With a Fitting Confidence?

Introduction: With a Fitting Confidence?

            The unexamined self is not worth being. But in saying this, are we not also aggrandizing that very selfhood, comparing it to life in general, also to be examined? How much of a life is, in other words, worthy of examination in the same way we might attempt to explicate life in general? This other level is surely more a question for the sciences, especially those of nature. For though living is of the human, life itself is not. Life is shared by vast minions of species, all of whom live within its natural embrace. But living-on in the manner we humans accomplish it is something quite different from any other known form of life. This is so because we have to live life as a self.

            What does it mean to be a self, and a self which lives? At first, we would seek to alter the ‘which’ into a ‘who’, giving us the sense not only of agency but also of individuality and even perhaps that of purpose. Who is the self who lives? But a distinction must be immediately made; that between self and selfhood. For if we share life with other creatures grand and miniscule, we also share the conception of self with all other persons, and extending in two directions; those predecessors to me who are now passed and constitute the once-living component of the past, as well as those successors, those to come who will also live as human selves. At least unless or until we develop into a new species which has no need for either self or selfhood, this is what human life is as existence and not merely life. Existence is ipsissimous, life, only autochthonous. The one belongs to itself and is also ‘owned’, while the other simply arises from itself and thenceforth is only as it could ever be.

            Yet given that my predecessors are passed and my successors yet to come, I must inevitably but also compassionately turn to my contemporaries to gain an understanding of not only what it means to live a human life, but also the purpose of being a human self; the meaningfulness of selfhood. After all, I live with them if not as them. And they live with me though not as myself. We share both life and self but never living nor selfhood. We imagine that it is through love alone that our nascent but wondrous contiguity of beings become as Being. Yet even here, being in love prompting a more existential rendering as being-in-love, or the being-which I am in love, distracts us from its more ontological marker, being-as-love, or being as is the love we imagine transfigures the mere quantities of a human life and thereby gives it its unique quality.

            We are challenged in our own time by such quantities, perhaps as never before. It often appears we are content to rest within the selvedges of self, perhaps salvaging a modicum of objective grace but losing anything to do with the challenge which mortal being confers upon us. The window-dressing of the self can never lead to selfhood, just as identifying with a group or a structural variable such as race or class can never lead to the person who I am. It is an ethical error to imagine that the personal is only the political; such an idea rests upon the conflation of self and selfhood. A ‘self’, by itself, that which is shared through a ‘Das-Manic’ dynamic, if you will, gives us the impression that it is wholly defined by its life-chances and through the gaze of the generalized other. It is intent on avoiding intention. It is an agent of the agency at large and thus has none of its ownmost. We have rather a bifurcation of self in lieu of selfhood, and the question for each of us thus is, how do I navigate what are entanglements for the Dasein which is both mine own but also mine ownmost selfhood?

            This book is, in the face of this question, itself divided into two parts. The ‘examined political self’ contains essays and queries about the relationship, strained as it so often is, between who I am in the world and how that same world frames my being within its objective ambit. Here, the ‘who’ tends to retreat in front of forces which seem to it larger than life. Yet because they are historical and political, they have long since been divorced from the life of nature, so much so that we cannot even identity precisely when this parting of ways occurred. Culture is, for us, larger than nature, and has been so at least since the domestication of fire. Just so, it is also larger than any single selfhood, since it is made up of the total quantity of selves, living and dead, that there may ever have been, though the vast majority of these remain unknown to us in any personal sense. This too is a factor, and, I believe, a perduring one; we cannot know the dead as they knew themselves. They once were as I am now, and for now, and I am to be as they now are. I am now a selfhood to myself and perhaps to a few intimate others, and as well, seen as a self politically and in the world, but my destiny is to repeat the dissolution of the former and the ascendency of the latter. In death, mine ownmost life as a selfhood abruptly vanishes, and the memory of me as a mere self in the world takes on the mantle of life which is no longer living.

