Monday, 30 September 2013

On being a Christian Fox


"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing" - Achilochus (680-645 BC).


A hedgehog is a systematic thinker with one big idea to which all smaller ideas are related - most great intellectuals have been of this kind - and almost all Christian theologians.

I am of the other kind, a fox - who knows many things, but does not subordinate them to one big thing.

The distinction between hedgehog and fox was clarified and popularized by Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), in a essay of that title:

But, whatever the advantages of being a hedgehog, I am not one; not intellectually, and not in my life.

Even after becoming a Christian I remain a fox, and have gravitated towards the most fox-like theology I can find. 

Hence the aphoristic style of this blog - a sequence of detachable points, in a sequence of detachable mini-essays.

Combining them into one-big-thing is difficult, and a task for which I personally am unsuited.


It is, indeed, the secret conviction of a fox that important things cannot always be combined, not without significant (maybe deadly) loss and distortion - and so we leave them either detached; or else placed contiguously: stitched edge-to-edge.


Understanding free will


I have always regarded free will as axiomatically real - in the sense that if you doubt free will then you doubt everything - but always had a problem in saying what it was, how it worked, how (in a world of cause and effects) anything could be free. 

When I became a Christian, at first this did not change. I was pleased to find that Thomas Aquinas firmly asserted the reality of free will, but was disappointed to discover that he did not elucidate it but simply regarded it as a gift from God.

I was happy with this until I began to discuss the matter with 'WmJas' on his blog 'Bugs to Fearen Babes Withal'. The thing about WmJas is that if he does not understand something, he does not pretend to understand it - and he could not understand my attempted Aquinas summary (probably because there isn't really anything to 'understand' - it is simply a set of doctrines set down next to each other).

WmJas shook my faith in the adequacy of the Aquinas approach. I began to think: it is all very well to say we have free will and why - but what is it that we have?


The problem is that we generally talk and think as if everything has a cause, and every cause has a cause, and this leads to an infinite regress - so there is no space for free will to enter in to the causal chain.

My approach was then to ask where or what there is that that certainly does have free will?

The answer for secular materialists is - nothing. Free will is excluded by the assumptions.

But for Christians? God has free will for sure.


God has free will because God is an uncaused cause.

In fact, that is one of the divine attributes - albeit not expressed in this kind of philosophical language; but people understand that God wants and chooses without being 'influenced' by anyone or anything - he is the primary origin of motivations and actions.

I found this helpful, indeed it made a big difference to know that free will entails the property of being an uncaused cause.

But then, if God has free will, do humans have free will?

We already know that answer to that; and the answer is yes, humans do have free will - because divine revelation (e.g. the Bible) tells us that humans must be able to choose, in and of and from themselves, because humans are again and again choosing God, or choosing to reject God.

In fact, Christianity does not make any sense as Christianity unless humans have real free will. The ability really to choose is absolutely at the core of it.


So, since humans have free will - does that mean that everything alive also has free will?

No, only humans, and maybe a few other entities - but the point is that free will is not a universal property.

(Indeed it strikes me that a universe of universal free will would be a universe without causality - chaotic.)


But how could it be that only God and humans have free will? That is a very important question - and the answer is not one likely to be universally agreed on. But the obvious inference seems to be that God and Man share free will because God and Man share 'divinity' - and free will is a divine attribute.

This is NOT to say God and Man are the same, that would be absurd and is false - but that, at least to this important extent, God and Man are of the same kind: they are both the kind of thing which have free will, are autonomous agents, sharing the capacity to originate action: both God and Man are uncaused causes.  


My conclusion - Humans have free will for sure, and this is an essential component of Christianity, and the only other sure example of free will is God - thus free will is a divine attribute - something we share with God.

And this implies that humans, even as they are in mortal earthly life and in sin, are divine beings - since only divine beings are autonomous agents.

(For Aquinas, the need for an uncaused cause, and unmoved mover, is one of the strongest arguments for a god.)


Does this analysis make a difference? To me it certainly does. I now feel I know what kind of thing free will is, what essential properties it has and what it means.

This description also clarifies why secular materialism (mainstream modern culture) cannot talk sense about free will - because they deny the divine and without the divine there can be no uncaused causes and  no space for free will - merely an infinite regress of causation.

It also clarifies that any Christians who deny free will, and the autonomy of human agency, are (to that extent) wrong - and it is also wrong to overemphasize the earthly and sinful nature of Man when the reality is that we are mixed beings who contain this divine attribute of free will - and (since this is a divine attribute, not a mortal contingency) this is true no matter how depraved we are.


In other words, getting a clearer understanding of free will has led to a clearer understanding of much else - it has turned out to be a very important 'breakthrough' indeed!

(Thanks to the stubborn refusal of WmJas to acknowledge that my previous mode of understanding was adequate. The Socratic method, perhaps?) 


Sunday, 29 September 2013

The temptation of Pride


The sin of Pride is considered the worst sin from a Christian perspective - but it is hard for secular moderns (or indeed, those of other religions) to understand why Pride should be the worst thing (or even why it should be considered bad at all).


Choosing not to obey God is a realistic possibility for humans - because we have free will - we are 'autonomous agents'.  

Therefore it is a perfectly coherent possibility to choose not to obey God, if the price of eternal misery is accepted. 

('Hell' can be regarded as the condition of those people who have chosen to reject God.) 


This, indeed, is the particular temptation of Pride - it is tempting because we really can reject God and His creation. 

We puny humans really can do this - and the possibility of successful defiance in the face of incomprehensibly vast power may be intoxicating, may become the sole focus of life.


But there is a cost.

The cost of defying God is to be dedicated to the opposite of creation - which is to be dedicated to destruction, lies, inversions of truth - and misery.

(In other words: dedicated to evil - which is the destruction of good.) 


Why choose misery? Because the miserable Prideful soul rejoices in the fact that he stands against God - really can refuse to worship, love, obey, cooperate with God - really can refuse to bend the knee to God...

(The Prideful man sees love and harmony and worship of God as disgusting subservience, voluntary enslavement and abasement; cowering before power.)

To the damned, self-damned, soul - Pride in standing alone and unbowed against the creator of the universe, and malicious delight in all corruptions, failures and sufferings of creation, is more than sufficient compensation for eternal resentment, misery and isolation.


And the impossibility of utter destruction of all good (since the evil man is himself created, hence partly good) is the source of that ineradicable resentment so characteristic of evil. Since souls are immortal, there is no escape from this resentment - for the Pride-consumed Man the very existence of his own soul is a source of permanent torment. 


How do we know the self-damned Prideful man is wrong?

Because of love. If it wasn't because of love then perhaps there would be something to say for the defiance of Pride - but Pride is a rejection of the possibility of love. 

Pride is defeated, ultimately, by choosing to love God and his creation -  love is the reason to obey God, perhaps the only good reason.


But to choose Love is a choice, a real choice. We could - instead - choose Pride. And this choice has vast and ramifying consequences.


Saturday, 28 September 2013

Good Smut - the Threshing Machine


The English word 'smut' refers to sexual innuendo - especially the comedy use of the double entendre or double meaning.

