An Artless Society

An Artless Society (the neo-Christian Reich)

            The Third Reich took great pride in its artistic vision. Even the death camps were seen to serve an aesthetic function; the ‘beautification of the world through violence’, as a well-known documentary puts it. And while the Reich narrowed the definition of what could constitute art by rejecting modernism in all its forms, it did preserve one of two basic elements of what art, in its essence, accomplishes; it presents for us an ideal. This ideal is at once one of form and one of content. The form is irreal in that not only does it not exist in reality – it is both an amalgam of historical types and cultural desires – it also exists beyond the real in the presence of an archetype. The content precedence given over to the plastic arts in the Reich spoke to its executives’ penchant for realizing the ‘new man’, a eugenics-inspired pastiche of Victorian cultural levels theory and organismic evolution. Between Spencer, the oft-misrecognized ‘social Darwinist’ and Tylor, the major anthropologist of non-relativistic cultural studies, the stage was set for an anthropometry of art.

            And yet while the National Socialists armed their artists with not only state funding but also a retrogressive vision of the essence of humankind – in it, it was the anatomy of sculpture that was most fascinating; during Hitler’s ‘Dyskabolos’ address he intones with all due caution that we today could not think to consider ourselves a successful race unless and until we achieve or even surpass the form represented in Greek classical art – that favored the physical ‘look’ as an expression of an inner health, we today have taken both their conceptions of health and esthetics as at least commercial ideals for all to strive towards. The ‘mongrel man’ remains with us in the guises of obesity, addiction, laziness, to name a few. And though we are certainly correct to disarm the edge of this once visionary sword while preserving the reach of its therapeutic blade, I wonder if the two can be so easily separated in practice.

            The Nazis understood half of the presence of art in society, the half that validated their own sensibilities. But by far the majority of us today share those same ideals, and this is evidenced by our reaction to any type of art that challenges them, not to mention any other challenge emanating from other cultural spheres, including that of science. Durkheim shrugged off this kind of resistance to science, just as every authentic artist does for art. But the rest of us cannot afford such blitheness. Not the least while there is a powerful political movement afoot whose sole goal is to return to Eden, the ultimate result of a logic that seeks to beautify through violence. And through their critique of other cultural forms, including art, they have a most willing audience in those of us who would never turn their way through religious suasion alone.

            Instead of proselytizing superstition, the advance guard of the neo-Christian alliance attacks aspects of culture that on the face of it, many of us would instantly agree need to be curtailed or even vanquished. Criminality, pornography, drugs, come to mind. But, as riders to these widely agreed upon human failings, the Neo-Christian will smuggle in assaults on art via pornography, addiction as an illness via drugs, poverty and class struggle via criminality. Indeed, one may well suspect that the criticism of ‘non-partisan’ social problems is seen only as a vehicle for this critic to undermine essential aspects not only of a democracy, but of the ethical society itself.

            We are receptive to these more calculated attacks because its seems, once again, on the face of it, that the rationality guiding them should be acceptable to any sane human being. We know that obesity, addiction, or the anti-social or misogynistic aspects of the sex industry are not ideals, either cultural or moral. We tolerate them without full acceptance because they express the wider marginalia of a free society. In attacking them directly, we must redefine what we understand by human freedom, trending it away from its shadowy verges which, when enacted, are always tantamount to the nth degree of having the freedom to immolate oneself upon one’s own desires. We children of the Enlightenment, our parents equally Rousseau and De Sade, embrace the joy of ecstasy with the sorrow of nothingness. Ours is a Dionysian existence made into a commodity fetish.

            To all of this the Christian would cringe with a genuine sorrow, and in this we ourselves can agree to a point. But the neo-Christian rejects this fuller human freedom by editing, moralizing, censoring, erasing. His is the faux sadness of pity, for in vice he does not see the underside of virtue but rather the leverage to promote his own wider vice. ‘If this is humanistic freedom’, he exclaims, ‘better then to be a slave!’. In their slavishness, the place of art is reduced to decoration, for while a fascist welcomes the art of the past, and particularly the forms which evolved within his own cultural antecedents, and while he also understands that art presents an ideal form for humanity to strive towards, the neo-fascist does neither. The new fascism of today, neo-Christian and neo-conservative, has no conception of art whatsoever. The nude is pornographic, just as is nakedness immoral. Puritanical in its genesis, not unique to America but having its hearthstone there, neo-fascism deliberately mistakes prudishness for prudence, neurosis for mere caution. Its desired Reich is yet lower than that previous, shockingly, given what we know. It is lower and less noble because it does not even have the half-understanding of art that the Nazis did. What it presents to the rest of us is a vision of an artless society.

