Monday, October 31, 2011
TERRY EAGLETON 4
I continue to share thoughts here about Terry Eagleton’s 2009 book “Reason, Faith, and Revolution”.*
Continuing with his useful look at Nietzsche, Eagleton reminds us (p.19) that Nietzsche didn’t find anything ‘heroic’ about the New Testament stories of Christian virtue at all. Better, Nietzsche insisted, to Go Base and Go Primal (my term for it), and it is this gambit of Nietzsche’s that has contributed so deeply to what became the wreck of Modern Man (in the generic, not the gender sense). (And don’t let’s get me started on Postmodern Man yet.)
As the orchestra of Christendom’s Vision broke up under the successive derangements of the Reformation (where the players insisted they could do a better job with the Piece than the conductor and wound up re-writing the Piece to more ‘genuinely’ capture the Composer’s intention) and the Enlightenment (where other players decided to cut out the emotions and passions and score the Piece only for half the human instruments, i.e. the Mind and Reason), along comes Nietzsche and tries to score the Piece for only the emotions and the passions.
‘Heroism’ for Nietzsche means – in the absence of Man being made in God’s Image – that Man must seek to ground his conception of himself only in the emotions and the passions, especially those powerful ones from the Classical (and, not to put too fine a point on it, pagan) era when in that era’s great literature (think Homer, especially in the ‘Iliad’) Great Men sought to do Great Things and live with High Passion: war, strife, self-assertion, mastery of others and mastery of self … that sort of thing.
The ‘High’ bit is good – as I’ve been saying, there is a hierarchy (yes, that awful and un-Correct concept) within human beings: humans have capacities not only in the Emotional and Rational departments, but also those capacities can be seated within a more primitive and primal self (and self-centeredness), OR within a more advanced level of deliberation and thought-guided capacity.
This actually reflects to some great extent the make-up of the human brain as it has evolved. The brain is comprised of a basic Limbic area that retains the earliest primal ‘reptilian’ capacities of the organism: an ability to respond to any external stimulus in such a way as to ensure the basic animal survival of the organism; a Midbrain that reflects the relatively more advanced ‘mammalian’ abilities to Fight or Flee from stimuli evaluated unthinkingly as dangerous to the organism; and then the marvelous and uniquely human Pre-frontal area that yields the amazing abilities i) to think things through, ii) to postpone immediate response-action (Fight or Flee) in order to consider and deliberate upon the context, iii) to postpone immediate gratification of the primal urges in light of more abstract or 'idealistic' purposes or considerations, and iv) to imaginatively stand outside of oneself and consider a possible course of action from the standpoint of some imagined point of view outside of oneself (even, in the Christian view, by empathizing with the viewpoints or needs of others who are not oneself).
But Nietzsche was terrified that being ‘civilized’ as he saw that concept developing in his mid-late 19th century European world, was simply draining the Greatness from human beings. The urban, office-working or salaried human being was simply conforming to powerful societal pressures and neglecting what he saw as the ‘real’ (later philosophers would call it the ‘authentic’) human spirit.
Worse, he felt that Christianity had actually introduced a profoundly worm-like rejection of the Great Heroic virtues and passions. Christian virtues such as ‘love’, compassion and respect for others had led, he thought, to what amounted to a profound rejection and lack of respect for the Heroic Self. Christianity, as Gibbon had opined a century before Nietzsche, was nothing but a ‘slave mentality’ with its sacrifice and its turn-the-other-cheek cowardly refusal to stomp on whatever got in the way. The Romans were envied; interestingly enough, the same way that the mobster Don Vito Corleone was envied in the 1972 film ‘The Godfather’: to an America already starting to feel that it was losing its grip, here were people who could get things done and stay on top and – also an American necessity – drive really great cars.
And, he added, all that Christian stuff had led to the downfall of the great Roman civilization: once Constantine had made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire all of that mealy-mouthed, milktoast, namby-pamby ‘love’ – especially for others – had sapped the humans of the Roman Imperial era of their ‘genuine’ Heroic passions. And things had gotten no better as Western civilization added urban, salaried, law-and-rule-boundaried living to the original Christian frakkery of ‘love’ and self-denial and so forth. (Marx, a contemporary of Nietzsche, added 'bourgeois' to the mix and the Boomers really went to town with being against that.)
So Nietzsche wanted to get Western humans back to their primal and Heroically Great self, and rejected all the Christian and ‘modern’ stuff. He wanted, he specifically said, folks to strive to be an Ubermensch: a term that literally means Over-man when you translate it, but came out in English as Super-man.
That is to say, he wanted, humans – or at least those with the chops for it – not to conform to what he saw as the ‘depths’ of Christian mushiness, and instead to live ‘over’ and above all that; living their lives and Shaping themselves according to the ancient primal passions that in Homer’s ‘Iliad’ made humans powerfully and in-your-face and are-yew-talkin’-to-me ‘real’.
The human self was, in Nietzsche’s vision, a powerful war-horse, and you don’t want to break its spirit with too much of the reins and the pulling back on the reins: let that sucker run wild and free on the battlefield, carrying the warrior-you into the heat of battle where the warrior-you would do Great Things and cover yourself with blood and glory, come hell or high water. Sort of a ‘damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead’ approach to being a human and living your life among other humans. Sort of a ‘just do it!’ approach.
Now from a brain-geography standpoint, this is actually a call not so much to recovery of the genuine or Echt human possessing all of the skills of the marvelously complex and evolved tripartite brain, but rather a regression to the primal and Limbic brain bits, where you simply motivated and directed your human self using only your earliest, most primal and least evolved brainpart.
A human following his advice would become a Heroic war-horse or bull in a china shop, and all other human beings would either be cast as fellow-Heroes or as ‘last men’, weak and cautious and prudent Untermensche (Under-men) who, he thought, had betrayed their ‘real’ humanity and chosen to live as Christian cattle.** Such an Untermensch is truly, he thought, a traitor to what it really means to be Human.
So it comes down to the question: What does it really mean to be Human? And in answering this absolutely vital question you have to consider the complexity of the brain and the resulting lower and higher elements of the human self, and also the fact that you are living with a whole planet-full of other humans, and – in the Christian view – that you are also living on only one Plane of Existence (PoE) and there are other PoE’s and even a God up there beyond what I call the Mono-Plane of this dimension of existence.
Having tossed out most of that, and having tossed out any Beyond or God, then Nietzsche, like so many other thinkers, had to come up with a vision of what it means to be Human that somehow anchors the human in this-dimension and in whatever resources the individual human alone could lay claim to. For a job that big, he had to ‘valorize’ one or another part of the human self, and he chose to go make his stand not only on the emotions and the passions – as did the Romantics of the early 19th century who opposed the mind-based Rationalism of the Enlightenment – but also on what are conventionally called the virtues of the Heroic Age so vividly expressed in Homer’s ‘Iliad’.
Christianity had a much larger starting-point: a Multi-Planar cosmos governed by a God who made humans in the Divine Image; and that Image, most clearly and vividly exemplified in the life of Christ, revealed to humans both God’s nature and their own: a nature grounded in Love.*** (Check out what I say in this Note before you read further.)
Before Nietzsche, you recall, the 17th century English poet John Milton, in his ‘Paradise Lost’, had made the character of Satan more interesting than the Good angels: Milton too, for all his gifts, seemed to think that being ‘good’ was really sort of a bland, wimpy thing compared to the glorious, if tragic, energies of a created being that denies its created-status and tries to go it alone, telling God that ‘You can take this creation and shove it; I’ll do it all myself’. (You may want to take a look again at the Notes to my immediately previous Post where I talk about Frank Langella’s remarkable characterization of Count Dracula in the 1979 movie.)
But if you really really embrace the vital and dynamic complexity of the Christian Vision, then you are into the most challenging human adventure of all, becoming a Master and Commander of a human self that is Shaped in God’s Image and comprised of the whole welter of complex abilities and potentials, which you have to i) grow into and ii) respect in all the other human beings on the planet (who, to make things more challenging, may or may not be having much success at Mastering and Commanding their own selfs).
This is not for kids.
Eagleton tries to get a handle on things (p.21) by talking about the ancient argument about Law and Desire: should humans Shape themselves according to some Law or to their own basic Desires? Much beer and many bongs – to say nothing of astronomical quantities of ink – have been used up over time by folks trying to figure out where they stood on that Question.
But the Question is dangerous because it’s wrongly posed. In the Christian Vision it’s not a matter of the human being – in all that vitality and complexity of the individual self – having to either truckle to an externally-imposed Law (and thus be a traitor to his/her own individuality and will) or else cut loose from any Law and simply become a ‘Heroic’ self-centered and primal and passionate ‘individual’.
