Not My Symbols

Sam Francis—if the name registers with you, then you either relish his intelligently impish indictments of modernity or take offense at his studied lack of contemporary political sensibilities. Either way, you cannot in good faith deny the crispness of his prose and the lucidity of his thought. In a collection of his essays entitled Shots Fired: Sam Francis on America’s Culture War, though several essays were published more than twenty years ago, their vitality and pertness remain. With “In Defense of Symbols: Southern and Otherwise,” though the reference in question concern the Confederate flag in relation to the South Carolina capitol, one can easily extrapolate the rhetorical force and apply it to the recent removal of the Confederate statues in New Orleans. With customary insight, he writes that “while many Americans seem to think of the flag controversy simply as a Southern or racial issue, the truth is that it is a national issue, one that concerns them as well, and…the attack of the Confederate flag and Confederate symbols is merely a prelude, a kind of dress rehearsal, for a larger and even more radical attack on all the symbols of the American heritage and America civilization” (278).  In other words, those who want to remove all vestiges of Confederate history are, in actuality, seeking to rewrite or erase American history.

In line with the therapeutic society that we have become, there has arisen the belief that if history is not affirmative (read: offends group du jour or reminds group du jour that it once also committed vile acts or reveals to group du jour that it may be achievement-deficient in some area or another), then it must be negligible and, thus, removable. Granted, histories and mythologies serve many of the same ends, primarily helping a people group better understand itself—or at least understand itself in an idealized manner. This will ineluctably lead to whitewashing of star group’s atrocities and the, uh, blackfacing of competing groups’ attempts to survive and thrive. Perhaps the problem lie with a history that tries comprehensively to reconcile groups that differ radically in regional origin, temperament, and views of the good life. Referring, once again to the movement to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol, Francis writes, “What is also going on with the attack on the Confederate flag, on the part of groups like the NAACP and the blacks it represents, is a kind of racial secession from American society” (285). I cannot pretend to understand what a black feels—if anything, in all honesty—when he/she sees the Confederate flag or the Mississippi flag; perhaps if I were black, I would want to remove all instances of St. Andrew’s Cross as well. The point, though, is not for us to try to walk a mile in another’s skin everytime someone gets offended; rather, the piercing point is to recognize that perhaps different races/cultures cannot fundamentally understand each other in significant areas. This is not to say that different groups cannot live together in at least the semblance of neighborly peace, but this peace may exist only when there is a clearly dominant group at the head of the table and when the other groups know their respective places at said table. Such a dining arrangement is what we are seeing upset in the US. Conviviality abhors a vacuum, so more and more groups are vying for fuller plates and glasses and shinier silverware and more advantageous seating arrangements. (Okay, I think that I have extended this metaphor meal as far as it can go.) Okay, one more: more and more groups are now demanding that they decide the menu options.

In a way, I would prefer groups to declare boldly secessionist intentions, rejecting the social and governmental services from a country they find hostile. Yet, as Francis notes, this is not what we are seeing: “[M]any of the blacks are not really announcing their secession from the nation. What they are announcing is their intention to reconfigure the nation, to use political power based on their own racial solidarity to redefine the nation and its heritage in terms that will be acceptable to them. At the same time blacks also demand racial integration, affirmative action, and reparations, they are also demanding that the whites with whom they are to be integrated and from whom they are demanding special privileges give up their own symbols and heroes…” (285). While I think that what Francis writes about blacks still applies, any number of racial and sexual “rights”-interest groups could be substituted. Though we are seeing more and more groups demand sundry forms of exclusivity (e.g., campus days without whites [whiteout?] or all-black dorms), as far as I know such groups are not rejecting the benefits of the reigning regime, such as subsidized housing, Medicaid, school breakfasts and lunches, TANF, food stamps, police protection, etc. Minority groups do not want to start ex nihilo, and who would? Imagine Survivor on a national scale. Rather, they want to move into existing institutions and make them their own, either through legal channels or through demographic changes. As it is, whites seem more than willing to accept displacement. If a racial awakening ever occurs, though, the fallout—mostly for minorities (until whites become the minority group, I suppose)—will not be pleasant. Can we say “greatly unpleasant”? Truth be told, I want to see neither white displacement nor racial war. However, for as much as I used to shake my head at the idea, perhaps secession movements along, very roughly speaking, ethnic lines may be the only way to avert a truly great unpleasantness. However, this is all provided that a wave of grace is not, graciously in the fullest sense, unleashed upon this country like a spiritual Hurricane Katrina. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, it is the nature of grace to unite, but nature of matter to separate. This climate of constant differentiation, especially given the underlying ferocity that often accompanies it, reveals a spiritually parched landscape indeed.

