The Misplaced Love of the Dead

The Misplaced Love of the Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Interpolation of Jungian Archetypes

An Interpolation of Jungian Archetypes

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

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

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

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

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

                                                Syzygy (all genders)

Warrior (masculine)                        EGO                                                 Mother (feminine)

                                                Shadow (no gender)

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

                                                            Syzygy

            Visionary (moderate)                                   Nurturer (intimate)

Warrior                                                      EGO                                                    Mother

            Adventurer (immoderate)                           Disciplinarian (distanced)

                                                            Shadow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    Syzygy                        Loving of the other

                                    Visionary                    Changing of the world

                                    Warrior                      Protecting against the external

                                    Adventurer                Desiring of experience

                                    Shadow                      Doubting of existence

                                    Disciplinarian         Reproducing of what is

                                    Mother                       Caring for the inner life

                                    Nurturer                    Developing of compassion

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

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

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

Why is Science Doubted?

Why is Science Doubted?

            As I stand upon the earth, I appear to be motionless. The breeze ruffles the leaves, the clouds approach and hang breathlessly above. A car passes briskly by, and then, far up in the sky, an airplane does the same. To the unaided senses, things move upon and around the earth, as I might if I take my next step, but the earth is itself static and unmoving. Even the erosion of eons or the explosion of a sudden Vulcanism, the torrid heat and desolate drought, the sodden rain and blistering wind, are effects upon the earth, movements that alter its image but do nothing to its being. And it’s being seems nothing other than eternal.

            More so even than the firmament, for the stars do appear to move! And surely I am, in my widest definition, part of what they orbit or move past. Until the Ionian school in Ancient Greece, the earth was thought not merely unmoved but immovable, the center of things, the focus of creation. Today, we are decentered, constructed not created, in constant motion both in life and in character. It is thus, in this day of anxious doubt and in this tomorrow of anticipated unknowing, a most pressing question to examine how we as a species have come from one place to the other, from the center to the margins, from Being to mere beings.

            Yet this is a question that must be approached from both places at once, as it were. It takes little enough to imagine the perspective of our predecessors, and indeed, the very fragility of modern scientific knowledge when placed beside simple sense perception – and this aside from customary bigotry and personal experience – is what puts today’s self-understanding at such risk of consistent, even constant, doubt. Even so, it is more than germane to imagine the center, to formulate Being, for it has remained a magnetic value for us even if it has not retained the same cultural status it once possessed. This is the larger question, of course. The doubting of science at once proceeds towards, and emanates from, the resonant ideal of Being.

            There is a list of commonplace traits to which the ‘anti-science’ person holds, but for the moment, let us cast the net more widely to see what characteristics are present for anyone struck by the knowledge presented by the sciences. The following is not meant as either an exhaustive or a ranked compendium, but surely each of these traits must be present for anyone who doubts science as a source of rationally reliable and cross-culturally valid truth:

            1. My personal experience contradicts the findings of science, especially those of the human sciences.

            2. Science always seems to be changing ‘its’ mind about what is a fact and what isn’t. How can I trust it?

            3. Scientists themselves appear to regularly disagree about not only the validity of this or that finding, but also their general value.

            4. And speaking of value, how do I translate the often acutely picayune and abstruse knowledge of science into a language and experience I can understand?

            5. My cultural upbringing does not admit to human truth as the ultimate arbiter of the cosmos.

            6. Science is itself beholden to political and corporate interest in the questions it asks in the first place. How can I trust its claims to objectivity?

            7. Finally, it seems you have to either be a genius or at least well-heeled even to become a scientist. If I am neither, as the vast majority of people are not, how can I simply hand over my life to those who don’t know what it’s like to be me?

            The ‘feeling’ each of these difficult objections to the sciences brings to us is one of passive mistrust ever verging into a more active distrust. At once these are questions of loyalty, of literacy, and of location both social and personal. Let us then take them one by one, in the above order, with a view to examining their premises as well as suggesting possible alternatives. In doing so, we will not be simply defending a popular view of science, nor will we be attempting to construct an ontology that will forever be unassailable to such questions or yet others. At base, however, the question of Being is unavoidable, and so we will in the end have to face up to the problem of what can in fact, and more or less, function for our mortal existence as a source of reliable knowledge.

            1. My personal experience contradicts the findings of science, especially those of the human sciences. At the heart of this doubt is the problem of intersubjectivity. Each of us knows our own heart, but equally, we also know that the other’s heart differs from our own. My experience will not be yours, and in many contexts, cannot be or can never be. As a white male, I cannot know ‘what it is like’ to be a non-white female, and so on. And if the devil is in the details, God will be thus found in the abstractions. It is at either ends of the human existential spectrum that I must look for common ground. She and I remain human beings to one another just as we both love Bruckner. It is mostly the mid-range, shall we say, of our shared humanity that casts us up as different from one another. This is not at all fatal, though it is a too fashionable thing to overemphasize this middle range of values and validities – I am a white, heterosexual male of European consciousness and background who is highly educated and relatively wealthy when compared globally – and make it the sole arbiter of my being-in-the-world. As the bumper sticker states, ‘The person with the most toys still dies’. My suggestion to this first doubt is to look for that which makes us the same as one another, for these contrasting poles are the two spaces in which science in fact operates. The very small and the very large, the devils and the gods.

            The question of the human sciences is less simple, of course, because it’s very subject matter, ourselves, occupies mostly that very middle ground wherein difference is highlighted. But even here, such differences that do exist need not be seen as divisive. Indeed, the very understanding of ‘social location’, first presented as thematic in the study of humanity by Vico in 1725 and made proverbial in Nietzsche’s ‘perspectivism’ in the 1880s, is necessary to expose the facts of historical and cultural existence. But beyond this, the most important thing for each of us to recall to themselves is that I am but one perceiver. That when I am confronted with a social fact that contradicts my personal experience, it simply means that others, many others, have experienced the world differently than I. To not accept this is tantamount to denying that these others even exist at all.