This is a non-problem because it is a falsely-conceived view of the human situation.
In the Christian Vision, the Prime Law is the one that is profoundly built-into us: we are made in the Image of God. Therefore, in order to fulfill ourselves as individuals, we have to express in our own unique and individual way the working-out or embodiment of that Image in how we Shape and conduct our lives. The Image of God, that is to say, functions in human beings like the law of aerodynamics functions in aircraft: the craft is already designed precisely to operate within the laws of aerodynamics, and to ‘fulfill’ the aircraft you have to operate it within the parameters of those laws or else you are going to wind up with a catastrophic monstrosity of a situation and you will not really ever do much flying.
Or as St. Paul never tires of saying, the Law – the Prime Law – is built into us, such that we cannot ignore it without betraying (and failing) our own fulfillment.
The ‘new atheists’ – reflecting the entire Modern West for the past few hundred years – wind up getting rid of the God in Whose Image we are made. Thus, humans have no way to gauge whether they are ‘fulfilling’ themselves or are simply running around like chickens with their heads cut off, or skittering through life like little individual globs of fat and grease on the surface of a hot pancake skillet.
Recall in my prior Posts the image of the native of an isolated Pacific island suddenly one morning finding a modern auto that has accidentally been airlifted to his/her island and left here without an owner’s manual in the middle of the night. S/he doesn’t know what it’s supposed to do or has been made to do, doesn’t know therefore what sort of use will ‘fulfill’ the actual potentials and ‘nature’ of the auto. So s/he may wind up using it as a hut, or a decorative planter, or even an out-house – maybe then happily figuring that this ‘gift from the gods’ has been a real plus.
This is pretty much the situation of the post-Christian Modern situation, I would say. (Let’s not even get started on the Postmodern or Pomo situation yet.)
Atheism winds up removing the owner’s manual or even any conception of what the ‘gift’ is for in the first place. And that’s when you wind up with the type of frustration masquerading as ‘thought’ and ‘philosophy’ that simply figures that this odd thing is either a joke or a mistake or a really bad trick … people go through their lives with that sort of vision (or, if I may, anti-Vision) of themselves and of human being generally.
Or comes up with some burbling, happy-faced, cheerible, maniacal strutting that this thing is really the world’s bestest-ever lawn decoration, or planter, or out-house.
So there is no either-Law-or-personal-fulfillment opposition in the first place. The Prime Law is the only accurate Shape of human fulfillment (in the Christian Vision). You can’t fulfill yourself truly, you can’t get to your Echt Self, unless you Shape your energies and potentials according to the directions that the handy blueprint or owner's manual of the Prime Law provides for you.
And to simply give in to your Desires (or, in Nietzsche’s view, your primal passions) is not to fulfill yourself but rather to betray yourself and get off the Road or the Path and head off into the jungle.
Today, I think, wayyyyy too many folks – especially in the West – are lost in that jungle and trying desperately to believe that they are actually having a good time and are actually going somewhere and getting somewhere.
In an aircraft, you aren’t going to be having a good time for long if you ignore the laws of aerodynamics. With some respect for and knowledge of the Prime Law the aircraft will do amazing things for you, And if not, not.
BUT – in a marvelous but serious-as-a-heart-attack complexity – since the Prime Law is built-into you, is ‘within you’ as St. Paul says, then you can’t simply hope to just coast through life by following external secondary laws made by humans. Law is a part of the Image, and is most totally fundamental to each of us as human beings. So you have to transform – and not simply conform – according to that Prime Law.
Secondary laws – made by humans – are often valuable (to the extent that they help each and all humans flesh out the implications of living together according to the Prime Law). But we are not created to simply be ‘followers’ of stuff imposed upon us from the outside.
Rather, we are made to enflesh and incarnate the Divine Image according to our individual gifts and personality. This means that we must become Inner-Directed (meaning directed from within ourselves) rather than Outer-Directed (meaning that we are directed by forces outside of ourselves).
Yes, traffic rules are necessary and worthy of obedience. But you can’t achieve genuine and Echt fulfillment and human authority as a human being simply by obeying them.
There are different levels of laws. Take an airline, for example.
There are regulations about what color the company planes are going to be painted and what uniforms the crew will wear – the company has complete control over this level of regulation.
Then there are FAA regulations about what altitude west-bound flights can fly at, and what altitude east-bound flights can fly at. These are beyond the control of the individual airline; these are government regulations that every airline operating in that government’s airspace has to follow. Neither the company nor the individual pilot can disregard them just because they don’t feel like following them today or because they feel they don’t ‘need’ them.
And then, third, there are the laws of aerodynamics. This is the level of Law that is built-into the very nature of powered flight and this level is beyond even the control of governments (let alone individual pilots). You follow this level of Law or you crash (if you ever get off the ground in the first place). Not because the Law-giver has decided to punish you by crashing you, but simply because this is the way the whole thing has been created to operate.
The Boomers, my generation, kind of lost sight of that huge difference in the types of laws, and figured that if it’s a case of doing it my way or some other way, then I gotta be me and do it my way. Kinda kewt, but as a philosophy and vision of life it’s totally inadequate. You might as well figure you can consume only candy-bars and coke (the … non-liquid kind) and then wonder after a while why your life doesn’t seem to be working out well.
AND THEN on top of all that, there is also the fact of what the Christian Vision calls Original Sinfulness: there is an abiding tendency in all humans to just say ‘The hell with it – I’m gonna do what I feel like doing and that’s all I’m gonna do and I don’t care about anybody else and I don’t respect anybody else and what I want is what I do and nobody tells me otherwise’.
Which usually before long also means that ‘If anybody else gets in the way of what I want to do, then to hell with them’.
And you can see where a world can go off the rails really really badly. And the beat goes on, and the band plays on.
Original Sinfulness comes along with ‘freedom’. If God is free and wants us to share in that life, then we need to be free. Otherwise this world is just a great big divine train-table in the play-room, with God arranging all the little figures and little trains and scenery and little toy houses and toy cars and toy people and just passing time making them do what He wants them to do.
It’s a way to pass the time, but in the Christian Vision it’s not what God is really up to and it’s not what God is really all about.
But in the atheist vision, what else is left really? We are somehow toys on some huge train-table, and either we settle for that – like it or not – or else we try to do what we desire to do and some big hand will suddenly move us around back to where we don’t want to be.
Not much of a reason for getting up in the morning. And more reason to just hit the candy and the coke really hard (or, to use a phrase from a recent President, ‘just go shopping’).
And who would want to bring kids into a world like that? And who would want to go through all the trouble of having and raising kids – won’t they just add one more level of obstruction to doing what you want to do? What’s the point?
You see where this sort of ‘philosophy’ can go.
As Eagleton puts it, we wind up being the ‘dead who won’t die’ (or haven’t died yet even thought we are pretty much ‘dead’ on the inside – which also brings us back to vampires and such un-dead but still walking-around monsters).
Who can really call this a life?
Nicely, he characterizes this (p.22) by saying that what such atheist-Moderns call reality is really just the “remaining precipitate after the love of God has been removed”. Bingo!
It’s also like saying that a corpse is just a human-being with the life removed. (Or the ‘soul’ removed, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)
And it leaves no room for the ancient Axial (especially Jewish and Islamic and Christian) concern for the anawim, for the ‘poor’. In one sense this means the literally poor, those who haven’t got access to the resources for sustaining even basic human existence.
In another sense, we are all anawim (and walking dead) if we haven’t really got the life of the Law – the Prime Law of God’s Image – alive within us. And as you may have noticed if you’ve gone to a funeral home for a wake, no matter how much you gussy up a corpse and put really nice clothes on it and surround it with lots of stuff, the dead remain rather clearly and stubbornly the dead. You can’t call that living.
So, Eagleton bravely and rightly asserts, it’s only by staring straight into the Medusa’s face of life’s terribilita, its terribleness, that you can ever really start to walk the Walk. You have to look at the human situation, and your individual human situation, straight-on: its dangers, its pains, its challenges, its bad bounces.
But you can’t do that all on your own and stay really sane. The shock of seeing life in terms of the iffy and often painful possibilities that are within it is not something human beings can do all on their own and still keep their mental and emotional balance. They either become scared rabbits or monsters when they try to do that.
That’s why – as Eagleton immediately goes on to say – you have to have some Help from Beyond.
And in the Christian Vision, that is where the Crucifixion comes in: God says that the only way to get through the accumulated frakkery that results from a whole lotta human beings indulging their Original Sinfulness and not turn yourself into a rabbit or a monster is to look things in the eye, see them for what they are, rely on His Help and his Love, and go through it.
