain occluded, then the answer is perhaps a surprising but nonetheless resounding ‘Yes!’ Religious ethics in this form are invaluable, especially in today’s fractured world. So it may be rather than being concerned about social cohesion, the state is actually worried that if these radically democratic ideas get out into the public system and our young people are convinced of their ethical superiority, then everything we know and most of us suffer from would be altered. Now you can do the higher math: it is not the state being nice to the church in the way one would be kind to a defeated party or a victim of history, it is rather the state working, as surreptitiously as possible, to save its own skin.

G.V. Loewen is the author of three dozen books in religion, education, ethics and aesthetics, as well as more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the human sciences for two decades.

Past Lives I have Loved and Lost, part two: the possibility of a transcendental memory.

Back in 1996, Carl Sagan made brief reference to then more rarely encountered cases of ‘past life memory’. Over the past quarter-century more than 2500 such cases have appeared as documented, first, in para-psychology journals and more recently in mainstream ones. Finally, commercial press has taken note of them and counselling psychologists have advised parents of children apparently exhibiting such behaviors to more or less ignore them, as they always seem to pass away with age. Sagan suggested at the time that such cases ‘might be worth a closer look’, though he doubted both their ultimate veracity and verifiability.

Given the epistemic structure of consciousness that Sagan shared with many persons who live in our own historical epoch, it would be difficult to accept at face value the idea that such a serial experience as multiple existences could be historically accurate or biographically real. But such an idea is of course an ancient one, and one not at all foreign to many of the world’s belief systems. Indeed, as we are with many things, it is we, as scientific-minded moderns, who are in the minority to this regard. From reincarnative world systems to social contract cosmologies, the idea of multiple lives is common-place and unworthy of much comment. The vast majority of human experience as an evolutionary consciousness has simply accepted the sense that one lives, dies, and returns to live again as a matter of course.

It is equally transparent that today we tend to view these beliefs as rationalizations against a fundamental mortality and finiteness that we observe in the world-as-it-is. Yet we are being asked, in reference to these other vantage points, if there is yet not a difference between finiteness and finitude, a difference between the structure of perception and the nature of consciousness. Parts of modern philosophy suggest that there is a difference, without reference to the idea of past lives or any other such possibility. The death which is mine own, which cannot be shared, and towards which I run headlong, is a horizon that is neither public nor finite in any objective sense. It cannot be identified simply because the precise timing of our personal deaths cannot be known in advance. In this, our death is a radically ‘subjective’ event. It cannot be said to be an ‘experience’ in any mundane sense of the term. Indeed, it is also commonplace for the philosopher to state that ‘I cannot experience my own death, only that of others’. Furthermore, no matter how many passings to which I have myself been witness, this does not alleviate from me the burden of having to face down my own death, nor does it exempt me from the problem of the Other itself. No matter how many others die, not only must I still myself die but there remains yet more others to remind me that the otherness of the Other itself lives on.

Perhaps this is one of the experiential sources of the idea of past lives. A person dies, perhaps even a loved on, an intimate, but most of the time, these persons are recalled to memory by the living-on of other persons. It is not that the dead are summarily ‘replaced’. Freud, in a poignant letter to Binswanger from 1929, points out that in fact we never make substitutions of this sort, and in not doing so, this is in fact the manner in which we remember the beloved dead. More common than even this is the facticity of resemblance. We often tell ourselves that we know many people, but fewer characters, as individual persons who are different from one another nevertheless exhibit many of the same traits, especially if they hail from a similar cultural background. Although the old ‘culture and personality’ school of mid-20th century anthropological psychology has fallen out of favour, there remains something of this in our casual bigotries towards ‘the others’. As telling as this is, it is also sage to note that we stereotype ourselves for the sake of convenience as well, not wishing to disassemble our own society for fear of worse to come.

