Who was that Unmasked Man?

Who was that Unmasked Man?

            The concept of authority is a much troubled one for we moderns. In the previous age, power amongst human beings was certainly brandished in a more subjective fashion, often based on personalist traits including the apparently vanished ‘charisma’, which the social scientist Max Weber implied could not exist in modernity. There was a corresponding paucity of rational mechanisms for the exertion of power by way of achieved or accrued status. Heritable station, even caste, was enough to endow some and deny many the necessary stakes in social life with which to maintain a viable existence. Though we are suspicious of authority in all its forms, we do pride ourselves in leveling the field to an extent that most persons in wealthy countries can at least live without daily fear of sickness and death.

            Why then, if we are aware of this transformation from what now appears to us as the patent unreason of a culture masking itself as a fraudulent nature – perhaps the final residue of this older worldview pertains to eugenics and ‘race’ theory, though any reductivist applied science skirts it at its peril; neuroscience, sociobiology, cognitive therapy – do we also consistently maintain an oft unreasoned skepticism regarding the space and status of modern authority? Why, given the seemingly obvious sensibility that an illness can be transmitted in this way or that, would some of us shun the equally obvious precautions? More than this, immediately declare that such passing modifications to daily life are a symptom of a deeper and darker recess within which authority conspires to dominate the world at large?

            The ‘strange bedfellows’ of politics aside, the resistance to the wearing of masks and practicing the so-called ‘social distance’ hails from the margins of mass democratic statehood. Small time evangelicals, neo-fascist militias, conspiracy ‘theorists’ of many stripes and streaks, even some neo-conservatives who feel abandoned by their chosen political representatives populate this pastiche. Who, exactly, are these fellow citizens, and why do they appear to differ from the vast majority of us along these sudden lines? Is the anti-mask affair merely a convenient hitching post where a number of unrelated horses may be tied during a tavern tabernacle? Is it a question of metaphor; a mask denies part of our identity, for instance, or is likened to a political muzzle? It certainly hasn’t taken long for advertisers to take advantage of this additional apparel ‘accessory’, given many masks now sport logos of various kinds. If there is a semi-conscious sense that a mask inhibits my personhood, many people have taken to creative work-arounds that still proclaim something about themselves they think it is worth others’ while to know, kind of like a removable tattoo.

            But not everyone. Authority in its contemporary issue is at once loosed from above and below alike. Above due to the apparent absence of godhead, and below, due to the problems of direct political representation. One the one hand, there is no ‘higher’ authority than the State, a difficult pill to swallow for many of us, myself as a thinker included. I would like to be able to say, ‘no, truth is itself the highest authority’, or more murkily, ‘art’, or ‘the good’. That the neighbor takes precedence over the socius, that my justice overtakes that of the law, that my ethical life exists beyond the general ken of rationalized morals, and so on. Aside from its claim to possess a monopoly of force, the State also declares itself to be the final court of both accusation and appeal. On the other hand, its presence, like the Leviathan, is to be taken as given and might only be indirectly questioned through regime change by way of the electoral process. Seen in its naked fraudulence, already less dressed than its predecessor the Church, the State is easy to unmask. That we understand our governments to wear the mask of responsibility – and sometimes even live up to this general theater in a convincing manner – is to also comprehend that they are not what they seem to be. So if the one who already wears the mask and is known to be other than it is demands that we too now don this same article, is that not to tell us that we must become yet more like the State in our private lives?

            We do hear the cliché refrain about the ‘nanny state’ within the fragmented voices of the anti-mask huzzah. Ask the same people about EI and healthcare etc. and there might be a different response. But bracketing this ever-present irony, I think that these protesters must view the State as something that is mysterious, a persona like Zorro or the Scarlet Pimpernel, to use some old-fashioned examples, but one which is magnified into a monstrous form. The Lone Ranger, from whose juvenile script the title of this piece is paraphrased, is, with further irony, a persona who would in fact appeal to the anti-maskers. They appear to see themselves as more individual than the rest of us, more self-reliant, more heroic, and evidently also more immune, even to non-human forms of life. If we were merely jaded, the entire affair would appear only as an ongoing cliché, the evil state making yet more demands upon freedom-loving individuals.

            Not only is this dull it is also dimwitted. One, no member of mass society can claim to be free in this way. Our individual freedom in the public realm is immensely limited, simply because of the existence of others. Respecting this is in fact an act of free will and a recognition of it as a principle of human life, as in doing so, we grant the freedom of others to also reassure us of our human status. To do otherwise is to set oneself apart from one’s fellows, however and otherwise strange they may be, and claim that only a certain few should be ‘free’ and the rest of us can go to the wall. Two, if there truly is a serious concern about civil liberties that too is addressed by not by making exceptions but by giving the other the courtesy to live with the best chance of being unassailed by health concerns. Freedom, in its ethical essence, consists of being a vehicle for the freedom of others.

            That the State must demand this of us can only be put down our own lack of ethical awareness. But organizing a symptom of such interaction amongst citizens is not the same as defining what freedom is or is not. A mask is metaphoric also in this way; it does not pretend to be the reality of mass society, only its appearance; anonymous and impersonal, generally non-responsible and always flirting with authoritarianism. The reality of our existence remains, as ever, within our own conscience. No decisions are being taken from us. When I forget my mask in my car on the way to the grocery store I duly return and retrieve it. I have done so uncounted times already as we are creatures of daily habit. Why I do so is another matter. I want to be one momentary vehicle for the freedom of the other. I do not want to ‘set an example’, ‘toe the line’, mock the other or chide her for her own neglect. And I do not desire to make myself mysterious; indeed, I am the less so because others observe my action as consistent with the otiose demands of the day. I have nothing to hide in wearing a mask, in the same way I might wear clothes, or that I might drive defensively, or that I limit my glance at an ‘attractive’ woman to a good-natured and discreet one-off. Perhaps I could do yet more to this last regard and many others, but the mask-wearing should be seen in the same light as all the other trifling things we do to make life easier and to let others know that we’re on their side no matter how ludicrous the effect.