The alternatives are a) becoming a rabbit constantly trying to hide from the awful reality of Original Sin’s effects (but then also hiding from your Echt self) or else becoming a monster and trying to force Sin to pass you by or make others pay for the frak that Sinfulness has brought into your personal affairs (and thus calling your monstrous self your most 'real' or 'authentic' self).
And, since each of us is human, then at some point or another each of us has brought our share of Sin’s effects into the world whether we meant to or not, and each of us has made our little compromises and cut corners on fulfilling the Divine Image within us just to make things a little easier for ourselves.
Atheism can’t really begin to address this level of complexity. It’s like trying to do the math of quantum-mechanics with a pencil while you’re half in the bag and watching a dvd at the same time while also texting or tweeting to half a dozen other people in pretty much the same condition you are.
The best atheism can do is to say ‘man up’ or just say ‘screw it’ and then go do whatever it is that will make you feel a little better for a bit.
Not much chance of making any progress in the Great Human Challenge there.
Now a point that brings things a little closer to home is that to some extent ‘secularism’, especially as it has developed in the West in the past few decades, has to buy into some sort of ‘atheism’ in order to do what it wants to do.
In order to create more conceptual and social ‘space’ in people’s minds, a whole bunch of different ‘revolutions’ that got rolling in the West since the 1960s had to get rid of much of the sense that there are boundaries or limits to what people can do, and even to get rid of any sense that there is any Shape to human nature or the human self.
Instead, the big emphasis was on – had to be on – ‘freedom’ to do whatever you want and be whatever you want to be. Nothing could get in the way of that: not traditions, not customs, not laws, not even any Prime Law or even any ‘human nature’, and not even any God if that concept (secularism can’t really bring itself to think of God as a Person) is somehow going to tell you what you can and can’t do.
The Boomers were big – really really big – on not being told what to do. Why should they let older people or old ways get in their way, since Boomers knew so much more than anybody else and anyway it was a ‘brand new day’ and a whole new world and nothing was the same (before 9-11 ‘changed everything’ the Boomers had declared that they had ‘changed everything’).
North Americans, especially, have always been liable to this type of illusion. Compared to the Old World of Europe where life existed in layer upon layer of human history and experience all jammed in together on the same space where centuries of prior generations had also lived there lives, the New World was a fresh start (if you ignored the indigenous populations and their cultures and civilizations) with no pre-existing cities and jurisdictions and huge never-before-seen tracts of fresh land rich with abundant resources of all kinds.
It was a Whole New Game and it was, sorta, ‘totally fresh and free’. And the ‘American’ would be a New Man (generic, not gender), even a New Adam (and Eve) who would start human history all over again. Back in the day, God was also signed-on as clearly agreeing with this proposition.
After a while, God simply became the sort of rich grandfather who had turned His kids loose on the estate and told the rest of the world that whatever these oh-so-speshull ‘kids’ did was OK with Him and everybody else should learn from them. Or else.
The Puritans came over and tried to live in a genuinely godly way, according to their lights. But the temptations of such a richly endowed land with all its possibilities for fun and profit and even for genuinely human betterment and improvement in living conditions proved too much. (Although even Thoreau realized that just because you improve living conditions tremendously doesn’t mean you have achieved Echt human betterment: looking at the new-fangled railroad zipping along at 30 miles an hour he observed that it was “an improved means to an unimproved end”; what good, really, does it do to get from Concord to Boston in a few minutes rather than a few hours, if you still haven’t got any really Echt human goals when you get there?)
The bits about Adam and Eve in the Garden with that Serpent mostly got lost. Writers like Hawthorne and Melville and even Poe in his way tried to remind folks that the darkness of Sinfulness had followed humans to this brave New World. But others, like Emerson and Whitman and many preachers, just figured that if God is Good, then so are human beings and anybody who tries to ‘depress’ you with ‘sin-talk’ is just trying to ruin your day and lead you off the great American highway of Abundance and Success.
Of course, many of those writers and preachers had lost the critical distinction between ‘laws’ and the Prime Law or they didn’t really believe in Original Sinfulness because it was all ‘sin talk’. Or both.
And on the basis of this Great and Good American Warrant, presumed to be ordained by God, then slavery and the subjugation of the indigenous tribes was part of the overall Great and Good Thing.
And in the late 1800s when American industry had reached the point where it needed new markets and American wealth could fund a world-class navy, then President McKinley got down on his knees, prayed about it all, and decided that God wanted the country to take over Cuba and the Philippines and start having some real ‘impact’ on the world. His vice-president Teddy Roosevelt – soon to replace him as President when McKinley was shot to death by an anarchist – couldn’t agree more.
And so into the 20th century, where America has had a decidedly mixed record of making the world a better place, but did indeed withstand and subdue the truly monstrous realities of fascism and communism.
Now this country faces a far different world. And since its Abundance and economic power have been spent, the belief that whatever it does is God’s Will (or, in the secular version, is Democracy’s will to liberate from every oppression) is now liable to become unpleasantly mixed in with the urgent need to Grab other people’s stuff and souls in order to keep on top. And of course, ‘on top’ is where it belongs … or so it has for so long seemed to be so.
And all of this on top of a population that has for so long been told that there is no Beyond, no Shape to genuine human behavior, no boundaries and no limits to what the sovereign and ‘totally autonomous’ Individual (and his/her totally Sovereign government) can do.
And now the country faces the same deranging terror that individuals have always faced when they beheld the terribilita, looking the great beast of human existence in the face, up close and personal, without the artfully arranged bars by which Abundance and worldly power caged the beast. Like in ‘Jurassic Park’, the monsters are now loose and all around: not the monsters of other peoples, but the monsters of Fear and Terror, and with them come the sadly common human responses of Paralysis or – the opposite response – a brassy, violent, in-your-face Heroic primitiveness such as Nietzsche wanted to see in his Ubermensch.
Nietzsche’s options aren’t really very good, for us an individuals or as a nation: Be an Uber or be an Unter.****
Atheism and its step-child secularism aren’t going to be able to help anybody, here or anywhere else. There are no limits on the self (or the government); total autonomy means that you get to do what you want and there will be no consequences or blowback; there is no Shape that such ‘liberated’ humans (or their government) need to conform to and transform-toward; there is no Beyond that can sit in judgment; there is no Law built into the human self (or that has any jurisdiction over the government).
This was the madness of Faust and Dr. Frankenstein, and of the world-shattering totalitarianisms of the last century.
That Cross, somehow now appearing to have much more reality – and also much more hidden and mysterious dynamic power rooted in God’s own Image – needs to be looked at a lot more carefully.
*New London: Yale University Press. ISBN: 978-0-300-15179-4
**Half a century or so later the Nazis would take up the Ubermensch trope: all the Germans were the Ubermensch ‘master race’ and peoples like the Slavs and the Jews were just an Untermensch herd, to be used or gotten out of the way for the convenience of their ‘masters’.
This wasn’t quite what Nietzsche was looking for: he did not simply equate one’s nationality or ‘race’ with being Uber or Unter; he was looking for particular individual human beings who would have the courage to kick off the Christian traces and get back to the Heroic basics (using only those primal brainparts and Shaping their lives totally around their primal passions).
You see where ideas can lead, even beyond what you actually envisioned. You want to be really careful with ideas: they are powerful motivators of humans, adopted as ‘ideals’ around which people will not only Shape their own lives but through which people will conceive of the world and all the other people around them.
All sorts of things can happen that you yourself hadn’t actually envisioned or planned for; yet it’s your ideas and the ideals others derived from them that will fuel those consequences.
Ideas and ideals require an awful lot of thought, and a serious grounding in ‘reality’.
For Nietzsche, Christianity was ‘unreal’ when measured against his idea of what most fundamentally makes humans Human. For Christianity, there is a whole lot more to being Human than Nietzsche realized, because there is a whole lot more to Reality.
***The English language fails us here, since it has so few words for the many many shadings and definitions that English tries to cram into ‘love’ (which today has to cover everything from having sex to fulfilling the Divine Image). What Christianity means by ‘love’ is an vital, dynamic, and powerful amalgam of a) powerful caring respect for self and others as made in the Divine Image and b) a faithfulness to that Prime Directive by Shaping yourself according to the requirements of that Caring Respect for yourself and others that c) is sustained by an ongoing mutual relationship with that God Who started the whole thing in the first place out of His Caring Respect for humans and seeks for all humans to fulfill themselves by Shaping themselves and their lives-with-others according to that Caring Respect.
There aren’t many more dynamically complex yet utterly vital dynamics to master in human life, even if you have some mastery of the math involved in quantum-dynamics or the mechanics of the 16-cylinder gasoline engine.
