News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: June 2005

Monday, June 20, 2005

Commentary (4)

What I have been suggesting, perhaps not well at all, is in agreement with your basic contention here: all humans are born with an innate sense of self, which relates to an awareness of ourselves as ethical beings. We all have the potential to become ethical beings, which means to do the right thing simply because it is the right to do--sometimes (not always) even in defiance of custom and tradition. To be an individual means self-knowledge and awareness that one is not simply a product of a social, natural, or even cosmic system.

In this regard, what is unqiue about the modern age? I have tried to show several aspects to this uniqueness: scientific, political, and religious. Perhaps the "problem" is best summed up in the following: today, people do not accept the idea that they are born as individuals; self-knowledge simply means becoming conscious of one's place within a group or perhaps the natural processes; becoming an ethical being means learning some doctrine or some rules that exist outside one; being ethical is not assumed to be a universal given, instead one must be taught it in some way. This is contrary to the primitivity that accompanies the ethical--that is, we all know what is the right thing to do; we simply need to be reminded to search inside ourselves for an awareness of greater self that is related to an eternal principle that is the Good.

If you do not believe me, look at the many books and article on the scientific study of how we become ethical beings--the ethical is reduced to some kind of physio-biological process, and we can study this process in the same way we can study the behavior of rats.

For an artistic representation of the type of personality created by the extermination of ethical primitivity, take a look at a film called _Dahmer_, about the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. What this film does well is to depict the complete ethical blindness of this being. Every inborn sense of what is the right thing to do has died. Dahmer went to work, paid his taxes, blended in well with the rest of his society. In many ways, he was a model citizen. What comes across is his ethical and spiritual deadness. Everything is an object for him--he himself moves and acts like an object. There simply is no human feeling or individuality left in the person. Read more!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Commentary (3)

In previous posts, I have dealt with the objective and spiritual sides of what I have been calling the loss of spiritual primitivity. There's a political side to this, as one might expect. In the western world, political evolution has gone through major changes since the 1500s, with the rise of the modern nation state and capitalism. Along with the fall of monarchical government in all its forms, political and religious, came the rise of representaitive government. This included the notion that everyone should has rights and that everyone should have a say in the way that political decisions are made. This push towards representational govt. has as one of its source Calvinistic theology.

This push towards political representation of the people's voice has its religious source in the notion that "before God we are all equal." This principle started out as a religious proposition, but in time, with the rise of the Enlightenment, it became detached from its religious context and became an ideal that was supposed to be self-evident merely on rationalistic grounds. Thereby, we find political philsophers of the Enlightenment espousing the view that humans are inherently equal by nature--without the spiritual context involved.

In the past, those people ruled who were gifted by nature with the talent and destiny to rule. They were the "favorites" of fate and were seen to be the ones who could manage humans their environment with the most efficacy and whose efforts seemed blessed by fate. If there was power struggle and envy it occurred on an individual level--the great man was envied his good luck at being morally, practically, and intellectually virtuous (to use Aristotle's ethical categories). One envied and resented the good favor that nature and fate bestowed on this person.

With the rise of representative govt., however, wherein all expect to share in the power and benefits of that power, envy and resentment take on a more insidious character. Mixed in with the capitalistic drive to sccumulate capital, the citizen of a representative democracy expects no one to be favored and all to gain from what nature and time can bestow. This, however, simply denies reality--there are those who have more beauty, athleticism, intelligence, practical abilities, and so on than humans in general. In a representaitive society, however, these differences are simply denied or neutralized through social measures that guarantee that the differences make no difference. On the personal level, people feel that no one is better than them and that those who are indeed different are not really different but simply the same as everyone else. Where the social and political mechanisms cannot completely neutralize difference, envy turns into resentment; this resentment begins to poison the communal life because all actions are suspect and must conform to the reigning notion that no one is better than anyone else.

Henceforth, a person's worth and identity come not from any natural gifts or spiritual sense of being unique and individual before God but rather through the associations that one has with a group. One's power and efficacy come from belonging to some group that assures them that they do indeed have the requisite entitlements guaranteed by the notion that all are equal. One acts not because one believes something to be true but simply because the group says it is the right thing to do. Individual conscience gives way to group think and the conscience of the mob. (Think Nazi Germany, Soviet Union, Taliban, the modern US culture of public opinion)

To guarantee the illusion of this equality, there arises the phantom of something called a "Public." This public does not have any existence, it is simply the empty concept of a resentful mass wishing to see its own reflection in some type of "universally valid and objectively verifiable" common essence that all members of a society are supposed to share. It is universal because everyone accepts the idea that all are equal and entitled to equal rights; it is "objective" because it can be surveyed and quantified in the form of public opinion polls and statistics.

