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.

By the Grace of Odds Go I

By the Grace of Odds Go I (a certain chance, a chance certainty)

            The seer’s skill, the ability to discern the future, has always been of great inherent value. But since we humans cannot truly know of such things, an equally great deal of theatre has been created and developed to convince the buyer that the seller is, by way of some unheard-of faculty, authentically in the know. The astrologist’s great year, the haruspex’s steaming entrails, the counselor’s tea leaves, and the visions of the prophets all attest to the diversity of such charades. The key problem they all share is the challenge of communication of ostensible vision. William James famously notes that while the vision has absolute authority over the one who experiences it, it has absolutely none over anyone else. So, the most successful translators of the ‘beyond’ would have to be those whose communication tactics were of the most perfect quality. They were there, but we were not. How then, does the former convince the latter that not only could the vision have occurred to anyone, that even though it did not, it is still of the same import to all those who are merely hearing about it second-hand?

            The sense that existence has a design about it is a function of having to work with the seasons. Time’s cycle, a wheel within a wheel, made such an impression upon our distant ancestors that they at once invented science and religion to account for its presence, and specifically, its presence in their lives. Science addresses the first, more abstract question: why does the cosmos exist simply as it is, without reference to humans. Religion responds to the second question: why are humans within that ambit of an otherwise anonymous cosmos? In short, what does it mean that the cosmos appears to us to have a human interest? Though our early observations were the seeds of the much later science as we understand it today, our methods were almost purely religious. In the Roman period, the haruspex read off the disjecta membra of the sacrificed animal, and during the same time and yet earlier, the priestess of the temple acted as a glossalalic vehicle for the Logos of the Gods. The Logos was a pure form, unsullied by human interpretation and requiring, in and of itself, none such thing. Mythos was developed, perhaps ironically, as a response to the difficult work of translation. If the cosmos in itself wanted nothing of us, its resident Gods in fact did. But what, exactly, did the Gods want?

            This is the same question, posed in a slightly different context, as ‘what does the future hold in store for us?’ To answer either meant to tap into the oversoul of existence, to touch upon the essence of things, their ‘nature’ as it were, and not the mere passing character of mortal existence. Such a process demanded a special role player. The shaman is likely the earliest version of this liminal figure, giving way to the prophet and thence the priest. Even in our own time we have technicians of various sorts who skirt the edge of essence, using probability theory to take them within earshot of its forbidding boundary. The meteorologist, the doctor, even the lawyer or yet the mechanic and others, make a living from their ability to prognosticate given current events and affairs. Predictive statistics are the most highly valued numbers in politics and economics, as they give the appearance of second sight. Descriptive statistics are the bread and butter of much social science over the past 70 years or so, but these numbers are about the past, what has been the case, and only through an effort of extrapolation can they serve the more profound cause of seeing the future.

            It is unlikely, however, that even the most highly regarded prophet or haruspex, visionary or seer, shaman or priestess, was held to have the absolute truth of certainty within their skill each and every time. People knew that even these impressive figures could be fallible, just as we know today the weather report is not a Mosaic tablet. In extreme cases, the seer might suffer execution for simply being off, but generally, all dealings with the otherworld came with a caveat; here is what I see, take it or leave it. The anxiety concerning our shared human finitude prompts us to search out all possible means by which we might be able to predict the outcomes of this or that. We are, quite naturally, disappointed when our hopes are dashed by the way of the world, our dreams sobered simply by waking life. Therefore, we cast an anchor out to windward as against the errata of the seer, whomever she may be in this time or this place. We might seek a second opinion, we might try to descry the thing ourselves, or we might change our plans, sometimes abruptly, when we are finally able to read the proverbial writing on the wall. Nothing is certain, we tell ourselves, and even mine ownmost death, while certain in the abstract, retains as its essence the element of chance. If life has a certain chance about it, then death is at base a chance certainty.

            And in that death, the theatre is not abated, though it now must be carried on by the others who yet live. In the Himalayas, the Buddhist inspired ‘sky burial’ proceeds along these lines: the corpse is minced with spices and other delicacies so that the vultures will descend from their mountainous arcs and pick the bones clean, carrying the entire spirit of the person upwards with them afterwards. Then friends and family take the bones and carve them into delicate scrimshaws, wearing them as pendants and other ornaments, thereby honoring their late but still beloved companion. Even if this might strike a Westerner as macabre, it is not unheard of as a practice. In the Norwegian ‘black metal’ scene, one band-member’s suicide was honored in the same way, as his musical mates took some of his remains and carved them, or wore them as accessories, keeping his memory alive. Decades ago, when I was recataloguing the human skeleton collection at the BC provincial museum, as it was known at the time, I wore a wreath of vertebrae from one such tree burial round my neck for a few minutes, partly as a jape upon my colleague, but more seriously, out of the respect for the genius loci of the task at hand. Was there insight imparted to me through this act, or did Raven cast me a narrow look of annoyance? That all these remains and associated artifacts have now been repatriated is a source of modest pride for myself, as our team were the ones to make certain of the original provenience of the items, so that they could belatedly find their way back to their ancestral homes and hearths.

            The poet W.H. Auden said this of all such relationships: ‘Art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead.’ And there is art present, even as we understand it today, in the arts of prediction, and in the artisanship of communicating a vision. Yes, it is a construction, even a contrivance, but its effect is kindred to that of an aesthetic object, or better, an aesthetic abject, since we are often so desperate for answers either way. Caught between the certain chanciness of living on and the chance certainty of that ongoingness coming to an abrupt halt, we humans attempt an artful mitigation of all such prospects. This is the ultimate ‘need to know’ basis: that we, as Gadamer has declared, ‘only have a future insofar as we remain unknowing that we have no future.’ Put less well, we can be said to live on in the face of death and yet in spite of this, life itself carries on. Our own personal existence is supernumerary to the general swing of things, and it is this that is our grace, if you will. By such probabilities I go forth; by the grace of the odds, I continue to live on. The lesson here may well be that there are some odds that are at their best when most uncertain, least susceptible to prediction and thus as well predication. This is no doubt why the seer could, at the end of the day, be taken with a pinch of salt, the very thing that preserved against certain corruption. For in proclaiming that one knows the truth of things, one is immediately at risk not so much of being wrong, but of being wrongfully used. Thus it is that the unknown country of the future is very preservative of life itself.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 57 books in ethics, education, aesthetics, religion and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Anti-Demographic Thought(s)

Anti-Demographic Thought(s) (historicality not historicism)

            The most insignificant generation of the twentieth century I call my own. Popularly known as ‘Generation X’, was, and perhaps yet is, aside from Tiger Woods, unnoticeable. Its meager size alone speaks volumes. How was it that I myself became its foremost thinker, with more breadth and mass than any other kindred author? Only due to the paucity of available talent between the years 1963 and 1981 could this unlikely event have occurred, and more this than whatever I may have brought to the discursive table. But the key for me, as a writer hailing from this demographic group, was the compelling need to think outside of generational thought and even experience. History has traditionally been the venue of all who seek perspective. History is the antidote to parochiality, the slayer of morality, the pinion of modernity. And just as travel geographically remains a fair measure of one’s own customary attitudes towards all things, this spatial dislocation has its temporal sibling in historical journey.