When this is done well it is extremely amusing, causative of tears of merriment - and to be done well the system of double meanings must be applied with something of the strictness of an allegory.

The following example is a personal favourite which used to be sung (in various versions) in the West Country of my youth - in a rustic dialect and to the well-known tune "Villikins and His Dinah".

Here is the tune (different words):

I have indeed performed it myself in public, in a duo calling ourselves The Muckspreaders: me playing the accordeon and joining the chorus and my friend Gareth singing raucously, smiting a tamourine, and thumping the floor with a thumb-stick.


This is my recollection of the words, which I think came from The Yetties group.

Twere way down in Dorset or so I hear tell
There lived a young maiden and her name it were Nell
Now Nell she were pretty and just seventeen
When I showed her the works of me threshing machine

ChorusIyader, Iyader, Iyader IyayIyader, Iyader, Iyader Iyay 
Iyader, Iyader, Iyader Iyay
and I ups and I shows 'er the way

Twas one summer's morning in the merry month of May
When most of the farmers were out making hay
I cocked up me ear'oles and heard a girt scream
I says "Ah there goes Nell on thick threshing machine"


Twas one summer's evening in the merry month of June
When most of the farmers were lookin' at the moon
I said "come to the barn Nell where us won't be seen
And I'll show 'ee the works of me threshing machine"


I opened the barn door and there stood my dream
Er worked the oilcan whilst I worked up steam
Twere wondrous to see both the thrust and the drive
and when 'er come out 'twere more dead than alive


The flywheels and the pistons were a going around
When from the steam whistle came an 'orrible sound
I puts down me hand for to cut off the steam...
But the chaff had been blown from me threshing machine


Twas nine months later a baby she bore
And the pride of his Mother he was to be sure
Cos under his nappy could plainly be seen
 A bran' new two cylinder threshing machine.



In this fine example of smut, the double meanings work almost perfectly ('more dead than alive' somewhat jumps ahead in the narrative, which then loops-back), with decent and smutty meanings mapping onto one another - and the last verse provides a decoding about what thrashing machine really means (or else, a surreal image!).


Friday, 27 September 2013

Could worldwide declines in intelligence explain increased short-termism (such as extreme economic expropriation and ethnic cleansing)


The best objective evidence, from long term comparison of simple reaction times, suggests that there has been a considerable decline in general intelligence 'g' in Britain over the past 150-200 years - approximately one standard deviation (or 15 IQ points) decline compared with present norms .

The most plausible explanations are some combination of

1. Differential fertility between those with high and low intelligence - such that intelligence is inversely correlated with fertility, hence with reproductive success.

2. A generation-by-generation accumulation of deleterious (intelligence-reducing) genetic mutations due to the major decline in neonatal and childhood mortality rates.


Probably the same factors apply elsewhere in the world. Observations of manyfold worldwide population growth differentially greatest in Africa and the Middle East, plus the same patterning of fertility by intelligence, suggest that significant declines in general intelligence would be expected across most of the world.

If so, this would have many effects - one of which might be an increase in short-termism; in technical terms, an increase in delay discounting: that is the tendency to choose a smaller but immediate reward over a delayed but larger reward.

It has been found in numerous studies that there is a significant inverse correlation between intelligence and delay discounting  - in other words the lower the intelligence, the greater the tendency to prefer more immediate but smaller rewards.

Delay discounting and intelligence: A meta-analysis
Noah A. Shamosh , Jeremy R. Gray
Volume 36, Issue 4, July–August 2008, Pages 289–305


An increase in delay discounting is exactly what can be seen in several situations around the world - where stable long-term arrangements between different groups are breaking-down because the stronger group is no longer context to 'harvest' taxes and other benefits from the weaker groups over the long term; but instead the stronger group is expropriating the entire goods of the weaker group, now! - causing the weaker group to die or leave; or esle simply expelling/ killing them (e.g. 'ethnic, or religious, cleansing').

This is short-termist because it gains immediate benefit for some persons, but at the cost of rendering all parties worse-off in the longer term.


If the obvious increase in worldwide short-termism is indeed substantially due to a significant global decline in intelligence, then this counts as very bad news, because nothing much can be done about it.


Review of Lost in the Cosmos - by Walker Percy


Walker Percy. Lost in the Cosmos: the last self-help book. 1983.

I read this book because Peter Kreeft said it was one of his absolute favourite modern books. Initially, I was bowled-over by it - because it is very clever, very skilful, contains a very large number of brilliant insights and predictions...


But, it leaves a nasty taste - indeed, the more often I re-read it the less I like it; to the point that I have come to dislike it. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the book does the opposite of what it was (presumably) intended to do.

I take it that Lost in the Cosmos was supposed to be a work of Roman Catholic Apologetics - written from a very modern, ironic, hard-nosed kind of perspective - and therefore, presumably, the more impressive when it finally homes-in on Christianity. (That is certainly how Kreeft reads it.)

However, the book is extremely reductive in the way that it so neatly seems to encapsulate people and situations in memorable (indeed hard-to-forget) vignettes of a few deft words (in a manner reminiscent - and this is significant - of Kurt Vonnegut).

These vignettes and character sketches work by putting Christianity onto a level with a range of other 'options' - they are often extremely sordid, disgusting and use foul language - so, in sum, they induce feelings such as alienation, meaninglessness, despair and the rest of it; in exactly the same manner as mainstream modern novels tend to.

I came away with the sense (fortunately temporary) that all possible life alternatives had in this book been pre-described, judged and found wanting.

The problem may be that the book is not what it purports to be, I mean that the book was actually wickedly-motivated (whether overtly or covertly); or that the pose of having written this 'objectively' leads inevitably to the negativity of its effect - since the implicit stance which purports to regard as options and evaluate the whole of human history and future and all religions (including Christianity) is simply a fake and non-existent position; therefore anything (supposedly) written from this f.&n.-e. position will necessarily end-up being bad in some way.

Which this book is - at least, it is bad for me


Thursday, 26 September 2013

The worst brass section I have ever heard on a classical recording


This is a curiosity!

Now, I have far from 'perfect pitch/ exact intonation' - but this LP is truly excruciating; reminding me of lunchtime concerts from (unauditioned, unrehearsed) orchestras of students

From Händel: Orchestral Works - Part 1/3 - Water Music

Recorded 1974 - La Grande Ecurie & La Chambre du Roy

Go to Part I: WATER MUSIC (Complete)
and then

VIII. Minuet (21:49)

to get the full flavour of the thing.

It is utterly incomprehensible to me how this recording was released  - but presumably there was an interesting story somewhere.

It may be that people were making (ahem) 'allowances' for the musicians playing on original instruments - presumably natural/ unvalved French Horns etc.

Or something...

(In the seventies I sat through a few rather similar debacles at live performances featuring natural trumpets - Bach concerti, Cantatas, Passions and the like. It was important to know the piece well, so as to understand what the musicians were 'getting at' - otherwise it sounded like Charles Ives on a bad day.) 


Self-remembering as a preparation for prayer


Like most people, I often find prayer difficult - here is a 'tip' I find useful.