The notion of the public is further bolstered by the popular media, which stokes the fires of envy and resentment (think of movie star worship, etc.) as well as purveys the illusion of mass values that are acknowledged as true simply because they are "public opinion."

But there simply is no such thing as a public. It is an illusion created by and sustained by envy and resentment, as well as the desire to acknowledge no authority but taht of the mass--what everyone else believes, thinks or feels. Any basis for authority is thereby short-circuited. For if no one is better than anyone else, then no one has a right to say what is right, wrong, or indifferent. There simply is no way to verify that anything is true unless it accords with public opinion, but this is a phantom and ultimately relates in no way to a real world. The "real" world is simply an illusion created by and for the masses, whose expectations revolve around some basic bodily needs and some soporific form of spiritual assurances that they, the group," are indeed guaranteed the right to exist simply because they are born.

Indeed, a human born into this socio-cultural matrix, naturally endowed with an innate sense of individual responsibility and obligation towards others, is socialized to believe that they are not anyone unless they associate with and belong to some group. They do not belong as individuals but simply as a cipher along with other ciphers in a faceless mass of equals. It is this natural sense of individual uniqueness that is stamped out and exterminated by the machinery of the modern state. The modern state does not want individuals to fill its ranks but wants lock-step conformists who assume and build on the emptiness of a party line that supposedly promotes the ideal of all being equally loved and cherished simply because they belong to the state. Read more!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Commentary (2)

Ancient Rome, US southern slavery are excellent examples of times when nurturing the soul proved extremely difficult, if not impossible, as you point out. I have no disagreement with you there. Indeed, Simone Weil writes about the spiritual repercussions of slavery in ancient and modern times. For, as she sees it, the modern proletariat are in a similar situation as the ancient slave. Weil martyred herself for this idea--to empathize and live as a slave in sympathy with those others. Yet, Weil also recognized the uniqueness of modern times in this regard as well, a time which she characterized as the time of the Beast (using the Revelation image to symbolize the modern authoritarian nation state).

The distinction I have been trying to make is that, at least in these times you speak of, people had the primitivity (this is not meant in any pejorative or colonialistic sense; it is meant simply as a way of describing a sense, a capability that all humans everywhere are born with; in this case, it is primitivity as it relates to an awareness and potential for having a soul) to potentially be aware of, concerned for, and sensing that they could be selves.

What I maintain (following Kierkegaard) is that the modern, nihilistic, postmodern age (say from the late 1700s on) has been on a course on which this primitivity has come under attack. That this very basic condition for _any_ spiritual awareness, self-consciousness is quickly disappearing under the onslaught of _ratio_ or what has become known as "reason." Now, several questions present themselves: first, what is this primitivity, beyond the simple generalization I have presented; how could reason subvert and destroy this aspect of the spirit; and perhaps more detail must be added to the bare bones statement that the modern age is distinctive in this regard.

By way of introductory remark: consider the effort by scientists and philosophers of various schools to reduce the "soul" or consciousness to simple brain chemistry. Many of these reductionist models "explain" consciousness away by stating that there is no such thing as consciousness and, by extension of the assumptions within the theory, a soul. Any such concept is simply empty and meaningless after the adequate empirical data is acquired which explains brain function and physiological phenomena usually ascribed to something that has been called an ego that has consciousness and therefrom a soul.

The preceding is an overly simplistic description of some very sophisticated and complex theorizing. It also does not do justice to the growing body of data that seems to support these theories. If this picture of the human psyche (something of a senseless phrase in this framework) is correct, then it is obvious that any such notion of a self or primitive awareness of a self cannot even get off the ground. It is short-circuited right at the start because to talk this way is, according to the theory, hyper-blown metaphysics or even religious superstition.

Given the context in which I have placed this description--i.e., the elucidation of the concept of a primitive awareness of oneself as a consciously independent being that seeks to nurture and grow its awareness of itself--it would seem to prove my point. That is, the modern age has developed a theory that simply disputes the existence of a soul or consciousness of the kind assumed by many religious and wisdom traditions. However, simply is not true that this view is unique to the modern age per se: certainly one can point to Epicurus, Aristotle, and others who do not see humans as in any way autonomous beings in the way I have described. What the modern age has done is to simply flesh out these earlier theories with greater facts and a more consistent theory that fits the facts, paring away vestiges of "consciousness" type concepts from these earlier theories.