            2. Science always seems to be changing ‘its’ mind about what is a fact and what isn’t. How can I trust it? The methods of science are classically understood to be ‘self-correcting’. What does this mean? It is old hat to trot out all of the historical shifts in perception a better equipped and more technically astute science has undergone. That Newtonian physics is a kind of local charade and quantum mechanics the truth of things. There is no need to cite the history of science as over against its historical mechanism. The underlying fact of science is not in fact scientific at all. This fact is that science has been and remains a human and thus an historical endeavor. This not only in the sense that it is we humans who ‘do’ science, also old hat, but more penetratingly, that through the doing of science we have discovered, astonishingly, a manner in which to construct a bridge over the chasm of difference represented by the diversity of historical epochs as well as across the polyglot of contemporary cultures. Science is yet historical through and through, but what emanates therefrom is, at least for a time and from the human perspective, transcendent of once again the middle range differences that divide we contemporaries from our predecessors, no matter how historically recent or distant.

            Indeed, to make a distinction between the historical and the temporal is one of science’s chief aims. The first is all about difference, and this can be seen with no greater gravity than the fact that it is at the foot of history upon which all moralities fall. But the second is about sameness. The Sumerian was a human being like myself, able to contemplate his existence in much the same manner as do I, gazing up at the stars and imagining the heavens yet beyond. Feeling the basic desire of a living existence, expressing himself in art and in craft alike, and having to make meaningful his mortality. He ate and slept, he made love and he cared for others. He is my historically very distant cousin but he is my temporal sibling. Between the basic method of science as something which can overcome many of its own biases given enough time, and the equally basic subject matter of science which it treats as if it were an object-class alone and not a singular ‘thing’, we can suggest that this second doubt regarding the validity of science across time is overblown. Most importantly, each demographic needs a slightly different knowledge base to fulfill its generational duties, and the same can be said for each wider historical epoch. It is a mere device of the comic book artist to wonder ‘what if’ the ancients had had modern technology and so on. What if myth and reality were combined? What if becoming a hero as a human meant that one also had to become a God?

            Far more so than even doubt, much of the simple disinterest in science falls along these lines. It is patently not only not mythic, its very essence stands against all myth. Its subject matter is not heroic, but rather basic. It seeks what is normative and what is regular, and not what is individuating and extraordinary, No, that is the realm of art, not science. And today, mostly, the realm of popular art at that.

            3. Scientists themselves appear to regularly disagree about not only the validity of this or that finding, but also their general value. Once again, this is mostly a function of how science ‘works’ in its overarching method, in contrast to the more singular methods devoted to specific forms of science, biology or chemistry, or physics and so on. It is not surprising that the chemist would value her discoveries, or the history of their own discipline, ahead of those or that of the biologist. This kind of valuation has in fact little to do with science and places the scientist back into the day to day humanity of personal sensibilities. It is the case that a personal bias can perform a deviant function within scientific investigation, but this ‘personality’ of the scientist is at once a great boon to the making of novel discoveries. The disagreement we hear of in the public everyday realm is a necessary function of science at its best. One, experiments must be corroborated, duplicated, interrogated again and again. We know that singular data might be misleading. We know that scientists are as human as are we ourselves. Disagreement, even outright conflict in the scientific community is something that must be encouraged by those of us who are outsiders. The more such questioning, the more such back and forth, the more assured the rest of us can be that science is indeed living up to its reputation as a self-correcting dealer of insights and not merely a numbly reproductive facilitation of the same old bigotries.

            That, I think, addresses the question of interpersonal validity. To be scientifically valid is to be ‘factual’ in the broadest sense possible given the conditions of experiment. That what this result or outcome states can be relied upon to hold not only in differing contexts, but as well for different persons. None of this, however, attains the pitch of being able to satisfy our questions related to value. And this is a good thing, for at the very point value enters the discussion science itself must leave the floor. It is up to society at large to decide upon the value of facts. The person who harbors doubt number three along the lines of value is actually being irresponsible in shoving this work back onto the shoulders of scientists alone. No, they have done their part of the knowledge generating bargain, and it is time for the rest of us to step in and step up.

            But the question of value, once taken on by the wider community, of course presents itself as a complex problem. At once it must borrow from what is seen as customarily valuable, while understanding that these new data coming from the sciences may force a reckoning upon custom. Over time, this potential conflict has overtaken all that was once valued at the cultural level, and thus the suspicion that underlays doubt number three may be traced to a much deeper sentiment: how can it be that all I know is wrong?

            This immediately takes us to the center of our next listed doubt:

            4. And speaking of value, how do I translate the often acutely picayune and abstruse knowledge of science into a language and experience I can understand? There are actually two responses here. The first is simple: the language of science, applied mathematics, is by itself untranslatable into any other context and this is actually how it must be. We can overcome any angst we may feel about this necessary distance by working backwards, from my experience in daily life to its scientific description. There is an element of the ‘need to know’ here, just as Sagan reminded us that if we had to consciously adjudicate the techniques and biochemistry of our digestion we would surely starve to death. A black hole at a distance is a fascinating cosmic phenomenon. It only becomes a threat at a certain proximity and that only over a certain period of time, usually equally cosmic in scope. The language of science thus must at once maintain its aloofness to everyday description and experience, but it must also bridge the gap between that experience and structure. What do I mean by this second task?

            One’s experience may seem to be intensely personal, and though it is that to us, if we live long enough and meet enough other people, we begin to realize that not only can others supply their own intensity to life but that what I held as precious and beyond the sacred is actually quite commonplace and well shared after all. Thus it is to the structural or ’secular’ quality of human experience that science appeals. By this I am not referring to the casual distinction made my ideologues between ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’. Science is not a religion nor is it a politics. With these others, along with art and philosophy, science takes its distinct place among the widest human categories of endeavor without being blended into any other. Instead, ‘secular’ experience is simply that which is shared and also known to be shared. As William James reminded us, the most acute quandary for the visionary is how to communicate her experience to others. No matter its original intensity, if I don’t know what you know, there’s an end to it.

