Bring Me the ‘Head’ of Sergio Garcia

Bring me the ‘Head’ of Sergio Garcia (anomie and anonymity)

            Samuel Peckinpah’s 1974 low-budget pulp film ‘Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia’ has recently become somewhat of a cult classic. Pop culture references abound, perhaps inevitably, but truest to pedigree was the 1991 aborted attempt by the band Iron Prostate to record a song entitled ‘Bring me the head of Jerry Garcia’. Given the much more famous band the named person led, perhaps such an act would have been met with gratitude. Of course, we are not demanding the actual head of the professional golfer, but rather what is inside it. Why so?  Simply because he is an excellent example of someone who is a well enough known figure to have engendered a persona for himself. He, as with any athlete or entertainer, is someone who is both immediately recognizable and yet completely anonymous. More than this, he has publicly, earlier in his career, given fans and followers, detractors and disdainers alike, much fodder to believe that Garcia himself believes in another world which both influences this one, and yet is utterly impassive in its influence; in short, a manner in which to assuage or avoid anomie.

            Anomie is, in a word, subjective alienation. Garcia’s plaintiff, voiced especially after close shaves in major golf championships, that the ‘golf gods’ were out to get him and such-like, suggested that he was feeling anomic about his vocation, picked on, singled out. How many of us have had the same feeling, less publicly perhaps, but even so? Our very anonymity promotes it. ‘Who cares about us?’ We might well ask, on our way to work Monday mornings, along with ‘Another week killed’, on each corresponding Friday evening, but temporary relief aside, what is the meaning of it all? Emile Durkheim coined the term in his 1897 analysis of suicide, rather appropriately, and stated that according to known data at the time ‘anomic suicide’ was the most common form in European society. This contrasted with other forms, such as ‘altruistic’, where one sacrifices oneself for the group, or ‘egoistic’, where one is certain the a quick ‘goodbye cruel world’ is the best response to unfulfilled desires. Given that only about twelve percent of suicides leave notes, it is possible that this category may be under-reported, but however that may be, Durkheim found that his analysis had also generated an empty-set category, which I have elsewhere named ‘fatalistic’ to balance out his conceptions of the other three. A fatalistic suicide would be the kind to be found in an Ibsen play, for instance, or Romeo and Juliet, but in real life, they are exceedingly rare. The very opposite of the anomic, the fatalistic would occur if there were too many structures and strictures in place, prohibiting agency.

            But anomie, by contrast, implies the lack of community and thus responsibility or obligation in one’s life. It is alienation sourced in the absence of salient structures, but not in Marx’s directly structural sense where the person, especially the worker, is subjected to forces that are much more abstract, such as competition with other workers or the commodified reduction of the human being into his ‘labor power’. The anomic person loses her personhood through a lack of the looking-glass selfhood which tells her who she is to others and for others. It is a kind of externally enforced solipsism, and many young people today suffer from anomie, which is yet the leading cause of suicide for this demographic in our own time. The lack of connection, the absence of affection, the abyss of meaningfulness, all combine to threaten our sense of purpose in life. But when one does have that sense, and everything else is also in place, one can still be thwarted. And this is where the ‘gods’, golf fans or no, come in.

            Vindicated and no doubt also relieved, Garcia belatedly won the Masters in 2017. Ever since, he’s cut a different figure than in his youth. He rolls with it, even when the rock itself isn’t rolling. In a word, he has become a mature being, understanding that life is sometimes simply about ‘that’s life’, a song sung by Sinatra on behalf of everyone else who lives or who has ever lived. There has been no more talk of the ‘golf gods’, for example. All this is inherently public, and no one should claim to actually know who the professional athlete is. But personae also change over time, just as do social fact data like the suicide rate. In traditional social organizations, there was only one kind of suicide, that undertaken by the person on behalf of the collective, the one ceding ultimate moral precedence to the many who, collectively, were thought of as one thing in any case. But in modernity, the situation became more complex, and Durkheim was the first to investigate it. The first social science study to make use of statistics, Durkheim’s method-breaking analytics ultimately put forth a much more important idea than his list of categories of suicide; that of the ‘social fact’. Four years earlier, he had stated deadpan that there was ‘no other moral order than that of society’. Therefore, ‘moral’ facts, as they had been called by J.S. Mill and others, were innately social in nature, echoing Marx and Engel’s 1846 epigram, ‘consciousness itself is a social product’. But The German Ideology did not actually appear in print until 1932, so Durkheim had independently come to this similar conclusion through an inductive study, unlike Marx.

            Induction, Sherlock Holmes’ actual method pace Conan-Doyle’s terminological error, proceeds from observations netted into facts of experience. ‘I can’t make bricks without clay’ Holmes testily editorializes to Watson. Quite so, Garcia’s experience in major championships provided a bounty of clay for him to reason, perhaps gratuitously but even so, that there was another force at work, denying him his due results. For those of you who have no interest in golf per se, a bumper sticker I once saw puts it best: ‘As if life weren’t hard enough, I play golf.’ Yet I don’t think we can judge whatever was in the golfer’s mind too severely, because as stated, we have to ask ourselves how many times we might have come to a similar conclusion through this guise of induction; ‘I should have had it, made it, got it, owned it, (or him or her et al), so why didn’t I?’ The social facts that may have leaned up against our individual desires are sometimes obscure, potentially requiring, on the one hand, a full-blown scientific analysis of the kind in which Durkheim excelled. On the other, we are also sometime loathe to admit that we, as individuals, most often do not have ‘what it takes’ to beat the world at its own game. And by the world, we mean of course the very social reality in which we are enveloped from birth until death.