So, it seems that the modern age is no different than others in this regard. Yet, this is not what proposal I am making maintains: it maintains that the modern age is such that humans are quickly becoming incapable of seeing themselves as anything other than biological, cultural, or socio-political units that perform a function defined purely in terms of their identification with and as a part of group. The angle of perspective here is focused on the individual and existential dimensions of human life.

Rationality contributes to this erasure of primitive self-awareness, because as it promotes objectification of life, people begin to view themselves and their place within the universe simply in objective terms, functionalistic terms. Certainly, the objectification is only enhanced as science undertakes to demolish the unscientific assumptions made by various traditional cultural matrices by denuding of value the traditional concepts and categories that provide these matrices with their ideological foundations. The scientific spirit, however, does not simply undermine concepts and categories--it also lays out plans by which a society is to be organized and plans carried out by that society. Based on rationalistic and objevtivist principles, these procedures create structures and environments within which the human is channeled and formed, as well as socialized into a way of thinking that literally is antipathetic to any inkling of a spiritual dimension to one's individual life.

I am going to digress here to illustrate my point. The possibility of such a state where the individual has no inkling of anything spiritual or anything like a self was presented to me several years ago. I once took an evening class from a Soviet emigre. He had emigrated to the United States twenty or so years before the final collapse of the Societ Union. In the course of a discussion I had with him, the subject of religion came up. (Perhaps it had to do with Dostoevsky, one of my favorite Russian writers.) I do not recall the exact conversation we had or the words we spoke, but I do remember that he seemed confused when I spoke about religion (I was something of an agnostic then, although gravitating towards Catholicism). When I say confused, I do not mean that he was a unclear or dazed in his thinking skills. The man had been a highly educated engineer in his own country. He spoke well and was well read. What I mean by confused is that he emphasized over and over to me that the words I used about religion simply meant nothing to him--he understood the words, understood that they meant something to me, but he was dead to their possibile meaning, either for himself or for me. I remember trying to explain this to him--I don't mean that I was proselytizing or spouting theological doctrines--I mean I was trying to explain to him the basic category of religion itself; the basic notion that there was something inside a human that might want to respond in some way to "something" above, beyond, outside of, (what are the words we can use here?) oneself that is of a reality and truth. This simply did not make sense to him.... the words were meaningless and beyond his comprehension--again, not because he was a stupid or insensible human being--but simply because anything related to religion had been "schooled" out of him by his life and upbringing in the Soviet Union.

Now, in the talking with people there are certain things you tend to take for granted. One of these is the notion or concept of a dimension to life that is somehow open to other realities, other ways of being that have been characterized as "spiritual" states. This man simply had "no clue" as to what I was talking about, what I might be talking about, or what I could possibly mean by the words I used. Even such a person as Bliss seems to be aware of the meanings that I or you or others might mean by "the spiritual."

I believe that this man was an ethical person--he had assimilated the idea that members of a society should act and nehave a certain way. No doubt, the way he felt and acted were highly intelligent and thought out. Yet, he lacked this one dimension to his self that you and I appear to take for granted in this discussion and in others. He exhibited no despair about this at all--as far as he was concerned, he was neither for or against any such views since they simply made no sense to him. You could see in his eyes and in his voice that there was simply a blank there (not blankness), where I assumed there should be at least "an interest," a clue, a hate or some other emotion. There was nothing... plain and simple. (BTW I have encountered this "blankness" in others from our own culture; you are speaking to them and the conversation turns towards even something remotely "spiritual" and you see that light go out of their eyes and time seems to take on the feel of blank noise; white noise perhaps. It is as though one is speaking Martian.)

To make an end to this posting which has gotten very long: when I first saw the Soviet director, Andrei Tarkovsky's film, _Stalker_, it simply made no sense to me. I had no idea what he was trying to say. While the imagery was breathtakingly beautiful, the meaning of the action in the movie simply escaped me. After numerous times watching that film, I now realize that what Tarkovsky was up to was a chronicle of a time and place (read 60s Soviet Society) where spirituality simply had disappeared in the existence of the characters. Its literalistic rendition of this blankness is what is so disconcerting--for what Tarkovsky accomplishes (and what other stories and plots on this topic fail to do) was to depict in real-time what such an existence would feel, taste, and look like.