            Freedom is itself a modern conception. One cannot imagine that modernity turns its back on its own native child. It is true that this birth, so cherished, has not lived up to its expectations, but what child does? Freedom is such a recent idea that one cannot expect it to manifest its historical genius overnight and over against the countless eons within which even its herald could not exist. I would suggest that anyone who has doubts about authority and feels his freedom impinged upon examine the critical threshold over which conformity becomes truly dangerous. I’d also like to say, ‘I’ll let you know’, but in fact each of us is charged with the task of confronting authority at every turn. It’s only the professional job of the thinker to do so; more profoundly, it is the birthright of all human beings. More than this, it is the working side of human freedom, which is absolutely not a given, as is the State, and which can only be made real through our being’s resoluteness, its being-ahead, and its receptivity to the call of conscience. Freedom, like history more widely, is both a gift and a task. The unmasked man of resistance in reality resists the work necessary for freedom to become authentic. Only in this authenticity can we in turn unmask any fraudulent attempt at truth, the enforced freedoms of institutions, for instance, or more personally, the beliefs we imagine overtake those same institutions, almost all of which arose in ages wherein human freedom was non-existent. The unimpressive irony of the anti-mask associates betrays its lack of historical consciousness precisely along these lines; that it seeks freedom from modern authority through the use of older and likely imaginary authorities that would, if left unconstrained, demolish every last bit of human freedom we have painstakingly attained over the past four centuries. Thus the mask I wear protects me from far more than just a virus.

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

In Memoriam: Edward Van Halen

A musical virtuoso whose shared humanity came across in every note, Edward Van Halen 1955-2020.

In Memoriam: Edward Van Halen

                                    Turned out the simple life, weren’t so simple

                                    When I got out on that road. (Van Halen 1978).

            In his Smithsonian Institution interview, Van Halen spoke of the immigrant story, of a family thrown into an alien world, back in 1962 when the to-be-virtuoso guitarist was a mere seven years old. Not speaking English was the greatest barrier at first, but there would be others. A study in contrasts that nevertheless ended up making eminent sense, Van Halen’s life was defined at the outset as an American dream; unlikely, hard-working, persistent, celebrated, resented, and ultimately cut short by the perennially pallid penury of professional entertainment. He spoke of their debut album, which went on to sell more than ten million copies and usher in a new kind of popular music that blended the angst of punk and the romance of the dance floor, as being the beginning of experience, of lost innocence: ‘we cut a best-selling album, went on a sold-out tour for a year, and when we got back the record company told me, congratulations, you owe us a new album and three million dollars.’

            No life can be said to be simple, no matter what it might look like from without. A musical hero, however brilliant and with an impulsive and improvisatory genius however breathtaking, remains human. And yet that is what I always felt was so compelling about Van Halen’s guitar playing; its resonant humanity. Hendrix was god-like, and one could be forgiven if one imagined that he was something more than human. Howe is distant, unforgiving, beautiful in the way great art is and yet oddly removed from the heart of things. Clapton guttural and bitter, abrasive and sometimes even smug. McLaughlin a single strike through the conscience of consciousness, transporting the listener quite literally to ‘visions beyond’. Metheny cool, even chill, the perfection of a sculptor who renders his music as if it could retain its sonic solidity indefinitely. Of all the virtuosos that come easily to mind, only Eric Johnson, like Van Halen, comes across as a great human being first, his humanity guiding the music and creating an over-souled bond with the listener.

            But Van Halen’s perfection came in the midst of mayhem, banality, and a musical form that would not, at first glance, be a likely birthplace for virtuoso genius. Compared with the other great electric players in the above paragraph, Van Halen as a band was the bread and butter, meat and potatoes variety of music. This too made Edward Van Halen stand out without forcing him to stand apart. Millions showed to see him first, as the feature, the lead, the hero, the star. In the most unlikely of places we are struck by the exactitude of his solos – perhaps the most obvious example would be the utter perfection exhibited in ‘Somebody get me a Doctor’ (1979) wherein we are transfixed by seemingly the only series of notes that could elevate a throw-away song into something we would play over and over again; but there are many others – and if Van Halen as a performing act often came across as rock and roll’s answer to Barnum and Bailey, its bombast always had the good graces to never take itself so seriously as to vanish up its own posterior, as did many – if not all – of the biggest acts previous to them.

            I was one of uncounted teenage guitar players fascinated by Van Halen’s technical innovations, attempting to mimic them and feeling inordinately proud when I even came close. And though we are aware that both Hendrix and Hackett regularly used the right-handed ‘hammer-on’ move, for instance, it was Van Halen who perfected it and let it transform the guitar into a broader musical palette. His instrument was inseparable from his person, prefiguring the relations of production in the as yet mythical communism of Marx and Engels, when they speak of the ‘authenticity of the product of labor’. In this too Van Halen was a visionary, and the intriguing mix of juvenilia and critical politics to be found in the actual song-writing of the band is suggestive of a manner of speaking to youth of the difference between things that matter now and those that matter for all time, of some things that matter as much to a mature human life as we as young people might imagine does romance, sex, relationships, money and fame. The band and its blueprint appear to be an essay in confrontation, but by now, after long having the entirety of their catalogue within easy grasp, the whole of what Van Halen was really about appears without such blur.

            And what this whole is, is a kind of freedom from needless and mindless restraint, rule, form and norm. It isn’t simple, just as a human life can never be. To attain a sense of one’s life is to have the courage to get past what has been the past, something that Van Halen never ceased to accomplish. This is the greater freedom of historical being; that history is not yet done. It is a freedom that celebrates its true cause by singing the praises of its passing effects. A freedom that speaks to each generation when it is most receptive of listening, but one which also hopes that in a more sober stage of existence all of us will begin to heed its call and take life itself to be the open and powerful instrument of popular art that Edward Van Halen took to be his own.

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

A Speculative Spectrality

Purported ghost image near deer feeder with buck attending. On the right, a closer view without other objects.
Purported image of alien or unknown species (known colloquially or in ‘fakelore’ as ‘the rake’), on deer cam. The camera was discovered the next morning destroyed but the chip survived, suggesting a limit to the creature’s acumen and knowledge of current technology.

A Speculative Spectrality

            In a world with much jostling and grinding daily, one can easily overlook the older anxiety that concerned itself with ‘bumps in the night’. Of late, however, several nocturnal images have appeared that attempt to suggest that these our latter days are not fully free of our ancestors’ imaginations as well as, perhaps, their fears. Though the images reproduced here presumably could have been faked – and we also presume most persons would simply presume that they have been so – the question that remains is why such imagery? This is not a question about why would someone fake an intriguing image, but specifically, why this kind of image, one that purports to represent either ethereal beings or creatures ‘unknown to science’, to use an antiquely appropriate period phrase.

            The first image, which one would think was a vintage doll of some kind – though the deer seems transfixed by its presence; perhaps the doll was sprayed with an attractive scent – represents a ‘ghost’ or spirit. The use of a child is meant to promote a willing sympathy, a female child a sense of vulnerability or yet incompetence. If such a child were really lost in the woods most persons would attempt an immediate rescue. But how do you rescue a ghost? And from what? Having suffered the most grievous crisis known to mortal being, what more could have befallen her? And from such questions, however rhetorical, comes the more pressing question: what is to happen to us? What, in other words, is the meaning of my death?

            It is to this existential anxiety that such images seek address. Not in any abstract manner, since the doll or whatever it may be represents a singular vision and, along with the other creature, an alternative to known beings. I am neither a child nor female, and I am from our own time, when girls are not normally dressed in such vestments. If the first image is anything, it is personal. Even if it is a material fraud, we are forced to identify with its spiritual implications. We know there have been those who have passed before us. Into what? Where? Or if nowhere, what is the zero character of nothingness? We know we too will pass before our youth, other things being equal, and thus we also have already seen, in life, our own autobiographical youth pass before us. I doubt I’ll end up lost in the woods, ethereally incarnated in some regressed form. Indeed, those were the halcyon days of my childhood, wandering in the woods, unmolested by anyone or anything, long before deer cams were invented. Given that, if each of us tends towards their own paradise, an eternity on the beaches and in the forests of my homeland awaits me.

            Seeking attention in life, creating a sensation, committing a prank just for the sake of it, are some humanly material activities that the advent of digital communications have augmented. In the day of the proposed child in the image, a campfire story would be the result of a chance encounter with the unexplained or yet-to-be more lucidly understood. These are minor expressions of the basic will to life that mortal being accrues over that very life course.

            But what if what animates this questioning consciousness also has its own evolution? What if the existence of ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ were not at all perennial but rather a ‘secular trend’? This phrase, a term from evolutionary biology, refers to factors which influence the adaptation of regional populations, such as sickle cell anemia. Here, let us propose a species-wide secularity, one that separated us from our more indirect hominid ancestry. We know, for instance, that memorial rites date from the earliest period of anatomically modern human’s existence, some three hundred millennia ago, first discovered, I think, in Anatolia. Durkheim suggests that the work of mourning is the origin of all human memory. In recalling those now passed to themselves, early humans, our most ancient direct ancestors, had made the connection between existence and its trademark conscious and acting life. What they did not do was to extend that logic to non-existence. Instead, ‘inexistence’ was imagined as being the other state into which being could enter pending the completion of materiality. We do not know any details of the thinking of these first fully human beings. It is something we can never know, and in that, this absence of the origin of thought mirrors the absence of thought’s ends. Just as we cannot experience our own deaths, yet we must experience the abstraction of death through the lives of others who confront it before we ourselves must. Both the beginning and the end are obscure to us. We do not choose to be born and, in any general sense, we also do not choose to die.

            If the spirit exists – this is a different, though obviously related, question to that of whether or not ‘spirits’, like the ones purported to be in the images in question, exist – its existence is something that should mirror our understanding of how we ourselves exist, since our spirit is said to be the very essence of our being. Humans are an evolved creature, like all others of which we know. Each part of our complicated and holistically interacting systems has evolved, in current understanding, ‘directly’ for something over seven millions of years. We, perhaps with some vanity, attribute to humanity a soaring spiritude, something that is complex and evolved, however mature it has become or may yet become. Such an ‘organ’, such an aspect of being which partakes of evolutionary Being, could very well have a lengthy pedigree, which might also include other states. Yet if one’s own spirit develops as does one’s own body, then we truly cringe at the possibility – not necessarily ever captured by technology – that a child’s soul, cut out of its living mass before its time, wanders alone and lonely across the exsanguinated expanse of an anonymous world.

            Such imagery that sources itself in our existential questions has a unique, even uncanny power. It is this that we react to, if such haunting or poignant pseudo-portraits give us the spine-tingling moment of sudden self-recognition. If it were the case – and we must remind ourselves that there is no empirical evidence either way regarding such mysteries – that not only the spirit exists but also develops and continues, then we too as living spirits must seek to undertake our own ends. By this I mean that we not only should be prepared to risk our current comprehension of the cosmos in order to widen our conscious aperture, but we should also begin to critically entertain the ancient idea that though there can be nothing larger than life whilst life exists, that there may be more to life than our extant life is willing to admit to itself.

            Without dwelling on the phantasmagorical, the most searching interrogative that such imagery confronts us with is the ethical question of the character of our existence as it is known. How do we live and why do we do so in this way? What is the meaning of my existence, and why do I generally avoid asking such a question? The proposal that we may be more than we can know can be taken quite literally, and without resort to other states or ideas of an afterlife. We each of us is indeed more than we merely have been. The pressing and rather material question concerning whether or not we can be that being, the being of the future and not of the past, is quite simply the most important question of our shared existence.

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

In memoriam: Julian Bream

Julian Bream 1933-2020.

In Memoriam: Julian Bream

            The post-war period was fraught with both a sense of liberation and one of alienation. The first due to what appeared at the time to be a resounding victory over fascism, the second due to the sober, and sobering, second thought that such a victory had cost us our very understanding of its opposite, our sense of human freedom. It was left to the sacred aspects of consciousness to breathe anew upon the embers of an incinerated culture. The most enduring light of the sacred represenced itself in art.

