What is ‘Freedom of Expression’?

What is ‘Freedom of Expression’?

            Ah, Professor Peterson. I feel for you. Sort of. I myself have been branded by a seemingly narrow and intolerant vision. After hosting a series launch for my YA fantasy adventure saga ‘Kristen-Seraphim’, an 11 volume 5500 page epic, one of our local public libraries refused to actually stock the books, even though they were to be a donation. At first the librarian objected that their content was overmuch for young readers in contrast to the publisher, and so I simply replied, ‘stick them in your adult section then’. Of course the most tenuous excuses were thence trotted out, including lack of space for a such a large work, that there hadn’t been enough reviews in the press, my publisher was third rate, or perhaps it was because I wasn’t truly a local author, having moved from the West to East coasts relatively recently. Whatever was in the librarian’s mind, none of my books is yet held by any local library in spite of almost four thousand such holdings worldwide.

            Well, I can see that there might be a few prudish old maids out there who might in turn imagine that a teenager reading about the murder of God (and the Devil, to be fair), by a motley crew of teenage heroes, one of whom is addicted to violence, another to herself, three having been abuse victims and four who are in lesbian partnerships might be a tad hard on youthful psyches. Reality, in other words, is sometimes tough to take, and both for readers and authors alike. Jordan Peterson is himself now finding this out, and perhaps for the first time. On the one hand, any professional body by definition has the right to rule upon its membership. Such organizations are not themselves above any charter or constitution but rather they stand alongside it, issuing their own relatively autonomous edicts and drafting their own codes of conduct that reflect and sometimes refract the wider legal conditions. Peterson’s lot is no different from anyone who belongs to a professional society, indeed, considers themselves to be professional at all. If I, as a professor for a quarter century, spent some of my class time explaining not ethics or art but rather how ‘hot’ this or that female student was, I would be guilty of a serious breach not only of professional conduct, but also of authentic pedagogy.

            But this is the most obvious side of it. In contrast, and in oblique and partial defense of Peterson and all those like him, if I declared Bruckner to be a superior composer to Tchaikovsky and Hitler to be a better painter than either Churchill or Charles III, does this mean I am guilty of being a Nazi or that I would turn the Tchaikovsky museum into a motorcycle repair shop, as did the SS at the time? Indeed, the fact that I have some small reputation as a philosopher in aesthetics might lend some cantor to such judgments and those like them. And the fact that I’ve written plenty about art, politics, ethics and education might lend still more. Even so, at the end of the day, it is still an opinion, no matter how rationally argued or contrarily, merely rationalized. But it is elsewise when it comes to denigrating or favoring a specific other for non-rational reasons, such as giving out the best grade to the ‘hottest’ student.

            And speaking of beauty, the woman on the cover of a popular magazine would indeed be considered beautiful by many disparate rubrics, including those Polynesian, that Odyssean – think Calypso – and that of Rubens and Gauguin, both better painters than Hitler. But even if Peterson was another Kenneth Clark we shouldn’t truly care what he thinks about the female form. Nor does it matter what he thinks about the simple process of language change over time. Language changes by and through its use by people in the world, and if personal pronouns no longer fit the bill for some people so be it. Like perceptions of beauty, perceptions of selfhood change over time, and one must engage in a serious philosophical disquisition of how this or that alteration might effect the wider human psyche or at the very least, how it offers further insight into it. The point is, is that by making such statements as have been reported in the press, Peterson has consistently engaged in unprofessional conduct. This doesn’t matter at the level of person – you’re free to say and think what you want as long as others are not threatened; that said, the difference between merely taking offense and actually feeling threatened has, of course, been blurred of late – but it very much does matter if one is a member of a profession that pledges to help all people no matter their backgrounds or self-perceptions.

            All of us must police ourselves with regard to our behavior, both publicly and privately. Does this mean we all live in the Fourth Reich? No, we rather simply live in a society, with others, within institutions, and dependent upon all of the succor of the social contract. This is a large chunk of what it means to be human, and that hasn’t changed one iota since the primordial days of our most distant ancestors. By all means, exert social change for the better, but equally so, if you want to mouth off about petty issues in a correspondingly petty way and there are professional bodies that sanction against such pettiness, take my ‘advice’ and don’t join them.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of fifty-five books in ethics, aesthetics, education, health, religion and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades and may be reached at viglion@hotmail.com.

Poiesis and Untruth

Poiesis and Untruth

            Lying is a privilege of the poets because they have not yet reached the level on which truth and error are discernable. (Santayana, 1954:338 [1906]).

                Speaking into being that which heretofore did not exist is a narrowing of the Greek term, for ‘poiesis’ originally refers to anything that is ‘made’, or even to the act of ‘making’ itself. That it has come to be associated more specifically with language alone, and yet even poetic language, is a function not of any etymological ellipsis, but rather of industrial production, which makes effortlessly and seemingly without being. At the same time, it creates a kind of violence, both against the process of making but also against the idea of creation. Creation, in the modern day, might then be more aptly referred to simply as production, even reproduction. Benjamin’s famous essay about the status and nature of the work of art in our own age, that of ‘mechanical reproduction’, is still a lynchpin of understanding our common lot vis-à-vis art. What then can be an aesthetics of industry, a poetics of production, a lexicon of l’art pour l’art?

            This sudden violence, betraying its potential for evil within its very subito, taking us unawares and blindsiding us with its thief in the night, is yet only possible if we ourselves are unrefined, produced rather than created and especially, self-created: “Only the weak are obliged to be violent; the strong, having all means at command, need not resort to the worst. Refined art is not wanting in power if the public is refined also.” (ibid:324). Santayana cautions that in this industrial and technical age, escape through any form of art disorients us in our intent; we would become distracted, even entangled, rather than approaching art as one would a respected lover. Here, desire is present, but not lust. The will to Mitsein overtakes anything ulterior. The ‘companionate marriage’ is a social poiesis in this sense, but so is the genuine mentoring relationship, which is, at its best, what parenting also is or becomes. And in each and all of these variants, art is attached to both reason and rationality through the effort that must be made to create it, to bring it into being as a manifestation of poiesis. Perhaps it is too pat to simply declare the mechanism to be a lie and the creative force which has ever and always a poetic nature to be equally within the truth of things. For the object of reproduction, in its minions and in its millions, speaks its own kind of truth after all.

            The issue is rather that we tend to take this truth for both objectivity and rationality, as if the object of production, in a word, the commodity, is the epitome of human reason. In so doing, we have divorced the artistic process which is poiesis from the ‘bringing into being’ of something not extant beforehand. One response has of course been to deny such objects any relation to being, preserving this existential term for either animate and sentient objects such as animal life or more grandly, only for human beings themselves. But this too is both premature and a kind of untruth. However mundane and mass produced, the commodity is nevertheless a product of the human imagination, and to the nth degree, at least in its numbers, efficiencies, and technicalities. A second response has been that the very intent of producing the object, though a creative act, sullies in a final and fatal manner the creation itself, thus through its purpose it loses its connection to being. This too cannot be entirely dismissed but I feel that along with the first response, such a criticism is over-ripe and hurried. Objects are after all placed in use, and persons, once concluding the commodity contractuality that is the vulgar goal of all capital, often use such objects in creative ways not predicted by their manufacturers. In this, the consumer is herself a being who only exists momentarily, and thenceforth becomes rather a creator or an imaginer.

            Thus it is too easy to engage in a critique of an entire series of events and eventualities by hanging it up on a singular point, whether it was at this moment that the particular series began or ended, changed its timbre or upshifted itself, perhaps even in a dialectical movement. The commodity as fetish does of course extend the half-life of such critiques, but even here, the fullest intent of how this or that produced item is to be venerated by us is, as often as not, not followed through upon. And the rationale that is issued from the producer which might run something like ‘all we want is for you to buy it, you can use it however you want.’, comes across as more of a rationalization. A most picaresque example of such a thing came during the first Iraq conflict when France was critical of the American invasion and working class Americans bought expensive French champagne only to break the bottles in ditches. One could imagine a tradition-minded vintner objecting but not a contemporary capitalist.

            Poiesis is not abandoned in the commodity fetish. This may appear reactionary, for how then could one explicate the problem of the contrived power of the fetish itself? Perhaps we should return to Marx’s sources. The religious fetish had no power of is own, but rather was first a receptacle for Mana, then a vehicle for it. That it had to be propitiated in a primitive sense – the fetish is not after all an icon, temple, or other space of oblation and genuflection – which involved more ululation than anything else, tells us that it as an object was quite useless. In short, the fetish item was ever a source only of potential energetics. This being so, how could one compare a mass produced object meant to be sold at a profit and used in a specific manner, to a unique object whose use was absolutely undefined until the moment it is, ‘poietically’, spoken into being?

            Let us pause just here, and double back to Santayana’s plaintive call to poetic conscience. Instead of merely nodding in a Platonic cum Nietzschean manner to the idea that art is beyond truth and lie just as love is beyond good and evil, and that there is some sort of ‘madness’ in both, the madness that speaks of the death of God amongst other mad, and angry, things, we can docket these facticities for a moment and suggest that the artist, since he has no reasoned conception of truth, can dally with untruth in the very being of creation; that is, through poiesis does what could not be true come into being in the world. For industrial production, for mechanical reproduction, for technical process, this means reiterating the truth through an ongoing lie; the idea that the commodity contains no being and is born of no art: “The man who would emancipate art from discipline and reason is trying to elude rationality, not merely in art, but in all existence. He is vexed at the conditions of excellence that make him conscious of his own incompetence and failure. Rather than consider his function, he proclaims his self-sufficiency. A way foolishness has of revenging itself is to excommunicate the world.” (ibid:363).

            Just so, the most finely crafted objects of capital, the great auto marques, the vintage wines, haute couture, even memorable and time-tested popular songs, are still and always still commodities. Does this epithet make them less creative, less a part of being, less close to poiesis? The untruth of poiesis is that it can create only the once, and for its next trick must differ its creation and defer its creativity. Mechanical reproduction is a merely more efficient means of disciplining the reason of and for copying. One might write the same manuscript, prior to the Incunabular phase of early printing, once a month say, for a year. Then there are a dozen hand-made copies of what is essentially the same object, the same work. Yes, the writer or illustrator might make intentional alterations for the sake of uniqueness, increasing, as per the going rate the idea that it is not merely a copy but each its own work of art, but what if these alterations are only mistakes uncalculated and unintentional? Amphorae were mass manufactured, even vessels of trade and war, in antiquity. And how many clay pots would it take for the post-war critic to admit that the productive-commodity relation existed side by side, nay, as a very part of the point of creation and construction, recreation and reconstruction, at the very moment of poiesis?

