Wednesday 30 April 2014

The prose artistry of John C Wright


I find it difficult to read through a fiction, a novel, nowadays: I cannot wholly explain this, but it is partly because I read fiction so slowly and deliberately - savouring the prose (or, as is much more usual, being repelled by it).

Yet I have always had a natural and spontaneous ability to appreciate - sensitively to savour and to evaluate - prose artistry.

Once I have caught the 'flavour' of a prose writer, it does not take much to know its quality - esepcially if it is of very high quality.

(Rather as it only takes, say, three short lyrical poems of very high quality to be able to say that here is a real and worthwhile poet - something of the same applies to prose.)


I have thus far read the first section - some 50-70 pages?) of John C Wright's new book Awake in the Night Land - and I can see and say that here is an original and unique and very high quality prose artist - quite aside from any other virtues or deficiencies he may have as a writer of fiction.

What strikes me is the flexibility, the long phrasing, the assured naturalness (as conveyed by euphony or lack of jarring elements) - it reminds me most of when I first encountered Saul Bellow thirty-something years ago; when I was entranced by his prose-writing.

(I have come to dislike, indeed be revolted by, Bellow's world view and the pretentiousness of his content; but remain intoxicated by the actual quality of the prose.)

Wright's prose stands-out by its fluency - because so much prose of the past half century strikes me as over-edited, artificially impressive; in which the style is something generated post hoc, by cutting, chopping, rearranging.


Most modernist prose is a mosaic (much like modernist poetry) - but the best prose in English partakes of the leisurely expansiveness of the originators in the 17th century - the translators of the Authorised Version of the Bible (supremely), Thomas Browne, Thomas Traherne, Richard Burton and the like.

This persisted into the early twentieth century when it became replaced by pared-back, staccato, overwrought assemblages...

I admit these can be impressive, enjoyable, at first and in small doses and as a novelty - but English prose is not naturally or spontaneously of this style.


(The trajectory can be seen in the works of James Joyce - who began as a classic and great prose stylist in works such as the short story The Dead and the early chapters of Ulysses; and ended as a shallow, show-off in the gimmickry of the later, parodic chapters of Ulysses and the whole of Finnegans Wake.) 


Anyway, I am delighted to perceive that John C Wright has reconnected with the mainstream of English Prose - and has clearly achieved something new and marvellous in that line.


Note: I have a sort-of declaration of interest - in that JCW is a penfriend and has done a blurb for my forthcoming book. This is on the basis of his non-fiction blog - and until the past couple of days I had not read any of his fiction. Because of our pen-friendship, if I had not liked the fiction, then I would not have reviewed it - I would simply have said nothing. But my positive evaluation of his prose style is objective and uninfluenced by personal connections - my evaluation must be judged on its own merits. 

Further note: I just realized that the prose intermediary between the 17th century world of Thomas Browne and John C Wright himself is likely to be ER 'Worm Ouroboros' Eddison (1882-1945) - who JCW often mentions as a very particular favourite.  


Tuesday 29 April 2014

Compensation and Christianity - some of those who have difficulty with churches are cats, not goats?


Given that people are so different one from another, it would make sense from a Christian perspective if there were different possible paths through life - it would make sense if personality and ability were subject to a law of compensation.

(Otherwise, surely we would all be born the same? - equally well fitted to following the usual path.)


In other words, if disadvantages from one perspective were actually advantages from another perspective: then self-knowledge could be used to chart a potentially successful and valid course through life.

The only major alternative to compensation would seem to be that most people are born seriously defective - and (through no fault of their own that they know of) have very little chance of making any spiritual progress/ theosis - and indeed are highly likely to fall back into sin and damnation.


This implies that people with personality types that are impulsive, aggressive, unempathic, solitary and so on - in other words people whose basic character is so ill-suited to church membership and the usually-best path - 'must' have compensatory advantages.

If these advantages could be discovered, and understood from a Christian perspective - then many more people might be able to regard themselves as Christian; and accept Christ's salvation, and embark of a successful life of spiritual progression - even when their relationship with the groups of people who constitute the churches would necessarily be either distant or uncomfortable.


In fact, not only should such people (must they) have a valid path to Christian spiritual progression - but this path 'must' also be one that enhances the spiritual progress of other people including those whose personality and path lies within the church (if regarded in the proper light - if properly understood and appropriately used).


Perhaps this is another, and better, way of regarding those who are too awkward a fit for the church - instead of trying to hammer square pegs into round holes pre-prepared for them...

Or, to change the metaphor, instead of regarding the non-sheep - who will not stay with the herd - as necessarily goats (although some will be goats); could not some such people instead be regarded as cats?

You cannot herd cats like sheep can be herded - and cats are often selfish, solitary and lazy; but there is such a thing as a Good cat!


The fullest description of Compensation - indeed although inspired, beautiful and assured; nonetheless a very extreme and unconvincing account - comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay of that name:


Note added - to extend/ torture the sheep/ goats/ cats metaphor even further, it should be noted that most of the most public dissenters and critics and leavers of the real Christian churches of the past several decades are none of these - but might be termed Black Sheep. That is to say the 'Liberals' who are constantly engaged in attacking and subverting the real Christian churches are sheep - but they are sheep of another religion - they are sheep of secular Leftism.

That is: they are sheep like in terms of their docility, obedience, conscientiousness, empathy, groupishness and general herd-ability - they are 'joiners'. They are not independent-minded cats, they are merely looking for a different kind of herd: as I say, sheep of secular Leftism. 

Another groups are 'sheep of a different species' - that is, they are real Christian sheep, but looking for a different Christian herd: for example those real Christians who change to another real Christian denomination. The sincere ones do so - not to find somewhere less onerous and where they can be more disobedient and get away with it - but in order to find a church where they can be more involved, more devout, more strict in their obedience to the church's rules. 

Monday 28 April 2014

Why are mass media entertainments NOT entertaining anymore?


Why are newspapers, television, radio, books and movie entertainments' so-often so UN-entertaining?

Surely their intrinsic function is to entertain?

If so, then how come they seem to get away with failing to entertain?


The answer is that the modern Mass Media also has no intrinsic function but instead generates outputs mainly to evoke reactions from itself. Therefore greatest volume of Mass media communications are internal to the Mass Media - newspapers discussing TV; TV reporting newpapers etc.

The output of the modern Mass Media is therefore generated as seems most likely to provoke Mass Media responses; some of which will lead-onto further Mass Media responses – of a type that grabs and engages the attention of sufficient people in such a way as to fuel further communications (buying more newspapers, generating advertising revenue or subscriptions or buying more equipment or whatever).
In the past, mass media were simply mechanisms for amplification of communications derived from elsewhere - a newspaper serialized a novel, TV broadcast a play or a musical concert, a radio documentary reported some science - such that many people were aware of it instead of just a few.
And for these traditional mass media to amplify entertainments, their communications generally had to be entertaining - that is in some way enjoyable. So they were full of funny comedies, dramatic stories, pleasing music and so on.
Thus, in general, to sell a lot of copies of a novel, people generally had to enjoy that novel; to get a lot of people to watch something on TV, it needed to make people happy, or excited, or make them laugh, or do something pleasing at some level...


But in the modern Mass Media, entertainment does not need to entertain.

Since almost everybody is already addicted to the Mass Media; just so long as a communication compels some kind of attention, then this works just as well as would providing entertainment. And since it is difficult to entertain people en masse and for long periods, in the modern Mass Media given up on entertainment in favour of merely getting attention and evoking a response; by any means...

So although there remains an element of entertainment, the modern mass media mostly attract attention by other (and easier to achieve) means: by evoking disgust, horror, fear, lust, fascination, repulsion, self-satisfaction, pity for others, self-pity, hero-worship, scape-goating...


In sum - the modern mass media aim not to entertain but to provoke strong reactions; and then the mass media react to these reactions, and react to their reaction to these reactions (and so on).

The most representative modern Mass Media event is therefore some kind of staged 'reality' TV show, consisting of people chosen to evoke strong reactions, engineered into situations designed to evoke strong reactions – which may then be selected and displayed to elicit further responses; all this ramifying through and cross-referenced in the print, internet and social messaging media.
In the UK, these include various “Big Brother” and “I’m a Celebrity” TV series; each of which is treated by the Mass Media as a major national event, and accorded saturation coverage.
These ‘reality TV’ shows neither entertain nor inform; but are calculated simply to attract and engage attention by whatever means, and to evoke opinions and generate self-stoking positive feedback in a kind of snowball effect - and all of these iterative reactions may be harvested and channelled into an iterative reactive process - which serves nothing beyond its own growth in media communications.
So, this is how we ended-up with a Mass Media that is, for most people most of the time, compulsive yet unrewarding; addictive but unenjoyable, distracting but not absorbing; hard not-to-watch and hard to avoid talking-about - yet without being in the slightest degree entertaining.


Sunday 27 April 2014

Why is the Lord of the Rings so good at nourishing the spiritual flame?


While it is possible to interpret the Lord of the Rings as containing many Christian, and specifically Roman Catholic, symbols and references - this is not obvious, and indeed any reference to the regular, daily partaking of Mass (which was the focus of RC spirituality in Tolkien's day) in the life of Middle Earth is completely absent.

Likewise, Middle Earth has many resemblances to the pre-Christian pagan world - except that there is no paganism at all! - indeed, no church or formal religion of any kind.

And in this respect, Tolkien's world is completely 'unrealistic' - at least in terms of all known earthly and human societies (which have always been very religious; at least, until the past few decades when the Mass Media has taken-over).


And yet, the Lord of the Rings is a spiritually awakening, nourishing and sustaining book - a strongly spiritual work - at least, for those of certain aesthetic tastes and a certain cast of mind - as I can attest from decades of personal experience; and as I can perceive from the speech and writing of many others.

How is it that an apparently non-religious work seems to be able to maintain a spiritual perspective in people, despite its almost complete lack of religion?


I think the answer is metaphysical - in other words, it is related to the basic set-up of imagined reality which structures the story and the ancillary material.

When people say that Middle Earth seems real - realer, in a sense, than this earth - this is what they probably mean.

It is not convincing characters, nor detailed landscapes and maps, nor the specifics of languages and history that sets Tolkien's mythic world apart from any other I have encountered; it is a step back from all that: the sense that everything fits together in a deep and coherent fashion.


And I mean everything fits together - from the individual pieces of dialogue and the micro-decisions of characters right up to the sweep of the War of the Ring and behind it the History which led to that war.

I do not mean that this was fitt-ed together - explicitly or deliberately by the author - but that it sprang from a comprehensive 'metaphysical' imagination concerning the whole nature of reality in Middle Earth.

So all the details - small and large - grew from and within that metaphysical imagination.


So we may read Lord of the Rings, at least to some extent, from a God's eye view - giving a comprehensive and detailed vision of what happens and why in a convincingly simulated world - therefore we understand the essential nature of Middle Earth (its meaning, purpose and relationships) in way we cannot understand for this earth we live in.

But the fact that it was written by a Man, and the preconditions of human creativity, means that there is a necessary - although very general; non-religious, non-denominational - spiritual relationship between Tolkien's imagining and reality.

Therefore, it is possible (for those who most strongly respond to it) for Lord of the Rings to work at a very deep, subliminal level for Christians and pagans and atheists alike (and, presumably, other religions too).


What effect this spirituality has is another matter: clearly this kind of deep but generic spirituality lacks the power, specificity and strength that a religion may have for a devout and active adherent.

But, on the other hand, it seems that many denominations and religions lack, or are deficient in, exactly the kind of spiritual depth and overview which Lord of the Rings supplies.

And such people may (often without realizing that this is what they are doing) compensate for this religious deficiency - at least to some extent - by a complementary and imaginative identification with Middle Earth.


Also posted at:

Saturday 26 April 2014

What is the aim of the sexual revolution?


The aim of the sexual revolution is to eliminate all opposition to the sexual revolution.


The sexual revolution is a negative thing; its definition is negative, its operations are negations, it is defined by what it isn't. 


The sexual revolution does not, therefore, aim at achieving any particular state of affairs, nor does it favour any particular group of people.

The sexual revolution is not implementing a blueprint. 

The sexual revolution is not trying to, and never could, achieve a situation where it would say - Yes, THIS is it: our job is now to maintain things AS THEY ARE.


No - that can never happen; because there is no such state of affairs and no such situation (if there was, then we would no doubt have heard about it by now).

In sum: the sexual revolution is a permanent revolution: it is perpetual opposition; as it grows, it mutates to ensure it will have ever-more targets.


Like all subspecies of Leftism - the sexual revolution is negative: it knows what it is against, it knows what it hates - but it loves... chaos, disorder, transgression; the triggering and observation of disintegration.


The sexual revolution is 100% process.

That process is destruction.

That which is destroyed is The Good: anything which is Good, and even the concept of Good itself.


The sexual revolution is aimed at destruction of whatever has been or is; whatever tradition or religion or common sense or reason has valued - those things are just exactly what the sexual revolution wants to destroy.

The revolution wants to destroy the belief that sex is important; and it wants to destroy the idea that sex is unimportant; and it wants to destroy the idea that sex has a certain degree of importance. 


Ultimately, whatever people want to keep - for whatever reason; that is defined as precisely what the sexual revolution needs to eliminate.


Ultimately, the sexual revolution has only victims: there are yesterday's victims (chastity, stable marriage, stable families, men), today's victims (marriage itself, women) and tomorrow's victims (everything and everybody else).

But, sooner or later, everybody is a victim.  


Friday 25 April 2014

Animism and the heart


I keep coming across a triadic division of human perception and judgement which divides thinking into heart, head and gut; which places the 'heart' above, and in authority over, the 'head' and the 'gut' (the actual names vary).

In other words, that there is an intellectual-abstract way of evaluating (the head) and an instinctive-animal way of evaluating (the gut) and these are mainstream, and ubiquitous and well understood in modern society - which is in practice divided and alternating between dry analysis and unfettered emotion -

But that properly both of these are ruled by a 'Heart' way of evaluating which we have largely lost, but which we can usually be led to recognize, so long as we acknowledge its reality.


Most recently I came across this in William Arkle:

The spiritually oriented personality is better understood to be working through what we might call the mindfulness of the heart.

Generally speaking we do not take this heart awareness seriously, for we have been schooled to trust only in our head logic. But in other parts of the world, and in different cultures, the mind which belongs to our heart centre is taken as seriously as our head centred mind...

To those of us who have only learned to trust our heads, this heart nature can seem to be an expression of uneducated, undisciplined, and irrational feelings. This devaluing of the mindfulness of the heart is liable to be caused by it being confused with the solar plexus centre, which is the centre of our lower emotional nature, but it may also be caused by the aggressive and inappropriate attitude of our head awareness...