            The vehicles for that perduring power in music turned out to be many; Glenn Gould, Isaac Stern, Leonard Bernstein, Herbert Von Karajan, Maurizio Pollini. Their collective human past, their singular biographies mattered not a jot, in the end. That is, mattered only insofar as their art overtook what it had taken to create it. Such a list is graced by a musician whose instruments remain marginal to serious music. My own instrument, the classical guitar, chief amongst this relative obscurity. So all the more, Julian Bream, the most important guitar player of the post-war era, stands out. It is one thing to be a transformative vehicle for art new and old, but to do so without a baton, piano, or violin, is more than astonishing. Bream accomplished this feat, recording around one hundred albums, listing four Grammy winners, and leaving a legacy that shaped contemporary music well beyond his instrument.

            My student life was hallmarked by being a student of the students of greatness. Partly demographic, partly region of birth, partly class and social background, I was never in any position to personally encounter the top tier of anything. There is no bitterness in this commonplace. Indeed, my own deafness is the nominal version of Beethoven’s; to listen too much is to be bequeathed only the greatness of what already has been. I studied with Bryan Townsend, now a composer, who in turn studied with Michael Strutt, who himself was a student of Bream. In my professional career, I studied with students of the likes of Goffman, Lévi-Strauss, and Parsons. Generally I never think of this pedigree, as it is of no public moment and is not a conscious influence on my own work.

            But when one does encounter the presence of the sacred, the wider universe opens up. Wider, deeper, farther, and with more mystery than any history can encompass. This was the effect of witnessing Julian Bream perform in Victoria in 1985. On stage, Bream always cut an ethereal figure. Not due to any self-conscious theater on his part, but rather because of his execution. Never one for fashionable mannerisms, styles, or pedantries, Bream played everything his own way; the Frank Sinatra of guitar, perhaps. From John Dowland to Benjamin Britten, from Philip Rosseter to Hans Werner Henze, Bream didn’t just record and perform the history of music before one’s senses, he threw open the very space and time in which that music had been created. He opened the portal of the collective soul.

            I felt like I was abruptly there, in an Elizabethan court, in the heated romance of a nocturnal Madrid, or yet in the stark glare of a glass-worked post-war Geist, our own modern moment, shared and unshared alike. Bream was not merely a master of all genres, he was a native to their unabashed birthright. He understood that art enacted had the ability to travel in time and space, but also, and at once more intimately and more infinitely, to transpose one’s own experience with that of the radical otherness of this or that fellow human; a being somewhat like ourselves but with a most necessary message to impart to us.

            Like a Daemon with a human interest, the artist provides the scandal by which history can dismantle morality.  Like a God with a self-interest, the artist recasts morality so that it too, along with ourselves, cannot rest inchoate and bloated amongst the shards of principals and the bad faith of a self-righteousness of neglected responsibility. The presence of artists like Julian Bream is both a reminder of the character of human interest – we seek to overcome our finiteness through the legacy of Works – and that of the world’s ongoing character – one that provides the broader perspective that human finitude alone cannot. Bream represenced the world as an aspect of the being of humanity. In his art one could find the most human of arts, the arts of living and dying alike.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of forty books in ethics, aesthetics, education, health and social theory, and more recently metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor in the interdisciplinary human sciences for twenty years.

Harry the potter’s jars of clay

Harry the potter’s jars of clay

            In the wake of J.K. Rowling’s unabashed comments regarding the reality of sex and the charges of transphobia that were issued in response to them, it may be germane to discuss some of our current conceptions concerning human identity and the politics that follows therefrom. Ultimately, one’s definition of reality is at stake, and we will see that this is the truer import of all such debates, however popularized or taken to the streets.

            There are five major biological sexes in the human species, and the so-called ‘sexual dimorphism’ that allows for convenient categories is splayed out along a spectrum which meets in hermaphroditism – of late relabeled ‘intersex’ – the central variants of which account for at least one in every 2 to 2.5 thousand live (‘female’) births. There are no doubt ‘more’ genders than there are sexes, but who’s counting? The point is that both gender and sex are social constructions mainly based on national health policy and indeed the identity of the particular nation state in question. Biopower, Foucault’s simple but arresting conception of an originally bourgeois transformation of the older labor power, demographic concerns such as pension fund viability, voter franchise, relative strength and weakness of employment markets, and more darkly, bigotries surrounding equally moribund concepts of race and ethnicity – the ‘fear of a black planet’ thing – influence who we are liable to label a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’. If I were a woman of any cultural or even individual construction, I wouldn’t take kindly to Rowling’s ‘offer’ of a potential definition of myself as ‘one who menstruates’. This appears reductive in the extreme while at once suggesting that I am the same as every other woman out there. Indeed, it is this urge for sameness while simultaneously drawing up boundaries of difference that is at present threatening to do us in.

            One could simply play at language, avoiding a deeper dialectic and thus also the confrontation that adheres to it. Perhaps sex and gender are both equally ‘real’, or neither are real and a truly hard-nosed scientific-minded reality has nothing to do with the human imagination. Perhaps sex is the old reality and gender the new, or that the former’s hold upon an actually unmoving reality is supplanted by the latter’s emergent identity politics. Or perhaps reality is itself irrelevant, and human consciousness, only partially conscious of itself and much less so of others, is the only arbiter of what can become real and thus also unreal.

            But I am going to suggest that our reality is in fact being covered over by such discussions, whether they are violently performed in confrontations amongst people who imagine themselves to be so different as to not share even an iota of humanity with one another, or more banally, literary celebrities and entertainers who imagine that their unstudied opinions should carry such misplaced public weight.

            Diversity in every known species is an evolutionary positive. Not only for that self-same species regarding its adaptational acumen given changing ecological niches either over the course of geological epochs or, in our own time, over a generation or two, but also for other species, as when humble fungi contain the key to cancer cures or other medical breakthroughs. Though cultural evolution as a theory of human cosmogony is a long out-of-fashion sensibility, one aspect of it that remains salient is that human diversity along cultural lines is also a positive. No one culture, says this view, holds all of the truths for all of the myriad of changing contexts in which we humans find ourselves. And yet each culture does hold truths. Though not ‘eternal’ – the mere fact that we can identify such ideas in history tells us that their origin too is historical and not so much otherworldly – they can nevertheless be timely. One conception that is apropos to consider during this time of too-easy offense and counter-offense is that of compassion.

            Compassion is an ethical hallmark of the newer agrarian world-systems, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. It is sourced in the then equally novel sensibility that each human being has an intrinsic worth, apart from one’s accomplishments, abilities, and most importantly, apart from one’s social status. This last includes one’s self-identified gender, sex, race and ethnicity, one’s role and job title, and one’s address and education, let alone one’s cultural persuasions. An example: it is of interest that one’s individuated tastes can make for strange bedfellows. I despise swing music and am certain that Bruckner is a markedly superior composer to Tchaikovsky, not that Peter Ilyich was a slouch. In these two things I fully agree with the Nazis. Happen to agree, that is. It is this happenstance of the confluence of historical identity politics and one’s personal experiences that fraudulently drives much of our current predicament.

            Consider that no white owners of black slaves exist in North America today. Wage-slavery aside for a moment, all these other folks are long dead. But it is also the case that white persons are less likely to be enslaved by what reaches out for all of us from beyond the grave. Yes, the dead must bury the dead, but you have to kill them first. Just so, how does one commit an idea to the ground of non-being when the vast majority of the very people who are most hurt by the current social organization of difference maintain beliefs in the afterlife? The overcoming of the ideologized politics of difference is both a recognition of human diversity as it is and not as we would desire it to be, as well as being the beginning of a self-recognition that I am also not one thing, not these things, not a ‘thing’ at all.

            Dressing oneself up in difference is not a way to confront the reality of human diversity. Only being with another human being in as personal a manner as possible will make one more aware of just how similar our differences are, why they exist, where they come from, and of vital import for humanity today, where they are going. Daniel Radcliffe responded to the author of his career freedom and perhaps more than that by restating the basic ethic of Harry Potter; that ‘love is the most powerful force in the universe’. Though Rowling’s epic appears to imagine love as an inherent good, which is only forgivable because these are books for children, Radcliffe’s well-meaning naivety yet touches upon the desire to get along with the others in spite of their differences, which in turn threaten us not because they are alien, but because they remind us too closely of ourselves. To begin to consider the other as a means to understand the self and my self as a means for the other to recover her authentic freedom is the first step to a world wherein reality is something that all human beings are at liberty to help construct.

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

This Time the Government is Good for You

This Time the Government is Good for You

            Relax, I’m a doctor. Of philosophy, that is. I hold a world top-40 Ph.D. in the human sciences and partly because of this people often ask me to ‘explain’ what is going on right now. I can’t cure the virus, so my skills are not front and center. But step aside with me for a moment, and I’ll attempt to tell you why I think that this time, the government is the right pill for the right job.

            Needless to say, as a thinker I am no great fan of the state. Our official apical ancestor, Socrates, was executed by the state for ‘corrupting youth’, which remains a large part of my mission. Kant was ordered by his state to stop writing about religion, a particularly delicate theme in his time even more than in our own. He ignored the order and no doubt said something that wasn’t fit to print in return. So that’s pretty much where I come from in the day to day, when times are mundane and life seems long.

            But for the moment, our times are neither. I recently published a new theory of anxiety and so one thing I can tell you right off is that Anxiety, capital ‘A’, is seen by philosophers as a good thing. It’s like an early warning system, an impetus to care, which Heidegger stated was the most fundamental aspect of our beings. This ‘concernfulness’, as he put it, orients ourselves to the most pressing of issues which underlie the day to day of living on. These include the condition of others to self, the future as ‘being-ahead-of-ourselves’, and our thrown and fallen state as beings who exist in the envelope of both ‘finitude’ – existential finiteness that cannot be located at a precise time, just as we cannot know the hour of our individual deaths – and ‘running on’ – moving towards our future deaths but in no conscious or systematic manner. Large-scale crises are certainly something to work against and around, but they also serve to distract and decoy us away from confronting the intimacy of our own deaths, which cannot be shared with any other human being.

            So ironically, part of our anxieties regarding COVID-19 concerns how well this crisis will distract us from ourselves, our own lives as we have lived them, and whatever regrets we may have suppressed about them. Anxiety, on the other hand, alerts us to these more intimate aspects of selfhood and does not let us be distracted by the world in any inauthentic manner. Generally, the state is part of this decoy world, issuing this or that decree that appears abstracted from our daily life, even arbitrary. The State is one of theological philosopher Paul Ricoeur’s two examples of the ‘evil of evil’ (the other being the Church). The evil of evil is defined as ‘fraudulency in the work of totalization’. What does this mean?

            Traditionally, only a God was omniscient and omnipresent. As secular political life elbowed spiritual life into the margins, indeed, sometimes into the shadows, the state replaced the church as the center of social power. Even so, as a human institution, government is flawed, not at all all-knowing, and not quite everywhere at once. It often pretends that it is both, and in this it is a fraud. Many modern institutions partake in this ‘fraudulence’ as they pretend to be everything for everyone. The university is another obvious example. But with the stern demands the state is placing upon us these days it is flexing its absolute power over civil society, in part, again perhaps ironically, to keep it thus. We are reminded of Lord Acton’s now almost cliché epigram, originally in epistolary form, that ‘power corrupts’, and further ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’. So we might be adding this worry to our list of anxieties and generally and in principle, we should always be concerned about limiting the power of the state, lest more governments arise around the globe that lengthen the list of authoritarian regimes.

            But this time I’m going to tell you that our governments, at least, are doing the right thing. Listening to real doctors, for instance, and following their advice to the letter. In turn, we as civil and unselfish citizens need to do the same. This does not mean that we shed our individuality for automata, slough off our would-be immortal coils of freedom for slavery and obedience, or regress to the status of young children. It is a choice we make based on the best of knowledge at the time, and one that the vast majority of us, myself certainly included, could not make for ourselves. We do not become thoughtless morons by acceding to this general will. Indeed, it is thinking that has brought us to this point and it is thinking that will see us through to its far end, however indefinite this may appear to be today. At both federal and provincial levels then, we should heed to the letter the demands of the day. So relax, take two governments, and call me in the morning.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of almost forty books in ethics, education, social theory, health and aesthetics, as well as metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades.

Me Tar Sand, You Pain

Me Tar Sand, You Pain

            On the general culpability of misogyny and self-hatred

            With the confluence of International Women’s Day whose major theme was domestic violence and misogyny, and the appearance of a misogynistic cartoon of Greta Thunberg emanating from Alberta’s resource heartland, it would be sage to note that these kinds of events are not at all unrelated, as Hillary Clinton publicly did some days ago. Yet there is more to such a dynamic than vested interests and the conflict of gender iniquities. Men tend to keep their emotional resources locked deep inside a sediment metamorphosed by machismo, the shallow equivalent of honour, bravado in lieu of bravery, and paternalism instead of chivalry. Such patriarchy may indeed be ‘viral’, as the French protesters aptly suggested, but it is more than that. We men are the human equivalent of the tar sands. Costly to parse from our violent socialization, with dubious merit once so distilled. But if we carry the strata of another epoch within our spirits, women must appear to us as the painful perspective upon our own internal undoing.

            Because men have great difficulty in excavating their own human feelings and communicating their experiences in a richer language than that of the joint fascist aesthetic of desire and control, we have projected our still present curiosity and ingenuity into the world. An objectified nature can be subjected much more easily than can be the subject himself, and our subjection of nature is in fact a thinly veiled objection to ourselves. This projection of the will to life in carnal form using only carnival norms threatens to destroy the species. But more intimately, and with a greater resentment, we have also projected our inability to practice an examined self-understanding onto women. It is this that actually provides the clue to the more general problem at hand.

            My wife astutely remarked, upon hearing of the Thunberg cartoon decal and the reaction to it, ‘forget about child pornography, this is a hate crime’. Quite so. Instead of listening with compassion and risk to the other who challenges us, who has another perspective, who is sincere but who also does not know us, simply assault them, rape them, beat them down. In doing so, men are once again projecting the violence they feel toward themselves into the world, this time not of nature, but of others. This in turn divides the question of who is human and who should be the steward of the world at hand. For humans, in general, a world in hand is less threatening than a world merely at hand. Women and children as chattel – in many countries yet today they are still defined in this manner; witness the elites of Dubai or the peasants of Afghanistan, the lack of legal deterrents against domestic violence in a Russia hell-bent on increasing its birthrate, the lack of protection against physical violence for children in the United States, the list goes on – are to be taken in hand. The similarity of phrases is not a coincidence.

            Violence against women and children, as well as against other men, is the same thing as violence against the world. But women are not nature. The popular mythology of ‘mother earth’ is a distraction that pushes both men and women and all other genders away from truth of things: the world in fact is an anonymous set of forces which is not at all dependent on human life in any manner. It worlds itself without us, and we have, of late, made ourselves a danger to it mostly in relation to our own tenure upon it. Perhaps not only to this, but as well much of life as we have known it. The ‘male gaze’ which objectifies the world of forms and indeed helps to create that world as form and not as an unformed mass of unrelated sense and image, is one of appropriation. It seeks to possess but it also seeks to maintain possession. In this, it is in conflict with itself. For how can one attain the mastery over something and thence forth keep still in one’s mastery? What does it mean to be the master of all things when the attainment of which can afford no further means to satisfy one’s desire for mastery?

            The fear of an anonymous and even uncanny nature led in part to the advent of civilization. It is Glacken’s (1967) uncommonly fine historical analysis that allows us such insights in our own time. Today, we hold not so much an antique fear within ourselves but rather resentment. With all our accomplishments, yet we must perish as unique individuals. This is an unquiet thought and men specifically are socialized to feel responsibility for it. We reach out from this disquiet towards an ungodly future; from the desperate quest to evolve the species artificially to the perennially popular fantasies concerning contact with other civilizations to the sense that stem cells etc. can prolong the lives we do have, we struggle with the new role we have assumed; we are now our own gods. Yet we also strain backward towards the all-too-godly past; from the recent resuscitation of the authoritarian family made manifest in ‘intensive’ parenting and strict control over children, to the idea that the family – an institution constructed during a time when women were chattel, hence the prevalence of contemporary violence now reported because in fact women are not chattel, and neither are our children – should even exist as a viable social institution, the return of young people to popular ‘religious-based’ organizations as if these could have any profoundly relevant meaning to the world-as-it-is, we as a species are challenged by the mortality of our condition as never before.

            Yet we can ask ourselves, what is the loss of an individual future as against the loss of the future itself? Humans die, but humanity lives on. A man dies after all not as a man but as a human being, his reason suppressed, his soul unexamined and his heart enslaved to a vain desire. A woman dies before her time if she is forced to be less than her own future makes openly possible. A child dies before she even becomes fully human, sentenced to the unutterable violence of the chattel definition and the dictates of moribund institutional ‘life’. Can any of this be called a ‘future’?

            The human condition summons us in ways both threatening and non-threatening, says Heidegger. But however we respond, we do not avoid these summons. The climate crisis is a mere symptom, as is that geopolitical. Let us not be decoyed into becoming entangled by a symptomatology in the same way as we would not, disingenuously and with a transparent duplicity, allow ourselves to be seen to too publicly eviscerate courageous women or too harshly discipline equally courageous youth, though both conditions remain the desire of most men and indeed, perhaps most ‘adults’ as well. Instead, confrontation with compassion, heroism without hedonism, chivalry without paternity, honor within authenticity; these are the characteristics that make the noble character from which humanity has gained its only marque of self-respect. In our own time, when respect for others and for the world is at a premium, we must begin by staring not at the mirror, but staring it down, staring through it, until we reach some more insightful sensibility that does not rely upon the force of will alone.

