The Good-in-Itself versus the Good-for-Oneself

The Good-in-itself versus the Good-for-Oneself (an excursus in grounded meta-ethics)

            The term ‘meta-ethics’ first presents an inherent contradiction. Ethics is, by definition, about the space of action in the world. It is grounded only in the sense that it occurs in medias res, on the ground, whilst running along. It is perhaps typical of analytic philosophy to make the goal an ‘in itself’ and then the means to it quite contextual. The leap of faith is simple enough: can we establish a principle – in this case, about the essence of morality – based upon all that is unprincipled in itself. This faith does not, perhaps ironically, include a moral judgment, for ‘unprincipled’ is meant to suggest only that which is relative to condition. Think of Durkheim’s understanding of ‘deviant’, which was highly statistical, and in which the normative was equally seen as simply that which most people in fact do, or believe. It is the same, and even more so, for his kindred concept of ‘pathological’, which is deliberately contrasted with the stark and even jarring term ‘normal’, so disdained today. The social fact, to again borrow from the same thinker, that everyone is ‘normal somewhere’, belies without entirely betraying the sense that our shared condition is not experienced in an identity relation with itself. But if one seeks a principle, one would either have to assume that there are actions which lend themselves to a choate whole as in a structure made of differing but corresponding elements, or that at some point, with the presence of enough of a certain kind of action or sets of actions, that a Gestalt belatedly arrives which can be thenceforth named ‘morality’, or some other like category.

            As a hermeneutic thinker, I am cautious about such claims. Ethics is never by itself, or thus an ‘in itself’. It is quite unlike physics in these regards, which, though certainly not acting in the proverbially ‘closed system’, it is nevertheless highly predictable in its correlative effects, and can be, with great aplomb, analytically worked out backwards, as it were, to specific precipitates and even ‘causes’. Now it is not that ethics so named is random, entirely spontaneous, or improvised on the spot every time. Clearly, there is some relationship between the action of the good and the good in principle, and it is thus a matter of discovering more exactly what that connection may be, how it has altered itself over time, and how living human beings perceive it. But unlike the formal study of meta-ethics, what I will suggest here is that we begin quite inductively and without any principled goal in mind, by attempting to understand a Verstehen of Verstandnis, if you will, which ultimately returns to a Selbstverstandnis. This ‘selfhood’ is not, in the end, oneself, but rather about the self as it is currently experienced and acted out by our contemporaries in the world as it is. Insofar as it is not overly personal nor overtly subjective, this selfhood should contain within it at least a semblance of a principle.

            Let us begin then by taking a familiar example in which the contrast between action and order may be glimpsed. It is very often the case, in teaching undergraduates of any age or possessed of any credo, that they imagine that their personal experience can by itself generate facts, or that what they have known is the whole of social reality. Long ago, when I was still myself possessed of a sense of experiential superiority, I responded to a hapless young student who, in reacting to the statistic about youthful marriage which, at the time, had it that 85% of marriages entered into before the age of 26 ended in divorce, objected that her parents had been high school sweethearts, meeting one another at age 14, married at 18, and were yet together some decades later. Congratulate them, I replied, they are part of the 15%. This generated buckets of belly-laughs from the rest of the class and I am sure the poor thing was humiliated. That I only felt some minor bad conscience about it years later, suggests that ethics, at least of the pedagogic variety, had been conspicuously absent in this specific case.

            At the same time, such an event served the wider case quite well, as it pointed out, rather pointedly, that one’s own experiences were not enough to understand fully the human condition. Now, if we take the same sensibility to ethics, we might argue that since one’s own actions in the world are not representative of any kind of morality which might be known by other means, they are also not the fullest expressions thereof. What is meant by this latter remark? If one does not know the good, one cannot be either a representative of it, nor can one express it through one’s actions. This is a moral statement, and as such, it evaluates the value of the principle, not by its enactment, but rather, to borrow from Foucault, by virtue of its ‘enactmental complex’. The status of morals in society is one of the salient variables for analytic philosophy’s idea of what meta-ethics might be. The term ‘status’ implies both its state and its value, what it is in itself and how we esteem it, even if we do not precisely know what it is, or what else it may be, unto itself. The old-hat problem of our perception of the world comes immediately to mind, but morality, as Durkheim for one stringently reminded us, is not of ‘this’ world at all. It is social alone, for, as he calls it, ‘there is no other moral order apart from society’. Before Vico, one could read ‘not of this world’ as implying an otherworld; in the premodern sense, one of divinity but also one of spirit. With the Enlightenment, ‘spirit’ disconnected itself from the divine, became ‘objective’, as it were, and whether dialectical in nature or more simply existential, the one thing it no longer was, was essential;  spirit had become its own deep deontology.

