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.

The Universe and the University

The Universe and the University (an educational epitaph)

            How to say this delicately? The North American university system as it stands should be shut down. Akin to Gibbon’s late Roman Empire, it has rotted from within, thus making itself easy prey for its enemies without. Institutions, as well as empires, come and go, as do even the Gods, so in the broader historical view, perhaps we should not shed but one tear for the university’s own passing. But the viewpoint emanating from the outside is not the fuller truth of the matter, and cannot be so. I find it remarkable enough that someone like Governor De Santis’ experience of two top-ten campuses should have generated the precise same language of criticism as I myself, a quarter-century veteran of university teaching, two decades of that as professor, and five years as chair of a department in a liberal arts college of an R1 university, should also state; in a word, that ‘professors are smugly arrogant, reign uncontested, have no interest in the rest of the world and those who live in it, and hypocritically claim such an interest bereft of conscience’. I would add, ‘and contribute almost nothing to that world’s self-understanding’. Now it is surely the case that De Santis, who studied law in the Ivy League, would have encountered faculty somewhat stiffer than the usual fare, but even so, his general points stand. Yet he is an outsider, and while such a perspective has some merit in terms of how an institution faces its public, it can only identify effects, not causes. Let me now do the latter.

            Discourse is ever-changing. Its object is truth, its subject, human consciousness. Between the two, it is a case of seldom the twain shall meet. Unlike East and West, which over time can, with political will, at least come to a mutual understanding, truth is aloof to human perception as it is itself accustomed to seeing the universe. We are both the students and the study, the observers and the observed, the hermeneuts and the text, the analyst and the analysand. To our present knowledge, this is unique in the cosmos. That we are, as Sagan reminded us, the ‘local eyes and ears’ of such, tells also of our provincialism. But as if human life were not hard enough, the fashionable vendors of discourse have unremittingly narrowed its gaze, sabotaged its witness, shuttered its observation. One might have argued that the university has seen several watershed moments wherein its suite of subjects has been irrevocably transformed, and for the betterment of our quest for truth. The 18th century stands out as not only the coming of age of modernity discursively, wherein both empiricism and rationalism finally and bodily replaced the residuum of mysticism lingering, indeed malingering, in the Ivory Tower, but as well, as the historical moment when the university’s denizens began to turn their work for public purpose and toward the greater good.

            For some quarter millennium this has been the touchstone of the best of the academy: research in the public interest, but that defined objectively, and not ideologically. But over the past quarter century, the perception that academic discourses have faltered in this wider mission due to their source material being biased has shifted the political ground upon which both funding and networks may be built. And this perception has not come from the world as a whole – for it is the same science which bequeaths to us medical miracle and evolution, engineering marvel and the unconscious life, and in principle gifts such insights to all – but rather from those who simply have not been present in the university, have not done the work to be so, have not the literacy to do so. Yes, the university, as with all formal forms of education, began narrowly, with only wealthy white male Gentiles afoot. The gradual expansion of these systems, beginning around 1830 or so, has of late admitted what we take to be the best from all quarters. In so doing, however, the necessary standards of literacy, of historical consciousness, of factual knowledge and of discursive perspective, have been either truncated or entirely shelved.

            And these standards have been debased across the board. It is not, as perhaps some reactionaries claim, that the sudden and inexplicable presence of non-white, non-binary persons has sullied the right-thinking waters of solid scholarship, but in fact that this very scholarship has first self-sabotaged. The vast majority of illiterate academics remain white and binary; they’re just dimwitted and lazy to boot. And this sorry state can happen to anyone, including myself, and in the most unexpected of contexts. Though one of the world’s leading living hermeneutic scholars, it took me no less than 38 years to figure out what the lyrics of Yes’s ‘Does it Really Happen?’ (1980) and this not even an oft-murky Jon Anderson offering, and a full 40 to realize that Toto’s ‘Africa’, (1983), with its perplexing music video, was simply about colonialism; the jaunty pop song version of Joseph Conrad. Trivial, you might suggest, and generally I would agree. But the principal, in which the very best of us can be led astray, can misrecognize ourselves, can self-sabotage in our personal or our discursive quest for truth or at the least, truths, remains sound. And it is the university, from the inside out, which has thence become so ‘open-minded’ that its proverbially cliché brain has fallen out.

            And indeed for all to see. The resignation of two of the world’s foremost administrators is a case in point. Claudine Gay and I graduated in the same year, and yet she eventually became the president of the number one ranked school, whereas I became mere chair within the c. #333rd ranked school. My blushes, Watson. Is she the author of nigh-on 60 books? Did she pen a new theory of anxiety, a new understanding of place and landscape, a phenomenology of aesthetics, a vast and soul-destroying defence of the so-called ‘anti-humanism’, several volumes in ethics, a three volume study of the phenomenology of time as history, and nearing six essay collections, not to mention a 5500 page demythology of Western Metaphysics, and a page-turner to boot, with all such works bereft of plagiarism? Did she work for 15 years in the field with a variety of marginal fellow human beings and their communities who harbored irrational and disdained beliefs as if their lives depended upon it? Did she help educate and transform the lives of the very most marginal students in what is her own country? Thought not.

            But it is unfair to point to any single person. Gay is an allegorical figure, not a villain. She is the anti-Sophia of the contemporary university. Her downfall says nothing about her résumé or even her humanity, but rather everything about an institution which is quite content to let its figureheads take that same fall upon its behalf. One can only hope that all those fans of De Santis and like political figureheads are shrewder than all of that, and will not be themselves content with mere symbolic damage. In the interim, the university subsists on life-support, graciously given by a wider world which knows little of its charity’s truer nature. Remember, I am, in my own allegorical form, the worst foe of society, public enemy number one, for that is what a critical philosopher must be. I am a child of the Enlightenment, a bastard child of the anti-Enlightenment, a staunch defender of the liberal arts, a proponent of the most radical of questions, a scourge of all that is sacred, and I, I am saying this: shut down the universities, replace them with professional and applied science technical schools; nursing not Cultural Studies, engineering not English Literature, policy analysis not Kulturkritik. Just one campus per region for the scant few who desire to seriously study philosophy and related discourses, for 90 percent of the current student bodies have no will to learn much of anything, but rather to engage opportunistic and irresponsible ‘teachers’ to lead their youthful and irrational chants. Shut down the universities, open up the universe.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 58 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 Wider War on Personhood

The Wider War on Personhood (is a form of auto-genocide)

            “You will not forget that the stress laid on the writer’s memories of his childhood, which perhaps seems so strange, is ultimately derived from the hypothesis that imaginative creation, like day-dreaming, is a continuation of and substitute for the play of childhood.” (Freud, 1957:182 [1908]).