            This is one of the beauties, if you will, of science. It is the only ‘vision’ humanity has generated that in fact can be shared by all, though the ‘intensity’ of such a sharing may differ and indeed must differ, according to our valuation and technical knowledge, and this even within the sciences themselves. A mathematician will see the elegance of the proof, a high energy physicist will see the enactment of a slice of basic reality, the biologist will see the molecular architecture of the gene, the sociologist the impassioned expression of a ‘type’ of person, the philosopher perhaps a form of consciousness written into the worlding of the world. Science is shareable precisely because it does not present a traditional vision at all. It is rather a series of interrelated and mutually imbricated perspectives, each with its own authentic value and from each emanating a way in which to understand our already shared human consciousness in its more cosmic guise. This is how daily experience is itself already part of science and not at all distanced from it.

            5. My cultural upbringing does not admit to human truth as the ultimate arbiter of the cosmos. Though this may seem to be the most troubling of listed doubts, at both the level of bedeviled detail and that of divine abstraction, it is less fatal than it so appears. For modernity, the non-teleological character of both cosmic and organismic evolution has been overstated as the leverage by which God could be murdered. In fact, science makes no claims regarding the existence of transcendental beings. This is rather a question for religion, myth, and art. Evolution does not define its own ‘original’ creation, no matter how many cycles the ‘big-bang’ oriented universe has progressed through. The fact that science cannot define a starting point makes the entire question a non-starter. In a word, evolution does not obviate creation, it just sets it back a few jots.

            On top of this, science is the one human creation that does not admit to purely human truth. In that, it ‘reveals’ itself, excuse the term, as a child of religion. If science had an ‘upbringing’ in the individuated sense, it too would tell us that there is a truth to the cosmos that lies far beyond those of human consciousness, though not necessarily beyond the future ken of that same consciousness or developments thereof and therein. Anyone who drives a car or a golf ball assumes upon the same science as reveals evolution to be an ongoing fact. The fact that one can be a creationist and a golfer is also not fatal, either to one’s character or to one’s epistemology. Though the best outlook of a scientist is the same as that of the philosopher, an agnostic, there are many perfectly objective scientists who imagine that they are simply exposing the truth of creation, a truth already present before human experience but also discoverable through human acumen. And there is nothing in science per se that proves them incorrect. In short, each of us, as human beings, is at once partial to the truth of things in that we can know only what our own historical period can know, and impartial, in that we as individuals stand aloof to any kind of truth and must needs do so because, as Krishnamurti stated, such a wider ‘truth is a pathless land’, and it cannot be found along any known way or track, nor by any creed nor crucis. Science reveals truths about the cosmos, and these are, by definition, not human. In that, it differs in no important sense from any ‘upbringing’ that casts up the value of truth upon an equally non-human source.

            6. Science is itself beholden to political and corporate interests in the questions it asks in the first place. How can I trust its claims to objectivity? This doubt is actually much more serious than the one preceding. Because basic scientific research is so unutterably expensive, it can come as no surprise that the only institutions capable of funding it are corporations and governments. And in almost every case, such institutions or their denizens have a vested interest in not only the questions that are to be investigated, but in the results that may, or may not, come from such investigations. It is often the case that the rest of us must simply be willing to take the ad hoc outcomes of an agenda-rich applied science as we can, whether in medicine, engineering, cybernetics, psychology or even demographics or economics. This in itself is not a total loss, because both private and public sector giants are out to please most of the people most of the time; in other words, this means that much of the time you and I will fall into that rubric of who is ‘the most’, and thus see some partial benefit from agenda research.

            Alongside this, it is not only always possible, but even likely, that over the course of investigating a specific issue or phenomenon that other data will be revealed which in turn point to another vital discovery. In creating an anti-viral we may discover the genetic structure of an entire class of organisms. In creating a new material we may note that the way we currently build things out of older materials can be improved. A new source of energy might require a new kind of collector or turbine which in turn has other uses. So agenda science is not perfectly blind to the more general scientific process sometimes referred to as ‘pure’. Many subsequent grants come out of an originally quite narrowly assigned task. And this is the case in every facet of the sciences, including those which study humans themselves. Between the sense that agenda-driven research must generally adhere to available market, whether that be consumer or political or both, and the fact of the scientific process itself, we should not despair that most science that ‘gets done’ is funded by vested interests. For better or worse, we the people mostly share those self-same interests.

            And this wider fact brings the issue of objectivity to the fore. Max Weber arguably remains the greatest mind on this job, and in spite of being also arguably the greatest expert on human relations, he was unequivocal in his own argument that we cannot leave the big decisions to those same experts. In this, at once he was stating that science has its place and it is one of utility alone, but more profoundly, that we need not get too hung up on the much-vaunted ‘objectivity’ outside of the realm of science precisely due to the objective fact that our diverse but nonetheless shared humanity experiences the world subjectively and not in some manner transcendental to life. And in that life, the expert, including the scientist, is a human like ourselves, with values, subjectivities, objections, and who may be subjected, objected to, and even devalued. But what we cannot be is invalidated, for we are not objects in the purely scientific sense, just as we are not logical constructs in that philosophical. So the doubt that questions my ‘trust’ in scientific objectivity is actually a self-doubt; it is not about science at all. To place this doubt back into science is the same kind of irresponsible action that we saw shoved the work of valuation, and specifically the kind which opens up onto self-understanding, back onto the scientist, calling upon her to become an ‘expert’ beyond her means.