I hope that this provides at least some indication of what I mean when I say that the modern age differs from other times in the way that it threatens to extinguish the very primitivity that is the condition upon which a self is built. Read more!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Silence of Muffled Cries

"No good at all can come from acting before the world and one's self as though we knew the truth, when in reality we do not. Qualified silence might perhaps be more appropriate for the church today than talk which is very unqualified." -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"Silence is the ultimate weapon of power." -- Charles de Gaulle

sigan ameinon taischra, mêde mousa moi
genoit' aoidos hêtis humnêsei kaka.

[Courage now; let us view their shame in silence.
Let my muse not sing the birth of this evil.]

-- Euripides, "The Trojan Women"

There are many silences I love. The sound of silence that comes with the blanket of sound emitted past mifnight when the frogs peep in the pools from the marshes and the pools left by the rain. There is the crystalline silence that lays on the fields after a big snow. The silence of an empty church; the silence of my soul in those rare times when my inner voices stop mumbling and I catch a glimpse of a silence that is joy and surrender to hope.

Recently, I hear a more ominous silence. I have heard the ominous silences before--those creepy moments when the skin crawls and you look furtively around to see what might lurk in a corner. There are the ominous silences that come from a man at the end of his rope, the day before he commits suicide. The silence of a person who looks vacantly and demonically into your eyes from the depths of inner terror and insanity.

But the more recent silence is of a special kind. It began the moment that two planes crashed into the two towers of trade center in New York. Certainly, there was the silence that one would expect to come after the shock and horror of a barabarous act. For days afterwards, the silence rose in almost reverent strains above the rubble as a nation wept and prayed for the unjustly slaughtered dead.

Only months later, the silence was broken by other cries in other lands and the bombs and bullets tearing into rock and mud huts, flesh and bone.

I wanted to prolong that first silence after 911. I thought the nation should go into mourning for a year. This time, I felt then, would have allowed the pain to sink in, allow the shock to subside and give way a silence that nurtures and promotes reflection. Each of us could have turned inward and meditated on the meaning of this loss, as well as given due consideration to the approrpriate response to those who perpetrated this act.

I do not know what outcome such a time of mourning might have elicited. My suspicion is that it would not have been the one that set into motion the events that have brought us to the recent wars and upheavals that thretaen to set a tragic stage of blood and betrayal that even a Kydd would not be able to portray.

This brings me to the silence I have heard rising from the depths of I know not what hell. I want to asrcibe the silence to the insidious lack of media coverage of the brutal deaths presently afoot in foreign lands. I do not want to join the mocking choruses that fling dung at each other from one side or the other of this issue. That does not mean that I do not take sides, it simply means that if one joins in the taunting and jibes one misses the silence that falls in between the gaps of the insults and counter-insults. It is these gaps that define the debate and perhaps will one day come back to haunt each one of us as our souls waver between life and death.

I understand why the news media might be reluctant to report news from these lands. With soldiers in the field, any reports that show war will inevitably call into question the justice of the actions undertaken to execute victory. War is not a one-dimensional or even digital, yes-no, proposition. Its gray fog threatens to engulf any meaning into opposite and even to obliterate the contexts within which meaning itself can come to birth. Our media simply cannot cope with ambiguity--and if there is one thing that war is, it is ambiguous.

Then again, there is another reason for the silence emanating from this war. And this silence I really do find insidious. It is the silence manufactured, implemented, and maintained by a war bureaucracy. The reasons for the silence have ostensibly the same rationale as that espoused by the news media--protecting the lives of our young men and women in the field. I acknowledge and respect this reasoning; indeed, anything else would be simply irresponsible and immoral.

So where is the insidiousness? The problem with this silence is that it emanates from a gray area that is not inherent to the human condition of war, nor even the inherent one-dimensionality of newspeak--the silence that has descended upon us is the one of confusion. The babel of disinformation, lies, and distortions that have been cast out as reasons for and the continuance of this was have simply laid a blanket of consternation that leaves the soul uneasy because it can't sort out fact from fiction and thereby feels incumbent to recede into itself dumb and blind. It is a kind of voiceless terror that sometimes comes in between sleep and waking where the mind is awake but the body has yet to follow suit. In this limbo state the presence of the world is there, but it is there in all its disembodied strangness and haunting familiarity.

While the dumbness of our public discourse is certainly basis for concern and alarm, there is an even more terrible and potentially ethically damaging effect of this sielnce. Among the many silences, there is one that does not register until many years pass and the devil of history lays its dust upon our lives. The tragic poets of Greece were perhaps the first and only sensibilities either willing or able to capture in their cadences and words the terror this silence brings to light. It is the muffled cries of the dying, the last gasps of those left to rot under a harsh sun bloated with flies. It is the stifled cries of one who killed blindly in fear of his life and yet the face of his victim visits his sleep and waking nightmare.

It is this silence that threatens the health of our ethos; not terrorism, not militarism, not colonialism--for were we to hear the silence emiited from beneath our contempt for suffering, these other threats simply would not possibilities in the first place. Read more!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Confessions of a Dark and Corrupt Heart

Ghosts haunt the age... they taunt us because we believe them to be nothing but the phantasms of brain chemistry. They haunt the temple of our pride and empty pleasures. Their hollow cries can be heard in the empty phrases we mouth so easily day after day. The ghosts are angry if only becasue we think we can forget them in our rush for satiety in the fruits of this world. They know that the vapors of this world are noxious and will eventually drive us insane with the empty sound of our voices. Were we to listen to them, they might indeed tell us that we can't cut the umbilical cord that ties us to the past--that burying the dead does not mean simply leaving them to rot in the cellars of our collective angst.

Raise the spectres of the neoPlatonists and the renaissance. A great age indeed--its attempt to dress up magic and mystery in xtian garb now struts our streets naked and painted like a deranged whore: she takes her drooping dugs and pouting labia as the founts of truth; she takes her spare and vacant stare, stripped bare and showing bone, as the height of freedom, liberty and brotherhood. She takes all comers and gives out for all seekers. Oh, Scientia, you have fallen into the gutters!

Characterize "the age" any way you wish--nihilist, reltivist, irrationalist, amoral, postmodern, secular, modernist. Why such negativity? Why such gloom? Certainly this mode does not provide a sufficiently heroic strain for the advent of the ubermensch. What human lurks beneath the mask of the beast? What new god sleeps in the deepest forest untrod by man? "Let the beast run wild, and I will shoot him," raved Witkacy--indeed, hunting season is now upon us.

You see all there are are these snatches of old tunes that clang around in my empty head. Is there anything new, you ask, anything new...? Nothing new, never new, there is only the old that gives way to the new for that is the way of the earth and that is the way we tread. But on the way to the new, which is an old song, the old must fester, rot, and be hollowed out. So we live in the time between, the interregnum, the terribly barren and hostile wilderness on whose sands we follow an unseen path to the land no return, seeking an herb whose scent evokes paradise.

Is the only hope to burrow into the emptiness, glory in the power to be seduced by our own self-delusions? There are no leaders to show us the way; all roadsigns are written in a language that no dictionary of the heart or the brain can decipher. There are the dustdevils on the horizon that harbinger order in their spiral down the sky, but they play out in an empty alleyways where the poor erect backetball hoops in the form of a crucifix.

And maybe it is there where I will find the voice that leads out of the wasteland... there in the eyes and snotty faces of the kids who come to think that respect comes at the end of a gun. There in the cries of those who crawl with cancer in their legs to the altar of the god who swears like a sailor and smokes cigars. There where they bring cakes and shiny pennies to invoke the names of lost ones so they can hear the voices one more time, speak in the maggoty ear those words of love that benver got said. There at the steps of the churches that have closed their doors on the dispossessed and lost and outcast--they who never heard the voice of God and who have recently visited the whore Scientia to court her favors.

Is it a voice of hope I hear? The poor know only hope--for they have no one but the wind and the rain to hear their suffering. And it is there perhaps that God lives, waiting to walk once again in the cool of the evening but this time to bring judgment upon all who heard the muffled voice at the roadside and passed by; all who set up the abomination of desolation in the churches and called it the son of God; who killed in God's name and secreted the torn limbs of children and charred bodies of mothers in the abyss of their celluloid fantasies.

And if there is hope, it is a hope born of suffering and trial; a hope torn from the nothingness of delusion and communal deception; a hope gleaned from the terror that educates the spirit in the wiles of certainty and doubt; a hope drunk from the spring whose water erases all feeling for hate and vengeance; a hope tried in the fire of a gift whose light reveals the most secret sin and the most hidden despair.

And the most glorious thing of all, the most beautiful wonder that I cherish with my inmost fiber is that I cannot and will never be able to deceive others with its truth; that I will never be able to betray its existence to the swine; that I who am the worst criminal may also one day find the face in a mirror whose scum has been cleansed free of my smut. Yes, the happiest trick of time is that this hope can never find its way into any book, into any databse, or into any algorithm.