The real question: will robots care what color we are when they conquer us?

 

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The Experience Machine

I had originally planned to refer to a textbook reading that I use for a class of mine in order to supplement this submission, but I must go where there is wi-fi, and the Muse has now struck, yet I am without the textbook (and there is, for once, a really cute girl in the coffee shop, and I want to indulge the fantasy that I will meet the woman of my dreams in a coffee shop, though I have not had the best success approaching women in coffee shops). Actually, I could probably find it online, but the Muse is telling me to keep moving my strong and nimble fingers. Yes, my divine dear.

Robert Nozick, in his “The Experience Machine,” invited us to join him in his philosophical laboratory back in the 70s (I bet it had plush carpeting and a velvet portrait on the wood wall paneling) for a short but strikingly provocative thought experiment. He asked to reader to consider whether he/she would opt out of actively participating in society in order to connect to a machine that is capable of producing the most elaborate, intense, and satisfying virtual reality (he did not use that phrase, though) experiences while sustaining that person’s bodily functions. This person could elect to spend several months at a time hooked up to this machine, and choosing the fictive fantasy for the next merry mind go-round would take only a few dreadful minutes in real time. Nozick then proposes three reasons why people may not choose such an intellectual incubation: one, we want to do, actually, certain things–not just experience the simulacra of having done those certain things ; two, we want to be, actually, a certain way; three, this would limit us to a man-made reality.

I tell my students that this has to be one of the most important (and prescient) pieces that they will read, given the very great likelihood that they will be confronted with this choice within their lifetime. One only has to look at the boundaries continually being pushed by virtual reality technology to see that odysseys of this sort await us in the electronic ether. Perhaps one need not do even that much. If one looks up from one’s own glowing smart phone screen to acknowledge others, one will find that every one else is still looking at his/her screen. In that way, we have already entered and limited ourselves to a man-made reality. My students usually give the answer that I think they believe I want to hear: “Oh no, how horrible–we would never do that,” they defiantly declare as they text under their desk top. However, usually one or two students is bold enough to admit: “Yeah, I’d try it–I mean, why not?” I admit, I walk that line of inquiry, too.

Most of us have already come to accept a simulacrum of life. Though the preview of this would have horrified my 90s self, I am now perfectly satisfied communicating with people via text messaging. In fact, as with many, I suspect, I often prefer it to actual face-to-face conversations, especially when I feel obliged to contact people whom I would rather not encounter in any significant manner. Perhaps the fact that I inconsistently blog is another sign that I have come to accept a simulacrum of life. While I realize that ever since the invention of symbols, a certain immediacy and rawness has been eliminated from our daily encounters. (John Zerzan wept.)  The textual transmission of knowledge can now be outsourced to media other than rather limiting auditory exchanges, allowing for a greater dissemination of knowledge and, well, civilization. This is not quite what I mean. Once again, referring back to my 90s self (who only occasionally wore flannel), I would have been disheartened to think that I would come to a point where I would often rather proffer ideas and debate them online than, say, sitting at a coffee shop or a bar. Given that I presently have this online outlet, I now almost grow embarrassed when serious discussion arises in public when, with my younger self, it was once the only conversation that I wanted to have in public.

Further in the article, Nozick upped the antagonistic ante when he asked if a transformation machine would be more tempting to those who may be able to resist the experience machine. Once again, prescient. With transhumanism poised to become a bigger topic of concern than what another trans word currently is, this is another choice that people will soon enough have to confront. Who would not be tempted by the option of implanting a neural lace, allowing one’s brain to function as a spongy conduit for the Internet? If thought that I could acquire mastery of Latin or Japanese through mere technological implantation, say sayonara to declension drills. (The aforementioned sentence may go down as one of the favorite lines I have ever written.)

