What is ‘Freedom of Expression’?

What is ‘Freedom of Expression’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christians in Drag

Christians in Drag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very Late Capitalism?

Very Late Capitalism?

            Late capitalism is the epoch in history of the development of the capitalist mode of production in which the contradiction between the growth of forces of production and the survival of the capitalist relations of production assumes an explosive form. This contradiction leads to a spreading crisis of these relations of production. (Ernst Mandel, 1972:500).

                It is a delicate operation to discern what, within any social critique, is itself ideology, is itself millennialism, is itself despair, is itself anxiety. Greta Thunberg’s first book calls for a sea-change in world systems, but specifically in that economic. And while it is certainly the case that humanitarian crises as well as those environmental have been exacerbated by a cut-throat dog-eat-dog system of exchanges and values, it is also equally the case that, as Marx himself suggested much closer to its advent, Bourgeois capitalism has been ‘the best system yet invented’. It has created unprecedented levels of wealth and spread that wealth far wider than any other economic dynamic in human history. It has levelled both systems of caste and class. It has elevated the Bourgeois class to political power. It has made the genders far more equal. It has invented technologies that can aid a radical democracy of the kind Thunberg envisages, and most importantly, in its dogged doggerel of individuated ideology, it has exhibited no respect for either gods or kings alike.

            And all of this Marx realized in his own day. For he and Engels, communism would surpass its predecessor in both its humanity and its equalizing force. Thunberg’s too easy dismissal of such an idea that has never been tested at a national level contradicts the entire heritage of her own critique. With some minor local exceptions, the communism authentic to Marx and Engels is as yet an untried device. Given the remainder of her basic suggestions for change, her own view is essentially the same as was theirs.

            Now this is not necessarily a terrible thing. ‘Communism’ is, at least in theory, simply a more equitable and humane version of capitalism, for in the transition from one mode of production to the next, in this case, the means of production remain unchanged. Indeed, Marx had himself to understate this issue within his own dialectical modeling due to two problems: One, purely theoretical, which had Engels’ historical evolutionary scale-level model cohere on the basis of a double change; both means and relations of production were altered in each of the world-shifting limens that had preceded the proposed, and still hypothetical, ‘communist revolution’. And two, purely political; Marx and Engels could not afford to extoll overmuch the system they desired to overthrow.

            And thus neither can Thunberg. Overcoming capitalism is made possible only by the presence of the dynamic forces within capitalism itself, just as Marx understood the case to be for the potential communist outlook. For him, the nation in which he was eventually exiled was in fact the ‘closest to communism’, that of Victorian England, replete with its world-wide colonial empire so derided by Thunberg. That pseudo-communist revolutions occurred in backward, non-capitalistic nations such as Russia and China were world-historical events, to be sure, but ones doomed to failure on Marx’s rubric alone. The ‘small is beautiful Star Trek technocratic humanism’ which settles down like a light drizzle upon the umbrella of future visions of a better world could only be had with the high technologies that capitalism invented. This is not capital ‘selling the communist the rope’ by which the latter will hang the former, but rather presents a series of opportunities for the more ethical use and deployment of resources unimaginable in any other economic system, in any other mode of production.

            And it is not a case of mere technology. The greatest triumph of capital rests not in its products nor its wealth, but in its human liberation, the very human freedom Thunberg so casually denigrates as being delusional within capital. Not quite so. Freedom is a modern construct that is ‘value neutral’, in that it can be manipulated as a sacred ideological cow – and all political parties in the Bourgeois state do this – or it can be realized by the individual in his or her own existential journey, and indeed, only there. The ‘pathless land’ of Krishnamurti is our unwitting and perhaps ironic guide to this kind of authenticity, and the very idea that a human being, fragile, mortal, subject to both ‘the insolence of officials’ and ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ alike, should even be able to dream of such an existential business is nothing if not astonishing. And this dream, realized in a yet few persons but available in theory to all humanity, is the central dream not of communism, but of capitalism.

