Wednesday 8 January 2020

The benefits of creeping totalitarianism (in My life)

It is a general insight (and one that I have accepted) of Rudolf Steiner, Owen Barfield and William Arkle; that evil in the world can be understood as having an educative purpose. In essence this mortal life is 'for' theosis (becoming more divine); meaning for experiencing and learning aiming at an eternal resurrected life in Heaven.

Evil is tolerated because it may be necessary for this purpose. But such a general explanatory 'model' is Not understanding; understanding can only come from learning the role of evil in our own life (or, perhaps, the life of someone loved by us).

Thus it is a foolish and arrogant error to try and explain what specific role some named evil has-played or is-playing in another-person's life, or in the lives of groups of people who are strangers or known only at secondhand (from hearsay, the mass media or history books; or even from fictions and lies) - families, tribes, races, nations, or mankind as a whole.

What I will do here is simply to explain ways in which the creeping totalitarianism of the modern West has had a positive and educational role in my own life. This can be summarised briefly: the fact that totalitarianism has been increasing throughout my life has prevented me from living-out a worldly life; has prevented me from living a life dedicated to mortal life.

In different words; the ratchet of totalitarianism disrupted every accommodation and adjustment I made with The World, continually preventing me 'settling' into contentment; and thereby it pointed me in the direction of realising that my life was ultimately not 'about' my happiness in this world.

I am, by nature, someone who finds totalitarian bureaucracy extremely unpleasant. I am a natural romantic and individualist. I have no desire to be a leader, but I hate to be a cog in a machine. I am not a 'joiner' and tended to fall-out, or become disaffected, with almost any group; sooner or later (apart from my family).

Yet I began life with an idealism directed at certain institutions such as the profession of medicine (being 'a doctor') and the universities. I loved the arts of literature and music. I was a proud member of my schools, and medical school; and did well at both.

I was also dedicated to the ideals of these institutions: education, science, medicine etc. My dreams were substantially of fulfilment through success in these institutions - envisaged as as these institutions had been during the period of my youth, and earlier as I knew them through reading and the older generation. I craved the special status that comes from recognition by the peer group of those I admired.

But as I moved forward and upward through these institutions, they were always changing - getting worse overall, always in the direction of more bureaucracy, greater surveillance, tighter and more detailed control. They became more hostile to the individual, to the eccentric, to the ideals - and more merely instances of the generic bureaucracy (the Iron Cage of Weber, the Black Iron Prison of Philip K Dick).

As soon as I achieved a position to which I had aspired (and this did happen, several times); that situation would begin to collapse, would begin to be corrupted by the (universal) forces of totalitarian bureaucracy.

No sooner did I plant my feet on some ledge of firm and pleasant ground, than that ground would begin to crumble under my weight. I would very soon feel a need to seek some other niche.  

My early and immediate response to recognising the creeping evil was political. To try and 'change the world'.

My implicit assumption was that there was no other existence than this mortal world, and that the solution to The System of bureaucracy was (must be) a better system. Therefore I thought (as most people do) in terms of a political solution. I would fight the changes - on the confident assumption that something significantly better was possible.

I went through one after another 'possible' political solution, and pursued my political goals as most intellectuals do: through joining a 'party' or pressure group, conversation, writing, lecturing, and a bit of 'organising'.

My covert assumption was that institutions - society itself - could (in principle at least) be improved to the point that the major problems would be eradicated sufficiently for a worthwhile life; and that the positive rewards would be sufficiently great that life (my mortal life in particular) would be justified.

In sum: that a meaningful and purposive life would be attainable.

I can now perceive that this was a foolish, vain aspiration - that the reality, the bottom-line, the existential nature of mortal life (with its intrinsic change, decay, disease, and death understood as annihilation) does not, cannot - therefore will not - suffice.

But so long as there was some (albeit dwindling, as the years went by) worldly, political-social avenue left unexplored; so long as it looked theoretically-possible that the totalitarian bureaucracy might be halted and compelled into reverse - for so long did I fail to understand the nature of life and the perspective of real-reality.

It actually, in practice, I needed the ever-worsening, ever-greater unreality and evil of The System, The Matrix, The Establishment - to exhaust one after another and all of my false and feeble daydreams, wishful thinkings, simplified models and half-insights - before I eventually learned the necessary lessons concerning the true nature of reality and hope.

Therefore, this is an actual example of how the long-term personal effect of something evil - indeed the long-term triumph of purposive evil across the world - actually led to learning something vital; and a thing that a more gratifying, easier, more-successful life in a better world would Not have taught me.

If things had gone 'according to plan' - if I had had the kind and degree of worldly success and gratification that I envisaged for myself as a youth, and if I had found my tastes of such things to be as subjectively and sustainedly-gratifying as I expected - then I would almost certainly have lived my life in a delusory dream, and died without ever noticing that I was engaged in a demonic project of self-centred, hedonistic, short-termist, manipulative and (ultimately) nihilistic evil.

Thus if I had achieved something-like my dreams -and if these dreams had really worked; then I would have wasted my mortal life.

I would have been 'taken' by sudden death directly from a euphoric state of pleasurable self-congratulation and confronted with a Jesus to whom I regarded myself as greatly superior; and whose offer of Heavenly life everlasting would have had little attraction (involving as it does, a loving embrace of the divine project of creation).

I might well have rejected Heaven on the basis that I was existentially satisfied by living conceived as here-and-now self-gratification as the highest ideal; all I would have wanted was that this be continued until... nothingness. 

In sum, without the sustained and adverse environment of creeping totalitarianism to sabotage my tin-pot schemes of immediately pleasurable indulgence; I would very likely have stayed on the broad and pleasant road to Hell - which I had sketched-out in my youth.

And this - it seems to me, is a specific and exact instance of why (and how) we need evil in order to reach good.

Of course this instance does not in any way justify the evil in your life; let alone some other person's life (known or unknown) - nor any great masses of people who might be envisaged. That is for you to discover for yourself - each and individually.

But you can be sure that your actual life is trying to tell you what you most need to know; year-by-year, day-by-day, hour-by-hour trying to break-down your resistance to such knowledge. Even so obtuse a person as myself eventually crumbled under this pressure - but it took a great deal of such pressure, and for a long time, before I did.

For me - this is one reason why my world was adverse; and why there needed to be so much adversity and of that particular type.


edwin said...

Thank you for this insight. Although I never aspired to conventional success, I did for some time succumb to the notion that religion (traditional Catholicism) ought to be restored to its halcyon pre-Vatican II times. Of course, I see now that this was - and is for some - a desire to resurrect some peaceful coexistence with the evils of modernity as held for a time during the 1950s. It's no longer possible, thanks to the corruption of the Church and the casting off of any semblance of goodness in its leadership, which has joined the world in its demonic preoccupations. We must find our own way, for such is what God intends. We love our children, but we want them to grow up eventually, and this can only happen when they confront evil and overcome it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@edwin - I think that you are correct, and that it will prove (n practice, for reasons you suggest and also because the minds of Men have changed) to be impossible to revive any of the main denominations. But probably each adherent will need to reach this decision on the grounds that it is for the best. But it will require considerable honesty to do so - and I suspect that not too many will be honest enough and will stick to the ideal of obedience to human authority - *whatever* they are being asked to obey.

dearieme said...

@Edwin, let me suggest that traditional Catholicism ought to be restored to its halcyon pre-1054 times.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - Is this you wearing your wee wee free clown mask?

When I lived in Glasgow there was a local character called Pastor Jack Glass, who (a reliable friend told me) was once pictured carrying a placard or wearing a sandwich board stating The Pope Does Not Belong Here! My friend assumed the photo was probably taken during one of the papal visits to Scotland, but on closer examination the background to the photo revealed St Peter's Square.

a_probst said...

"I would have been 'taken' by sudden death directly from a euphoric state of pleasurable self-congratulation and confronted with a Jesus to whom I regarded myself as greatly superior..."

Maybe you would have muttered "Oh oh!" and thrown yourself on His mercy.

To do otherwise one would have to be as stubborn as the philosopher in Dostoevsky sentenced to walk a quadrillion kilometers who lay down in refusal 'on principle' for a thousand years.

Anonymous said...

In university I hoped to finally meet people who cared about "intellectual" topics so that I could be involved in discussions about what is happening in the world -- almost like a real world version of this blog -- though I was disappointed that the people there were as apathetic as anywhere else. Though I am also drawn toward universities and what they supposedly stand for, these days they're all about careerism. People are only there to do their time and earn their credentials, and most of them don't care at all about "intellectual discussions," or even commenting on the latest news reports. Not once during my formal education did the class ever discuss current events or any topics that might be "political," though I guess doing so might offend a customer/student. Yet that surprised me, because I thought the main purpose of the university is to discuss different ideas and learn critical thinking skills.

Keri Ford said...

I liked this post, the craziness of the world breaks us, or upon us, hopefully we are opened to the inside, the spirit, to grace.

David said...

"I am, by nature, someone who finds totalitarian bureaucracy extremely unpleasant. I am a natural romantic and individualist. I have no desire to be a leader, but I hate to be a cog in a machine. I am not a 'joiner' and tended fall-out, or become disaffected, with with almost any group; sooner or later (apart from my family)."

SNAP! It is strange to think that there is a kind of fellowship among the 'outsiders' but that is exactly the way I would describe myself. In some sense, I have a solid and growing intuition that this is an authentic and individual path which God is glad to see us 'quarry out' as Arkle says. In a sense we are sheep, who should follow Christ, but also sheep are gullible and prone to blindly follow the shepherd (or an earthly authority who seeks to represent the shepherd)...but to approach divinity with the heart of a child and an individual, lucid, mature and independently minded free will...this seems like a desirable combination, because more adult and utilising the gift of free will with wisdom, instead of deferring to childlikeness in all aspects of the metaphor.

Brief Outlines said...

Wonderful. Many thanks!