Modernity’s Fragile Selfhood

Modernity’s Fragile Selfhood

            “Here there speaks no fanatic, here there is no ‘preaching’, here faith is not demanded; out of an infinite abundance of light and depth of happiness there falls drop after drop, word after word – a tender slowness of pace is the tempo of these discourses. Such things as this reach only the most select…” (Nietzsche, 1888).

                In his foreword to his final work, completed mere weeks before his genetic neurological condition overtook him, Nietzsche’s absolute affirmation of personal character in the face of the fate modernity had proclaimed upon itself is yet mitigated by its reliance, albeit indirect, upon the very antithesis to his own philosophy, that of the ‘tragic recurrence’. This is so because to affirm the self as ‘what one must become and what one is’ is to take seriously the ancient notion of the intrinsic value of the self and of each person’s selfhood. Nietzsche’s anti-Christian and anti-Buddhist sentiments are not sabotaged by this ethical  kinship, but rather made into obverses thereof, for the Nietzschean self hypostasizes the selfhood first introduced in the East and then the West by these then novel world-systems. But we must ask first, what is this radical affirmation of being-oneself working against, given that by the time of the fin de siécle no antique religion could have had such suasion to prompt the much touted ‘reevaluation of all values’.

            Let us then suggest that Nietzsche’s target is not religion at all, but rather everything that at first denied and then overcame the religious sense of both selfhood and fate alike. It is well known that Nietzsche, though he accepted Darwin’s understanding of the origins of life as a fact, was most dismayed by its discovery. That evolution during the nineteenth century was seen as a radical denial of creation – today, we realize that cosmic evolution must understand itself, with a certain irony to be sure, very much in the cast of the old metaphysics; infinite in terms of the cyclical universe or yet the multiverse: there is no ‘starting point’; both of these are ancient ideas that pre-date by far the religions of intrinsically valuable selfhood – suggested to Nietzsche the idea that God was now ‘dead’. Discursively, such an ‘event’ must be back-dated at least to Hume and Vico, who between them relativized the conception of both culture and history and hence as well all contents as might be found within these. However unwitting this murder may have been in the 1730s, by the 1880s the divine corpse had been retrieved and the mourning begun.

            But Nietzsche asks, what is, who is Man without God? ‘Man’ too, now lives on borrowed time and indeed, 1914 put an end to the culture which exonerated mankind from its undue and vain fixation upon the sense that progress and evolution not only went hand in hand but were more or less the same thing. In our own time, beginning in the 1920s, the personalization of religion was undertaken in earnest. Today, the conception of God is as is the conception of Man; for Western believers, God is one’s own God, and each of us is said to have a ‘personal’ connection to such a divinity that was utterly unknown historically. Conversely, ‘Man’ has become ‘men’, or, more politic, ‘humanity’. Because of its indubitable link with organismic evolution, the term humanity has within it an undeniable species reference and thus is difficult for many people to identify with. It seems to denote our animal form, though at a distance from nature, rather than connote the spirit which was understood as animating that form. As such, our contemporary conception of ourselves does not make up for the loss of the divine definition of the locus of our being.

            And this is, in essence, the entire issue within the ineptly named ‘culture wars’. There is nothing within modernity that can equal, let alone better, the ancient understanding of humanity as divinely endowed, not just with grace, but also with reason. And Nietzsche was the first thinker to realize this. In the face of this insoluble problem which he also understood as inevitable, he offered instead the absolute affirmation of the self-as-it-is: Godless, finite, but subject to the eternal recurrence of the same and constantly willing itself into being through ‘the will to power and nothing besides’, as he famously intones. It is a bold, courageous and altogether necessary maneuver, but can it ever be more than a ‘quick fix’? Nietzsche’s ‘Dionysian’ tone, especially vivid in his final works, implies that it cannot in fact be anything more. What was ‘more’ was lost forever when humanity decided to make decisions for itself, by itself. This condition was foreshadowed in the Hebrew account of the expulsion. To speak somewhat metaphorically, what the serpent didn’t count on was being ejected along with the unhappy couple and thence was also left to fend for itself. Evil, in a word, had thus also been personalized.

            With the individuation of both good and evil it could only be a matter of time before the entire system that was constructed by the moral apparatus of a great chain of being broke apart. It was given impetus, certainly, by the ‘discovery’ of global cultures of which no canonical narrative could take account. The ‘lost tribe’ sensibility carried one only so far. How many lost tribes, again? Beyond this, the perduring resistance to any specific world-system by its competitors – today, the half billion plus Buddhists number the very smallest of the four major religious oriented architectures, for instance – frustrated any attempt to argue that one specific faith had actually latched on, even by happenstance, to the truth of things. And beyond this, the rise of scientific method and result, conquering the vast majority of explanatory territory that used to be the sole preserve of religious explication, ultimately felled the now hollow idols that Nietzsche, in an almost reminiscent manner, discusses in Götzendammerung (also 1888). All of these world historical factors occurred, however, long before Nietzsche was writing anything at all, and it is a simple error of displacement to associate his work with the reality of our mutable, if loosely shared, condition, either at present or centuries ago.

            Instead, Nietzsche today looks more like an ally for a kind of morality than anything else. The ethics of the ‘Overman’ are their own super-morality, one to which the finite and discontinuous beings of a humanity made base by evolution might aspire. But we cannot be naïve on such a profound score; the path before us is not one of a humanity evolving into something which is ‘beyond’ itself. This sensibility echoes the tradition, wherein transfiguration was an active mechanic. Today, the desperate rush to invent an ‘indefinite human’, a cyber-organic-stem-celled-artificially-intelligent ‘thing’, is a symptom not of aspiration at all, but rather of anxiety. And it is not death per se that animates this inauthentic anxiety, but rather, and once again, vanity. It is almost as if the brash among us say to themselves, “If God has been dead, perhaps even since the incarnation – this is why the Father left the Son ‘hanging’, so to speak; the former was already dead – and now Man as well has passed, then those remaining are destined to become the new divinities”, ‘Men as Gods’, to borrow Wells’ title. Vanity, yes, but also a kind of neurotic compulsion to mechanically metastasize mortal desire unto infinity.

            Nothing against the passions, we must note. They have their place, especially for youth, as part of a phase of ever-changing human existence, even within the singular life. But obsession denies that life, just as delusion obfuscates the life of the species-essence more generally. For a mature being, the very definition of growth is to place each phase’s form of being within its own existential envelope, and desire, anxiousness, even recklessness, all ‘the passions unabated’, as Goethe has it, belong with youth and to youth alone they must adhere. A great scandal of modernity is, to my mind, how we have extended youth indefinitely – it is surely our own ‘adult’ fetishization of youth, something we ourselves have lost, that motivates us not only to keep youth young for overlong as well as imagine being ourselves eternally young as a consciousness housed in a future machine – at the cost of other phases of the human experience. We hear of evangelicals coercing young adults as if they were still small children, including physically coercing them in certain sects. And though this is deplorable, to focus our critique upon it alone is a mere decoy and projection, exuding from us, and as such constitutes a denial of how the larger society seeks to keep all persons childish, ideally for the entire life-course, simply because we are more easily manipulatable in that form. We can thus be sold almost anything, from irrelevant toys to equally irrelevant, but all the more dangerous, politicians.

            So Nietzsche’s exhortation must also be seen as an argument against any sense of ‘beyond’ at all, whether one traditional or one hypermodern. The Overman is manifestly not a superior being in terms of mechanism or dispassion. Rather it is the maturity of being that recognizes that existential change over the life course is our way of ‘dying many times to become immortal’. No zealot, no ‘fanatic’, speaks of or to this kind of being. Within its changing course, we are as is the neighbor figure; spontaneous, shunning the status and esteem of social role, reaching out to others in distress as by self-definition and as a creative ethics. Hence there is also no sermon, no ‘preaching’, of such a spontaneity. It is as we are, thrown into the world very much against our individual will. Indeed, one could still argue with some merit that this existential thrownness – none of us asks to be born and this is as well why no ‘faith’ as such is required, at least at first – bears the imprint of the afterlife of all Godhead, or perhaps it could be experienced as a kind of ‘afterglow’; life as the outcome of what remains an astonishing miracle of birth. And we are, sectarian or no, all of us born again and again over the life course, if we allow ourselves to be so. Those who are lucky enough to grow old accomplish this marvelous feat, with more or less elegance and aplomb, and with it begin to know the truer grace of Being as self-created in the face of the void.

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

The Greatest Challenge: The Human Future

The Greatest Challenge: The Human Future

            I can only share what I am. Perhaps I look like your abusive father, the would-be domestic divinity who knows nothing but monopolizes false authority, or your condescending teacher, a channel for the ‘dark sarcasm’ of the classroom, or the talking head politician whose only interest is to attain power and thence maintain it. I am not a beautiful seventeen year old in a bikini, though I rather wish I was, if for nothing else than more of you would listen to me. But if by some exotic existential sleight of hand I could appear before you, youthful, stunning, healthy and charismatic, my message to you would be the same.

            Exactly the same; that is, the ‘new three r’s’. For while I am manifestly none of the above, I am yet your ally, your comrade, your supporter and your resource. But what is a middle-aged white straight European philosopher doing on social media? What is his message to global youth? First of all, let me apologize for addressing the world in English alone. The language of commerce and science but neither thought nor art, it is the only fluency available to me, and that is my loss. But in any tongue, even the undead language of those whose historical accomplishments are disdained by fashion, the perennial cause for thinking is ever and always the same; the pursuit of truth, the fight for justice.

            And it is just now that both of these essential aspects of our shared human birthright are most at risk. And it is you, the young people of the world, who are at present being enslaved to a gross conformity of both expectation and aspiration, to whom I appeal. In every moment, you are told what to do, how to think, where to act. Imagine a world where no one can think, not because thought itself is dead, nor its essential language, but because no one has learned how. It is mostly the fault of we adults, but as we shall see a little later on, I cannot exempt youth themselves from any critical commentary on the turning away from the human future. For that is precisely what we are collectively engaged in, most of the time, in the vast majority of things that we do in our lives.

            In no institution or organization are young people aided in learning how to think for themselves. Such a program would run contrary to the basic character of these places, whether schools, churches, youth clubs, sports teams, summer camps. Even the university is focused upon preparing you only for the changing and fickle job market, for somehow, you will have to find a way to survive. Thought, apart from the practical utility of the day to day, seems a petty luxury, unaffordable and unattainable alike. And yet thought is the only key to the human future; thinking our way forward is the hallmark of humankind alone.

            But all of this is mere backdrop. Today, I want to call you to action; resist, rethink, redo. These are the new ‘three r’s’:

            Resist: when confronted with any authoritarian demand, any command of fascism, disobey, refuse to cooperate in any way and at any time. Examples are physical and sexual abuse, ‘punishment’ or ‘discipline’; emotional and psychological torture, manipulative adults, charming ‘authority figures’; petty rules of conduct of all kinds, school dress codes, vocabulary, enforced activities, organized sports and camps. Waste no effort following any adult who insists upon obedience based upon either unreason or a simple display of power. Confront authority with the truth of thought, speak into being the power of human reason.

            Rethink: change the scene of your encounters with adults from their rules to dialogue. Do not fool yourself when an adult suggests finding a ‘common ground’, or working out a ‘compromise’. Authentic dialogue pierces into the heart of the matter, without restraint in the face of, or respect for, what has been called the ‘sacred’. The adult world consists of the use and abuse of power, and it is something each generation must wrest away from those previous, sometimes by force, though it is important to note within the middle term of this triune process, that peaceful protest has attained its goals a full quarter more times than has that violent, over the course of the past century. It would be a cowardly and irresponsible act on my part to call to arms world youth while I sit safely in my study.

            Redo: what has passed for thinking in institutions, in systems, in government, is precisely what has lead us to the brink of world annihilation. What adults have done, what we do, does not work. No sane person would follow along blithely and blindly, respecting adults simply because they are older, fearing them simply because they are stronger, obeying them simply because it is easier in the short term to do so. No thinking person would be satisfied, in any way, by the process and progress of the adult world: poverty, climate change, warfare, injustice, child abuse and torture, false religion, extorted science. Need we repeat such a damning list? There has never been a more momentous time for a redo, but only youth can accomplish it; that is, only yourselves.

            You may be surprised that this is also a personal request on my behalf. For a decade my wife and I lived round the corner, quite unknowingly and unwittingly, to a school wherein young people were allegedly tortured and abused on a daily basis in the name of a false God. Such a God as these adults imagined must have been a pedophile, a sadist, a child abuser. Not even a devil would engage in such things. We drove by this place most days, never giving it a glance. It was simply part of the neighborhood, simply another place of learning. But what was being learned, what was being taught, was a brutal fear of the world and of intimate adults alike. Violent beatings, of both girls and boys, ‘conversion therapy’, ‘exorcisms’, all forcibly and cruelly undertaken, all highly illegal in my country, occurring in my very own backyard. I am ashamed of myself for not knowing, for not helping, for not stopping such things. I am ashamed of my country for letting such domestic terrorism take place and over a period of decades. No penalty exists in my country for such inhumane acts; there is no more vile a crime than the ritual abuse and torture of children; for it, and for all those adults involved, teachers, administrators, and parents all, if true, the death penalty must be reconsidered.

            The courage of these young people, now belatedly coming forward, represents an astounding role model for all of us, but particularly for yourselves, my audience today. Yes, courage unabated, will unbroken, bravery unadulterated and indeed, bereft of any ‘adult’ sense of what constitutes purpose and agency, for we have lost almost all understanding of both in our own narrow, apolitical lives. Think now of your station, your own situation; are you not also being systematically robbed of your shared human birthright? The loss of human reason, the only thing that clearly separates us from the animals, and by virtue of this unique consciousness, human thought, human thinking; this is what is at stake.

            And yet all is not lost, for the simple fact that all bullies are ultimately cowards. They will break before you will and before your will; your resistance will stultify them, your rethinking will mystify them, your redoing will vanquish them along with the dust and dross of all unthinking myth. I urge you now, as a world collective, to begin this gifted task, to take up this ultimate challenge. And I do so not without another critical observation. Yes, think about your condition, and learn to recognize all the signs of fascism, of bullying, right down to the tone of voice adults use, for in even in their most gentle paternalism, they are talking down to you, pretending that you are not human, that you do not have reason, that you cannot think. This is what we adults desire of you; obedience unquestioning, parroting the desires of the commercial world, placing all your energy into labor, into service, into sporting, into the State, and at the cost of love, of art, and most especially, of thought. And forgive me if I am thorough, if I as well remand the atheist for his stupidity equal to that of the evangelist, for his is a faith in nothing at all. It is true that we do not hear of atheists torturing children, but their zealotry, their blind belief that there is no God nor can there ever have been a God is mindful of the same on the other side, as it were, the side in which a God is indubitably present and always has been, no questions asked or even imagined.

            And my thoroughness cannot stop there, for the other question I feel you must ask yourselves today is ‘what am I doing to vouchsafe the human future?’, ‘what am I doing that has any real merit to it?’. Another list: playing video games, playing sports, watching social media – how about that? – shopping and flaunting the fetish of commodities in your ‘hauls’ – how do the penitential factory workers of the global poor gain by your obliviousness? – experimenting with drugs, engaging in petty spats with your school chums, with your gossiping enemies, with your opposing team members, with those who belong to different cliques or yet participate in different activities – all without merit – than those you yourself take up. Twenty scant minutes a week to protest environmental degradation, taken at lunchtime, adoring the darling of parents and teachers and even some politicians? How is any of this of merit? No, it is pathetic, and the more so, it is this inaction of youth that allows we adults to dismiss you. You are only the reason that we are currently in control; the youth who frivolously expends her endless energy and her timeless beauty in shallow unending cul-de-sacs of self-absorbed vanity.

            So add to your resistance all that you imagine you do for yourself. No, the vast bulk of these ‘personal time’ activities take you as far away from the world’s reality as do the formal and officious duties that school, family, and the State impose upon you; just as far away. They are but the illusions contrived by those adults who desire in you a patent self-delusion. In one stroke, make your new ‘three r’s’ destroy both the institutional culture of violence against youth and your own soporifics that you have used to pretend that such violence isn’t there, that you are not being brainwashed at every moment, that your human birthright is not being taken from you by force. Understand instead that the new mythology is nothing other than demythology. That the future must be freed from the dead weight of the past, and that only you can free it, and by first freeing yourselves.

            I have no simple parables for you. I am not a messiah any more than I am a demon. Where a figure like Jesus took a paragraph to explain the ‘good Samaritan’, I have taken 5500 pages of fiction to provide a blueprint for a better human future. But the upshot of both is the same: ‘go and do likewise’. Young people of all nations unite; you have nothing to lose but the past, you have a future to win.

            Thank you for listening to me today and I wish you both the truest good fortune and wish upon you the most profound of human reason and conscience alike.

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

The Impersonal is not the Apolitical

The Impersonal is not the Apolitical

            One could thus say that history is action in the realm of the imaginary, or even the spectacle that one gives oneself of an action. Conversely, action consults history, which teaches us, says Weber, certainly not what must be willed, but the true meaning of our volitions. (Merleau-Ponty, 1955:11).

                Recently the activist slogan ‘the personal is the political’ has become well known to anyone who has attempted to identify themselves and thus their actions with a cause. This ‘volition’, this being-for-something, has a number of meanings as well as manifestations. And it is to its own history – the act that has been and not the action which will be – that we must look to find the pedigree of interconnected meanings which have accrued to this or that sensibility regarding our actions in the present. Weber is the first to thoroughly understand this relationship, which originates as an horizon of expectations and associated historical lenses in Vico by 1725. For it is in the distinction between finite goals and absolute values that we discover both action and act in tandem and as mutually imbricated.

            Let us first examine our sense of what constitutes ‘the personal’. For the Greeks, the purely private person was termed the ‘idiot’, the one who turns his back upon not only his civic duties but sociality in general. We could, with perhaps a mere footnote, continue such a use of this term today. But other Greek terms are more expansive and collide more forcefully with our modern horizon of meaningful expectation. The person who flouts social custom and morality is the ‘moron’. Such a term is in scant use today, at least in polite circles, but its general meaning is well taken. Of course, yet more obscure now is the Greek’s term for the one who flouts the fates themselves; he is nothing less than the ‘hypermoron’. But we can safely dismiss this bold individual given the altered meaning of destiny in modernity. We do, however, still understand those who simply don’t seem to ‘get it’, whether the scene is civility, sociality, citizenship or yet domesticity or the work life, as being not merely abnormative culturally but also somehow beyond the social succor of mutual aid. ‘They don’t want to fit in’, is something we hear of such fellowmen, with the heavy ellipsis that we should, in our turn, feel no sympathy for them since, in their ‘moronic’ action they add to the stress and strain felt by the remainder of us who continue to labor for a sane society and a healthy humanity.

