Sunday, December 24, 2006

Strengthen the Things that Remain

Sunday, December 24, 2006
Strengthen The Things That Remain
"Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God." Rev. 3:2

The Apocalypse speaks the language of paradox, and never more than in the quote above. In this, the consciousness of mortality which is original philosophy has acquired a deeper shading, a religious tone as a symphonic accompaniment. Religion in this sense perhaps can be understood as something that happens to a philosophical mind when it undertakes to wrestle with history in its essence. For history is about the loss of God. This is why atheism is so profoundly irrelevant. It imagines its enemy is God, whereas the real problem is history. And concerning history, it has nothing of any value to say, for atheism, like most commemorative practices of religion, means that one is merely being swept along with the current of choice. It is only when there is a real possibility of drowning that the mystery of the will is revealed - that about which I can have no choice. When we finally arrive at the point of asking if, or to what extent, history is actually shaped by man's will - that is when we begin to ask a religious question.

I think it is highly likely that the writer of the Apocalypse already realized that history had become, was to become, the field upon which man's atheism was to be sown. He loads up his paradoxes one after another in any case - "strengthen the things that remain," even though they are "about to die" and your works are not "perfect before God." Why should we strengthen things that are about to die? Would "perfect works" be immune from such a stricture, or is there anything like "perfect works" in the first place? Perhaps the "perfect works" are a last echo of the philosophical achievement of the seer's previous age - the Platonic Good. In this new world of dynamic action which is the Apocalypse, the Platonic Good has long since been superseded. In this new world, nothing is stable and certain long enough to determine a "perfect work," much less the "Platonic Good." There is only the need to be watchful, ever on the ready for the dynamic upheaval which is Christ Himself.

Emil Bock writes - "Among the tempests released by His presence in the arena of human destiny, souls are losing their merely inherited forces far more rapidly than they would in non-apocalyptic times. However paradoxical it may sound, it is a sign of the new nearness of Christ that so many people feel today as if they had become inwardly poor overnight." (Emil Bock, The Apocalypse of Saint John, Floris Books, 1951)

There is another particular passage in this astonishing book of commentary on the Apocalypse that might be worth recalling today. He is discussing the section of the Apocalypse of the outpouring of the Vials of Wrath. The contents of the Third Vial (Rev. 16:4-6) -- "And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood...For they have shed the blood of the saints and prophets, and thou has given them blood to drink..." Bock comments that "the rivers and fountains of waters" refer to the individualization of the life-forces which become, in the course of human development, part of the personal inner life. Ideally the "blood" should, in the course of individual development, cease to be the carrier of purely egotistical desires. "In his efforts to attain to this discipline, the disciple can see a link between the purification of his own blood and the blood of the saints and prophets, the great spiritual messengers of human history whom he chooses as models. The symbol of the Holy Grail stands for those inward efforts through which ultimately the blood of Man receives into itself the power of the blood of Christ, an experience to which saints and prophets bear witness."

But, he continues,
"The mechanization of modern life runs counter to the development of a personal inward life. Figures like the prophet Elijah, John the Baptist, Bernard of Clairvaux or Francis of Assisi have ceased to be the ideals which we endeavor to emulate. We are fascinated by the successful business men, the practical men of affairs, who dominate every sphere of life. They are the cause of countless martyrs, even without actually shedding blood. The great martyrs of the past die again, and with them all those who have ever walked the Earth as torchbearers of the spirit. Their blood is shed again spiritually because it is made to appear that they have lived in vain."
We see this ceaseless trivialization of human life everywhere today - indeed the "media" seems to be nothing more than a mechanism to "liquidate" human civilization in this sense. Further, the shunting-aside of the "prophetic calling" of the blood has the result of turning the impulse of individualization back into the carnal and sensual channel. Sexuality itself becomes a "right," a kind of anti-sacral initiation called freedom. But in this way "freedom" is wholly unable to transcend the sphere of egotism, and non-sexual penetrations, so to speak, which have to do with the dissemination of ideas, the challenge of contrary views, the assertion of the reality of better and worse, right and wrong, become literally abhorrent, for they trespass the sphere which modern man has deemed to be his "sacrosexual" right to live his life without inward fertilization - that is, without being penetrated by anyone else.

