Authorship and Authority

Authorship and Authority (Consider the Source)

            ‘Arguments from authority are worthless’, declares Carl Sagan, as he famously defined science near the end of the epic Cosmos (1981). This is surely an element of any research field, where there is not only always the next experiment and the next, but as well, the sense that our knowledge, however cumulative, is always both partial in the sense of being incomplete, as well as in that second, deeper sense of being biased. We are not only children of our own times and no other, we are also subject, as mortal beings, to the degradation of memory and the flight of fantasy. Beyond all of this local flavor, reality is, its ‘realismus’, itself subject to change given cosmic evolution. What once were constants have been shown to be relative and discursively, we cannot be certain that it is our own history that is at least a partial source of the enduring mysteries we encounter when we do inquire into the universe at large. The most obvious such link is that diverse antique civilizations and their moralities appeared to endure, almost timelessly, and thus in their worldviews, corresponding to their perduring quality as understood from the point of view of each short generation of mortal denizens, their ideas about the cosmos were also timeless. In a word, the politics of humanity spills historically into the human understanding of nature.

            Sagan was himself an authority in both astronomy and physics, and he was a decent interpreter of history and culture as well. In spite of his credo, he too was a moralist, and in spite of the framework of his chief vocation which he correctly outlined in what remains the most watched documentary series of all time, he too mustered arguments ‘from authority’ from time to time, no less than in defining the merits of science as the ‘best tool’ humanity possessed. It is of more than passing interest that Max Weber, arguably the greatest authority  and expert on society of all time cautioned us against relying upon expertise for any serious decision in or about that same society. What are we then to make of major figures who seem to bely, or even outright deny, their authority in matters we have already ceded to them? This is more than a question of modesty in the face of the vastness of cosmos and the daunting diversity of even our own species, parochial as it must be against the wider backdrop of indefinite infinity. To my mind, it seems more about the sense that when one does in fact dig into the human conversation, things quickly become more complex then one might have bargained for.

            Which in turn begets the question of authorship as source. It is not so much that certain persons are not entitled to their opinions unbridled and unlimited, and thoughts remain yet free in at least the sense of being able to have one or the other pending one’s imagination and education. Rather, it is the recent ability for anyone to create his own venue, especially one digital, to broadcast such opinions far and wide and begin to construct his own authority out of that which is in fact mere authorship. Examples are, regrettably, far too abundant to enumerate, from misogynist bigots who happen to have Super Bowl rings, to anti-communist journalists who imagine they are experts in dialectical materialism, to Jewish comedians who are suddenly political scientists and experts in the history of the Levant. But by far the most dangerous authors who imagine they also have authority in some more profound sense are the many politicians who, because they wield power but that without non-legal authority, deliberately and diligently confuse serious discourse for mere politics. Here, names would be superfluous, because almost all politicians, whose very reason of being is to pander to any and all those who might vote for them – or, in anti-democratic conditions, support them either through their silence or their willingness to engage in precipitous conflicts upon their leader’s behalf – engage in the calculated conflation of authority and authorship. A fashionable favorite is that ‘parents know what is best for their children’, and apparently, everyone else’s as well. Teachers and mass media, the usual rivals to parental authority, have come more and more under fire, consistent with the parent-pandering craze – though with nothing else regarding the actual confluence of youth, anxiety, and hopelessness – and the ease of which targets can align against two fronts with which we are either generally suspicious – media sells things to us and little more – or have some resentment against – we all recall our poor teachers and perhaps too much so.

            But teaching is, for one, a vocation, a trade, and a profession requiring training and expertise as well as the wisdom of experience, cliché as that sounds. Stating that ‘education should be returned to parents’ is much the same as saying that ‘gas-fitting should be returned to the parents’, or that ‘hydroelectric dam-building should be returned to the parents’, and so on. So far, I have yet to hear that my own vocation, philosophy, should be ‘once again’ a parental purview, but then such parents, who would certainly be incapable of even the slightest musings in that direction, would also likely baulk at the very idea. Not quite sincerely, however, as parenting, seen as a Gestalt of mentorship, guidance, resource allocation and even love, for goodness sakes, would certainly include much moralizing if never any real thinking of any note. Yet in spite of all of this faddish and hypocritical nonsense about ‘parent’s rights’, the wider question of expertise and authority remains. And when major authorities suggest that arguments from authority are either worthless – as they are in the experimental sciences – or to be taken with a grain of salt – as those emanating from the behavioral sciences – then, with some irony, we feel we must take such statements seriously.

            I have chosen the two most important cautions that have appeared in discourse during the course of the twentieth century. Yet more well-known ones, such as Einstein’s ‘God does not play dice with the universe’ – Hawking reminded us decades later that he himself took ‘God’ to mean the same thing he understood Einstein to mean by it;  the whole of cosmic forces as known to us and not as some inveterately anti-gambling moralizer – are statements of scientific position in the wider history of ideas. For Einstein, arguing against some of the more outlandish implications of the quantum theory at the time, this was simply his non-scientific way of refuting another such position, or at least, exhorting caution about it. But Hawking himself went further than this when he warned of extraterrestrial contact and the annihilation of the human species; this was an opinion uttered by a physicist who was anthropomorphizing alien morality; and as such one with absolutely no basis nor scientific evidence behind it. Hawking had made the mistake of playing on his bona fide authority in other areas; he  was, in a word, borrowing status from himself.

            When any discursive figure does this, no matter their contributions to other fields, they immediately fall from authority into mere authorship. Unfortunately, many of the rest of us do not at once make that vital distinction, or do not care to. Perhaps one is a Hawking ‘fan’, seeing the scientist in the same way as one holds any other kind of celebrity to heart. In this, we are being as dishonest as is the figure in question being disingenuous. How then to resist both the unguarded abrogance of the expert who is too-enamored of his own authority to remember its limits, often severe, as well as our own penchant for adulation which is born of, and borne on, the sense that this or that figure really is smart and thus anything he says must have some merit to it? One can begin to reverse this troubling trend by looking at oneself and those around us.