            Why so? Because along with the idea of freedom comes the conception of the individual. Though its Enlightenment sovereignty and holism is long gone, even in its fragmented and fractured ‘postmodern’ form it is yet more free. Gone are its loyalties to family, to credo, to crowd, even to vocation. The modern self replaces only itself with a further, hopefully wiser, guise of itself. We do ‘die many times to become immortal’, as Nietzsche intoned. That capital places the privileged in a position where they may exercise this basic human freedom on the backs of others makes most attempts at such unfree. Hence the alienation that Marx stated was a hallmark of Bourgeois relations of production. Even in our radical freedom, we are divorced from our shared birthright, our common humanity. So much so, that we do not tend to think of the distant others who are yet enslaved by our very attempts to end the slavery of the modern self.

            This much is true of capital. Even so, the idea that it must be overthrown as its own dialectical force is likely overblown and premature. For within it lie the keys to its own evolution, not revolution. An equitable taxation policy, a surcharge on stock trades of the Tobin variety, an emphasis on sharing innovations, especially in the climate and medical fields, an awareness that we are one species and one world, an adherence to Ricoeur’s dictum that ‘the love we have for our own children does not exempt us from loving the children of the world’, none of these need be sought in a system other than the one we have today. In his day, Marx was understandably coy about his discovery that the essential characteristic of communism were already present in capitalism, but we today have no need to be so. For Thunberg and others to be ignoring this historical insight makes it much less likely that their vision of the future will indeed occur at all.

            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 Return of the Martyr

 The Return of the Martyr

            Though it is not directly a part of my job as a critical philosopher, offending as many people as possible and as succinctly as possible is a commonplace effect of my work. And this editorial is certainly no different. Gender is a performance that easily lends itself to mere affectation. The panglossia of genders being trumpeted today suggest that genderedness itself as an important social construct hooked into specific social and institutional roles is dead and good riddance. May we say the same for its attachment to persons! But there is a non-gendered persona which has made a rather startling return: the antique martyr has been resurrected in our modern age precisely due to theocracy no longer being the myth of the state. Lowith (1939:386) reminds us that in the first half of the fourth century A.D., Christianity was no longer seen as an enemy of the empire and indeed, would soon become its official religion, and then later on, its sole legal religion. Through this process, Christianity lost its chief ethical figure, the martyr. With neither official institutional nor legal sanction, the religious enthusiast was moved from the arena into the monastery. The mimesis of martyrdom was maintained in these marginalia for 14 centuries or so, but the radicality of the originally irruptive anti-role vanished.

            But the undead God moves in mysterious ways, all the more so given He(?) no longer has a set agenda. Lurching uneasily within the zombified corpus of the wholly spirit whose only desire is to escape the resentment-sourced penance we humans have inflicted upon Her(?), His(?) enchantedness turned to sorcery has conjured up the mocking martyr once again. (Not to blame God for this, of course, only ourselves). These latter day martyrs identify causes as irrelevant as did their more authentic forebears, making translation easy enough: ‘I’m a Christian so I won’t oblate to Jupiter and you can’t make me!’ to ‘I’m a Man and if you have a penis then you are too and I’m going to make you!’. In a word, who cares? The fact that major financial institutions, those hotbeds of political radicalism, have accepted a multiplicity of genders in their client identification rubrics should tell us that gender is itself irrelevant, a shallow affectation, a casual label. As if the Christian is authenticated by his politics, as if the male or female is arrived at by denying that any other expressions of gender exist. But all of this backdrop is itself limiting. The more pressing question might be framed rather like this: ‘What is the compulsion for grandstanding about gender etc.?’, and this no matter what politics one might take up.

            We are told that there are six common biological sexes, which are either surgically altered at birth to appear more closely aligned with the dominant genders of man and woman, or do not phenotypically impinge upon such social constructions. [cf. The 6 Most Common Biological Sexes in Humans (joshuakennon.com)] Six sexes seem confusing, but nonetheless, it has an easy alliteration to it. Sometimes parents decide to let the true hermaphrodite decide for ‘itself’, excuse me, what ‘it’ shall be or become. Evangelists might see every c. 5000th live birth as the work of the devil, but if so, the devil confirms his(?) allegiance to straight sex after all, and perhaps she(?) is even a homophobe, since we have present both female and male equipage. Next time someone tells me to ‘go f*** yourself’ – this does occur to the philosopher from time to time – I will despair of ever being able to do so. Some people have all the luck.