This sexualization of man thus leads to spiritual fruitlessness and stagnation - that is, to the ultimate irrelevance of ideas and of the effort to think.The Apocalypse is packed with the themes and tendencies of human history, which is why it is futile or silly to suppose that we are living in merely one epoch or another - say, the epoch of the Third Vial of Wrath. All of the tendencies in human character and history, good and bad, are simultaneously present in any moment.

As Bock rightly points out, the imaginative or visionary piece in the Old Testament is the book at the beginning - that is, the Creation story in Genesis. The New Testament, on the other hand, begins with the "historical" books of the Gospels and culminates with the visionary Book of Revelation at the end. The Apocalypse opens up both tendency and simultaneity in history, and shows us both that we live and how, while living, we must "be watchful." Thus it is the book that" saves," i.e., preserves, the essence of philosophy while sowing it as the seed for awareness of living in history.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The New Sabbatarianism -- Part II

"And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.
And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold. Why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?
And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need and was an hungered, he, and they that were with him?How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shew-bread which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?
And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath."Mark 2: 23-28

"The unseen moral syntax" of the New World Order is the subject of John McMurtry’s astonishingly important book, Value Wars: The Global Market Versus the Life Economy,published in 2002 by Pluto Press of London and Sterling, Va.

If there is one book which readers of this site are urged to read, it is this, because it connects the dots of the globalization movement in terms of its values, presuppositions and preferences - rather than its presumed goals and ideals. This distinction is important, for values and assumptions occur both above and below the normal registers of awareness and perception. Analysis at the level of nearly pre-conscious or emotional adherence is infrequently recognized, much less attempted. Such analysis brings up issues such as zeitgeist, group-mind or collective consciousness -- which are difficult for modern people, steeped in the culture of the psychological 'Unconscious' even when they don't believe it. For some reason, taking responsibility for, or even acknowledging the existence of, a group-mind is, for many, a trespass against the sacred concept of individualism.McMurtry eschews both ‘conspiracy theory’ and ‘power politics’ as models of explanation for globalist-New World Order agenda thinking. He rejects the presumed ‘value neutral’ or ‘ethical neutrality’ stance of modern philosophical, scientific and economic thinking.

In fact, he states, "lines of force follow lines of value," (his emphasis) and it is the deep structure of values, choices and consequences in which are to be sought the causes of our increasingly dysfunctional economic thinking. Only an acute value-system analysis is capable of penetrating the sludge of lies, evasions, deceptions, and rationalizations which now form the standard operating procedure of the "Infotainment State."

What is repressed from view in the jigsaw-puzzle cascade of "news and events" is precisely the "absolutist value-set" and the "a priori prescriptions" which drive the transnational money-sequencing that increasingly rules the world. These hidden values and presuppositions have not been considered to be matters of philosophical importance, thus by stealthy means "economic laws" slide into the slot occupied by "laws of nature"-- the human factor of choice and decision of the former meanwhile overlooked entirely. The human will, now occupying a position more arbitrary and less appeasable than the gods of old, escapes the scrutiny of people who might be sensitive to issues like fate, determinism, or superstition. Ideological global oligopoly is both deterministic and superstitious, but by avoiding the traditional carriers of these intellectual poisons, it appears both "modern" and "progressive."

McMurtry argues that the evidence of shocking ecological and economic disasters, corporate swindles like Enron, tax invasions of poor countries and their mounting "endebtification" are all the results of an essentially emotional and pre-conscious value set which, in the last two decades, has become ever more fanatical. It is locked into a repetitive self-identification and self-affirmation of itself as the ‘Good,’ which is also, simultaneously, ‘historically necessary’ and even ‘historically inevitable.’ McMurtry's analysis penetrates this new variant of economic-historic determinism to uncover what are actually its human and political decision-points, choices, and preferences.

It is important to recall, for example, that prior to 9/11 there was a rising global movement of disquiet at the disastrous results of the globalization movement on the world’s ecosystems and peoples. The popular movements of resistance are a matter of documented record – not only Seattle, but also Genoa in the summer before 9/11, in which more than 350,000 people protested the unaccountable actions and decisions of transnational corporate bodies. As McMurtry puts it, "The attempts to portray young and socially conscientious citizens in protest as worthy of mass gassings and cagings had failed." Something more was needed to justify the systematic prescriptions for economic restructuring, deregulation and privatization of public wealth. The ongoing march of secretive economic bodies to override accountable controls by governments needed a new charter – or shall we say carte blanche or cause célèbre?

The events of 9/11 imposed a convenient and timely "global amnesia" upon public perceptions about how the system for corporate rule was losing public legitimacy. [1]It is important to review some of the facts regarding the "new freedom" ushered in by neoliberal (sometimes called neoclassical; see note 2) economic practices.

Since the Reaganite 1980’s, the top 10% of the U.S. population saw their incomes double within five years.
By 2000, the top 1% in the U.S. had more wealth than 95% of the U.S. population.
Poverty in Eastern Europe increased sevenfold from 1988 ‘under Soviet domination’ to 1994 with ascension to the ‘Free World.’
More than 100 developing nations "suffered disastrous failures in growth and more prolonged cuts in living standards than industrial countries in the Great Depression." (UN Development Report, 1997)

These ‘structural adjustments' and 'painful sacrifices' demanded by economic doctrine are the costs of the ‘Free Market,’ which in fact is not free at all but consists of a global oligopoly system in which "over 60% of international trade is between offices of the same firms or interlocked partners," not to mention the considerable assistance from government tax policies and subsidies as well. Hardly ever in the mass media from 1985-2002 was the global market experiment raised as an issue of concern. Instead, evangelical certitudes plastered over the evidence of the senses and quashed contrary perceptions. The repetitions involved torturously contradictory assertions claiming that "oligopoly is free competition," "leveraged money demand with no production of real goods means moral justification, i.e., market success"; "catastrophic ecological and social results mean necessary economic reforms," and "bombing poor civilians and destroying their life infrastructure means humanitarian interventions."

As a corollary to this iron-clad rule by fist economy and fiat money, it is sadly instructive to note how Western intellectual elites abandoned their former commitments to "free inquiry," "free will" or "freedom of choice," "rule of law," etc – such as existed in the most longstanding critiques of Soviet-style socialist systems. Academic postmodernism was a frivolous intellectual movement unmoored from real life, but fostered an attitude of devaluation and mockery in the belief of the value of truth. In the past few years we have seen increasingly shrill and indeed fanatic attacks on religion and ethics from media and NWO-favored intellectuals like Dennett, Dawkins, and Singer and their followers in the Darwinian and "bioethics" camps. "Evolutionary psychology" becomes the new breeding-ground for intellectuals who have lost their religion, like John Derbyshire, and the scientistic establishment and their impacted constituencies in universities, government, pharmaceutical and agricultural laboratories are wedded to the proposition of changing whatever is natural into a saleable commodity.

All of these capitulations of what was once an independent sphere of intellectual life represent the marriage of the unthinkable with the unstoppable – epitomized by the remarks of the Tony Blair, the boy ruler of Britain – "These forces of change driving the future don’t stop at national boundaries. Don’t respect tradition. They wait for no one and no nation. They are universal."

The net effect of these accumulating determinisms is to drive barriers between perception and reality, action and responsibility, thought and life, not to mention further eroding the institutions of society that provide accountability. The deepest and most interior cause of this continuing moral brutalization is the severance of intellect from life. But this spiritual "cause" goes deep into history and indeed it initiates that history from the very first pages of the Creation story in Genesis, when the Tree of Knowledge is separated from the Tree of Life. In the Genesis story, the Tree of Life is guarded by the Cherubim with the flaming sword, because it was recognized that if man with unspiritualized intellect invades the sphere of life, universal destruction would result.

The New World Order could be called an accelerated program for breaking and entering the realm of the Cherubim – that is, subverting what has hitherto provided a ring of protection around the Tree of Life. This is why Henry Makow, the Canadian author of "Save the Males" website, writes that the NWO program functions to strip citizens of their identity in race, tribe, nationality, culture, tradition, law, sexuality, religion – leaving them utterly pliable and ductile in the hands of the transnational money regime. Whether to "strip" people of these attributes or to distort their consciousness of such attributes through multiculturalist exaggerations is equally useful, for in either case a tradition or state of being that might have provided a barrier to the commodification of life is rendered null and impotent, and all sense for mutual common interests in society is destroyed.

As McMurtry puts it, "… the ineluctable destiny of all peoples on earth to compete to succeed in serving transnational investors is the ultimate given of social value… What peoples had long set their souls against – an order imposed on them by wheels of a higher, inexorable power – is now prescribed as every society’s final meaning."

McMurtry’s analysis of the causes for the wars on Yugoslavia and Iraq is the most compelling that I have read. Quite simply, Yugoslavia and Iraq had to be converted to "corporate feeding cycles" because by 1991 they were "the last resource-rich functioning socialist resource economies in the world."

Indeed, "...What is not ‘open to the free market’ is any society, however peaceful,with developed social sectors and publicly owned resources closed to foreigncorporate expansion and exploitation… The Yugoslav and Iraqi societies were nottargeted in spite of their regionally advanced social systems, but because ofthem."

For bear in mind, that it is the preeminent goal for the system of global determinism that there should be no alternative. Neither Iraq nor Yugoslavia wished to re-travel the route of re-colonization, and in both societies there was a high level of worker income security, health care and education and public ownership of key resources. In other words, both nations had a successfully functioning life-economy – in contrast to the USA, where neither libraries nor public transit can be assured of funding, in fact suffer continual funding cuts, where health care is a spoils system of gargantuan inefficiency, and where the phrase ‘public good’ carries an antiquarian flavor, along with all the others like good manners, clear thinking, honest debate, checks and balances, life and liberty, rule of law, balanced reporting, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, etc. etc. ad infinitum. Even lower on the scale of meaningful content are slogans with "democracy, "freedom," "compassion," "equality," etc. – such phrases and slogans are never employed with limiting or relational concepts, or in any meaningful historical context. They may thus be taken as signposts of continuing assault on the ability to think coherently - not exactly a prized quality for citizens who are being programmed into consumers.

For it is ultimately the colonization and occupation of the mind that feeds the money sequence regime. The results are particularly apparent in the American mass media, which has totally abandoned its mandate to provide a fair account of world events. The mass media outlets are merely sluices for advertising, through which disjunct, atomized, and uncontexted bits of "news" occasionally pass. It is true that this has not escaped the more discerning members of the population. But still the deeper concepts are lacking. The transition from a productive to a predatory economy has been occurring in the USA at an uneven pace, but in the last few years it has accelerated to the point of garishness.

The "new Sabbatarianism" of the modern economic machine seems the precise opposite of that pharisaical obsession with "keeping the Sabbath" mentioned at the head of this post, yet opposites merge after all. In the old Sabbath, nothing was to be done; in the new, nothing is to be left undone. Cessation has been replaced by incessancy, but both doctrines claim an unshakable authority and a fanatical adherence. The new, modernized, and streamlined economic doctrine that has come to rule the world is a sort of secularized Darwinian theocracy, where the "losers" are the economically unfit (or the theologically out of grace). Stability is derided, traditions are destroyed, and neither borders nor laws possess any restraining action to the ‘free flow of capital.’

The dragons have returned from the abyss of time in the form of a fanatical economic determinism. A society without accountability, without countervailing authorities of restraint and decision-making, is a society on the way to barbarism. The advocates of the global money regime enjoy what civilized life has made possible while betraying or subverting civilized standards at every turn. A system of thought so estranged from life and sustainability comes to resemble a reptilian fate. But the question in the end is whether the reptilian fate is to be that of the corporation or of mankind itself.

As a final note, the last half of McMurtry’s book explores the entirely feasible ways in which society may move towards restoring life-economy goals. I will not undertake to review these here, except to note that, despite many reasons to be pessimistic, there are always grounds for hope. Once the deterministic trance is broken and values, decisions and preferences are exposed, real thinking will be possible again – that is, the connecting of thought with life that is the necessary condition of being human.

[1] The author does not explore the 9/11 event in this book. Later reflections on this event can be found in his "9/11 & the 9/11 Wars: Understanding the Supreme Crimes," printed in the compendium of essays edited by David Ray Griffin and Peter Dale Scott, 9/11 and the American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out (Vol. I) Olive Branch Press, @2006.
[2] See "What we learn when we learn economics," Christopher Hayes, In These Times: "Neoclassical economics, as the Chicago School of thought is now called, has become an international elite consensus, one that provides the foundation for the entire global political economy." Article here .

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Atheism Lite

Author Theodore DalrympleCourtesy: New English ReviewI’m a little baffled by Theodore Dalrymple’s piece, "Let’s Be Rational,"--- but mainly because there wasn't much to get baffled about.

It is apparent that Mr. Dalrymple is a much nicer atheist than Richard Dawkins, but on the other hand Mr. Dawkins is much more what you’d expect an atheist to be: presumptuous, arrogant, overweening, self-infatuated, foolish and vain.[1]

Mr. Dal is none of these things. On the contrary, he is a gentleman with a real sense for ethics and good manners, and can put in a kind word for religion, even acknowledging its good side ("Religion [is] useful…from the point of view of improving human behavior and keeping it lawful.") Rather like Gibbon, to whom he alludes in his piece, Mr. Dal finds no inner impulse to believe in it, even from the standpoint of the moral and civilizational ruin that he has been chronicling so well these last few years. [2]

Mr. Dal says that when he confessed in an American conservative gathering that he "was not religious," several persons came up and thanked him. He found this to be remarkable, and even wondered if Dawkins was right to say that American atheists are afraid to avow their lack of belief. At first he was not inclined to agree, but then he began to think there might be something to it.

Part of the problem here is that the term, "religion," is too large and too abstract to be useful. Chesterton remarked that the United States was "a nation with the soul of a church," to which the writer who calls himself "Spengler" (of Asia Times Online) amended to read (correctly, I think) "America is a nation with the soul of an heretical church." Until we get down to the specifics of Protestantism there is not much point in discussing "religion in America." In the Bush administration, fuelled in part by Protestant evangelicalism, it would indeed be a case of bad manners to say that one was an atheist. But this is not a religious problem so much as a political one, and therefore, it does not seem to me a case of atheists "being afraid to speak up."

I think it is true, as Mr. Dal writes, that religion is, or was until fairly recently, a "live social force" in the USA. Having grown up in Alabama during the civil rights era, I can attest to the truth of this. Martin Luther King was in the earliest days of his movement an inspired preacher, and his vision of the struggle of blacks for greater civic freedom and participation was enunciated in a powerful vision in his famous 1958 speech, of "new meaning injected into the veins of history." This vision of history as a Living Being is in my view one of the most powerful statements of Christianity in the modern era.

It is not that Christianity is in history so much as it is that history itself is Christian – that history is the drama of Christian meaning working out through the ages or stages of time. It is not accidental that Western history is therefore the paradigmatic history – at least until fairly recent times - for indeed, "history is a Western form of thought." [3]

This ennobling vision of the history as a Living Being, to which human beings make their contributions and in which they participate, was a product of the peculiar genius of Dr. King in the context of the devotional Christianity of the black race and of the South of that era. In other words, this was a unique and unrepeatable historical moment. But the reins soon slipped from Martin Luther King’s hands when the black civil rights movement was absorbed by the State. For good reasons and bad, a bureaucratic statistical "affirmative action" replaced the living vision. One could see the bread of communion being turned into stones of social strife and division.

Perhaps this movement of Christianity from the depths was not lost on those whose main goal is political power, however. A generation later, and partly as a result of the social divisiveness resulting from state-mandated programs for equality, the Christian conservative-evangelical base made its presence known in American politics. Unlike the black civil rights movement, which despite obligatory references to the "Promised Land" and other Old Testament images, was primarily a New Testament phenomenon – the Christian evangelical zeal seemed hardly to have penetrated to the New Testament.

Thus when Mr. Dal writes that he finds the nature of the deity as depicted in the O.T. to be rather "unpleasant,"—a point with which he agrees with Dawkins-- I can only agree. The Deity of the Old Testament – at least in parts of the book of Deuteronomy – is not just "unpleasant." It is ethno-tribalistic, vengeful and bloodthirsty to an extreme degree - according to Simone Weil, a "tissue of horrors."