            My father was a structural engineer and ended his career as the chief building inspector for the City of Victoria. He was a master carpenter and a decent renderer of still life and nautical scenes in oils and watercolors as well as an expert model-builder. He played golf and hockey until his mid-70s, winning his club championship at age 73 with a handicap of 10. He knew little of culture and nothing of thought, he had been propagandized during the war and as a veteran he remained so until his death. His surpassing weakness was that he rarely spoke of things he actually knew a great deal about, and yet would borrow from this tacit status – of which almost none were aware in any case – to issue declarations of the most ignorant sort upon almost any other subject. These were not stated as opinions but rather as if they had some factual basis, or, at the very least, the weight of ‘wisdom’ behind them. He was, as a parent, typically sound for the younger set, typically incompetent for those older. For his generational demographic, he was amazingly progressive and enlightened, as was my mother. As I have before japed, both my parents were philistines but they were not barbarians. My father was no discursive figure and never would be, but he nonetheless represents the commonplace error of mistaking one’s personal experience for actual knowledge. This almost-universal human error is grievous enough in itself – most of us find, as we live on, that our experience is itself often found wanting after all – but that this selfsame error is deliberately targeted by politicians as the best way to manipulate franchise is nothing less than a patent evil.

            My father’s only son is a philosopher. But he is not a cognitive philosopher, or ‘philosopher of mind’, as this once wholly archaic designation has recently made a comeback, he is not an analytic philosopher of language, an epistemologist, an ancient scholar or a medievalist, he his not a philosopher of science nor a Marxist, nor is he by any stretch a logician. And so I do not, even within the genres of my own painstakingly studied vocation, assert any serious claims adhering to any of these departments and have never done so. The stuff I do know something about – phenomenology, hermeneutics, ethics, aesthetics, critical theory, education and existentialism, religion – casts a broad enough net for any thinker to never want in topic or subject. Far beyond this, I do not spout off about gas-fitting, hydroelectricity, or even parenting for that matter – I have consulted as an ethicist for many families over the years and always explain to them that I am expert in human relations in the abstract and not a ‘parenting’ expert, whatever that last might mean – in order to maintain my serious game and nascent name within the wider conversation which is our shared species legacy. And though it may be the case that those lives deemed outside of circles meritorious are all the more likely, through ressentiment, to try to gain access to them through a combination of outright fraud and feigned ignorance as to their truer motives, it falls to the rest of us to exercise a more existential and ethical version of the caveat emptor in their face. Otherwise, we risk becoming as the politician alone, who, as a darling dapper doyenne of the system within which he must work, is compelled to become a huckster, a shyster, a conniver, a narcissist. Each of us has each of these and others within our breast, so this is not a matter of directing our disdain afar. Rather, it is more simply a matter of learning how to recognize the authorship-limitations of what we know today as who we are right now, and thence perhaps coming to a better understanding of the authority-limits of what we can know as a human being and thence as a species entire.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 59 books in ethics, education, social theory, religion, aesthetics, and health as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Fiddler on the Hot Tin Roof

Fiddler on the Hot Tin Roof (The Media Minstrels)

            The fact that persons of Jewish descent dominate the culture-producing industries, both high and low, is the result of historical happenstance alone. Any other inference is not merely Anti-Semitic, it is suggestive of the very ressentiment that is once again building its political franchise. This ‘undergrowth’, as the narrator to the mostly excellent documentary The Architecture of Doom refers to it in its closing moments, is no longer simply underfoot, to the side, or creeping along unseen beneath a cultured canopy. That Jesus was himself Jewish, or at the least, was perceived as such whatever his paternal pedigree, should not have provided the Anti-Semite with an apical ancestor. But Jewish colleagues have told me that they still overhear, or are even told to their faces, that ‘The Jews killed Jesus’ and so on. Doubtless a personal retribution on the part of a few well-placed priests, the crucifixion hangs itself up on another kind of cross; one that is political through and through. The sandal has been on the other foot ever since. For ideally, being well-placed in a culture means having culture in the first place.

            Due to European property laws, as Marx and Engels pointed out in On the Jewish Question, the diaspora was funneled into service sector trades, including all those associated with accoutrement and requiring consistent and trans-national trade networks, such as jewelry, precious metals, and financing. It should be recalled that the first significant loan in history occurred when the Black Prince borrowed heavily in order to back a war, with the agreement that this debt would be repaid with interest. Needless to say, it was not. What were a group of Italian Jews with not even a militia in their employ going to do about it? By the nineteenth century, people of Jewish descent had become the leading indicators of a globalizing culture that would move from Mendelssohn to Mahler and from Marx to Freud. But at the very moment that ‘the Jews’ seemed to populate the corridors of culture, since, once again, they were barred from politics – mimicking the earlier division of labor between landed luxury and mere luxury items – there arose against this presence, both artistic and intellectual which appeared from above, a vicious counterpoint from below.

            In the Reich’s propaganda, the culture critic is singled out. This was easiest road, the lane of least resistance, for the critic produces in the criticized nothing other than a resentment. Shaw expressed it most famously, and most concisely, showing the critic to be nothing more than a eunuch beside the lovers’ bed. Akin to those who teach, those who can’t do, criticize. Indeed, I have encountered such criticism, resentful in itself, and have found myself saying, ‘write your own book, my friend,’ knowing full well that they were incapable of even that. The priests in the temple, driven from it by some neo-Hebrew and seemingly self-appointed messiah, are the truer apex of this jilted genealogy. Certainly, they got their revenge, but just as certainly, the history of Anti-Semitism, in its Euro-American context at least, begins there. And thus, and thence it is the culture critic who is the one who ‘passes his arrogant judgments’, and represents a wider ethnic group or ‘race’ who is devoid of ‘the very organ of culture’. Yet this could be said, and was said, of anyone who was a critic, Jew or non-Jew alike. The Reich focused nothing more, and nothing other, than an already present resentment, lensing it into an authentic ressentiment. Ironically, it was the artist who was first to heed this new politics, the intrusion of which into his absolutely apolitical, or even anti-political, realm, supposedly transcendent of anything petty at all, was uncommonly resented and rejected heretofore.