Because heart mindfulness reflects the reference nature of our spiritual individuality, it is in this centre of our nature that we should look for that primal synthesis which has come to be attuned to the understanding of a great many things.

Within this synthesis the portrait of our God can appear, if we choose to look for it, since it is made up of all those varied indications of His character which have come to us from every direction, and which the reference nature naturally tries to combine into one whole picture. Thus it is often said by spiritual teachers that it is by our heart that we shall know God.


For this teaching of the heart to become anything more than nice, warm, touchy feel-good stuff - for heart awareness to be regarded as truly superior to the intellect and the instincts, such that we would properly, justifiably, actually live (or die) by it - requires a metaphysical revolution.

It requires that reality be such that the heart knows, has access to, knowledge about reality; and in practice this implies a connection.

What, in principle, could the heart be connected-with that the brain and the gut perceive only indirectly?

I would say, the aliveness of things.

Therefore; the heart is the 'organ' by which we know the animistic universe - which is primary reality.



Thursday 24 April 2014

Addicted to distraction: Psychological consequences of the modern Mass Media


It isn't published yet, but my new book is now listed on Amazon.

Addicted to distraction: Psychological consequences of the modern Mass Media 

University of Buckingham Press - forthcoming.

In this groundbreaking study, Bruce Charlton sheds brilliant light on fundamental features of our current situation. He develops Marshall McLuhan's insight that "the medium is the message" into a deeply illuminating account of the mass media as a self-sustaining techno-cultural system that absorbs the whole of human life into a virtual world of willfulness and unreality. Like Plato in his Myth of the Cave, he calls for each of us to turn away from flickering images and toward realities. We need to heed that call. 

--James Kalb: author of The Tyranny of Liberalism and Against Inclusiveness

Addicted to Distraction by Bruce G Charlton is a brilliant, pithy, and incisive analysis and condemnation of the modern mass media and its semipurposeful agenda of permanent revolution, permanent hysteria, and permanent chaos. His comments are as cutting as the scalpel of a surgeon performing an autopsy, and his insights a bright and clear as the merciless lights in an operating theater. Can a fish drown? Can it even notice the waters in which it lives and moves? No more than can we notice the totalitarian relativism of the modern mass media. The Mass Media is a roaring, grinding attention-grabbing machine which operates with no set purpose; except the purpose to subvert, uncreate, mock and destroy. It does not matter what the media destroys. Pointless subversion is the point of the media, and the medium is the message. By all means read and understand this book ... and then go out by yourself into the calm and silent wilderness for a year. 

--John C Wright, author and Nebula Award finalist


Cynical young men grow up to become... managers


Browsing the internet, as one does, I discovered a video of the most 'cynical' of my school teachers spouting meaningless management clich├ęs at the end of several decades of a 'successful' career in educational management.

It made me think back to the cynical young men who I have known through my life - the cool, witty guys who tended, grudgingly, to be admired for their detachment.

And how, again and again, these are exactly the people who most comprehensively sell-out - who abandon all principle for expediency.  


But that is what nearly all managers epitomize, what Peter Sloterdijk (in his Critique of Cynical Reason) named 'enlightened false consciousness': that is to say - managers are in a false position, they know they are in a false position, and they carry on, and do very well, operating from that false position.

What young men call cynicism is an ability to be an organization man in public, to be loyal, to be ruthless, to be a total conformist; but in private wittily to dissociate themselves from what they have implemented, to snigger behind the hand at the process and the policies, to wash their hands of responsibility.


These cynical people are, in a sense, most of what is most wrong about most of the modern world - middle managers of evil: they 'manage' to feel good about themselves while doing bad.


Christianity and wine


As the great 'Mere Christian' of the twentieth century, one of the few inter-denominational disagreements among Christians on which CS Lewis had vehement opinions was the matter of alcoholic drinks.

Lewis regarded it as wrong for Christians to make a big thing about prohibiting alcohol on Christian grounds. Lewis himself enjoyed drinking beer and wine (although tea was his main beverage - in enormous quantities - as it was for Charles Williams).

This point put him at odds with some of the Nonconformist Protestant churches such as Methodists, and created a significant point of disagreement with his supporters in the United States.


Lewis was, of course, correct that it would be absurd to regard Christianity as being intrinsically anti-wine-drinking, since wine is built-into the world of the Bible - but on the other hand, there is a scriptural (and logical) basis for stating that Christianity is intrinsically anti drunkenness, anti-intoxication.

(For many reasons: intoxication reduces functionality and encourages accidents, violence, promiscuity - especially among women, drug-taking, and disease.)

In the real world the question of alcohol often hinges on whether - in actual practice and the actual circumstances - it is easy/ possible to drink alcohol moderately, without intoxication.


This varies between societies; and is substantially a 'given' factor.

For example, in Britain today, it is difficult to be a moderate drinker because the norm is drinking to the point of intoxication, and it is regarded as acceptable/ admirable/ polite/ hospitable to offer/ encourage/ push/ trick people into drinking more alcohol than they want.


(Tales of one's own extreme intoxication are a daily staple for young people and also very common among the middle ages/elderly in Britain - most of the snatches of conversations I overhear between young women students in social situations are about the previous night's heavy drinking to the point of incapacity, memory loss etc. This really is mainstream behaviour - not to get drunk/ very drunk regularly is regarded as strange.)


So, on grounds of expediency - to avoid intoxication, it may in some situations be reasonable/ necessary to prohibit alcohol among Christians in many or most situations - and this places some denominations at-odds with a heavy drinking society, and this in turn leads to an excessive emphasis on what is actually a point of expediency.


So, in mainstream culture, and indeed among some denominations (Roman Catholics, particularly) alcohol related behaviour tends to be pushed to extremes.

On the one hand there is advocacy of drinking, massive advertising positive media and artistic depictions, a cult of connoisseurship of beer/ wine and spirits, a set-up of social drinking as the main friendly interaction, and a positive evaluation of intoxication; versus, on the other hand, a very strict and negative attitude toward alcohol.

However, the situation of extreme polarization - while simplistic and lacking in nuance - seems in practice unavoidable or even necessary. On the one hand, wine is built-into Christianity; but on the other hand alcohol is among the most dangerous and damaging of all drugs.

And alcohol is the only drug for which (here and now) excessive consumption is pushed so hard, at so many levels, and by so many different groups.

Declaration of Interest: I drank alcohol for most of my adult life - being particularly fond of beer - in amounts which were normal for my circumstances, but excessive by world historical standards and for my own physiology (which was more-than-usually sensitive to alcohol - and especially the 'hang-over' after effects). I stopped drinking alcohol altogether about 20 years ago, long before I became a Christian; for health/ well-being reasons, when my migraines became severe and were exacerbated by drinking. However, I am not 'teetotal' because I take wine at Holy Communion.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

How big does an IQ gap have to be before it becomes easily noticeable?


Just interested to hear people's personal impressions.

My first notion is that the intelligence gap needs to be at least one standard deviation (15 IQ points) to be easily detectable in normal human interactions.

And my second impression is that the gap needs to be larger looking upwards than downwards.

So, looking 'down' we can readily feel the difference of about one SD (15 IQ points) less than ourselves - but not above us.

Looking 'up' at people of higher intelligence, the IQ gap needs to be bigger than one SD (more than 15 points) for us to notice.