            At the same time, we are aware of the tension between the individual and the group, the citizen and the state, the person and the polis. It seems to us a perennial one but in fact it is scarcely three centuries old. The ‘sovereign’ individual of the Enlightenment remains a Western ideal, even though personal rights are either questioned or yet limited in many places globally. But even in the West, we are shy of declaring the fullest range of human rights to the singular self simply because no society could exist without some certain set of limitations placed upon that same selfhood. These boundaries are under constant scrutiny and have been found to be most mutable, for better or for worse. And since the individual cannot ever be entirely free of obligation to the group, another modern distinction has come to the fore; that between public and private.

            It is in Arendt that we find the deepest exposition of the relationships between the public life of a member of the polis and the privacy of that same person’s alternate domain. Mirroring in a kind of ‘material’ manner the much more ancient distinction between the life of contemplation and the life of action, the one today understood as personalist and even private – though not in the utter disregard for either the public life or its ‘action’ – and the other observed in the shared sphere of the ‘open space’ of the public. It is this further division between how others may or may not interact with the person who has committed her thoughts to the private sphere and equally been committed to her actions in the collective realm that gives us the impression that we have inevitably and necessarily divided ourselves into two patently differing parts. Psyche and Anthropos, soul and form, mind and body, person and persona and so on, all cleave to this contemporary sense – and is it not also a sensation? – that I am not one thing entire but rather two relatively discreet entities; my ‘truer’ self and what I show to the world.

            Certainly at this point it can be gainsaid that both such conceptions of the self are ‘true’ in that they have both validity – a conceptual forcefulness and sensibility that includes both fact and value – and veridicity – that it is convincing enough to generate a portion of our worldview or social reality. When we casually, but regularly, tell someone that ‘this is a personal matter’, we are speaking over the divide that tells between these two major aspects of modern selfhood. In due course, much of what may have been occluded comes to wider light, whether in politics or in biography. This tells us that the personal is time sensitive. Something overfull with meaning at one point in our lives may even become devoid of relevant meaning later on. Each of us, having lived long enough, will experience many such transitions, which in turn tell us that the apparently discreet division between private and public, personal and impersonal, is at the least quite mobile and its discretions are liquid. Both of these characteristics impinge on any sense that in principle, ‘the personal is the political’, that is, always is so.

            Clearly, in fact, it is not. Indeed, as vouchsafed by the vast majority of social media posts, what people take to be personal and yet are avidly interested in sharing with certain others is hardly political in nature and never will become so. Now one may argue, with Baudrillard for instance, that the oft perverse simulacra constructed by and through digital life is after all representative of a kind of politics, the oddly but fittingly also perverse ‘politics of the apolitical’, shall we say. This suggestion is not without merit, but it remains a distortion of the widely shared social meaning of that which the polis consists: the collective identity and obligation of a culture as made manifest by the members thereof. Insofar as digital pedantry documenting the innumerable and seemingly interminable quotidia of the daily round is neither collectively identified with – witness the digital cliques often in conflict with one another – nor is anyone obligated to pay any attention thereto, these ‘persona of personalism’ remain outside meaningful political thought and action alike.

            The same cannot be said for the impersonal. Let us now turn to this obverse concept. If the ‘personal’ cannot be either ‘idiocy’ or ‘publicity’, and we have suggested it cannot in principle and by definition as well be the political, the ‘impersonal’ appears to escape all of these limitations in one stroke. One, the impersonal is manifest not in individuals at all but rather in social institutions, such as the church, the state, and the modern state’s minions; the education system, the various governmental ministries, the civil service, and the military. This is not to say that the effects of the presence of such sets of institutions might not be personally felt by individuals, it is merely to state that the institutions themselves can never be thought of as either personal or private. The so-called ‘private sector’ remains public and impersonal no matter whether or not the state invests in it, and indeed in our time, most such organizations are ‘public/private’ hybrids, leading to a host of other conflicts, the most scandalous of which in any democracy is the two-tiered education system. In any case, the impersonal now appears to be larger than life, if such is only defined biographically or from the perspective of a smaller community of shared interest and action.

            For Weber, modern rational organizations were anonymous, both in that very sense of ‘being impersonal’ and in their freedom from individual suasion and thus also obligation. Such an institution was part of his ‘ideal types’ analysis, wherein absolute values were shunned and finite goals structured all action. The very notion of the ’act’, as both historical and visionary, the one providing a kind of testament to the other’s cosmogonical birth, could not be part of any rationally self-defining organization, whether ‘public’ or ‘private’ sector. Just so, the modern rational individual – who is both private and public and participates almost equally in both self-defining ‘sectors’ in the more base sense of where the money comes from and who has sanctioned access to it – finds herself possessed by finite goals and is placed at a fair distance from any vision of an absolute value. Peter Berger, following upon Weber, has reiterated that what used to be understood as cosmic in both scope and import has oddly become what is most intimate and personal for us today; the religious vision is perhaps only the most obvious example of this transfiguration of ideals. Today, one can hang one’s hat upon a personalist religious sensibility and this makes one all the more unique, the singular soldier of a Christianity that is about your soul and no other, for instance. In no other historically known period could this make any sense.

            Similarly, the impersonality of modern institutions, however they may depart from Weber’s ideal rationality and impunity from private interest, declaim their symbolic frontages as capable only within the realm of the cultural imaginary. That is, a state governs a people only insofar as it can convince the latter that it does not truly exist without them. In reality, modern government appears to exist in precisely this fashion, giving those who labor within it, elected or hired or appointed, the equally distanciated sense that though they are ‘public servants’, neither such a public, nor hence their service to it, in actuality exists.

            So if we take the personal to be the space wherein action is contemplated in the privacy of one’s own individual musings, wherein ‘projects of action’ are worked out in a speculative, ‘phantasmatic’ fashion, and within which one can decline any real social responsibility – thoughts are yet ‘free’, as is said – at once we must deny the activist’s ideal. Instead, the personal is not necessarily, not yet, or yet never, the political. But we have seen it is otherwise with the impersonal. Though it strives, in its most rational and ideal form, to be apolitical, in reality and in history it is ever cleaving to this or that politics of the day. This is especially the case in nations where the civil service occupies a great proportion of institutional roles, such as in education or governmentality or health care. Only in the judiciary may we expect a strenuous public disavowal of the political, even though, once again, we know that the laws of today and indeed, on the ground, how any such set of laws is actually enforced and upon whom, are very much political in their origin.

            What advantage does this discussion hold out for the individual who, on the one hand, must balance her private selfhood, her desires, her anxieties, her prostrate fears and visionary hopes, with her public persona and its singular ambitions, collective responsibilities, reciprocal obligations and loyalist duties, and on the other hand, that same person’s efforts to translate thought into action without ever the sense that such ensuing action be either complete or yet completely fulfilled in its intended meaning? I think first of all that a clarification of what is meant by the term ‘personal’ is to our advantage. One, we no longer need guard it with such stentorian status; the personal is mostly just that, undeserving of much consideration from others, and so mutable as to dislocate our too-pious loyalty thereto. At the same time, two, the impersonal is laid more open to a general critique, some of which must emanate from a personalist perspective – in that I am affected sometimes intimately by anonymous actions originating in impersonal spaces; the stock market is perhaps the most obvious but also egregious day-to-day example – and the remainder of which must hail from the hallows of history and as well advance from the actions of the culture at large. Three, if there is a dialectic at hand, it can only be envisioned not as some ‘life/work balance’, some other ‘financial freedom’, or yet an ‘holistic health’, to name a few casual catchphrases which likely construe a vulgar politics of their own. No, such an apex, such a synthesis, will only be achieved through the constant and consistent critical stance applied by an effective ethical consciousness that in itself has already understood itself as being neither personal nor political but rather historical through and through. For history is the answer to morality, the saboteur of ideology, the humanity in the organization, the humaneness in the individual. We are in our essence nothing other than historical beings, and our local divisions, our divided selfhoods, are within it once again united in concert within its deontological embrace.

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

Bathing with Bach, Showering with Shostakovich

Bathing with Bach, Showering with Shostakovich

            If one could choose a single word with which to describe our present day, let us suggest ‘urgency’. We no longer live in a world wherein action has the time to evolve into act. A sense of the ‘must’ animates our every endeavor. This sense alone is, in itself, ancient, and likely begins in the eschatological time of Pauline anxiety, wherein the pilgrim finds himself concerned solely about whether the next is also the last. It might be a footstep forward into oblivion or salvation, it might be an action frozen into an act before its own history could be written. Urgency is a leitmotif in Western consciousness but until our post-war period, it has remained an abstraction; ‘one knows not the moment’, ‘I will come like a thief in the night’, and so on. This time of times is always put off, the end of the world is nigh but what end and how nigh?

            Is it a simple matter of a reaction that, preceding the revolution of 1789 in France, the beginning of the modern age and the first herald that urgency was indeed coming down to earth, that for a century prior this same culture had been about a steady state of cultural celebration, with Louis XIV, the ‘sun king’, exhorting his artists to remember that he has bequeathed to them the highest of tasks, his fame, including of course his posterity. The highest of tasks was also thus the noblest of gifts. A Rousseau was possible within this stasis; his ‘reveries’ solitary and his walks perambulations which always returned to the center of things. These are dreams without urgency, visions, hanging in the air above us, never touching the ground beneath. But a De Sade was impossible, for his nightmares, unleashed right at the moment of revolution, sound of nothing but urgencies, though they are base, vile, and sing the bass viol of the bowels of a now aged aristocratic chamber orchestra. These are nightmares without end, and thus even De Sade represents a transition in culture, and not the change once made. He is a liminal figure, which is one of the reasons his works remain, to a point, distressing. The orchestra is now staffed by chamber maids, even maidens, but it still sings of the domestic daily doings though shifted into the nocturnal.