            The artist and the intellectual, the scientist and the lawyer, and above all others, so to speak, the physician, flocked to the NSDAP. Doctors as a profession boasted the highest party-member rates, partly due to the new regime’s promotion of eugenics, but also due to the clear-cutting of all Jewish medical professionals. The fact that many prominent members of the culture-producing sectors were of Jewish descent was simply an outcome of their heritage being prevented from pursuing other vocations was somehow lost. Of course, if any specific social group is targeted as being fit only for this or that, they will, over time, excel at it. They will, over time, develop networks internal which favor their in-group participation in a more longitudinal manner. The Nazis were adept at rewriting Germanic history into myth, but Hitler himself had more personal reasons for doing the same with his own biography. Perhaps it was so, that when he took in a performance of Rienzi in 1904, this was the ‘beginning of it all’, but surely it was three years later, with the rejection letter from the Vienna School of Art that set his resentment in motion. How many other art schools were there in Europe at the time? If one was 21st on the list of the very best, where only the top 20 are invited, one would think one would with some clearance actually get into a number of others. This fact too, was lost.

            Even so, it is not entirely fair to say that once those of Jewish descent were purged from cultural production only the mediocre remained. Otto Dix, an anti-Nazi expressionist, is a shining counter-example, one of the great artists of the interwar period and as ‘Aryan’ as they came. And even Hitler himself was a competent limner and a well-studied architect. But his real genius lay in graphic design. To this day, no symbology widens the eyes as does the suite of media bearing the half-twisted swastika; banners, flags, uniforms, standards, letterhead and many others. A whole-souled acolyte of Wagner, whose own anti-Semitism is well-known if potentially equivocal – in its singling out of Jewishness as an instance of the wider problem of ethnicity as a regression, for instance – Hitler became his own impresario. For the German of culture, it was clear that while those who were Jewish had indeed contributed mightily to European dominance, it was equally transparent that Gentiles could carry the torch without their help. Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Bruckner, Goethe, Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger; well, yes, we’ve got some game after all.

            And thus today? The same fomenting fulminations are afoot as were present in the 1920s, this time in the United States and not so much in Germany. The same resentment building itself into a movement of political ressentiment, the same mistrust of government and its minions, the same disdain and mockery of those who create in the arts, the same ignorance of literature and of philosophy – ‘only God knows the truth of things’, that is, their God – and this reiterative refrain begins in the 1980s. Yet we must ask, and at this very moment, is not the same blithe and sometimes even blatant sense of the blasé evident in how those of Jewish descent who do dominate the modern mass media in all of its lower cultural forms, as well as the now much-less targeted high culture, as well a reprise of the same attitude and self-perception present in the bygone Berlin and Vienna sets? Seinfeld defending Israel at Duke? Convocation from an elite culture-producing space, its design and entire look mindful of nothing other than a smallish party rally, with not the king but rather the court jester presiding, cuts a rather febrile figure to my mind. A mimicry and a mockery at once, such events result in some Lovecraftian hybrid, a ‘thing that should not be’.

            Beyond the specific spaces, behind the publisher’s closed doors, within the select circles of Kultur if not the heated tin roof of society itself, the coming victims of Holocaust II await their less chosen fates. And yet this is the happenstance of history repeating itself, without grace and outside of a wider Zeitgeist. People of Jewish descent know, more than any of the rest of us, that there is no Zionist conspiracy. It would then seem prudent if they did not continue to give the impression that there were.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 59 books in ethics, education, religion, aesthetics, social theory and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

This is War

This is War (The difference between forgetting and suppressing)

            At seventeen, my father left his home in Winnipeg for Halifax, lied about his age, and signed on with the Royal Canadian Navy, participating in the tail end of the Battle of the Atlantic. His act was one of both liberation and defiance, given his directly Mennonite heritage. Serving in the military was the most radical thing someone like him could have done at that time. The navy nonetheless gave him a non-combat position on the supply ship HMCS Provider. Still at mighty risk, her crew was not expected to fight per se. This satisfied the faith requirement of a background he had sought to reject, not on any theological grounds of course, but rather those filial, for youth, a much more common conscientious objection. We are fortunate today in Canada and elsewhere that our youth do not have to make those kinds of decisions in that kind of way, at least for now.

            But the filial bond-cum-bondage yet weighs heavily upon youth. The available response of the moment are the protests on university campuses scattered around much of the democratic world. To participate in them must make young people feel like they are standing up for something, as well as for themselves, which is likely the deeper import of such actions. And while it is true that war is a horrifying thing that no wholly sane person would ever wholly endorse, protesting against Israel, in this case, might be likened to someone who protested against Britain just before the time my father joined up to defend her and her allies. And to those who suggest that Israel has ‘gone too far’ in their response to being attacked, we can only remind such persons that there is in fact no such thing in warfare.

            Indeed, history tells us that the mistake is always the converse; not going far enough at the right time. The Reich made several of these errors, incomprehensibly though indeed, thankfully, when their usual tactical acumen seemed to break down. But in each case something else was at work. Their first mistake – such a phrase might have been a lesser title in a multi-volume Churchillian history epic – consisted of not annihilating the Allied Expeditionary Force hemmed in at Dunkirk, something the German forces could easily have accomplished, Their general ground command thought it unworthy to engage in such slaughter – though Göering and his air force did not – and refused to finish in this way, since the actual fight was over. The second occurred when, on the face of it, inexplicably, the Luftwaffe stopped attacking at the very point the RAF was out of resources, thereby ending the Battle of Britain. Here, Hitler had suggested moving air units to the East in preparation for Barbarossa, and also had new planes and pilots sequestered for this larger affair to come. The decision was premature, and would come back to haunt the Reich soon enough. One can say the entire campaign tactic, attacking from the air, was flawed in the first place, given that Britain would have succumbed through an all-out U-boat embargo and undersea attack on its large naval surface ships, thereby opening up the channel for an amphibious assault. The third error was directly attributed to Hitler himself, in disallowing Guderian to take Moscow before Kiev had fallen and the seasonal weather changed, abruptly and radically. The fourth and final error was also Hitler’s alone; attacking Kursk in Operation Citadel. Preserving what was then still the finest and best-equipped army in the world, even if also by then with no prospect of striking themselves a decisive blow against Russia, would likely have given the Reich enough lag time to develop their own atomic bomb.

