Saturday, November 19, 2022

The Elementry Forms of Religious Life (Durkheim)

This is certainly not a recreational read ... much time is spent in the details of various primitive totemic religions (largely Aborigine), but also some reference to the religions of the native americans. 

The basic truth painstakingly worked out is that we are "Moral Believing Animals". In short, humans are inherently social, they will form groups, and those groups will believe in something that is at its base not rational/proveable, but totally real and sacred to the group. 

A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them. The second element which thus finds a place in our definition is no less essential than the first; for by showing that the idea of religion is inseparable from that of the Church, it makes it clear that religion should be an eminently collective thing.

Scientism, historicism, materialism, Christianity, atheism, Taoism, Communism, etc are equal relative to being unverifiable in a philosophical sense. Since we can't philosophically/scientifically prove our existence, or even that we are "conscious" (which we also can't define), it is faith all the way down for all of us. 

At the roots of all our judgments there are a certain number of essential ideas which dominate all our intellectual life; they are what philosophers since Aristotle have called the categories of the understanding: ideas of time, space, [4] class, number, cause, substance, personality, etc. They correspond to the most universal properties of things. They are like the solid frame which encloses all thought;

One of the best descriptions of our state is expressed in the deeply intellectual film "This is Spinal Tap" relative to the Druids: 

In ancient times, hundreds of years before the dawn of history, lived an ancient race of people. The Druids. No one knows who they were or what they were doing. 

Amazingly, I've been to Stonehenge, and that quote is etched in stone in the visitors center.

One of the base philosophical questions is "Why is there anything"? As the book says: 

Thus we find that we have here two sorts of knowledge, which are like the two opposite poles of the intelligence. Under these conditions forcing reason back upon experience causes it to disappear, for it is equivalent to reducing the universality and necessity which characterize it to pure appearance, to an illusion which may be useful practically, but which corresponds to nothing in reality; consequently it is denying all objective reality to the logical life, whose regulation and organization is the function of the categories. Classical empiricism results in irrationalism; perhaps it would even be fitting to designate it by this latter name.

As we believe we have recently observed, "reality" is an illusion. It is all interacting fields

We thus believe we discover that all our models ... the Platonic, the Aristotelian, the Newtonian, Einstein's static model, the Quantum model, the Standard Model, are all just that, "models". Models, like maps are very useful, however we need to always remember that the map is not the territory.

Durkheim is attempting to go back to the origin of religion, and one of the bases is what a group considers sacred vs profane. One of the laments we hear today is "is nothing sacred?". To classical empiricism, that there is no concept of sacred, and as stated above, classical empiricism as a way to understand the universe is irrational ... meaning "insane". An often heard question today is "has the world gone insane?". I'm pretty sure that Durkheim would say that is so, and a lot of evidence seems to support that view. 

To distinguish religion from all other classification systems: 

... it is absolute. In all the history of human thought there exists no other example of two categories of things so profoundly differentiated or so radically opposed to one another. The traditional opposition of good and bad is nothing beside this; for the good and the bad are only two opposed species of the same class, namely morals, just as sickness and health are two different aspects of the same order of facts, life, while the sacred and the profane have always and everywhere been conceived by the human mind as two distinct classes, as two worlds between which there is nothing in common.

As our models of the universe have become more sophisticated, they more and more resemble religion. 

... between the logic of religious thought and that of scientific thought there is no abyss. The two are made up of the same elements, though inequally and differently developed.
Just as there is no known society without a religion, so there exist none, howsoever crudely organized they may be, where we do not find a whole system of collective representations concerning the soul, its origin and its destiny.

Today, science is our religion. We make statements like "trust the science", "the science is settled". Those that disagree are called "deniers", which is equivalent to "heretics" in Christianity. Their views must be suppressed, they must be punished (fired, cancelled, shunned). So far, no burning at the stake.

Page 369, "...he knows that it is faith that saves".

Search your heart. you know it to be true. Our lives are sustained by faith ... we have faith we will get up in the morning, we have faith we can drive to our destination safely, we have faith that the bridge we drive over will not fall, the list is endless, and in this mortal coil, many of the things we have faith in will fail. We will see that many of the earthly things we have faith in will fail. Even though we see that ... people fail to get up, cars crash and the occupants die, bridges fall, etc

But we still go to sleep, drive our cars, and go over bridges, because we can't live without faith. Even faith in people or things shown to be unfaithful, 

So faith saves. John 20:29 Jesus said unto him, “Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.”




Friday, November 18, 2022

Raid Mar-a-Lago For Nothing

At the time the FBI arm of the Democrat party raided the former presidents personal residence, even a few of the media arm of the Democrat party thought they better find something, or this is going to be seen as a politically motivated fishing expedition to add hatred for Trump to the 2022 midterms. 

