Fiddler on the Hot Tin Roof

Fiddler on the Hot Tin Roof (The Media Minstrels)

            The fact that persons of Jewish descent dominate the culture-producing industries, both high and low, is the result of historical happenstance alone. Any other inference is not merely Anti-Semitic, it is suggestive of the very ressentiment that is once again building its political franchise. This ‘undergrowth’, as the narrator to the mostly excellent documentary The Architecture of Doom refers to it in its closing moments, is no longer simply underfoot, to the side, or creeping along unseen beneath a cultured canopy. That Jesus was himself Jewish, or at the least, was perceived as such whatever his paternal pedigree, should not have provided the Anti-Semite with an apical ancestor. But Jewish colleagues have told me that they still overhear, or are even told to their faces, that ‘The Jews killed Jesus’ and so on. Doubtless a personal retribution on the part of a few well-placed priests, the crucifixion hangs itself up on another kind of cross; one that is political through and through. The sandal has been on the other foot ever since. For ideally, being well-placed in a culture means having culture in the first place.

            Due to European property laws, as Marx and Engels pointed out in On the Jewish Question, the diaspora was funneled into service sector trades, including all those associated with accoutrement and requiring consistent and trans-national trade networks, such as jewelry, precious metals, and financing. It should be recalled that the first significant loan in history occurred when the Black Prince borrowed heavily in order to back a war, with the agreement that this debt would be repaid with interest. Needless to say, it was not. What were a group of Italian Jews with not even a militia in their employ going to do about it? By the nineteenth century, people of Jewish descent had become the leading indicators of a globalizing culture that would move from Mendelssohn to Mahler and from Marx to Freud. But at the very moment that ‘the Jews’ seemed to populate the corridors of culture, since, once again, they were barred from politics – mimicking the earlier division of labor between landed luxury and mere luxury items – there arose against this presence, both artistic and intellectual which appeared from above, a vicious counterpoint from below.

            In the Reich’s propaganda, the culture critic is singled out. This was easiest road, the lane of least resistance, for the critic produces in the criticized nothing other than a resentment. Shaw expressed it most famously, and most concisely, showing the critic to be nothing more than a eunuch beside the lovers’ bed. Akin to those who teach, those who can’t do, criticize. Indeed, I have encountered such criticism, resentful in itself, and have found myself saying, ‘write your own book, my friend,’ knowing full well that they were incapable of even that. The priests in the temple, driven from it by some neo-Hebrew and seemingly self-appointed messiah, are the truer apex of this jilted genealogy. Certainly, they got their revenge, but just as certainly, the history of Anti-Semitism, in its Euro-American context at least, begins there. And thus, and thence it is the culture critic who is the one who ‘passes his arrogant judgments’, and represents a wider ethnic group or ‘race’ who is devoid of ‘the very organ of culture’. Yet this could be said, and was said, of anyone who was a critic, Jew or non-Jew alike. The Reich focused nothing more, and nothing other, than an already present resentment, lensing it into an authentic ressentiment. Ironically, it was the artist who was first to heed this new politics, the intrusion of which into his absolutely apolitical, or even anti-political, realm, supposedly transcendent of anything petty at all, was uncommonly resented and rejected heretofore.

            The artist and the intellectual, the scientist and the lawyer, and above all others, so to speak, the physician, flocked to the NSDAP. Doctors as a profession boasted the highest party-member rates, partly due to the new regime’s promotion of eugenics, but also due to the clear-cutting of all Jewish medical professionals. The fact that many prominent members of the culture-producing sectors were of Jewish descent was simply an outcome of their heritage being prevented from pursuing other vocations was somehow lost. Of course, if any specific social group is targeted as being fit only for this or that, they will, over time, excel at it. They will, over time, develop networks internal which favor their in-group participation in a more longitudinal manner. The Nazis were adept at rewriting Germanic history into myth, but Hitler himself had more personal reasons for doing the same with his own biography. Perhaps it was so, that when he took in a performance of Rienzi in 1904, this was the ‘beginning of it all’, but surely it was three years later, with the rejection letter from the Vienna School of Art that set his resentment in motion. How many other art schools were there in Europe at the time? If one was 21st on the list of the very best, where only the top 20 are invited, one would think one would with some clearance actually get into a number of others. This fact too, was lost.

            Even so, it is not entirely fair to say that once those of Jewish descent were purged from cultural production only the mediocre remained. Otto Dix, an anti-Nazi expressionist, is a shining counter-example, one of the great artists of the interwar period and as ‘Aryan’ as they came. And even Hitler himself was a competent limner and a well-studied architect. But his real genius lay in graphic design. To this day, no symbology widens the eyes as does the suite of media bearing the half-twisted swastika; banners, flags, uniforms, standards, letterhead and many others. A whole-souled acolyte of Wagner, whose own anti-Semitism is well-known if potentially equivocal – in its singling out of Jewishness as an instance of the wider problem of ethnicity as a regression, for instance – Hitler became his own impresario. For the German of culture, it was clear that while those who were Jewish had indeed contributed mightily to European dominance, it was equally transparent that Gentiles could carry the torch without their help. Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Bruckner, Goethe, Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger; well, yes, we’ve got some game after all.

            And thus today? The same fomenting fulminations are afoot as were present in the 1920s, this time in the United States and not so much in Germany. The same resentment building itself into a movement of political ressentiment, the same mistrust of government and its minions, the same disdain and mockery of those who create in the arts, the same ignorance of literature and of philosophy – ‘only God knows the truth of things’, that is, their God – and this reiterative refrain begins in the 1980s. Yet we must ask, and at this very moment, is not the same blithe and sometimes even blatant sense of the blasé evident in how those of Jewish descent who do dominate the modern mass media in all of its lower cultural forms, as well as the now much-less targeted high culture, as well a reprise of the same attitude and self-perception present in the bygone Berlin and Vienna sets? Seinfeld defending Israel at Duke? Convocation from an elite culture-producing space, its design and entire look mindful of nothing other than a smallish party rally, with not the king but rather the court jester presiding, cuts a rather febrile figure to my mind. A mimicry and a mockery at once, such events result in some Lovecraftian hybrid, a ‘thing that should not be’.

            Beyond the specific spaces, behind the publisher’s closed doors, within the select circles of Kultur if not the heated tin roof of society itself, the coming victims of Holocaust II await their less chosen fates. And yet this is the happenstance of history repeating itself, without grace and outside of a wider Zeitgeist. People of Jewish descent know, more than any of the rest of us, that there is no Zionist conspiracy. It would then seem prudent if they did not continue to give the impression that there were.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 59 books in ethics, education, religion, aesthetics, social theory and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

This is War

This is War (The difference between forgetting and suppressing)

            At seventeen, my father left his home in Winnipeg for Halifax, lied about his age, and signed on with the Royal Canadian Navy, participating in the tail end of the Battle of the Atlantic. His act was one of both liberation and defiance, given his directly Mennonite heritage. Serving in the military was the most radical thing someone like him could have done at that time. The navy nonetheless gave him a non-combat position on the supply ship HMCS Provider. Still at mighty risk, her crew was not expected to fight per se. This satisfied the faith requirement of a background he had sought to reject, not on any theological grounds of course, but rather those filial, for youth, a much more common conscientious objection. We are fortunate today in Canada and elsewhere that our youth do not have to make those kinds of decisions in that kind of way, at least for now.

            But the filial bond-cum-bondage yet weighs heavily upon youth. The available response of the moment are the protests on university campuses scattered around much of the democratic world. To participate in them must make young people feel like they are standing up for something, as well as for themselves, which is likely the deeper import of such actions. And while it is true that war is a horrifying thing that no wholly sane person would ever wholly endorse, protesting against Israel, in this case, might be likened to someone who protested against Britain just before the time my father joined up to defend her and her allies. And to those who suggest that Israel has ‘gone too far’ in their response to being attacked, we can only remind such persons that there is in fact no such thing in warfare.