            From this observation we are but one step from as well suggesting that such a society would also have no culture. The anthropological definition, in its origins begrudging and still heavily hierarchized, attains through its Boasian relativism only the sense that humanity expresses its shared essence in a multiplicity of manners and mannerisms alike. The liberating quality of cultural relativism was almost immediately used by the Reich to justify its criminal practices – ‘this is our culture after all, and no two may be judged by one another or even directly compared’ – and thus this logical entailment of relativism is now used to justify unfreedom, often chanting the shallow terms ‘morality’, ‘principle’, ‘standard’. Either way, the individual, conscious of her own potential freedom and yet also self-conscious about expressing it, is left unsupported. On the one side, relativism defeats itself by extending its logic to the death camps, and on the other, it opens itself to external defeat by declaring that its enemies also have the absolute right to their own druthers. The throw-away line ‘well, its all relative’, today represents a fatal error, not in morality per se, but rather in existential authenticity.

            The only way to resist and overcome neo-fascism is through a step-by-step advance through the dueling Herculean pillars of ideal form and adorational desire. Though it may be ironic that the purveyors of the Third Reich would view those of the Fourth as themselves a mongrel ‘race’, it is through this very viewpoint, itself fraught with risk, that we can best defeat the artless society. Once again, this is the case precisely due to the fact that the majority of us understand art the way the Nazis themselves did. This is certainly an indictment upon us – our half-hearted conception of art represents in us a genuine decadence rather than a mere desireful lust which is expressed in the pressing presence of pornography, for instance – but it is the half-step away from neo-fascism that is nevertheless necessary to avoid a sterner collective fate. The fullest comprehending of the presence of art in society is too much of a threat to that very fabric to be taken in a single step. For art does not alone represent an ideal, but rather speaks into being the oversoul of our shared humanity and thus puts the lie to any sensibility that we can remain aloof to our equally shared existential condition. The ‘scandal of art’, as Ricoeur states, balances and confronts the ‘scandal of the false consciousness’. In doing so, it oft comes across as itself not mere scandal but rather as a palpable evil. But to recognize the authentic evil in the aesthetic object would be to but give away another weapon to the neo-fascist, and one that the rest of us, in our headlong flight from our own feared freedom, would be only too willing to wield.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over 55 books in aesthetics, ethics, religion, social theory and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

On Corrupting Youth

On Corrupting Youth (its what I do)

            Perhaps someone may say, But surely, Socrates, after you have left us you can spend the rest of your life in quietly minding your own business. (Plato, The Apology).

            While the age range and definition of ‘youth’ has altered over the millennia, and while its current designation surrounds a more physiological conception, that of ‘adolescence’, what has remained within this phase of life are its social stakes. Youth represent an unfinished present, an unused voucher of the future, an investment as yet uncashed. And the rest of us are joint stock holders, collective stake-holders in this investment. But what is the character of the portfolio itself? In what company do we invest, and the more so, in whose company do we thus keep?

            I am a social philosopher, by trade and by character, and as such, am a nominal member of a guild whose apical ancestor is Socrates, the smugly annoying interlocutor and critic who, on the charge of corrupting youth, was executed by the Athenian state. Now there were numerous philosophers before Socrates, usually referred to as, unimaginatively but appropriately, the ‘Pre-Socratics’. Most luminous perhaps of this clique were Heraclitus and Parmenides. But though tantalizing fragments of this the earliest period of Western thought remain, it was in Plato that we first meet the character who would revolutionize the arts and acts of thinking, That he did so with others, in dialogues for the most part, was also a first. And that he put first to test and thence to shame almost all of his conversation partners, representing as they did a great diversity of both popular and learned opinions on all matters and comers alike, underscored the advent not so much of a public personage – the official rationale for Socrates’ sentencing – but rather a way of being; that through reflective reasoning what passes for belief, value, and institution may be brought low, even entirely vanquished.

            This was the truer reason for murdering the messenger, as it were. Since one cannot kill an idea, the proponent or even the mere vehicle for such ideas is abruptly at risk. And since young people are indeed the future of society and thus as well the future arbiters of social reality as it stands upon its majority epistemological rule, any institution, especially any State, might well be suspicious of the individual who apparently seeks to disarm and even sabotage the smooth transitioning from one generation to the next. For it is not production per se that is of the highest value, even in capital, but rather reproduction.

            The status of stasis in all known human societies follows this cardinal rule. What is, is what must be, and what must be again. And though it is certainly also part of the evolutionary human character to be an innovator – at least relative to our cognitive apparatus; the toolkit, for example, of Homo Erectus remained essentially unchanged for about two million years – such inventions, improvisations, and even spontaneous actions occur by far only in the realm of the technical. Today, this for the most part constitutes the applied sciences, and with the ever-accelerating pace of technological change by itself, we cannot help but note the ever-widening gap between what humanity is capable of doing and what we are capable of being.

            This sometimes gaping disconnect between the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ was noted first by those very Pre-Socratics, when the gap was so much smaller as to be almost unnoticeable. And yet, the earliest thinkers asked a simple question, which we still can ask today: “Why am I doing this?”. This is not the same question as the inventor asks of herself, “Why am I doing this, this way?”, but rather speaks to an ontological puzzle that may be spoken more starkly as “Why am I doing this at all?”. Now we can understand perhaps a little better why there is an implicit threat within such a question. For here, we are not being asked to design a better means of accomplishing the same or similar end, as the applied scientist or technician is so asked, but rather to imagine a different, perhaps better, end in itself. And when we ask this much more radical question, everything else opens right up. Not, ‘why do I have to go to school?’, but instead ‘Why are there schools at all?’, ‘What is the purpose of schooling and why this purpose?’ ‘Why reproduce what we already know?” Why be the people that we have already been?’ ‘Why believe in what our ancestors believed?’, ‘Why is our society something that must be defended?’, ‘Why do I imagine that I am superior to others?’ ‘What is the truer nature of truth?’.

            There is no space within the formal social fabric wherein such questions as these even get voiced, let alone seriously discussed. It may seem a risky, even reckless, condition to be in; to promote a society or a culture that seeks only the expansion of its present guise, the reproduction of its current values, and the conversion of all infidels who might range against its destiny. But it was the same in Socrates’ day. The Athenians, and the Greeks more widely, held that they were the only culture of value in existence; that they were by default the chosen people, and all others mere ‘barbarians’. And even some of the greatest minds of the Hellenistic period following Plato kept up this charade, including Aristotle himself. The thinker is still a child of his time, yes, but by engaging in authentic dialogue and serious reflective thought, he begins to realize that his assumptions are often mistaken, especially about others to self. Young people the world over exist, momentarily, in a cultural space which is liminal. No longer children, not quite adults, ‘youth’ in all times and places since the beginning of mass civilizations experience something quite palpably that in no other life-phase is as menacing to their persons. That experience is one of doubt.

            Because the only other time we experience existential doubt is while we are dying, we arrive at the space of radical doubt either too early – the teenager can do little enough to push her doubts to the level of social revolution or even social critique – or too late – one is about to become permanently absent from the human experience – doubt as a force of being must be accessed in some other manner. Fortunately, and thanks to the Pre-Socratics and Socrates specifically, we do have this other means at our disposal, if we would only use it. For it is through philosophical doubt, the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’, as Paul Ricoeur called it, upshifting itself into an ‘effective historical consciousness’, as his hermeneutic German counterpart Hans-Georg Gadamer had it, that a human being can practice doubt as a matter of course throughout the life course. And it truly is a practice, not unlike some other regular set of actions taken in light of other aspects of our human health, such as yoga, meditation, or even diet. To regularly engage in reflection charged with a reasoned doubt which is not sourced in either neurosis or common anxieties, is to begin to alter one’s consciousness of not only what society is and is made of, but also about what is; that is, of our shared existence and equally so, our possible shared fate.

            But to do so, and especially to do so publicly and with others is not without its patent and potent risks. And to deliberately do so by engaging young people is fraught with positive danger, as Socrates so discovered. I myself have encountered the signs of this danger. For in invoking suspicion directed against social institutions and their agents, it is to be absolutely expected that suspicion of oneself will be directed right back. Since I retired from my professorship and chairpersonship in a large university setting, I have been summarily rejected by the schools, by NPOs and NGOs that sponsor youth activities, by publishers too concerned about the commercial repute of their catalogues to publish my work, refused by a library which stated that the content of my fiction was ‘unsuitable’ for youth – even though it was written for that audience and the UK publisher itself suggested an age range of 14-24 – and no news media will publish my editorials. I have had civil servants tell me quite uncivilly that my ideas are not welcome in ‘their’ public institutions, and even had the police called on me for handing out my business card to a parent walking with her teenage child. And while I hope I am not naïve about the improbability of being assassinated by the latter-day State, at least, I am struck by the marshaling of focused forces, the circling of proverbial wagons, ‘all the king’s horses’ and so on, in the face of a lone social critic who sees himself as well as an advocate for youth.

            Par for the course, you might reply. Now you know that you truly are who you think you are. On one side, being off to one side suits the sensibility of the philosopher. A part of her reimagines herself as aloof to the petty influence of unthought, immune to the ‘insolence of officials’ and beyond the ‘slings and arrows’ both. But on the other, this aspect of the thinker is her most inauthentic selfhood. For thought is in fact the birthright of all human beings, and the philosopher represents merely a portal for others to step through; an entrance, and perhaps a momentary guide, to the wider world of the history of consciousness in its entirety, no matter its source. And yet even this is too sentimental a summary of what the philosopher does, who she is as a being in the world. No, in all honesty, the thinker dares the world to think for itself. She utters the Ursprach which sounds the hollow idols and pronounces the death of gods. He tells his fellow human, ‘What you hold most dear, I will destroy it! What you know of love, I will betray it! What you feel is most sacred, I will desecrate it unto death! You will no longer know yourself after you speak with the likes of me; you will instead be confronted by a new kind of being, a novel truth, a culture from which you are the newly estranged.’

            Is it any wonder then, that few people have the courage to engage in the regular practice of philosophical doubt. And this even more strikingly, given the fact that one doesn’t really need the philosopher to help with such a practice, at least, not in any consistent and continuing manner. For each of us, possessed of a consciousness which is a creation of reason and imagination alike, knows at some deep level that who and what they are, who and what they have been, is at the least not all they can be, and so their culture and so their history. All I can do, all I have done, promotes this other way of coming to grips with existence. And so I will continue to corrupt our youth in any way I can. I am a philosopher; its what I do.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 55 books in ethics, education, religion, social theory, aesthetics and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Truthful Fiction, Fictional Truth

Truthful Fiction, Fictional Truth

            World Game, the ruling force, blends false and true.

            The ever-eternally fooling force, blends us in, too. – Nietzsche

            A god now made an animal does not suggest forbearance. In our resentment, we thus resent the truth; happenstance and death. But in our enduring creativity, we do not merely suppress this state of affairs, at its most base, the ‘human condition’, but imagine attaining a novel godhead. This striving for a new divinity is the source of not only the historical religious world systems, but of all imaginative works of the human consciousness. Its fictional content belies its truthful form.

            Let us take a famous macrocosmic example, oft repeated in the microcosm of the human relations. In ‘Acts’, it is related that not only has the dialectic of tradition and revolution been uplifted in and into the ‘Holy Spirit’ – a synthetic conception of the thetic ‘old God of morals’ and its antithesis, the ethical God on earth – but that this new force has generalized the original thesis to apply to all human beings. The Gentiles are also saved or at least, savable. For the first time, at Antioch, the term ‘Christian’ is applied to this new community of believers, some few years before Paul’s letters to the Galatians and thus about 15 years after the Crucifixion. Though this is not the first time such a dialectic which blends fantasy and reality appears in the history of religion, it does represent the advent in the West of the utter democracy of divinity and the equally infinite goodness of grace. The fact that this is new is oddly and even ironically underscored by the fiction that it was forecast in the tradition.

            In the bourgeois marriage, the thesis of the man runs headlong into the antithesis of the woman, generating a synthesis in the child. The child is neither and yet is also both. Its fact is its novel existence, brought about by the Aufheben of conjugality. Its fiction is that it ‘belongs’ to the parents, but in all creative work, including the birth and socialization of a child, an equal element of fantasy must be in play. For to only acknowledge the factual conditions of mortality and finiteness, of difference and uniqueness, would be to put the kibosh on trying to do any of that creative work at all. It would place us as species-being back in a pre-Promethean landscape of shadow and even terror. But there is also no lack of danger in the means by which we give a future to ourselves. In both macrocosm and microcosm the same risk thus presents itself: what if the fiction overtakes the truth?

            If so, in the first, we have religion instead of faith, mere belief without enlightenment; and in the second, we conjure only loyalty in place of trust, fear instead of respect. So if it is truly said that humans cannot live by truth alone, neither can we completely abjure it. The material conditions of human life, the ‘bread’, is by itself not sufficient to become fully human. The ‘faith’, imagination, creativity, fantasy, fiction, is what not only fulfills our desires in some analytic sense, but also completes our being in that existential.

            What then is ‘truthful fiction’, or ‘fictional truth’? I don’t think we can entirely make them discrete. Myth is accepted as nothing but fiction, and yet it contains elements of truth, not only about the human character, however hypostasized, but also about the cosmogonical aspects of our shared world. Myth responds to the perduring and sometimes perplexing duet of questions that challenge us through our very presence in the world; how has the world come to be, and how have I come to be in that selfsame world? Mythic fantasy supplies us with an autobiography writ larger than life. It is not to be read as either history or as a ‘mere’ tall tale, but is rather that synthetic form which uplifts and conserves all that is of value in both the thesis of fact and the antithesis of fiction. It is very much then a ‘truthful fiction’, and, looking at ourselves in its refracted but not distorted glass, its function and its form as well come together for us in an almost miraculous mirror.

            Contrast this with the meticulous mirror of nature that is provided human consciousness by science. If myth is our shared ‘truthful fiction’, then I will suggest here that its iconoclastic child, science, is our equally collective ‘fictional truth’. Historically, science was the synthesis of myth and life, of imagination and experience. It too is thus a dialectical form, even a syncretistic one. Its truth is well-known: the only consistent and logical understanding of nature that we humans have at our current disposal. But its fiction is that it has completely vanquished the imagination, not so much from the source of its questions, but rather from its methods, and particularly from its results. It is a myth, for example, that the cosmology of science is not also epic myth. It is a fiction that science overtakes the fictional to maintain its human interest. Like the God that entered history, suspending for all time and for all comers the sense that divinity by definition is a distant and alien thing, the idea that science exits that same history is equally a fantasy. For science, like myth, is a wholly human production and thus relies as much upon our imagination and ingenuity throughout its process, from question through method to result and thence explanation. It is especially evident that in scientific explanation, there is a concerted and historically consistent effort to efface all traces of mythic sense, replacing them with a hard-nosed experiential sensibility. The fact that even evangelical educational rehabilitation centers targeting youth advertise only ‘evidence-based’ therapies – whatever other more dubious practices may be present therein – is but one example of the astonishing success the fiction of science has generated for itself.

            Just so, if it were not for the fact that ‘fictional truth’ is so available for even the non-believer to utilize should remind us of nothing other than the soteriological generalization recounted in ‘Acts’. Authors who have written in the history of science, especially those who speak of its origins and its early development, from the Miletian School to the Copernican Revolution and onwards, are, in part, repeating the act of cosmogony, of Genesis, and within these actions, the process of the dialectic. This is not to say that there is, or can be, nothing new in the world. The synthetic term, the apex of the dialectical triangle, is justifiably seen as a novel form, performing a hybrid function; at once reminding us of reality while providing the means for a being defined by its finiteness to live on in its face.

            Thus we should not regard the sometimes annoying, even disturbing, blend of fiction and truth as an impediment to the greater experience of life or even to the lesser knowledge of that life as experienced. The ‘world game’ is assuredly afoot, its mystery far outstripping any detective adventure born of and thence borne on the imagination alone. That ‘we too’ are part of its yet mysterious mix, its blithe blending of our beings into both a history of acts which are not our own and a biography which very much is, however much we sometimes attempt to avoid its action, is, in the end, the most blessed of gifts that any divine animal could imagine for itself.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 55 books in ethics, religion, education, aesthetics health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

An Ethical God does not Exist (but a metaphysical one might)

An Ethical God does not Exist (but a metaphysical one might)

            It is customary to juxtapose the moral and the metaphysical, as opposed to the ethical and the existential, but here I am going to rewind to Aristotle’s distinction, novel in his own time; that of the ethical and the metaphysical. His attempt to separate them is one of the history of thought’s famous failures, kindred with Husserl’s half-hearted manufacturing of otherness or even the Cartesian pseudo-problem of the doubting of other minds. But such a failure is not a necessary outcome if we recast another proverbial reflective question; that of the existence or non-existence of God or the Gods.

            In general, this is seen as an 18th century question, and one that was resolved in the negative well before that century drew to a Napoleonic close. But I think within the framing of that question there has been a conflation of Aristotle’s contrasting conceptions, or, in his day, one a customary conception, metaphysics, the other a mere conceptualization, ethics. For the latter idea truly was brand new, and its Western advent, some three centuries after that in the East with the appearance of Buddhism, was at first rejected as a kind of too-private perception, akin to the ‘idiot’; or purely private ‘citizen’. Just as the one who flouted custom was the ‘moron’, surely the one who turned aside from morality and into his own self-aggrandized sense of justice had more in common with idiocy than anything else. Indeed, this was perhaps the most challenging issue Aristotle faced, when trying to cut ethics loose from an overarching morality ensconced in metaphysical perambulations and emblazoned across mythic banners. But he was in august, if yet contemporary, company. Antigone is faced with an originally moral dilemma, the loyalty between family versus the State, which she attempts to solve in an ethical manner. Does the playwright intend for us to consider her ultimate and abysmal failure a model that says to everyone, ‘all like attempts must fail’? Or is there something else to be gleaned from the action?

            If the ethical job of the artist is to bring out the chiaroscuro of the human heart by rendering it askew from the mundane life, that of the thinker is to question it quite directly. The parallax employed by the artist would be seen as disingenuous if utilized by the philosopher. And so we are left with an ongoing puzzle, even today, and one that is underscored by the continued insistence upon revisiting the question of Godhead, something that was supposedly put to rest during, and because of, the Enlightenment. Here, the artist can no longer help us, simply since the society into which that question was originally placed no longer exists. Indeed, the question of the existence of God was foreshadowed in Hellenic times, as the Greeks shifted their discursive loyalties away from mythos and toward logos. This shift was, in fact, something far more radical than even the much vaunted ‘death of God’, as it not only foregrounded its occurrence but presented it as a future inevitability. For once people stopped believing in the article of mythic imagination and turned both their worldly and self perceptions toward the project of human reason, consciousness itself was irrevocably altered.

            One might suggest that divinity was unseated by this much earlier shift, though it maintained a precarious existence until perhaps the 17th century say, with the firmer advent of scientific explanation and the ongoing and intensifying encounter the European mind was having with other cultures as well as with itself. But though this makes eminent sense historically, I would like to nominally add the idea that it was the further shift from metaphysics to ethics that hastened the demise of divinity; in the East, Buddhism rejected not only the Karmic system as it had been and thus its associated earthly castes, but also the very idea that the cosmos was originally and itself alien to human consciousness. Instead, the ethic of forbearance – to be morphed into forgiveness in the West – suggested rather that one’s actions in the world made an instant difference to human life while it was being lived. It was this sensibility that generated the idea of the neighbor, an ethical force outside of both historical custom and social role.

            If Aristotle could not identify the logical device by which to fully separate ethics from metaphysics, here was now an historical one acting in the world. With Christianity, this historical force began to gain a further revolutionary impetus; that all human beings were to be treated as ends in themselves. No longer could the person who acted outside of the normative be considered a mere idiot or moron. Here instead was an alternative that was not only free from the customary but also was presenting a new politics of action – ‘go and do likewise’ – that made no metaphysical claims about itself. Turn this novel lens upon the question of God’s existence and things begin to look a little different than what has itself become customary to the history of modern thought. Instead of the death of the ‘old god of morals’, we can say resolutely that an ethical god cannot, and has never, existed. The former due to the assumption of ethical competence in the evangelical statement that ‘God is in control of everything’ – by definition, such a God cannot be ethical given the state of the world, no matter if one places all of the blame upon human folly; an ethical God would act instantly as the archetype of the neighbor ‘action-figure’ – and the latter more simply because ethics did itself not exist in the human imagination before Buddhism.

            But in saying all of that, one cannot then also have it that a God does not, in principle, exist, or yet exist, or did once exist. This is so because we can easily imagine another kind of divinity who, though possessed with a human interest and thus also being possessed by an historical self-apperception, acts only as a metaphysical entity; as a creator and an orderer, for instance. In all honesty, even the atheist would be forced to admit that she could not answer such a question either way, and so the real response to the question of God’s existence is a twofold one; the usual ‘No’, if God is presumed to be an ethical figure, but also an ‘I don’t know’, in response to the idea of God in general. It is the same conflation that harried Aristotle which also muddies our current understanding of what may still be a relevant question for our own times. A metaphysical God is in fact quite thinkable, even by contemporary standards, and thus the evangelical sensibility comes back into more serious play, for on this side of the ‘cultural’ conflict, statements exhorting the unqualified existence of God can yet be heard, loud and clear. As with the rest of us, the faithful have also conflated these two kinds of Godhead with one another, and are thus as desperate to insist upon God’s existence as the ‘secular’ person is to deny it.

            For the thinker, all of this calumniation, to borrow Nietzsche’s term, suggests that we have not, or are unwilling to, make that self-same separation in and for our human action in the world. That is, we are hampered in our ethical action because we still desire a metaphysical reward for so acting. But I think the message of new ethics is quite clear: the neighbor figure acts without custom and outside of history, and does so not even for the sake of virtue but rather because this figure knows that within such action, the entirety of our human existence is both encapsulated and exonerated. In placing oneself in contrast to social role and cultural norm, we are expressing our most authentic selfhood, one freed from both the moral and the metaphysical not by adding a discursive ethics to the roll call of philosophical departments, but rather by performing that ethic in the world and in real time. In doing so we not only change the world but also the very character of time itself. Both are made more fully real, engendering a kind of timeless reality that is the human equivalent of cosmic time, which appears to us as infinite and undifferentiated. It is this ethical reality which turns action into act, being into community, passion into compassion, and abstract time into presence. Thus if one wants to see a certain transformation of human ‘nature’ in our shared world about which we cannot say in certain terms that a creator and cosmic God exists or doesn’t, simply heed the original ethical mandate and go and do likewise.

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

The Third Brother Grim

The Third Brother Grim

            As a co-founder of a for-profit, I understand the longitudinal convenience of brand loyalty. For an entrepreneur, this is the truer stuff of legend; can something created for one demographic and in one time period, be sold to another, however distant? Changing tastes, also heavily influenced by market and shill, but also perhaps more authentically, changing distastes, most often combine to dislodge once highly successful franchises or products. To overcome this, certain ideals might themselves have to be elbowed aside. In the case of Roald Dahl, the ideal of original, creative work, untouched by the vicissitudes of times contrived and contradictory.

            Now I don’t write children’s books. And even the games our software company has released or designed are not specifically for the youngest consumers. And I know I would react with a grave sense of offense if anyone cast censorious opprobrium upon any of my solo or joint works. Indeed, I have already done so, in the thus far only moment wherein an official person has come into direct contact with my YA novels. A public librarian refused to stock any of them citing their ‘challenging themes’ for youth. Yes, this is why I wrote them in fact. This minor tempest could have been a publicity moment for our brand and our company, perhaps, and may still be, but in business timing is everything. Even so, the real reason behind censorship of all kinds is not so much that people’s moral scruples might be slighted, but rather that the organization in question, both public or private, fears loss of franchise. For the for-profit, this might end in foreclosure, and for the public sector, proverbial heads might roll.

            And speaking of rolling heads, torture devices, Dickensian terribles and Lewis Carroll look-alikes, Dahl represents both the epitome and compendium of all of the nasty-minded fairy tales with which adults have cautioned their children. Anthropologists have long recognized that the social function of the children’s story is social control. This is why, as a critical philosopher who heeds our guild’s apical ancestor’s ethic of ‘corrupting youth’ – the very charge leveled against Socrates by the Athenian state and for which he was executed by same – my books for young people exhort them to overturn, indeed, vanquish the norms which bind them, including the hollow idols of the sacred. But such tales for today’s world contradict, in a most calculated manner, the general function of youthful literature. When I read the tepid books on the banned lists in American school districts, I have to confess to a smirk; they ain’t seen nothing yet!

            But as a reactionary, Roald Dahl exudes the wider English Vice. He was an anti-Semite, an absurdist, a blender and bleeder of Dada and Da-da, and a narrator who took precious and precocious pleasure in subjecting children to abusive scenarios. His books, replete as they are with a leering lasciviousness that makes Norman Rockwell’s Mayberry attempts at child pornography quite gentle by comparison, are hardly to be affected by some revisions, ‘minor and cosmetic’, as their publisher has recently announced. But this is not the main point. Dahl, and almost every other author of the children’s genre, seeks to blunt the wonder and wit the child brings to the adult world, just as most YA fiction seeks to refocus ‘in a positive manner’ the critique which the adolescent brings to it. The child is told, ‘the world is absurd, arbitrary, and thus have a care’. And the youth is told ‘just wait long enough and you will be in control; you’re in training for such as we speak’. Far from being concerned about calling someone ‘fat’ or ‘crazy’, a truly astute readership of today will rather note that the essence of how we socialize our children is through violence, mostly symbolic in cultured spaces, still mostly physical in those barbaric. It is the very passing off of barbarism as if it were culture that is the real scandal of authors like Dahl.

            The use of violence to raise young people is in turn the root cause of why our shared adult world remains itself so violent. And of late it seems to be getting worse. Wealth disparities, warfare, crippling expenses for arms, the tools of violence, and governments washing their perennially stained palms of social justice and responsibility alike, regress all of us into an unwanted second childhood. Or perhaps we have never quite left it. For who speaks when books like Dahl’s are revised? Do we hear the voices of those to whom they are targeted? And would we listen if we perchance ever did? No, it is editors, famous authors, even prime ministers who speak yay or nay. On the one side, those who seek to maintain the genres ‘original’ time-tested edge; on the other, those who desire this edge to adapt to their own changing sensibilities of what will work; that is, what will maintain their petty and altogether unworthy family fiefdoms. This alone should tell us that the true fans of children’s literature are the adults who wield it as the weapon it was ever crafted to be.

            All those who celebrate Dahl and like children’s literature are, in essence, voyeuristic sadists and pseudo-pedophiles. Revise away, then! Keep the phantasmagorical piety of filial love plunged eye-deep in the colorful spectacle of a violent theatre of the absurd. Keep telling our human future that the adult world is no place for wonder and trust, compassion and care. And to all those who pine for the days when adults could beat their children with a rod, take heart; simply use a book instead.

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

Neo-Conservative Thought

Neo-Conservative Thought

            Revelations are necessarily mythical and sub-rational; they express natural forces and human interests in a groping way, before the advent of science. To stick in them, when something more honest and explicit is available, is inconsistent with caring for attainable welfare or understanding the world. It is to be stubborn under the cloak of religion. These prejudices are a drag on progress, moral no less than material; and the sensitive conservatism that fears they may be indispensible is entangled in a pathetic delusion. It is conservatism in a shipwreck. (Santayana, 1954:484 [1906]).

                Half the world looks backward. The fact that the past can be known only incompletely allows me to fill in what is unknown with my desires. The future, by definition, should be the fuller home of the imagination, rather than the past, but because it cannot be known at all, at least ahead of time, dampens my enthusiasm for self-projection. At some further point, I shall no longer exist; I shall become a part of the past. Could the penchant for backward-looking in our time be an expression of an auto-memorial, a way in which to preserve the selfhood of what I am, a preparation for ‘mine ownmost death’?

            In Mannheim’s famous essay, ‘Conservative Thought’, he suggests that the recent history of rationalization has made the present into a series of functions, almost autonomic, and that quite literally. These ‘self-naming’ processes in fact have no precise names. The poet of the past suddenly speaks to the experience of the present. I suffer the ‘insolence of officials’ in Weber’s bureaucratic organizations, for instance. I endure the ‘slings and arrows’ in romance and in the casino, perhaps. And I am myself more outraged than fortune is itself outrageous. Mannheim explains that the ‘one-sided emphasis upon rationalism’, while it ‘repudiates concrete and vital forms of thought by no means’ extinguishes them (1953:87), and that these forms have not ‘sunk into the past’ but have rather been ‘preserved’ in some occlusive manner. But for Mannheim, simply defining conservatism as being part of a tradition and holding to certain precepts thereof is not enough, for this is something characteristic of every human being (ibid:95). Instead, ‘being conservative’ both partakes of this basal layer of consciousness, not entirely conscious of itself and certainly not usually questioned in the action of everyday life, as well as taking concrete action in an entirely new way, concomitant with our own times (ibid:94). By making myself a part of a social action in the present I reach far beyond mere tradition, even though I might be accused of reproducing something of it, either in part or, insofar as it can be known, being both a relic and reliquary, out of whole cloth (ibid:97). In doing so, I may be semi-consciously ‘retarding’ progressive social change or even retrogressing it (ibid:99). On top of this, my action of this sort in the social world depends upon my social location in a steeply hierarchical culture: “In a word – traditionalism can only become conservatism in a society in which change occurs through the medium of class conflict – in a class society.” (ibid:101, italics the text’s).

            It is by now old hat to identify conservative action among the polar bookends of hierarchical or stratified society; the elites desire to ensure the ongoingness of their status, the marginal simply desire to have a voice. Yet is this enough to fully understand the pressing political penury that conservative persons state they ‘feel’ or ‘experience’ in modern culture? An openly retrogressive movement seeks to return to a past that has been historically lived at one time or another and thus can be more or less documented as having been part of the species experience. That such an identification can be made entails that the period in question not be temporally too far afield or chronologically distant from either our present-day understandings and sensibilities. Conservative thinking demands a reckoning with the disjunction between past and present, but at least it is not making things up as it goes along.

            Not so neo-conservative thought. Its ‘enactmentality’ is not retrogressive but rather simply regressive, as it seeks a ‘return’ to a time which is wholly imaginary and never did exist at any known historical time period. That it can define itself as desiring a time out of time, either as the primordial utopia of the Garden or as a revelatory millennialism of the coming judgment, clears its conscience when it must confront the problem of otherness. Not all can be saved. Not all will be saved. Conservative thought takes action on behalf of all of us, for each of us is a product of this or that tradition, the vast majority of which is, once again by definition, both unthought – if not unthinkable given historical precedent – and relatively unconscious. There will always be something or other in a cultural tradition that appeals to me, something known and in its own day perhaps as ‘progressive’ as the forces and actions I may, in my sense of the future, take in my own time. Conservative thinking is thus wholly historical, and it only differs from even the most radical of future-oriented poses and positions because it emphasizes a wider slice of the tradition which all of us share and from which all of us gain the basic self-understanding of the present. But neo-conservative thought needs neither history nor thinking. The one is a burden upon the imagination; the neo-conservative person is moral and not historical, for history trumps morality and in all cases. The second because mythical time is unthinking, both of itself and of history; indeed, any sense of change at all has ceased to exist. When Marx differentiates his ‘atheism’ from that of Feuerbach he declares that ‘for the communist man, the question of God does not exist’, meaning that it is not the mere existence of a divinity that is proposed but the very concept thereof. In neo-conservative thought the question of history does not exist.

            This vanishing act is convenient on at least two counts: one, the future as an unknown factor can be summarily dismissed. The future is something that I am uncomfortable with; I face it with some trepidation, if not outright fear. It is the very expression of the problem change presents to me if I am intent on maintaining anything I have created or gained during my brief existence. I already know that entire civilizations have been erased from the historical record, reduced to archaeological fragments and literary figments. What am I, as a singular person, in the face of such a trans-temporal scourge? Two, change is itself expunged. If there is no history I am left only with time, a kind of inexistence or life that, in its stolid and staid counterpoint to living, needs no longer pose any existential questions of or to itself: Why am I here? Why is there something rather than nothing? Is there a meaning to my presence beyond what I can myself fathom or ferret out? Life without living, time without history, the present without presence, each of these in turn can fortify the regressive interpretation my harried haruspex requires of me. But in denying history I also deny the other.

            Even if the soteriological suasions of the newer agrarian period religions were all-encompassing – all are to be saved, come as you are – nevertheless there is a boundary to be constructed between the self-appointed gnostic and the one who appears content to live on both blithely and blindly, at once ignorant of one’s specific fate and unknowing of fate in general. It is this second absence that brands me as a person without faith and thus also without wisdom. For the neo-conservative, shrouding his own equally human senses not in the cast-off cloak of conservative thought but rather in the technicolor triage of draconian dreamcoat, a ‘modernist’ such as myself is purely earthbound, trapped in a history not of my own making and running headlong into not merely death but also damnation. And if conservative thinking raises its eyebrows at the LGBTQ2+ presence in our historically and factually diverse society-as-it-is, neo-conservative thought denies its very right to existence. And it must do so, for such otherness that cannot be so readily identified in either primordial time or paradisiacal timelessness is a threat to the inexistential imagination. At once, however, we must allow for the humanity of the neo-conservative to remain as present as possible; like myself who is future-oriented, the one who closes off his own perception of the world in favor of an otherworld, ahistorical and also non-historical, inexistential and transcendental, is expressing the basic human will to life which all of us share.

            In saying this, I am not in any way intending to shore up neo-conservative fantasy. At the same time, it courts both irony and even hypocrisy to deny the humanity of the neo-conservative simply because he has denied his own. Indeed, the duty presented by neo-conservative thought to the rest of us is to help the deluded person back into reality as it can be known. In this, we ourselves must admit that because not all of what is taken to be real can be rationally and factually evidenced in a way satisfactory to science, for instance, that we ourselves should remain open to certain aspects of the tradition out of which neo-conservative thought has extended itself. And it is in the acting and wholly historical space of conservativism that we must encounter the neo-conservative, and we must take upon ourselves that equally historical task simply because the narrowed imagination that desires the end of history presents an existential question to our shared species-essence. But framed by neo-conservatism, it is a false question, presented as a choice between morality and history. While it is the case that no single morality survives historical change, it is a much more open question as to the character of morality itself, which would include the concept of the sacred as Durkheim has defined it, and the presence or absence of Entzauberung, as Weber has defined it. All of us experience alienation in modern life, relatively few of us regress into the stunted stilted stenochoria of stale fairy-tale. The more authentic question, ‘how is morality relevant today?’ is perhaps the most pressing discussion that must take place amongst all persons, since it, with as well a more authentic irony, defines much of our understanding of our own historical epoch.

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

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

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.