            Thus it remains within the contemplative life, which shuns action even for its own sake and makes all human interaction into an historical act before its time, before history has an opportunity to sabotage morality, and before the actors realize how petty are their desires, even in torture and murder. For Rousseau’s Julie, a paragon of prudishness and propriety, is nevertheless the abstract ideal of the misogynist middle-ground. Nothing could be said against her even if equally nothing for her. But De Sade’s Juliette is perverse, a heroine who forces us to reckon with our own desires ranged against her. Nothing can be said against her insofar as she in fact already has everything that we want her to possess. But unlike her predecessor, Juliette is also armed with all that can be said against us. She is an indictment of misogyny, and the fact that she enjoys being only this only makes us look the worse. If De Sade retained his liminality by never committing to social and political revolution but rather merely described the stultifying darkness of the Ancien Régime, his best and brightest heroine begins to sign the radical change that augurs the new desire. And she does so simply by virtue of her own desires being utterly urgent.

            But these figures exist in a microcosm. What of the wider world-historical change that ushers in our own age and frames it at one end with the most solid of aesthetic and ethical foundations and at the other by nothing less than constant motion? This larger field, cast in the deepest relief in 1789, a centrifugal cauldron, a storm’s eye, a nexus making cathexis, is still better represented by music than literature. At the far end towers yet the figure of Bach. He is summative, his art the result of a millennia of evolutionary architecture. His most important predecessor, Monteverdi, is Bach’s own phylogenetic avatar. Here, and for the first time, Western music begins to assemble other forms, assimilate other sounds, throw upwards the folk song and pull downwards the religious chant. In Bach we at last have reached the zenith of everything the West represented to that time; the idea of the ideals, the mathematical symmetry of sound, the music of the spheres. And when the sun king dies in 1715, Bach’s own star – and is it odd that Bach’s face should so often be portrayed in our own time within a sun figure? – is about to ascend to heights no mere composer could have heretofore known. And this ascent is predicated, also for the first time, upon not patronage but upon art itself.

            It is in the B Minor Mass that everything comes together. But this ‘everything’ is of course the act, never the action. It is the act against which all action must thenceforth take place and take its place. In this magnum opus, Bach presents the universe as it was known and knowable in his own day. It is a statement in the most stentorian terms. One bathes in such music; it does not wash over you but envelopes you, and while it is cleansing it retains the ability to magnify itself through one’s very dross. When the work concludes, we do not feel any sense of change or that things should change in any way. We feel as complete as does the work itself. It is in this sense a space wherein life and death have been reconciled and no longer have any singular meaning. And how can we not be eternally grateful for such an expression of the cosmic force of existence uplifted into the essential?

            But in fact that is the entire problem Bach poses for us. The ‘eternal’ character of gratitude is nothing but an obstacle to both evolution and to adaptation. It presumes upon a world itself unchanging, a cosmic order that is as infinite as it is timeless. Here, art does not imitate life but rather transcends it. This is the understanding that Bach, the divinely human architect, brings to the rest of us. This is the far side of the frame of modernity with which we still must reckon. It is so beautiful that it is like a death to turn away from it, and yet turn away we absolutely must.

            In our own time we have, with halting harrow and tremulous trepidation, given ourselves the tools to do so. Beethoven is the first revolutionary composer. At first he imagined himself an ally of Napoleon, but after seeing the results of Austerlitz in Vienna, realized that he as an artist was the ambassador of the highest humanity and hardly the lowest. Thus the amended dedication of the third symphony, itself the first truly modern work of music. It is the first because for the first time we have a sense of the urgent throughout the work. Beethoven 3 is the benchmark for all such works that follow and the closest contemporary parallels to this work may be found in the symphonies of Shostakovich. They are linked by that singular sensibility, urgency, and tasked with that same singular ambition, revolution.

            In Shostakovich we have found at last a role model untainted by politics and indeed, in his own life, as a prisoner of the Soviet State from time to time, as a suspect artist whose works were always too ‘Western’ for hardliners, as the musical equivalent of Solzhenitsyn and indeed more gifted, Shostakovich through his art not only defeated the evils of authoritarianism – it is an ongoing irony that his works are performed so often in today’s Russia – but also exposed the fraudulence of 1917. In Symphony 11, ‘The Year 1905’, we are thrust into action, not act! We are immersed in urgency, never somnolence! Many of his greatest works declare the pressing need for a new revolution, and not merely for Russia. His German counterpart, Hans Werner Henze, intoned the same: “Man’s greatest work of art: world revolution.”

            Encountering Shostakovich one does not bathe, but rather showers. Here, even the water itself never stops moving. It takes the dross, without assimilation, down the drain of history with its own life ever onward. We are ourselves drained in such an encounter and this time the feeling is one of incompleteness. I am missing something, the music throws me forward. It is the future I am missing, the very human future, no longer a function of eschatology, no longer premised upon faith and promising salvation. No, in Shostakovich we receive a demand and not a promise. Revolution is ongoing just as history does not rest. Change is the only permanence, which sums our contradictory existence as active and acting beings who resist the future, the very thing that gives us life. Is it due only to an archaic sense of art that we flinch at the horizon? In contemporary art we find not beauty nor even transcendence, but rather the shadow work of the collective soul. Every encounter is a confrontation with ourselves, splayed open before the Augenblick of revolutionary lightning. If we turn away we are as were the Nazis, cowed into reactionary diaboli in the face of life as it now is and as it now must be. The fascist draws a line at the moment his conscience speaks. He will not hear it, not hear of it. Each one of us who adores Bach without reaching both hands out to the heroes of Shostakovich’s works is no less that same fascist in spite of our apparent civility and ‘good taste’.

            For it is no matter of etiquette that animates the history of our own day. It is rather made meaningful through scruple, ethical and aesthetic at once. As John Berger suggested, we must vanquish the sense that great art carries humanity up and over its own condition in order to regain the sensibility that in fact what art in reality does is make more real our shared situation so that we in turn can more meaningfully negotiate it from within its midst. Art is and always will be our willing ally in any crisis. It is we who turn ourselves away from this joint task and reject its ever-revolutionary gift.

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

Mississippi Metastasized

Mississippi Metastasized

            This July marks the twentieth anniversary of when I left Mississippi. Reading the odd news item emanating from this ‘southernmost place on earth’, seemingly little has changed during the interim. Indeed, what appears to be occurring is that the sentiments that animate the old world vices of this haunted landscape are spreading, popping up in places distant from their epicenter, behaviors behaving more like a cancer than a culture. Sentiments of race and gender division, sentiments of law and order at any price, sentiments that keep youth as children overlong and bring them to conformity through violence, and sentiments that speak not of a class society, an outcome of contemporary economics, but rather one of caste, a symptom of an ancient and archaic worldview.

            And speaking of which, not just sentiments, but sentimentalities as well. The ‘last myth’ of the apocalypse and ensuing divine judgment provides a ready rationalization for all of the other blights that mark the social fabric and tear at the tapestry of both civility and civilization alike. For the person who shuns the future, his vice must be turned to virtue, and there is no more sure solvent to assuage any conscience of its doubt than a fervent, nay, fervid, loyalty to Barnumesque religiosity.

            I witnessed, and I use the term advisedly, much of this fervor first hand, even intimately. It provided a rationalization for the worst excesses of human behavior. One young woman with whom I became intimate was the child of evangelical parents. She had been whipped regularly growing up, until she had turned eighteen. Any hint of resistance on her part would end yet more badly for her. She related a time when she had simply run and locked her bedroom door. Her father kicked the lock right through and assaulted her with renewed vigor and ‘righteous’ vehemence. Shockingly, upon visiting her parents house, that same door remained in place and in its shattered state, years after the woman had moved out. She even pressed into her parents bedroom and opened one of their dresser drawers. I recall her lips parting and her body quivering as she showed me the belt that yet rusticated in that drawer.

            And this was common practice, and apparently remains so, throughout a wide swath of the United States. Nineteen states still allow physical punishment in the schools, and many school boards ignore the federal law that bans it for those eighteen and older given that many eighteen year olds are still high school students and thus subject to such assaults. All fifty states allow ‘discipline’, an evil euphemism which can placed along the same spectrum as ‘concentration camps’, in the home. Many American children are unsafe wherever they go. My friend’s brother received far worse, she told me, simply because he was a boy. If you were wondering why our cousins to the south live in such a violent society, look no further than how they raise their children.

            And the other side of this costly coin I also witnessed. The beauty pageants and ‘talent shows’ for young girls; and when I say young, think of ‘child marriage’ young and yet younger. My friend, who had also been entered throughout her childhood and teen years in these spectacles, and I sat through performance after performance of highly sexualized dance and burlesque routines accomplished by girls four years old and up. The combination of such lurid displays ensconced within the iron rods of ‘discipline’ and an otherwise Victorian prudery created an explosive tension between men and women who, even in marriage, lived separate lives.

            This four-square social division, black and white, male and female, is threatened by the LGBTQ2 and BLM movements, so it can come as no surprise that these progressive showings are resisted with great force by all whose loyalty is to a past, partly real – slavery, sexual violence against children and youth – and partly fake – this is ‘true Christianity’, Leave it to Beaver is the familial ideal – that neo-conservatism in general hangs its Bolers and Stetsons upon. And it is this ‘past’ that is spreading, given phoenix wings by the anti-abortion politics, the misogyny of Great Awakening sectarians, school curriculum restrictions, book banning parents, the list goes on.