            Unlike preceding and successive generations, there was no way for mine to dominate, either in culture high or low, in commerce or the labor market, or yet in celebrity. The pop bands we listened to were staffed by baby-boomers, our ‘big event’ the assassination of a boomer icon. Though Lennon’s needless death moved me, even haunted me for a while, in the end, it was nothing of my own. I do recall to this day exactly what I was doing at the moment the news broke in over CBC radio in that evening. Playing guitar in the front room with my parents listening in fits and snatches to both audio sources; odd, looking back upon it. I had just lost my first serious girlfriend, and was about to lose my mother, and thence my family, within months. Lennon’s death was thus felt as an ominous omen, a sign of losses to come. It took a full quarter-century of nonsense on my part to recover from this wakeful interregnum, a chasm between the bliss of childhood and the remaining rationality of more mature being.

            Even so, none of these crises were specific to anyone in my generation, let alone myself. The nearest to us is shared by all, the farthest from us by none. What do we know of the vast bulk of human history? Our generational memories are overshadowed by those personal, and these latter are what link us across demographic groups, and mostly those ethno-cultural as well. None choose to be born; none choose to die. The work I have done to date connects me with, and within, the 2500-year-old tradition of consciousness, and my nominal contribution to the history of thought can only be judged in that wider context. I have no generational peers; I have few living sources of inspiration. The only response is to conjure a form of anti-demographic thinking, which at once participates in what Gadamer called ‘historical consciousness’, while avoiding historicism per se. Historicity is a term that has been used, even historicality, which I personally prefer. The keenly felt query, ‘what is it that links me with these others?’, ‘what can I possibly achieve without them, let alone outside of their ambit?’.

            And I am more discursively dim-witted than I used to be, mirroring the general trend I suppose. Not having taught a class for eight years might do that, but more than this, reading sparsely due to eyesight, engaging in no serious long-term dialogue, and forsaking the company of ‘the intellectuals’ who are obsessed with fashion refashioned into a tepid tempest of pseudo-ideology. From the villains who proffer the censored book lists, which ironically reflect their defenders’ equally shallow concerns for what amounts to window-dressing – genders, ethnicities – or very much passing phases of life – childhood and adolescence – to the ‘concerned’ parents groups, shockingly populated by those younger than myself – where did the much vaunted revolution of values vanish, I wonder from time to time – my demographic viewpoint is disarmed by their sheer frenzy of frenetic fractiousness. Framing this ‘value’ conflict is an effort at once of a compulsive ennui – Edmund Leach would chide us, for at least butterflies are beautiful – as well as self-gratification; ‘look at all those poor fools’, which at least sounds like a British social anthropologist.

            Utterly ignored, X’ers oft like to claim for themselves a kind of holier-than-thou status in relation to their observations. I noted this when I was but fifteen, for goodness’ sake, another, this time sanctimonious, sign of things to come. The smirk of the girls, the smite of the boys, the sense that all was already lost, we had no idea that our minor fin de siècle was but a repeat of 1900, or a retake of 1950 – David Riesman’s ‘The Lonely Crowd’ might as well have been written for Gen-X, for instance – or indeed a distant echo of Goethe’s Werther. Nothing, in other words, genuine about our whine. We fought amongst ourselves, we mended our own fences, we together built smallish walls to blot out the overweening views of the boomers, all the while listening intently to their own sages:

            Get away old man, you don’t fool me.

            You and your history won’t rule me.

            You might have been a fighter but admit you’ve failed.

            I’m not affected by your blackmail;

            You won’t blackmail, me.

            Pete Townsend wrote these lyrics in 1975, when I was but nine years old. And certainly, he wrote them against the Churchillian generations, but it was our tune too. And I also recall, almost as vividly as with the Lennon moment, in that same year of 1975 when the Viet Nam War ended, I came to school full of the news to be greeted by a surly ‘who cares!’ from my playground peers. World historical events were snubbed because world history had passed us by. We never believed in a future – the day-long debriefing at all the schools the morning after ‘The Day After’ had aired on television was considered at best, unconvincing, at worst, more propaganda – and so we doomed ourselves to inaction from the beginning. My campus student union boasted of a store of cyanide pills in case the made-for-TV film became all the more real. Placards and strikes and demonstrations and critique in general were nowhere to be seen. Shamefully, even though the ‘big chill’ had already hobbled the boomers, it was we who truly institutionalized the neo-conservative retreat. And that is exactly what it was, and remains to this day; a retreat from reality, from the world, from the other and from otherness, from compassion, from consciousness historical and cultural, and most dismally, from conscience.

            And thus our paltry legacy. Thus the ease by which almost sixty books, but that’s all, sails the undersea ocean of discourse, breathing its own closed atmosphere and heard by the pilgrim as perhaps a series of broken sirens, faint and amorphic. And so, I have adopted another life, prompted by the digital revolution, that is, the one that mattered after all. I haven’t given up, but I have given in. Look for my shadow on any horizon which warns of lands unknown. Look for me there and you’ll see a silhouette unidentified, then a chiaroscuro undertaking itself, that is, before the current plague of sickened yet fastidious youth finishes me for good.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is currently hard at work on his 58th book, a major health and wellness digital app, an RPG gaming series, and the odd essay in banality. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Erasing the Race Toward Race

Erasing the Race toward Race (A cautious conception of a ‘superculture’)

            In what is arguably the most radical science fiction short story ever written, Theodore Sturgeon presents a super-race. Not alien, but rather a humanity evolved through culture. In ‘If all men were brothers…’, the author has his protagonist himself evolve, at a personal level, from a normative presence in a mediocre and decadent society to an acceptance of this higher form of being. At first, contact with these superior humans prompts a profound dysphoria, physical illness, and ethical revulsion. For here is a world in which love really is love, including that incestual, wherein beauty is superlative and omnipresent, and where joy is almost matter-of-fact. Sturgeon clearly presents his principal character in this way to act as a vehicle for what he imagines the reader’s own experience, and possibly also that reader’s reactions, to be. Indeed, a reevaluation of all values has taken place, and beyond this, such a process is understood as the only way in which humanity could, in fact, evolve.

