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In Defense of “Man”

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 15, 2017

Not Even Wrong

Suddenly.

Not suddenly as you or I measure time, but suddenly according to the stately cadences of historical events, we have lost, if not yet our species, at least, and ominously, our name for it.  At some point in the not very distant past, “Man” vanished…not extinguished as an  organism, but as an object of consciousness.  For where there is no name there can be no consciousness, where there is no consciousness there can be no science.  Today there is no longer a science called Anthropology worthy of its name, for the name has been banished.   I don’t mean the entertaining science of bones and basket weaving and many other shining objects which is offered in college curricula as “Anthropology.”  I mean Anthropology in the most specific of species-centered meanings, inquiry into that simple question….”What is…what is…[bleep!].”   It is a question which can scarcely be asked today, let alone answered.

This masking of “Man” strikes me as an important development which deserves an extended and serious discussion.   To that end, some ground rules are necessary, concerning which I have some good news and some bad news.  Here goes both:  Sex will not be mentioned in the course of this article.  I have no interest whether the reader be sex-crazed or celibate, male or female or anywhere on the spectrum in-between.  I am only interested in whether you think this Anthropological murder mystery is worth of your time and consideration.

If you concur, then the omission of sex and his/her ugly sibling “gender” is good news indeed, because these things are monumental and, I would argue, intentional, distractions from the difficulties involved in Philosophical Anthropology.  Those bad news bears,  non-adults who think sexuality is the central, nay exclusive, issue in life, can adjourn to their favorite safe space, the Reading Room on Gender, where they can reinforce their own bias among those vast collections of literature which are supplemented daily by our subsidized scholars and their media mimes.

Now to be sure, there are other rabbit paths leading away from the essential inquiry, its just that sex and gender are the most obvious, if not the most obnoxious, and hence need to be eliminated first.  However, those other anti-Anthropological rabbit paths, though less celebrated, become increasingly subtle as the core of the problem is approached.  In any subject, the task is hard enough when we have been force-fed the wrong answers…the real difficulties start when we realize that we started off on the wrong foot by asking the wrong questions.  Today, when we encounter the fundamental question of  Philosophical Anthropology, to paraphrase the incidentally sexy but essentially humane Erin Brockovitch, “..all we have is two wrong feet and damn ugly shoes.”  We don’t know”bleep!”…and the absence of the word doesn’t help.

If we wish to restore that lost science, it will prove necessary to go back and wrap our brains around that simple word “Man” which was once the standard English term for the class of all human beings, much like its French equivalent “l’homme” etc..  Man has long since disappeared out of scholarly, correct and polite language , which means pretty much everywhere, since in casual idiom, if we discount “Man oh man!” and similar oddities, the universalizing nomenclature of Philosophical Anthropology is worse than useless.  After all, you can tell a good joke about Poles, or rabbis, or priests, or homosexuals, or women, and yes, even about “men” qua the male gender, but its hard (short of aliens or the envious algorithms of The Matrix) to envision a “Man” joke.  However, while the comedians won’t notice, there might be a few instances where, for the health of civilization, the ability to have a word for the human species could come in handy.  From this, we can derive another important consideration, once “Man” has been abolished, it  is unlikely to be missed by the broad masses.  The only people who are likely to be bothered are a few specialists in what it means to be a unique species, and these specialists are generally regarded an over-serious, isolated and boring bunch.  Likewise, if the word “epidemic” and all synonyms for “epidemic” were outlawed, the only people likely to get in a panic would be epidemiologists.  Everyone else would get along quite splendidly…at least for a while.

To be sure, the abolition of “Man” and the Abolition of Man, as per the essay by C.S. Lewis are not identical.  The latter concerns the weakening of the species, the former concerns the loss of its name.  Indeed, the distinction between signs and things signified is another treasure which must be jealously guarded against the ravages of post-modernity, which is trying to slouch its way back towards a magical worldview.  Be that as it may, we can still surmise that in the defense of something it might prove essential to be able to speak about it.

On the other hand, we have to make especially sure we don’t get lured down another popular rabbit path, a highly respectable path none the less leads away from the Anthropological core: The path of language.  For example, we could easily lump this abolition of “Man” (the word) together with similar language “correction.”  Pointing out the absurdity of these corrections is the strategy of many conservatives, such as British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton who talks about the way that gender neutrality reforms have “violated the natural cadences of the English language.”   On an esthetic level, there may still be some residual irritation at “people” (or similar substitutes) in lieu of “Man”.  Yet, while this is good Edmund Burke-vintage common sense, it heads off in a trivial and logic mincing direction, of the kind favored by British analytical philosophers and American word-pundits in the Bill Safire tradition.  It expresses a futile, rearguard, hope that inane reforms, like the substitution of his and hers by “hez” can be reversed by a return to  convention, or even mutual rationality.  Rather, the Postmodernist hoards are not likely to be stemmed by a grammar policeman, policewoman, or even policeperson holding up a gloved hand, shouting “Stop!”  Its not that the “reforms” can’t be exposed as illogical and unappealing, its that they are just the tip of the spear carried by acolytes in a far deeper struggle.

Whether the war over language is winnable, I maintain it is the war against Man (as a concept) which is primary, a battle with ideological motives rooted in the hoary past.  Call it a “conspiracy” if you will, keeping in mind that conspiracy is just  popular philosophy prosecuted by cadres of minimally educated but highly motivated minions.  The generals in this conspiracy knew that they could not launch a frontal assault on Man (a.k.a. the human race), so they focused their attention on “Man” at first as a concept and then as a word.  This history of this war is better measured by centuries than by decades and has taken many a convoluted turn.  Hence my belief that contemporary Feminism is, at best, a secondary effect.  It is the Amazon battalion thrown into the breach of the citadel after the the groundwork had been patiently laid and the initial battlefield secured.  That crucial battlefield was anthropology, and not what one is liable to think of as the field of anthropology, but its philosophical cousin, that key science of all sciences, namely, the “Philosophy of…[bleep!]…”

A good “Man” is wrong to find

One can admit something exists and is important without idolizing it.  There was all too much idolization of the human race after the Renaissance and building up to the Enlightenment, a period bookended by Pico de la Mirandola’s On the Dignity of [Bleep!] and Alexander Pope’s Essay on [Bleep!] tomes which style and economy have rendered, perhaps mercifully, unreadable today.  In those days, whenever errant scholars ventured too far from the Pauline/Augustinian double anthropology of fall and redemption, it spelled trouble.  However, personal repentance generally put a  limit to the damage which could be inflicted before the toxic juice of self-worship became endemic to society.  Mirandola befriended and was converted by Savonarola, that misunderstood Catholic puritan, while at least Pope never became the Pope nor were his verses rendered into binding encyclicals.  Savonarola taught the early humanists the secret of Christian Anthropology, that Man is both sacred and bad.  For his tuition, and other causes, he was burned at the stake.

The last child and virtual apotheosis (that is, one “made into God”) of the early modern period was Voltaire, who’s hatred of religion was legendary.  None the less, even Voltaire had too much common sense to think that his animus towards Christianity could be transmuted into a new and living faith.  He noted that “It is easy enough to start a new religion, all you have to do is get yourself crucified and then rise from the dead!”  In recent years, the late Rene Girard has documented Voltaire’s insight with numerous case-studies, illustrating how most human religions originate in scapgoating, death, and subsequent apotheosis.  However the wily Voltaire could see where all this was heading, and limited his disciples to the “cultivation of  their gardens” i.e., the enjoyment of a quiet and restrained sensuality.  We might call this soft-core Humanism, or the humanism of the self.   This early modern Man-ism, which today is probably the most popular (albeit unconscious) religion on the planet, is little more than a recrudescence of old Epicurus, whose famous doctrine Paul once debated on the field of Athenian Mars.  At worst the virtues of this philosophy, such as conviviality, apolitical repose, refined aesthetics etc., are disguised vices, vices centered on feelings.  Think of the the steriotypical Country Club Republican of today’s America.  Such people are pathetic, but not in any superficial sense of the word, since the purpose of their  life is “pathic”…that is, to have feelings, high quality feelings.

Hard-core Humanism was a novelty of Voltaire’s rival, J. J. Rousseau.  In contrast to the soft doctrine, here the object of action is the ideal of Man, not the feeling-satisfaction of individual human beings.   It was Rousseau who managed to transmute the Enlightenment’s carping animus against Christianity into something resembling a true religion.  As the founder of this new religion, which has variously been termed Modernism, Humanism, Socialism and much else, Rousseau should have found himself subject to the pitiless Law of the Scapegoat.  However he eluded martyrdom, and not just because he died a natural death nineteen years prior to the outbreak of the revolution he had inspired.  Rousseau’s Man differed in important ways from both Christian and Renaissance conceptions, which were predicated on either a personal God, or at any rate, a hierarchy of beings of which the human race was but one link in the chain of existence.  Although initially disguised by Deistic code-words, the new religion lifted up Man as the Head of the Cosmos.  Since this Man was a collective, it was not expedient that any individual anti-Christ need suffer the Law of the Scapegoat.  If there were to be any suffering, it would only be in accord with the tyrant Caligula’s wish for the Roman people, “If only they all had but one neck!”  In principle, the head which lifts itself too high gets chopped off.  Caligula himself  proved  no exception to the rule.

At all events, by the 2nd or 3rd  year of the Human Revolution (c. 1793AD) modern technology had outstripped antiquity, democratizing death and allowing Caligula’s dream to come true.  The guillotine enabled the disciples of Rousseau to liquidate the old political class en mass, and then in a predictable turn of events, those disciples themselves mounted the scaffold, suffering a kind of mechanical crucifixion to the god whom they had lifted up, Man.  It was a collective crucifixion to a collective god, for this “Man” was not the same as in the soft Humanism of Voltaire, which was just a category designating a collection of individuals.  Rather, this post-Rousseau “Man” was, if not quite a concrete organism, at least cohesive enough to have a single will, a doctrine as lethal as it was democratic.

The carnage of the Revolutionary/Napoleonic period was not repeated in Europe until 1914 and thereafter, after which great quantities of men and women again began to be killed as a consequence of political and military action.  Here  we would like to inquire whether this carnage (lit. carnal death) was in some sense related to the death (or life) of an abstraction.  Is there a relation between the death of humans and the death of “Man” as a concept and a word, and if so, is that relation positive or negative?  The example of the French Revolution would seem to caution us against a laudatory Humanism, on the suspicion that the higher the ideal of “Man” is lifted up, the more human individuals are likely to be subjected to political violence.