            And Americans are aware of this conflict, though they seem hamstrung by it, transfixed by their own inability to counter it. When I travelled across New England in a job search in 2002 my Mississippi license plates gave the locals an excuse to abuse me wherever I went. Seldom did I get a moment to explain that in fact I was Canadian and that I simply had gone south for a job. When I did, the Yankees responded with ‘well, shame on you then’. I lost count of the number of times I was flipped off, and blacks in the Northeast looked at me with a mixture of fear and loathing. In Mississippi itself, they threw rocks at my car while I was driving past, spat at me from across the street. But as soon as they came to know where I was from, all of that changed in an instant. Black people, students and others both, were fascinated, astonished that someone like me should appear in their world. All were aware of its vices, its evils, and all were ashamed of them, and shamed by them.

            I was never so relieved to leave it behind. And so I had thought, for two decades. But what I see all around me today is a regression, a recidivism that desires to compel all of us to heed a real-time Gilead of epic proportion and yet narrow vision. ‘Even’ in Canada, you ask? In turn, my three years in Mississippi tells me to tell you to resist, at all costs, this regression and all like them; Putin, the Taliban, anti-abortion, child ‘discipline’, fake religions. If not, we may well find ourselves wishing to turn back the clock to a time when such resistance was still relevant.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over fifty books in ethics, education, health, aesthetics and social theory, and more recently, fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades. He is currently writing a memoir of his time in the deep south, entitled, ‘A Canadian Yankee in King Kudzu’s Court: three years in Mississippi’.

Abortion and Ressentiment

Abortion and Ressentiment

            “The phenomenal peculiarity of the ressentiment delusion can be described as follows: the positive values are still felt as such, but they are overcast by the false values and can shine through only dimly. The ressentiment experience is always characterized by this ‘transparent’ presence of the true and objective values behind the illusory ones – by that obscure awareness one lives in a sham world which one is unable to penetrate.” (Max Scheler, Ressentiment, 1912-13, [2003:36], italics the text’s).

            In his perceptive introduction to Scheler’s classic extrapolatory work on Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment, or ‘malicious existential envy’, Manfred Frings defines it thusly: “Ressentiment is an incurable, persistent feeling of hating and despising which occurs in certain individuals and groups. It takes its roots in equally incurable impotencies or weaknesses that these subjects constantly suffer from. These impotencies generate either individual or collective but always negative attitudes. They can permeate a whole culture, era, and an entire moral system. The feeling of ressentiment leads to false moral judgments made on other people who are devoid of this feeling. Such judgments are not infrequently accompanied by rash, at times fanatical claims of truth generated by the impotency this feeling comes from.” (2003:5). Such a description should be eminently recognizable to us today, as it is expressed in numerous contexts, including sectarianism, environmentalism, feminism, socialism, and nationalism. But these abstract manifestations of collective ressentiment themselves tend to ‘obscure awareness’ that we as individual persons often suffer from the delusions and the fanaticisms of deeply cherished existential envies. Such malice as can be found within envy or jealousy is indeed, ‘as cruel as the grave’, for it permits us to desire not only to replace the other with ourselves but to see that envied other destroyed. We do not merely want to be ‘like’ them, we want them vanquished from both society and its corresponding history. In a word, ressentiment seeks the death of the other via a projection of a self-hatred at one’s own personal drawbacks.

            Perhaps the most vocal space of the play of ressentiment today appears in the conflict surrounding abortion. In the USA, where such numbers have not varied much for about three decades, 41% of men and 35% of women feel abortion should be banned in almost all cases. About 38% of the population overall takes this line. A reasonable model of human belief and behavior must not only take account of the impetus behind such a belief, it must also account for the beliefs of the opposing two franchises, that is, the 59% of men who favor legal abortion and the 65% of women who do so, and thus around 62% of all persons in the USA. The governmental structure of said nation works to protect minority rights and in doing so, historically may have been said to over-represent any such minority on the political stage. The coincidence of this or that regime appointing chief justices also can lend leverage to specific points of view at certain moments in such a nation’s history. For the issue of abortion, this is one such moment.

            In saying this, we have touched the surface only of the ‘how’, and not taken the dive necessary to reveal the ‘why’. That is, why is abortion itself an issue at all, let alone a political one? It is well known in studies of gender development that males and females are socialized radically differently. Men are challenged by autonomy and fail to learn the skills required to ‘look after themselves’. This is reflected in their dependency upon women in conjugal relations and in child-raising. It is only very recently that the majority of men have taken up some portion of domestic labor; round numbers here are on the order of about one-third performing about half such labor, another one-third doing some of it but still the minority, and a final one-third doing nothing at all. During previous decades when men accounted for most of the public work force and almost all of the household income, this ‘balance’ appeared to function well enough. We should not put a valuation on such a symbiosis as was idealized in the ‘bourgeois’ family, since it has been well-documented that such an arrangement came at great cost for both dominant genders. Both Emma Goldman and Engels are to be credited with the most important critiques of this family type and insofar as it still exists, these critiques retain their validity. At the same time, if men’s impotency has to do with attaining a sense of independence, this is nonetheless an ideal of most men. For women, socialized to be caregivers and to give more generally without demur, the challenge is to simply preserve their own selfhood in the face of others demanding that they fulfill absent characteristics of an holistic self.

            The stage is thus set for mutual envy. On the one hand, men resent women’s self-sufficiency as well as their ability to provide emotional succor to others. They resent the female’s sexual energies and capabilities – no male virility can outlast female ‘availability’, so to speak – and, at least in the past, their general ‘beauty’ as defined by the esthetics of the day. Even now, for instance, supermodels are almost exclusively female. On the other hand, women resent men’s neediness, their immaturity when it comes to working with others, and their objectification of women as idealized sources of both Eros and the means to ward off the thanatic drive so prevalent in men, who have been socialized with correspondingly more violence than have women. The ethnographic work ‘Worlds of Pain’ wincingly documents this mutual resentment which gradually turns to the more malicious form of envy. For men, feeling ‘roped into’ marriage seems a cliché, but it is nevertheless a real sensitivity. They claim to be ‘trapped’ by the woman, whose own needs they struggle to satisfy in the present-day labor market and perhaps also in the boudoir. Yet the woman is equally trapped. Before ever actual children may appear, she is saddled with an ‘overgrown child’, to quote the many transcribed extracts, whose needs seem to grow in direct proportion to time served. The freedom and informality of a first date does not a marriage make.

            Children are mostly a bond upon the woman. They are thus potential leverage for a man to bring the freedom of the woman to ground. Not only is the cycle from conception to birth a dangerous one for women, post-parturition illnesses abound. But it is to the psychological burden of pregnancy that any ethical analysis must point. Children certainly suffer from this other resentment – it is no fault of theirs that they are born but many parents are possessed of the sense that children somehow ‘owe’ them; a clear delusion of ressentiment which the old also hold against the young in general – but it is more directly women who find themselves entangled within conflicting demands; the proverbial ‘second shift’, the idea of the ‘supermom’ and so on. We are not as certain when it comes to defining what it means to be a ‘super-dad’. We would argue here that the men who seek to ban abortion do so out of a patent ressentiment against women in general. By extension, the women who seek the same harbor that same violent envy against other women who seem more at liberty than they. This relative social freedom may be sourced in a variety of socialized beliefs and values, but the most salient variable that influences the relative rate of abortion between groups of women is status in the labor market. Professional or full-time long-term career oriented women have fewer children than meager status working women whose life of labor does not return many rewards. All of us live off this penitential form of labor, and it is global.

            We are also aware that the actual instances of abortion vary according to socio-economic status. In the USA this is simply due to the fact that the procedure is expensive. Indeed, in nations where medical care is ‘free’, we do not see widespread attention to abortion as a public or political issue. So the motivation for women who desire legal abortion access is that they wish to maintain this public status as well as a certain material level of lifestyle and consumption, and resent both their misgivings about being potentially self-seeking and thus also less of a ‘true’ woman. For men who favor legal abortion, they too desire a specific quality of life and may also feel that their dependence upon women is not tied to the woman being herself tied to children. Such men have themselves status and wealth enough to simply ‘trade out’ this or that intimate partner over much of the life course and thus are not bound to a particular marriage mate who is willing to ‘put up’ with their other male weaknesses, still very much present. True ‘no fault’ divorce is in reality based upon more or less equal access to resources, whether these are material, psychical, or emotional and ethical. Given the ratio of urban-rural, educated-less educated, and the distribution of wealth and access to cultural institutions and health care, the prevailing numbers associated with views on abortion in the USA reflect closely such numbers associated with the usual suite of ‘life-chance’ variables.

            While at first glance it seems that the levels of ressentiment and accompanying delusions – those who favor abortions are ‘immoral’, even ‘evil’ rather than in reality simply pragmatic and self-interested – weigh heavily upon those with negative views on abortion, those who favor legal abortion maintain a corresponding set of delusions about their opponents – they are ‘misogynists’ or ‘fascists’ rather than in reality being culturally impoverished and marginalized relative to the means of production – and thus also have to reckon with sources of existential envy which may have their expression in the denial of community or the import of familial ties. In sum, women who disfavor abortion resent the relative liberty of higher status women; men who disfavor abortion resent their dependence upon women in general; women who favor abortion resent men in general – specifically their would-be intrusiveness through the presence of children as a form of male leverage – and men who favor abortion resent any woman who would impinge upon their ‘earned’ status and idealized ‘freedom’ but who also must maintain the means to be relatively independent themselves. Though it does appear that ressentiment itself is carried more upon the side of disfavor in this issue, we should not be overly quick to clear those who favor abortion on this count given the highly polarized political division in the contemporary USA. Both masses no doubt imagine that ‘their’ country would be better off if all those on the ‘other’ side were dead and gone. This is ultimately the arbiter of the social presence of malicious existential envy.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of fifty books in ethics, education, health, social theory and aesthetics, and was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences of over two decades.