            But six official medical sexes aside, and even if ‘transphobic’ martyrs seem to unerringly err in suggesting that there are only two, it is rather gender that is more truly up for grabs and not sex. Well, if there are six sexes, then how many genders are there? It is just at this point that a precise response is no longer possible. Why am I not bothered by this? Why are so many others bothered by it? Speaking personally for a moment, at my age, neither sex nor gender is all that important. Indeed, most days I see myself as asexual, neither man nor woman nor anything else that may be currently available or fashionably dictated. Just as actual sex, amour propre, as the perennially sexy French have it, is chiefly the concern of the young – this is likely why we older folks oft get ornery about such topics and seek to limit young people’s sexuality, including the emerging public diversity of gender identities – so hanging one’s hat etc. up on a gendered peg is very much under the radar. And so it should be for any mature person, both in years and wisdom. ‘No sex, no gender’, should be the rallying cry from an aesthetically inclined and sensually satisfied Sophia. Now this is not a plea for abstinence in any literal sense, just in case any so-called ‘literalists’ are reading this, but rather a sensible response to the irrational furor and moral panic swirling through various media and levels of political office across North America.

            What the latter-day martyrs don’t realize is that their cause is, as always, purely sprung from their own minds. One of the most fruitful concepts in the history of the social sciences is ‘the looking glass self’ of Cooley (1902). It’s not how I see myself nor how others actually see me, but rather how I think others see me which demarcates our selfhood. Seems simple enough; I can’t get into someone else’s head and even if they directly tell me what they think of me I am not sure if this is the entire truth of things. Couple this, if you will, with the fact that how I see myself may not come across to others at all, and this suggests that Cooley’s idea is what drives the dynamic of modern personhood. And the persona the martyr holds out to others is that he is a willing moron.

            And in the literal sense, mind you. For the Greeks, the ‘moron’ was the one who transgressed social norms and customs. Certainly, one could be skeptical or even suspicious of such norms while more or less abiding by them. I hold myself as a reasonable example of a citizen who is consistently critical but publicly loyal to ‘getting along with the others’, since this is the only landscape in which authentic and critical dialogue can occur. Whomsoever decides that martyrdom is more effective than dialogue has betrayed both the commonweal and her own good sense to boot. And yet you see them everywhere, Pimpernel! Across the self-styled digital media and basking in the glory that corporate and state media have noticed them, sitting pompously on school boards, chambers of commerce, in legislatures, behind benches both legal and athletic, shouting from the rooftops and swinging on the bell ropes and ‘manning’ the barricades. You see them standing smugly behind their election signs on grassy verges and spouting sporadically off on podcasts and spinning spontaneously abaft of podiums. Where are the lions, I ask you, where are the lions?

            Given my own surname, I guess that’s my job. I’ve taken my antacid and so now I must, with much reluctance, devour these manacled martyrs before they destroy my preciously fragile infant democracy. If only they had an intelligent reason for their so-heroic self-sacrifice! Where are the martyrs against poverty, for affordable housing, against child abuse, for a safe, safely equipped and secure military, for proportional representation, for lowering the voting age, for literacy in all things, against demagogy in all places, for gentleness not to mention gentility, for tolerance, for compassion? Instead, we have bigoted book banners, harrowing heterosexualists, abusive anti-abortionists and abortionists alike, fatal Feminazis and credulous ‘Christians’ and grim grammarians all. Before you are tempted to attend any of their renovated arenas, please think again about the ideas and institutions that actually found our eccentric and yet oddly shared society, and do so before its very eccentricity descends into a patent madness.

            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 sciences for over two decades.

Mein Banff

Mein Banff: on Environmental Fascism

            While we generally shun the conception of a specifically human purity post-Nuremberg, and rightly so, we continue to indulge it many other aspects of contemporary life, from pet-breeders to horse-racers to hygienic and cleaning products to the idea of nature itself. Given that the Third Reich made purity its ideal in all things, it might serve us well to take a brief critical look at how we have duplicated this sensibility. Indeed, it may be too rapid a validation of our present-day ethics to completely absolve ourselves of even the most dangerous application of the concept, that to human beings, given the rise of a great diversity of nationalist and sectarian movements around the globe. Anything ‘orthodox’, anything ‘indigenous’, anything gnostic or centered upon a too-specific way of life whether identified with one’s ethnic enclave or one’s religious faith or yet one’s network or neighborhood, is at risk for sliding with rabid ritualism into the slough of ‘the pure’.