            The last poet and the last human are one and the same. This, Freud notes at the beginning of his essay ‘The relation of the poet to daydreaming’, is what the writers try to assure the rest of us. In the writer, however, the heart of the child remains active. A child’s beloved is his playing selfhood, what an adult would call a persona. But a child is not yet a person in any holistic sense. Under a just law, she must be treated as if she were a fully cognizant person with all of the attendant rights such a legal entity possesses. But in day-to-day life, the fuller responsibilities of being and adult must be treated rather as a becoming; as something that is gradually developed and introduced, just as we adults become inured to the sense that death will at some point complete our own being. This ‘ownmost death’ is the culmination of the self as a thrown project, as a being-in-the-world, but it also represents the end of personhood and indeed, the return of a kind of persona. Each of us traverses the space between childhood, wherein the self is not easily distinguished from other selves and personae rule the child’s fantasy worlds, and dying, wherein the self experiences a diminution; in short, a regression.

            Kindred with the oft logistical dependence and loss of autonomy aging and dying promote, various aspects of our being retreat into what by then are the murkiest memories of authentic existence as dependent. This is one of the crucial differences between actuality and authenticity that a human being can know, and this kind of knowing is quite intimate, and ironically perhaps quite personal, even if it is that very person who is failing. The aged are not children, but they generally must be cared for as if they are, and are so once again. So, there is in fact a double regression at work: that occurring to the person in question as she ages, and that happening to those around her, the caregivers, family members, friends and lovers alike. This community is regressed into the much more-narrow role of parenthood, whether as a paid professional health-care worker or as an intimate. The latter ‘sign up’ for such a role more or less tacitly, taking the vow of ‘sickness and health’ either formally or informally. The former expect that their vocation, at once noble and degrading, will include such caregiving and perhaps see themselves as heroic, even though their quest is routine, even otiose. What these others share, those both intimate and professional, is the experience of the objectification of being – the self brought low by failing mechanism – and thus also the foreknowledge that they too will one day be similarly regressed. All the care for others matters not, counts for nought, in this knowing.

            If we have in the human arc a kind of faux circle, moving from the authentic pre-personhood of the child to the very much non-personhood of the dead, it is more understandable that vestiges, charades, trysts, and echoes of this existential frame resonate throughout the rest of our life, that in which we are more or less fully functioning adults with the usual suite of obligations and perhaps even some status here and there. The juvenile role-play of sexual burlesques, the desperate bullying of the authoritarian parent, the desire to repeat experiences first had in youth, which can easily become a compulsion, and the fantasy of projection even adults may indulge in – though with different avatars and icons than has the child; the thirteen-year old whose heroine is Swift may well become the thirty-year-old whose hero is Trump, for instance – all attest to the powerful force the imagination has over the worldly selfhood. Yes, the self is in, and thus is in possession of, the world as it is. But the imagination transcends this ‘isness’, and places before the willing senses another world, the world as it might be, even the world as it could be. This is the world of fantasy and projection, and that it often occurs to us as partaking of the visionary, rather than merely in the imaginary, constitutes its tantalizing hook.

            Thus regression, even if the hallmark of aging and dying, is always available to us as a kind of auto-homicide, for it involves, at least for the moment, the death of the self. But what if entire cultures engage in this kind of regression? And further, what if such a culture, as expressed in a society or in a politics, willingly compels itself to undergo mass regression? This is, we will suggest here, what is occurring, and in a global fashion, in our own day. Freud recognized the incipience of such a crisis when he comments that it is the nation-state that takes the lead in regressing adults into children; nations and their leaders treat citizens as menial, mediocre, and misbehaved. This is so, we can add, because not only does the state represent the religion of modernity, it does so by way of ancient mythological themes. The state possesses the pantheon of godhead, in its various ‘ministries’ – and why else would such departments carry this hold-over nomenclature hailing from the premodern period of pastoral care and missions? – and performs the same function, and as often as not, with the same unction, as did the religious institution. And if it is the case that only in a theocracy are women and children enslaved by violence, in our pseudo-theocratic politics, we nonetheless enslave ourselves.

            But the state is hardly the only regressive force present in modern culture. The vast popularity of fantasy fiction based upon both narrative and media targeted at children is also a case in point. We behold a regression in literacy of all forms; cultural, historical, textual, psychological. The comic-book legends, the cartoon heroes, the cardboard cut-out live action characters, mimic and mirror the manner in which we ourselves play out our oft-conflicted social roles. Can the mother and the professional co-exist in one person? Can the father and the recently marginalized male do the same? What of the dutiful daughter and Electraic lover? And speaking of such, what is our duty? To one another, to society, to the state, to culture? It does appear that any kind of authentic and autonomous selfhood could not bear any such burden. But instead of asserting all the more prodigiously, and with a truer heroic courage, that very selfhood, what we observe is a personalist retreat from personhood in imaginatively constructing new forms of gender and even divisions of the person in what the psychoanalyst would surely have called mild psychosis. It is somewhat reasonable to argue in return that the sovereign self of the Enlightenment is itself a fantasy, and thus all attempts at shoring it up, including those psychoanalytic, are in their own way, creations of the imagination alone. I would suggest in response that the purpose of such a self-conception rests in its service to that very imagination; its freedom, its creativity, its curiosity, even its nobility. Most of all, the authenticity of selfhood, in the face of forces of regression arranged against it, speaks to both myth and reality in a unique manner. It does so by bringing legend into life, fantasy into reality.

