Monday 10 January 2011

A David against the Goliath of PC? Or spiritual warfare?


How to oppose PC, assuming that you want to?

One thing not to do, one pitfall is to see yourself as a David pitted against the Goliath of political correctness - and to nurture the hope of slaying PC with a single, perfectly-directed swirl of your slingshot.

That is a self-gratifying fantasy based on pride.

But, on the other hand, a single person's principled efforts over a period of time can make an extraordinary effect.


(Naturally it never is a single person who produces the effect, many others are involved, nonetheless the effect may depend on a single person. Leaving aside, here, the operations of Grace.)


As an example consider Eugene Rose (1934-1982) - a young Californian academic who eventually became Hieromonk Seraphim Rose.

Read if possible, Father Seraphim Rose, his Life and Works - a thousand page biography and summary by Hieromonk Damascene. Look around the internet to estimate his current influence.

Look at those dates: Fr Seraphim died aged 48.

Consider that he did not become an Orthodox Christian until his mid twenties, and did not publish a book until the mid-1970s.


Consider also that he lived a deliberately obscure monastic life (not even living in a normal-sized and established monastery but in a tiny rural 'skete' inhabited by just two monks, for much of the time), mostly isolated, and engaging for much of his adult life in a great deal of 'manual labor' - such as tending a shop, printing and building.

And of course in religious practices such as participating in long services, fasting and praying.

Does this look like a strategy for changing the world?

Is hermetic isolation a subtle tactic for socio-political transformation?

Or is it a mere unrepeatable random fluke?


Seraphim Rose was not a David confronting the Goliath of the modern world in direct battle.

Nor did Seraphim Rose go in for shrewd tactics and compromises, or for 'playing the system'?

Nor did he get boosted by a powerful institution (at the time the worldly centres of Orthodoxy were mostly crushed or under Communist control - especially the Russian church).

Then reflect on his actual impact on 'the world' - even thinking merely of the English language world and ignoring the effects on Greek, Russian and other Orthodox cultures.


My point is that the example of Seraphim Rose proves that an individual can make a positive difference, even nowadays, even when measured in a worldly scale.

And this was achieved by doing almost the opposite of trying to make a difference to the world: by a near complete focus on things of the spirit, and on the next world.


Yet Seraphim Rose was trying to change the world, explicitly so; and his first written book 'Nihilism' (written before he became a monk) makes this crystal clear.

It is perhaps the best analysis of nihilism, and a premonition of post-Communist political correctness - written at a socio-political level of analysis - but published only after his death -


Of course, this is not intended as an alternative strategy for a political movement!

It is the opposite; that it is time to stop thinking in terms of political movements and instead to model ourselves on devout and other-worldly saints rather than devious and Machiavellian dictators.

And in doing so, not to seek situations that (we hope) will display our heroism (the David and Goliath scenario - although naturally these should not be shirked if they arise).


In a nutshell, political correctness is not something we ought to seek to slay (how could something so formless and dispersed be slain, except by general catastrophe?).

Seraphim Rose did not work in that way - yet nobody has a deeper understanding of the psychology of PC, and the absolute necessity that PC be replaced.

The necessity, I mean, for our souls - each one of them; never-mind the necessity for PC to be replaced to sustain social order.


The problem of PC is that it would destroy our souls, would render us incapable of attaining salvation - would indeed destroy our humanity.


The David and Goliath scenario is deceptive because in the profoundest sense, this-worldly, nihilistic political correctness cannot be fought: it should be - it must be - displaced.

And displaced in our hearts - by the other-worldly, the transcendental.

The battle against political correctness (against nihilism) is, indeed, essentially an example of spiritual warfare.

Seraphim Rose is a spiritual inspiration - and his effect on the world is 'merely' a by-product.


Considered as such; the example of Seraphim Rose shows that the war could be won, even yet.



Daniel said...

Mr. Charlton,

This is an excellent post. Thank you.

I am personally inspired by writing that I have found largely through the internet which helps me reconcile the good, old things I find in reading old books; and the current situation that I see in everyday life.

Another example of someone like Father Seraphim Rose (though I have read only his book "Nihilism" and a few brief excerpts of other works), to me, is Nicolas Gomez Davila. He was the same as Rose in that he was religious and something of a hermit, and did not seek to "change the world" in the political sense. But he was also different in that he lived a lay life, and concerned himself largely with literature.

Having disparate examples of the same kind of deep soul-finding that you speak of here can be very helpful, since no one model is likely to match exactly the needs and gifts of any one person.

Incidentally, I'm quite confident that I would not have found out about either Fr. Rose or Sr. Gomez without the aid of the internet. The same goes for this blog, naturally.

Bruce Charlton said...

Thanks - I haven't yet tackled Nicolas Gomez Davila - but I heard about him via Deogolwulf's blog.

Of course you are correct that we would not know these things without the internet - or would we? Who knows, really.

But I have no doubt whatsoever that - whatever specific value it has - *overall* the internet (by its vastly enhanced capability for human distraction via sensation-seeking and self-manipulation of emotions, indirect propaganda, reduction of the attention span &c.) is part of the problem and not the solution.

HofJude said...