            It is no simple task to place the mute and dormant fetish into the vibrant and vivid commodity. That they both contain expectations of themselves and of their use can be understood as one point of contact. That they both elicit anticipations in their would-be users, whether ancient or modern, both consumers of the ‘to be created’, the ‘to be enacted’, is another. But the vague desires with which our ancestors approached the fetish were, unlike those later in the temple or in front of the oracle, as unlike anything the modern consumer brings to the commodity as could be imagined. Perhaps Marx got hung up on the apparent likeness between them, feeling that the both the fetish object and the commodity in themselves did nothing. This too is a piece of poietic untruth, for a table, to use his own example, has in itself and standing alone outside of any aura, a precise set of functions that can be enacted or interacted with, without any sense of veneration. Indeed, it is the sheer lack of fetishism in the commodity relation that marks consumption as an often vapid venture. That brand logos take on the mantle, though not the mantra, of Mana – each month there is a competition amongst them to gauge the most valuable branding – in capital presents something more akin to the original fetish. But even here, the logo is not the thing itself. The prancing horse is not the auto, the one is a mere sign for the other and not its signature. No such disconnect, no such distance, was to be found in ancient societies. And the fact that it is only amongst the elite brands do we find any hint of fetish strongly suggests that it is poiesis itself which is being hyper-valued and not any specific creation thereof.

            And this in turn points to the error of disassociating on the one hand, poiesis from mechanism, and on the other, untruth from rationality. The first relationship remains, though in impersonal form for much of the production process. Even so, one cannot have a commodity without a creator bringing something into being that was not extant beforehand. The second relation is more complex: certainly, rational organizations seek to level truth and lie through anonymous dynamics and reducing persons to roles alone. At the same time, the movement from right and wrong to correct and incorrect is not quite enough to convince us that there are still proper ways to go about one’s business, that there are still rules, laws, and consequences for transgression. ‘Truth and lie in a non-moral sense’, by no coincidence the title of the most important short essay of the 19th century, does not by itself propitiate a world which is beyond morality, only a way of being that sees beyond the moral gloss that veils and manipulates what is and what is not, as well as calling into question any absolute definition of either. It cannot be used as a means by which to critique the supposed disenchantment the ‘pure’ commodity relation has brought into that self-same world.

            In sum, poiesis lives on. Its scope has been magnified, its precision codified, its powers purified, and at both ends of the living spectrum of existence. Its untruth of inexistence, its ability to utilize becoming as a way of speaking into being and then naming this odd miracle ‘creation’ rather than ‘production’, is a piece of sophistry which is unworthy of even the lies of the poets themselves.

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

A Critique of Criticism

A Critique of Criticism

            But happiness and utility are possible nowhere to a man who represents nothing and who looks out on the world without a plot of his own to stand on, either on earth or in heaven. He wanders from place to place, a voluntary exile always querulous, always uneasy, always alone. His very criticisms express no ideal. His experience is without sweetness, without cumulative fruits, and his children, if he has them, are without morality. For reason and happiness are like other flowers – they wither when plucked. (Santayana, 1954:261 [1906]).

                It is to the mind of the moralist we must look to see the confluence of vision and motion. Not that such a voice moralizes, taking upon herself the mobile redoubt of the world as it has been. Rather she not only inscribes new tables of value, but refashions the tables themselves to better reflect the world as it has come to be, perhaps even within a single human lifetime or yet less. Such a being is of her time and within it, rather than taking this historical fact as a slight that one is compelled to endure, or standing aside entirely and watching the twice-disdained world pass her by. Certainly, there are moments in the life of every authentic critic wherein the world seems both distant and unhearing, where one’s voice falters at every word and at every note does waver. But as long as the thinker herself does not falter in either her sense or her stance, the waves of the world will not displace her and indeed, will gradually expose their own force to her singular counterpoint.

            It is the case that many a critic will find himself lodged in this place, now that, but transience of location is not the same thing as a vision transitory and fleeting. Paul is the apical ancestor of the critical traveller, calling no place home but maintaining both his purpose and vision, while long before him, it is Odysseus who makes a mission out of regaining his homeland and the hearth within it; his mission and purpose are built into the fact that he is distant from them, and this is no different from the Pauline character later on, who is at once divorced from a heaven which is itself yet immanent. And if its imminence can be questioned, put off, unknowing of itself in its exact timing just as is the Promethean death for human beings, then nevertheless is it with us; its presence is felt not as pressentiment, for this implies temporality, but instead as the source of the vision itself.

            Yet Santayana regards even visionary flights to be suspect historically on two counts, they either call to themselves a fanaticism or a mysticism. Odysseus could be characterized as the former, Paul the latter. In his single-mindedness, Odysseus narrows the scope of his heroism, which was, at Troy, kindred with the other legendary figures of the Iliad. Orpheus descends to the underworld and returns, providing the model for the later Christ, but the odyssey is suggestive of nothing more than a bestiary written in the style of a travel memoir. We admire the hero’s loyalty to his home and perhaps somewhat less so to his mate – though even his dalliances with other women are not heartfelt, on either one side or the other; Nausicaa essentially snubs him as someone who is seeking a surrogate for Penelope and in the former’s wisdom, sees through this charade as many women today are yet apt to do, though now mainly in psychoanalytic fashion, while Calypso engenders a lengthy fling but little more – but we cannot admire as much Odysseus’ willingness to sacrifice others to his reverse quest. Paul can be admired for his critical vision even if it takes too much into itself. His loathing of women marks him as more than a mentor for his ‘amanuensis with benefits’, one might smirk. Paul’s otherwise pedestrian pederasty is utterly of his time and is not truly of interest, in the same way that modern thinkers with alternate sexualities do not excite either the senses nor the insightful mind. For Paul, the entire world is what for Odysseus was simply the non-Greek world. Thus the notion of barbarism is extended, ironically, in Christianity, but all the more apropos given that this is now not a specific person on a mission, but rather the mission itself embodied in any person.

            The disembodied selfhood of the mystic therefore meets the embodied missionary in the fanatic. It is more apt to suggest that both Odysseus and Paul had mystical visions toward which they steered and were steered, but were also just as comfortable maintaining their respective single-mindedness, their fanatical drives, in order to eventually achieve this mystical state. For the one, Penelope and his own estate, for the other, God and His estate. So while Santayana is correct to regard both mysticism and fanaticism as non-rational vehicles of disdaining the world and its worldliness, with the former seeking the otherworld and the latter merely a new world (or perhaps, an imagined previous one; in this, Odysseus may be charged also with a kind of oddly neo-conservative bent), it is less certain that they may be distinguished on any other grounds. Santayana gives us only rootsy exemplars which also trail off in their approach to an ideal rationality. Instead, we are going to suggest here that it is within the ability to critique the critic may be found one key to avoiding fanaticism and mysticism the both.

            While the original critic excels in noting the shortcomings of others, his very success does him in regarding keeping the critical distance necessary to his own ability to engender authentic insight. As a scourge of certain forms of hypocrisy, Paul remains a good role model. As an objective source of critical insight, he often fails miserably, and not only on the subject of women. His patent anxiety remains our own, but his soteriological salve cannot be owned by the present-day. As an expression of being-ahead and of resoluteness, two of the essential structures of Dasein, Odysseus retains his relevance for each and all of us. But this hero fails in his representation of the good life, since the efforts to regain his home are all in all, and to say that he had a coterie of interesting experiences while running along is not enough to provide any ultimate balance or fulfillment. One’s very humanity is lost in both cases; the Odyssean is bereft of perspective, the Pauline absent of community. We are led to think, along with Santayana, that the well springs of life are at base irrational, and “…so its most vehement and prevalent interests remain irrational to the end.” (ibid:267).

            But it is an error to impute a modernist conception of either origin or motivation to antiquity. Rather, both heroic narratives are driven on by non-rational means, and not those irrational. Irrationality can never generate a vision, only a delusion. And even the most homely sensibility that coagulates into form betrays its essence as rationally based. One’s home and hearth are the commonplace and familiar versions of one’s peace and one’s heaven. Both warm themselves to us through a sense of grace. One is the subjective non-rational and the other that objective. This is a more astute understanding of how they differ from one another and the more so, how they differ from any modernist conception of the irrational, which lacks, almost by definition, a sense of community in that the grace of sociality has departed it. It is always and ever a dreary and miserable life one encounters no matter the psychopathology at hand, no matter the serial diagnoses, which in their discursive turns eerily mimic the wanderings of the lost soul in question. Both Odysseus and Paul wandered but neither were ever truly lost, and perhaps this is the most basic and also the most important point of both narratives. Their shared heroism was that they maintained their sense of who they were and the more so, what their respective lives meant, in spite of all challenges and detours presented them.

            Thus subjective non-rationality adheres well to the position of the critic. She is the voice of unquiet Ungeheuer, of a dis-ease with the world. She has enough intellectual power to have overcome mere angst, Weltschmerz, or even the structural inclination of her Zeitgeist. But in so doing, she is halted by her own sense of both rightness and righteousness. The one is authentically generated by her critical insights, but the other is an inauthentic appendage that attaches itself to brilliance due to the ego’s self-interested aspirations. This is the moment in which a critique of the critic needs to appear. Ideally, the critic herself will engage in this act, which is an expression this time of objective non-rationality. It is at once an auto-demythology, something every thinker must engage in from time to time lest his ideas get the better of both he as a person and he as a mind, but as well needs be accomplished as a manner of regaining one’s unique humanity. For the critical mind is no different from its Odyssean and Pauline archetypes. In questioning the going rate, we travel elsewhere than home and hearth, believe not in heaven and experience an absence of peace in our lives. Our ‘children’, whether human or textual, ‘lack morals’ simply due to the fact that we ourselves have called all morality into question, as we must. And while it is well known that a cardinal error of bad parenting is to make your children into a social experiment and at cost, it is equally good parenting to ensure that they do not become either the automaton or worse, the martinet. Hence the additional weight of objective non-rationality in the previous metaphysics, and the onus upon the modern thinker to translate this into a simpler objectivity which is rational but not rationalized.

