29 August 2013

A criminal act

So the Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Gregory III describes the impending attack on Syria by the United States, which he rightly notes will only swell the number of victims rather than decrease it.

As the invaluable David Lindsay notes, this criminal act is being opposed by people across the political spectrum in the United Kingdom as well, from Peter Hitchens to Seumas Milne, and from Stephen Glover to Robert Fisk. Quite unlike the ostensibly-representative governments of all three countries, solid majorities in Germany, in France and in the UK oppose this criminal act. (Though it is indeed refreshing to see that the British parliament is thinking better of this folly, and Labour in particular.)

Not to mention, of course, a solid majority in my own country.

26 August 2013

Pointless video post - ‘I Roam’ by Morgana Lefay

First pointless video post in awhile; thought I’d do something interesting. Seeing as I’m a huge fan of the crunchy, thrashy prog-power style of Angel Dust and Tad Morose, I thought I would trek back to the pioneers of the style, namely Tad Morose’s fellow-townsfolk from Bollnäs, Sweden, Morgana Lefay. This song comes off of their 2005 album Grand Materia; it’s catchy and heavy as hell and showcases pretty much everything I love about this style of metal - the grinding bass and rhythm guitar lines, the crisp drumwork, the powerful near-shrieked vocals. Won’t spoil it by saying too much more; please enjoy, gentle listeners!

25 August 2013

The Love School

Cross posted from Solidarity Hall:

Of all the artistic and literary schools of European history, perhaps that of Romanticism draws the strongest emotions. And with good reason, since Romantic authors and artists tended to place a high value upon strong emotions and what gave rise to them. Not only divisive, it has also been a very divided school, torn between the desire to liberate the individual person from her social and religious strictures and the sensitivity to the deep draw that society and religion had upon a person’s loyalties and psychology in the first place.

You find poets as diverse as Blake on the one hand, championing free love, the abolition of church hierarchies and something close to religious anarchism, while Coleridge highlights themes of sin and redemption, and advocated a return to traditional apostolic Christendom. Yet both authors were considered exemplars of the selfsame artistic movement. Similarly, Chateaubriand, the arch-conservative, monarchist and Jesuit-educated French Catholic apologist, served as perhaps the primary inspiration for no less liberal, republican and agnostic an author than Victor Hugo.

Thus it should not come as any surprise that Romanticism can both attract and repel people to extreme degrees – both certainly were the case for me when I was reading through the European literary canon in high school. My wife loves Wuthering Heights, and my in-laws love Jane Eyre, yet for my own part I have always been of two minds or more about the Brontë sisters, and make no secret of my preference for the subtler novels of Jane Austen. But there is a branch of Romantic art for which I have come to a renewed appreciation and affection through teaching it to my Chinese students – the latter-day English Romantics of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, of whom three painters – William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais – formed the core, originally displayed their works anonymously, signed only with the initials ‘P. R. B.’ Their paintings were immediately and deeply controversial upon their display. They rejected the standard artistic conventions of the time – the unnatural poses, the exaggerated expressions and the overwrought conventional (the Pre-Raphaelites would say ‘sloshy’) compositions typical of the ‘grand style’ which was then ascendant under Sir Joshua Reynolds of the Royal Academy of Arts. All of this grated on them. They traced these tendencies back to the late Renaissance, particularly the work of Raffaello Sanzio and Michelangelo di Buonarotti, and thus deliberately turned to earlier sources of inspiration.

To recall mediaeval painting conventions and media, the Brotherhood adopted a more colourful palette, with emphasis on strong, brilliant primary colours, applied in thin layers on whitewash. They insisted on more natural and easy displays of the human figure, often with the facial expressions they painted being less exaggerated (and yet still somehow more poignant and evocative) than their contemporaries. Perhaps reflecting the nascent Realist tendencies of their day, they wanted to display workaday objects and things of nature as they truly were, in full detail, where often in other contemporary paintings these were blurred or shaded to draw more attention to the main subject.

Reflecting their deep inspiration from Romanticism, they turned away from secular and contemporary themes, and back toward Biblical ones, toward Germanic or Celtic mythology, toward Shakespearean drama. As the movement progressed, they developed a style of magical realism by applying symbolic and mythic value to the mundane objects they portrayed.