Thanks again, Dr. Charlton. It occurs to me that one of the unquestioned assumptions of all, both PC and anti-PC, is that "political action" - on the model of the self-conscious "political movement," all originating in the 19th century in the wake of the French Revolution, both right and left, and flowering in 1830s, in the Chartist movement of the 1840s, in 1848 in Europe, etc. etc., and continuing into the 20th century, both the obviously bad and those we suppose that had happy results, such as Gandhism, the civil rights movement in America (though the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, copying the latter, did not end well).
Two things about these movements: first of all, we should by no means be sure that even the "good ones" actually resulted in what they claim to have done. Could Indian independence and Southern US desegregation have happened without Gandhi or Martin Luther King? Quite probably.
Second, as you say, they set out a model which all unthinkingly copy as the only path to bring about "change" or reform. And it may be that the one aspect of modern life that could not have come about without a "movement" method is, precisely, PC. And it may also be, as you suggest, that to oppose it with the same historically relative device - a counter-movement - is an intellectual trap for us, resulting in strategic defeat, tactical frustration, and most important, the necessary failure to adumbrate an alternative to PC.

Bruce Charlton said...

I tend to think that all the movements you describe could be interpreted as having dubious or clearly negative consequences for the mass of people who they purported to help, while having very clear and definite benefits for the elites to whom power and wealth were transferred.

The ending of colonial Africa is the clearest example - in many places 'liberation' from colonialism had clear benefits for the local elites - who became top dogs instead of second fiddle to the colonial powers.

But the mass of the population suffered the most extreme starvation and violence yet seen on earth - which would generally considered to be the worst possible situation, yet of course the end of colonialism is seen by PC as a cause for celebration.

Something similar happened in India - exacerbated by the partition into Pakinstan, then re-partitioning into Bangladesh - each 'liberation' caused immense disadvantage to everybody except the new elites.

But I do not advocate a return to colonialism, because clearly it leads to immense resistance from the colonized - proving that (in a this-worldly and hedonic sense) humans obviously do not know 'what is good for them'.

The repreated rebellion of colonials has demonstrated as a fact that people act as if they have different and non-material goals from optimizing peace and prosperity (or else they can readily be manipulated to act in this way by local elites, which amounts to the same thing in practice).

The repeated successful pattern of 'liberation' from colonialism is therefore yet another proof of the poverty of secular materialism.

(Although I am against colonialism, I am of course in favour of universal *conversion*. In other words I support the *principle* of Christian missionary activity anywhere and everywhere as possible - this is indeed part of divine revelation: it is instructed. So I am not an isolationist.)

Jaz said...

Good post. I've heard it said that "one man plus God make a majority." A good start is live not by lies (as Solzhenitsyn said), because a world in thrall to the devil is a world of lies.

Dirichlet said...

Not to sound pedantic here, but Fr. Rose was born in 1934, not 1954.

Anyhow, an excellent post. Like always.

Bruce Charlton said...

Ooops! Fixed.

Daniel said...

whatever specific value it has - *overall* the internet (by its vastly enhanced capability for human distraction via sensation-seeking and self-manipulation of emotions, indirect propaganda, reduction of the attention span &c.) is part of the problem and not the solution.

I have been thinking about your reply all evening. I think you are basically right, with some qualification needed.

I cannot deny that the charges you lay against the internet are true, and I cannot deny that exactly that litany of faults have found a nest in my own person.

I am 33 years old, and thus right on the cusp of the "internet generation." I grew up and learned to read and study without it. But I began to adopt and explore it through some of the early services like Compuserve when I was only 16 or so, and with the explosion of the web it became a daily part of my life by my early 20s. So it has been formative for me, but not radically so (not radically so the way it is for a 9 year old who lives on the internet today).

Without television, mass-media, and moral relativism, my soul would be better off without the internet. But given that I grew up with all those things, the internet has indeed in some senses saved me already. I had my Shakespeare and my Mahler before I had my internet, but I had hardly any contact at all with people who valued the same things. A one-man outpost is hard to defend.

Nevertheless, what you say remains true... I have great difficulty extracting myself from the internet even once it has served its purpose of pointing me in the right direction through works like those of Rose and Dávila. (That's not an excuse, by the way... it's a mea culpa. Thanks for the opportunity to think about it.)

Daniel said...

"Dávila" in the previous post should read "Gómez," of course. The first surname is the patrinomial. Typical Anglophone mistake when rendering a Spanish surname!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Daniel - I have been fairly active on the internet for more than 15 years, and I think my web pages date from about 12 or so years ago.

Around 2000 I read a lot of libertarian internet articles and books about how the democratization of knowledge would enhance productivity and creativity and science; prevent governments from controlling discourse and so on.

And how the internet would combat the lunacies of political correctness.

At the time I believed them.


Daniel said...

I was only lightly exposed to the libertarian enthusiasm about the internet in the late 90's, and I was not concerned with those issues at the time. So I never held out any hope for the internet revolutionizing society or any of that.

But I still believe, I still know from personal experience that it has incredible power to allow one to circumvent accepted liberal wisdom.

If we believe the truth, once clearly presented, is self-evident to an honest seeker, than even huge digital reams of schlock and lies and pornography and distraction cannot wholly conceal the few kernels of honest truth.

In my university education, for example, the alternative to schlock and lies (and even pornography!) was never even presented. I had literally no concept that a modern person could think hierarchically. My only clue that an alternative had ever existed came from old books and old music. It was a revelation to realize that the old could be made new, through my own person. It may have happened anyway without the internet... but I can't prove that counterfactual. I only know how it did happen.