            Now however this may strike us, one day as liberating, the next, alienating, and either way, certainly as a foreground to our favorite modernist expression, that of ‘freedom’, the deontology of morality did little enough to thenceforth favor ethics as any kind of ‘in itself’. Ethics, in our day, is more often thought of in the context of business, the white collar professions, medicine, or the law. We do not regularly hear of ethics as a stand-alone discourse, and when I tell people that I am an ‘ethicist’, or that is one of my philosophical areas of study, they always ask, ‘do you mean professional ethics or business ethics or…’ and so on. It is clear enough that ethics, recently divorced from morality, has accomplished what Aristotle began only through the sleight of hand of popular language in use. And while morality is itself shunned as both dreadfully old-fashioned as well as avoided since it is perceived as a prime candidate for interpersonal conflict, ethics has almost vanished entirely from the ‘open space of the public’. And if one gets a bemused response to being an ‘ethicist’, just think of how people might react if one introduced oneself as a ‘moralist’!

            The foregoing should not be seen as a digression. Just as personal experience does not in itself comprehend the world, the actions based upon each of our individuated experiences cannot in fact construct an ethics, let alone a morality. In our day, the quest for principles is either a mirror for the ventures in technique and technology which seek indefinite perfection – research in stem cells, in artificial intelligence, in extraterrestrial contact, in cybernetics or cyber-organicity including portable or downloadable-uploadable consciousness – or it is simply another one of the same type. The moral objection to each and any of these is that they are the latter-day Babel, and can thus only be the products of an arrogant but still mortal mind which seeks to be as a God already and always is. One could ask the question, in return, ‘are moral objections always in themselves moral?’ but this would take us beyond the scope of this brief commentary. Instead, though not in lieu of, let me suggest that meta-ethics as framed by analytic thought is fraught with a problem similar in likeness to that of making something perfect, or at least, superior to what it had been. One, we are not sure if morality is in fact superior to ethics: the timeless quality of moral principles is obviated by history. History slays morality just as disbelief murders Godhead. We know from both our personal experience and our more worldly discourses thereof, that what is good for one goose is not necessarily good for the next, let alone the ganders, diverse in themselves.  Two, what is it about the character of ethical thought, and the witness of ethical action, that necessarily requires us to hitch it up to a more static system of principles? We have already stated that ethics is not about the random, and if we take our proverbial chances in the world each day, we do so with the prior knowledge that almost all others are very much aware of doing the same thing, and thus as a society we are alert to a too egregious over-acting, and that of all kinds. Durkheim’s sense of the source of morality again comes to the fore: here, morality is understood as a working resource which expresses its historical essence through the action of ethics. As such, there is nothing to be gained by esteeming morality for its own sake or even contrasting it with the discourse of ethics in a manner that exalts its status.

            The virtuous must be decided not by a grounding, but rather on the grounds of all that which is at first needful of some kind of adjustment. How we access the frames by which we make ethical decisions is certainly of interest, but I suspect that most people do not refer to principles in so doing. Instead, they rely on what has worked for them in the past, their ‘previous prejudices’, which can appear to them as if they were a set of principles in spite of what we have just observed about the essential parochiality of personal experience. In a word, prejudice is not principle. Certainly, morality attempts, and mostly in good faith I imagine, to overcome the individuated quality of merely biographical self-understanding. All the more so is it not present to mind when we act. It is not that morality is utterly moribund, a relic alongside other ontotheological constructs fit only for the museum of thought and never for the world as it is, but we would do better to work on a more effective discourse concerning ethics and specifically, ethical action, with the only pseudo-ideal present perhaps the irruptive figure of the neighbor in mind. This anti-socius works against the moral order of society and thus momentarily stands outside of ethical discourse as well. But the action of the neighbor serves as an expression of the essence of our truly shared condition and as such, reminds us of the radical authenticity that must be present in order for ethics to have any reality at all.

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

The Universe and the University

The Universe and the University (an educational epitaph)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Ubiquity of Child Pornography

On the Ubiquity of Child Pornography (a Christmas Day gift for a ‘naughty’ society)

            In the burlesque of passion, ‘naughty’ is nice. In the grotesque of desire, ‘naughty’ is simply nasty. If pornography is more deeply and precisely defined as the narrowing of one’s humanity through objectification, suppression and the sabotage of agency, child pornography appears ubiquitous in our society. Its sexual aspect is but one instance of the confluence of these three forces, and in no way should an ethical understanding of pornography be limited to an examination of what is in fact a mere skewed symptom. For sexuality in itself is an essential part of the human experience, and from a very early age, as Freud and many others have correctly demonstrated. By reducing our inhumanity as directed upon others to what is indeed an authenticity of being only compounds the evil, which is itself in turn sourced in ressentiment. It is inevitable that an adult will feel a compulsion to absorb the wider childhood of which he was himself robbed when a child; whether this theft is repeated against his own children or those utterly unknown to him. This repetition of a criminal act may be witnessed in a myriad of examples hailing from a variety of sectors in today’s society, and specifically in its institutional cultures, wherein objectification, suppression and the denial of human agency and will occurs together and in a calculated manner.