So as the midterms were over, the FBI reported, that is just what it was. The Democrat media arm has already started the memory hole process. 

I remain somewhat mystified as to why they did not just plant something, or just fail to report it at all? Is it possible that there is still a TINY bit of concern that with a Republican majority in the house, there is a small chance that accountability could be demanded, or that there is still a decent person the FBI that would leak the truth? I suppose one can hope.

We live in a single party / weaponized Deep State Banana Republic.  Any fair minded person has know this at least since Chappaquiddick and Watergate, to not understand this after even the Russia Hoax, shows either a complete lack of attention to our supposed "by the people" government, or the belief that a one party Oligarchy vs a Republic is where they want to live.

Monday, November 14, 2022

DeSantis Takes Over

I happily voted for Trump twice. Did I find him perfect? Certainly not, but I pick the best alternative available, and character wise, I think Trump outstrips Hillary or Biden by a mile anyway. "Mean Tweets" are not on my list of concerns. 

Trump's flaws have always been narcissism, a thin skin, an obsession to eliminate his "enemies", and apparently no ability to build a coalition of trusted friends. You either follow him like an obedient dog, or you. are OUT. 

He is in the top 5 reasons we lost the midterms. I can't really order them: 

  • Trump fatigue. To a great extent the media and Democrats "won", but Trump helped. January 6 was nothing, but then neither was Watergate. The Democrats control the narrative, and everyone was just tired of Trump "news". 
  • Trump primary interference. I agree the 2020 election was stolen ... but the Democrats and media made the "Denier" narrative stick. The "denier" candidates lost. The truth often loses. 
  • Massive voter fraud in key states. Arizona and Nevada are obvious. I'm sure there are are plenty of congressional races across the country where fraud was the "winner". 
  • Dobbs misinformation. A huge percentage of voters believe that Dobbs outlawed all abortions, when in fact it only returned decisions on abortion law to the states -- which for the Democrats in blue states, nothing happened. 75% of childbearing age women voted Democrat, significantly because of this lie. 
  • Fear of "loss of Democracy" if Republicans were elected. The Democrat definition of "Democracy" is one party rule by them, the Administrative State, the weaponized "justice" department, big media, big pharma, etc While it is true that if one or both houses of congress went to the Republicans, the Democrat control would be less than total, such a situation is really only frightening if you believe 100% Democrat totalitarianism is "democracy". 
Go read the Geraghty linked article. Other than some gratuitous Trump bashing, it is a worthy read and makes a strong case as to why DeSantis needs to be the clear leader of the Republican party right now! 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

"The Ruling Class": How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It

A quick and worthy read, especially based on it's concise analysis of our current divide. 

Anyone that has set eyes on this blog, knows who "The Ruling Class" are. They are "the Swamp",  Mass Media, the Democrats and the RINOs, the Administrative State, Social Media, the Ivy League brats, etc

"Excellent Sheep" gives a nice overview of the educational  element of our rulers. As the book says; "The top schools select for compatibility, not excellence". I've read way too many books of this ilk, and as our recent "election" shows, we continue to accelerate toward the abyss.

While the Ruling Class thinks that Americans are unfit to run their own lives, most Americans have noticed that our Ruling Class has lost every war it has fought, run up an unpayable national debt, and generally made life worse.

Well, they have made life worse for anyone not in the upper 10% of income/wealth, and increasingly for anyone not in the top 1%. 

The counterpoint to "The Ruling Class" is labeled in the book as "The Country Class". It is hard to really out a label on this class because it is so diverse, but the big issues are religion, family, freedom, being a good neighbor (especially knowing who they are), respect for people beyond (or sometimes in spite of) their "credentials. "The salt of the earth". As they continue be attacked, The Country Class  is "losing it's savor" (especially in religion), but at least in the red states, there is a lot of salt left.

The book says of the Country Class that; "... its most distinguishing characteristics are marriage, children, and religious practice." I would be tempted to add guns. 

The ruling class has put a lot of labels on them ... the deploreables, bitter clingers, deniers, racists, fascists, etc. Humans are prone to label their perceived enemies negatively ... the Country Class is no exception, and anything bad they say about the Ruling Class is a "vicious attack". 

"... Rather, the sense of intellectual and social superiority over the common herd is arguably the main component of millions of people’s self-conception. Such people can no more believe that a Christian might be their intellectual and moral equal than white Southerners of the Jim Crow era could think the same of Negroes."
A quote which those of us of minimal intelligence and attention to current affairs see as obvious;

Since marriage is the family’s fertile seed, government at all levels, along with “mainstream” academics and media, have waged war on it.

