Utopian-Fantasist Obtuseness: The UFO Crowd’s Strange Flirtation With the Left

I was commenting the other day (okay, I was tweeting: my son says it’s the only low-budget way to find an audience) about the premier episode of Ancient Aliens’ new season that aired on April 22.  It was dismaying that several regular commentators, like journalist Linda Moulton-Howe, were all but jumping into the tank for Hillary at the end of the episode.  If elected (went the narrative), Hillary would have gotten to the bottom of all the UFO secrecy; she would have demanded transparency of the Defense Department; she would have fired anyone who refused to pony up with complete disclosures, etc., etc.  Now, I can vividly imagine Hillary conducting bureaucratic purges: that would have happened even without the UFO issue.  I can also imagine her riding roughshod over sensitive security matters because she felt like it.  She has what they call a “proven track record” in that regard.  What I cannot imagine is her pressing a point from which Bill had previously backed off.  The Clinton who successfully pursued the presidency once confessed candidly (if semi-confidentially) to one of his buddies in the press that poking about the UFO issue could be very bad for his health.  He represented the response given to him by nameless career insiders as practically a threat on his life.

It has been said that Hillary knows a thing or two about silencing inconvenient witnesses.  Whatever the truth of that, she most certainly would have known about the ominous wall of men in black that had terminated her husband’s country-fried snooping.  Hillary was playing the UFO-truther crowd for an easy endorsement.  John Podesta, no doubt, was playing Ancient Aliens for a bit of public exposure readily parlayed into speaking honoraria (for who remembers John Podesta these days?)… but Moulton-Howe should have known better.

Why didn’t she?  Why, indeed, does UFO-mania tend to lean so far leftward?  It shouldn’t, if a recurring theme is the abusive secrecy of big government.  Apparently, centralized authority is evil when it’s in the hands of the military-industrial complex; but when Tinker Bell utopians are promising to sprinkle stardust over every aspect of our private lives, the faintest libertarian tinge of resistance is abandoned.  Bestowing dictatorial powers upon a Beloved Leader so that he—or she—may cashier all the would-be dictators in uniform makes perfect sense to the Left.

But why, I repeat, do alien enthusiasts lean left?  I myself am pretty sure that our planet has been visited by extra-terrestrials—and that hasn’t made me want to book a flight to Cloudcuckooland.  In some members of this group, perhaps many or most, I perceive a disturbing tendency to cultic religion.  Everything in every ancient literary text is potentially a sign of “extra-terrestrial visitation”.  Zeus’s thunderbolt can’t be a sublime image coined out of primitive reverence for natural forces: it has to be an advanced technology that Stone Age minds didn’t comprehend.  Our history is also of no interest except as a reservoir of clues about ET activity.  How did the bubonic plague come to spread so rapidly and wipe out so many populations?  Must have been a bid on the part of hostile aliens to thin out our numbers.

This sort of thing reminds me for all the world of the m.o. I’ve seen working in academic feminism and Marxism for decades.  Are you given a novel to read from a few centuries ago?  Look for the woman or the peasant: there’s nothing else worth paying attention to.  If you can’t find either one… well, why are they being excluded?  Must be a conspiracy!  Are you presented with a historical period to study?  What’s going on with women at this time, or with the underclass?  Not much information on that?  Well, there wouldn’t be, would there?  Males and the upper classes have sought to airbrush all those significant details from the record for millennia.

Ultimately, the driving force behind such cultism is the adoration of progress.  A better tomorrow for women, for the poor… a better future for Earthlings once they are told by aliens where their destiny lies.  All of it shares a boredom, and indeed a disgust, with the present and an indifference to the past except insofar as years past and present supply steps to the ascending staircase.  The faithful of these cults seem tormented by a distaste for the contemporary world and for human nature generally: they crave a transformative experience, an orgastic Nirvana that will mystically show forth as a photographic negative of hateful realities.  They so long for Scottie to beam them up!