But most scandalously to the sensibilities of the time, the Brotherhood painted figures as sacred as the Holy Family as ordinary working-class people (as in Millais’s painting Christ in the House of His Parents and Hunt’s painting The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple), drawing the ire and umbrage even (surprisingly!) of Mr Charles Dickens.

Their insistence on such a portrayal was not, as Dickens claimed, committing any sort of sacrilege or blasphemy against Our Lord and his parents. Dickens himself, as a man famous for his Realism in fiction and for portraying poor people in his novels in an almost saintly manner, ought to have understood better than any other man that Millais’s portrayal was meant to establish and confirm the fully-human nature of Jesus, and to portray that humanity as closest in incarnate kinship to those whom He served: the carpenters, the fishermen, the starving multitudes, the orphans, the widows.

Indeed, Millais had been inspired to paint Christ in the House of His Parents by a high-church Tractarian vicar’s homily. He wanted to portray a Jesus who was sincere enough in his love for humanity to share fully in humanity’s incarnate life, pain and labour, yet whose divine crucifixion and resurrection are foreshadowed by the blood from the nail wound on the young Christ’s palm, which has dripped onto his feet. It is odd indeed that Dickens would describe Millais’s Christ as ‘hideous’, ‘wry-necked’ and ‘blubbering’.

But it is not at all odd that the greatest and most influential supporter of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was the polymath, art critic, heterodox Victorian economist and ‘violent Tory of the old school’ John Ruskin. The school was informed by Ruskin’s critiques, in particular his advice that painting be ‘from nature only’ and that any higher meaning, iconography or symbolism in a painting should rest upon the brute facts therein portrayed, rather than being imposed artificially on it by the artist.

Thus Pre-Raphaelitism, under Ruskin’s guidance particularly of William Holman Hunt, managed to incorporate elements of Realism as well as leaving open an incredibly great space for Romantic and mediaeval principles to play. Ruskin’s varied interests were often shared by the members of the artistic circle. For example, he, Dante Rossetti and Pre-Raphaelite-associated artist Lowes Cato Dickinson all taught art at and supported the Working Men’s College – a project of the Christian socialists Frederick Denison Maurice and Frederick James Furnivall, who wanted to foster liberal and artistic education in the working class – in its infancy. (Ruskin himself would later go on to author a veritable heterodox broadside against classical political economy, Unto This Last, which would go on to influence the anti-imperialist author John Atkinson Hobson as well as Gilbert Chesterton and Mohandas Gandhi.)

Ruskin’s protégé, the designer, author and committed anarcho-socialist William Morris (whose ‘prose romances’ pioneered the high-fantasy novel, thus directly influencing Tolkien, Lewis and the Inklings), was also heavily involved with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Morris drew great inspiration from the Pre-Raphaelite painters as well as from Romantic poets like Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Arthurian legend (Malory especially) and heathen Germanic mythology (particularly the Poetic Edda and the Volsunga Saga). Taking inspiration from Ruskin’s artistic philosophy, he came to his own theories of the alienation of labour independently of Marx. Indeed, he wanted to return craft work and artisanship to the status of art – in his mind, labour and art informed each other and belonged together, and had been artificially severed from each other along with the noble status of the lower-middle-class craftsman by automation and industrial mass production; ‘practicality’ and beauty were not opposed but reconciled through human efforts.

The Pre-Raphaelites were a small group of like-minded artists whose ideas of a confluence of Realist, Romantic and mediaevalist styles sadly did not survive in any meaningful form the turn in the world of Western art toward out-and-out Realism (and then Impressionism, Surrealism, Dadaism and Modernism). The lives of the Pre-Raphaelite artists and associates also make for incredibly tragic reading – for example, the affair between Ruskin, Effie Gray and John Millais which led to Gray’s divorce from Ruskin and Millais’s leaving the Pre-Raphaelite circle; or the unhappy marriage of William and Jane Morris and the latter’s involvement with Dante Rossetti.

Thankfully, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s influence was felt well beyond the art world. Their artworks – eschewing the ‘grand style’ and insisting instead on drawing attention to the stuff of everyday, and in the process making it again sacred – were inspired by, and in turn inspired, many of the prophets of solidarity whose stories we retell here: John Ruskin and William Morris; through Ruskin, Chesterton and Gandhi; and through Morris, Tolkien, Lewis, Sayers and Grant. It is a wellspring we would do well to tap.

