I have been spending some time lately reading in the androsphere, and based on what I have learned from scratching the surface of that huge and passionate discourse, I feel rather hopeful about the prospects of the men who participate therein. Most of them, to be sure, seem stuck for the time being in a slough of despond. They are cynical, skeptical, nihilistic. I will not go so far as to say that they are nihilist, as most of them still affirm the existence and value of manly virtues – some go so far as to affirm the value of womanly virtues. Mostly, though, they are angry, or bitter. But that’s no way to live, over the long run. So they won’t, I figure.
Walking from my office to the train the other day, I reflected on how wicked and dissolute I have been lately, relatively speaking. Not like a rake or a cheat, I hasten to add, but rather a choirboy; things like moments of sloth, violating my diet rules, staying up too late reading, want of charity toward others, dilatory prayers, stuff like that. Not that those are small things, at all; indeed, they loom very large for me. The reading thing is a real problem; I can’t seem to shake it.
Anyway, I was walking toward the train feeling rather willfully sinful; stiff-necked, and besotted with my worldly involvements. I was positively enjoying them. Mostly I was reeling from the moral challenges at work lately, which are calling for – and often not finding – a great deal of charity on my part. My dander was up: I was irritated, sore and a tad self-righteously angry. And sorry for myself; let’s not overlook that bit.
I reached into my pocket for no particular reason and encountered my little rosary. And so, reminded, I began to pray for people: Lawrence Auster, my friends and relatives who are in trouble, the tenor I once sang with who died in ‘84. The list goes on for about 50 lives these days. It’s really rather horrifying; it seems as though almost everyone I know is in some sort of serious difficulty or danger, however well the rest of their lives might be going. I suppose that goes without saying, and should not surprise me so much, and sadden me. But this habit of intercession as I walk has quickened my wit to the pervasive tragedy of life – to the agony sooner or later entailed by mere existence, much of which naturally ends up, so far as we can see, as a totally useless waste, nothing more than noise or heat attendant to the general and predominantly orderly flow of history; a cost of doing business here on Earth. It’s a sorrowful apprehension; but, also, beautiful.
The Behemoth Prism program, under which the Federal NSA snoops on essentially all the phone calls and web activity of all Americans, is operated for the ostensible purpose of protecting us from Moslem terrorist plots developing on American soil. We do indeed need to counter the threat of terrorism within our borders. But there would be no such terrorism in the first place – or, at least, very little – if there were no Moslems in North America. What it amounts to, then, is that our governors are keeping track of everything Americans say electronically *so that* they can keep welcoming Moslems to this country with open arms – and keep alive the threat of Moslem terrorism. The program is needed so that the program can be kept needful.
Would the Prism program exist if there were no Moslems in North America, or therefore any Moslem terrorism? Of course. It’s just that in that case our overseers would be forced to trot out some other rationale for its existence; war with EastAsia, perhaps, rather than with NearEastAsia.
Consider this moment of your existence. In this moment, you have certain feelings. Notice that all these feelings are of two sorts: either reactive, or proactive.
On the one hand, they are responses to aspects of the past – of moments previous to this one, whether arriving from your own past experiences or from other parts of the world. For example, you feel the sound of the bird singing outside the window, and you feel a jet of glee at the beauty of his song. I. e., you feel something you have inherited, not from one of your own past moments, but from the world exterior thereto, which has then been supplemented by your own evaluation of that feeling. At the same time, you feel a glow of satisfaction arriving at your present moment of life from the fact of your having taken a delicious, roborific swallow of coffee a moment ago, and you feel good about that feeling. You have feelings of your own past experiences, that are traces of your past feelings; and you have feelings about those past feelings, such as judgements or desires. E.g., the judgement that the coffee has had a good effect upon you, and that other such effects would be welcome.
So, you have feelings that you have inherited from the past of the world in general, and also feelings about that portion of the past of the world that is included in your own personal career through life; and you have feelings about those feelings from the two departments of the past, the you department and the not-you department.