Alas, not only does such delirium not draw us any closer to the truth behind UFO’s: it discredits serious attempts to find that truth by tarring all sincere investigators with the stick of childish fantasy.  We may be moving farther from the truth than ever.

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Easter Thoughts: Does Hell Exist?

I’m not a “high church” guy these days, if I ever was.  I’m certainly less inclined to Catholicism than I was in my youth; and if I were Catholic today, I would likely be very tempted to walk away from the Church.  The Supreme Pontiff has not a little to do with that aversion.  Pat Buchanan has lately written that Pope Francis seems destined to create an enduring schism among the Roman faithful, and some lifelong Catholics are charging that this Pope is the Antichrist.  He doesn’t hesitate to weigh in on issues that have nothing whatever to do with his scholarly expertise or moral understanding, as in his promoting the exploitative crusade to ban guns spearheaded by our sheltered “safe zone” teens.  (Modest estimates put the annual cost in lives, should the Second Amendment be repealed, in the vicinity of the entire Vietnam War’s—though it’s hard to calculate how many people escape death thanks to a Smith & Wesson’s appearing at just the right moment.)  Yet on matters like the propriety of transgenderism, about which Christian doctrine is both long established and wholly coherent, the papal response is, “Who am I to judge?”

All of that said, I am going to make a case this Easter morning for why Hell is an ultimate irreality, as Francis is reported to have opined in private recently (and has coyly backed away from publicly without issuing an actual denial).  I must say first off that I’m appalled by the number of purportedly conservative mouthpieces who have retorted, “Well, if there’s no Hell, then there’s no reason to seek salvation”—as if the motive for desiring a closer approach to God were really a terror of the shadows at one’s shoulders.  If you read Shakespeare’s collected works because I’m holding you hostage and feeding you only when I see you turning pages, then you’re hardly a bibliophile.

God is all good, and we must believe that He does no evil and could create nothing evil.  (As for His ordering the slaughter of women and children—and livestock, too, just to make it a clean sweep—at times in the Old Testament, you may make of this what you will; I know what I must call it.)  Now, evil exists in this world… so has God therefore not created all that is?  He has.  But evil does not ultimately exist, any more than the other illusions of this world.  Shadows do not exist as material objects—you cannot trap one, bottle one, or stroke one.  Yet during certain long hours of our terrestrial day, there is nothing around us but shadow.

Or consider it from this angle: the practical angle, if you will—the point of view of a sixty-four-year-old man who has seen people at most of their not-so-good moments.  What happens to desperate characters?  They rarely get punished by human laws—not if they’re really good at being bad.  (“The big thieves are arresting the little one,” once quipped Diogenes.)  I know what happens to them: I’ve seen it.  They have themselves.  Having spent their adult life usurping God’s role and creating a universe just to the dimensions of their whimsy—X millions of population making X income per capita with X children per household, Y mandatory visits to state doctors and Y years in state education camps, Z police watching over them to “protect them”—these fantastical egomaniacs arranging their human ant farms end up in a tight, impenetrable cocoon of Self.  They are clinical sociopaths to start with; their dead souls eventually ossify and permanently relegate them to a “safe zone” of utter non-being—a place where any contact with reality and with outward-reaching souls is impossible.

This is what I find so grimly sobering about no-longer-children shaking their raised fists in fascistic salutes to the cause of forcing behavior patterns down people’s throats: I see little “ant-farmers” in the making, eager to assign prison or execution to those who stand in the way of their utopia.  And, no, Pope Francis has not taken the side of reason and free exchange against the goose-stepping utopians, so I am not, alas, in effective agreement with him about anything here.

Yet the evil ones do disappear.  They do not burn in a real Hell.  They define nothingness by dwelling where no vibrant soul can dwell; and in being forever separated from God, they suffer an indescribable anguish beyond any torture of physical flames.  Each is them is a madman trapped for eternity in a labyrinthine hall of mirrors, his own lunacy facing him at every turn, visions of lunacy awaiting him whenever he attempts escape by shutting his eyes.