At this point in the argument however, such a conclusion would be premature.  The period between the exile of Napoleon and the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand in Bosnia, which saw relative calm in European politics was conversely that period which witnessed, for good or ill, a wholesale revolution in popular concept of “Man” under the impact of Evolution, Marxism, and Psycho-analysis.  However none of these epicenters of scientific upheaval were directly concerned with Anthropology, at least Philosophical Anthropology, rather they were centered on the cognate disciplines of biology, economics, and psychology.

More to the point, none of these revolutionaries set out to solve the problem, “What is… [bleep!]…”   However others took up that now forbidden question, and we should try to pick up their tracks from where they left off in the tumult of 19th century thought.

Philosophical Anthropology: The Conspiracy Thickens

Today if you mention “Illuminism” it is likely to conjure up secret societies, occultism and political skulduggery, critical investigation into which is no doubt important and proper.  However in the literary salons of Europe and America during the 1840s and 185os Illuminism had a second, though in all probability related, meaning.  It referred to the then-novel research which today’s theologians refer to as the “Higher Criticism.”  If you know about, say, the “Jesus Seminar” then you pretty much know what Illuminism a.k.a. “Higher Criticism” was, except that the contemporary Seminar is pretty much an isolated rehashing of themes which were treated with greater plausibility and seriousness 170 years before.  Those earlier 19th century critics of religion were advancing along the front of a broad intellectual movement which was in the early stages of transiting from spiritualism to materialism.  The cynosure of the movement was Germany in the years following, and in reaction to, the death of philosopher G.F.W. Hegel.  To simplify a very complex way of thinking, many people of that time had accepted Pantheism, the idea that the universe and God are the same thing.  Since most people are not very quick on the uptake, and are willing to sign on to a belief systems before they grasp all of its correlative implications.

Thus, many a happy Pantheist, circa 1840AD, was surprised and saddened to learn that their system no longer permitted them to believe in the personal divinity of Jesus, whom they had hoped to retain as a spiritual hedge in spite of their infidel inclinations .  They should have figured this out from reading Hegel, but it took the shock treatment administered by some young, radical, German intellectuals of the time (a.k.a.,  the Illuminists, Higher Critics etc.) to rub the noses of these au currant ladies and gentlemen in the compost of atheism.  After a halfhearted embrace of Pantheist ambiguity, some among the elite classes of Europe were again courting hard-core, Rousseau-vintage, Humanism, very much along the lines of the original French Revolution of 1789, albeit the European political revolutions of the 40s didn’t amount to much.  This time, humanism broke out with more scientific rigor and less heartfelt enthusiasm, “Man” was made the vehicle of those hopes and dreams which had previously been invested in God.  Moreover, the unprecedented technological progress of the times were conducive to putting faith in human works.

Yet those works, splendid as they might be, begged the nature of their creators.  What was the essence of Man?  Or as we would say today, “What is the essence of….[bleep!]?”  Amazing though it might seem in retrospect, some people of that era actually took the time and pains to ask the Anthropological question.  The man who best serves as archetype of those questioners, actually proposing and discarding several solutions over the course of his life, was the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872).  One thing that can be said of Feuerbach, even if we dismiss him as a serial wrong-guesser who justly earned posthumous obscurity, was his persistent and scrupulous engagement with the Anthropological question.  His best remembered quote,”You are what you eat!” might ornament a nutritionist more gloriously than a philosopher.  Yet we must consider that, as a thinker, he was an anvil and not a hammer, pounded left and right by forces which were not just making Modernity but shattering the classical mirror of Man (better known to us as “bleep!”).  Feurerbach’s lifetime bracketed an epochal turn in human self-definition, a turn which Feuerbach didn’t initiate so much as chronicle.

Therefore, meditate on the chronological sketch below and notice how the the turn from Anthropology to anti-Anthropology transpired in the space of a specific, species-haunted, generation.  I know this narrative will be easy to dismiss as a curmudgeon’s rant on “the origins of the left”  but if you visualize the broad movement behind, and independent of, individual intentions will you grasp  its Anthropological significance.  In spooky confirmation of a simultaneous and  universal (or at least pan-Western) turn of thought, the history of early Positivism could be adduced as  a development in synchronicity with Idealism, but in this case the decapitation of Man being conducted by French, and allegedly “conservative” social scientists from August Compte to Emile Durkheim.  But I rather prefer the bold and brooding history of Anglo-German radicalism.

1804  death of Immanuel  Kant, birth of L. Feuerbach

1806 Hegel publishes his Phenomenology, consciousness posited as the motive force in the history of the world, subjective (individual) consciousness conditioned in a “dialectical” relationship to objective (collective) consciousness.

1818-19 Lectures on the History of Philosophy, S. T. Coleridge introduces German Idealism to the English reading public, slowly Idealism will replace the reigning Scottish “common sense” philosophy in the English speaking world.

1831  death of Hegel

1835 Life of Jesus, by Strauss

1841 The Essence of Christianity by Feuerbach

1843 The Essence of Christianity translated by George Eliot

1844 Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, critical of objectivity and lack of political engagement in speculative Anthropology

1847-48 Revolutions in France and central Europe

1848 The Communist Manifesto

1850 The Great London Exposition, popular vindication of applied technology over philosophical and scientific theory

1854-56 Crimean War (only major European war between 1815-1914)  Nightingale, progressive transfer of humane care from family and church to state

1859 Charles Darwin, the Origin of Species, natural selection adduced as motive force in natural history

1860 Essays and Reviews, English theologians embrace the methods of Higher Criticism

1861-65 American civil war, first modern “total” war

1861 Marx, Capital vol. 1 published

1871 Charles Darwin, the Descent of Man

1872 Death of Feuerbach

Note that at the outset Man was The All-In-All, but at the end of the period, not even the  child of a monkey, rather, a scion of some anonymous animal.

In The Essence of Christianity Feuerbach attempted to equate God with “good.”  In his view all the things which were posited of a Supreme Being were actually virtuous attributes of the human species-being.  Justice, mercy, love, fidelity, etc., were human characteristics, which had been mistakenly projected on to an alienated figment of the collective imagination and deified.  However, and here’s the rub, the human individual had no more ultimate reality than God.  Feuerbach’s Man was not men, or men and women, or even people, but the species as a collective.   Individuals were mortal but the species was immortal.  Man was God, Man was good, and Man would live forever.  At the time it seemed like a grand faith, a devotion to something tangible which might give meaning to the limited and fragile life of individuals.

Feuerbach’s intention was  to make a smooth transition from the crypto-Pantheism of Hegel, to a less infatuated, more earthy, Humanism.  Yet  his critics were were more likely to see this continuity with idealism as contamination by unrealistic nonsense.  As thinkers more cunning and sanguinary than Feuerbach were quick to point out, this alleged Human species-being never managed to will anything concrete and  unanimously, but rather, all real  history has been the history of antagonistic groups engaged in fratricidal strife.  For the critics, the ultimate meaning of history was far better illustrated by victorious parties dancing on the graves of the defeated than a universally inclusive chorus singing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.  According to Karl Marx the antagonistic parties were economic classes, and to some extent nations.  Today we would add genders, races, religions, and even sexual orientations.  Under fire from its radical critics, Human species-being quickly melted into the solvent of class analysis.

Small wonder that Marx happily discarded Feuerbach’s anthropology for the naturalism of Darwin, at one point seeking (and being refused) permission to dedicate Capital to the British naturalist.  Darwin’s system was founded on the assumption of conflict and competition, not the deduction of human from divine virtues.  Feuerbach continued to revise his system in the direction of increasingly consistent materialism, but was no longer in the forefront of a generation which had jumped from philosophical speculation to natural science, now that the latter was backed up by the prestige of  rapidly developing technology.

More significantly, the capital which Darwin did not endorse was the capital M in Man.  In classical anthropology Man had been one of the primordial kinds, as in Spirit, Man, Animal, and Mineral.  Naturalists from Aristotle to Buffon had recognized that  qua organism, the human body was akin to other mammals, and especially to apes and monkeys.  However in a consistently despiritualized science, the one human species was no longer set apart from the myriad of other animals, but rather fell under the same biological and ethological constraints as any other organism.  This reduction may have deeply bothered Darwin personally, but as a scientist he never really posed the Anthropological question the same way that Feuerbach had done, rather he was resigned to viewing homo sapiens as a single object within the purview of the natural science.  In spite of the title, after The Decent of Man, Man ceased to exist as a problem for natural science.  Or more precisely, from a Darwinian point of view, Man, as a unique aspect of the world, had never existed to begin with.

From Man to “Man”

We began by hinting that the loss of “Man” was a harbinger of the death of our own species.  After some clarification we can now understand that the situation is rather worse than we had initially feared, in that, conceptually, Man was killed off sometime in the middle of the 19th century, while “Man” (the word) actually survived the concept by more than a hundred years.  To maintain clarity, we must remember that there are actually three deaths.  First, the death of the concept, second the death of the word, and third, and yet to happen, the actual species extinction of homo sapiens.  That the third death is yet to happen should not imply that it necessarily will, it is only a hypothesis.  None the less, the three deaths are cognitively related.  In particular, the death of Man (the concept) at the hands of Darwinism, is strongly associated with the putative mortality of the species.  If Man is subject to species extinction, as are all organic taxa according to the laws of natural selection, then Man cannot be considered a primary aspect of the world.  As an analogy, consider the concept of “states of matter” which are generally accepted as uniform, or at least ubiquitous, aspects of nature.  If, say, all liquids could disappear from the cosmos, it would put the schema of “states of matter” in serious doubt.  Something of that nature is what has happened with Man, due to the anti-Anthropological turn circa 1860.

Now, would it be too wicked for me to suggest that while Man is not a “species” in the same sense that felix domestica is a species, none the less Man bears an uncanny resemblance to the cat, that enigmatic creature of the proverbial nine lives?  Not only did the word “Man” persist far longer than one might have expected, but Anthropology entered a period of great fruition after the death of Darwin.  Here I’m not referring primarily to what people ordinarily think of as “Anthropology”, the post-Darwinian people-within-nature paradigm which covers everything from bones to basket weaving.  Be wary that, just as in politics, where the nomenclature for everything gets twisted around to its opposite, and we now are forced to call socialists “liberals” in similar fashion those post-Darwinian scholars who no longer believe in a human essence are liable to call themselves “Anthropologists.”  In fact, they are mostly anti-Anthropologists who just want to study the secondary attributes and accidental properties associated with human beings.   Granted, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, and on the whole these so-called Anthropologists are not a bad lot, being no more consistently anti-Anthropological than the other professionals who have have inherited scattered fragments among the human sciences.  If the so-called Anthropologists have any besetting sins, those would be 1) they stole the name away from genuine Anthropology, 2) some sub-schools were virulently anti-cognitive, for example the ethnologist Franz Boaz who never saw a theory that he didn’t want to grind down into a powder of facts, 3) others, notably the Structuralists, were hyper-cognitive, and sought to gin up a Theory of Everything, based on some attribute (usually kinship or language) of human thought or behavior.

The anti-Anthropologists who called themselves “Anthropologists” loved “Man” (the word).  After all, it was their schtick, and made a nifty title for textbooks, even textbooks written by sophisticated Darwinians and Marxists who knew that human species-being had gone out of fashion with Feuerbach.  In the meantime, anything on two legs with an opposable thumb would do, and it was all great fun until Feminism put the kibosh on that particular branding.  None the less, so-called  “Anthropology” took the ban on “Man” in stride, since their usage of the term was based on a consistent nominalism, if not on a conscious memory of the anti-Anthropological roots of modern natural science.  Fortunately, due to the exclusion of classical languages, undergraduates could still take “Anthro” and not worry their heads that banned “Man” had never meant just  andro…indeed, that it had meant much more than both andro and gyno put together.

Yet, I wanted to mention the 2oth century miracle of Anthropology, not so-called “Anthropology” but genuine Philosophical Anthropology, as it flourished after, and in spite of, the anti-Anthropological turn of the previous generation.  If I thought that Man were a mere species and not an attribute of Created Being, my inclination would be to classify it somewhere within the family Leporidae, as a mammal with a capacity for making unexpected intellectual leaps, and multiplying thoughts faster than other species can reproduce their genes.  To that end, what great broods have been spawned, not just among the anti-Anthropologists, which is only to be expected, but even among genuine Anthropologists during the 20th and even 21st centuries!

Now remember, when I heap praise on the battered remnants of genuine, philosophical, Anthropology, I’m only lauding them for asking the right question, namely: “What is…[bleep!]”  And by now you understand what “bleep!” is and that a Philosophical Anthropologist is one who would know and say that “bleep!”=Man, and that possibly we should even come out and say “Man” when we mean Man.  I am not saying that many, or even any, of these Anthropologists have answered the question correctly, although I think there is an answer, and that some have made a closer approach to the correct solution than others.  Naturally I have my own views, but I would consider anyone a legitimate Anthropologist who asked the question aright.

There are schools of Philosophical Anthropology of every description.  Some are religious, some are frankly atheistic, but even the most starkly atheistic Anthropologists demure from post-Darwinian naturalism in positing something unique and essential about the human race.  In that sense, all Anthropologists, from atheists to Christians, are tendering a kind of “minority report” against the consensus view of modern science and society.  An atheistic, but genuine, Anthropologist might posit that the human race has a unique responsibility to conserve the cosmos and bring it to its best potential.  Countering this, the consensus view would maintain that such an assertion was errant nonsense, an arbitrary projection of human values into the unthinking and unthinkable void.

In a brief treatment, it is impossible to do more than allude to all the speculative “minority reports” which have been filed by Philosophical Anthropologists against the hegemony of post-Darwinian naturalism.  No doubt many of these speculations have been wrong-headed, but they have at least kept a window open to world-views outside the standard narrative.  If I had to pick a representative of the type it would be Max Scheler(German, d. 1928).  Feuerbach’s anthropolgy began with materialistic idealism and sloped inexorably down to idealistic materialism, however Scheler’s thought described a parabola, which at its height sought the divine in Man.   Personality, both Divine and Human, was arguably Scheler’s main concern, however his reluctance to deal with the limits imposed by a temporal creation, as per the Judeo-Christian scriptures, subordinated individuality to the vague infinity of deep time, a dilemma similar to that encountered by the ancient Gnostics.  Abandoning his initial, and intentionally Christian, viewpoint, Scheler made the alarming discovery that, in precluding a personal God, the amoral instinctual urges of the Cosmos were far stronger than  any principle of spiritual form or sentiment.   The intellectual public in Germany and beyond, repelled by such otiose metaphysics embraced existentialism, a doctrine which gave up on the reality of anything but individuals.  Anthropology once again retreated to the shadows.

In retrospect, Feurebach and Scheler seem like tragic figures who lifted up Man, in one or another guise, as a god, only to see their systems crushed down by more consistently nihilistic doctrines.  However it doubtful whether their contemporaries saw the loss of Anthropological hegemony as something to be lamented.  Rather, they were relieved to be unburdened of Man, just as they had greeted the earlier, and logically prior, “death of God” with satisfaction.

The return of Man, and the return of “Man”…which, both or neither?

The operational assumption is that people can get along perfectly well without a conception of their own species occupying a special place in the system of the world.  Underlying this assumption is the more fundamental axiom that the natural science narrative is our default outlook on the world.  After all, its “natural” is it not?

However the “minority report” of Philosophical Anthropology raises the  specter of a completely different world, a world in which the unique bearers of the divine image have been persuaded that they are but one of a myriad of animal species.  By this account, the conceptual framework of natural science within which the image bearers were circumscribed, was not so much a “discovery” as the imputation of a belief-system.  From this perspective, it is naturalism, not the classical Man-centered cosmology, which is fabulous.  To get the masses of humanity to believe such a deflating fable in the course of a few centuries, has been a superbly effective triumph of propaganda.  Although we have some hints as to who has disseminated this propaganda, the question of in whose interest it was disseminated remains enigmatic.

Within the English-speaking world, the banner of the old classical Anthropology (Christian or secular) was “Man.”  The banner was not furled up until long after the cause was lost.  Yet the banner itself was essential, so essential that the high command of anti-Anthropology decided to send in the Amazonian battalion to haul it down under the pretext of the gender wars.  Lost in the confusion of that particular skirmish, was the deep import of having a proper name for that key nexus of Creation through which the Divine, ideally, was to communicate its dominion over the visible world.  “People” is more than just an innocent substitute for “Man”, since, being a plural, it serves as a pretext for importing the entire philosophy of nominalism into the human sciences.  Nominalism views entities (you and me and the cat and the carpet) as capable of being grouped into any category which happens to be convenient.   Who’s convenience?

It can be safely inferred that this is a view well suited to those who want to abolish the boundaries between species.  Perhaps now the reader can see the relevance of all the preceding esoteric Anthropology, for looming on the event horizon of our world are a thousand crises brought about by relation of the human to the non-human.  Indeed, we are conjuring up new categories of non-humans day by day.  AI and aliens, robots and Chimeras, not to mention all those entities of the natural and spiritual world who are ancient in human lore.  I eagerly await the rebirth of the “dinosaur” from its amber-encased DNA.  Or will it be a dragon?   Names make a difference.

None the less, we proceed without caution, for the night-watch has been relieved of its duties as the evening of human history encroaches.  Isolated voices cry out, “There may be a problem here!” and anxiety is ubiquitous, but few are willing to “get real.”  This is not an accident.  The “real” tools, nay, the “real” weapons with which we might have fought were long ago taken away and beaten, not into plowshares, but into the bars of zoological confinement for what remains of the dignity of Man.  The “real” tools were realistic in a properly philosophical sense, exalting created kinds as the unalterable building blocks from which God created our world.  Such was Man.  Hence the necessity of having a personal name for the species.

Will Man come again?  I think so, but more on the basis of faith than calculation.  In the meantime others look towards a rapidly accelerating future, and begin to realize that “Nature” is hardly a better idol than secular Man, that the sense of “nature-in-itself” is an illusory effect of what psychologists call normalcy bias.  None the less, something is approaching, we know not what.  Intellectuals call it “the end of history” while technologists speak of “the singularity.”  Most just ignore it, but it will come nonetheless.

Suddenly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Anthropology, Art, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Esoterism, Evolution, History, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Slouching towards the Post-Legal Society (Introduction: “The Beast”)

Posted by nouspraktikon on June 23, 2017

Cultural Marxism:  From show trials to no trials

If property is the proverbial nine points of the law, it is not surprising that Marxism, its frontal attack on property having stalled out (NB: ideology aside, we all like our “stuff”) would have eventually gotten around to launching a second front against law itself.  The total annihilation of law never succeeded with Communism Classic (Stalin’s version), since the Soviet state needed a judicial apparatus to highlight its superiority to “bourgeois law” …not to mention providing a half-way house on the way to the Gulag.  The nightmare of totalitarianism having been quietly put aside, if not entirely exorcised, we have emerged into the glaring, and presumably lawful, light of the Global Village.  Or have we?

Today, the legal “reforms” of the (allegedly) defunct Soviet state are held to be little more than antiquarian curiosities.  However this does not mean that “bourgeois law” a.k.a., classic legal principles of the Civil and Common law, have triumphed throughout the world.  Rather, the struggle against law has gone underground, or rather above ground and hidden in plain sight.  It dares not risk exposing itself, and therefore avoids clear opposition to the institution which makes civilization possible: Objective Law.  Since it eschews both thesis and antithesis, running for the dense cover of ambiguity, it must be tracked like a beast…by locating and examining its spores.  We know not what it is, but like W. B. Yeats, we can at least pose the question…

And what rough beast, its hour come at last

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

But at least we have a track, where the beast has digested large swaths of civilization’s foliage and left us a species-specific excrement where form has been neatly reduced to matter.   If we can track the down the spoor-dropper, perhaps it can be slain.  Or perhaps not.  But at least we may come to know who, or what, our adversary is.