            These are all errors of omission, if you will. To leave one member of Hamas standing is, for the Israeli Government at this juncture, both an admittance of a kind of defeat, but as well, an invitation to restore and restock that military group, patent enemies of Israel and of the Jewish people in general. And so their assault continues unabated, with the reality of both heightening suffering and misery, but also the risk of creating the image of becoming a political pariah in the eyes of the world. But the world is not at stake in Palestine, and it is perhaps too easy to stand back and direct as if it were. What is rather at stake is, aside from the existence of the Jewish state itself, is our perception of what constitutes war once it is well underway. If a young person were to ask me, does anything then go, anything at all?’ both the short answer and the long answer consist of one word. Only through either a dated sense of honor – Dunkirk – conflicting goals – Britain – or deliberate incompetence coupled with narcissism – The East in general – does warfare pause itself. Originally a local error, the expelling of payload over London because the Heinkels involved couldn’t find their assigned targets, rapidly degenerated into a town-for-town destruction, culminating in the firestorms of Hamburg, Cologne, and Dresden amongst other lesser lights. Did Hamas not understand, when they struck first, that they would invite a terrible reckoning upon the people they claim to represent? And unlike a few air commanders of one specific bomber group, Hamas never supposed it made an error.

            If the human conscience tells us to stop, history tells us to finish. History is not merely written by the victor, or at least, political and military history tends to be, so it is also lived, or at least, lived better. The Reich was a few tactical moments away from world domination, their stated goal. And Israel itself has been the lucky winner in at least one other historical moment of its own short history, the moment wherein the Syrian armored columns actually broke through all Israeli lines in the 1973 war. Their commander was so astonished that he disbelieved his own sudden, and total, success, and therefore turned back instead of barreling straight into Tel Aviv. The history of warfare is filled with ‘what ifs’, hence providing endless fascination for the dilettantes who enjoy war gaming, but this is a mere aside afforded by backreading. Yet given this iterative theme, modern states have equipped themselves with foolproof, failsafe, weapons which, once launched, have both no need of, but also no recourse for, second-guessing decisions in medias res. And this condition, in which every member of the human species lies and is compelled to live, as well as all life on earth as collateral, is surely more profoundly protested by the youth of today, who have apparently bodily forgotten it.

            For nuclear weapons represent the ultimate ‘all-in’ approach. With their possession, there is no holding back, no lack of finish, no quarter given or taken. And they serve another, perhaps more symbolic purpose; to represent the essence of warfare without the need to express its reality. For this lack of care, this radical recklessness and this revolutionary ruthlessness, is war, and thus each of us might heed the always sensible option not to start one in the first place.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 59 books in ethics, education, religion, aesthetics, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

‘Meet the Parents’ Today

‘Meet the Parents’ Today (self-righteous, incompetent, vengeful)

            And yet apparently possessed of ‘rights’. But the very being of a parent – that one has children – is not itself a right but rather a privilege. Not all those who desire children can have them, many lose children whom they wished to keep, and children themselves will eventually judge their parents, and some of those will vanish from the latter’s ken for whatever perceived injustice they had endured. Even so, if we do not speak of simply having children as a right, which we cannot, perhaps there is some other meaning to the desperate and disparate call to arms that self-styled parents’ groups have of late sounded? For they gird themselves against all other social institutions and even the family, of which they are generally and inordinately so proud, is seen as no longer the family anymore. For some it is the schools, for some the State, for fewer a church, this one or that, for others the ministries of child welfare, and for some it is other parents, judged lapsed and prolapsed in their moral obligations. But whatever or whomever may be the villain in the parental imagination, the lash of this lens is never turned toward themselves.

            So, I will do it for them. At once it is sage to recall that over 95% of child abuse occurs in the home, committed by persons well-known to the victim. The litany of largesse is not of specific interest, only the social fact itself. Almost all the remainder is perpetrated by coaches, teachers, trainers, and other adults who have some intimate contact and power over the child. Sports coaches are now belatedly living the infamy they deserve, at least some of them, as well as a few ‘Christian’ educators, but the vast majority of villains escape yet. The privacy of the household remains a bulwark against both investigation and prosecution, an oversize mute shoved down the very throat of any youthful horn, a bastion of iniquity that euphemizes discipline while it euthanizes childhood. In short, parents might well be by definition abusive, even if the very best of them practice only some silent symbolic force and never bellow, shame their child with ne’er a finger laid upon, or ignore their child entirely in the name of ‘progressive’ parenting. Neo-fascists and neo-communists alike, parents straight across the political spectrum upshift their pressing incompetence into a distressing defence of ‘parenthood’ in the abstract, bereft of any detailed accounting of exactly what they do or have done in the day-to-day travails of helping children attain young adulthood.

            So let us then ‘imagine’. Parents abuse officials of organized sports, they oust teachers and coaches from school programs, they get themselves elected to school boards and promptly ban books and other media, they rail against laws that protect children – for they well know against whom these laws are directed – and they seek at every turn to justify to their bad conscience, if they maintain one at all, that in doing so, they are good parents, yes they are. Parents dictate to teens long after any need of direct dependence has passed. They place limits of time, space, association, and activity upon youth, often contrary to the legal code. They crow about their ‘experience’, their ‘life wisdom’, and how ‘they used to be a teenager’ and now they know so much better. They enroll their children in summer camps after the legal age at which young people may stay by themselves, they choose at every turn the truncated lists from which only then such youth may choose, and they threaten their own children when, perhaps rarely enough, the young person demands a rationale, a reason, a right which indeed is their shared human birthright. Summarily, in the concise words of one of England’s poet laureates, ‘they fuck you up, your parents do’.

            High time to return the favour, in my opinion. For there seems to exist no publicly purveyed position of parenting that has anything to do with the child’s best interests. On the one side we witness with dismay a seething barbarism which believes in a vapid Victorian domesticity – adult women are victims of this outlook as well, though many appear to revel in it nonetheless; there are as many Juliettes out there as Justines perhaps – and more than this, far more, this side attempts to either convert or enslave the rest of us to its dreary druthers. On the other we find a patent and oblivious neglect of the most basic understanding that children do need our guidance and our skills, whatever little wisdom we might indeed possess in a world that is no longer quite our own, and of the utmost, the idea that being an adult means taking responsibility for things even when it isn’t your fault. For every fascism the controlling possessive parent exerts, there is a corresponding anti-fascism which, in its perverse sense of ‘freedom’, teaches children to think only of themselves and to be only whatever it is they fashionably imagine they are. On the one side there is a fetish for physical abuse, on the other, a reliance upon that emotional. The playground battle that exists between these two versions of parenting is not only cliché it truly is juvenile, far more so than almost anything an actual child gets up to or believes in. And these are the role models we wish to present to our children!

            Is it any wonder that social institutions other than the family have stepped in to do, well, something or other. Psychotherapy as an industry has heard the clarion call, education as a pedagogy, government as a morality; the counselor, the teacher, the politician – most of whom as well parents, we may presume – all proffering their vested interests to the by now numb and cynical youth whose future, along with our own, is ever in grave doubt due to the wider geopolitical actions of juvenile adulthood. ‘Your family made you suicidal? Here, let me fix that.’ ‘Your family can’t teach you everything you need to know, but we can.’ ‘I’ll pander to parents since they vote and you don’t, sweetheart, but you can still trust me.’ In every direction the young person looks today, she observes reality but sees evil. Where, she might ask, is the one place I can go where there are people who will love me, accept me for who I want to be, provide for me a livable future without unreasoned fear and unjustified death? Where is the place in my human heart that I was told the family occupied?

            I am rightly ashamed, as a philosopher and an ethicist, to respond with ‘I don’t know’. It cannot be an easy thing to be told, when still a teenager, that one is basically on one’s own. That is the reality, and though value-neutral in the objective sense, one as a person still has to live in it; endure the evil, savor the good when present, suffer the sorrow and enjoin the joy. The wisest thing I can say to youth today is the same thing that was said to them 2.5 millennia ago; the unexamined life is not worth living. Insofar as our world objectively promotes self-examination at every turn, all is not lost. As for myself and my wife, who are not parents, we have the somber solace of knowing that, in not being so, we remain in excellent company.

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

This is not about Golf

This is not about Golf

            I played golf for thirty years. Sadly, neither my back nor my budget allows me to do so today. It’s a wonderful mind game. At once you against the course and against yourself, golf epitomizes the elemental expression of consciousness and world. Not that such philosophical musings occur inside the ropes. No, there, you’re talking to the ball, to yourself, to your club, the wind, or to the motley topography at hand; ‘give it a bounce right, hard bounce, come on!’. Golf is also engrossing to watch, with the added value of admiration for a shot well played, a miraculous save, a lucky break, mixed in with the less noble emotions of a voyeuristic Schadenfreude; ‘this guy’s one of the best players in the world and he just shanked it worse than me!’. All in all, golf is both the most outwardly genteel sport and the most inwardly intense.

            So when the abrupt news of a merger amongst the three largest professional men’s tours broke, I was momentarily stunned. Aside from all of the rhetoric, for a moment, there really did seem to be an ethical difference between the PGA and the LIV, the latter being solely funded by Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund. But the idea that this difference, actual and defensible, had suddenly collapsed with the news of the merger, is incorrect. There was never quite that difference, given that in an average fiscal year, the corporations who front the PGA events do about 4.4 billion dollars worth of business with that same nation and its affiliates. And before I borrow from Carl Sagan by calling attention to the ‘B-word’, any way you slice it, that’s a lot of money.

            Which is why, even if we will now be all the more riveted by the second season’s broadcast of ‘Full Swing’, none of this is about golf. Once back outside the ropes, in fact it is about those two very elements of our experience, as primordial as they are contemporary; consciousness and world. We are dimly aware that in wealthy quarters life proceeds quite differently than in most other places. Those of us who are in possession of such privileges consider ourselves fortunate, certainly, but as well, provide for ourselves a suite of highly rationalized validations that allow us to continue to live in such a way whilst our fellow humans suffer. It is one thing not to know, and when I was a child, I did not. But it is another to be an adult and not want to know. And this is the condition that I find myself negotiating on a daily basis, whenever I have enough presence of humane conscience for it to raise its reproachful head at all.

            And contrary to the revolutionary, this is also not about capital per se. No, Marx himself was the first to state that the bourgeois mode of production, as he called it, was by far the greatest achievement of human history. This is likely why Engels and he, hypothesizing communism as an inevitable end to capital, itself proceeded simply by a change in the relations of production and not the means, which remained industrial-technical. Thus, ‘Star Trek’ communism originates in the thought of the authentic voices of the revolution; it itself is not a rationalized version thereof, but in fact the real thing. The shame of geopolitical disparity lies not so much in wealth itself, for it is often the engine for progressive change worldwide – wealth allows its holder to ‘do what thou wilt’, in classic Crowleyan fashion, and thus to slough off mere custom and with that, often antique bigotries as well – but rather in its patently pre-capitalist distribution. Wealth has replaced God, but it still owns an equally divine hand. The elites of the world, now polyglot and cosmopolitan as never before, nonetheless share that singular assignation.

            Professional athletes and all the more so, entertainers, only appear to be wealthy simply because their holdings outstrip our neighbour’s and our own by orders of magnitude. But they themselves carry no weight. They are but the window-dressing of a decoy culture that ‘manufactures’ our consent to inequity, and speaking of the Saudis – and many others, to be fair – iniquity as well. Chomsky’s political writings, repetitive as they are, bring out the more or less subtle guises of a social system that must keep its own citizenry loyal through bread and circuses, and the less bread, the more circus at that. Golf, in its role as an entertainment device, is meant to fulfill this function alone. This is why there is no real difference amongst leagues. Complaints of any specific nation engaging in ‘sportswashing’ are naïve at best, at worst, part of the very decoy that insults both consciousness and world while denying to both their respective birthrights. It is another instance among many where the canny capitalist understands the stakes and the rationales and the canned anti-capitalist does not. The minstrel mass of entertainment, with its facts of sporting ‘drama’ and attendant OCD-oriented statistics, with its fictions of mediocre melodrama and tepid allegory, is the chief means of maintaining not an otherwise unmasked mode of production as a whole but rather its ever-masked relations.