For this hope harbors no sham and mocking pretense to be on the silver screen where all can wank away in secret harmony. It seeks no verification in the textbooks and glossaries of pinheads whose only idea of reality is unicellular and omni-dimensional. It finds rest in the heart of only a single one, finds words on the tongues of the simple and wise of soul. It finds peace in a love that is human and yet whose law defies conception.

So you see, dear Reader, there resides in this darkest and most corrupt heart, hopes and wishes that belie the derisive ghosts that stroll the margins of a gloomy and denuded age. Read more!

Friday, June 10, 2005

Commentary to Nonsense that Heralds Meaning (1)

Originally posted by tharpa: "What I got from your ... post was an excellent basis for the pull, the need, for some sort of spiritual/religious grounding in terms of the individual. Although many of the conditions you describe were of the contemporary predicament, I am not so sure if this sort of overwhelming bewilderment is not a sine qua non of the human passage during pretty much any period. That said, obviously certain cultures and times have the power to make things better or worse, oscillating between wisdom and confusion along the way as they are wont to do."

Thank you for your kind remarks on my last posting. I started a response that would do justice to your concerns about the difference between the pre-modern and modern spiritual predicament of humans; it is currently sitting at 5 pages!

Without wishing to burden you with this manifesto, I will try to simply cast my disagreement with you in as short a form as I can, hoping thereby to gather in the details should the dialog go forward.

I grant you that the spiritual primacy of the individual has been the focus of past religious and wisdom traditions. Although framed in importantly different ways, there do seem to be similarities among the various traditions. Without muddying the waters early on, let's assume that there is some agreement on the idea that it is the individual self that forms the basis for enlightenment/spiritual awakening.

My contention is that the mdoern socio-cultural matrix simply does not allow this state to manifest itself. That is, ab initio, the modern spiritual miliue is one of desolation--by this I mean that the circumstances in which modern humans might hope to come to spiritual maturity simply do not exist. I am following Kierkegaard when I state that the present age has done something that no other age has: it has obscured the aboriginal nature of human beings such that they no longer have an awareness of themselves either as ethical or individual beings. Kierkegaard calls this innate sense of being a person, "primitivity."

This sense of self, of being an individual, is the base upon which any further work at becomeing a self is built. Kierkegaard maintains that this sense of self is threatened with extinction by the modern mind-set. What he means by this mind-set is not quite clear--what it does appear to encompass, however, are social and cultural aspects which in times past if not exactly encouraging self-awareness, at least did not exterminate it at the root. This is what Kierkegaard accuses the modern age of perpetrating.

How might the modern age differ from previous ages in terms of its antipathy to individual self-knowledge? One must look at the role that objectification and the objective sciences play in this; one also can look at the role that the modern technicized society plays; and just as culpably, one can point to the overwhelming growth of rationalization in the modern state. The phenomenon can be assessed from an objective manner (think of Marx's critique of capitalism) as well as a phenomenological manner. It is the latter that Kierkegaard presents.

Important for this analysis is the loss of "inwardness." This can be seen in the emphasis that modern culture puts on objective descriptions of what it means to be human. When the human understands him or herself purely in objective terms they lose that sense of inward space which is required for self-consciousness. One becomes part of the environment, a cog in the wheels of the state, a cipher, a faceless entity whose only identity originates in indentifying with a group. At its apogee, this lack of spiritual awareness can be seen in the examples of fascism, communism, consumerism, and other totalitarianisms.

It is this primitive (Heidegger called it primordial) sense of self and its extermination by the modern spirit of desolation that I believe fuels the outrage of many fundamentalists. That is, having once been a part of the ruling modern ethos, people one day wake up as from a dream--they suffer some type of crisis in thewir lives, and through this crisis they have had awakened in them this sense of self that Kierkegaard says the modern spirit tries to exterminate. The discovery that there might be something more important to human life than becoming a cipher in the bulwark of advancing modernism, these people respond in anger against that juggernaut which 1) almost deprived them of the awareness of their true selves altogehter and 2) threatens to extinguish that new-born self in its desolating advance through time and space.

I will end this posting here. If anything, I hope it at least gives some indication of why I believe that the modern age differs in its "spirit" from other ages. Read more!