            It is an aspect of adolescent angst to begin to discover this swathe of social facts, mostly ranged against us given the presence of so many others in this our shared world. Before this, parents and others try to give children almost anything they might self-interestedly desire and demand. But this kind of thing can’t go on forever. Indeed, the egotist as adult who keeps faith only in his desire is at risk for suicide, because the world cannot – or in this person’s mind, will not – provide as parents once may have done. So, we hear of ‘common sense’ parenting techniques that suggest weaning one’s child away from directly met demands at the earliest age possible. Yet this is not at all a sense derived from custom and innate sensibility, but rather from none other than induction, a process of logic and reflective reasoning. Adults know from experience that most of life in mass society will be anonymous, fraught with the ever-present problem of anomie. Children must be gradually, and gently, introduced to such a world, one to be their own just as it is already ours. It is not simply a matter of a parent not wishing their child to ‘make the same mistakes’, but rather a more abstract understanding that, while it cannot pinpoint exact contexts or moments in a life that will end in frustration and even loss, nevertheless knows that such moments will occur, other things being equal. One’s singular will, no matter how assertive and confident, cannot match itself each time to that of the world’s.

            For the one who yet imagines themselves larger than life, suicide is one outcome. But homicide may well be another, such acts perpetrated by those who imagine that their will really is, after all, stronger than the world’s and that they will prove this to be so by murdering the very others who have the unmitigated gall to stand in their way, for whatever reason. This yet darker path has no apparent limits, given historical precedents such as the Holocaust and other genocides. Seen in this wider light, the suicide is by far the more ethical person; as an egotist, he wants to die, as an altruist, she dies for those who remain, but as an ‘anomist’, this person truly sees no way out and in this, he is in ethical error. Still, such a mistaken act is far better than murder, and in this induction has also played a role. In its heartfelt attempt to overcome anonymity, observation and experience combine to tell the anomic person not so much of his impending fate, but rather the way life could, even should, be lived by human beings. It is, therefore, not that the alienated individual in our time feels nothing, but rather that she understands precisely what she lacks yet does not see a way in getting it. The fates, as it were, are ranged against her. One of the lesser attributes of calling out the golf gods is, of course, that golf is a trivial pursuit in and of itself, while social anomie is a very serious condition. Garcia has no doubt realized this over time, no differently than the rest of us are compelled to do. Entertainment ‘culture’ provides for us formulaic salves, whereupon we, equally formulaically, react with a ‘you think you’ve got problems!’ after viewing this or that melodrama, fact or fancy. Just so, the artificial relief of contemporary anomie is a major function of entertainment, sport or otherwise. Part voyeurism, part ressentiment-inducing, but majority anomie-reducing, popular culture sashays ever onward simply because the relations of production in our version of social organization do not themselves change.

            But what is the upshot of all of this? One, we have the means within our own heads to utilize a logical process through which we gain a better self-understanding of both alienation and anonymity at the level of the person. Two, Anomie is not something that is inevitable, as Durkheim himself noted. Three, anonymity has its up side, for who of us, aside from the true narcissist, would want to be known by all? Given the fashionable anxiety about the erosion of privacy in modern life, anonymity may well become a kind of precious value in the day to day. Four, we know by now that ‘fate’, though still not of our individual making all of the time, is nonetheless historically conjured, and does not appear in an irruptive manner. There are no golf gods after all. Just bad shots and sometimes some bad luck as well. Given all of this, taking our own shots when best we can will go some way in inducing within our experiences the sensibility that not only can we pick our battles, we don’t need to care all that much what others think or do not think of us, as long as we support their right to try and live a human life. Our relative anonymity vouchsafes the first, our inductive sense testifies to the second. If there is anything somewhat fishy about Durkheim’s analytic, it may be that anomie is itself a kind of nostalgic category, perhaps assuming that the collective life, or even having generous and compassionate community around one at all times, is the better way to live. If so, the authentically modern person must embrace, along with her newfound sense of radical freedom, the understanding that she is by her superior character able to in fact be alone in life, and that this is, for such a person, the new godhead after all.

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

Understanding and Comprehension

Verstehen und VerstÄndnis (Understanding and Comprehension)

            In my life I am confronted with both history and world. Neither of my own making, nevertheless they dominate my existence, and could be said to both originate and predestine it. History includes the tradition, all that which is customary in the sense of Hexis, which I must learn in order to function as a viable being in the social world-as-it-is. But history also includes all that has come to be known as ‘cultural capital’; the very ‘stuff’ of the human career, from ancient archaeology through to contemporary popular culture. It is an open question how much of this capital must be possessed in order to maintain social viability. To each is granted his specialties, perhaps, and in a complex organic social organization wherein each of us plays multiple social roles and thus wears many hats, the daily discourse of informal interaction is muted to the point where Verstehen, or ‘interpretive understanding’ is rarely called upon. This bracketing of interpretation is significant due not only to it being so by design, but also, and as a result of this, that each of us is left to assume that the other knows what she is about, as well as knowing what we ourselves meant by this or that interaction. In a word, we favor Deutung over Verstehen in everyday life.

