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.

Two Contrasts: History and Soul

Two Contrasts: History and Soul

            Man is still in his childhood; for he cannot respect an ideal which is not imposed against his will, nor can he find satisfaction in a good created by his own action. He is afraid of a universe that leaves him alone. Freedom appals him; he can apprehend in it nothing but tedium and desolation, so immature is he and so barren does he take himself to be. He has to imagine what the angels would say, so that his own good impulses (which create those angels) may gain in authority, and none of the dangers that surround his poor life make the least impression upon him until he hears that there are hobgoblins hiding in the wood. His moral life, to take shape at all, must appear to him in fantastic symbols. The history of these symbols is therefore the history of his soul. (Santayana, 1954:222-3 (1906)).

                Angelic intellect results in a paucity of the imagination. Condemned to walk the earth, to till it, to lay upon it and ultimately be buried within, we human beings might well imagine another kind of existence which would never stoop to simply being life alone. It has life, no doubt, but living it is not. And hearsay, whether it implies angels or demons, nymphs or goblins, does nothing to free us of our own poor imaginations. Nay, rather it provides their fuel in the face of both cosmos and freedom alike.

            Let us then take history and soul as our two contrasting epigones. The one betrays morality at every turn, the other is supposed to have ingested it whole; indeed, might be said to be its conception as a fetus is conceived and develops in the human womb. This womb is conscience, its child our better selfhood. Better than what? Superior to both tedium and desolation, which is, on a bad day, what the universe so free and so aloof looks like to the naked eye. The twinkling stars be damned, for their winks are a smug conspiracy of eternity which mocks and sneers and at the end of each night simply despairs that mortal consciousness the cosmos over – once again, for the heavens do not have favorites – will ever ascend to anything more than what it has already been. From Mahler to Sagan, this motif haunts us: ‘The firmament is forever blue… But Man, how long do you live?’ opens up the desolation – though never the tedium! – of The Song of the Earth. The artist asks us to contrast our own paltry existence with the very thing that reminds us thereof, and does so each night. In turn, the scientist warns us of the myriad of civilizations which, upon attaining a certain level of technology, promptly destroy themselves. Will humanity be the next? This is not a case of a much-reported ‘Jewish’ anxiety, ported into that Pauline and made ahistorical by living on, step by unutterable step, as an anti-historical force. From Marx through Husserl, Mahler and Freud, Sagan and Chomsky, the idea that their family backgrounds had anything to do with their accomplishments or outlooks on life is a piece of anti-Semitism at best, for anyone who is so accomplished has become so in part by shedding his life-chance variables; in a word, has chosen soul over history and thus engaged in the transformation of both.

            But this is precisely the question with which the rest of us are left, when confronted by either art or science: what of the contrast, even confrontation, between history and soul? Just as the conception of the sacred is said to be transcendent to history – it survives even the oceanic shifts associated with changing modes of production, for instance; and this without respect of course to any of its historical contents, which do not so survive – soul is an archetype, both in the Jungian sense of the term but more tellingly, in the yet wider linguistic sense of it being ‘archiphonemic’. On the way to this exalted status, it accedes to also being an apical ancestor, the unmoved mover which sits atop a certain kind of genealogical diagram, as if it generated the world from nothing. It is the local version of Godhead and it itself is divinity made worldly by being implanted in a mortal vessel. Like the sacred, the soul survives the end of this vehicle, which in the meanwhile, giving into both its brute senses and its brutish imagination, has betrayed its spirit and made soul nothing more than an admired prisoner, to be genuflected at but otherwise utterly ignored.

            In spite of our ‘childhood’, which in Santayana comes across more as childishness as expressed by beings who in fact do know better, soul asserts itself. In casual language, we hear it associated with a certain kind of feel or spirit in the arts; this or that ‘has soul’ or is soulful. We hear of it being blessed, both as a kind of rustic epithet – ‘the old bastard, bless his soul’ – as well as being in earnest and directed to a beloved other. Either way, we cut to the chase by its use. ‘Soul’ is meant to refer to the essence of one’s character, and thus pertains, indeed, even dictates, how such a character has expressed herself. Has she attended to her conscience, her ‘better self’, or has she betrayed it? Has she raised the soul of another upwards to compete with the imaginary angels or has she cast it down, to the penury of temptation and eventually soullessness? And while the childishness which too often guides us yet might imagine the judgment to come nonetheless, we also know better on that score that no one is after all keeping.

            As an archetype, soul is not supposed to have a history at all. Thus no accounting of it makes any ultimate sense. There is no score, beyond the nonexistence of the scorekeeper, and yet the game remains always and already afoot. What then of its purpose, its meaning, its ends? History the game, soul the player? History the narrative, soul the protagonist? History the meat, soul the bone? One could go on of course, but suffice to say that the essential contrast between these idealities, one the fullness of change and the other its fullest absence, is one between movement and presence, even existence and essence. And if we have learned by now that ‘consciousness is itself a social product’, then why not soul ‘itself? It would seem no serious slight to sign off on such a saying. Consciousness contains both history and soul insofar as the first is written and lived by we conscious beings and the second comes to be known through its oddly awry impingement upon the ethical aspect of consciousness; the conscience and its conscientiousness. One might suggest, with some effort at countervalence, that history also objectifies consciousness and soul makes it into a subjectivity. In fact, this is the better manner of understanding both their constitution and their confrontation.

            History is played out, not without consciousness but even so, ‘outside’ of it. I can read our shared history since I too have participated in it, but I cannot read your singular soul as mine own is always in the way. Just as I can never see the shadow figure of the schizo-affective who, in absence of most, even all, of the other salient archetypes, has retreated into the radical and existential doubt the shadow represents, simply because I have my own shadow that in turn, no one else can ever see, your soul forever remains invisible and can only be communicated through the translation my own makes of your conscience brought into history by conscious act and speech. We humans are distinct from one another just as we are separate from the cosmos at large. What makes us so is, perhaps surprisingly, not to be found in history after all but in the individuatedness of a perspectival consciousness which has, graciously or no, included soul in its wandering embrace. If history carries us along, we in turn do the same for soul. We, in fact, are its history as well as being its movement, its vehicle, its expression. In being so, my own life becomes the fulcrum that balances their autochthonous contrast. History pulls me along willingly; I am change and I desire to be so. Soul provides the existential weight that must be so pulled along; I am nonetheless that which changes and not the change itself.

            But if we wish to speak of species infancy, we should first acknowledge the history of this sensibility. For the Greeks, existence in history connoted as well as promoted a regression into a baser form, a return to infancy from being otherwise. For the Christians the infancy of Man was his existence entire, and we would experience maturity only by being freed of our mortal penance. But for the fin de siécle infancy was more of a promise than even a premise. Yes, we are a child-race – this sentiment can be found, though without rancor, in H.G. Wells’ 1903 address to the Royal Society, and has become a staple of science fiction in general from Sir Arthur Clarke to Star Trek – but the child is nevertheless the father of the man. Santayana is more critical than is the British Wells or even his American comrade in the history of consciousness, William James, but he is still hopeful. For Nietzsche, that other great pundit of the end of a culture, childishness was something to be overcome by the other dominant feature of infancy: child-like wonder.

            We understand, more or less, the history of the soul. We know these conceptions apart from one another and as contrasting forms twice over, as it were, for hovering about the soul’s own history is the question of the soul of history. At one glance, we might say that the soul of history is change itself, but the effort to identify change then becomes all in all. In the self, in society, in morality, in consciousness, even in that firmament ‘forever’ blue. The next step in development away from species infancy lies in our collective ability to understand the changes that are occurring even if our childish solace which selfishly hugs the soul only to itself fears now this and now that without reason and in ignorance of its own powers. The phantasmagoria of symbols which is the history of soul in form and indeed in history must no longer be taken for the future, which only comes into being bereft of mere symbology and instead takes up love’s perfect freedom. For if soul is the manner in which I love myself, history attains a higher love; that of the other at first, then the culture, then the species, then the cosmos. But in all of these portages, ethical and existential alike, soul historicizes itself and only thence frees itself from its self-love, which was after all the source of all fantasy in the first place.