            Private schools emblazon public transit with rows of smiling uniformed girls, well-behaved and no doubt well-disciplined and yet apparently so happy to be forced into the same clothing and the same personality as their desk-bound neighbors who, before being crammed into such places by parents eager to both dispense with their care and ensure that their wealth stay in strictly monitored courtship circles, were complete strangers to them. No matter, as all will shortly become the same thing, and this thinghood is of the utmost: not a person, but a set of objectified roles; dutiful child, chaste daughter, model student, submissive spouse et al. That the ‘schoolgirl’ is an altogether perennially popular staple of the porn industry tells all: it has borrowed from the stilted life of the child the sexualized thinghood already utterly present within its pleats and tights. Just as art mimics the very highest of and in life itself, so does porn mimic the very lowest.

            Such schools spend much space on their respective websites outlining with a salacious delicacy their uniforms, including ‘modesty shorts’ for girls. At once this official apparel, from which there may be no deviation whatsoever pending punishment – much anticipated by the adults involved, and the very reason why uniform codes are so picayune in the first place – suppresses any hint of natural sexuality by objectifying youthful charm in a lockstep repetition, not unlike ballet or team sports, two other parental favorites, in which youth appear as part nymph part storm-trooper. Such schools rely on supportive and presumably equally neo-fascist families for ‘discipline’, also reiterative, and in even more authoritarian circles, often still of the physical variety. And yet the malingering presence of corporal punishment in some political regions is completely consistent with other aspects of the suppression and objectification of the child, for it is nothing other than surrogate sex.

            The child and the youth become the institutional playthings of adults, chaste yet charming chattel, objects and not persons. Their human rights are denied them, their own nascent wills crushed, their narrowed paths set before them and predefined as the same road to ressentiment. In this dynamic, the relations of an alienated subsistence are reproduced. The child will become the avid consumer, the beleaguered producer, entertained by a sullen mean-spiritedness. They will watch television ads wherein even a teenager’s first kiss is denied by mocking parents, and these latter will chuckle to themselves and glance over with menace at their own adolescent children. We’re not selling you a vehicle, but rather a warning. Those who script such ad campaigns are pornographers, the companies which contract them porn merchants. Buy their products and support child pornography, but that is what you desire above all else. For the truncated adulthood of our mass culture only moves us when we can enact violence, either symbolic or physical or both, upon others. Children are the safest mark, for other adults will generally fight back or have friends who will fight for them. But the uniformed disciplined loveless child is the perfect daughter, the perfect son. And to have one or the other makes you the perfect parent.

            We can also rely upon far more than the schools and the laws to support our perfection. All that is sold to children fosters within them an auto-pornography. Shop anywhere, and though you may be of any age group, you are forced to listen to the voices of insipidly ten-year-old sounding pop stars who, in highly sexualized whispers or ululations, sing of youthful desire alone. This the basest most perverse version of any possible Reich, for at least the Nazis had good taste in music. In all else regarding our children, we mirror many of their own desires. The Orwellian character of general child pornography is certainly also indisputable. The children’s athletic apparel designed to provide a source of endless voyeurism for audiences; the television ratings for the competitions that reveal much or most of young women always the most popular attractions. Those few with acrobatic skills and perfect hebephilic figures have graduated from the sexual school uniform to that of theatrical sporting performances, in the process having also been unsurprisingly regressed from a mere pupil to a circus animal.

            Children are mocked in entertainment scripts intended for adults, while youths are often violently suppressed and yet objectified, seen as a threat to society but at the same time as being the original source of desire, resented mightily and yet relentlessly pursued, just as we orient ourselves to our own lost youth. And it matters not whether the scriptwriters are simply good old Nazi or fashionable Feminazi; compare ‘Bosch’ with ‘Scott and Bailey’, for instance. In both, teens are berated, threatened with violence, cast as the source of social problems or the bane of parental existences. And these are but two of the more egregious offerings out of hundreds and in all genres. And by contrast, scripts directed at youth themselves are in their vast majority pure fantasy, stating to young people that in order for them to have an agency at all, they must dwell alone in the worldcraft of our adult imagination, formulaic and utterly reactionary as it is. The creators of such fantasies are child pornographers, the young actors sex industry starlets, and the parents who approve of their viewing do so with the low cunning of a holocaust architect. Objectification, suppression, denial of agency: the trinity for the mass murder of all that children authentically embody.

            Children who play with one another unencumbered by social role device, who create their own worldcraft bereft of the constant and ubiquitous harping of corporate CGI campaigns, and youths who love one another far outside of parental control and oversight, and who explore their shared world wide-eyed with one another far beyond the panting grunt of the molester’s narrow gaze, these are the experiences authentic to the young human being and which we, as those older and supposedly so much wiser, need to nurture in every child. One stares round in vain for such contexts wherein this utmost task is even attempted, let alone accomplished. And if the apparently enchanted premodernity hung its collective hat upon revelation, we today, disenchanted and modern are compelled to consider revolution as the advent of human freedom. But in murdering our young, we avoid the confrontation with our own culture’s self-imposed slavery. We prefer pornography to authenticity, child porn to mature intimacy. In that, we impale ourselves. But to suffer this same fate upon a child is to move from simple ethical error to evil, as patent and as vacant as are our own embittered hearts.

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

Is there a ‘Jewish Question’?

Is there a ‘Jewish Question’? (a god with a human interest)

            At first glance, Bauer’s 1843 thesis, in which the now notorious phrase of ‘the Jewish question’ is introduced to modernity, bears little difference from many other Enlightenment political analyses in that it declares that religious demands are by their very nature incompatible with, and thus inadmissible to, a secular state. Political emancipation can only occur if these pre-modern statuses conferred upon the social group in question are abandoned. None less than Marx and Engels were quick to critique this thesis in the following year, arguing instead that Bauer had failed to distinguish between political freedom and a more general human freedom, and that the secular state, far from being emancipatory, actually presupposed religion in its self-made ‘civil religion’, and that its demands were structurally no different than the demands of a deity, real or imagined. Indeed, since for these writers gods were but human projections, the state was actually far less free of an apparatus, since it has a material reality about it, even though its general conception is almost as abstract as that of Godhead itself.

            For Marx, both the question of God and that of human freedom through a political entity were false questions, and thus any specifically Jewish rendition of such a question was, at best, a red herring. Why single out a particular ethnic group in any case, as Bauer had done, when it came to unemancipated cultures enthralled to pre-modern moral demands? Even in our own day, there remain many such communities, some contrived, as in the popular usage of the term ‘cult’, and others traditional or at least, historical in scope and in pedigree. In fact, much of world conflict may be understood as an ongoing clash between loyalties to mysticism and the demands of rational discourses, though I would caution a too-heavy reliance upon this tension, as it often can overlay, either by default or by design, other more palpable stressors, such as access to resources, political power, and enfranchisement in modern institutional discourses, no more so than those of the applied sciences and thence their technical miracles.

            If Bauer’s thesis was more or less immediately dismissed as a Bourgeois fraud – similarly, the 1789 revolution in France was seen by Marx and Engels as a half-step towards human freedom; no secular state based upon the new French model could hope to deliver the more radical authenticity of freedom from the reduction of the species-being to its labor power under capital (this is a point that must be borne in mind in any discussion of Israel as a modern state populated with apparently emancipated Jewish citizens) – it is not otherwise clear how Marx advanced the question philosophically beyond the vague sense, at the time, that communism would at once clear the decks of both any ideas of God and such theo-political demands that religion made upon believers and the more worldly demand of wage-slavery itself. What is more certain, is that Bauer’s introduction of the phrase got stuck in a darker corner of European political discourse and was thence embarked on a criminal career.

            It could be seen as anti-Semitic to point to the Jews and suggest that they remained the epitome of moral backsliding, assuming that all other cultures and ethnic groups had rushed headlong into Enlightenment freedoms. This is hardly the case even today, when rather what we observe is a general regression of all cultures and classes into a nostalgic fantasy of premodernity, replete with the very demands Bauer and Marx agreed must be shed, with their essential difference being, as stated, that the latter saw this as only a first step and not an ethical terminus. Marx was himself Jewish of course, though he, like Freud after him, had perhaps ironically ‘heeded’ the advice Wagner had given to his virtuoso musicians, a cadre of cultured elites who had developed a great, and for them, emancipatory, faith in the composer’s art and even his politics, which too were anti-Semitic, and had thus ‘shed their Jewishness’. It is always somewhat awry to accuse someone of Jewish descent of anti-Semitism, and yet one is always capable of writing and working against one’s own culture. And it is this point, at this moment, that we are made more aware of the possibility that there could be an authentically Jewish question after all.