            This process is an element of the facticity of Dasein, yet we overdo it whilst still alive by engaging in the entangled pretense, as well as the simply tangled pretension, of seeing ourselves as augmented selfhoods, extended by the same basic, if brute, ‘practitioning’ of the habitus of ‘identities’. This volume argues stringently against this fashionable practice, which is at once a flaneur and a regression. We play at being anachronists, imagining that the Enlightenment never occurred, and that we can, or even should, be better off living as if it actually did not. In part two, the ‘examined social selfhood’, the second set of essays speaks more directly to the ‘who’ of whom I am. If the first part’s tone is itself pitched politically and critically, the second’s cleaves to us at a most personal level, intruding upon our intimate spaces and clearing not so much a ‘lighted space’ but the more so; a spatiality alit with self-understanding, for that is the ultimate aim of this brief collection. Selbstverstandnis is the outcome of an hermeneutic interrogation, both of the self, its more public thesis, as well as the selfhood, its more private antithesis. The synthetic sensibility that arises from all authentic attempts at self-understanding is a Phronesis of the political and the personal. Neither, as stated above, can wholly be identified with the other, and beyond either we are called to action by both the collective conscience and our own Anxiety-impressed ethical compasses to respond to their conflicting presence.

            In doing so, this Phronetic sense gradually becomes itself ascendant, expressing the Aufheben of being-there as lensed through Polis and Psyche the both. In doing so, perhaps we can engender for ourselves a fitting confidence in our responses, if not directly to any ‘great questioner’ who may yet exist, then at least to the great questions posed by human existence itself; those surrounding notions of its purpose or its lack thereof, that regarding its ultimate destiny as both a species and as individuals, the character of its species-essence and, more incisively, mine ownmost ethical character; who am I and how can I know this? And it is not so much self-knowledge that is at stake, because of course that selfsame being undergoes much change over its brief tenure as a selfhood, but rather what develops is an ongoing process of self-understanding; here, the method is, as it were, more important than the truth. For the truth of our being-present is never yet the presence of Being, never larger than the life which is granted to the who that I am. Let us hope that our present penchant for conflating self and selfhood, the political and the personal, and even nature and culture, are but passing testaments to an age wherein the truth of selfhood may seem to some to be an overburden of that very Being to which we owe both our human conscience and our historical calling.

                                                             – GVL, Winnipeg, May 2024.

On the Value-Neutral Character of Life

On the Value-Neutral Character of Life (life is neither fair nor unfair)

            There are a number of commonplace errors involved in what passes for the ethical evaluation of life. Some are products of laziness, such as phrases like ‘life isn’t fair’ – levelled at our children in lieu of an authentic argument or analysis or as a salve for our own bad consciences – and ‘its just human nature’ – casually cast off between adults who have given up trying to puzzle their way through a life that has gotten away from them. In fact, life is neither fair nor unfair, and human nature is not a singular thing. ‘Fairness’ is contextual, and hence its ethical overtones, and it is culture, not nature, that animates all humans and distinguishes us from the wider nature. Both change over time and across place, and though not immediately connected to one another, our concepts of what is fair or reasonable, ethical judgments, are at length revealing of more abstract ideas such as ‘nature’ or the human condition, which are ontological constructs. From the outset, ethics sought to distance itself from metaphysics, but their affinal relationship remains intact.

            Life by itself has no value. This is because it lacks both meaning and meaningfulness. The one is inherited by us from the tradition, which we the living must confront even as we are confronted by it. The other is made by us through living-on. The ‘adventurous’ timbre to be found in Erlebnis is a casual hint that the one who seeks to live and believes that ‘life is for the living’ is on the right path regarding the hermeneutic ideal of having a new experience. The newness of any experience, one that I have never had before this moment, is what gives it its authenticity. The genuine character of lived-experience, at first as Erlebnis in the sense of it being exciting or at the least, interesting, due to its very novelty, is, after a fashion, transmuted into Erfahrung, an experience through which one has gained something. It is also instructive that in the German a distinction is made between experience in the shorter and longer terms, through the use of the same two terms. The immediacy of Erlebnis, ‘lived experience’, connotes the very living of it. ‘Gained experience’, built into Erfahrung, is suggestive of something that has been digested. This internalization of one’s experience occurs through the second phase of the hermeneutic encounter, that of interpretation. How does this new experience jibe with what I thought I already knew about her, about them, about it, about the world?