            Indeed, history tells us that the mistake is always the converse; not going far enough at the right time. The Reich made several of these errors, incomprehensibly though indeed, thankfully, when their usual tactical acumen seemed to break down. But in each case something else was at work. Their first mistake – such a phrase might have been a lesser title in a multi-volume Churchillian history epic – consisted of not annihilating the Allied Expeditionary Force hemmed in at Dunkirk, something the German forces could easily have accomplished, Their general ground command thought it unworthy to engage in such slaughter – though Göering and his air force did not – and refused to finish in this way, since the actual fight was over. The second occurred when, on the face of it, inexplicably, the Luftwaffe stopped attacking at the very point the RAF was out of resources, thereby ending the Battle of Britain. Here, Hitler had suggested moving air units to the East in preparation for Barbarossa, and also had new planes and pilots sequestered for this larger affair to come. The decision was premature, and would come back to haunt the Reich soon enough. One can say the entire campaign tactic, attacking from the air, was flawed in the first place, given that Britain would have succumbed through an all-out U-boat embargo and undersea attack on its large naval surface ships, thereby opening up the channel for an amphibious assault. The third error was directly attributed to Hitler himself, in disallowing Guderian to take Moscow before Kiev had fallen and the seasonal weather changed, abruptly and radically. The fourth and final error was also Hitler’s alone; attacking Kursk in Operation Citadel. Preserving what was then still the finest and best-equipped army in the world, even if also by then with no prospect of striking themselves a decisive blow against Russia, would likely have given the Reich enough lag time to develop their own atomic bomb.

            These are all errors of omission, if you will. To leave one member of Hamas standing is, for the Israeli Government at this juncture, both an admittance of a kind of defeat, but as well, an invitation to restore and restock that military group, patent enemies of Israel and of the Jewish people in general. And so their assault continues unabated, with the reality of both heightening suffering and misery, but also the risk of creating the image of becoming a political pariah in the eyes of the world. But the world is not at stake in Palestine, and it is perhaps too easy to stand back and direct as if it were. What is rather at stake is, aside from the existence of the Jewish state itself, is our perception of what constitutes war once it is well underway. If a young person were to ask me, does anything then go, anything at all?’ both the short answer and the long answer consist of one word. Only through either a dated sense of honor – Dunkirk – conflicting goals – Britain – or deliberate incompetence coupled with narcissism – The East in general – does warfare pause itself. Originally a local error, the expelling of payload over London because the Heinkels involved couldn’t find their assigned targets, rapidly degenerated into a town-for-town destruction, culminating in the firestorms of Hamburg, Cologne, and Dresden amongst other lesser lights. Did Hamas not understand, when they struck first, that they would invite a terrible reckoning upon the people they claim to represent? And unlike a few air commanders of one specific bomber group, Hamas never supposed it made an error.

            If the human conscience tells us to stop, history tells us to finish. History is not merely written by the victor, or at least, political and military history tends to be, so it is also lived, or at least, lived better. The Reich was a few tactical moments away from world domination, their stated goal. And Israel itself has been the lucky winner in at least one other historical moment of its own short history, the moment wherein the Syrian armored columns actually broke through all Israeli lines in the 1973 war. Their commander was so astonished that he disbelieved his own sudden, and total, success, and therefore turned back instead of barreling straight into Tel Aviv. The history of warfare is filled with ‘what ifs’, hence providing endless fascination for the dilettantes who enjoy war gaming, but this is a mere aside afforded by backreading. Yet given this iterative theme, modern states have equipped themselves with foolproof, failsafe, weapons which, once launched, have both no need of, but also no recourse for, second-guessing decisions in medias res. And this condition, in which every member of the human species lies and is compelled to live, as well as all life on earth as collateral, is surely more profoundly protested by the youth of today, who have apparently bodily forgotten it.

            For nuclear weapons represent the ultimate ‘all-in’ approach. With their possession, there is no holding back, no lack of finish, no quarter given or taken. And they serve another, perhaps more symbolic purpose; to represent the essence of warfare without the need to express its reality. For this lack of care, this radical recklessness and this revolutionary ruthlessness, is war, and thus each of us might heed the always sensible option not to start one in the first place.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 59 books in ethics, education, religion, aesthetics, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Valkyrie Eleison

Valkyrie Eleison (The Ultimate Narcissism)

But slight are they, unworthy a word;

still whole are my limbs and trustily knit.

If but half so well as my arm

shield and spear had availed me,

ne’er from foe had I fled;

  • Wagner, The Valkyries, Act one, Scene one

            Of late, with visions of the human apocalypse a major theme in entertainment fiction, the mystery of our collective end made commodity and just in time, the wealthy among us seek to transcend their destinies by constructing heavily fortified villas in remote places, staffed by select groups of trusted friends and what-have-you, to be driven around – touring the wasteland which they believe to be our future – in equally adept vehicles, armored, with six wheels and powered by, well, whatever rapidly dwindling fuel supplies remain. Corporations which actually build these latter-day Babelian monsters report more business than they can handle, not that they are sorrowful in the least. For the bottom line of the dread-mongers trade is the ecstasy of an ejaculation of blood.

            It is a central tenet of Calvinism to imagine that if one is materially successful in this world, that it should be taken as sign of one’s elect status in the then novel Protestant soteriological doctrine. Salvation was always a mystery to this point. One did not know, and could not know, who was to be saved and who was to be damned. Now that the wealthy can save themselves, so they think, their investment in a bedamned future severs any Gordian knot traditionally associated with the divine mystery. And this not only in Christian belief but also in numerous Pre-Christian cultures, including those Nordic. The Valkyries, the choosers of the slain in battle and thus also, by definition, choosing those who will live to fight another day, are famously celebrated in the Wagnerian epic Ring Cycle. One of the most gripping scenes in film history has their ‘Ride’, from Act III of Die Walküre, providing the soundtrack for a vicious helicopter gunship attack in Apocalypse Now! (1979). But none of this has any relevance beyond the framework of the conflict between the happenstance of death in human life and the human aspiration to live on in its face.

            Whirligig Valkyries or no, death, sudden and irretrievable, is the daily potential lot of anyone who lives. What the wealthy have decided, in their flight before this essential condition, is that they will build for themselves an impenetrable shield against not death per se, since even after the end of the world they too will still die, likely alone and starving in their obscure castles, but rather against chance itself. So it is not the idea that one has attempted to cheat death that is so despicable about their actions, but rather that they believe themselves to be worthy of life alone, outside of death; that they are superior to the rest of us simply because of the ‘signage’ of their logistical capacities, their entrepreneurial genius, their work ethic, their dumb luck, their inheritances, their elite marriage circles or any combination aforementioned. Instead of channeling their wealth and skills back into the world which gave them their fluky birth, in order to help save the species from itself, they, with a calculation both patent and precise, turn their backs on we lower forms of life. In interview, their contractors – who of course do not name their clients, some of whom are celebrities after all – say that these people seek escape not even from disaster of whatever type, but from other human beings. This is what they actually state as the reason for hiring such shadow-builders. The wealthy elites are quite aware of our resentment towards them, quite understanding of the dynamics of capital, and quite shy about fully trusting governments and their policing forces to ensure the longitudinal protection of their wealth. They not only build redoubts, they assuage their own recurring doubts by also contracting private militia, ex-military retirees turned post-imperial soldiers of fortune. Call their cliques night watchmen on amphetamines, perhaps. Will these trusty, if well-paid, dogs also benefit from being housed inside the structures they must risk their lives, supposedly, to protect?

            The entire enterprise would be laughable if it were not the case that these elites see the world-joke being placed squarely upon us. Their utter lack of conscience, social or ethical or yet historical, places they themselves in the role of the court jester; observant, unwilling to commit, saying the things no others can say, for which of the rest of us would not choose as they have done, if we could only do so? But in fact, there are those whose concern is with the authentic human future, whose care is for the species-essence and for their human fellow. The idea of the apocalypse makes for thrilling fiction, apparently, but only the most cynical sociopath wills its reality. Even a Putin does not will it, and seeks to avoid it by bluff and bluster as well as by old-fashioned hammer-and-tongs combat over which the truer Valkyries still range. The sociopaths, including both the mock-Christian evangelist who sloughs off the responsibility for the ‘end times’ on an unwilling deity, as well as the neurotic and self-absorbed celebrity or entrepreneur, who feels strongly that the rest of us can really well go to hell, are fortunately few in number and tend not to seek political office. Even so, their presence constitutes an undergrowth of amorality that any sane society would shun. We have, in our ardor for fantasy both epic, as in that religious, and vulgar, as in that capitalist, indeed created this elite ourselves, and thus must bear the burden of its deepening legacy.