            7. Finally, it seems you have to be either a genius or at least well-heeled even to become a scientist. If I am neither, as the vast majority of people are not, how can I simply hand over my life to those who don’t know what it’s like to be me? This doubt follows necessarily upon the lack of responsibility we take when we engage in declaiming valuation and self-understanding and pass it back to the scientist or the specific science as a discourse of expertise and authority. Yes, very few of us can become quantum mathematicians, but we as a world society do not need a bevy of such people given the subject matter at hand. There needs rather to be, over a sequence of generations, merely a quorum of chefs in this or that particular scientific kitchen to make the cosmic menu available to us. But it is we who must choose what to consume and indeed, make it digestible to our diverse druthers. And genius is itself too often very narrowly defined. Just as we cannot proclaim a Stephen Hawking to be the ‘smartest human in the world’, we cannot declaim our own personal wit as part of what imagines and thence constructs genius in others. No God survives the loss of His believers. Just so, no genius works in an asocial vacuum. It does not help, at all, that popular media both celebrates and mocks the so-gifted person as some kind of autistic freak, narrowly brilliant and thus both unthreatening to morality while at the same time being great fun at the burlesque big-top of resentful reckoning.

            That said, it is an ongoing problem that science is mostly a realm of educated elites. I say this not in any sense that one cannot but be highly literate in specific aspects of mathematics and science in order to attain these lofty heights of discovery and even application, but rather that we live in a highly stratified society that does not always bring all of its actual talent to the table. There is, in a word, a gulf between the actual and the available, when it comes to gift and future ability. We cannot know where the next ‘genius’ is to be found, just as we cannot predict where the next discovery of such genius will be had. But doubt number seven orients itself too quickly to an issue which can be solved quite simply by continuing to open up educational opportunity for more marginal persons, especially those who are young. And the only way we ‘hand over’ our lives to science is if we ourselves refuse to take responsibility for them in the light of science. We are free to evaluate both its specific fruits and its general methods, though as once again Sagan more famously cautioned, we should not eagerly accept the former while at once so easily dismissing the latter.

            More than any of this, we can respond to this final doubt by reminding ourselves that in fact scientists are enough ‘like us’ to not escape the basic human and social challenges that come with living on in the world. This aspect of such a response can have its ‘hallmark’ tones – scientists are parents, are workers, are children, are golfers even – but it is more salient to call to mind its aspect which is Whitmanesque; the scientist sleeps, the scientist loves, the scientist lives, the scientist dies.

            The pattern of popular doubts regarding the place of the sciences in both social and personal life is based upon our unwillingness to practice, strictly speaking, a very much non-scientific form of self-questioning. It is not within the ambit of science but rather within that of philosophy to which we should bring these existential questions. A lack of understanding of what we are as human beings will inevitably bring to any human endeavor a similar incompetency. It is therefore to the ‘illiteracy of the self’ that I, as a philosopher would commend immediate attention. Where did my values come from? Why do I value this or that and perhaps deny this or that other value? How can this other seem so different from me that I cannot even speak of them, let alone to them? In asking such questions and many like others, I think you will find that your doubts about science are both a function of your self-doubt and the manner in which our culture, both popular and literate, portrays both science and those who practice it. In non-scientifically excavating the assumptions we each of us are too comfortable holding to ourselves, often at the expense of the other, we become at the personal level as the scientist already is at that cosmic. This is why the study of the cosmos is at once a ‘personal journey’ and one that takes our very person completely out of the equation, for it is a journey that compels beings to contemplate Being. That we can do this, within our abbreviated consciousness and inside the brevity of human history, is the truer meaning of both genius and humanity alike.

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

An Imperfect Storm

An Imperfect Storm

            Hegel’s understanding of authentic education involves us placing ourselves at a distance from what is familiar. We return to ourselves only through the transformation which the encounter with the alien brings forth. This movement is the result of our existential thrownness. Not only to we take up a project, we are ourselves projected into the world, while ideally avoiding the problem of ‘projection’, of such interest to both psychopathology and more generally, to ethics. At once we also commit ourselves to ‘die many times’, however immortal we may or may not become over the life course. It is this radically other presence, now in front of us, to which we have been drawn in spite of ourselves, that will perform its duty, both solemn and ebullient. Our self-sacrifice is just that, an immolation of what has been known as the self, the very person with which I may be too much in love and at the very least, too familiar with. For Hegel and Nietzsche after him, education was about forsaking the known for the heretofore unknown. Both as well recommended an humanistic study of only the classical canon of Greece and Rome. Hegel, as a Christian thinker, sought these sources not only as the roots of his religion and what he felt was the ultimate expression and collation of these roots in a universalizing ethics. Nietzsche, as an anti-Christian thinker, sought these same sources in order to go back behind a simplifying and ‘enslaved’ perversion of a more noble ethics. But either way, the classical period of antiquity made for an appropriate estrangement from the modern self, and this was its key feature for both writers.

            Our situation has in principle little changed today, though its reality is subject to some torrid irony. On the one hand, we have what on the surface is the noble pursuit of humanistic sources by Christian educators, though they sully their authentic discipline with that of barbarism, and on the other, post-Christian secular institutions – almost all of the universities, for instance – have bodily turned away from the very humanism which set them free from parochial provincialism. Yet the principle of distanciation, and the more so, self-distanciation, faintly reverberates. The neo-Christians, in their ardor to turn back the clock on a secularizing world, venerate humanistic sources without coming to radically dislodge their theocratic preconception of relevant histories and indeed, those deemed to be ‘irrelevant’ – paleontology is the most obvious example here – are somehow placed wholly outside the frame of Christian consciousness. For these conservative educators, distanciation is a description of the world over against that of themselves. For the liberal educators that dominate the universities, to gain the necessary Hegelian distance means rather to forsake the humanism that originally drove the ideals of ‘higher’ education in favor of technique, something that both Hegel and Nietzsche, and everyone in between them during the self-educating nineteenth century, abhorred. So while the conservatives use humanism as a guise to bolster a waning neo-Christian worldview, the liberals use technique to prove to themselves that a mere religious education was a dead end.