These days, whenever I hear words like “change”, “meaningful change”, “progress”, “a better future”, and “not good enough”, I catch a hubristic scent of fire and brimstone in my nostrils.  I sense the presence of the void—of that which is not.  But, you protest, the Christian faith is all about change… well, yes and no.  It is about the opportunity of individual souls to return to the self-effacing wonder and joy in elevating mystery that characterize a little child.  One might say that it is about changing back to our Edenic state, about coming home, after a fruitless trek through the surrounding desert. God All Good no doubt made us this way because we cannot appreciate—with mind and spirit, with intellect and imagination—the infinite possibilities of what is until we fill our mouths with a bitter ash of our own arrogant concoction: what is not.  And in this, let us recognize that He did well.  Reality is vivified and deepened when infused with sentient participants who embrace it.  That some, perhaps many or most, prefer a squalid pit of ash wherein they alone rule is not an excessive cost to pay for such an awakening; for life within the ashes does not really exist.

If what I have written today takes the side of Pope Francis against his detractors, then I am happy to lend a hand.  The truth, however, knows no sides, in truth.  The road goes straight, and we fools tumble off it where we may.

Cultural Disappearance Is Contagious

The following article began as a review of Thilo Sarrazin’s L’Allemagne Disparait (Germany Is Disappearing) for Amazon… but it grew to such proportions that I thought I’d post it here, as well, with slight adjustments.

I read this book in French because I feared that my German might not suffice to guide me through the learned Sarrazin’s highly abstract discussion.  Alas, French was little better—and my native English would scarcely have closed the comprehension gap.  For the real difficulty lies not in vocabulary per se, but in the densely terminological, thoroughly arcane idiom of the social sciences, where trails of nouns often end up forming a single noun-adjective group referenced to some airy statistical reality.  And of statistics, too, there is an abundance.  These are often the more vague as they grow more clear—by which I mean that a patent dependency of one factor on another has a way of shutting down what should be a deeper probe into a complex issue.

Now, all of that said, I’m very sympathetic with regard to the Sarrazin case.  Western nations on both sides of the Atlantic are currently engaged in shouting down critics of uncontrolled immigration with the “Nazi racist” slur.  Sarrazin has been pilloried before for speaking in cold facts.  Those facts are as follows: Germany (and, by extension, other prosperous Western societies) cannot absorb a steady deluge of unskilled Third World laborers who have large families requiring ample public subsidy and who are so comfortable with dependency that they attempt not even the degree of assimilation implied in learning their adoptive home’s language.  Sarrazin has repeatedly and predictably run into trouble by insisting that Islamic culture, especially, nourishes this retrograde attitude.  Of course, he is right, inasmuch as the harmful Muslim tendencies at issue are not religious but cultural: the large families of the Near East and North Africa, the inferior role of women, the “unmanliness” of long study, and so forth.  To claim that Germany’s population must inevitably grow less intelligent as its proportion of weak student-material escalates thanks to open immigration—and that the German way of life itself must disappear as future generations become more inept with advanced technology—is not really racist at all.  It’s certainly not the same thing as saying, “Syrian Muslims are dumb.”  It is a commentary, rather, on the cultural friction between an atavistic society and a progressive high-tech society.  East Indian, Chinese, and Vietnamese immigrants do not pose the same problem to the Western educational system, Sarrazin notes.  They are also far less attracted by the advantages of a de facto guaranteed minimum income provided by the German system.

It is painful, as an American, to read Saarazin’s applauding our more sensible handling of the issues in this work, most of whose research belongs to the previous decade.  We have not kept to the wiser path during the intervening years.

The single point that nags me about Thilo Sarrazin’s analysis is its philosophical materialism.  Christianity appears to be lamented in these pages as a body of helpful illusions that once made life happier, just as (one might say) the innocent deceptions practiced on children make Christmas happier.  To me, this is indeed the great flaw behind the book’s reliance on sociology and statistics: not their complexity, but their reduction of the central issue to a very practical one of economic sustainability.  If the West dies, I think it will be because she has terminally misplaced the purpose of individualism, of liberalism: to liberate the soul from bestial servitude in order to pursue things that have no “market value”.  Because of our contemporary spiritual malaise, we have exchanged the degrading drudgery of intense manual labor for the degrading addictions of an anemic will.  Our moral decline, after all, is intricately involved in the plummeting birthrates that cause such alarm to Sarrazin. Our steady, centuries-long desertion of largely self-sustaining agrarianism to have the affluence and convenience of city life has likewise exposed our pastimes to suicidal frivolity and snared our physical surroundings in a vicious cycle of unwholesome artifice.  We are courting depression through hedonism, poisoning ourselves with pollution, and turning chronically neurotic thanks to our mechanized pace of living: all of these factors leave us in no mood to produce a new generation, and sometimes physiologically incapable of doing so. Such issues cannot adequately be diagnosed without a spiritual reference… and the Christian Church in Europe, all across the denominational spectrum, seems incapable nowadays of providing this.

Germany Is Disappearing is a powerful work and a “must read”, in any language, for those who want to project the future of Western civilization with some mature degree of probability.  But it also seems to me to be missing a vital element.

The Spirit and the Flesh: Adversarial Allies

If a man asks you for food, take him to a sandwich shop and sit with him to eat.  Don’t give him a wad of bills or a card to draw infinitely upon the food bank.  You do not serve the man in him with such charity—you stifle his humanity by making your sacrifice at the altar of the Stomach.  You proclaim that the end of life is to stay alive.  You heard the word “hungry”, but you did not hear the man who said he was hungry.

If a man tells you that his child is sick and needs medicine, take him and his child to a doctor, and buy what medicine is needed.  But do not give the man’s family endless draws upon your account to buy whatever medicine they may need at any time in the future.  Charity without a setting or boundaries is an unlimited worship of the god Health; and in serving that god, you declare that life is about nothing but health, always health.  If the child is cured for no other reason than to stay cured, then he might as well grow on a stem in a garden, like a vegetable.

And if a man comes to you saying that he is so tired of life that he yearns to end it, do not give him a free pass to an amusement park or introduce him to a wild leaf that sends the bored mind into ecstasy.  The god of Escape can keep bodies alive as well as food and medicine sometimes—but what lives is only a body.  Try your best, rather, to show the man what weariness of life teaches about life: that it ends in nothing if one sets one’s goals within its boundaries.

Charity is not about feeding the hungry, but about removing hunger as an obstacle to a higher mission.  Sickness is another obstacle—and the purpose of life is not to avoid being sick, any more than it is to avoid boredom.

We always teeter on the brink of getting this wrong, because lavishing people with food or medicine or amusement is a deed, a measurable behavior… but the spirit has no measure.  The spirit is a negative presence, we might say.  We cannot bestow it as we would a sandwich of a Z-pack.  We can only remove obstacles to it.  Saving a person from death only gives him the opportunity to live; we cannot know if he will use his opportunity well.  Refusing to fuel a lie only gives the truth an opportunity to prevail; we cannot know if that truth will bring most people to insight or despair.

Health, happiness, prosperity… they all end when life ends.  And if life ends tomorrow, then it might as well end today—at least if it is to hold nothing for us but animal satisfactions won from a body that declines to torture us.  But for a person who has found purpose in life, even bodily tortures—sickness, tedium, poverty—are a small price to pay if they are a means of the spirit’s reaching its end.  A father will live on one meal a day to feed his child.  An artist will take the money that might have kept wood in his fireplace if it will buy paint and canvas.

What kind of person are we producing in our world today—a plump vegetable immobilized in a garden, or a visionary who happily suffers privation for the sake of a higher end?  I think we all know.

 

Why Are Aliens Represented as Morally Superior?

Patient Seventeen, recently uploaded to Netflix, is the only documentary I’ve ever seen that succeeded in shaking me up over the subject of alien abduction—and I’ve seen a few such flicks, as well as many an interview.  Most abductees leave me uncharitably thinking in categories of a) the female wallflower of a certain age who has sexual fantasies, or b) the nerdy male straight out of a Gary Larson cartoon for whom playground bullies have assumed supernatural stature in his traumatized memory.