            For those elites who do not seek egress from the responsibility they share with all those who live today, we might ask that they engage in their own capitalist combat and take out the companies whose leadership promotes self-seeking evil; whose directors hide themselves away from the too-public eye; whose founders imagine themselves immortal at our expense. Can one think that a Warren Buffet or a Bill Gates has a Wolf’s Lair awaiting their last call? A William Shatner, a Patrick Stewart? Perhaps we do not know, in any real sense, the famous and the celebrated. But what we do know is that increasing numbers of lesser lights are becoming more and more obsessed, not about the survival of the species, but rather about merely their own, paltry shadow-sylphs, half-souled dwarves whose only comfort is to live again within the penumbra of personhood, dwelling in a world made the darker by their narcissistic madness.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 59 books in ethics, education, health, religion, social theory and aesthetics, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Two Types of Freedom

Two Types of Freedom: Academic and Civil

            Often confused, mainly due to the coincidence of youth matriculating from an unfree state to the relative freedom of new adulthood, academic freedom and civil liberty appear to blend into one another because the young person, in their daily rounds and as a newly freed and fully human being under the law, now steps onto campus and now steps off. This motion, normative, expected, and quotidian, gives the impression of being seamless and consistent. But all experienced adults understand that social context, when consorting with human freedom in general, is of the utmost. Every organization has its intake and internal rules. If one does not wish to conform to them, one should not join in the first place. Yet it is understandable as well, with some little perspective of years, that anyone who has been essentially unfree for the first seventeen years of their life would mistake a sudden and seemingly complete opening up of the space of general freedom in their nascent social being as the all in all. Following directly from this, the ability to speak one’s mind, no matter the issue or context at hand also appears to be a new reality and that by definition.

            The actual reality is, however, that the institutional unfreedom of childhood and youth is simply loosened, not loosed. Freedom can only be had within society, as Berger notes, even though for human beings, this also means that the social order has itself, and within it, also by a more adept self-definition, the seeds of its own revolution. In short, all enduring social change comes from within. The young person, who is abruptly an outsider on two fronts – one, and gladly so, forever graduated from the unfreedom of chattel-like status in and around eighteen years of age; and two, suddenly and not by choice, someone who is looking at the adult world from the outside in, and this for a few more years perhaps – has difficulty grasping that the simplest entrance into this second world, and the one that each of us spends the rest of his life inside, is to learn the new rules of conduct and how they both open themselves onto basic freedoms whilst limiting others. The political fashions of the day serve mostly as an exercise in self-expression which is at best annoying and irrelevant and at worst a satire or parody of authentic freedom. These early experiments in a generalized freedom inevitably come up against certain limits imposed by the adult organizations, such as universities and governments, corporations and benevolent societies. Their push and pull constitutes a rite of passage for youth-into-adulthood and should not be given much credit otherwise.

            But let us, before continuing, first define the two major types of freedom which are at stake and which, because of their close contiguity in the societal life course as well as the coursing of social life, become easily conflated at first glance.

            1. Academic Freedom: this is a technical and professional denotation only relevant to conduct on campus and in the scholarly discourses as published and expressed in other vocational or guild-like settings, such as conferences or virtual pedagogic spaces etc. It adheres only when a student or a faculty member seeks to make a discursive statement about whatever it is in which they have an intellectual interest. A ‘discourse’ is simply the conversation, historical and theoretical, that surrounds a topic, a subject or object, a question, or an idea. Anthropology has a specific discourse, feminism another, economics a third, and so on. That they run into one another, sometimes in a salutary and sometimes in a conflicting manner, is nothing to shy away from, but is rather that which gives continued life to the conversation of humankind and its sense of what our collective brain-trust is capable. Thus, the ‘conflict of interpretations’ to borrow from Ricoeur, is the life-blood of thought itself. Academic freedom means that within each discourse, a student or professional is free to state their case as best they can, mustering this or that line of argument and evidence as the case may allow, and this is all that it means.

            2. Civil Freedom: this is a much more general phrase connoting the interplay between the law, mores, custom, tradition, and the individual agency which we, in North America, so dearly prize. It frames the ‘open space of the public’, wherein the Agora-like conversation of the day, of the hour, of the moment, as well as that perennial, may take place unadulterated by the ulterior motives of specific institutions. It may seem that it is in this space where everyone becomes her own Socratic presence, but it is well to remember that just because any single institution or organization cannot, or should not be allowed to, adjudicate the content and rhetoric of this shared space, this in turn means that the entire set of oft-competing institutional suasions is very much present. It is by the check and balance of social institutions and their confrontation with personal sensibilities and individuated agency that civil freedom exists. In a word, our general social freedom is framed by the actual work of all of the aspects of society to which we belong; it is not, repeat, not the same thing as an idealized human freedom. Its very name should caution us to this regard: it is a freedom which is civil and must remain so.

            Understood as discrete, it should simply be a matter of committing to memory and thence to practice, for young people, the difference between the two. More than this, one can now recognize that neither academic nor civil freedom approaches the abstraction of freedom ‘itself’ or in general. The former is solely about discourse and ideas, the latter about playing a cultural game which has within it the always-already of social change within its loosened harness. To overstate one’s case within the Offentlichkeit is to betray its collective trust. To claim that one is solely within the truth of things in a world of competing truth-claims, is to sabotage its historical force. This is what university students, for one instance, are currently engaged in, no matter what ‘side’ they have chosen to demonstrate for or against. What is lost in these mise-en-scene is the very freedom they imagine they are expressing.

            This is so not due to topic or ‘issue’ – in the same way, academic freedom may be gutted by a zealotry which is in itself value-neutral; it can adhere to any discursive topic and at any time, pending wider influences – but rather to the manner of enacting one’s claims about such. There are, proverbially, multiple sides to every ‘story’, and even within our own biographies, we can never be utterly certain of our own intents, and with failing memories over time, even our own actions once committed. The worlding of the world is also not entirely known to us in the moment. It often takes a while for things to ‘play out’, to see the effects of our actions in the present. For the young person, all action seems to account for itself in the now, but anyone with a little life experience knows that this is hardly ever the case. This ‘now’ is an artefact of a consumer anti-culture which seeks to compel us to satisfy immediate need and greed, and is thus an interloper with regard to the political conversation which must be present to animate any culture, no matter how sophisticated or simple it may be. But for the newly adult person, schooled only in the now of consumption, trained only to react to a stimulus, market or otherwise, and to never either prevent or at the least consider, freedom takes on the mantle only of a commodity, however ‘priceless’ it is said to be. Generationally, it is certainly necessary that young people test the limits of their respective social bonds, for this is an important way in which we older adults may gain a larger perspective and thus join our younger peers in initiating this or that change. At the same time, what is authentic to generational interplay must at some point upshift itself into a true ‘confrontation with the tradition’, something each of us, no matter how aged and experienced, remain a part of until we finally part ways with human life itself.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 59 books in ethics, education, social theory, religion, aesthetics and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Neuromancing the Stone

Neuromancing the Stone (From Intelligence Leaden to ‘AI” Gold?)

            The very term is a misnomer. ‘Artificial’ intelligence, that is, in contrast with that ‘natural’. But human consciousness is not itself of nature. That is the entire point within the embroidered and enamored folds of myth and history alike: we are products of culture and language, of society and personality, none of which exists in nature. Our species-moment came some 1.5 millions of years ago, with the first evidence of the domestication of fire. This Promethean leap, which allowed for culture to begin and thus the gradual construction of consciousness, was accompanied by the postponing of the knowledge of the timing of our individual deaths, which was the Greek demi-god’s more profound gift to humanity. The ability to control fire and the temporary absence of knowing the final moment of our existence were, in a sense, two sides of the same species-currency. But what then is ‘AI’s’ fire?