            One may well wonder if the fetishization of nature associated with the environmentalist movement is both a decoy from, and a substitute for, the indictment against the craving of such purities within humanity itself. The arresting of climate change and thus the salvation of nature as we have known it is touted as a sensibility that all sane persons would accept. This alone is suggestive of a kind of fascism; if you do not agree with us, you must be nuts. And nature cannot be left to its own designs given our encroachments, though national park systems are a nice touch, and most people who can afford to actually visit them leave with some sense of awe; nature is truly a radically alien thing and it has not only nothing to do with us it also has, yet more astonishingly to our parochial vanities, utterly no human interest. So how is it that we humans have latched onto what is, more objectively speaking, something that gives us life as a species but otherwise contradicts everything about that life’s aspirations to become other than nature?

            Let me put this another way: the mutability of ‘human nature’, the very existence of history rather than mere instinct, is testament not to our connection with cosmic evolution but to the authentic difference that exists between what is natural and what is cultural. And we are nothing but the latter through and through; our global conflict of viewpoints and worldviews alike is but evidence for this. For if humanity had any nature in it at all, we would be far more likely to agree on fundamental things which we would then take as self-defining. Indeed, we would not be able to disagree, for instinct, the driving impetus amongst all ‘lower’ forms of life, is of a singular and unthinking force. Contrary to this, there is no singular ‘human nature’.

            The attempt to frame the wider alien nature as if it had some authentic connection with us – we are destroying ourselves when we destroy nature; this is only a partial truth at best given that culture is itself about the construction of a ‘second nature’ and the prime manner of distinguishing ourselves from it – is a misguided and ethically incorrect misunderstanding of both evolution and creation alike. Whether one is a modernist or a traditionalist – and the environmental movement hosts many of both – nature is placed on a pedestal that – if one is a traditionalist, manifests itself as the truer temple of God; or, if one is a modernist, nature is the replacement for that same God – takes on the air of purity as over against the raging impurities of humanity. Nature as purity is raped, molested, assaulted, conquered, vanquished, and humanity as impurity is the criminal actor in all of these landscapes. Seen in this way, the oddly diverse allies of nature as are found within the environmental movement can reassure themselves about their own very human anxieties. The person who aids nature is righting an historical, even an existential, wrong, while the one who does not is denying their own birthright. This sounds distressingly close to the sensibility which governed discourse about the ‘pure race’ and its duty to the wider species. The superior race was to be a role model against the miscreants of miscegenation. It held within its crucible the elements of a future humanity, bereft of all impurities as manifest in genetic faults and mental aberrations. In a word, all truly sane persons would aspire to such a future.

            If you are someone who either ignores the call to arms regarding climate and biosphere or denies its necessity, by the logic of the environmental movement you are as were the degenerates sabotaging the Reich’s attempts to improve the race and alter the history of the world. Your projects are as was degenerate art, ‘Entarteite Kunst’, and your criminality is not even fit to run the death camps which themselves were meant to cleanse us of all impurities and imperfections; to promote the true ‘nature’ of Man. The environmental state seeks to alter our shared humanity in a regressive manner in that it imagines the ‘natural man’ is one who shares with nature its own life instinct. Is it not enough that we have extinguished much of the panoply of nature’s power to enhance our own? Do we now, at the bidding of those who claim to save nature – surely but another fascist allegory; environmentalism is the belated soteriology of an otherwise atheist humanity – force ourselves to shrug off the very things that make us most human? Reason, language, art, love, none of which nature possesses, in exchange for a contrivance of Gauguin-like ‘instinct’ and Rousseauistic romance, perhaps spiced up with some Sadean symbolism and Herodian heroics when push comes to shove, as it surely must.

            Just as with those who love animals more than their fellow humans, those who love nature are, with great irony, turning their backs upon their own essential humanity, which has nothing at all to do with either purity or nature. If you are wondering about the wisdom of promoting the purity of nature Über Alles, wonder no longer. It is simply the revenge of a ‘Reich’, or state of mind that desires escape from its own limited imagination and seeks solace from both the history and reality of our shared, but conflicting, human condition.

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

How I Became Unemployable

 How I Became Unemployable

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

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

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

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

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

Sentiment and Sentimentality

Sentiment and Sentimentality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Replacing the ‘Replacement Theory’

Replacing the ‘Replacement Theory’

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

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

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

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

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

We Latter Day Eugenicists

We Latter Day Eugenicists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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