The difficult part (isn't it always?) is what to DO about our rather pitiful situation? The book is painfully honest on how hard this will be. One would HOPE that the Republican Party could be the vehicle for this, but can it be? As is said early in the book ... 

Republicans are the way they are in Washington because Washington is a culture and a place that is run and dominated—not just politically, but socially—by Democrats, by the left. They’re the big clique. The Republicans also live there. Everybody wants to get along with those you live next to, ...

As I personally feel, and  I think the Trump phenomenon proves, faith in the Republican party to fight these natural tendencies is low: 

That’s because while most of the voters who call themselves Democrats say that Democratic officials represent them well, only a fourth of the voters who identify themselves as Republicans say the same about the Republican officeholders.

 As 2022 shows, the "Country Class" is divided and rudderless. There is a significant core that is Trump Forever (and nobody else), a significant number that are Never Trump (and will stay home if he is the nominee), and another (I think largest group) that are "I don't care about a party, just represent my Country Class rather than a person (Trump) or certainly not "Ruling Class lite". 

We have a long tough road ahead if we want a decent country again. We need to reverse totalitarianism's  (Communism, Fascism, Oligarchy ... or whatever we label the Ruling Class) "long march" with a march of our own.  

First we MUST get some election integrity.  Why does the Ruling Class fight election integrity tooth and nail? The fact that apparently a significant number of Americans can't figure out why, is not a good sign at all.


Monday, October 24, 2022

Woke Culture, Nick Cave

I subscribe to the American Spectator because it challenges me in especially arts, music, wine, food, travel, and architecture. It is considered to be "conservative", but in the classical sense of the word "liberal", meaning free markets, radical free speech, civil liberties under the rule of law, limited government, and some sense of  "enlightenment". 

It often covers people and topics that are "out of my lane", which I find to be important.

I would likely have never ran into Nick Cave, save for a review of the linked book from the current issue of the Spectator. I would normally have just done an incomplete blog and waited for Spectator online to catch up with my paper copy.

I didn't, because Nick lost his15 year old son Arthur in July 2015 when under the influence of LSD, he walked off a cliff and died. I have not had that exact experience, however there were times I could see something like it as somewhat likely.

The second reason is that although I'm going to have to do some typing rather than cut and paste, I didn't want this one to be semi-misplaced among the 100's of incomplete blog entries on my account.  I'm blessed to not have felt all of that pain,  but I have some of the pain of cancel culture. It seems nearly universal, though as Nick mentions, to some of the cancel purists, it is ecstatic.

A quote from the article:

For a man who by his own admission, spent much of the Eighties and Nineties in a miasma of heroin addiction, he is admirably clear-sighted about the greater hypocrisies of our age. He describes woke culture as:

... akin to to a fundamentalist religion impulse ... it may reflect on an unconscious desire to return to a non-secular society, and talks angrily of the "performative aspect to the theater of cancel culture that is essentially vindictive ... it's as if autocratic ideas of virtue and sin have come into play, and as a result, prohibitions and punishments have been put in place, enforced by a kind of callousness that, in my view, is akin to the very worst aspects of religion -- the fundamentalist, joyless, aspects of religion that have nothing to do with mercy. Cancellation is a particularly ugly part of it's weaponry and can end up as a kind of sadism dressed up as virtue"
I've been struggling through Durkheim's "The Elementary Forms Of The Religious Life". Durkheim is considered one of the main, if not THE experts on "why religion"?  In every human culture, no matter how primitive in time and space, and how similar at the base, every manifestation is ... sacred/profane, spirit(s), a creation myth, symbolic totems,  and how critical it is for every tribe/family/community/team/culture it is for a "social imaginary" to be shared for the health of both the individuals and the "group". 

I recently reviewed "The Rise And Triumph of the Modern Self" which gives some good insight as to why the woke culture came about.

Having just attended a wedding at a very fundamentalist church, it is clear that "joyless" is not a common experience of all "fundamentalists", and the Durkheim book shows that rigorous standards, prohibitions and punishments" are an integral part of obtaining the solid community and "joy" -- belonging, comfort, camaraderie, the feeling of being happy ...

Think Navy SEALs. The initiation is brutal, the bond approaches unbreakable, the sense of joy, pride and accomplishment is palpable. We can't all be SEALs, but we can be a member of SOME group of "like minded people". To "work" it has to be something "real", where you know each other F2F, have some "rituals" (like maybe just breakfast after church). The more rigor in the connection, the more likely the group will be significantly helpful.