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

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.

On Being Ignored: Some Advice for Prince Harry

On Being Ignored: Some Advice for Prince Harry

            With the news that Harry and Co. were hanging out in my home town perhaps with an eye to resettle there – a no-brainer given the Canadian climate – and with the recent understanding that he blames the low-culture media for the death of his mother – reasonable if incomplete – I have some advice: I’m an expert on being ignored. Indeed, I may be one of the world’s greatest. All one has to do is become a critical social philosopher and practice your craft. In an instant, all your wishes for utter privacy will be attained.

            Considering that I am the most prolific scholar of my generation – true, Gen-X hasn’t accomplished much and never will; Tiger Woods is about it – and considering I have come up with numerous new discursive concepts including a new model of the afterlife, a theory of subjectivity that addresses prolonged adolescence in consumer society, a critical-ethical conception of political relations, an analysis of fascism in everyday life, a new theory of anxiety – uh, I could go on – not to mention having written an eleven volume fantasy-sci-fi adventure series that completely obliterates the previous canon and its moribund morality, one might think that I, or at least my work, would be of interest to somebody.

            One would be mistaken. Though it is quite true that a retired academic might be imagined as having little to offer the world at large – aside from, in my case, public policy analysis in health, higher education and corrections and justice, pedagogic ability from the widest liberal arts down to the ability to teach ‘TOK’ in IB programs, social and institutional research experience of over twenty-five years, eight years of mid-executive management experience and publications in HR journals [hey, this is beginning to sound like a resume; it’s actually a white flag] and the ability to practice a form of therapy called existential analysis etc. – I had hoped, most naively as it turned out, to be of some use in my autumnal years. From the start of 2018 to the summer of 2019 I applied to over four hundred jobs. I got four interviews. I applied to dozens of volunteer sites, started my own consulting business, led writing workshops and had all of three takers combined. All I can say is thank the Gods for PRIFFs (as well as my brilliantly resilient and resourceful spouse). Perhaps I didn’t go the distance, perhaps I didn’t move to the right place (one executive headhunter I spoke with early on simply said I needed to move to Boston of all places, but as I grew up a Habs fan – my father had been drafted by them back in 1945 but with the returning hordes from Europe only played on their farm club – I had to turn that one down) or perhaps I missed my boat when my editor – ex Scribner’s, ex McClelland and Stewart – asked me to move to New York City back when I was ‘only’ forty-eight. Whatever might have been the case, I now couldn’t get a gig helping out free of charge at the lowest of the low.

            I’m even mostly ignored by my friends, as well as those few I have actually helped, the media to whom I have sent oh-so-enlightening articles, small businesses to whom I have offered business, politicians – perhaps this is a good thing – and even Greta Thunberg herself who is, ironically, just as Mr. Putin characterized her: ‘kind, gentle and ill-informed’. She is kind and gentle. Far too much so for the mission at hand. And she is misinformed, though not in the way the Russian leader was perhaps indicating. Twenty minutes once a week makes her a darling of parents, schools and peers alike, not to mention the greater villains. Stating what actually needs to be done makes someone like myself into public enemy number one.

            Hence my advice to the Prince. That and move out to an internally divisive thirteen municipality patently cultural backwater locally referred to as the GVRD. But he may have that part down already. So if Prince Harry, or anyone else for that matter, for whom a dubious fame is getting to be all too much – and when does it not if you have any conscience at all; even Hitler, who might not have had a conscience but did have a debilitating social anxiety, succumbed to it in the end – wants to become a true pariah, simply follow in my recently furtive footsteps. I guarantee instant results.

            Social Philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty-five books in ethics, education, health, aesthetics and social theory, as well as metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor in the interdisciplinary human sciences in two countries for over two decades and in spite of all of that, has retained some nominal sense of humour.

Closer to our Hearts: In Memoriam: Neil Peart

Consummate musician, insightful lyricist, concernful being; Neil Peart (1952-2020).

Closer to our hearts: In memoriam; Neil Peart

                                              “No his mind is not for rent

                                               To any god or government.

                                               Always hopeful yet discontent,

                                               He knows no changes are permanent.

                                               But change IS.” (1981).

                Almost thirty years ago I travelled from Victoria to Kingston to give my first professional scholarly paper. I was nervous, not so much about the event itself but about the journey. I travelled alone, leaving my partner at home, meeting up with a childhood friend in Toronto, staying with him, and then being driven up the 401 the next day, some four hours plus, to Queen’s University campus. This once close friend of mine was a drummer, a jazz guy, for whom Tony Williams, Billy Cobham and Jack DeJohnette were the gods. Neil Peart had always received a tepid response from him. ‘He can’t swing’ was it in a nutshell, something even John Bonham was said to be able to do. For my friend, ‘swing’ was not meant to refer to the popular music of my parent’s era, but something to do with feeling, drive, vibe, and the throbbing character of the human heart. Needless to say, I couldn’t tell either way, being merely a guitarist. But by this time, long after high school graduation, music itself had faded into the background of my own life. I was an aspiring academic, about to present in front of an international audience for the first time. And the paper that had given me access to this elite world was a paper about Neil Peart.

                I called it, somewhat pompously, ‘An hermeneutics of the heart: Neil Peart as poet and philosopher’. It went over well enough but not without some raised eyebrows. It was an inauspicious start to a truncated career which morphed from teaching into writing. Now, in attempting to do both at once, I feel a closer kinship with all popular writers who have something to say. Neil Peart was one such writer, teaching about feeling, using the head to communicate the heart. Though doubtless a consummate musician, my connection with Peart came through his often insightful, sometimes profound, lyricism. It was ten years before my journey that I first came into contact with Rush, as did many of my generation. It was 1981 and I was fifteen years old. I had just seen my family implode, never to recover. I had just lost my first girlfriend, a woman for whom I still have feeling. Though the music was different, I was able to first connect because I had heard that the trio were staunch fans of the UK progressive rock innovators Yes. When, in 2018, Yes were inducted into the hall of fame, it was Lee and Lifeson who did the honours. At the time, I too was a dyed-in-the-wool Yes fan. But Jon Anderson’s lyrics were of the mystical variety; Yeats-like, abstruse, and high-flown. Peart’s verse was punchy, epigrammatic, political, critical. It didn’t take long for me to become a follower. I never collected every LP, but I had everything from the 1980s and somewhat beyond. Decades later I returned to Rush through the DVD concert fashion and indeed, my wife and I own every concert and major documentary yet produced.