****Nor is this at all a ‘gendered’ type of thing. America has quite a roster of females in positions of elected or appointed national power, and rather than putting any brakes on things, they are helping provide a front for it: America must go out and ‘liberate’ from ‘oppression’ all those countries and peoples that ‘just don’t get it’. And gobble up the local resources while they’re in town. This is the National Nanny State allied with the National Security State, and it is simply a 21st-century ‘secular and liberal and progressive’ form of the colonialist ,We Know Better Than You' game of Grab-and-Keep.
Monday, October 24, 2011
TERRY EAGLETON 3
I continue to share thoughts here about Terry Eagleton’s 2009 book “Reason, Faith, and Revolution”.*
Eagleton quotes Nietzsche (p.15), as I noted at the end of the prior Post, that “replacing an omnipotent God with an omnipotent humanity alters surprisingly little” because “there is still a stable metaphysical center to the world”, except that it’s now humanity rather than “a deity”.
But in the (meta-)physics of things, such a humanity-based “center to the world” cannot be stable at all. Human-ness is too fragile to stably center its own existence; like a passenger standing up on a too-widely swinging train or bus, humans need to hang onto something. Like passengers on a vessel at sea in a storm, humans need to hang onto something; and in the storm of Life, when this dimension is racked by huge and powerful waves, no human being is going to have sufficient ‘sea legs’ to simply balance him/herself alone and unaided.
In fact I would say that it was one of the great dangers of the West’s developing knowledge and skills at manipulating this-dimension, this base-board Plane of Existence (PoE) of the great Multi-planar boards of existence, that lured it into the cocky delusion that it didn’t need ‘organized religion’ or God. Starting in the Renaissance, fueled by the Scientific Revolution and then the technological wonders of the Industrial Revolution, and given the relatively controlled environment of the great matrix of European urban culture by the middle of the 19th century, it might have appeared that humans no longer needed “the hypothesis” of God or of any Beyond or of any higher PoE.
And certainly, life for humans in Europe was getting progressively better compared to the Middle Ages (it has been suggested by historians that European peasants did not recover the quality of life achieved at the height of the Roman Empire until 1800).
But as understandable an illusion or delusion it is, it is still just that.
And Christianity, certainly in its Catholic version, has continued to assert that.
Which has not endeared it to those who have a great political, cultural, and perhaps personal stake in seeing a ‘secular’ conception of human existence prevail.
And as the now increasingly secularized West seeks to spread itself around the world, adherents of the other great Axial religions will ‘resist’ if for no other reason than they still grasp the utter folly of the Mono-Planar, secular, human-dependent vision of existence. To many of the world’s cultures it will be conceptually lunatic to embrace the ‘secular’ vision that America – as ‘leader’ of the West – seeks to impose.
It will also be, they may well realize, cultural suicide.
Thus for an American government to simplistically proclaim that ‘if you resist America you are resisting Democracy’ is profoundly insufficient as an analysis and potentially hugely inaccurate as an accusation. Some – perhaps many – of the world’s cultures may well retain sufficient objectivity to consider prudently whether postmodern secularism (which denies the possibility of any effectual Beyond or any Higher PoE) is too dangerously corrosive a ‘gift’ to accept; whether such a vampire should not be refused an invitation to come in, even if it is bearing gifts.
In what might be considered ‘peasant’ shrewdness, other cultures may wonder if there isn’t a way to get Democracy, or at least the benefits of the West’s ‘Abundance’, without literally sticking their neck out to the teeth of postmodern secularism.
And then again, since the once-fabled Abundance associated with the West – and especially with America – for the past few centuries is now fading, then perhaps they can see what the ‘mature’ Western nations cannot or do not dare to see: that Democracy and the Mono-Planar postmodern secularism of the Western ‘elites’ are not necessarily inseparable. Perhaps other cultures sense that they might develop a new synthesis, filtering out the toxic Mono-Planar postmodern secularism and creating some form of Multi-Planar and democratic culture.
Of course, this is going to be gall-and-wormwood to American Mono-Planar, postmodern, secularizing elites, who rather think they are right and very clever and therefore have some sort of Warrant to enforce their illuminations upon the rest of the world.
In which case, the West’s New Mono-Planar, Secular and ‘liberal’ Order is turning out to be as bossy and invasive as the West was in the bad old patriarchal days of world-grabbing colonialism. To insist that the vast majority of the world’s peoples and polities ‘just don’t get it’ and so the West is going to have to ‘civilize’ them as part of its ‘mission from God’ is not going to be better received now than it was way back then.
Even if the Beyond or ‘God’ has been left out of it. The West is not Jake and Elwood ‘on a mission from God’ against all the nasty bad guys (and gals) on behalf of the Good nuns and the Innocent orphans at the old orphanage. Indeed, the West – now sadly and lethally welded to its Mono-Planar postmodern secularist ‘elite’ thought – is on a mission against God (or the Beyond). And don’t think the rest of the world’s peoples and polities and cultures don’t see that.
But also, of course: all that is now only the conceptual front and pretext for the ‘mature’ West’s now urgent – and increasingly desperate – need to get its hands on the resources of whatever nations can be Grabbed, simply to replenish economies that have been blown and deflated, as well as to retain some traction against up-and-coming competitor economies closer to the great Eurasian – rather than European-American – center of gravity.
So this is all going to get very ugly, and violently so. Multiculturalism and pluralism and ‘rich diversity’ and all the rest of it suddenly don’t work when even the Mono-Planar postmodern secular elites now face cultures that ‘just don’t get it’.
So here’s the post-2008 Politically Correct Multiculturalism Corollary: you don’t qualify for actual respect for your traditions and culture if we (Western elites) decide that ‘you just don’t get it’.
But let nobody think that it’s simply a matter of Good Democracy versus Evil Oppression. Many of the world’s peoples and polities and cultures realize what perhaps the elites here don’t want to admit or consider: ‘Democracy’ as the West nowadays defines it is doubly-vampiric: in the second place it seeks to Grab their stuff, and in the first place it insists on Grabbing their souls.
The West’s current programme – spear-headed by the US – is to Grab natural resources and usefully located bases under the pretext of imposing this Mono-Planar, postmodern secular version of ‘Democracy’ (I will call it Vampire Democracy) in the process.
As Christianity – especially in its Catholic form – has resisted this type of vampirism in the West, cultures that are Grounded in the other great Axial religions will also resist. And perhaps violently.
Fellow/Sister Citizens, Our government, acting as Our agent, has now cast Us in the wrong role in the mother of all vampire movies. Many of the shrewder, though less-educated, of the world’s peoples are going to figure that Americans go to dentists so often in order to keep their teeth sharp. And encountering the grotesque calling-card of a drone is not going to convince them otherwise. Even a drone operated by a liberated (and even lesbian or transgender) female military ‘pilot’ under orders from a liberated female Secretary of State and a liberated female National Security Advisor and a history-changing black President … is not going to fool them.
Benighted as they might be (after all, they all ‘just don’t get it’), they – like any Transylvanian householder – know that the vampires walk again, and this time they are looking for your stuff as well as your soul. And naturally, your kids are fair game too.
Not even in the most witless B-movies of the 1950s, no matter how low the production-values, did the vampires ever expect to be welcomed as liberators. For that matter, one of the few qualities the old vampires could lay claim to was that they knew what they were and didn’t try to fool themselves.** Yes, until they got into position they’d try to fool the peasants (rarely successfully) and if they went to London they’d try to fool the elites (successfully rather more often than not). But they knew what they were.
Which is more than you can say for the American Mono-Planar, postmodern, secular elites … who are still convinced that they ‘get it’ and are ‘liberators’ and that if they are opposed then they – like the Rightist, patriotistic Bushistas of recent unhappy memory – are justified in declaring those who ‘just don’t get it’ to be Evil.
And the fangs – even if embedded in the skull of a newly liberated gay or trans-whatever ‘soldier’ – will come out in a way that the Rainbow advocates will most surely prefer not to think about. (Ironically, gay and lesbian American military personnel may now be far more liable to the old demonization that they are dangerous and unnatural as they, now ‘liberated’ themselves, participate in the droning and blasting which are the tooth and claw of trying to Grab other peoples and their stuff and their souls. Funny how the night moves.)
But Eagleton neatly continues Nietzsche’s thought (p.16) that if absolute power and authority are not completely transferred to human beings, then humanism will always be nothing more than “a continuation of God by other means”. If that was a distinct possibility of humanism in the classical Liberal age in the West, it is now an accomplished reality of ‘liberalism’ of the current age in the West.