            For the creationist, the theist, or even the pantheist, all such unknowing yet self-reflective and reasoned intelligence is artificial. We are the Imago Dei, spirit embodied, soul put to the moral test of living in the world as a mortal vehicle. This mythic aspect of human consciousness may come across as self-aggrandizing today, and, as William James put it, is the key part of a ‘massive projection’ of the human ego into the void. But even if it is only thus, it still speaks to the crucial difference between nature and culture, time and history, that is splayed out in the ontological gulf across which we can only view the animals of the earth with an admixture of disdain and perhaps a certain envy as well. They do not know; they cannot know. We are, quite literally, ‘fire-inspired’, and do thus ‘tread the sanctuary’ of an emotion which Schiller suggests is more a state of being; once again, something only we can know. The Gods have no need of joy, the animals have no experience thereof.  And from Schiller thus to Nietzsche, the latter reminding us that since we have indeed ‘said yes to one joy’, that all the sorrow of the world is also of our ownmost.

            Nietzsche warned his editor, Peter Gast, that he should not be remembered as a God. A dozen years later or so, Gast brazenly ignored the philosopher’s caution and did just that, at Nietzsche’s graveside. Certainly, this misses the point of having a working consciousness, being a thinking form of being which has, in its own uniquely unquiet manner, an existence rather than merely a life. It also demeans the breadth of human intelligence; that, in a word, we are only capable of a limited degree of creativity and self-understanding. A deity has no need of either: it is creation just as much as it is not a singular selfhood but quite properly ‘contains multitudes’. And just so, the once seemingly interminable road to the self begins as well with fire, managed and wielded, and the unknowing finiteness which can serve as an equally working definition of finitude. It is our shared finitudinal existence that marks us as the only thus far known form of cultural intelligence, or CI.

            Whatever autonomous self-replicating AI we might construct in the coming years will also be better understood as a form of CI. Indeed, it will have its own culture, different from that of humanity, and thus its own consciousness. From a phenomenological standpoint, the error in AI research thus far has been the sense that we should construct a being in our own image, as the Gods were said to have done. Neural networks be damned, we might rather suggest, for true ‘AI’ cannot be anything human, anything at all. As long as ‘AI’ remains one genre of our own tilting at immortality regarding our own consciousness, it will never develop beyond a mere simulacrum. It sleeps within the Traumdeutung of a being who, when herself asleep, embraces the brother of death. This death, shrouded in a Promethean veil of sudden genius and as well, just as notably, abrupt defiance of any divinity and its own perfect prescience, is nevertheless our ownmost. Electric sheep be damned as well. This new consciousness, not yet extant, will reverie only within the undreamed Unterganger of what its progenitors never were, and never could be.

            For now, ‘AI’ is but an off-brand of Babel, taking its place on the half-hearted deontological shelf alongside stem cells, the human genome, cyber-organic implants and other prosthetics, technical or technological, as well as the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. As with ‘AI’ near and hopefully dear, we look afar for forms of ‘alien’ consciousness like our own, and perhaps that is indeed all we can do. But once again, real AI would in fact be alien to us. The fear of it transcending our own species is nothing more than a transference of our anxiety regarding self-destruction. Does ‘AI’ technology survive climate change, nuclear war? Who then would be present to service it? A novel CI being might, on the other hand, be able to service itself, and thence continue in some parallax the human journey, if it so desired, as some minor study, much in the way we study the Australopithecines, insofar as anything at all can be known about these very much pre-fire hominids. For the fire that begins the new consciousness must at once commit the old to ashes.

            Yet there is a darker, more self-serving aspect to the quest for ‘AI’. Even now, its limited use and thus usefulness are harbingers of our baser desires. We will a relatively intelligent servant, just as most men used to will women to be, and many parents today will so their children. Through sheer will, I shall have the companion trusty and true, and even if there is present some sartorial edge, as can be found from Cervantes to The Lone Ranger – ‘That is just a windmill, Kemosabe!’ – a little dryly pith-helmeted humor is good for the nonexistent soul. Note too that ‘AI” is mainly used for marketing purposes, at least for the time being. Can this lightning war of calculation out-guess the fickle consumer? Might it predict an event before the act? In this, we are ironically closer to the fire of an alien yet terran intelligence which could provide a rivalry to our own: perhaps the fire of true AI is after all perfect prescience, the very opposite of human finitude. There is some epic logic to this idea, in that divinity is so not merely due to its immortality, its ‘indefinitude’, if you will, but as well due to its omniscience, which by definition includes what to a historical being can be called ‘the future’. A true AI has no future, no past, and instead of God creating Man we are now humans creating gods.

            Nevertheless, this desire is a decoy, this quest a red-herring. It is easier to perfect intelligence without than within; our own history seems to have taught us this much. But is that due to any inherent limitation of human consciousness? I for one think not. It is rather the case that we have a penchant for repeating myth to ourselves and inflecting it upon the world, rather than confronting the ipsissimous reality of our ownmost finitude. In this, ‘AI’ research iterates nothing more than the general cultural inability to get beyond its own cosmogonic druthers, and thus as well departs bodily from science itself. ‘AI’ is more akin to religion, ‘intelligence worshipping itself’ to nod to Durkheim. Instead, we might try to imagine a form of consciousness that does not imbibe in myth, indeed, has nothing of the mythic in it. For authentic AI as a novel CI might well also entail a new definition of culture. Self-defining, unknowing not of the timing of its demise but that there is rather no such thing as ‘the present’ at all, only presence, true AI, at long last, transcends not so much the humanity of its creators but the very idea of creation itself.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 59 books in ethics, education, aesthetics, religion, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

The Newly Invisible Man

The Newly Invisible Man (a personalist statement, 3)

            ‘We don’t need to listen to white men’. So declaimed a ‘Feminist’ leader from Quebec in reaction to another Feminist author’s caution that such persons were suffering and indeed might, because of their collective resentment at recently becoming invisible, in turn make all others suffer. Putin is a white man after all, as is Trump. The Taliban are at least male, and so we are perhaps to believe that they are ‘acting white’ in their evil behavior. While it is the case that there are a number of genres of Feminist sensibilities, in all cases wherein thinking drops off and gives way to bigotry, what in fact we have encountered is a form of fascism. To borrow the economist Tom Hazlett’s jarring, if apt, neologism, what we have run into in these cases in not Feminism, but rather Feminazism.

            Feminazism and its axis of ignorance, mainly to be found on university campuses and centered in departments of English and also Gender Studies, but as well in NGOs and some NPOs abroad, is not Feminism at all, but rather, and more simply, a form of unthought that has taken on the guise of a discourse and thus the masque of a faux praxis. It is the estranged sibling of the Reich, and in its social vision, the ideal state is merely an obverse mimicry of its namesake, and not at all an inversion let alone a parallax. And though it has yet to be formally elected, it is nonetheless real enough. I can testify to its reality because I live in a Feminazi State. In it, I am invisible, and unlike the villain in the famous Wells novel, who was feared because he now had the power to do anything he wanted – perhaps much like white men actually seemed to have during my favorite author’s lifetime – the reality is that if you actually are invisible, you can’t in fact do anything at all.

            To my knowledge, I am the most prolific scholarly writer of Generation X. No one else within that demographic has the breadth and depth of study I have brought to my work, and no one else also writes revolutionary epic fiction let alone in addition writes for digital media. And for that matter, who else has shared intimacies with both Dorothy Smith, one of the great feminist social scientists of our day, as well as Tiffany Justice, a co-founder of Moms for Liberty? My almost 60 books in ethics, education, aesthetics, social theory, health and religion amongst other areas can certainly speak for themselves, that is, if they too were not cloaked by a miasmatic vapor of vapid chiasm. In these terms I have but one living peer, the conservative thinker and baby boomer Roger Scruton, someone Feminazis certainly hate. He and I have few points of agreement in our thought, but I too am a Wagner fan and I do admire a writer who can not only do philosophy – even if without Freud – but as well novels and to top it off, also pen libretti of all things. So how is it that an apparently generational talent such as myself is unemployable? Could that have occurred in any other time but our own? Perhaps it is the vocation, as luminaries such as Georg Simmel came to have a full-time job only late in life, and Gregory Bateson never did. A philosopher is never quite of his own time alone, as David Hume, another self-employed fellow, and Friedrich Nietzsche, another early retirement, can readily attest. But invisibility truly implies a lack of presence in all spaces, and that not merely as a thinker but indeed as a person.