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

The Moralist and the Moralizer

The Moralist and the Moralizer

            …no expedient could be more sophistical than that into which theodicy, in its desperate straits, has sometimes been driven, of trying to justify as conditions for ideal achievement the very conditions which make ideal achievement impossible. (Santayana, 1954:308 [1906]).

                To the unerring question, ‘why is there evil in a world created by the ultimate good?’, the moralist responds not so much by questioning the good in itself but rather the goodness of the good as a consistent and unerring force. To this same question the moralizer calls into question the goodness of the questioner herself. The odyssey of theodicy has these Scyllae bordering its passage and in the responses it receives these other Charybdes through which it must book and negotiate such passage. Today, we might adjust the assumptions that originally undertook to pose the problem of theodicy as a problem and do so in a number of ways at which both the antique moralist and moralizer alike would have trembled. But in so doing, we neither expunge the fact of evil ‘in’ the world nor do we solve the problem this elephantine presence continues to pose for us as a species.

            For moderns, theodicy presents the problem of evil in the world as part of that selfsame world rather than as an import, so to speak, from a specific source otherworldly and also maleficent. Evil, in a word, is possessed of no ulterior or exterior intentionality. One finds today the expression which defines evil as wholly human. Animals, by contrast, are incapable of it just as they know not the good. The moral animal which I am, however, finds the world divided but the more so an imbricated and puzzling mélange of good and evil, a chiaroscuro of light and dark. Indeed, ever since Aristotle attempted both the coinage of ethics and thus its separation from metaphysics, we have been aware of a discourse that works within this odd mix of passion and compassion. Not that the former is always given over to evil nor the latter immediately predisposed toward the good. No, the passions are by their own nature aloof to ethical entreaty, and where and when they are called to account by my existential conscience they are already transmuted into compassions. That we can feel both umbrage and empathy with the evildoer is pressing evidence which compels us to reconsider our own relationship with morality at large.

            That we are ourselves part of this ever-changing admixture of purposeless evil irrupting onto the calculated landscape of ordered goods may be cause for a gnawing despair. How then might we be trusted to confront evil? How then would we be sure we are capable of identifying the good, let alone acting upon it or toward it? In pre-modern echelons of morality, to be noble, to be honorable, to have integrity or even to be ‘holy’ would, by one’s essential character, orient oneself towards the good, while knowing that both the devil and death rode alongside us, the one casting us ever downward to eventually be greeted by the other. In my desperation I might well be tempted to regress in the direction of the older understanding of theodicy. I might wash my hands of the source of evil, implanted in the human soul as it was from without, while resolving to combat it nonetheless and to the best of my still only human abilities. This kind of old-world auto-assuagement actually has no authentic autochthony to it. Instead, it gratifies the ego by suggesting that I am in reality sourced at the least in a value-neutral nature, at best fully in the contrasting good, a flash of light marking the far end of the tunnel of mortal life. For morality, in one of its most specifically historical guises, is meant to assuage nothing less than mortality itself.

            The premodern sensibility calls also into question the idea of the ‘good death’. We do not see emblems of light and the good tarrying with those which threaten at every turn the uncoiled mortality of human beings in action, living in the world. Today, by contrast, we undertake to be the willing vehicles by which a good death can transpire. Assisted suicide for those whose quality of life has waned beyond the pale transform of both doing good in the world and feeling good about being alive, as well as celebrating life in wakeful wakes rather than morosely musing about death in the memorial, are two contemporary examples of how we have adjusted our relationship to both morality and mortality. Death is itself no longer to be seen as either an evil by its own nature nor as the end result of some evil originally unrelated to such an outcome. No, death is instead the completion of being, as in Heidegger, or the closing of a circle, or the utterly natural result of the breakdown of organicity and thus also its miraculous Gestalt of consciousness. And just as is nature neither good nor evil, so too cannot be its confines.

            So far so neutered. Hamlet, in his oft self-aggrandizing soliloquies, was prescient of both the later idea of youth in general – his character is a liminal one more suited to a Goethe perhaps than a Shakespeare – and the yet deeper insight that death in fact has no ‘sting’ to it. For the premodern audience at the Globe we might suggest that this absence was implying salvation, that Hamlet, for all his scheming, was essentially in the good, in the right, and even if his character was half-formed, it was yet forming in the right direction. But today we would offer a different reading: death has no sting because it inherently has no meaning beyond itself. The sting which might have singed the soul of the premodern personage has been dislocated, removed from the weft of essential Being and ported over to the warp of historical beings; for it is the living person who dies in our witness and thus death not only is dispossessed of its patent force, it also loses its own persona as a form of ultimate Being.

            This is one of modernity’s essential ironies: that a living death trumps any possible end, that the afterlife is a mere after-image of life as we know it and can know it. Furthermore, that living-on expresses the will to life, yes, but also speaks against immortality as a manner of degrading both the present and the future, the one as transient and the other as specious. At once mortality, having lost its edge and perhaps also a good bit of its edginess, commits immortality to a belated grave. And through all this once ran the skein of morality expressed in the active ethics of both the imagination enamored by the world of forms and the intellect equally harnessed to that of norms. In short, morality was understood to be as external as was both evil and also death. In altering the essence of the source material from the gold of the gods to the leaden leadership of human history we have practiced a kind of transmutation in reverse. A yet further irony, the Greek melancholia is thus preserved – the antique ages were more heroic and closer to divinity than are our own – but without any sense that this is a ‘bad thing’. To have preserved this other evaluation, which is more truly to be named a judgment, is to cast oneself as a mere moralizer. ‘The whole world’s going to hell’, when in reality certain regions are simply suffering from a momentous demographic shift for which they were ill-prepared. It is a long way, perhaps, from metaphysics to population pyramids, but even so, all of the noise one encounters whilst making the journey from one to the other, from the widest if oft imaginative sensibility to a specifically narrow moment in modern history, betrays the more essential movement away from identifying morality with not only the metaphysical – its sources, its motives, its telos – but as well betrays ourselves to the ‘world game’, which has already and always ‘blended us in’. Indeed, for the modern, to discover the means by which I am so blended is a goodly part of the process which Selbstverstandnis requires of each of us.

            If the moralist may now object that this is at best a sociology of selfhood with neither tendency nor intent at anything more profound, one can immediately agree but with the caveat that such an analytic device is still necessary to self understanding. Now the question arises whether or not it is as well sufficient for the fullest comprehension of what I am. In a world bereft not of morals per se but rather their deeper purpose – if anything, morality is in the way of modernity, a holdover from another age, much as communism theoretically seeks to expose capital as a direct and even auto-mimetic precursor to itself, differing only in its stubborn and staid grip on premodern symbolic forms – mine ownmost being as Dasein need not submit to any final judgment. No Horus awaits me, I must not balance my inexistent soul upon his scales, I need pass through no pearly gates, I need submit no vouchsafe against my sins, and I need no free pass to have lived with such sins in an earthly life so that I might continue to exist indefinitely by vindicated virtue of that unearthly. No, instead, morality is a mere means to a normative end, since ethics, by its own active essence, cannot be counted upon to shore up this or that rule. Oddly, ethics has become more ethereal, by and through its constant jurisprudence, than morality ever could claim to have been.

            Let us now return to the problem of theodicy, but recast in the pragmatism of what we take to be our own history and the more so our own time. Primordially, if there were religions at all, they were without Godhead of any kind. Animism is the most democratic of beliefs. All things contain spirit, the world is a spiritual vessel and thus by definition cannot be divorced from the soulful realm of the ether and of the immortal. In the Agrarian epochs, Gods appeared, invited, as were the Near Eastern mascots, Yahweh included, or uninvited, as in the Eastern pantheisms. The former held an historical, even human interest, while the latter maintained their divine aloofness to all things passing in this world and even the world itself. For the Easterner, the entire teleology of morals was to transcend the ego, so the Gods were understood as much abstracted role models, acting as forces of nature and of time, personified as beings which could not be, if taken as living entities. But in the West, the essential purpose was rather to preserve and ultimately exalt the ego, so our Gods took on the mantle of much more direct and anthropomorphic role models. The egotism of the West conquered the world but it also ended up subjugating itself to its own munificence. We are, in our latter-day modernity, slaves not to mortality as such but rather to all that which compels us to dwell in the cage of iron, velvet-gloved as our keepers may be.

            And would not the transcendentalist of the ‘orient’ murmur in his patent wisdom that such could be the only outcome of the exaltation of the ego? The flexible but yet unbreakable latticework with which we surround ourselves admits neither morals nor ethics, exudes neither good nor evil, and is overcome not by self-understanding alone nor yet by the non-rational. Indeed, it is this last which has entangled us, making us ripe for imprisonment by wholly rational means. The fear of mortality compels an overstatement of experience as vulgar Erlebnis; I must ‘pack in’ to my life as much as possible in the time allotted me. But such a fear, once assuaged and thence overcome by non-rational beliefs, can today be only irrational; it can accept no premodern succor nor can it be overcome, as yet, by hypermodern device. If morality attempted an ill-advised bulwark against history, its better selfhood was indeed historical, for through this interested presence, projected and extrapolated into Godhead in the West, experiential ethics was uplifted into a way of life. Erlebnis thus attained its more noble meaning: as experience in the service of self-understanding rather than as a series of happenstance adventures and misadventures. It is through morality alone that both the Quixotic and quotidian alike become principled and disciplined, and today we have no further need nor indeed justification in making our experience somehow ‘more’ than either, as if ‘packing it in’ could itself be extended to a yet other form of existence, shorn of mortality and morality the both.

            If then there could be a modern morality, its buttresses spring from Dasein’s experience of the world at large and larger than my ownmost being, rather than a self-absorbed contemplation of ‘why I exist’, or even why does the ‘I’ exist. For us, history and morality must come to trust one another without entirely ceding to ethics alone the adjudication of human experience. Morality and history generate knowledge from this Humean wellspring, while allowing ethics to convene and reconvene alongside and in front of their combined presence. Theoditical issues can only be confronted in such terms as these; neither good nor evil are ‘experiences’ that can be passed over without both subsequent analysis and evaluation. That they tinge the everyday without being irruptive to it is both disturbing on the one side – is evil truly normative and thus as structurally likely as is good? – and liberating on the other – good and evil are in fact wholly within my control and that of others like myself. For the modern West, inflated ego packed with mere experience is the greatest evil, history and morality transmuted into discourse, art and science, the greatest good. It remains to be seen if we can, as a culture and as Mitsein, come to terms with this jarring and unsettling contrast of both motive and outcome. That this challenge must be met brings morality, history, and ethics together in novel fashion. Perhaps the very lack of experience we ourselves bring to this opened space of thought and action will be propitious of a new understanding; one that recognizes the truer relations between nature, selfhood, lived time and judgment, all held within a world that is itself an impassive and impartial movement surpassing any and all human history and eschewing any universe of morality. What humanity is, over against this world beyond good and evil, can then be understood not as a countervailing force ranged in confrontation with nature but rather as a practice within that selfsame nature, and I a practitioner, replete with reason as the epitome of what that nature has proclaimed as its highest force.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of fifty-five 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.

Christians in Drag

Christians in Drag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Wholly Rational Action Realizable?

Is Wholly Rational Action Realizable?

This to you, who lives beyond my reach and ken

                        Yet I love thee as I would the one who strains for me alone

                        I cannot breast such love as my heart now and then

                        Breaks itself upon the shore that also crushes bone

                        No wonder you exult the air above, the night that is beyond men

                        And women both, and all those in between that set in stone

                        No longer will love be known as ever that

                        Extant between the fair and fairer seen

                        And I am but the herald of this wider, longer matte

                        Laying underneath all two-souled color been

                        These souls have given up their claim, their pat

                        Clamor against which I have plugged by ears atween

                        Enter thus! I both command and commend to thee

                        So that we may port your soul and souled asunder

                        Split as is the heavens by the lighted scree

                        Split as were my eyes and ears and lips by thunder

                        Such storms as these will ever question me

                        So I shall ne’er accept the loot of blunder

                        Enter thus, I beg you in loving supplication

                        With my tears, my sweat, my mucus, juice and blood alike

                        Even my offal, but not awful urination

                        Meant no disrespect but only that with I would strike

                        Down all who overlook our human situation

                        And to this I call you to return to us your endless Reich.

            In the quotidian of my life, I long for transcendence. Such are the days that have been that the days that will be are resented. But what of the days that might be? What of the moments that seem to uplift our consciousness into another kind of day altogether? What are their source? Can we conjure the magical from the mundane, the sacred from the profane, the very order of nature from the historic disorder of culture?

            In the verse, the speaker ‘begs’, calls attention to her ‘loving supplication’ which is surpliced over with all manner of bodily disjecta membra, not in the service of a guttural paean but rather to state that every aspect of her being is involved in the orison. But at first we are called to attend the place of the one who is called and is to be called. She herself is so distant, so removed from the day to day that her very reality is doubted. She is ‘beyond’ both my reach, my experience, and as such it is also implied that such a beyond is separated from the doings of both men and women alike. This object of desire must be a creature of the night air, a being who is thus never at risk of shipwreck, as the speaker tells of herself. And how then to bridge that chasm? Give birth to a higher form of love, a love hitherto unknown and even unknowable. This novel love will no longer hold ‘between the fair and fairer’, and within its embrace those whose souls were separate give over their patent claim to be mere individuals. No, here they are to be only one thing, and yet this is not yet real, which is why the speaker casts herself as merely a ‘herald’ and one who has had to ‘plug her ears’ against the divisive character of previous human relations. The speaker vows to not be either distracted by a base show of emotions, ‘split as were my eyes and ears and lips’, nor by even nature’s display of forces which seem as well to lie beyond the mundane sphere. She also cannot be bought by illusion, the ‘loot of blunder’. Finally, she returns to her own humanity and realizes that this higher love is in fact part of our shared birthright that in turn cannot be ‘overlooked’ and to which she commands the return of that eternal birthright and its ‘endless Reich’.

            Weber reminds us that any interpretation of human action in the world must call itself to attend to the fact that in each action there is a representation of something (‘The Nature of Social Action, 1922). And thus in each, there is also a herald, if you will, of the judgment of others upon not only how well I have represented this or that normative or superlative value but whether or not the value is itself worthy of my representation rather than one better, one lesser, or yet none at all. In calling across the ages to the thing that is most desired, be it a deity, a beloved friend, a kindred spirit long deceased, a work of art, we must first be more or less certain that how we value this ‘object’ is how we might imagine it valuing itself. What is the self-valuation of the object of desire? How does it, in other words, desire itself to be desired?

            The most common example of the disjunction of such a calling occurs when we fall in love with one who cannot love us in return, or will not. Though this seems an extremity of social action or perhaps better, a moment of social inaction or even non-action, it is nevertheless not an extramundane experience in any sense. Its very lack sabotages any sense that it could become ‘something’ more than a distant desire, or at best, the ‘one that got away’. What Weber refers to as a ‘binding normative force’ in this instance and like others acts to prevent action, places a limit upon our desires – they must be shared and specifically must be shared by the object in question – and brings into play a quasi-discursive challenge to the day to day sociality of human relations. This challenge is issued from ethics.

            The more amorphous the object – the divine, the natural, the cosmic, the aesthetic – the easier it is to overlook the ethical angle. Less vague are the dead. They were persons as we now are and yet are, but they are now not subject to personal desires. We might yet imagine they can respond to us through their works, of course. We are not, after all, impinging upon another person who is currently like ourselves or ever will be so again in the future. If we do so impinge upon him, he is more than likely long dead, far beyond our desire in any manner that would suggest an unethical stance. We might even ‘speak ill’ of him, in his unresponsive ‘state’ of being, and still do him no harm at all. This is one reason why a motion toward the transcendent is characterized by non-rational inclinations. In our impersonal ardor, we are ourselves removed from any responsibility towards a known ‘other’ who also lives and thus has her own life to live.

            Calling upon the non-human, the past, nature, deity or cosmos as itself a bastion of Being which is non-being, remits any obligation on our parts to take care of the other, to be concerned for her status or her being in the world-as-it-is. This apparently non-ethical distanciation is convenient for anyone who seeks to convince living others that his intentions are pure, noble, and untainted by personal or even personalist agenda. ‘God is on our side’ feels inclusive and even oddly warm. It is non-threatening, at least at first, because someone has issued forth a demand that entails both myself and a transcendental being, of whom I know next to nothing, and can know at best that its non-human character is also not subject to human desires. This too is reassuring, for then I might well imagine that judgment could only emanate from a human or at worst, an historical source. ‘Religion is society worshipping itself’, yes, I may quote to myself, but what of belief? What of spirit? What of that ‘two-souled colour’ that has been the case prior to the novel call for an unheard of union of souls?

            What the call to Being limits is our concernfulness for the living other. In its halcyon heraldry, transcendentally oriented orison cleaves the existential fabric that weaves beings together, in favor of contriving an ontological uplink that connects Being and beings in a manner that does vital disservice to both. Yet even in a ‘secularistic’ age, we have need of Being, and not only on our own terms. Being yet has a service to perform, and one about which there are several aspects; 1. It provides the model for rationality bereft of history; it is the ideal type upon which historical types are in counterpoint. 2. It is also a ‘role model’ for persons who are beings but who also occupy social roles which often conflict or are at best regularly strained in the face of one another; Being is unburdened of all roles and yet appears to possess a singular role, it is a form of imagination that owns its vocation rather than being owned by its labour. 3. It is a goal to which beings strive forward; it represents thus an ‘absolute value’ towards which rational action may be generally directed, and 4. Being retains its value as a manner in which to access, cross-culturally and across time, all of the human works, the works of beings, which have attempted to emulate it.

            So far we have enumerated the facets of the ultimate object of human desire and also have seen how this ‘customary’ dynamic informs both a commonplace call to another to perform a function for us as well as the uncommon calling to the Other. This one has found herself distant and distanciated not merely from myself but from the world and thus must be called to return. She returns though in altered form and one in which is likened to a selfsame other who in turn cannot exist without my presence; ‘yet I love thee as the one who strains for me alone’. The much vaunted ‘death of God’ as a mere prelude as well as a foreshadowing of the end of mankind is a rootsy manner of expressing the problem of the loss of Being in beings-as-they-are. For a phenomenology, this existentiality insists upon only existing and not therefore being at all. Not that our historical beings must instead possess a profound essentiality about them, as if only those of our own kind and time have realized their spiritual potential, their ethical apogee, or their aesthetic will. It is neither a question of placing existence ‘before’ essence as if the Cartesian ghost in the Mandevillian machine had been awakened by the gnawing patter of the mechanisms at hand. For historical beings, existence is in fact our essential state. Dasein only ‘completes itself’ in its ownmost death.

            I would thus suggest that any call to consciousness as either the modern gloss of deity or the post-modern guise of nature is premature. It not only presumes that what we know or what we can know of our own history is complete enough to have a stable and stamina-laden understanding of said consciousness, it also assumes that whatever is left over that we do not know or have yet to fully understand, including that of the collected works of many of our own recent thinkers, is all that is left to consciousness and therefore we have at least sketched its limits. I think we are mistaken on both points. Being as constructed from the history of consciousness alone forsakes the daily desires of myself and others which are never uplifted into either rational discourse or the ‘arational’ archive of human achievement. For we are mostly and daily kindred with the unknown soldiers of histories unwritten. We are beings without Being and yet we must be counted, and counted upon, in order for a history of consciousness to have taken shape and thence continually to redefine itself.

            Therefore within this limited context wholly rational action too is not only implausible, it may well be impossible. One, if Being has represented to itself an ideal rationality, then history has seen all such transient representation come and go. Belief in the abstract is not enough for a deity to exist upon. Two, Divinity is itself, as a characteristic of transcendental Being, a Parousia of Being-not, for it cannot claim to be the ideal if it itself sets upon any singular circumstance that history affords it, from the human perspective. Only its radical alien quality may make such a claim; one without history and without a history. And how much value could such a Being have? Similarly, and three, we as beings cannot be beholden to the singular, either in our transient selfhood to which accrues not only differing social roles but also serial and ongoing phases of life which too are quite different from one another. In this sense, Being is but the idealization of a human life once lived and, in the completion of Dasein’s existence alongside that life, an idealized hindsight that connects us once again with the ‘sidereal circle in which the gathering of souls commences’.

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

The Return of the Martyr

 The Return of the Martyr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Imperfect Storm

An Imperfect Storm

            Hegel’s understanding of authentic education involves us placing ourselves at a distance from what is familiar. We return to ourselves only through the transformation which the encounter with the alien brings forth. This movement is the result of our existential thrownness. Not only to we take up a project, we are ourselves projected into the world, while ideally avoiding the problem of ‘projection’, of such interest to both psychopathology and more generally, to ethics. At once we also commit ourselves to ‘die many times’, however immortal we may or may not become over the life course. It is this radically other presence, now in front of us, to which we have been drawn in spite of ourselves, that will perform its duty, both solemn and ebullient. Our self-sacrifice is just that, an immolation of what has been known as the self, the very person with which I may be too much in love and at the very least, too familiar with. For Hegel and Nietzsche after him, education was about forsaking the known for the heretofore unknown. Both as well recommended an humanistic study of only the classical canon of Greece and Rome. Hegel, as a Christian thinker, sought these sources not only as the roots of his religion and what he felt was the ultimate expression and collation of these roots in a universalizing ethics. Nietzsche, as an anti-Christian thinker, sought these same sources in order to go back behind a simplifying and ‘enslaved’ perversion of a more noble ethics. But either way, the classical period of antiquity made for an appropriate estrangement from the modern self, and this was its key feature for both writers.

            Our situation has in principle little changed today, though its reality is subject to some torrid irony. On the one hand, we have what on the surface is the noble pursuit of humanistic sources by Christian educators, though they sully their authentic discipline with that of barbarism, and on the other, post-Christian secular institutions – almost all of the universities, for instance – have bodily turned away from the very humanism which set them free from parochial provincialism. Yet the principle of distanciation, and the more so, self-distanciation, faintly reverberates. The neo-Christians, in their ardor to turn back the clock on a secularizing world, venerate humanistic sources without coming to radically dislodge their theocratic preconception of relevant histories and indeed, those deemed to be ‘irrelevant’ – paleontology is the most obvious example here – are somehow placed wholly outside the frame of Christian consciousness. For these conservative educators, distanciation is a description of the world over against that of themselves. For the liberal educators that dominate the universities, to gain the necessary Hegelian distance means rather to forsake the humanism that originally drove the ideals of ‘higher’ education in favor of technique, something that both Hegel and Nietzsche, and everyone in between them during the self-educating nineteenth century, abhorred. So while the conservatives use humanism as a guise to bolster a waning neo-Christian worldview, the liberals use technique to prove to themselves that a mere religious education was a dead end.

            In both, we see a fraudulent mimicry of Hegel’s diagnostic. In neither is there the truly radical distanciation that alters one’s self-conception. One is either a child of god or one is a thinking machine. As a social being, one is either a resident of Utopia or of Penguin Island. The conservative educator masks his ‘return to oneself after being other’ underneath a lineage of thought which inevitably draws itself forward into the advent of the Gospels. Given that Hegel sought Christianity as a culmination of historical forces and an expression of an absolute ‘spirit’ to which all could cleave their individual souls, this process has a face validity that liberal education lacks. But it is a surface feature alone, for the immolation of the self upon the alien shores of Rhodes has not occurred, cannot occur. Even so, the liberals, who have a content validity to put up against their rival’s ‘face’ – the action of science crosses cultures in its discursive galleries without as much ‘syncretism’, which the missionaries of yesterday always themselves faced – are forced to jettison anything which provides an holistic understanding of humanity. Truly ‘specialists without spirit’ are they.

            At the very eye of this pedagogic storm, its rivalry intensifying before our very eyes, there is a third force at large, aloof to both humanity as an evolutionary Gestalt and to the technology and techniques created by we earthly gods. This third force is nature ‘itself’. The Christian indictment to become ‘stewards of the earth’ is well-taken in these ‘last evil days’ of secular history. Yes, but the apocalyptarians, our most dangerous version of the venerable mystagogue, remind us that we have left things too late. That there is resentment against the shrill aspects of the environmental movement is understandable along these lines. Why tell us how evil we have been if at the same time the result of such evil is nothing less than the old world judgment of the new world deity? What is to be gained by sacrificing ourselves before the final oblation is to be rendered? Within this same movement, there is another voice that accepts the chiding but then states that we can yet prove ourselves worthy of the newly divine nature, saving ‘it’ and thereby ourselves as well. Hence Heidegger was premature, suggesting penultimately that ‘only a God can save us’, which ominously reminded one of how the Germans were thinking in 1930, the same year as Freud’s ‘Civilization and it Discontents’ appeared in print. Just so.

            Thus the apparently wholly secular and ‘progressive’ movement of nature lovers looks more and more like the wholly religious and regressive motions emanating from the extremities of neoconservative Christianity. The end is nigh, prepare to meet thy god, and such-like. Bumper stickers proclaim it so it must be true. But though Hegel reminds us that none of us today has the gumption to fully desert the familiarity of the known selfhood and thence experience the radical otherness of another world – for him, Greece and Rome, for us perhaps, the presumed coming encounter with at least imagined extraterrestrial cultures – it is Nietzsche who exhorts us to shed our ressentiment in order to take the first steps to another kind of being entirely. If Hegel’s stepwise evolution can be seen as the process of becoming the spiritual result of Nietzsche’s punctuated equilibrium in the Overman, within this tandem lies a fair model of authentic education. What results from self-distanciation is superior for both thinkers. I not only know more, I am more. But neither theology nor technique provides this self-overcoming. They both expressly lack the humanity  – one adores a god, the other a machine – in the first place. What then is to be overcome? For both thinkers, the self cannot be overleapt. It is not a matter of replacing something, but rather developing that which it is in its essence. One actually ‘returns to oneself from being otherwise’, and thus in turn one also ‘dies many times in order to become immortal’.

            And in no way does the belated presence of the third party, enveloping humanity and eschewing divinity at once, alleviate the historical task that both beckons and threatens us at this very hour. Nature, in its stark majesty, carries on outside of the sacred and secular alike. It has neither in its amorphous existence, it is neither in its essential being. Having just lived through my first hurricane, I comprehended that nature was in itself incomprehensible. I could not speak to it, I could not listen to its voice. Nature is too alien for Hegel’s pedagogic dialectic to cleave to, too eternal for Nietzsche’s cyclical existence to return to. For both thinkers, nature was never the goal, either as a metaphor for humanity’s wholly historical being, or as knowledge thereof, the material result of mere technique and its studied applications. Rather it was history in Hegel and culture in Nietzsche that were at stake. The climate mystagogues attempt to turn us away from both, to our collective peril. The evangelists attempt to subvert both in the service of mock sacrifice, speaking the twisted tongues of absent origins and destinations. For the one, nature in crisis originates in human hubris, for the other, that selfsame hubris dooms our species to self-destruction. Either way, the apocalypse is fulfilled. The environmentalist is shown to be merely the secular version of the evangelist.

            Hegel and Nietzsche would reject both out of hand. I fully agree. Our historical present is not primarily a conflict between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’. Indeed, the latter provides the necessary backdrop for the former’s sudden and radical appearance, the landscape upon which it irrupts as an uncanny force, not of suasion let alone soteriology, but rather of authenticity. The sacred is, and always has been, beholden only to our self-distanciation, radically called to conscience in a most phenomenological fashion. And though our experience within its rare and extramundane presence might tempt us to deride the otiose as somehow lesser and inauthentic, we must rather accept that the day to day is a prerequisite for the visionary. Perhaps its entire function is to provide the necessary perspective that a wholly sacred life would entirely lack. Such a life would be, in a word, inhuman, absenting itself from the very history which allows us to know ourselves. The sacred alone is kindred with nature’s ongoingness, somnolent or seething as the case may be. Instead, our life in the world of today is a test, sometimes of epic proportions, of our resolve to not run away from our own collective history and thence to not turn away from our shared and ownmost future.

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

The Customer is Always Wrong

The Customer is Always Wrong

            Ever since the turn of the century it has been the basic weakness of bourgeois education that it has been the education of the educated class, building a wall of separation against the working class and losing the spiritual horizon for the universal problem of work. (Lowith, 1991:282 [1939]).

                The distrust of expertise is built into the psyche of Protestant consciousness, and from the very beginning of the Reformation. Ritualism, the purview of the Catholic Church, was mistrusted as a manner of manipulation. Holding services in the vernacular was an attempt by the sectarians to reach out to the uneducated ‘classes’ – back then, almost everyone – and thereby return them to both the community of light and wisdom but also to exercise the suasion of soteriological doctrine much more directly. It was, perhaps ironically, the act of the expert to communicate his expertise to the layperson so that the latter could once again begin to trust the former’s authority. From the church to the school, by the first third of the nineteenth century, we see a similar attempt at communication. Before the advent of the child-saving movement – the first in a lengthy and still active lineage of ‘bored housewives’ benevolent associations; a contemporary irony is that the latter day inventions of this lineage are out to ban books and preserve physical punishment of children, both odd ways of ‘saving’ them – there was no conflict between education for different classes. The children of the working class were simply not to be educated at all. That this was altered by mid-century should not necessarily tell us that the history of our universal school system, given birth c.1850 and carrying on today mostly by its own inertia, is or was ever fully democratic in its ideals, let alone its practices.

            The introduction of the illiterate classes into the classroom had the general effect of dumbing down the curricula, making them more accessible or even worldly. A similar though more minor seismic tremor was felt when cognitively challenged children were added to the already heady mix perhaps some thirty years ago. The response to this universalizing education was that wealth promptly excerpted its own children from that same system. Seen by the casual viewer as a ‘choice’ which parents ‘ought’ to have, the private school system or versions thereof called ‘charter’ or yet parochial schools is fundamentally anti-democratic and indeed to be so was ever its clearest intent. Wealth does not desire to mix with poverty, either in material or in ‘spirit’. The ‘bourgeois’ education of which Lowith speaks is itself the scion of the new wealth of the post-1789 age, that is, our own. Modernity is rife with the tension between the ideal of equality and the reality of inequality, and this around the globe, within every culture, and often enough even animating the interior of the individual person, who knows not whether to will only himself or to help others gain a semblance of human freedom.

            And though the charter schools are sometimes created and thus delineated by ethnicity or even religion, the vast majority of them place themselves aloof to the public system by virtue of wealth alone. Indeed, in the enclave schools, families which are not as wealthy can count on growing their wealth through participating in the limited marriage pool, which is the chief principle of the private system: keep wealth among the wealthy. And with such wealth comes both power and privilege. The ‘blood’ of the yet aristocratic-aping bourgeois class must remain inviolate. In a symbology of envisioned violence, the ‘educated classes’ wage a chill war against any other who would attempt to gain their inherited privileges let alone their wealth. Governments, which after all are run by the elite classes or are at least told what to do by them, aid and abet the spread of private schools, thereby concentrating wealth and privilege amongst the few. Is it any wonder that the majority of us have a heightened mistrust of expertise of all kinds?

            Those who are being schooled to become the next generation of experts trust the authority of those current without question. Hence the duplicity of the schools in general, wherein ‘questioning things’ is limited to either the technical or the historical; ‘why does gravitational lensing show us exoplanets?’ or ‘why did Spain hire Columbus the very year it expelled the Moors?’ and such-like. These are questions only in the most literal sense, and hardly that literate. In the private schools, there is, ironically, more of the real question, but this is precisely because the ultimate question of addressing the conflict that privilege has created and thence has attained is never broached; ‘why are we in this school and not our ex-friends?’, ‘why is there a private system at all?’, ‘are we really superior beings or is this an affect of social inequality alone?’. These kinds of questions are on the road to the truth of things and cannot remain in the technical realm. They are of course, also historical questions but they do not absent themselves from the present simply because we also need to know the pedigree of such current social formations. Every other apparent ‘conflict’ about educating today is a decoy: critical race theory, ‘wokeness’, subaltern genders, ‘traditional values’, civics, and sundry others. These fraudulent and fashionable contrivances serve only to allay a lingering sense that due to this family’s relative wealth and this other family’s relative poverty that their respective children will have glaringly different life-chances over the life course.

            The final if not fatal irony is that any expert who points this out in a critical manner is himself automatically distrusted. Any pedagogue, any philosopher of education, any sociologist, any ethicist. Surely he too must have been a product of elite education? How could he then be betraying his own kind? It must be a trick. While it is the case that any partial critique that issues band-aid ‘remedies’ is an act of duplicity and betrayal – ‘let’s fund the two systems equally’, ‘let’s reward the best and brightest without regard to class background’, ‘it is a function of democracy to give parents a choice in educating their children’ (a false choice since it is based upon differential access to resources of all kinds) – what these lesser ‘experts’ achieve is but a blanket ban on understanding the key issues that backdrop the problem of knowledge in our contemporary society. To see them for what they are is, regrettably, to also see expertise itself as a mere rationalization for the existing social order.

            This general mistrust of the expert appears in all contexts, petty and profound alike. I first experienced it later in my academic career when young students questioned the relevance of the history of consciousness, cited celebrities instead of thinkers, refused to read assigned texts, referenced popular culture tropes as the meat of critique and displayed a shockingly low level of literacy in all its forms. It was of interest that pending social background, this distrust of authoritative work was either fully present or equally absent. Most germane for our discussion here, was that the few working class students at the universities were keen to accept and learn and those from the bourgeois classes felt no need to learn anything but the technique presented for specific professions. The ‘ethnic’ students were of two minds; those from the sub-continent who were wealthy disdained all authority while those from East Asia genuflected to it in a kind of shallow supplication that made it look like they were the ‘best of students’. In marginal regions young people craved learning and understood their privilege in being able to have that opportunity. In urban and more wealthy areas, the students saw themselves rather as customers, ‘clients’, a sensibility only encouraged by the universities themselves, partly as a way by which to divide faculty from the student body and partly to attract young persons in the first place. This latter ploy played upon the quite righteous sense that an average eighteen-year-old is rather sick of schooling and needs be treated more like an adult. Ethically this is correct, and indeed, such mature and respectful relations should extend well back from the legal age of adulthood, perhaps to age twelve. But such respect must function both ways, as it were. Ultimately, there was no point in someone like myself continuing to be a professor in such classrooms as presented themselves, where students en masse behaved as if they had no interest in being present to learn anything at all.

            But the insular academy is hardly the only place wherein expertise is in principle mistrusted or even denied outright. And the deniers are, to a person, those who hail from the bourgeois classes themselves. It is as if in attaining their own little arena of expertise, they can maintain it only by denying the authority of all others. Know a little know a lot, they must imagine. My wife, who is a veteran and senior advisor in the finance sector, brings weekly accounts of bank customers who tell her to her face that she is incorrect about very technical matters that no layperson would generally have a clue about. Our real estate agent told us of the daily occasions where she was told how to sell houses by buyers. Our brilliant contractor regales us with similar accounts of those who ‘tell him his job’, which is a concise manner of putting the problem. Similarly our wonderful mechanic, with whom I could not live without. In the corporation of which I am the CEO, our in-house cyber-security and marketing expert tells us of regular occurrences where his highly skilled and subtle expertise is denied by clientele, and add to this the perennial issue of parents telling teachers how to teach, patients telling doctors how to diagnose, analysands explaining their own psychopathology to counselors, and parents – once again – screaming at referees from the sidelines, insisting that officials’ calls were biased, and especially those indicting their own children, what do you know?

            Is it odd that I, as an internationally recognized student of ethics, education, and aesthetics and as the author of fifty-three books, should have no issues at all granting others their authority and expertise? Should it not be the case that if ‘know a little know a lot’ is the general foible, that ‘someone like me’ should quite literally think that he knows it all? What my advantage is, is that I have been able to surround myself with those who really are experts in their fields, whether it be contracting, cars, property, finance, or caring for youth amongst others. I can do that because I know what it takes to become an expert, to gain the credentials yes, but the more so, to be able to learn to apply them in the world. At the same time, I flatter myself in knowing the difference between work well done and a sham effort, whether at the level of the individual or the institution. No doubt I cannot always be correct in my estimation of others, even of social structures and their widespread effects. No matter the experience, no matter the level of literacy, there will always be episodes, events and eventualities that defy one’s ‘expertise’. But this reality should not take away from the general sensibility that expertise and authority of the authoritative kind is a pressing necessity in these our shared times and this our shared world. It is almost as if the masses lie in wait for the expert to make his singular mistake, betraying himself as the naked emperor he always must have been. And it is the supposedly ‘educated classes’ who populate this ambuscade.

            Even so, one also does not desire a society full of illiterate and obeisant servants who slavishly follow every ‘expert’ demand without question. Yet it is equally clear that in order to ask a serious question, a certain critical literacy must be attained, and schooling neither public nor private is geared into this goal. Indeed, there is no social institution as such that can afford this too precious level of literacy lest all loyalty to them be immediately absent. ‘Corrupting youth’ yes, to be sure. But it is not youth who primarily need educating to these regards, but rather the smug and self-assured middle class ‘adult’ who thinks he knows, if not everything, then at least what he ‘needs to know’ about all things. ‘Everyone an expert’ must be the battle hymn of this repugnant republic: ‘No one knows myself better than I’, ‘My children, my house, my rules’, ‘don’t tell me how to run my life’, and even ‘live and let live’, are its much chanted refrains. There is a certain anarchistic element to individualism decoyed both by the false choices of consumer media and the false democracy of the separate school systems. This impulse plays upon our general lack of control and authority in society as a whole. In fact, very few of us have the luxury to speak our minds freely and fully, and simply because this act is a function of my profession gives me a sense of authority far beyond the reality that the entire history of philosophy has encountered in its rare disseminations.

            In seemingly an ultimate irony, Max Weber, arguably the greatest expert on society that history presents to us, stated that we must not trust the experts with anything beyond their expertise. Experts are tools alone. They cannot make decisions for us, especially those political, and thus they should be consulted only in times of true crisis, and thence put aside once again. Insofar as this is how a democracy must function in order to attain a reality beyond that in name alone, Weber is correct. The ‘expert’, of whatever ken, is after all only one person, a human like ourselves, fallible and even biased. Further, the expert cannot be an expert in all things, and so she is not merely like us, she is us, in all of our knowledge and ignorance, partial in both senses of the term. But insofar as expertise is sabotaged by ignorance within the selfsame person, we are jarred into a more general suspicion; if he is that stupid about this, then how can I trust him about that? The only working antidote to this gnawing doubt is to interact with others only within the bounds of their official capacities. All human relations are thus to be made contractual alone. Is this not why marriage is such a challenge for most of us? Only here do we confront the whole person and must trust her, eventually implicitly. Yes, there are even ‘marriage experts’, though one would think that the person who had been married and thus divorced the most times would be the greatest of these!

            While Hume stated that ‘all knowledge comes from human experience’, Kant qualified by responding, ‘yes, but what does it take to have an experience?’ and by the twentieth century, other thinkers asked ‘what does it mean to have an experience?’. On the one hand, pending the event, such experience might not even be communicable to others. The vision is notoriously lost in translation, as William James pointed out. On the other, however, most human experience can be at least partially shared. The trick is to understand just how much the other has comprehended of the self, and the more so, vice-versa. We do know something of ourselves, but we also deny and suppress other aspects as important. Even with regard to our own spirits, we are but partial experts. Our shared humanity is unhinged if all imagine that what they know is ‘enough’ to live. True expertise comes in understanding rather the limitations of both selfhood, of discourse, of learning and even of human experience. Not that these limits are perennial, unassailable by a future consciousness or even a more precise science. Even so, our own living Zeitgeist has its inherent limits. Coming to know that when we approach the counter upon which is laid out the pleasures and desires of the spirit of our age that we are always at risk of being wrong about each and every one of them is the beginning of authentic expertise.

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

Modernity’s Fragile Selfhood

Modernity’s Fragile Selfhood

            “Here there speaks no fanatic, here there is no ‘preaching’, here faith is not demanded; out of an infinite abundance of light and depth of happiness there falls drop after drop, word after word – a tender slowness of pace is the tempo of these discourses. Such things as this reach only the most select…” (Nietzsche, 1888).

                In his foreword to his final work, completed mere weeks before his genetic neurological condition overtook him, Nietzsche’s absolute affirmation of personal character in the face of the fate modernity had proclaimed upon itself is yet mitigated by its reliance, albeit indirect, upon the very antithesis to his own philosophy, that of the ‘tragic recurrence’. This is so because to affirm the self as ‘what one must become and what one is’ is to take seriously the ancient notion of the intrinsic value of the self and of each person’s selfhood. Nietzsche’s anti-Christian and anti-Buddhist sentiments are not sabotaged by this ethical  kinship, but rather made into obverses thereof, for the Nietzschean self hypostasizes the selfhood first introduced in the East and then the West by these then novel world-systems. But we must ask first, what is this radical affirmation of being-oneself working against, given that by the time of the fin de siécle no antique religion could have had such suasion to prompt the much touted ‘reevaluation of all values’.

            Let us then suggest that Nietzsche’s target is not religion at all, but rather everything that at first denied and then overcame the religious sense of both selfhood and fate alike. It is well known that Nietzsche, though he accepted Darwin’s understanding of the origins of life as a fact, was most dismayed by its discovery. That evolution during the nineteenth century was seen as a radical denial of creation – today, we realize that cosmic evolution must understand itself, with a certain irony to be sure, very much in the cast of the old metaphysics; infinite in terms of the cyclical universe or yet the multiverse: there is no ‘starting point’; both of these are ancient ideas that pre-date by far the religions of intrinsically valuable selfhood – suggested to Nietzsche the idea that God was now ‘dead’. Discursively, such an ‘event’ must be back-dated at least to Hume and Vico, who between them relativized the conception of both culture and history and hence as well all contents as might be found within these. However unwitting this murder may have been in the 1730s, by the 1880s the divine corpse had been retrieved and the mourning begun.

            But Nietzsche asks, what is, who is Man without God? ‘Man’ too, now lives on borrowed time and indeed, 1914 put an end to the culture which exonerated mankind from its undue and vain fixation upon the sense that progress and evolution not only went hand in hand but were more or less the same thing. In our own time, beginning in the 1920s, the personalization of religion was undertaken in earnest. Today, the conception of God is as is the conception of Man; for Western believers, God is one’s own God, and each of us is said to have a ‘personal’ connection to such a divinity that was utterly unknown historically. Conversely, ‘Man’ has become ‘men’, or, more politic, ‘humanity’. Because of its indubitable link with organismic evolution, the term humanity has within it an undeniable species reference and thus is difficult for many people to identify with. It seems to denote our animal form, though at a distance from nature, rather than connote the spirit which was understood as animating that form. As such, our contemporary conception of ourselves does not make up for the loss of the divine definition of the locus of our being.

            And this is, in essence, the entire issue within the ineptly named ‘culture wars’. There is nothing within modernity that can equal, let alone better, the ancient understanding of humanity as divinely endowed, not just with grace, but also with reason. And Nietzsche was the first thinker to realize this. In the face of this insoluble problem which he also understood as inevitable, he offered instead the absolute affirmation of the self-as-it-is: Godless, finite, but subject to the eternal recurrence of the same and constantly willing itself into being through ‘the will to power and nothing besides’, as he famously intones. It is a bold, courageous and altogether necessary maneuver, but can it ever be more than a ‘quick fix’? Nietzsche’s ‘Dionysian’ tone, especially vivid in his final works, implies that it cannot in fact be anything more. What was ‘more’ was lost forever when humanity decided to make decisions for itself, by itself. This condition was foreshadowed in the Hebrew account of the expulsion. To speak somewhat metaphorically, what the serpent didn’t count on was being ejected along with the unhappy couple and thence was also left to fend for itself. Evil, in a word, had thus also been personalized.

            With the individuation of both good and evil it could only be a matter of time before the entire system that was constructed by the moral apparatus of a great chain of being broke apart. It was given impetus, certainly, by the ‘discovery’ of global cultures of which no canonical narrative could take account. The ‘lost tribe’ sensibility carried one only so far. How many lost tribes, again? Beyond this, the perduring resistance to any specific world-system by its competitors – today, the half billion plus Buddhists number the very smallest of the four major religious oriented architectures, for instance – frustrated any attempt to argue that one specific faith had actually latched on, even by happenstance, to the truth of things. And beyond this, the rise of scientific method and result, conquering the vast majority of explanatory territory that used to be the sole preserve of religious explication, ultimately felled the now hollow idols that Nietzsche, in an almost reminiscent manner, discusses in Götzendammerung (also 1888). All of these world historical factors occurred, however, long before Nietzsche was writing anything at all, and it is a simple error of displacement to associate his work with the reality of our mutable, if loosely shared, condition, either at present or centuries ago.

            Instead, Nietzsche today looks more like an ally for a kind of morality than anything else. The ethics of the ‘Overman’ are their own super-morality, one to which the finite and discontinuous beings of a humanity made base by evolution might aspire. But we cannot be naïve on such a profound score; the path before us is not one of a humanity evolving into something which is ‘beyond’ itself. This sensibility echoes the tradition, wherein transfiguration was an active mechanic. Today, the desperate rush to invent an ‘indefinite human’, a cyber-organic-stem-celled-artificially-intelligent ‘thing’, is a symptom not of aspiration at all, but rather of anxiety. And it is not death per se that animates this inauthentic anxiety, but rather, and once again, vanity. It is almost as if the brash among us say to themselves, “If God has been dead, perhaps even since the incarnation – this is why the Father left the Son ‘hanging’, so to speak; the former was already dead – and now Man as well has passed, then those remaining are destined to become the new divinities”, ‘Men as Gods’, to borrow Wells’ title. Vanity, yes, but also a kind of neurotic compulsion to mechanically metastasize mortal desire unto infinity.

            Nothing against the passions, we must note. They have their place, especially for youth, as part of a phase of ever-changing human existence, even within the singular life. But obsession denies that life, just as delusion obfuscates the life of the species-essence more generally. For a mature being, the very definition of growth is to place each phase’s form of being within its own existential envelope, and desire, anxiousness, even recklessness, all ‘the passions unabated’, as Goethe has it, belong with youth and to youth alone they must adhere. A great scandal of modernity is, to my mind, how we have extended youth indefinitely – it is surely our own ‘adult’ fetishization of youth, something we ourselves have lost, that motivates us not only to keep youth young for overlong as well as imagine being ourselves eternally young as a consciousness housed in a future machine – at the cost of other phases of the human experience. We hear of evangelicals coercing young adults as if they were still small children, including physically coercing them in certain sects. And though this is deplorable, to focus our critique upon it alone is a mere decoy and projection, exuding from us, and as such constitutes a denial of how the larger society seeks to keep all persons childish, ideally for the entire life-course, simply because we are more easily manipulatable in that form. We can thus be sold almost anything, from irrelevant toys to equally irrelevant, but all the more dangerous, politicians.

            So Nietzsche’s exhortation must also be seen as an argument against any sense of ‘beyond’ at all, whether one traditional or one hypermodern. The Overman is manifestly not a superior being in terms of mechanism or dispassion. Rather it is the maturity of being that recognizes that existential change over the life course is our way of ‘dying many times to become immortal’. No zealot, no ‘fanatic’, speaks of or to this kind of being. Within its changing course, we are as is the neighbor figure; spontaneous, shunning the status and esteem of social role, reaching out to others in distress as by self-definition and as a creative ethics. Hence there is also no sermon, no ‘preaching’, of such a spontaneity. It is as we are, thrown into the world very much against our individual will. Indeed, one could still argue with some merit that this existential thrownness – none of us asks to be born and this is as well why no ‘faith’ as such is required, at least at first – bears the imprint of the afterlife of all Godhead, or perhaps it could be experienced as a kind of ‘afterglow’; life as the outcome of what remains an astonishing miracle of birth. And we are, sectarian or no, all of us born again and again over the life course, if we allow ourselves to be so. Those who are lucky enough to grow old accomplish this marvelous feat, with more or less elegance and aplomb, and with it begin to know the truer grace of Being as self-created in the face of the void.

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

The Greatest Challenge: The Human Future

The Greatest Challenge: The Human Future

            I can only share what I am. Perhaps I look like your abusive father, the would-be domestic divinity who knows nothing but monopolizes false authority, or your condescending teacher, a channel for the ‘dark sarcasm’ of the classroom, or the talking head politician whose only interest is to attain power and thence maintain it. I am not a beautiful seventeen year old in a bikini, though I rather wish I was, if for nothing else than more of you would listen to me. But if by some exotic existential sleight of hand I could appear before you, youthful, stunning, healthy and charismatic, my message to you would be the same.

            Exactly the same; that is, the ‘new three r’s’. For while I am manifestly none of the above, I am yet your ally, your comrade, your supporter and your resource. But what is a middle-aged white straight European philosopher doing on social media? What is his message to global youth? First of all, let me apologize for addressing the world in English alone. The language of commerce and science but neither thought nor art, it is the only fluency available to me, and that is my loss. But in any tongue, even the undead language of those whose historical accomplishments are disdained by fashion, the perennial cause for thinking is ever and always the same; the pursuit of truth, the fight for justice.

            And it is just now that both of these essential aspects of our shared human birthright are most at risk. And it is you, the young people of the world, who are at present being enslaved to a gross conformity of both expectation and aspiration, to whom I appeal. In every moment, you are told what to do, how to think, where to act. Imagine a world where no one can think, not because thought itself is dead, nor its essential language, but because no one has learned how. It is mostly the fault of we adults, but as we shall see a little later on, I cannot exempt youth themselves from any critical commentary on the turning away from the human future. For that is precisely what we are collectively engaged in, most of the time, in the vast majority of things that we do in our lives.

            In no institution or organization are young people aided in learning how to think for themselves. Such a program would run contrary to the basic character of these places, whether schools, churches, youth clubs, sports teams, summer camps. Even the university is focused upon preparing you only for the changing and fickle job market, for somehow, you will have to find a way to survive. Thought, apart from the practical utility of the day to day, seems a petty luxury, unaffordable and unattainable alike. And yet thought is the only key to the human future; thinking our way forward is the hallmark of humankind alone.

            But all of this is mere backdrop. Today, I want to call you to action; resist, rethink, redo. These are the new ‘three r’s’:

            Resist: when confronted with any authoritarian demand, any command of fascism, disobey, refuse to cooperate in any way and at any time. Examples are physical and sexual abuse, ‘punishment’ or ‘discipline’; emotional and psychological torture, manipulative adults, charming ‘authority figures’; petty rules of conduct of all kinds, school dress codes, vocabulary, enforced activities, organized sports and camps. Waste no effort following any adult who insists upon obedience based upon either unreason or a simple display of power. Confront authority with the truth of thought, speak into being the power of human reason.

            Rethink: change the scene of your encounters with adults from their rules to dialogue. Do not fool yourself when an adult suggests finding a ‘common ground’, or working out a ‘compromise’. Authentic dialogue pierces into the heart of the matter, without restraint in the face of, or respect for, what has been called the ‘sacred’. The adult world consists of the use and abuse of power, and it is something each generation must wrest away from those previous, sometimes by force, though it is important to note within the middle term of this triune process, that peaceful protest has attained its goals a full quarter more times than has that violent, over the course of the past century. It would be a cowardly and irresponsible act on my part to call to arms world youth while I sit safely in my study.

            Redo: what has passed for thinking in institutions, in systems, in government, is precisely what has lead us to the brink of world annihilation. What adults have done, what we do, does not work. No sane person would follow along blithely and blindly, respecting adults simply because they are older, fearing them simply because they are stronger, obeying them simply because it is easier in the short term to do so. No thinking person would be satisfied, in any way, by the process and progress of the adult world: poverty, climate change, warfare, injustice, child abuse and torture, false religion, extorted science. Need we repeat such a damning list? There has never been a more momentous time for a redo, but only youth can accomplish it; that is, only yourselves.

            You may be surprised that this is also a personal request on my behalf. For a decade my wife and I lived round the corner, quite unknowingly and unwittingly, to a school wherein young people were allegedly tortured and abused on a daily basis in the name of a false God. Such a God as these adults imagined must have been a pedophile, a sadist, a child abuser. Not even a devil would engage in such things. We drove by this place most days, never giving it a glance. It was simply part of the neighborhood, simply another place of learning. But what was being learned, what was being taught, was a brutal fear of the world and of intimate adults alike. Violent beatings, of both girls and boys, ‘conversion therapy’, ‘exorcisms’, all forcibly and cruelly undertaken, all highly illegal in my country, occurring in my very own backyard. I am ashamed of myself for not knowing, for not helping, for not stopping such things. I am ashamed of my country for letting such domestic terrorism take place and over a period of decades. No penalty exists in my country for such inhumane acts; there is no more vile a crime than the ritual abuse and torture of children; for it, and for all those adults involved, teachers, administrators, and parents all, if true, the death penalty must be reconsidered.

            The courage of these young people, now belatedly coming forward, represents an astounding role model for all of us, but particularly for yourselves, my audience today. Yes, courage unabated, will unbroken, bravery unadulterated and indeed, bereft of any ‘adult’ sense of what constitutes purpose and agency, for we have lost almost all understanding of both in our own narrow, apolitical lives. Think now of your station, your own situation; are you not also being systematically robbed of your shared human birthright? The loss of human reason, the only thing that clearly separates us from the animals, and by virtue of this unique consciousness, human thought, human thinking; this is what is at stake.

            And yet all is not lost, for the simple fact that all bullies are ultimately cowards. They will break before you will and before your will; your resistance will stultify them, your rethinking will mystify them, your redoing will vanquish them along with the dust and dross of all unthinking myth. I urge you now, as a world collective, to begin this gifted task, to take up this ultimate challenge. And I do so not without another critical observation. Yes, think about your condition, and learn to recognize all the signs of fascism, of bullying, right down to the tone of voice adults use, for in even in their most gentle paternalism, they are talking down to you, pretending that you are not human, that you do not have reason, that you cannot think. This is what we adults desire of you; obedience unquestioning, parroting the desires of the commercial world, placing all your energy into labor, into service, into sporting, into the State, and at the cost of love, of art, and most especially, of thought. And forgive me if I am thorough, if I as well remand the atheist for his stupidity equal to that of the evangelist, for his is a faith in nothing at all. It is true that we do not hear of atheists torturing children, but their zealotry, their blind belief that there is no God nor can there ever have been a God is mindful of the same on the other side, as it were, the side in which a God is indubitably present and always has been, no questions asked or even imagined.

            And my thoroughness cannot stop there, for the other question I feel you must ask yourselves today is ‘what am I doing to vouchsafe the human future?’, ‘what am I doing that has any real merit to it?’. Another list: playing video games, playing sports, watching social media – how about that? – shopping and flaunting the fetish of commodities in your ‘hauls’ – how do the penitential factory workers of the global poor gain by your obliviousness? – experimenting with drugs, engaging in petty spats with your school chums, with your gossiping enemies, with your opposing team members, with those who belong to different cliques or yet participate in different activities – all without merit – than those you yourself take up. Twenty scant minutes a week to protest environmental degradation, taken at lunchtime, adoring the darling of parents and teachers and even some politicians? How is any of this of merit? No, it is pathetic, and the more so, it is this inaction of youth that allows we adults to dismiss you. You are only the reason that we are currently in control; the youth who frivolously expends her endless energy and her timeless beauty in shallow unending cul-de-sacs of self-absorbed vanity.

            So add to your resistance all that you imagine you do for yourself. No, the vast bulk of these ‘personal time’ activities take you as far away from the world’s reality as do the formal and officious duties that school, family, and the State impose upon you; just as far away. They are but the illusions contrived by those adults who desire in you a patent self-delusion. In one stroke, make your new ‘three r’s’ destroy both the institutional culture of violence against youth and your own soporifics that you have used to pretend that such violence isn’t there, that you are not being brainwashed at every moment, that your human birthright is not being taken from you by force. Understand instead that the new mythology is nothing other than demythology. That the future must be freed from the dead weight of the past, and that only you can free it, and by first freeing yourselves.

            I have no simple parables for you. I am not a messiah any more than I am a demon. Where a figure like Jesus took a paragraph to explain the ‘good Samaritan’, I have taken 5500 pages of fiction to provide a blueprint for a better human future. But the upshot of both is the same: ‘go and do likewise’. Young people of all nations unite; you have nothing to lose but the past, you have a future to win.

            Thank you for listening to me today and I wish you both the truest good fortune and wish upon you the most profound of human reason and conscience alike.

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