            When we ‘process’ an experience, we do so after the fact, as it were. We are now no longer in the very midst of living it but rather on the way to having it, not that it will ever constitute a possession in the usual sense. Erfahrung once had does change us, but it itself will also be changed by yet further Erlebnis over time. Meaningfulness is the result of the duet of lived and possessed experience. In this, living-on presents the most authentic contrast with the tradition, something each of us is born into and over which none of us has control. ‘The tradition’, whatever cultural druthers we quite by happenstance find ourselves swaddled in, can of course take us only so far, especially in a world moved along by accelerated paces of change and an ever-more cosmopolitan social reality. But it is not merely the sometimes abrasive and abrupt contact amongst differing cultures that promotes a sense that what I have learned as a child is not the entire story. Indeed, the majority of the tradition does not seek to cast aspersion on other cultures so much as it limits the experience of our own.

            The apical metaphor is clear enough. There are other gods after all, but they are for the others, perhaps lesser or at least, less sophisticated than we. We shalt not worship these gods as it would be tantamount to betraying our own culture. Render unto the others what is other. Today, we tend not to publicly or officially state our own cultural superiority – though privately one must wonder; such a study awaits its student, perhaps – but rather act as if we are minding our own cultural business and thus expect others to do the same. The window-dressing mosaic of borrowing one another’s food, music and clothing, or even, and more seriously, converting to another’s belief system, is not the same as becoming other from oneself. The world tends to intervene, and even in extreme cases – as when anachronistic evangelicals in Alberta kidnapped their neighbors to save them from the immanent apocalypse, stuffing them in the back of their BMW SUV only to have the RCMP ‘demons’ rescue the unwitting elect – symbolic beliefs hailing from previous ages are made both maudlin and absurd by the wider forces of modernity. I am an anti-science creationist who drives a car. I am a woman-hating rapist who is happily married. I am a Christian who helps only those in my church. I am a fascist but I control my children out of love.

            Such common contradictions cannot be put down solely to role stress. Over time, we learn to choose amongst ideals. The febrile choose only those which support their basest desires. More courageously, others confront their self-made contradictions, though many succumb to the unethical passion of choosing only in self-interest. For all these, the supposed ‘unfairness’ of life is such simply because it has gotten in their way. They thence sow their faux cynic all round their person, muting youth’s magic horn and reaping a bitter harvest late in their own paltry lives. Here, both conceptions of experience are absent. No Erlebnis is possible in such an existence because the new in principle is shunned. Hence no Erfahrung can result. Meaning has stopped at the point at which the tradition has run itself out. It is fair to mark such a moment at perhaps twelve years of age, when ideally one would encourage the nascent youth to begin her own questioning of all things. It is also reasonable to suggest that those who have received the tradition but have never, through their own experience, gone beyond it, are stuck at age eleven or so. Given the sub-cultures that alone celebrate tradition and how they do so, identifying this age seems apt.

            Of course, Erlebnis is itself a value-neutral conception. There is no guarantee that a child might not experience ‘too much too soon’, to use a conservative turn of phrase. But what constitutes both the ‘much’ and the ‘soon’ can be overdone. The very vagueness of the framing can lend itself to manipulation. The playground conflicts – speaking of eleven-year-olds – between groups of parents apparently espousing contrary ‘values’ is an ongoing example of the unthought that any cultural tradition, when taken in a vacuum, must promote. And yet the specific content of Erlebnis is not ultimately at issue. Rather it is how one interprets these experiences, what one ‘gets’ out of them in the sense of Erfahrung that will shape our character over the longer term. So, the neo-fascist of all stripes seeks to control what kind of experience is made available, to youth in particular but in their own imagination, to all of us. You must see the drag queen; no, you must not see the drag queen, and so on. In reframing specific types of potential experience, we in fact lose the quality of experience itself. All institutions seek to do this through policy, curricula, dogma and doxa, or ritual. It is fair to suggest that experiencing any of these for the first time preserves some element of the hermeneutic ongoingness of life. But institutionalized experiences are constructed to mimic their once precedent-setting content with an exactitude that takes them outside of lived time. They present to us moral spaces instead of ethical places. Only within the latter do we have consistently new experiences and thus can undertake to change or improve ourselves instead of becoming stagnant, static, staid and stiff. But confronting the tradition by taking ourselves outside of what is comfortable and convenient for us takes both courage and nerve.

            We do have solid, if naïve, role models for both in the presence of our adolescents. Courage occurs when I am faced with an unknown outcome and have time to consider an array of consequences. Perhaps in some few cases, discretion really is the better part of valor, but mostly, I must match the courage I have shown in taking on this or that confrontation with a simple nerve that tells me ‘I can do this and I’ll show you!’. To say that we have seemingly lost our nerve when it comes to confronting warmed-over traditions, most of which have little relevance to present-day life, is to say we have in the process also become cowardly. The essence of our attempts to control young people lies in snuffing out both courage and nerve; the one associated with Erfahrung and the other with Erlebnis. For we who have forsaken both, youth represent not themselves but rather a way of being; that which progresses human ‘nature’ while at once revealing the polyglot ethical stations of human life. Our collective avoidance of the value-neutral character of life can only dehumanize us, for it takes away our ability to make life meaningful. Instead, we are left with the meanings of others and of history. Though these must be the starting point for any human life, they alone cannot provide for any human future. Instead, we should work to revivify opportunities for lived experience as widely as possible, taking the risk of the self to be our guide but without assuming that all potential risks are equal. Just as wonder is the essential principle of the child that the adult needs access, nerve is the basic tenet of youth which the adult must also regain. The mature being adds a third principle, that of Phronesis, or practical wisdom. Each phase of life has something to teach the others, to remind them that a human life is at once disparate but is also one thing. In doing this, the conception of a future can once again take hold.

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

On Multiple Worlds

On Multiple Worlds

            But to defy the world is a serious business, and requires the greatest courage, even if the defiance touch in the first place only the world’s ideals. Most men’s conscience, habits and opinions are borrowed from convention and gather comforting assurances from the same social consensus that originally suggested them. To reverse this process, to consult one’s own experiences and elicit one’s own judgment, challenging those in vogue, seems too often audacious and futile; but there are impetuous minds born to disregard the chances against them, even to the extent of denying that they are taking chances at all. (Santayana, 1954:170-1 [1905]).

                Our seemingly conflicted consciousness is so because it has come into being from a combination of two distinct worlds. That there are two hemispheres, associated with specific structures and patterns of cognition, is likely more of a practicality on the part of the evolutionary brain rather than a direct reflection of the bifurcate sensorium into which such a cognition has been placed and through which it has come to be. What are these worlds, then, that have combined both surreptitiously and yet surrendered each other to their combination?

            One is the world of nature. In nature we discover that which at least resembles an ontology different from our own, as expressed in a myriad of both animal and static forms all capable of being understood through the purely mathematical frames which seem to, in their turn, speak the language of the cosmos into conscious being. Nature is generally seen as discrete from culture, if not in opposition to it. This latter regard comes not from science but rather from a pre-scientific understanding of the natural world, at once the source of life and at the same time possessed of the ever-present threat of death. An animal may be eaten or it may eat me. Nature is thus presented to consciousness as itself a bicameral expression, with the living and dying played out by anonymous process and dispassionate dynamic. As such, there is nothing more nature can give to an intelligent being conscious of itself in a wholly different manner than what we can discern in nature; one that is both self-conscious and comprehending of time.

            Two is the social world. Schutz’s ‘multiple realities’, from which the title of this essay is borrowed, differ from one another, often in radical ways, but they all share the absolute placement within the social reality of the world of humanity. To say that ‘nothing human is alien to me’ is also to say that what is not human might well be alien and remain so by definition. We also take the risk that our inhumanity, no matter how much we might desire to suppress it or to shove it away from us and thus into another world, might, through its own sense of counter-ressentiment, take a further vengeance upon us by devolving the social world into a lower nature, abject and petty, as if what is merely ‘red in tooth and claw’ by happenstance would itself become calculated and thus create an enduring evil.

            Between the world of nature and the world of culture there exists the conscious mind. Its basic architecture, its neuro-chemistry, its autonomic and proprioceptive functions, are all products of evolutionary Gestalts. They are what remains of nature in ourselves. Insofar as we do not yet understand the whole of it, consciousness yet appears as a kind of microcosmic miracle. Nature has overleapt itself in its creation, and we need not make any kind of ideological or even customary distinction between these two loaded terms, ‘creation’ and ‘evolution’. Evolution has indeed created itself and recreated itself due to its temporal suasion, and thence may boast of creations and even to a certain extent, an unknowing creativity, in its living expressions of itself. But this is where nature leaves off and culture begins, and if there is a liminality to this moment, attested to by the sense that we will never be able to precisely identify the ‘thing’ that made our primordial ancestors differ just enough from their direct predecessors to begin the lengthy journey to modern humanity, it is not a fatal mystery to admit to ourselves that something of the sort must have occurred in any case. We have, in a word, all of the evidence we need to hoist such a claim aboard the complex apparatus of our scientific vessel.

            Similarly, the heroic quest to observe the beginning of the current universe is made so only by its deeper calling; that of it also being a witness to creation. In that we cannot ever see the moment when the first proto-humans walked the earth, the ‘Big Bang’ will serve as both a grander event but also one that consciousness seeks as its ultimate birthright. And it is this specific idealization that marks culture over against nature. The one seeks the origin of the other to finally prove the difference between them, yes, but also to at least nod to the fact that nature and culture are mutually imbricated in a manner unknown to any of our ancestors, those unaccountably distant or those historical. In seeking origins, we seek not merely a genealogy of life, but rather a meaning for a consciousness which in turn seeks to go beyond its own life. And the chief manner by which this being overtakes itself is by calling not nature into question, but rather culture. Nature serves as a validation not for norms, but rather for awareness, something more than simply sentience.

            But if the quest to witness creation is heroic, even noble, the assertion of one’s own singular mind against the social world, no matter how courageous, is fraught with all bad conscience as well as buoyed by good faith. The one who embarks upon this task will at first and at best tread only water. She seeks blood, even marrow, but these prizes of the thinker, artist and authentic critic alike will more than likely be bequeathed to others who follow upon her cultural quest and seek as well to build upon it. This is the truer heart so brave; that my exposition of the world of humanity will benefit me not at all, and thus cannot be called upon to either lend cantor to, let alone vouchsafe, my actions. And if the challenger seeks not merely analysis but also change, then let it be said such would be noticed only as part of the human future altered from its pastness; my germs come to fruits long after they had been sowed.

            Too long? In ‘disregarding chance’, we not only interpret happenstance in the usual and mundane sense of what is more or less probable, but as well, and more meaningfully, as a kind of method by which to object to the social world, its ‘consensus’, ‘conventions’ and ‘comforting assurances’. In this everyday chapel wherein ‘society worships itself’, we have exited by the rear doors or yet perhaps a window, but we have not yet either been excommunicated or charged with arson. The church stands yet, and indeed must do so, otherwise there would be none of the social factuality needed for the revolutionary mind to call upon in evidence of her novel claims. All religion, according to Durkheim, is in fact civil religion. He makes a conscious effort to remind us that there is no other moral order than that found within the social world. Nature is non-moral, and the otherworldly but a projection and a metaphor. Even the ultimate ‘reality’ of nature must be docketed in lieu of an understanding that overtakes its human and historical sources. If we humans are the local ‘eyes and ears of the cosmos’ these senses retain their humanity, and especially so, given that the very unimaginable vastness of nature in its grandest expression is also its most anonymous, distant, and empty vista. We create meaning in the face of the void, whether that be the personal and singular outcome of my human finitude, or the uncounted firmaments to be beheld only from and within our paltry moment.

