Between Two Worlds

Bartlett Island north of Tofino, BC. My first memories are from Wickanninnish Beach, Stubbs Island and Vargas, all to the south of this place. I miss them deeply and spiritually and return when I can.

Between Two Worlds

Travis Thomas: a case of microcosmic ‘culture flux’.

“Is it not better to use what thou hast, like a free man, than to long, like a slave, for what is not in thy power?” (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. IX, 40).

“One of the great marvels of a number of human beings is their ability to shift from one form of freedom to another, when such a shift is desirable or necessary.” (Sorokin 1937 II:164).

            ‘Between two worlds’ is a phrase used by an Ahousaht elder to describe the condition of Travis Thomas, who was taken to Bartlett and Little Bartlett Islands in the Summer of 2018 and remains there to this day. The phrase connotes no mere material condition, though it speaks to the being who lives between nature and culture, or between the past and the present, and certainly Thomas is also living between these obverse worlds. But the deeper meaning of such a description is an existential one: it is applied to the being who finds him or herself between the realm of the physical and that of the spiritual. In cultures wherein the latter still has some suasion one can, in fact, find oneself ‘between’ in this deeper manner, as does the culture in flux more widely. But the enduring question is, does any culture today truly have access to a spiritual realm even if it believes that it does?

            A system of meaning, notes Sorokin, is one in which there are logical compatibilities within the culture and that these meanings are mutually interdependent (cf. 1937 IV:21). He juxtaposes the term ‘system’ with that of ‘congery’, in which the meanings thrown together preclude logical compatibility and appear to be but an admixture, a mélange, or yet worse, a malaise. In post-contact cultures, a common response to the shock of cross-cultural meaning-conflict has been ‘syncretisms’, which refer to a dialectical process generating a novel result; a contemporary and viable system is born out of elements of both old and new, obviating the previous and necessary flux between them. At a personal level, the hope that indigenous Wellness Centers, very much material places and not at all abstractions, will result in actual people maintaining a life-balance of both traditional and Euro-American elements. This may indeed be a practical outcome of their advent, including in Ahousaht itself. But symbolically, the plot thickens and we are unsure as to what outcomes might be expected. This is so because fundamentally, advanced social contract cosmology and contemporary technical-industrial capitalism conflict in every imaginable way.

            And the conflict does not begin with capital and its virtuoso of technique, its ruthless extraction of resources, its drive for profit and for the extension of markets. Long before such things were even in the imagination of Western Man the cosmology of pre-agrarian societies had vanished. It was first replaced throughout the fertile crescent and from Egypt all the way to China and beyond with systems of thought that placed the spiritual realm at a great distance from that worldly. Indeed, to mention the two of them in the same sentence might well be seen as heretical. The ‘worldly’ – a term still used by evangelicals as a negative epithet for so-called secular interests – realm was supposed to be merely a way-station or at most, a proving ground, along the soul’s journey to a higher form of being. Such ideas, much more historically recent than those that animated the traditional cultures of the BC Coast, have themselves been displaced. But it is the relatively brief length of time since they were dismantled by 17th century science and 18th century criticism, not to mention popular commentaries on events like the Lisbon earthquake etc., that calls into question the very anonymity of relationships in this our present day.

            It is this anonymity and the alienation that follows therefrom which is the source of most mental illness cross-culturally. The older ideas of spirit possession or more recently, naturalized gender bigotries – like hysteria, levelled in 1895 by Breuer and Freud, for instance, though in fairness Charcot took pains to note that hysteria could be found equally in both men and women – have fallen into the historical dustbin. The fashionable sensibility that many diseases of the mind can be traced to genetic sources is something I as a humanist have always found unconvincing given the dangers of reductionism inherent in all such neurobiological discourses. But how to call the shot when a person hailing from a culture whose own traditions in turn hail from a cosmic order not even one, but at least two metaphysics ago presents a rather different kind of problem. Here, alienation is something forced upon communities from without. It is a kind of existential ‘Jim Crow’ that gets internalized and thence acted upon. ‘Residential Schools’ – the very term is an evil euphemism akin to Concentration Camps, spanking, discipline, and the Einsatzgruppen (literally, merely ‘single or first movement groups’ or ‘deployment groups’) – were at the very heart of this enforcement for well over a century and a half. Now, a foul potpourri of variables enfeebles once vibrant and uncannily spiritual cultures for whom the division between this world and the other world was negligible if not nil.

            Indeed, the only way in which one could be ‘between two worlds’ within the tradition was to in fact be sick. It was the shaman’s job to track after the sick soul – the ‘soul-catcher’ is a wonderfully conceived (and aesthetic) object and its gloss would make a half-decent fantasy novel title to boot – and one hears of the ‘metaphor’ of a dark tunnel into which the intrepid healer would travel. On the West Coast, at the tunnel’s far and mysterious end, the puma awaited the departing soul. But she was canny to those whose time of transfiguration had not yet arrived. She might growl and send them back towards the realm of the people where the shaman could thence effect a cure. In a theatrical representation of this life and death dynamic, secret societies would initiate youth by sending them on vision quests and then work to return them from the spiritual realm into the villages of their birth. But birth and birthright are not the same thing, just as person and spirit are not. In this worldview, a personal birth is mere biography. It is one of an indefinite number of soul-cycles. It is the cycle itself that is each person’s birthright, gifted to those who have been born into late social contract cosmological systems. Today, the remnants of such systems worldwide face their imminent demise. The vast and dominant system of world-capital does not even believe that spirit exists, let alone anything more detailed ‘about’ its cosmic career.

            So ‘between two worlds’ today can mean, as suggested above, many related or unrelated things. In the case of Travis Thomas and no doubt many others, it means, from the outside, a person who is suffering delusions that so happen to not affect his physical skills and his memory of experience in wilderness conditions. But what does it mean to him?

            Ultimately, this is the question that is of the greatest interest for the rest of us, whatever cultural background we ourselves hail from. It is old hat that psychopathology places all those who experience the visionary into suspicion. Religious verve in general is a mark of at least a mild obsession and perhaps a projected narcissism if not worse. We can ask, forthrightly, why any God would harbor a human interest let alone an interest in a single person. A God is a God, after all. The mascot gods of the Levant, each ethnic or linguistic group possessing one of its own to the utter disregard of their neighbors’ beliefs – Yahweh was, interestingly, not unaware of His competition and made it clear not that these others were false so much as that His people shalt worship only Him; the very interdict implies that the other gods were just as real and could be believed in if one chose to break the local covenant – were as unlike to anything on the BC Coast as could be imagined. Across many languages and almost as many kinship systems, Raven was the most deeply felt Being. His wisdom was sought by all, and today we have a Canadian postage stamp bearing a work of art entitled ‘Children of Raven’, referring to these related peoples and cultures. Thus a child of Raven possesses a birthright to be a seeker of visions, if and when necessary or desirable, to use Sorokin’s terms. These visions are more than a window into another world, they are an expression of the human imagination and thus very much also one of human freedom. To simply lose them, forget them, or yet more strenuously, refuse or shun them, is to surrender not only to some more or less subtle neo-colonialism, it is to give up an integral part of human consciousness which animates to a great extent the history of the entire species.

            From the inside, then, from within the tradition and from within a mind that understands that self-same tradition, Travis Thomas is no longer in this world. He has become the ‘Bukwus’ or ‘wild man’, the interlocutor with the animal spirits and the settled people of the villages, the one who travels between the worlds but never actually rests in that liminal space itself. From the inside, he is not suffering from delusions, he is not addicted, he is not missed, he is not alienated. His suffering has transcended itself, as is the precise ethical purpose of the vision quest more generally. Our outsider questions cannot even be posed until he returns to the realm of culture only, the world of humans, and even then he may not be able to answer them. This is so because it is also part of the tradition that profound visionary experiences that involve existential transfiguration and perhaps as well the transformer beings should not be shared lest one loses their power and their insight.

            Wellness Centers aside, the deeper lesson of such cases for the rest of us has to do with the condition of our spirits; their merit, their strength, their wisdom and their character. Do we yet possess them or have we allowed ourselves to be dispossessed of them through the chicanery of politics, the acid fever of consumerism, the shallow shell of popular entertainment, all in an unmasked mockery of authentic religious belief? Thomas is pushing a point upon us, in a radical and even courageous manner, consciously or no: that we should reconsider our patent categories of mental and spiritual health and even what we patently pretend to know about existence proper, about life and death alike. If we wonder only at the wonderful, if we are empowered only by the powerful, if we seek beauty in the beautiful alone, then we are entirely missing that point.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of 38 books in ethics, education, aesthetics, religion and social theory, and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades.

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 the climate change science 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 and clothing sectors. 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 climate-saving 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 unhappily 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 it is this condition which 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.