            What do we mean by this latter day effort? Today, we have the unique opportunity to avoid both mysticism and fanaticism, even if both forms of criticism remain in our world. That they are patent and potent dangers to it is also well known and for most of us, something in itself to be avoided. But passive avoidance will, in the end, not be enough. Such forces, in both their rightness – not as in the right as they were in antiquity – and their righteousness – regrettably, almost as powerful as their progenitors though one may gainsay that some of us are not as credulous as some of our ancestors apparently were – will overtake the cultural balance given enough time and structural stressors such as poverty and economic woes, political irresponsibility and fascism in the home and in places abroad. No, in confronting the problem of overcoming the world as it has become is, as Santayana does suggest, a task fit neither for the mystic nor the fanatic. Indeed, both of these figures in our own day makes matters far worse. A reasoned objectivity knowing of its own social location is one aspect of a better critique. But more importantly is the demythology that each critic practices upon her own efforts. We cannot leave it only to others to criticize our works. For each has his own agenda, his own mission, however worldly. And in each may be found the lesser insight of his or her respective home and hearth, and the lesser vision of that same one’s paradise. That these are necessary, as Santayana decorously declares, so that the very conception of what is moral does not disappear even if equally so, this or that moral compass must be jettisoned in lieu of the futurity of the species-essence, does not in turn make them sufficient for any authentic critique let alone demythology. The heart stays at home, perhaps, but the mind travels. The heart is content to rest within the myopic presence of love alone, but the mind is unsettled in its very being simply due to the equal presence of the imagination. What other might there be, what else might exist, what further history will yet occur, all these suggest nothing other than flight. That these movements of being need not be merely airy while at once needing not the aerie of birth and succor, mark them as specifically rational and contemporary.

            In critiquing the critics, we attain the next moment. We do not regress by way of the nostalgia of a bygone homeland or childhood within, nor do we progress only through an unearthly vision of heaven and a delusion of peace at any price. Instead, let us together engage in both the dialogue of criticism and the further dialectic of critique, and do so in wholly rational and reasoned manner. In subjecting our own thoughts to both dialogue and dialectic, we participate in the hermeneutic encounter with the self. We take on the risk which the wisdom of recognizing that we do not know our fullest selves explains to us, while placing ourselves in the opened space of a world in which we discover what is absent in merely being myself and understanding no other. And our duty to that other is to perform the same demythology for their selfhood. Only in this way do we overcome the worldliness of our smaller perceptions of the fanatic and avoid the flight entire from the world in our seeking the otherworldliness of the mystic. That the critic is to be found in both mystic and fanatic should not give us pause overmuch. This is still the criticism which is necessary but by no means sufficient to the human future. Even so, though its critical insight is sound, its mystical or fanatical remedy is an illusion. Take the next step then, and allow the world to respond in kind, promoting an ongoing dialectical movement wherein the otherness of both world and others never gives in to righteousness while at once being able to recognize the rightness of the critical voice.

            In that we remain a rational Odysseus, we search for a new home. In that we retain a rationally oriented Pauline sensibility, we remake the known world into its own better realm. In that we are critics we do not leap upon the fashion, but in that we are auto-critics, we yet leap into the fires of the one who’s being is resolute futurity and thus is ever wary of becoming merely consumed by the flames of its own heartfelt passions.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of fifty-five books in ethics, religion, education, aesthetics ,health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the inter-disciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Two Contrasts: History and Soul

Two Contrasts: History and Soul

            Man is still in his childhood; for he cannot respect an ideal which is not imposed against his will, nor can he find satisfaction in a good created by his own action. He is afraid of a universe that leaves him alone. Freedom appals him; he can apprehend in it nothing but tedium and desolation, so immature is he and so barren does he take himself to be. He has to imagine what the angels would say, so that his own good impulses (which create those angels) may gain in authority, and none of the dangers that surround his poor life make the least impression upon him until he hears that there are hobgoblins hiding in the wood. His moral life, to take shape at all, must appear to him in fantastic symbols. The history of these symbols is therefore the history of his soul. (Santayana, 1954:222-3 (1906)).

                Angelic intellect results in a paucity of the imagination. Condemned to walk the earth, to till it, to lay upon it and ultimately be buried within, we human beings might well imagine another kind of existence which would never stoop to simply being life alone. It has life, no doubt, but living it is not. And hearsay, whether it implies angels or demons, nymphs or goblins, does nothing to free us of our own poor imaginations. Nay, rather it provides their fuel in the face of both cosmos and freedom alike.

            Let us then take history and soul as our two contrasting epigones. The one betrays morality at every turn, the other is supposed to have ingested it whole; indeed, might be said to be its conception as a fetus is conceived and develops in the human womb. This womb is conscience, its child our better selfhood. Better than what? Superior to both tedium and desolation, which is, on a bad day, what the universe so free and so aloof looks like to the naked eye. The twinkling stars be damned, for their winks are a smug conspiracy of eternity which mocks and sneers and at the end of each night simply despairs that mortal consciousness the cosmos over – once again, for the heavens do not have favorites – will ever ascend to anything more than what it has already been. From Mahler to Sagan, this motif haunts us: ‘The firmament is forever blue… But Man, how long do you live?’ opens up the desolation – though never the tedium! – of The Song of the Earth. The artist asks us to contrast our own paltry existence with the very thing that reminds us thereof, and does so each night. In turn, the scientist warns us of the myriad of civilizations which, upon attaining a certain level of technology, promptly destroy themselves. Will humanity be the next? This is not a case of a much-reported ‘Jewish’ anxiety, ported into that Pauline and made ahistorical by living on, step by unutterable step, as an anti-historical force. From Marx through Husserl, Mahler and Freud, Sagan and Chomsky, the idea that their family backgrounds had anything to do with their accomplishments or outlooks on life is a piece of anti-Semitism at best, for anyone who is so accomplished has become so in part by shedding his life-chance variables; in a word, has chosen soul over history and thus engaged in the transformation of both.

            But this is precisely the question with which the rest of us are left, when confronted by either art or science: what of the contrast, even confrontation, between history and soul? Just as the conception of the sacred is said to be transcendent to history – it survives even the oceanic shifts associated with changing modes of production, for instance; and this without respect of course to any of its historical contents, which do not so survive – soul is an archetype, both in the Jungian sense of the term but more tellingly, in the yet wider linguistic sense of it being ‘archiphonemic’. On the way to this exalted status, it accedes to also being an apical ancestor, the unmoved mover which sits atop a certain kind of genealogical diagram, as if it generated the world from nothing. It is the local version of Godhead and it itself is divinity made worldly by being implanted in a mortal vessel. Like the sacred, the soul survives the end of this vehicle, which in the meanwhile, giving into both its brute senses and its brutish imagination, has betrayed its spirit and made soul nothing more than an admired prisoner, to be genuflected at but otherwise utterly ignored.

            In spite of our ‘childhood’, which in Santayana comes across more as childishness as expressed by beings who in fact do know better, soul asserts itself. In casual language, we hear it associated with a certain kind of feel or spirit in the arts; this or that ‘has soul’ or is soulful. We hear of it being blessed, both as a kind of rustic epithet – ‘the old bastard, bless his soul’ – as well as being in earnest and directed to a beloved other. Either way, we cut to the chase by its use. ‘Soul’ is meant to refer to the essence of one’s character, and thus pertains, indeed, even dictates, how such a character has expressed herself. Has she attended to her conscience, her ‘better self’, or has she betrayed it? Has she raised the soul of another upwards to compete with the imaginary angels or has she cast it down, to the penury of temptation and eventually soullessness? And while the childishness which too often guides us yet might imagine the judgment to come nonetheless, we also know better on that score that no one is after all keeping.

            As an archetype, soul is not supposed to have a history at all. Thus no accounting of it makes any ultimate sense. There is no score, beyond the nonexistence of the scorekeeper, and yet the game remains always and already afoot. What then of its purpose, its meaning, its ends? History the game, soul the player? History the narrative, soul the protagonist? History the meat, soul the bone? One could go on of course, but suffice to say that the essential contrast between these idealities, one the fullness of change and the other its fullest absence, is one between movement and presence, even existence and essence. And if we have learned by now that ‘consciousness is itself a social product’, then why not soul ‘itself? It would seem no serious slight to sign off on such a saying. Consciousness contains both history and soul insofar as the first is written and lived by we conscious beings and the second comes to be known through its oddly awry impingement upon the ethical aspect of consciousness; the conscience and its conscientiousness. One might suggest, with some effort at countervalence, that history also objectifies consciousness and soul makes it into a subjectivity. In fact, this is the better manner of understanding both their constitution and their confrontation.

            History is played out, not without consciousness but even so, ‘outside’ of it. I can read our shared history since I too have participated in it, but I cannot read your singular soul as mine own is always in the way. Just as I can never see the shadow figure of the schizo-affective who, in absence of most, even all, of the other salient archetypes, has retreated into the radical and existential doubt the shadow represents, simply because I have my own shadow that in turn, no one else can ever see, your soul forever remains invisible and can only be communicated through the translation my own makes of your conscience brought into history by conscious act and speech. We humans are distinct from one another just as we are separate from the cosmos at large. What makes us so is, perhaps surprisingly, not to be found in history after all but in the individuatedness of a perspectival consciousness which has, graciously or no, included soul in its wandering embrace. If history carries us along, we in turn do the same for soul. We, in fact, are its history as well as being its movement, its vehicle, its expression. In being so, my own life becomes the fulcrum that balances their autochthonous contrast. History pulls me along willingly; I am change and I desire to be so. Soul provides the existential weight that must be so pulled along; I am nonetheless that which changes and not the change itself.

            But if we wish to speak of species infancy, we should first acknowledge the history of this sensibility. For the Greeks, existence in history connoted as well as promoted a regression into a baser form, a return to infancy from being otherwise. For the Christians the infancy of Man was his existence entire, and we would experience maturity only by being freed of our mortal penance. But for the fin de siécle infancy was more of a promise than even a premise. Yes, we are a child-race – this sentiment can be found, though without rancor, in H.G. Wells’ 1903 address to the Royal Society, and has become a staple of science fiction in general from Sir Arthur Clarke to Star Trek – but the child is nevertheless the father of the man. Santayana is more critical than is the British Wells or even his American comrade in the history of consciousness, William James, but he is still hopeful. For Nietzsche, that other great pundit of the end of a culture, childishness was something to be overcome by the other dominant feature of infancy: child-like wonder.

            We understand, more or less, the history of the soul. We know these conceptions apart from one another and as contrasting forms twice over, as it were, for hovering about the soul’s own history is the question of the soul of history. At one glance, we might say that the soul of history is change itself, but the effort to identify change then becomes all in all. In the self, in society, in morality, in consciousness, even in that firmament ‘forever’ blue. The next step in development away from species infancy lies in our collective ability to understand the changes that are occurring even if our childish solace which selfishly hugs the soul only to itself fears now this and now that without reason and in ignorance of its own powers. The phantasmagoria of symbols which is the history of soul in form and indeed in history must no longer be taken for the future, which only comes into being bereft of mere symbology and instead takes up love’s perfect freedom. For if soul is the manner in which I love myself, history attains a higher love; that of the other at first, then the culture, then the species, then the cosmos. But in all of these portages, ethical and existential alike, soul historicizes itself and only thence frees itself from its self-love, which was after all the source of all fantasy in the first place.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of fifty-five books in ethics, education, religion, aesthetics, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the inter-disciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

On Multiple Worlds

On Multiple Worlds

            But to defy the world is a serious business, and requires the greatest courage, even if the defiance touch in the first place only the world’s ideals. Most men’s conscience, habits and opinions are borrowed from convention and gather comforting assurances from the same social consensus that originally suggested them. To reverse this process, to consult one’s own experiences and elicit one’s own judgment, challenging those in vogue, seems too often audacious and futile; but there are impetuous minds born to disregard the chances against them, even to the extent of denying that they are taking chances at all. (Santayana, 1954:170-1 [1905]).