And some such “victims” surely fall straight into these categories, along with the more vanilla one of attention-seeking hoaxer.  Then again, if real victims of extraterrestrial home-invasion exist, one can well imagine why they would not come forward; for my categories, as I say, are not very charitable—and neither are they exclusively mine.

Patient Seventeen, however, doesn’t fit the pigeonhole.  He’s a strapping fellow who rides a motorcycle to his construction jobs, and who wants very much to believe that the minute metal fragment in his leg does NOT have an unearthly origin.  Once the late Dr. Roger Leir removed the object, though (whose entry had left not a scratch that Seventeen could recall), the tests were conclusive.  A total of thirty-six elements had combined to form the alloy, many of them extremely rare on earth and several quite dangerous to manipulate.  Zinc isotopes, furthermore, were present that not only could not have originated in our solar system, but could not even belong to our corridor of the galaxy.

Seventeen is never named.  Dr. Leir died within weeks of operating on him, and the lab technician entrusted with the fragment has oddly vanished; so he appears to be facing a future of psychological battles more or less alone.  I think he just might make it: he’s a fighter.  In fact, the most impressive part of the film for me was Seventeen’s confiding to the camera that he had succeeded in physically resisting his abductors during the most recent assault and came very close to smashing in some extraterrestrial skulls.  “They’re alien gangsters,” he responded when asked what he would like to tell them.  They break into people’s homes and lives unasked and treat them as insects (he used the image of wicked boys employing a magnifying glass to smoke ants).  They deserve the same reception that any other home-invader invites: a bullet.

This attitude was as refreshing to me as Seventeen’s raw account was unnerving.  I’m sick of the assumption, so often floated in popular serials like Ancient Aliens, that otherworldly visitors must automatically be considered our superiors in every way.  Though I’ve learned some interesting and useful facts from following AA (I now know a smattering about Gobekli Tepe and Puma Punku), segments frequently conclude with starry-eyed claptrap on the order of, “We have to make contact with our visitors so that we can discover our destiny.”  Umm… what?  As much as you lot might like to account for all gods in all mythologies by having recourse to ET’s flight log, these beings are not gods.  If they conduct the sorts of experiment that surviving victims like Seventeen describe, they’re much closer to devils.

Why do we believe that a smarter being is a better being—or why do we believe that physics and engineering are the only kind of “smarts”?  Among our terrestrial scientists, we no longer tolerate whimsical, invasive tinkering even on Rhesus monkeys or white rats… yet our godly visitors are wantonly kidnapping us and filling us with toxic transmitters. Is that really the sign of a superior being?  Assuming that such things are happening in any of the reported cases, they do not bespeak an advanced moral intelligence: quite the contrary.  If we ever manage to verify that abduction is a real phenomenon, then the next order of business must be our figuring out how to make the perverted little bastards behave themselves.

One of Steven Greer’s veiled interviewees (in another documentary) insisted, I recall, that the US government was staging abductions so as to have panic at a constant simmer and ready to be brought to a boil.  That I can well believe.  If “ufology” teaches us nothing else, it proves that our elected officials are lying to us on a massive scale.

It could also be that our uninvited guests are playing “doctor” with us because they are inflexibly programmed robots and, therefore, are incapable of fine-tuning their manners to the particular situation.  If that is so, then… then maybe we ourselves should go running a little less hastily into the embrace of the “transhuman” hybrid said—by Ray Kurzweil, Al Gore, and other crazed prophets of the dark side—to represent our future.

Reason Not the Need: In Praise of Vagueness

One more time, I’m going to cheat a little by pasting into this space part of an intro I wrote over the weekend for a section of my collected poems.  The introductions are getting almost as long as the stuff they’re supposed to explain!

That my introduction to this final section is proving far and away the most difficult to write may, to a cynic, indict the essential fraud of all history: the more distant a sequence of events becomes, the tidier its description grows. An alternative explanation may be that, since this period ends only because it cannot extend beyond the present moment, it has the most artificial and arbitrary of endings—not a true terminus imposed by real change; and yet another perspective might be that I’m becoming more confused as I get older.

For my money, the last explanation is the most valid. I seem to have lived much of my life in reverse, so a curious failure to find the tranquility of acquired wisdom in my silver years fits the puzzle perfectly. If I was more gloomy as a young man, I also dwelt deeper in the isolation of a very concentrated and (I will admit now) comforting gloom. Now that I have found ways to push back against the world somewhat, I feel less exiled and nullified—but I also see the challenges to civilized life growing much more complex (largely because we who face them appear to be growing more simple-minded). I am less disposed now, as well, to withdraw into that old self-imposed exile and more inclined to get impatient or disgusted. I expect to see more effort made—effort to understand, to reevaluate, to prepare for necessary action, to act at the ripe moment—since I myself was able to grind a not-so-bad life out of very unpromising circumstances; yet what I observe, instead, is an escalating flight to “plug-in drugs” and “virtual reality” as well as to the more conventional hallucinogens and “artificial paradises” (in Baudelaire’s phrase) so popular in my youth.

I have a good head-start on being an angry old man. I am not a Luddite; yet I am deeply distressed, not so much that young people don’t know what a Luddite is (I didn’t, either, at their age)—but that they don’t care to find out, will recur to some handheld “device” if forced to find out, and will have forgotten what they found out five minutes later. Hell, the device is still there! “Why don’t you get your own, if you have a question, and leave me alone?”

The profits that the private sector harvests from such high-tech addiction have finally and fully merged with the manipulative designs of the public sector upon e-voters of the future, their I-Brains and I-Tastes determined by the paternalistically “helpful” software of I-nfo and E-ntertainment. Nobody seems to care; everybody seems to be happy. Corporations have more money, politicians have more power, and citizen voter-drones have more leisurely escapism (all the way to the slaughterhouse). I’m sounding now like some Sixties radical—the type whose self-serving antinomian protests I deplored as a young man and even referenced in some of my first poems. Have I again clumsily shifted gears into reverse: am I becoming more “liberal” in my old age, contrary to the cliché? Or has the true basis of liberalitas—the insistence on individual liberty—that was caricatured in Sixties hedonism become the critical issue of our onward-and-upward, “accept digital centralization or die” version of progress?

Within such anguish, George Shirley was born. Under this pseudonym, I composed many of my final poems for Praesidium. The name was drawn from the South Carolinian branch of our family tree. I imagined in George a polite but mildly jaundice-eyed country gentleman who, as a matter of strict principle, hated to offend—but who found a broader body of reverend principles impelling him to mount a resistance against the annihilation of liberal (read “freely speaking and thinking”) society. The lover of the soil and the gentle things she produced had a tincture of the rebel in him, and he wasn’t above sneaking the mare from his weathered barn for a night raid on the depot. As my poetically encrypted attacks under this guise grew more and more narrowly indexed to political trends, in fact, I became more and more puzzled and uneasy. One late edition of the journal quasi-apologized, “If George Shirley’s poetry continues to become more political, it can only be because politics continues to intrude upon our private lives.”

I’m not sure that the prominent appearance of natural images in the midst of so much diatribe is an accident or an oddity. I have always felt a vital need of nature, just as I need oxygen and water. Yet for George (and for me through George), nature isn’t identical with oxygen and water: one doesn’t protest the escalating mechanization of the times, that is, because one’s all-important health may stand in jeopardy. The motive there is not negligible… but the real benefit of nature to life that doesn’t perish (i.e., that doesn’t need oxygen and water) is its purposelessness. The woodpecker I hear outside my window just now could drop dead this instant without disrupting the smooth operation of the cosmos. In that regard, he is like art—like my poetry, I hope: he is marginal, an outlier. As we strive ever more vigorously and effectively to make everything around us contribute to an identified goal or objective (and in what other endeavor do we show any vigor and efficiency at all?), we draw ever closer to fusion with robots. Many of us consciously hail this impending union as Nirvana rather than a marriage made in Hell: that’s how dumb we’ve already become. A few of us “cling to green” (since we’ve destroyed the open-endedness of art, reducing it to an evolutionary history of the oppressed) because something in us persists in crying out for an exit, a window on airy infinity… but our political handlers are quick to exploit that longing. We must vote for them, they warn, if the moon isn’t to fall; and we must contribute more of our squalid salary to their newly formed, state-of-the-art Bureau of Lunar Salvation.

My cousin George fully comprehends what crap this all is. Hence the more he turns his wry smile upon our “saviors”, the more he turns away from any hope offered by this world and heeds the woodpecker. And the woodpecker’s message? I think it’s this: “Live not in life but through life. Seek in everything that you are at the moment—in every circumstance that defines your current parameters—a voice transcending specific need or use. Always seek in what you see more than what’s visible just now.”

Christmas: Merry If Possible—Better Yet, Meaningful

One more try at free speech.  Is this the lump of coal in your stocking? I hope not! Perhaps that depends on who’s pulling off the wrapper.

Have I said that I consider the honoring of free speech to be a holy obligation, not a mere civil right?  Let me say so now, and attempt a better, fuller explanation.

I wrote earlier that we shouldn’t view keeping open the channels of communication as an extended opportunity to convince the misguided. Are all of us “free speech” advocates, then, taking for granted that we’re right, and that the freedom we seek is the chance to make the whole world admit it? That attitude reeks of the obnoxious conceit inherent in progressive and reactionary ideologues alike—the ones whose clenching argument that you have the wrong opinion is a firing squad or a burning stake.  If re-education camp or a public recanting before the Inquisition doesn’t work, a bullet in the head always gets those jumbled ideas sorted out… and what better way to “open” a new channel?

I also wrote that free exchange forces one to think through one’s own position more meticulously, even if nobody else is persuaded by it.  But the wording there bothers me inasmuch as it implies that we might absolutely nail the truth if we just keep refining our conceptions.  It sounds rather like scientific method, which isn’t what I’m after. Approximating the truth is a worthy goal, to be sure… but also a notion fraught with such potential danger that my intended meaning, ultimately, lies in the opposite direction.

How perverse! In what way would I wish to veer down the path opposite to drawing near the truth? Wouldn’t that require me to draw away from the truth? Obviously, I do not wish to celebrate error. What I mean to say is on the order of this, if I may be allowed to stumble through a mathematical analogy. The arc of a parabola always approaches an axis—but to suppose that it intersects the axis at any eventual point is false.

Or let me return to my earlier terms. I wrote of the “mystery of presence”: there I should have lingered.  Usually when one shuts down exchanges with others, one does so because a “reachable” answer has, in fact, been reached, whether those other parties acknowledge it or not.  Sometimes, too, we turn and walk away because the others “have the answer” (they claim) and aren’t listening to us.  Further exchange is useless.  If the truth is in our court, we arrive at a point where we have no more patience with folly… and we go on about our business.

This is a good thing, and even a necessary thing, in “business” of a practical turn.  A straight line cuts an axis at a given point—and life does indeed have many straight lines. You can’t confer infinitely with others about whether your car needs an oil change or your store needs to move to a less heavily taxed venue.  Even though there may be irreducible vagueness in some such material matters, we must eventually go with the best evidence. We cannot operate two stores at once to find out which does the better business.

The spiritual danger of cutting short our discussions appears when controversy leaves the realm of nuts and bolts and enters that of value judgments.  Once again, I will instantly and vigorously deflect the charge of being a relativist. I am no such thing. I am certain that human sacrifice is wrong; I am so precisely because the practice removes a being like myself permanently from earthly exchanges—from participation in negotiating our shared uncertainty.  I am certain that child abuse is wrong; I am so precisely because traumatizing a being like myself at a stage when he or she may never be able to reason freely, as a result, is an assault on our common humanity.