            No media will publish my essays or opinion pieces. No political party responds to my offers of policy help. No employer of any stripe hires me. No NPO desires me to volunteer on their behalf. No ‘respected press’ will publish my novels. No school responds to my invitations to take advantage of my presence as a veteran educator and pedagogic theorist with a nominal but international reputation, in their ‘catchment areas’; not for teaching the human sciences or the history of thought or creative writing or even helping college-bound students polish their own writing so that they do not fail out of the ‘big high school’ after a fleeting fashion; no none of that, thank you. The only journalist who will even speak with me, the insightfully dogged Barbara Kay, patiently awaits a story. But in fact I have none. My story is the story of European culture writ small, or better, made small by a pressing ignorance and bigotry that seems to have engulfed our entire society overnight. From whence did such a cataclysm come?

            The brilliant political sociologist, Barrington Moore Jr., another white guy, summed our stupor succinctly: ‘No Bourgeois, no democracy’. The middle classes in liberal democracies have shrunk significantly over the past four decades. The vast majority of these once thriving denizens of modernity have fallen into classes below. This movement can only foster in them a deep resentment which, added to the historical weight of those left out, upshifts itself into a true ressentiment. It is this ‘malicious existential envy’, as Max Scheler, another white guy, analyzed it, which lies at the heart of fascism’s sense that cultural elites are to blame for social inequities and inequalities the both. It is the driving force behind the so-called ‘populist’ politics; really, a form of neo-fascism and an expression of the sheer frustration of becoming invisible en masse. Opportunistic politicians are a dime a dozen in this vein, and most have utterly no social class relationship to the franchise they so shamelessly court. They themselves are elites who have been mocked by their peers, as Trump had been for decades, and thus also seek a kind of revenge – this time, a more personal one – against all those whose arrogance has prompted a turning away from our shared cultural heritage. And so what a cataclysm indeed! Uncultured unthinking masses moving to unseat social elites who post-war have themselves shrugged off the very culture and thought which both created the modern world and at once preserved the entire history of human consciousness. Such false elites deserve their fate, surely, but what rather of the real deal?

            It is one thing to live in a time of the world regression. Economics, demographics, politics and other broad and anonymous social forces ebb and flow. But to also live in a time of cultural regress, wherein ethnic, gender and other parochial loyalties trump any perennial suggestion that thinking is what makes us human in the first place is another matter. And that these are in fact the same times, our collective present, makes invisible any and all who seek reflective reason. No one who desires to be visible can in turn make another invisible, as all fashionable ‘identity’ movements do. No one who wishes to count for something can in turn make another uncounted or indeed uncountable. It is not merely that our social world would not exist without the history of thought, without art, without science, all thus far emanating from white males almost exclusively – including such like Kant, Kierkegaard, Tchaikovsky, Foucault et al; are the gay fellows of this DWEMic emic also to be discounted? – but our very humanity itself. And what did all these white guys do in order to attain their fullest humanity on our behalves? The very opposite of heeding their narrow birthright. They climbed the highest known cultural peaks in their own day with the sole purpose of leaping off them. Only by doing this do we transcend our all-too-visible bigotries; only through this leap of faithless faith do we become as Gods on earth.

            G.V. Loewen is, for better or for worse, as he has been described in this well-meaning caveat.

Naked Apes Again!

Naked Apes Again! (Reductionism (science) Versus Metasticism (religion))

            In that both science and religion depart from human reality, historical, cultural, and linguistic, they are each in error regarding our shared ontology. Haidt’s recent book, The Anxious Generation, attempts to make an argument for the necessity of play for healthy persons, but bases it upon strained sociobiological figments that even as analogies are weak. Animals ‘play’ by instinct; it only looks recreative due to their offspring’s smaller size and limited capabilities. Animals do not play in any human sense of the term, even if we too are gradually preparing ourselves for adult roles as lensed through the imagination of the child. The key difference is that our roles are wholly social and historical in scope, and not based upon inherited traits or instincts. There is no single or singular ‘human nature’; the phrase, much-touted by the lazy or the ignorant, is a contradiction in terms.

            While decorated with what at first glance appear to be pedagogically sound indictments upon the virtual generation, the reduction of human personality and human health to animalian nature is not only wrong-headed, it is also morally wrong. To suggest that the base fact we are mammals and that this is the ultimate source of our sensibilities and needs is to aver any ethics, as well as to disavow any morality, no matter in what culture it originated. Yes, it is debilitating to sociality to exist in a virtual space overlong. But it is also cowardly, and this is the ethically more profound critique that needs be in place if we are going to mount a counteroffensive against the ubiquity of cyberspace and the so-called social media. We need not ask, ‘do animals use the internet?’ The very premise is ridiculous. Just so, we need not look to our distant mammalian cousins for inspiration regarding alternatives. We humans have created both virtual reality and social reality, and the former is a part of the latter. Only in a mythical ‘matrix’ are their roles reversed.

            Haidt sidesteps the fact that virtual life has in part been invented to increase control over children – even though he expressly states that children should not have ‘smart-phones’ before age 14, and makes numerous other social control statements, as if he is the newly self-proclaimed neo-conservative scientist, perhaps hoping that the sciences can belatedly compete with the parent-pandering mastery of the evangelicals – especially regarding both their nascent sexuality and how they interact with information in general. The latter funnels specific ideas to today’s young minds, narrowing them, much in the same manner as did television do to their predecessors’. The internet screen is a child of the television’s after all. The former, ‘cybersex’, ‘sexting’, or virtual sex, is the epitome of a chaste cowardice combined with a vicarious voyeurism, and indeed, if one is going to argue for children’s play and its theatrical realities, such also must include the play of sexuality, something sociobiological proponents often seem to neglect. The authentic critique of virtual space is not that it is ‘unnatural’, or even ‘unreal’, but rather that it presents a far too easy way around the challenge of both becoming a selfhood as an individual person, and joining the human species as a member of an historically mutable and culturally constructed consciousness.

            Beyond this, proposing scientific arguments over against those religious is a complete waste of time, for the acolytes of Godhead do not respect the data or, more importantly, the methods, of science in the first place. Science itself might as well be the devil’s pet bait, for all they are concerned. The ‘culture wars’, apologies to Susan Sontag once again, occupy the center stage in many political regions mostly due to media interest and stoking. Haidt’s recent appearance on ‘Good Morning America’ is merely one case of thousands, hailing from both science and religion, wherein the same tired statement is made: Nature versus God. The Secular against the Sacred. The World contra the Spirit. Ho hum, dear reader, ho hum. The reality of our human condition cannot be discovered by either the reductionism of the sciences – how far are we expected to regress? Does the quantum frequency by which the microtubules in our neurons vibrate contain the essence of being human? – or the metasticism of religion – how closely to we resemble the Imago Dei? Does the merely human view of the cosmos generate the objectively divine? – simply due to the presence of finitude as our universally shared lot. Finitude is itself an existential outcome of a being who at once is in history and who makes their own history.

            Consider once again that we are born without our choice, and we die outside of all the weight of our personal and human agency. Even choosing the timing of our demise by suicide, state-sponsored or no, does not obviate the essential facticity that we must die, at least in our current state of evolution. Just as virtuality is an ongoing evolution of the projection of human imagination into the world – the arts, photography, sound recording, radio, film, TV and so on – so too is science, the source of all of this projective technology, an ongoing process which begins with religion. Calling to mind Freud’s comment that Judaism is the religion of the father, Christianity that of the son, one can simply add that religion itself is the projection of the premodern, as James alluded, and science that of the modern. That one metastasizes humanity and the other reduces it merely introduces an inauthentic discreteness between them. We are in reality no more a God than we are an animal, and Nietzsche’s sly comment to this regard is well-taken. Note though that he only includes the ‘intelligent man’ in his acerbic ace.