            Instead of constructing persona, foisting upon the mature self a premature regression or, for some purposeless souls, never exiting childhood at all; instead of acceding to the state or to the low-culture industry alike what is most precious about human existence by becoming only what these institutions demand of their overlapping but so seldom competing markets; instead of puerile attempts to avoid the existential narrative of happenstance birth and unknowing death, both of which occur to mine ownmost self and for my experience, to no other, rather we must resist the wider war against personhood by reasserting, if not the sovereignty – a term deliberately used in the 18th century as an antidote to the regent who, in the Ancien Regime was the only ‘person’ who existed in such a social form – then both the autonomy and the authenticity of singular selfhood, undivided by either social role performances externally or made schism by self-inflicted role-playing internally. It is a feature of successful propaganda that its audience take on the work of ideology as part of their own life-vocations. This ‘internalization’ is made possible by the simple and basic processes of child socialization. All of us are ripe, as it were, for indoctrinations anew. But the very fact that such efforts are made, and at such cost, in desire of compelling each of us to regress ourselves in the face of our ownmost humanity tells us that the default setting, if you will, of that selfsame human being is not regression but rather progression; we evolve ourselves through phases of life, we are beings who are forward-looking and future-seeking.

            Adults made children once again are easier to control politically, easier to vend to as consumers, easier to manipulate psychologically, easier to ignore. Children made adults present grave challenges to both market and state, for they understand the difference between fantasy and reality, between myth and world, between self and other. If we like to say to ourselves, ‘well, no adult wants to be treated like a mere child’, then it is high time to make that aspiration into a wider ethic, instead of paying it personal lip-service in the effort to assuage our conscience – which cannot be regressed if and once formed at all – that our personhood is not truly at risk, and it is all fun and games after all. That conscience will, over time, find it unacceptable to be masked over by a mélange of role, phantasmagorical and social at once, and the murder of selfhood will attain its own wider form in the auto-genocide of culture itself.

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

The Wokeness Monster

The Wokeness Monster (Lives in a lake near you).

            If you go down to the woods today, you’ll be in for a big surprise: there’s nothing there. The remaining trees arc majestically in the breeze, their canopy verdant with both life and limb, the deer skittish at our presence, the bear blithe, the wolf skeptical, the cougar only half-interested, being a cat after all. But in a nearby lake, something untoward doth lurk. Only ever peripherally glimpsed, its form a mere parallax to reality, yet fully imagined as real, this monster dwells in a vanity of self-deprecation as much as in the absence of a mature being resolute.

            Wait a minute! Hold it right there. Did you just say, ‘the remaining trees’? What kind of woker-than-woke statement is that? Are you some kind of tree-hugging wolf-kissing Subaru-driving hippyesque liberal? I’m quitting here then. No, I really am; I’m walking, just watch me! Mom’s meter-less taxi awaits my pilot. Oh, okay then, continue.

            Though it is the case that the sardonic co-opting of the ungrammatical term ‘Woke’ – originally referring to a kind of enlightened state of political being kindred with the other awakenings haling from American religious history – by its critics represents something mean-spirited and lazy, I am going to suggest that in fact it is those who are so labeled who have done much more lasting damage to not merely the idiom but far worse, to the idea of enlightenment itself. For the followers of this fashionable flaneur are the Wokeness monster.

            The lynchpin of this sensibility is that one’s social location creates one’s perception. The genesis of this idea may be found in Vico’s ‘New Science’, of 1725, and it was given its most modern formulation in Marx and Engels’ ‘The German Ideology’, of 1846, in which the now legendary statement ‘consciousness is itself a social product’ may be seen as key. It is important to recall that this book was not published until 1932, as its authors could not find a publisher who would take it on. Daily, I feel their pain. And for me, aside from my books’ contents, the fact that I am manifestly not ‘Woke’ scares the fastidiously fashionable presses away. No, according to this locational position, I am nothing other than a middle-aged professional white straight Euro-male, and thus have absolutely nothing of merit to say to anyone. In short, I am not a person.

            It is this depersonalization that an over-reliance on social location brings to the human being which sabotages both ethics abroad and conscience at home. The idea that selfhood should only be composed of the happenstance confluence of social variables is indeed a patent evil in the face of existential integrity. For the self is what is gained when such chance factors are overcome, and not at all the outcome of their continued presence. We, as human beings, are more than the sum of our parts. Our consciousness has evolved to be that Gestalt, a melody, and not a mere series of notes. Similarly, our culture too has evolved to be a harmony, and not a random collection of sounds and of late, mere noises.

            To adhere to the sense that all you are and all you ever can be is dictated in some deterministic fashion by external structures and normative strictures is not only to do fatal disservice to one’s own humanity, worse, it is to frame the other as dehumanized. And this in spite of the apparent grave concern such framers have for ‘the other’ and even ‘otherness’! Yet this is precisely what the followers of ‘Woke’ take pride in doing; self-sabotage and the sabotage of the Self. The former might be forgivable if one is an addict, has a serious mental illness, or was abused as a child, and then only for oneself. The latter has no pinion, no remediating quality, no possible heuristic, damaged and aborted as these other concernful cases are. It has only the juvenile legerdemain of the one who lingers enthralled to what by the original definition of Woke is the very opposite of enlightenment and awareness. I would go so far to say that given this; such a sensibility is more of a malingering than anything else. It represents in many cases perhaps a knowing avoidance of personhood.

            Why would one desire to remain a mere thing in the world of things? To deny the very essence of what one is as a member of the human species? I will suggest here that it is simply due to the reality of a world which now asks of each of us to become more than what we have ever been before; more mature, more responsible, more quick-witted, more conscientious, more aware, and that for many, and that for especially the young, this demand of the world as it is, is so scary as to be unimaginable. And thus, to be Woke in today’s sense is to be fearful of one’s own authentic being and far more fatal, to give over the fate of the future to each and every limit that has made the human past such a present burden.