Most troublesome, to me anyway, is the conclusion that now seems inescapable: many people will need to be pacified through experience machines in order to keep them from flesh and blood violence or mischief, especially with the great robotic displacement of humans that is coming to a factory/fast food joint/law office/school/truck near you.

By the way, I think coffee shop girl is sporting a ring.

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Into Great Regrets

Reportedly, director Philip Groning had to wait sixteen years before he was given the green light to film a documentary on the Carthusians. Their founder’s, St. Bruno’s, feast day is my birthday, Oct. 6th, so perhaps that is why I have felt an affinity for this spiritually spartan order for as long as I have known about them. I purchased his documentary Into Great Silence as soon as it was made available to an American audience. Of course, now you can watch the entire deal on YouTube. For me, the most moving sequence features close-up profiles of several of the monks. One can also watch it on, wait for it, YouTube. A few look uncomfortable; a few look almost confrontational; a few look confused; a few of look bored: such a penetrating look at the humanity of men who have removed themselves from society, for all of them possess a dignity and authenticity that is lacking in most of our lives. Whether you believe or not, these are men of whom the world is not worthy, for they pray daily for the salvation of the world and do their penances accordingly. Whenever I watch this clip, I am reminded of how I have wasted my life. I, perhaps, could have been one of them, praying for the salvation of the world. Perhaps it would have amounted to nought, but what else have I done with my life? If I were ever to encounter one of these men outside his monastery, I think that I would immediately break down and fall down at his feet and ask him to pray the prayers I can no longer pray.

This other clip features the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. This trailer comes from the documentary Outcasts and shows the friars doing what they do best–corporal works of charity (there are also a few scenes of Adoration for those racialist trads wary of corporal works of charity for brown people). While I think that any sensible Catholic (or bad Catholic or simply a Catholic-minded person) would support a return to the Latin Mass and better catechetical formation, it does not seem like such is coming, scattered young stud traditional seminarians aside. Furthermore, Islam is poised to surpass Christianity as the dominant religion. Transhumanism and robotic automation will challenge all our conceptions about the limits and distinctive value of humanity. Perhaps the only way that Christianity will persist is through a combination of the Carthusian and the Franciscan models: silence, prayer, penance, and corporal works of charity. Oh yeah, and much, much suffering.

If I have learned nothing else from Catholicism, it is this: suffering is not without value. For this alone, I could never go back to Protestantism, for there is no true place for suffering in that scheme. If salvation is a sealed deal, then why in heaven or hell would God allow for suffering? To aid sanctification that is utterly divorced (heh–Protestants) from justification (and, thus, not that essential)? To manifest his Jewish sense of superiority and lack of empathy? This applies especially to Calvinists. Y’all keep your Five Points of Calvinism; I would rather rest on the five wounds of Jesus.

In addition, if there another thing that I have learned from Catholicism, it is that true obedience means complete motherfucking submission to the will of God. Protty pastors can still marry and have children–how sweet. Not so for those truly called by God; you must forego the comforts of the marital embrace and the hope of children. Also, as evidenced from social media, too many self-professing believers think that they can baptize their selfish and hedonistic lifestyles because they are elect or made a profession of faith when they were five. I mean, so you may wear immodest clothing and bathing suits, take extravagant vacations and live beyond your means, idolize social media, watch whatever the hell you want on TV, get drunk regularly, treat most people like shit, support bombing those poor fuckers who live in countries that should not even be included on maps, and give or receive the regular blowjob, the precious blood of Jesus makes it all good. No wonder more and more people are walking away from the faith of their fathers.

Look at what happens when I get a few drinks in me: I start blabbing about a faith that I no longer practice and criticize those who do not live their convictions. True, sugar tits, my hypocrisy knows no bounds.

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Crime or the Noose

The title bears no substantial connection to this submission except that this paraphrased snippet has been taken from the portion of Sade’s Justine set in the epigraph of Durrell’s Justine.

Justine is the first novel in British writer Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. T. S. Eliot spoke very highly of Durrell, so that is the only argument I need–or that you should need–to read his work.

Two passages early on in the novel have arrested me: “Our common actions in reality are simply the sackcloth covering which hides the cloth-of-gold–the meaning of the pattern. For us artists there waits the joyous compromise through art with all that wounded or defeated us in daily life; in this way, not to evade destiny, as the ordinary people try to do, but to fulfil it in its true potential–the imagination.”