As preparation for prayer, try to induce the state of self-remembering

That is, become aware of Me! Here! Now! - of yourself in the context of your surroundings, and time - this place, this moment of time - and of yourself as alive and aware and here at at the centre of it all, at this exact and unique moment.

(For me, this usually requires that my eyes be open.)

And then pray - give thanks.


Anorexics must be regarded as fat


It used to be believed that anorexics were deluded about their body mass - that although anorexics absolutely believed they were fat and needed to diet, that this belief was in fact a delusion, and that in reality anorexics were dangerously thin and needed to put on weight.

However, apparently, the US Supreme Court, the European Court of Human Rights, the United Nations, the Supreme Galactic Commander and (most importantly) a bunch of anorexic journalists in the elite mass media - have all decided that from now onwards anorexics are to be regarded as fat - because they are suffering people, who believe they are fat, and therefore to treat them otherwise would increase their suffering.

From now onwards, anorexics will be able to claim as a right all the privileges previously withheld from them by people of normal body mass - diet pills, membership of weight-watcher clubs, and extra-large clothes from those shops for obese people.

Any person who contradicts a skeletal anorexic when they claim to be 'gross' or in need of 'losing a few pounds' will be disciplined and sent for remedial therapy.

Anyone who now states or implies that anorexia is a delusion will be susceptible to an wide range range of penalties - ranging from manufactured international media hate campaigns to fines, sacking, prison.

Anyone who tries to 'treat' anorexia as if it were an illness will be thrown to specially trained packs of wild dogs...

Sorry, just a moment...  

News just coming-in. It seems that all of the above is made-up; none if it is true.



Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Are there any Liberal Christian 'martyrs' - for Christianity?


At the foot of an earlier posting I wrote:

The reason why Liberals are all Leftists is because their Christianity is so weak - they do not feel sufficiently motivated by their supposed Christian beliefs - in fact their 'Christianity' is far too weak ever to win against the Leftism which is their true primary motivation.

This set me to thinking how to test this insight for validity. 

IF there were any Liberal Christians who had suffered some significant degree of martyrdom for their beliefs, then this would suggest that their Christian faith was strong. 

I could easily think of some Liberal Christians who had suffered for their beliefs to the extent of sacking, prison and even deaths; but on further reflection I realized that all the examples I could think of were actually related to politics, not religion. 

For example, being sacked for supporting Leftist rioters and revolutionaries, or for advocacy of the sexual revolution; prison in protest against Apartheid; people injured or killed when supplying material benefits such as food and medicine to impoverished people or countries... but then all of these are Left wing political causes.

What I could not think of was Liberal Christians who suffered for refusing to stop practicing their faith, for preaching the Gospel, for missionary work. 

Probably there are examples I don't know of - but the argument seems proven to the extent that it is very easy to think of Liberal Christian martyrs for Leftism; but difficult to think of Liberal Christians who have suffered for the Christian faith. 


Why is New Age spirituality (and Green economics) *always* Leftist?


Before I was a Christian, I was very interested by New Age type spirituality - myths, neo-shamanism, neo-paganism and the like. But I was also on 'the right' politically - or so I supposed - being a sort of conservative/ libertarian.

I was recurrently amazed that everybody in the New Age movement was on the Left, often very far on the Left - and even mildly Right-ish people (such as Republicans or Conservative) were extremely unusual.

But New Age ideas, if they were taken seriously, often seemed to imply, if not a Right wing political world, then at least certainly not the mainstream Left wing politics of our era.

Yet the New Age writers and gurus were mad keen on the actuality of modern mainstream Left wing politics - and would on the one hand sometimes endorse the specific political leadership of the West, when they were members of Leftist parties - but certainly would never endorse any Right wing political figures - would express utter disgust about them.


However, going back just a few decades, some of the originators of New Age spirituality has been 'of the Right'. For example, Joseph Campbell (the mythologist) was a Republican. And Fritz (Small is Beautiful) Schumacher ended his life as a strongly Thomistic, distributist Roman Catholic - with a radically reactionary vision of the good society.

The New Age legacy of these men (and others) was almost uniformly Leftist - The Joseph Campbell Society and the Schumacher Society/ College both exuding the absolutely characteristic behaviours and concerns of the modern Left, and excluding and Right wing ideas.


Going back further than a few decades, there was a strongly National Socialist element in New Age ideas - with neo-Paganism a significant part of the early Nazi movement on the one hand, and the ideas of CG Jung (the major New age theorist) on the other.

And back in the mid-1980s, Andrew Dobson wrote an interesting book called Green Economics in which he (rather boldly and honestly) suggested that if Green ideas were taken seriously, Fascist organization was one of the logical directions they could take. And this would, I think, apply to New Age spirituality as well.

IF they were taken seriously.


The simple reason for the Leftism of New Age (and the Green movement) is that the ideas are not taken seriously, the beliefs are very weakly held - therefore, New Age ideas do not provide people with a fundamental motivation for their lives - and this can be observed empirically by the fact that the actual behavior of New Agers conforms to the dominant Leftist ideology even where this contradict New Age ideals (which is, actually, in most places).

In sum, New Agers are fundamentally Leftist and only superficially dedicated to New Age spirituality. 


New Agers (and Green politics in general) is uniformly Leftist for the simple reason it is motivationally weak; therefore, adherents believe in Leftism more powerfully and deeply than they believe in New Age; therefore, whenever there is a conflict, Leftism wins - and wins easily, with barely any sense of a conflict.

New Age is merely a set of superficial therapeutic lifestyle ideas and entertainments and diversions - the movement is spiritually just too weak to do any serious work in the modern world.

And that is why it is Leftist. The writers, performers, artists, gurus of the New Age are Leftists first and firmly; and spiritual only when and where it fits in with Leftism.


Note: Exactly the same argument applied to Liberal Christianity. The reason why Liberals are all Leftists is because their Christianity is so weak - they do not feel sufficiently motivated by their supposed Christian beliefs - in fact their 'Christianity' is far too weak ever to win against the Leftism which is their true primary motivation.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

When "fashion" = evolved/ socially-conditioned signalling


When "fashion" = "multiple simultaneous signals of sexual availability" - then it is useful to know that this is happening. 


Speaking partly as an evolutionary psychologist and partly as a cultural observer, there are a number of signals which a significant proportion of sex-seeking men will regard as signals of sexual availability in a woman:

1. A lot of exposed skin; 2. Tight clothing; 3. Tattoos; 4. Piercings (other than ear lobe); 5. Ankle bracelets (except when ethnically traditional); 6. Smoking, drinking alcohol (or taking other drugs); 7. Bleached blond hair; 8. 'Bold' holding of eye contact; 9. Dressing and making-up and behaving as if considerably younger than the true chronological age (which can easily be seen from the back of the hands); 10. Very high heels; 11. Plastic surgery...

The list is not exhaustive. And the reasons why these signals act as signals are various - that is not the point here.

Given that any one of these will probably be interpreted, by a man looking for sex, as a signal of sexual availability: what is going on when so many modern women, including young and attractive women, deploy many of these signals simultaneously?