But of course the power once held by God is not at all going to be transferred to ‘people’, not to all of them. Because so many of them ‘just don’t get it’ and need to be herded like cattle until that glorious (but apparently far off) day when they are ‘liberated’ from the oppression of their own reliance on a Beyond. I don’t think that day will ever come, given humanity’s perennial seeking of a Beyond.
Perhaps – given the narrow vision and ludicrously short time-frame characteristic of both eager elites and desperate States – that’s considered good news in the Beltway: a permanent need to ‘liberate’ the resistant peoples and cultures of the planet, a mission civilisatrice that will keep everybody – pols, Correct elites, Pentagon – actively employed until the earth be no more. Or until the Dollar collapses – whichever comes first. Take your pick.
In the meantime, the Mono-Planar, postmodern secular elites will be the new priesthood.
But this new priesthood is also going to be – like the Russian Orthodox priesthood – leashed tightly to a State; indeed to the New-Order Western Mono-Planar, postmodern, secular State (in its Nanny and Security mutation) that is the new Leviathan. And no matter how much that beastie wears ‘Democracy’ as a wig, it is Leviathan and its ‘liberation’ will be in essence much more of an oppression and an Occupation … of soul.
And rather than the arrogant and still-waxing Leviathan of the old patriarchal colonialist days, the West is now the desperate-because-waning Leviathan of the current era.
Eagleton is going with Nietzsche’s thought. And his solution (p.16) is a hefty dose of “tragic art” along the lines of Augustine’s rather sane observation that “created beings should not presume to create”.
You might make the case that Mono-Planar, postmodern, secularism’s cadres are not trying to ‘create’ but rather they are only trying to ‘liberate’. BUT in trying to liberate human beings from any working reliance upon and relationship with some Beyond, they are most certainly trying to ‘create’ a type of human never seen before … very much, ironically, like the Commies tried to create the ‘New Soviet Man’ (in the generic, not gendered, sense) back in the day. They are presuming that they can indeed bring about a thoroughly Mono-Planar, postmodern, secular Human Being (the New Liberal Person, perhaps you could call it; or the New Correct Person).
But a human being forced to rely merely on him/herself when facing the frakkulent trials and tribulations and challenges of existence on this incomplete and tortured PoE is going to wind up becoming a monster indeed. S/he will need to become emotionally and mentally deranged in order to sustain the level of resolve and energy to carry the full weight of this huge burden.***
And that is not, in terms of (meta-)physical engineering, what the platform was designed for. As the Axial religions have never ceased to point out. Human beings are not designed to master ‘infinity’ and can’t successfully operate under such a load nor even navigate un-Aided in such an environment. You might as well try to navigate Picard’s Star-ship with a boy-scout compass. Or – more accurately – try to use a ’57 Chevy (with that brawny fuel-injected 283-cubic inch V-8 in that classically-lined body) as a Star-ship … and then trying to navigate it with the compass that you could have gotten at the bottom of a cereal box in that year.
The New Secular Person must, as Eagleton nicely puts it (p.16), deny “that our freedom thrives only within the context of a more fundamental dependency”.
Bingo, I would say. Eagleton is himself over a barrel in this book. He is viscerally opposed to the frakkery of the type of dogmatic whackery that he sees in Correct Theory nowadays. But that’s partly because he is temperamentally hostile to that type of dogmatism generally. And yet any ‘organized’ human endeavor runs the risk of dogmatism – so he is also really as unfriendly to organized religion as he is to ‘organized secularism’.
But beneath that hostility to the ‘organized’ bit, he also seems profoundly unimpressed by the humans-as-their-own-gods gambit that is utterly essential to the Mono-Planar, postmodern, secular elite Project.
He never really resolves that in the book. But he is not going to throw the ‘baby’ of God out with the ‘bathwater’ of organizational dynamics.
Roger Ebert winds up in somewhat the same position when reviewing the recent, award-winning German indie film “The White Ribbon”. The film explores a German farming village just before World War 1, and how the highly-structured social order that the parents impose on themselves and their children manifests in some lethal hypocrisy among the adults and in some even more violent derangements in what seem to be their lovely children. Ebert draws the too-simple conclusion that where “freedom” isn’t embraced, despotism will follow.
That is insufficient from a Christian point of view, certainly. If ‘freedom’ is not accurately grounded in a true conception of the nature and purpose of the human being and the human place in the overall scheme (and order or (Latin) Ordo) of existence, then exercising such un-Grounded ‘freedom’ is going to constitute and create a despotism and enslavement all its own.
The Mono-Planar, postmodern, secular come-back to try to get around all that is: you can never know for certain what is ‘true’ (echoing Pilate to Jesus: ‘And what is truth?’) and so it’s all a matter of your preference (at least, your preference if you ‘get it’; otherwise not).
(I would add here that at least Ebert makes some sense. A.O.Scott, writing his review of the film in ‘The New York Times’, predictably goes for the ‘patriarchy’ gambit: that the village’s patriarchal and hierarchical order is the cause of the village’s violence and that probably the film is also saying - he infers – that it was the Germanic, Victorian, patriarchal hierarchy that was also the cause of World War 1. Anybody who can imagine raising children without some ‘hierarchy’ surely isn’t clear on the concept of raising any of those blessed critters. And I would say that wayyyyyy too little attention has been given to just what a ‘matriarchal hierarchy’ would look like, even though feminist dogma holds that women are by nature ‘relational’ and precisely not ‘hierarchical’, which compares apples to oranges and doesn’t really answer the question at all. But the ‘Times’ is the major media font of the New Secular Order and its ‘reporting’ and commentary are the source of many of the Memos amplifying that Order’s latest doctrinal formulations.)
Eagleton continues nicely (p.16) that it is precisely humans’ dependence upon God that allows us to be self-determining. Because, he continues rightly, it is only when humans have an accurate concept of what the Human Being, the human Self, is genuinely designed to be … it is only then – in my terms – that humans can begin to work toward authentically and genuinely actualizing that Self in time and history, on the field of this life on the base-Plane of what is a Multi-Planar fundamental Reality.
If you don’t know what the vessel or ‘platform’ is designed to do, then you can’t really use it well. This holds for the cargo-cult native encountering a motor-vehicle in the jungle, and for the military officer figuring how best to use a new type of vehicle, vessel, or aircraft: you will wind up under-utilizing it or over-utilizing it.
In the former case you may never derive the full advantages and benefits that it can offer. And in the latter case, it may well fail catastrophically under the pressure you have put upon it in your ignorance of its operating parameters and purposes.
Thus he mentions Aquinas here (p.17) to the effect that “God is the power that allows us to be ourselves, much as the love of parents allows us to be ourselves”. Bingo again.
This of course may put Eagleton in hot water with anybody who connects those dots to the Correct antipathy to Family and Parental Authority (to be replaced by the feminine Leviathan of the Nanny State, itself the metastasis of Carol Giligan’s 1982 Mommy At The Breakfast Table). But there is nowadays so little dot-connecting, since a hallmark of the War on Culture (inaccurately termed ‘culture wars’) is the emotional stampeding of public opinion precisely to avoid the type of thought and deliberation that is the profoundly human characteristic and gift of the marvelous human prefrontal cortex. Such thinking would simply ‘obstruct’ the quick ‘progress’ of the revolution.
As one Soviet prosecutor, one Alexander Georgevich Beloboradov, said in the 1920 trial of an accused named Boris Domenko, in regard to the prosecution’s lack of any real evidence to support the charges of counter-revolutionary activity and thoughts: “If we begin to sift through separate facts, then perhaps it will be possible to refute them …”; in other words, facts don’t matter when you are making a revolution. You don’t think – you just convict and shoot.
Beloboradov continues, in his closing comments to the judges: “I would like, comrade judges, to draw your attention to the fact that now, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, in an epoch in which all values have been seen to be dethroned, the appeal to conscience is useless.”****
We here today are, I think, increasingly under the dictatorship of elites who no longer even pretend to speak for the ‘proletariat’ (since those lumps – we lumps – ‘just don’t get it’ anyway in the first place). From a theological point of view, this is even worse a situation than it might seem from a political point of view. Because increasing numbers of Americans – especially the young – are being drilled in the grossly inadequate, inaccurate, and profoundly insufficient delusions of the Mono-Planar, postmodern, secularist world-view; and that cannot end well for anybody.
Nietzsche condemned, Eagleton reminds us (p.18), 19th-century Liberals (who, you recall, are hell and gone from the ‘liberals’ of today). So did the Nazis and the Communists and even D.H. Lawrence (who saw sex generally as the path to liberation).