Antinomianism

We must pick up the beast’s trail in the foothills of religion, and especially false religion.  The journeyman tracker will think that we have found the beast itself, and with a gleeful cry of “Antinomianism! Antinomianism!” presume that they have him treed, when in fact it is just a spoor, albeit very a significant find.  Actually the beast has moved on to an entirely different part of the forest, since the “true” false region of today is not a religion at all, but science, or rather scientism.

However there are enough who still believe in ersatz-Christianity to cloud the contemporary scene with a subtle contempt for law.  This is an Oedipal Christianity in which the God of Law is slain by the Son of Love, a doctrine preached by a vague figure named Jesus something or other.  Scientifically this is supposed to be Yeshua ben Yosef, but it really doesn’t matter, since this ersatz-Christianity has been purified of all but universal truths which all good natured people ought to be able to agree to.  Among these is that law is mean and should be dispensed with in favor of good will.

Yeats was assuming that the reader of his poem knew that he was talking about the “Antichrist.”  However if we get too hung up on the idea of the Antichrist being an ugly, brutal, beast then we are likely to be deceived.  Granted, there are many cults which like to dress up in spandex costumes, going about sporting horns and tridents.  They may even enjoy frightening middle-class people on Halloween and sundry sabbaths with their clownish antics.  But this is all an exercise in misdirection.  Such cultists may be “anti-Christs” but not the final beast who arrives at the end of history. The real threat to our spiritual well being doesn’t come from avowed nihilists who dance around impersonating a cartoon Satan.

The real threat comes when the world-system (what the Bible calls the “Aeon”) proceeds to abolish law in favor of a “higher morality.”  In today’s virtue-signaling pseudo-saints we see a harbinger of the real Antichrist.  The real Antichrist will not look evil or demonic, in fact the real Antichrist will try to resemble Christ to  whatever extent that might be possible.  After all, Christ did transpose law-abiding to a higher abiding in Him.   Call that a “higher morality” if you will.  However the “higher morality” of the Antichrist will not be based on fear of the Creator, but fear of the creatures.  Specifically, it will involve fear of the Human collective, a fear that will initially manifest itself as virtue-signaling, but in fact will rest upon appeasement of human (and ultimately demonic) lusts.

Having broken through the firewall of law (whether we choose to call such formal restraints law, culture, morality, ethics, or whatever) the direct confluence of collective human lusts and fears will create a Democracy of Desire.  Initially such a state of affairs may not seem ugly to behold.  It may even appear to be morally beautiful.

A beautiful beast.

 

Posted in Anthropology, Appologetics, Charismata, Christianity, Constitutionalism, History, Law, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Slouching towards the Post-Legal Society: Pt. 2 The “Antinomian Controversy”

Posted by nouspraktikon on June 22, 2017

Surf’s up!

Yesterday we took a trip to the beach and watched two young men struggle out into the water with their boards, a long-haired and bearded duo whom we instantly dubbed “Jesus” and “Peter.”  Both were tanned and seasoned surfers who understood how to catch a wave at the max and ride it all the way to the shoreline.  What neither of them seemed to catch was the sign on the pier which said “No swimming or surfing within 150 feet.”

And what could be more in accord with the spirit of apostolic Christianity than to ignore the ordinances of mere mortals and ride on to an invulnerable finish at a cis-150 range of the pier? Isn’t that how all right thinking…or rather, right feeling, saints will savor the moment?

And are you that stupid?

I didn’t think so.  On the contrary, perhaps we have caught just the right theological wave, surfing right up to the edges of the crises generated by our increasingly lawless post-modern era.  This theological wave even has a technical name:Antinomianism.  It is the error of Christians who think that the law has been abolished, not fulfilled, by our Messiah.

Actually, law remains, but only in true Christianity, not ersatz-Christianity.  In ersatz-Christianity we are groping (I’m afraid the word is apt!) towards the Democracy of Love, not the Kingdom of God, towards a state in which all moral distinctions are abolished, under the pretext that people don’t need human rights as long as they can get enough human love.  And if there isn’t enough love to go around the state will make up the deficit, in terms of belonging, security, and a can-do mission.  Not the bourgeois law state, but the on-the-march state militarized for either domestic or foreign war.  This means the replacement of law and order with orders…both standing orders and changes in orders.

Following Ovid, the most honest label for this ideology might be The Party of Metamorphosis.  However “change” is a slow seller unless people can be convinced it means “change for the better.”  Hence it calls itself the party of “progress” or even “liberalism”i.e., change in the direction of more freedom.  Thus ersatz-Christianity is pleased to call itself Progressive or Liberal, as the case may be.

Believers of the non-ersatz variety might call out Liberal Christians as “Antinomians”…but this would be a mistake.  More precisely, it would be what philosophers call a category mistake.  It might be the oddest thing, but antinomianism is almost, kinda, the genuine truth as far as Christian theology is concerned.  That is because nobody is saved from their sins by trying to live a moral life.  One is saved from one’s sins by throwing oneself on the mercy of Christ.

Suppose a prisoner, a murderer, is waiting on death row under sentence of execution.  The prisoner appeals to the governor of the state to be spared as an act of mercy.  The governor, receiving a petition from the prisoner, grants the plea and the prisoner avoids execution.  What has happened?  The prisoner is alive due to an act of grace by the governing authorities.  What has not happened?  The laws against murder are still on the books.  They have not been abrogated or even mitigated on the basis of an act of grace.

Thinking that pardoning the prisoner repeals the law, might serve as an illustration of what theologians call “antinomianism”  a word derived from the latin meaning anti-law.  But what, if any, relation is there between theological antinomianism and the increasing lawlessness of postmodern thought and society.

The Secularist distortion of Theological Doctrine

Even sincere believers are prone to stumble when it comes to doctrine.  One the one hand there are those who are inclined to add some sort of discipline or ritual to saving grace.  On the other hand there are those who presume upon grace, inferring that grace has somehow abrogated God’s moral standards.  This is the marrow of theological controversy and pastoral council.  However the Antinomian controversy is at best tangential to the secularist trend in the direction of lawlessness, at worst it is a source of confusion, deliberately sown to confuse the distinction between genuine and ersatz Christianity.

At its root, “Progressive” or “Liberal” Christianity is little more than a front group organized by the forces of Secularism for its own nefarious purposes.  Secularism generates ersatz-Christianity by transposing antithetical theological terms from one set of referents to another.  Thus the law/grace antithesis is transposed into a law/psychology antithesis.  “Law” in the first antithesis refers to fundamental morality, while “law” in the second antithesis refers to the public ordinances of civil society.

The secularist will try to get the Christian to conflate these two similar-sounding antitheses.  If, from the point of view of some “higher life” theology, grace is far superior to law, likewise it is maintained that a world in which people relate to each other through their feelings about one another as individuals is far superior to a society where individuals’ relations to one another is mediated by status, legal personality, and civil institutions.  The catch to this world-view is that one all-powerful institution is necessary to referee the atomized and psychologized world after all other institutions, such as the family, churches, and voluntary associations, have withered away.  Inevitably, this singular institution is the modern managerial state.

Grace, because it fulfills rather than abolishes law, leads to freedom. Grace is based on the trans-individual claims of Christ, and hence builds up a society based on objective law.  The individuals in a grace-based society, as pointed out repeatedly by the apostle Paul, retain their differences of status and function.  Like stones with well defined edges, they are none the less capable of being stacked up into a larger edifice.

However the reduction of society to individual claims based on feelings really does abolish law. Each individual, striving for perfection, is like a smooth sphere centered upon itself.  Like marbles, they cannot be stacked into a larger edifice.  Instead of forming into a structure, the marbles will scatter into random chaos until captured and put into the confinement of a bag.  In our world, this bag is the managerial state.

It is tempting to call the psychological momentum of post-modernist society “antinomian” and hence fall into the trap laid by secularist rhetoric.  Such nomenclature would grant postmodernism a legitimate pedigree in Paul’s theology of grace.  This is a big deal, because it endorses the movement from psychology to statism, from chaos to tyranny.

Theological antinomianism, whatever moral baggage it might be freighted with, should stop short of toxic associations with postmodernity.  It should never get much worse than Jesus surfing too close to the pier.

 

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Dammit Man!

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 18, 2017

A Pickup Placard Peccadillo

Driving along a trunk route of my community I was “shocked, shocked I tell you!” (well, kinda) to see an advertising placard on a pickup blazoned with the unique corporate moniker Dammit Man!  Dammit Man?  Not, mind you, a bumper sticker, but the name of the firm!  Well, context is everything, and from the barrels and tools in the back of Dammit Man’s pickup, it was evident that the  cussing commercial was advocating the services of a lawn care and cleaner-upper specialist.  Since my town is full of trees, deciduous and otherwise, there is a huge market for lawn waste removal.

Thus it took me less than two seconds to figure out the reference, which is a mark of good ad copy in itself.  Clearly, Dammit Man! was an unexpurgated expletive prefacing the tacit, but easily guessed proposition: “Dammit man, how did you get that lawn cleaned up so well…and in record time!”  Perhaps a local ordinance needs to be passed prohibiting foul language appearing as part of a corporate logo.  I suspect that most of our churches would line up in support of the motion.

However that really misses the point, both of the joke and the phrase itself.  Somehow I suspect that the Dammit Man, whether or not he can dispatch decaying vegetable matter with the celerity implied by the slogan, is a better Christian than most of us.  He has that seldom mentioned but welcome Christian virtue: Hilarity…or in plain language, a sense of humor.  It is the note of the pilgrim who is both seasoned and sincere on the spiritual path.

(And , incidentally, since I can’t resist a snarky soliloquy, this virtue was notably absent from the recently trounced politician who bore the name!)

On a deeper level, “dammit” is not an obscenity but an imprecation, and since we really don’t want to send our lawn-care specialists to the infernal regions, at least if they have done a good job, the expression in context has to be taken as an effusion of rare praise, not condemnation.  Therefore, since the vendor is praising himself using a curse word, the ultimate intent is humorous, even if the humor doesn’t exclude the likely “damn” goodness of the lawn care specialist.

But of course, real damnation is no laughing matter.  By “damnation” I don’t just mean the final, definitive judgement of sin before the throne of God, I mean condemnation in the broadest sense.  Every atheist dog-and-pony show purports to demonstrate that “damnation” was an innovation foisted on mankind by the God of Abraham, or rather by His ameneusis.

However damnation, in the broad sense of condemnation, is not something which we would have to wait on revelation before we learned of it.  True, when we consider “last things” there are some elements which natural reason could never have guessed, such as the immortality of the resurrected body, either for good or for ill.  That knowledge only comes from revelation, and admittedly it complicates things.  But that is not what we are concerned with at present, however much atheists would like to “put God in the dock.”

Rather, we are talking about what happens when human beings put each other “in the dock” or to paraphrase what Voltare said of God, “If damnation didn’t exist we would have to invent it.”

My contention is that we did.

 

When Man Damns

Indeed, damnation, rather than being fostered upon the human race by bad religions (Abrahamic or otherwise, indeed, there are Buddhist hells, and nasty ones at that) is an intrinsic category of the human mind.  Just as Adam Smith told us that “humanity has an intrinsic propensity to truck and barter,” likewise there is an “intrinsic propensity to damn” which has been shared by all human beings since the time of that Adam who was the progenitor of Mr. Smith and the rest of us.  For though the human race has no brimstone (or at least it didn’t prior to Hiroshima and Nagasaki) it has the faculty of condemnation in abundance.

Consider that we get our English word “damnation” from Latin.  Now in secular history the most revealing instance of total condemnation is the custom of damnatio memoria which was exercised from time to time during the Rome’s late republic and empire.  After an unpopular politician or emperor had been removed, either by natural causes or assasination, the Senate, by official decree, would order the erasure of all inscriptions mentioning the tyrant, and the removal of all his statues from public view.  Historians dispute how often and how effectively this rite was observed, but the intention was clear.  The victorious party in the Senate wanted to consign all memory of the condemned emperor to oblivion.

This desire to condemn and erase the past, or at least that part of the past connected with unpopular personalities, was by no means a uniquely Roman obsession.  Rather, contrary to the intentions of the Senate, the abundance of historical records during the Classical period, combined with a human delight in monstrosity, has assured an unwonted immortality to such “damned” creatures as Caligula and Nero.  Among more ancient civilizations, the local equivalent of the damnatio memoria was more effective.  Until Carter’s discoveries in 1922, Egyptologists had no more than an inkling of King Tut’s existence, since the boy monarch and his heretical Sun-worshiping dynasty had been rubbed out of the historical record by pious defenders of Egypt’s polytheistic faith.  This remarkably effective act of collective forgetfulness endured for three thousand years.  But as the saying goes, truth will out.

However we must go beyond the early civilizations to primordial times if we want to find the origins of damnation.  Was it not Cain who first issued a decree of oblivion to his brother?  He did not just murder, but buried Able, for we know that “his blood cried out from the ground.”  The mind of Cain, full of wrath, was inconsolable at the offense of Able.  And what was that offense?  Surely that his brother had been judged acceptable in the eyes of God, while he had been found wanting.  Cain had the choice of repentance…or, or what?  The only way to restore reality to its pre-judgement status was to erase the very idea of Able as an alternative to Cain.  It wasn’t enough to just terminate Able’s existence (murder), it was necessary to deny that Able had ever existed (burial).

If there had been no outside observer, it would have been the perfect crime.  However the Holy Spirit was recording the incident for our benefit.  Cain did have a brother, and though he failed as his “keeper” neither did he succeed as his “thrower-awayer.”  In this first case, and ever since, it has been hard to make the damnatio memoria stick.

If there is a God, history is for keeps.

The Rise of the Orwellian Memory Hole

As God-centered world views have been nudged aside by various forms of Humanism, especially the most consistent form of humanism, Marxism, the damnatio memoria has experienced a modern renaissance.  Instead of statues of Caesar being removed from the Roman forum, the images of Stalin’s rivals were airbrushed out of the picture.  Before…

And after…

This process was frequently repeated until only the reigning god, “Uncle Joe” himself, remained.

Marxism is not only the last stage of humanism, but it brings to moral completion the views of time that are implicit in all forms of secularism.  According to this world-view, only the visible world is real, and all unseen worlds are either imaginary or manipulable fictions.  This means that the present always has domination over a past which has disappeared from sight and only exists in archival or artifact form.  Thus the past is worse than non-existent, it is plastic in the hands of the present…liquid, and ripe for liquidation.  To the primordial animus which the human mind harbors towards its rivals, past, present, and future…Marxism has added a theory of history which grants moral superiority to whatever faction has most recently emerged from the struggles of time.  Add to this a penchant for organization and propaganda, and one gets a veritable “science of damnation.”

As Marxism has become the hidden, but hegemonic, ideology of America’s academic and journalistic institutions, this penchant for damning the past, rather than trying to understand it, has ascended to power.  Today, in the world of Photo-shop, Stalinist airbrushing seems crude and cartoonish.  But what can be done with the more substantial archives of the past, those made of bronze and stone?  Sadly, we discover that they are scheduled for removal in cities across the nation.

Like the busts of Caesar, the generals of America’s public squares are disappearing, and not just those who fought for the South during the disturbances of 1861-65.  One wonders how long Andrew Jackson, who conquered New Orleans from the British, will be left unmolested.  Certainly, Jackson was a flawed man, but none the less a man whom it is important to grapple with in order to understand vast chunks of American history.  He is now high on the list of those scheduled for the damnatio memoria.

And who shall replace General Jackson?  Dr. King perhaps?  Whomever it might be, it will not be someone who will be able to escape the gnawing criticism of the future.  New values and new demographics will come to the fore, and then the politically correct heroes of today will themselves fall victim to future damnatio memoria.  I believe it was Chateubriand who observed, “Like Father-Time, the revolution devours its own children.”  And what does this devouring consist of but a desire to see the past as totally evil, and the present as justified by its condemnation of the past?  However this is ultimately a suicide pact and a self-imprecation, since time flows onward, and in the Marxist view this flow is not morally neutral but a process of continuous judgement and re-evaluation.

History, thus construed, becomes a pyramid of skulls with a small band of executioners at the top.  From time to time there is a new work shift and the past shift’s executioners become the next band of victims, hence providing more skulls for the pyramid, ever growing in height and volume.  This is as good an illustration as any of the human form of damnation.  It is a damnation which, if not eternal, is at least infinite.  For time has no end.

Except that, in the Christian view, it does end, and the infinite damnation that humanity wished upon itself is eclipsed by eternity.

It makes me sad.  And I wish I had the innocent guile of that bold lawn-cleaner to say,  “Dammit man!  Stop your damn man-damning man!  Just look, listen….and repent!”

 

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Captain Obvious calling: What if Myths are just (you guessed it!) myths?

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 3, 2017

From unsophisticated lies to sophisticated rationalizations

I have spent more of my  life than I would care to admit trying to unravel the mysteries of myths and mythologies.   The dominant theories among anthropologists, psychologists and other scholars reflects the prevailing assumption that myth reflects a key to some deep primitive wisdom which modern people have gotten out of touch with.  Thus for Levi-Strauss, myth reveals the primitive meta-logic of the mind which is far more socially cohesive than the analytical categories of common sense logic.  Carl Jung goes further in seeing the primal spirituality of all human beings stored in a collective unconscious which from time to time is expressed in mythical terms.

The assumption is that there are truths too deep to be expressed in plain expository language.  But what if myth, far from expressing truths, is actually giving vent to falsehoods.  This is the viewpoint of Rene Girard, who sees in the incoherence of myth, a similarity to rationalization.  When the main character of a mythical narrative suddenly turns into a god or a totemic animal, Girard suggests that the hero was the subject of envy and fell victim to murder most foul.  To disguise the crime the survivors in society changed the narrative and promoted the hero from the status of victim to god.  Those who notice some similarity to Christ’s passion will not be surprised that Girard is a Christian and was influenced by the gospel narrative in framing his social theory.

One need not concur with all the details of Girard’s anthropology to see the wisdom of applying a forensic approach to myth.  If myths are primitive rationalizations of the great crimes committed in antiquity, this would go a long way to explaining the convoluted and contradictory logic which seems characteristic of all primitive societies.  As Mark Twain once said, “I don’t tell lies because its too much work to keep them all straight in my memory.”

From Fall to Falsehood

However the human race seems, on the whole, to have taken liberties with the truth at the price of developing a vast and often incoherent body of narratives which we call mythology.  To say that myths are lies and nothing more than lies, would seem to put the work of generations of anthropologists and folklorists to naught.  Yet this might be a true key to understanding the enigma of the human past.  All myths might be variations on one Big Lie which has been told generation after generation, growing in detail and complexity as each narrator attempted to put more distance between his contemporaries and some Primal Crime of deep antiquity.

In this context, it might be useful to note that the Bible, whatever “genre” we might assign to it, most certainly is not myth.  Even the most superficial acquaintance with scripture shows that its style and method is completely different from all the mythological systems which have been passed down through the traditions of the nations.  Indeed, scripture and myth are not just different but opposite, and comparing them is much like looking through a telescope alternatively from different ends.  Thus, while myths are human attempts at making a theology, the Bible was given us by God as a book of anthropology.  In understanding ourselves, we understand our relationship to God, or lack thereof.

Unlike myths, the Bible reveals to us the Great Crime which broke our fellowship with God.  It tells the truth in straight, unambiguous terms, in terms which would be recognized by any logician, whether or not such a logician accepted the moral of the story.  In contrast, mythology, the Bible’s primitive rival, is forever losing the logical thread of its narrative, much like dreams, which are simply the nocturnal counterpart of the mythological madness told in broad daylight.  When myth is on the witness stand the story is always changing, backtracking, and the names are changed to protect the guilty.

Not so with scripture, which radiates a clarity similar to the last pages in a classical “whodunit.”  Of course, this makes it unpopular with the criminal class, a class which (in regard to the Original Crime) includes the entirety of the human race.  Conversely this explains the popularity of myth which is, in the absence of other virtues…at least highly creative.

Posted in Anthropology, Art, Christian Education, Christianity, culture, Fiction, History, Paleoconservativism, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Gun You Should Reach For When You Hear the Word “Culture”

Posted by nouspraktikon on April 24, 2017

Why “Culture” is a loaded word which needs to be disarmed

All advocates of a civilized world, and most emphatically all Christians, need to be skeptical every time the word “culture” is mentioned.  Evolution and culture are the two key concepts which have destroyed genuine anthropology, anthropology in the Christian sense of the word.  If today we live in a world where the barbarians are at the gates, it is only because the vital distinction between civilization and barbarism was first erased from the scholarly vocabulary in the name of an ambiguous and relativistic understanding of human nature, an understanding which is encapsulated in the term “culture.”

The word “culture” (an otherwise unobjectionable term) was adopted by secular anthropologists as the label for a mental package deal known as “the culture concept.”  The essence of this concept is that human beings create their own mental reality.  Even humanists are humble enough to realize that human beings do not create their own physical reality.  That sort of thing went out of style with Renaissance magic.  Humanists claim that the universe has arisen through something other than human agency, and since human agency is the only rational design they recognize, they conclude that it is a result of chance plus vast quantities of time.  This is the celebrated theory of evolution.

There is another sense in which Humanists exhibit a minimal degree of humility.  The culture concept implies that “Man Makes Himself” to quote a title  from V. Gordon Child, from a day when even left-wing scholars could use masculine pronouns.  However the culture concept admonishes the would be Ubermench that human individuals do not make themselves, only groups have the power to shape the mental environment of their members.  Since the culture concept derives ultimately from the thinking of Immanuel Kant, this is an important revision in the theory.  Kant asserted that the human mind creates its own reality, but he was very abstract in his presentation.  He didn’t stress the role of groups in forming their own environments.  This was worked out in the century after Kant by various neo-Kantian scholars and passed down through the educational system in the form of anthropological dogma.

This formula, that 1) evolution makes the physical environment, and 2) culture makes our mental environment, is the one-two punch of all Humanist thought.  It is diametrically opposed to Christian anthropology, which sees the human race as part of creation dependent upon almighty God.  To be sure, in the Christian view the human race occupies a unique role in creation, as the thinking and governing part, just as in Humanism the humans are unique in possessing “culture.”  However there is a world of difference in these two forms of uniqueness.  The first uniqueness is related to something personal outside itself, a condition which renders objective morality possible.  The second uniqueness, the uniqueness of “culture” is purely self-referential.  It cannot be brought to the bar of any moral standard higher than itself.  From the Humanist viewpoint, this isolated uniqueness reflects the principle of human autonomy.  From the Christian viewpoint, it is an illusion resulting from sin.

Culture as the moral ultimate means that culture itself cannot be judged, and implies relativism.  The history of the culture concept is the progress of increasingly consistent forms of relativism.  In the 19th century anthropologists tried to rank cultures on the basis of degrees of civilization, or put negatively, emergence from barbarism.  However as the relativistic implications of the culture concept were systematized, notably by Franz Boaz and his followers, attempts at judging cultures were suppressed.   Today, all judgments of different cultures according to some objective standard outside culture are considered prejudicial.  However this moral conclusion is the consequence of the supposed impossibility of any objective standard.

When the Nazi German Propaganda Minister Goebbels famously exclaimed, “When I hear the world culture I reach for my gun!” he was diametrically opposed to the cultural criticism which we are trying to undertake.  Like Franz Boas, Goebbels was aiming for the idea of “high culture” as opposed to barbarism.  We should translate his words as “when I hear the word ‘civilization’ I reach for my gun.”  Both Nazism and cultural relativism have tried to make it impossible to isolate barbarism as a descriptive category and set it over against civilization.  Of course there were profound moral differences between Boaz, the liberal Jew, and Goebbels, the German fascist.  The latter went beyond theory and was determined to normalize barbarism by acting it out in real life.  However in the long run it has been the gentle scholar who has been more effective in destroying civilization, first as an ideal and then as a reality, among people of good intentions.

Yes, traditions exist

The major opposition to a frontal assault on the culture concept is the contention that culture aptly describes the variety and richness of human traditions found throughout the world.  However this diversity has always been recognized, certainly prior to the academic hegemony of the culture concept.  Some of these traditions were instituted by the Most High God, some are human innovations, and some have been inspired by lesser spirits.  Human innovation is not to be gainsaid, either for good or for evil, and neither is the vast diversity of traditions.

The culture concept adds nothing to our understanding of the richness of human institutions.  However by insisting on the human origin of our mental world, the culture concept begs one of the most significant questions which can be asked about history: Who, or what, instituted institutions?  Its long range effect is to flatten out the mental world into the single, flat, plane of human reality.  Cultural Humanists boast of having an “immanent frame” in which they are free to make any judgement they wish about human affairs.  However “any judgement” ultimately means that no judgment is authoritative, and hence that all are meaningless.  This default to meaninglessness and nihilism is the next to last stage in the decline of cultural relativism.

The final stage occurs when “culture” having outlived its usefulness in the promotion of nihilism is reabsorbed by “evolution” the master-concept which required culture as a temporary supplement and diversion.  When the ideals of humanity have lost their charm, the spiritual descendants of Goebbels will round on the spiritual descendants of Boaz, with guns metaphorical or otherwise.

It is to save these people of good intentions, these so-called “Humanists” from the fate which dooms their concepts, their bodies, and their souls (not necessarily in that order) that we must insist on a God beyond culture.

Posted in Anthropology, Appologetics, culture, Culture & Politics, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Theology, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Dear Michael Savage, here is your prize-winning proof of Human Stupidity (which assumes the existence of God)

Posted by nouspraktikon on April 12, 2017

Dear Michael Savage,

First of all I want to let you know how much I enjoy your program.  After taking a lot of guff and being called a deplorable, you have now dumped the Trump train over Syria.  Just goes to show, that for true blooded deplorables, it was more than just a “thing” about the orange hair.  Oh well….

So much for WWIII and the other small stuff.  Now getting down to that proof of the existence of God!  As you and I and everyone else knows, God exists.  However there are a certain class of scholars, known as apologists, who go beyond just knowing that God exists to trying to prove that he exists.  God must love these people very much, since he doesn’t blast them out of existence for doing something which is ultimately blasphemous.  I love them too, especially the really complicated ones like Thomas Aquinas and Gottfried Leibniz, who’s thoughts are as intellectually challenging as they are useless.   These are the people who attempted  a frontal assault on human infidelity and ignorance, which in itself is rather stupid.

The correct procedure is to reverse the question and ask why human beings reject God and all knowledge of His existence and character.  In scholarly circles this method is called “presuppositionalism” and if left to run amuck it will lead to academic disputations as obscure as anything spawned from the pen of Thomas Aquinas.  However the basic insight perfectly simple.  We all live in a world which is screaming at us 24 hours a day seven days a week, “I am God’s creation!”  Yet there are two classes of human beings, those who accept the Creator and their creaturely status, and those who feel that both the universe and they themselves are self-made.

Since both the believers and the God-rejecting people live in the same world, a world in which we are nurtured and have our being, there would not seem to be much ground for metaphysical disputation.  Even rather evil people such as Martin Heidegger have never doubted that existence exists, although that benighted philosopher expressed great surprise that Being had managed to nudge out non-existence in the contest for reality.

No, both classes of human beings inhabit the same life-world, but they think according to different principles.  As scholars would say, they adhere to different epistemological systems.  The believers see themselves as mentally naked in front of God and the world.  For them there is no “problem of knowledge” per se, since the  information we get from our world is abundant and, except in limiting cases, generally reliable.

However, in the case of the non-believer, one must have an epistemology before venturing into the wilds of the universe.  For such people, there is a gap between the ego and reality, a gap which can only be bridged through strenuous philosophical or scientific investigation.  However this plight of inadequate knowledge is not just an epistemological inconvenience, but rather grounded in the moral attitude of the non-believer him or herself, since before staking any claim to knowledge the non-believer has already declared a state of ego-autonomy.  This declaration of independence has the unfortunate consequence of stranding the ego on a deserted island of his or her own making, from which venturing out into the world of bruit fact, governed only by the laws of chance,  is a perilous adventure.

Well now Mr. Savage, even if you accept all that I have written above, it certainly doesn’t present a “proof of the existence of God”…at least in the classic sense.  However, from a forensic point of view, it ought to make us suspicious of of the non-believer’s motivation.  Why the insistence on autonomy?  Why the cumbersome epistemological apparatus?  It would almost seem as if there were something or Someone out in the wilds of reality whom the non-believer was afraid of, and for whom this gap between the ego and the Other was improvised.

Indeed, there are grounds for supposing that the gap between the ego and its environment is not a fact of nature, but an improvisation designed to suppress the original confluence between the human mind and God.  This would also explain the general uselessness of “proofs of the existence of God” since these are attempting to employ a metaphysical tool in order to solve a moral problem.  The “proofs” usually only work on people who are already believers.

To conclude, Mr. Savage, I know that this is a rather bleak judgement, and furthermore begs the question, “What is to be done?”  After all it implies that humanity is divided into two non-communicating epistemological camps.  Instead of offering you an inductive or deductive proof of God’s existence, all I have done is explain the irreducible ignorance of a vast segment of humanity.  Or as you would say, the reason why “they are stupid.”

Well, I suppose prayer wouldn’t hurt.

Blessings upon you and yours,

Mark Sunwall

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The Culture Conspiracy: A critical investigation into the destruction of civilization (Introduction)

Posted by nouspraktikon on April 10, 2017

The Culture Conspiracy

This is the first installment of a multi-part series on how the modern “culture concept” has, as a complement to the theory of evolution, demoralized and degraded civilization, or actual “culture” in the original intent of that word.  While it is not intended to be an exhaustive overview of the topic, the investigation will try to hit on all the major aspects of the problem.  Tentatively, it will be organized along the following themes,

  1. The Great Baton Pass
  2. The Measure of Man vs. the Measure of God
  3. From Custom to Culture
  4. Erasing the essential Civilization/Barbarism distinction
  5. From Kant to Hegel: From the individual to the species
  6. From Hegel to Boaz: From the species to the people
  7. The Super-organic, the Spiritual, and the Ugly
  8. The Enigma of Innovation
  9. Man Makes Himself Part II: From Custom to Customization
  10. Beyond the Culture Concept

Though each of these contains enough to provide a mini-course in itself, in its present state the work is likely to appear as the outline of a syllabus rather than a detailed treatment of the subject.

Introduction: The Culture Conspiracy

Suppose you were able to travel back in time to the mid-Victorian era.  Just to pick a date, let’s suppose it were 1859, the year in which Darwin published his master work, Origin of Species.  You arrive in London, England and are able to established communications with a middle class person, of either sex, and ask them two questions about the future.  First, do you expect technology to improve in the future?  Second, do you expect culture to improve in the future?  If I am not greatly mistaken, the answer of a well-informed Londoner of 1859 would be a resounding “Yes!” to both questions.