On the other hand, you have feelings about the future. There are things you feel are lacking in the present moment, that you wish were present; and there are things you feel are present to you at this moment, which you wish could be absent. You might for example feel right now that it would be nice to be chewing a croissant; meantime, you might also be feeling that it would be nice if you didn’t feel so hungry. These feelings are not about things that are present to you now, or that were present to you a moment ago, but about things that have never yet been present to you: namely, the feeling of chewing right now, and the feeling of satiety right now. True, you had a croissant yesterday, and felt sated; but the croissant of yesterday is not the croissant of today, nor likewise is yesterday’s satiety any comfort to this morning’s hunger. It is not as though you could chew yesterday’s croissant again right now, or feel yesterday’s satiety. No; these feelings of desire are about the future.
You have all these feelings you’ve somehow inherited from the past, and then you have all these feelings about the future. So here’s the question: where is that past, and where that future?
At Evensong this afternoon we sang Herbert Howells’ Collegium Regale setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, composed for the choir of Kings College, Cambridge. It is simple and limpid, with a setting of the Gloria Patri – used at the end of both canticles – that is a favorite of Anglican choristers everywhere. Altos in particular; for their first note of the Gloria is a D, the highest in the “fat” range of most countertenors. Howells lets them run with it, God Bless him.
That whole Gloria Patri is just smashing. Howells writes better for choirs singing at the tops of their voices than any other composer. It’s every bit as thrilling and solid and magnificent and profound as Beethoven or Brahms, but without the vocal death or fiendish tricks, respectively. I know the “Col Reg” setting very well, having sung it since I was a seven year old boy. I love it as a dear old friend, whom one is excited to meet again after any time of separation. So, I was looking forward to that D very much, and to the huge and wonderful measures that follow it.
Philosopher James Chastek is one of the most economical writers you are ever likely to read. Often, his posts demand considerable deliberation, first to get what they are saying, second to get to the bottom of what they are saying, and third to contemplate the sequelae for one’s own understanding of what they are saying. Not infrequently, there is a fourth step: theoria, a state of pure contemplation.
In a post on the maximum practical size of a true polis – i.e., a human organization that can function as the medium of a truly political life – he sets forth in just a few paragraphs the basic problem of the political organization of modern industrial society:
One can’t scale up the polis forever and keep it as a common good, since when it becomes too big … The number of well-intentioned regulations reaches a point where a reasonable man is no longer a standard for what should be done, at which point he is replaced by consultants and court scribes. In response to all problems and difficulties involving human relations, we no longer think “what would a reasonable person do?” but “We ought to check with our lawyers to see whether this is okay”. But as soon as political life ceases to cultivate the standard of the reasonable man, it ceases to be an expression of genuine human flourishing.
Though there is no bright yellow line marking where it happens, at some point the size of the government hits a tipping point where it no longer is the action of us but an of an It; and we can no longer look to it as an institution within which we exercise political life but only as a Leviathan that we must appease with tax-offerings and paperwork and exploit for whatever resources it might offer us.
Read the whole thing. Then, if you have lots and lots of time to devote to the project, check out a few of his other posts. But be ready: a comfortable chair, a serene room, strong coffee, and some baroque chamber music in the background are recommended. Chastek is like mind candy that is as nourishing as beef.
In the story of the Passion, Jesus prays two prayers that harrow the Christian’s heart. At Gethsemane, he prays to his Father that he be spared the agony of the Cross, even as he submits himself to his Father’s will. From the Cross itself, he asks his Father to forgive us, on account of our ignorance of the full meaning of our acts. Why? If the Son is the same being as the Father, wouldn’t he be praying to himself? And, being himself God, wouldn’t Jesus have the power to grant his own prayer?
No matter what aspect of experience we might begin to think about, once we have begun, then provided we are honest, careful and courageous as we follow the path that patient deliberation gradually makes apparent to our inward eye, we shall eventually discover that we have arrived at that ultimate basis of all thought, from which it proceeds, upon which it supervenes, and toward which it relentlessly tends.
Forgiveness is horribly dear; it entails relinquishing a precious moral asset. But unless we forgive, and so long as we hold on to our grudges, or to any creaturely treasure, for that matter, we are tethered to Earth, and unfit for Heaven.
The post on amending our social order by enclosing the commons generated by the universal franchise provoked an animated discussion, not just at the Orthosphere but in the comments thread of a post devoted to the proposal over at Nick Steve’s site, The Reactivity Place. I also had some interesting email exchanges with Orthosphere readers on the proposal. Out of these various threads, there are four topics that I think merit further discussion.