Thus, if we are discussing the Old Testament in contradistinction to the New, I would submit that we are not discussing "religion" so much as the specific differences between the religious vision of the Old Testament and the New Testament – in other words, the specific differences between rabbinical Judaism and the Christian gospel - in other words, the whole raison d'etre for Christianity in the first place. Somehow, in the imprecision of the subject, I begin to lose the terms of the argument.

Although I think Mr. Dal’s use of the term "religion" lacks necessary specificity and historical grounding, and that it is too generalized to be useful, I do think his points of argument with Dawkins are valid. Dawkins, for one thing, is too enamoured of high tech solutions to human problems. Secondly, Dawkins is a practitioner of the "nothing – but" school of historiography –"European history is nothing but the story of genocide and oppression," "religion is nothing but the history of intolerance and bigotry," etc. But the point that needs to be made is that the story of English empiricism, positivism, and materialist philosophy is in many ways a philosophy of "nothing-buttism." "There is nothing in the intellect that has not been first in the senses." "Only what is observable and quantifiable counts as valid knowledge." Dawkins is merely applying to areas of history and religion what has long been considered the rational standard in philosophy, and particularly economic philosophy.

I wish that Mr. Dal, in his "Let’s Be Rational," had discussed the long history of honorable dissent to reductionistic philosophy in his own country. Beginning with William Blake and continuing through Coleridge, Wordsworth and Keats in the 19th century – all were dissenters against the ‘single vision and Newton’s sleep.’ This movement in poetry is superficially understood as ‘Romanticism,’ but that seems hardly adequate as a description of the challenge they presented to the model of rationality that had been developing since the seventeenth century.

The Romantic movement saw how rationality was becoming unmoored from life and value, and in poetry as well as philosophical thinking they demonstrated that a new way of thinking was possible. The impulse they began continued in the 20th century. One can read, for example, the poignant memoirs of poet Kathleen Raine (herself a Blake scholar) about her experiences as a student at Oxford in the positivism-soaked atmosphere of the 1930’s. Or Owen Barfield, whose book, Saving the Appearances (1965) provides an illuminating history of science from the viewpoint of the participating consciousness – that is to say, a thinking not yet severed from the ground of life and history. Barfield’s work was little noted in the country of his birth, although in America in the 1970’s he was frequently invited to lecture, and indeed had many American admirers.

So what happened to the English prophetic tradition? What has happened to England? I hate to say it – my impression of modern England – gleaned in part from the writings of Theodore Dalrymple himself, and those of his brave compatriot, John Copeland, whose "Diary of a Superannuated Soul" has formed a chronicle of England in decline for the past decade or so – is that England has become a sort of "Death Star." The voices of its visionary poets are heard no more, and even the rationalism of empirical reductivism has declined into something yet more awful – for which I cannot even find the name.

But whatever it is, it is embodied in Richard Dawkins, who struts on the world stage bellowing messages of futility and doom. [4] This music of nihilistic determinism is echoed by the boy ruler of Britain, Tony Blair, in his characterization of the economic forces of globalization—"These forces of change driving the future don’t stop at national boundaries. Don’t respect tradition. They wait for no one and no nation. They are universal."

In other words, all the glorious things that the English nation fought for over its entire history – the rule of law, the sense of limits, boundaries, the value of tradition, particularity, the distinctness of national and personal identity, respect for quality, – all of these things are now consigned to the relentless march of "the future" where they can be expected to count for nothing.

This determinism is the opposite of Christian freedom – and however much "Christian freedom" maybe be violated or betrayed in letter or spirit, it is nevertheless the growing point and abiding faith of Western history. From this freedom has come ‘rationality,’ – which seems now at the point of turning upon its host to destroy it. The contrast of history as the relentless march of the future and history as the Living Being could not be greater, but somehow the two items of significance here – religion and rationality – have both been obscured in Mr. Dal’s essay. Religion is too broad and rationality is too narrow. While he admits, somewhat offhandedly, that religion is "a truth that is supposed to set you free, not a convenient myth," he doesn’t really believe it. The problem is not that he would not like to believe it, it is just that he doesn't believe that believing it would make any difference.