Engaging the Enemy Without from Within

One thing that you can learn from several movies on Vietnam, such as Platoon and Apocalypse Now, is that the military should be left to fight the battles and not the politicos. Indeed, this fact of modern warfare is something that most US military strategists would say was the main lesson of Vietnam. I believe this to be true, yet I also find that this truth is also the reason to limit any military involvement by the US to the barest minimum.

Like ancient Sparta, America is perhaps the greatest fighting machine in the 21st century. It is the best equipped, best trained, and most technologically advanced fighting force in history.

One reason for American military superiority--besides its technological infrastructure and equipment--is that it has learned from its mistakes. The lessons learned from Vietnam were numerous. It could be said that one reason that America left that war in disgrace was because it had met an enemy that was simply too adaptable and that could match American weaponry with improvisation and ingenuity. Or one could say that America lost that war because the will to win was not there. The troops sent to the warzone, while adequately trained and equipped, were not mentally prepared for the tenaciousness and zealotry of an indigenous army fighting for its own independence.

It has been reported that Henry Kissinger at the peace talks to end the Vietnam War confronted a North Vietnamese diplomat with the simple fact that the Viet Cong had never won one battle against American forces. "True," this diplomat responded, "but that is beside the point." What the diplomat went on to say was that America had lost the most important battle of all--the political war.

All of these things contain an element of truth and, I believe, American politicians have learned their lessons, as have the military. The generals and the officers should be given as much freedom as possible to win any combat in which American soldiers are sent to fight.

It is this lesson, however, that makes many military officers reluctant to commit to war in the first place and only as the last resort. That is, they realize that once the awesome amd formidable fighting power of our troops are in the field, then there will be consequences for any opponent, as well as any bystanders who might sympathize even remotely with the enemy.

Given free rein, the American fighting machine can devastate a country. In method it is ruhtless, if only to shorten in the long run the will of the enemy to fight. Carrying out devastating attacks meant to shatter the resolve of an enemy as well as the sympathy of sympathizers, the US military will carry out that mission with surgically correct and thereby seemingly merciless exactitude.

These words are not meant to be judgmental--in many ways, they are simply descriptive of the reality on the ground, as it is experienced by our soldiers, their enemies, and those who come within a very ill-defined radius of lethality.

Given this situation, the reluctance of US commanders to send our troops into battle is understandable. They know the "take no prisoners" mentality that they must use by necessity to achieve their two primary objectives: win the war and protect our soldiers. It is an awesome and fearsome responsibility; one, I believe, that those who command our military forces in no way take lightly.

Once in the theater of war, it is therefore understandable why these commanders are so chary regarding any intelligence that might reflect badly on their troops. They understand the need to maintain good morale. They also understand the brutality and emotionally disturbing effect that war has on those who kill--for no matter the justness of the cause, the righteousness of the undertaking, our soldiers are human beings, and human beings suffer horribly when they are witness to and must by necessity perpetrate one of the most spiritually damaging acts that a human can commit.

For no matter how justified a soldier may be in protecting his or her own life as well as the life of their comrades, they still commit acts that are not normal for any civilized human being to do. Despite the seeming winsomeness with which killing is portrayed on television, the actual act itself is devastating to the human psyche. No amount of training can adequately prepare anyone for the calculated taking of human life.

Having said this, it has become apparent that the current war in Iraq must be weighing heavily on our military leaders' souls. While they have been given the green light to carry the out this war with as much leathality as they require, they also see the political war once again rearing its ugly head. They must be aware that the moral justification for the war has simply evaporated. The strategic justification has been formulated over and over again on an ad hoc basis. Their troops have been in the field for nearly two years, and yet the insurgency against which they fight does not appear to be abating but instead seems to grow every day.

One can only imagine what is secretly going through the heads of many military commanders today. They were trained to believe that America would never enter a war without an reasonably defined end-state prepared, as well as an exit strategy. They were trained to believe in the machinery of war and the technology. They were trained to believe that the politicians would let them fight the war their way. And in most cases, they have gotten what they trained for.

Yet, again, war has a strange way of dissolving the most cherished resolve that one has inculcated during peacetime. Taht is why it is war--it never goes according to plan, it never follows the script, and it never leaves one with the sense of peace that one has hoped it will establish. For the effects of war last for years--it tells its tales in the leveled buildings and ruins, in the shattered limbs and minds of young and aold, in the nightmares of even the toughest warrior.