But “secular liberalism is not the ‘natural’ antidote to religious faith”, Eagleton asserts. Just so. Because secular liberalism is not ‘natural’: it rather un-naturally tries to squash the Human Being into the flattened prison of the Mono-Plane, and into the equally flattened sense of just what the Human Self contains within its mysterious depths.
And for that matter, Eagleton says, ‘secular liberalism’ is not Liberalism either. Nice point again. The classical Liberalism of the late-18th and the 19th-centuries was seeking to free humans from ‘organized religion’ but not necessarily from God and the Beyond. Few Liberals of that era were atheists. You could make a case that Liberalism managed to survive simply because it existed in the strong ‘afterglow’ of Christianity, drawing upon that Faith’s major tenets and able to work with (European) populations already well-formed in that Faith, while then also seeking to reduce the influence of the organized religion among those populations (without erasing or diluting the vital beneficent effects of the Faith upon them).
Be that as it may, the ‘liberalism’ of today seeks to eradicate not only organized religion but the Faith itself. Or any Faith (capitalized to indicate that this Faith is inextricably tied to a Beyond). Instead, the Correct Nanny State, a Leviathan ruled by those elites who ‘get it’, will become the be-all and end-all, the alpha and omega, of its Citizens.
And indeed that Leviathan’s population will cease to be Citizens and will simply be some form of child-like, client-demographics, dependent upon the State for whatever rights and entitlements its elite governors and governesses deem to dole out. This type of ‘client-politics’, itself inextricably tied to Identity Politics, is neither ‘progress’ nor ‘traditional’ but rather constitutes a vast and deep political regression to the era of colonialist and tribal clan-politics.
(In this regard, concerning the so-called Knowledge And Service economy and society, I think that the ‘Knowledge-elites’ are still not so much subordinate members of the governing class yet, but rather are themselves a ‘client-demographic’, dependent for jobs, pay, status, and social authority upon the government that in so many ways funds their personal and professional lives directly or indirectly. Their future is thus deeply tied to the Beltway’s ability to fund them, which – as is becoming increasingly clear – is an ability that now will require much Grabbing of other peoples’ stuff (as well as of their souls) if the Knowledge-elites are to continue in the manner to which they have become accustomed.)
The Great Grab, already somewhat established in this country where both the souls and the assets of the vast working majority of the population have been taken and squandered – directly or indirectly, is now going to be a traveling road-show and is going overseas. Attendance in the targeted countries will not be optional.
Americans are now – to use the old phrase – ‘circus people’, and of a particularly and peculiarly violent kind.
Is that yet clear to many?
*New London: Yale University Press. ISBN: 978-0-300-15179-4
**In this regard, consider 1979’s film version of “Dracula” with Frank “I am a king of my kind” Langella as the Count. Self-aware, self-possessed, and aware of the terribilita not only of life but of himself, he is the most attractively mature of all the males in the film. A fact which is not un-noticed by Lucy, who until the very end finds herself attracted to him as a male far more than to her utterly conventional though well-intentioned father and her fiancée (a young, thoroughly modern London attorney who even owns a snazzy new Rolls-Royce roadster). Only the equally mature Dr. Van Helsing (ably played by Laurence Olivier) can come close, but young Lucy isn’t much interested in older professors.
It’s a variation of Milton’s fine conceit that Lucifer, embodiment of Evil, is actually far more complex and interesting than any of the conventional ‘good’ guys.
Not that I am in favor of Lucifer just because he appears more ‘authentic’ than folks who choose the Good; that was a Romantic Boomery mistake: assuming that as long as you were in touch with the most primal and ‘basic’ (they actually should have said ‘base’) elements in yourself, then you were far more ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ than if you conventionally and traditionally strove to conform your Self to some more abstract and ideal Self.
The solution to this apparent conundrum – and an axiom of mature Christian and Catholic thought – is that those who seek to conform themselves to the Good potentials within them must not settle for a simple conformity to rules and appearances, but rather must seek not a surface con-formity but rather engage in the agon of achieving, with the utterly indispensable Help of Grace, a trans-Forming of the Self; they must set forth on a lifelong odyssey Upwards within themselves, toward those potentials inherent within the Image of God in Whom they have been created.
The Vampire – as marvelously demonstrated by Langella – does not, cannot, make that odyssey. But in refusing to conform, in embracing clear-headedly some vital core of his/her being, the ‘mature’ Vampire at least has more ‘authenticity’ (but not Christian Genuine-ness or Echt-heit) than those humans who simply slide-by with what St. Paul would call the lethal spirit-death of conformity to the surface appearances, to the exo-skeleton, of the Law – that is to say, to the appearances but not to the living and vitally Life-giving substance of Goodness.
A peanut-shell without the peanut is not really the real thing.***There is a new book out in which the author finds ‘psychopaths’ disturbingly frequent among the ranks of CEOs and the very-successful. I am going to imagine that the same is true among the genuinely Mono-Planar postmodern secularist elites: the energies of the human self are going to have to be sustained in maximum-overdrive and beyond in order to fill the roles of both creature and Creator. The human airframe or vessel or engine can’t take that kind of abuse for very long before baaaad things start to happen. The psychological costs – and emotional and maturational deformities – that must be incurred by the New Secular Person must be profound, whether they manifest in emotional valence as manically upbeat or grimly downbeat.
****Quoted in Rachel Polonsky’s 2010 history entitled “Molotov’s Magic Lantern”, p.250. Beloboradov, by the way, became head of the NKVD (daddy of the KGB), but was exterminated in Stalin’s purges of the late 1930s. He went to his death whispering urgently to prisoners and guards along the hallway “I am Beloboradov – pass the word to the Central Committee that I am being tortured!”. But it was his own former revolutionary associates who had approved his name on the death-list.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
TERRY EAGLETON 2
I continue to share thoughts here about Terry Eagleton’s 2009 book “Reason, Faith, and Revolution”.*
He points out (p.13) that if God is “pointless” then morality is too. At least any solidly-Grounded morality whose basis and authority resides in something (or Someone) Higher than mere human ‘choice of values’ (such a ‘choice’ relies on nothing but the individual’s continued preference for the ‘value’, which can change over time or at whim). Imagine trying to navigate a ship at sea not by reference to the fixed points of the stars but rather by whatever you ‘choose’ to consider the best course across the trackless sea. You won’t be getting anywhere very often.
Still, Eagleton continues on the same page to assert – and justify his Correct creds – that “it is a question of how to live most richly and enjoyable, relishing one’s powers and abilities for their own sake”.
This sounds nice – very nice – but it won’t work; it won’t stand up under the pressure of a life that is a Vale of Tears and turmoil, in a human existence that, in the Buddhist vision, not ever going to be ‘happy’ but rather is always going to be characterized by the dukkha of dissatisfaction.
This is a layered problem.
First, human beings are ‘incomplete’ in the sense that they are – and in this dimension or on this Plane of Existence (PoE) always will be – separated from their genuine highest capabilities and self; the German for it might be Echtheit, translating into the clanky English ‘genuineness’. Thus, in the Christian and Catholic view especially, humans are always ‘workin’ my way back to You’ (as the Songster saith); we are always working upwards through the clutter of inferior desires and urges to get closer to our Echt self (which, of course, is made in the image of that God to Whom we are also working our way back toward; working toward an ever more congruent relationship with both our Echt Self and with the God in Whose image that Echt Self of ours has been created).
But it’s a journey that is never going to be completely fulfilled in this dimension and on this PoE, so ‘fulfilllment’ is not going to work as a source of happiness for us humans: if you’ve based all your ‘happiness’ on something that you can never achieve, then you are always going to feel – rightly so – incomplete and unfulfilled and not-totally-happy.
Second, to the extent, then, that humans try to find fulfillment and happiness through their inferior or less genuine or less Echt urges and desires, they are not only not-going to feel fulfilled, but are actually going to sail way off their primary course and get lost in the trackless welter of the inferior interior world of those desires, passions, urges and all that.
And once you’re in those shark-filled waters, the more you kick the deeper you’re going to get yourself into trouble. Physiological addiction to drugs is simply the most obvious example of this dynamic: you get badly off course and away from your higher and Echt Self and from the image of God – and maybe from God too – and then you can only muster enough energy to keep going forward (on the wrong course) even more intensely … and the band will play on until the unhappy end.
The great Axial religions – and especially in the core Christian variant – therefore insist that ‘autonomy’ or freedom is not enough; if you don’t know where you’re heading, or how to handle the ship, then simply having all the sails up and getting out of the harbor isn’t going to do you much good at all. Indeed, in that condition of existential incompetence you are safer staying in the harbor, tied to the pier of brute custom and tradition that imposes some Shape on you from outside yourself – which is ‘oppressive’ but at least keeps you from cutting loose, heading out into the deep when you don’t know where you’re going or how to sail the ship, and winding up lost or wrecked.