            Fiction is not fact, but it is based upon factual experience we humans share. Part of this experience is reflected in discourse. The heroic confrontation between the person and the institution is an enduring performance, cliché at the worst, yet inspiring at its best, appearing in serious analyses such as Herbert Spencer’s The Man versus the State, or Pierre Clastres’ Society against the State, and in popular culture renditions such as Rush’s 2112 or the WW1 drama The Monocled Mutineer and scads of others. Yet today we seem to be shying away from this self-conception, perhaps preferring to invest ourselves into alternative collectives based upon those we deem like us. Anonymity breeds anomie, to be sure, and the response from we social animals are attempts to create community for ourselves. Such forays range widely, from the dispirited desperation of those who are taken in by cults, to the somewhat less dangerous but also more cynical sectarians, whose idea of community is decoying and networking under a moralizing curtain. But whether coven or covenant, I am being drawn up as a person who is only a person within the context of presumed like others.

            Mixed messages abound. At once we are told to ‘be ourselves’, to become what we are, and DIY of all kinds is a pricey industry, suggesting that ultimately, we can only rely upon ourselves, or more darkly, to ‘trust no one’. At the same time, we must identify with something larger than ourselves. King and country have faded in significance, though ethnic nationalisms countered by state apparatuses seem to be a renewed source of world conflict in our own day. Community is itself a challenging conception; what is its threshold? who has it and who does not and why? who is truly ‘like’ myself? And how would I recognize it if I were to choose, and upon which basis? My gender? My skin-tone? My socio-economic status? And so on. Generally, such life-chance variables are said to coalesce in community, of whatever sort, giving us a yet stronger impression that what we are as a human being must be based upon these widely shared similarities, rather than upon our much-vaunted and once sovereign selfhood.

            But how can both of these be true at once? I am an individual, and yet I am nothing outside of the group. My culture creates me and yet it also limits my personal growth. My society nurtures me and then I am imprisoned by it, in it. Many phenomena attest to this contradiction and how it is being experienced, especially by young people. The outlandish, even outrageous forms performed by some of our fellows, could be seen as attempts to valorize the self in the face of both cultural limitations and societal limits. The conflict between self and society is a recent one, beginning only formally in the 18th century. But it is also the most contemporary expression of a much more ancient dualism, that of the one and the many. This deeper division animated all of creation, for even the pantheons of large-scale faiths were not exempt from it. When monotheism began to supplant these older systems, the contrast between singularity and multiplicity did not vanish. If there was but one God, there were yet many manifestations thereof. If there was but one world, there were many regions, one species, many cultures, one consciousness, many minds, one state, many citizens. The fashion for ‘celebrating diversity’ is not as Whitmanesque as it is idealized to be, for in so doing, we rapidly lose track of what we share as human beings; our essence as living projects and the essentiality of the human condition.

            The presence of cultures, originally salutary to human evolution, is perhaps now getting in the way of further and future development. The loyalties to ‘race’ and ethnicity, to gender and genderedness, to identifying with structural variables as one would list résumé items, along with a more dated though just as sycophantic an adoration of 19th century institutions such as the State itself, precipitates both ongoing conflict but as well, and more profoundly, a sense that I am not myself without such uplinks, that I am nothing as the one, something as the many, that I am even immoral as the individual, but as a citizen and a group member, moral through and through. I fear not to judge others for there are many voices judging; there is no first stone in a landslide. I fear not hypocrisy, for how could such a thing afflict and infect everyone I know? I fear no evil, for in community only the good resides. Inevitably, a large part of group identification entails definition by negation. I may not know exactly what I am, but I do imagine I know what, and thence also who, I am not. This represents the point of no return for the self. At this vanishing point, the event that occurs upon such a horizon betrays my existence and in whole cloth. My humanity, so disturbing to me in its fragile mortality, is shuffled off, in favor of the living death of the self.

            The brute fact of a human like myself being stronger collectively, whether in politics or logistics, in practical intelligences or yet in the gene pool itself, belies the more serious factuality that in reality I am strongest at home in my ownmost existence. This singular selfhood is presented as the vehicle through which, and in which, I confront that same reality of my shared condition. I do share my essence with others, but not through any of the identities that I imagine have such suasion. They are, from the existential and phenomenological fulcrums of the human condition, mere window dressings, and to flaunt their flagrant flaneur as if it were my truest self is nothing other than an ethical fraud. Worse still, the joke is on me alone, for in finally being forced to face down mine ownmost death, I belatedly comprehend that I am nothing, and have been nothing more than a unit in a measured machination, capable of action but incapable of acts, pretending to agency under the guise of being an agency, and indeed one possessed by the sole goal of its own reproduction, without a thought to those persons who make it up.

            Each human culture today is this fraud. Is there an evolutionary process by which the best of each may be amalgamated into a single superculture, a way in which to express the one and the many as the same thing? This idea is not new, but the only serious attempt prompted an epic disaster. The Reich’s ideal was to remake culture through art, remake the person through the model of the artist. But the Nazis too narrowly defined both art and culture, and yet more so, what could constitute personhood. Next time round, if you will, such conceptions must be widened extensively, though no doubt not universally. There does exist anti-culture after all, ‘degenerate’ or no, in the same way in which one might speak of there existing an antipathy to being cultured, which is most commonplace, ironically given impetus by E. B. Tylor’s all-embracing coinage of anthropologically defined culture as society itself.