And I think that this is the more essential reason that lurks behind our general unwillingness to examine the phenomena of childhood past life memory. To begin to take apart the sense of selfhood that animates our current life journey – I am one thing, in one time and place, in the world as it is known at present etc. – is tantamount to placing the entire notion of existence at a parallax. It raises the kinds of questions that might betray us to bitterness, resentment, and perhaps even ressentiment: Why these few persons and not others? Do only a select and insignificant number of persons get to ‘live again’? If I have one at all, is it possible that my soul is new and not old? What does that mean, if anything? How could old souls reanimate? Is it a random process of regeneration? Is it a fifth elemental force of organismic evolution, so far overlooked? Why do such ‘memories’, if that is what they are, fade or are superseded over time? If such souls are old, would not their accumulated wisdom wish to express itself? Or is anything we do in this life patently predicted by what we actually have already done, outside of our current ken, in past lives that all of us have once lived?

This last question is the one that is truly offensive to any modern person who shares as sacred the idea that we are free beings, and that our will alone is what should determine our destinies. So not only is the nature of existence called into question by these growing numbers of cases but more radically, so is our conception of human freedom, itself a very recent invention and, judging by world politics, also a very fragile one.

Although ‘old souls’ and ‘past lives’ appear to us as at best romantic reveries – and I use both as plot devices in my Kristen-Seraphim saga – there is yet no plausible current-life experiential explanation for the memory content exhibited by these children. It is also difficult to imagine a scientific manner of further investigating them other than what has already been done to confirm the accuracy of the memories in question. Could we imagine travelling back in time and confronting the previous ‘host’ in order to interrogate about a future life of which they would presumably have no knowledge? The entire data set confounds not only experiential life but also rational discourse as we have developed it over the past four centuries. From the point of view of the work I do, such cases serve to underscore the human ability to step back from our lives as lived and examine their serial selfhood as it is in a singular life. For we already know we do not remain the ‘same’ people throughout the life course. This would be an unmitigated disaster, and the prolonging of adolescence into one’s thirties in some regions today is testament to this. Beyond this, we are placed squarely in the imagination which, being also uniquely human, commits us to the wonder of all things both present and perhaps also not quite past.

G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty five books in ethics, aesthetics, religion and education and more recently a ten volume adventure saga. He was professor of the human sciences for over twenty years.

The Importance of Writing in a Visual World

https://haven.ca/program/session/writing-and-thinking-may-17-19-2019

                                    The Importance of Writing in a Visual World       

            The ‘thousand word image’ is something we all have heard about. It is, ironically, only understandable as a series of words, and not truly as an image. For which image, precisely, entails an exact number of words of any count? And which word does not provoke for us countless images from which we must choose based on our own experience? It is, in fact, language that both represents and defines the world. We describe and interpret our experience to ourselves not in images, but in words.

            And we also communicate these experiences to others through language. We can share the imagery of our lives with another, but there will inevitably be questions: how did it feel to be there? And no further set of images can tell of this experience. Visual imagery is a document that provides a frame for further discourse. It may direct the beginning of such expression, but it cannot foresee its ends. Humans are through and through beings of language, and one may say with confidence that our linguistic facility, our literacy, is an aspect of our essence as conscious and thinking beings.

            Just as we are historical beings, so we are beings of words. Though we live in a world often dominated by the image – advertising on the instrumental side of things and nature on that sublime – any kind of purely visual experience is inherently limited by both the media and the perception involved. The latter limitation is mitigated by our ability to communicate, in words, what we have experienced. The former is itself constructed through the use of words,; an exchange of ideas, whether practical or profound.

            Coming to understand ourselves through writing is, then, a fundamental enterprise for any human being. Writing is arguably the greatest gift bequeathed to us by our own history, and its advent transformed human consciousness from an oral memory to an archival one. Storytelling became less abstract, more detailed, and lasting in a very different manner than before. More importantly, writing allowed the invention of discourses that no longer were sourced in myth. From bureaucratic records to the sciences to philosophy, discourse remains the most potent tool that we have at our disposal in attempting to understand both ourselves and the wider cosmos.