The State of the Division Address

The State of the Division Address

            I speak to you today from an unknown location. This place which has no name, and which can only be called therefore a space, is nothing less than the Now. It is immanent; it is fullest presence. It calls to the conscience and yet must defer its response to the future. This future does not yet exist and yet it in turn is imminent, almost upon us. It is simply what is next, and because we cannot entirely know the next thing, event, time or place, its import escapes us. Living as humans within the ambit of mortal consciousness, knowing the past exists as memory, trace, artifact and history; knowing the present is too fleeting to dwell within; and knowing that the future is itself unknowing of its own presence, it is perhaps inevitable that we turn elsewhere to understand the meaning of our condition, odd and fragile.

            Even though each one of exists simultaneously in all three guises of abstract time – we have memories and we live in cultures which have histories; we are ‘in’ the moment without being inside of it as if we were halted and time had stopped; and we design our lives so that a future of some kind is expected if not entirely taken for granted – and thus each of us understands, however incompletely, the indwelling of our beings in that unknown location which nevertheless speaks to us of existence itself, it has become clear that we as a mass culture have limned ourselves into an unenviable position regarding the definition of this ‘elsewhere’ to which we direct all of our collective energies.

            The choice laid before us is one between two further abstractions, freedom and salvation. They are opposites, even antagonists, and their hold upon our imagination is such that if we do decide for one or the other, the one left to the side is immediately scrabbled up as if it too were part of the singular decision; being saved first is also being free, being free first is thence being saved. Because these two conceptions refer to states of being and their relationship to Being, whatever the definition of this may be – it matters only for the ethnographer to delineate the contents of belief, here it is a question of contrasting absolute values of faith – it is always possible to add to one’s choice an indefinite list of other traits which are claimed to accrue to the original state. One thus finds ultimate freedom in an intimacy with a Being and a history which offers salvation of beings, or one finds that one has saved oneself, not only from the History of Being as an alternative and oft-seen superior ontology, but also from the very much human history that is just as often understood to have been a conflict sourced in beliefs about Being. So, on the one side, salvation offers an exeunt from our mortality; it is the finitude which hallmarks historical consciousness uplifted into the infinitude which expresses the continuity between Man and God. The cosmos presents to us no longer a finite experience, but one more in line with its own cycle of infinity. On the other side, finitude is accepted as a celebration of the open future in which anything may occur and through which I may become anything I desire, thereby placing me within the infinitude of cosmic evolution. My finite existence become infinite through my participation in that ongoingness which in its totality must escape my partial imagination. In this very incompleteness do I find my ultimate freedom, since I have no reason nor ability to know the whole.

            Both of these absolute values are powerful expressions of the will to life. Salvation seeks life eternal and thus the overcoming of both will and history. Freedom desires a will that is itself endless, hooked into both human history and that cosmic. I marvel at both senses of how we are what we are, a consciousness made up of an ethical conscience, a reasoning wide-awake thinking, and an uncannily clever unconscious which, contrary to some popular psychological accounts as well as old-world demonologies, tirelessly works wholly in the service of that very reason. Once again, while salvation seemingly offers sanctity to being, freedom appears to offer it sanity. The difference lies in one’s willingness to frame will and faith either together as sibling allies, or as contiguous but contrasting interests and drives. Salvation unites will and faith by subsuming will as the worldly manifestation and agent of faith. Freedom unites both by defining them as almost the same thing; one must have faith in one’s will, for instance, and one must will oneself to have faith in the face of both an impersonal though intimate history, and a cosmos both anonymous and aloof. Salvation tells us that we are not alone in our quest for the wisdom, not of the ‘how’, but of the why, while freedom declares that our solitude is at the very heart of authentic choice and the being-able of living as a reasoning being. It takes the presence of human reason to be evidence of our evolutionary ability to free ourselves from that very evolution. Salvation seeks to convince us that this ability is the kerygmatic gift of a God; bestowed upon us so that we can know of God’s will and perhaps even of God’s mind. Freedom assures us that the Gestalt of the entire history and pre-history of our species is contained within that same kernel; our ability to think things through with no end is thus just as infinite as is the mind of any divinity.

            So is it an effort merely of perspective to offer ourselves these two ultimate sensibilities? Are we describing to ourselves the converse side of the same shining object, the brilliance emanating therefrom blinding us to the reality that it is the same thing of which we are speaking? If this is indeed the case, then we have defined both salvation and freedom only incompletely, using the other as a foil and as counterpoint, when in fact they are two names for the same basic will to live and live on. At present, from our unknown mortal space, we can only suggest that this may be the most reasonable manner to think about them. In doing so, we avoid placing them in competition with one another and we may even be able to use each one as a way of understanding the manifold of the other. This is not a purely historical exercise, in that we are not solely interested in questions such as ‘how did the concept of freedom change or limit that of salvation?’ or ‘how does the lingering belief in salvation impact or impinge upon our conception of freedom?’ and the like. No, such a question that brings together salvation and freedom in a tandem query about the meaning of being-present, currently unknown, states at once the division in our contemporary culture and a manner through which it can be partially overcome. It tells us why we are so divided, which in itself is a kind of Godsend, as well as expressing a doubly powerful means by which we can understand one another with a great deal more authenticity and intimacy than we currently do.

            For right now, the extended presence of the Now in both directions, as it were, we are nothing but division, and the boundary drawn up in the sand beneath and between us is inscribed by the hand of a being who has taken on for itself either the divine or the cosmic. In both we are utterly mistaken about our condition. In reality, we are neither the authors of salvation nor of freedom, for we are but expressions, in both narratives, of either a superior being which is Being ‘itself’, or another order of being which encompasses all beings. To pretend to either is to at best avoid our status as the ‘one who can think but not know’, the ‘one who can reason through unreason’ – referring to the interface between the conscious mind and that unconscious – and the ‘one which lives on in spite of death’. Neither the divine nor the cosmic has any use for such devices as we have conjured for ourselves, so in dividing I and thou, I am not only doing a disservice to that mortal genius I am also dragging the infinite down to my small level. Only in my narrow imagination does it concede and consent.

            Instead, this state of the current division in our global society should inform us that we are dangerously near the precipice which heralds the loss of all meaning. In placing overmuch the value of absolution into absolute terms, both the purveyor of salvation and that of freedom have excerpted themselves from their own shared humanity. In spite of the historical argument that salvation speaks to us of something that has always been and is itself timeless, whereas freedom recognizes that the essence of time is tempered only through temporality and thus cannot be overtaken by Being, it is more truly a question of whether or not there is to be a human future. In this, salvation steps aside from the ongoingness of the imminent future, and freedom seeks to influence, even control, its oncoming mass. Salvation pulls me out of its way, freedom allows me to step bodily into it. More truly then, the apparent choice to be made between the two absolute values is one of ethics. Do I take myself out of history entirely, that passed and that yet to be made, or do I throw myself once more into the flux through which I have also lived? Is this a choice for the moment, or is it rather that we are staring in the face of the very passage to Being? In a word, that we must choose freedom first and let salvation happen in due course, that freedom is in fact a choice and salvation is simply an outcome? It is too trite to simply tell ourselves that ‘heaven can wait’, for in imagining that something other is indeed awaiting us takes the edge away from living being; that double-sided edge, one of which we own as a visionary sword and the other of which threatens us at every mortal turn. No, just here we must step back and honestly answer to our ownmost condition: I cannot know of my own salvation; I cannot avoid my own freedom. So the very choice between absolute values is itself a false one. Spurious and specious, both salvation and freedom, one the unknowing fraud of premodernity and the other the overwrought charade of our own time, have combined to render human existence too partial to its own projections. The time has come to place both to the side and step away from the disunity they have sowed amongst our shared humanity. Only by doing so will we have an opportunity to discover that if and in the first place, either of them were ever real.

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

We Latter Day Eugenicists

We Latter Day Eugenicists

            Surely it has been an open secret that the US supreme court is contriving a means by which to overturn the 1973 abortion ruling known as ‘Roe versus Wade’. Perhaps, with a sense of both legacy and posterity, they will attempt to do so on the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark case. The ‘leaked’ missal that purportedly reveals news to this regard can be taken as both political theater but also as a signal that the court’s neo-conservative leaning justices will only wait so long before acting. At once a signal, value-neutral in itself, will become a welcome sign for that sector of American society which desires a ‘return’ to a kind of real-time Gilead, as well as an unsurprising signpost for the observer who desires to chart the course of culture-driven politics during a period of global reactionary movement.

            Yet the conflict concerning the definition of what constitutes a human life is not, at least at first, a political discourse. In my view, such a topic is existential and also perhaps ethical, before it is political, simply because humanity is first a living organism conscious of its own existence. This is the basis upon which any ‘political animal’ can evolve and to which any logic of subsequent political language can obtain. Even so, the boundary between what is merely organic life and self-conscious human existence is mobile and notoriously difficult to agree upon. In that, biology becomes politics and in rapid fashion. The question that can be asked of this social conversation, a cultural conflict, a political hot-potato is ‘what drives the fascination with defining distinctly human life?’ and only thence ‘what is the motive behind the sense that abortion is itself an interesting issue?’.