                Our seemingly conflicted consciousness is so because it has come into being from a combination of two distinct worlds. That there are two hemispheres, associated with specific structures and patterns of cognition, is likely more of a practicality on the part of the evolutionary brain rather than a direct reflection of the bifurcate sensorium into which such a cognition has been placed and through which it has come to be. What are these worlds, then, that have combined both surreptitiously and yet surrendered each other to their combination?

            One is the world of nature. In nature we discover that which at least resembles an ontology different from our own, as expressed in a myriad of both animal and static forms all capable of being understood through the purely mathematical frames which seem to, in their turn, speak the language of the cosmos into conscious being. Nature is generally seen as discrete from culture, if not in opposition to it. This latter regard comes not from science but rather from a pre-scientific understanding of the natural world, at once the source of life and at the same time possessed of the ever-present threat of death. An animal may be eaten or it may eat me. Nature is thus presented to consciousness as itself a bicameral expression, with the living and dying played out by anonymous process and dispassionate dynamic. As such, there is nothing more nature can give to an intelligent being conscious of itself in a wholly different manner than what we can discern in nature; one that is both self-conscious and comprehending of time.

            Two is the social world. Schutz’s ‘multiple realities’, from which the title of this essay is borrowed, differ from one another, often in radical ways, but they all share the absolute placement within the social reality of the world of humanity. To say that ‘nothing human is alien to me’ is also to say that what is not human might well be alien and remain so by definition. We also take the risk that our inhumanity, no matter how much we might desire to suppress it or to shove it away from us and thus into another world, might, through its own sense of counter-ressentiment, take a further vengeance upon us by devolving the social world into a lower nature, abject and petty, as if what is merely ‘red in tooth and claw’ by happenstance would itself become calculated and thus create an enduring evil.

            Between the world of nature and the world of culture there exists the conscious mind. Its basic architecture, its neuro-chemistry, its autonomic and proprioceptive functions, are all products of evolutionary Gestalts. They are what remains of nature in ourselves. Insofar as we do not yet understand the whole of it, consciousness yet appears as a kind of microcosmic miracle. Nature has overleapt itself in its creation, and we need not make any kind of ideological or even customary distinction between these two loaded terms, ‘creation’ and ‘evolution’. Evolution has indeed created itself and recreated itself due to its temporal suasion, and thence may boast of creations and even to a certain extent, an unknowing creativity, in its living expressions of itself. But this is where nature leaves off and culture begins, and if there is a liminality to this moment, attested to by the sense that we will never be able to precisely identify the ‘thing’ that made our primordial ancestors differ just enough from their direct predecessors to begin the lengthy journey to modern humanity, it is not a fatal mystery to admit to ourselves that something of the sort must have occurred in any case. We have, in a word, all of the evidence we need to hoist such a claim aboard the complex apparatus of our scientific vessel.

            Similarly, the heroic quest to observe the beginning of the current universe is made so only by its deeper calling; that of it also being a witness to creation. In that we cannot ever see the moment when the first proto-humans walked the earth, the ‘Big Bang’ will serve as both a grander event but also one that consciousness seeks as its ultimate birthright. And it is this specific idealization that marks culture over against nature. The one seeks the origin of the other to finally prove the difference between them, yes, but also to at least nod to the fact that nature and culture are mutually imbricated in a manner unknown to any of our ancestors, those unaccountably distant or those historical. In seeking origins, we seek not merely a genealogy of life, but rather a meaning for a consciousness which in turn seeks to go beyond its own life. And the chief manner by which this being overtakes itself is by calling not nature into question, but rather culture. Nature serves as a validation not for norms, but rather for awareness, something more than simply sentience.

            But if the quest to witness creation is heroic, even noble, the assertion of one’s own singular mind against the social world, no matter how courageous, is fraught with all bad conscience as well as buoyed by good faith. The one who embarks upon this task will at first and at best tread only water. She seeks blood, even marrow, but these prizes of the thinker, artist and authentic critic alike will more than likely be bequeathed to others who follow upon her cultural quest and seek as well to build upon it. This is the truer heart so brave; that my exposition of the world of humanity will benefit me not at all, and thus cannot be called upon to either lend cantor to, let alone vouchsafe, my actions. And if the challenger seeks not merely analysis but also change, then let it be said such would be noticed only as part of the human future altered from its pastness; my germs come to fruits long after they had been sowed.

            Too long? In ‘disregarding chance’, we not only interpret happenstance in the usual and mundane sense of what is more or less probable, but as well, and more meaningfully, as a kind of method by which to object to the social world, its ‘consensus’, ‘conventions’ and ‘comforting assurances’. In this everyday chapel wherein ‘society worships itself’, we have exited by the rear doors or yet perhaps a window, but we have not yet either been excommunicated or charged with arson. The church stands yet, and indeed must do so, otherwise there would be none of the social factuality needed for the revolutionary mind to call upon in evidence of her novel claims. All religion, according to Durkheim, is in fact civil religion. He makes a conscious effort to remind us that there is no other moral order than that found within the social world. Nature is non-moral, and the otherworldly but a projection and a metaphor. Even the ultimate ‘reality’ of nature must be docketed in lieu of an understanding that overtakes its human and historical sources. If we humans are the local ‘eyes and ears of the cosmos’ these senses retain their humanity, and especially so, given that the very unimaginable vastness of nature in its grandest expression is also its most anonymous, distant, and empty vista. We create meaning in the face of the void, whether that be the personal and singular outcome of my human finitude, or the uncounted firmaments to be beheld only from and within our paltry moment.

            Since we cannot critique the cosmos – such would be purposeless and also baseless; nature is what it is and nothing more – all the more so may we be given to questioning what culture has wrought in its stead. By all means, the conceptions of cosmos over different eras and even epochs may be called into question, for that is part and parcel of the wider human endeavor; not only in the scientific sense of ‘have we gotten it right?’, but also in that philosophical: why is cosmos, as order and as ordered, so important for us? What is the culture of nature? For young people, this is a reasonable arena with which to begin the examined life. Not the social world entire, for we have not yet lived long enough to experience its self-expression, nor the self, which has not yet fully developed in the lights, both lurid and inspired, of what each culture has to offer its youth. Even so, the advent of critique necessitates an ever-steepening slope; from the naïve ‘why’ questions that accede to purely scientific responses, to the questioning of local norms, to the resistance against institutions, most often family and school, and then ever onwards to the impious querying of ideals and the ‘shooting at morals’ which is the penultimate duty of the thinker and artist alike. At every juncture, we ourselves are as well a target. For who, within their ‘right-mindedness’, would bring down the whole of it? The social world is the human cosmos after all.

            Hence Santayana’s cautious paean to all those who are not only members of the same guild to which he belonged and to which he brought such noble value, but more generously and also more importantly, to any human being. It is our shared and collective birthright to know the social, yes, but it is equally so our enlightened human duty to question it to the point of historical oblivion, if indeed what is exposed departs from our highest ideals, as it regularly does. And while nature will always remain aloof to our entreaty and ignorant of our will, culture is of our own creation and thus possession. The social world exhibits merely the simulacrum of eternity, and even the cosmos of nature is not itself timeless. That we live inside the question of our own existence should not be seen as a too-cunning conundrum, generating only misery and angst, pathos and melancholy. Rather it is the very thrownness of being which we are; resolute in our being-ahead, caring in our anxiety, concernful in our running along. Who better to respond to such a question that, though it bears the historicity of existence alone, marks us in our essence with a history of ontology that is shared and which constitutes our specific nature.

            The natural world need not answer any questions; this is its nature and its essence. And the social world cannot answer to itself, only for itself, in quotidian quota and mundane malaise. But the questioner, since she too is a social being, opens up the space wherein novel responses can be known. She is her own force of nature within the cosmos of culture, she is that which creates in the face of creation, she is the sole arbiter of the un-moralized sentiment and deconstructed structure which is society that was. We should not expect the social world as constructed and maintained by our predecessors to provide reasonable responses to the questions of the day. At most, it can cover for those who deny the questioner’s birthright and therefore suppress their own. In this, the social world betrays its cowardice in the same manner as does the questioner exhibit her courage. Shall we ourselves then hesitate when faced with such a transparent parentage on both sides? Shall we run for such cover, or shall we stand and uncover both the best and the worst that culture has gifted unto the history of the now?

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

The Moralist and the Moralizer

The Moralist and the Moralizer

            …no expedient could be more sophistical than that into which theodicy, in its desperate straits, has sometimes been driven, of trying to justify as conditions for ideal achievement the very conditions which make ideal achievement impossible. (Santayana, 1954:308 [1906]).

                To the unerring question, ‘why is there evil in a world created by the ultimate good?’, the moralist responds not so much by questioning the good in itself but rather the goodness of the good as a consistent and unerring force. To this same question the moralizer calls into question the goodness of the questioner herself. The odyssey of theodicy has these Scyllae bordering its passage and in the responses it receives these other Charybdes through which it must book and negotiate such passage. Today, we might adjust the assumptions that originally undertook to pose the problem of theodicy as a problem and do so in a number of ways at which both the antique moralist and moralizer alike would have trembled. But in so doing, we neither expunge the fact of evil ‘in’ the world nor do we solve the problem this elephantine presence continues to pose for us as a species.

            For moderns, theodicy presents the problem of evil in the world as part of that selfsame world rather than as an import, so to speak, from a specific source otherworldly and also maleficent. Evil, in a word, is possessed of no ulterior or exterior intentionality. One finds today the expression which defines evil as wholly human. Animals, by contrast, are incapable of it just as they know not the good. The moral animal which I am, however, finds the world divided but the more so an imbricated and puzzling mélange of good and evil, a chiaroscuro of light and dark. Indeed, ever since Aristotle attempted both the coinage of ethics and thus its separation from metaphysics, we have been aware of a discourse that works within this odd mix of passion and compassion. Not that the former is always given over to evil nor the latter immediately predisposed toward the good. No, the passions are by their own nature aloof to ethical entreaty, and where and when they are called to account by my existential conscience they are already transmuted into compassions. That we can feel both umbrage and empathy with the evildoer is pressing evidence which compels us to reconsider our own relationship with morality at large.