            Since our very sanity is at stake, both in terms of our self-perception and that of the others, Deutung, or ‘interpreted meaning’ must indeed carry the day to day upon its presumptive shoulders. Most of us presume one another to already and always understand what is called for, and thus what is also called forth, in a great variety of social contexts. But since all of these are learned, and mostly in our childhood and youth, we cannot be certain that either we ourselves or any other person has fully comprehended every possible social context and thus knows how to act to a tee in each. The ‘social’ person used to be casually equated with the most ‘sociable’ person. The very conception of what can constitute a ‘social’ gathering might be interpreted by class and status, ethnicity or language, work relationship or family pedigree. Though all are social in the anthropological sense, the vast majority of us are not students of society in any formal way. It is perhaps ironic that though we do learn to tread on much or even most of the stages upon which civil behavior is to be enacted, very few of us choose to dive more deeply into just how all of this ‘sociality’ actually works.

            And there is, on the face of it, no good reason to do so. If all of us know the score in terms of how to act, what to say, and of course, the opposite as well – the shalt not is duly implied by the shalt – then what would be the point of expending the effort in order to take everything apart just to see how it functioned? Would there not be a risk, in reassembly, that I would then get it wrong? Taking society apart to examine its mechanics and its organics both would seem a risky, even radical act. And since there is no clear consensus on society itself being ‘broken’ – though many claim to know just where and how this or that part of it is broken and should be replaced by some other part, equally proclaimed as being ‘obvious’ – the idea of taking it all down and reconstructing from point zero seems to have little merit. Even the most astute and vigorous social scientist does not attempt such a cosmogonical feat, contenting herself with an examination only, noting the parts and how they interact, just as the ethnographer of modern culture might stalk the streets and observe actual human interactions. An examination of society generates the means by which Deutung can be performed. It does not require any consistent interpretation but rather looks more like a connect-the-dots diagram. The pieces lack order until the connections are made, surely, but just as certainly, all the pieces are present and can be ordered. And it is the resulting order that generates both customary performance but also much of the history of the world itself.

            Between Max Weber and Georg Simmel, ‘Verstehen-Sociology’ gained much traction in the first third of the twentieth century, making a deep impression upon other seminal sociological thinkers such as Alfred Schutz and Robert Merton. It faded post-war given the ascendence of functionalism, which is instructive for our topic as interpretation was just that tool of questioning that mere examination need not access. Taking it all apart and rebuilding it required interpretation, poring over it and noting its connections, as functionalism mostly did, required only already interpreted meaning. Not that this is an either/or situation. Indeed, one might argue that one would have to come to an understanding of the parts themselves before generating an overall comprehension of the whole. While interpretational understanding could do the first, it seemed only functionalism could do the second. Even so, in between these two stood social phenomenology. This third stance suggested that it was the very interactions of living persons that constructed and reconstructed the cultural parts of the social whole in an ongoing and even daily basis. In short, society itself was a performance, or better, a performative understanding of itself.

            The roots of this more active interpretation are diverse. Durkheim’s famous epigrammatic definition of organized religious belief is a case in point: ‘Religion is society worshipping itself’. No more concise editorial can be imagined. But within this pithy fruit is the very essence of performative social action. Borrowing from the older idea that in order for a deity to exist at all it must be actively worshipped, the very structure of society itself has to be borne up by our participation in its manifestations. I am a social actor, yes, but I am also a social founder through my action in the world. Similarly, and perhaps just as profoundly, history too is enacted insofar as we are historical beings. This is not to say that what is known as ‘the past’ must be reenacted – though Mesoamerican cultures have this as a benchmark understanding of human history; the most famous of these consistent performances is the re-enactment of the Columbian Conquest – but at the very least, history ‘continues’ only due to our actions in the present and our resolute being oriented towards the future.

            What is interesting for both the student and the social actor is the fact that performance requires interpretation. The customary scripts may be given and learned by rote, but there is always slippage between an ideal and a reality. The spectrum of improvisation is vast, ranging from stifling a belch during a dinner conversation to reworking a political speech given the pace of world events. Society in its mode of being-social is very serious theater indeed, and part of the fulfilling quality of actual theatrical performance, stagecraft and script, paid actors and paying audience, is that all involved recognize themselves outside of the drama and cast upon the wider social stage. We are, in our own way, not so different from the conquered cultures of Central America, though our settings are perhaps more abstract and work not so directly with historical narratives but rather with an indirect allegory. This too is by design; like the examination of the mechanisms of society without taking the whole thing apart, allegory allows each of us to take the broader view without fully imbricating, and perhaps thus also immolating, ourselves within or upon society’s reason-of-being. For if it is only the ‘moron’ who resists social custom and flouts both mores and moralities alike, most of us would rather preserve our semblance of sanity as part of our own social performance, so that we never risk the ire of others who can justifiably say to us, ‘Well, I’m doing my part to keep all this nonsense together, why aren’t you?’.

            Hence the suspicion and even aspersion cast up against all those who question things ‘too much’. The professional philosopher, who is only doing his job, is perhaps the only socially sanctioned role wherein the practitioner can legitimately say as part of his vocation that nothing is sacred. Outside of this, we are all expected to give at least nominal service to specific renditions of what the majority feels society to be, and to be about. The ‘what’ of society is the first, the ‘why’ the second. Even the thinker, in order to be judged as human at all, must bracket her radical investigations, insights, and indictments some of the time. Society is at once a performance and a comprehension. In true Durkheimian fashion, it performs itself in order to comprehend itself. But because such real drama requires ongoing improvisation and interpretation, society is also made up not so much of cut and dried mechanisms as quick-witted examinations and re-enactments. Society gives the appearance of a machine only insofar as we social actors have honed our individual and thence collective skills upon its various stages. A well-polished theatrical performance never leaves the fiction of its allegory, but a well-staged social performance upshifts itself into a stable social reality.