            We cannot be said to be fully literate unless we have a nominal comprehension of the major discourses of our culture and of world culture. Primarily, it is the applied sciences that dictate to us their discoveries and their advantages, but at the same time we are moved yet more deeply by poetry, prose, and argument. To refrain from encountering any of these forms of discourse is to limit one’s very humanity.

G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty books. He is an internationally recognized writer in ethics, religion, aesthetics and education. Please join him May 17-19 for The Haven’s retreat, ‘Writing and Thinking for the Human Spirit’.

Past Lives I have Loved and Lost, part 1: on mixing one’s metaphysics

If you have ever felt like you are living more than one life at the same time there are reasons for this. The usual suspects include social role conflict, serial relationships both at home and at work, and the transitions between life phases. But there is a deeper structure to our diverse sensibilities, and this has to do with the structure of consciousness, no less. Structures, plural, should we say, as there have been three types of metaphysics known to human existence. Their appearance is associated with the kind of social organization and subsistence pattern followed by respective human groups.

Transformational metaphysics hails from the period of ‘social contract’ societies; small groups, intensive hunting and gathering, pastoralism, and horticulture. Here, humans and animals interact intimately in a spiritual realm. One’s ‘animal spirit’ is a commonplace idea. Forces of nature and other kinds of objects also embody spirits. The level of abstraction and metaphor is low. Such relations are to be taken more or less literally. Upon death, one’s soul cycles back into the group at hand with little delay. Time is static and thinking practical.

Transcendental metaphysics is the hallmark of large-scale intensive agrarian societies. It is familiar in the doctrines of the religions that survive from that historical period. The gods are either personifications or abstractions, their communications with us are metaphoric and upon death, the soul is evaluated, either returning to embody some unlike form or never coming back, destined to dwell in some other realm. Time is cyclical and thought mythical.

Anti-transcendental metaphysics is the dominant mode of consciousness at present, and its recent advent is associated with industrial states and the rise of science. It is literalist, ‘realist’, and rationalist in its outlook. There are no gods or other realms of being, and no soul. Upon death, it is one’s material form that returns to the cosmos but it does so most modestly. Time is linear and thought ‘logocentric’, or linguistic.

All of this is old hat, but if you reflect on your own personal beliefs, which ones hail from which of the three forms of metaphysics? Often enough, each of us harbors an unquiet mix of unkempt beliefs and passions. One of many examples would include the sectarian person who is a creationist but drives a vehicle based on the same science that states evolution as a fact. We don’t generally even attempt a cohesive and coherent world view at the level of the individual, and we probably shouldn’t. More on this later on.

But at the cultural level it is a different story. Witness, for lack of a better term, the ‘naked kidnapping’ case from Alberta, where four sectarians abducted their neighbours, hoping to save them from the apocalypse. What next, you say? The two teenage daughters were arrested but not charged, which was reasonable. Indeed, if a church were to send naked teenage girls to our homes to ‘save us’ I wonder if many men would not in fact go rather quietly. But the prelude to paradise, perchance? That aside, such an event was inevitably interpreted by the psychopathology of the day as an aberration, and that the family suffered a rare form of shared delusion, in other words, something diagnosable.

No, no, and no. What occurred cannot be so simply dismissed at such a personalist level. This, and other less piquant episodes, are rather the symptoms of a conflict of metaphysical narratives. Transcendental metaphysics initiates the idea of history, yes, but also the end of history, the end of time. This event, the most important in this version of human consciousness, translates what already occurs to the dead into the world of the living. We are to be judged as we stand before a god; and naked, by the way. What occurs ‘after’ this is neither history nor time, but some other form of Being to be announced in its detail to those worthy of redemption. The naked family’s intents, by their own normative rubrics, were of the very best standard. They do not suffer from a mental illness, shared delusion, or criminal passion.