Previously, this kind of multiple-signalling was deployed only by those who were selling sex; but now the practice is common, even in the workplace and education; and is nearly ubiquitous in some leisure situations. Even allowing that some women may 'merely' be following fashion, doing what other women do, and are initially unaware that they are sending out these signals; they will nonetheless have much the same effect - perhaps even more powerfully, since gullibility is added to the mix.


Probably, multiple signals of sexual availability imply (to the male viewer) the high possibility of low-investment, short-termist, no-strings-attached sex - which is something that spontaneously attracts attention (especially, but not only, among men who are looking for low-investment, no-strings-attached sex) - attracts attention in a way that - if not yielded-to - must actively be resisted or trained-out; attention which makes the multi-signalling woman a centre and focus of competition among those men who are actively seeking low-investment, no-strings-attached sex (quite possibly - and this is significant - a centre of attention even when other, younger and more attractive, women are present).


This attention and competition may be exciting and gratifying in the short term; may indeed be addictive.

Having experienced this - often elicited with effortless ease!  - women may be reluctant to give it up, may want more of the same.

Having made herself a focus of attention by multiple sexual signalling; a woman may not only enjoy this but perhaps be able to 'manage' this attention, to her advantage - in various ways to get compliments, gifts and favours; although the situation can easily get out of hand, especially when alcohol and anonymity are added to the mix.


From a man's perspective, or so evolutionary psychology tells us, there are two distinct strategies with respect to partners - long-term highly investing (e.g. marriage, leading to children) and short-term, low-investing (aiming at sex).

There is a probability that if a women signals unambiguously her sexual availability, then a man will (unconsciously, perhaps) put her into the category of short-term, low-investing - and will find himself reluctant ever to risk a long-term high investing relationship with someone he has observed in such blatant sexual signalling  or perhaps in even in a context where this kind of signalling is found.

If so, this is one of many ways in which all-out pursuit of short-term pleasure can sabotage a realistic prospect of long-term gratification: firstly by the addictiveness of being desired and pursued, second by the deterrent effect on men who might be suitable long-term marriage partners.


A further spin on this is when married women, perhaps married women with children, engage in this kind of multiple signalling of sexual availability.

At the very least this is a bad prognostic sign - that even wives and mothers want to send out indiscriminate sexual signals which will (like it or not - and presumably they do like it or else they would not do it?) provoke sexual kinds of attention.

Female sexuality is a potent force in human affairs - but like any powerful weapon its deployment always contains potential risks and potentially incurs costs - both individual and social.

It is as well to be aware of these things; if possible, before it is too late...


The girlfriend/ boyfriend culture...


Growing up in the late sixties to seventies, the impression I got about the purpose of life was that you ought, at all times - from the age of about 10, to 'have a girlfriend' - and that what life was mainly about (the kind of life I saw on TV, movies, read in books).

Thus life ought to be focused around 1. having a girlfriend and 2. doing fun things.


The idea was (implicitly) to have quite a few but not too many girlfriends, perhaps one a year? to demonstrate that you were 'serious' about 'relationships' - and one at a time to demonstrate that you were honest and capable of being faithful.

That was the baseline for everything else - such as education, work or hobbies - and indeed, education, work and hobbies themselves were implicitly aimed at greater long-term success at girlfriends and fun.


I remember, aged 17, attending a (compulsory) talk by a Church of Scotland minister who - in response to questions - said that sex should be only within marriage. As a basis for life, I found this idea bizarre and crazy - and in fact life-denying; because I had absorbed the prevalent culture that the extra-marital boyfriend-girlfriend framework was simply the main thing about life: after all, it was the subject of almost all the TV, movies and books I had ever seen, including many of the best ones and the ones which most made me want to emulate the characters.


There seemed to be no point in marriage, and especially not in having children - because these were 'irrevocable' decisions; and a responsible person would not put themselves into a position of being 'tied' by 'permanent' situations - the ideal was that when the situation changed, then life should change. That seemed obvious.


My point is not that I was wrong - although obviously I was - but that (even in the sixties and seventies) I simply could not comprehend the alternative of marriage and family - which seemed arbitrarily, cruelly restrictive.

In retrospect this is my interpretation: Since I saw no real meaning or purpose to life, the enemies were boredom and misery.

To combat boredom and misery I wanted to set up life as an absorbing psychodrama - so on the one hand it would not be good to make relationships so trivial they didn't matter psychologically, but on the other hand it would not be good to make relationships so serious that they caused a lot of misery.

So the life ideal of the 60s/70s which I lived by was (implicitly) to seek a moderate path with a moderately large number of moderately serious relationships lasting a moderate length of time - and when they finished leaving a moderate sense of regret, but still the possibility of continuing friendly relationships - so that after a while one might have a network of 'exs' - preferably dotted around the country - with whom to socialize and with each of whom there were some memories of 'good times'.

So the string of moderately serious girlfriends might, after a while, lead to a kind of 'extended family' to provide emotional support, a sense of rootedness, mild stimulus and so on - at any rate that was (again) the kind of thing I came across in art and the mass media.


In sum, my ideal life (not a compromise life, but the ideal) throughout late childhood, youth, and early adulthood was based on the metaphysical belief system that Charles Murray described as typical of modernity:

Human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate. The purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible.

Quoted in:

Monday, 23 September 2013

Priest or Street Preacher? The writer and his audience


When I write I have in mind some kind of audience - and to be bothered to write I have to have some kind of audience in mind.

The ideal for a writer is to have an audience who wants to read him and who will - on the whole, on average - benefit from reading him (it would be horrible for a writer to know that he was damaging his audience - feeding parasitically upon their attention - although this is in fact the situation for most mainstream writers).

So there is first the matter of finding someone, enough someones, to make writing worthwhile.

This is not easy - but the number of people need not be very great for this to be the case.

What is much harder is that the non-fiction writer needs (I think) to feel some kind of priestly vocation - that he is speaking on behalf of an audience - so that the writer in a sense serves the readership.

In Christian and religious Right wing writing, this can be seen as the sense of speaking on behalf of a community; articulating, clarifying, encouraging that community.

But what if the writer does not have a community, or realizes that the community he supposed he was speaking on behalf of is a figment of his imagination?

Well, that has been my situation, incrementally, over a period of about 25 years of writing this kind of 'journalism' - a process of this imagined community shrinking stepwise until it has altogether disappeared.

Shrinking from a time when I wrote on behalf of The Medical Profession (in big circulation medical magazines), and Scientists (ditto for scientific mags), and Sensible British People (writing for national newspapers) - and then recognizing the illusory nature of what I was doing, and trying to focus on smaller and smaller but real audiences.

For instance there was a brief phase when I wrote articles in Church of England newspapers - with the notion I might speak for an audience there, before realizing that there was - essentially - none.

I also had a notion of being a Mere Christian voice, speaking for a common interest among Christians (at least, among the kind of Christians I respected) but that turned out to be another illusions since such people don't exist (don't exist, that is, from my perspective).