Next, through the magic of your time-traveling you offer them a vista of life at the beginning of the twenty-first century.  Now they are able to judge whether their optimistic prophecies have been vindicated.  There is no need to waste time on the answer to the first question.  The mid-Victorian would find the technological wonders of the present to be little less than a magical transformation of the human environment.  Even if the lady or gentleman in question were a Luddite, or like Mr. Butler, apprehensive of “machines” in general, they would be forced to admit that the machines had won the day, whether or not the technical triumph was in the long range interests of the human race.

And what of culture?  If cultural optimism were vindicated in proportion to the Victorian’s technological optimism, what wonderful variations on Moore’s Law might one expect?  In the year 2017 music would be one-hundred times more sonorous than Mozart, paintings one-hundred times beautiful than Turner, the law-courts one-hundred times more just and expeditious, families one-hundred times more peaceful and harmonious,  architecture one-hundred times more symmetrical and stately,  and the religious life of the average man or woman one-hundred times more pious.

I am sure everyone understands that such exaggerated expectations would suffer bitter disappointment.  But I would go beyond that and hypothesize that our representative Victorian would judge that much of culture had regressed rather than progressed.  Looking around at a population dressed in t-shirts and jeans, the well-dressed Victorian might assume that he or she (especially she) had landed in a sartorial dark ages.  Dress might be the most ubiquitous and offensive sign of cultural degeneration, but further investigation would reveal a myriad of aspects in which 21st century culture had decayed far beyond the lowest level of Victorian expectations.

Art might be cheap and easily accessible but so primitive, cartoon-like or commercial that the Victorian time-traveler would deem it rubbish.  Language, (unless our Victorian were a rater in Her Majesty’s Navy)  would have become unutterably vulgar.  Human relations would have become broader but shallower, and the family reduced to just one of the many nodes of association provided for the convenience of individuals.  The poor-house and the debtors prison would have been abolished, but by the year 2017 debt would have become the primary nexus holding the economy together.  Indeed, from the point of view of a middle-class Victorian, by the year 2017 society itself would have become one giant debtor’s prison.

This is not even to speak of the actual prisons of the 21st century, or the fact that Jack the Ripper (still in the future for 1859) would spawn, like some forensic Adam, a class of registered and unregistered offenders.  Finally our representative Victorian, even if not an enthusiast for the works of Herbert Spencer, might dimly recognize that by the standards of classical liberalism, the 21st century state had itself become a criminal network, engaged in perpetual borrowing and taxation for extensive regulation at home and endless warfare abroad.

Having safely deposited our Victorian time-traveler back to the homely 19th century, and drugged him with the obligatory milk of amnesia so that history won’t be spoiled, a familiar figure enters from stage left to deliver a soliloquy.  This is Mr. Carping Critic, who objects to the whole little drama.  He claims that our whole little experiment is a sham, based on false premises from the start.  He says that the two questions were apples and oranges from the start, and that the “no” verdict to the second question rests on biased judgment.  He says that when we jump from technology to culture we go from the measurable to the intangible, and we have entered into that shady region of values where nobody’s opinion (even that of a time-traveling Victorian) is more objective than that of someone else.

From the point of view of Mr. Carping Critic, the Victorian’s view of art is just an outmoded taste, so of course we should expect a negative verdict.  If the growth of the prison population is viewed negatively, it just shows the enduring grip of pastoral romanticism over the advantages of cozy confinement.  And so forth and so on in every department of “culture” since after all, culture is a matter of values, and as we all know, values change.  The seal of the entire argument is the whole ridiculous subject of clothing, which our time traveler had nothing better to venture than the opinion of a bigoted prude.

With that coup de grace, Mr. Carping Critic thinks he has stripped the Victorian of her secret!

I cannot refute Mr. Carping Critic on his own grounds, since they are not grounds at all, but the quicksands of a shifting and relativistic doctrine.  However it is a doctrine which has a history and that history can be exposed and criticized.  Indeed, I will go beyond Mr. Carping Critic to criticize the one concept which remains beyond criticism for him, namely “the culture concept.”  Yes, he is right to say that the time-traveling questions were not consistent, for in 1859 the word “culture” hadn’t quite assumed the connotation that we give it today.  Soon that would change, and it would change in such a way that people would no longer be as confident about making statements about objective reality as they had previously.

I think, in contrast to Mr. Carping Critic and his ilk, that objective reality, not just in the natural but the human world, continues to exist, and that an inability to talk about it puts anyone thus incapacitated at a severe disadvantage.  However our inability to talk about human affairs objectively is the end result of a kind of conspiracy, a conspiracy that started long ago and today has come to fruition in a multitude of crises.  In subsequent installments I will unmask this conspiracy… the culture conspiracy.

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Observations on the Christian Libertarian Conference (Aug. 2016, Austin TX), Pt. 2 Afternoon session

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 19, 2016

The Soul of the Entrepreneur

Dr. Victor Claar gave the most upbeat presentation at a conference which was distinguished by a generally upbeat tone.  One had the feeling of being in Sunday school, with plenty of scripture being quoted, and careful analogies drawn between the Biblical narrative and action in modern day society.  Claars’ premise was that entrepreneurial action was an image of God’s creative action.  Good uplifting stuff, albeit it tended to sell short the sense in which human finite reason and senses were only a poor hint at the fiat creation of an omnipotent and omniscient God.

A useful term for this same insight, which Dr. Claar did not employ, was J. R. R. Tolkein’s “sub-creation.”   All human activity, from art to entrepreneurship, is mundane mirroring of God’s creative action.  It struck me that there are actually two levels operative here, the moving about of productive factors within creation, and the imaginative reconstruction of the world with language.  These are different, with the former being closer to God’s creation in substance, while the second seems closer in terms of form.

One objection to any parallelism between entrepreneurship and God’s creative act is the presence of uncertainty in the former.  Theorists of entrepreneurship, such as the Austrian school’s Israel Kirzner, have talked about the entrepreneur as someone who is capable of “seeing around the corner” and discovering a gap in the market, some need or deficiency which has not been hitherto met.  However the entrepreneur cannot magically control the outcome of the enterprise.  This human capacity for being wrong renders the analogy between human action and creation less than perfect.  I mentioned this to Dr. Claar and he seemed to concur with this caveat.

The Plot Thickens: Enter Rene Girard as mimed by David Gornoski

“A Neighbor’s Choice” applied mimetic theory (MT) to the issues of politics and liberty.  Of all the presentations this was the one which came closest to offering a Christian solution to tyranny, and human bondage in general.  Most of the audience was probably unaware of the late Rene Girard’s work on social imitation, the mimetic triangle, and scapegoating.  As one of the conference attendees noted “libertarians scapegoat the state.”  Well, I am not sure that the way libertarians blame the state is congruent with Girard’s “scapegoat” theory, but the comment articulates an important truth.  The “state” is an abstraction which can only become incarnate in human action.  Therefore we must ask ourselves what is the primal human motive which results in the institution of elaborate and tyrannical systems of control.

For Rene Girard, it is the violation of the tenth commandment, Envy, which is at the heart of both social cohesion and conflict.  Imitation is the indispensable mortar for building individual bricks into a social structure, but imitation turns to nihilism as the fires of envy intensify and the continued existence of the imitated other becomes unbearable.  At the root of the problem is the unique quality of human imitation, which, unlike animal imitation is not just a miming of behavior but a imaginative appropriation of the other person’s desires.  This leads to rivalry and ultimately the assassination of the rival so that one can occupy and replace one’s rival’s very selfhood.  The assassination is then speedily mythologized, and turned into a religion to mask the aggression of the new leadership, a strategy which is generally successful in the short term, or at least until the fires of envy once again build up beyond a tolerable limit.

According to Girard, this pattern continued throughout human prehistory until it was unmasked by the passion of Christ.  In the gospel records for the first time ever, the narrative is related from the point of view of the victim.  Ideally, Christ should have been the last victim of mimetic rivalry, but as David Gornoski reminded the audience, the pattern has continued to operate up to the present and provide a rationale for that institution which we call “the state.”  Gornoski reminded the audience that the gospel accounts not only provide a diagnosis of the sinful basis of society, but also a strategy for dealing with mimetic rivalry…to eschew rivalry and usurping of the tyrannical rival’s functions, no matter if the overthrow and replacement be masked as “justice.”

It would seem that with Mr. Gornoski’s presentation we had got to a point during the conference where theory was beginning to give way to practice.  However the “practice” of a Girardian anti-mimesis would be less action than restraint on action, which brings to the foreground the common tendency of anarchism to encourage quietism rather than political activism.

Pico himself was beset by his usual theological scruples, and being a Girardian himself, though perhaps in bad standing, was eager to sound out Mr. Gornoski on the dangers of diverting the passion narrative from soterology to sociology.  Mr. Gornoski replied that he was convinced a sociological perspective on Christ’s victimhood in no way diminished the doctrine of the atonement, and that Girard himself (who became a practicing Catholic) saw no contradiction.  Pico was willing to let the matter stand, although this is a fundamental point which needs to be clarified in Girardian circles.

Conclusion: Political Burlesque and a Resounding Call to Inaction

It was inevitable that, in a Presidential election year, there would have to be some concluding fireworks…and that these would have to be managed so that the dangerous explosives didn’t blow apart the meeting in a satisfying but divisive finale.  This job was delegated to Jason Rink who’s semi-comic “Never a Chump: A Christian Libertarian guide to the 2016 Election” concluded with an appeal for libertarians to vote, not with their feet, but with their couch.  Even Mr. Johnson, the darling of the LP and other mild-mannered reformers, got the cold shoulder on the premise that if you don’t vote you aren’t morally responsible for the inevitable brutality of practical statecraft.  Of course this went double for Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton.

Wisely, there were no rebuttals due to time constraints, so partisan matches and fireworks were kept from any incendiary conjunction. The enthusiasts of Mr. Johnson just had to grit their teeth and defer to their anarchist betters.  However, just for the record, Pico would like to ask: Are there not crimes of omission rather than commission?