            I think that there is, and it would be: Is it possible that there could exist a God with a human interest? There were many mascot gods in the Near East and Levant at the time the Hebrews occupied a semi-nomadic subsistence which included warfare with neighboring groups. Weber argues that the ancient Hebrews were both a ‘pariah’ people and a guest people. They were quite familiar with others’ gods and were explicitly told by Yahweh not to worship them. It should be immediately noted that Weber uses the term ‘pariah’ only in the most technical sense, and not as a derogation. Even so, the sense that the Jewry were always somehow an ‘attachment’ to a dominant regional culture no matter where they had rusticated historically had engendered a dangerous disdain for them. Partisans of both Christianity and the later secularism Bauer exhorts, began to make suspicious claims against the Jews, at first because they refused conversion, and then refused nationalism. Marx would certainly say that these refusals amounted to the same thing in the end; that the ‘chosen people’ owed nothing to anyone or anything other than Yahweh Himself.

            Seen only in this light, the modern state of Israel is both emancipatory politically and religiously, something that for nineteenth-century thought is precisely impossible. Hence the problem of regression in its objective circumstance; the secular state must be overthrown by a theocracy – this is the evangelical line  – or the secular disguise of the theocratic demand must be overthrown by revolution – this is the communist goal. While the former is clearly backward looking, we cannot be certain that the latter aims at a more humane future since all major attempts thus far have turned backward upon themselves. One might object that if one understands Marx and Engels authentically, a real human freedom is at hand, but one could make the same claim for the Gospels. Indeed, Marx often comes across as the modernist Jesus, and for that matter, in all three great critiques of Enlightenment thinking, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, a replacement gospel is in fact sought, as if these iconoclastic thinkers had reached back around modernity itself in order to turn it inside out.

            But if there were mascot gods aplenty in antiquity, ignored or tolerated to a point by the official imperial belief systems, arranged much as folk religions and syncretisms range in contrast to the Catholic church, only Yahweh was the deity whose interest became historical. Yahweh was the God who apparently had an interest in a small slice of humanity, and then in the most radical act in the history of Western religion, instantiated Himself on earth as a human being the form of Christ, according to Christian tenets. Interest in humanity had, in one revolutionary stroke, been embodied in a human interest. I would suggest that our entire idea of revolution begins at this juncture, and so any authentically Jewish question is one that involves, at least now, all of humanity and not only its source culture.

            And yet, by definition, a god cannot have a human interest, so in appearing on earth as the Son of God, this immaculate birthing, rather fittingly, did not kill the mother but instead the father. We can read, perhaps at least literarily if not literally, that this was the reason why Jesus received no answer from his father when on the cross. Indeed, his father had not forsaken his son at all, for the former was already dead. I have argued elsewhere why an ethical god cannot exist, even if we cannot be certain that a metaphysical one does not, as atheists claim so vehemently. If this is correct, the Christian God is in essence but the afterlife of the Hebrew deity, nothing more.

            But surely also nothing less. And this is where the perduring quality of the Jewish question resides; even if we must answer ‘no’ to its original formulation, we cannot dismiss so easily the consequences of believing in an ethical godhead. On the lighter side, we discover a sensibility that all human beings are in principle a value, and thus have value, no matter their relative status, ignorance, enlightenment. On that darker, we are burdened with the sense that in order to transmute that base value into the precious material of the elect one must believe in a certain set of none other than religious demands, has lent itself to criminal abuses, even genocide. What must be acknowledged is that both the blessing and the curse are built into this structure from the beginning; indeed, they have been ‘placed before us’ and we have in fact chosen not between them but rather both at once.

            The Jewish question, seen in this way, has nothing to do with emancipation of a specific cultural group, but puts forward the very idea of human freedom in a world that, then as now, is mostly unfamiliar with, and even suspicious of, this auto-soteriological genius. If this question can be abused and turned to regression, it can also be exulted and evolved to engage the species in a radical freedom. If it remains human, then it cannot transcend history itself, but instead invites us to overcome our own specific histories, which is also the most charitable manner of interpreting remarks like Wagner’s and analyses like Marx and Engels’. Even if we must answer in the negative to its first formulation, in so doing, we must also understand that same question as suddenly a metaphorical interrogative, and one that remains immaculately pregnant with the future of the species entire.

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

The Wider War on Personhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wokeness Monster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bite, Bleed, Die

Bite, Bleed, Die (Love accomplishes all three with aplomb)

            The experience of love defies any modest analytic. ‘We are more in love with love itself’, said Nietzsche, which is likely true in many cases wherein we know little of the other’s life and corresponding experiences but have been thrown together by the modernist fates of work or school, class or status etc., and thence have in unison upshifted this kind of commonplace happenstance into an exemplar of antique destiny. But in so doing, we the newly two-in-one depart from the world in order to create our own. For Plato, being in love was a form of madness, its peregrinatory career charted in the Phaedrus, and for Aristotle, understanding romantic and erotic love to have no wider conscience, ranked it lower than the love of friendship, in which the other is taken solely for herself and not for the object of desire. Filial love, though it too had its strings – the dependency of the younger upon the older, for instance – yet had a wider consciousness of itself than did Eros alone, for it was aware of its key role in social reproduction. Authentic lovers depart not only from the world at large, but more seriously, also from the social world. The one in order to be of their own nature, the other simply to forget that any other person requires their care and attention. This new world, the one in which I am in love and am beloved in turn and at every turn, is brighter in color and sharper in focus than any other heretofore. It is so precisely because of the absence of the call of conscience.

            Kindred with any singular calling, love is the human version of the vision. We seek to indwell in its uncanny embrace, hence Nietzsche’s caution, more than we can perhaps even know the other over time. Yes, she must be present, as I must be for her, but much of ourselves as we have come to know them must also be left behind. Love in fact, contrary to the sentimentality surrounding it from the outside, brooks no departure from itself, and thus the disappointment we feel when too much of our own fuller selves is revealed to the other, forcing us both out of the visionary ambit. Irving Singer, in his astonishingly masterful three volume The Nature of Love, tells us that we should be aware that the love relationship proceeds in phases, and that the distinctions among ‘falling’ ‘being’ and ‘staying’ in love are of great import. For we moderns, he reminds us that the fullest autonomy of both partners is of the essence for lasting love, and indeed that the most authentic love frees the other from her past but also from my very presence, and that furthermore, this in fact must be its highest aim. Singer’s trifecta of historical and literary analyses are unmatched, I feel, in any discourse, simply because they have taken on a topic so dear to the human heart, and thus must together defy any possible sentiment that has overlain it, and that across the millennia. Overtaking Mircea Eliade’s History of Religious Ideas, Paul Ricoeur’s Time and Narrative, and even Georges Bataille’s The Accursed Share, let alone my own triptych study of the phenomenology of cross-temporal presence, Singer’s work remains for now the final word on an experience which is itself like no other in human life.

            At the same time, for contemporary lovers who owe nothing to either the antique notion of filiation, the medieval courtly romances, or yet the romanticist notions of love as a form of art, being in love today presents its own set of challenges, unique and unquiet as is the world in which such acts take place. What does it mean for different generations to be in love? How do people from vastly different cultures fall in love with one another? And how does love sometimes gain its staying power, which yet is the object of desire and admiration of all those seemingly without it? There is no subject so littered with self-help manuals as is that of intimate relationships. Parents and children, youthful romance, marriage and like dynamics, and even less lingering liaisons, all are overfull with lengthy advice columns which are themselves as unending as those of a giant army fed by an indefinite population. Does becoming a parent solidify the bonds of love, or does it alter their trajectory, even distanciating them? Does coming to know the many rather than the one allow love itself to gain a certain maturity? Is the gigolo after all wiser than is the high school sweetheart?

            For myself, I certainly would not have the character insight to write convincing fiction if I had not had the honor, as well as the pleasure and the pain, of knowing and loving many others over time. That said, the overwhelming reaction I have to my marriage, currently in its twentieth year, is one of relief, not even pride. Sowing one’s seeds really is the pursuit of youth alone, I suggest, and one can indeed settle down without simply settling. I am aware of just how fortunate I am, and in this survives a good deal of the admiration and respect I have for my life mate. The question of ‘how much time is enough time?’ is perhaps unanswerable, and the traditional line in the stock marriage vows ‘in sickness and in health’ contains much more than a nod to the vicissitudes of one’s bodily well-being. What is at least clear to me, speaking again solely of my own experience in contrast to Singer, who regularly gives the impression that he has not only loved a few or even many, but rather as with a God on earth, all, is that falling and being in love are more likely to occur together and just as likely to occur without ever moving on to the staying. The ‘second crystallization’ of Stendhal is of an entirely different quality than is the first. The biting and bleeding, so desired by nascent lovers as to almost be a blissful masochism, must overcome their own powerful presence in order to avoid the dying. But because these are some of the essential characters of love itself, and nothing specific to any set of lovers, their presence too must be lived and experienced to the utmost before they can either be discarded or succumbed to.

            With this in mind, I am going to take a seat on Bryan Padrick’s ‘Bus’ this once, and include here a musical link; Def Leppard’s ‘Love Bites’, (1987) my favorite power ballad of the 1980s: Def Leppard – Love Bites – YouTube It is a commentary on the delicate character of an Eros that has no intention of staying around. Its cut scenes portray womanhood as both glamorous and desirable, but also disdainful and utterly aloof to entreaty. Having been in love, and been loved by, a commercially beautiful woman in my salad days, I know this version of Eros well enough, and given that the song was a Billboard number 1 hit in 1988, I would hardly be the only one. I yet dimly recall its halcyon heights, but in the end, she bit, I bled, and love died. Here’s to it, then, and here’s also, in contrast, to its staying.

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

Erasing the Race Toward Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possible Inauthenticities in the Transgendered Phenomenon

Possible Inauthenticities in the Transgendered Phenomenon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Demise of Civility

The Demise of Civility (and the error of culture)

            Etiquette manuals have been around for some time. Their heyday coincided with the rise of the Bourgeois class, from c. 1820-1930, prompted by the end of the Napoleonic Wars, which in turn allowed nascent industry to develop, cities to grow, and those who used to be guildsmen, mercantilists and burghers to become a true class. Indeed, a class for itself, unlike the workers of the nineteenth century. And this was a novel class, one that had never existed as a demographic force before capital. Though their ideals descended from the aristocracy and their tacit essence, the conception of ‘blood’, drove their desire to become as were the nobles, their interaction with one another could not be relied upon to immediately ape their betters. Hence civility began to replace gentility. The major structural error of the Bourgeois was that they imagined what in fact was a caste could be, or in fact had been, through historical force, transmuted into a mere class. In fact, the nobility did not become the aristocracy in this manner, even though casually we might imagine these to be two terms for the same group of people. A caste presumes upon what Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron (1970) have referred to as the ‘naturalization of the cultural arbitrary’. Ultimately it was this ‘ability’ which has escaped the Bourgeois class, and thus by our time they have foundered upon their own ideals.

            Not a great loss, one might think to say, but the lesson here is that a mode of production shift must be respected as the sea-change it truly is. No mere Bourgeois, however civil and high-minded both, would imagine that vengeance is theirs, for instance. No, this kind of radical act became the province of the State under a new rubric, indeed, the Bourgeois State, to stay strictly Marxian. Bourgeois ‘blood’ was not up to the noble task of dispensing of one’s inferiors; at most it could only aid in the dispensation of ‘justice’, also a novel concept, and also within the purview of the new State. That this justice is sensitive to context, taking biography and even personal suffering into account marks it as utterly different, and even completely at odds with, the noble sense of vengeance. This particular trail begins with the God who declared that vengeance was His and His alone, but no person of truly noble stature would have paid the least attention to such bravado. No, the superior human being was so in part because she had no truck with any divinity other than her own. The entire narrative of the God on earth would have been, at the very least, old hat to such a being, and certainly seen as well as ludicrous. No real God would stoop to owning a human interest, let alone actually dwell upon the human stage alongside ourselves.

            Between Christianity and its parables of communalism, its equality of being before creation and its sense that one should love one’s enemies, and the new order of means of production afforded by industrialization, the ancient noble caste was swept away. It was mere pretense that the new Bourgeois class should seek to ape this older form of being, but it was laughable that they should, in attempting to do so, mistake the premodern landed aristocracy for the ancient nobility. In this, all were already Christian, which I think is one point Wagner is making with the contrast between The Ring Cycle and Parsifal that apparently so annoyed Nietzsche. Upon closer look, the ‘twilight’ cuts both ways. First the Gods then the Idols, surely. Today, we can see little difference between the two once distinct categories. There is nothing contemporary about noble action; chivalry, honor, self-sacrifice, adventure, vengeance, dispassion. No, today we have but civility, policy, self-interest, venture, justice, and compassion, an odd mix in itself, certainly, and one that bears no resemblance to the noble caste ideals of antiquity. It is a great historical irony that within that antiquity there arose a counterpoint to these distinguished and rare traits of character, not unlike the advent of the rodents who rose to prominence as mammals when the reptilians were wiped out by a cosmic accident.

            Was it merely an historical accident that erased nobility from our world, or was it an inevitability? Either way, we must work with what we have left. Eschewing the Bourgeois obsession for aping the aristocracy – only through material consumption could they attain some semblance even of this already lower form of life – as well as the worker’s clamor for ‘equality’ – outside of the law and of material resource, this has no meaning at all – we might perceive instead that civility could indeed pass for chivalry, compassion for honor, and justice for vengeance, if we ourselves internalized the noble value of affrontedness. That is, if we took offense at those who are actually offensive in our society, we would begin to experience something of the noble caste of mind. Instead of kow-towing to the loudest and most obnoxious voice – by definition such a display carries with it the basest, most ignoble lot – we sequester it, ignore it, sanction it, even destroy it. Given that a large part of our modern notions of what might have been nobility is likely based on a romantic fiction, we might use this play to improvise our own new and newly discovered superiority. It must be kept in mind that this divined superior quality of being can only be based on a superior culture, one that does not align itself with any other variable. This was the Reich’s great error of self-conception. In turn, this error led to yet greater flaws in action, including genocide. A truly noble caste of culture takes the understanding that anyone anywhere may well contribute to it. We have the kernel of that sensibility even today when we hear someone speak of ‘not knowing where the next Einstein will come from, or who they will be’. The question is not, is such cultural genius available to human beings, but rather, will we be able, as a culture, to recognize it at all?

            At the start, civility – which even so is to nobility as civil religion is to religion proper, it must be admitted – must be somehow made mandatory. No Singapore sling, civility is rather a basic manner of social interaction that all must heed. Yes, the gentle tone can mask a darker violence, the ‘quiet one’ is ‘always’ the menace, so we have been told, since she sits observing all of the others and thence schemes her insinuative ingenue, but at the same time, it compels us to be attentive and not get carried off by the mob. The Pauline tone is at base, manipulative. Like the visionary, the missionary must realize that his mission is about the self, and that ‘truth is a pathless land’ after all. Civility has within it the roots of society itself, for though a house divided cannot stand, moreover, it cannot stand itself. Civility is the civitas of civic life, the singular connection between public and private, between personal and communal, between intimacy and sociality. And while chivalry was quite ad hoc, civility has this advantage; anyone can learn it and practice it in any context. We need no damsels in distress, no bloody jousts, no holy grail, no fallen Jerusalem to impel us to action. In the civil, we are not concerned with acts; we do not have that kind of vanity about us. In its stead, we have rather the sense that in a diverse and massive social organization within which everyone is accountable to, and reliant upon, everyone else, that there absolutely must be a universal solvent that acts upon all those who would ‘act out’ in that very vanity we have just indicted.

            Our version of the noble can only now be compassion, justice and civility. In these we shall find our nominal superiority, but only in these. Though a pale shade of the original, perhaps we can understand these new nobilities as leverage for a newly refined culture, which takes into itself, and for the first time, all possibilities that enrich the cultural self-understanding. The categories of self-knowledge, the chasms between discourses both within the West and across the world, cannot by themselves generate a noble culture. Anthropology has been not so much the handmaiden of imperialism but rather the bridesmaid of a decoy democracy which in turn states blithely that anything ‘cultural’ has cultural merit, and by definition. This is manifestly not the case, and indeed was the argument, in part, that the same Reich used against its cultured critics. It used to not be a puzzle to import the best and brightest, but what was ignored were all those who could have been, or already were also the best and brightest, since these categories were themselves hung up on Bourgeois conceptions of what would be most favorable to the desire for aristocracy alone, not nobility. Abandoning this sensibility will go some way in rejuvenating authentic culture and thus as well genuine cultural suasion. In 1927, Edward Sapir, the apical anthropologist Boas’ best and brightest, wrote about the difference between ‘genuine and spurious culture’, naming Nietzsche as one of his avatars. Culture, he states, does not ‘happen’ to one, whilst we sit easy in our chairs. It is not after all a ready-made, but rather such customs get in the way of creative, authentic culture. They are the smaller stuff of ethnography, for instance, and as such their limits must be assuredly understood. A culture gets in its own way, as Nietzsche suggested before him, and has an uncanny way of doing only that; ‘A culture is something that is a way to produce one or two great persons, yes, and then is a way round them’.

            In order that we do not let our mere culture get in the way of Culture proper, we must invite the otherness of others – though not necessarily these others themselves, mind you – into it. We must not imagine that we ‘possess’ enough culture to ‘get by’. There is, in fact, no getting by any longer in this our shared, and vulnerable, world. Civility is the first step towards genuine culture. It is also the easiest, shame on us. Then justice, then compassion following hard along. In rational organizations, the highest form of being is rendered last, for better or worse. Compassion, when enacted without pity or grace by the nobility, now becomes our desire to be superior; compassion is the higher being, the ‘bridge to the Overman’, perhaps, but at the very least, the pathless landscape of fenceless neighbors. Truth and the Good did not apply to nobility, and beauty was known in the flesh, and not as an ideal. Nobility had a savage honor about it that we cannot afford to revisit, given our technological proclivities, but it also had a superior sense; that it, because of its humanity, would not, even could not, be brooked in its aspirations. It is this ‘self-confidence’ that we are so sadly lacking today, for we rather imagine that we cannot attain this or that state, and that the world is itself failing. No, it is we who are failing the world, and through this anti-virtue, we commit our most uncivil selves to a premature demise.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 56 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.