            The question for each of us then is, do I continue to improve my acting skills within the historical context of the culture into which I was born, in order to preserve the manner in which that culture enacts itself in the wider world, or do I pretend only and ever to be an understudy, letting others do the work which is in fact the duty of all? Or, do I walk off the stage entirely, into a hitherto obscured human drama called ‘conscience’ by the world and ‘the future’ by history? In fact, it is our shared birthright, as both gift and task, to accomplish both of these essential acts. For society as mechanism is only the resulting case, and society as performance the manner in which the present presents its case. In order for any modern culture to reproduce itself, it must eschew pure reproduction in favor of a self-understanding, a Selbstverstandnis or holistic comprehension-of-itself that is developed in history but seeks the future of and in all things. Interpretive understanding is both a tool and yet a way of life for human beings. But comprehension is the mode of being of the social whole, which means no one person can provide it, even for himself. That we are social beings tells upon us in two elemental ways: we are called to conscience by the ongoingness of the world, and we are called toward the future by the ongoing presence of history, which distinguishes the social world from the world at large. That I am myself never socially larger than that historical life is for me the Kerygma of existence.

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

Ethics and Personhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truthful Fiction, Fictional Truth

Truthful Fiction, Fictional Truth

            World Game, the ruling force, blends false and true.

            The ever-eternally fooling force, blends us in, too. – Nietzsche

            A god now made an animal does not suggest forbearance. In our resentment, we thus resent the truth; happenstance and death. But in our enduring creativity, we do not merely suppress this state of affairs, at its most base, the ‘human condition’, but imagine attaining a novel godhead. This striving for a new divinity is the source of not only the historical religious world systems, but of all imaginative works of the human consciousness. Its fictional content belies its truthful form.

            Let us take a famous macrocosmic example, oft repeated in the microcosm of the human relations. In ‘Acts’, it is related that not only has the dialectic of tradition and revolution been uplifted in and into the ‘Holy Spirit’ – a synthetic conception of the thetic ‘old God of morals’ and its antithesis, the ethical God on earth – but that this new force has generalized the original thesis to apply to all human beings. The Gentiles are also saved or at least, savable. For the first time, at Antioch, the term ‘Christian’ is applied to this new community of believers, some few years before Paul’s letters to the Galatians and thus about 15 years after the Crucifixion. Though this is not the first time such a dialectic which blends fantasy and reality appears in the history of religion, it does represent the advent in the West of the utter democracy of divinity and the equally infinite goodness of grace. The fact that this is new is oddly and even ironically underscored by the fiction that it was forecast in the tradition.

            In the bourgeois marriage, the thesis of the man runs headlong into the antithesis of the woman, generating a synthesis in the child. The child is neither and yet is also both. Its fact is its novel existence, brought about by the Aufheben of conjugality. Its fiction is that it ‘belongs’ to the parents, but in all creative work, including the birth and socialization of a child, an equal element of fantasy must be in play. For to only acknowledge the factual conditions of mortality and finiteness, of difference and uniqueness, would be to put the kibosh on trying to do any of that creative work at all. It would place us as species-being back in a pre-Promethean landscape of shadow and even terror. But there is also no lack of danger in the means by which we give a future to ourselves. In both macrocosm and microcosm the same risk thus presents itself: what if the fiction overtakes the truth?

            If so, in the first, we have religion instead of faith, mere belief without enlightenment; and in the second, we conjure only loyalty in place of trust, fear instead of respect. So if it is truly said that humans cannot live by truth alone, neither can we completely abjure it. The material conditions of human life, the ‘bread’, is by itself not sufficient to become fully human. The ‘faith’, imagination, creativity, fantasy, fiction, is what not only fulfills our desires in some analytic sense, but also completes our being in that existential.

            What then is ‘truthful fiction’, or ‘fictional truth’? I don’t think we can entirely make them discrete. Myth is accepted as nothing but fiction, and yet it contains elements of truth, not only about the human character, however hypostasized, but also about the cosmogonical aspects of our shared world. Myth responds to the perduring and sometimes perplexing duet of questions that challenge us through our very presence in the world; how has the world come to be, and how have I come to be in that selfsame world? Mythic fantasy supplies us with an autobiography writ larger than life. It is not to be read as either history or as a ‘mere’ tall tale, but is rather that synthetic form which uplifts and conserves all that is of value in both the thesis of fact and the antithesis of fiction. It is very much then a ‘truthful fiction’, and, looking at ourselves in its refracted but not distorted glass, its function and its form as well come together for us in an almost miraculous mirror.

            Contrast this with the meticulous mirror of nature that is provided human consciousness by science. If myth is our shared ‘truthful fiction’, then I will suggest here that its iconoclastic child, science, is our equally collective ‘fictional truth’. Historically, science was the synthesis of myth and life, of imagination and experience. It too is thus a dialectical form, even a syncretistic one. Its truth is well-known: the only consistent and logical understanding of nature that we humans have at our current disposal. But its fiction is that it has completely vanquished the imagination, not so much from the source of its questions, but rather from its methods, and particularly from its results. It is a myth, for example, that the cosmology of science is not also epic myth. It is a fiction that science overtakes the fictional to maintain its human interest. Like the God that entered history, suspending for all time and for all comers the sense that divinity by definition is a distant and alien thing, the idea that science exits that same history is equally a fantasy. For science, like myth, is a wholly human production and thus relies as much upon our imagination and ingenuity throughout its process, from question through method to result and thence explanation. It is especially evident that in scientific explanation, there is a concerted and historically consistent effort to efface all traces of mythic sense, replacing them with a hard-nosed experiential sensibility. The fact that even evangelical educational rehabilitation centers targeting youth advertise only ‘evidence-based’ therapies – whatever other more dubious practices may be present therein – is but one example of the astonishing success the fiction of science has generated for itself.

            Just so, if it were not for the fact that ‘fictional truth’ is so available for even the non-believer to utilize should remind us of nothing other than the soteriological generalization recounted in ‘Acts’. Authors who have written in the history of science, especially those who speak of its origins and its early development, from the Miletian School to the Copernican Revolution and onwards, are, in part, repeating the act of cosmogony, of Genesis, and within these actions, the process of the dialectic. This is not to say that there is, or can be, nothing new in the world. The synthetic term, the apex of the dialectical triangle, is justifiably seen as a novel form, performing a hybrid function; at once reminding us of reality while providing the means for a being defined by its finiteness to live on in its face.

            Thus we should not regard the sometimes annoying, even disturbing, blend of fiction and truth as an impediment to the greater experience of life or even to the lesser knowledge of that life as experienced. The ‘world game’ is assuredly afoot, its mystery far outstripping any detective adventure born of and thence borne on the imagination alone. That ‘we too’ are part of its yet mysterious mix, its blithe blending of our beings into both a history of acts which are not our own and a biography which very much is, however much we sometimes attempt to avoid its action, is, in the end, the most blessed of gifts that any divine animal could imagine for itself.

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

An Ethical God does not Exist (but a metaphysical one might)

An Ethical God does not Exist (but a metaphysical one might)

            It is customary to juxtapose the moral and the metaphysical, as opposed to the ethical and the existential, but here I am going to rewind to Aristotle’s distinction, novel in his own time; that of the ethical and the metaphysical. His attempt to separate them is one of the history of thought’s famous failures, kindred with Husserl’s half-hearted manufacturing of otherness or even the Cartesian pseudo-problem of the doubting of other minds. But such a failure is not a necessary outcome if we recast another proverbial reflective question; that of the existence or non-existence of God or the Gods.

            In general, this is seen as an 18th century question, and one that was resolved in the negative well before that century drew to a Napoleonic close. But I think within the framing of that question there has been a conflation of Aristotle’s contrasting conceptions, or, in his day, one a customary conception, metaphysics, the other a mere conceptualization, ethics. For the latter idea truly was brand new, and its Western advent, some three centuries after that in the East with the appearance of Buddhism, was at first rejected as a kind of too-private perception, akin to the ‘idiot’; or purely private ‘citizen’. Just as the one who flouted custom was the ‘moron’, surely the one who turned aside from morality and into his own self-aggrandized sense of justice had more in common with idiocy than anything else. Indeed, this was perhaps the most challenging issue Aristotle faced, when trying to cut ethics loose from an overarching morality ensconced in metaphysical perambulations and emblazoned across mythic banners. But he was in august, if yet contemporary, company. Antigone is faced with an originally moral dilemma, the loyalty between family versus the State, which she attempts to solve in an ethical manner. Does the playwright intend for us to consider her ultimate and abysmal failure a model that says to everyone, ‘all like attempts must fail’? Or is there something else to be gleaned from the action?

            If the ethical job of the artist is to bring out the chiaroscuro of the human heart by rendering it askew from the mundane life, that of the thinker is to question it quite directly. The parallax employed by the artist would be seen as disingenuous if utilized by the philosopher. And so we are left with an ongoing puzzle, even today, and one that is underscored by the continued insistence upon revisiting the question of Godhead, something that was supposedly put to rest during, and because of, the Enlightenment. Here, the artist can no longer help us, simply since the society into which that question was originally placed no longer exists. Indeed, the question of the existence of God was foreshadowed in Hellenic times, as the Greeks shifted their discursive loyalties away from mythos and toward logos. This shift was, in fact, something far more radical than even the much vaunted ‘death of God’, as it not only foregrounded its occurrence but presented it as a future inevitability. For once people stopped believing in the article of mythic imagination and turned both their worldly and self perceptions toward the project of human reason, consciousness itself was irrevocably altered.

            One might suggest that divinity was unseated by this much earlier shift, though it maintained a precarious existence until perhaps the 17th century say, with the firmer advent of scientific explanation and the ongoing and intensifying encounter the European mind was having with other cultures as well as with itself. But though this makes eminent sense historically, I would like to nominally add the idea that it was the further shift from metaphysics to ethics that hastened the demise of divinity; in the East, Buddhism rejected not only the Karmic system as it had been and thus its associated earthly castes, but also the very idea that the cosmos was originally and itself alien to human consciousness. Instead, the ethic of forbearance – to be morphed into forgiveness in the West – suggested rather that one’s actions in the world made an instant difference to human life while it was being lived. It was this sensibility that generated the idea of the neighbor, an ethical force outside of both historical custom and social role.

            If Aristotle could not identify the logical device by which to fully separate ethics from metaphysics, here was now an historical one acting in the world. With Christianity, this historical force began to gain a further revolutionary impetus; that all human beings were to be treated as ends in themselves. No longer could the person who acted outside of the normative be considered a mere idiot or moron. Here instead was an alternative that was not only free from the customary but also was presenting a new politics of action – ‘go and do likewise’ – that made no metaphysical claims about itself. Turn this novel lens upon the question of God’s existence and things begin to look a little different than what has itself become customary to the history of modern thought. Instead of the death of the ‘old god of morals’, we can say resolutely that an ethical god cannot, and has never, existed. The former due to the assumption of ethical competence in the evangelical statement that ‘God is in control of everything’ – by definition, such a God cannot be ethical given the state of the world, no matter if one places all of the blame upon human folly; an ethical God would act instantly as the archetype of the neighbor ‘action-figure’ – and the latter more simply because ethics did itself not exist in the human imagination before Buddhism.

            But in saying all of that, one cannot then also have it that a God does not, in principle, exist, or yet exist, or did once exist. This is so because we can easily imagine another kind of divinity who, though possessed with a human interest and thus also being possessed by an historical self-apperception, acts only as a metaphysical entity; as a creator and an orderer, for instance. In all honesty, even the atheist would be forced to admit that she could not answer such a question either way, and so the real response to the question of God’s existence is a twofold one; the usual ‘No’, if God is presumed to be an ethical figure, but also an ‘I don’t know’, in response to the idea of God in general. It is the same conflation that harried Aristotle which also muddies our current understanding of what may still be a relevant question for our own times. A metaphysical God is in fact quite thinkable, even by contemporary standards, and thus the evangelical sensibility comes back into more serious play, for on this side of the ‘cultural’ conflict, statements exhorting the unqualified existence of God can yet be heard, loud and clear. As with the rest of us, the faithful have also conflated these two kinds of Godhead with one another, and are thus as desperate to insist upon God’s existence as the ‘secular’ person is to deny it.

            For the thinker, all of this calumniation, to borrow Nietzsche’s term, suggests that we have not, or are unwilling to, make that self-same separation in and for our human action in the world. That is, we are hampered in our ethical action because we still desire a metaphysical reward for so acting. But I think the message of new ethics is quite clear: the neighbor figure acts without custom and outside of history, and does so not even for the sake of virtue but rather because this figure knows that within such action, the entirety of our human existence is both encapsulated and exonerated. In placing oneself in contrast to social role and cultural norm, we are expressing our most authentic selfhood, one freed from both the moral and the metaphysical not by adding a discursive ethics to the roll call of philosophical departments, but rather by performing that ethic in the world and in real time. In doing so we not only change the world but also the very character of time itself. Both are made more fully real, engendering a kind of timeless reality that is the human equivalent of cosmic time, which appears to us as infinite and undifferentiated. It is this ethical reality which turns action into act, being into community, passion into compassion, and abstract time into presence. Thus if one wants to see a certain transformation of human ‘nature’ in our shared world about which we cannot say in certain terms that a creator and cosmic God exists or doesn’t, simply heed the original ethical mandate and go and do likewise.

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

Neo-Conservative Thought

Neo-Conservative Thought

            Revelations are necessarily mythical and sub-rational; they express natural forces and human interests in a groping way, before the advent of science. To stick in them, when something more honest and explicit is available, is inconsistent with caring for attainable welfare or understanding the world. It is to be stubborn under the cloak of religion. These prejudices are a drag on progress, moral no less than material; and the sensitive conservatism that fears they may be indispensible is entangled in a pathetic delusion. It is conservatism in a shipwreck. (Santayana, 1954:484 [1906]).

                Half the world looks backward. The fact that the past can be known only incompletely allows me to fill in what is unknown with my desires. The future, by definition, should be the fuller home of the imagination, rather than the past, but because it cannot be known at all, at least ahead of time, dampens my enthusiasm for self-projection. At some further point, I shall no longer exist; I shall become a part of the past. Could the penchant for backward-looking in our time be an expression of an auto-memorial, a way in which to preserve the selfhood of what I am, a preparation for ‘mine ownmost death’?

            In Mannheim’s famous essay, ‘Conservative Thought’, he suggests that the recent history of rationalization has made the present into a series of functions, almost autonomic, and that quite literally. These ‘self-naming’ processes in fact have no precise names. The poet of the past suddenly speaks to the experience of the present. I suffer the ‘insolence of officials’ in Weber’s bureaucratic organizations, for instance. I endure the ‘slings and arrows’ in romance and in the casino, perhaps. And I am myself more outraged than fortune is itself outrageous. Mannheim explains that the ‘one-sided emphasis upon rationalism’, while it ‘repudiates concrete and vital forms of thought by no means’ extinguishes them (1953:87), and that these forms have not ‘sunk into the past’ but have rather been ‘preserved’ in some occlusive manner. But for Mannheim, simply defining conservatism as being part of a tradition and holding to certain precepts thereof is not enough, for this is something characteristic of every human being (ibid:95). Instead, ‘being conservative’ both partakes of this basal layer of consciousness, not entirely conscious of itself and certainly not usually questioned in the action of everyday life, as well as taking concrete action in an entirely new way, concomitant with our own times (ibid:94). By making myself a part of a social action in the present I reach far beyond mere tradition, even though I might be accused of reproducing something of it, either in part or, insofar as it can be known, being both a relic and reliquary, out of whole cloth (ibid:97). In doing so, I may be semi-consciously ‘retarding’ progressive social change or even retrogressing it (ibid:99). On top of this, my action of this sort in the social world depends upon my social location in a steeply hierarchical culture: “In a word – traditionalism can only become conservatism in a society in which change occurs through the medium of class conflict – in a class society.” (ibid:101, italics the text’s).

            It is by now old hat to identify conservative action among the polar bookends of hierarchical or stratified society; the elites desire to ensure the ongoingness of their status, the marginal simply desire to have a voice. Yet is this enough to fully understand the pressing political penury that conservative persons state they ‘feel’ or ‘experience’ in modern culture? An openly retrogressive movement seeks to return to a past that has been historically lived at one time or another and thus can be more or less documented as having been part of the species experience. That such an identification can be made entails that the period in question not be temporally too far afield or chronologically distant from either our present-day understandings and sensibilities. Conservative thinking demands a reckoning with the disjunction between past and present, but at least it is not making things up as it goes along.

            Not so neo-conservative thought. Its ‘enactmentality’ is not retrogressive but rather simply regressive, as it seeks a ‘return’ to a time which is wholly imaginary and never did exist at any known historical time period. That it can define itself as desiring a time out of time, either as the primordial utopia of the Garden or as a revelatory millennialism of the coming judgment, clears its conscience when it must confront the problem of otherness. Not all can be saved. Not all will be saved. Conservative thought takes action on behalf of all of us, for each of us is a product of this or that tradition, the vast majority of which is, once again by definition, both unthought – if not unthinkable given historical precedent – and relatively unconscious. There will always be something or other in a cultural tradition that appeals to me, something known and in its own day perhaps as ‘progressive’ as the forces and actions I may, in my sense of the future, take in my own time. Conservative thinking is thus wholly historical, and it only differs from even the most radical of future-oriented poses and positions because it emphasizes a wider slice of the tradition which all of us share and from which all of us gain the basic self-understanding of the present. But neo-conservative thought needs neither history nor thinking. The one is a burden upon the imagination; the neo-conservative person is moral and not historical, for history trumps morality and in all cases. The second because mythical time is unthinking, both of itself and of history; indeed, any sense of change at all has ceased to exist. When Marx differentiates his ‘atheism’ from that of Feuerbach he declares that ‘for the communist man, the question of God does not exist’, meaning that it is not the mere existence of a divinity that is proposed but the very concept thereof. In neo-conservative thought the question of history does not exist.

            This vanishing act is convenient on at least two counts: one, the future as an unknown factor can be summarily dismissed. The future is something that I am uncomfortable with; I face it with some trepidation, if not outright fear. It is the very expression of the problem change presents to me if I am intent on maintaining anything I have created or gained during my brief existence. I already know that entire civilizations have been erased from the historical record, reduced to archaeological fragments and literary figments. What am I, as a singular person, in the face of such a trans-temporal scourge? Two, change is itself expunged. If there is no history I am left only with time, a kind of inexistence or life that, in its stolid and staid counterpoint to living, needs no longer pose any existential questions of or to itself: Why am I here? Why is there something rather than nothing? Is there a meaning to my presence beyond what I can myself fathom or ferret out? Life without living, time without history, the present without presence, each of these in turn can fortify the regressive interpretation my harried haruspex requires of me. But in denying history I also deny the other.

            Even if the soteriological suasions of the newer agrarian period religions were all-encompassing – all are to be saved, come as you are – nevertheless there is a boundary to be constructed between the self-appointed gnostic and the one who appears content to live on both blithely and blindly, at once ignorant of one’s specific fate and unknowing of fate in general. It is this second absence that brands me as a person without faith and thus also without wisdom. For the neo-conservative, shrouding his own equally human senses not in the cast-off cloak of conservative thought but rather in the technicolor triage of draconian dreamcoat, a ‘modernist’ such as myself is purely earthbound, trapped in a history not of my own making and running headlong into not merely death but also damnation. And if conservative thinking raises its eyebrows at the LGBTQ2+ presence in our historically and factually diverse society-as-it-is, neo-conservative thought denies its very right to existence. And it must do so, for such otherness that cannot be so readily identified in either primordial time or paradisiacal timelessness is a threat to the inexistential imagination. At once, however, we must allow for the humanity of the neo-conservative to remain as present as possible; like myself who is future-oriented, the one who closes off his own perception of the world in favor of an otherworld, ahistorical and also non-historical, inexistential and transcendental, is expressing the basic human will to life which all of us share.

            In saying this, I am not in any way intending to shore up neo-conservative fantasy. At the same time, it courts both irony and even hypocrisy to deny the humanity of the neo-conservative simply because he has denied his own. Indeed, the duty presented by neo-conservative thought to the rest of us is to help the deluded person back into reality as it can be known. In this, we ourselves must admit that because not all of what is taken to be real can be rationally and factually evidenced in a way satisfactory to science, for instance, that we ourselves should remain open to certain aspects of the tradition out of which neo-conservative thought has extended itself. And it is in the acting and wholly historical space of conservativism that we must encounter the neo-conservative, and we must take upon ourselves that equally historical task simply because the narrowed imagination that desires the end of history presents an existential question to our shared species-essence. But framed by neo-conservatism, it is a false question, presented as a choice between morality and history. While it is the case that no single morality survives historical change, it is a much more open question as to the character of morality itself, which would include the concept of the sacred as Durkheim has defined it, and the presence or absence of Entzauberung, as Weber has defined it. All of us experience alienation in modern life, relatively few of us regress into the stunted stilted stenochoria of stale fairy-tale. The more authentic question, ‘how is morality relevant today?’ is perhaps the most pressing discussion that must take place amongst all persons, since it, with as well a more authentic irony, defines much of our understanding of our own historical epoch.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of fifty-five books in ethics, education, social theory, aesthetics and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary 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.