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 is 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.

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.

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.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Course Evaluations

Lies, Damned Lies, and Course Evaluations

It was a rueful day, a remorseful day, when behaviorism began to dominate psychological discourse. The fashion of reductivism found in neopositivism gave it birth, the form of industrial production gave it growth, the politics of fascism gave it mastery. The interwar vehicles of perceiving human consciousness as driven by elemental biologies had its symbolic life in eugenics and its political desires in colonialism. It took over workplaces from factories to universities, and around 1989, in my experience, it spawned an instrument of social and pedagogic control in higher education called the student course evaluation.

In part a response to the transparent lack of accountability of the university to any wider social context, in part a bone thrown to students whose tuition costs were beginning to skyrocket, these ‘instruments’, so-called in an appeal to scientistic objectivism, these ‘metrics’, these ‘rubrics’, solicited student responses to a variety of experiences. Their main internal task was to document the feelings of the audience, the reviews of the emerging clientele – indeed, such instruments were part of the story of how students began to perceive of themselves as clients, consumers, buyers, rather than apprentices or even interested onlookers – but their latent function, the cleverness of their design and their very presence, was to pit faculty and students against one another in light of previous decades of university unrest which often saw these two groups allied forcefully against administration and government. They were a minor, obscure child of the abrupt turn toward a neo-conservative politics in the 1980s, brought on mostly by economic shifts that saw women in the workplace and public life on the brighter side, overall wage earning down and an inward seeking sensibility that attempted an escape from the public life of the polis on the darker. Sectarianism, the opportunistic politics of millennial ‘redemption’ and civil religion, the erosion of the middle class, an explosion in the arms race and its determined calculation of annihilation were the hallmarks of this period.

And calculation is the essence of reductive behaviorism. To generate a number, a ‘score’, by way of some dubious battery – dubious in the light of human science methodology and epistemology, dubious in the light of art, of the poetics of teaching, dubious in the shape of the transgressor of the love of learning, a red death irruptive to the masque of classroom drama –  was the mirror of this essence. Scores may be compared to one another, of course. A hierarchy of the good may be constructed. Ratiocination accepts this manipulation, but what do the scores represent? To what to do they refer? We are good or bad with reference to the scores. The battery of tests is said to mirror student concerns. What of the unasked questions? What are the sources of the concerns? Why are psychometric variables claimed to be the most important to students? Why do young persons demand control, organization, structure, information, predictability, skill, and timeless unthought from their mentors and their teachers? How have these forms of life taken their vaunted place in the consciousness of youth?

Certainly the world around us is unpredictable. Human life is by nature finite, uncertain, both inside of itself and in its projections, be these metaphysical – is there more to life than life itself? – and in its objects – entropy, decay, deliberate erasure, as in the concentration camps and asylum systems, as well as the leading but blunted edge of our political memories. No doubt, from the very first, humans have sought to control and manipulate the environments they found themselves inhabiting. Our skill in doing so is one of the greatest virtues of humanity, one of our ‘identity statements’, as it were. It defines us as unique, without respect to the great diversity of ways one can both subsist and exist as human in the world.

Of late, the sense that the world around us must be controlled has taken on a more desperate ardor. It has about it the aura of anxiety, even of neurosis. We feel we must know, and not merely hope or think. We must predict and not predicate, we would rather act than contemplate. When someone asks us, ‘How did I do?’ – the range covers everything from first dates to teaching a course to killing each other legally or illegally – we find it more comfortable to respond with ratios. The scores of the ‘kill ratio’ in times of war are of great import to training and tactics. The scores of student course evaluations influence career outcomes, wages, and personnel decisions. They excite the population of ‘teaching centers’, drive aspects of the ideologies of faculties of education, assuage students that their presence and voice ‘counts’ for something, and keep academics – notoriously unmanageable relative to other kinds of workers – looking over their shoulders. Most importantly, however, such ‘instruments’ push scholars to communicate the work of consciousness in a manner that befits bourgeois production and sentiment. Quantity with the gloss of quality, something that tastes good but arrives quickly, that has a similar effect as the dizzy-knee heroin of Disney heroines, and something that can be consumed with reference to social climbing – the accreditation of the middle classes originally aped their betters, starting around 1830 such new classes began to have the leisure time and wealth to become ‘cultured’ – such are the characteristics of transmissive models of education and the levels of their curricula in today’s university.