Like exercise, training, ritual, symbols, rules, etc, there are parameters that have to be carefully aligned and calibrated  in order for the danger of the flame of faith can be properly respected and utilized. This takes decades, lifetimes, sometimes  millennia. We know that cars are dangerous, and we accept the danger (minimizing it as much as possible), in order to reap the benefits they provide. Life is often a tradeoff between risk and reward. To be real, it involves sacrifice.
We WILL all have a "worldview" that is either explicitly or implicitly a "religion" ... how much "choice" we have in what that is,  given genetics, family,  the probable existence of "spirits" -  Holy, Totemic, Tao, daemons, etc, along with community, mental health, physical health, etc, the range of "choices" (or enlightenment)  is a matter of little agreement for those that believe that the examined life is the only real life. 

While not a popular path today, the examined life seems like something worthy to give at least a cursory examination. 

I hope to get around to the book ... my stack is a bit deep and esoteric at the moment though.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Chip Wars

There is a joke in Taipei that if China invades Taiwan the best place to shelter is in microchip factories, the only places the People’s Liberation Army can’t afford to destroy. The country that controls advanced chips controls the future of technology — and Taiwan’s chip fabrication foundries (“fabs”) are the finest in the world. Successful reunification between the mainland and its renegade province would give China a virtual monopoly over the most advanced fabs. Given that Xi Jinping has made clear his intention to take control of Taiwan by 2032, it is no wonder that the American government is worried about the concentration of cutting-edge semiconductor technology on the island.

I tend to like those sort of dark humor jokes. I'm trying to develop one something like "Biden is building us back to a better stoneage". 

The idea is that with all of his attacks on energy production and now the rising tensions with both Russia and China, we may have some form of nuclear, or advanced drone, cyber, and almost certainly targeted mRNA viruses in our fairly near future.  

One statement that I often make is "The greater the efficiency in a system, the greater the fragility". It seems I ought to be able to quote someone on this fact, however it may just be too obvious for anyone with intelligence to write it down. (now we know where that leaves me)

Our supply chains are generally VERY efficient  "Just In Time" manufacturing with near zero inventory, and single source suppliers are very common. Have a pandemic, shut down a single link in your supply chain, and you can't produce your product. 

The whole article (short) is worth your time. Just consider this ... 

At present there is only one company in the world that can make lithography machines that print wafers at the five-nanometer gauge. Based in a nondescript suburb of Eindhoven in the Netherlands, Advanced Semiconductor Materials Lithography is perhaps the world’s least well-known hi-tech business. Yet it ranks just behind Shell as the fourth-largest company in Europe.

ASML’s highest tech machines use a process called “extreme ultraviolet” lithogra- phy, which makes them the only systems that can do lithography below 13.5 nanometers. The company produces approximately fifty machines a year at $150 million a pop (plus service contract). As a result, it owns that rare commodity — a market monopoly.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

What's So Special About Ukraine?

The first link is the one I'll focus on, the second mainly says that Russia became religiously orthodox after 1991, and is not woke, while wokenss is the new religion of the West. A quote from the 2nd article:

As early as 2005, scholars Ira Straus and Edward Lozansky remarked upon a pronounced negative coverage of Russia in the US media, contrasting negative media sentiment with largely positive sentiment of the American public and US government. As Russia displayed increasing signs of a Christian revival, so the media reporting in the West became increasingly hostile. Only rarely however did journalists openly attack Russia for its “Christianization”; normally, columnists, conscious of the fact that large numbers of people in the West continued to describe themselves as Christian, portrayed their anti-Russian commentary as a result of Russia's “aggression,” “corruption,” or “lack of democracy.” All that however changed with the new abortion law of 2011. Now the attacks against Russia became explicitly ideological. The Russians, we were told, were oppressing women and turning their backs on “progress.”

The 2nd linked article is worth the read, but it is mainly going to make the point that from the Western POV, Ukraine is "woke/progressive", and Russia is in the social dark ages, converting to radically backward and dangerous Christian values. This quote from the second article agrees with the first, but then the article goes deeper. 

On March 24, a month after Russian tanks rolled across Ukraine’s borders, the Biden White House summoned America’s partners (as its allies are now called) to a civilizational crusade. The administration proclaimed its commitment to those affected by Russia’s recent invasion—“especially vulnerable populations such as women, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons, and persons with disabilities.” At noon that same day, Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted about the “massive, unprecedented consequences” American sanctions were wreaking on Russia, and claimed Russia’s economic “collapse” was imminent.

I tend to compare the highlighted with my observation that the following headline would not be a surprise to me if such a disaster happened: 

"Three fourths of planet destroyed by meteor -- vulnerable populations like women, children, etc ... the worst affected".  

My belief is that Biden, Putin, etc could care less about pretty much anything but their power and personal pleasure, so nearly 100% of their attention is focused there. In the event things go bad, "the vulnerable" will be sacrificed with no reticence, especially the sort of vulnerable that are in red states in the case of the US. 