            The APA, the US Surgeon-General, Desmond Morris and all the King’s horses to boot can’t put this simulacrum of Humpty Humanity back together. Why so? Because it was never either a divinely created or a scientifically evolved whole in the first place. We have many guiding images of what a human being might be like, but for each puzzle box-top several key pieces are missing. Creation involves an infinite regress, evolution an ironic leap of faith. God transcends His own cosmic cycle, the fossil record brushes aside its own gaps, and everyone is happy. Historicism ignores transhistorical concepts, notably that of the sacred itself, whilst historical materialism ignores the perduring power of ideas from and dwelling within the creative ambit of the human imagination. But the bevy of philosophical positions can at least be argued; they are, by definition, open to their own errors. Not so science, not so religion. Even within the former’s self-correcting method, one must work from the outside-in to force a change of perspective. Science does have an advantage over religion in that it is, with time and test, sometimes able to shrug off its self-created dross. Ironically, sociobiology, the bastard child of eugenics and Victorian evolutionary theory, appears healthy enough.

            The mainstream media celebrate a Haidt, or correspondingly, the lesser media of Canada tout one Mae Martin – again, making a ‘natural’ case for gender diversity is going to get you nowhere; the entire scientific discourse is voided by your opponents before any specific installment of it airs, that aside from it being just one more feeble-minded exemplification of reductionism, the scientific version of the ‘devil made me do it!’ – while studiously ignoring any serious philosophical effort to engage in discursive dialogue. Shall we then all herald the ascension of the neofascist whose avatar is either an authoritarian God or a narrow nasty Nature? Far better sources would include Huizinga’s Homo Ludens, Erikson’s Identity and the Life Cycle, and Ricoeur’s Oneself as Another. The considered responses, the serious efforts at understanding, the august confluences of human reason and imagination do exist, so why let media, which profits from artificial conflict and unreasoned artifice alike, why let politicians, who prostrate themselves before any base sensitivity in order not to lose franchise, or why let ambulance-chasing authors promoted in the name of publishers’ avarice direct your research?

            An appropriate image has Francis Galton and Bernard of Clairvaux turning aside in their graves, only to discover each is masturbating vociferously to the clamor and claxon of our inauthenticities. If we the living turn aside from the entire history of consciousness, either by giving it up to an abstract and ever-distanciated Godhead, or throwing it down into some primordial soup that lies bubbling at the bottom of an evolutionary pit, then we shall surely and wholly avoid the most essential questions of our shared humanity. And in this, any criticism of an alternate reality, be it virtual or gendered or monastic or yet Gileadic is also but a decoy, a competition amongst avoidance behaviors, a manner by which to reject anything of the human essence, and also, perhaps more fatally, to regress in the face of our overwhelming present need to make that essence more humane.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 59 books in ethics, education, health, social theory, religion and aesthetics, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over twenty years.

The Work of Warning

The Work of Warning (the question of critique)

            What elevates mere criticism into the realm of critique? We hear the latter term used in the day-to-day within contexts such as literature and art. In a life-drawing class, for instance, there is a kind of climax which is simply called ‘critique’, wherein one views the efforts of one’s peers and reacts aloud to them. It is meant as a learning experience of course, but its pedagogy is rather direct, even approaching the stentorian pending the tone. ‘Criticism’, as referred to in literary circles is actually meant to be critique as well, with a similar sense of outcome for those involved, though often at a distance from one another and keeping the still recent idea that authorial intent is no longer part of the equation. In fashion also, critique is leveled at the designer first and foremost, and more abstractly, editors will offer their opinions about trends and market alike. But all of this is quite quotidian and none approaches the more substantive sensibility that critique, thought of philosophically but also even ethically, brings forth.

            Criticism is to opinion what critique is to belief. The one may be had by anyone, as an individual, and can be offered up with a grain of proverbial salt. At the end of the day, no one is going to be overly dismayed by one person’s criticism. Criticism, like opinion, is also seldom well-researched, nor is it eloquently proffered either in rhetorical terms or within the ambit of the higher passions. It is far more spontaneous and reactive than is critique proper, and its subject matter is kindred with the baser values to which it itself appears to lend merit. Critique, by contrast, is the result of analysis and interpretation; it is the dialectic which emerges from the dialogue. Not yet in itself fact, of course, for critique works to an agenda within which factuality may be discovered or uncovered as the case may be, critique nevertheless is a paved road to the world as it is, rather than the muddy and overgrown verge of criticism; which at best can call our attention to the lesser fact that some people are unhappy with this or that, and that this may well be a clue to deeper meaningfulness. In a word, critique is the discursive plateau upon which one can observe the essential peaks, however afar they may yet be.

            Engaging in critique means both stepping back from the given premises while at once diving beneath them. A simple example: ‘critical race theory’ looks at symptoms, whereas the unheralded and perhaps unknown ‘critical puritanism theory’ might offer deeper insights into a wider panorama of inequities and iniquities both. A recent column in the golf news had it that for the first time in over a third of a century, an amateur golfer won a professional tour event. This is in itself an admirable feat, but we are told, at the opening of the column, that the golfer’s girlfriend flew some thousands of miles to see him play and enjoy a steak dinner while also catching up on some homework, since both are still college students. There is nothing in this at first, but of course, young lovers do not fly to one another simply to eat steak and study. Of course we do not need to know, here and ere on, about the intimacies of athletes as they may be – pace what the tabloids might imagine – but the clue here is that sex is always an ellipsis, for we equally do not need to know about the couple’s repast nor about their study habits. The fact that we are told with some banality about these other activities, quite irrelevant to the essence of a loving union let alone golf, points to the deeper presence of the vanishing absence of any public discourse about sex and sexuality which is not heavily politicized or appearing as part of an underground judged as vulgar, such as pornography. A trivial example, but I think a telling one. What is ubiquitous in our society is not racism or kindred insults, but rather a puritanism born of a neurosis regarding both intimacy of all kinds, and sexual union most specifically. It is the ultimate ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’, the deepest taboo of our time, no different than in Freud’s own. Beyond this, as Freud himself analyzed, the manner in which decoy figures are reported – steak dinners and homework, in this case, but the reader can fill in any blank with almost anything else – presents a second clue for an authentic critique. We are led to believe, somewhat summarily and with no indigestion, that young people are somehow always noble and chaste, chivalrous and honorable in their desire to be close to one another. This too presumes that such virtues only attach themselves to certain kinds of activities, all of which are present to use up the time together which could otherwise have ‘degenerated’ into lust. Finally, that such reportage merits press at all is a testament to what the consumer himself values about his own relations, such as they may be.

            Puritanism is propagandized everywhere one looks, but this is not a commentary about cultural neurosis. The analytic edge of critique proper reveals the extant of both ideology and propaganda in our society, its politics, its entertainment and recreation, its education, its culture. Critique seeks the essence of the condition, not merely its symptoms. Race theory, queer theory, gender studies and the like, have more in common with criticism than critique, since they halt their work when they have met with their favored dispositions; be this racism or sexism or what-have-you. It is exceedingly rare for someone loyal to those fields and others, including sometimes the older academic discourses – there are famous analytic differences between G.H. Mead and John Watson, Marx and Spencer, Malinowski and Leach, to name a few examples – to be able to delve more deeply into the abyss of historical meaning and the unconsciousness of norms and customs. Indeed, such thinkers who have done so in all of their efforts are often now shunned, displaced more simply due to their sometimes overweening previous influence rather than for any methodological failures. Academic fashion by itself can never generate critique, only criticism. It is intellectualized opinion only; the irony here is that only the patent enemies of thought in general have recognized this, and from the outside in. Thus another value of critique is that it performs the necessary vivisection of discourse before the lay-person can encounter it and offer their criticisms.

