Sunday, April 22, 2007

The River of Nonchalance


Perhaps it is a symptom of advancing age, but I find I have less and less to say. Or perhaps I am only too aware of the shortcomings of my prose, arguments, facts, and mind. Or perhaps it is just that I am weary of it all - from neoconservative wars to school shootings - and feel I have little to add to the spate of words thrown up against our windshields and spattering our view of the passing terrain.
But may I mention that 'weary' derives from an older English word meaning "to trample over wet ground." Word studies and derivations pack morsels of history. If nothing else, the word reveals that our forebears didn't have cars - not for them any easy rolling over the landscape, bored, dulled, abstract, and indifferent.
Today I just want to make a slight observation, so common and ordinary as to be almost without interest. First let me mention that in a footnote in Volume I of A Study of History (and yes, this week, let me mention that I managed to acquire the entire set plus the Atlas - at a pretty penny, mind you, but such are the advantages of having a job) Arnold J. Toynbee considers the word "proletariat," which he says means "any social element or group which in some way is 'in' but not 'of' any given society... That is, it is used in the sense of the Latin word proletarius from which it is derived. In Roman legal terminology... proletarii were citizens who had no entry against the names in the census except their progeny (proles)... In other words, a 'proletariat' is an element or group in a community which has no 'stake' in that community beyond the fact of its physical existence."
My observation is simply this: in walking through Center City, Philadelphia, as is my daily custom going to and from work, I habitually observe that the overwhelming style of dress for both males and females is blue jeans. Now of course there is a "professional" element of the population that dresses professionally (though not necessarily smartly) and then... and then, well, there is everybody else. And almost without exception this everybody else looks just like "everybody else." They all wear the same thing and dress the same way.
Twice I caught a glance of a young woman dressed in a dress - one 'smart' and one 'hippie' - and almost felt like going up to them to congratulate them on being different.
Not that I dress that well myself. I do wear black jeans in inclement weather - and the blackness of the jeans seems to me slightly less egregiously proletarian than the standard blue. Nevertheless, I am your basic skirt and blouse (or gaucho and blouse) sensible-shoes type of woman, and no one, seeing me walk down the sidewalk, would ever look twice. Nevertheless, I feel keenly the absence of what used to be called style and the presence of what can only be called proletarian conformity in dress and appearance.
In thinking about this preponderance of proletarian style, I seem to see a people that is in the process of being eroded from citizenship to peasantry. Whatever these crowds may be, they do not give the impression of being stakeholders in society, nor do they appear to have given much thought to the 'public' as a state, condition or stage of life that elicits a particular form of response. But of course the 'public' as a particular facet of American life was eroded even before the pernicious cell phone arrived on the scene to finish the job. Our streets are now filled with hoboes of high tech - their ears wired, their mouths jabbering.
Perhaps I am too harsh. As I admit, I am hardly the model of successful wardrobe. But it seems to me that indistinguishability or lack of differentiation is another name for entropy. Human spiritual and moral life, developed through an awakened conscience, the effort to think, and the practice of some art or religion, is the only thing we have to counteract the entropy which is ever-present in human life but which seem to be pressing down upon American society with particular force at this time. And if I am too harsh about dress, it is because I sense that American society is being swept down the river of nonchalance - and so few seem even to be aware that they are drowning.
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Web activities this week: A good read is Lawrence Auster's "The Political Religion of Modernity," published on his "View from the Right" website. I wrote Mr. Auster encouraging him to read my brother's essay, Urbino, which approaches this topic from a different angle. He wrote back to say that he would "check it out." Link to Urbino in previous post.
I posted a series of comments to a post on the "Suicide of the West" website, raising a few hackles and managing to get called, by different posters, a multiculturalist, a reactionary, insane and deluded. The proletarianization of American life is nowhere more in evidence than here - that is, the "shooting oneself in the foot" syndrome. Instead of addressing the impersonal or 'public' form of the message, such people can only attack the 'personal'-- that is, the messenger. It attests to the decomposition of community -- the result of a decline of training and confidence in argument, reason, and persuasion. These abilities are the 'public' face of the intellectual mind, and they are in a condition analogous to the blue-jeaned mobs that throng our streets. That is, slovenly, self-indulgent, complacent, and smug.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Against the Republic of Swine


Republic of Swine - a reference to a passage in Plato's Republic, where he refers to a city where people have all their physical needs met - the implication being they have no will or energy for developing their higher capacities of thought. The reference raises the question why limits are necessary - which is somewhat the subject of this post.