What they are, are anachronists, real ones, unlike the thespians who dabble in Renaissance fairs and the like, and cannot by definition be considered to be like most of the rest of us in any important way. They have, in fact, managed to construct a more coherent set of beliefs and intents – though they drove their unwilling victims off in a BMW SUV no less – than the average ‘normal’ person. But for this feat of self-coherence they pushed themselves so far off the spectrum of the everyday they cannot but be shunned and now, medicalized as well. Fine, we might say to ourselves, the rest of us have to live in the real world so also should they.

This reaction too is incorrect. Like a Pauline figure, the anachronist asks us ‘what is our world, after all’? What is the ‘everyday’ made of, and why? Why do we expect that the future is not only open-ended but also indefinite? How can human judgement be objective when the world is so diverse? How can one know what the right thing is? In a word, such a person questions both our metaphysics and our ethics and is, ironically, kindred to the thinker and culture critic. Now the philosopher does not abduct people, let alone doing so in the buff. Nevertheless, the questions themselves remain and they cannot be dismissed by mere psychologism, even if such persons appear to be so.

In anti-transcendental metaphysics right and wrong, good and evil, are irrelevant. Correct and incorrect, and perhaps even good and bad, yes. The first is based upon the mathematical sciences and the second on an humanistic ethics. These are the foremost tools of human reason available to us as moderns and they are impressive. Even so, the questions they allow us to ask of ourselves are quite different than those someone hailing from another metaphysics would ask, and indeed, would have us ask. Just so, we cannot know with certainty the outcomes of our ethical actions, nor is infinite certitude available to our evolutionary cosmology. We live in a godless, finite world of often cynical politics and self-absorbed hedonism; a world not entirely unlike that which Paul imagined himself confronting.

Which brings out both the sense and sensibility of the sectarian line: If the world seems threatening, then why live as we do? Why not change the world, why not save ourselves? This question has its origins in eschatological thought, that which promotes a self-understanding in the light of divine reason and the end of history. A ‘Kairos’, or arbitrary and yet decisive starting point, a moment where the world ends and a new world commences, is at the heart of the environmentalist, peace, women’s and subaltern movements. These quintessentially recent social critiques seek to both save us and begin a different kind of world. They are also immensely practical, for the end of life on earth seems to be a most impractical development. So how ‘modern’ are they, after all? The same question may be asked of ourselves as human beings.

In fact, these recent ideas are as mixed a bag as almost everything else human history brings to the table each morning. Their presence and their diversity argue forcefully that we should not attempt to be overly and overtly consistent within any one of the three metaphysical forms. The hard-nosed rationalist misses the mark existentially, the sectarian finds pragmatism incomprehensible, and the practical-minded communitarian forgets the larger picture and thus as well cannot accede to the cosmic question. If it is true that human consciousness has undergone three sea-changes over a period of some half a million years or so – its very origin, its shift into agrarian thought, and its recent upshift into that technical and scientific – it may be equally true that we as living human beings carry bits and pieces of all three around within our just as living and present consciousness.

So I am going to gently suggest that we remember to ask the questions a being from some other guise of ‘human nature’ would ask. Just so, those few who remain amongst us but appear as anachronistic must be introduced to the questions we moderns have invented and must, with increasing and dramatic urgency, respond to. This last is the metaphysical underpinning to any psychotherapy the two daughters from Alberta will no doubt now undergo; likely years of it, given that they stated they thought the RCMP officers were demons attempting to drag them to hell. No doubt as well, Freud and his followers have been called the devil often enough. However that may be, and whatever the outcome of such ‘rehabilitation’, unless we take seriously the critique of consciousness that emanates from the entire history of that self-same consciousness we may well be doomed in a much more literal manner than any sectarian had ever the literary flair to imagine.

G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty books on ethics, religion, aesthetics, 

and social theory, as well as metaphysical epic fiction.