            In both, we see a fraudulent mimicry of Hegel’s diagnostic. In neither is there the truly radical distanciation that alters one’s self-conception. One is either a child of god or one is a thinking machine. As a social being, one is either a resident of Utopia or of Penguin Island. The conservative educator masks his ‘return to oneself after being other’ underneath a lineage of thought which inevitably draws itself forward into the advent of the Gospels. Given that Hegel sought Christianity as a culmination of historical forces and an expression of an absolute ‘spirit’ to which all could cleave their individual souls, this process has a face validity that liberal education lacks. But it is a surface feature alone, for the immolation of the self upon the alien shores of Rhodes has not occurred, cannot occur. Even so, the liberals, who have a content validity to put up against their rival’s ‘face’ – the action of science crosses cultures in its discursive galleries without as much ‘syncretism’, which the missionaries of yesterday always themselves faced – are forced to jettison anything which provides an holistic understanding of humanity. Truly ‘specialists without spirit’ are they.

            At the very eye of this pedagogic storm, its rivalry intensifying before our very eyes, there is a third force at large, aloof to both humanity as an evolutionary Gestalt and to the technology and techniques created by we earthly gods. This third force is nature ‘itself’. The Christian indictment to become ‘stewards of the earth’ is well-taken in these ‘last evil days’ of secular history. Yes, but the apocalyptarians, our most dangerous version of the venerable mystagogue, remind us that we have left things too late. That there is resentment against the shrill aspects of the environmental movement is understandable along these lines. Why tell us how evil we have been if at the same time the result of such evil is nothing less than the old world judgment of the new world deity? What is to be gained by sacrificing ourselves before the final oblation is to be rendered? Within this same movement, there is another voice that accepts the chiding but then states that we can yet prove ourselves worthy of the newly divine nature, saving ‘it’ and thereby ourselves as well. Hence Heidegger was premature, suggesting penultimately that ‘only a God can save us’, which ominously reminded one of how the Germans were thinking in 1930, the same year as Freud’s ‘Civilization and it Discontents’ appeared in print. Just so.

            Thus the apparently wholly secular and ‘progressive’ movement of nature lovers looks more and more like the wholly religious and regressive motions emanating from the extremities of neoconservative Christianity. The end is nigh, prepare to meet thy god, and such-like. Bumper stickers proclaim it so it must be true. But though Hegel reminds us that none of us today has the gumption to fully desert the familiarity of the known selfhood and thence experience the radical otherness of another world – for him, Greece and Rome, for us perhaps, the presumed coming encounter with at least imagined extraterrestrial cultures – it is Nietzsche who exhorts us to shed our ressentiment in order to take the first steps to another kind of being entirely. If Hegel’s stepwise evolution can be seen as the process of becoming the spiritual result of Nietzsche’s punctuated equilibrium in the Overman, within this tandem lies a fair model of authentic education. What results from self-distanciation is superior for both thinkers. I not only know more, I am more. But neither theology nor technique provides this self-overcoming. They both expressly lack the humanity  – one adores a god, the other a machine – in the first place. What then is to be overcome? For both thinkers, the self cannot be overleapt. It is not a matter of replacing something, but rather developing that which it is in its essence. One actually ‘returns to oneself from being otherwise’, and thus in turn one also ‘dies many times in order to become immortal’.

            And in no way does the belated presence of the third party, enveloping humanity and eschewing divinity at once, alleviate the historical task that both beckons and threatens us at this very hour. Nature, in its stark majesty, carries on outside of the sacred and secular alike. It has neither in its amorphous existence, it is neither in its essential being. Having just lived through my first hurricane, I comprehended that nature was in itself incomprehensible. I could not speak to it, I could not listen to its voice. Nature is too alien for Hegel’s pedagogic dialectic to cleave to, too eternal for Nietzsche’s cyclical existence to return to. For both thinkers, nature was never the goal, either as a metaphor for humanity’s wholly historical being, or as knowledge thereof, the material result of mere technique and its studied applications. Rather it was history in Hegel and culture in Nietzsche that were at stake. The climate mystagogues attempt to turn us away from both, to our collective peril. The evangelists attempt to subvert both in the service of mock sacrifice, speaking the twisted tongues of absent origins and destinations. For the one, nature in crisis originates in human hubris, for the other, that selfsame hubris dooms our species to self-destruction. Either way, the apocalypse is fulfilled. The environmentalist is shown to be merely the secular version of the evangelist.

            Hegel and Nietzsche would reject both out of hand. I fully agree. Our historical present is not primarily a conflict between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’. Indeed, the latter provides the necessary backdrop for the former’s sudden and radical appearance, the landscape upon which it irrupts as an uncanny force, not of suasion let alone soteriology, but rather of authenticity. The sacred is, and always has been, beholden only to our self-distanciation, radically called to conscience in a most phenomenological fashion. And though our experience within its rare and extramundane presence might tempt us to deride the otiose as somehow lesser and inauthentic, we must rather accept that the day to day is a prerequisite for the visionary. Perhaps its entire function is to provide the necessary perspective that a wholly sacred life would entirely lack. Such a life would be, in a word, inhuman, absenting itself from the very history which allows us to know ourselves. The sacred alone is kindred with nature’s ongoingness, somnolent or seething as the case may be. Instead, our life in the world of today is a test, sometimes of epic proportions, of our resolve to not run away from our own collective history and thence to not turn away from our shared and ownmost future.

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

The Customer is Always Wrong

The Customer is Always Wrong

            Ever since the turn of the century it has been the basic weakness of bourgeois education that it has been the education of the educated class, building a wall of separation against the working class and losing the spiritual horizon for the universal problem of work. (Lowith, 1991:282 [1939]).