How perfectly fitting. Life is a sackcloth covering that hides the cloth-of-gold whose pattern can only be appreciated upon reflection–a transformation of experience into art. Far be it from a still somewhat sober me to claim that anything I write can be called “art,” but this is why I write: I fumble and bumble through my daily life, and only upon rhetorical reflection am I able to detect the graceful patterns that are hidden in my clodhopping ways or the barbarous ways of life.

Next: “Like all egoists I cannot bear to live alone….”

Yes, despite my not conceiving of too many people in my state possessing a more interesting personal library than I do, I still persist in leaving my study to socialize. (Namely, I have not found a way to get cute cocktail waitresses to work in my library, paying them only in witticisms.) For that matter, why blog when I could spend the time more profitably reading? I am an egoist. This reminds me of something that Walker Percy said (and I paraphrase): writers are egoists by nature because they believe that they have something worthwhile to say.

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No Retrieval

While I am working another post regarding the miserable state of educators (translation: I started on something else, but my inveterate laziness, perfectionism, and consumption of *copious* amounts of alcohol have prevented its completion), allow me to distract in the Internet interim. We all know that life is nearly unbearably tedious, so we construct charts by which to navigate through the despair and the boredom.  My current mental masturbation in my ivory tower–at least the windows are covered–consists of my delving into cosmically pessimistic, nihilist, and antinatalist literature. Fundamentally–I think, I do not agree with these positions. Still, in order to say why I will not grant my non serviam to these positions, I feel compelled to investigate them profoundly.

This leads me to one of the most philosophically vivacious writers today, John Gray. Punchy and unsettling, he is what Nassim Taleb would be if Taleb did not have his Orthodox faith to keep him anchored from the metaphysical abyss. In Gray’s Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, he writes: “We cannot believe as we please; our beliefs are traces left by our unchosen lives. A view of the world is not something that can be conjured up as and when we please. Once gone, traditional ways of life cannot be retrieved.” Traditional ways of life cannot be retrieved. How true. I grew up in a religious community that still, for example, took seriously the idea of courting (if not arranged marriages) as opposed to dating, young earth theory, military hirsute men’s styles, and mawkishly religious music to, well, all other kinds of music. Looking back, though not bitter, I cannot help but think how quaint and precious such an upbringing truly was. This is not to dismiss the underlying wisdom of such positions; no, rather,  I dismiss perspectives that do not realize that once good times have passed, they have passed.

I think about this, especially, in connection with my association with traditional Catholicism in which certain proponents (by no means the norm) argue, just to give one a glimpse,  for geocentricism, neither pants nor college education for women, not spending time alone–under the pain of mortal sin–with opposite sex without a chaperone, and avoiding all rock ‘n’ roll because of its voodoo rhythms.  Such time-thwarters belong to more traditional forms than cannot be conjured back into existence, fears of erratically-arranged mortal sins notwithstanding.

I get it. For example, while still an earnest Protestant, I somberly approached my philosophy professor, a very devout Presbyterian who introduced me to St. Thomas Aquinas and, subsequently, Catholic corruption,  and told him that I think that geocentricism must be correct because of the destructive philosophical revolution that followed in the wake of heliocentricism. (*Preening*: I did this all years before Robert Sungenis would release his subtle manifesto, Galileo Was Wrong.)

However, as it is now, we are all postmodern (non)believers. We make exceptions to The Grand Narrative when it suits us; we treat the supposed traditions of our supposed elders as apps that we can gleefully choose and discard in order to accessorize the phone that is our belief network. Can you hear me now?

 

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Odes to Catholicism

Though I have not been the most faithful/practicing Catholic this past year, I doubt that I will ever be able *not* to view the world through a Catholic lens. (You can purchase that spiritually advantageous optic tool at AmazonPenanceontheFewnessoftheSavedStLiguoriStLeonard.com.)  Thus, anything I write, I write with the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart hovering longingly and lovingly over me. Whether I still pray it or not, the royal Rosary call still rings in my ears like the clarion Catholic call that it is: urgent and melancholy and forthright, but surprisingly comforting and satisfying. If you have never prayed it, try it. Come on–try it.