            That we are ourselves part of this ever-changing admixture of purposeless evil irrupting onto the calculated landscape of ordered goods may be cause for a gnawing despair. How then might we be trusted to confront evil? How then would we be sure we are capable of identifying the good, let alone acting upon it or toward it? In pre-modern echelons of morality, to be noble, to be honorable, to have integrity or even to be ‘holy’ would, by one’s essential character, orient oneself towards the good, while knowing that both the devil and death rode alongside us, the one casting us ever downward to eventually be greeted by the other. In my desperation I might well be tempted to regress in the direction of the older understanding of theodicy. I might wash my hands of the source of evil, implanted in the human soul as it was from without, while resolving to combat it nonetheless and to the best of my still only human abilities. This kind of old-world auto-assuagement actually has no authentic autochthony to it. Instead, it gratifies the ego by suggesting that I am in reality sourced at the least in a value-neutral nature, at best fully in the contrasting good, a flash of light marking the far end of the tunnel of mortal life. For morality, in one of its most specifically historical guises, is meant to assuage nothing less than mortality itself.

            The premodern sensibility calls also into question the idea of the ‘good death’. We do not see emblems of light and the good tarrying with those which threaten at every turn the uncoiled mortality of human beings in action, living in the world. Today, by contrast, we undertake to be the willing vehicles by which a good death can transpire. Assisted suicide for those whose quality of life has waned beyond the pale transform of both doing good in the world and feeling good about being alive, as well as celebrating life in wakeful wakes rather than morosely musing about death in the memorial, are two contemporary examples of how we have adjusted our relationship to both morality and mortality. Death is itself no longer to be seen as either an evil by its own nature nor as the end result of some evil originally unrelated to such an outcome. No, death is instead the completion of being, as in Heidegger, or the closing of a circle, or the utterly natural result of the breakdown of organicity and thus also its miraculous Gestalt of consciousness. And just as is nature neither good nor evil, so too cannot be its confines.

            So far so neutered. Hamlet, in his oft self-aggrandizing soliloquies, was prescient of both the later idea of youth in general – his character is a liminal one more suited to a Goethe perhaps than a Shakespeare – and the yet deeper insight that death in fact has no ‘sting’ to it. For the premodern audience at the Globe we might suggest that this absence was implying salvation, that Hamlet, for all his scheming, was essentially in the good, in the right, and even if his character was half-formed, it was yet forming in the right direction. But today we would offer a different reading: death has no sting because it inherently has no meaning beyond itself. The sting which might have singed the soul of the premodern personage has been dislocated, removed from the weft of essential Being and ported over to the warp of historical beings; for it is the living person who dies in our witness and thus death not only is dispossessed of its patent force, it also loses its own persona as a form of ultimate Being.

            This is one of modernity’s essential ironies: that a living death trumps any possible end, that the afterlife is a mere after-image of life as we know it and can know it. Furthermore, that living-on expresses the will to life, yes, but also speaks against immortality as a manner of degrading both the present and the future, the one as transient and the other as specious. At once mortality, having lost its edge and perhaps also a good bit of its edginess, commits immortality to a belated grave. And through all this once ran the skein of morality expressed in the active ethics of both the imagination enamored by the world of forms and the intellect equally harnessed to that of norms. In short, morality was understood to be as external as was both evil and also death. In altering the essence of the source material from the gold of the gods to the leaden leadership of human history we have practiced a kind of transmutation in reverse. A yet further irony, the Greek melancholia is thus preserved – the antique ages were more heroic and closer to divinity than are our own – but without any sense that this is a ‘bad thing’. To have preserved this other evaluation, which is more truly to be named a judgment, is to cast oneself as a mere moralizer. ‘The whole world’s going to hell’, when in reality certain regions are simply suffering from a momentous demographic shift for which they were ill-prepared. It is a long way, perhaps, from metaphysics to population pyramids, but even so, all of the noise one encounters whilst making the journey from one to the other, from the widest if oft imaginative sensibility to a specifically narrow moment in modern history, betrays the more essential movement away from identifying morality with not only the metaphysical – its sources, its motives, its telos – but as well betrays ourselves to the ‘world game’, which has already and always ‘blended us in’. Indeed, for the modern, to discover the means by which I am so blended is a goodly part of the process which Selbstverstandnis requires of each of us.

            If the moralist may now object that this is at best a sociology of selfhood with neither tendency nor intent at anything more profound, one can immediately agree but with the caveat that such an analytic device is still necessary to self understanding. Now the question arises whether or not it is as well sufficient for the fullest comprehension of what I am. In a world bereft not of morals per se but rather their deeper purpose – if anything, morality is in the way of modernity, a holdover from another age, much as communism theoretically seeks to expose capital as a direct and even auto-mimetic precursor to itself, differing only in its stubborn and staid grip on premodern symbolic forms – mine ownmost being as Dasein need not submit to any final judgment. No Horus awaits me, I must not balance my inexistent soul upon his scales, I need pass through no pearly gates, I need submit no vouchsafe against my sins, and I need no free pass to have lived with such sins in an earthly life so that I might continue to exist indefinitely by vindicated virtue of that unearthly. No, instead, morality is a mere means to a normative end, since ethics, by its own active essence, cannot be counted upon to shore up this or that rule. Oddly, ethics has become more ethereal, by and through its constant jurisprudence, than morality ever could claim to have been.

            Let us now return to the problem of theodicy, but recast in the pragmatism of what we take to be our own history and the more so our own time. Primordially, if there were religions at all, they were without Godhead of any kind. Animism is the most democratic of beliefs. All things contain spirit, the world is a spiritual vessel and thus by definition cannot be divorced from the soulful realm of the ether and of the immortal. In the Agrarian epochs, Gods appeared, invited, as were the Near Eastern mascots, Yahweh included, or uninvited, as in the Eastern pantheisms. The former held an historical, even human interest, while the latter maintained their divine aloofness to all things passing in this world and even the world itself. For the Easterner, the entire teleology of morals was to transcend the ego, so the Gods were understood as much abstracted role models, acting as forces of nature and of time, personified as beings which could not be, if taken as living entities. But in the West, the essential purpose was rather to preserve and ultimately exalt the ego, so our Gods took on the mantle of much more direct and anthropomorphic role models. The egotism of the West conquered the world but it also ended up subjugating itself to its own munificence. We are, in our latter-day modernity, slaves not to mortality as such but rather to all that which compels us to dwell in the cage of iron, velvet-gloved as our keepers may be.

            And would not the transcendentalist of the ‘orient’ murmur in his patent wisdom that such could be the only outcome of the exaltation of the ego? The flexible but yet unbreakable latticework with which we surround ourselves admits neither morals nor ethics, exudes neither good nor evil, and is overcome not by self-understanding alone nor yet by the non-rational. Indeed, it is this last which has entangled us, making us ripe for imprisonment by wholly rational means. The fear of mortality compels an overstatement of experience as vulgar Erlebnis; I must ‘pack in’ to my life as much as possible in the time allotted me. But such a fear, once assuaged and thence overcome by non-rational beliefs, can today be only irrational; it can accept no premodern succor nor can it be overcome, as yet, by hypermodern device. If morality attempted an ill-advised bulwark against history, its better selfhood was indeed historical, for through this interested presence, projected and extrapolated into Godhead in the West, experiential ethics was uplifted into a way of life. Erlebnis thus attained its more noble meaning: as experience in the service of self-understanding rather than as a series of happenstance adventures and misadventures. It is through morality alone that both the Quixotic and quotidian alike become principled and disciplined, and today we have no further need nor indeed justification in making our experience somehow ‘more’ than either, as if ‘packing it in’ could itself be extended to a yet other form of existence, shorn of mortality and morality the both.

            If then there could be a modern morality, its buttresses spring from Dasein’s experience of the world at large and larger than my ownmost being, rather than a self-absorbed contemplation of ‘why I exist’, or even why does the ‘I’ exist. For us, history and morality must come to trust one another without entirely ceding to ethics alone the adjudication of human experience. Morality and history generate knowledge from this Humean wellspring, while allowing ethics to convene and reconvene alongside and in front of their combined presence. Theoditical issues can only be confronted in such terms as these; neither good nor evil are ‘experiences’ that can be passed over without both subsequent analysis and evaluation. That they tinge the everyday without being irruptive to it is both disturbing on the one side – is evil truly normative and thus as structurally likely as is good? – and liberating on the other – good and evil are in fact wholly within my control and that of others like myself. For the modern West, inflated ego packed with mere experience is the greatest evil, history and morality transmuted into discourse, art and science, the greatest good. It remains to be seen if we can, as a culture and as Mitsein, come to terms with this jarring and unsettling contrast of both motive and outcome. That this challenge must be met brings morality, history, and ethics together in novel fashion. Perhaps the very lack of experience we ourselves bring to this opened space of thought and action will be propitious of a new understanding; one that recognizes the truer relations between nature, selfhood, lived time and judgment, all held within a world that is itself an impassive and impartial movement surpassing any and all human history and eschewing any universe of morality. What humanity is, over against this world beyond good and evil, can then be understood not as a countervailing force ranged in confrontation with nature but rather as a practice within that selfsame nature, and I a practitioner, replete with reason as the epitome of what that nature has proclaimed as its highest force.

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

The Misplaced Love of the Dead

The Misplaced Love of the Dead

            We can be said to have a future as long as we are unaware that we have no future – Gadamer

                All those who yet live must accept both the happenstance of their birth and the necessity of their death. Though we are not born to die, but rather to live, living is an experience which is very much in the meanwhile, for the time being, in the interim, even of the moment, pending global context and possible crisis. We neither ask to be born nor do we ask to die, as Gadamer has also reminded us. And beyond this, these are the truer existential conditions which connect us with all other human beings, not only our living contemporaries, but also the twice honoured dead. Birth and death overtake all cultural barriers, and thence undertake to be the furtive guides which travel alongside us during that wondrous but also treacherous intermission between inexistences.

            It is a function of the basic will to life that generates both the shadow of ressentiment, especially towards youth, as well as the orison of immortality as an ideal and now, more and more a material goal. Indefinite life, a more modest version of the same will, is nonetheless radical to the species-essential experience of coming to understand human finitude. It is not enough to comprehend finiteness, as with the limits of bodily organicity, including the gradual breakdown of the brain. Because we humans are gifted with the evolutionary Gestalt of a consciousness beyond mere sentience and instinct, forward-looking and running along ahead of itself in spite of knowing its general end, we have to come to grips, and then to terms, with a more subtle wisdom; that of the process of completion.

            Dasein is completed in mine ownmost death. Heidegger’s existential phenomenology is clearly also an ethics, and a profound one, and if it is somewhat shy of the conception of the other, as Buber has duly noted, it is not quite fair to say on top of this, that it is also at risk for fraud regarding death, as Schutz declared. Such ‘phoniness’, as reported by Natanson, might be felt only insofar that death is in fact the least of our living worries, especially in the day to day. Poverty, illness, alienation, loneliness, victimization, illiteracy, hunger, all these and others authentically occupy our otiose rounds and do not, in their feared instanciation, immediately prompt us to meditate upon the much vaunted ‘existential anxiety’. Rather they compel us to act in defence of life, our own and perhaps that of others as well. So it is also part of the will to life that we truly fear such umbrous outcomes and it is commonplace to second-guess many of the decisions we thus make in our personal lives with the sole purpose of maintaining an humane equilibrium.

            But what if this balancing act breaks apart, even for a moment? For eight young women in Toronto, possessed of only the beginnings of self-understanding and equipped with none of the perspective that only living on for perhaps decades more begrudgingly bequeaths to any of us, the fragile balance of common humanity, the ounce of compassion for every weighty pound of passion, the spiritual eagle who pecks at our conscience rather than our liver, fell away. The result was the death of a much older man, needless and therefore almost evil in its import. No matter the intent, no matter the force, no matter the loyalty nor the rage, neither the desperation nor the anxiety, none of these things can vouchsafe such an act. Even so, for the rest of us, we must be most alert to not feeling so much love for the dead that we forget what the living yet require of us. That one is dead must be recognized as not even tragic, for there was no noble drama being played out. It was rather an absurdity, an intrusion upon not only civility but also upon human reason itself. That eight live on, now to be shipwrecked for a time on a hardpan atoll of their own making, is in fact where the call to conscience next originates.

            These young women clearly need our help and guidance if they are to honour the death of the one who was denied the remainder of his own challenging life. This is a far wider point for any who live in the midst of a history which is at once my own but as well so abstracted and distanciated from me that I am regularly compelled to relinquish any direct control over events or even of the knowledge of the human journey emanating from just yesterday, let alone of remote antiquity. I have no doubt that for all eight, real remorse mixed with a sullen distemper is disallowing sleep. For even if ‘the murderer sleeps’, as Whitman reminded us, the character of her sleep is not quite the same as is our own. It is thus the burden which falls upon the rest of us to help the newly-made pariah back into the human fold, for it was her original alienation from that succor which was the root cause of her vacant evil.

            In doing so, we must also remind ourselves that on the one hand, such a death could have been my own, but yet more importantly, and on the other, that I too might have killed if I had been in similar circumstances, young and enraged, desperate and anxious, alienated but in utter ignorance of the worldly forces which are the sources of my stunned and stunted condition. And in the meanwhile my wealthy peers attend yet Blytonesque private schools and though they look like me and consume the same popular culture as me and are fetishized alike by adults whose leers I must endure each day, they might as well be of a different species entire. And all the more so now that I have killed.

            Would not the parents of the privileged also kill to defend their lots? Would I, speaking now in my real self, not kill to protect my family? What is the threshold of the needless? Where do we make our stand and state with always too much unction that this death was justified and this one was not? Why would someone attack my family? Why would someone offend privilege? Why would eight young women attack an utter stranger? For the living, upon whom our love both depends and is called forth daily, this is the time to ask the deeper questions whose responses shall expose our shared and social contradictions. For the misplaced love of the dead serves ultimately only the self-interest of those who are content with the world of the living insofar as it continues to privilege they and them alone. The misplaced hatred of the others, including these eight young people, serves only as a decoy for our self-hatred and self-doubt, charged with the background radiation which is the simmering knowing that we have strayed so far from our ideals that such dark acts are not only possible but have indeed occurred.

            The only way to prevent their recurrence is to work actively for a just society, an ennobled culture, a compassionate individual, a responsible State. Those who need our love in the highest sense of the term are those who have acted in a manner that shows that they are themselves outside of human love. That each of us may descend to such inhumanity must remain the patent frame in which the love we proffer to all those affected by this event is rendered. Do not love the dead, do not hate the living. I will be the one but I am yet the other. I do not stand with the victim for he now stands beyond all human ken. Rather, however uncomfortably and even ironically, I must stand with the criminals, because they are faced with the same challenges as am I myself; to regain each day the highest expression of the will to life in spite of any descent the past has conferred upon us.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of fifty-five books in ethics, education, health and social theory. He has worked with alienated youth for three years and for a quarter century before taught thousands of young people through transformative and experiential learning. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades in both Canada and the USA. He may be reached at viglion@hotmail.com

An Interpolation of Jungian Archetypes

An Interpolation of Jungian Archetypes

            The model of genesis in modernity is contained in the relationship between genotype and phenotype. The former is Godhead, the latter humankind. In all such patterns, something innate makes itself known through indirect expressions of spirit into world, form into content. This is known as ‘manifesting’ and the object to which the spirit tends or has contrived, as a ‘manifestation’. Though the very idea of innateness may seem archaic, it is at least clear enough that consciousness has its seat in a complex neural architecture no longer so much automatically endowed with faithful reason but rather to be imbued with a reasonable faith.

            Faith in itself, for one. For Jung, our connection with the wellspring of human expression cross-culturally and universally to be found amongst individual persons hailing from every such known culture, can be traced backward, as it were, from the manifestations of archetypical conceptions of essential life and its utter limits to what he referred to as the ‘collective unconscious’. This is a different understanding than say, Durkheim had, of what could constitute shared being in the world. Durkheim’s ‘conscience collectif’ was something only innate due to the internalization of purely social forms in childhood. Its expression was moral indignation – though not, it should be noted in our days of feigned anxiety, moral panic – and its archetype was society alone, or rather the ‘ideal society’, to borrow from Santayana. In this singular ideal, the individual found herself trending upward and outward, so that her inevitably and originally small-statured person became enlarged with the life of the world itself.

            But our relationship to the collective unconscious is not as clearly defined. As with his mentor, Jung saw in both dream and myth the recurring clues to what must be something both potent and patent to the human soul. Whereas Freud looked to the trauma of birth and growth for the key to these expressions, Jung instead found in them a different kind of imagery, that of the archetypes. These are abstracted and stylized figures and forces that cleave well to Weber’s ideal types analysis, worked out during the same time period as Jung’s archetypes. Famous examples of Jung’s figural archetypes include the mother, the child, and the Syzygy and Shadow. The yet more abstract archetypical concepts, something one could refer to as ‘ideations’, include the flood as well as his famous anima and animus. I am going to choose four of the most salient archetypes to modernity in terms of its relationship to pre-modern myth and interpolate between each cardinal direction based on Jung’s ‘mandala of modern man’ (frontispiece for his 1959). But I will not be limited by his specific understanding of the relations amongst the archetypes. Instead, I will propose that for each set of archetypes there are hybrid figures which ‘occupy’ the spaces in between the cardinal points; half-way beings that are made up of aspects of both of the more basic archetypes that themselves occupy the diagrammatical spaces on either side of them.

            Though it took Jung four decades to completely work out his understanding of the innate ordering of essential human consciousness, his 1919 conception yet rings true as a basis upon which we can magnify the myriad expressions of cultural life that seem to uncannily hold together within our shared beliefs and even in our popular entertainment. It is commonplace, for instance, to read of digital media narrative being based upon archetypes such as the hero or the warrior. If one shrinks away from such realities and accuses his fellow human of a basic lack of imagination, that same one must recall to herself that for Jung, at least, our imagination is itself based upon the dynamic presence of the archetypes and their ability to be expressed ‘phenotypically’. We can pause just here, of course, to ask the immediately docketed question, ‘is it the case then that in order for humanity to mature further our set of archetypes must be altered or even abandoned altogether?’ Certainly there have been enough more recent critiques of Jung’s understanding – the most obvious being the stereotypes of gender to be found within it (but then again, are these not the realities of historical expression that are themselves to a certain extent predetermined but are by no means instinctual or ’natural’, by the dynamo of the collective unconscious?) – to issue a reasonably well defined caveat. In terms of gender, since this is itself a most fluid conception, Jung’s prefigurations adapt, I think, quite well. After all, we note the presence of female warriors throughout known history, as well as male nurturer figures. That the balance of these archetypes are represented by varying degrees of genderedness is a tendency alone, and not an essentiality. I hope my interpolations will underscore this sensibility.

            Let us first take four well known archetypes in their cardinal dyads, Mother-Warrior and Syzygy-Shadow. Figure ‘a’:

                                                Syzygy (all genders)

Warrior (masculine)                        EGO                                                 Mother (feminine)

                                                Shadow (no gender)

            Ego occupies the very center of the diagram just as it does for the mandala. We can now see how, in each quarter or corner of the proposed circle, there is a space which is occupied by a combination of the two closest archetypes already present. Filling them in with the most obvious hybrids, figure ‘a’ generates the following. Figure ‘b’:

                                                            Syzygy

            Visionary (moderate)                                   Nurturer (intimate)

Warrior                                                      EGO                                                    Mother

            Adventurer (immoderate)                           Disciplinarian (distanced)

                                                            Shadow

            As with the original four archetypes, the hybrids are situated in opposition to one another, both within the ambit of traditional gender dominance and across it. Now it is time to detail within each of the conceptions their specific and essential characteristics, beginning with the top of the diagram or stylized mandala and ending at the bottom, travelling left to right.

            Syzygy: This is Jung’s own hybrid being. In its original conception it holds within it both male and female but we can update this with a more contemporary sensibility that simply says that this archetype includes all possible genders and does not make any discrimination amongst them, whatever their total number may be. In that Jung is careful to note that his archetypes, unlike say, Plato’s ‘ideas’, are essentially dynamic – we may then ask after what they are responding to, and kindred with the dynamic between the moral and the historical, the ideal and the real, we could very well answer ‘society’ itself – it is not a logical stretch to extend and refigure the Syzygy, the ‘conjoined being’, as containing multitudes in the same manner as we shall see that each elemental archetype is more abstract than their hybrids. Along with its being, each archetype has a simple mantra. In this case, the Syzygy passionately declares its love for each and all. ‘I will love you’ is thus its fail-safe and essential Ursprachlichkeit. Hence the authentic lover, unbiased regarding form or content, is a Syzygy. Its opposite is the Shadow, the being of no gender and possessed by the absence of love given its premonitory stance towards death itself.

            Visionary: A blend of Warrior and Syzygy, the visionary being tends toward the masculinity – though not the maleness per se; recall that women and men, in Jung, each have strong traits of the ‘opposite’ gender even if one often is predominant – but is not compelled to manifest this orientation in its vocation. The visionary is the active and activated lover. It is not content to love the world as is, nor those within it. It rather seeks both a higher love and a transformed world. The artist and the philosopher are visionaries. We will see that its opposites are, as the diagram declares, both the Adventurer and the Disciplinarian, the one due to its very indiscipline – which also makes it the opposite of the other opposite, as it were – and the other in its defense of the world-as-it-is. The visionary’s mantra is ‘I will change you’. In this, it states with unction both its purpose and its goal, and the fact that along with the world, I myself as I now am is not either what I could, or yet should, become.

            Warrior: This is the quintessential masculine archetype. It, like the Visionary, is outward facing, away from Ego, since its primordial duty is to defend it against external attack. It’s mantra is ‘I will protect you’ and thus it leaves the internal workings of Ego to other figures and forces, specifically the Mother and its ‘feminine’ hybrids. The Warrior is likely the most commonplace and cliché hero, so much so that indeed heroism has been defined in certain phases of cultural development as courage in combat alone. Yet the definition of what may constitute combat is rarely so single-minded. Coming to one’s own defense, as an expression of the Warrior archetype, involves reason and rationality as well as bravery and indefatigability. It also may entail vision or a sense of adventure as well as maintaining a faith, ultimately in oneself. Thus the worker and the officer of the peace are Warrior types, as well as of course the soldier. Though the Warrior’s opposite is the Mother, both are charged with the same duty to Ego, it is just that the former extends this duty outward and the latter inward.

            Adventurer: The contemporary home of ‘toxic masculinity’, the Adventurer is, even so, not always self-aggrandizing and self-serving. It does have the tendency to exhibit Ego’s most outwardly niggardly traits, such as hedonism and narcissism. The pirate and the politician are alike adventurers, for they live for the day and their goal is status and repute. Both positive and negative attention serve equally well in this quest, and indeed, the very ignobility of the Adventurer’s questing places it in direct contrast with that of the Visionary’s. Its other opposite, the Nurturer, places compassion foremost, whereas the Adventurer idealizes passion alone. Yet its base desires framed by basic passions drive the Adventurer also to new worlds, as the Visionary is also driven, but these worlds are more simply heretofore undiscovered rather than inexistent. In a word, Ego’s outwardness is given both worldly and rootsy form through the Adventurer archetype. ‘I will desire you’ is thus its mantra.

            Shadow: Traditionally understood as the dark undersoul of humanity, one’s Shadow figure perhaps has gained a bad rap and rep alike. It is reasonable to say that though the Shadow, in its genderless and distanciated state, is the most challenging archetypical aspect of selfhood, it also represents the most basic perspective on our shared existence. Just as the Syzygy calls us to the transcendental through the love of another and ultimately, the love of all, so the Shadow reminds us of our mortal limits. Both are existential figures and they are, in this, obvious opposites. In love, human existence reaches its nadir, in death its lowest point; indeed, its completion of being in itself, whereas the Syzygy demands that we lose our being in the presence of the other. In an additional opposition, Ego loses itself in love only to another human other, but in death, it loses itself to the Other as otherness itself. The Shadow is expressed in the criminal, specifically the murderer, but also in the dictator and perhaps as well in the melancholic. If the Syzygy knows nothing but affirmation, the Shadow understands nothing but denial. So its mantra is ‘I will doubt you’; not only is my existence placed in doubt because of its mortal limit, but also each of my decisions, future-directed as they are, can be called into doubt given that, as Gadamer has eloquently put it, ‘we can only be said to have a future as long as we are unaware that we have no future’.

            Disciplinarian: This is the rule-enforcer and the defender of the normative. It is the opposite of both the Visionary, who seeks to overturn all norms and social forms, and the Adventurer, who transgresses the one and flouts the other at will and for its own device. ‘I will guide you’ is the Disciplinarian’s mantra, and like the Shadow, of which it is half composed, such a statement belies its ultimate suasion. Guidance in this case may be reasonably taken for a limited vision, the very thing the Visionary is compelled to reject. Society as formed, culture as expressed, are the Disciplinarian’s own guideposts. All authoritarians and others who are charged with reproducing society – teachers, pastors, judges, and mentors in athletics specifically – take the form of expressions of the Disciplinarian. Reproduction of the already created is the ultimate goal and duty of this archetype, as opposed to the creation the new itself in the Visionary, or the mere seeking of the novel in the Adventurer. Yet the Disciplinarian is not after all the Shadow alone, it is also composed of the Mother. So in its strict heeding of the rules and their enforcement upon Ego, it is also called to the duty of basic care. And it remains the case, no matter what genius which youth possesses, that in order to overcome something we first must understand in the greatest detail what that something is.

            Mother: One of Jung’s most famous archetypes, the Mother figure is traditionally understood to be quintessentially feminine, though once again, not necessarily female in its worldly representation. The Mother’s mantra  ‘I will care for you’, includes both the guidance of the more authoritarian oriented Disciplinarian as well as the development which, as we will immediately see, is embodied in the Nurturer. Thus the Mother figure is of the same rank as the Warrior, only taking care of the inward looking aspect of Ego rather than protecting it against forces emanating from elsewhere. In this primordial vocation, we discover the ‘care of the self’, so historically lit by Foucault, for one. The social worker or even the prostitute are examples of this archetype’s material expression. Its form of love is concernful being, and thus it expresses in its manifest duties one of Dasein’s ownmost essentialities. Ego’s very ability to exert care about its world comes from its own auto-maternal ‘instinct’. Though in opposition to the Warrior in terms of the spatiality over which it exerts its care and protection, the Mother archetype remains the ‘warrior of Ego’s inner world’, so to speak, and hence the Bourgeois contraption of placing the real-time mother as both architect and defender of the Domus.

            Nurturer: Finally, the last of the hybrid archetypes, which in this case combines the care of the Mother with the love of the Syzygy. Its mantra, ‘I will develop you’ nods in the latter’s direction by acknowledging that the love of another alters and grows our own being as Ego, and indeed one can reasonably suggest that only through the radical departure from ourselves that love requires of us on the intimate plane do we in fact develop the wider care for others and for the world around us. The Nurturer is aware of this demand and seeks to prepare Ego for its advent. For before falling in love in the passionate  and shameless grace of lovers as seeking a unified and genderless being, Ego must come to understand the compassion required to recognize that an other has both desires and needs which I might thence fulfill. It is the task of the Nurturer to engender this understanding, trending away from the purely inner care that the Mother so engenders. The artistic mentor or the friend in general are examples of the Nurturer archetype. The Nurturer’s opposites, the Visionary and the Adventurer, are both far too externally oriented to develop the compassion necessary to love other human beings instead of the abstracted world of visions and the all too passionate experiences of the one who only and always ventures forth. Even so, in its opposition, the Nurturer nevertheless prepares Ego for all worldly Erlebnisse, as well as forming the basic framework for the recognition of human suffering, which then the Visionary takes up as its call to arms.

            In sum then, each of the eight primary aspects of Ego in this new mandala of the modern person requires of us to stand centered and balanced and to not completely eschew any single figure, let alone be possessed by any one as well:

                                    Syzygy                        Loving of the other

                                    Visionary                    Changing of the world

                                    Warrior                      Protecting against the external

                                    Adventurer                Desiring of experience

                                    Shadow                      Doubting of existence

                                    Disciplinarian         Reproducing of what is

                                    Mother                       Caring for the inner life

                                    Nurturer                    Developing of compassion

            Taken together, these eight archetypes envelop Ego existentially as manifestations in cultural expression as well as essentially, as aspectual elements of Ego’s ‘primordial’ being-present. It is clear that amongst them, if all are called to as a set of balanced acts and thus as the outcome of a great variety and permutation of actions in the world at large and with and amongst others in that shared world, that Ego itself should not want for any ability and should be able to rise to any occasion, no matter the stringency of its demands. The task then for any psychological or even humanistic interlocutor is to help the patient access each of these archetypes and develop manners of expressing them. A common case in my own professional experience is the person who is attempting to leave a cult-like organization behind, replete as it is with authoritarian demands and highly structured role types. Here, Ego has suffered an absence of the Disciplinarian as well as the Visionary, opposites though they are but as in Jung, such dynamics can be imagined by envisioning arrowed lines between the relevant two figuresin each diagram that are then connected via the ‘Mysterium Coniunctionis’ which is also said to have created the Syzygy being. Hence this person has sought out, uncontrollably and with a violence toward the self, a cultural space in which both forms of demanding authority are consistently expressed. In so doing, of course, both the nobility of the authentic vision as well as the caring of the authentic rule-enforcer and reproducer are lost in the narcissism of the leader of such organizations, himself solely an adventurer at the cost of others’ autonomy and autochthony.  

            By now it should be understood that in each ‘case’, this or that Ego will be struck with an imbalance regarding these eight forces as anthropomorphized figures or cultural configurations, and it is the analyst’s duty to discover which imbalance is present and set about aiding the person in recovering that centeredness of being from which all human endeavors must begin.

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

Christians in Drag

Christians in Drag

            One can be forgiven, to use a word advisedly, if one imagines that drag story times held in libraries was merely someone’s witty nod to Eric Idle’s similar Monty Python sketch. In it, he begins numerous children’s tales only to find that the illustrated book he is reading from contains very much adult content – “with a melon?!” – and is thus forced to stop and resume again and again. But in fact such scenes are now commonplace in North American public libraries and aside from the historical smirk with which they are due, one could also be forgiven for forgetting about it entirely.

            Not so for self-proclaimed Christians and other neo-conservatives, who have openly attacked these potentially charming events as offenses against the proper rearing of said children. In a world of their imagination, such critics take gender to be binary, children to be gullible and easily manipulated, queer, transgendered and other non-binary self-identities to be sins against nature, and librarians to be liberals with such open minds that their proverbial brains have fallen out.

            With great irony, the person who claims Christianity aloud fails to note that it his own religion that gave birth in the West to the very ideas these story times teach. Compassion, tolerance, forbearance, the accepting of difference – come as you are – and an ethic of love thy neighbor and thy enemy alike. Indeed, any activity that is centered around these ideas, as all those who hold such drag story times claim in contrast to their opponents, could quite easily be taken for as authentically Christian. The fact that those with alternate gender identities tend to see religion of all kinds as a source of enmity against them argues that they too are mistaking the essential nature of Christianity and other related world faiths.

            The radical character of Christian ethics cannot be understated. In the West, before these ideas slowly took hold over specific echelons of the Roman Empire, an out-group member was perceived without exception as a threat if not an outright enemy, and he was treated as such. Along with the earlier advent of Buddhism in the East, anyone who today even merely acknowledges another human being as like herself and thus not necessarily a threat or yet an enemy owes their entire posture to Christianity. The ‘liberal’ librarians and the transgendered readers and teachers and the interested children are all much more Christian than perhaps many of them would be willing to admit.

            And their opponents equally much less so. They too would shy away from admitting as much, but the ethical reality speaks for itself. Prejudice against difference is not a Christian idea, but rather something that animated all cultures in all places before the presence of Buddhism and Christianity. In that prior world, bigotry is understood as compelling and automatic, which is why the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ still speaks to us today. First of all, Samaritans, whoever they might have been, were not commonly regarded as ‘good’. Second, the very idea that one should help a stranger who is also and always a potential enemy is seemingly contradictory to our human ‘instinct’. Third, that we should in the end ‘go and do likewise’ is an affront to all good taste and social status. But the ‘reader’ of this parable was not concerned with reproducing bigotry, but rather countering it, and in the most unheard of way imaginable.

            In attacking drag story times, a self-professed defender of Christianity is actually regressing into a pre-Christian state. It is a common error to mistake the trees of content for the forest of form. In content, various scriptures from the world’s religions appear distanced from our best selves, often describing and reproducing the very bigotries that the new ideas are meant to overcome. It does not help matters that the early Roman church bound together two very different belief systems in one book; the Judaic texts being pre-Christian and thus relatively susceptible to specifically more narrow customs and the tradition of self-preservation. It is also not at all the case that all librarians are open to radical ethics of any kind. I myself have been refused, and as a local author, space on public shelves due the content of my fictional works. And while I have very nominally cross-dressed from time to time on affectionate dares from women with whom I have been intimate – ‘you know, you’d look great in tights’, that sort of thing – I am neither a Christian nor a drag queen. But like those who criticize the apparent intolerance of certain fashionable ‘versions’ of Christianity, believing themselves to be beyond any suasion that this or other religions might yet hold over the modern world, I am misrecognizing myself.

            The reality of all ‘culture war’ conflicts that take the form of the drag story times falderal is simply that views which express the non-Christian sensibilities of blind prejudice, bigotry, and ignorance of others has seen its enemies take hold of the very thing these intolerant people claim for themselves – Christian ethics. No wonder they are so virulent in their vitriol! They claim they are being censored, that a space which is welcoming to all should by definition include them. But what they misrepresent – and I believe, intentionally so – is the fact that they are the ones who are bigoted and indeed practitioners of intense censorship in their homes, their parochial schools, and in their temples. A space open to difference cannot, by its own unmasked and far more honest definition, include anyone who does not themselves agree with the differences taking place within such spaces. An anti-bigot cannot admit the bigot along the same logic that no system of signs includes the sign that describes that system. The last bigotry must take hold against bigotry itself.

            If the opponent of difference is merely attempting to remind us that all differences are acceptable with the exception of the one that denies difference, then that is a motif for an introductory course in logic and little more. It has no merit as a political position, it has no ethical value. It misrecognizes itself as Christian or like persuasion while espousing anti-Christian sentiments, thus it also has no historical reality to it, much the same as almost all neo-conservative delusions. The rest of us, dressed as we are and comfortable in our genders, bland or otherwise, must in turn accept that we are the living representatives of the still radical ethics first broached in antiquities both East and West and that these humane ethics are evidently still very much nothing more, though also nothing less, than a work in progress.

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

Parish the Thought

Parish the Thought

            In his legendary set of Gifford Lectures of 1901, William James placed a strong accent on what he referred to as the ‘sacrifice of the intellect’. More than anything else, it is faith that demands this existential oblation, for faith must ultimately forego the act of questioning. And even if, as I have suggested elsewhere, the ability to question may in fact be the ‘residuum of faith’, it is certain that faith alone drives reason outside of all contemplative life.

            But what is the character of such a sacrifice? How does it play out in our contemporary social scene? And what would possess a being endowed with reason and the language to facilitate its ongoing development, to give up what appears to be the essence of its make-up? Could it be that notoriety within reason is simply a difficult proposition, and thence that unreason should call to us the more strongly? Is it simply an easier thing to become something larger than life by depriving that very life of its unique contribution to the consciousness which otherwise might feel small in the face of the cosmos? Human existence, its ‘nature’, though mutable, is yet based upon the faculty of a reasoning intellect. Faith bereft of reason seems not merely counter to our collective character, our ‘species essence’, to speak with Marx, or the ‘Dasein that we are and which I am’, to speak with Heidegger, but as well appears as a kind of limitation, even an historical regression. This said, is it entirely a fair definition of faith that shaves itself of all capacity for critical thought?

            James seems to think that, while religious belief is itself based upon the not idle curiosity about origins – How is it that I exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? Is there a meaning to existence and more pointedly, to my specific existence? – and thus in its own development and proto-doxa, one finds reason at work, that in the end faith only comes into its own as a visceral veridicity when reason is fully abandoned. Akin to the act of love, perhaps, when two separate beings surrender their individuality for a few moments and unite in the bond of earthly rapture, the attainment of a faith undaunted by doubt and freed from any internal critique and self-reflection, surrenders not so much the body but rather the mind. In love, in regaining our distinct senses and thence our specific sensibilities, we realize that we have given ourselves over to the beloved other; this is the goal of human adoration. But in religion, we give ourselves body and soul not to a human other, but to a non-human Being who we imagine to be Otherness uplifted and made transcendent. From the divan to the divine, so to speak, this willingness to forsake our own paltry beings for a greater sense of existence, whether in love or in faith, also marks us as quite uniquely different from all other known forms of life.

            So if reason is necessary to attain an unreasoned faith, why presume such a faith to be no less of an essence to the human character than should reason itself be? For James, it is because faith is itself a mere vehicle for transcendence. If reason is the motive force behind the dynamic of human existence as reflective consciousness and as historical being, then faith is that which is ‘alongside’ reason, providing it with its ahistorical foil and its idealized selfhood. We would like to think that unreasoned faith is an impossibility, a contradiction in terms, but clearly we are faced, in the day to day, with a diversity of types of ‘blind faith’. Such a catalogue might not be worthy of a Gifford Lecture – ‘the varieties of unreasoned experience’, say – but this in fact is part of the core argument James makes regarding religion in general. The key to understanding the chief difference between a mere critical compendia of such misadventures and a reasoned and profound analysis of them can be found in his subtitle: ‘a study of human nature’.

            Now this claim radically upshifts the content from mere contemporary ethnography – you owe yourself a prayer, you owe yourself a soul – into the ontological sphere. It is part of our very being that we have the ability to experience religion. Faith may be ultimately unreasoning in order to preserve its function over against the world and against the history of that world, but it remains the near side of the coin which is consciousness as we have thus far known it to be. To study ‘human nature’, however diverse and changeable – James never claims, in what is still an all too prevalent shibboleth, that this or that is ‘simply human nature’; this type of response itself unreasoned – is to engage that very essence in the process of self-understanding. How does reason understand itself? What is the reason of reason, why does it itself exist and how is it made manifest? Reason is, in short, a gloss for human divinity.

            Until our modern period, reason was understood as a gift. It was what made us the imago dei under the skin, as it were. It is surely yet our most profound gift, Promethean in its scope and daring, ravenous in its Raven-like acquisitiveness; nothing novel can escape its sharp-eyed vision. But is it not as well the case, given the unreasoned tempi of human history, that we must maintain a kind of faith in reason itself in order to enact it, to return to it, to know of its perennial presence? For can we be apodeictically certain that our reason will always come to our rescue in the face of historical or yet cosmic happenstance? It is too trite a dyad to shrug this off with a ‘faith in reason, reason in faith’ kind of nod. For in reminding ourselves of their uneasy partnership, any balance that is struck within our consciousness which asks of both to remain present in the presence of the other presents to us a kind of intellectual miracle. On the one hand, reason in itself does not admit to faith of any kind. It is thought alone that carries it forward and faith, in its uncritical and even unthinking character, is at best an irresponsible diversion, at worst, a temptation. On the other, faith can neither reason itself nor for itself. It floats above the fray of the conflict of interpretations and it takes knowledge to be within the truth of things only when knowing is no longer associated with reason-inspired devices, such as science, method, criticism, and analysis. If reason sees faith as a half-way house for the febrile minded, faith sees reason as the professional artist sees the amateur. In the latter, reason can only take one so far, while in the former, there is no ‘farther’ place into which consciousness can travel. Hence the idiom, making a ‘leap’ of faith.

            Why not instead take one of reason? For James, such reasoning connects consciousness with cosmos, hence his near post-Broca musings about the architecture of the aspects of the brain about which we yet know little enough. Since reason does not itself require faith, but rather thought, and faith requires of us a reasoned appreciation of chance rather than the contrivance of a fetish surrounding risk – and on both counts, mind you; the shill of the thrill and the faux sage that sells to us ‘security’ – the unthinking chestnut that attempts to unite them is both unreasoned and faithless. Instead, we become aware not through philosophical inquiry but rather by virtue of quotidian experience that human life requires a kind of practical wisdom which includes what I would refer to as Phronetic faith. For James, this is one of the hallmarks of pragmatism, and even his most read work works itself into the service of this sensibility. Phronesis is itself based upon a practicality of ‘faith’ that recognizes the simple limitations of human insight and our dependence upon prior experiences which may, or may not, aid us in the nearest future, that which will be and that which can be known in spite of our ownmost presence as a ‘here’ and not a ‘there’. This is the faith by which we live.

            But this simpler and half-calculated faith addresses life only as we know it. It is, after all, reasoned, though in the moment of action reason must depart, even if only momentarily. And just as thoughtless action should not be carried on as if it were a kind of ‘tarrying alongside’ Dasein’s authenticity, nevertheless action requires of thought that it carries within it an element of faith to be discharged in the act, allowing it to occur and thence humanity to make good on its existential thrownness. Seen in this way, the wider faith that is both bereft of and exempt from reason could only take hold in another realm. The essence of unreasoned faith is that there is an object that itself cannot be reasoned, and this object is God or the Gods. For the theist, then, the ‘death of God’ reduces the entire concept of faith to mere guesswork, more or less confident, based upon a biographic quantity of personal experiences and lacking any wider quality. But I think this aspersion is overdone. While there is no reasoned atheism, in spite of the claim that reason has always been godless – God is, after all, the very metaphor of Reason and remains, even in Its afterlife, Reason’s apical ancestor – there is also no reason to sneer at the everyday existence of Dasein’s closest-by and nearest-to. It is its own uniquely human experience and it presents just as much of a challenge to any potential God on earth as the transcendental realm would present to a mere mortal. Immortal being is brought into unreasoned existence by everyday life, just as we imagine mortality to be uplifted by a faith knowing only in itself.

            All this said, the ‘sacrifice of the intellect’ is today mostly either a convenience or a contrivance. The marketeer assuages the consumer by her own feigned idiocy, the parish pirate invites the listless into his own fraudulent faith. It is exceedingly rare, in my estimation, to discover an authentically latter day saint. But the ignominious fate of faith in our own time is mimicked by the corresponding downfall of reason, which in its turn is mostly used to calculate social control, warfare, or at best, economic trends. Could it be, for the first time in the history of human consciousness, that both reason and faith, in the face of their respective sacrifices, need one another more than ever, the separated siblings and estranged lovers that they are?

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