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The Greatest Challenge: The Human Future

The Greatest Challenge: The Human Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Impersonal is not the Apolitical

The Impersonal is not the Apolitical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bathing with Bach, Showering with Shostakovich

Bathing with Bach, Showering with Shostakovich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thinking in Systems

Thinking in Systems

So you’ve graduated from high school. Some people call it the best years of your life, but you know better. It’s time to step out, in fact, it’s time for life to begin. Your life.

But dusting yourself off and walking out to greet the world is just the beginning. Nothing in school has really told you how to live. Yes, there were plenty of demands, but now they suddenly seem petty, things only a child would care about.

And then there’s the big school, the university. Why should it be any different? Isn’t it as well going to be filled with small demands according to it’s own needs, and not your own? It speaks of offering something for everyone. That is, in an sense, what the term ‘university’ even means. It has the word universe inside it.

But if you go inside, where will you fit in? This is the first time no one’s forcing you to be there, and no one knows who you are. This can be liberating, but it can also be alienating, mirroring the architecture of our wider society. And freedom is not so abstract as to allow you to simply live without doing anything at all. Some people say ‘work to live’ rather than ‘live to work’, but either way, you’re going to have to make a choice.

And you won’t have a lot of time to make it. Now that you’re an adult, there’s no more free rides. If you can be anyone you want to be, the other side of that coin is that no one cares if you’re anyone at all.

So let’s lay out the most common options that you are faced with, right up front: one, you could forget about the university entirely. Maybe it’s just a bigger high school after all. And after high school, who’d want to take a chance that it isn’t? But that means you have to find a job, and without anything more than a high school diploma, statistics tells us that over the life course, your career, if you get one, is going to stagnate. Even if you imagine yourself to be a born again pilgrim, that life isn’t going to be easy, and might even be unfulfilling, lacking meaning. And two? Well, that requires a big commitment back into furthering your education. Most people find they can’t do the kind of work necessary to get a Ph.D., so why bother at all? And forget about ‘Dr. You’, what about those stats that show that up to thirty percent of undergrad students drop out way before they’ve obtained even the lowest degree? And for those who do finish, the average degree completion time is over six years!

Neither of these options sounds promising. Many young people mix and match, working up to three part-time jobs just to pay for school. And then, if you are going to take the plunge, paying for it is just one challenge. What, exactly, are you going to be paying for?

It’s a cliché that the parent will advise you to take a degree that will ‘get you a job’. Anything else seems like a waste of time and money. But most jobs lack meaning, and most workers feel unfulfilled by them. How could it be, when you have your entire life ahead of you, that once in that life it often doesn’t turn out the way you wanted? And older people will tell you that, sure. But when they do, it’s not just a cautionary tale – don’t let it happen to you! – no, there’s something else in there, something born of bitterness and borne on resentment. It’s another version of what in previous ages the older told the younger; I was beaten as a kid, it didn’t do me any harm.

Well, fortunately, in most countries, no one can touch you these days, but even so, watch your back; there’s a bigger whip on the horizon and its two-tailed: work in a low-status job for the rest of your life, compelled simply by having expenses and in so doing, accomplish nothing much; or get a bunch of degrees, if you can, and pay off your debt for much of that same life, working in better jobs but feeling just as compelled to work.

You might learn in philosophy class that communism, amongst other social ideas, promises an end to all of that. But starting a revolution is no easy business. Far too many of us benefit greatly from the system we have now, so why would we desire to alter it? No, you’re going to have to learn how to ‘think in systems’.

What we mean by that is also two-fold. Thinking isn’t encouraged in our society, indeed, in any culture that we know of. At most, ‘figuring things out’ is acceptable, and only when such ‘things are broke’. Now, this kind of practical reflection is indeed important. We wouldn’t have come so far as human beings without it. But the one thing it doesn’t do is help us adapt to change. In a word, we can’t tell, by practical reflection alone, if something actually is broken or not.

So, one the one hand, a system is a way of thinking as it has always been. Sometimes this is called tradition, custom, ‘what is done’, ‘the way things are’, even and most brashly, ‘human nature’. But history tells us that there is more than one human nature, and that such ‘nature’ that we might inhabit as human beings is subject to change. The question: ‘can we change with it?’ is one the entire world faces and faces together. Ask yourself right now how good a job you think we’re doing with that?

But on the other hand, a system is also a manner in which to think; that is, I am going to think systematically about this or that. I’m not going to simply accept what has been, or what has been done, or even how it is done today, right now. Thinking systematically about a system of thought helps you dismantle it, piece by piece. You’re going to find that revolution is not about politics after all, but rather simply, and much more accessibly, about human reason.

But you have to use it. Perhaps ironically, the university is the only place where this kind of thinking is allowed, and only in a very few kinds of courses. Fittingly, these types of courses will not help you get a ‘good job’. Who reads philosophy? How many ‘thinkers’ does a society need? Why do people who think they know how to think, in turn think they can tell the rest of us how to live?

We’re not telling you to become a professional philosopher. If you’re already independently wealthy, then go for it, as long as you’re also prepared for the ensuing facts that hardly anyone will listen to you and you will have very few friends. No, it is better to learn to think as a universal birthright of who you are: a human being. Reason is the chief characteristic that separates us from other animals. Human beings can think things through, whether it is fixing a machine or fixing the world. We are telling you to join us in the name of human reason, for that is the key to human freedom.

So, you might ask, this ‘reason’ thing, I think I like it, but how do I learn about it without killing my career chances? The simplest way to balance survival and meaning is take a shorter-term diploma or degree in an up-market field. Yes, the market for employment changes regularly, but usually not within the span of two to three years in specific regions. This is why more and more colleges and universities are offering theses kinds of programs. And within many of them, there is some space to take those other courses; you know, the spaces in which revolutions are born.

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

How I Became Unemployable

 How I Became Unemployable

            I live in a city with two tales. One is a personal fiction, the other an impersonal reality. To say that I prefer the first is to dwell in the hermit’s hut, safe from worldly fact and fancy alike. To recognize that the second is in fact wherein I actually live is to also, oddly, save myself from ignominy. For while the fiction allows me to imagine that I’m simply too good, or too bad, for said world, the reality saves me from blaming myself that I’m more simply the wrong person for the right job. Well, any job.

            I was a professor for a quarter century. I taught at every level of the North American post-secondary system save that of the community college. I ended up at an R1 and as a department chair for five years. I won two university-wide teaching awards and was nominated for four others. I won over a hundred thousand dollars in publication awards. I made a comfortable six figures and had, in my opinion, the easiest job in the world. That others – many others – must have had the sense that being a professor was rather the narrowest job in that same world became apparent only when it was too late. For it turned out that when I decided I wanted to do something else with the remainder of my life I was warned vehemently against such rashness by my friends and colleagues.

            I thought their cautions merely affectionate rather than realistically desperate. Surely I have many ‘transferrable skills’? I have a lengthy résumé, I  have years of executive management experience, more years of project management, and I had become an internationally recognized scholar in education, health, and aesthetics. What could possibly go wrong? My wife and I jumped the academic ship and our hurricane-resistant lifeboats immediately turned into flimsy life-rings. Over the next three years I applied to four hundred jobs, and my wife struggled to begin an entirely new career. It took her five years to succeed and in the meanwhile I got all of four interviews; one in a hundred. All I can say is ‘thank god for PRIFs’, as I never found another job of any kind. My wife is now a very successful senior financial advisor, so the once gendered tables have also been turned. The nub of the reality was that I had no recognizable skills. That careers are highly streamed. That an aging Gen-X’er has no role in the contemporary workplace.

            But the fiction was what got me through to the other side of the reality. That it was my work as a philosopher that barred me from a public life of any kind. I was, in a word, a dangerous person. Anyone to whom nothing is sacred is, by definition, public enemy number one. Anyone whose vocation it is to critically examine society’s most cherished possessions – its values – in another age might well have been burned. Anyone who bites off the very hand that provides safe succor to think at all deserves nothing at all from the cultural weald. My fifty-one books – thus far – qualify me for the dinosaur graveyard. Where’s my OC? If Marc-Andre Hamelin has been dubbed a ‘national treasure’, then why not I? However phantasmagorical this other tale could become, it eventually allowed me to encounter, quite by chance, a growing group of young creative minds who, along with myself, started a private venture. I’m now the CEO and Creative Director of a video game software corporation and I enjoy it immensely. So you can keep your public policy jobs, your private consultants gigs, and your OCs to boot; this thinker and writer has gone radically digital in an age wherein the future is not plastics, but rather is as fluidly plastic as oneself must be in order to carry on in an ever-changing world. That, in the end, was the reality that the fiction was able to recreate.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over fifty books in ethics, education, health, aesthetics and social theory, and more recently, fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades. And though not actively seeking employment, if you require a real-time Mycroft Holmes in your organization, please feel free to contact him.

Sentiment and Sentimentality

Sentiment and Sentimentality

            If we want to abandon our daydreams, we must look at the other thing these ornaments are hiding and put ourselves in a state of methodical doubt in regard to them. (Merleau-Ponty, 1955:225, italics the text’s).

            The third of William James’ legendary set of Gifford Lectures is entitled ‘The Reality of the Unseen’. In it, he reminds us that reality is matched in human consciousness by ‘unreality’, or at the very least, a set of realities is balanced by a similar set of unrealities. Such a term, ‘unreal’, during the fin de siécle period meant less the uncanny or surreal and more simply the sense that it lacked agreement and rationality. The first due to its generally unobservable character, the second due to its resistance to being subject to reason. Yet James did not find the idea of unreality to be in itself unreasonable or even unempirical. Regions of the brain, separated only by ‘the filmiest of screens’, were either occlusive in their contiguities or were yet unexplored in their potential. Mapping the brain, as Broca had accomplished in James’ own time, was not the same thing as understanding exactly how these different regions managed their internal affairs. Consciousness itself was thus constructed by apparatuses and architectures unseen yet real.

            The reaction to Enlightenment transparency, the ideas of the individual, of free will, of sovereignty of thought, and their belated early Victorian offspring, progress, democracy, positivism, feminism, shared one powerful leitmotif. Evolution moved through unseen means. Phenotypes could be observed – even in our own time, when the genome is itself observable, the dynamic between genes and environment as well as mutation, genetic drift and so on, are not to be directly ‘seen’ – as the outcomes of a process the reality of which eluded Darwin though not, of course, Mendel. Consciousness, now radically remade as a ‘social product’ in Marx and Engels 1846 work – not published until 1932, mind you – also contained, or was yet contained by, an unseen reality. When Janet first proposed the idea of the unconscious he did so quite unconsciously, if you will, with none of the glaring threat and radically primordial overtones of Freud’s later reworking. Perhaps it is better to describe Janet’s efforts as ‘unself-conscious’, given the latter’s deeply self-reflective and philosophical construct. For our present purposes, however, we want to merely note that whether it is evolution, consciousness, empiricity as phenomenologically inclined, or structuralism in linguistics and later the social sciences, it is the ‘reality of the unseen’ that dominates post-enlightenment discourses.

            Now is this the same unseen as James had in mind? Not at all, or at least, not entirely. If the Enlightenment, in its brash rationalism and its common-sense empiricism, had made the old idea of unreality flee into the cultic or rustic mindsets alone, it ran the tables for only a scant three generations before it itself began to be displaced. Like any revolution, the old regime – in this case, of thought in general and not specifically politics, though these seismic shifts are related – while defeated and in flight, doubles back upon the victors. It does so not by a pure counteroffensive, but by altering its self-conception. The old must displace itself from its own customary sentiments in order to reappear, through the back door, as it were, in a new set of guises but with the same basic principle in hand. What the unseen was to the religious worldview, James’ ultimate topic, became the unseen within that scientific. Science, that paragon of Enlightenment practice, its ‘application’ of both reason and observation as redefined and reminted by the eighteenth century becomes, by the end of the nineteenth, a fertile field of occlusive discourses. From organismic evolution to psychology to phenomenology to structuralism, the conception of the unseen, of ‘unreality’, ensconces itself perhaps even more deeply than it had ever found itself to be in religion alone. For after all,  however mysterious was the invisible hand of the divine, all would ultimately be revealed to human consciousness. There would be, in truth, no truth untold.

            Can one say the same for the unseen that animates many of our most profound conceptions of modernity? Certainly, the race has been on, following the second world war, to both provide a ‘grand unified theory’ in cosmology but also a unity of scientific understanding – sometimes referred to as ‘levels theory’ – regarding all human and non-human existence. Pike’s 1957 opus attests to the reach of such a sentiment; that science can only overtake its predecessors by explaining as much as did these older forms of thought. In a word, science must both become the new religion and the end of religion. And it would do so by finally uncovering the conception of the unseen within its own novel discourses.

            Yet this sentiment is a self-conception. If religion had its primal mover in unreality, its symptom in the uncanny but with the foreknowledge that the hand of God was ultimately a canny one – ‘everything happens for a reason’ becomes the mantra of the believer; the phrase is itself at best trivially true but the acolyte transforms such ‘reason’ into a connected plan – then science has the same in the surreality of cosmological evolution. It is, to our sensibility, just as unbelievable that the entire known universe should be as a point of light, that for eons nothing but cosmic background radiation should exist, that no other explanation need be given for existence entire, as it was to believe that a superior being with unexplained provenience and the more so, origin, should have simply created existence out of inexistence. At some level of reflection one is bound to ask, ‘what’s the difference?’.

            And yet there is a difference, stark, stolid, and still as stunning as it must have been in 1859 or would have been in 1846; and that is, science presents a cosmos that is non-teleological; it has no final purpose. This differs in as radical a manner as possible from the previous metaphysics, wherein a final goal was assumed. And while Hegel attempted to preserve the telos of history, of spirit, in his phenomenology – such a dynamic was also unseen in its primacy, one can note – by the 1840s this had been rejected by the entire swath of younger thinkers, from Mill to Marx to Martineau to Darwin himself. In art, the difference between Beethoven and Wagner might be cast along similar lines, the difference between Goethe and Dickens perhaps as well. But most importantly, it was the concept of evolution – in spite of its own ultimately unexplained origins; what sets the serial universe in motion? – that departed from the sentiment that existence entire should have a purpose beyond itself.

            In this, we are confronted by the whole question of the difference between sentiment and sentimentality. The one is customary, assumed, unseen. It is part of the social stock of knowledge at hand and is a lynchpin of contents for any phenomenology of culture or even of consciousness ‘itself’. But the second is contrived, fashionable, observable and indeed, desires itself to be observed at all times and in all places by as many as possible. Sentimentality is as much a flaneur as is sentiment retiring. The one lives to see and be seen, the other would die before giving up its unseen reality to either science or religion. With the overturning of telos as reason, sentimentality overtakes sentiment as the compelling force animating human consciousness in its self-refracting lens.

            Travelling alongside the conception of nothingness, a concept aberrant like no other to Western consciousness, ‘atelos’ provides a perverse reassurance that our worst selves need not concern themselves with the final ends given impetus by our egregious acts. The world could end, yes, but by our own hand. We own the end, we ourselves are the end entire. Perverse, yes, but such a term hardly begins to describe such a sentimentality as this. While it is mostly the case that mere sentiment cannot provide for either human freedom or authentic being, let alone thought – the ‘sacrifice of the intellect’, another one of James’ famous phrases, is demanded by any set of traditions, customs, doctrines or doxa, not only those religious in character – it is rarely the case that traditions alone provoke the apocalypse. In our fear that revealed religion might self-construct self-destruction for all, believers and non-believers alike, have we not stepped too far away from the equally customary sensibility that a culture must simply be reproduced at all costs? We have, in our Enlightenment liberation, excised divinity and its teleological children from our sentiments only to be faced with a gnawing sense that without ultimate purpose, meaning too disappears.

            Does this then also suggest that meaningfulness is no longer extant at all, or is it only hidden from us, a final effect of the transfigured conception of the unseen in our new reality? Merleau-Ponty asks us to consider this ‘other thing’, this otherness that now can only be other to us by maintaining itself ‘underneath the ornament’ of none other than sentimentality. I want to suggest that meaning does not necessarily have to be hitched up to purpose, and that just because we now live within a non-teleological modernity and live through and by an ateological consciousness, this does not demand either the reality of the unseen or the sacrifice of the intellect. Indeed, reality is all the more meaningful if it has a depth which is at first occluded, and the intellect is all the more real if its meanings emanate from both a fully conscious sensibility and an equally real unconscious sensitivity. If anything, the liberation of human freedom of the will frees up not so much humanity as a whole – perhaps each one of us tends in her own direction on this point; we each of us are thrown upon the pathless landscape of the purposeless truth and this is the meaning of ultimate freedom – but rather the ability for meaning to come to its own fulfillment freed up from final purposes and ends alike.