Let me get down to specifics.  After all, Pico has made no secret of the fact that he is sympathetic to the oh-so-terrible Mr. Trump, so let me take Mr. Rink to task on his logic.  With regard to the Republic slate in general, Mr. Rink correctly observes that the Christian Right have served as the useful idiots (a.k.a. “chumps”) for a G.O.P. which has become subservient to neoconservative policies and banking interests.  Rink therefore concludes that now is the time for Christians in general and libertarians in particular to assert their independence from the Republican machine.   Four or eight years ago this would have been a valid premise, and in fact many Evangelicals did desert the G.O.P in 2012, if only due to Mr. Romney’s religion.

However Mr. Rink fails to understand that a G.O.P. under the sway of the Trump movement is no longer the Republican party of pre-2016.  If Trump has his way (and in spite of the obtuse G.O.P. leadership he seems to be getting it) the only continuity between today’s party and the pre-2016 organization will be the name.  If Mr. Rink, and the rest of us, could get beyond labels and pose the question objectively we would ask: Can Christian Libertarians support the Bull Moose Party, or the Populist Party, or whatever moniker you fancy for Trump’s new breed? Indeed, it was a tremendous coup (literally!) for Trump and his people to retain the name and franchise of “Republican” but that’s a whole new animal you see walking around the elephant’s skin.  So we pose the question whether Christians should join fortune at its tide, and be counted among those who will have clout in a possible Trump administration, or not?  I have a hunch that a Trump administration might succeed in “Making America Small Again” which would be an improvement on the present globalist regime.  Of course don’t expect Mr. Trump to be saying any such thing, which would be against both prudence and his own expansive nature, its just that rhetoric and results are often polar opposites.

Still, I suspect that it is Mr. Rink and not Pico who had his hand on the pulse on the conclave’s membership.  The dominant strain in the organization, which is now three years old, seems to be pietistic semi-anarchism of the David Lipscomb variety.  That is a worthy tradition and not be gainsaid, albeit Pico has been tending more towards a theonomic perspective recently.

Most of all, whether we are inclined towards libertarianism or theonomy, it is important to oppose the mainstream Christian Right in its fatal love affair with militarism and American exceptionalism.  To that end, I was glad to see that Dr. Norman Horne, the conference organizer, had learned some hard lessons from his debate with Dr. Al Mohler, President Emeritus of the largest Protestant denomination in America, and an evangelical celebrity.  During this previous encounter Mohler had dismissed “libertarianism” as a distracting ideology which was inherently non-Christian if not anti-Christian.  By his own account, Dr. Horn felt he came off poorly in the debate, as one would only expect of an upstart idealist going to the mat with a seasoned polemicist.

Dr. Horne concluded that in a projected rematch he would be less inclined to mince words and accept Dr. Mohler’s premises at face value.  Rather, he would have recourse to libertarian first principles, which are in fact Christian first principles.  He would like to remind Dr. Mohler that aggression is not endorsed by the gospel and that power corrupts.

Whether there is a reprise of the Horne/Mohler debate, let’s hope that someone is listening.  War drums are beating ever louder, Ms. Clinton is solidly in the pocket of the neocons, and militarists are wrangling for influence with Mr. Trump.  Christians, both committed and nominal, still represent the biggest single demographic in America, and a force for good or evil depending on how they are mobilized.

Let us meditate deeply on what action, or perhaps inaction, we should take in 2016…and may God help us all.

 

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Surrealism, the backdoor between Marxism and the Occult: The case of Frida Kahlo

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 2, 2016

Pictures at an exhibition:  Beyond political correctness to Marxist memorial

The press release from the Harn Museum of Art (an institution associated with the University of Florida) read as follows,

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) known for her self-portrait paintings, was among the most photographed women of her generation.  In addition to the photographic works of Kahlo, the exhibition will include a PBS film “The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo,” two works (a drawing and a painting) by Kahlo and ancient and contemporary Mexican ceramics and sculpture from a local collector and the Harn’s collection.

What the press release did not mention, but which is sufficiently illustrated by the documentary film, is that Kahlo was a life long leftist who’s Marxism became increasingly enthusiastic over the course of her tumultuous and troubled life.  None the less, the tone of the film and the exhibition are laudatory, not critical, and one has to wonder why PBS and the Harn are now shamelessly promoting the worship of  Marxist icons?  Kahlo’s passion for her husband Diego Rivera (1886-1957), who raised the Mexican mural genre to the status of political art, did not preclude an adulterous interlude with exiled Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky.  Neither did any lingering sentiment for Trotsky prevent Kahlo from memorializing his murderer, Joseph Stalin, with art and adulation.

Although the information set forth is intended to portray Kahlo sympathetically, the narratives and pictures are sufficiently candid to tell a different story from that intended by their politically correct sponsors.  These sponsors seem to be relying on the historical ignorance of the general public to omit the context in which Kahlo and her associates’ life and work transpired.  For example, one is not supposed to recollect that Christianity in the Mexico of the mid-twentieth century had been suppressed with a vehemence and violence that aspired to emulate conditions in the Soviet Union itself.  However, if we are able to restore this context, then the exhibition and film do become vastly educational, albeit not in the sense that its sponsors intended.

Surrealism, art, and agitation

From the first it needs to be kept in mind that Kahlo was never an isolated artist, but rather part of that larger movement which called itself “Surrealism.”  As an emigre from France to Mexico, Kahlo was a major force in the regional propagation of the movement, but not its leading international star.  Although historians classify surrealism as an artistic movement, its originators deemed it a revolutionary philosophy, one which was capable of altering human perception to such a degree that it would facilitate social and cultural transformation.  The mastermind of this movement was Andre Breton(1896-1966).  Breton was not only a mentor of Kahlo but a social acquaintance, the PBS documentary even mentioning an alleged lesbian relationship between Kahlo and Breton’s wife.  Be that as it may, Breton’s theory found a natural conduit to the masses in the work of Kahlo and other disciples.

Though Breton was a Marxist, his artistic theory was far to the “left” of mainstream Marxist aesthetics of the time, which was trying to promote the stodgy doctrine of Soviet Realism which reduced all art to a kind of photography of sense impressions.  Like kindred theories which were starting to make waves in the ’20s and ’30s, notably the Frankfort School’s critical theory and Antonio Gramci’s cultural Marxism, the Surrealists felt that the bourgeois  mind could not simply be chopped off from the shoulders of material reality.   Rather, it required transformation, and the Surrealists felt that they, being revolutionary geniuses, had devised just the right formula to bring about the desired result.

The essence of the theory was that the human mind had been confined by logic to conform to an artificial matrix of perception.  A particular kind kind of logic, explained by Aristotle but thought to be natural and universal, was responsible for the way human beings, at least in the West, categorized the world given by the senses.   Thus normally, the sensory manifold was interpreted as evidence of discrete entities (such as rational persons) their qualities (such as owning their bodies and property) and relationships (such as the binary distinction between justice/injustice). Contrary to this “common sense” doctrine, the Surrealists felt that if bourgeois civilization were to be overthrown, these categories needed to be neutralized and overcome.  The avenue by which the human mind was most liable to reconditioned away from what had previously been defined as “sanity” and “reality” was art, especially graphic and photographic recombination and mutation of common scenes.

Whereas the Soviet Realist wished to reduce all perception to a logic of despiritualized bodies interacting in time and space, the Surrealist wished to abolish logic completely, and reduce the mind to a series of kaleidoscope impressions, devoid of any supervening criteria of judgement of as to whether the sensations were illusory or genuine.  In contrast to the doctrinaire Realists, the Surrealists wished to retain psychology at the heart of their world-view.  This was tremendously appealing to a varied assortment of intellectuals and artists who’s narcissistic tendencies made them unlikely candidates for the kind of impersonal doctrine being dished out to rank-and-file Communists.  Frieda Kahlo, who’s self-constructed image appears repeatedly in the exhibition, is clearly an instance of such a comrade-narcissist.

Frieda Kahlo, from Shamanism to Stalinism

In the minds of Breton’s European contemporaries, Surrealism’s psychologization of perception was expected to destroy bourgeois idealism, striping the mind of reasonable objections to the assault of the strong material forces which were destined overwhelm civilization.  These forces, industrial, military, economic, and demographic were all material in their foundation.  Therefore critics of Communism who have ventured to apply terms such as “demonic” and even “Satanic” to the movement have been accused of hyperbolic expression, if not outright paranoia.  After all, an atheist, whatever her or his faults, is an unlikely candidate for demon-worship.

However, would not the Surrealist movement, in striping the mind of rationality, leave it prey to not just brute natural forces,  but also to preternatural entities, if indeed the latter have any objective reality?  In the absence of characters such as Frieda Kahlo, such a hypothesis would be purely conjectural.  However we can see in her art the portrayal of a parallel world which seems to have more in common with the shammanic visions portrayed by Carlos Castennada than the pop leftist Parisian cafes which Frieda Kahlo despised.  Whatever their differences in world-view both the sorcerer and the commissar seek to attain unlimited power without the burdens of ethical constraint, and it is no accident that a disciple of Andre Breton was able to break down the partition between two of hell’s antechambers.

Does this mean that there was no value to the art of the surrealists or to the teaching of Frieda Kahlo?  Not necessarily, however the ultimate value of any work lies in to whom that work has been consecrated.  Not to consecrate at all, out of human pride, is to assume a godless universe and thus to consecrate one’s work to demons, should they happen to exist, by default.  The first assumption was implicit in the ideology of the Realists while the latter was worked out in the practice of the Surrealists.  Indeed it may be that, as Frieda Kahlo rightfully insisted, there is more to art than painting endless stereotypes of boring floral arrangements, but hopefully we can become creative without denying the primal Creator and consequently taking the full credit for our own spiritual and physical mutations.  Salvador Dali, the archenemy of Andre Breton, was as creative as any of the leftist cult’s artists, but he possessed two qualities which tend to escape armchair revolutionaries, devotion to God and a sense of humor.

Some people will come away from the Frieda Kahlo exhibition in awed reverence, others, more discerning, will feel vaguely nauseated.  Nobody is likely to leave laughing.

 

 

[NB God willing the series on Christian Anthropology will be extended in the near future, however it was thought expedient to interrupt with a few out of series posts…thanks as always to my patient readers]

 

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