Shall we question the modes of production and consumption that give rise to the anxieties concerning certainty and predictability? Shall we question the sources of an anxiety that desires to control both itself and others? Shall we interrogate the battery of instrumental design that questions any attempts to lose itself in the compassion for human uncertainty, the facts of finitude, the breath exhaled by the dying?

In the gas chambers, the cyanide was pumped in through vents in the ceiling. Even so, the victims struggled upwards, for this was the only visible opening and ventilation. They died in a writhing naked pile of themselves, their children at the bottom. Their scores were poor. They had failed the test of a better humanity. They had not evolved, or socially climbed, high enough to avoid their ‘deserved’ fate. Thus they were in the way of ‘progress’. They represented the uncertainty, the undertones, the subterranean presence of what ratiocinated anxiety demands become absent. They were anthropological alterities, their afterlives to be avoided, their after-effects to be extinguished. Such a presence, containing its own non-presence unnerving and surreal seen in the light of the fascism of numeric nothingness, can only be overcome by an even more uncanny response that in fact makes evil what was before merely uncontrollable and unavoidable difference.

Before teaching to the demands of organization, structure, control, lightheaded language and heavy-set hierarchy; before testing your abilities as pedagogues through the use of instruments designed to celebrate specific and narrow sets of outcomes; before committing your own creativity and that of your students to a premature burial under the sediment of psychometrics and the sentiment of a greeting card, consider dispensing with quantifiable evaluations of all kinds. Ask your community of learners to write about their experiences and how they have shaped their perception of the world and of themselves. If such responses have a place in managing professors, we will be better able to understand why what we attempt to do in the classroom and elsewhere has some serious meaning.

Wandering with One’s Shadow

Wandering with One’s Shadow

Each of us possesses a darker side. We try, through the norms of civility, to simply not be possessed by it. But these attempts, mostly successful both as persons and within a society at large, do not prohibit us from being possessed of our own shadow. We wander alongside it, as Nietzsche famously commented upon, yet never wholly within it. If the shadow itself has a penumbra, then it is us who dwell more or less comfortably in its shade. But every now and again we step more fully into the shadows that tarry along by our side. Recognizing this is neither a matter of psychopathology nor a shill for therapy of any kind. Rather, it is simply to understand part of ourselves, an aspect of our own humanity which in every case is already and always my own.

Anger and fear are the usual suspects when we try to identify the reasons why we ‘stray’ into the twilit aegis of such an altered state. These themselves have long been identified with our animal background. But is a mere animal the same thing as a beast? Both terms have collected much metaphoric baggage over the millennia. Such connotations were also routinely extended to certain non-Western versions of ourselves, ‘savages’ either noble or ignoble. But the imperial distanciation of otherness in Western consciousness had also more recently been interpreted as an acknowledgement that what we hold within us, however civilized the veneer, is no different in kind from that of the lowest forms of life. The fin de siècle period of recent European history bears witness to this shock of recognition, from Conrad to Freud and beyond. Along with the unutterable dread of savage thought came the unbearable sense that repression was the only possible response. The great efflorescence of psychopathology during this period is hardly a coincidence.

These days, we take a more pragmatic approach to dealing with our ‘inner demons’. A combination of concise legal boundaries and self-esteem seminars is generally enough to deter the beast within. Indeed, such a thing, if it may be said to exist elsewise from ourselves, is relegated to its own shadows, as if the penumbra of personhood had its own Doppelgänger that lay in wait to shock us out of our complacency. None of this really makes any sense other than within the frisson of dubious fiction. What we can work with is the idea that norms are there for a reason, and people can’t do what they desire to do at all times, in all places, and with all others. That norms concede their territory based on the lowest common denominator, especially those that have to do with legal contexts, can’t really be helped. We also know, that alongside ourselves and our own shadow, stroll the shadows of all the others, intimate and strange both, wandering along with us and, we might imagine, always at the ready to trespass against us. It’s better not to ‘start something’, as the colloquialism has it, for unless you are prepared and skilled enough to dispose of the body afterwards, then the game is not worth the price.