I would rather go atheist (as much as I despise the atheist-Dawkins-Hitchens-circle-jerk-arrogance) than go Protestant again. Protestants function as the denominational version of Internet trolls. Yes, you kingdom of God bitches, I said that: they are satire and sarcasm, but no substance. In other words, they are only reactionary, and they possess nothing that will allow them to establish a lingering plan–a culture, a civilization. Protestantism (Inc.) does not require much of its followers: no days of obligation, no mandatory yearly confession, no mandatory yearly fasting, etc. For example, what sacrifice is there in becoming a Protestant minister if one can still marry (and have sexy sextytime sex), raise children, and drive BMWs (e.g., black preachers)? Fucking none. AmIright? You know it. High five.

What’s happenin’? …Several years ago, the lead singer of the Cranberries, Dolores O’Riordan (Dolores=pains–what a Catholic name 😉 ), caused quite a stink because she actually opposed, in Rolling Stone of all places,  the murder of babies in the womb. Their video, “Ode to My Family,” is a musical catechism. The pubs are family affairs (as opposed to being the provenance of the drunken young), the children are plentiful and dirty, and the old men are nostalgic and tipsy. Catholic paradise if you ask me.

(All I am saying is that if I ever get my life in order, I am having as many children as I can to recommend to the the priesthood and nunnery.  They will be fucking vicious servants of the Lord. [Cuck Catholics wept.])

Ask me. Watch this video:

(Edited to add: spelling corrections. Ha, this is what y’all get when I drunkenly post.)

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Where There’s a Way, There’s a Will

In the January 2017 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture (the best damn written and thought-provoking monthly magazine one will find between the Pacific and the Atlantic), editor Chilton Williamson, Jr. writes, “My own opinion is that what turned this election year inside out, the greatest single contributor to the chaotic political atmosphere, are digital media, from the largest and most expensive systems down to the individual iPhones carried by an estimated 94 million Americans, or one quarter of the population” (6). The gist of the particular editorial blurb from which that quotation has been taken is not political but sociological: technology fuels our incessant but vapid desire to communicate, not the converse of that statement. In this case, it may very well have determined an election. (Key voter: the meme.)

Mr. Williamson refers to the thought of the Southern Agrarians, and, by implication, their bucky magisterial work I’ll Take My Stand, in which they rail against the overriding preoccupation with means without any regard to ends. In tracing  in order to critique the philosophy of progress, Lyle H. Lanier writes in my 1962 edition, “The industrial technology is an important agency through which these desiderata [metaphysical rendering of communism] could be realized, for it facilitates commerce and exchange of ideas; it breaks down feudal intellectual barriers, class distinctions and traditions” (emphasis his, 138). One need not go the whole socially-stratified hog with Mr. Lanier to admit that technology, primarily Internet-oriented technology, has facilitated the exchange of ideas among peoples of different classes and abilities and stations in life to a degree unprecedented. Given that anybody can communicate, everybody, it would seem, does communicate whether or not he/she has something worthwhile to say. Granted, people, being the chatty things that they are, have never let a lack of content stand in the way of a statement or conversation. In fact, among the most charming conversations one can have are those that are truly about nothing, understanding, as Mr. O’Connor would remind us, that there is often mystery behind the manners. (Let the reader be made to understand.) However, what we now have is a truly universal mechanism (Can one properly call the Internet a “mechanism”?) through which to broadcast our opinions, and now that we can, we must have opinions about any and every matter and event that comes across our TV, computer, and *smart* phone screens.

I am fully aware of the irony of an occasional blogger fustigating the Internet. This reminds me of one of Walker Percy’s essays in which he scathingly writes (as if he wrote any other way) about the counter-revolutionary who will rail against modernity, yet be the first one to make use of penicillin if his well being requires it. Still, just because I have to use a car does not mean that I cannot criticize a frenetic and destructive way of life that is centered upon cars, not people. I also am reminded of something that another Southern Agrarian Allen Tate once wrote. In a collection of his work entitled Essays of Four Decades, he writes,  “Communication that is not also communion is incomplete. We use communication; we participate in communion” (emphasis his, 9). Technology has multiplied the means by which we can communicate, and we take full advantage of this. Perhaps, ultimately, for the better. Yet, mere communication will not satisfy any more than satire or dank memes do. What we truly desire is communion with one another and with something greater than ourselves, a communion that nourishes and inspires–not a communication that only amuses us to death.

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