Blogging, by comparison, is like being a crazy street preacher - standing up and shouting personal opinions into a crowd of passing shoppers who are variously annoyed, pitying or - at best - mildly curious.

The relationship between writer and audience has not so much broken down (because it never was there) but stands revealed as one individual trying to harangue other individuals in a noisy marketplace.


Saturday, 21 September 2013

Could nihilism be true? (in principle)


If nihilism was true - if there was no meaning in anything - then we could never know it to be true because we could never know anything.

Any evidence that nihilism was true, would refute nihilism - because if there is no meaning in reality then there can be no evidence.

What is peculiar is that people behave (and speak) as if there could be evidence in favour of nihilism - for example that the 1914-18 war or the Nazi Holocaust revealed that life was meaningless or whatever - but this is non-sense for the reasons above.

If there really was no meaning in existence - if it really was all random, contingent, purposeless - then we could never know this. We might suspect it, we might even believe it - but we could never know it and could never point to anything at all as evidence in favour of it.

Even one single piece of knowledge or evidence about anything at all would refute the idea that the universe had no meaning.

How, then, could so many people come to believe that the universe was meaningless and also to believe that they had strong grounds for believing that the universe was meaningless?

How could they believe this?

Yet this is the mainstream contention in the modern West.


Friday, 20 September 2013

How to cure an addicted society


Modern society is addicted to distraction - to the mass media: to sex, drugs, news, soaps, fashion and celebrity.

Withdrawal from these makes people feel bad, makes them feel (sometimes) that life is not worth living, that they are lonely, that people are bored by and disrespect them.


So is there any incentive to give-up the addictions, and go through an unpleasant withdrawal?

Only if what awaits you on the other side of withdrawal is better than being an addict.


To give-up addiction to distractions entails believing that if you were not distracted from reality, and became aware of reality; then reality would be better than the distractions. 

But if a person believes that reality is dull or horrible - if they believe that reality actually is one or another life of distraction - then they will not attempt to give-up their addictions.


So, to give up addiction to distraction, a person must believe that real reality is better than the virtual realities of a life of distraction.

What is real reality? Christianity.

Is it better than a life of distraction? Yes it is. And not by a little.  


Reality is not a bitter pill (nor is it a 'red pill'!) - reality is a deep joy.

It is not that there is 'nothing to be afraid of' from reality - there is plenty to be afraid of.

But it is, despite all, a deep joy - the deep joy: reality is the deep joy which makes-real all other joys (and without-which all other joys are subverted into virtual realities).


Why the shallowness of modern life? Lessons for Christian evangelism


From commenter Adam G:

People content themselves with shallowness because they are afraid.

They are afraid that if they confront ultimate questions they will find that life is meaningless.

It isn't a conviction of nihilism that makes our culture the way it is. It's a worry that nihilism may be right.


This analysis strikes me as highly insightful; and it has lessons.

Christians need to demonstrate by their living that there are real answers to the ultimate questions- I don't mean that this should be acted or expounded, but that the whole mode of interaction should be suffused by the light of these answers.

But this is not the same as being able to answer any and every question, especially not to answering every question to the satisfaction of the questioner - that is impossible, and the process of questioning tends to reinforce the false world view of the questioner.

Rather it is a matter of letting it be known that a Christian does have the answers, that the answers are wonderful - and that they are real.

We are talking about realities -  and the discussion is about realities.

Realities does not mean that the evidence for this interpretation of reality is overwhelming and irrefutable and compels acceptance - but that Christian answers are solid in every way.

(Christianity itself is irrefutable - but the evidence-for Christianity is not so. That is in the nature of things, including science. Any specific item of evidence can always be challenged, reframed, refuted - thus evidence as a whole can always be broken down into specific items and - supposedly - 'refuted' piecemeal.)

But the most important way that Christian answers are solid is that:

Being Christian enables a person to confront the ultimate questions of life - fearlessly.


Thursday, 19 September 2013

The astonishing triviality, the shallowness and fakery of modern life


The shallowness and triviality of modern life is nothing new - I felt it very strongly in the seventies - mostly as a contrast to what I knew from reading Tolkien - but it is one of those things that just keeps gets worse and more obvious.

I realize that this places me, always has placed me, outwith the major mass effects perpetrated upon us - simply an appalled and incredulous onlooker.

But I cannot - not really - understand, and I never have been able to understand, how so many people participate in this relentless, minute by minute... nothing. How many people simply dissipate their whole lives...

What is the point of it? How can they be bothered?

This masquerades as 'fun', as 'having a laugh', as 'joining in' - but so obviously is not that I am astonished that people can continue to suppose it is. It masquerades as important moral concern - but, really, who is fooled?

I cannot understand how people let themselves be manipulated into faking feelings of excitement, concern, hatred by a mass media which is ever more formulaic and ever more stale.

I keep expecting people, en masse, to wake up - and to admit to themselves that they are faking responses all the way down to the level that they supposedly regard as the bottom line. I presumed people would rebel, would demand meaning, purpose and relatedness from life. I have, indeed, been expecting this for forty years - but clearly my expectation was delusional.

In fact the situation is even worse than described above, because there is an actively aggressive quality about this shallowness and triviality - it wants to impose itself on every last person by loudness, by intrusiveness, by subversion and fake indignation.

All this stuff I knew and felt with certainty long before I was a Christian - but I didn't have an explanation for it because I could not perceive its source: I could see only layer upon layer upon layer of shallow, trivial fakery.

But what I did not understand before I was a Christian, is that the endemic and near-ubiquitous STFakery is in the service of evil, of the destruction of Good - and that is exactly why it is aggressive, intolerant; why it seeks-out opposition in order to overwhelm it.

Indeed, this is the nub of the problem. Life at a level of shallow, trivial fakery would be just about tolerable if it was in the service of truth - that would be what is called hypocrisy. But that is not the situation.

Well, now I know the source - which is absolutely important to know; and reveals the situation as far more dangerous, of far deeper significance, than I could possibly have imagined.

But how to 'fight' shallowness in the context of an ever-shallower public domain? Impossible. That would be fighting shallowness with shallowness, and there could be only one victor.

Answer: don't fight it; do different.


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A distinction between the religious Right and the neo-reactionary Right


The neo-reactionary Right focus on systems and ideas - they see the best government in terms of the best attainable political system operated by the best possible ideology.

Individuals and their religions are either ignored or are regarded as a means to facilitate the above end.

Thus the strategy is a dual combination of designing and installing a new operating system, and taking-over the means of propaganda to change social programming.


The religious Right focus on individual people and churches - systems and ideology are seen as inevitable but secondary, and the religious Right regard the primary political constraint to be the goodness of the specific people doing specific jobs in the systems: especially the nature and devoutness of their religion and the degree to which religious ideals permeate and motivate society in all its functions.

Thus the 'strategy' is to try and evoke a wholesale repentance and mass conversion - a religious Great Awakening.

Only if or when this has happened will systems and ideology, flow diagrams and propaganda, become relevant.


From the perspective of the religious Right, the neo-reactionary Right is "dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good" - to quote TS Eliot - and the religious Right believe that this is a deadly delusion.


Tolkien's idea of artistic subcreativity implies a Mormon conception of God's primary acts of creation


Death of St Brendan - a little-known but profound poem by Tolkien


What is the greatest piece of Classical music?


This is quite easy, so long as the word 'greatest' is clarified: it is Beethoven's Third Symphony - the 'Eroica'.

(This fact suddenly struck me with complete conviction as I was listening to the final movement on the car radio!)

Beethoven's third is, of course, a first rate piece of music; it is extremely enjoyable even to those of only modest musical understanding; it both starts and ends well (always important!) and it is long enough to impose its greatness.

But what makes this particular piece stand above all its rivals?

Not that it is better than any other - many other pieces are its equal; not that it is my personal favourite piece of music (that would be Mozart's opera The Magic Flute), and Bach was a better composer, qua composer - but the following:

1. Beethoven was the first 'great composer' - in the modern sense of a creative and original genius who was self-consciously, titanically grappling-with and reshaping his material using the whole of his large personal resources. Before Beethoven composers were servants and craftsmen, after Beethoven they were self-consciously striving to be great - like Wagner - hence diminished by some element of pretense.

2. Within Beethoven's own life, the Third Symphony was precisely that point at which he became great, fully expressed himself - yet before he became obviously assertive of his greatness by deliberate novelties and strainings (as for example in the finale of the Ninth Symphony - rather too obviously trying to impress...).

3. The Eroica has energy, technique, fluency, invention, lyricism - in a word spontaneity: it is an explosive and sustained overflow of the power of a young but mature genius just hitting his straps and surprising even himself. That kind of thing cannot be repeated - once he had done it, he knew it could be done.

4. In the history of classical music, the Third symphony is as much of a watershed as any other piece, since it was chock-full of technical innovations and a new spirit which was widely emulated. Before the Eroica was the Classical era, and after was Romanticism.

So this is quite an easy choice - Beethoven in general and the Eroica in particular are 'the greatest' in an objective and unrepeatable sense.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Christianity for the non-churched


Probably, for many or most people in The West, in a secular society in which there is little support and much discouragement for Christians - some Christians will find themselves more-or-less outside of all possible churches which are real Christian churches and worth being members of: whether or not they attend a particular church, or support a particular church; at the bottom line they will find themselves to be de facto non-churched Christains.

I think this arises when a Christian does not (in his heart) believe any of the specific denominational teachings with respect to the necessities for salvation - when he does not believe in the necessity of membership of a specific church denomination in order to be a Christian and to be saved.

In other words, this non-churched Christian does not believe he has to be baptised (e.g. baptism administered by a particular kind of person, in a particular way, in the context of a particular institution - or perhaps like the Salvation Army Christians, he does not believe baptism to be necessary at all), or partake of the sacraments (ditto), or indeed any other particular thing done in an institutional context - he does not believe he must have a particular theology...

This, then, is a negative set of beliefs which conclude that nothing specific that is available only from a specific church institution is necessary for salvation: the necessities cannot be provided insitutionally and nothing institutional is strictly necessary.

But instead that whatever is necessary for salvation is some-thing/s between himself and God - that he is, in fact, already saved, and has 'only' to accept this gift from Christ, all of which he has done by becoming a Christian (outwith any particular church).

It seems - from their actual behaviour, from their actual practice - that many Christians in The West are of this type: and I do not mean 'liberal' Christians, but traditional and orthodox and catholic and evangelical and fundamentalist Christians of all types... at a pinch, when things get difficult, the behaviour seems to indicate that a specific church is not absolutely necessary - not worth dying for.

This is an interesting state of affairs, because it means that - by a strict and wholly honest interpretation - such a Christian is excluded from all denominations which are worth converting-to.

If he is already in a denomination (as a cradle Christian), then he is probably okay, since the requirements to stay in a denomination are much less strict than the rules for converts (which situation in some senses is illogical and wrong, but in other senses is understandable and probably necessary).

This is very troubling to me, since I believe that everybody should become a Christian, but not everybody who becomes a Christian will be able to join a church (certainly not in the fullest sense of membership - but perhaps not at all: perhaps there will be no denomination at all which this Christian could honestly say he believed and which he could honestly satisfy as to his eligibility).

(To rephrase Groucho, a non-churched Christian might say: "I would not want to join any church that would have me as a member; and any church which I judge to be worth joining would certainly not allow me to join it - assuming I were completely honest about my beliefs and commitments.")

In practice, then, and in the many particular circumstances of many specific people - they may become Christians, real Christians - be born again - but then they will get stuck, will not be able fully to join any worthwhile church, will be (at the bottom line) on their own...


Beyond the tipping point: when institutions become un-reformable


There is a big difference between an attitude that things are terrible, getting worse: let's try and set that right; and a realization that things are terrible, getting worse, and there is no realistic possibility of improvement.


In relation to institutions, my adult life has been a gloomy series of enlightenments that one after another of the institutions in which I was involved and towards which I felt loyal was not just terrible, but un-reformable.

So, this would apply to the National Health Service, the medical profession, science, Universities, State schools, the Civil Service, the Church of England and to the United Kingdom as an entity - and England specifically.


The final recognition typically came from a sequence of sub-recognitions - first about how bad things were and that they were getting worse, then a historical insight that this process had apparently been at work for some decades, then a realization that the majority of the people in the institutions (especially the leaders) approved the changes and regarded corruption as progress, then the final nail of perceiving that the collective will of these institutions had actively (albeit limply) embraced the spirit of self-corruption and suicide.


Typically, there was a sudden realization of being in a minority of one (well, there might be another few minorities of one scattered here and there throughout the organization, but typically low in the hierarchy and on the verge of retirement).

There was a realization of not speaking on behalf of anybody else.


Whether radical or reactionary, anyone taking an active role in trying to shape an organization must feel they are genuinely speaking on behalf of legitimate authority within that organization - but when there is no legitimate authority, then he is silenced: necessarily, since he can with honesty claim only to be speaking for himself.

Of course, in a rational world he would be able to speak on behalf of the divine order even against a majority of the rest of the world (as with some of the prophets); but that is impossible when the church is itself part of the corruption: in such circumstances anything truthful a prophet says will be taken as idiosyncratic subjective preference, enlightened self-interest, sheer destructive evil, or evidence of insanity.


An organization may be very-probably un-reformable in terms of the inter-dependent complexity of its corruption; but still in theory a sufficiently insightful, good, powerful leader might be able to cleanse the stables.

However, once an institution, a nation, consists almost entirely of the corrupt who embrace corruption; once people have got used to regarding bad and good and good as bad - then that entity is un-reformable.

It will collapse, it may be destroyed before it collapses; the function it should perform must be done by something else or it will not be done at all.

Something from outside the entity will intervene at some point to replace it - and if all around the entity shares in its un-reformability - then the 'outside' intervention will necessarily be extremely 'alien' to that entity, because only the alien could be sufficiently free from the layer upon layer of corruption.

How could it be otherwise? One way or another something very different (but not necessarily better, probably worse) will prevail. 


Note: The 'tipping point' here is usually only seen in retrospect, and does not have a formulaic definition: it is that point at which an institution has some combination of factors such as leadership, majority, internal structure, internal propaganda, recruitments and appointments and promotions and redundancy practices etc at which it becomes solidly-commited to its own corruption and destruction, at which this becomes irreversible for lac of any counter-constituency. After this tipping point has been reached, any remaining persons who (for example) try to be honest, or loyal to the institution's original function, will be ignored, starved of privileges, actively-suppressed, or expelled from the organization and replaced with corruptible or already-corrupted personnel.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Note by Scribble - a story


Note by Scribble
A story by Bruce G Charlton

There once was a wizard – in fact a failed wizard.
He was capable of magic, but as a matter of fact actually did none, nor had he ever in his whole life done any magic – although he talked about it a lot.
So, he was not really a wizard at all – because, at the very least, a wizard must be able to do magic – even if he never actually does magic (for one reason or another).
This not-wizard was called Scribble and he lived in a world where, officially, nobody could do magic for the simple reason that magic did not exist – or so the officials said. Therefore anyone who claimed to be a wizard was actually a not-wizard.
This meant that all real wizards were regarded as not-wizards – but the trouble was that there were several other kinds of not-wizard. Some were real wizards who did real magic; others were like Scribble – not-wizards who would have been magic wizards if only they had been properly instructed, but in this world there was nobody to instruct them (or, at least, nobody who would or could instruct them).
But there were also crazy-non-wizards and fake-non-wizards. The difference was that crazy-non-wizards believed that they were wizards but they were not; while fake-non-wizards knew they were not wizards, but wanted other people to believe that they were.
Scribble’s natural magic was indeed very weak, although it was perfectly real. Even under the best possible conditions, with the best possible teachers, he would never have been a Great Wizard, nor even an average wizard.

He would have been one of those minor wizards who fetch and carry, run messages, look up technical details, copy out magic books and the like. And the fact is that he would not have been very good even at that kind of basic work.
Yet he was not without talent. He had a magical gift, however it was not a magical gift that was much valued by the non-magic – and indeed it was not very impressive; although perhaps it should have been valued a bit more than it was.

Scribble couldn’t actually do anything very well, but he was instead a kind of seer; that is to say a see-er, and that is someone who sees what other people can’t.
But, even here, Scribble was not the kind of seer who attracts plum jobs with kings or warlords. Because Scribble could not see into the future, which is what most people want seers to do. Indeed he could not even see into the past, but only into the present.

And for most people, in fact everybody who Scribble ever met, seeing into the present just didn’t count as magic, they thought it was useless (even if it was true, which they doubted) because (they reasoned): Who needs magic, who needs a seer, to see what is in front of them and all around them?
Because he was a seer but had not developed his magic, Scribble made notes. He went around taking notes – people thought it was a diary or journal, but it wasn’t even that! Anyone who looked at Scribble's notes saw something too incomplete to be a diary and insufficiently detailed to be a journal...
These 'notes' were not usually about Scribble himself, his thoughts and opinions (which would not have interested most people, but would at least have been understandable), yet neither were the notes about the surrounding world (which might have been interesting to some future historian) – they were apprently random. Little snippets about this and about that.
Some seemed irrelevant, some seemed very obviously wrong – but there were a few, a very few, which were actually important; or perhaps a better word is significant. They might have been very useful to certain people at certain points in their lives, if only they had known about them, if only they had been interested enough to find them… but that would have been like looking for a needle in a haystack!
In the end, Scribble died, and all his notes were left behind – as was the plan from long ago.
And he found himself in a far off land where he met his big brother, who was extremely solid and bright – and it was only at this point that Scribble realized that he himself was not solid and bright, but instead rather like a wisp of smoke!

He also felt very different than in the old country. Scribble realized that now he could perceive things very clearly indeed, and in particular he remembered some extremely important things which he had almost completely forgotten.
At any rate, his big brother was very kind – how wonderful it was to meet him again! – and BB instructed Scribble in his new duties.
It turned-out that Scribble's notes might have some use after all. It turned-out that a 'Note by Scribble' was a thing of some value; at least if discovered by the right person at the right time and in the right circumstances...
Scribble had a job in going back to that place where he used to live, and delivering ‘notes’ to particular people at particular moments when they might (if taken notice of) be very helpful to them, especially when they had asked for something of the sort.
Nothing very spectacular; nothing like being one of the big brother’s wise men or strategists or healers, but certainly a useful job: a job that needed doing.
All this was excellent, except that – being a mere wisp of smoke – Scribble found it hard to learn, and couldn’t actually do very much. He had to rely on other people for a lot. But, on the other hand, he knew what he knew, and could do what he could do, and there were plenty of people of various types who were more than willing to do for him those things he could not do for himself.
Later, Scribble was given a new body. This had long been promised, and Scribble didn’t have to earn it – but he needed to wait until things had been finished in the old country.
Now they were finished, and all sorts of new plans were afoot, and Scribble needed a new body to do a new and somewhat different job: a more demanding job, indeed; a job that took more out of him, but which he found more rewarding.
It had taken a long time – or so it seemed; and matters had been delayed more than ideally they might have been; but Scribble had grown. He found he could learn more rapidly and more securely than ever before.

Life opened out before him!

Now: his first task before starting the job was to look for that lady he once had known and loved, but had somehow lost touch with some time ago.

She was here somewhere, he knew.

He had another chance.

And this time, he hoped, things might work out even better than they worked out before. Scribble had - after all - learned something.

Note: This micro-story came to me in a lump after brooding on JRR Tolkien's wondeful allegory Leaf by Niggle. Aside from literary quality and length, one difference is that Tolkien's is on the theme of Roman Catholic theology, incorporating purgatory etc.; while Note by Scribble is a Mormon allegory. 

Joseph Smith's King Follett discourse


The King Follett sermon or 'discourse' was a speech made by Joseph Smith shortly before he was killed. The speech was not written but extemporized, and was taken down by various observers - and therefore the primary record is a parallel text by multiple hands:

King Follett is non-canonical for the LDS church - being very obviously a kind of 'thinking aloud', a philosophical speculation on the apparent implications of Mormon theology (in other words, the Prophet was not prophesying at this moment).


I find it a wonderful speech - and it elucidates for me the interplay between what is assumed and fixed in Mormonism, and what are possible consequences of these assumptions, but which are not of the essence.

This is the standard edited text. 

which is engagingly dramatized here:


The discourse reveals that the aspects of Mormon theology which seem strangest (and attract most horror and ridicule) are in fact a (speculative) consequence of following up several steps of implications from the primary assumptions of the nature of God and His relationship to Man.

Probably, all metaphysical systems contain infinities - in Classical Christian theology the infinities are given to God - creation from nothing, omnipotence/omniscience, omnipresence and the like. The basic metaphysic is one of statis.

For Mormonism the God of the Bible has none of these attributes; and God is our loving Father primarily and as literally as possible.

The infinities are pushed back and back, until they are out of the realm of our concern altogether - an infinite regress of other Gods in other universes unknown - which are logically implied, but are nothing to do with us in this world, with one God. The monotheism is what matters to us, here now and forever; the polytheism is an answer to a philosophical question. 


Another thing to look out for in King Follett is the dynamic nature of Mormonism (in contrast to stasis). The condition for God and for Man is one of eternal progression (another abstract infinite - no bound can be put to progression, exaltation, glory - in a particular sense, not even for God).

But since dynamism is nonsense if everything changes - progression also implies a stasis, against which progress is measured. Thus the necessary eternal existence of matter and laws of the universe 'within which' God works and progresses. Instead of creation from nothing, the Mormon view is that the primary things 'always' existed (from eternity) and always will exist, being re-organizable but indestructible.

In sum, this represents the final stage in a truly amazing theological achievement - one which quite simply, and therefore triumphantly, solves many of the most obvious and troubling - and, I believe, ineradicable - theoretical problems due to the conflict between classical philosophy and Christianity.


Sunday, 15 September 2013

A minority of one: Why it is impossible to communicate truth


Given the constraints - that almost all communication is extremely time limited, and takes place in public (or potentially public) situations - it is impossible to communicate truth in the modern secular Leftist context (by which I mean, essentially everywhere for many or most people).

So all people who are serious about truth are, apparently, in a minority of one.

This is not an eternal human situation - but something new.

It used to be possible reasonably to assume that behind all the constraints and limitations of actual communication - there was a primary unity: that differences were superficial and agreement was profound.

But this is not the case anymore.

What happens is that there are superficial differences of opinion, as there always have been - but it is when we reach back from these superficial differences, to try and settle disagreement on the basis of fundamental principle, that we find the truly vast, indeed oppositional, differences.

Typically there is some kind of dispute at the level of superficial bureaucratic procedure, regulation, law, practice... and an attempt is made to try and clarify what is the deep aim and purpose of these regulations, laws practices in order to settle the case - and it is then that the chasm yawns: when it is realized that superficial disputes are as nothing compared with the vast underlying differences...

The typical modern person has so completely rejected tradition, orthodoxy, common sense, natural law, the validity of the spontaneous... that whole complex of underlying stuff which united 'reasonable human beings' that commnuication has ceased.

On the one side there is the dominating complex of modernity - which is everywhere - and on the other side a tiny and weak individual perception of the monstrous falsity and evil of all this.

The mismatch between the gross and chaotic mass of lies and deceptions and what the individual flickeringly perceives in his own heart, is so huge that questions of persuasion, or explanation, or argument become laughable.

So the traditional human situation is reversed - in the past people differed superficially, there was sin and weakness and bad luck,  but we knew that deep down there was commonality of values and purposes; now we have the reverse. The only things that hold us together are superficial habits, pragmatic compromises - none of which are believed and which are constantly being problematized, subverted, destroyed and inverted.

What remains? In what do people believe? It is not so much they disbelieve in something, but that they believe in nothing: and I mean they believe in it - they actively believe that nothing underpins the human condition. They are convinced that behind the surface there is nothing.

This means that the surface (the habits, regulations, laws, cultures) are on the one hand the most important things in the world because the only thing in the world; but on the other hand we know and believe that they are contingent, arbitrary, incoherent, weak and always changing and inverting.

This is the world we inhabit - as extremely feeble single souls - it is a world in which the idea of communication functions more like a temptation than a possibility - in such a context the hope that there may be a possibility of communication in the public arena (which is ever larger, encroaches ever more) is like a cruel trick.


Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Good Old-Bad Old Days - 1971 UK Postal Strike


I came across a reference in a collected article by George Mackay Brown which seemed to imply a postal strike in early 1971, at the same time as the currency was decimalized. While I clearly remember decimalization (I was 12) I did not recall this strike - and found a fascinating reference.

1971: A different world.

A world in which large trades unions wielded immense and arbitrary power, backed up by the frequent use of instant-walk-out strikes - and where union leaders were household names.

Whereas now the union leaders are unknown and national strikes are rare. Indeed, there is so little 'solidarity' in UK society that it is hard to imagine organized communal action.

And in 1971 the postal strike was compensated by a multitude of private and informal postal services which (over the space of a couple of months) was able to rapidly organize and to deliver two thirds the volume of post as the normal official postal service!

Imagine such a high trust society where so many small groups of people were able to say - give us your money and we will deliver your letter - and people did give them money, and they did deliver the letters!

So, on the one hand the UK of 1971 was one in which there was enough cohesion and organization to organize frequent national strikes, and on the other hand with enough cohesion and organization to react to and compensate for disasters such as national strikes.

Now, the government and very large organizations do everything; and what they don't do, doesn't get done - and cannot get done, because people neither know nor trust each other; and all levels of social cohesion between the state and the individual have become exceedingly weak (except in their power to disrupt and destroy).  


Friday, 13 September 2013

Being creative is an ability to recognize problems (but not necessarily to solve them)


Christians *must* have mythic thinking


Just something that struck me this morning - what lifted me from a mood in which legitimate and necessary pessimism was in danger of going into sinful despair - was the mythic mode of thinking.

Simply reading a couple of psalms then just recalling the spirit of Tolkien's work was effective - this was lifting my mind from the deadly pseudo-precision of the pervasive bureaucratizing of modernity, and opening it into the primal world of the human condition: which is mythic in form.


Before I was a Christian I focused a lot on the problem of alienation and its solution in 'myth'  - and was a part of that 'post-Jungian' movement which seeks to restore mythic modes to modernity.

The diagnosis was correct - partially - but it didn't work because a mode of thinking has neither meaning nor purpose, is self-subvertingly unreal, and anyway cannot be pursued in isolation. Trying to think mythically in a context of modernity is progressively less and less effective.


Yet Christianity as is - is so often so very dry, literalistic, legalistic, bureaucratic - that it is itself alienating.

We crave myth and we get crushing, oppressive dullness or mere cheerful entertainment - the two poles of modernity - meaningless procedure or meaningless laughter.


For Tolkien Christianity was the frame, in a vital sense just there and taken for granted. It was the metaphysics and meaning and tidal purpose - and within it was, properly, mythic thinking: with all the intrinsic imprecision but associative richness of myth.


Myth means; but we cannot say exactly just what it means, and when we try we get it wrong and what results stops being myth.

Myth is what we crave: we crave it like we crave wholesome food and drink; earth, wood, stone and water; trees and skies - not as abstractions but as palpable realities; and we find these in myth and only in mythic thinking, and in real myths.

And three of the most vital myths we lack are: Man and Woman, Marriage, Family. From a mythic perspective, all complications and arguments fall away, we know where stand - the human condition - we know what we want and feel why this must be.


Surely myth ought to be what we think about and the way we think - as Christians? Surely the content and mode of our thinking should be mythic, and this within Christianity?

Rather than, as so often - almost universally it seems - Christianity being non-mythic (legalistic, philosophical, bureaucratic, dead and deadly) modes of thinking but with with a (tediously, monotonously) Christian subject matter.

'Memo wrt. Jesus: Executive Summary and Action points...'