Pretty much everyone right and left is convinced that the US is currently, and will remain "top dog",  no matter how much debt we have, how weak our woke military gets, and how clueless the "leadership" that we (or they) "elect" is. So why worry? 

The attempt to isolate Russia from the American world system has had a striking unintended consequence—the possible founding of an alternative world system that would draw power away from the existing one. Twenty years ago, under George W. Bush, the United States removed the Iraqi deterrent from Iran’s neighborhood, transforming Iran overnight into a regional power. This year, under Joe Biden, the United States has made China a gift of Russia’s exportable food and mineral resources. We are displaying an outright genius for identifying our most dangerous military adversary and solving its most pressing strategic challenge. The attention of China is now engaged. Joe Biden argues that any wavering in the cause of obliterating Russia will be understood by China as a green light on Taiwan. He may have a point, but the U.S. management of the Ukraine situation over the past decade has constituted encouragement enough.

We have managed to get to a place where we are likely to end up in a shooting war with Russia, while China absconds with Taiwan. The article does a great job of explaining the complexity of the situation in a fairly simple way ... although not all that concisely. (I'm nearly as qualified to throw stones about failure to be concise as I am about failure to be skinny) 

Those with a passing familiarity of history realize that underestimating Russia, while definitely a Western tradition,  has not always turned out as everyone was certain it would. 
Reducing Russia’s dimensions appears to be America’s overriding war aim. It is a risky one. Those Western leaders with the ambition to bring Europe to the gates of Moscow have sometimes brought the warriors of the Eurasian steppes onto the streets of Paris and Berlin.
Certainly nuclear weapons change the strategic chessboard, but I really suspect that the vast majority of the West just folds without electricity and fossil fuel. The Western energy grids are so vulnerable that taking them out with some exploding drones would be a snap. Tactical nukes? 80% of the Western population will surrender if their cell phones and internet are removed. 

The whole CRB article is very much worth the read. The financial risks, even if the war risks come to nothing, are very significant. 

Why does nobody in the West care? The usual reasons ... arrogance, distraction, complacency, decadence, selfishness, ignorance of history, and maybe most of all,  nearly total ignorance of reality. largely because the narrative they are spoon fed constantly wants them to be mindless drones. 

I leave you with this ... a point I've been trying to make to many people, only to watch their eyes glaze over in total incomprehension. 

The Ukraine war is special, though. American immunity from danger may be illusory. The progress of technology has imperceptibly eroded a longstanding distinction between supporting a combatant and entering the fray as a combatant oneself. In June, the U.S. began providing Ukraine with M142 HIMARS computer-targeted rocket artillery systems, and these present the problem in an acute form: the role of technology in the lethality of a weapon has grown to the point where the role of the human warrior is, relatively speaking, rendered negligible. An encounter with a sword is an encounter with a swordsman. An encounter with an arrow is an encounter with an only slightly more distant bowman. But an encounter with an M31 rocket fired from a HIMARS launcher is an encounter with General Dynamics. And it is the human warrior who is the repository of all the longings-to-be-vindicated and the sacrifices-freely-undertaken that consecrate war as a cause. With advanced weaponry, the soldier operating it almost doesn’t need to be there. Which is to say that, in this proxy war between Russia and the United States, Ukraine doesn’t need to be there. In these HIMARS artillery strikes, in the assassinations by drone of Russian officers, in the sinking of naval ships with advanced missiles,

Nobody seems to get this. If I hire you to kill my wife, you do, and it is discovered that I hired you, I get tried for murder one, just like you do. Is this really that hard to understand? 

Apparently so. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Asimov's Guide To Shakespeare

 I couldn't find a good review of this book, and I believe I understand why ... Book 1 is 670 pages, Book 2 is 790. 

In the intro there is a reference to a fairly well known tale of a woman who read Hamlet and remarked "I don't see why people admire the play so, it is nothing but a bunch of quotations strung together". That is much less true of this book, however the lack iof general public comprehension of what they are reading is probably similar.

This book is much more history than "Shakespeare", although it does have a significant number of the more famous lines in it.  It focuses on the context of the period, what real or literary/legendary person the lines are likely referring to, and why.

Shakespeare was writing for both the common man as well as the wealthy aristocracy and royalty.  What a "commoner" needed to know about Greek, Roman, Italian, the Bible, English history, etc gives a little insight as to why even the "educated" our day, being "experts" of only their iPhones and the latest Netfix binge watch, have a hard time understanding why throwing a trillllion dollars into an "Inflation Rediuction Act" might cause some brows to raise. "Common Sense" is far from common today.

Also, if Shakespere had put in any obvious snark like I just did, he would likely be "cancelled" by literally losing his head. He was marvelously subtle with his little jabs. 