23 August 2013

Olof Palme on democracy

Democracy is an exacting system of government.

It demands respect for others. One cannot force a system of government upon a nation from outside. The people must have the right to decide over their own destiny. It therefore presupposes national right of self-determination.

Democracy demands justice. One cannot gain a people by filling the pockets of those who are already rich while the poor are driven into ever-deeper distress. One cannot meet the demand for social justice by violence and military power. Democracy presupposes social liberation.

The goal of democracy can never be reached by means of oppression. One cannot save a village by wiping it out, putting the fields on fire, destroying the houses, captivating the people or killing them.

Former Swedish prime minister Olof Palme said these words back in 1968, in reference to the Indochina Wars. But we need to keep them in mind now, forty-five years later, every time a self-proclaimed champion of ‘democracy’ denies or downplays the rights of nations to self-determination (even if those nations do not happen to be popular amongst the NATO and EU set), or proclaims that democracy needs to be spread with guns and bombs, or scoffs at the idea that mass unemployment, inequality and corporate power are problems which directly concern those who care about the fate of democracy in the West.

17 August 2013

This far, no farther

The attacks on the Coptic community in Egypt in these past couple of days have been truly heinous and hideous. Dozens of their ancient churches have been burnt – at least forty and perhaps as many as sixty-four in a single day. Copts have been beaten and shot, their homes ransacked and their businesses vandalised by armed pro-Morsy protesters, largely due to the fact that the members of the ancient Christian faith have been targeted as supporters of the recent military coup by radicalised media. A military coup which, at least until very recently, has stood idly by while all this has happened.

The Copts, it must be remembered, are the true cultural heirs of the great and ancient Egyptian civilisation. The very language that is found spoken and written in their churches is descended not from the languages of their Ptolemaic Greek or Arabic conquerors, but directly from the ancient Egyptian language and hieroglyphic script. They were converted to the faith by Saint Mark the Evangelist himself. They introduced the first examples of organised monastic life to Christendom, and thus gave us one of the truly well-defined traditional expressions of the socialistic pooling of property mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. They produced Saint Athanasius, the most outspoken proponent of orthodox Trinitarianism. They also produced the great scholar Origen, who promoted the doctrine of apokatastasis.

The Coptic community was heavily involved in the promotion of humane alternatives and resistance to colonialism. They helped to organise the ill-fated Wafd Party, which opposed British colonial rule, pledged loyalty to the Egyptian King, advocated for nationalisation of Egypt’s industries, and attempted (sadly without success) to secure improved labour rights and more effective, pro-worker mediation for labour disputes in Egypt. The Farous family – in particular Akhnoukh and his daughter Ester – were prominent public figures, anti-colonial activists and labour organisers. Though the Copts did suffer significantly under Nasser, the community was nevertheless connected intimately with the Arab nationalist and Arab socialist movements through the involvement of Coptic clergy and civic figures in supporting the foundation of the Université Saint-Joseph (a Jesuit institution) and of the American University in Beirut (a Protestant missionary school), both of which were nucleating centres of thought and student activism that would give rise to the Arab nationalist movement.

And of course, more recently, the UN General Secretary Boutros Boutros-Ghali was a member of the Coptic community who famously opposed NATO’s one-sided ‘humanitarian’ adventurism in Yugoslavia, leading the Clinton Administration to agitate for his removal in ‘Operation Orient Express’. The late great Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Coptic Church, along with being a stout and vocal opponent of radical Islam and its tactics, was also an adamant advocate of Palestinian nationalism and Palestinian rights.

At the same time, though, the Copts have faced persecution (real persecution, as opposed to the mere inconvenience wrongly identified as such by Christians in the West) both from ostensibly secularist regimes and from Salafi extremists operating within organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood. These attacks on churches, schools and businesses, meant to inspire terror amongst the ancient Christian community, now currently making the rounds in world news are but the latest such instance of persecution. Yet this flame passed down from the ancient Egyptians and from the apostolic community founded by St Mark must not go out. Too many of the early Levantine churches have fallen prey already to American naivety and interventionist military blundering, coupled with the inevitable Muslim fundamentalist backlash: Armenia, the Nestorian Church of the East, Assyria, Antioch. We apostolic Christians have made far, far too many retreats already. They invade our native lands, and we fall back. They wipe out entire cultures, and we fall back.

Not again. The line must be drawn here: this far, no farther!

16 August 2013

Oh, sure, Egypt’s military crackdown is exactly like Tian’anmen 1989

Because, as we all know, the demonstrators in Tian’anmen all carried and used automatic weapons in clashes with the residents of Beijing. The students in Tian’anmen were members of the CCP and enthusiastic, loyal supporters of democratically-elected then-President Deng Xiaoping before he and the entire CCP political structure were overthrown in a coup d’etat by the PLA, supported by democrats and CCP dissenters, for abrogating the freedoms guaranteed by the Chinese constitution and calling for an invasion of Afghanistan against the Soviets. And when the PLA rode in with the tanks against the pro-Deng demonstrators in Beijing, the demonstrators then went on a massive nation-wide pogrom against China’s Buddhists, beat them, shot them and torched their homes, temples and businesses, all of which both Western news media and the PLA then studiously ignored until the wildly popular and politically-successful Soviet then-leader Mikhail Gorbachev told them he would support them if they stepped in to help. And of course both sides were from the very beginning already being generously armed and financially supported by then-President Reagan and the American military-industrial complex, who merely gave the PLA a slap on the wrist and a mildly-worded speech for orchestrating the coup against Deng and cracking down on the protests, and kept on arming and funding them all the same.

But that doesn’t seem to stop people as far-flung politically as Gilman Grundy, Justin Raimondo and the op-ed page of The Guardian from making the same lazy, historically-illiterate comparison. Dr Sam Crane is completely right on this one: the situation in Egypt is vastly different from that in China twenty-four years ago – though I would go one step further than he does and say that the entire geopolitics of the situation are different than the ones surrounding this situation in Egypt.

15 August 2013

More crunchy goodness from Fr Vsevolod Chaplin

Image courtesy of Pravmir.com

Here the most awesome modern Russian Orthodox cleric is channelling Bill McKibben and adding something deep and durable to the Eastern vision of the sophic economy:
Head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin does not agree with those who believe Orthodox countries to be most depressive in economic sense.

“Today many people with scorn and disregard speak of Orthodox nations as economically unsuccessful. They build diagrams illustrating the dependence of economic prosperity from religion. They believe that atheists are most successful, Protestants are a little less successful, Catholics - even less and Orthodox are the poorest and the most unhappy,” Father Vsevolod said answering the questions at the website of the Synodal Information Department.

Instead of arguing with the scheme, the priest reminded that “many modern economists who are not keen on market fundamentalism say that growth of economy and demand can be endless and nations that can give up the idea of constant and uncontrolled growth will be more successful when this growth will stop.”

According to Fr. Vsevolod “sooner or later it will stop as resources of the planet are limited and demand, even senseless, can't grow forever.”

Believing that “it is necessary to transfer from economy of growth to economy of self-sufficiency,” the priest noted that “self-sufficiency and self-limitation in acquiring earthly goods were always characteristic of Orthodox civilization.”

“Its traditions teach not to endlessly multiply material riches, but to be happy with the little, or at least sensible amount of earthly goods. I think that the future belongs to such attitude. Today we should interpret it in categories of economic science and building economic system,” Father Vsevolod said.

He is sure that such model will be much more successful than an idea of eternal growth and unlimited demand that cannot end in anything but “crash”.
What else can I say? I love this guy.

13 August 2013

The problem of the gun

Okay, I did the feminist post I’ve been dreading doing for years – now it’s time to get the dreaded gun post out of the way. It is indeed puzzling to me how both sides of the political spectrum seem to get gun politics somewhat backwards or inside-out, though the good and proper and charitable place to start, here, would be to detail what each side of the debate over gun politics in the United States gets right.

On the one hand, I feel that the ‘conservatives’ on the gun issue (who in reality generally tend to be confused liberals) are right when they say that guns, considered in themselves, are not the problem. Guns are only as good as the people who carry them: a gun in the hands of a person not already inclined to do harm with it will do none, and a person inclined to do harm will still find ways of doing it without the gun. Guns are tools, they argue, and rightly so.

However, those in favour of gun control also have a valid point to make. It is a common sense position to conclude that guns are a contributing factor to our society’s problems. Guns being tools for use by people, they necessarily have a multiplier effect on whatever violence, perverseness and pathology in our society (made up of people) are already there. Gang violence is made worse by guns. The illegal drug trade is made worse by guns. Undiagnosed and untreated mental health problems are made more dangerous by guns. The breakdown of the family (loath though the American liberal-left is to mention such a thing) is made more dangerous by guns. As you can see, the argument that guns are tools shoots (sorry) both ways.

But let’s look at this argument in a more productive, philosophical fashion. Guns are tools – very well. All tools have a purpose, a correct end to further human flourishing and excellence: whether that is transportation, protection, gathering and preparing food, learning, communicating. And a gun’s express purpose by virtue of its design is to kill, whether animals for food or enemies in war. I assign no normative value to this function – killing animals is good and right and necessary for certain ways of living in certain environments, and killing enemies in war or in the defence of the community may be necessary, though it may never be good and right. But it is the height of sophistry to suggest that a gun’s function is other than what it is.

As a lethal tool, something designed to end the life of some other animal (humans included), the right and proper use of it is something which has to be considered with painstaking care. Now, this goes well beyond basic training, gun safety and storage. These are all things to prevent harm to the body from the use of a gun. But what I am talking about here is also harm to the intellectual, emotional and spiritual life of the user. Allow me to offer as an analogy, the sword: a more elegant weapon for a more civilised age. Every culture which has had a martial culture surrounding swords has had some ethic to make the mind and soul behind it as keen and bright as the blade – whether the martial codes of ancient Greek city-states (particularly Sparta), the Frankish code of chivalry, the heathen Teutonic ideal of drengskapr, the dharma of the Indian warrior caste, the Arabic concept of furûsiyya or the Japanese bushidô, which in turn derives from the Chinese tradition of xia. To a one, these warrior-ethics – or more properly, sword-ethics – emphasised steadfastness, courage, discipline, service to a lord or to a higher ideal, and defence of the weak.

It is reasonable to imagine, since these very similar ethics arose in these very different cultures, that they arose in some measure out of the function and right use of the tool they governed. Speaking as a one-time fencer, there is a very particular mindset, a way of being, which accompanies the sword. A sword places you within arm’s reach of your enemy, and forces you to read their eyes and body. It places you bodily in harm’s way, face to face with your foe. There is something of a dancer’s skill needed in swordplay – you don’t merely ‘stand your ground’, you mind it. There is an existential terror in playing with blades: pain and disfigurement and death are so close to you, that it makes sense to see them regulated, internally, with a set of habits and virtues that govern how you use them. Warrior codes are not merely, as some historians like to claim, mere fantasies invented by Romantics to idealise an age of barbarism. They were healthy ways – realistic ways, really – to deal with the brutalities that the men put in harm’s way were faced with.

Allies of the gun lobby here like to claim that guns are a great ‘equaliser’: presumably, they remove from mortal conflict any differences of physical strength. But this is no boast – we cannot pretend that the habitual use of a tool does not have an effect on the character of the one using it. And if the gun lobby were truly conservative, they would make such a claim only with very grave concern. (As Aristotle said, the worst sort of inequality is to try to make things equal which are not!) What the gun does is that it removes the existential terror from killing. As the psychology of the sword propitiates the vice of wrath by its ill use, that of the gun propitiates pride – a much subtler and yet much more dangerous vice. It severs you and puts you at a distance from your opponent, such that you need no longer look him in the eye before you kill him. There is nothing of the dance in the firing of a gun; there is merely the feeling of control. It reduces the opponent from the state of being another human being to being merely prey. Granted, this is a Platonic characterisation – what I have described is a sniper in an unassailable perch, not a frightened soldier behind a barricade facing enemies who also have assault rifles. But most non-military gun owners will never be in the latter situation; as like as not, their experience will largely be only with dummies and animals, and that only at long range.

The problem is that the removal of that physical excellence trained when fighting with simple weapons portends also the removal of the moral excellence of the warrior code. If you remove from mortal conflict any consideration of physical strength – that is, if you take away that existential terror, the possibility of pain and maiming and death, that comes from engaging another human being with a simpler weapon – you remove up front also any need for the internal regulation, the discipline and the piety, which makes itself felt when any simpler weapon is used. The gun does make it so that a shorter, weaker and slower person may bring down a taller, stronger, faster person. But by that same token, it also makes a far more tempting weapon for the coward, the blackguard, the man who would prey on the weak to begin with. The most distressing thing to me about American gun culture is that there is no ethic of the gun, no organised code of discipline for gun-owners.

Gun owners will claim they have such, of course, and with some justification. But even the most responsible and nuanced gun advocates I’ve read generally don’t go beyond ‘don’t commit crimes’, exhortations to common-sense training, safety and storage, and usually something about the virtues attaining to family and home defence. All of which are very well and good, but much, much more than that is needed. For example, given that a sword and a gun are equally lethal when used properly, the ethics which applied to sword-owners in antiquity – subjection to the teachings and authority of the Church; defence of the weak; love of one’s home; hostility to heresy; observance of duties and oaths; truthfulness; generosity; love of justice – should apply equally to gun-owners. More than that, there needs to be some duty of propinquity, some deliberate ethic of constructive engagement with one’s neighbours, to counter the distancing and depersonalising effect that use of the gun has upon its habitual user.

09 August 2013

‘We go on record’

In September of 1945, Dorothy Day wrote regarding the atrocious crimes against God and man committed sixty-eight years ago:
Mr Truman was jubilant. President Truman. True man; what a strange name, come to think of it. We refer to Jesus Christ as true God and true Man. Truman is a true man of his time in that he was jubilant. He was not a son of God, brother of Christ, brother of the Japanese, jubilating as he did. He went from table to table on the cruiser which was bringing him home from the Big Three conference, telling the great news; "jubilant" the newspapers said. Jubilate Deo. We have killed 318,000 Japanese.

That is, we hope we have killed them, the Associated Press, on page one, column one of the Herald Tribune, says. The effect is hoped for, not known. It is to be hoped they are vaporized, our Japanese brothers -- scattered, men, women and babies, to the four winds, over the seven seas. Perhaps we will breathe their dust into our nostrils, feel them in the fog of New York on our faces, feel them in the rain on the hills of Easton.

Jubilate Deo. President Truman was jubilant. We have created. We have created destruction. We have created a new element, called Pluto. Nature had nothing to do with it.

Created to Destroy

"A cavern below Columbia was the bomb's cradle," born not that men might live, but that men might be killed. Brought into being in a cavern, and then tried in a desert place, in the midst of tempest and lightning, tried out, and then again on the eve of the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, on a far off island in the eastern hemisphere, tried out again, this "new weapon which conceivably might wipe out mankind, and perhaps the planet itself."

"Dropped on a town, one bomb would be equivalent to a severe earthquake and would utterly destroy the place. A scientific brain trust has solved the problem of how to confine and release almost unlimited energy. It is impossible yet to measure its effects."

"We have spent two billion on the greatest scientific gamble in history and won," said President Truman jubilantly.

The papers list the scientists (the murderers) who are credited with perfecting this new weapon. One outstanding authority "who earlier had developed a powerful electrical bombardment machine called the cyclotron, was Professor O. E. Lawrence, a Nobel prize winner of the University of California. In the heat of the race to unlock the atom, he built the world's most powerful atom smashing gun, a machine whose electrical projectiles carried charges equivalent to 25,000,000 volts. But such machines were found in the end to be unnecessary. The atom of Uranium-235 was smashed with surprising ease. Science discovered that not sledgehammer blows, but subtle taps from slow traveling neutrons managed more on a tuning technique were all that were needed to disintegrate the Uranium-235 atom."

(Remember the tales we used to hear, that one note of a violin, if that note could be discovered, could collapse the Empire State Building. Remember too, that God's voice was heard not in the great and strong wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but "in the whistling of a gentle air.")

Scientists, army officers, great universities (Notre Dame included), and captains of industry -- all are given credit lines in the press for their work of preparing the bomb -- and other bombs, the President assures us, are in production now.

Great Britain controls the supply of uranium ore, in Canada and Rhodesia. We are making the bombs. This new great force will be used for good, the scientists assured us. And then they wiped out a city of 318,000. This was good. The President was jubilant.

Today's paper with its columns of description of the new era, the atomic era, which this colossal slaughter of the innocents has ushered in, is filled with stories covering every conceivable phase of the new discovery. Pictures of the towns and the industrial plants where the parts are made are spread across the pages. In the forefront of the town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee is a chapel, a large comfortable-looking chapel benignly settled beside the plant. And the scientists making the first tests in the desert prayed, one newspaper account said.

God, Our Creator

Yes, God is still in the picture. God is not mocked. Today, the day of this so great news, God made a madman dance and talk, who had not spoken for twenty years. God sent a typhoon to damage the carrier Hornet. God permitted a fog to obscure vision and a bomber crashed into the Empire State Building. God permits these things. We have to remember it. We are held in God's hands, all of us, and President Truman too, and these scientists who have created death, but will use it for good. He, God, holds our life and our happiness, our sanity and our health; our lives are in His hands. He is our Creator. Creator.

And as I write, Pigsie, who works in Secaucus, New Jersey, feeding hogs, and cleaning out the excrement of the hogs, who comes in once a month to find beauty and surcease and glamour and glory in the drink of the Bowery, trying to drive the hell and the smell out of his nostrils and his life, sleeps on our doorstep, in this best and most advanced and progressive of all possible worlds. And as I write, our cat, Rainbow, slinks by with a shrill rat in her jaws, out of the kitchen closet here at Mott Street. Here in this greatest of cities which covered the cavern where this stupendous discovery was made, which institutes an era of unbelievable richness and power and glory for man ….

Everyone says, "I wonder what the Pope thinks of it?" How everyone turns to the Vatican for judgement, even though they do not seem to listen to the voice there! But our Lord Himself has already pronounced judgement on the atomic bomb. When James and John (John the beloved) wished to call down fire from heaven on their enemies, Jesus said:

"You know not of what spirit you are. The Son of Man came not to destroy souls but to save." He said also, "What you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do unto me."

07 August 2013

We need feminism – but which kind?

This is a post I have been dreading doing for some time. Back when I was at Kalamazoo College and the editor of Mayhem’s Murmurs, I deliberately stayed out of the brief controversy back in 2008 caused by the ‘Women in the Weight Room’ programme (though the Murmurs did run an anti-WitWR editorial). Having never worked out in the weight room (I preferred racquet sports and fencing myself), I was not affected by the thing, and felt the entire affair to be rather silly and obtuse. I have heard good and commonsensical feminist arguments and many of them; I have also been confronted with frivolous and absurd ones. So why bring this up now? For one thing, it has been on my mind since the entire affair of the Austen ten-pound note. But more recently, I came across the ‘Who Needs Feminism?’ project started by the students at Cambridge University, so I thought I would tackle the question implied head-on.

First, I should say that I can only work from my own understanding and experience, both of which, I grant you, as a human being of the male gender, are limited – yet I do not think them (as certain shades of feminist thinking are wont to imply, if not claim outright) to be irrelevant or insignificant. As a male human, I have relationships I very dearly value with female humans: friends, coworkers, bosses and family, not least my mother, my sister, my wife and my daughter. Second, there is the question of whether or not I actually am a feminist. That’s where things get slightly tricky, so I’ve decided to lay out a bit of ‘where I stand’:
  1. Men and women both partake fully, and therefore equally, of the same fallen human nature. If the order things are taken in our mythology is to be considered seriously, we are made first in God’s image as rational, and then as male and female biological creatures. Only after that did we together deface that image through the Fall.
  2. The virtues desirable in human beings are open to all, as are the vices deplorable in them. Men and women alike can be truthful, hopeful and loving, as well as brave, fair-minded, forbearing and wise… or the reverse.
  3. Nevertheless, the biological and social differences between men and women are real and as such have to be reckoned with.
  4. These biological and social differences add up to two full and distinct ways of being. Men do not always perfectly understand women (as any heterosexual woman who has been in a relationship with one of us guys will readily tell you), and vice-versa. Yet both ways of being, both understandings, are needed for anything resembling a common good, especially in relation to each other.

Note that points one and two alone are feminist, if we take as the sole definition of feminism Ms West’s dictum that it is merely the ‘radical notion that women are people’. If that were the end of the story, I would (and do!) accept the feminist badge cheerfully and wear it with pride.

But in all ideology there lies the temptation of imbalance, and the intellectual history of feminism proves no different. In the broad strokes, feminist historiography tends to divide itself into three periods: a first wave primarily concerned with securing legal recognition of rights and immunities for women; a second wave primarily concerned with righting structural and cultural inequalities against women; and a third wave whose goals (in line with its appropriations from post-structuralism) tend to be more amorphous and whose concerns seem largely with keeping feminism relevant and engaged.

The first wave was almost wholly Anglo-American, wholly cultural-Protestant and wholly liberal (in a broad sense) – these tendencies were on display in their emphasis on legal issues and fighting de jure discrimination against women, through the suffrage movement, the temperance movement and the movement to legally reform the rights and obligations of married couples. The first wave achieved some major victories and is rightly celebrated for them, but one of the major imbalances they engendered (no pun intended) was located precisely in their embrace of liberalism. A woman was to be made into the liberal image of the (to that time and beyond, white and male by default) individual rights-bearer and legal agent, to be considered in isolation from her entire background and narrative. That women were now to be subject to the law in the same way that men were was an unmitigated triumph. But that women themselves were expected to adopt a legalistic point-of-view, to imitate and internalise a liberal-capitalist discourse which desexed them as far as possible, was an overreach. The more so when, as happened during and in the wake of World War I, women came to be seen as interchangeable cogs in the machines of industry and commerce, and made subject directly to the same forms of alienation and inhuman exploitation that men were. It made for a tragicomic turn indeed when, as GK Chesterton put it, ‘ten thousand women marched through the streets shouting, “We will not be dictated to,” and went off and became stenographers’.

Because of their prominence in the culture wars, many of my fellow palaeocons tend to single out second-wave feminism for particular scorn, but I think a degree of good sense is needed when addressing them. Their motivations were, after all, truly admirable. They sought to right the imbalances and blind spots of the first wave. Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan rightly looked not only at the legal distinctions between men and women, but also at the gender-driven social expectations to which men and women were subject. Of course, subsequent feminist theorists capsized the boat from the other end. Gender structures being social structures, they had to be undermined by constructing an alternative social counter-narrative that centred on… well, gender. The second wave started from the position that society had been designed expressly by men, considered essentially and as a whole (‘the patriarchy’), to keep women, considered essentially and as a whole, subjugated, subservient and unthinking. And then it began attempting to appropriate for women, considered essentially and as a whole, the norms and privileges and bad behaviours they assumed that men enjoy by the fact of their maleness alone. That, if successful, this programme would result in a reverse patriarchy – a world of Margaret Thatchers and Sarah Palins – is something only a certain select handful of second-wave theorists considered seriously. But it is a true danger.

The dialectical tension elicited by these two movements is this: the first wave agitates for purity of form, and the second wave for purity of content – each at the expense of the other. The first wave whitewashes and glosses over difference; the second wave uses difference as a wrecking-ball. The first promotes a Gnostic creation myth wherein the demiurge created embodied biological differences upon an otherwise perfect disembodied rational agent to tempt it into sin; the second promotes a creation myth wherein the Goddess created Eve blameless and pure, whilst Adam was formed already rotten with the forbidden banana of patriarchy. The first pays attention to Aristotle only up until he says ‘rational’; the second starts listening only when he utters the word ‘animal’. The first refuses to consider anything as icky or risqué as human biology; the second elevates one side of it, at least, to a sacred touchstone (er, so to speak).

These twin heresies are sometimes termed ‘equity feminism’ and ‘gender feminism’, respectively. Neither one captures the entire truth of the relationship between men and women, and both prevent men and women from understanding each other better and working toward a shared common good. The tragicomedy of ‘equity feminism’ is the tragicomedy of liberalism as a whole – setting out to accommodate differences, it ends up erasing them to suit the needs of the universal Weberian corporate-capitalist state. The horror of ‘gender feminism’ remains that of the patriarchy in drag, where victory (at least to, say, FEMEN) consists of defacing anti-Stalinist monuments, abusing Catholics or telling faithful Muslim women they are stupid slaves.

Do I need feminism? If by ‘feminism’ you mean these two distortions, then no, I don’t. But if by ‘feminism’ you mean a search by both women and men, for a whole truth which is accessible to women and men together and which respects each as they are; if by ‘feminism’ you mean a philosophy which critiques the (traditionally male) libido dominandi, and at the same time offers an option and a passion for cooperation and solidarity in its place, then yes!

We all need more of that feminism.