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

The Dreams of the Perpetrators

The Dreams of the Perpetrators (A deathless Arcadia in Ego)

            “We do not know the dreams of the enthusiasts, the victors…” Koselleck intones in his Holocaust study ‘Terror and Dream’. And we are immediately reminded of the deepest of connections; that all humans, no matter their worldly merits or deficits, sleep and dream, as Whitman declaimed. The content of such dreams must differ, pending the dreamer, we might assuage ourselves. But it is not so much the character which is at stake but rather the conditions in which I might find myself, now sleeping peacefully, now fitfully, now lethargic and thence insomniacal. “…they dreamed as well, but hardly anyone knows how the content of their dreams related to the visions of those that were crushed by the temporary victors.” Koselleck finishes. If the murderer sleeps and dreams as well as does his victim, what then characterizes the difference which we feel must be present?

            In the dreamscape, I am not free to master the otherhood of the self. How often have I seen the looks of reproach, even revulsion, on the faces of the young women I encounter in this dream or that. As often those willing, lustful, playful. Why does the lover turn to the one who hates? Mostly, we do not ask such questions, preferring to dwell on the ‘how’ of it all, which in such cases might be able to be explicated by an advanced neuroscience. And what drives the compunction of my dreaming self, along with its compulsions, so that dreaming content is so often conflicted, even if the act of dreaming and its attendant Traumdeutung occur precisely so I can ‘process’ the real-time conflicts of the day to day? I once hauled a girl in full Blytonesque school kit into a specific room to beat her. I equally foreswore having sex with a young woman who, after we kissed somewhat diffidently, told me she ‘could not do this’. I ‘decided’ to assault another in an office but her look of absolute disgust stopped me cold. I was myself accosted by many, but since I am male, I took it in my supposedly so-masculine stride and allowed ‘nature’ to take its burlesque course. All these were but dreams, at once the playing out of suppressed desires, so we are told, but at the same time, themselves hermeneutic commentaries on those same desires. And why are there scenes which we know so well that are never replicated in the dreamscape? I have never been a death camp guard, that I recall. I have never been the pope. I have only once or twice been emplaced as another gender. I seem to be stuck on myself, in myself.

            It is commonplace to acknowledge a kind of gatekeeping mechanism between one’s desires and one’s sociality. This ‘superego’ style of boundary maintenance keeps the extremities of the ‘id’ from becoming too real in the world of both the ego and its fellows. Koselleck notes that “It is a characteristic common to all camp dreams that the actual terror could no longer be dreamed. Phantasy of horror was here surpassed by actuality.” When indeed the extremes of human intent turn to action in the world, as they do all too often, it appears, we no longer have the ability to separate the unreal from reality. The very unreality of human horror is suggestive that those who perpetrate it have themselves lost the means of dreaming it. What can no longer be processed by the unconscious aspect of my mind breaks forth into the open space of other minds. Is it a mere case of bad manners, wherein we can no longer keep our hands to ourselves, as it were? A case of being a child in an adult’s body, having a childish mind but the capabilities and resources of a mature being? Certainly, cognitively disabled persons who are violent manifest this kind of admixture, attacking their caregivers with willing wantonness and yet somehow also knowing that they are, for whatever rationale, exempt from any serious consequence, unlike the rest of us. There are, however, darker disabilities than those which prevent maturational growth. Such a list would include the lack of compassion, absence of empathy, ignorance of otherness, and the like, which we observe as being regularly present in much politics of our time. There seem to be few enough public figures who do not express such disabilities, at least in their rhetoric. Anyone who stakes their own claim to existence through annulling the other’s equal claim seems the willing vehicle for a desire so vain as to be bereft of self-recognition. There is a certain solipsism in political life which strides bodily over the claims of others to exist at all.

            Are these then some of the monstrous forms that the ‘dream of reason’ has produced for us moderns? Have we been regressed to the inferior forms of pre-modernity, recreating a world in which the other is automatically an enemy, and at best, a passingly dormant threat? Is youth the assassin of adulthood, or is it the other way round? In my vain desire to be ever youthful, my dreams speak to me not so much of desire alone, but of slaying the process of aging before it can itself do me in. I no longer want to possess the young female; I want to be her. To live again from the point of optimal departure, to have not a care for health and fitness, to be the envy of all who are called to witness my outward beauty, to have the market pander to my every whim. Surely there is a link between the industry-contrived charisma of a Taylor Swift and the very much self-constructed charisma of an Adolf Hitler. Practicing endlessly in front of the mirror, the latter, cast into an autonomic obloquy by his social anxiety, could not rely on himself to stand and deliver in any spontaneous manner. This contraption, so calculated yet never cool with itself, unlike Swift’s, is mimicked in the death camps. The rationalized precision of mass murder makes the desireful sprees of splayed-open recent nightmares look amateurish. The terrorist of today can only ever dream of being the Fourth Reich. As well the politician?

            Yet the chief character of human reason is that it does not dream. Reason is the tool of the waking mind alone, conscious of itself without becoming self-conscious. This may be a key: that we are capable of compassion only in forgetting the self. When we proffer our desires unto others with the expectancy they will comply, we are lost. The parent who demands obedient children is the living archetype of this fascist fantasy. The lawmaker who expresses only his own druthers is their child, along with the barking coach, the banal teacher, the masturbating school administrator, the self-serving civil servant, the insolent official. Even the best of reason, held within its mortal coil, does not necessarily escape its own monsters. Aristotle’s exclusion of the female, his xenophobic hatred of barbarians, Russell’s disdain of women, Foucault’s reckless abandon. And then what of my own dreams? We know that violent sexual imagery, a leitmotif of Wagnerian proportions in the libidinal world, is so commonplace within the dreamscape as to not excite comment. Yes, analytically, perhaps. The psychoanalyst’s guild, a new priesthood born at the height of modernity but actually practicing a postmodern art, one which we have of late suppressed, perhaps inevitably but certainly ironically, allots our confessional and thence allows our confession. If unreason is demonic, then reason has become the new religion, its ‘spirit’, if you will, the ghost in our shared mechanization; what we might have called ‘conscience’ if it weren’t for our collective disenchantment.

            Mostly, we are jaded with ourselves. How can it be that my mere dreams are more exciting, and assuredly also more immoral, than my waking life? Would I trade the one for the other? It has been done before: “The compulsion to de-realize oneself in order to become paralyzed at the final stage of existence led also to an inversion of temporal experience. Past, present, and future cased to be a framework for orienting behavior.” Koselleck is aware that both memory and anticipation, dual phenomenological forces that act as a bulwark against absolute desire, have no place in the camp, just as dreams are themselves taken outside of human and historical time, instituting their own vapid irreality in its stead. Oddly, there are living spaces which seek to mimic such primordial experiences, including the casino and the church service, the vacation and the spectacle. It is as if we remain possessed, not by the collective unconscious and its memory of the visionary, the creation of all things and their destruction as well, but rather the pressing absence of vision in our current and very much conscious condition. Is it also then the case, that along with compassion, we must bid final farewell to futurity itself?

            In dreaming desire, there are no real consequences. In order to make such fantasies real, we must disarm and thence dismiss no less than history along with biography. The perpetrators dream awake. This is how they can commit the impassioned acts of horror upon the others who now appear to them as mere projections, in their way or submissive, it matters not. It is not a case of decorum managing desire, or even compassion trumping the passions. It is rather that the vision of primordial Man has been reconstructed, and at cost, in the picayune and rationalized manner which modernity requires of it. No less costly than the first murder, the most recent one is yet less authentic since it is so seldom necessary. I am no longer an endangered species. In my fullest presence, I have become the one who endangers, and mine ownmost death can only be owned in life by the killing of others. This is the unreasoned monstrosity of a faux-phenomenological phantasy: that there are no unwilling victims, that I no longer dream alone.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 57 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.

Possible Inauthenticities in the Transgendered Phenomenon

Possible Inauthenticities in the Transgendered Phenomenon

            In the cases I have come across through professional ethics consulting with families and youth, there are present three kinds of discrepancies from institutionally and commercially normative family forms; that is, those possessing two different but dominant gendered parents who have mutually come to terms with the birth gender of their children. They are:

            1. Single parent families: here, the child has adopted the gender of the absent or missing parent and if their sex at birth contradicts that of the one who has been so adopted, a transgendered child results.

            2. Conflict between parents who desire a different sexed child: here, the child internalizes this conflict and reproduces it in himself or herself, generating a transgendered selfhood in the effort to please both parents.

            3. Conflict within one or another parent whose own desires regarding their sexual identity do not match worldly outcomes regarding the child’s sex at birth: in such cases, the child becomes accustomed to performing as if they were the gender counter to their physiological sex, also constructing a transgendered identity for themselves.

            Often subconsciously, parents interact with their children as if the latter were simply smaller projections of themselves. If conflict is present beyond that inevitably associated with basic socialization processes – there is no culture that does not possess this more demographically based conflict; some cultures negotiate it with more compassion and gentleness than do others – also, in my sense, a pathological presence, the phenomenon of transgenderedness is understood by the child, once again, subconsciously, as the only possible response to the context around them. I must please both parents, I must take on the role of the absent parent, I must assuage my parent’s self-doubts.

            In each permutation, ethical interaction is scarce. In general, speaking as a philosopher, I would suggest that any time one’s actions are bereft of ethical reflection, inauthenticity, perhaps at best, is the result. My case observations have, in turn, suggested to me that parents overly and overtly concerned with normative gender boundaries can also produce transgenderism in their children, thereby generating a fourth category, slightly different from the three listed above. Here, by contrast, the conflict within the adult is transferred to the child who reacts not to assuage or please their parent but to instead defy them and thus also to deny the projection itself. These cases were also more challenging to resolve, as the adults involved were in patent denial that they were defending gender norms against their own self-doubts regarding them.

            The inauthenticity of transgenderism is a function of it being not only epiphenomenal to sources of conflict which orbit round self-conscious agrarian-based societal norms regarding gender roles and performances – that is, these conflicts are not personal but rather historical in scope – but as well, they represent avoidance of conflict in general; decoys constructed by the child who is either too young to understand the authentic conflict in the family, or later on, too anemic in character to confront such conflict which has by then become their own.

            As such, it is easier to understand why the gay subculture has been tepid in its support for transgenderism. They are utterly different phenomena in both source and result. For gay people, transgenderism might well seem to be reactionary, as it, in every case, seeks to shore up dominant gender models and roleplaying, and thus is nothing radical at all, let alone revolutionary. Thus, transgenderism has been misunderstood both by its critics as well as by its adherents. In sum, it is essentially a coping mechanism that is both inauthentic to modern selfhood – it seeks to cover over the conflict that is both necessary to distinguish the self from others as well as provide a bandage for the pathological conceptions of parents who have unethically allowed their desires to overtake their ideals – and an entanglement of one’s very being in the face of its essential mortality and condition of its happenstance birth.

            Though gender as a performance, however indirectly related to biological sex and to human sexuality in general, may be a ludic form which should not be evaluated as pathological in itself, that which is sourced in conflicts which are pathological should not be encouraged, but rather resolved at the point of departure. I suggest here that transgenderism is, in general, just such a negative form, and as such, must be gently retouched to the point that the victim in these cases, the child, is not further alienated by other social forces which are thence to be encountered at an interpersonal level.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 57 books in ethics, education, health, social theory and aesthetics, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades and has consulted for families and youth for three years.

The Ethics of Self-Censorship

The Ethics of Self-Censorship (the person and the work)

            I am more than fortunate to be a citizen of a nation which continues to value, at least legally, a general freedom of voice and speech. Politics are one thing of course, and they come and go, but as long as the essence of free and open discourse remains a key to our understanding of democracy, one can weather the squalls along the way. Certainly, there is a current sense that such freedoms are being eroded by extremities of that self-same speech and writing that most of us cherish and look to for both inspiration and perspective. The best response to such attacks is to speak and write in return, humbling the censor with eloquent truths, or at the very least, ideals. The greatest virtue of freedom of thought and expression is that it reminds the parochial mind that there is an entire world of diverse differences of which all must take account. In expressing these differences, we realize the Gestalt of the human species at large, including becoming more understanding of its species-essence.

            Yet self-censorship is, perhaps oddly, near the heart of this human dialogue. In day-to-day life, each of us, if we care about the social whole and about individual others, curtails our most frank sensibilities, generally regarding relatively trivial things. The old saw about the ‘white lie’, the patent non-response to such questions as ‘does this dress make me look fat?’ and such-like, are likely obvious to almost everyone. Such minor dishonesties, we agree, make the social wheel go round, and no one needs to know what we actually think about every little thing that could pass in front of us by the end of each day. This form of self-censorship is part of the package by and through which we maintain our sociality, even to the point of supporting our community or yet our culture. We cast a look of reproof at those who don’t play along with this mildly duplicitous game – children are not necessarily expected to be reliable players, but they learn, over time, how to master it, just as did we ourselves – as it stands to reason that they are not keeping up their end of the socially agreed upon bargain. In this, our sanction is in keeping with a number of other kinds of ‘betrayals’, if you will, that fuel various conflicts which buttress media copy in our time.

            More intense versions of sociality, as in crises where we imagine relationships or work life is at stake, require of us either distinct diplomacy or a yet transcendental tact. Here, where we are perhaps far more tempted to speak exactly as our conscience, or our ego, directs us, we rather reign in at least some of this personal truth given obligations or future rewards. ‘Do I preserve my marriage?’ is never of course a momentary kind of question, but we also know just how far to one side or the other a thoughtless comment here and there can travel. Intimate relations gone awry, the proverbial lovers’ tiff, the back and forth of friendship, even the contractually manufactured trust given to those who are hired to do this or that task in lieu of our own incompetent selves, also require self-censorship. To ‘not bite’ on potential baited editorials sometimes freely had from contractors presents to us a choice. In struggling intimacies, that same choice writ much more expensively, occurs and may indeed recur. Each of us is charged with well-known scripts that are themselves contrivances in principle, but in practice may become the pith of romance, even love.

            But none of this is usually in the discussion regarding freedom of expression, though it should be present at least as a backdrop. It tells us that we are, for the larger part, quite skilled at being our own censors, and thus would appear to render any institutional or yet State action superfluous. We can, in a word, police ourselves. Those who can’t, out themselves all too readily and are thus subject to a variety of sanctions, that is, if the rest of us stand firm in our avowal of keeping things moving along. Yes, the direction of this movement, who is steering, and what goals lay ahead or afar, all this can be debated, but the basic sense that our sociality should not be destroyed of a piece must also be ever-present, even foremost, in our minds. To that regard, the cut and thrust of conflicting interpretations and ideas can thence take place without placing stakes upon that dialogical table that would break us, bankrupting the individual and the collective the both. It does seem of late, however, that the bulwarks which shore up this delicate balance between freedom and sociality are being challenged more than usual, or at least, more than in recent mortal memory. Is this truly the case, or are we experiencing the push and pull of larger, historical changes to society and thus are made witness to more extreme voices reacting to such changes?

            First of all, the traditional difference between author and work may be cited. Nietzsche, perhaps coyly, perhaps irresponsibly but yet also honestly, reminded us that ‘I am one thing, my books are another’. Barring bare-faced autobiography, it is certainly correct to state that the person and the work are two different things. Even in composing memoir material, we are as persons who live, reflecting upon a life already lived, one that we are not quite living in the present, and thus there is an important difference to be observed. I waited a full twenty years plus before writing of my experiences in the deepest south, the Mississippi Delta, simply because those three years were an intensely focused, almost ethnographic journey, so overfull with richness and impoverishment that ‘processing’ all of it took a great deal of time, even though for portions of the interim was spent doing so tacitly, perhaps even sub-consciously. When the account was complete, I saw a quite different person populating the pages. Indeed, my wife found my previous self to be unrecognizable, as she did not know me at the time. I seldom flip back into my own books, but the rare moment I do, I am always struck by the voice of these earlier works, which sound so unlike my own today. To a degree, a different person wrote these books, someone with the same name as myself, but someone living another life, with differing experiences foremost in their mind, and distinct imagery inhabiting the landscape afore their mind’s eye.

            Even so, in none of these now fifty-seven works, will you find self-censorship. But you will find a series of different selves, or selfhoods. On the one side, this is one of the great privileges of writing, especially if one writes fiction. An unpopular tone may be placed in a character’s voice, blasphemy or even hate speech could spout from a villain, narcissism from the naïve hero, or a magnanimity foreign to the author’s person might save the day. There are no limits to literary ventriloquism. Philp Roth was a writer who played and ployed with this unlimited Mardi Gras of hall-of-mirrors theater. Readers may have felt they knew what the author was thinking, or at least intending, but post-Barthes this is naïve at best. Authorial intent is essentially irrelevant to readerly interpretation, and so it should be. Who cares what the author thinks about his works? In publication, the author becomes merely another reader. Yes, she may clarify in interview, for example, but this is still her reading. Books, and other kinds of media more recently, take on a life of their own and their potential meanings reside beyond any one person’s control or expectation.

            Yes, but what of this openness, this freedom, laying beyond institutional or discursive control? This is a more difficult question, one that cares nothing for authorial intent in the first place. In the history of hermeneutics, it was Schleiermacher who generalized exegetical interpretation, circumscribed as it had been to the reading of sacred texts alone, to all books. Dilthey went one better, challenging of us to interpret the world, both social reality and also the world of forms. The world is not a text, per se, let alone one autographed by a divine hand, as it was imagined to be during the Medieval period, but the process of interpretation is much the same. A book is a slice of reality, allegorical perhaps, or biographical. The world is the source of human experience in general, Dilthey reminded us, and thus it is its own repository of potential freedoms and limits alike. Fiction removes many of these limits, accentuating the worldly freedoms human beings find fascinating. Non-fiction allows us to get a handle on both freedom and limit in a realistic manner. Knowing the world means also to know how each of us might read accounts thereof. What are we looking for in a ‘good read’? What kind of voice, or positioning of such a voice, appeals to us, and how does that shed light on how we ourselves narrate the world? But from an institutional point of view, an organization bent on reproducing itself and its attendant powers, or yet developing them, perhaps at our expense, such diverse readings may become a threat.

            There may well be a sense, amongst those whose tendency is to conserve things as they are or as they imagined them to be, that fiction and non-fiction, even fantasy and reality, have become so blurred as to be indistinguishable. It is amusing to read about Moll Flander’s misadventures, another thing to actually be related to someone like her in the real world. And yet the one strongly implies the other. The ‘hook’ of most fiction is that it reminds us of our own lives, perhaps wincingly in some cases, perhaps with a sage nod of the head in others. Even so, this is where self-censorship reappears; we do not deny the unpolished aspects of ourselves and others, but we manage them, work around them, in daily life. Fiction has no need of this, nor even non-fiction, with its anthropological apologies in tow. If some of us begin to see in others the unbounded timbre of literary character or yet caricature in social reality, we may take some umbrage. This is, I think, part of the story surrounding the resistance to the LGBTQ2+ presence on the social stage. It is outrageous to wield epithets such as ‘misfit’ or ‘mutant’ against our fellow human beings, but less so to question why and how some of us have decided to apparently make art into life. The most pressing query must be: am I, in my altered state, still willing to abide by the basic rules of sociality by which all indeed must abide?

            Here, ‘I’ is used not so much as a place-holder or yet filler, but rather to make more intimate a general question we tend to only direct away from ourselves. In doing so, we place ourselves at risk of becoming too complacent with traditions or what is deemed customary, when these, in every healthy society, should be regularly questioned much in the same manner as we question government spending or policy initiatives. We need not become as the philosopher, to whom nothing is sacred and for whom the question no one asks is the immediately and automatically the most important. No, he’s just doing his job, one by which the body politic and body culture can recognize as a somewhat hyperbolic role model. I am not being slyly disingenuous here. My fiction is mostly agenda narrative, so it cannot, and should not, ever be considered even to be an attempt at art. But just so, how agenda driven are those who have seemingly so radically departed from this or that social norm, and how missionary are they? We may well question this given our own sordid histories replete with both activist agenda and immodest mission. If those who do not seem to practice daily self-censorship are to be seen as living literature, they may yet open our perspective to other possibilities of being human. But if they are merely flaneurs, flaunting a fashionable formula in opposition to basic, if perhaps tired, social relations, we might do well to question them in the same way we discuss a book meant to rattle our shared velvet cage. In doing so, surely we will uncover something interesting about our own allegiances to that framework, even if we also discover that ‘living art’ is a vain attempt to excise oneself from the shared responsibility of keeping sociality the very space from which human freedom is born.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 56 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.

My Conversations with the New Right

My Conversations with the New Right (an attempt at a dialogue)

            Over the previous seven years I have had numerous encounters, conversations, and some ongoing dialogue with ostensibly conservative leaders and pundits, including those from organizations such as James Dobson Ministries, Moms for Liberty, MamaGrizzly and various journalists and educators. I am going to refer to them as the ‘New Right’, tripling down on some intended and unintended meanings; the sense that these persons and those they claim to represent feel that they in the right morally in terms of what they value, that they are on the right along the usual political spectrum, and that they are newly correct, not morally this time but rather empirically, about their political and cultural sensibilities. The New Right can be said to be comprised of neo-conservative NPOs and NGOs and their attempts to woo whatever politician is willing to risk their career upon them. Yet every person I have spoken with is at a distance from politics proper, and on my side, I have suggested to each that they maintain that distance, simply because politicians seek only support and have no need to truly believe anything they supposedly stand for. The politician should be distinguished from the politics of values, since he himself values only one thing; personal power and the wielding thereof.

            What was most interesting about this attempt to love one’s apparent enemies, was that each person – I am going to vouchsafe the anonymity and integrity of these discussions by referencing only organizations and not specific voices – came across as someone who wished to be thought of as one thinks of oneself; in a word, ‘average’ or ‘normal’ people, who are simply concerned about this or that within the wider social scene. The problem for the New Right is not that they cannot state their case, but when asked exactly why they are so concerned about specific topics, their line falters. Indeed, I was the one who often provided responses for them, for which they were quite grateful. But the overarching issue for any subculture on the decline is the same as that of any failing national population demographic, such as that in Russia most extremely, and that is biopower. Foucault’s concept may be applied to any receding shoreline upon which are revealed the once undinal wrecks of what used to be valued. Treasure no longer legal tender, but also in which such coins as may be found are so worn as to be no longer able to hold their value. In short, the values of the bygone subculture are, for the most part, unrecognizable to the rest of us, long used to the currency of contemporary life.

            Any dialogue takes place within the hermeneutic arc. If the language of archaic values is disused, then a translation may be salient. Certain distinctions are of great import, like that between distribution and censorship. Organizations dedicated to redistributing certain kinds of materials do not advocate outright bans. The popular but mistaken sense that book banning is the same thing as redistribution is a case in point. There is a great difference between stating that certain media, including books, should not be available to certain age groups through school libraries, and stating that such materials should be banned entirely, not even to appear in public libraries. The former is what the American NPO’s concerned with such materials state, the latter, sadly, can be found for instance, in southern Manitoba, and represents a far more dangerous threat to culture and literacy than anything I have observed south of the border. It is quite reasonable to remove certain graphic sexual materials from elementary school libraries, especially since they remain available everywhere else, and, as the representatives of these specific organizations added, children and parents can decide together when and how to access them. This position by itself seems unproblematic. We have to hold our breaths as to whether or not it is the thin edge of the wedge, as exemplified by De Santis’ bill against sexual education in the schools, at first put forward for only young children, but recently extended to cover all grades. Even so, banning books per se has never been the goal of these NPOs.

            Though we cannot assume that media censorship is not an ideal of the New Right, thus far there is no real evidence for it. Politicians cannot be trusted, certainly, and the Florid Floridian spoken by De Santis is perhaps but a gentle version of the development of the T4 program of the Reich, wherein at first, those responsible were very concerned that it would be morally unacceptable to most people, even though they themselves believed in it. Politicians test their waters gingerly, as did De Santis, and when there is little or no recorded pushback, then they take the next step, and perhaps the next after that. Minors are picked on by politicians simply because they cannot vote, and pandering to parents – and by extension, parent’s rights groups – is always a good bet, since these same parents are already weary of their adolescents’ breeching behaviors. Ganging up on youth is a favorite pastime of the schools, of parents, and of politicians hoping to capitalize on the fact that most adults have no control over much of their lives, especially in their workplaces. Giving them more control over their kids is a political no-brainer, as it acts as a temporary salve against adult anomie and plays to the existential resentment all adults feel towards young people.

            I was critical of this aspect of the political dynamic in my conversations, and most of my interlocutors agreed that children should not be political footballs. At the same time, the parents of the New Right voiced a panoply of concerns about how their children were being educated. I asked after the evidence that such education, wherever and however it might be taking place, was truly alienating families beyond the usual inter-generational conflict which is a hallmark of Western demographics. In the main, they could not distinguish any additional forces sourced in institutions that added weight to the already tense interactions between adults and youths. But they did mention a reasonable point; that young people would assert their own way in any case, and didn’t need ‘extra’ bidding from media and schools to do so. The content of this ‘extra’ was not necessarily in question, just the general suasion thereof. And this too I can see, given the hyper-reliance on digital media used by young persons in our day. As the CEO of a digital media corporation which seeks to provide healthier options in gaming and wellness apps for all persons, but especially those younger, I am in fullest agreement with those who state that much media in this realm as well as in the older venues of film and TV has no merit and promotes a kind of anti-culture.

            And this brings us to the other major bugaboo with which the New Right seems so uncomfortable: alternate gendering. I put it to each person that the sheer numbers of people opting out of the normative binary dynamic was so low as to be insignificant. Admitting this by itself, they replied that this was precisely why these alternate groups appear to proselytize so strongly, coopting schools and even the State to ‘convert’ their children. Certainly, it doesn’t help matters for the alternate side of things to have queer pride parades chanting that ‘we’re coming for your kids’. This in itself seems a rather transparent advertisement for the very event imagined by anxious conservative parents, and perhaps others as well. But the use of ‘your’ betrays the attempted radicality of the non-binary movements. In fact, children do not belong to anyone. On the right, parents are encouraged to own their children as if they were chattel, but their opponents make the same ethical error, whether or not they are actually trying to convert youth to become as they imagine themselves to already be.

            Biopower is in action on both sides of this values front. The New Right’s demographics are flagging as are their pastimes, including what the social scientist identifies as ‘religious behavior’, such as attending church. Less than half of the American population now attends regularly, and this for the first time in history. But there are, in reality, so few persons of alternate gender and sexual preference that this motley community also needs more acolytes. In the meanwhile, the rest of us sail on unmolested, as it were. My interlocutors and I also agreed on a related point; that media, kindred with politicians, simply takes advantage of all of this value conflict to sell copy. The loudest and most obnoxious partisans are featured, giving the impression that the New Right, for one, is filled with hatemongering morons – which, in my experience, it is not – and their opponents are simply weirdos or at best, candidates for the Pythonesque Silly Party. But one has to ask, why are adults who enjoy costumes and theatrical performances of gender-bending apparition so keen on sharing this with young children? Who invented drag story hour anyway? And how did it become so widespread? Perhaps, after all, too curious minds don’t want to know.

These and dozens of like questions filled the conversations I have had with the New Right. Part of the motivation for them seemed simply ‘common sense’. Though this is not a conception that the philosopher employs – William James famously exhorts us to question it at every turn in his popular 1906 lecture series ‘Pragmatism’ – at once I was struck with the sense that the New Right was, after a fashion, engaging in reflective questioning of a number of phenomena that much of society seems to take for granted or at least, shrugs off. In this, I encouraged my interlocutors to continue to question fashionable flaneurs while at the same time cautioning them against appearing to front fascism or berate others, especially their own children, with barbarism. In this, there was also room for dialogue. It is important to note that in my experience, conservatives were always willing to listen to argument, even if it pressed them, while their opponents have never once given me the time of day. This is disconcerting in two ways; one, that the New Right will open themselves up, to a point, with someone like myself, someone who looks like them and has the credentials that traditional values respects, but perhaps would look awry if I were not who I was but made the same arguments, and two, that alternative values proponents take one look at myself and reject anything I might have to say to them, closing off dialogue before it even begins. The latter is by far the worse error, and in that, it does not bode well for those who seek liberation from archaic values and subcultures.

Freedom is only available for human beings through culture, ideally, its highest and most noble forms; art, science, religion, philosophy. While the New Right retains a narrow slice of each and all of these, its opponents appear to reject the lot, and to their gravest peril. That such peril is paraded as if it were the condition of any freedom-loving person is nothing more than an outright fraud, and takes its unenviable place to the left of the fascist who proclaims, though with far more culture behind him, the exact same thing.

G.V. Loewen is the author of 56 books in ethics, education, health, social theory and aesthetics, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.