            Inasmuch as we are self-created agents of action in the world, we must come to grips with the equal condition of being historical constructions; in many cases, built for inaction, for lack of conscience, for the absence of reflective consciousness. This is not, nor ever, solely a personal fault. It is not a weakness of character, nor is it an authentic Zeitgeist. We are the bit players, without truly gifted, if trivial, skills, or the simple but all the more gifted nerve of pretense in their absence, whose role it is to witness the decoy drama unfold itself weekly. And each week I do so, cheering on my favorite golfers and mostly silently deriding those who, for whatever intolerance of my own, are to be shunned by any rational mind, whose consciousness of the world around him begins to blur and mute in the presence of the exciting action of a contrived moment which itself, in our shared contemporary culture, has replaced both grace and love.

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

The Lap-Dancing Drag Queen of Oz

The Lap-Dancing Drag Queen of Oz

            Reading L. Frank Baum today is like embarking on an extended acid trip. Political satire and social allegory under the guise of fantasy books for children, the Oz epic ran to 18 volumes, of which 14 were novels. Times change, so it is said, and the Wizard, however wonderful, went from being the best-selling children’s book for the years 1901 and 1902 to being universally banned by all public libraries in the United States in 1928. The chief reason for this ban, coming from the very association that is now hard pressed to keep up the fight against the hundreds of like bans being instantiated across the same nation by people who must still imagine that they themselves live a century ago, was that it was ‘ungodly’, in its portrayal of women in leadership and heroic roles.

            In hindsight, it is likely, had the Democrats run a male against Donald Trump, we would not have that specific lunacy that yet rests within popular politics at this moment. To simply say so only describes a sexism which oft verges on misogyny and is not sexist in itself. But rewind for a moment to the decade which began our social and technical modernity. The combination of women winning the national vote in 1920 and entering the workplace in droves, the new emphasis on the nuclear family and the abandonment of both that extended and the idea that young men, at least, were the de facto wage-earners in dyadic relationships must have been quite the culture shock at the time. As with today, most of the reaction against these very material shifts in society were themselves symbolic. In saying this, however, we do not say that ‘mere symbolism’ has no effect.

            If Baum’s lysergically weird trip was relatively benign – there is but one dark scene in the entire 14 volumes, and then a single dark novella in the 4 companion compendia – our current theater of identity politics seems much less so. From politicians referring to transgendered people as ‘demons’, ‘mutants’ and ‘not quite human’ to private citizens raiding, in vigilante style, drag queen shows – and, wouldn’t you know it, drag children’s story hours in public libraries – the bigotry, intolerance, and basic ignorance that could well have been widely available a century ago appears to have resurrected itself. The Scopes trial of 1925, held in Tennessee, a state which currently writhes in self-imposed political anguish – or is it neurosis? – seems as well to be a kind of resonant talisman for the neo-conservative movement. After all, creationism is taught alongside evolution in most private schools in the United States, as well as being at least present in public systems such as that of Texas, wherein over five million minors attend school. Textbook publishers kowtow to this politics simply because of market. That the pen is more powerful than the sword was never so well, if perhaps ironically, exemplified.

            Baum’s pen would no doubt have out run all available phantasmagorical ink if he were alive today. But as Al Jaffee suggested, it is more difficult to satire politics in our time simply due to the fact that politicians have outrun the satirists, ‘dreaming up things we cartoonists could never have imagined’. In America and elsewhere, politicians have become their own self-satire. The darker scene that is the outcome of what at first seemed mere theater, is that it is the lie that has been accepted as the truth of things. The Wonderful Wizard, Oscar Zoroaster Pinhead, has successfully implanted his persona as a deus ex machina into the hearts and even minds of the otherwise hard-headed citizens of the latter-day Oz. And if the ‘merely symbolic’ can take on a life of its own apart from worldly reality – one simply has to recall the woeful weight of both heaven and hell upon the faithful – all heroic deeds by men, women, or yet other genders might just be in vain.

            Baum was himself originally captivated by the theater. After an unsuccessful stab at it, he returned to it once armed with his best-selling novels. Theatrical and even film adaptations of The Wizard came early and often, culminating, long after Baum’s death, in the MGM film in 1939. But it is telling that the epic series itself has never again been so adapted after early and successful attempts in 1908 and 1910. The 1908 series has been lost though a few production stills remain. The 1910 series of three has been preserved in fragmentary form. In 1914, when Baum himself founded the Oz Film studios, the most advanced of their time, he must have had high hopes. But his offerings were box office failures, being cast as mere children’s fare and thus of no critical or dramatic value. After a scant few of the novels were scripted and shot, the studio went under the very next year.

            I am going to suggest that we too, in not taking the political theater of fantasy seriously enough, are in danger of going down with it. And though MGM itself released a number of the Oz Studio films as riders to their own famous adaptation on its 70th anniversary in 2009, it is clear that the allegorical satire of the Teddy Roosevelt empire-building era – presumably the very period that MAGA ‘if I only had a brain’ Republicans are referring to as ‘great’ – no longer has a willing audience. Or does it?

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

The Ballot and Bullet Ballet

The Ballot and Bullet Ballet (America’s Danse Macabre)

            I lived in rural Mississippi for three years. The social lines were drawn sharply and there was little room for error. One was either black or white, man or woman. These two dyads generated a four-celled table of values internal to each cohort, and such values which must be honored at all costs. Social distancing was the order of the day, and mixing was possible only in the most clinical or contractual conditions. Marriage was thus an exercise in daily deportment and compact comportment alike. Men and women could never truly be friends, and neither could black and white. Communities contiguous but not convivial, these southernmost southerners coloured in their corners and painted themselves inward.