                I am not much of a musician anymore. Though music is part of my being, my soul, I was trained in the classical world, and popular music was always at some slight distance from me. But as a writer, as a public critic, as a thinker, Neil Peart as a writer came to mean a great deal to me over the years. Engaging, witty, clever in the good way, sometimes sardonic, but with an unexpected detail that bordered on the ethnographic, Peart’s memoirs nonetheless would appeal more to a world traveller in the strictest sense, something I am very much not. His intimate effort concerning his own tragic losses was frustrating if poignant, groping if also gripping, and ultimately a failure. Not due to his efforts or his prose, but because all such efforts must, in the end, fail. We do not overcome such losses as these, we rather find substitutions, replacements. And what we find is loved perhaps all the more. For me, knowing only what everyone else knows about the man, the greatest tragedy is that he never saw either of his children grow up.

                On the same road as my drummer friend and I travelled in 1991, some six years later, his first daughter was killed in a vehicle accident at all of age nineteen. His surviving daughter is around fourteen or so. Not yet being a parent, I yet wince at this more than anything else. Peart himself must have lived a full life, not so much in years, but in his own experiences. To die in our time at his age is to die young. To die from such an illness is to die horribly, lingering, knowing that living on could not be altered in its tenor, understanding that what ‘change is’, is now this and only this. Death is the completion of our being. We cannot experience our own deaths, only those of others. This is, perhaps, the most profound purpose of the other in our own lives. She is the one who will experience our death for us, as we would do for her, come what may. We are all dimly aware of this dynamic, but the writer lives within its manifold throughout the time he lives at all. Seldom did a memorable Rush song appear that did not address itself to this core aspect of human self-understanding.

                And it was only through his verse that Peart publicly revealed himself to be the deeply concernful human being that he must have been. Awkward, even diffident in interview, distanciated, even dispassionate in his travel writing, Peart retained an enigmatic ambience. Simple shyness was the most likely explanation, and he was hardly the only music celebrity that evinced such a retiring stance. The humanity of any one of us comes forth most palpably through our works, and not from ourselves. Of whatever they may consist, our works are what connects us to the world at large, what survives us and what adds, however nominally, to the collective works of human consciousness. The casual phrase that nods its head to this relationship is ‘leaving the world a better place’. Neil Peart cared deeply about the world and those within it. Never having met the man, I can still know this without any uncertainty because of what he wrote about, how he wrote it, and how it was performed. Peart spoke of ‘passion and precision’, but I also hear, whenever I listen to Rush, dignity and clarity, integrity and most importantly, compassion. In short, concernfulness – Sorgeheit – a caring that emanates from our very being, the Dasein which we are.

                Knowing about his epic bicycling, and seeing various footage of it in documentary form, my wife and I imagined we encountered Neil Peart no less than thrice. Once, along the Katy Trail in central Missouri. The fellow blew by us going the opposite direction without even a nod. I said ‘hey, that guy looked like Neil Peart, huh?’ My wife laughed and said, ‘for sure’. Aside from his actual features, his upright, rather Victorian posture, his unassuming equipment and his torrid pace all reminded me of the man himself. Then along the Dallas Rd. waterfront in my hometown, the same figure, the same kind of bike, tearing along in a world of his own. Rush were playing Vancouver the next day. Finally, years later, in our neighborhood in Saskatoon. This time there was a moment of contact, wherein I smiled and simply waved at the person. He raised his brows at me and took off, increasing his already allegro non troppo up the metronome. Whether any of these was the man himself I will never know. Indeed, I had forgotten all about these moments until yesterday evening.

                That is, after I finished weeping at the sudden and fatal news. This too surprised me. I didn’t know the man, had never met him, and was never such a fan as to follow concert tours or their websites and certainly not any of the more personal news about any of them. The Sam Dunn documentary was tributary but also a little forced. ‘Time Stand Still’, appearing when I myself decided to call it quits as a professional, made a much deeper impact on me. In it, Geddy Lee described the fact of ending Rush as ‘feeling like a death’. Just so, that is precisely what it feels like. To do one thing your entire life, to have sacrificed more or less everything to it, and then to stop doing it and yet also commit to living on, this is one essential way we ‘die many times’, as Nietzsche suggests, with only the faintest hope of ‘becoming immortal’. From my own perspective, Peart’s passing strikes a somber chord given how little time he had to live after retiring from public life. On his behalf then, the rest of us are left to seize the day. From 1991:

                                  “Time is a gypsy caravan, steals away in the night,

                                    Leaving you stranded in dreamland.

                                    Distance is a long range filter.

                                    Memory a flickering light, left behind in the heartland.”

                I will remember Neil Peart as a contemporary, a ‘fellow-man’ as Schutz has it. Someone who experienced much of the same world as have I, who understood much of it and was able to communicate this understanding in a powerful manner. I will remember Peart as a writer and as a critic before even he as a musician and an entertainer. As a clever poet and a lay philosopher, as providing the words to a soundtrack of insights and editorials and inspirations. Rush itself as a sound is the quintessentially modernist band, all glass, concrete and steel. But it is within the lyrics that one finds a wider compendium of the human ages; the wonder at the cosmos, the cosmic comedy and tragedy alike that we inevitably center round our small planet and even smaller selves. And finally, as with all good writers, one finds oneself, somehow, right in there with the rest of it. It is in this way that humanity, being bereft of final knowledge of its soul, brings itself closer to its heart.

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