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

Mississippi Metastasized

Mississippi Metastasized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abortion and Ressentiment

Abortion and Ressentiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The State of the Division Address

The State of the Division Address

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Replacing the ‘Replacement Theory’

Replacing the ‘Replacement Theory’

            Lower birth rates amongst ‘Caucasian’ populations are due to the gradual development of advanced technical and industrial economic platforms. These require simply less labour power than did previous such structures, the most noticeable shift being between the agrarian mode of production and that ‘bourgeois’. It is pure happenstance that the ethnic backgrounds of the population cohorts that first underwent such world-historical transitions were ‘white’; a coincidence in the sense that northern climes produced persons with less melatonin as well as an outward looking maritime culture rather than the self-contained massive irrigation civilizations of Asia. Such similar declines in birth rates will follow along as other nations, the successors to these great cultures, develop in kind. The first significant decrease will be observed in immigrant cohorts cleaving themselves to Western societies and indeed this is happening today, from Latin Americans in the United States to those from the sub-continent in Canada and the UK, to Chinese in Australia and Middle Easterners in Western Europe.

            This shift in the character of biopower is sourced in an equally shifting economics, and is thus no conspiracy of ‘elites’ or anyone else. It is the direct result of an anonymous global process and even if governments seek to control it, mainly through anti-abortion policies on one side, the legalization of homosexuality on the other, they cannot. If the concern is about the loss of ‘European Culture’, this too is misrepresented. The tens of thousands of young Chinese piano students practice Chopin and Mozart. Is Yo Yo Ma white? Yes, I would far prefer to be listening to Bruckner instead of popular music for ten-year-olds when I shop at Wal-Mart, but I am not willing to murder people to do so. After all, I can always turn Bruckner on when I return home. The hypothetical Fourth Reich, wherein great art leads and politicians only follow this most noble path remains elusive, mainly because art and science, philosophy and literature are by birthright the purview of every human being no matter their ethnic background, and cannot be the preserve of some self-interested elite. Defenders of ‘whiteness’ and ‘European culture’ today sound like warmed-over and illiterate versions of Nazis and can serve no meritorious purpose in the authentic interest and passion for high culture of any kind.

            As far as the mythical ‘Jewish Race’ and its cultural interest is concerned, this is an effect of old world property laws that created the focused intensity persons of Jewish descent brought, and still bring, to the arts and culture, as was noted by Marx and Engels in their response to the racist ‘theories’ of their day, specifically those of Gobineau. It is a happy coincidence for the rest of us, because more or less singlehandedly, these noble people have been the most staunch defenders of culture, arts, music and literature and number amongst the most important contributors to it. Such a list of names includes those like Marx, Freud, Mahler, Schoenberg, Husserl, Proust and on and on. When Wagner said to his virtuoso musicians who surrounded him and recognized in his music the future of art rather than the future of politics, ‘You are the perfect human beings; all you need to do is lose your Jewishness’, they took him to mean that ethnicity as a category of human condition was in itself a regression, and they were correct no matter what Wagner’s own intent may have been. Ethnic identity alone is a lower form of life. But that includes all those who strut their ‘whiteness’ as superior or even relevant. It is important to note that every person who has been a major figure in the history of art or thought has placed their own happenstance ethnic pedigree far in the background to their work, just as their successors, we ourselves, must do with other such variables; gender, age, sexual orientation, and religious belief.

            Instead, the universal birthright of human consciousness, reason, language, creative art, and the ability to adapt to radical shifts in the character of world and history, belongs to no ethnicity and caters to no person. It is of the species-essence that each of us defend what belongs to all, and to do so without prejudice based on baseless provincialisms hailing from the prior epochs of illiteracy, ignorance, tribal and ethnic rivalries, and yes, far more threatening today, competing nation states. All of these represent halting way-stations on the road to a superior being, one that is both human and humane, one that does not shrink from its fullest humanity in the face of shadowy fears of being ‘replaced’, and one which does not itself fear self-sacrifice in the name of a collective ideal that embraces the entire diversity of the great cultures. For the very best of human consciousness is present to counter the very worst; art against politics, science against superstition, love against hatred, compassion against desire. This is its pan-historic mission. Let us then join ourselves to its future vision; a world bereft of the fear of difference alone, but also a world in which authentically noble differences, those that open us up to the very cosmos itself and give us the perspective we need to comprehend it, are recognized as the better part of our shared and mortal lot.

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