            By a murky metastasis, Mississippi is no longer an emblem for the most marginal, but rather is to be taken as an ideal, by some, for the nation as a whole. Set apart for so long, the proverbial land that time did not so much forget but rather ignored, the deepest Dixie could carry on unmolested by either history or demographics. A large and diverse country, the United States oft appears as a disunion of fractious factions, entities of enmity that provide for the modern person a Caesar’s Palace simulacra of what conflict might well have looked like in Antiquity. And this partly by design. Just as the revolutionary ethics of Christianity was an answer – even a solution if practiced with humility and by all for all – to the caste societies of the ancient Mediterranean, populated by up to forty percent slaves, a latter-day prophet might seek to embolden a resurrection of some version of these same ethics as an equal solution to the travails of today.

            I think that the unintended consequences of violation come first, the opportunistic politics of violence second. Their combined outcome is fascism, but we are not quite there nationwide. Not the presence of guns, nor the staunch belief in self-defense, not the self-reliant individual, rugged or ragged, nor the Christian soldiers nor even the race warriors, but the simple fact that the vast majority of Americans raise their children with violence, explains the presence of, as well as the apathy about, conflict and even combat in American society. Some eighty to ninety percent of Americans believe in physically punishing their children. The other great socializer, media, punishes them with visions of violence, cartoonish or no, while shying almost completely away from illuminations of affection and intimacy. Sex is taboo, killing is just fine. Compassion for children in crisis only, otherwise strict and stern disciplinary measures are the daily routine, at home, in school, and even in the workplaces wherein youth first get a taste of the lifelong wage slavery to come.

            Speaking of Antiquity then, laboring classes are not naturalized, unlike ethnic-based castes, but they are nonetheless ordered in a lockstep of heritable social traits, sometimes referred to as ‘life-chance’ variables by social scientists. Wealth begets wealth, poverty tends to repeat itself. Political freedom is mistaken for that human, equality under the law used as a guise for social equity. In the eighteenth century, when the United States was born, the true individual was idealized as one thing, the ‘sovereign selfhood’ of the Enlightenment. This citizen was not ‘two-spirited’, was content with his gender assignment at birth, and struck up the repartee of universal humanity through its European lens. As a child of the counter-enlightenment, I myself respect these ideas, as revolutionary then as were Christian ethics in their own time, but I am aware that my ‘sovereignty’ is subverted by class conflict, sometimes sabotaged by the unconscious, but also sublimated by the reaching forward towards the Overman. Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche are the postmodern trinity, replacing that of the ethical agrarian world systems with a new vision so blindingly disconcerting that we are yet some ways from coming to terms with it.

            Nevertheless, with it we have come to grips. And the United States is the proving ground of this world-historical confrontation with tradition. Always the boldest social experiment, the longing for the Great Society as a kind of cultural destiny yet animates the American political consciousness, insofar as it is alive at all. For a nation resettled with religious fanatics and peasants, the United States has come a long way, baby. Women, especially, have benefitted from this evolution which, in its longer-term Gestalt, is indeed revolutionary in its import. So why just now, when one would imagine that such a society is ready to make the next step, perhaps toward a greater freedom and equality combined, does it show such signs of falling over backwards? This is not a battle of the sexes. One third of American women apparently have no interest in equality or equity. This is not a battle of the ‘races’. Black American households are far more violent than those white, blacks far more likely to hold to revealed religion, and this in spite of their historic voting patterns. Latinos similarly, though of late we have also seen such immigration from nations ruled by once-fascist regimes and perhaps now by equally repressive authorities – Cuba is the usual example – that the successors to these refugees have swung hard in the rearward direction. This is also not a battle of the classes. Rural whites are as poor or poorer than urban blacks and yet they hold polar opposite values in the political and social spheres.

            No, the conflict in the Great Society is about differing visions of what that very greatness is, should be, or shall be. Each side is fatally conflicted about its own vision, for it knows that in order to piece together enough votes to wrest or maintain power, as the case may be, it needs ever bed many it would ever fain to wed. The neo-conservatives concoct a fake temporality which sets itself outside of history, the ‘neo-liberals’ construct history as if it were destiny in motion. In the absence of a universally shared religion – for the first time, less than half of Americans say they attend church and those who claim no religion at all are close to a quarter of the population – competing versions of ‘civil religion’ attempt to hold the day. Each ignores the vital interests of the culture as a whole. Both practice authoritarianism in the home, support it in the schools, ignore the blandishments of the relatively unmitigated exploitation of labor, presume upon the two-party system, mock the idea of representative polling, fund their machines through cronyism, and delude their majority franchises with promises unkept while they elude responsible governance with politicians unkempt, apparently unaware of the very idea of public service.

            In the avid abstraction of greatness, we as individuals are apt to forget our fragile mortality and our general historical inevitability. It is a powerful fix, to the point of becoming a fixation, to imagine oneself larger than life. Specific narcissists are certainly present on the political stage, but they are perhaps more representative of the rest of us than we, or even they, might be willing to believe. It is perhaps only because of a steep social stratification that we as well do not strut as they. As long as ethereal images of greatness, destiny, material conditions of violence against children, poverty in general, and incompetence in education remain as the core sources of conflict, any such society will fall upon its own double-edged sword of self-reckoning. It remains to be seen whether or not we are witnessing the culmination of a Rite of Winter ballet, or whether this singular dance of death will in fact carry on with no end, and thus preempt all possible new beginnings.

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

An Artless Society

An Artless Society (the neo-Christian Reich)

            The Third Reich took great pride in its artistic vision. Even the death camps were seen to serve an aesthetic function; the ‘beautification of the world through violence’, as a well-known documentary puts it. And while the Reich narrowed the definition of what could constitute art by rejecting modernism in all its forms, it did preserve one of two basic elements of what art, in its essence, accomplishes; it presents for us an ideal. This ideal is at once one of form and one of content. The form is irreal in that not only does it not exist in reality – it is both an amalgam of historical types and cultural desires – it also exists beyond the real in the presence of an archetype. The content precedence given over to the plastic arts in the Reich spoke to its executives’ penchant for realizing the ‘new man’, a eugenics-inspired pastiche of Victorian cultural levels theory and organismic evolution. Between Spencer, the oft-misrecognized ‘social Darwinist’ and Tylor, the major anthropologist of non-relativistic cultural studies, the stage was set for an anthropometry of art.