Religion is not belief, but rather the intellect’s decision to ally itself with life – and with all the risks of vulnerability and openness that this entails. At this deep level of decision or reason there can be no conflict with religion, for it is a way of personal being and responsiveness that is open to life, supple yet rooted, principled yet open to new facts, perceptions, and understandings. Such a way is an act that involves the will, and that has to be chosen - it can never be acquired passively in the relentless march of the future.

By contrast, Mr. Dalrymple's view of 'Rationality' is striking in its passivity and narrowness. The message coming out of England these days - from Blair to Dawkins, from John Copeland and now even Theodore Dalrymple -- is one of blind determinism akin to an unappeasable 'force of nature.' It is a sadly telling sign of just how far England has fallen out of both Christianity and reason.


[1] A friend and reader of this site, Tom, went to hear Richard Dawkins when he spoke at the Free Library of Philadelphia, and found him " incredibly full of himself."
[2] Life at the Bottom and Our Culture- What's Left of It. Mr. Dalrymple is a sharp observer and his writing has been compared to that of George Orwell.
[3] John Lukacs, Historical Consciousness (1968).
[4] Oft-quoted statement fromDawkins' book, River Out of Eden: "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."

Friday, December 01, 2006

The New Sabbatarianism- Part I

This past week, the Philadelphia Business Journal published a front-page and several accompanying page articles about the casino industry. They begin their front page encomium with the words, “It is exceedingly rare that a state would create an entirely new industry.” Another article begins: “With two casino projects totaling at least $700 million in combined development costs looming on the horizon in Philadelphia, local builders are poised to get a piece of the action once a winning project is selected.”

The article went on to report that these projects far outstrip recent major developments in Philadelphia construction history, including the $543 million international airport terminal. Still another article reports that casino operations are pledged to support nonprofit institutions, making the following statement without any apparent irony: “At the same time, statistics and experience suggest that the new gaming halls will create new compulsive gamblers, some of whom will turn to nonprofits for help.”

Tax relief experts are not far behind in chiming the advantages to Philadelphia. Bernard Anderson, a professor at Penn, enthuses that "the arrival of casinos in Philadelphia is going to be the [city's] most important economic development venture in the last half century." Then he adds, as if the absurdity of it suddenly broke through his trance: "I really believe that."

Other articles intone that “slots save[d] racetracks from ruin” and that local law firms are lining up for a chunk of the goods through the granting of gaming licenses. Likewise, the workforce will benefit from the manna of gaming. “We are talking to all the local universities about not only training, but ongoing course work that will start to create a pipeline of qualified applicants as we become bigger in the future,” said Philadelphia Park CEO David Jonas.

Finally, to top the pie-in-the-sky, it was learned that Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell signed into law a provision that will allow casinos to serve free drinks to customers.

In another local development, the employees of the Philadelphia Inquirer are currently on strike because the new owners insist that 190 jobs must be cut because the paper has not been bringing in adequate advertising revenues. Owners blame the Internet for cutting into newspaper advertising sales, but apparently never mention the news side of the affair. I mean, do people read newspapers to get news? Brian Tierney, the new owner of the Inquirer, is partnered with an associate of the Toll Housing empire (all those huge plywood mansions in fake English styles sprouting up in formerly productive meadows and fields, and which people now are starting to evince a disinclination to buy) and came into great fanfare, when he bought the paper, as a “Local Owner” (as opposed to absentee ownership) even though many people criticized him because he is Catholic. (The preponderant Jewish ownership of the American media somehow escapes the radar screen.)