These past few weeks of containment and silence have not been without their little fruit – I would not claim anything so great as a watermelon or as exotic as a mango – perhaps something more along the lines of a kumquat – or perhaps a single grape.

The use of the blog and more generally the giving and exchanging of e-mails with various people, both related and unrelated to the blog, give me a little insight into the kind of thing which I aspire to do with the aid of the computer. It is, simply, to have a conversation, and to be able to say to my correspondents, in one fashion or another, that the having of conversation and exchange of thoughts is a value in itself. In fact, the humble and unobtrusive e-mail – a medium so often abused, and one so seemingly spontaneous and demanding little thought (or worse- so purely utilitarian) – may be the last channel in our day of the old Socratic and Christian dialogue – Socratic in the exchanges, Christian in the awareness of what is at stake. I mean that the greatness, or even the existence, of the soul hinges upon tiny moments, and that the awareness of its momentous fate can be assisted by this throwing of tiny digital pebbles against the opacity of human self-consciousness. We want to make glass. Or as a Dostoevsky commentator puts it:

"…In this welter of passions, deceit and sin, Dostoevsky’s saints, Prince Myshkin, Alyosha, and Father Zossima evoke our special interest. At first their innocence seems to deprive them of the dramatic attributes which Dostoevsky’s great sinners possess to an extraordinary degree. Our eyes, trained to look for shadows, search in vain for clearly defined contours. The characters are transparent; nothing is hidden; nothing needs to remain secret… Their inward center is not in themselves or in their society but is part of the Divine. There is something supernatural about them, and as soon as their friends feel this, they love them."

[From William Hubben, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Kafka, 1952. Macmillan Publishing (paperback) p. 67.]

I believe that most of my dialogues occur with those for whom the inward center is in the self and those for whom the inward center is in society. But the mere fact of engaging in dialogue seems to me to indicate that the inward center has been quickened and mobilized, and rests in the Self, the Society and even momentarily in the Divine, in a kind of restless uncertainty and going back-and-forth. The Decision of which one of these in which to remain has not yet been fully and consciously made, yet the willingness to converse leaves an opening, and we can talk about what is going on as if, in fact, what is going on is what is going on. To me what is really going on is this mobilization or process of quickening; but life needs to provide us with subject matter and tools, so we talk about that. But the process, as far as I am concerned, is to help quicken that inward center, and so fortify the soul for that time of Decision, whenever it is to come.

Several people, seeing the sudden temporary cessation of my blog, wrote and gave me courage:
Tom from England wrote:

"One of the things I appreciate in your writings is your attempt to articulate a 'conservative' point of view in a thoughtful and well argued way. The media-dominated world we live in can make it seem that someone who swims against the tide is just thoughtlessly reactionary or plain silly. Right now my wife is seriously ill and I don't have the energy to engage in a detailed debate with you about any of your postings but I shall keep looking and reading, glad to know you are 'out there', trying to hold to the truth, and fighting (with the word) for the good."
Chris - (location unknown) wrote -- "... Personally, I've found your posts to have been consistenly more and more thoughtful of late. Naturally, reflectiveness and insight don't always find a wide audience, and may make no sense at all for some readers. They're an entirely different enterprise from the search for effectiveness, are they not?"

And Bill, from Baltimore -
"…[Things] are dissolving our country in a very intentional and pernicious way. I have come to see elements of your point of view as having been really prescient…"

I have also had a few e-mail conversations with some members of the Lyndon LaRouche following, upon the occasion of LaRouche’s violent attack upon Al Gore and the global warming issue. I had given a little support to the LaRouche movement when it was opposing the neocons and their wars. But this attack on Gore seemed to me utterly malicious. As I wrote to one of these individuals, protesting that I should give some credit to LaRouche for being smart, I wrote:

"I know LaRouche is smart, but I don't think his attack on Gore and global warming is an intelligent move. Bush and the neocons stole the election from Gore, who, whatever his failings may be, would have been a far more decent president than the one we have now, and one who would not have led this country into a self-righteous crusade against the Muslim world.The hate-filled rhetoric of the neocons is bad enough, but when basically decent individuals like LaRouche attack other basically decent individuals, you know the nation is in a state of self-devouring destruction, and that all possibility of constructive leadership is finished."

My correspondent has yet to answer that particular charge. He had sent me a copy of LaRouche’s book, There Are No Limits to Growth, written back in the 1980’s, where LaRouche shows an appalling ignorance of energy reality and gives voice to the utopian belief that we will establish domed colonies on Mars – "the forests and cities of Mars." My correspondent wrote back inviting me to watch a LaRouche video called "The Woman on Mars," and said:

"It's a delightful program - and well worth the watching. Think about it, Caryl - if the human race can expand without limit into the universe, bringing our environment with us, what does that do to the idea that we have a problem with "overpopulation"? Meanwhile, here's a beautiful thought from Helen Keller: "No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit."

Sorry, friend, allow me pause to throw up at this sentimental tripe from Helen Keller, who, if anything, is a living testament to my idea of the value of limits. For certainly Helen Keller had to overcome severe limits, but apparently my correspondent failed to see in Helen Keller's triumph over limits the obvious refutation of his idea. I discussed this incident with my sage brother, who said that the LaRouche people are simply "insane." They are still living in 1740, the Age of the Enlightenment, and believe in universal values, progress, science, technology, and in having no limits – all theories that humanity has left behind in the wreckage of history. Paul defines the Enlightenment project as this: it consists of believing we have the power (right, duty or prerogative) to "make the world the way it ought-to-be" – and Paul’s vigorous dissection and destruction of this theory is to be found in his essay, Urbino – on which he is about to finish a new and revised edition.
The original "Urbino" is published on one of my companion sites -- it is an essay which merits the close attention of thoughtful minds.

That there are so few "thoughtful minds" today is the condition of our grievous peril, and it is against the "republic of swine" that America has become that this site – as poor and flawed as it is – is dedicated. For it seems to me that while there may be individuals in various institutions – business, universities, and even government – who may have the inclination and good will to engage in exchanges and conversation, the overwhelming reality of our situation seems to me to be the fact that institutions, as such, no longer possess either this goodwill or this inclination. Thus the sclerosis and rigidity of our policies – the counterpart of our flailing, failed, and shipwrecked community. This is barbarism – which, by definition, is the condition in which the only remaining institution in society is the army. Rigidification and senescence [1] is the price we pay for our self-indulgence in the idea that moral consensus, international law, and standards of right and wrong -- in other words, all sense of limits -- can be insouciantly and flagrantly dismissed.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that America, in its public persona, has become a society dedicated to the destruction of life and civilization. That there are so many people of good will and reason lifting their voices in protest against this state of affairs on the Internet – one of the last remaining venues where real conversations can occur – is one of the more poignant symptoms of the impotence to which we have been reduced.
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  • Some good reads this week: "Beyond Good and Evil," by Gilad Atzmon, an outspoken Jewish jazz musician who opposes Zionism - can be found on the Information Clearing House website.
  • And everyone needs to read Kari Konkola's great and long overdue April 13 piece, "A Christian Administration? Hardly" on Taki's Top Drawer.
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[1] Senescence: A good essay on this is in the "Tantrum of the Powerful," by Lawrence J. Dickson in the April, 2007, issue of Culture Wars. "It is a terrific and accelerating change, a rushing wave, a collapse. It is the collapse of constraints on the powerful. This is the story, so far, of the new millennium...And the power group is aging and going insane. Who but the insane would make life unlivable for their own children-- make prospects so bad they can't even marry? This is what I call the seniling of power and law. At its worst... it reaches the point (stem cell research and forcible organ transplants) of eating the young."