On top of this, there is the internalized template of social norms with which almost all of us must deal. We call it one’s conscience. There’s nothing otherworldly about it. Indeed, it is solely based on the relationships we have, and most of us feel, we must maintain in this world as it presents itself. Since we neither have our personal beginnings within the ambit of the origin of the world, nor do we die with it – even nuclear annihilation might in some far future epoch be overcome by different forms of life on earth – the world is manifestly not our own. This is important. It is one of the key features of maturity and one of the things that all children must learn, the sooner the better for the rest of us, in order to matriculate to adulthood. Of course, such a lesson is hardly one that takes hold overnight. For males, especially in the West, it seems that it can take up to sixty years or so, for females, perhaps forty. Yet in one sense it is not only a key lesson, but the most important thing. Otherwise, we dimly understand that human life would be unlivable and that our private worlds, extant only within our heads, would constantly and often violently collide with those of others. That we prevaricate this at the level of the nation-state is a sad enough commentary on our inability to mature as a species at a more responsible pace, but it is also something of a safety valve that permits individuals to maintain social relationships outside of the shadows that attend to them at every turn. It may seem rather pathetic to say that tribalism – the sense that we as citizens should ‘stick together’ if only in the face of external threat – has a positive social function. But given our knowledge of our own history, we prefer today than yesterday, and are rightly suspicious of anyone or any group that desires to retrogress. Perversions of neo-colonialism as these movements may be, nevertheless they remain perverse.

And perversion is the term we often favour to bestow upon any and all who deviate from socially sanctioned norms and codes, whether the law, the policies of workplace or school, or for some still, the tenets of a religion. Though we go to war over resource competition and social control of transient populations etc., we do attempt to recognize the general depravity of war. It has become, at worst, a necessary evil. (It is sage to note that not all governments think this way, and the West is thus placed at a disadvantage because it has, after Nuremberg, mostly lost the stomach to make war for any cause). Since outright violence can be arrested only by a further violence, we imagine that only with the correct rationalization can we forgive ourselves afterwards and state starkly that ‘we did what had to be done’. We rejected this defense at Nuremberg, but still routinely use it for both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which remain two trenchant and billowing shadows that must walk alongside our sense of both our Western and our technical personas. They walk with us simply due to the fact that we maintain these kinds of weapons today. No society keeps a tool unless they think they will use it.

Which is why, for instance, I don’t own a gun. I can’t truly trust myself not to use it. Anger, fear, or even an aghast propriety might be the motivation. I know my own shadow well enough after walking with it and indeed, sometimes within it, over a half century of human life. It’s as much who I am as the norms that prevent it from seeking too permanent an ascendancy. And each of us might say as much. To understand the interest in personal weapons is to understand something of the shadow-being with whom we box. It is usually a friendly enough bout because it is about aspects of the unique being that is always my own. I am not fighting an ‘urge’, or yet a ‘perversion’. It is not deviant to desire the death of the Other, conceptually, only that of specific others. But there’s the rub, as is said: unless we have come to know another in the slightest fashion, he or she is bounded by the problem of generalized otherness that is in fact the most threatening thing of all.

I recently watched a documentary on Reinhard Tristan Haydrich, billed as Hitler’s successor before Churchill manufactured a successful assassination plot. He was by far the most intelligent of an otherwise sadly dimwitted lot of executives, and Churchill with his usual insight got him murdered before his skills hit the ground running. But not merely his skills; his ideas were far more dangerous. This because they represented what most of us feel in times of crisis to be the ideal way of dealing with conflict: destroy the other before he destroys me. As I watched I found, to my chagrin, a growing empathy for ‘the blond beast’, as his peers nicknamed him. By contrast, the documentary sub-title referred to him as the ‘god of death’.

And we’re right back where we began. The beast within us, the fear of death. Of all history’s recent villains and heroes, and it is also sage to note that this label changes over time according to our contemporary druthers – Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, Malcolm X and Ché Guevara all bear popular culture testament to this – I had to admit to myself that I admired Haydrich the most when I felt the pressing presence of my own shadow. This presence always provokes a moment of utter honesty in oneself. As a thinker, my duty is to the truth of things, whether scientific, historical, or personal. But there are also, beyond all of these, ethical truths, the combined weight of which reminds us that there is no simple truth that would unburden us of the task of being human, which includes that of historical consciousness. No one, even the most versed and insightful thinker, can claim to know the truth of things.

Given this, we must turn, or be turned, towards an other and in turn demand of him or her to aid in the project of coming to know each other as simply another. Another human being on much the same road as ourselves. Another consciousness who also has their shadow not so different in scope than mine, and finally, another upon whom we should be able to rely to defy alongside us the gravity of our mortal coil, not only for the time of personal being, but for the sake of the human future itself.