            The Reich’s modernist idol, Richard Wagner, expressed the desire for a new culture in immoderate tones, telling his virtuoso musicians; ‘you are perfect human beings; all you need to do is lose your Jewishness’. His own evolutionary goal was no less parochial, reanimating Nordic mythos and presenting it as somehow as a future rather than a long past apparition of dubious merit and import. But if we take any specific cultural identity to be a mere exemplification of that which thwarts further human evolution, we can avoid vindicating the artist for imagining that life should be as art already is while at once realizing the pith of the artist’s insight. Yes, we do need to lose our cultural loyalties, and desperately so. And if the cult of Kultur was not the answer we needed, then or now, the sense that becoming cultured in the wider sense – overcoming our provincial loyalties – and in that deeper – undertaking the confrontation with the tradition that each culture presents us with – is nevertheless the only manner through which cross-cultural conflict will cease. That politics manipulates our archaic loyalties is to be expected; but the real issue, jaded and jaundiced, is our petulant possession of both.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 57 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.

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 Trouble with Tribal

The Trouble with Tribal (Regression in self-identity)

            Any time we imagine that our selfhood is in majority defined by what we are rather than who we are, we risk the loss of that very selfhood. We have already spoken of one level of this self-misrecognition, that of the life-chance variable. These factors, such as gender, age, level of education, socio-economic status and such-like, certainly influence, sometimes to a great degree when combined with one another, an individual’s ability to access resources, gain employment, marry up or down, as well as one’s longevity. Just so, they are factors that impinge upon our personhood, they do not define it. We are, at our best and most developed in terms of worldview, singular souls who must come to terms with our own finitude. At once, this condition allows us to share intimately the pith of what it means to both be and to become human, and this is of the species-essence, while confronting the equally profound, though this time existential, situatedness of being a thrown project into the world and ‘running along’ towards mine ownmost death. Avoiding either of these means evading them both, and the most common, and also base, manner of doing so, is hanging one’s existential hat up upon the tribal peg.

            More ancient than modern life-chance variables, and therefore sometimes more potent to the unconscious mind, are traditional factors such as language group, ethnicity, region of birth, sex rather than gender, caste rather than class. These variables, some almost primordial for human beings, influence us at a deep level, often escaping conscious reflection. Far easier it is to identify through analysis the roadblocks present in our lives due to contemporary features of organizational and family life, aspects of our social role panoply that would include wealth and social status, ability to ‘pass’ as a member of a certain class or professional group, and so on. These are factors which could be said to be ‘in hand’; they are present or absent along the lines of how we can use them in the day to day. I lost a major status when I retired from the academy, as well as major wealth. These were easy to understand and were even partly measurable. But the deeper and thus more disconcerting loss was of my personal identity, for I had made the ethical error of making too close an alignment between my profession and my person. Though this is a commonplace mistake – I am what I do for a living – it results in existential avoidance that, if there is a life-change at hand, one must then confront rather nakedly and without guidance.

            I witnessed, before I retired, a number of older colleagues who exhibited what could only be referred to as an abject terror at the prospect. They really were what their work life had made them into. There could be no future vision from such a vantage point. This was one minor factor influencing my own decision-making at the time; I didn’t want to end up like them! And even though it took a few years, I have remade my professional identity. That was, it turned out, the easier part, which underscores the point we are making here. More challenging was extricating my personal selfhood from that professional. The ego was a major instigator of the desire to hang on to the latter. From having a built-in audience transfixed by one’s every word – on a good day – to possessing the ability to possess through relatively unlimited consumption, to being called ‘professor’ or ‘doctor’ innumerable times a day, all of this contributed mightily to the sense that this must be who I am, as it felt so good. This ‘goodness’ was in fact a mark against my character; the one who is moved by praise and power alone. Before entering into an Augustinian retrospective, I have maintained some of this sensibility, though with more circumspection and even modesty than previously, in my current professional role. There is yet no money in it, but the promises of El Dorado are enough, at my age, to pique my declining pecuniary interest.

            ‘Exogamic’ internecine role-conflict – that between authentic levels of self-understanding; the idea that I am one thing or rather another – deeply contributes to the anomic false consciousness. I realized that I was suffering from this while I was a professor, and indeed, upon leaving that vocation behind for good, entered a kind of ‘recovery’ phase, which for me lasted some years. I was a member of the academic tribe, kindred with that medical, legal, and even other less voluminous professions such as architectural. As with any tribe, to mix imageries, one circled the wagons when there was an external threat – from either proprietary students and resentful administrators, for the most part, and once in a while, from suspicious politicians – and when there was not, one instead practiced a kind of status one-upmanship which of late, so I am told, has migrated from comparing one’s c.v.’s to comparing, in Pythonesque fashion, just how miserable one is being of, or descending from, such an such an identity. You don’t say?

            Identifying with historical variables as if they were personal does generate a kind of miserable self-penury. The distance it creates between authentic Dasein and the manner in which one views the world alone is almost fatal to both compassion and a sincerely expressed desire alike. One wills one’s own negation. One says to oneself, ‘Surely it is better to tell the other who is like me that she is my very kindred, my flesh and blood; that we are both, or even all, bred in the very marrow of our kind; language, ethnicity, sex. Only through these deep connections can we make a truer community.’ This outlook presents to modernity the ultimate regression; that we are somehow better off as neolithic gatherings of fictive consanguineals. Not only is this contrary to the evolution of consciousness in general, it is an Edenic fantasy borne on some sort of Nosferatu nostalgia, with the fear of the other as its cardinal theme.

            Now none of this is to say that the confrontation with otherness writ small and into the human heart is not a severe challenge to selfhood. Anyone who has lived will attest to the ethical fact that to come to know another as she is to herself is a rare accomplishment, and one deserving of both the utmost care and compliment alike. But to shrink into the shadows of primitive frameworks with the express purpose of avoiding that confrontation and the ever-present conflict which comes along with it, is to deny one’s very humanity. Worse still, it is to deny the same of that very other, for, in identifying too closely with faux essentials such as ethnic group, language, or sex, is to make one’s fellow human being into a shell of herself. I observed, in a number of field studies of professional organizations, that the great bulk of human interaction in modern institutions was geared into shared experiences of this or that work-life. In leisure activities, familial experiences were added in, but always at the same shallow level. In one sense, this is necessary to keep sociality itself afloat, but in another, that same sociality is the vehicle for inauthenticity, for human unfreedom. All of this is very old hat, of course, which simply tells me that we haven’t been listening for well over a century if not more. Speaking of Augustine, the inventor of narrative subjectivity as well as of the apical confessional and perhaps also the autobiography, are we not also avoiding the tribulation, the trial, of having to actually be a person, and that further cast into our mortality?