On Page 9, a helpful map of the Roman and Greek gods, with their role is presented. To cover a few of the more popular ones, in Greek we have Zeus, chief of the gods, Athena, goddess of wisdom, Ares, god of war. 

In the Roman version we have the corresponding Jupiter, Minerva, Mars ... you need to understand these references to keep up between the Roman and Greek plays. 

A very helpful page for those of us that don't have the memory of our youth, and received at best a very cursory understanding of the ancient world. Volume 1 covers the Greek, Roman, and Italian plays. The Italian plays are probably the most familar ... Love's Labor Lost, The Taming of the Shrew, The Two Gentlermen of Verona, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing,  As You Like It, Twelfth Night, All's Well That Ends Well, Othello, Measure For Measure, The Tempest. 

The book is loaded with inline cross references to where subjects are covered in the other plays, in order to better understand what is being covered ... the audience at the time of writing had a common understanding of the world they lived in, including the history, and had good memories ... uncluttered by shallow media entertainment.  

Asimov made a number of desisions as to how to present this vast environment to the modern reader, largely unaware of the world of Shakesphere. I think of it a bit as a kalidiscope of "worlds", with sometimes definite and sometimes completely fictional references to real, mythological, current, recent historical, fictional charachters invented for the story, etc. 

Asimov is in a way trying to put us into the Shakespere world  ... a BIT like todays "Marvel Universe", "Star Trek Universe", "Star Wars Universe", etc Think of a reference to "Captain Kirk" 500 years in the future. Yes, I know, that is shallow ... maybe "Winston Churchill", or maybe "Dostoevsky" would be a better example. 

The big differece is that while Shakespere is "fictional entertainment" it has much more connection to thew reality of the time. Maybe something like "The Crown" today. 

Do I recommend the book? To the common reader of today, I really can't, because they are likely to just be frustrated and lost. Certainly there are a decent number of people FAR more qualified than I to read and enjoy the work. Perhaps I'm an arrogant pessimist, I just don't think the audience to actually read it is very wide ... it does however look good on a shelf, unless it is full of tabs like mine is. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The Rise And Triumph of the Modern Self

We know that we live in the era of "it's all about ME" ... what most don't ponder very much is what is "me"? Certainly a body, and in current times, the body and especially the genitals, or the denial of same are critical to "identity".

The man, woman, or "whatever" on the street usually admits to having a brain -- however what it means to have a brain that according to most biologists, is genetically "human",  falls far short of what it means to be "human" in the sense of the modern self is quite vague. Is there something beyond the physical? And if so, does it matter? 

A term that arises often in the book is the "social imaginary" (link followers be warned). To simplify, it can be thought of as "worldview". A fairly short way to scratch this surface a little deeper is "Moral Believing Animals". Communication between other "humans" requires some sort of shared "social imaginary", and since what that now shifts in timeframes that are historically unimaginable, we are all in undiscovered country, almost all the time. 

In 2008, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were firm on the thousands year old fact that marriage was a sacred union between a man and a woman.  By 2012, Obama supported gay "marriage".  In 2015, with the SCOTUS Obergefell ruling, it was the law of the land. By 2022, a SCOTUS nominee was unable to define what a "woman" is. There is every expectation that the pace of this kind of massive change in the Social Imaginary will accelerate. Even worse, the stakes of at least adequately pretending to keep up are rising at a similar pace. 

Not being completely up to date and showing complete fealty to whatever got "imagined" in maybe the past few hours, can cause loss relationship with friends, family, your employer, and increasingly even your freedom of action ... the FBI may identify you as a "semi fascist".  It can certainly be an issue if you want to use a phrase like "sexual preference" if you are trying to get on the SCOTUS. In the case of Amy Coney Barrett, the term was fine in the AM, but had been redefined to be "offensive" by the PM!

Sane people realize that it is not possible for each one of us to define ourselves in any way we see fit (at this moment), and expect the rest of society to totally buy into that definition of the moment (see proper pronouns). As in the case of Barrett, the meaning of what you say may be changed in a matter of hours! 

Unfortunately, at least one member of the SCOTUS strongly supports an individual's right to do just that! As Justice Kennedy stated in Casey: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." Thankfully, after an insane fight, Kennedy was replaced by Kavanaugh, who disagrees. For Kennedy, the Hitchhiker's guide declaring the answer to “Life, the Universe and Everything" to be "42" is as valid as any imagined "reality" that all should celebrate and relate to "correctly" (as defined by the individual who created it). 

(As an aside, there are 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus as quoted in Matthew ... so perhaps "42" DOES point us to the the answer to "Life, the Universe, and Everything" after all)

The book opens with:

The origins of this book lie in my curiosity about how and why a particular statement as has come to be regarded as coherent and meaningful: "I am a woman trapped in a man's body". 