            And yet while the National Socialists armed their artists with not only state funding but also a retrogressive vision of the essence of humankind – in it, it was the anatomy of sculpture that was most fascinating; during Hitler’s ‘Dyskabolos’ address he intones with all due caution that we today could not think to consider ourselves a successful race unless and until we achieve or even surpass the form represented in Greek classical art – that favored the physical ‘look’ as an expression of an inner health, we today have taken both their conceptions of health and esthetics as at least commercial ideals for all to strive towards. The ‘mongrel man’ remains with us in the guises of obesity, addiction, laziness, to name a few. And though we are certainly correct to disarm the edge of this once visionary sword while preserving the reach of its therapeutic blade, I wonder if the two can be so easily separated in practice.

            The Nazis understood half of the presence of art in society, the half that validated their own sensibilities. But by far the majority of us today share those same ideals, and this is evidenced by our reaction to any type of art that challenges them, not to mention any other challenge emanating from other cultural spheres, including that of science. Durkheim shrugged off this kind of resistance to science, just as every authentic artist does for art. But the rest of us cannot afford such blitheness. Not the least while there is a powerful political movement afoot whose sole goal is to return to Eden, the ultimate result of a logic that seeks to beautify through violence. And through their critique of other cultural forms, including art, they have a most willing audience in those of us who would never turn their way through religious suasion alone.

            Instead of proselytizing superstition, the advance guard of the neo-Christian alliance attacks aspects of culture that on the face of it, many of us would instantly agree need to be curtailed or even vanquished. Criminality, pornography, drugs, come to mind. But, as riders to these widely agreed upon human failings, the Neo-Christian will smuggle in assaults on art via pornography, addiction as an illness via drugs, poverty and class struggle via criminality. Indeed, one may well suspect that the criticism of ‘non-partisan’ social problems is seen only as a vehicle for this critic to undermine essential aspects not only of a democracy, but of the ethical society itself.

            We are receptive to these more calculated attacks because its seems, once again, on the face of it, that the rationality guiding them should be acceptable to any sane human being. We know that obesity, addiction, or the anti-social or misogynistic aspects of the sex industry are not ideals, either cultural or moral. We tolerate them without full acceptance because they express the wider marginalia of a free society. In attacking them directly, we must redefine what we understand by human freedom, trending it away from its shadowy verges which, when enacted, are always tantamount to the nth degree of having the freedom to immolate oneself upon one’s own desires. We children of the Enlightenment, our parents equally Rousseau and De Sade, embrace the joy of ecstasy with the sorrow of nothingness. Ours is a Dionysian existence made into a commodity fetish.

            To all of this the Christian would cringe with a genuine sorrow, and in this we ourselves can agree to a point. But the neo-Christian rejects this fuller human freedom by editing, moralizing, censoring, erasing. His is the faux sadness of pity, for in vice he does not see the underside of virtue but rather the leverage to promote his own wider vice. ‘If this is humanistic freedom’, he exclaims, ‘better then to be a slave!’. In their slavishness, the place of art is reduced to decoration, for while a fascist welcomes the art of the past, and particularly the forms which evolved within his own cultural antecedents, and while he also understands that art presents an ideal form for humanity to strive towards, the neo-fascist does neither. The new fascism of today, neo-Christian and neo-conservative, has no conception of art whatsoever. The nude is pornographic, just as is nakedness immoral. Puritanical in its genesis, not unique to America but having its hearthstone there, neo-fascism deliberately mistakes prudishness for prudence, neurosis for mere caution. Its desired Reich is yet lower than that previous, shockingly, given what we know. It is lower and less noble because it does not even have the half-understanding of art that the Nazis did. What it presents to the rest of us is a vision of an artless society.

            From this observation we are but one step from as well suggesting that such a society would also have no culture. The anthropological definition, in its origins begrudging and still heavily hierarchized, attains through its Boasian relativism only the sense that humanity expresses its shared essence in a multiplicity of manners and mannerisms alike. The liberating quality of cultural relativism was almost immediately used by the Reich to justify its criminal practices – ‘this is our culture after all, and no two may be judged by one another or even directly compared’ – and thus this logical entailment of relativism is now used to justify unfreedom, often chanting the shallow terms ‘morality’, ‘principle’, ‘standard’. Either way, the individual, conscious of her own potential freedom and yet also self-conscious about expressing it, is left unsupported. On the one side, relativism defeats itself by extending its logic to the death camps, and on the other, it opens itself to external defeat by declaring that its enemies also have the absolute right to their own druthers. The throw-away line ‘well, its all relative’, today represents a fatal error, not in morality per se, but rather in existential authenticity.

            The only way to resist and overcome neo-fascism is through a step-by-step advance through the dueling Herculean pillars of ideal form and adorational desire. Though it may be ironic that the purveyors of the Third Reich would view those of the Fourth as themselves a mongrel ‘race’, it is through this very viewpoint, itself fraught with risk, that we can best defeat the artless society. Once again, this is the case precisely due to the fact that the majority of us understand art the way the Nazis themselves did. This is certainly an indictment upon us – our half-hearted conception of art represents in us a genuine decadence rather than a mere desireful lust which is expressed in the pressing presence of pornography, for instance – but it is the half-step away from neo-fascism that is nevertheless necessary to avoid a sterner collective fate. The fullest comprehending of the presence of art in society is too much of a threat to that very fabric to be taken in a single step. For art does not alone represent an ideal, but rather speaks into being the oversoul of our shared humanity and thus puts the lie to any sensibility that we can remain aloof to our equally shared existential condition. The ‘scandal of art’, as Ricoeur states, balances and confronts the ‘scandal of the false consciousness’. In doing so, it oft comes across as itself not mere scandal but rather as a palpable evil. But to recognize the authentic evil in the aesthetic object would be to but give away another weapon to the neo-fascist, and one that the rest of us, in our headlong flight from our own feared freedom, would be only too willing to wield.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over 55 books in aesthetics, ethics, religion, 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.

The Greatest Challenge: The Human Future

The Greatest Challenge: The Human Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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