The Return of the Martyr

 The Return of the Martyr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Larger Lure

            The Larger Lure: on the decoy effect of latter day ‘child-saving movements’

            There is such a surfeit of public service articles regarding the dangers young persons face in the world that it behooves the reflective person to take a step back for a moment and examine, not so much their claims, but the manner in which they are presented. A typical piece, in slide lecture format, begins here:

https://www.msn.com/en-ca/news/missingchildren/ten-most-common-lures-used-by-child-abductors/ss-AAxvXYk?ocid=spartandhp

            Like any Decalogue, the practical advice on how to educate one’s child to become more savvy to strange adults – and this in a world where over 95% of violence against children is perpetrated by intimates; those who children know and trust implicitly – contains a kind of Mosaic dictum: ‘Do this and avoid that’. As well, this list of ruses apparent child absconders use would at first seem to fool no one but very young children, though I may be naïve. We are also told that the lures differ according to age and gender, yet we are never quite told what the purpose of such behavior is. There is an elliptical character to all such pieces, as if the very thought of child molestation should remain unsaid, even unthought. No doubt there are varieties of villains ‘out there’, some of whom would merely profit from children displaying themselves in some lurid context without themselves affording any personal pleasure to the prurient marketeer, for instance, but no matter. The key to this kind of piece is that it hides its propaganda beneath its public service, not unlike the State itself.

            In other kinds of media, more reportage-oriented journalism tells us of the trials faced by those who track and prosecute child abusers. These are noble officers of the law who are nevertheless aware of the temptations such cases present. At one time, hanging above the Toronto office for the investigation of pedophiles hung a small placard with the incompletely quoted epigram ‘Those who fight with monsters must take care not to become a monster’. Nietzsche immediately adds ‘And those who stare into the abyss will find that the abyss also stares into them.’ In other words, one cannot entirely remain aloof to the darkness if one elects to tread its succubic sanctuary. Misquoting philosophers is a commonplace event – and one that in a perverse manner I sometimes envy; at least it shows you that you’re famous! – but it too hides something of interest. In this specific case, the officer, embarking on what is in fact a dangerous mission, is only told to beware of becoming like the person he or she is after, but not that in fact he or she will become at least a little like them after all is said and done. The amount of stress leave granted to these special unit officers is testament to this other truth.

            And ‘mission’ is a term one can use advisedly for such a caseload. It represents the most official guise of the latter day child-saving movement which has once again appeared on our domestic landscape. One must question ‘why so?’ at this juncture, but I will put that off for just a moment. Another word must be confronted first, and that is ‘monsters’. Nietzsche is usually understood as speaking about the urges that lie within ourselves, and not some other actual physical person, but presumably the Toronto police force must indeed confront both kinds on a regular basis. At the same time we are told, and by the same agency, that people who lure children are ‘like us’; fellow police officers, teachers, members of the military, coaches, parents et al. Given that all of us must work to live, is the resemblance to the rest of us built only along those lines or is there something more profound, and more uncomfortable, once again beneath the surface, lurking like the aviator-glasses-wearing-child-molester-van-driving-older-overweight-male, cliché ridden as he is?

            I would argue yes, there is more to ‘like’ than meets the eye. Indeed, I would suggest that these persons are not so much like us but rather are us. They have exceeded their capacity to restrain their local desires – opportunism of all kinds breeds contempt; for norms, laws, one’s own conscience, philosophical ethics and so on – in this one specific arena. The case of the pediatrician in Alberta is an example of someone who, otherwise greatly respected in society both professional and community, nevertheless sought to fulfill his desires at others’ expense.

