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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.