The certainty I mean—the certainty that dangerously shuts down the exchange—treats issues of value as though they were mechanical questions or budgetary decisions: as though they could be arbitrated by scientific method.  What is good for a human being?  Easy, says the politician: a full belly, full pockets, free trips to the doctor, a thousand stations on the TV’s menu.  But all of these “blessings” can rot the soul if they completely remove anguish, striving, and learning from the human condition.  Their one great asset is their “thingness”—their quiddity.  They allow discussions to end on the same note as our determination about an oil change.  We may not agree with the collective verdict, but time will surely tell if it was correct.  The number of starved bodies lying dead in the streets can be counted.  Cases of influenza can be logged and graphed.  The availability of ESPN2 is a fairly objective determinant for frivolous amusement’s “abundance” threshold.

Is the discussion now truly finished about liberated sexual practices, for instance, just because sex feels good and modern medicine can make its unwanted consequences disappear?  Was it all always just a question of moving merchandise from A to B? I will never endorse gay marriage or homosexuality, because I believe that such practices subordinate higher objectives to lower objectives.  As in hedonistic heterosexual practices, the pattern here drives child-bearing and rearing from center-stage to leave sexual satisfaction the star of the show. Sensual gratification then becomes a dominant element in defining our personhood—a mere appetite, something that defies the rule of reason, wanes with the coming of old age, and can leave us completely with sickness or accident.  Yet I would not have the other side commanded to be silent, under threat of being stoned to death: I merely protest against treating the issue as an algebra problem where X has been definitively found.

For the link between body and spirit must always remain a mystery to me (and, I think, to you): I don’t see how any specific value for X can solve it. I do not and will never fully understand the connection between the spirit’s self-surpassing genius and our egocentric, carnal drives for sex, food, sleep, and the rest.  If the spirit is real, why was it encumbered in this manner? How is one side intended to be integrated with the other—what formula could make so irresistibly volatile an integration seem successful?

Such “discomfort” reminds me that my mind, as it is on this earth, cannot possibly occupy every room of God’s house.

They say that Artificial Intelligence will soon be able to pass for the human variety (the goal of the so-called Turing Test).  This will clearly be so if we continue to define our spiritual side downward, such that every moral quandary has a specific solution.  I am already risking my career to write what few words I have offered here against gay marriage; and were I to detail my views about extramarital adventures, I would face not so much instant expulsion as enduring derision.  We all know how our robot-compatriots will be programmed in those matters.  What coding, I wonder, will they receive with regard to a sunset or a misty valley?  “Good/pleasant”?  Why so?  Because the majority view would have it so?  What’s our theory on why we enjoy such scenes?  Probably something about our simian ancestors knowing that they’re safely on a tree limb or in a cave by day’s end… for the only reason you enjoy something is because you “get” something out of it. Right?

I love singer Giorgia Fumanti’s rendition of Espiritu.  Why?  Why do we love any work of art?  Because it relaxes us—we “get” relaxation out of it? So the right pill, then, would have the same effect?  Is Xanax the “art” drug? Do younger people actually love anything artistic any more?  Where do you see such open-ended discussions taking place?  Certainly not in college English departments, where works of literature are “great” because of the genitals or the pigmentation of their authors.  The same departments are rich in professors who want “offensive” speech banned from campus.

Am I coming any closer to expressing the holy obligation of free speech—to expressing why the end of free speech is asymptotic?  I doubt it; I have failed yet again!  In my mind, I keep orbiting that single word “mystery”.  We must speak to each other so that we may constantly fail to say quite what we mean to say.  We must be forever reminded that the inexpressible is a reality.  A robot doesn’t know that—cannot know that.  We seem to know it less and less ourselves as we concurrently shut down expression and reduce it to transmissible clichés.  And as free speech goes, so goes the fate of our souls.

A meaningful Christmas to you—the birthday of Him we crucify!