            Certainly the definition of what is human has altered, often radically, across the epochs. For social contract societies, to be human was to be this people, this group, this community, and no other. As the scope and complexity of human social organization accrued to itself a basic scale and social hierarchy, gradations of humanity became commonplace. Some hierarchies were so gray-scaled as to have hundreds of minute distinctions – several from colonial Mesoamerica included over three hundred ‘versions’ of humanity, ranging from ‘pure-indigenous-rural-savage’ to ‘pure-Madrid-born-aristocrat’ – and even in our more enlightened days, we often imagine that due to variance in both behavior and belief, this or that one of us ‘descends’ or ‘ascends’ the exiguous ladder of self-creation. We have neither entirely lost the sense that our enemy is less human than we, nor that my neighbor must exhibit the same kind of sensibility as myself in order to remain fully human in my eyes.

            So the concern for defining what constitutes a human life is, in part, a concern for self-definition. Who am I, as a human being? What does my humanity mean? Not only to me but to others as well. Knowing that we as individuals are altered by the course of life in that our existence changes our self-definition – ideally, we would become ‘more’ humane, if not technically ‘more human’, as we mature – we also must consider the problem of how to adapt to these changing definitions. At length, we must also confront the denial of existence, that which is not life at all, human or otherwise, and we belatedly realize that of whatever human life consists, it cannot surpass its own fragile boundary. The inability of human life to experience and thus come to a patent understanding of its own completion in death, suggests that we are self-conscious of ensuring that the beginning of such a life be well-defined and vouchsafed against a premature lack of definition and thus lack of humanity, simply because we are aware that this same lack will eventually overtake us.

            Seen in this way, abortion becomes an active expression of that which cannot be lived. It is the unlived agency of premature burial. It is active because I have chosen to end a potentially human life before it can take on its own ability to self-define that life which is its own without yet being its ownmost, and it is unlived because the object of my action is unable to experience the distinction between life and death, having not been able to undertake its own thrown project. This seems poignant but it also can become maudlin if we dwell overlong on the sentiment that each of us has a ‘right’ to life. No, life is a privilege that we give one another, and that on a daily basis. My defensive driving, my disinterest in firearms, my lack of inebriation, my self-care – doing yoga instead of viewing pornography, perhaps – confers the privilege of ongoing life upon both myself and others. Life as a human being is both a task and a gift due to its historical character and the fact that our kind of existence is aware of its equivocal history. Yet neither task nor gift originate in some other existence, let alone essence. Their pressing tandem represents the very character of the human condition and is not the hallmark of divinity within history. Abortion is a deferring of the privilege of one life in order to redefine the privilege of another.

            This may at first appear radical. Yet considering that our very social existence, our general quality of life and the way in which we desire to live – consuming at our leisure, feeling that we have a right to bear and raise ‘our own’ children, allotting vast resources to defending what is ‘ours’ against all comers and so on – comes to mean that the lesser other is herself aborted. Perhaps this takes place in the womb itself, but more often it is reflected in relative mortality and life expectation tables worldwide. A rising tide is said to float all boats, but the boats themselves have not been equal since the first social hierarchies emerged. We live aboard the super-yachts of the seven seas. And with this contrast comes the rationalization that the lesser other really is worth less, that ‘my’ children come first and others must look after themselves if they can. This contradicts the ethics of all religious world systems since the advent of Buddhism, as well as those of the Enlightenment. Paul Ricoeur summed it best: ‘The love we have for our own children does not exempt us from loving the children of the world’.

            So abortion as a premature ending of the privilege of human life must itself be redefined before any other discussion regarding its ethics takes place. We must take this moment to examine how the way we define our own humanity places the distant lesser other at some risk, or yet replaces them with impalpable versions of ourselves, to be counted upon to help defend the front lines against those who would make us lesser. This is not a ‘war of all against all’, but rather a conflict about the question concerning whose life is worth more and whose less. And however many fetuses are ‘saved’ or no, it is by the post-partum practice of geopolitical abortion that we will be ultimately judged as having attained a better humanity or as remaining the parochial and incompetent, halting humans of our primordial infancy. Indeed, the very concern surrounding the origins of human life in the present may be understood as a misplaced nostalgia for the birth of our species. To make this the center of any definition of human life in the present day is to utterly mistake the character of how we live in that selfsame present. To do so by a political calculation is to knowingly commit to a premature grave the vast other who redeems our self-serving humanity with its lifeblood, drained in infancy, aborted in the back-alley of our base consciousness that seeks to recognize and realize only that which is closest, the closed closet of my overly self-conscious will to death.

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

Old World Mind, New World Machine

Old World Mind, New World Machine

            Yet anyone can follow the path of meditative thinking in his own manner and within his own limits. Why? Because man is a thinking, that is, a meditating being. Thus meditative thinking need by no means be ‘high-flown’. It is enough if we dwell on what lies close and meditate on what is closest; upon that which concerns us, each one of us, here and now; here, on this patch of home ground; now, in the present hour of history. (Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking, 1959, page 47).

                For many of us, thinking is itself a practical matter. It dwells upon the matters at hand, it lives only for a specific purpose. This because our society provides such ready-mades, the stuff of the collective perception that constitutes a worldview, that in fact we are seldom called upon to think at all. At the same time, perhaps most of us consider thinking to be the province of the scientist or the philosopher alone. For the preeminent thinker of the twentieth century to remind us that this is not at all the case is of great import. It is also quite correct. What the species-essence of humanity is, is thought, made manifest through consciousness. It was once only sentience, billions of years ago, as organic life separated itself from the inorganic fabric of the cosmos. It was once only instinct, when enough complexity accrued through evolutionary organicity to enact the senses protean and proprioceptive. And most recently, it was once only habit; whatever appeared to work was repeated, honed, made second nature.

            But in this very process of experiment and experience, thinking presently arose. It was, as it mostly is today, originally geared into the eminent practicality of how to practice a uniquely human life within an anonymous nature. Humans are generalists, we belong to no ecological niche, we adapt to any variable, we shun the specialization of our once closer kindred animals. Even so, thought was itself not yet present. Thinking was a thinking through, a thinking about, attending to a process or an object problem, and not a thinking-in-itself, thought for the sake of thought alone. This final aspect of consciousness as we know it is what can be called ‘meditative’ thinking. It differs from Eastern forms of meditation, wherein thinking in the Western sense is to be temporarily expunged. This more well known definition of meditation remains a healthy exercise for the mind and body alike, but it serves the futurity of our species-being only insofar as it sets up a contrast between what consciousness is when it becomes less active; outwardly more like a lower form of life – a sensory apparatus that only reacts – and inwardly perhaps more like one higher – the Gods have no need of thought as all is already known to them.

            But meditating upon an abstract problem, including the perennial ‘problem of consciousness’, an ontological puzzle, or even the ‘problem of knowledge’, an epistemological issue, is quite different than ‘meditation’ in the spiritual sense, transcendental or otherwise. It is the idea that one can have an idea that prompts the sense that I as a human being am capable of thought. Not that ‘my idea’ is prone to any singular possession. Anything we do is automatically the proof property of the species at large. Even if we tell no one, it influences our acts, our further thoughts. In a word, I am altered in my very being by having this thought, as I am created as a thrown project by having thought itself.

            Yet if thinking is not the province of the philosopher alone, why then do we have so many occasions to note its relative absence in the world? If anyone can participate, why then do we not see more interest in this regard? The most authentic challenge to thinking comes from our need to think about the world. We imagine that our ‘patch of home ground’ is indeed what is ‘closest to us’. The exhortation to ‘act locally but think globally’ is a noble one, nonetheless, it simply substitutes a smaller concern in the world for the world as a concern. Both are objects in this sense, and thus even if their scale differs, they remain quantities, things, about which we attempt to negotiate or ‘figure out’. The sense that something either works or it does not promotes a thinking that is sustainable only within the context of work, and increasingly, simple labor. Let me use the obvious contraption ‘thing-king’ to designate this kind of thought process. In thing-king, there is a beginning and an end, and both are precise enough to ingratiate a practice that may, over time, become a personal habit or yet a cultural habitus. We notice a problem, issue, challenge, or mistake. This is the start of practical thought, thinking about a thing. ‘Fixing’ the issue is the only goal. Many means may be necessary, certainly, but the end is defined at the beginning and as Heidegger’s student Arendt has cautioned, we cannot ‘justify’ separating ends and means in the trite manner of the moral chestnut simply because the ends have already delineated the means and therefore have by definition ‘justified’ them ahead of time.

            Not that this is necessarily an ethical problem pending the ends. By far most everyday challenges require no revolutionary means to achieve a desired outcome. They neither demand the radical nor the novel. They are simply part and parcel of ordinary existence and remain within a logistics of worldliness. It is in this way, even though they are deemed to be necessities of human life, that such practicalities prevent thinking from arising. That this is an authentic bracketing of thought is evidenced by the lifeworld’s insistence upon its own reproduction. We cannot think in a void. But practice – the fixing of logistical issues, the enactment of means tending toward finite goals which can be known or at least observed from a short distance – and even praxis – the sense that practical theory is itself a means to world-historical action – do not suffice, and can never suffice, for thought itself. For thinking, as opposed to thing-king, is encountered, not enacted. Its goals are undefined ahead of time, its means are diffuse and seemingly have a life of their own. Thinking is, in a word, about nothing other than thoughts and thus takes place only within the history of consciousness.