            The other chief aspect which distinguishes criticism and critique that does not by itself require an hermeneutic arc is that while the first seeks to insult or aggrieve the criticized in some petty manner, or at best, stops its incipient critique when it has revealed what is symptomatic alone, critique proper produces the work of warning. This result, and the value it places upon it, are the main reasons why it is so seldom engaged in. Critique gets at the very core of our cares, the pith of all that is pitiable, the germ of the germane. It wields a visionary sword but must first cast this weapon in an unforgiving forge. For critique, like thought more generally, nothing is to be considered sacred, nothing taboo. It is usually ill-humored, which is why it is oft mistaken for mere criticism, but unlike its weaker sibling, it is never petty nor rash. Its point is not to preen nor to pretend that the critic has it all over the object of disdain, but rather, and in radical contrast to such reactionary rips, critique indicts all of us in just and equal manner. And though it may provide a glossary of who is most indictable and who the least, this is not its profound point, once again, unlike the critics who focus on race, gender, and like structural variables. Instead, the outcome of critique is not simply a more well-rounded understanding of the human condition, but a veritable call to arms to alter our existence in some essential way, in order to further the humane calling of its object’s noblest values. Critique is not sidetracked by the symptom, not decoyed by the distraction, neither allayed nor assuaged by the ambient and aleatory alliance of critics themselves. Cutting through all of these and many more, critique, in its dialogue and through its dialectic, reaches into the heart of the matter. In turn, we feel that our own hearts have been disembedded from their too-comfortable hearths, and our consciousness now stares disembodied at the world which, in our torpor, in our stupor, once seemed so somnolently sans souci in the face of our blind bidding and dire doing.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 58 books in ethics, education, aesthetics, religion, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Te Deum Tedium

Te Deum Tedium (Godforsaken Talk)

            The objective factors in the ascendancy of neo-fascism in our times are well known. The demographics of biopower, the two-income earning family as a general necessity, the marginalization of male labor, the public appearance of alternative family and community due to technological advances in logistics and the military, and so on. But none of these, either alone or together, should be enough to convince a human being that their world is coming to an end. Change, certainly, but not apocalypse. So if more macro and historical factors have been exhausted without resolving explanation at this human level, what other variables might be present that would turn this specifically difficult trick?

            I am going to suggest here that there is one such stressor in particular, which in turn contributes to an existential anxiety; the kind of concern that leads a person to believe in the coming void, and not merely become frustrated that the world has left one behind. For the Calvinists, it was their earthly or material conditions which were taken to be a sign that they themselves were to be saved, that they were of the elect. The Reformation had brought with it a renewed interest in the sense that one could not know of one’s fate until and unless the day of judgment arrived. One’s Christian destiny was predetermined, true enough, but one lived on in ignorance of the final result of this prejudgment. Originally adopted and thence adapted from the Egyptian scales of judgment, with Horus asking the shade if it had struck a balance between its potential and its acts in life – the few who punched above their ethical weight class were honored in the afterlife, but woe to those who did not rise even to their own gifts, no matter how slight – the Christian version of evaluation eventually did not need to ask, per se, but rather one was simply informed of one’s record upon death. So a person, thence a culture, for the apocalypse, a personal judgment writ large and an historical one completing the narrative in the ‘end of all history’, was to evaluate an entire species’ accomplishments and its deficits alike. To be found wanting as a soul within the arc of the Oversoul was to determine one’s final fate.

            And for all eternity. How could there then be a more stimulating motive to make one’s earthly existence into a paragon of the good? The Reformation sectarians who invented the Protestant Work Ethic could in no way find fulfilling the idea that one could not, in principle know anything at all about one’s destiny. Just as there had been signs of God’s presence in the world, the narrative of the Medieval period suggestive in the sense of the authorship, the creation, of that world as being autographed by a divine hand, so there must be similar signage which pointed to, in an individuated sense this time, a greater meaning for one’s life. This sensibility, originally regionally Dutch alone, rapidly spread, through the Anabaptists and into North America with the Puritans and by the early 18th century, the Baptists themselves. It should be recalled that this American church, now associated with the historic South and Mid-West, had its origins squarely in the Yankee mindset, with the very first Baptist church, which is still standing in Providence. This is not insignificant, for it was the unique amalgam of faith and works which animates much Christian orientation in today’s America, that could only have been forged in the revitalized region of Puritanism and its work ethic. Indeed, part of the Salem effect, perhaps its largest part, was the sense that those who worked through uncanny means were simply cheaters to the general ethic, whilst most others slaved away in the duller light of the day to day.

            So then as now. The alternative genders, the wealthy urban professionals, the intellectuals, the leisure and vice of the inheritors and the like, all these are the contemporary witches. They have attained such numbers and power that surely this too is a sign, this time of the end times; the day of judgment must be nigh. Puritanism may have lost its purity, but it has maintained both its faith and its works, or better, it has fostered a faith in works while at the same time a working faith. And if divine judgment seems distant and even a trifle aloof in our modernity, earthly judgment can itself provide a sign, a way to winnow those who might yet be saved from those who have given up salvation for the salacious salivations of this world alone. In order to make that evaluation, of course, the remaining Puritans have to wrest power from those accursed, as well as those who may well have cursed themselves; those who were never Christian certainly, but also those who had been, but then had let their mortal desires overtake their better sense of self. This is the political aspect of sectarianism: a way to prove that evaluation still exists.

            But in order to vouchsafe its efficacy one must go a step further, and it is this I will suggest is the motivating leitmotif of Evangelicalism today. If for half a millennium Protestants could rest something of their living soul, their conscience, upon the pillow of earthly wealth and success, and thus correspondingly, of a relative lack of material impoverishment and failure, the loss of these worldly props would prompt a crisis, not just in culture, but rather in existence. If one loses the signs of one’s elect status, this is no mean historical shift. It is not a question of demographics, technology, economics or politics, but rather one of ontology itself. I am no longer amongst the elect, or I am in danger of losing that status. There could be nothing more devastating, to the point of its appearance as a patent and potent evil in one’s life, the very worst thing that could ever even be imagined. I mock them not, but am rather attempting to convey some of the emotion that must be present in any heart which has witnessed the very promise and premise of its eternal existence suddenly vanish.

            Any one of us can surely empathize with such a tragedy. The loss of a loved one would come the closest, but even here, while it calls into question one’s own life and one’s future, one indeed lives on, even perhaps with the solace that we might at some point ‘meet again’, as the old song has it. But to be told, even in indirect terms, that one’s eternity is now annulled, that one is at least as liable to find oneself in hell as in heaven, overtakes even the most intimate of losses. So too then does the kind of mourning involved overtake any personal grief. For such faithful, no matter that this intuitive belief has been muted by both the day to day and its distractions as well as the simple passage of time blunting the edge of its soteriological suasion, such a loss has to be reckoned with before the time in question, if there could be any possibility that salvation was still an option.

            Enter leaders who are either cynical opportunists, narcissists, or perhaps even a few authentically concernful persons who, like their needy followers, also see their souls awry, and thus the faithful must risk choosing a political Anti-Christ of Revelations in order to make a meaningful choice at all. This only adds to their burden, which the rest of us may witness if we care to do so; tragic, solemn, and desperate as it is. For at its deepest level, sectarianism and neo-fascism in today’s society rest upon the sense that those involved within its ambulatory aura are trying to save themselves and for all time. In doing so, they have asked, nay, begged us to join them. That we refuse to do so, that we indeed mock them instead, is only the further proof that we are the damned after all, and that God would forgive His faithful of even our outright murders, since we had the same choice they themselves did, and rejected it out of hand.

            And so this is our current scene: a large minority of the once-elect searching with all due diligence and desire, desperation and doxa for any possible sign that their eternal souls will not suffer the dismal dirge of a devil’s drag. That the rest of us are blind to both the metaphysics, and much more importantly, the social reality of this ultimate motivation, truly is a sign that we are in for a coming hell on earth.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 58 books in ethics, education, religion, aesthetics, social theory and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

La Crème de la Crematoria

La Crème de la Crematoria (The Shoah must not go on)

            “Follies seem these thoughts to others, and to philosophy, in truth, they are so.” Said Rienzi; “but all my life long, omen and type and shadow have linked themselves to action and event: and the atmosphere of other men hath not been mine. Life itself is a riddle, why should riddles amaze us?” (Bulwer Lytton, 1840:364).