No panaceas


Anything with power to do good, can do harm: there is no effective treatment without risk of harmful side-effects.

Not books, not art, not science, not doctrine, not medicines nor surgery, not education nor training, not the law - nothing is exempted from this rule.

(Not even The Lord of the Rings...)


Tuesday 22 April 2014

"And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many."


From an Easter sermon by Adam Greenwood

Then Pilate has Jesus whipped.
They make fun of him. They dress him up like a fake king with a crown made from a thorn bush. They blindfold him and punch him and tell him to prophesy who it was.
They march him out to an empty lot by a busy intersection where they like to perform executions in public. They execute him and two criminals.
He is dead.
You had still been hoping just a little. But now he’s meat. You feel horrified and betrayed. You also feel afraid. What if they come after the people who cheered him next?
You flee home to hide. All the next day you hide there. It all came to nothing. Gloom. Hopelessness. Misery.
The day after is Easter.
You hear a knock on your door. You are scared. You peek out. Remember your mother that died? You hallucinate that its her.
The hallucination speaks in your mother’s voice. “It’s me. I’m alive. Touch me” She is shining and beautiful. She comes in and it really is her.
She hugs you. She hugs your children. She tells you that she loves you. She says that Jesus has come back to life because he is stronger than death. She says he brought back many of his followers with him. She is radiating happiness. She tells you that death is not the end for anybody. She tells you that you will all be together again.
When she leaves, you are crying. You feel like your heart will break with joy.
You rush out to share the news. You aren’t the only one. Other people have seen their loved ones. My husband, one says. My wife. My child. My father. My mother. It is so wonderful.
Jesus’ closest friends and associates even say they saw him. There is amazement and awe. There is a feeling of something sacred.
And his friends tell you something else. He made the dead alive again, they say, but he will also make the sinner pure. He will make the broke man whole and the weak man strong. It is certain.
You see those friends change. You weren’t impressed with them before. They were just like you. Now you see them rebuke kings and leaders.
You receive your own witness.
You also believe.

Explaining Jewish intellectual achievement: the temporal relationship between Ashkenazi and European dysgenic change


The anthropomorphic God - observations from William Arkle


William Arkle's excerpted essay in italics, my comments in normal font:



My feeling is that we must discover the nature of the Creator’s person to be so loveable that we try to read the heart of His being in order that we may delight and fulfil its longing…

Note: Arkle's basic insight is that we find ourselves in this world, and our main task is to accept the great gift of God's personal love. The reality of the situation is hard for us to perceive because our experience of mortal life is (necessarily, for reasons to do with its purpose) so slow and close-up. 


For us, whose spirits are so often weary with the difficulties of the world the release from anxiety and frustration which comes to us if we enter any sphere of relative bliss, must seem to be enough... There are many people who have experienced this blissful aspect of their nature, so it is not out of place to ask why the Creator, or if they prefer it, the One Life, did not arrange for them to be born directly into this blissful state, if reaching it was the sole purpose of creation.

Note: The goal of life for many 'Eastern' religions (e.g. Hinduism, Buddhism and some New Age spiritualities) is an impersonal state of bliss. Arkle regards this as one possibility - but not the best; and points out that bliss cannot be the highest aim of a loving God because otherwise we would be born directly into bliss, rather than having to endure mortal earthly life.  


Why should there be any physical manifestation, with all the accompanying effort, if blissful nature was only concerned to become blissful nature again, and paid no heed to individual characteristics to further its intrinsic purpose?

Note: Furthermore, incarnation - life in a body, dwelling on a physical earth, and each of us distinctive in terms of physique, personality, abilities etc - has no point if impersonal bliss were the highest purpose. If humans were supposed-to lose self, lose ego, lose personality, and lose our bodies - then the obvious arrangement would be to by-pass this tedious mucking-about on earth, and we would simply 'go to bliss, go directly to bliss, do not pass Go, do not collect 200 pounds'. 


Such a reality would not support the demonstration and experience of values which we, as men and women, continually stumble upon. There is no room in such an enclosed system for the individual courage, integrity and affection which we know exists. Or if these qualities exist in our experience, they become in this reality only a dream and a game, and their significance is insubstantial. I should not choose to take part in such a game willingly, and the bliss of such a reality has for me already taken on a quality which devalues itself, as well as what I have unwittingly mistaken to be myself...

Note: Arkle notes that for humans to be aimed at impersonal bliss, destroys all the 'values' which we encounter in mortal incarnate life - virtue, beauty, truth - all types of goodness are re-framed as delusions. They are reduced to the significance of 'a dream and a game'. To regard this world as an illusion may free us from attachment to misery, ugliness, lies, pain - but inevitably is does so at the cost of regarding all values (negative and positive) as delusions. Demotivation is complete; alienation is complete. 


I feel sure that the picture we have just drawn is one which many people hold when they take up the pursuit of the spiritual path; and at the same time feel that the idea of a real God, to whom we can relate, is an immature and childish attempt to sustain the reality of our wishful thinking. They would say that an idea of a personal God is 'anthropomorphic' and, in our present climate of thought, this is expected to be automatically a damning criticism.

Note: Arkle highlights that modern culture, including modern spirituality, is rooted in a cynical pseudo-sophistication that regards an anthropomorphic (Man-like) concept of God as 'immature and childish' - he might add unintelligent, uneducated, and in general pitiful.  


The answer I would like to give to this is simply to state that the anthropomorphic condition can be taken the other way. That is, it can be taken as a supreme compliment on the part of the Creator who has endowed us with an image which conforms to His own image because He has such high hopes of us. In a cynical age this simple and most beautiful attitude is the hardest of all to uphold.

Note: For Arkle, God made us in his image because his highest hope is that we will become, eventually, deified to the extent of becoming his divine 'friends' - because God desires, wants, yearns for companionship, for Heavenly 'society'. This is regarded as the basic motivation behind creation: God's yearning.  


To imagine a God in the image of degenerate man is one thing, but to imagine man to be capable of living and upholding all the most valuable qualities of God’s nature is quite another. This gift to us of ourselves, as something which can sustain comparison with that of the Divine nature is exactly the gift which I believe our Creator is endeavouring to bring about.

Note: Arkle here turns-around the usual criticism that anthropomorphism is imagining God merely in the image of Men - when Men are such degenerate creatures. Instead he invites us to imagine Man created in God's image - which entails that God is Man-like - because God hopes that we will become capable of living in the same way as God.

So Man in God's image can be regarded as a dragging-down from the divine; or, as here, a raising-up to the divine.

For Arkle, clues to the human condition are in ourselves: in our physical appearance, and in our deepest motivations and yearnings. We contain an essence of God (a divine spark) in a partial and embryonic form.

Therefore, if we can intuit and bring-out these deepest yearnings, we find they clarify, complement and confirm other spiritual knowledge - most specifically divine revelations - and provide understanding, direction, motivation and delight in our proper spiritual path in this world.

And a crucial step is to acknowledge that because we are like God, then God is like us.


Monday 21 April 2014

Review of The Mikado - by Gilbert and Sullivan


Why is it that The Mikado is the best of all comic operas or musicals?

That it is indeed the best, is the decision of posterity, of audiences - and is in fact true.

The opera is done by amateur societies all over the world, all the time - always pulls in the audiences, and is always enjoyed; is revived professionally and recorded and filmed again and again - and led to the best British movie of recent years Topsy-Turvy (1999) from which the above photograph of the Three Little Maids is taken.