There must be a secret hatred stirring in the hearts of our military men and women. With the ghosts of the past and the future stirring in the shadows, they must be starting to question the wisdom of a man who they know in their hearts never had the guts to set foot on a battlefield and yet so willfully sends young men and women into danger. If the bile in their mouths has not curled their tongues to keep them from speaking, they whisper it to each other and to their loved ones at night. Read more!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Nonsense that Heralds Meaning

There are no grand unified solutions to the current political and cultural upheavals in the world as we know it today. The issues are simply incapable of being addressed on a one-size-fits-all model. Instead, there will be particular remedies in situations as the times demand. These "solutions," however, will not be real solutions. Instead, they will simply reiterate the growing destructiveness and helplessness that individuals experience before a nihislistic juggernaut.

The Internet, "reformation," fundamentalism, secularism, etc. are symptoms of a far greater and deeper problem. What many philosophers and theologians in the west have addressed, and Muslim thinkers are now facing is the phenomenon of levelling. This is a malaise whose symptoms include spiritual anomie, political and cultural alienation, and rampant materialism. Secularism is itself a symptom and not a cause. Many religionists believe that they can resolve the problem by returning to a purer form of their religious heritage--this is an illusion because the modern disease simply hollows out any meaning from these traditions and either incorporates them into a useless and meaningless cliche or serves as the armature for more evil and insidious motives.

Those who suffer from this disease--and we all do--are faced with two alternatives: either become one with the faceless masses, that phantom of secular mythology "humanity," or take on the task of finding one's self in the face of a a transcendent reality whose existence is never given and ostensibly is non-existent. If you have seen Tarkovsky's film, "Stalker," then you are familiar with the absurd emptiness of the modern spiritual landscape, as well as the individual "seeker's" status in this landsacape.

Politicians will attempt grand unified solutions. To no avail. We have seen in the past what these political solutions germinate: the concentration camps, gulags, Rwandas, cultural revolutions, education camps, rape camps--all simply represent the way that the modern homunculus envisions solution. Since all is quantifiable, then mass society itself must run according to rigorously definable formula and theorems. All must conform to a faceless anonymity, since difference upsets the calculation and produces incoherent blanks in the smoothly running machinery of political expediency.

All must achieve sameness because anything else threatens the uniformity of the solution. Difference implies specialness-specialness implies non-standard treatment--non-treatment implies a desire to get something for oneself that others cannot have.

Bin-Laden et al. represent a romantic response to the facelessness of this evil. Harnessing the energy of violence and holy terror, they hope to run the locomotive of levelling off its track. What the romantic terrorist does not realize is that they are simply manifestations of this greater spiritual void. Even were they to win, their solution would simply be a mirror image of the demon they hope to vanquish. They would create a state in which the individual supposedly would find their ultimate home; but there is no home in the void. There is simply a camp that is set up to quash all individual responsibility in the name of a greater truth embodied in a doctrine whose authority is assured not by individual experience of its truth but by communal indoctrination and totalitarian regimentation.

We in the west, of course, fare no better. We have lived with the consequences of levelling and have visited its rapacious lusts on other peoples, exporting thereby the evil that lurks in our hearts. We have hoped to cleanse ourselves of the ugly face of human deceit and murderous resentment by sanitizing our own lands and homes and casting the demons into a wilderness that we ourselves create in lands we deem unenlightened and undemocratic.

There are certainly manifestations of this evil at home, but it only lives within the hard-wired minds of serial killers. We image the truth of this evil in our stories and shows and it serves as entertainment for our young and at our evening meals. Although we know that the evil is a biological malfunction, we secretly delight in numbering how many bodies are buried under the house or discarded along the roadside like so much trash.

The greatest boost to faceless anonymity is the internet, where we can live and dream as disembodied spirits, without responsibility and without facing the consequences of our actions. Again, the dream of living a life without friction and pain is an anodyne whose unreality simply makes it more alluring. We lose ourselves in becoming what we are not, and assuming roles that we could never achieve in real life. And thereby the notion of real life loses its meaning; all becomes simply a concatenation of ones and zeroes whose meaning is that it is.

The internet promises that information solves problems. But not all problems involve information. Life's problems demand blood and sweat and emotional and intellectual harmony--but when the mind becomes a computer all is turned into an algorithmic series of routines that find fulfillment as simply as the belly finds fullness. The internet promises debate and openness so that all is accessible to all and no one is denied access to the information that they need to find answers. But when there is no one there and the questions that need to be asked are not asked, what is the use of a universe of information?

The point of this post is that these words I write are simply meaningless, but will also seem to herald a meaning that touches something that cannot be put into words. Read more!