            Since we cannot critique the cosmos – such would be purposeless and also baseless; nature is what it is and nothing more – all the more so may we be given to questioning what culture has wrought in its stead. By all means, the conceptions of cosmos over different eras and even epochs may be called into question, for that is part and parcel of the wider human endeavor; not only in the scientific sense of ‘have we gotten it right?’, but also in that philosophical: why is cosmos, as order and as ordered, so important for us? What is the culture of nature? For young people, this is a reasonable arena with which to begin the examined life. Not the social world entire, for we have not yet lived long enough to experience its self-expression, nor the self, which has not yet fully developed in the lights, both lurid and inspired, of what each culture has to offer its youth. Even so, the advent of critique necessitates an ever-steepening slope; from the naïve ‘why’ questions that accede to purely scientific responses, to the questioning of local norms, to the resistance against institutions, most often family and school, and then ever onwards to the impious querying of ideals and the ‘shooting at morals’ which is the penultimate duty of the thinker and artist alike. At every juncture, we ourselves are as well a target. For who, within their ‘right-mindedness’, would bring down the whole of it? The social world is the human cosmos after all.

            Hence Santayana’s cautious paean to all those who are not only members of the same guild to which he belonged and to which he brought such noble value, but more generously and also more importantly, to any human being. It is our shared and collective birthright to know the social, yes, but it is equally so our enlightened human duty to question it to the point of historical oblivion, if indeed what is exposed departs from our highest ideals, as it regularly does. And while nature will always remain aloof to our entreaty and ignorant of our will, culture is of our own creation and thus possession. The social world exhibits merely the simulacrum of eternity, and even the cosmos of nature is not itself timeless. That we live inside the question of our own existence should not be seen as a too-cunning conundrum, generating only misery and angst, pathos and melancholy. Rather it is the very thrownness of being which we are; resolute in our being-ahead, caring in our anxiety, concernful in our running along. Who better to respond to such a question that, though it bears the historicity of existence alone, marks us in our essence with a history of ontology that is shared and which constitutes our specific nature.

            The natural world need not answer any questions; this is its nature and its essence. And the social world cannot answer to itself, only for itself, in quotidian quota and mundane malaise. But the questioner, since she too is a social being, opens up the space wherein novel responses can be known. She is her own force of nature within the cosmos of culture, she is that which creates in the face of creation, she is the sole arbiter of the un-moralized sentiment and deconstructed structure which is society that was. We should not expect the social world as constructed and maintained by our predecessors to provide reasonable responses to the questions of the day. At most, it can cover for those who deny the questioner’s birthright and therefore suppress their own. In this, the social world betrays its cowardice in the same manner as does the questioner exhibit her courage. Shall we ourselves then hesitate when faced with such a transparent parentage on both sides? Shall we run for such cover, or shall we stand and uncover both the best and the worst that culture has gifted unto the history of the now?

            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.

Me Tar Sand, You Pain

Me Tar Sand, You Pain

            On the general culpability of misogyny and self-hatred

            With the confluence of International Women’s Day whose major theme was domestic violence and misogyny, and the appearance of a misogynistic cartoon of Greta Thunberg emanating from Alberta’s resource heartland, it would be sage to note that these kinds of events are not at all unrelated, as Hillary Clinton publicly did some days ago. Yet there is more to such a dynamic than vested interests and the conflict of gender iniquities. Men tend to keep their emotional resources locked deep inside a sediment metamorphosed by machismo, the shallow equivalent of honour, bravado in lieu of bravery, and paternalism instead of chivalry. Such patriarchy may indeed be ‘viral’, as the French protesters aptly suggested, but it is more than that. We men are the human equivalent of the tar sands. Costly to parse from our violent socialization, with dubious merit once so distilled. But if we carry the strata of another epoch within our spirits, women must appear to us as the painful perspective upon our own internal undoing.

            Because men have great difficulty in excavating their own human feelings and communicating their experiences in a richer language than that of the joint fascist aesthetic of desire and control, we have projected our still present curiosity and ingenuity into the world. An objectified nature can be subjected much more easily than can be the subject himself, and our subjection of nature is in fact a thinly veiled objection to ourselves. This projection of the will to life in carnal form using only carnival norms threatens to destroy the species. But more intimately, and with a greater resentment, we have also projected our inability to practice an examined self-understanding onto women. It is this that actually provides the clue to the more general problem at hand.