            Note now that we come face to face with the larger lure on the adult end of things – more about that facing children in a moment. We are on a mission to avoid confronting the facts of our geo-political world. Though it may be reasonable to suggest that each adult has, globally speaking, a local duty to protect their own children, should it be the case that we are only so responsible? The internecine dangers – in the case of pedophiles and the usual like suspects, mostly fictitious; their presence in media coverage far outweighs their actual presence in our community – our own society presents us with has the effect of turning us inward, as does most media. Sports and entertainment coverage construct a fantasy environment, we follow only the politics of our own nations and that sporadically, and ‘personal’ stories of self-help or heroism are of interest insofar as they prevaricate the new mythology that our culture celebrates the dark horse, the underdog, the one who suffers. Celebrates perhaps, but only to a point supports. This trope is borrowed directly from Western religion but today is used on the surface mainly to sell commodities and more deeply, in its own monstrous abyss, to sell our society itself.

            And this is now the moment when we come face to face with the larger lure that decoys our children away from both reality and human freedom. We are told that those who lure children have one paramount thing in common: they are ‘master manipulators’. Surely not. Given the ten ‘most common lures piece’ above, any doorknob would have thought of these, and they are transparently ridiculous besides. Surely the true masters of manipulation are those who work in advertising firms, the spin-doctors contracted to political regimes, the people who write curricula for our schools, and the parents who lie, day in and day out, to their children about where the real risk is. Statistically at least, it is overwhelmingly in the home and as such, pieces about child predators and those who fight with them have the deeper purpose of allaying suspicion regarding what is going on behind those suburban doors, gaily painted on the outer frames, perhaps often casting a darker hue once one has had the misfortune of stepping over their thresholds.

            But we must return to the question breaking in earlier, the ‘why’ regarding the presence of more of these decoy articles appearing now than in previous decades. What is their wider meaning, and what are their wider effects? The ‘moral panic’ serves the advertiser and retailer well. Shilling risk allows one to shill security in that consuming – and less so, but also present, producing – goods feels more like a sure thing. Not merely products that make households ‘safer’ – the software that disallows young internet acolytes access to ‘mature’ content (now there’s a misused term if ever there was one) and contrasting, perhaps, with the fact that there are plenty of everyday objects sold that could be used to beat one’s kids (and indeed  are so used in countries like the USA where the laws regarding assault against children are soft) – but also the idea of contract itself is shilled. There are terms and conditions to all social dynamics, and it is precisely the lack thereof within the underside of sociality that is most radical to us. The villain eschews any contractual language once you are in his or her thrall. While any upstanding citizen decries this moment, when will we begin to apply the same standards to our own behaviors, behaviors which result in the world being precisely as it is today? In my latest non-fiction work, due out this summer, I write:

            “The general bad conscience of living in wealth and freedom when most do not has this effect as well. It might lead to a critical anxiety if it were not covered over and distracted, entangled by all of the web of consumer society which in part gives us the appearance of both wealth and freedom alike. It is a hard slogan – ‘third world blood fuels your lifestyle’ or the like – but it is yet not an entirely accurate one. It is, in effect, not hard enough, for what that blood actually fuels is our notion of freedom and even relative health. But one cannot, by definition, attain freedom based on unfreedom. One cannot be free on the back of the one who is unfree. Every historical human ethics acknowledges this moral fact. Therefore we allay our anxieties with the appearance of freedom, which would have to include such characteristics as some social mobility and physical movement, consumer choice without regard for either season or more glaringly, climate, and even serial monogamy or its guises. What we other aristocrats actually possess is not human freedom but the velvet unfreedom and supple unthought of those who are idle in the face of collective responsibility and thus ill-suited to explain to the rest of ‘them’ why and how this is going to continue to work as it does.”

            The parent who loses their child to disease or yet hunger in some marginal place might well call me a child predator. A most powerful one who can kill at a distance and remain unseen and untouched. Is the collective revenge of the developing world coming down the pipes as we speak? We might just be at the cusp of adding to our list of anxieties and even neuroses – a list whose numbered items far exceed any latter day Decalogue – the nascent realization that the villains are, after all, simply and slyly, ourselves.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty-five books on ethics, education, art, health and religion, and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades.