Marks of The Post-Human World

Migrant construction workers - Bangkok, city o...

I might need to add one of those “signs of the apocalypse” features to this blog. It would focus on developments and events that demonstrate the rejection of nature and the impact of that rejection on normal people – who become rapidly abnormal living in the vacuum so abhorred by nature.

This would be the first entry: Dating simulation game.

This is only funny in a limited sense.

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The Tempest: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Freedom

I have the feeling Shakespeare has been shadowing me lately and writing his plays based on things I’m thinking about. You laugh, but think about this.

I’ve been reading the Tempest to prepare for discussions with the apprentices. So this morning, I read Act 5, and I come across lines like this:

Ariel: If you now beheld them/ Your affections would become tender.

Prospero: Dost thou think so, spirit?

Ariel: Mine would, were I human.

Ah yes, he’s been thinking about next year’s conference theme: What is man?

But that’s not all. He goes on:

Prospero:
And mine shall.
Hast thou, which are but air, a touch, a feeling
of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
One of their kind, that relish all as sharply
Passion as they, be kindlier moved than thou art?
Though with their high wrongs I am struck to th’ quick,
Yet with my nobler reason ‘gainst my fury
Do I take part. The rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance. They being penitent
The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further. Go, release them, Ariel.
My charms I’ll break, their senses I’ll restore,
And they shall be themselves.

I think that we fail to realize how much Shakespeare’s philosophy and ethic enabled his poetry. Shakespeare was a wise man, a man of such profound insight that his literature tempts people like Harold Bloom to turn it into a secular literature.

He knew human nature. Notice the language he used, some of which would now be considered archaic because it does not reduce man to something kindless (unkind).

“Shall not myself, one of their kind… be kindlier moved than thou art?”

In other words, should I not, sharing the same nature/kind with these men, act as one who shares a nature/kind with them. Should I not act humanely, humanly?

Do you see how very high a conception of humanity Ariel has? “Mine would, were I human.” Where does it come from? Until this day, he’s only known two humans, Prospero and his daughter Miranda.

It reminds me of Miranda’s words when she sees the nobly dressed dukes and kings later in Act 5: “How beauteous mankind is. Oh brave new world that has such people in’t.”

She’s young and naive and has enjoyed the loving affection of a good father. By brave, she means wonderful, imaginative, splendid – bedecked in wonder might be a fitting expression.

She had not endured what her father had. He replies to her awe: “‘Tis new to thee.” He is less impressed.

And no wonder, he had been betrayed by a brother, “that entertained ambition, expelled remorse and nature.” Nevertheless, to this brother he says, “I do forgive thee, unnatural though thou art.”

Ariel and Miranda are full of admiration for humans. Prospero less so. And yet, Prospero respects them more. He has one goal in mind, expressed a few different ways.

Line 36: Penitence.
Line 40: They shall be themselves
Line 197: To “requite them with a good thing” which restores a just order
And then, the very last word of the play, at the end of the last two lines:

As you from crimes would pardoned be
Let your indulgence set me free

In other words, the purpose of Prospero’s project (line 1) is that these human beings would realign themselves to nature and thus be set free.

Ironically, perhaps, it takes something more than nature to achieve that end.

Read the Tempest with these three themes in mind (but just read it for the pleasure of it) and you will be drawn deeper and deeper into truths that will open your eyes and, while they will “take the ear strangely” you will “be wise hereafter, and seek for grace.”

The Power of Comparison and the Three Obstacles to the Healing of Our Country

It amazes me how much we learn by comparison, the second of the five topics of invention in LTW.

For example, I transitioned from PC to Apple in the last couple weeks because I’d given PC 22 years to figure out how to create a reliable computer and they failed – too driven to stay ahead of whatever they’re trying to stay ahead of.

So now I am learning to use the Apple operating system, keyboard, desktop and all that. And it’s not an easy transition.

Each approach does mostly the same stuff. But each does it differently. And I’m accustomed to the old way. I like the forward delete key on the PC keyboard, for example. I liked how easily I could move between windows on the PC.

Now I’m having to learn all the new tricks with Apple.

I’ll come round, I’m sure, but just by virtue of the act of comparison I recognize some virtues in the PC that I didn’t appreciate much in the past.

On the other hand, we have the two political parties in the US. Both do basically the same things, but they  do them differently.

The Republicans expand government and the Democrats expand government. Each offers the state as the resolution to all our problems.

In this, the Democrats are much more honest and that is why they make “better” politicians.

The Republicans fight wars without much common sense and the Democrats fight wars without much common sense. Each offers war as a way to spread the values of democracy throughout the uninterested world.

In this, neither party approaches honesty or wisdom, so neither does it very well.

The differences in the parties are on their fringes, which is where you can see the sources of their energy. This dynamic complicates our politics, because the fringes are apolitical in that they despise compromise and see the other side as the enemy.

Yet, without those fringes, neither party would have any energy. They would just administer the country without any disguises at all.

I have decided to rename the parties for my own convenience. The Democrats, who have stolen and perverted the word liberal, are in fact the Progressivist party, firmly rooted in a Utilitarian philosophy.

On the fringes, they believe that religion is the ultimate evil that needs to be eradicated from the world, that the State should reorder society based on their pragmatic moral commitments (a mixture of utility and libertinism), and that we should all be forced to get along in one big happy unified country

The Republicans are the Progressive-light party. Since they are the party of Hamilton and Lincoln, they are in favor of gigantic corporations, even when those gigantic corporations fund their enemies.

You can find conservative idealists among them, but they reside somewhere between the people in power and those on the fringes. Their conservatism is only slightly more closely allied with historical conservatism than the Democrats liberalism is allied with historical liberalism.

On the fringes, they believe that religion is the only source of good in the world, that the state has no legitimate role to play in the ordering of society except to defend the homeland, that the real reason for guns is to shoot the tank driver when the feds come to take your children away to their state indoctrination centers called schools, and that we should all be left alone to get along as we see fit.

The game is lost, for the conservative, on two fronts. First, the Progressives have such complete control over education that even in “conservative Christian schools” the Progressive model is followed and Progressive techniques are used to teach.

As a result, Christian schools don’t do a good job of producing Christian kids and they don’t understand why 12 years of A Beka science haven’t inoculated their kids against the Dorm Brothel of college morality.

Furthermore, the colleges are entirely devoted to the Progressive mentality, including and maybe especially in the business schools. I saw a book at the airport that was written by a Harvard MBA student.

I don’t remember the author or title, but he let’s you know how utterly Utilitarian the school is, particularly in matters of ethics.

The second front is financial. We simply love money more than anything else. The “conservative” tends to think highly of Milton Friedman. I like some of his ideas myself. But his statement that the only purpose of a business is to turn a profit for its investors reflects an aversion to ethics that I can’t accept.

The worst thing that can happen to a man or to a business is to do evil, not to fail or die.

And there’s the core agreement between our parties and the American people: no matter what, we must survive. We must be top dog.

There, in turn, we see why the true Christian faith will win in the end. We won’t set ourselves on fire, in the manner of the Buddhist monk. We do like it when we’re set on fire by the Eternal Flame.

But the saints have proven over the centuries that they’ll die before doing evil.

Which leads me to the real point and third front. The evangelical church in America is not the evangelical church I grew up in and the one I grew up in was not the one my father grew up in.

It has lost its way.

Evangelicalism has become party spirited, taking the tone of an Ann Coulter. It’s driven by the market, many churches measuring how they should do their work the same way any other business or government agency does.

If you asked 100 pastors what is the nature of the church, you’d get a diversity of answers, but most of them would, I am quite certain, revolve around some utilitarian definition. The church is what it does.

Sounds great.

But it’s false. In fact, it’s Progressive, just like the two political parties, the public schools, and the various branches of the government.

The Church is the fulness of Him who fills all things.

Market driven people don’t make good martyrs. People who measure their pastoral success by the size of their congregations and the professionalism of their operations don’t make good lovers.

So in the real world, our country continues a decline in some areas and an ascent in others. But neither political party can draw us out of our Progressive/Utilitarian worldview and neither can the Evangelical church, so pleased with itself for continuing to oppose gay rights and abortion, while, practically, accepting fornication and serial adultery.

Maybe in the next generation enough home schooled and classically educated kids will take leadership and have some idea what they are about and what they are up against.

Then maybe we’ll see a gradual weakening of the control of education by the state, of the obsession with giantism by the corporations, and of the parallel obsession with growth by the churches. Maybe people will remember that God gave things a nature and that we have to respect the nature of things.

Maybe.

The symphony of learning

We are not here studying the philosophy, we see it, as part of the ordered world. The aim of the poet is to state a vision, and no vision of life can be complete which does not include the articulate formulation of life which human minds make.

So TS Eliot on Dante

This is why I believe teachers must all be poetic and literary, even in kindergarten and even in science class. Nobody was more versed in the sciences of his day than Dante.

And this is why I believe the basic study of a head of school should be, not administration, but literature.

The teacher is an artist, giving form to an “ordered world.” They can’t pick and choose what to include and how to include it based on personal preference. That’s tyranny. They need to come to prefer what is most fitting.

The head of school is the conductor who must show each teacher where her role fits into the ordered world while overseeing her performance. His goal is to enable her to master her instruments so together the school can make something beautiful.

The Death of Nature

The fundamental difference between the Christian classical tradition (one might call it The Western Tradition) and the modern mind (the Enlightenment and its unraveling in Romanticism and this twist on modernism that we call Postmodernism) is the concept of nature.

If you perceive this, you will see it everywhere. Here is a paragraph from Richard Weaver’s short review of Rosemund Tuve’s Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery:

The arrogance of the man who tries to expound what he can glimpse of the order imposed by God or ‘Nature’ cannot hold a candle to the arrogance of him who thinks there can be no order but that imposed by man, or by successive groups of men… The presumptuous man is still he who will not learn, not he who teaches.

The alert observer finds himself astonished by the staggering incorrigibility of the common student. But this student does not rest his case against learning on his own sufficiency, which has been a problem from the beginning of time. One finds somethng far more disturbing and sinister: the modern student resists learning because he has been taught that there is no such thing. What a thing to learn!

Knowledge was believed for thousands of years to be a relationship between the knower and the known. With Bacon, we are informed that knowledge is power. If I am in a relationship with the object of my knowledge, my goal is to know what it is I am knowing and to treat it according to its worth and nature. If knowledge is power, its worth and nature hold little importance to me. What matters is the power I can gain from my knowledge of them.

This world historical shift has altered and almost abolished education in the western world. Wisdom, which is always relational, has been replaced by a reduced form of knowledge that presumes to be objective. Virtue, which is always personal, has been replaced by power, which resists the personal as constraining.

I refer you to Out of Africa, Isaak Dineson’s autobiographical account of her life in Africa turned into a fine movie with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Denys is unable to accept the limitations that relational knowledge would place on him. Authentic relationship – commitment to another person – would restrict his power to follow his passions.

Consider also Nietzsche, that great enemy of nature and worshipper of power.

The coming year will see me thinking increasingly deeply on this matter of nature, which is to say, on everything, especially language, the arts, the works of man, and the works of God.

Nature and Convention and the culture wars

RV Young puts it this way:

According to the reigning heterodoxy, absolutely nothing is “for all time”; and works of literature do not bespeak the “soul of the age,” so much as they conceal, even while embodying, its ideological and economic imperatives. Hence the clamor from powerful forces within the academy of the”opening up” or dismantling of the “canon” of “classic” works, for the abolition of the very notion of “great books.” Should this view prevail, then the question, “Why we teach what we teach?”, would be no longer moot, but merely meaningless. Although pretexts for teaching this or that text would abound, there could be no reasons, since rational discrimination among the “products” of deterministic cultural hegemonies is impossible. If a work of art, literature, or philosophy is not intrinsically valuable, is not great on its own merits, then it can only be of interest as an event or phenomenon, exercising more or less influence over the course of history…. As Cicero points out, “All the arts, which pertain to humanity, have a certain common bond and are joined together among themselves as it were by a certain kinship.” It is this element of common humanity that is crucial to curricular decisions and is, indeed, the only basis for the integrity of university professors as scholars and teachers.

At War With the Word

The literary departments of our universities do not, generally, believe that humans share a common nature that can be refined by encounters with great works. Instead they argue that all artists need to be deconstructed to show their ideological convictions and how they were parasites on the powers of the day.

Shakespeare was neither “the soul of his age,” nor, “for all time” because that would require that an age have a soul and that human nature transcends an age. The truly great radical relativists are perfectly aware that their criteria apply to them as well. They realize they write because of their will to power. They make no apology, therefore, for their assertions of control.

In literature, as in grammar, we can see that unless we are governed by nature and nature’s law, we are necessarily either tyrants or slaves. We cannot be free people. That is why grammar and rhetoric are the necessary arts of a free people and why they must be taught according to nature and not merely according to conventions and usage: because grammar and rhetoric have a necessary and unbreakable link to politics. Human nature dictates it.

In short, if we are governed merely by conventions we are slaves. If those who govern us and we ourselves submit to nature, then, and only then, can we be free people. For to be free people, we must not only be free, we must also be people.