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.
  • 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.
[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."

1 comment:

PCJ said...

About your dialogue between two types, those whose inward center is social and those whose inward center is the self, reminded me of something Ortega said.

He saw two types, one the Mediterranean man of the plaza,

"It is useless to look to [him] for internal cohesion. He slides through life in a series of discontinuous moments, but if we take in isolation each one of these moments we are surprised by their grace and spontaneity... [This man] of the plaza, sees a 'you' and a 'him' before he sees himself... From this comes his incomparable grace, his psychological astuteness and his native machiavellianism."

Sounds like Bill Clinton to me.

And then there is the Germanic quote... but I do remember Ortega saying something to the effect that a German apothecary couldn’t grind powder in a mortar and pestle without figuring out his relationship to the universe.

I think we’re headed for the Mediterranean model, out of necessity. The Enlightenment Project as Tower of Babel leaves us stripped of a common language. How did they know that three thousand years ago?

Anyway, as I was saying on the phone, my thesis is that WE HAVE ALREADY COLLAPSED. It occurred in the soul, and has left us like an old oak tree, rotted at the core, held up by a suffocating network of vines, vulnerable to the least bit of wind stronger than a breeze.

Candidate for that least bit of wind: oil.

Did you see the numbers about Saudi oil production from OPEC (not official)? Their production this month: 8.51 million barrels per day. Same stat from two months previous: 8.68. That’s an annualized decline rate of about 12%.

If the numbers are accurate, and if the Saudis don’t get matters turned around, we’re there now, at the peak or over. A sobering thought.