            Instead of the authentic, if extreme, overture of Hamlet, who is apparently willing to at least act out his own demise – with the ex post facto caveat that we might be more careful what we wish for – we have taken the ‘to be or not to be’ and placed it into the melodrama of identity politics. Here, the personal is only the political if the former is vanquished. The sole manner of being is to not be a selfhood, to abandon the personal source of experiences which create and develop the self. To become rather a member of some kind of latter-day tribe is the goal. Its desires are kindred to those of all other attempts to avoid the anguish of human finitude, which, ironically, is one of the essential and real experiences that all of us share as a conscious species. The search for extraterrestrials, in its most desperate and unscientific guise, the quest for immortality through prosthetic or ‘artificial’ intelligence, the sub-culture of social regression hoisted into the limelight by neoconservatives, and the tribalism notable perhaps more on the ‘progressive’ side of fashionable politics, both of which are anti-culture, all share this avoidance behavior with those who dread the confrontation with existential anxiety and ethical anguish. Not that either of these need be Pauline or Augustinian respectively, but how they are presented to us in the present rather than historically, is not ultimately altered by our running headlong away from them.

            If we are to have a human future, if we are not to carry on in mass denial of world-altering forces at work around us and through us – tribalism, climate change, warfare, greed – then the first step must be to recover a perspective that respects our own human selfhood. In doing so, we place ourselves back into the world upon which we had been thrown at birth, and we rejoin the movement which traces the existential arc from birth to death, from one happenstance to another. And we do this together, not as a contrivance but as an authenticity; I am at once myself and of a species of consciousness, unique in the universe just as my selfhood is unique within that selfsame species. I am nothing other than this, other than the vehicle for the other to gain her own humanity and lose her like provincial status and outlook. This personal, though not private, risk is the mirror by which we undertake the risk of the future itself.

            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.

Ethics and Personhood

Ethics and Personhood: ‘you can’t have one without the other’

            There is an agentive aspect to making the distinction between a morality and an ethics. Yet just here we are already relativists, for morality was never simply one of many, but rather ‘the’ only game in town. Even the recognizance, found in the Hebrew scriptures, that there are in fact other gods – just don’t worship them – presupposes in an essential manner that one’s own morality is at the very least superior to those of the others. So, to speak of ‘a’ morality, one amongst many, is to engage an historical sensibility utterly absent during the actual epochs when morals themselves were in the ascendancy. Then, morality could command because the one upon whom it made its demands was not a fully individuated person in the contemporary sense. The shalt and shalt not of a moral code impinged not upon agency per se but rather upon one’s sanity, if saneness is thought of in the sociological sense of fully understanding what is customary.

            For the Greeks, the ‘moron’ was the one who resisted custom; mores, traditions, rituals and the like, or was akin to a child who simply did not yet understand them and thus one’s duties towards same. And though it seems somewhat amusing that the one who went against the fates was none other than the ‘hyper-moron’, for our purposes we can borrow from the pithy pop lyricist Neil Peart and reiterate with him that for us today, ‘fate is just the weight of circumstances’. Just so, circumstance for any pre-modern human being could be conceived as fate simply because of the singular presence of morality. Bereft of competition, moral principles could very well give the impression that they were good for all times and places, to the point of convincing the would-be moralist that any sane human being would hold to them. I say ‘would-be’, because though moralizing always seems to be in fashion – demarcating the fine line between righteousness and self-righteousness – to actually be a moralist one requires at least some comparative data.

            It was just this that was missing in premodern social organizations, no matter their ‘level’ of cultural complexity. It is not a coincidence that our first serious stab at ethics occurred in the cosmopolitan settings of the Alexandrian Empire. It is well known that Aristotle’s attempt to disengage ethics from metaphysics didn’t quite work, not due to the person-friendly ideas therein – his conception of friendship is still basically our own; the most noble form of love – but due rather to the lack of persons themselves. Even so, the abruptly multicultural scenes of a relatively impartial imperialism forced upon the customary the customs of the others, unheard of, alien, eye-opening. It was the beginning of perspective in the more radical, experiential sense of the term. And the origin of recognizing that one’s culture was simply one of many also prompted the incipience of imagining the possibility that a single human being might just have a slightly different understanding of ‘his’ customs than did his intimate neighbor.

            Yet this too is an abstraction. While the history of ideas presents a far more choate brevis, the Socratic citizen which gains a worldly consciousness, the Pauline persona for which each step crosses a limen between history and destiny, the Augustinian subject which redeems itself and thus adds a self-consciousness – one is responsible for one’s own past, history is also and suddenly biography – and thence fast-forwarding through Machiavelli, Hobbes and Locke, the process of individuation greatly augmented until the 18th century wherein we first hear of the authentic individual, the Enlightenment’s fabled ‘sovereign selfhood’. It is here, belatedly, that the ‘which’ becomes a ‘who’.

            In literary reflection, the mythic hero which is only begrudgingly human, and then only for a brief period of existence, is gradually transmuted to the person who acts heroically and thence often also dies a human death. Between the hero and the person lies the saint. Between mythology and biography there is hagiography. And while the self-styled heroic author may sometimes engage in autohagiography – Crowley is perhaps an exemplar of self-satire to this regard, though the reader is led both ways there – in general modern literature casts very much human beings into human crises. We have to turn to epic fantasy to attain the echo of the mythic, but in so doing, we also in general cast aside our shared humanity. I resist here the opportunity to provide an alternative to this lot. In any case, it is mortality rather than mere morality that retains its own de profundis in the face of anonymous social relations and mass society.

            The Socratic citizen is lesser in distancing himself from the ‘examined life’. This early Selbstverstandnis has elements of an ethics about it; the idea of virtue, the sense that one should think for oneself over against institutions and customs alike, the weighing of one’s experience in contrast to received wisdom, the questioning of authority. But I feel that it also instrumentalizes youth, seeks the vigor of the question only to enthrall it to the rigor of the argument. Inasmuch as it ‘corrupts’, it also uses youth for its own purposes. In this it feels more like a mission than a mere mission statement. Similarly, the Pauline pilgrim; one is individuated in the face of a transcendental judgment by which the mythic re-enters history through the back door, as it were. The more radical ‘you have heard it said, but…’ is muted by the sense that the objection to history is both final and ahistorical. It vaults the apodeictic into a kind of aphasia, wherein language itself is lost to Logos just as history is lost to Time. That this inability to give voice to one’s own experience is made singular through the redemption or damnation of the soul only underscores the absence of ethics in this kind of liminal spatiality. With Augustine, we are presented with a morality under the guise of an ethics. Self-consciousness is the basis for a redemptive strike; picketing sin in the knowing manner of the one who has sinned but then has broken good, for the good, and for good, in judging the self and finding it wanting. But this is a narrow understanding of the self as its subjectivity is limited to an auto-moralizing; in a word, the subject is subjected to itself.

            In this self-conscious subjection, I appear before myself as a shadow, awaiting the completion and uplifting of secular being through the death of sin. The world is itself the untended garden, its overgrown paths serpentine and thus leading one on but never out. I dwell in this undergrowth as my soul dwelleth only in the shadow of Being. There is no way in which a holistic and authentic selfhood can germinate here. For this, we have to wait for the being-ahead of the will to life to overtake the nostalgic desire for either childhood or death itself. Both are impersonal events, abstracted into Edenic paradise on the one hand, the paradise of the firmament on the other. Only in our own time does our childhood become our own – if only for a moment given the forces of socialization and marketing, schooling and State – and as well do we, if we are resolute, face our ownmost deaths, the ‘death which is mine own’ and can only mean the completion of my being. It is the happenstance of birth, the wonder of the child, the revolution of youth, the Phronesis of mature adulthood, and the singular ownmost of death, which altogether makes the modern individual a person.

            Given this, the history of ethics as a series of truncated attempts to present agency and responsibility over against ritual and duty – and in this, we should never understand Antigone as representing an ethics; her dilemma lies between conflicting duties and customs, not between a morality and an ethics – comes to its own self-understanding in the person-in-the-world. In doing so, it recapitulates its own history but one now lensed through a ‘completed’ ethics; self-reflection seems Socratic, anxiety has its Pauline mood, resoluteness one Augustinian, being-ahead its evolutionary futurism, and its confrontation with tradition its messianic medium. The presence of key moments of the history of ethics geared into our interiority – we use the term ‘conscience’ for this odd amalgamation of quite different, if related, cultural phenomena – allows us to live as if we were historical beings cast in the setting of timeless epic. Though we no longer write myth – at most, the new mythology is demythology – we are yet able to be moved by it, think it larger than life, imagine ourselves as mortal heroes. The formula for this Erlebnis-seeking is pat enough: the rebellious youth takes her show on the road, discovering along the way that some key elements of what she disdained are in fact her tacit allies; trust, faith, and love. In coming of age as a person, our heroine gains for herself an ethics, differing from the received but suffocating morality of the family compact, deferring the perceived but sanctimonious mores of the social contract. If her quest is to reevaluate all values, her destiny is to return to at least a few of them after being otherwise. The new ethics she presents to the world after conquering her own moralizing mountain is simply the action in the world obverse to her own act of being in that selfsame world.

            This is the contemporary myth, our own adventure and not that of our ancestors, however antique. Its heroes are fully human but indeed only demonstrate this by overcoming the dehumanizing effects of anonymity and abstraction the both. In short, today’s epic hero becomes human, and indeed this is her entire mission. Everyone her own messiah? Perhaps not quite that, not yet. For the godhead forced upon the youth, even though not her own, confronts her with the idea that there could be something more to life than what meets the shuttered eye. In its very parochiality, the heroine is made witness to the possibility that her world is but a shadow of the Being-of-the-world itself. It is in this realization that the adventure begins and the young halfling of a person, beset by market personas and upset by parental identities, strikes out with all of her ‘passions unabated’, as well as all of her ‘strength of hatred’, in order to gain the revolution all youth must gain. The very presence of this literary formula in media today at the very least cuts both ways; at once it is a surrogate for the real fight in which youth must engage, and thus presents a decoy and a distraction therefrom, but perhaps it also exemplifies and immortalizes that same fight, inspiring youth to take up its visionary sword and slice through the uncanny knot that shrouds our future being and history alike. If so, then with personhood comes also ethics; an agency in the world that acts as no one has ever acted heretofore. If so, then the most profound wisdom that we can offer our youth is the sensibility that what we are must not, and never, be repeated.

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

The Lap-Dancing Drag Queen of Oz

The Lap-Dancing Drag Queen of Oz

            Reading L. Frank Baum today is like embarking on an extended acid trip. Political satire and social allegory under the guise of fantasy books for children, the Oz epic ran to 18 volumes, of which 14 were novels. Times change, so it is said, and the Wizard, however wonderful, went from being the best-selling children’s book for the years 1901 and 1902 to being universally banned by all public libraries in the United States in 1928. The chief reason for this ban, coming from the very association that is now hard pressed to keep up the fight against the hundreds of like bans being instantiated across the same nation by people who must still imagine that they themselves live a century ago, was that it was ‘ungodly’, in its portrayal of women in leadership and heroic roles.

            In hindsight, it is likely, had the Democrats run a male against Donald Trump, we would not have that specific lunacy that yet rests within popular politics at this moment. To simply say so only describes a sexism which oft verges on misogyny and is not sexist in itself. But rewind for a moment to the decade which began our social and technical modernity. The combination of women winning the national vote in 1920 and entering the workplace in droves, the new emphasis on the nuclear family and the abandonment of both that extended and the idea that young men, at least, were the de facto wage-earners in dyadic relationships must have been quite the culture shock at the time. As with today, most of the reaction against these very material shifts in society were themselves symbolic. In saying this, however, we do not say that ‘mere symbolism’ has no effect.

            If Baum’s lysergically weird trip was relatively benign – there is but one dark scene in the entire 14 volumes, and then a single dark novella in the 4 companion compendia – our current theater of identity politics seems much less so. From politicians referring to transgendered people as ‘demons’, ‘mutants’ and ‘not quite human’ to private citizens raiding, in vigilante style, drag queen shows – and, wouldn’t you know it, drag children’s story hours in public libraries – the bigotry, intolerance, and basic ignorance that could well have been widely available a century ago appears to have resurrected itself. The Scopes trial of 1925, held in Tennessee, a state which currently writhes in self-imposed political anguish – or is it neurosis? – seems as well to be a kind of resonant talisman for the neo-conservative movement. After all, creationism is taught alongside evolution in most private schools in the United States, as well as being at least present in public systems such as that of Texas, wherein over five million minors attend school. Textbook publishers kowtow to this politics simply because of market. That the pen is more powerful than the sword was never so well, if perhaps ironically, exemplified.

            Baum’s pen would no doubt have out run all available phantasmagorical ink if he were alive today. But as Al Jaffee suggested, it is more difficult to satire politics in our time simply due to the fact that politicians have outrun the satirists, ‘dreaming up things we cartoonists could never have imagined’. In America and elsewhere, politicians have become their own self-satire. The darker scene that is the outcome of what at first seemed mere theater, is that it is the lie that has been accepted as the truth of things. The Wonderful Wizard, Oscar Zoroaster Pinhead, has successfully implanted his persona as a deus ex machina into the hearts and even minds of the otherwise hard-headed citizens of the latter-day Oz. And if the ‘merely symbolic’ can take on a life of its own apart from worldly reality – one simply has to recall the woeful weight of both heaven and hell upon the faithful – all heroic deeds by men, women, or yet other genders might just be in vain.

            Baum was himself originally captivated by the theater. After an unsuccessful stab at it, he returned to it once armed with his best-selling novels. Theatrical and even film adaptations of The Wizard came early and often, culminating, long after Baum’s death, in the MGM film in 1939. But it is telling that the epic series itself has never again been so adapted after early and successful attempts in 1908 and 1910. The 1908 series has been lost though a few production stills remain. The 1910 series of three has been preserved in fragmentary form. In 1914, when Baum himself founded the Oz Film studios, the most advanced of their time, he must have had high hopes. But his offerings were box office failures, being cast as mere children’s fare and thus of no critical or dramatic value. After a scant few of the novels were scripted and shot, the studio went under the very next year.

            I am going to suggest that we too, in not taking the political theater of fantasy seriously enough, are in danger of going down with it. And though MGM itself released a number of the Oz Studio films as riders to their own famous adaptation on its 70th anniversary in 2009, it is clear that the allegorical satire of the Teddy Roosevelt empire-building era – presumably the very period that MAGA ‘if I only had a brain’ Republicans are referring to as ‘great’ – no longer has a willing audience. Or does it?

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over 55 books in ethics, education, politics, aesthetics, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

A Critique of Criticism

A Critique of Criticism

            But happiness and utility are possible nowhere to a man who represents nothing and who looks out on the world without a plot of his own to stand on, either on earth or in heaven. He wanders from place to place, a voluntary exile always querulous, always uneasy, always alone. His very criticisms express no ideal. His experience is without sweetness, without cumulative fruits, and his children, if he has them, are without morality. For reason and happiness are like other flowers – they wither when plucked. (Santayana, 1954:261 [1906]).

                It is to the mind of the moralist we must look to see the confluence of vision and motion. Not that such a voice moralizes, taking upon herself the mobile redoubt of the world as it has been. Rather she not only inscribes new tables of value, but refashions the tables themselves to better reflect the world as it has come to be, perhaps even within a single human lifetime or yet less. Such a being is of her time and within it, rather than taking this historical fact as a slight that one is compelled to endure, or standing aside entirely and watching the twice-disdained world pass her by. Certainly, there are moments in the life of every authentic critic wherein the world seems both distant and unhearing, where one’s voice falters at every word and at every note does waver. But as long as the thinker herself does not falter in either her sense or her stance, the waves of the world will not displace her and indeed, will gradually expose their own force to her singular counterpoint.

            It is the case that many a critic will find himself lodged in this place, now that, but transience of location is not the same thing as a vision transitory and fleeting. Paul is the apical ancestor of the critical traveller, calling no place home but maintaining both his purpose and vision, while long before him, it is Odysseus who makes a mission out of regaining his homeland and the hearth within it; his mission and purpose are built into the fact that he is distant from them, and this is no different from the Pauline character later on, who is at once divorced from a heaven which is itself yet immanent. And if its imminence can be questioned, put off, unknowing of itself in its exact timing just as is the Promethean death for human beings, then nevertheless is it with us; its presence is felt not as pressentiment, for this implies temporality, but instead as the source of the vision itself.

            Yet Santayana regards even visionary flights to be suspect historically on two counts, they either call to themselves a fanaticism or a mysticism. Odysseus could be characterized as the former, Paul the latter. In his single-mindedness, Odysseus narrows the scope of his heroism, which was, at Troy, kindred with the other legendary figures of the Iliad. Orpheus descends to the underworld and returns, providing the model for the later Christ, but the odyssey is suggestive of nothing more than a bestiary written in the style of a travel memoir. We admire the hero’s loyalty to his home and perhaps somewhat less so to his mate – though even his dalliances with other women are not heartfelt, on either one side or the other; Nausicaa essentially snubs him as someone who is seeking a surrogate for Penelope and in the former’s wisdom, sees through this charade as many women today are yet apt to do, though now mainly in psychoanalytic fashion, while Calypso engenders a lengthy fling but little more – but we cannot admire as much Odysseus’ willingness to sacrifice others to his reverse quest. Paul can be admired for his critical vision even if it takes too much into itself. His loathing of women marks him as more than a mentor for his ‘amanuensis with benefits’, one might smirk. Paul’s otherwise pedestrian pederasty is utterly of his time and is not truly of interest, in the same way that modern thinkers with alternate sexualities do not excite either the senses nor the insightful mind. For Paul, the entire world is what for Odysseus was simply the non-Greek world. Thus the notion of barbarism is extended, ironically, in Christianity, but all the more apropos given that this is now not a specific person on a mission, but rather the mission itself embodied in any person.

            The disembodied selfhood of the mystic therefore meets the embodied missionary in the fanatic. It is more apt to suggest that both Odysseus and Paul had mystical visions toward which they steered and were steered, but were also just as comfortable maintaining their respective single-mindedness, their fanatical drives, in order to eventually achieve this mystical state. For the one, Penelope and his own estate, for the other, God and His estate. So while Santayana is correct to regard both mysticism and fanaticism as non-rational vehicles of disdaining the world and its worldliness, with the former seeking the otherworld and the latter merely a new world (or perhaps, an imagined previous one; in this, Odysseus may be charged also with a kind of oddly neo-conservative bent), it is less certain that they may be distinguished on any other grounds. Santayana gives us only rootsy exemplars which also trail off in their approach to an ideal rationality. Instead, we are going to suggest here that it is within the ability to critique the critic may be found one key to avoiding fanaticism and mysticism the both.

            While the original critic excels in noting the shortcomings of others, his very success does him in regarding keeping the critical distance necessary to his own ability to engender authentic insight. As a scourge of certain forms of hypocrisy, Paul remains a good role model. As an objective source of critical insight, he often fails miserably, and not only on the subject of women. His patent anxiety remains our own, but his soteriological salve cannot be owned by the present-day. As an expression of being-ahead and of resoluteness, two of the essential structures of Dasein, Odysseus retains his relevance for each and all of us. But this hero fails in his representation of the good life, since the efforts to regain his home are all in all, and to say that he had a coterie of interesting experiences while running along is not enough to provide any ultimate balance or fulfillment. One’s very humanity is lost in both cases; the Odyssean is bereft of perspective, the Pauline absent of community. We are led to think, along with Santayana, that the well springs of life are at base irrational, and “…so its most vehement and prevalent interests remain irrational to the end.” (ibid:267).

            But it is an error to impute a modernist conception of either origin or motivation to antiquity. Rather, both heroic narratives are driven on by non-rational means, and not those irrational. Irrationality can never generate a vision, only a delusion. And even the most homely sensibility that coagulates into form betrays its essence as rationally based. One’s home and hearth are the commonplace and familiar versions of one’s peace and one’s heaven. Both warm themselves to us through a sense of grace. One is the subjective non-rational and the other that objective. This is a more astute understanding of how they differ from one another and the more so, how they differ from any modernist conception of the irrational, which lacks, almost by definition, a sense of community in that the grace of sociality has departed it. It is always and ever a dreary and miserable life one encounters no matter the psychopathology at hand, no matter the serial diagnoses, which in their discursive turns eerily mimic the wanderings of the lost soul in question. Both Odysseus and Paul wandered but neither were ever truly lost, and perhaps this is the most basic and also the most important point of both narratives. Their shared heroism was that they maintained their sense of who they were and the more so, what their respective lives meant, in spite of all challenges and detours presented them.

            Thus subjective non-rationality adheres well to the position of the critic. She is the voice of unquiet Ungeheuer, of a dis-ease with the world. She has enough intellectual power to have overcome mere angst, Weltschmerz, or even the structural inclination of her Zeitgeist. But in so doing, she is halted by her own sense of both rightness and righteousness. The one is authentically generated by her critical insights, but the other is an inauthentic appendage that attaches itself to brilliance due to the ego’s self-interested aspirations. This is the moment in which a critique of the critic needs to appear. Ideally, the critic herself will engage in this act, which is an expression this time of objective non-rationality. It is at once an auto-demythology, something every thinker must engage in from time to time lest his ideas get the better of both he as a person and he as a mind, but as well needs be accomplished as a manner of regaining one’s unique humanity. For the critical mind is no different from its Odyssean and Pauline archetypes. In questioning the going rate, we travel elsewhere than home and hearth, believe not in heaven and experience an absence of peace in our lives. Our ‘children’, whether human or textual, ‘lack morals’ simply due to the fact that we ourselves have called all morality into question, as we must. And while it is well known that a cardinal error of bad parenting is to make your children into a social experiment and at cost, it is equally good parenting to ensure that they do not become either the automaton or worse, the martinet. Hence the additional weight of objective non-rationality in the previous metaphysics, and the onus upon the modern thinker to translate this into a simpler objectivity which is rational but not rationalized.

            What do we mean by this latter day effort? Today, we have the unique opportunity to avoid both mysticism and fanaticism, even if both forms of criticism remain in our world. That they are patent and potent dangers to it is also well known and for most of us, something in itself to be avoided. But passive avoidance will, in the end, not be enough. Such forces, in both their rightness – not as in the right as they were in antiquity – and their righteousness – regrettably, almost as powerful as their progenitors though one may gainsay that some of us are not as credulous as some of our ancestors apparently were – will overtake the cultural balance given enough time and structural stressors such as poverty and economic woes, political irresponsibility and fascism in the home and in places abroad. No, in confronting the problem of overcoming the world as it has become is, as Santayana does suggest, a task fit neither for the mystic nor the fanatic. Indeed, both of these figures in our own day makes matters far worse. A reasoned objectivity knowing of its own social location is one aspect of a better critique. But more importantly is the demythology that each critic practices upon her own efforts. We cannot leave it only to others to criticize our works. For each has his own agenda, his own mission, however worldly. And in each may be found the lesser insight of his or her respective home and hearth, and the lesser vision of that same one’s paradise. That these are necessary, as Santayana decorously declares, so that the very conception of what is moral does not disappear even if equally so, this or that moral compass must be jettisoned in lieu of the futurity of the species-essence, does not in turn make them sufficient for any authentic critique let alone demythology. The heart stays at home, perhaps, but the mind travels. The heart is content to rest within the myopic presence of love alone, but the mind is unsettled in its very being simply due to the equal presence of the imagination. What other might there be, what else might exist, what further history will yet occur, all these suggest nothing other than flight. That these movements of being need not be merely airy while at once needing not the aerie of birth and succor, mark them as specifically rational and contemporary.

            In critiquing the critics, we attain the next moment. We do not regress by way of the nostalgia of a bygone homeland or childhood within, nor do we progress only through an unearthly vision of heaven and a delusion of peace at any price. Instead, let us together engage in both the dialogue of criticism and the further dialectic of critique, and do so in wholly rational and reasoned manner. In subjecting our own thoughts to both dialogue and dialectic, we participate in the hermeneutic encounter with the self. We take on the risk which the wisdom of recognizing that we do not know our fullest selves explains to us, while placing ourselves in the opened space of a world in which we discover what is absent in merely being myself and understanding no other. And our duty to that other is to perform the same demythology for their selfhood. Only in this way do we overcome the worldliness of our smaller perceptions of the fanatic and avoid the flight entire from the world in our seeking the otherworldliness of the mystic. That the critic is to be found in both mystic and fanatic should not give us pause overmuch. This is still the criticism which is necessary but by no means sufficient to the human future. Even so, though its critical insight is sound, its mystical or fanatical remedy is an illusion. Take the next step then, and allow the world to respond in kind, promoting an ongoing dialectical movement wherein the otherness of both world and others never gives in to righteousness while at once being able to recognize the rightness of the critical voice.

            In that we remain a rational Odysseus, we search for a new home. In that we retain a rationally oriented Pauline sensibility, we remake the known world into its own better realm. In that we are critics we do not leap upon the fashion, but in that we are auto-critics, we yet leap into the fires of the one who’s being is resolute futurity and thus is ever wary of becoming merely consumed by the flames of its own heartfelt passions.

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

The Misplaced Love of the Dead

The Misplaced Love of the Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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