Modern American society has the idea that there’s nothing very grace-ful or ‘free’ about staying tied to a pier or just puttering around the harbor where your ship was launched. But that will at least keep you safe enough, compared to heading out into life’s deep ocean with no knowledge of course or vessel, where your chances of making progress or even staying afloat are hugely reduced.
Eagleton rhapsodizes in classic Romantic and Boomer fashion about “this self-delighting energy” that is “entirely without point or function” and “stands in no need of justification by some grim-faced tribunal of History, Duty, Geist [German for ‘spirit’], Production, Utility, or Teleology [the study (and reality) of deep human Purpose]”.
In other words, ‘just do it!’; just take this hog out onto the highway and open it up and let the good times roll and the chips fall where they may. BUT this presumes that you know how to handle a motorcycle, especially at speed on the open road. Otherwise the simple glee and excitement of going reely reely fast and feeling the wind in your face and so on isn’t going to last long.
He reflects the Romantic/Boomer presumption that you can just take the human ‘bike’, hop on and turn the key, and head for the highway and total ‘freedom’ and ‘exhilaration’. Not if you don’t know what you’re doing. Because A) the bike is a lot more complex and dangerously powerful than you seem to think, and B) the ‘highway’ will thus provide ultimately only the opportunity for you to wrap yourself around a tree or go off a cliff; and C) you will be sharing the road – especially these days – with a whole bunch of other wannabe-bikers who also don’t know what the frak they’re doing but are equally giddy with ‘freedom’ and ‘exhilaration’.
The possibilities of you wrecking yourself or somebody else, or somebody else colliding with you or wrecking you, are huge.
This simplistic short-cut to ‘freedom’ approach – just do it – tries to anchor humans in God by claiming that you can be like God (ummmm – remember the Serpent in the Garden of Eden?) just by enjoying the exhilarating freedom that God has.
But it can’t work like that. God knows how to be His Echt Self; God knows what He’s doing. Humans, alas, don’t. We are made in the image of God but we are not gods. Recall the kid Icarus whose father Daedalus made wings for him, stuck them on his back with wax, and figured he could escape the surly bonds of earth and fly like the gods – the ancient Greeks knew what would happen, and they didn’t even read the Bible. (The kid Icarus got so exhilarated he flew too near the sun, the wax melted, and the kid was history.)
Humans are born into ‘the surly bonds of earth’, of this incomplete PoE. It’s what we do. Or were created to do: to develop our Echt Self in the midst of this still-developing world that, like a new planet, is a dangerous and complicated place as each human and all humans are enmeshed in their inferior selves, some trying harder to climb and others not so much.
God and Grace help; but as any father knows, each kid has to actually master his bicycle on his own or he’ll never learn to do it right; dad can teach and encourage and stay close, but Junior has to get on the bike and learn the balancing bit and steering and pedaling and all that.
Or imagine a cargo-cult native suddenly given, with no introduction, an automobile there on his remote island. He has no idea whatsoever about what it is for, what is capable of. He has no instruction booklet or owner’s manual and there are no cues from the world around him. But he has a brand new car with the keys on the front seat. How ‘free’ is he, really? As the owner of a new car, I mean. He could wind up using it as a house, or a planter, or a status-symbol or even an awesome burial container (or at least plan to, when the time comes) – but that’s all. Maybe he’ll discover the gas in the tank and even siphon it out for fuel, or to mix with war-paint.
Elements of modern Pomo culture would call that marvelous and creative and – feh, this overused word – ‘rich’. But really, how ‘free’ is he in terms of having this auto? If you get my drift.There is a reason why the “tribunals” of History and Culture and Tradition are “grim-faced”: being human and being an individual human is serious business, and dangerous if you don’t get it right. With more experience, you can let yourself feel a little exhilaration because you’ve earned it by going through the long and hard discipline of mastering your energies.
Reviewing the recent (and intriguing) German film “The White Ribbon”, Roger Ebert says that when the prevention of evil becomes more important than the preservation of freedom, totalitarianism results. This is true but too simple. The key – as always and as always must be – is in how you conceive of ‘freedom’. A Freedom without Shape or Grounding Image or Template is no freedom at all, but merely the Shapeless discharge of energy. To make this profound mistake is to imagine that because your oil well is spouting the stuff high into the air 24/7 you are therefore successfully conducting an oil business.
But the Romantic/Boomer/Youthy idea that the young are more god-like because they aren’t ‘inhibited’ is grossly and profoundly deceptive and mistaken: the young are much more susceptible to thinking (or feeling) that they can just skip the reading and get straight to the exhilaration. And thus, if they are of a spiritual bent, be closer to ‘God’ or be ‘like God’ or experience the god-ness within them. It doesn’t work that way.
The Boomer approach – and lots of folks with gray hair now still think the way they did when they were young – doesn’t work because it presumes there’s no hard work involved, and no danger.
Being a Boomer myself, I think it had something to do with the fact that we were born into an America that just ‘was’ rich and powerful and very clever and oh-so-modern and cutting-edge. We didn’t experience the Great Depression or World War 2 and we hadn’t really been in the life-business very long and just figured that everything was Groovy and all you had to do was lose the ‘grim-faced’ approach and Go For It because life, obviously (it seemed) was really great and you only had to enjoy it and enjoy yourself. Anything less was to fail as a human: if you didn’t enjoy your human-ness to the easily-available max then you must be ‘sick’ or ‘old’ or ‘repressed’.
Well, that was then and none of it worked.
But the Boomers created a revolution in culture that actually tossed out History, Tradition, and even nowadays Culture itself, in the name of total freedom and autonomy in this way or that way or any way at all. No ‘grim face’; remember the 1970s happy-face icon? We passed it on to subsequent age-cohorts. Remember the 1980s “Don’t worry – Be happy!”?
Eagleton tries to salvage a palpable Sense of God by locking onto ‘exhilaration’ and the old ‘happy face’. It’s a quick-burning fuel (which deludes the incompetent into thinking that the bright pretty flame and ‘rush’ means that it works). But quick-burning fuels don’t last long. And then you’re wayyy up there in your jet plane after an exhilarating steep vertical climb and a couple of good zooms high up above those ‘surly bonds of earth’ and suddenly you’re out of fuel and the jet – who knew? – doesn’t just fly because it likes to but instead, because you’ve burned up the fuel, it starts heading back toward those ‘surly bonds of earth’ at continually increasing speed. By that point, the Lesson can only end unhappily.
But achieving Mastery is so grim-faced (and, some would say, so ‘macho’ and ‘patriarchal’ and ‘control-oriented’) that no kids in their right mind would want to accept that such a hard Road is the only way to start toward fulfillment; to the Boomers it seemed more like just one more way to be a drone and to a later generation just one more way to prove ‘you just don’t get it’.
Kant, grim-faced but earnestly trying to help humanity get a grip on itself, went as far as to proclaim that if it’s pleasurable, it’s not virtuous. Virtue, to Kant, had to reflect the qualities in the human being necessary to marshal the self’s abilities to face the frak of living in so incomplete and confused and dangerous a dimension as this world of human history has always proven itself to be.
Eagleton will take the opposite route, the quick-burny Boomer route: pleasure and the high of exhilaration are the virtue, and Duty and all that are just proof that you’re unimaginative and not ‘with it’.
I would say this: there is indeed a pleasure and exhilaration that comes to a Master and Commander, after working hard to achieve competence in handling the ship and navigating and in getting the necessary things done, when standing on the quarterdeck, with the ship well-put before a good wind … there is a sense of legitimate exhilaration there, well-earned and indeed reflecting the image of God as God intended humans to ‘operate’ on this challenging PoE.
But there’s no short-cut to it. And to get that much mastery, you won’t be ‘young’ (chronologically speaking, anyway) by the time you’ve achieved it. (But really, is there anything less ‘young’ than a chronologically older person still trying to pass-for being ‘young’?) The amazing thing about the way God has set things up, the older you get – but if you’re working toward the Echt – then the younger you become.
And kids aren’t closer to God because they’re more ‘genuine’ or Echt. They’re closer to God because they don’t know what they’re up against and so they need all the help they can get; they are ‘innocent’ not in the legal sense but in the sense that they don’t-have something. And what they don’t have is the maturity that only comes with clear-eyed courageous Mastery, and it takes time to achieve that.