                The distrust of expertise is built into the psyche of Protestant consciousness, and from the very beginning of the Reformation. Ritualism, the purview of the Catholic Church, was mistrusted as a manner of manipulation. Holding services in the vernacular was an attempt by the sectarians to reach out to the uneducated ‘classes’ – back then, almost everyone – and thereby return them to both the community of light and wisdom but also to exercise the suasion of soteriological doctrine much more directly. It was, perhaps ironically, the act of the expert to communicate his expertise to the layperson so that the latter could once again begin to trust the former’s authority. From the church to the school, by the first third of the nineteenth century, we see a similar attempt at communication. Before the advent of the child-saving movement – the first in a lengthy and still active lineage of ‘bored housewives’ benevolent associations; a contemporary irony is that the latter day inventions of this lineage are out to ban books and preserve physical punishment of children, both odd ways of ‘saving’ them – there was no conflict between education for different classes. The children of the working class were simply not to be educated at all. That this was altered by mid-century should not necessarily tell us that the history of our universal school system, given birth c.1850 and carrying on today mostly by its own inertia, is or was ever fully democratic in its ideals, let alone its practices.

            The introduction of the illiterate classes into the classroom had the general effect of dumbing down the curricula, making them more accessible or even worldly. A similar though more minor seismic tremor was felt when cognitively challenged children were added to the already heady mix perhaps some thirty years ago. The response to this universalizing education was that wealth promptly excerpted its own children from that same system. Seen by the casual viewer as a ‘choice’ which parents ‘ought’ to have, the private school system or versions thereof called ‘charter’ or yet parochial schools is fundamentally anti-democratic and indeed to be so was ever its clearest intent. Wealth does not desire to mix with poverty, either in material or in ‘spirit’. The ‘bourgeois’ education of which Lowith speaks is itself the scion of the new wealth of the post-1789 age, that is, our own. Modernity is rife with the tension between the ideal of equality and the reality of inequality, and this around the globe, within every culture, and often enough even animating the interior of the individual person, who knows not whether to will only himself or to help others gain a semblance of human freedom.

            And though the charter schools are sometimes created and thus delineated by ethnicity or even religion, the vast majority of them place themselves aloof to the public system by virtue of wealth alone. Indeed, in the enclave schools, families which are not as wealthy can count on growing their wealth through participating in the limited marriage pool, which is the chief principle of the private system: keep wealth among the wealthy. And with such wealth comes both power and privilege. The ‘blood’ of the yet aristocratic-aping bourgeois class must remain inviolate. In a symbology of envisioned violence, the ‘educated classes’ wage a chill war against any other who would attempt to gain their inherited privileges let alone their wealth. Governments, which after all are run by the elite classes or are at least told what to do by them, aid and abet the spread of private schools, thereby concentrating wealth and privilege amongst the few. Is it any wonder that the majority of us have a heightened mistrust of expertise of all kinds?

            Those who are being schooled to become the next generation of experts trust the authority of those current without question. Hence the duplicity of the schools in general, wherein ‘questioning things’ is limited to either the technical or the historical; ‘why does gravitational lensing show us exoplanets?’ or ‘why did Spain hire Columbus the very year it expelled the Moors?’ and such-like. These are questions only in the most literal sense, and hardly that literate. In the private schools, there is, ironically, more of the real question, but this is precisely because the ultimate question of addressing the conflict that privilege has created and thence has attained is never broached; ‘why are we in this school and not our ex-friends?’, ‘why is there a private system at all?’, ‘are we really superior beings or is this an affect of social inequality alone?’. These kinds of questions are on the road to the truth of things and cannot remain in the technical realm. They are of course, also historical questions but they do not absent themselves from the present simply because we also need to know the pedigree of such current social formations. Every other apparent ‘conflict’ about educating today is a decoy: critical race theory, ‘wokeness’, subaltern genders, ‘traditional values’, civics, and sundry others. These fraudulent and fashionable contrivances serve only to allay a lingering sense that due to this family’s relative wealth and this other family’s relative poverty that their respective children will have glaringly different life-chances over the life course.

            The final if not fatal irony is that any expert who points this out in a critical manner is himself automatically distrusted. Any pedagogue, any philosopher of education, any sociologist, any ethicist. Surely he too must have been a product of elite education? How could he then be betraying his own kind? It must be a trick. While it is the case that any partial critique that issues band-aid ‘remedies’ is an act of duplicity and betrayal – ‘let’s fund the two systems equally’, ‘let’s reward the best and brightest without regard to class background’, ‘it is a function of democracy to give parents a choice in educating their children’ (a false choice since it is based upon differential access to resources of all kinds) – what these lesser ‘experts’ achieve is but a blanket ban on understanding the key issues that backdrop the problem of knowledge in our contemporary society. To see them for what they are is, regrettably, to also see expertise itself as a mere rationalization for the existing social order.

            This general mistrust of the expert appears in all contexts, petty and profound alike. I first experienced it later in my academic career when young students questioned the relevance of the history of consciousness, cited celebrities instead of thinkers, refused to read assigned texts, referenced popular culture tropes as the meat of critique and displayed a shockingly low level of literacy in all its forms. It was of interest that pending social background, this distrust of authoritative work was either fully present or equally absent. Most germane for our discussion here, was that the few working class students at the universities were keen to accept and learn and those from the bourgeois classes felt no need to learn anything but the technique presented for specific professions. The ‘ethnic’ students were of two minds; those from the sub-continent who were wealthy disdained all authority while those from East Asia genuflected to it in a kind of shallow supplication that made it look like they were the ‘best of students’. In marginal regions young people craved learning and understood their privilege in being able to have that opportunity. In urban and more wealthy areas, the students saw themselves rather as customers, ‘clients’, a sensibility only encouraged by the universities themselves, partly as a way by which to divide faculty from the student body and partly to attract young persons in the first place. This latter ploy played upon the quite righteous sense that an average eighteen-year-old is rather sick of schooling and needs be treated more like an adult. Ethically this is correct, and indeed, such mature and respectful relations should extend well back from the legal age of adulthood, perhaps to age twelve. But such respect must function both ways, as it were. Ultimately, there was no point in someone like myself continuing to be a professor in such classrooms as presented themselves, where students en masse behaved as if they had no interest in being present to learn anything at all.