The book does an excellent and reasonably concise explanation of how we got here. The foreword by Rod Dreher, contains a much shorter explanation of the "how" from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ... "Men have forgotten God, and that is why all this as happened". He was referring to the tragedy of the USSR, but it applies equally well here. 

The linked review is excellent, well worth quite minimal time to read it.  Fortunately there is a more concise version of  this book that is reviewed by Clairmont. For those that know me, it will be unsurprising that I took the long version. 

Here is a link to that book on Amazon  - Strange New World - How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution

A quote from the introduction that cut to the soul is: "The task of the Christian is not to whine about the moment in which he or she lives, but to understand its problems and respond appropriately to them." 

As with pretty much all such books at this time, suggestions of what to do are sparse. Prayer is always one answer, because it is going to take action from God to change this Social Imaginary. Perhaps his solution is already baked in ... those that buy into the Social Imaginary of our times tend not to reproduce ... which can make an particular Social Imaginaries future less bright!

The review contains this: 

Another weakness is the relative lack of suggestions for combating Western culture’s increasing decadence. Important as they are, a mere six pages of 400 are dedicated to navigating our way out of the ruins. Trueman proposes three suggestions. First, Christians must better understand the interplay between aesthetics and formation—both within and outside the church. Here Trueman insists that moral legitimacy cannot be achieved by emotion or narrative, but by “the being of God and his act of creation.” Second, in a world of constant flux wherein liquid modernity provides ever-shifting foundations for identity, Trueman calls the church to a greater sense of community. Only this will counteract the hollowing out of institutions that more securely anchored human identity in the past. Third—and of particular importance to me, I confess—Trueman argues that Protestant Christians need greater familiarity with natural law, but not because it will necessarily convince skeptics but because it will provide grounding for a theology of human embodiment, which will counteract the transient Gnosticisms of modernity.

Gnosticism - the idea that it is your "knowledge/timeless wisdom/etc" that will save/set you free/make you happy/etc.

As stated above: "Trueman insists that moral legitimacy cannot be achieved by emotion or narrative, but by “the being of God and his act of creation.”"

To a Christian, the "being of God" is the Holy Trinity, with the Holy Spirit being the indwelling of God that through "The Way, The Truth, and The Life" (Christ). To others it may be "the Great Spirit", the Tao, El Shaddai, Adonai, Dirawong, Sango, Odin, etc. I'm struggling through Durkheim's The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life at this time -- seeking a way to help people understand that since they are human, they DO have a God. Based on my search, I believe there is much to suggest Christianity, however, the BEGINNING of wisdom is the fear (respect) of God. We all need to understand that it isn't all about ME ... which this book is a help in realizing.

My personal "search for God" (or proof of his absence) went through a lot of books, meditations and practices -- if you seek you will find, or if you are willing to submit, Christ will find you. Understanding the real stakes of everyone living an isolated, meaningless life is important these days. Your faith WILL be questioned! Christians need to all be defenders of their faith, and the reasons to believe -- ideally in terms that an atheist secularist can at least understand. 

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius"Eternalized Review" (ER)

As always, I'm a lazy moose. I read some translation of Meditations long ago, probably in my "I think I'm an atheist, but something in me is rejecting it" phase. The two links above explore some of the thoughts that were flowing through the river of my consciousness then,  and to some degree now. Time can be seen as a river, though I often find the eddies to be the parts of the flow to pay attention to.

Having grown up in a strict Baptist church,  being "saved" by "giving my life to Christ", I ended up with lots of questions. The claim that the Wedding At Cana miracle was changing water into grape juice was dogma in my home church since drinking was prohibited there, seemed
sketchy". For some reason I didn't blog in those days (I worked on an IBM S/3 at the time, a whopping 512K of memory that we had trouble even using on the HUGE model 15D. When there are no graphics and the operating system is written in assembler, memory pressure is much reduced. So good excuse!

 My "deep thinking" about life, the universe and everything" in the late 1970's. early '80's can be somewhat understood by the aside that the  S/3 had a 2 digit display for telling the operators / system programmers what went wrong. The small troop of new hires tasked with minor enhancements and mostly maintenance always wanted to slip a "4Q" halt in. Ah, juvenile humor -- I believe that Marcus, and certainly Christ would admonish against it, though both understand the frailties of human nature, especially in youth. 

Oh how our pitiful human brains work, don't work, and work strangely  -- this book connected me to many past memories. 

Marcus was very aware of the shortness of this life, and the metaphysical (though not necessarily spiritual) uncertainty of death. ER says of Stoicism: 
Logos designates rational and connected thought. It exists in individuals as the faculty of reason and on the cosmos as the rational principle that governs the organisation of the universe. Thus, rationality and clear-mindedness allow one to live in harmony with the logos.