And it really does take courage. William Gass, riffing on Nietzsche, recalls that crazed thinker’s image: some people treat genuine consciousness like a knapsack that frightened soldiers rip off and throw aside in order to speed their escape from the field. That is a frightening, vivid characterization of the existential challenge that faces all human beings: to be human you have to be faithful to your (God-given) potential ability to see things clearly. And on this PoE that is bound to be frightening because this PoE is so full of incompleteness and people who are operating out of their ‘inferior’ passions, desires, and urges and organizations large and small that do the same thing.
It’s frightening to be a human and to truly inhabit human consciousness. You see and feel the weaknesses and dangers all around you – and within you.
And some people, like frightened soldiers, toss the knapsack of consciousness aside in order to escape that awful real-ness.
A real Master and Commander is up on deck and can see the huge waves of storms and lives always with the awareness that even on its best days, and with the best ship, captain, and crew – things can go wrong. You can’t just remain ‘optimistic’ in a situation like that; ‘optimism’ and the happy-face won’t get you very far. You have to have achieved a Mastery of your Echt Self, and that includes a steady source of fuel in the relationship with the God in Whose image you are made. Nothing less will sustain you.
Or you can hide down below-decks and get drunk or pretend you’re somewhere else or go to your happy-place or see if the ship’s doctor hasn’t got a handy bottle of some pills.
But you’re still on the ocean with all its possibilities.
The Existentialist writers like Camus said that you must keep the knapsack on, stay on deck and look the ocean and the elements straight-on; but that you had no help except what strength you could find in yourself. There was no other help (or Help) available to you.
This is where the Christian vision of how God works with humans demonstrates what Help is always available in the multi-Planar vision of human existence: the God in Whose image we are made also sustains humans as we try to work through this PoE’s complexity and work through our own frikkery and frakkery of inferior qualities, working to achieve more Mastery of our higher and superior qualities (catalogued handily as the Theological and Cardinal virtues).
No happy-faced Boomery ‘religion’ or god of Wheeeee is going to suffice if you want to be fully human. The world and the human self are too wonky, lethally so, for such saccharine stuff – no matter how much of a ‘high’ you might get for a brief period (before your fuel burns away).
So too, Eagleton is then forced (p. 14) to characterize the morality Jesus preached (as Eagleton sees it) as “reckless, extravagant, improvident, over-the-top, a scandal to actuaries and a stumbling-block to real-estate agents”.
This is the cutesy Boomer short-cut: you are either crazy like a kid, or else you are stodgy, repressed and sleazy like the worst this-dimensional older people who represent the ‘grown-up’ world. Remember "The Graduate" from 1968?
Now I would say this: Jesus was against non-Genuine or anti-Genuine living; but Jesus wasn’t against maturity (which in the Christian vision requires growing toward God as you grow toward your own Echt and Genuine-ness).
Yes, many adults – having been around a longer time – have succumbed to the temptation to throw away the knapsack of Genuine consciousness and relationship to God and just try to cobble together whatever satisfactions and pleasures and successes they can manage on their own, and some of them really really don’t care what they have to do to get that done.
But although ‘older’ they are not at all Mature (capitalized to indicate the Christian sense of the word I’m going for in all this).
NOR does not-being ‘old’ mean that you are any more Mature or any closer to being Genuine in the Christian sense. You simply haven’t had the time to make the mistakes, to run away once you’ve seen the terribilita (as the Renaissance Italians would put it) of life.
Babies – the exact opposite of ‘old’ – aren’t closer to God (if they were, would they dump their poop all over you at every opportunity?). They simply haven’t gotten out onto the field yet. Ditto, to a lesser extent, youth (who before very many years pass from being a baby and are already threatened by the existential challenge of facing their own and the world’s incompleteness, and the darknesses that can result).
And of course those humans who have never Matured will demonstrate the fact by indeed dropping their poop on you in their witless and terrified flight from Genuineness, trying to make life ‘happy’ as best they can on their own (having cut loose from God as well as their own Echt Self).
These great tectonic existential challenges and how humans respond to them are what make ‘life’ and ‘history’ take the rough bounces they take. This whole PoE is knocked out of whack, like a planet off its axis, and that it comes from human beings thrown off their Genuine axis, not achieving their true and Genuine Shape.
But the Boomers tossed out any idea of ‘boundaries’ and ‘limits’, and yet while boundaries do limit you, they also give you a Shape (depending on what boundaries you accept, which is where the Church’s essential Rules of Navigation and Ship-Handling come in). Some folks accept a much inferior Shape, based on their ‘inferior’ and less-Genuinely human (made in the image and likeness of God) choices. Other folks just settle for being Shapeless.
And it is precisely here that the Boomers (and Eagleton) went off the rails: they ‘valorized’ Shapelessness (they didn’t even admit that there could be a wrong, less-Genuine Shape) as ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’ and as being Genuine, and in Eagleton’s example even consider the fake ‘exhilaration’ of boundaryless-ness to be a participation in God’s very Life.
Nope. Not hardly.
And nowadays the Pomo’s have erected this terrific, catastrophic mistake into a Plan and call it Good. Oy, feh, and oy-gevalt!
It’s like the Naval Academy graduating officers who don’t know the first thing about how ships work, or the Air Force Academy graduating officers who don’t think they need to know the first thing about the laws of aerodynamics and how planes fly. This is not a good thing.
And it will not – cannot – end well.
Eagleton acknowledges that Jesus was so reckless because he thought that the end of the world was coming and people didn’t have to worry about what I would call Maturity over the long haul.
But he misses something vital here.
Jesus may have been, in His human awareness, a tad off in when the End of the World would arrive.
But then again, in His awareness that all human beings are faced with the end of the inferior-Shaped world every minute of their lives, then the really important End of the World faces human beings right now, all the time, 24/7.
And in the Christian and Catholic vision, then the Church has been continuously keeping that awareness alive, trying to function as the officers’ Academy to continuously train folks and give them the knowledge of how to operate their human craft, their human vessels, so that they have a decent shot at getting closer to their own Genuine-ness and simultaneously a closer relationship with God (in whose image and Shape they are, you recall, created).
God’s Grace (capitalized to remind you how vitally and urgently important it is) is always among humans and within them, seeking to Help prompt the life-long faithfulness of the trek toward Genuine human Shape and the true fullness of human life that such a trek brings.
Eagleton thus comes a bit back on track when he decries the Modern and Pomo replacing “of a transcendent God with an omnipotent humanity”. Humans are not omnipotent; and anybody who has ever been out at sea in a storm or up in the air when a plane goes wonky or put his/her entire well-being in the hands of raising crops at the mercy of the weather and the locusts can ever delude themselves into thinking that humans are omnipotent.
As Lord Elrond said to Gandalf in “The Fellowship of the Ring”: this evil cannot be contained by the power of the Elves – we have not the power …”. So if even the Elves realize it …
The Boomers were big – reely reely big – into Henry David Thoreau back in the day. That little fraud spent a few years out in the woods on the border of downtown Concord, Massachusetts, living in a wooden hutch. Of course nobody bothered to recall that he frequently went back into town for handouts and supplies.
But what was even more lethally ignored was that a few years after that romp, he went up to the forests of the Maine wilderness. Not ‘woods’, but genuine, God-awful, dark, lonely, primeval wilderness forests. It terrified him. He came back wayyyy sobered-up and decided that the Concord woods weren’t really the total-challenge of life that he had so easily ‘conquered’ … all on his own.
The animals weren’t cuddly like woodchucks and squirrels and cutesy groundhogs and chipmunks. They were these remote, powerful, majestic beings of a darker and larger – huge – world that made him feel like a pipsqueak. (Which was probably one of the most accurate insights into himself that he ever managed to get.)
Perhaps now that Americans are finding themselves in the primeval forest of economic Scarcity and uncertainty, they might have that type of ‘Damascus Moment’ that St. Paul had when he was just plain old Saul and got knocked off his horse on the road by a God Who was wayyyy bigger and more real than he had previously given the old boy credit for. Perhaps some Americans can admit with Mark Twain that "when I was seventeen I was amazed by how stupid my father was; when I was twenty-one I was amazed by how much the old man had learned in a few years".
But Americans – like the Boomers and, alas, courtesy of the Boomers – are now going to face the sea of life in all its lethal uncertainty and perhaps agitated dangerousness. Abundance has gone and Scarcity is upon us.
No happy-face godling or do-it-yourself god is going to Help. All the illusions of the Boomer years (which to some extent are quintessentially American illusions from the long centuries of some sort of Abundance) are going to be burned away.
It will be terrifying and it will bring Americans face to face with that terribilita that is part of the incompleteness and brokenness of this PoE.
This could be a Damascus Moment for a whole of folks. And that could turn out as well for a lot of folks as it did for St. Paul.
*New London: Yale University Press. ISBN: 978-0-300-15179-4