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 Disarming Decoys of Elizabethanism

The Disarming Decoys of Elizabethanism

            I was a few feet away from Elizabeth II on her royal visit to Victoria in 1984. She seemed to me a ‘decent sort’, to be English about it, but hardly otherworldly. Her consort, Philip, actually stooped to stop and chat with my young love interest.  But even at eighteen, I was disdainful of the idea of the monarchy, an archaism at best, realistically, a rationalization for steep social stratification and at worst, a malingering evil that served as gaudy and expensive signage for a latter day imperialism. But as well at only eighteen, I was blissfully ignorant of the extent and scope of the oppression involved even in the twilight of the Pax Britannica. For me, Elizabeth II was a fellow philatelist and a home-front teen heroine who repaired land rovers and literally got her hands dirty doing so. But such stains as these wash off. There are other kinds of stains, as Lady Macbeth discovered, which are more challenging to cleanse.

            Though it is patently correct to acknowledge that Elizabeth II had no direct political power, she did not lack influence. In a sense, her position is rather like that of the pope. No ‘divisions in the field’, as Stalin duly noted of the Vatican, but still possessed of a symbolic authority that rested upon ancient traditions. In a word, a voice, that the vast majority of us could never dream of so having. In another word, it was a voice that, from the post-colonial perspective, from the perspective of bitter and thence embittered experience, betrayed both itself and its authority through its decades of unblemished silence.

            Elizabeth II was thrust into her role at a youthful age due to what the war had done to her father. It basically killed him. The feudal model is graced with a kind of superiority complex, if you will, which engenders a paternalism that for all the wrong reasons, fans of shows like ‘Downton Abbey’ seem to flock to. The same model is fraught with delusory notions of ‘divine right’ and ‘sovereignty’ that were dumped by the European Enlightenment and deeply and critically analyzed by contemporary thinkers such as Georges Bataille. That the new wealth of emerging nations is eager to reproduce such relations in a microcosm – there are now five times as many slaves in the world as there were two decades ago, though slavery was itself never a function of feudalism historically – is most disturbing. But given that feudal order, George VI was as loyal to his ‘subjects’ as they were supposed to be to him. Their suffering was his suffering, for he was, if not the ‘State itself’ – as Louis XIV decorously declared of himself and could do so prior to the Revolution – still the body politic. The wounds inflicted upon this shared symbolic corpus slowly bled George VI to death.

            And so what to make of this loyalty regarding his eldest daughter? What kind of voice is the voice of a ‘modern monarch’, when the very phrase is itself an oxymoron? Is she merely a representation of the citizenry, serving them without guiding them, adding her gravitas to their collective grief, placing her ebullience in the center of their shared joy? Elizabeth II must have had many moments of doubt. One recent one that escaped the official censors which surrounded her on all sides, occurred at the climate summit in Scotland when, after listening to various politicians including Britain’s then PM, whispered to the new queen consort, ‘I find it irritating when they say and don’t do.’ Truly a ‘me too’ moment for any concerned citizen. And ‘irritating’ is a most diplomatic term to use in such a context. But just here we realize how limited Elizabeth II made her own voice. And aside from criticism, she was not at all without a piquant sense of humor, also something desperately missing in politicians. Two reported examples: outside of Windsor strolling with her single bodyguard, two American tourists asked her if she had ‘ever seen the queen?’. She replied, ‘no, but he has’, referring to her agent. And another time, she was shopping in a little village store and the young woman clerk said to her, ‘you know, you look just like the queen!’. Her dry reply: ‘how reassuring.’

            It is precisely these kinds of moments that give me the sense that Elizabeth II was not devoid of the ability to speak, she simply felt that she could not do so. It is our loss, surely, because in voicing the critique which I believe to have been fully present in her consciousness, she would have been authentically following in the footsteps of her predecessor and namesake, a woman it is well known that Elizabeth II admired and studied. Elizabeth I inherited a disastrous political mess from her father, who had declared the Church of England and risked a devastating war of religion across the realm. So she quite literally supplanted the Catholic heroine by reframing herself as the ‘Virgin Queen’. She gave worshippers the very symbolism they desired from any church and thereby avoided further chaos. Whatever may have been her personal sacrifice – presumably even queens have ‘needs’, so it is highly unlikely that Elizabeth I practiced a lifetime of abstinence – she saw it as her duty to save a nation just emerging from the feudal order into the then unknown future politics of parliament and people.

            In another word, Elizabeth I was a decoy figure, meant to disarm mass desire and turn it into collective adoration. I think Elizabeth II saw herself in that same light, and this is why she made the personal sacrifice of silence on all things that truly mattered over a period of seven tumultuous and hitherto unforeseen decades. The modern version of the Virgin, in both politics and religion alike, is the woman who does not speak and only appears. She does not visit but performs visitations. She does not meddle but only presents herself at the most apt moment, akin to the 1950s housewife and the indentured servant of today. To say that she was a prisoner is to only name the effect. Like her namesake, she imprisoned herself, and while we are astonished and perhaps a little dismissive of Elizabeth I’s idea of a revolutionary figurehead, we are also mournful that her distant successor was not yet more revolutionary, did not make her own revolution in what a monarch could have been. Instead, we had a duplicate of the first Elizabeth and in our modernity, it simply didn’t work. When I grieve for her passing, it will be this that I will be thinking of, and nothing else besides.

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