In Christianity, Christ is the logos ... in the form of the Holy Spirit on page 199, Marcus  says "... and obedient to your own daemon (the god that is within you ...". While Marcus seems to beat around the bush a bit, he seems clear on man having a spirit, and there being "god's". If the universe has a logos that governs all, then there is a God. If there is no logos, than all is random. Marcus accepts that as a possibility, however in reading the book, it seems very clear that that he really believes in the gods and the logos, and even that some "god" at least CAN be within you. 

CMC says: 

The ethical preoccupations of Marcus and the New Testament writers are much the same: what it means to be just and good, the importance of living with purpose and without luxury, the requirements of stewardship and serving others, the role of prayer and Providence, the danger of making false value judgments and blaming others, the need to control desire and the passions, etc. Of course, there are important differences, and therein lie the distinctions that cast Christianity in bold relief and help to explain why Christianity captured the moral imagination of the ancient world in a way that Stoicism failed to do. These distinctions may also offer some prophetic insights into the fate of Stoicism’s dramatic resurgence in our secular age.
A prime dilemma of the modern age is that man by nature seeks to judge, but by what standard? Matter and science say nothing of good nor evil. If one assumes "telos" as Marcus does, perhaps we can convince ourselves that we are good by nature. The belief in "the noble savage" .... the idea that man is good, but society corrupts him. 

EC says: 
Marcus insists that we always follow Nature, as it is good and rational – driven by logos. Since we are all interconnected, man is good by nature and nothing natural is evil.

On the list of philosophical, theological and political conundrums, man being "basically good" vs "basically fallen or evil"  is a primary question. If nature or natures god are "good", why is there evil in the world? The theological and philosophical study of this question is theodicy. Verty worthy to consider, but way too complicated for a blog post.

As James Madison said in Federalist 51, "But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary."

While Marcus may firmly wish, and even believe, that his basic nature is "good", his accepting the task of Roman emperor and expanding the empire to its greatest extent (his reign was one of continuous warfare)  shows that by action, his beliefs were not in alignment with his actions. One of the base issues of being a human seeking "the good". 

Are men and philosophies to be judged by what they do, or by what they wish to do? Certainly something to be meditated on. 

This is a very human problem, and for me one that helped convince me that I needed an internal "spirit of truth" to improve the course of my life, as well as a practice to allow that spirit vs my weak flesh to improve my conformance to the good.  As Paul says in Romans 7 15-20:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

The only time in the book that Marcus mentions Christianity is on page 180: 

A soul is ready, if at any moment it must be separated from the body, and ready either to be extinguished or dispersed or continue to exist; but so this readiness comes from a man's own judgment, not from the mere stubbornness, as with the Christians, but considerably and with dignity and in a way to persuade another without a tragic show. 

My interpretation of that statement is that while Marcus tried to value the holding of many possible spiritual realities (eg the soul being extinguished, dispersed, or continue to exist), he did not like the specifics of Christianity -- in fact persecution of Christians increased under his rule. 

On page 148 we find: 

When another blames you or hates you, or when men say about you anything injurious, approach their poor souls, penetrate within, and see what kind of men they are. You will discover that there is no reason to take any trouble that these men may have this or that opinion about you. However, you must be well disposed towards them, for by nature they are friends. And the gods too aid them in all ways, by dreams, by signs, towards the attainment of those things on which they set a value.

We might summarize that with "love your neighbor as yourself"  ... even if he is wrong, a slanderer,  a person having strong beliefs in opposition to yours, etc. If we were all solidly practicing Stoics or Christians, toleration would abound, and the realization that we are fellow travelers on the sinking boat of mortality. In the physical world, there are no survivors, and Marcus does a good job of clearly pointing out the importance of keeping that perspective before you. 

In Roman Stoicism there are 3 principles (from ER): 

The first one is the discipline of perception. It requires that we maintain absolute objectivity of thought. It is not objects and events but the interpretations we place on them that are the problem. Our duty is to exercise control over the faculty of perception, with the aim of protecting our mind from error.
The second one is the discipline of action. It relates to our relationship with other human beings. Marcus frequently repeats that we were made not for ourselves but for others, our nature is fundamentally unselfish. However, our duty to act justly does not mean that we must treat others as our equals; it means that we must treat them as they deserve.
The third one is the discipline of will. While the discipline of action governs our approach to the things in our control, those that we do; the discipline of will governs our attitude to things that are not within our control, those that we have done to us (by others or by nature).

 The translation I read has good reviews and I found it very readable. Having at least a passing understanding of Stoicism in these contentious times seems an aid to discipline of perception, a worthy goal.