            But the insular academy is hardly the only place wherein expertise is in principle mistrusted or even denied outright. And the deniers are, to a person, those who hail from the bourgeois classes themselves. It is as if in attaining their own little arena of expertise, they can maintain it only by denying the authority of all others. Know a little know a lot, they must imagine. My wife, who is a veteran and senior advisor in the finance sector, brings weekly accounts of bank customers who tell her to her face that she is incorrect about very technical matters that no layperson would generally have a clue about. Our real estate agent told us of the daily occasions where she was told how to sell houses by buyers. Our brilliant contractor regales us with similar accounts of those who ‘tell him his job’, which is a concise manner of putting the problem. Similarly our wonderful mechanic, with whom I could not live without. In the corporation of which I am the CEO, our in-house cyber-security and marketing expert tells us of regular occurrences where his highly skilled and subtle expertise is denied by clientele, and add to this the perennial issue of parents telling teachers how to teach, patients telling doctors how to diagnose, analysands explaining their own psychopathology to counselors, and parents – once again – screaming at referees from the sidelines, insisting that officials’ calls were biased, and especially those indicting their own children, what do you know?

            Is it odd that I, as an internationally recognized student of ethics, education, and aesthetics and as the author of fifty-three books, should have no issues at all granting others their authority and expertise? Should it not be the case that if ‘know a little know a lot’ is the general foible, that ‘someone like me’ should quite literally think that he knows it all? What my advantage is, is that I have been able to surround myself with those who really are experts in their fields, whether it be contracting, cars, property, finance, or caring for youth amongst others. I can do that because I know what it takes to become an expert, to gain the credentials yes, but the more so, to be able to learn to apply them in the world. At the same time, I flatter myself in knowing the difference between work well done and a sham effort, whether at the level of the individual or the institution. No doubt I cannot always be correct in my estimation of others, even of social structures and their widespread effects. No matter the experience, no matter the level of literacy, there will always be episodes, events and eventualities that defy one’s ‘expertise’. But this reality should not take away from the general sensibility that expertise and authority of the authoritative kind is a pressing necessity in these our shared times and this our shared world. It is almost as if the masses lie in wait for the expert to make his singular mistake, betraying himself as the naked emperor he always must have been. And it is the supposedly ‘educated classes’ who populate this ambuscade.

            Even so, one also does not desire a society full of illiterate and obeisant servants who slavishly follow every ‘expert’ demand without question. Yet it is equally clear that in order to ask a serious question, a certain critical literacy must be attained, and schooling neither public nor private is geared into this goal. Indeed, there is no social institution as such that can afford this too precious level of literacy lest all loyalty to them be immediately absent. ‘Corrupting youth’ yes, to be sure. But it is not youth who primarily need educating to these regards, but rather the smug and self-assured middle class ‘adult’ who thinks he knows, if not everything, then at least what he ‘needs to know’ about all things. ‘Everyone an expert’ must be the battle hymn of this repugnant republic: ‘No one knows myself better than I’, ‘My children, my house, my rules’, ‘don’t tell me how to run my life’, and even ‘live and let live’, are its much chanted refrains. There is a certain anarchistic element to individualism decoyed both by the false choices of consumer media and the false democracy of the separate school systems. This impulse plays upon our general lack of control and authority in society as a whole. In fact, very few of us have the luxury to speak our minds freely and fully, and simply because this act is a function of my profession gives me a sense of authority far beyond the reality that the entire history of philosophy has encountered in its rare disseminations.

            In seemingly an ultimate irony, Max Weber, arguably the greatest expert on society that history presents to us, stated that we must not trust the experts with anything beyond their expertise. Experts are tools alone. They cannot make decisions for us, especially those political, and thus they should be consulted only in times of true crisis, and thence put aside once again. Insofar as this is how a democracy must function in order to attain a reality beyond that in name alone, Weber is correct. The ‘expert’, of whatever ken, is after all only one person, a human like ourselves, fallible and even biased. Further, the expert cannot be an expert in all things, and so she is not merely like us, she is us, in all of our knowledge and ignorance, partial in both senses of the term. But insofar as expertise is sabotaged by ignorance within the selfsame person, we are jarred into a more general suspicion; if he is that stupid about this, then how can I trust him about that? The only working antidote to this gnawing doubt is to interact with others only within the bounds of their official capacities. All human relations are thus to be made contractual alone. Is this not why marriage is such a challenge for most of us? Only here do we confront the whole person and must trust her, eventually implicitly. Yes, there are even ‘marriage experts’, though one would think that the person who had been married and thus divorced the most times would be the greatest of these!

            While Hume stated that ‘all knowledge comes from human experience’, Kant qualified by responding, ‘yes, but what does it take to have an experience?’ and by the twentieth century, other thinkers asked ‘what does it mean to have an experience?’. On the one hand, pending the event, such experience might not even be communicable to others. The vision is notoriously lost in translation, as William James pointed out. On the other, however, most human experience can be at least partially shared. The trick is to understand just how much the other has comprehended of the self, and the more so, vice-versa. We do know something of ourselves, but we also deny and suppress other aspects as important. Even with regard to our own spirits, we are but partial experts. Our shared humanity is unhinged if all imagine that what they know is ‘enough’ to live. True expertise comes in understanding rather the limitations of both selfhood, of discourse, of learning and even of human experience. Not that these limits are perennial, unassailable by a future consciousness or even a more precise science. Even so, our own living Zeitgeist has its inherent limits. Coming to know that when we approach the counter upon which is laid out the pleasures and desires of the spirit of our age that we are always at risk of being wrong about each and every one of them is the beginning of authentic expertise.