I know the piece very well, having been in it twice and watched it or listened to it innumerable times.

I wouldn't say it is my absolute personal favourite G&S - perhaps that would be Iolanthe, or Trial by Jury or HMS Pinafore (hard to choose!) - but I acknowledge it as the best.

There is so much that is so good. The comic pieces are probably best known - for instance the Three Little Maids or the Mikado's song ('A more human Mikado...") - but the general level of the piece is extraordinarily high.


It starts with a trio of top-notch songs: the striking and witty (and very 'Japanese') Men's chorus"If you want to know who we are" is followed by one of the best known tenor songs "A wandering minstrel I" - which is actually three songs, all very good - two bracketed by the other.

Gilbert's lyrics are at a very high level of wit - with ironies coming so thick and fast that it is hard to absorb them.

But if patriotic sentiment is wanted 
I've patriotic ballads cut and dried
For where-ere our countries banner may be planted
All other local banners are defied
Our warriors in serried ranks assembled
Never quail - or they conceal it if they do
And I shouldn't be surprised if nations trembled
Before the mighty troops - the troops of Titi-Pu!


Then comes the musically marvellous (although narratively flawed) high baritone song "Our great Mikado" from Pish-Tush (which role I had the honour of failing to perform to its best, a while back).

Then comes Pooh Bah (the jumped-up, corrupt and arrogant 'Lord High Everything Else') who  is a relatively 'minor' character in terms of plot, but is one of the great and lasting characters of English literature  - and he has just about the best and funniest dialogue of anybody in G&S. 

All these tend rather to whizz past the audience - but establish the very high level of the piece as a whole and prepare for the first 'showstopper' of the Little List song from the comic baritone Ko-Ko.

As well as Pish-Tushe's, there are some wonderful and dramatically-effective songs which in any other setting would 'make the show', but here are overshadowed and almost forgotten  - "So please you Sir, we much regret" and "The criminal cried" are such gems (aside: the latter has one of the most enjoyable chorus tenor harmony lines I have ever sung).

Gilbert and Sullivan's genius was working so fluently here that such marvels are tossed-off left, right and centre.


There is a lot of high spirits, nonsense and satire all throughout - but what really puts the Mikado into a class of its own is the way that this is combined so naturally with really lovely lyrical sections of music.

Three examples: The love duet 'Were you not to Ko-Ko plighted' - between the tenor Nanki-Poo and soprano Yum-Yum is (properly done) both witty and laugh-aloud funny- but it ends with a suddenly slow two-part harmony section and a wistful little play-out that suddenly but without over-emphasis reveals that there is a real affection between these two characters.

Yum-Yum's solo, "The sun whose rays" is as good a soprano aria, musically speaking, as an English composer has ever written - in particular, the way in which the deft little touches of extra orchestration elevate the second verse and chorus to new heights.

And this top-notch musicality is matched, phrase for phrase, with wonderful lyrics - that begin as a satire on Yum-Yum conceit at her own beauty - following on from the dialogue in which she says - "Sometimes I sit and wonder, in my artless Japanese way, why it is that I am so much more attractive than anybody else in the whole world."

The lyric deserves quotation in full as it moves from teenage arrogance to a transcendent magnificence:

The sun, whose rays
Are all ablaze
  With ever-living glory,
Does not deny
His majesty--
   He scorns to tell a story.
He won't exclaim,
   "I blush for shame,
   So kindly be indulgent."
But, fierce and bold,
In fiery gold,
   He glories all effulgent.
I mean to rule the earth,
   As he the sky--
We really know our worth,
   The sun and I.

Observe his flame,
That placid dame,
   The moon's Celestial Highness;
There's not a trace
Upon her face
   Of diffidence or shyness:
She borrows light
That, through the night,
   Mankind may all acclaim her.
And, truth to tell,
She lights up well,
   So I, for one, don't blame her.
Ah, pray make no mistake,
   We are not shy;
We're very wide awake,
   The moon and I.

The third example occurs in the finale of Act 1 when the genuinely nasty villainess Katisha comes on stage to expose the true identity of Nanki-Poo and claim him as her betrothed. Her interruption is swept aside by a cheerful song, chorus and dance" For he's going to marry Yum-Yum", which unexpectedly winds-down into a freeze of all on stage except Katisha, who sings a short and lovely melody "The hour of gladness" describing her desolate state of loneliness - before the stage un-freezes and she recommences her nasty work.

The hour of gladness
Is dead and gone;
In silent sadness
I live alone.
The hope I cherished
All lifeless lies,
And all has perished,
All has perished,
Save love, which never dies;

Which never, never dies.

This is unsurpassed theatrical genius.


Sunday 20 April 2014

Christ's work - a complex answer to several problems


There are several (orthodox) Christian explanations of Christ's work including the atonement - and an explanation is not the doctrine, or belief - an explanation is not necessary.

Nonetheless, this is a problem which - it seems - won't leave me alone; not least because I find the standard formulations to be either meaningless or actively-misleading.


The difficulty is that Christ's incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection and Lordship is a very complicated and 'roundabout' and linear series of 'answers' - indicating that whatever the problem/s they solved were several-fold, and also that there was 'no other way' for them effectively and completely to be addressed.

So there is no short and simple explanation for what Christ did, but only an answer which includes - or at least assumes - multiple needs and constraints.


Christ got us everlasting life, so we would not die - which is necessary for life to be meaningful; but what is everlasting life contrasted with?

The context is one where souls (or spirits) are already (and necessarily) everlasting (and also, I believe, we had a pre-mortal spirit existence).

Thus, 'everlasting life' apparently means specifically an everlasting incarnated life - life with a soul in a body such as we have now.


But then the kind of everlasting life we get is one when we must first die in the sense that our body must die, and the soul will (for a while at least) be severed from the body; and it was obtained for us by Christ Himself dying.

If we were to die without Christ's work, we would have an eternity as a severed soul (this, I infer, is what is described as the demented, witless state of spirits in Sheol, Hades or the Northern pagan Hel); and this is not the same state as our pre-mortal spirit life (and not the same as the spirit life of a never-incarnated angel).

It seems that to have been incarnated and then to die means that the soul or spirit will be maimed/ incomplete eternally (whereas never to have been incarnated seems to be okay).


So incarnation - if it is to have any point to it - must be in one sense potentially better than to have a pre-mortal spirit life; yet the post-death spirit life is worse than the pre-mortal spirit life.

And also, it seems that eternal (endless) life without first dying is not a blessing - but that it is best we should first die.

What is needed is resurrection - but resurrection cannot simply be either not dying, nor can it be a coming back to life (like Lazarus). The reason is that we are so very flawed, so very corrupted by sin that an eternity of living as we are now would be a torment.


So, to be fitted for resurrection into eternal life we must first be purified and perfected; this is the specific function of Christ's atonement.

By Christ's work of atonement we can be perfected and purified so as to be able to live forever with great happiness; but this requires that:

1. first we die and are resurrected, and

2. during this process, in-between death and resurrection, we are purified and perfected.


So, this clarifies, or narrows-down, what the atonement does and where it is located in terms of death and resurrection.

But how it is done remains obscure to us - as if we were very young children to whom an advanced scientific or technical process was being described - something like the functioning of a nuclear reactor, or fractional distillation.


Things happened as they must happen - the complex 'rigmarole' described in the Bible was the only way that the necessary could be achieved.

Time just is linear and sequential - therefore for Christ to enable us to die and be resurrected (apparently) required that Christ himself (Lord and maker of this earth) Himself become incarnated, died and was resurrected over Time and in human history.

And required also that Christ performed that act of atonement whereby He took upon Himself the sins and corruptions which we necessarily accumulate through mortal life with free agency and the reality of purposive evil.


And even this rather complicated answer to explain what Christ did remains seriously incomplete, because it leaves out Christ's teaching ministry, the role of the church, the role of scripture - and many other vital matters.


Henry the Bear / Henry Thoreau - children's books by DB Johnson


Among my children’s perennial favourite picture books from earlier years are the series about Henry the Bear by DB Johnson.

Henry the Bear is actually the early 19th century writer Henry David Thoreau - and while the first four books of the series are all good, probably the first of these - Henry Hikes to Fitchburg - is the best because the 'plot' is so original and satisfying.


The plot idea was inspired by a famous passage from Walden - which defines Thoreau’s idea of economics: 

One says to me,“I wonder that you do not lay up money; you love to travel; you might take the cars and go to Fitchburg today and see the country.”

But I am wiser than that. I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot.

I say to my friend, “Suppose we try who will get there first. The distance is thirty miles; the fare ninety cents... Well, I start now on foot, and get there before night;...You will in the meanwhile have earned your fare, and arrived there some time tomorrow, or possibly this evening, if you are lucky enough to get a job in season.

Instead of going to Fitchburg, you will be working here the greater part of the day.”

What happens in the children's book is that Henry and his friend make a wager about who will get to Fitchburg first: will it be Henry who spends all his day walking (approximately thirty miles), or the friend who takes various odd jobs to raise the money for the train fare?

We see, in parallel pictures, the friend working (mostly chores for other famous Concord luminaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott) and then running to catch the train to Fitchburg; compared with the way-stages on Henry's journey - crossing streams, taking honey and being attacked by bees, botanising etc.

The moral is that Henry enjoys and is fulfilled-by the activities of his day - every step of the way - and is enriched by the experiences; while Henry's friend's day is simply a 'means to the end' of purchasing the ticket. Even the eventual rail journey is itself cramped and contorted.


It is a nice, realistic, touch that 'the friend' actually gets there first, and wins the bet (the picture above is the final two-page splash of them meeting) - but only because Henry stopped to gather blackberries into a pail; which the two of them can now sit and eat in the moonlight.


Saturday 19 April 2014

Creativity and hobbies


Hobbies are the proper forum for creativity - as a general rule: hobbies being chosen pastimes done for personal satisfaction and not economic benefit.

We ought not to look to our jobs as a place to exercise creativity.

Furthermore, we ought not to look for status via our hobbies: status is a zero sum game - there can be only one winner.

And from this perspective, by these considerations, most hobbies are done wrongly and many jobs decisions are incorrect.


So, we should try to do our creative hobbies well, but try not to get too tangled-up in things like entering poetry competitions or best-vegetable competitions or winning the local sports leagues; or selling our paintings or cookies or hand-knitted clothes.

And we should avoid (as a rule) doing supposedly-creative jobs, like dancing or acting or being a musician or writing 'novels' - where the actuality, for 95% plus of participants, that (overall) you pay-out to do the job; and the job mostly is mundane and unfree, and the participants become whiny/ arrogant from a culture continually demanding praise, prestige and state-subsidy.


With this in mind, hobbies are most delightsome things, and their decline is a sad indictment of modernity.

As a child, I was always astonished at the hobbies of the working class men in the North - in which they had created an autonomous world of gardening for vegetables or flowers, fishing, keeping pigeons or whippets, making things from wood and so on - and the women did knitting, specialized in particular types of cooking - and so on.

(But generally, the women did not so clearly distinguish hobbies from their home work, and this was either a deficiency or simply due to different nature: for women, using leisure time in visiting and meeting together to chat over a cup of tea was perhaps a greater satisfaction than any solo or team hobby could be.)


There was, indeed, an element of competition (e.g. who could grow the largest leeks, or racing whippets or pigeons) and some economic function (catching fish and growing tomatoes, gooseberries or  new potatoes for the table) - and this was a fatal weakness when taken too seriously.

But as a rule, the money-making or possibility of social recognition functioned as a more-or-less plausible excuse, publicly to legitimize men spending so much time just 'pottering around' and doing something quietly creative and expressive, and doing it for their own satisfaction - often in meditative solitude.    


Friday 18 April 2014

Visit to a (Wagnerian) Rivendell - Cragside in Northumberland


We had a wonderful walk today, through one of my favourite spots on earth - the Cragside estate in Rothbury, Northumberland.

Parts of it remind me of Rivendell - but as imagined by a Wagnerian (which was a fair description of its creator - the Victorian industrial colossus Lord Armstrong),_1st_Baron_Armstrong

It made me realize again that the most perfect beauty comes from a combination of Man and Nature in harmony - for example the woodland paths curling around the hill (to give continuously-changing but always lovely views), channeled though cliffs and paved with rough sandstone slabs that have become sweetened with lichen; or the 'artificial' lakes which have by now settled deeply into the surrounding cliffs and trees that reflect in the placid surface.


Easter - the sorrow, and the joy


From Elder Neil L Andersen 

Sin has always been part of the world, but it has never been so accessible, insatiable, and acceptable.

There is, of course, a powerful force that will subdue the whirlwinds of sin.

It is called repentance.


President Thomas S. Monson has said, “Where once the standards of the Church and the standards of society were mostly compatible, now there is a wide chasm between us, and it’s growing ever wider.”...

This past month the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve published a letter to leaders of the Church across the world. In part it read: “Changes in the civil law do not, indeed cannot, change the moral law that God has established. God expects us to uphold and keep His commandments regardless of divergent opinions or trends in society. His law of chastity is clear: sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife....” 

While many governments and well-meaning individuals have redefined marriage, the Lord has not. In the very beginning, God initiated marriage between a man and a woman—Adam and Eve. He designated the purposes of marriage to go far beyond the personal satisfaction and fulfillment of adults to, more importantly, advancing the ideal setting for children to be born, reared, and nurtured.

Families are the treasure of heaven.


Also two new inspiring Easter-theme videos from 

I am extremely grateful for the media produced by the LDS; they are a great source of spiritual nourishment and strength.


Thursday 17 April 2014

Spin bowling speculations: the flipper-doosra


What is intelligence? (in a popular sense of the word)


Love is about families - about *generation*


If, as Christians (must) believe, Love is the most important thing there is - then of course Love cannot actually be defined (because that would be to define the more fundamental in terms of the less fundamental) but what can be said about it?

One distinction is to ask what kind of a thing Love is.

To which several answers have been given.


Modern culture regards love as a psychological state - but clearly that won't do; because psychological states are evanescent, and constantly changing - and have such individual applicability that they cannot convincingly be extrapolated to be the most important thing in the universe.

To regard Love as a psychological state inevitably trivializes Love; and is therefore intrinsically anti-Christian.

(...Which is why Love as a Psychological State has become so popular in secular modern culture - and why this belief has now been made mandatory, and why this belief is now imposed by coercive force. Modernity is Leftist, and Leftism is built-upon anti-Christianity.)


Classical medieval theology regards Love as something physics-like - something which (for example) keeps the stars and planets in their orbits.

This is much better, but such a way of speaking (such a metaphor) strongly tends to make Love into some kind of impersonal force - something much like gravity or magnetism.

And thereby this renders God into an impersonal force. By regarding the universe as created and sustained, as held-together by Love, Love (if it was really real) becomes something we would expect to detect and measures with sufficiently sensitive instruments. And when this doesn't happen, we may lose faith in love.

Although this kind of abstract conception of Love would be appropriate for impersonal religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, an abstract metaphor is the opposite of what is needed for Christians where God is our Father and Jesus is our Saviour.


My suggestion is that we regard Love as being about families - as a thing which happens primarily in families; ; and families as being organized-around the process of generation.

This means that the paradigm Christian Love is the love of husband and wife (where the marriage relationship is a sanctified sexuality); and the love of parents for their children; and the love between siblings; and the love between the whole network of such relations - the extended family, the clan, a 'people'.

All these are properly considered as different inflections of the same basic kind of thing.


The love is about 'generation' in the double sense that it is about (organized-around) the procreation of new generations and that it is about (organized-around) what binds different generations. 

In divine terms, the emphasis is that all people have at least a parent-child relationship with God, and therefore sibling relationships with one another.

(And as well as this minimum Love, some people are united by different forms of more-than-this love - husbands and wives, brothers in families and so on.)

But this universal minimal Love of God for Father and all Men as siblings leads to the 'adoptive' aspect of Christian love (sometimes emphasized by St Paul)

...Which I would interpret as implying, on the one hand, that the fullness of Love is necessarily a voluntary choice. We just are God's children and united by brotherly love, like it or not; but this real relationship may be acknowledged and embraced; or (perhaps dishonestly or ignorantly) denied and rejected: that is a choice.

And on the other hand, that the revelation of the sibling relatedness of all men means that there is a mystical 'transferability' between earthly families. In other words, earthly 'genetic' relatedness - such as the genetic links of a family, clan or a people - is ultimately superseded by a larger Heavenly concept of Christian sib-ship - universal Brotherhood and Sisterhood.

Which simply means that family is NOT reducible to genetics; and generation is NOT reducible to reproduction - they are of course about this things, but there is (vitally) much more to the concept of family and generation than merely 'science'.


What would this idea of Love as being about families and relational mean in terms of the physics of the universe?

The answer would depend on the basic metaphysical understanding.

One answer could be that Love 'works' to bind and run the universe in the sense that everything (everything) is alive (more-or-less alive); and that there is an affiliation between the living.

So what we call gravity would be, in transcendental terms, something like an extremely weak and impersonal form of love.


Another answer could be that at least some of the 'physics' of the universe (basic matter, and what we recognize as the 'laws' of physics - what things are and how things interact) may be a 'given' - that is not a part of God's creation but something God works-within.

For example, it seems to me that Time just is linear and sequential - it can go faster or slower (e.g. along the lines described by Einstein, but not necessarily constrained by Einstein's discoveries); but there is nowhere outside of Time, and Time cannot be reversed - nor is Time travel possible (and any physics theory which states that such things can happen is ultimately wrong; no matter if such theories have some pragmatic value).

Thus Time is a constraint for God as for us, it is a 'given', something we live 'within' and within-which Love and Families and Generation happens.

And therefore Time (and by extension 'matter' and 'the laws of physics' are not a part of the economy of Love; but are the backdrop to the drama of Family Love which is the meaning and purpose of the Universe.


But however we fit families into all of reality (or all or reality into families) - families provide the vocabulary, the metaphor, the best and truest way of talking about Christian Love.


Wednesday 16 April 2014

Review of a 1968 BBC documentary on Tolkien in Oxford


The cognitive genome - the genome may be able to learn and direct evolution


Just passing on the fruits of a recent conversation with a knowledgeable scientist whom I respect and trust - about a major piece of work he is doing.

There is a very interesting and plausible new perspective emerging (with evidence from multiple places, and nobody yet having combined it) that the genome may be regarded as having 'cognitive' properties, due to the systematic inter-communication of genes - and that this is consistent with the ability to direct genetic change (mutations and other changes) in an adaptive direction.

This would be a major revision to 'the central dogma' of molecular biology (that information only flows from nucleic acids to proteins), and the standard description of natural selection as being based upon undirected (so-called 'random') mutations - the new idea is that (presumably as a consequence of natural selection) the genome functions  somewhat like a 'brain' that models the environment, and responds by changing itself in a directed (and 'purposive') fashion that would be expected to enhance reproductive success.

This would mean that natural selection would not have to wait for undirected ('random') mutations to generate adaptive changes to the organism; but instead (or as well) the mutation process would itself be manipulated to make adaptive changes much more probable. The genome would itself be able to accelerate and direct evolutionary change. 

Having heard the evidence, and knowing about systems theory as an explanatory model, I find this plausible as a possible biological mechanism. It may emerge as a better - more comprehensive - over-arching theory (paradigm) than the one we have now - or a significant supplement to it.

The question is - even if true - how important it is - and whether it has played a central role in evolution; or just applies to unusual and specific situations.


Tuesday 15 April 2014

Young people Don't Know What To Do with their lives - the modern motivation deficit


If you ask modern young people what they want to do with their lives, they will either not be able to answer, or give an answer that reveals they have no real answer.

Non-answers include travel, 'cool jobs', working abroad, taking a 'year out/ gap year', or further training and education (without any particular desire to embark on a vocation or profession).

Which is to say, nothing much at all.


But mostly the desire is to pass the time in as pleasant a way as possible - hanging-out with friends, going-out for meals, 'partying' (intoxicating music, drink and drugs), sexual adventures and psychodrama, adopting a series of fashionable lifestyles and causes, 'cool' holidays and hobbies... that kind of stuff.

Which is to say, nothing much at all.


More important, most important, is the negative side: modern young people do NOT want to get married and do NOT want to have children.

They don't want to rule-that-out: not at all. They would like to have the option of doing that kind of thing, sometime or another - but they don't want to do it yet...

They would much rather delay doing it; because... well, because they have all this other stuff (see above) - which they do not particularly want to do (nothing they would sacrifice anything for!) but which, well, everybody else seems to be doing, and talking about, and communicating on social networks, and so on.


Of course everybody goes to college - but they don't go for the education, merely to pass the exams; and they don't want to pass the exams to do anything in particular - but merely to take the next step towards [see above]. 

As a rule, modern young people are not truly preparing themselves for a job/ role/ profession - although they say that this is the most important things to them (much more important than raising a family of course!).

(In fact there have never been many people - a few percent of men [I am among them] and less than one percent of women - who are genuinely motivated by their 'work'. A job just insn't the kind of thing that motivates many people.)

And although college life is highly sexualized, modern young people are not even trying to find a wife or husband - that would be altogether too uncool, gross, tacky, sad, lame, desperate.

And if they do college sports, then it is not for any goal but to keep fit (i.e. slim, tanned and toned to assist with sexual adventuring), or to pass time, find some friends, have something to talk/ boast about, whatever...

And if they search for the meaning of life, they do not look towards religion but towards self-help psychotherapy and spirituality - which helps pass time pleasantly and seamlessly supports the above lifestyle.


We live in a society where there is a very serious, perhaps terminal, motivation deficit - except the motivation to avoid doing the only things which actually can serve as real, powerful motivators: marriage, family, religion.

So in fact there is a social situation of less-than-zero motivation; because the most powerful motivation is to avoid those few things which are capable of motivating.


The animated universe - everything is (more, or less) alive


A few weeks ago I came up with a metaphysical argument which stated that either everything is alive, or nothing is alive - and if nothing is alive, then no argument of any kind has validity - therefore everything is alive.

In other words, this argument suggests that we live in an animated universe - so that, for example, we move through a living world (even when our environment is made of glass, plastic and concrete) and when we look up at the night sky this is a window on life (not a distant view of dead things).

In other words again - reality is 'biology', and not only physics.


The usual assumption is that some things are alive (plants and animals) while others are not - but it has proved so difficult to hold this line that public discourse has drifted further and further towards being based on the nihilistic assumption that nothing is alive.

In biology, the focus used to be on life, and the interest was in the difference between living and non-living things. A boundary was never found, and indeed modern biology was honed at precisely the boundary since bacteriophages (a kind of virus infecting bacteria) were the primary 'experimental animal' in the genetic research of the mid-twentieth century. This change in perspective seems to have been influenced by the importation of physicists into biology - specifically as small book called What is Life? by Erwin Schroedinger.

Viruses are 'not alive' in the sense that they do not have a metabolism; and the focus in biology shifted from 'life' to 'replication' - instead of being defined by what was alive, biology was defined by what replicated: by whatever was subject to natural selection. The focus on the origins of life shifted from the first 'alive' entities to an interest in the earliest replicating entities. Indeed, modern biology ignores the question of what is alive.


Here we get to the point of 'what is a metaphysical argument?'.

In one sense a metaphysical argument is not affected by science; because metaphysics is the basic understanding of reality - how reality is set-up and structured - and science takes place inside metaphysics, and according to the assumptions of metaphysics.

So in discussing 'what is life?' in a metaphysical way we do not begin by defining life in a precise and scientific fashion - because that would pre-decide the metaphysics - because any actual science arose within some already-existing metaphysics.

Thus when Schroedinger asked What is Life? and began to answer the question in terms of replication, he had already defined life in terms of replication ad thereby included anything which replicated - even crystals, minerals and any propagating structure.


So metaphysics begins with 'common sense' - with the belief that some things are alive, and especially that people are alive.

But what is common sense on this matter? Children (all over the world, even in modern cultures, and throughout known history) seem to regard everything which is a defined form, anything which can be regarded as separable from the rest of the world, as potentially more-or-less alive.

Some things are certainly more alive than others, but a piece of clay which you have shaped into an animal may become alive, and even a clay pit may have a kind of life. Life either comes and goes in the same object - or else becomes greater and lesser without ever quite disappearing (rather like a seed or spore may lie dormant and apparently 'dead' for many years or centuries before being wetted and coming-alive).

It is hard to say what is not alive - to a child, pretty much anything is potentially alive or has a little but of life in it.

Much the same seems to be true of hunter gatherers - where it is called 'animism'. Hunter gatherers (and it is assumed all human ancestors lived as hunter gatherers within about the past 15K years) seem to regard everything as either more, or less, alive - and the more-alive things are assumed to be aware, and sometimes even consciously aware - 'sentient'.

Common sense apparently, therefore, is probably that aliveness is a continuous variable but never wholly-absent - rather than a dichotomous state.


But is the universe really alive?

Surely modern science has proven - by its success - that most things are not alive - for example that the mineral world (including outer space) is not alive...

And what difference does it make anyway?


The answers depend on whether you take seriously metaphysical arguments, and whether - in principle - you could be convinced by a metaphysical argument to change your view on anything. I find the above metaphysical argument to be compelling - that if we believe in life at all, then we must believe everything is alive to a greater or lesser degree (or, at least, we must believe that everything is potentially alive).

And if we believe in metaphysical arguments, we must recognize that they are not legitimately affected by science - or more precisely that the in-practice decision to derive metaphysics from scientific assumptions is itself a covert metaphysical argument.

Schrodinger's hypothesis that the gene could be regarded as a physics-type (not alive) entity does not have any necessary metaphysical consequences - but in practice it seems to have introduced a habit of thought which led to everything, even human beings, being regarded as not alive - of humans (and all the rest of biology) being regarded as 'replicating entities' - and of the denial of many common sense ideas about the reality of the soul, life after death, consciousness and so on.

Biologists began by making a working hypothesis to frame their genetic research, and ended up becoming the frontline troops for atheism, nihilism, scientism and all the rest of it. Or else, considering that almost all biologists were already atheists, maybe the conversion of biology to physics was mostly an excuse, a rationalization, for atheism?

And anyway, it seems that the line between alive and not-alive, between old-style biology and everything else, was one which did not exist; therefore it was a line that could never have been held - even if biology has not been taken-over by the explanatory models of physics and chemistry.


But does it make any difference?

Well, ask yourself. Would it make any difference if you believed that everything you saw, heard tasted, smelled and touched was alive - or if, on the other hand, everything is really not alive - including yourself which thinks this thought; which is actually the modern mainstream view - epitomized by the idea that the mind IS information-processing, and could and probably soon will be downloadable.

Does it make any difference to regard the mind as in reality (bottom line) information processing, and human families as in reality (bottom line) replication of genetic information?

Well, yes of course.

How modern people behave, for example the fact that they prefer virtual lives to people, and that they replicate digital information rather than having babies, makes as much sense as anything does in a universe which is not alive - but this is psychotic behaviour if ours really is a living universe.


If the universe really is alive, but we are denying it, then we are insane.

But if the universe really is not-alive, and our childhood and historical belief that it was alive was merely ignorance, then nothing matters anyway - since nothing could, in principle, matter: mattering is something that would only have meaning in a living universe.


Monday 14 April 2014

CS Lewis's The Four Loves - this re-reading it seemed wrong and confused


I took CS Lewis's The Four Loves on holiday to re-read for (I think) the third time - but this time I got stuck on it, it seemed wrong - and the 'climactic' chapter on Agape/ charity or the pure 'gift love' of God seemed particularly deficient, unconvincing, confused.

Lewis describes the three lower loves of Storge (familial or familiar love), Eros (romantic and erotic love) and Philia (friendship) - and there is, as always with Lewis, much worthwhile among his comments and observations.

But I find that his need qualitatively to distinguish charity from the other loves has distorted the whole argument. For Lewis it is vital that God does not need to love us, that God's love is a pure (unmerited) gift - a one-way love, in effect; and this is necessary because Lewis's view of God is a being that does not have needs.

My own view is that God does not (of course not) 'need' human love for His original or continued existence; but I would say that God does 'need' our love in the sense of wanting it and benefiting from it, and being saddened by its lack. And indeed this is precisely why God created Man - because of this kind of 'need' (desire, yearning) for Man's love - freely given.

And in this sense, God's Love (agape/ charity) is very-close-kin to 'Storge' - or more exactly paternal/ parental love - indeed the Bible tells us this again and again right through to include the Gospels - and there is not much scriptural warrant for distinction of quality between God's love for us, and a Father's love for his children.

My feeling is that Lewis's sharp and qualitative and essential distinction between Agape and Storge is something imported into Christianity post hoc, along with the Classical Metaphysical view of God as an omni-entity (omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent) - since this kind of abstract and absolute entity is incapable of passions and needs.

So I would regard Love as in essence a single thing, not four things - with second order differences due to the entities between-whom there is love.

This is part of my 'Metaphysics of Christian Love' which I will describe soon - which tries to use Love as the ultimate, bottom line, metaphysical reality - thereby getting away from the physics-like descriptions which are usually posited by Classical Theology (such as Lewis's unclear and un-graspable description of Agape).