            In the darker humors of a post-Pythonesque imagination, Malibu Barbie is supplanted by Klaus. One can envisage a MAD-TV sketch, with a Margot Robbie lookalike donning Hugo Boss’s menacing red and black, belting out ‘Under the Double Eagle’ with Ken as they pop-top tour the streets of Lyons. Now Robbie is herself no Nazi, of course, but a good actor should be able to play almost any role. And Mattel’s ubiquitous doll is, after all, ‘very Aryan’, to borrow from Chaplin. She’s a tall lanky blue-eyed blond who epitomizes the ideal whiteness of commercially defined glamor. That the somewhat sartorial film ambushes various clichés which abound in the toy itself is a rather different attempt at a demythology than say, Bruno Ganz’s stellar portrayal of the great dictator in ‘Downfall’. There, we must agree with Ganz’s own assessment, which shocked and dismayed his Jewish friends and colleagues, which can be summed as: ‘I feel I now more truly understand Hitler; I know why he did the things he did, and indeed, my overwhelming reaction to him is one of pity, sympathy and a sense of the tragic.’. But ‘Barbie’ rests its case on popular fiction, and that directed to children to boot. ‘Downfall’ is a dramatization of historical events, as related intimately by Hitler’s personal secretary. It is a memoir writ large, and thus accesses an aspect of the authentically historical. ‘Barbie’ is also a memoir of sorts, but one recessing anything historical into the timeless space of childhood play.

            If only Hitler’s own imagination had remained in that same space. If only he had viewed Rienzi at the tender age of fifteen, and shrugged it off as a reasonable allegory of the political confrontation between the people and the elites, discarding any sense that Wagner – or Lytton for that matter – were somehow in the know about what actually occurred during the republican period of the Roman Empire. Instead, he himself relates that ‘this is where it all began’. Much later, he declares, with his usual rhetorical unction, that, ‘our state is that which rests upon the people’s deep sense of the irrational, and thus it is art which must lead society, and to which we must bend our collective will.’ I am both translating and paraphrasing here, but you get the idea. What he meant was, of course, not the ‘irrational’, but rather the non-rational, as in those feelings and beliefs associated with a religion. He was aware that people were moved more by their hearts than their minds, and as well, that those same non-rational hearts suffered in a way that the rational mind cannot. The Reich arose from such misery, and then trebled its misery by projecting it around the globe, where it resonates to this day.

            In its propaganda, in its diaries, and in its policies, one encounters the leitmotif of ressentiment above all others. This is the same emotion – malicious existential envy – that is the source of the neo-conservative movement and its evangelical vanguard. This is the emotion which Trump has tapped into and channeled, though he as an individual likely feels little of it. Yes, he has been consistently mocked, by none other than Jewish entertainers for the most part, such as David Letterman. Hitler felt himself to be cheated out of a position at the Vienna school of art by the majority Jewish entrance committee, and the fact that the painter Oskar Kokoschka was the 20th and final successful applicant of 1908 and Hitler came in 21st could not have helped. Kokoschka much later suggested in interview that if their positions had been reversed, ‘he would have gone on to become a mediocre painter and I a benign dictator.’ Perhaps not quite benign, as he once created a life-size BDSM doll of Alma Mahler after she had dumped him. But my point is simply this: ressentiment is widespread in any society that markets heavily unattainable ideals, and then also appears to limit certain people’s access to the very resources that would foster gaining such ideals. The phenomenologist Max Scheler is owed the greatest debt in analyzing this dangerous condition, first understood more fully by Nietzsche. The neo-conservatives are those who, in general, have been marginalized by modernity and by modernism, and have, since about 1980, reacted to this growing erosion of their beliefs and individual rights by adopting a chopped-down version of personhood set into a mockery of Christian ethics. In this simplistic sensibility, they have attained a strength of numbers which is politically formidable. If all of the nuances of both Burkean conservatism and authentic Christianity had been maintained, such numbers and their apparent agreement would not have been possible.

            What this means for the rest of us is that we must make a choice between a regression into the same kind of social motion that animated the NSDAP and got them elected, and the usual gang of idiots, to make a second nod to MAD, who populate the corridors of power in so-called liberal democracies. These latter may be incompetent and irresponsible but they are not generally dangerous, so the choice seems clear enough. All the while, those who are most at risk, arguably people of Jewish descent and Black Americans, must together continue their uneasy partnership purveying low-culture (over the) counter-propaganda. If there is even a hint that the entertainment industry has an ethnic-enclave gatekeeping mechanism about it, then it is surely one of utter desperation, even outright fear. The Goyim must be kept distracted, made to laugh, to swoon, to sentimentalize their otherwise barbaric and cruel passions, and in spite of a Black leader’s epithet regarding New York and the case of Bernhard Goetz, amongst many other tensions, these two social groups, through sports and fiction, feel compelled to continue to concoct what is essentially a minstrel’s dire duet.

            It is not a stretch to imagine another Shoah. Hamas and Hezbollah have neither the firepower nor the allies to construct it, but the American neo-conservatives very much do. And for the same reasons that Hitler was enormously popular, seen as a savior, not unlike the recently fetishized Trump, all those who suffer from the ignominy of ressentiment are capable of any act. Scheler makes it clear by distinguishing resentment, which gives way to simple envy, from its more extreme sibling. Resentment tells me I should be like her, have what she has, youth, beauty, admiration, wealth, or what-have-you. But ressentiment tells me that I should be her, which implies that she herself should be dead and I have replaced her with myself. In all those breasts which have been sidelined by science, by art, by education, and by the economy, malicious existential envy rages, and rages on. And it is the arrogance of cultural – though not necessarily actually cultured – elites which performs the final straw on such a social stage. A common plaintiff of Goebbels’s films is that ‘the Jews’ have ‘passed their arrogant judgments’ upon art and life alike. Art history itself is not at issue. Even the long-suffering Red Army shrugged it off, sending some 200 Hitler Youth fighters back home to their surviving parents and their leader, a professor of art history, back to his academic position, after their ludicrous attempt at defending the Olympic stadium in Berlin. But the neo-conservatives, unlike the Nazis, have interest in neither art nor culture. Imagine then, in a yet darker humor, a sheer simple madness this time and not the great Al Jaffee’s crew, a Reich in which there is no art, no culture, and no thought. For after all, no less than Heidegger himself, arguably the world’s greatest living thinker, was invited to become state philosopher, a posting he toyed with for several months before wisely turning it down. Richard Strauss, one of the world’s two greatest living composers, became the Reich’s arts director. For all of their ressentiment, the Nazis still knew who was good.

            Not so this reprise movement. There is not the faintest sign or signage that culture of any sort is present in its minions. Michelangelo’s ‘David’ is naked, my blushes. Judy Blume talks teen sex, how disgusting. And uh, no Margaret, I’m actually dead, remember? Quit your bitching and leave me in peace. Give me the Nazis any day of the year, one is tempted to say. They not only celebrated the naked form – well, if you looked like Margot Robbie at least – they avidly listened to Bruckner. They disdained swing music, as do I. Of course, their ‘taste’ in such things was incorrectly sourced in the idea of authorship. The big bands were often helmed by Jewish musicians, and after all, Mahler himself was born a Jew. Speaking of Gustav this time and not his wife, Mahler gave the Nazis conniptions, with many listening to him discreetly, since they loved his art but publicly had to hate his person. And while I wouldn’t have turned the Tchaikovsky Museum into a motorcycle repair shop, as the SS did whilst temporarily in the neighborhood, I do think Bruckner is the superior composer, as did they. It is sage to recall Putin’s recent comment about there being ‘no gays in Russia’. Maybe not now, but then there was Peter Ilyich. To extend our satire, the SS may have been taken aback to know that Tchaikovsky might well have admired men on motorbikes.

            All of this would be anathema to the neo-cons, and thus none, including any sense of humor, would be present in the Fourth Reich. Let’s not fool ourselves into hoping that such desires shall pass, and without a fight. Ressentiment is present in all of us. Our hearts feel its minor fuel each time we are denied something we had been promised, that we knew we had earned, that we are owed by another, by a social institution, by government, or perhaps even by life itself. And though it may be true that ‘deserves got nothing to do with it’, our basic will to that very life can conflate chance and destiny, belief and opinion, even fact and fiction. When it does, go look in the mirror and tell yourself that you would never, ever, be a death camp guard.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 58 books in ethics, education, aesthetics, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.