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

The Disarming Decoys of Elizabethanism

The Disarming Decoys of Elizabethanism

            I was a few feet away from Elizabeth II on her royal visit to Victoria in 1984. She seemed to me a ‘decent sort’, to be English about it, but hardly otherworldly. Her consort, Philip, actually stooped to stop and chat with my young love interest.  But even at eighteen, I was disdainful of the idea of the monarchy, an archaism at best, realistically, a rationalization for steep social stratification and at worst, a malingering evil that served as gaudy and expensive signage for a latter day imperialism. But as well at only eighteen, I was blissfully ignorant of the extent and scope of the oppression involved even in the twilight of the Pax Britannica. For me, Elizabeth II was a fellow philatelist and a home-front teen heroine who repaired land rovers and literally got her hands dirty doing so. But such stains as these wash off. There are other kinds of stains, as Lady Macbeth discovered, which are more challenging to cleanse.

            Though it is patently correct to acknowledge that Elizabeth II had no direct political power, she did not lack influence. In a sense, her position is rather like that of the pope. No ‘divisions in the field’, as Stalin duly noted of the Vatican, but still possessed of a symbolic authority that rested upon ancient traditions. In a word, a voice, that the vast majority of us could never dream of so having. In another word, it was a voice that, from the post-colonial perspective, from the perspective of bitter and thence embittered experience, betrayed both itself and its authority through its decades of unblemished silence.

            Elizabeth II was thrust into her role at a youthful age due to what the war had done to her father. It basically killed him. The feudal model is graced with a kind of superiority complex, if you will, which engenders a paternalism that for all the wrong reasons, fans of shows like ‘Downton Abbey’ seem to flock to. The same model is fraught with delusory notions of ‘divine right’ and ‘sovereignty’ that were dumped by the European Enlightenment and deeply and critically analyzed by contemporary thinkers such as Georges Bataille. That the new wealth of emerging nations is eager to reproduce such relations in a microcosm – there are now five times as many slaves in the world as there were two decades ago, though slavery was itself never a function of feudalism historically – is most disturbing. But given that feudal order, George VI was as loyal to his ‘subjects’ as they were supposed to be to him. Their suffering was his suffering, for he was, if not the ‘State itself’ – as Louis XIV decorously declared of himself and could do so prior to the Revolution – still the body politic. The wounds inflicted upon this shared symbolic corpus slowly bled George VI to death.

            And so what to make of this loyalty regarding his eldest daughter? What kind of voice is the voice of a ‘modern monarch’, when the very phrase is itself an oxymoron? Is she merely a representation of the citizenry, serving them without guiding them, adding her gravitas to their collective grief, placing her ebullience in the center of their shared joy? Elizabeth II must have had many moments of doubt. One recent one that escaped the official censors which surrounded her on all sides, occurred at the climate summit in Scotland when, after listening to various politicians including Britain’s then PM, whispered to the new queen consort, ‘I find it irritating when they say and don’t do.’ Truly a ‘me too’ moment for any concerned citizen. And ‘irritating’ is a most diplomatic term to use in such a context. But just here we realize how limited Elizabeth II made her own voice. And aside from criticism, she was not at all without a piquant sense of humor, also something desperately missing in politicians. Two reported examples: outside of Windsor strolling with her single bodyguard, two American tourists asked her if she had ‘ever seen the queen?’. She replied, ‘no, but he has’, referring to her agent. And another time, she was shopping in a little village store and the young woman clerk said to her, ‘you know, you look just like the queen!’. Her dry reply: ‘how reassuring.’

            It is precisely these kinds of moments that give me the sense that Elizabeth II was not devoid of the ability to speak, she simply felt that she could not do so. It is our loss, surely, because in voicing the critique which I believe to have been fully present in her consciousness, she would have been authentically following in the footsteps of her predecessor and namesake, a woman it is well known that Elizabeth II admired and studied. Elizabeth I inherited a disastrous political mess from her father, who had declared the Church of England and risked a devastating war of religion across the realm. So she quite literally supplanted the Catholic heroine by reframing herself as the ‘Virgin Queen’. She gave worshippers the very symbolism they desired from any church and thereby avoided further chaos. Whatever may have been her personal sacrifice – presumably even queens have ‘needs’, so it is highly unlikely that Elizabeth I practiced a lifetime of abstinence – she saw it as her duty to save a nation just emerging from the feudal order into the then unknown future politics of parliament and people.

            In another word, Elizabeth I was a decoy figure, meant to disarm mass desire and turn it into collective adoration. I think Elizabeth II saw herself in that same light, and this is why she made the personal sacrifice of silence on all things that truly mattered over a period of seven tumultuous and hitherto unforeseen decades. The modern version of the Virgin, in both politics and religion alike, is the woman who does not speak and only appears. She does not visit but performs visitations. She does not meddle but only presents herself at the most apt moment, akin to the 1950s housewife and the indentured servant of today. To say that she was a prisoner is to only name the effect. Like her namesake, she imprisoned herself, and while we are astonished and perhaps a little dismissive of Elizabeth I’s idea of a revolutionary figurehead, we are also mournful that her distant successor was not yet more revolutionary, did not make her own revolution in what a monarch could have been. Instead, we had a duplicate of the first Elizabeth and in our modernity, it simply didn’t work. When I grieve for her passing, it will be this that I will be thinking of, and nothing else besides.

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

The Greatest Challenge: The Human Future

The Greatest Challenge: The Human Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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’.