            So while it is reasonable to exclaim at this juncture that, ‘I have no time to meditate on abstractions, things that aren’t really things at all. I have to get on with it’, we must ask the question, ‘what, exactly, does getting on with things mean, suggest, imply?’ At once we have our genuine response: human life is composed chiefly of activities that from time to time need to be adjusted to practical purpose and to finite ends. Even so, the truth of this statement is only the case within a wider understanding of existence, one that includes, and indeed is originated by, our species-essential ability to think at all. Practice and praxis alike represent means only, and whatever ‘ends’ that are contained within this or that process of such thing-king are themselves but further means.

            But means to what? Meditative or contemplative thinking is its own end insofar as it is a means to itself. This may sound circular as well as pompous, but consider thinking with the understanding that thought is neither a subject alone – our thoughts are historical, factual, mythical, as well as being biographical; but then again, what is so much of our biography if not habitus made into habit? – nor is it an object – thinking is very much not a thing in the physical sense, and attempts to reduce thought to neurochemical combinations and synaptic structures only serve to place the process by which thought arises into some more precise locales. Given our human success is due to our ability to ‘think things through’, the sense that we should try to locate thought as if it were itself a thing seems counterintuitive, for our thinking mimics our wider heritage as evolutionary generalists. We are potentially unlimited as a species, even if I as an individual must meditate ‘within my limits’. This is the more profound meaning of the near and the far to be found in sudden declamations to ‘think globally, act locally’ and so on. I act and think within certain limits, many of them not my own in any individuated sense, yet I can also at least imagine thinking, if not truly acting, in a much wider way. It is that single act of imagination which allows us to encounter the essence of thinking-as-it-is.

            Yet if there is an uneasy, even somewhat suspicious relationship between practice and thought, the one still admits to the other that its practices originate in contemplative thinking. It is otherwise with the inauthentic barriers to meditative thought that our everyday world has constructed. These include the distractions of the newer lifeworld of the idolatrous thing, the fetishized commodity, but as well, the delusions of the older lifeworld’s customs and rituals, what is defined as habitus and heresy alike. Between the machine of the new and the mind of the old, human thinking is confined to a space stenochoric to the future and at once reduced to peering at a thin slice of the past. Custom represents only the most common elements of culture, no matter if this or that ritual comes once in an individual lifetime. And the technology of a culture in turn represents what is most commonly practiced by those same individuals. Both rely upon repetition, and only challenge us when the outcomes expected from them do not automatically materialize.

            Even when this is the case, ‘fixing it’ immediately becomes the end to which the means at hand are harnessed. There can be no thought outside of these circles, whether sacred or secular, whether customary or technological. But meditative thinking is neither sacred nor secular, it engages no loyalty to religion revealed or ‘civil’, and in this lies the key to our encounter with it: thinking is itself revolutionary. By this I mean that in order to engage in thinking as a species-essential gift and task, one must needs shed all loyalties to both custom and craft. One must begin to understand means and ends as artificial boundaries that impede the act of thought by reducing it to a specific point-to-point process. There is no ‘there’ to thinking, as Heidegger has implied. It is a here and now encounter with the new and with my ownmost being which is ever new. This is what is closest to us; our own being in the world as I breathe and as I am. Yes, this existence precedes an understanding of essence but it does not negate it, in the same manner as though we have historically given ourselves credit for the death of the Gods and the shattering of the illusory otherworld, does not then mean that otherness no longer exists.

            For thinking is itself other. It is other to life as we have known it, to history as it has been, to myself as I know myself and what I expect from myself. It is other to what is customary, but also to what is technical and of technique alone. It is other to the generalized otherness of the social fabric and it thus gifts us with the ongoing task of being more than we have taken ourselves to be and to once have been. The old world mind is an unthought vice of tradition alone, unchallenged and too well known to aid the human future, while the new world machine is an unthinking device which cannot know itself and thus has no future. Only human thought, meditative and contemplative, abruptly present and yet in the ever-closing presence of the future, opening us to the possibilities of consciousness in its relationship with the cosmos from which it has perhaps unexpectedly sprung, marks us as worthy of a continued existence.

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

The Question of Democracy

The Question of Democracy

            It is commonplace at the moment to point to the war in Ukraine as a test of democracy. Its meaning there, on the ground, is transparent enough. Belarus, essentially a ‘client’ state of Moscow, is a case in point regarding the potential shift in social freedoms that a defeated Ukraine might well undergo. But it is also the case that in general, most citizens in every nation want a society that is more free than it currently is. This is not to say that they simply desire to ape any specific other country, say Finland, which perennially tops the best countries’ lists both in the objective scales of the world social health index and the more subjective sensibilities represented in the world happiness report, recently published for 2021. The idea of ‘the best’ aside for the moment, it remains clear that most ‘average’ citizens are yet vehicles for their respective traditions and thus do not entirely relish living in autocratic states. From Iran to North Korea, from Sudan to China and back again, what they do is make do.

            The politics of autocracy differ from the cultures of tradition along a number of lines. One, State and Tradition hail from different historical worldviews. Where tradition has not, or has not yet, given way to ideology, its contents may be millennia old. Theocracies attempt to funnel some of these pre-modern or even ancient contents into their ideological platforms but the effect, though very real in some of its consequences – the ‘Sharia’ law in Iran, for instance –  is yet symbolically fragile. Modernity and its predecessors have never mixed well, and it is almost always the case that those who are attracted to the latter day sainthood of revivalism or yet millennialism are themselves from the social margins. Two, the State is originally an urban phenomena that is acquisitive; it needs to grow its franchise and thus its power in order to survive. Tradition tends to be rural and seeks only its own reproduction over ensuing generations. This second schism between politics and culture sees the State often ‘dragging’ traditionalists into what passes for the distended present, but this tension also prevents the State from looking too far ahead of itself. Fittingly, and lastly, tradition looks rearward and the State looks forward, though only to a point. This third difference is the most disturbing for anyone hoping for a better human future, or perhaps any human future at all.

            It is a difficult mélange, our contemporary political culture. Democracies, limited as they are in reference even to their own ideals, struggle to balance competing interests yes, but more so, and more deeply, conflicting claims regarding the definition of the ‘good’ society. For the margins, the premise of an extant God may still be at work, fronting a promise that any future means the end of history and the transfiguration of humanity. Or, at least, some elect community thereof. These citizens have no authentic interest in democracy just as they may shun autocracy. Their path is toward an inner light. The problem they present to the rest of us is that their mission often seeks to include those who it patently resents, even if it is to merely bid us onward along the highway to hell. A significant minority of North Americans cleave to such traditions, no matter how Barnumesque they became over the course of the nineteenth century, and no matter how personalist became their ‘beliefs’. In the crisis of today’s democracy, it is equally important to look critically and candidly at the aspects of our own society that are fundamentally anti-democratic.

            And it is easy enough to do so, even if the stakes seem lesser than on the battlefield afar. Our own conflicts of culture and politics center around the difference between premodern moralities and contemporary ethics. The first posits timeless principles, such as the Decalogue. The second searches for a new Decalogue, a different table of values that reflects a radically altered reality. But though we might be smug to the point of disdain should some old-world voice sermonize at us, the neo-conservative margins of liberal society serve us more as a convenient decoy; a way in which to transfer the burden of defending democracy as over against a straw person; someone who can be mocked, derided as if he were not actually present, not unlike our conception of the God who is supposedly dead and yet who maintains vast legions of faithful. Instead of allowing such self-made decoys to distract us, the authentic task placed in front of the true democrat is rather to examine one’s own loyalties.

            Three anti-democratic features immediately leap out from fully modern society, institutions that borrow only the trappings of traditions and those mostly as a marketing device. One, the presence of independent schools in our education system. Two, the lack of proportional representation in our political system, and three, the prejudice against youth participating in that same system. The three are linked, of course. In order to lay more fully an authentic claim to actually being a democracy, all three must be rendered obsolete. First, all private, parochial, independent and charter schools in Canada must be shut down, their public funding – the reality that those who cannot afford to send their children to such schools nevertheless help pay for them through taxes is a scandal that approaches a kind of banal evil – redirected to a universal and singular school system. Such independent institutions serve only to reproduce status and wealth hierarchies and as such they are radically anti-democratic. The resources of the various elites – whether these are purely economic, as they are in most cases, or whether exclusion is practiced by ethnic background or religious creed – must be placed into the common pool. This is how a democracy learns. Second, proportional representation must be adopted at all political levels, replacing the so-called ‘first-past-the-post’ rubric. This will ensure that regional and local voices are heard in a manner that more reflects their diversity. This is how a democracy governs. Third, the voting age must be lowered to age twelve, reflecting the age already identified in Canadian law that separates childhood from youth. Persons of this age already can have sex with one another, cannot be physically coerced, can seek out health and wellness counsel, and are subject to legal penalties for transgressing the law. They are thus already judged to be fully human enough to also be able to vote, and are certainly cognitively capable of understanding ‘the issues’ as well as most average voters. It is another scandal tending towards evil that the same ‘arguments’ against youth voting were used to prevent women from voting. The very same. Consign such bigotry to the dustbin of the past. This is how a democracy includes.

            One education system in which an atheist student can study Islam, and a Muslim student can study Buddhism, in which any student can learn Mandarin or a once this-gender student can transform themselves into that-gender and so on. And an expanded and far more representative political dynamic that will force politicians to be more attentive and perhaps even responsible to all citizens no matter their age or their voting patterns. Such changes are not only necessary for the future of democracy, they are as well a transparent signal to autocracy that this is what we are defending; no longer are we going to be tolerant of our own incomplete project regarding human freedom, and no longer will we wanly wink at the inequities that stain our own relative freedom and signal the leaders of unfreedom that we too, after all, have their immoral backs.

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