Whether Catholic or not, Brian Tierney apparently believes in the Market Gospel with all of his heart, mind and soul. It does not seem to have elicited his interest that the Philadelphia Inquirer is a mediocre paper that degrades and ill-serves this once-great city, the founding city of American Constitutional government. Few people complained when the Philly Inquirer joined the anti-Catholic crusade against molesting priests, a campaign fomented by District of Attorney Lynne Abraham, a member of Planned Parenthood and the Anti-Defamation League. Priests who had been accused but not convicted of sexual misdemeanors had their faces and biographies published on the Inquirer website week after week -–a good example of how readily the management of that paper was willing to throw the Catholic Church to the mob.
Nobody seems to object when fanatic neocons like Charles Krauthammer regularly publish their crusading tirades or when “neoliberal” economists like the recent writer from Pat Robertson’s Regent University published an op-ed steaming with fetid falsehoods concerning the public debt. Few people dissented when the Inquirer ecstatically greeted the ignorant and stupendously misinformed opinion of Judge Jones, of Dover fame, in his ruling against the Intelligent Design movement.
Likewise, the Inquirer's positive spin on the Franklin Museum's grisly display of human corpses in the plastination exhibit "Body Worlds" hardly elicited a murmur of dissent, and Penn "bioethicists" like Arthur Kaplan or Paul Wolpe can always find editorial space to tout the "educational value" of such exhibitions, or the magical possibilities of high-tech cannibalism, i.e. embryonic stem-cell research.
These are just a few of the turds left behind in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s steady march to the drumbeat of the New World Order. But at least with the Inquirer, one may discuss the corruption of business, whereas with the arrival of the gambling casino “industry,” we have to do with the business of corruption. It is, so to speak, a neat turn, and one that Americans have been performing with agility and near-invisibility on the world stage for a quarter-century. However, it seems to have escaped the perceptual capacity or analytic ability of Inquirer editors even to question the ruling regime's total commitment to mammonism with its distortions of truth, subversion of the public good, and insouciant disregard for humane, civilizational, or ecological values all across the spectrum of life.
After all, such analysis does not compute in the "advertising revenues," and perpetual mediocrity assures steady sales. The hollowing out of the American economy seems rarely to occupy the minds of the Inquirer's economics editor, and the deeper question of what "productivity" is, even in economic terms, is simply beneath notice.
The "life on the ground," as with those poor Inquirer employees who are about to lose their jobs -- as again with the thousands recently laid off by the Ford Motor Company -- is no longer real to the pundits, who have likewise abandoned the first duty of reason, which is, to connect thought with life. Given this situation, it is perhaps not surprising that the Philadelphia Business Journal has now appeared with an issue in our midst extolling the casino "industry."
I wrote the following letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Business Journal:
Dear---I have a strong objection to your glowing review of gambling as an “industry.”Gambling is a predatory activity that particularly negatively impacts the poor. It fosters illusionism, the idea that you can get something for nothing, and the get-rich-quick mentality. All of these have had a devastating effect upon the American character – and economy. I think your fatuous coverage of gambling in Philadelphia was socially destructive, irresponsible,short-sighted, superficial, poorly thought out, and lacking in social and moral insight.
~~ And received the following genial reply from “Bernie”: “I'm happy to run this. Thanks for your opinion. Typically a letter would run with a place of residence under the author's name. Can you provide that please?”
Hey, Bernie, always glad to oblige.
This is a list of complaints against the Inquirer's coverage of local issues and its neoconservative propensity in its op-ed columns.
However, the Inquirer has not seemed to me to be rabidly pro-war in its own editorials, and the excellent work of foreign correspondent, Trudy Rubin, has always elicited my appreciation and respect. The new owner does not seem to appreciate the value of foreign correspondents. Rubin reports today that Brian Tierney remarked to a Washington Post media critic that, "I can get what's going on in Iraq online. What I can't get is what's happening in this region." ("The latest casualty: detailed foreign news," Sunday, Dec. 3)
Tierney's concern for regional focus is not to be deplored, but why the zero-sum mentality, why the idea that good international coverage means less regional coverage? Rubin remarks that mid-sized papers all over the country are shutting down their foreign news bureaus, but that "As you look back at the coverage of the Iraq story,... you'll see that some of the bravest, most informative analysis was done by correspondents from mid-size papers." The commitment to excellence and quality news reporting is what will bring the Inquirer back from the grave.
"Quality" is not a materialized entity like "sales," although quality is ultimately the driver of sales. "Quality" is a spiritual value, a vertical or hierarchical concept that diffuses from the coherence of commitment. The inability of corporate managers to think dynamically, that is, in terms of interacting vertical and horizontal considerations, is the ultimate cause of poor business performance and "flat" sales.