            My wife astutely remarked, upon hearing of the Thunberg cartoon decal and the reaction to it, ‘forget about child pornography, this is a hate crime’. Quite so. Instead of listening with compassion and risk to the other who challenges us, who has another perspective, who is sincere but who also does not know us, simply assault them, rape them, beat them down. In doing so, men are once again projecting the violence they feel toward themselves into the world, this time not of nature, but of others. This in turn divides the question of who is human and who should be the steward of the world at hand. For humans, in general, a world in hand is less threatening than a world merely at hand. Women and children as chattel – in many countries yet today they are still defined in this manner; witness the elites of Dubai or the peasants of Afghanistan, the lack of legal deterrents against domestic violence in a Russia hell-bent on increasing its birthrate, the lack of protection against physical violence for children in the United States, the list goes on – are to be taken in hand. The similarity of phrases is not a coincidence.

            Violence against women and children, as well as against other men, is the same thing as violence against the world. But women are not nature. The popular mythology of ‘mother earth’ is a distraction that pushes both men and women and all other genders away from truth of things: the world in fact is an anonymous set of forces which is not at all dependent on human life in any manner. It worlds itself without us, and we have, of late, made ourselves a danger to it mostly in relation to our own tenure upon it. Perhaps not only to this, but as well much of life as we have known it. The ‘male gaze’ which objectifies the world of forms and indeed helps to create that world as form and not as an unformed mass of unrelated sense and image, is one of appropriation. It seeks to possess but it also seeks to maintain possession. In this, it is in conflict with itself. For how can one attain the mastery over something and thence forth keep still in one’s mastery? What does it mean to be the master of all things when the attainment of which can afford no further means to satisfy one’s desire for mastery?

            The fear of an anonymous and even uncanny nature led in part to the advent of civilization. It is Glacken’s (1967) uncommonly fine historical analysis that allows us such insights in our own time. Today, we hold not so much an antique fear within ourselves but rather resentment. With all our accomplishments, yet we must perish as unique individuals. This is an unquiet thought and men specifically are socialized to feel responsibility for it. We reach out from this disquiet towards an ungodly future; from the desperate quest to evolve the species artificially to the perennially popular fantasies concerning contact with other civilizations to the sense that stem cells etc. can prolong the lives we do have, we struggle with the new role we have assumed; we are now our own gods. Yet we also strain backward towards the all-too-godly past; from the recent resuscitation of the authoritarian family made manifest in ‘intensive’ parenting and strict control over children, to the idea that the family – an institution constructed during a time when women were chattel, hence the prevalence of contemporary violence now reported because in fact women are not chattel, and neither are our children – should even exist as a viable social institution, the return of young people to popular ‘religious-based’ organizations as if these could have any profoundly relevant meaning to the world-as-it-is, we as a species are challenged by the mortality of our condition as never before.

            Yet we can ask ourselves, what is the loss of an individual future as against the loss of the future itself? Humans die, but humanity lives on. A man dies after all not as a man but as a human being, his reason suppressed, his soul unexamined and his heart enslaved to a vain desire. A woman dies before her time if she is forced to be less than her own future makes openly possible. A child dies before she even becomes fully human, sentenced to the unutterable violence of the chattel definition and the dictates of moribund institutional ‘life’. Can any of this be called a ‘future’?

            The human condition summons us in ways both threatening and non-threatening, says Heidegger. But however we respond, we do not avoid these summons. The climate crisis is a mere symptom, as is that geopolitical. Let us not be decoyed into becoming entangled by a symptomatology in the same way as we would not, disingenuously and with a transparent duplicity, allow ourselves to be seen to too publicly eviscerate courageous women or too harshly discipline equally courageous youth, though both conditions remain the desire of most men and indeed, perhaps most ‘adults’ as well. Instead, confrontation with compassion, heroism without hedonism, chivalry without paternity, honor within authenticity; these are the characteristics that make the noble character from which humanity has gained its only marque of self-respect. In our own time, when respect for others and for the world is at a premium, we must begin by staring not at the mirror, but staring it down, staring through it, until we reach some more insightful sensibility that does not rely upon the force of will alone.

Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of almost forty books in ethics, education, religion, aesthetics and social theory, and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades.